Archive for the ‘Remarriage’ Category

One of the gifts that is often overlooked that we need to thank God for is memory.

I have long been one to emphasize experience over things in vacations or other events.  If given a choice between two options such as going to a concert or buying some new clothes, I will always choose the concert.  Things that are truly needs, obviously come first, but if both the items above are wants, the experience wins every time.  A big part of this for me is that I can revisit the joy of the experience time and again, view it from different angles and perspectives and even get new insights thanks to the gift of memory.

Nowhere is memory more valuable than in our families.  As a blended family this can be a double edged sword as some memories of the “before time” can cause friction and tension where before they used to cause joy and pleasure.  For example, old traditions, some no longer practical, others perhaps “lost” because of an agreement with your spouse to compromise and just do something new, can cause issues especially if they are brought up by the children.  Suddenly the old dynamics of the earlier days, of sides, come up.  It might be a place that was regularly visited that has value to some but has little pull to the other “side” or to an activity undertaken as specific milestones in life that were fun for some but that seem stupid and silly to the other “side”.  How we look at memories can determine how this proceeds in a blended family.  Just as with any gift, it is not always only a good thing.  A new toy may be sheer joy and pleasure for the kids but a major irritant to one parent who cannot stand the noise or the mess it makes.  Similarly, if we choose to keep bringing up these old memories and lamenting over what once was and then starting to frame the new family as the barrier that exists in making it happen again, we are only headed for bad things.  Instead, I find that celebrating those memories for what they were, experiences at a place in time in a certain family configuration and just enjoying them in quiet times is what is best about them.  I do think this only works if you are making new memories, which comes back full circle to my focus on experiences over things.  I would imagine a life in which you stopped making new memories as a blended family and only lamented those things you used to do before you blended could very easily lead to heartache and sadness.

My own personal memory sink right now has to do with Marcia.  I wrote several months back about her decision to move out.  Since then contact with her has really been non-existent.  I reach out to her with an e-mail or text when I feel compelled to let her know something, to parent from afar if I really analyze what it is, and this results in at best a token acknowledgement such as “OK” but more often is just greeted with radio silence.  My decision, and only time will tell if it is “right”, is to let her live her life as an adult and not force myself into it, though as a parent there is some pain in a child just tuning you out of their life as if they flipped a switch.  It’s as if Marcia walked out of the house right after Thanksgiving, and much like we do when we leave the house every morning for work, looked over at the switch labeled “Dad” and flipped it to Off and then closed the door and drove away.  I have no idea if there was more to it than that (for my sanity I do think at times I have to believe there was) but in the end that’s what it feels like, an afterthought in her life on the way on to the cool things of the rest of the day.  So when I get to those points I choose to unpack a memory or two.  Perhaps it is something simple like a conversation we had, even are argument we had in her last couple years in the house, and see the good in it and her struggle to define herself in a world that she was railing against, or perhaps it was those older memories when I was her hero and we were doing something fun and exciting.  This is the gift of a memory.  It can change our perspective.  Depending on your mind though, it can be a danger.  I do not struggle with it often, and it is so rare that it is very easy for me to walk away from that cliff edge of resentment of why things are not the same, but I know of others who have this torment sometimes on a weekly basis.  These are the people who struggle to heal and move on and make the best of their blended family instead of focusing on them as the cause of why.  By the grace of God this is not a problem for me, but if it is for you, I cannot stress how crucial it is to get yourself some help or you will be heading down the trail to tension and strife that may lead you to another divorce.  When you unpack those one sided memories do not let them begin to rub you the wrong way and create judgements and barriers that can be difficult to erase.

Moving back to the true gift of memories.  The road continues on and the kids keep getting older.  Sure the big experiences build some great memories, but just as every gift from our loving Father, it is more important to appreciate the little facets of it.  Those memories that exist in the everyday, that spring forth just from the minimal effort involved in letting life unfold.  I believe I am more appreciative of it because of what has happened with Marcia leaving and those things that no longer happen.  It makes little difference if those things are negative or positive, what matters is that it has brought more to the forefront that we are closer to more of this than less, this nearness of getting to the point of the never more.

Shortly we will no longer have the sounds of a group of girls standing around the island in the kitchen and being loud and probably laughing at something I find utterly stupid.  The boys at the computer debating the best way to do something in their game at hand or talking about a video will be a thing of the past.  The house will not be quiet in the morning for about twenty minutes after I wake up and then start to echo with thumps and thwaps of footsteps or drawers or doors being moved as they all wake up and begin getting ready for school, it will just remain quiet.  We get a taste of “empty nest” on our weekends and for now my wife and I mainly view it as wonderful, but the prudent analyzer in me understands that part of this joy comes with knowing that it will end in a few days and they’ll start coming back, however one day they will head out and we’ll have no idea when they will be back and I know that will be less joyful.  This is when we need to look to the gift.

