I am a Christian women's author, speaker and mentor, and blended family mom. Married since 2004, my husband and I have four children and four grandchildren. I am also co-founder of Carpenters for Christ (carpentersforchrist.net), a Christian ministry dedicated to coaching married couples and families.
I believe there a couple of ways to go through struggle. You can either feel like you don’t deserve whatever you are going through and never saw it coming, or you can realize that Jesus’s words in the Bible are true; “In this world you will have trouble.”
Now, I am an optimist, so I’m not telling you to be on the lookout for doom and gloom. I am challenging you to be aware of life – this world – and then not be so blindsided when troubles come.
Jesus was well aware of what was ahead for Him on this earth. He shared our “human-ness.” In John 12:27-28 He says, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Another Bible version reads, “for this cause I came to this time.”
Cause and effect. We see it in other places in the Bible as well. Ephesians 5:31 says, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” John 18:37 records the conversation between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if He is a king. Jesus tells Pilate, “… for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”
The struggle is real. Jesus’s cause for coming to this earth was for our forgiveness of sins, which leads us to the effect – eternal salvation – redemption – all a part of God’s plan. In the bond of marriage, there is a cause – a tradeoff – for couples to cut the apron strings and bond to each other.
The important part of this message is that the apron strings need to be cut off from the parents before new ties can be established with the spouse. The pain of letting go and cutting off has to happen before the effect can take place. Again, there was no effect of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life until Jesus came and lived and suffered and sacrificed Himself for you. For you – His cause – He came and the effect is your eternity.
Your blended family is no different. What is your cause? You probably left some freedoms, parents, independence, etc., to join with your spouse to form your family. You have probably already realized this was a bigger undertaking than you ever thought. The struggle with the ex-. The step kids not being respectful. The husband not putting you first. But, let me remind you, without the cause, there is no effect – no possibility of an amazing family being forged from past hurts and failures. Remind yourself of your cause – and then let God show you His effect.
Remember, the cause is real, it’s difficult, and impossible at times. But, God has His miraculous ways to work things out – for His purposes and His glory; and that is the effect we should all be seeking.
I periodically substitute teach. In the different classes I sub in, there is usually method of bribery – I mean incentive – for students to behave, show kindness or encourage them to work well together as a class.
I have seen the marble jar method used a lot. The teacher has a large jar in her room and as the students do well and reach goals or act appropriately, the teacher puts marbles in the jar. When the jar is filled with marbles, the class enjoys whatever prize has been set for reaching the goal.
This builds community. The class, as a whole, wants to see the jar fill up with marbles. It means a celebration is coming.
One of our country’s foremost couple’s researchers, Dr. John Gottman, also encourages incentives. One of his is called the “sliding door.” This implies that we have small moments every day in which to slide open a door to notice and engage with concern and care for the people in our lives.
The flipside of that is keeping the imaginary door closed … in which we are shutting off opportunity for engaging with others. These small sliding door moments can slowly and steadily build up trust in our relationships, which again, helps build community.
We have great visual examples of working toward the greater good in our relationships, whether in a classroom, marriage, or even as a stepmom. Maybe us stepmoms, (as well as bio moms), need to get a jar and some marbles – not to be incentive for our families – but for ourselves.
What if each time you said something positive to your kids you put a marble in the jar? What if each time you yelled, lost your cool, said something ugly, you took a marble out of the jar? I know when my stepkids were still living with me, I would probably have had IOU’s in my marble jar. I did not always look for the positive or encouraging thing to say or do. I don’t think I used many “sliding door” moments to build trust in our family. My door was usually locked. Sad, but true.
So now it’s your turn. These incentives, these opportunities are actually Biblically-based.
First Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing, or should be doing.
Hebrews 10:24 tells us to be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works. This verse goes on to encourage us to attend worship meetings, but it works within the context of a family as well – get together often, slide the door open to build trust.
Ephesians 4:29 is pretty straightforward – no foul language is to come from your mouth but only what is good for building up someone in need.
