Survivor – Stepmother in Summer Edition

Summer vacation has just started and I find myself dreading, instead of relishing, the thought of long summer days at home with my step kids. In my head, the theme music to the “Survivor” reality television show begins to play. A deep bass voice announces, “Welcome to the new season of Survivor – Stepmother in summer edition.”

Five years ago I was confident and strong, though lonely. As a veteran teacher I was indisputably good with children. My own children had grown up in difficult circumstances and emerged strong and solid. That was by the grace of God, but silently I suppose I claimed a bit of the credit for myself. Now I find myself reacting in fear at the thought of spending a summer with my family. How can the role of stepmother be so difficult that I feel undone by it?

The arctic storm comes upon me with sudden fury.  Caught unprepared, I sit frozen to my kitchen chair by the unpredicted blast, my skin and lips blue, icicles hanging from my eyebrows. My home sometimes feels like a dark and dangerous wilderness. I shake myself of the mental imagery, but the icy shrapnel that penetrated my heart takes longer to melt.

Sometimes wise counsel comes from the most unexpected places. Recently I read a powerful piece of advice from a cockney character in a mystery novel I was reading. The young protagonist confided her struggles with a volatile friendship. Her father responded, “the more you’re yourself, the more it’s like you’ve just put iron shoes on yer feet –they’ll ‘old you to the ground when that ‘ot and cold air comes rushing from ‘er direction. That’s the key with that sort.” (Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear, p. 104) So where does a sensitive step-mom go to purchase iron shoes? “The more you’re yourself…”

When I find myself blown off course it is a good indication that I have forgotten who I am.  Or more pivotally, whose I am. I have lost sight of truth at the core of who I am and forgotten that my identity does not come from my skill with children, nor from being appreciated and loved by those around me. It comes only from one relationship, that with the Almighty.

When the winds of conflict and resentment blow through my home, disrupting the peace, I tremble at the blast, and try to stop the wind. But only Jesus can calm the storm, and he rarely chooses to do it.

On a visit to France a couple of years ago my husband and I drove past quaint rural villages on our way to Normandy. As the highway turned, wind turbines came into view at the crest of a ridge.  I had seen wind farms in the US, but these structures were on an entirely different scale. Each turbine rose a couple of hundred feet about the top of the hill. Enormous, yet slender, graceful white arms turned calmly, solid and strong. There was a beauty to the symmetry, a slow dance.

Modern wind turbines take the wind and transform its kinetic energy into electric power. I am coming to understand that I am like a wind turbine, or rather part of a wind turbine. The center tower is God I am just a rotor, an arm. When the winds blow, I don’t have to do anything at all. At my core, the hub of my being, I am firmly connected to God. He has shaped me to catch the wind, and even be moved by it, but if I am centered on him, no matter how hard it blows, it will never shake me. It will only move my arms in a dance that harnesses the storm and transforms its power. There is no cause for fear. The storm could never blow me across the landscape, or bash me into the rocks. Like a branch abiding in the vine, I am simply there, being what I was created to be. He harnesses the wind, and I dance. I have the privilege of being part of the mysterious process by which storms are transformed from something powerfully destructive to something powerfully good.

So often in the unwelcome turmoil that is reality in a step family I want the wind to stop. But the wind too is the breath of God. Sometimes Jesus calms the storm. Sometimes he teaches us to dance in it instead.

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