Memory will allow us to look back on all these trivial happenings, some that occurred more frequently than others, and recall.  We’ll recall them playing on the floor with the pets, being upset about some slight or other of the day, or the prayers we prayed for them each and every day.  The thousands of prayers lifted up to help them find their way.  When they all move away the home will not be empty.  There was a poem in the late 60’s by Bob Benson titled “Laughter in the Walls” and it fits well in what I’ve been talking about especially towards the end, when he says, “Every corner, every room, every nick in the coffee table will be crowded with memories”.  He goes on to list his particular memories, general enough for everyone to find something, as a commercial poet would be wont to do, but I will replace them with our own memories.  Our Creator gave us this wonderful gift, and I pray that all of us find the best ways to use it, rather than the hurtful ways it can be turned towards.  The goal for me is always good.  Thank you Father for this wonderful gift and for the wisdom to use it wisely.  To be able to say thanks for the memories and to enjoy the laughter in the walls.

Recently I came across a brief study of the section in Exodus where the Israelites camp at the base of the mountain and instead of following God they choose to do their own thing (worship an idol) and instead of entering the land of milk and honey they are led to forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

With the spectacle that happened in that time and place with God coming down on Mount Sinai in clouds and fire and still the people chose to ignore the fact that there is no greater God, how much more difficult is it for us to keep our eyes on God in our world where he does not appear with such obvious power and awe?  This is the vein I have found myself thinking in the last few weeks.

God makes it very clear in the Word that all he asks of us is to follow and revere him and He will guide us.  The example above was simply one of the most graphic preserved for our improvement in the Bible.  When people choose to follow their own interests instead of God’s bad things usually happen.  In the case of Israel they went from being at the doorstep of the Promised Land to then wandering aimlessly for forty years and never reaching what was the destination they set out for.

If we move to our modern world and look at our lives and those around us, is it not evident that the same thing happens today?  We all know someone, or perhaps many some ones, whose entire life never really got to where we thought it would.  When we look back with the benefit of hindsight the forks in the road and the paths taken are so obviously the wrong ones that we shake our heads in disbelief.  How could they not have known that making that decision as a teenager would haunt them their whole life?   How could the Israelites, at the base of the mountain on which Moses went up to meet God, have made the decision they made?  We all know the answer; that in the moments of our lives if we turn away from the teachings and guidance of God we end up on the wrong path, lost in the wilderness of life.

For non-Christians I imagine this whole thing called life can be extremely frustrating.  Nothing is connected to anything else except by perhaps some passing spirituality that they refuse to name or maybe never even acknowledge.  How empty it must feel to think that anything you do is contained in your own little bubble and not accountable to much of anything.  Sure it might be liberating for a moment, but I have countless people I have known over life with which I have had the “why did this happen” conversations.  In many of those times I was not yet equipped to understand what I do now with the wisdom provided by God to see those events for what they became.  God judges all, whether they believe in Him or not, and when a decision is made contrary to His commandments and teachings we all see the wreckage.  I have an uncle who never took to heart that work is responsibility and that God expects us to be accountable for doing the right things with people.  The result has been a lifetime filled with extreme hardship, disconnection from family and perhaps friends (none of us have heard from him in over a decade so perhaps he’s got some),and financial and physical ruin.  Like many, he went to church, perhaps still does, but just like the Israelites, while he may have witnessed and understood the glory of God he chose to go another way; the way of selfishness and inward focus.  The results are his own forty years of wandering in the wilderness as an adult and he may never come out of it, much as all those who died in the desert never reaching their desired destination.

For believers, when things are not what we would like, if we really take a look, we may have done our own idol worshipping and God has sent us wandering off in the wilderness for a time as well.  A key focus of this blog is divorce and its ongoing impact on lives.  For many of us, this is a key area where we went our own way, choosing helpmates based on our standards and not God’s, and the devastation of divorce is visited on us and ours.  In Exodus 34:7 we read of God visiting the iniquity of the father down to the third and fourth generations.  How many of us can look back on families who seem to have been shattered by something, divorce, or otherwise and the suffering and agony goes on and on from one generation to the next?  Non-Christians will look at this and say what a vengeful God, and why would this be the case, but a careful study of these lessons show that God in his grace and mercy does not condemn these following generations without recourse.  Later in Leviticus He gives clear guidance in 26:40 that if they “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies” that, in verse 42, “I will remember my covenant with Jacob…Issac…Abraham”.  Only those who continue to walk their own way, who continue to hate God, will be condemned.  This is the fruit of what we cannot always see.  If we walk away from God, or walk off of the path He wants us on committing treachery and walking contrary we will always be judged and have a less than desirable result.