And finally, Romans 14:19 says that we must pursue what promotes peace, and what builds up one another.
In other words, slide open some doors and keep adding marbles to the jar!
I love how things learned from people in the past can really benefit you for the rest of your life. For many years, I worked for my best friend’s husband who is a CPA. I learned so many things from him, but one I have used over and over is the negotiating tactic of “he who speaks first, loses.” In other words, when you are in a situation where you are wanting something – whether by gaining it or buying it – present your desire, give the why, make the offer, and then be quiet. If you go ahead and start talking again, the other person has a much better chance to reject your offer. But when there is silence, it can be a game changer. I have used that technique to buy several vehicles. I try to use it when I am mentoring someone. I have even used it on my kids!
In today’s world, we almost feel like we need to scream to be heard. How about changing that? Why don’t we use our ears more, allowing those around us to trust they are being heard, and we value their thoughts and opinions? After all, we have two ears and one mouth; we should listen twice as much as we speak!
In the beginning of my blended family, we started having family nights, which also provided the opportunity for each of us to vent and share feelings about how the dynamics of our family were going. My kids were a little more vocal about how they felt things could change or were unfair. This allowed us to see this blending process from their perspective. This also allowed Dan and I the opportunity to make some changes if we felt it would be beneficial. There were times we didn’t feel a change was necessary, but at least the kids knew they could be open with us.
We should all take the time to respect and truly listen to each other. The Bible verse that backs this up is Jeremiah 29:12, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Wow … can you imagine if God tuned you out the way so many of us tune out each other? I must confess there are times that Dan is sharing with me but my mind is thinking about something else. There have been times when my children were sharing experiences of their day, and I was thinking about what to fix for dinner, or what chores I wanted them to do. And yet, when I speak, I automatically expect total attention. The old saying is true – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).
As you interact today with your spouse, kids, co-workers, friends, and even strangers in the grocery store line, take the time to use the negotiating tactic of “He who speaks first, loses.” Be quiet long enough for them to get their thoughts out. I think you will find you gain more information, understanding, and wisdom when you challenge yourself to listen in the same way that you would want God to listen to you!
Mentors. They are everywhere. If you want to learn to dance, you find an instructor. If you want to learn a foreign language, you find a teacher. If you want to be the best wife possible, you go to Proverbs Chapter 31, verses 10-31. I don’t know how many times I’ve read these verses and skimmed over the virtues- mostly thinking the thirteen virtues were too impossible to attain all at once. I’m lucky if I can exhibit one virtue within a 24 hour period! Nonetheless, we are going to call them out and rise to the challenge of facing, claiming, and owning these virtues for our very own.
So in order to face these virtues, we must know them. “The Excellent Wife,” a book written by Martha Peace, condenses this list: A wonderful woman fears the Lord, is blessed by her children, is praised, is careful, is not afraid, is a worker with her hands, is wise, generous, good to her husband, respectful to her husband, of exceptional worth, is trusted and she is kind. Now that we have them out in the open, we can begin to claim them for ourselves.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Therefore to be this Proverbs 31 woman, we must fear God. God loves us, sent His Son to die for our sins, has had a plan for each one of us before the beginning of creation. In light of that, we are blessed if we remember the price God paid to give us salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ. This fear is likened to an utmost respect and reverence for God along with knowing that where sin is, there will be discipline, a refining of sorts, to continue the process of molding and shaping us into the image of His Son, Jesus.
I believe that when we actively walk in a manner of respect, awe, fear and reverence for God, our children will see and know our hearts and our actions and will bless us – be thankful to God for us. This may take place many years down the road, but our hearts were created to be very patient with our children – always waiting and wanting for their very best.
This woman is careful – in what she says to others and about others; in what she does and how she does. We have a great responsibility to show our children and family a thoughtful way to live our lives instead of carelessly.
This woman is not afraid. I think that with age, this gets easier. As we learn to trust God and lean into Him through the problems of life, we gain a courage and a strong belief that God is the One who will lead us and fight for us!
