Category: Articles

I was the carrot

freedigitalphotos.net
freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve had to adjust to three of my parents’ remarriages, so when I heard Ron Deal speak on Family Life Today, I was intrigued with his idea of a slow cooker as a metaphor for blended families.
Deal says when a blended family begins they need to adjust slowly, on a low simmer in a slow cooker. But many parents make the mistake of trying to create instant happiness, using high speed and friction in a blender. He asserts that children need more time to adjust to the remarriage than they needed to grieve the loss of the previous family, an average of five to seven years. Often the children are the family members who suffer most because they don’t get adequate time to adjust.
If you try to hurry a recipe for pot roast, you will fail. The meat gets tough and dry, the carrots and potatoes are still hard, and the onions and celery turn to mush. You must use low, slow heat to achieve a harmony of tender meat and flavorful vegetables. That’s what a slow cooker provides.
Deal says there’s a carrot in every family. While everyone else is softening up nicely, the carrot remains hard. Sometimes it’s the teenager. Sometimes it’s the part-time child who doesn’t see the stepparent often enough, so the relationship can’t gel. The carrot needs extra time to soften at a low simmer, at a low level of stress and expectation.
I was the carrot in my family. My mom remarried the week after I turned 13. I had lived in a household of three females for eight years, and I felt threatened by the inevitable changes. An introvert at such a precarious age, I preferred to sit in my room and sort out my thoughts in my journal or through prayer. As a people pleaser, I often went along with Mom’s sincere attempts to create happy family time, but I buried my resentment. My younger sister didn’t seem to resist the change, but I continued to stand at a distance for a long time. At least five years passed before I felt comfortable in our new family. St. Louis Cardinals baseball became the neutral bridge and allowed us to build pleasant memories.
Ron Deal says parents must validate their children’s struggles and their fears during the blending process. I wish someone would have recognized the pressure I faced, from within and without, and told me, “I know this is hard for you.” Perhaps my transition might have been less painful.
How does this teaching affect you as a child of divorce or as a parent in a blended family?

Minister where you are

"El bon samarità (1838), de Pelegrí Clavé i Roquer" by Pelegrín Clavé y Roqué
“El bon samarità (1838), de Pelegrí Clavé i Roquer” by Pelegrín Clavé y Roqué

This week I have listened to a book on CD while driving to and from my job as a high school secretary.  Philip Yancey tells thought-provoking stories of people in ministry in his book “Finding God in Unexpected Places.”  He devotes one chapter to Louise, a woman who started her own Jericho Road ministry in the Atlanta slums.  She simply looks for needs and responds to them, no matter how inconvenient or costly, using the Good Samaritan as her inspiration.

One night Louise got a call from a woman whose husband had beaten her again.  Louise headed right over and helped the woman calm her screaming children, make supper, and clean the house for two hours.  She was tired but peace-filled when she headed home.  Around midnight three elderly women called Louise because they had no food.  Louise, a senior citizen herself, went out to buy groceries and climbed three flights of stairs to their apartment.  She prayed that the Lord would help her since she was so tired.  She prepared a meal and the four women feasted together, praising God and singing hymns until almost morning.

I confess that I became somewhat discouraged by Louise’s example.  Working full-time and raising a family is so time-consuming and seems to leave little room for service opportunities.  When I worked from home, my flexible schedule allowed me to volunteer more often, and I miss those times of fellowship and service.  I want to serve now—I just don’t know how I can add even one more thing to our schedule.

Then God helped me see, as I drove closer to the high school, that my outward ministry is now at work.  My positive attitude can serve those teenagers.  They need kindness, attention, and respect.  They need godly examples.  I can serve in that way.  It’s not as dramatic as Louise’s work, but it is important in God’s eyes.  In fact, I don’t think a person like Louise could do my job.  Yancey described her haphazard methods and disorganized files.  I must be highly efficient and organized and able to constantly multitask in a working environment which would conflict with Louise’s organic style.  That thought pulled me out of the comparison trap and restored my faith in God’s calling on my life for this particular time.

Of course, my primary ministry is in my home as a wife and mother.  I have often felt pressure to do more than “just” serve my husband and children.  Yet I am happiest when I’m cooking and cleaning and spending time with them, making the home a haven for all of us.  This is an unseen ministry to the world, but God sees it and calls me to serve well.

Where is your ministry?