It took me a long time to understand this fundamental precept of faith.  When I do things for the glory of God, that make others who do not know Him look at my actions and wonder “why?” I always have a better outcome than if I do things for the glory of me or someone else.   I ended up in a marriage ending in divorce, I distanced myself from my children and I lost jobs when I made decisions by worldly rules.  When I stuck with the hard road after my divorce and chose to follow God’s path he led me to my wife and a loving and glorious relationship with a godly woman who makes all aspects of my life easier.  I am not wandering the desert of life, tripping over rocks, begging for water, watching death and destruction rage around me.  I have a helpmate who makes the crooked path straight, who clears my pathway and removes rather than sets obstacles in my way.  In engaging with my children in the love of the Lord and with compassion and mercy I have begun to heal the wounds created by following an easier worldly path that was saturated with bitter words, hurtful phrases and modeling a selfish man and not a loving God.  Instead of making choices at the workplace that felt good for me in the moment by confronting negative co-workers or incidents with anger and indifference, I have worked to choose the path God would want me to take of acting rightly and reaching out with care to understand the trials that might be making those individuals act negatively.  In short when I use my hindsight and look on those times when I chose to not drive God to walk contrary to me but with me because I was walking with Him, the outcome is always good.  Sure I still do things from time to time that have me walking in the wilderness but with a deeper and broader understanding of God I much more quickly find the path again.  The challenge is to foster that in the generation to come before they find themselves lost.  Just as Moses must have felt very frustrated and dumbfounded by the stupidity when he came down from the mountain and saw everyone dancing around the golden calf, so to do we as parents feel the same way at times when we witness the worldly decisions our children make and the pain it causes them.  When Marcia refuses to prioritize work over play her grades suffer, she does not find a job and she limits her options in life.  When Jan prioritizes an electronic device over the rules of when it can be used she loses that device.

Taken in this broader context is all looks so simple.  It’s just always a struggle when all of your friend’s are dancing around that pretty golden calf and grabbing your arms and asking you to join them.

“In the end what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s been no secret to followers of this blog that Bert is a bit of an overachiever when it comes to creating divorce drama.  Over the last month our household has been dealing with one of those moments which would easily have been resolved if Bert and his household would even attempt to communicate normally, but one that was expected given his pattern in the past.  I have waited to begin writing about this situation until it started to clarify itself a bit and now feel we are coming out on the other side and at least have a semblance of understanding of what might really be going on.

The start of this entire episode was that Peter was caught doing something with his younger half-brother over at Bert’s house.  It seems Jan walked in on them and reported the incident to Bert who then proceeded to escalate the situation through his normal tactics of fear and overbearing behavior with his kids until it resulted in involvement of social and law enforcement services because there were false accusations around myself and Greg.   Greg had already been used in a ploy earlier this year when Bert tried to create some additional drama.

During this time our household had been asked to separate so my wife had spent the time she had with her kids for summer vacation at her mom’s while I had my children with me at our house.  In the course of all this, probably due to Bert’s barrage of accusations against about seven or eight other people he suddenly found himself also being asked to not be in his house over night with his children.  Sadly, our initial hope that perhaps this time the authorities would do something about Bert and he inappropriate behaviors and environment in his household seems to be fading away as things have just devolved into confusion and ineptness.

The facts as we know then now, and are dealing with them, is that there was in fact, according to the counselors involved with the kids, some age-appropriate activities that we certainly want to stop, along with situations at Bert’s house that go beyond the age-appropriate level.  The advice of social services was to get most everyone into counselors and this has been done at this point, but what has resulted is that the professionals we were sent to are at complete odds for the most part with social services.  What is more frustrating is that multiple counselors have told us all the same thing:  that social services tend to overreact and make poor recommendations.  So under the advice of several professionals we are proceeding according to the direction of the professionals to move forward rather than to remain stuck in a non-solution proposed by social services. 

I’ll get into some more of the explanation of how confusing this whole process was, in another post.  On this side I want to share some of what I experienced to try to provide help to others who may find themselves caught in a similar nightmare.

There are no statistics I could find about how often blended families find themselves on the receiving end of serious accusations that have no basis in truth.  I was not surprised by this because I’m not sure how you would gather those figures.  In my situation, I was put in contact, via a contact through church, with another man who went through a similar false accusation so I know of at least one, but in our work with divorced people we hear stories all the time of exes making things up for whatever reason.  Just as in this situation, we can usually only speculate about the driver of this being bitterness, revenge, anger or whatever else.  Sadly, too many people place the emphasis on themselves rather than on their children, and the children end up suffering in the process.  In the case with Bert, my wife has tried numerous times to show how he harasses her using the various agencies and creating false investigations, but the system is to messed up to respond.  Perhaps as more of us talk about this challenge faced by divorced people everywhere, changes can be made to the system.

One of the most upsetting things I learned in this process as I consulted an attorney to guide if I should speak with someone or what we might hear, is that since this entire accusation against me was false and therefore there is no evidence and I was informed of that, that is all we will hear.  No one will call me to say an investigation is over.  I was amazed.  The attorney said even with their “access” to the legal system, they would not be told either.  I’m sure some of it has to do with manpower in already understaffed and overworked government agencies.   It is hard enough just doing the work that needs to be done.  Where would they find the time to call and let people know they nothing is going to happen.  Even though it is the nice thing to do. 

