Lung Leavin’ Day 2014

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As a mother, one of my biggest fears is getting sick and being unable to care for my kids.  I mean, really sick.  Like a debilitating sickness or even something that would take my life.  If you are a parent, then you know that paralyzing fear of your children having to grow up without you.  It pains my heart to think of the things my children would have to do without my support and love.

That fear became a reality eight years ago for Heather Von St. James when she was diagnosed with mesothelioma – a rare cancer that kills most people within 2 years of diagnosis.  She had just given birth to her daughter Lily and was told she would live on 15 more months.

After a life saving surgery which included removal of her left lung, she and her family began celebrating “Lung Leavin’ Day.”  This year, on February 2, 2014, they will celebrate their 8th year!!!!!  Go read about Lung Leavin’ Day 2014 HERE.

The purpose of Lung Leavin’ Day is to encourage others to face their fears.  I was touched to hear that each year on Lung Leavin’ Day, they gather around a fire in their backyard with their family and friend.  Each of them write their biggest fears on a plate and then they SMASH THE PLATES INTO THE FIRE!

They celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going through a tough time in their life, and more importantly, THEY CELEBRATE LIFE!!!

Heather’s husband reached out to me to spread the word through my blog about Lung Leavin’ Day 2014.  I knew as soon as I read their story, that it could have been MY STORY.  And I would like to think that if it were my story, that I would make it play out like they have — by celebrating the gift I have been given while educating others.

Please go to Cameron Von St. James’ website and learn more about mesothelioma.

May their family continue to be blessed as they continue to be a blessing to others!!!

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Where Is This “Supposed” Boundary Line?

Being a step-parent may very well be the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life.  Parenting is tough enough in and of itself, but at least with the children I birthed I know that I can make a major parenting mistake and they will laugh at me and forgive me for my shortcomings and then forget about it by the time they get home from school.  It seems like no matter what we face, we begin each day with a clean slate.

It’s different with my step-children.  I find myself worrying that I may at any moment make an irreversible mistake which could cause them to harbor resentment until my last breath is taken.  I often dance around issues and walk on eggshells and probably coddle them more than is even necessary.

But the most challenging part about being a step-parent is not crossing the imaginary “boundary line” to which so many parents and step-parents refer.  We are expected to love the children like our own… but not too much.  We are expected to make decisions regarding our home… but not specifically regarding the step-kids.  We are supposed to be interested in their lives… but not too interested in what they do at the other home.  We are supposed to go to their sports activities and cheer them on… but not offer to assist with the activities. We are expected to treat them like our own… but not really.

WHERE IS THE BOUNDARY LINE?

As both a mother whose children have a step-mom and as a step-mom myself, I honestly have no idea where this supposed line is.  It changes completely depending on the parent and I am pretty sure I have unknowingly crossed that line as both a mother and a step-mother.  The fact of the matter is this: I may not have always willingly accepted it, but my children’s step-mom essentially acts as their mother when they are with her.  Unless it is a major medical or educational decision regarding my children, then she and their father make the decision together if it is their custodial time.  I trust in them and I know if it is something that is the least bit controversial, then they will consult with me.  If I didn’t want that to be the case, then I should have stayed married to their father.  I didn’t, so here we are.

I admit that when my ex was newly married, it would infuriate me when he would copy his wife on all of our emails.  I would always “reply” without hitting “reply all.”  Each time I did that he would add her back on when he replied.  I remember thinking, “WE are the parents! SHE is not! Is she keeping record of all of our correspondence in case he takes me to court?”  It’s much easier emotionally as a mother to designate the role of the step-parent as one of someone who sits on the sidelines and smiles at the appropriate times, but nothing more.  A step-parent worth a grain of salt would never settle to be merely a “cheerleader.”  One day my ex plainly said, “I need her included in the emails because she plays a major role in picking up the kids and getting them where they need to be and she needs to know if the calendar will work out for all of us.” <insert my blank, idiotic and sheepish look here>  I felt like a fool.

Until that moment, I had not seen her as a valid part of our parenting arrangement.

It was in that moment that I realized that I should always include her in my correspondence.  I began reaching out to her specifically about things like clothes or medicine, since she would probably be the one to handle that.  After that email, I realized that she is a woman just like me and it’s not just MY life… it’s OUR LIFE.  What a disservice I was doing both to my children and to her by trying to exclude her from our equation.  We now truly respect each other and share this important role in raising the kids.  After eight years of working together, we don’t have this supposed boundary line in our relationship.  We have something better – TRUST.

