My stepfamily lives in Weeki Wachee, Florida, home of the mermaids (There is an old roadside theme park down the street that is world famous for its "mermaid" shows) and recently the temporary home of two unwanted visitors: Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. Both came to visit on separate weekends, leaving swaths of destruction behind them. Broken trees and jagged-edged business signs still line our county.
My husband, our children and stepchildren and I learned quickly that just like the storms in our lives, hurricanes are not a lot of fun, but they actually have some benefits. In the aftermath of the hurricanes I discovered some distinct parallels between Frances, Jeanne, and living in a stepfamily. Frances and Jeanne may not have been welcome, but they shook things up, forcing people to revisit the past, reinforce weak structures, and rebuild what was lost.
That's a lot like what happens in a stepfamily. Birthed from loss, either through divorce or death, stepfamilies often face emotional storms. Stepchildren didn't ask for an "extra" parent. New spouses often don't realize what an "instant family" will really be like. However, stepfamilies can be a powerful testimony to God's ability to redeem and rebuild just like you do after hurricanes.
Here are some lessons I learned:
1. Even with preparation, you are never prepared for big storms.
Storm watchers and meteorologists warned us Floridians for days - weeks, even - about the hurricanes. We were shown news reports of people waiting in lines for gasoline and reminded to stock up on bottles of water, canned goods, and matches. Still, the storms did not feel real until they were upon us. Then, no weather report could compare to the sound of that howling wind, they way trees doubled over in the wind, or the eerie calm that came with the eye.
Such is the case when building a stepfamily. You can read the marriage manuals, attend parenting courses, and spend time with each other's kids, but nothing fully prepares you for the real day-to-day living in a stepfamily unit. You just have to do it and hang on for the ride. Take it one day at a time - with tons of prayer - and realize that storms, like Frances and Jeanne, will come your way. Remember, too, that they will pass and life will go on.
2. There is peace in the eye of the storm.
The peace that came during the eyes of Frances and Jeanne was very sweet, because it was in such obvious contrast to the whipping winds and driving rains we just experienced.
When your stepdaughter screams that you are "NOT her mother" after you ask her to clean her room, then returns an hour later expecting you to drive her to the mall to meet friends (and give her money to shop with), you may feel like you are in the middle of big storm. It won't always be so. It may take a long time, but peace will come if you remain faithful to turn the control of your stepfamily (including your screaming stepdaughter and your own emotions) over to the Lord. Storms may toss you on both sides, but you will have your "eyes" of peace. Watch for them, and revel in them.
3. In the middle of the storm, I felt the safest.
In the middle of those hurricanes, I knew that I had absolutely no control. I had to trust in the Lord to protect my family, my home, my cars, and my friends. As winds whipped and raged, I relaxed inside my house, knowing that the foundation was firm and that I had prepared the best I could. At times, the power was out, the phones down, and everything was closed. Those were two of the most restful times I've had in recent years, because I was forced to stop everything - no email, no phone calls, no errands to run. Just me, my family, and God. Wow!
In the middle of a stepfamily storm, you can rest in God's arms -- if you let go. Remind yourself that the kids are His kids, not yours, and that of all the people in the world, He chose you to be their parent or stepparent because of what you can bring to their lives. You may not feel like you are getting through at all, but be encouraged and rest in Him.
4. A storm tears down what is weak.
Hurricanes do the most damages to things that are weak: very old and very young trees, flimsy business signs, and mobile homes. Houses built "to code" usually stand up to the storms pretty well.
In the "hurricanes" of stepfamily turmoil, our foundation in the Lord has kept us standing firm. We may bend, but we don't break. How about you? In times of non-conflict, like family outings and dinners, are you covering your stepfamily with prayer, heading to church, doing devotions, and living your life in a way that is pleasing to God? It is much easier to stay on your knees in prayer and let him surround you with His protection than it is to be brought to your knees by trials and storms.
5. In the aftermath of a big storm, you rebuild.
As soon as Ivan, Frances, Jeanne, and Charley (the four hurricanes that hit Florida this year) left the state, the process of picking up the pieces and rebuilding began. Construction trucks rolled in, and Home Depots and Lowe's sold out of key materials. Debris was cleared, traffic signals made operational, and streets cleaned up as quickly as possible.
When an emotional storm leaves your stepfamily reeling, do not leave the wreckage lying around. Pick up the pieces. Offer mercy and grace, and move quickly towards forgiveness and reconciliation. While you can never control others, you can always do your part. Remember, "Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible." (Romans 12:18, NLT)
God loves your stepfamily, and he wants to bless you - so that you can be a powerful testimony to His goodness. The next time a big storm blows your way, stand firm in Him.
Natalie Nichols Gillespie is the author of The Stepfamily Survival Guide and Managing Editor of the Successful Stepfamilies E-Zine. She can be reached through www.stepfamilysurvivalguide.com (when she is not chauffeuring kids in her 12-passenger van).