At one point in cooperating in this process I was not able to see my wife for over a week and while I was at home with my kids, and they knew most of what was going on since they had to talk to people too, it was still a very isolated existence.  I spoke with friends and family, but it was very disappointing to say that for the most part I feel much as MLK did.  The accusations were bad enough, but the lack of communication or outright unhelpful communication from friends was staggering.  I know Bert has it out for anyone not aligned with him, this was not news to me and certainly did not “hurt” in the common definition of that word.  Even though family and friends knew the accusation was false from the first second, I felt the focus was not on helping me deal with what I was feeling and understanding that, but on placing blame or slinging anger, which frankly was totally unhelpful.  I ended up stopping communication with several people because I would leave the conversation more drained or upset than when I started because I was spending time trying to help them, rather than obtaining the support I had hoped to receive from them at the time.

This is not a foreign situation to anyone who goes through divorce, and I have told my wife and a few others how surprised I was to find myself in the same emotional roller coaster that I had been through during my divorce.  The benefit was that now I know how to handle it, so it was not nearly as long lived, but for a couple days it was easily as intense.  Sitting alone at night, up in my room, with my wife and half my family elsewhere, it was sheer misery.  I had one friend and several church contacts that helped, but otherwise it was really the “silence of my friends” that really smacked on me. 

Through it all it was my faith in God and on leaning on other Christians that allowed me to not lose my composure and ultimately my mind in the last few weeks.  I cannot tell you how many times I dropped to my knees in tears and desparation telling God how I trust him yet not understanding why this trial had come my way.  During this process it was the first time my wife ever heard me tell her, “I know you understand I can take a lot, but even I have my limits, and I’m basicaly there”.  I know that statement must have scared and frightened her because she and her family have regularly commented about that I am her “rock” and maintain control and stability when she is not always able to do that.  Having me in that state certainly must have challenged her.  I certainly learned more than ever before the my “rock” was Jesus and the trust I had in him and his ability to navigate through what I found very uncertain.  Ask yourself the question of “How do I prove I didn’t do something?” and you can understand what I was facing.  Doing something produces evidence.  Not doing something produces nothing.  It certainly did not make sense to me, but I knew God could figure it out and so I leaned on him when my other means of support were lacking.

Looking back had we had the ability to have any conversations that border on normal with Bert and his household none of the last few weeks would have happened and we would have been well into counseling the kids who do need to work through some issues.  Again, for the most part they are lying, covering up and all the things that kids do to avoid getting in trouble.  Instead we have a lot more work for everyone to get through.  More on that next time.

Seems like something is in the air recently.  Another blog I follow had the following post about all kinds of troubles and so were the most recent times in our world.  As you all know, Bert is most troublesome and does so about the most trivial things.  Recently we have been trying to finalize the summer schedule as April 15th was approaching.  For our household this moment on the annual calendar is not only the day we get to tell Uncle Sam what our tax situation is but we get to understand what June, July and August will look like in our four walls, mainly which beating hearts will be present on which day, and the schedule becomes a shadow of what it is the rest of the year.  What operates with a comforting regularity (for which of us does not like predictability?) suddenly goes all to chaos, or so it seems.

This year, the Lord chose to make things more interesting for us, by deciding that our school district would adopt what I like to call the “southern calendar”.  What I mean by that is that when we lived down in TN, and most southern states follow it, the school year began early in August and ended by Memorial Day as opposed to the “northern calendar” which I was more used to that started just before Labor Day and went into mid-June.  Down south this is done, as I learned, to avoid the sweltering months of the summer as much as possible and minimize the air conditioning expenses.  Very practical.  Why our district adopted this method I’m not sure, but I like it, as it removes the biggest question that even as a kid drove me crazy.  Why do we start school for two days and then get a day off for Labor Day?  Can’t we just wait and start that Tuesday?  Instead you get a couple weeks of school in, so you can get in your review after summer and then get a little break before you turn your attention to the new learning of the year and you get the added benefit of starting your summer vacation on the unofficial “start of summer”, Memorial Day!  Brilliant!  Like it or not the South keeps showing they know more than we do up North.  They had better generals than us in the Civil War, and they provided the important ones in the Revolutionary War, they have sweet tea everywhere and great barbecue pork sandwiches and they know how to design a logical school calendar.

Anyway, that aside over, what that means for us here in “transition summer” (not to be confused with Bryan Adams’ Poison Summer’ (inside reference for a few of my readers so don’t worry if that makes no sense to you)) is that school will end in mid-June and begin again in mid-August rather than on the last day or two of August as before.  This means summer is shorter.  And this means that there is less time to fit seven weeks into a five pound bag. 

In the world of parental visitation nothing is as certain as that your agreement will resemble any other divorced couples agreement only by the fact that is has the same title on it.  Some people want to make sure they have their kids for their annual trip to Wally World, or over Kwanzaa or for Aunt Edith’s birthday because the kids love to see her teeth go flying out of her mouth when she blows out the birthday candles.  In my wife’s case they decided all of summer (or so it seems) needs to be divided into vacation periods versus what I have seen as a more common each side gets a two week vacation in the summer.  So my wife gets three weeks and Bert gets four.  Add to that that you are not to take vacation the week after school ends and the week before school begins to ease the transitions and you now have nine weeks you require for summer.  Most times that is not a problem, but in transition summer, it is a challenge.