This woman works. I truly believe that we are to be workers – with whatever job you have and then also to be a worker in your home and in your church community. There is much to keep up with. I find that with a mapped out plan of my week, I can accomplish much. Love that saying, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
This woman is wise and generous. I know God gives me wisdom when I seek Him first – after all, He created everything – He is the All Knowing so He should automatically be the first One I want to run my day by and turn my problems over to and seek counsel. I also believe that whatever you give to others generously will always come back around to you when needed. It may not come back in the same form it went out, but God always blesses a cheerful giver!
This woman is good to her husband and respectful of him. Your children will learn to be wives and husbands by watching you and your husband. Serving each other and respecting each other will be valuable tools that will help your children create caring, loving marriages of their own.
This woman is of exceptional worth, is trusted and is kind. In several areas of my life, I know that I’m of great worth to my husband and children. I have God-given strengths that bless my husband and kiddos. I bring Dan trust and honor, loyalty and honesty. I bring him, our family and our home my diligence and determination.
There are other areas that I am a ‘work in progress’ and that is okay. I know I’m gaining ground! You will too as you recognize your strengths and use them. We also should look for every opportunity to be kind to others. Start practicing kindness to your spouse, kids and family. It’s like a plant – with water and sunshine, it grows and becomes stronger!
I used to be intimidated by this perfect Proverbs 31 Woman … but with my desire to be a woman that God would be proud of, I’m seeing more of this woman than ever before!
As my husband, Dan, and I spend time coaching married couples in crisis, a common theme arises from the ashes – and that is selfishness. We see a “my way or the highway” approach to the marriage. Therefore, when conflict happens, resolution is about as likely to happen as a snowball surviving in Yuma, Arizona.
Couples so quickly draw battle lines and gather weapons to use against each other. It is a shame they have forgotten that instead of enemies – their spouse is their teammate. They have forgotten that as they tear down this person, they are tearing down their own marriage, family and home.
Jesus tells us in Luke 11:17, “A house divided against itself will fall.” Boy have we seen that happen over and over again.
A team consists of players with different skills. Not everyone on a football team can be a quarterback. That is a formula for disaster and loss.
Same with a marriage. A husband and wife both bring assets to the marriage team. A smart couple will encourage each other to use their strongest gifts and talents in the marriage to be a “winning team.” No, each team player will not always see eye to eye. No, each player may not agree with the next play that has been called to be executed. But … there is a singleness of purpose on a strong team – in other words – unity.
In the book, Finding Ever After, by Dr. Robert Paul, he shares that he and his wife adopted a “no-losers policy.” He says, “In other words, we agreed that it was unacceptable for either of us to walk away from any situation with one or both of us feeling defeated. Adopting a no-losers policy requires a willingness to find enough faith to walk into adventure of an uncertain outcome and trust that God will see you through successfully.”
Dan and I do not have this figured out totally, but we did experience this “no-loser” situation not long ago. We were planning a trip to Colorado to see our kids – wanting to spend about three days with them. Schedules got changed and the trip was moved. Not only was the trip moved, but the time was shortened as well.
Dan made the decision to not reschedule the trip again – but to enjoy the day and a half instead. I was not happy about that. Here is where I had the choice to draw the battle lines and fully engage in war – or I could be the team player and follow the instructions for the next “play.” I decided to support my teammate. At least we were going to see the kids. It was still a nice getaway for Dan and me. And …it would not be my last opportunity ever to see the kids again. I decided to not have my “house be divided and fall.”
I know we all want our own way. However, a team that goes many directions will lose. Look for your marriage’s purpose – you and your spouse’s unity. Then adopt the “no-loser policy.”
Look for ways to get to the goal line – and there may be many different ways to do that – but help each other by utilizing each other’s gifts and talents to make sure your team wins!
Remember; don’t burn down your own house to win the war!
“Run and jump!,” he said. I laughed nervously. I had never zip-lined before. I’ve watched others. They all seemed to have survived, but would I be so lucky? I’m not as young or as small as I used to be. Would the cable be strong enough to hold me all the way across? Would the trolley keep me running smoothly along the cable? Would the harness around my waist and thighs truly keep me connected to the cable from one point to the next?
