Suffering & Perspective
“Several years ago, my husband and I packed up our two wild boys (one human, one pup) and headed up to a small mountain town in North Alabama. He had to go for work, so we decided to make a fun little road trip out of it. Because riding in a car with a 3-year-old and a puppy is FUN, right? Well, when we planned this trip we had no idea we would be dodging a hurricane at home, but it just happened to work out that way. And it had me thinking, you can’t really run away from the storms at home, because the aftermath will still be there when you get back. But sometimes it’s okay to take a break and go somewhere safe, somewhere elevated where we can see things from a different perspective, before we head back to deal with the damage.
A few weeks earlier, just a day after my baby boy’s third birthday, I got a text from my mom saying my little sister, Hannah, had just lost her 11-year-old patient to a rare childhood cancer only minutes before her shift was supposed to end. Instead of heading home to get some sleep, she spent the rest of her night preparing that little girl’s body, cleaning her, and washing her hair before they took her away. My sister was a complete emotional basket case. She loved that angel with all of her being, even though she had only known her for a short while. It nearly broke her inside, but we all knew God had chosen her to be the one by that family’s side when her patient took that final breath. But what I still can’t wrap my head around is the depth of the pain her mother and father must have felt watching life slip from their daughter’s body as she walked into the arms of Jesus.
Just the day before, I had been celebrating the life of my own child, yet only a day later, I couldn’t stop having intrusive thoughts about him dying. I was up all night crying. Ok, more like sobbing uncontrollably. And praying over every single inch of my son’s body. I stayed awake as long as I could until I finally cried myself to sleep. I didn’t want to waste any time sleeping. I wanted to soak in every second of my family laying there, peaceful and safe next to me in the bed.
The next morning, I read a post on Facebook by the girl’s mother, who said just a year ago they were getting school supplies ready, completely unaware of the tragedy ahead, and then everything changed in a day. She never saw the storm coming. And that could have been any of us. That still could be any of us. But that’s the thing about suffering, it has a way of immediately transforming our perspective. And perspective has enormous strength and forces us to confront the reality of what ‘is’ with the sobering possibility of what ‘could be.’ Sometimes, perspective can only be learned in a storm.
‘The Perfect Storm’
Storm season came a little early for me. A couple days after a family vacation in May, I got a bad sinus infection that quickly turned into an ear infection. I hadn’t experienced that kind of pain in over 20 years, and it didn’t take long for me to remember why I had blocked it out! I have always had a super high pain tolerance, so I was shocked at how truly miserable I was, and so I promised myself I would NEVER take my hearing for granted again.
Then, on the fifth day of taking my antibiotic, I developed what I thought was the stomach flu, but was actually a gut infection with a ‘superbug’ that was extremely contagious, hard to get rid of, oh and can kill people. Awesome. Things just kept getting better! It took about three weeks to get my hearing back and after about seven weeks of severe stomach issues, I was finally able to eat again and get some of my strength back. At this point, I had lost about 14 pounds (mostly muscle, dang it) and was completely WORN OUT mentally. I couldn’t believe how quickly my health had gone down the drain, and again, I promised myself I would never take my health for granted again.
Just a few short weeks later, I got a bladder infection for the first time in over 10 years. I mean, SERIOUSLY?! How convenient, considering I was told to avoid antibiotics for 6-12 months since antibiotics were the reason I got a killer gut infection in the first place. By a miracle from God, I did NOT relapse and my bladder infection cleared up. BUT, in its aftermath, it left me with chronic pain and discomfort and the bladder function of an 85-year-old woman.
Apparently, I experienced what my doctor called ‘the perfect storm,’ when the bowel and urinary tract issues happened back to back and as a result, completely wrecked my pelvic floor function. (Still recovering from that one.) You can’t make this stuff up. It was sort of like I had been trapped in physical and mental hell for three months and it felt almost surreal just trying to live my normal life again. It had been so long since I had enjoyed the little things I used to take for granted every day. Going on a two hour date with my husband suddenly felt like a luxurious vacation. I woke up with actual excitement about running errands with my family on a Saturday. Working out felt like a privilege. It’s so crazy to me how every time my world seems to be crashing around me, somehow I have more clarity than I do when everything is going right.