My wife gets to pick first.  Why?  Probably as the result of the fact she has fewer weeks it seemed “fair”, in the divorced world’s definition of a term that really has no business attached in any way to that process, but honestly I never asked why they drew it up that way.  We realized that we really could do a number on Bert with transition summer in that if we scheduled our time in almost any way he could not fit in his full four weeks, but being good Christians we avoided revenge and tried to be nice, however again due to the limits of transition summer we had what we felt was a minor dilemma.  You see, to avoid screwing over Bert, we needed to start our first week of vacation technically two days earlier than we should, i.e. at the tail end of the first week after school ends.  However those two days would normally be our visitation days anyway, so Bert was not losing anything, so we thought we could explain that and not have an issue.

Three weeks and a litany of discussions that did not have to be that difficult, including a three hour marathon session where Bert and I had a gay old time covering everything under the divorced sun, we arrived at where we should have been in the first place.  The bones of contention?  Bert tried to grab an extra Saturday (we only get three weekends) around July 4th and also scheduled one of his weeks fully in the week before school starts, versus our overlap of just two days which really helped him out.  He had time available in July for that week, but everything became about us taking those two days, all the while he ignored his last week.  It was really stupid and finally gets us to the topic of this post, believe it our not.

What I learned in this process is how something seemingly insignificant in our interactions can have so profound an impact.  This item is intent.  I can call it nothing short of scary, but I came to realize the mechanics of how we (Bert and I) operate in our relationships was for all intents and purposes virtually the same. 

So this is going to get into some controversial areas for many people, and I warn you ahead of time.  I hope you keep reading, as my point is not a debate about this issue, but the result of intent in our world.  In our case, our marriage runs in what I will call a Bible-based model.  God determined that the head of the household is the man and the wife is an advisor and in a proper relationship should be listened to but the final decision is the man’s.  Yes, yes all you ladies of the 21st century please do not step away from your monitor in disgust as I know this has become one of, if not the most, controversial passage in the Bible as feminists like to paint this as an archaic, two thousand year old, out dated way of looking at things.  My wife could certainly explain it better than I could, but we have had many conversations amongst ourselves as to how that works in our marriage and also in sharing what we have seen as the result of living according to what is a timeless model that God designed because it is the best for his creations, namely all human beings.  For the purposes of this discussion this would mean at the base mechanics level that if my wife and I disagree on a decision, what I say goes.  In Bert’s model this works the same way.

This is where that fine line of intent shows that it is the Grand Canyon of everything.  My intent in following the Biblically based model is that I always have by wife’s best interest in mind as I exercise my authority in the marriage.  Since she knows this, she is comfortable that I listen to her input and consider it in making decisions that affect out family and she trusts that God and I work together to do things for good even when she may not be seeing that at the moment.  Her decision would have been different from mine, yet she lets go of that and obediently follows my lead.  This is what God has shown mankind as the model of how the world works. 

Bert’s intent is to do everything for his and his own personal good.  He leads his significant other to believe that the same process is in place but when she subsumes her desires and control to Bert, since his intent is misguided, even evil, the results are far different.  It results in abuse, manipulation and disaster for anyone in his sphere.  By the time the unfortunate companion realizes this she is usually unable to extricate herself.  This creates the dilemma that so many godly women find themselves in.  In a secular society they are taught to take the same lead as a man, yet God’s design says that will result in problems, and we see it all over in marriages that end in divorce due to both wanting control and driving each other apart and in workplaces that struggle etc.  In wanting to follow God, they may be willing to follow that path, but if they are partnered with someone whose intent is not what God desires, it leads to pain and suffering.

The tension as we worked through the issues with Bert was very high this week.  I came to the realization as my wife wanted to do some things to connect with Bert’s girlfriend that what I would ask her to do was to trust me and let me handle it because I was worried with her past abusive experience that she would be vulnerable to manipulation and had no doubt in my mind that if Bert discovered that there was a relationship he could abuse between his lady and my wife that he would never hesitate to use it for his gain.  I on the other hand, was demanding this with the intent of protecting my wife and handling the manipulation that might ensue as a party that did not have that history.  However, to my horror, I realized that I would be directly asking her to do the same thing Bert did in her marriage to him that resulted in her ending up in a web of sexual, emotional, physical and mental abuse.  How could I possibly explain this?  It freaked me out that I realized the mechanics of the two situations we EXACTLY the same.  To do good I needed this to work this way just as to do evil Bert needs to operate the SAME way.  The only difference is intent.