Unfortunately, not all step-moms and moms respect each other like we do.  Some are truly out to hurt the other person. A friend of mine reached out to me a few days ago for advice.  She said that her ex-husband, who was very controlling and still angry about the divorce, had remarried an equally controlling new wife.  My friend and her ex have shared physical custody of the children and joint legal custody.  Her kids began a new school in the fall and my friend has noticed that she has been missing important events and has not been receiving information like she should from the school.  She reached out to the school to find out that the step-mom had put HER name in as “mother” on all school paperwork.  My friend’s information was nowhere to be found.  Here’s the kicker: the step-mom had informed the office that she and her husband had full custody and that all of the info was to go to her and NOT to the mother.  My friend had to fax her custody agreement to the school to PROVE TO THEM that she was in fact the mother and had parental rights for her daughter! Can you even imagine??  After doing a little more research, it turns out the step-mom had changed EVERYTHING – soccer contacts, dentist, orthodontist, pediatrician.  My friend is currently trying to figure out how to handle the situation from this point, but this is an example of someone who didn’t just cross a boundary, but POLE-VAULTED over it!

I may not know where the line is, but I know it was crossed in this particular situation – far and purposefully.  I suggested she talk to her ex and plead to his softer side by asking him how that would make HIM feel in the same situation…  She told me that she tried that and his response was, “Too bad… you shouldn’t have divorced me.”  Wow.  I would love opinions from my readers on how my friend should handle this situation with a step-mother who has clearly leapt over that boundary line.

I truly believe there is a balance that can be found between step-mother and mother as long as there is respect on each side.  As many friends have told me though, sometimes that respect is just not there.  While it comes naturally to me to always fill out paperwork with my name and my ex’s name as the parents’ info and the step-parents info under “emergency contacts,” some people refuse to do that – claiming the other parent doesn’t pay or just avoiding putting the information in out of spite.

Because I am in a positive situation, I find it shocking when people choose not to make it work when kids are involved.  Through my writing/research though I am learning that this blatant disregard for the best interests of the children is far too common.  And the very best thing for the children involved in divorce is for there to be no need for these supposed “boundary lines.”  If we all work together with open communication while putting the children’s best interests and needs ahead of our own, then we can raise happy, healthy children… together.  Erase the boundary lines and trust each other.

Why I Married My Husband…

This post is part of the Happy Wives Club Blog Tour which I am delighted to be a part of along with hundreds of inspiring bloggers. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!

Sitting down to write a blog about why I married my husband is an extremely overwhelming task.  It’s like trying to count the pieces of sand on the ocean shore.   Or attempting to catch the wind with a net.  The reasons are absolutely immeasurable and impossible to compile.   I have stared at the screen, made notes, looked back through old photos and honestly, just stared at this man who I call my husband.  How, and more importantly, WHY did we get here?

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Our wedding day – May 11, 2013

Joe dated one of my friends in high school.  I vividly remember him beeping his horn every day during 6th period as he was going home.  My friend would smile lovingly every time, but I remember feeling very jealous.  It never failed that he would beep every single day.  I wanted a boy who would show me that dedication.

Twenty years later, I ran across Joe’s name on Facebook and sent him a friend request.  Innocently enough we began chatting through Facebook.  He had been separated for about eight months and I had been divorced for about eight years.  I had dated many men over the years (sorry if any of you are reading this), but not one of them had ever shown me that dedication that I remember Joe showed my friend.  Some of them even failed to really understand what  “being in a relationship” involved.  Square peg, round hole.  None of them ever became anything of substance.

Joe and I decided to meet for lunch for a “non-date” and I have pretty much seen him every day since.  Even on that first lunch date I saw in him characteristics that I could love.  Now, almost two years later, we are married and have blended our two families into one party of six full of love, respect, kindness and dedication.  Here is a list of some of the many things I love about this man:

1) WE SPEAK THE SAME LOVE LANGUAGE – This is huge.  If you have not read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, then go download it NOW.  If you are dating or married to someone who shows you love in a way that does not fill your love tank, then you need to understand why.  When Joe and I first started dating, he did EVERYTHING for me.  I joke about how he full-court pressed me because he brought me flowers, lunch, books from the library, Krispy Kreme doughnuts and more.  He was always giving me gifts.  I finally had to say to him, “While I love the gifts and attention, please know that my love language is 50% Physical Touch and 50% Words of Affirmation.  Gifts and Acts of Service do nothing for me.”  Although he still takes care of me nonstop, I think it was comforting to him to know that we speak the same love language, so all of that extra stuff is nice at times but not necessary.  Now we just hug each other non-stop (ask the kids, because they claim it’s annoying) and tell each other how much we love each other.  Our rule is to never walk in or walk out of the house without giving each other a kiss and telling each other we love each other.