Storms Of Step-Parenting
You know, us stepmoms get hurled into a LOT of storms. In fact, in my experience, moments of true peace are few and far between. There have been times, being in this family has felt like a never-ending storm, so violent I just didn’t think I could go on one more day. I wasn’t even sure which storm I was running from half the time — the storm going on around me or the one brewing inside my own heart. The resentment had reached its threshold. The anger was no longer containable. And my heart couldn’t survive another strong gust because even one small crack meant it would shatter into a million pieces and I just wasn’t sure if it could be put back together again.
There were times I thought about evacuating, even though I knew my husband wouldn’t let me get too far with his mini-me. Although those days are mostly behind me, there are days I still feel that subtle pull of the undertow as I struggle to keep my head above water and I have to fight the urge to hide in my bedroom until my stepchild leaves and I can find my way back to dry land and the safety of my ‘normal’ family. It’s in those dark moments, when I’m at the end of my rope, that I have to reach deep down inside and pull out my secret weapon, because it takes something serious to reel me back in when I’m being tossed around by the turbulent waters of blended family life.
I first discovered this secret weapon when I had postpartum anxiety after the birth of my son. The entire nine months of my pregnancy had been full of dysfunction, chaos, and a high-conflict custody battle, and by the time my son was born, I had never felt so much resentment and bitterness in my entire life. I’ll tell you what though, when that anxiety really set in, all of a sudden I didn’t give a rat’s booty about any of it. Those things that used to keep me up at night didn’t even cross my radar anymore. Why? Because suffering has a way of shifting our gaze from the things we thought mattered to what actually matters.
What actually mattered was my infant son. What actually mattered was giving him the love and nurturing that he deserved. What actually mattered was getting myself healthy again for my family. I didn’t have time to waste on petty things outside of my control. And honestly, they just lost their grip on me. It was like the clouds parted and I could finally see everything clearly. In a moment, everything changed, yet nothing had really changed at all. Just my perspective. One night this summer, I remember telling my husband, ‘I know this sounds strange, but there’s really nothing anyone could say or do to get me upset right now,’ which made me realize just how much time I had spent focusing on complete CRAP while everything was actually going right in my life. What a waste.
A Way Of Forcing Perspective
So here’s what I am suggesting here (Warning: things are about to get a little weird.) We don’t have to wait until it hits the fan to change our perspective. When we are in the throws of a stepmom storm, we have to use our imaginations to retrieve our secret weapon. That scenario may look different for everyone, but for me, I have to go somewhere really dark. I stop and I pretend I just found out I have a month to live. And I really go there. I let myself feel the shock. The disbelief. I imagine myself leaving the doctor and walking through my front door and seeing my husband’s face. My son’s face. My stepdaughter’s face. I let myself feel the pain of knowing I only have one more month to come home to those sweet faces. And I cry my eyes out, thinking about how differently I would have done things had I known my time would be cut short. I wish I would have been less frustrated and more patient with my son. I wish I would have spent more time being affectionate with my stepdaughter, rather than sitting back and overanalyzing. I wish I would have spent more time kissing my husband and less time arguing. I wish I would have known these are the best days of my life. Yep, sometimes I make myself go there and I grieve until I can’t grieve anymore.
Then, I dry my eyes and I wake up from that self-induced nightmare and find myself overwhelmed and overflowing with gratitude and love. And all I can see is beauty all around me. When I look at my husband and my son. When I look at my stepchild. When I look at this chaotic blended family God placed me in. Heck, even when I look at my enemies. Because my heart finally gets it. All that really matters in the end is love. And relationships (no matter what package they might come in). And most importantly, the One who created all of it. In the middle of a perfect storm, I suddenly realize I don’t want to miss one second of the very things I’ve been wishing away.
Look, I’m honestly not sure if me doing this to myself makes me plum crazy or a genius. But what I do know is that it works and the truth is, we aren’t promised even one more day here on earth. Stepmom, we have to constantly practice perspective and hold on to it for dear life because it is a precious gift from God, a shelter from the storms of stepmomhood. Yes, perspective takes us into the trenches of tragedy and then places us on the mountaintop, refreshed and refocused on the splendor of His abundant blessings all around us.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rachel Dunne, the Spiritual Stepmom. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more from Rachel here:
‘My stepdaughter exploded a ketchup packet all over herself, me, my antique rug, and a dining room chair. If my five-year-old had done this, I would have FLIPPED.’: Woman shares realization about step-motherhood
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