I guess you don’t know until you jump. I didn’t really run and jump – it was more like a skip. I did scream for about a second until I realized I was still alive – and now was gliding through a tropical forest of pools, rivers and lush vegetation. It was breathtaking and beautiful. What an amazing vantage point to be surveying my surroundings. I can’t believe all I would have missed if I had not taken my ‘leap of faith’!
Isn’t everyday life the same as zip lining? There are many opportunities to jump into a new job, leap into solving critical family problems — skip into a new dream or business venture. But you have to be the first to move.
As a Christian, a believer in God — who sent His Son to save us — and seals us with the Holy Spirit, we have the perfect ‘equipment’ to trust in. God is the cable — sturdy, strong, unwavering. Jesus is the harness — wrapping you up safely. The Holy Spirit is our trolley — guiding us and opening our eyes, minds and hearts to what is around us and where we are headed.
You may be contemplating your next ‘run and jump’ opportunity. Ask God for the faith to give you courage. Watch for the Holy Spirit to guide. Know that Jesus, who is closer than a brother, is constantly with you. Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” Don’t jump into your next opportunity without God.
Psalm 73:28 says, “As for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” When God is a part of your adventure, you can believe you will be able to share with others of His great work.
Being in a blended family is much like zip-lining…you definitely can’t get to the other side without stepping forward and stepping off the platform … run and jump! You may scream at first, but then you will see the beautiful opportunity surrounding you. Hang on … and … Blessings in your blending!
Life is the ever-constant teacher. I have shared in previous radio and blog posts about what you focus on and how you focus on it, tends to direct the feelings and thoughts in other areas of your life. I have often focused on the wrong things and it ultimately left my day with emptiness and bitterness. It really does make a difference whether you see your “glass as half full or half empty.”
I am an optimist for the most part – but when things don’t go as planned – when I start finding fault – my little optimistic brain spirals downwards in a heartbeat. Thankfully, God has been helping me to fix my thoughts on Him – the good He has provided and the good in situations and people. This is especially important as I coach and mentor women and couples.
I’m not saying that you have to become a Positive Polly – but I would challenge you to consider the following Bible verses along with a past coaching experience.
In Proverbs 4:23 it says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” First, let’s look at the word wellspring. dictionary.com’s definition is, “a source or supply of anything, especially when considered inexhaustible”. This gives us such a beautiful visual of our hearts – they flow constantly – are inexhaustible.
Matthew 12:34 gives us additional information; “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”. Through these two verses, we can see that it is important to guard what we allow into our hearts, as well as ears, eyes, and minds.
Second of all, we find that what we allow in, will eventually come back out through our mouths. The day I focused on a negative situation was the day that not only became frustrating and bitter, but the things that came out of my mouth were demeaning and bitter and ugly. That day was a turning point for me.
I do my best to choose to focus on where God is working, what He is doing, and the people He wants me to love and serve – not based on them – but based on God loving them through me.
Since life lessons are great teachers, I shared this with a young wife. She visited with me about how everything was wrong with her marriage. He didn’t do some things, and then he did other things she didn’t like. She started focusing on all the negatives until there was no room for any positive thoughts about him or her marriage. The source of her heart – the wellspring – had turned sour and the bitter and nagging comments from her mouth were the result.
I asked her to look for the good in her husband. She immediately told me he was a good man. She started talking about how he was a diligent provider and a list of other qualities and characteristics that were wonderful.
I almost saw the lightbulb go on inside her head – she pretty much figured out all by herself that she had forgotten about the value and worth of her husband.
I encouraged her to start thinking and reminding herself about who she married – her friend, lover, confidant, encourager. This, of course, did not address all the ‘wrong’ things in her marriage, but it did provide a more positive setting for them to work through the issues.
I didn’t hear from her again until months later… a simple text thanking me for my time and encouragement and that her and her husband were back together and the issues seemed to be working themselves out.