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This is a text Joe sent me a few days ago. Sweet fella ALL THE DAYS…

2) HE ADORES ME – Joe has adored me from the beginning.  Most importantly, he has SHOWN ME how much he has adored me from the beginning.  He was never scared to show it.    It was the best feeling for the first time in my life to be with someone who I adored, but who undoubtedly adored me back.  And went out of his way to show me that.  From the beginning, he was there for me.  He was genuinely interested in what had happened in my life over the twenty years between when we had last seen each other.  And he listened.  And remembered.  He’s happiest when we are together as a family with our kids and everyone is laughing.  There is nowhere in the world he would rather be.

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Our first Christmas as a family… in my Christmas Jammies!

3) HE LOVES HIS CHILDREN MORE THAN LIFE – I could tell in our first lunch together that his children were his life.  It was obvious to me without even knowing the whole story that his divorce had destroyed his life because he was forced to only be with his kids 50% of the time.   Over time, our conversations got much more involved and I learned the extent of the pain the divorce had caused him.  He was still very wounded and struggling when we reconnected and I was hesitant to begin a relationship with him, but it was clear that he WANTED to move on and he wanted to move on WITH ME.  We waited for six months to introduce his kids to me since it was all so new for them.  Although I struggled with not seeing him 50% of the time, I knew how important that time was for him and for his kids as they began their new normal.  The wait definitely paid off.

4) HIS SENSE OF HUMOR – From day one I knew that Joe was the man with whom I wanted to grow old.  He made me laugh a lot in messages before we even had our first lunch.  I have always been proud of my quick wit and I realized early on that I may have met my match.  We would text quip after quip back and forth and I would laugh every time I got a text.  It’s so nice to have a man who I can spend an entire weekend without seeing another soul and we laugh, dance and have so much fun together.  No matter what we are doing.

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Joe is an 5X tee shirt with a Santa beard on… being silly at Christmas!

5) HE MAKES ME A PRIORITY – He is quick to defend me when someone criticizes me and would stand up for me to anyone if necessary.  He turns off the security system in the morning and goes all the way down to the cold kitchen to make me coffee.  I can’t tell you how many mornings I wake up to him handing me a cup of perfectly made coffee in bed.  What a wonderful way to wake!  He does chores that he may not want to do to give me time to write because he knows how important my writing is to me.  Recently he even took me away for a weekend to a cabin with no wi-fi, television or cell service, so I could work all weekend on my book.  It was perfect.  It may not have been his first choice of things to do, but he did it for me because seeing me happy makes HIM happy.

6) HE EMBODIES THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – I knew immediately that there was something DIFFERENT about Joe.  There was something about him that I wanted to be around.  I now realize that it is the man who he is inside his heart.  He’s one of the strongest Christian men I know.  Anyone who knows him can attest to the fact that he shows love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control every day of his life.  He’s certainly not perfect, so there have been times when he may not have shown the self-control that he would have liked, but I don’t expect perfection from him.  I’m not perfect either.  We are, however, perfect for each other.  I am proud that our children will grow up seeing a man who is truly the spiritual leader of our home.  I pray our girls will look for a man who has the same attributes.

7) HE DOESN’T FOLLOW SOCIAL RULES – Trust me when I say that my husband is all man.  He loves sports and exercising and loves having beers with his friends.  However, he is not restricted by gender roles.  He loves to cook and he loves to bake.  When we first started dating and spent time rehashing his marriage and ultimate divorce, he told me what his “splurge” item was following his separation… a fancy sports car? a trip to Costa Rica? a new grill?  No. No. No.  He bought a stand mixer.  Yes, a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.  At the time, I was flabbergasted.  I think my next sentence was something like, “If you ever want to be romantic with me again, then you may not want to talk about that ever again.”  Since that time though I have realized that one quality I love more than anything about that man is that he is sensitive and loving and kind hearted, but still has just enough of an edge to always keep me intrigued.  EDGE.  I have always loved that about him.

I could go on and on and on, but I think I have hit the highlights of why I married this man.  I had a list of the characteristics I wanted in a man, but had failed miserably in finding anyone who had even a few of the characteristics on the list.  Then, out of the ashes of many failed relationships and eight years as a single mom, a man who had EVERY SINGLE QUALITY on my list appeared from my past when I least expected it.  And I cannot wait to enjoy every single day of the rest of my life with him.

Fawn Weaver, the founder of the Happy Wives Club wrote a book about the best marriage secrets the world has to offer. They say the book is like “Eat, Pray, Love meets The 5 Love Languages.” I say the book is inspiring. You can grab a copy HERE.

Jen Hatmaker – Relational Repair for “The Difficult”

I realize that I just published a blog within the past ten minutes or so, but this blog cannot be ignored.  Not now. Not never.

There are times in my life when something speaks to me and I clearly know WHO IT IS that is trying to get something through my thick skull.  And boy was He talking to me through this blog.

Jen Hatmaker – Relational Repair for “The Difficult”.

