Friday, May 31, 2013

STEPPING UP

It had been a long and painful year for me. I was dealing with the unexpected termination of a five year relationship and enagagement. My emotions were raw, but they were healing.

I wanted to meet someone new, fall in love, get married, and raise a family. When my dad took me out to lunch and encouraged me it was time to move on, I smiled. Maybe it was his choice of words, "You need to use it or lose it, Jules."

Soon after, I met him. He was quite a bit older. And very handsome. The take-your- breath-away handsome.  With two adorable little boys in tow.

"Date him all you want. But you cannot marry him," my dad insisted. He wasn't kidding. He looked past Dave's handsome smile and the boys' toothless grins. He saw a man ten years older than me. Divorced. With two small children to raise. An ex-wife. And his father-heart, always my protector, longed to spare me.

I heard his warnings. And fell in love anyway. Two years after we met, we were married. This weekend we celebrate twenty-nine years since we started dating, and twenty-seven years of marriage. But it's more than an anniversary. It marks the day I joined the ranks of "step".

I admit, I sometimes cringe when I hear that word. The stigma attached to it is so outdated, unfounded, and just plain wrong. For those who embrace the role, step-parenting is a holy and high calling. And not for the faint-hearted! I have learned and stretched and grown more through this role than any other.

It's true, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I said, "I do" to all three. And maybe if I had, I wouldn't have been brave enough to "step" up. There was no way I could have prepared myself for such an immense role in the lives of those beautiful boys.  I just knew that the pre-schoolers who loved to play cowboys and Indians, and who never seemed to tire, had taken up residence in my heart along with their dad.

Today I give tribute to all you step parents. I know all about the sacrifices you make. I know the struggles of trying to find balance between "steps" and birth children, and wondering if you're shortchanging your own kids in the process. I am aware of the scrutiny you feel. I know all about the moments when you feel unfairly judged and unappreciated. I understand the frustrations of loving and caring for a child without all the "say" of the birth parents. I know how it can hit you in the gut when you hear the comments, "Oh he's just a stepson," or "You're only his stepmom." I get it.

But I also know the rewards. And how they can multiply and catch you by surprise. And if we let it, how the whole rugged journey of step-parenting can refine us and bring out qualities we want to possess but can only acquire through the challenges. I know my dad would be proud if he were here today. Because he also taught me that the best things in life don't come easily.

Today, I'm more blessed than ever as a "step". I am honored to be step-mother-in-law to an amazing woman. I'm step-grandma to sweet Aven and Brayden. And...get this...I am step-grandma to my stepson's stepdaughter. That's a lot of steps! Throw in my own birth "kids" and my new son-in-law, and I see...the blessings are too numerous to count.

So, to the step-parents out there, I say, "Hang in there! You carry an honored title. There are special treasures that await you." And to my own clan ~ happy anniversary Dave...and Joe...and Matt. (Kelly and Daniel, you came along later, so please forgive any exclusions here.) It's been a wild ride. And I wouldn't change a thing.

"I love you just as though you were my own,
Though you are not the children of my blood.
Love is not lodged within one's flesh and bone,
But in one's heart, which goes which way it would."
~Nicholas Gordon