The conversation went very well because my wife understands that I am not Bert.  She has seen my intent as a godly man in everything else I have done for our family and she has also healed enough from what Bert did to her through years of counseling that this was all possible.  She trusts in God that He is operating for her good.  It turns out all she wanted to offer this poor lady who is entangling herself with Bert is a channel of communication for her to hopefully learn enough to see through Bert’s manipulation before it is too late or her to get out.  I thought she wanted to use her as a way to learn what was going on in Bert’s home, which I knew we could never trust because Bert would be manipulating.  It put my heart at peace knowing that there was not any real similarity between Bert and I.  What I was really looking at was the difference between me and a race car driver.  The mechanics of driving the car are the same for the two of us, but our intent to use that car, is totally different.  I want to move from one place to another.  The race car driver is going to push the car to its limit and beyond to maximize the results.  Bert’s intent is to fulfill his purposes.  My intent is to fulfill God’s glory.  That fine line places a gap between Bert and I that is immeasurable.  Thank the Lord my wife has the ability to see that, otherwise she would be going forward wondering if she was headed into another relationship similar to Bert who used those same mechanics for two year’s before she realized what the real intent was.  We go forward past the latest hurdle with a new found understanding of God’s grand plan and seeing how applied with the right intent, there is no better way.

My wife and I had a really interesting conversation recently.  It began while we were discussing the Love & Respect book by Emerson Eggerichs that I had talked about before, but it was really an off shoot from the general topics we were exploring in the workbook. 

In our case the root cause was that we both came out of long marriages, so it would appear to be related to divorce, but I think it can easily translate to anyone who was in a long term relationship.  We had talked about this early in our dating time, but we knew there were going to be issues that just could not be worked through as a single person.  I made that observation during our conversation, that even if I had been single for a decade or longer after my divorce, these challenges would have still surfaced, and my wife very quickly agreed. 

The challenge is that like it or not, people are creatures of habit.  We fall back into patterns and look for them to identify if what we are experiencing now is the same as what we experienced yesterday, last week, last year or ten years before.  I became programmed to respond to certain stimuli in a relationship in certain ways because of my ex.  My wife has the same challenge.  The true challenge is that we need to realize that we are not with those people and to allow ourselves to learn new ways of interacting.  Luckily I’d say we are doing very well in this regard, as simply evidenced by the fact that we can talk about it.

One example we talked about that triggered an old response in me to some degree was with regards to my wife working on her computer.  She works from home, and so is often on the computer for one of her jobs.  Originally, I would pop my head in her office and ask what she was doing but she might be in the middle of something and I would interrupt her.  Trying to be courteous, I decided I would just take a peek at her screen before I interrupted her.  If it was work things, which it usually was, I’d just smile and move on but if not I would feel more open to see if she was willing to join me for some time together.  It seemed perfectly logical to me, but as so many things often go, what I had anticipated as helpful to both of us, turned out to not be.  You see when I tried this, my wife was unsure what I was doing and would give me a strange look.  Even when we talked about it, she used the term “you don’t have to spy on me”.  I explained to her that with my ex whenever I asked what she was doing she was always evasive and in many cases it was because what she was doing was inappropriate.  This was the training I had received in interacting with another.   Hopefully you can make the mental leap to understand how something like this cannot ever be fully resolved as a single person no matter how much time you give it.  It takes being with someone to bring out that interaction again. 

This example led us to each talk about many others where we were doing that.  Even though my wife believes very strongly in the Ephesians 5:22 principle that the husband is the head of the family and decision and authority rests with me, she struggles with feeling comfortable with that because when she let her ex have authority every decision he made turned out to be a disaster for the family.  As we talked this was an example of actions being needed to get her to a level of comfort, meaning, once again, no matter how comfortable she was with the concept in her mind, until we go through enough actual decision points where she begins to see that it is different with me, her mind will still take her back to that old set of feelings of unease.  Only by teaching ourselves new tricks, to react differently, can we get past these things.

Neither of us looks at this as a bad thing or a sign that we missed something in the process of agreeing to get married and share our lives together.  Instead we know that there was only so far we could go until we were married again and working these issues out.  Just as a pilot can only go so far in a flight simulator and then needs to get in a real plane.  There are sensations one cannot simulate, and thoughts one cannot make evoke the same set of feelings when we initiate them.  What I mean by that last statement is that even if I sat there and thought through the example of seeing what my wife was doing and then thinking how I would react to that, the exercise of me thinking all that versus just experiencing it would mean my feelings about it would not be the same.  The best example I can think of is thinking about how you would feel if you walked into your bedroom and found someone roasting marshmallows in your dresser  versus actually walking into the room and experiencing it without thinking of it.  The surprise, if you will, has been removed.  The act of imagining gives your mind time to prepare for the feelings, versus just having them hit you smack in between the eyes.

The joy of the conversation was that we each got to understand what was triggering the reaction in the other person.  My wife had not even thought of how my ex had influenced my thinking to something she viewed as ordinary, but which my training had taught me was everything but.  My past had taught me when someone was not just forthright with what they were doing that it meant something bad.  Her training, on the other hand had taught her that it was rude for me not to ask but to instead “peek” or “spy” as she called it.  My training had taught me that if I ask the other person has time to think and hide and evade.  I understand my wife is not my ex and so my reaction was not automatic, but the underlying currents were there, kind of like a siren’s call to approach something I was familiar with.  But just like the sirens of myth, if I heed that call I will end up dashed on the rocks.  Placing the shoe on the other foot, my wife has those feelings of discomfort when she trusts me to make a decision.  I on the other hand find it confusing that she says she wants me to make the decision but then seems uneasy.  When she explained what she was feeling, it all clicked.  It goes back to what I spoke about a few posts back about making sure we have the perspective of the other person, especially when it might be so foreign to us that we would not even think of it in our wildest dreams.  Just as if I asked my wife to tell me the most outrageous thing she could thing of happening in our bedroom she would probably never give you the roasting marshmallow scenario I provided, she could also not make the leap that it was strange for me to ask my wife what she is doing rather than just looking.  It was never in her experience so she never learned that reality, but I lived it for over two decades. 