5 Ways to Manage Work Stress

Meditations+of+My+Heart+webMost days, I come home mentally and emotionally spent from my job at a school.  I haven’t managed my stress well in the past, so eight hours of stimulus and negativity wear me down.  This summer I’ve reflected on my mistakes and thought of five ways to proactively manage my stress this school year.  Here’s my list:

  1. Start with a positive mindset.

On my morning commute, I will pray over my upcoming day.  I can listen to Christian radio at my desktop, which helps me focus on faith throughout the day.  I purchased a lovely illustration of a favorite scripture from gracelaced.com (pictured above) to keep me accountable for my thoughts and words—you can purchase a print here.

  1. Use a journal to vent.

Rather than running to my coworker to vent, which too often turns into griping, I will jot frustrations in a journal.  Then I can weigh their importance and decide whether I need to consult with someone else or simply let them go.

  1. Find a physical outlet.

Since the school bells ring every hour, I will use them as reminders to get up and walk around a bit.  That activity will also give my eyes a break from the computer screen.  I have noticed my own children grumble less once they get moving—surely it’s true for me too.

  1. Don’t contribute to problems.

When gossip starts, it’s tempting for me to get sucked in and drown in the negativity.  I can stop entering the discussion by not asking detailed questions, and I can redirect the conversation or walk away if gossip occurs.  The gossip will no longer head in my direction if I don’t listen or participate.

  1. Choose my battles.

When conflict arises, I usually don’t address it, but the tension burns me up inside for hours.  This year I plan to be more direct.  I don’t have to be rude or ugly, but I need to be direct for my own good.  I can say something like, “That comment was out of line, and I don’t appreciate being spoken to that way.”  Even if the offender dismisses me or doesn’t apologize, I will know I’ve done all I can to confront the problem.

What are your stress management techniques for work?

3 Takeaways from Pixar’s Inside Out

Joy and Sadness, from fandango.com
Joy and Sadness, from fandango.com

Almost every time I see a Pixar movie with my children, I end up crying as quietly as possible in the dark theater.  Inside Out was no different in that respect.  This time I cried less for the main character’s plight than I did for the ways the story line resonated with me as an adult child of divorce. Here are my top three takeaways. (note–spoilers ahead!)

1.  Our core memories shape our personality.

In the movie, Riley’s core emotions are golden, representing Joy’s influence. Riley has many happy bonding moments with her parents, which buttress her sunny personality.

While watching Joy send Riley’s daily memories to long-term storage, I considered how many of my core memory “marbles” are golden, and how many are blue with Sadness.  If I survey my childhood, the sad moments outnumber the happy ones.  Surely many adult children of divorce can relate.

With this movie I gained some understanding into my childhood struggles, because most of my core memories–even the joyful ones–are mixed with blue.  The good news is I can use those sad memories to power me toward making joyful memories with my family today.

2. Sadness is a vital emotion.

When Riley faces a tough transition, her emotions war inside.  Joy strives to regain control and banishes Sadness.  Riley’s emotional state disintegrates until Sadness is permitted to take the helm, allowing Riley express pent-up pain and grieve her losses.  She cannot get well until Sadness helps her.

I don’t usually see Sadness as helpful.  I see it as a dark grey cloud, a weight on my chest, an unwanted heaviness.  I feel guilty about Sadness, even though melancholy is my core alignment.  Yet I cannot welcome Joy until I take a walk with Sadness, acknowledging her presence and listening to her wisdom.  Sadness clears the path for Joy.

3. Validation is a key to healing.

Near the end of the movie, Riley finally expresses Sadness in front of her parents.  She is afraid they will be angry, but instead they quickly affirm her fears, doubts, and struggles.  Sadness allows others to help Riley–a key lesson for Joy to learn before she resumes headship.

I couldn’t hold back tears at this point.  What I craved most from my parents, from anyone in my childhood, was validation of my pain.  Not one more “It could be worse.”  Not one more “Be thankful.”  Not one more admonition to “Lighten up” or “Shake it off.”  Sadness sat beside Riley’s imaginary friend, simply listening.  She placed her hand on his arm and simply affirmed, “That’s sad.”  She didn’t tell him to stop crying.  Once she comforted him, he had the energy to move forward.

I didn’t receive validation until I was in therapy as an adult.  Only then did I learn to grieve my losses and pour my energy into moving forward as a wounded healer.

How did this movie resonate with you as an adult child of divorce?  I look forward to your comments, and I may write a future post based on your responses.  Thanks for reading!