Like many stepparents, I naively expected to develop strong, loving bonds with my stepdaughters. Since I had chosen to care for someone else's children, didn't I deserve good relationships?

For the first several years, I experienced few disappointments. However, as the girls got older our relationships became more complicated. The girls needed more time with their father; they already had a good mother and didn't need or want another one; and, as they became teens, the areas where our values differed became readily apparent.

My attempts to connect with my stepdaughters, combined with my efforts to maintain order in our home, drove them further away. Then I felt rejected or manipulated and withdrew from the girls. Our natural, protective responses isolated us into our emotional corners. But God's Word provided some answers for working my way out of that corner and beginning to rebuild.

Trust in God's providence.

Abraham and Sarah left a legacy of faith even though they were far from perfect. Their story encourages me: In spite of my many stepparenting mistakes, God can still use me.

During the few years that one of my stepdaughters lived with us, I became a Sarah. Just as Sarah maneuvered to provide Abraham with a son, I tried to help God turn my husband into the father I thought he should be and my stepdaughter into a good Christian girl. But my crusade only drove her farther away.

Now I understand that rather than adding to the problem, I can work on trusting God's ultimate plan. Joseph is my model: He patiently made the best of situations that challenged him. He did not try to control people, but he did take advantage of opportunities to be an influence. In spite of Joseph's enslavement and unjust imprisonment, he helped people wherever he was and ultimately was granted a level of respect and influence that few attain.

God has a purpose for placing people in specific roles -- even stepparents. I make the biggest difference not when I focus on fixing people or my plight, but when I rest in His plan.

Remain open.

During family counseling, I finally understood that one stepdaughter truly did not want any further relationship with me. Stunned, I wanted to remind her of our years together and convince her that she didn't really mean it.

Instead, the word compassion came to mind. In Luke 15 , the father of the prodigal showed compassion by enduring his son's contempt while remaining hopeful and open to restoring their relationship. In the same way that the father of the prodigal allowed his son to move "a long way off," I also had to let my stepdaughter move away. God gave me the ability to say, "I don't understand why you feel that way; but if and when you do want a relationship, I will be here."

Though the pain of rejection was brutal, the reminder of God's compassion gave me strength to bear it. Rather than becoming defensive, bitter, and withdrawn (as had happened in other conflicts), I experienced God's peace and a soundness of mind.

Keep showing kindness.

To fulfill a vow, David made a beautiful commitment to Jonathan's son Mephibosheth: "I will surely show you kindness... You will always eat at my table" (2 Sam. 9:7 ). It is possible that Mephibosheth betrayed David, but David continued to provide for him (2 Sam. 16:1-4 , 19:24-30 , 21:7 ). Like David's relationship with Mephibosheth, stepparenting can be thankless at times. So why continue to be kind? Several reasons motivate me.

• God continues to show me kindness, in spite of contempt I have shown to Him.

• I covenanted before God to love and honor my husband. One way to keep that covenant is loving and caring for his children.

• God's loving-kindness draws people to Him (Jer. 31:3 ). My task is to allow God to show His kindness through me.

So I am resolved to show my stepkids kindness, and they will always be welcome at my table.

Deal with your emotions.

The emotional upheaval of stepfamily life generates plenty of anger, pain, fear of inadequacy, and uncertainty about where (or even if) a stepparent belongs. Stepchildren experience the same emotions. How can we keep all this from destroying our families?

Take your emotions to God. God can handle our honest emotions. David poured out his anger and fear to God, even the stuff that sounded unChristian (Ps. 55:15 ). Casting our burdens on the Lord frees us to consider other's perspectives (Ps. 55:22 ). Telling God about our pain also keeps us from our natural tendency to lash out at family members who have hurt us.

Seek godly counsel. Find a Christian family that has survived the stepfamily journey. Some churches now offer Sunday school classes or support groups for stepfamilies. When seeking pastoral counsel or a family counselor, try to find someone familiar with the unique challenges stepfamilies face.

Learn all you can about stepfamily life. As I read, I found that our situation was not uncommon. I also gained practical information that changed my thinking and actions for the better.

My stepfamily still isn't perfect -- no family ever is. But we are slowly mending. God has used this experience to teach me about His mercy and to help me trust Him not just with my life, but with the lives of those I love.


Kay Adkins is the author of I'm Not Your Kid: A Christian Guide for a Healthy Stepfamily (Baker Books). Visit her on the web at www.faithfulsteps.com.