We acknowledged that we both have made steps in areas to begin that retraining.  We are both confident it will work out great because we work together to that same goal.  Not every couple will have that same result.  It takes a comfort and trust that is not always easy to come by, but the fact that both of us, whose trust was so violated in our previous marriages can come back and trust another hopefully provides tangible proof that it is never impossible.  God made being human a lot of work.  Those who choose not to put in the work may find it easier, but I am pretty sure they do not find it as fun.  We are both good willed and want to improve every day and this lets us support each other in learning to retrain our subconscious to react differently.  It is a lot of work, but it is work that is critical to having a strong couple at the helm of our blended family to provide a solid example to the children God has entrusted to our care so that they can hopefully avoid attaching themselves to people who teach them bad patterns that they will need to work themselves out of later.  I know not everyone will be able to do this.  Family literature is full of examples where people repeat the same destructive behavior because it is all they know.  We will continue to work and move forward.  This old dog is hard at working learning some new tricks.

For anyone over forty years old starting to sing this little tune leads you right down to “The Brady Bunch”.  For those under forty who may be unfamiliar with this sitcom from the late 60s and early 70s, the basic premise is that “one day when this lady met this fellow” they decided to join together and form a blended family with six kids.  It was one of the first mainstream shows to focus on life after divorce in an era when it was still not something talked about too openly.  In fact, Mike and Carol are often cited as the first married TV couple to be shown in a bed together (contrary to this myth at least two other shows “Ozzie and Harriet” and “The Munsters” had episodes where this line was crossed prior to the Brady camping trip).  The producer of “The Brady Bunch” says that Carol was in fact divorced, but this was never actually covered in an episode as it was too controversial.  Mike’s wife died.  There was a “Mary Tyler Moore Show” that changed divorce to “broken engagement” two years later because it was taboo.  There is no record that I can find of the first time the word “divorce” was used in a TV show, though general speculation was it was around 1975, and certainly this seems to fit as “One Day At A Time” which debuted in 1976 was focused on a divorced mother and her two daughters, since it would be unlikely for a studio to bank an entire show around a premise that had not even been mentioned on TV before.

In our case we regularly get references to the Brady’s, simply on the basis that our union also has six kids, three from each parent.  For the same basic reason, this probably helps us as we meet new people because the show presented a family that was certainly simplistic and regularly pristine.  For example, did you ever notice the kid’s bathroom does not even have a toilet in it?  The network executives had it removed immediately after the set was built because they wanted to avoid anything that broke the vision of perfection.  Did you also ever notice that the kid’s all only had one bathroom?  In our house, the kids do use one bathroom to brush their teeth and such but there are a few other bathrooms for them to use in a pinch to take their hairbrush or take care of those things for which you need the item the network executives removed.  When people associate us with the Brady bunch it does come with a bit of pre-conceived quaintness to it, though we usually get a little smirk or wink that shows they understand it’s a little more complex than presented.

So how do I think we differ from the Brady’s, asides from the fact that we have a toilet in our house? 

The kids have an extra bedroom so they are not jammed three into a room though it did not seem the Brady’s rooms were all that small so I certainly have never felt sorry for them.  Also, while on the logistics of the sleeping arrangements, while the Brady’s were theoretically handling a blended family, the kids were not intermixed.  You see in the bedroom arrangement, the boys (all of Mike’s kids) and the girls (all of Carol’s kids) roomed together, so for them the biggest change may have been sharing a room together.  Maybe Greg had his own room as the oldest and the two boys shared the other room before Carol and the girls arrived.  In our case we have four girls and two boys, so the mix is different, and we each have two girls and a boy, so what we ended up doing is creating a mix in each room.  I think this introduces a lot of complexity that the Brady’s never had to think about.  Sure one of the boys walked in on Marcia in her underwear once, but beyond that there was little working out of handling living situations together short of the ever present bathroom interplay. 

 

As a single parent it is easy to get overwhelmed at times by the logistics of life.  As a blended family that improves a bit with the presence of two adults once more.  In the Brady household they hold the advantage of a live-in housekeeper to add a third full-time adult and referee to the mix.  While I’m not sure why Alice was there other than to offer the writers more options for story lines, this is a situation our household and I would imagine most blended households do not enjoy.  Yes, in the era of the show it may have still been lingering from the days of staff in your home as I certainly never recall all of us kids sitting around amazed about Alice, even though we did not have a maid.  It does present an interesting dynamic as I have thought about it.  There are certainly times when our kids to not want to talk to their biological parent and also when they do not want to talk to the step parent, usually for that reason alone.  What would having a neutral party present at all times create?  A confidant they could go to with troubles as the Brady kids did.  At times Alice was that, or co-conspirator, or friend, or therapist.  As a kid how awesome would that be?  Gosh, as a parent how awesome would that be?  Alas, our household will never know.  Asides from the cost of putting someone on the family payroll, we have no place for them to stay (where was Alice’s bedroom by the way?). 