We all have people in our lives who are just, well, DIFFICULT.  And no matter what we do, they are exhausting with their never-ending drama and unwillingness to act the way that we want them to act.  They crave attention, whether it be good or bad attention.

My favorite line in the entire blog is: “PEOPLE ARE DIFFICULT. I mean, we’re not. Other people, I’m saying. These difficult people are making us act bad against our will.”

HASHTAG TRUTH!!!!!!!!!!  I refuse to flounder in frustration for another minute.  Thank you so much to Jen Hatmaker for this well-written blog.  I too need something to mitigate the shame of Being Icky to Someone.  My goal will be patience, grace, and love.

Amen.

 

We Can Get Through Anything Together

As published today by Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-deloach/blended-families-we-can-get-through-anything_b_4557028.html

Our party of six had our first family drama this week.  I’m proud to proclaim that it took almost eight months of marriage before it happened (which admittedly is MUCH LONGER than I expected it to take with four kids in the house).  Joe was picking the boys up from youth group when the girls got dropped off from church.  I was cooking dinner and it was a seemingly peaceful Sunday evening – the proverbial calm before the storm.

It was one of those times when I was happily humming and doing what I love to do best when one of the girls came in the kitchen crying… and all hell broke loose.  Apparently one of the girls overheard the other saying ugly things about her while they were at church.  Another friend was involved who apparently stirred the pot a little too.  As a result, my step-daughter was saying that her mom would come get her and my daughter was refusing to discuss it.

And Joe was not home… so I was left to handle it alone.  While my negotiation skills and people skills serve me well in all areas of business, they are no match for two upset preteen girls.  Although Joe was not there, I knew it had to be handled and that I was the mother in the home.  I knew where to turn… I prayed.

I prayed for strength and knowledge.  I prayed for the strong foundation of love that these girls clearly have.  I prayed that the right words would come to me.  I prayed that I would remain unbiased and not be too hard on either one of them.  I prayed that God would be with us.  Then I called them downstairs for dinner.

Of course they were none too happy because I made them sit in their regular seats at the table (next to each other) although no one else was at the table.  And then I began, “I know neither one of you wants to talk about this and I am not going to make you… but I am going to make you sit here and listen to me.”  The words just flowed from my heart… about love and forgiveness and family.  I stressed the importance of communication and how no matter how uncomfortable it may be to communicate it is worthwhile to avoid situations like this.   How if things are not discussed, then they can build up inside.

My daughter said, “But it’s HARD to tell someone something when you know it’s going to upset them.  You’re an adult. It’s easier for you.”

Boy was she wrong.  It is not easier as an adult.  Even with Joe, my soul mate, it’s hard to broach sensitive subjects.  My heart beats fast and I get the nervous sweats, but once I get it out, I feel so much better.  Holding it in and trying to just move on will not help the situation improve in any way.  That’s the very thing that ends friendships and leads to the demise of marriages.

It’s especially hard to broach difficult subjects in co-parenting situations when you feel very strongly about something and want to discuss it with the other parent.  This is someone to whom you no longer have emotional ties but you would like to have a heart to heart about your children.  You have to take a leap of faith when trying to discuss the topic since while seeking honest communication, you may instead get chastized or ignored completely.

Silly girls on the day they became SISTERS.

Silly girls on the day they became SISTERS almost 8 months ago.  They wanted in on the marriage action so they re-enacted Joe proposing.

Thankfully, since we consistently encourage open communication in our home, the girls calmly took over and talked about what happened.  They semi-apologized (enough for me to be satisfied for the moment anyway) and went their separate ways for a while.  Joe got home and I was snuggling with my step-daughter on the sofa.  We all chatted a little and then my daughter came downstairs and snuggled up on the couch with us.  They exchanged what this time seemed to be heartfelt apologies and the night seemed to end on a positive note.

While I know this is just the tip of the iceberg with two girls who are quickly approaching their teens, I am very proud of how they handled the first true controversy in our home.  My step-daughter had the initial “flight” feeling, but we stressed that no matter what happens in our home, we can get through it as a family.  Neither girl will be allowed to run away from problems.  We are teaching our children to face their fears and any controversies.  We are raising strong leaders, not quitters who place blame on others.

Last night while the girls were sprawled out on the floor in front of the fire in their jammies watching a movie, giggling and being silly, I made eye contact with my amazingly handsome husband and we just smiled at each other.  Our hearts were filled with joy and my husband even commented on how he didn’t want the night to end.  We were witnessing firsthand the forgiveness of siblings and the strength of their love.

First lesson taught and it was a success.  Our family is strong.  Family comes first.  Friends are fleeting but siblings are forever.  No one in your life will have your back like your siblings will.  No running away from controversy.  We face any adversity life may throw our way (no matter how uncomfortable it may be).  And we learn from it and grow closer in the process.

We can get through anything TOGETHER.