Above all else – guard your heart. Let God pour into your heart through reading His Word and talking with Him daily – all throughout your day. Be careful what music you let yourself listen to. Be cautious of the movies and TV you allow to penetrate your mind … because your legacy to your family is what you pour out to them.
When I think about marriage these days, it conjures up a mental picture of a square dance. You start with a partner and as you dance around a circle, at some point the square dance caller, in his sing-song voice, will say, “change your partner.” So many marriages have mimicked this – you go along for awhile, and then at some point, you change partners.
God’s plan? I don’t think so. Forgivable? Absolutely. Doable? Yes. Difficult? Yes and Yes! Just get ready to learn a new dance!
So as this dance continues with your partner, you may run into a past ex- … or two. This is where things can get sketchy. In a typical square dance, you have four couples who all dance in response to a square dance caller calling the next dance configuration. If all the couples comply, the dance moves effortlessly and in unity — plus it’s a lot of fun! If one couple gets turned around or does their own dance steps, it sends the whole group into chaos.
You may not know a thing about square dancing, but you may know tons about going along in life, and then a text from an ex- will send everyone going in a different direction. You may need a little encouragement today to grab your partner and “do-si-do” and get back in step in your marriage dance. Here’s how you can do that …
First, we need God, His wisdom, and His Word. Romans 8:16-18 says, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud nor conceited. Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
From these verses we first and foremost know that we are responsible for our words and our actions. We cannot control the ex.
Secondly, again, verse 18 says, “As far as it depends on you”… on me. The ex- may text how horrible we are. The ex- may text ugliness and disregard for all of our efforts to help raise and nurture their kids. And, we are going to have to let the words, the accusations, the insults, the obscenities, roll off us like water rolling off a duck’s back.
In other words, the comments will not be allowed to have an effect on us. I know that is easier said than done, but it might help to remember that “hurt people hurt people.”
It doesn’t matter if the ex- is the one who left your spouse. It doesn’t matter if the ex- has numerous hang ups. Somehow, you – and your spouse – are going to take the brunt of the anger and resentment.
So, knowledge is power. Expect those verbal digs. Find compassion for their pain and bitterness. Pray for them. Complain to God – not back at them.
Thirdly, keep all correspondence to the facts. Personal feelings can explode all over one comment. So keep damage to a minimum – as far as it depends on you! I know I want the last word in an argument so badly – but usually my last comment has a zinger within it that doesn’t help the conversation one bit. In fact, it does more damage. Keeping silent is a virtue … and I’m still trying to zip my lip at times!!
We all know that life is not like a perfect square dance. But, we can sure have a lot of fun during times when everyone is playing nice and following the caller’s directions. Sometimes we just need to quit trying to do our own dance – and join the other people who are in your same circle. As far as it depends on you …
I do life better when I have an outline – a plan. If it is easy to remember, then the more often I’m able to recall and then implement. As Dan and I have been working with other couples, God has given me a compact life, marriage and blended family plan. This is not an all-encompassing list – but it is pretty well rounded. So let’s talk about the four building block B’s that will help you do some blending in your marriage and family.
The first B is for Boundaries. Boundaries keep good things within your marriage and family and also prohibit bad things from invading your marriage and family. For instance, not hanging with your single friends at the bar is a good boundary. Continuing to keep a date night with your spouse is a good boundary. Setting aside a dedicated weekly time for family to talk, play games and laugh is a good boundary. Some folks think boundaries are inhibiting. You are going to find that where there are boundaries, there is freedom and safety. Consider driving a vehicle and staying on your side of the yellow line — there is freedom for travel and adventure with a large amount of safety. When you cross that yellow line, you have just opened the door for collision and chaos. Set your boundaries for your marriage and your family. Song of Solomon 2:15 says “Catch all the foxes, those little foxes, before they ruin the vineyard of love, for the grapevines are blossoming”. In other words, set boundaries around your family so that the foxes of this world will not have a chance to come in and destroy what you are trying to grow and build.