The logistics of life are not as easy.  Even if you take Mr. Schwartz’s point that Carol’s character was divorced, there is not one episode where they kids are dealing with visitation.  Even if they were, since Mike’s wife had died (this was mentioned in an episode), it would only be the girl’s who would periodically come and go.  Carol was also the stay-at-home mom who just did her domestic duties and did not have to worry about anything else in an era where at least on TV you could easily get by with just Mike’s income and still have the perfect suburban home with vacation’s to King’s Island and the Grand Canyon and his company sends his whole family to Hawaii with him.  And they could afford a live-in housekeeper.  Was Mike actually Tony Soprano on the side?  That was never covered, but I gotta wonder how he had all that cash.  In 117 episodes only five have any mention of chores or housework.  Maybe it was because they had a housekeeper so they got to get off easy.  Take this into account with the fact that they never had to use the toilet they didn’t have and a lot of the things that cause bickering in a house with six kids just never came up. 

There are certainly things that are familiar too.  The daily drama of something happening like Kitty Karry-All going missing, problems with friends, spats with each other and figuring out how to make money by babysitting or being a bike mechanic  to get those things you want like a car are all real for us as any family.  Sadly, I’m also sure the problems of being tempted by a friend to smoke, or worse things that were not covered in TV in the early 70s will also surface over time.  The unending episodes about dating dynamics and frustrations and broken hearts are almost assuredly things that will come up as the girls get older.  While we will probably and hopefully never get locked in a jail cell in a ghost town and have our car stolen, I’m sure family trip issues will also surface and need to be worked through.  Sitcoms after all work for us because they present many situations that are familiar, and therefore it becomes very easy for people to relate and hear we have six kids through our marriage and call us the Brady Bunch. 

We take every day as it comes.  The world has changed since Mike and Carol raised their brood, so we will have challenges they never had to contend with issues of technology, jobs, schooling and the myriad other challenges.  As this happens we will continue to meet people who call us the modern day Brady Bunch and my wife and I will just smile and nod giving each other knowing glances about how it is very different, but yet a little the same.

We are coming upon six weeks of being married.  I had mentioned in an earlier post that there were certain things that would only be experienced once we finally all moved in together.  No matter what we did before, there was no way to simulate some of the stresses and events that would happen.

So how are we doing?  I’d say things are going very well.  Things have certainly not been perfect, however no one expected them to be.  Earlier this week we had a child misbehave which led to a relatively unclear discussion with my wife that resulted in a very brief but loud argument.  In the past I would have handled the situation very differently, in large part because the person on the other side of the argument would have handled it very differently.  The key here was to understand that this was a new circumstance and to treat it accordingly.  I spent quite a bit of time that night praying to God for guidance and wisdom, which is not what my reaction would have been in the past.  The calming influence of that comfort, knowing that the right path forward would present itself, made all the difference.  I thought about how I could have been clearer, how I had made my point many more times than necessary only inflaming the situation, and that I needed to trust God to work in her heart to help her see that my guidance was meant for the good of the family and not from any other place.  While in the heat of the moment that may not be what she felt, I believe when she had time to reflect it was more evident. 

A few other times stand out as I reflect on the weeks.  The fact that my wife has created a safe environment for all the children in the house to feel they can know what to expect.  The fact that even though work has turned into a three ring circus ever since I returned from the honeymoon that my wife has been supportive in allowing me to do what is needed rather than making me feel guilty for doing my job.  The time when my wife let me know how happy she was that she could have her sisters come visit for an afternoon and not be worried or embarrassed.  The times we have communicated a need to each other, sometimes me to her, sometimes her to me, and that we are working together to correct our course and steer forward in a productive way. 

Each day we face new tasks to complete from making dinner, to dealing with an unexpected bit of news in the mail, to some drama with the kids.  This is life, and it is the life we agreed to enter into when we decided to unite as one and move forward.  The road is not always smooth, and certainly this early when boxes are still unpacked and there are things left to work through the stresses are higher than normal.  It certainly is more challenging beginning this process in summer when the kids are home all day and it increases the opportunity for friction.  Given all that I think it is going better than expected.  One can only benchmark against past experiences and in a blended family that is not always fair, but there are no other frames of reference.  We do not have ten years of past experience with each other to compare to so the comparisons can only come to what occurred with others.

I for one know that had the same situations occurred before in my world there would have been much more than one serious argument in six weeks and a lot less happiness.  To me it verifies the lessons I learned through my divorce and healing process that it was critical to get right with God and let Him drive me together with the right partner for me.  Marriage takes work but it is so different being in a marriage with someone who does the work and having a shared commitment to a good outcome. 

There is a lot more living left to do, but at this time I think we’re doing really well.