The second B is for Balance. I am a firm believer in “work hard, play hard.” Now I’m not promoting working 50% of the time and playing the other 50%. You can find a great balance within your family with an 85/15 ratio. God gave us this work ethic example right in the beginning of the Bible in Genesis. He created the world and all living things within six days. Day seven He rested and admired. It’s important to follow that same example – do well at work and then come home and do well there also. Keep up what you have been entrusted with – whether it is a 600 square foot apartment or a large mansion. You may think that 15% is not enough time to rest and play, but do you realize that 15% equals 25 hours out of every week? That is plenty of time for date night, family time, nap time, and even personal time. I encourage you to track your time this week and see if you can find areas where you can create balance.
The third B is for Budget. I hate this word!!! Dan has been patient and taken the time to show me the money coming in and where it all goes. He has also asked me to help him make our finances work and not continuously increase our debt. Living on a tight budget has shown me that you can still somehow find dollars to put towards vacations, Christmas funds, and emergency funds if you will plan it out and then play it out. Yep – you have to follow it in order for it to work. Dan is still praying for me in this area!!
The last B is for Brainstorming. I love this word!!! Brainstorming can be done by yourself but it is much more fun and enlightening when done with others. This is a practice we teach our couples going through pre-marital counseling. It helps the couple learn how to throw out ideas in relationship to a problem or situation to see solutions from many different aspects and angles. We encourage silly ideas, serious ideas, and impossible ideas. Then the couple can find a solution that best fits the problem. Sometimes compromise takes place. Sometimes the couple is surprised to find a new solution they never dreamed of using. Most of the time, the couple comes through the problem with a better outcome without the usual fighting, disappointment and bitterness.
Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”. Don’t just let life happen. If you want a terrific marriage and family, then be strong and courageous and take the steps to make that happen. I encourage you to try my Basic Four B’s to build a better blended family. Boundaries. Balance. Budget. Brainstorm.
Lists. I love making lists. I have a list for the day, for the week, for the month and then the goals list for the year. I love writing each item down and then find joy and satisfaction in crossing off as many items as possible every day.
Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” captured my attention because Alice had a list. Her list looks different from mine, but I’m going to follow her example. In one of the final scenes of the movie, Alice is getting ready to face her opponent – the Jabberwocky in which she is to slay. To bolster herself, Alice tells the Mad Hatter that sometimes she believe six impossible things before breakfast. The Hatter then tells her this is an excellent practice.
Wow! I’m an optimist and this practice never even crossed my mind.
First Samuel 17:34 is David’s list – you know, the one who killed the giant named Goliath. His list included rescuing a sheep from the mouth of a lion and bear. When the animals turned against David, he killed them. He had quite an impressive list of conquests, so taking on Goliath wasn’t that intimidating to him. He believed that God had delivered him from the lion and the bear and would also deliver him from the giant.
Let’s take this a step further. What about Jesus? Guess what? I found a list! Jesus turned water into wine. He healed people, drove out evil spirits, raised some folks back to life, fed thousands of people with just a handful of food and then did the ultimate – died on a cross for our sins. It didn’t end there though. He went on to conquer death and rise again after three days in a grave. He sits at the right hand of God and is our most precious mediator. He paid the price for our sins – which is very high – death. He did that. What a list of impossibilities.
My list of impossibilities includes being adopted at birth instead of being aborted. Surviving a husband’s death. Learning to cope and not worry about my children’s kidney disease. Functioning well while I was a widow raising two small kids, owning a home and finishing my college education. All of which prepared me for my giant – my Jabberwocky – my blended family.
I had survived and conquered other tough life situations – this would be no different. I had the past to help me look to the future. My story is much like David’s. God had delivered me from other impossible situations and He would be there to get me through the next ones.
Make your list. You have lived long enough to have survived some things and conquered some things. Maybe before breakfast we should go over this list. I have a feeling that during this lifetime, we will be facing many more Giants and Jabberwockys.
Get ready to go forward in faith because as Joshua 1:9 says, “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”