“I married my best friend one month after our college graduation. We were married for twelve years, had three gorgeous children, and then, one day, I came unhinged. My counselor once explained that life is like a game of chutes and ladders, positive events and negative ones, and the question is if you have what it takes to survive one of the big chutes that takes you and your ego all the way back to the bottom. I realized I was lucky: I had been hitting ladder after ladder for 32 years, so when I hit one of my first-ever big chutes, it took me flat out of the game and sat me straight down in the mud.
I dove head-first into a gigantic identity crisis, spurred by several events all happening at once. My family dynamic was changing as we were all getting older, and I am the baby of a big, loving family, so that essentially knocked me off-center. My personal appearance suddenly improved drastically as I was preparing to compete in my first-ever figure competition. Lastly, I had lost a best friend in her divorce. You know how it goes, we were friends with both and ended up getting to keep the husband when the dust cleared. I didn’t know how to be older, finally physically-fit and drenched in attention from the opposite sex, and abandoned by the person with each and every one of my secrets in her right back pocket. I didn’t do a very good job wading through that season, the understatement of the century, essentially losing my marriage to my first husband, and failing my little family.
When he and I got engaged, we were a few months from graduating from ETBU in Marshall, TX, and we decided we would settle near one of our two families after the wedding. Baton Rouge, where I am from, had a serial killer on the loose in the fall of 2002 who was murdering people we knew and had us afraid to even take our dogs out alone, much less move there. That quickly ended deliberations: we decided to move to north Texas, on the Oklahoma border, to start our life together.
Since we moved to his small hometown, it felt like I was on one side, and he and the entire town were on the other when we separated. I hadn’t really experienced a shame-storm of that magnitude before, and the strength of it sent me into something pretty dark. I called my counselor, expressing I finally understood how people could take their own lives. Looking back, that phone call to him should have ended drastically differently, but I firmly believe God stepped in for me when man would not.
We held hands all the way into the courtroom, tearfully told the judge we wanted a divorce, laughed about sharing a chicken salad sandwich out of the vending machine afterward, embraced, and walked each other to our cars. Fortunately for our long-game, unfortunately for our marriage, we had become platonically close in the last three years of our union, and that’s the relationship that remains between him and me today. It’s the fastest route to big smiles on our three children’s faces, so ‘best friends’ it is.
After sixteen years as a personal trainer, I stepped away from the health and wellness industry to try my hat at real estate. It was peculiar of me to make that decision, and I was always curious as to why I had made it. But God. My now-husband, who I had met in my fitness bootcamps years before, contacted me needing a bachelor pad. I’m positive we have talked every day since, and I no longer sell homes or land, but farm it with him, instead. There was the answer to the real estate quandary.
Jay and I married nearly four years ago, and we have five incredibly hilarious children. Our nights are straight out of an episode of Ridiculousness, or just the entire Step Brothers movie. Even though Jay is 11 years older, our children are exactly the same age, so we ended up with two new sets of twins. The beautiful cherry on top is they absolutely love each other. We found out the less we intervene in their new relationships, the more they thrive, so we have backed out of that room completely. Things between the seven of us, however, have followed more the natural progression of your average blended family. Meaning we have been to hell and back. Thrice. I’ve never written an article, but it’s incredibly hard with the combination of my dry sarcasm and the absence of emojis. If you find yourself wondering if I’m kidding, mentally insert a wink-face at that spot.
As with the health of our kids’ new relationships, we started noticing other things we could do to help our little family thrive. Consequently, those each surrounded a common theme, grace. My husband and I felt strongly we needed to spread the word, and quickly, so we started a podcast. We like to tell stories of how we attempt to successfully navigate our marriage, farm, and family; but we end up just telling on ourselves and laughing our butts off at how miserably we miss the mark time and time again. Grace.
Two of my favorite parts of my divorce, which I know you’re not supposed to have but I do, are that my children spend two long weekends a month with their Daddy and his entire family out in the country, and the relationship between my oldest daughter and my beautiful husband. The first one would not be feasible if their dad and I were still married, and neither is the second, but I am just coming to that realization as I type. My children cherish the extra time with their grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins. It’s not something I could have, or rather would have been willing to give them, as I am an absolute home-body. I’m thankful he can. Secondly, the relationship between my oldest, Lily, who is 14, and her stepdaddy is the purest you have ever witnessed and it reminds me daily that the Lord is pretty much obsessed with me, and us.
For a time, I would allow their secret handshake to shine a huge comparison spotlight on my relationship with my stepson. I felt inept that I couldn’t fully win him over, which is funny because even as I try to complete this article, he is impatiently asking when I’ll be done so we can play some one-on-one basketball. I guess you can say I’m pretty tough on myself. Insert that lady emoji with her arms out to her sides here.
My lifeboat came last year when I read an article from my now-friend, Summer Butler, where she depicted some of the very same experiences I had stumbled through. God had placed a game-changing idea on her heart, probably because He knew someday she would share it with all of us. It goes like this, ‘You’re not here to teach them (step kids) how to call you mother, you’re here so they know how to call me (God) Father.’
After that, I learned quickly how to slow my roll, which was timely because I was freaking everyone out. My husband included. That man knows more about showing grace than anyone alive, I can promise. I could finally settle into my finest stepmom role, teaching my stepchildren grace, love, goodness, mercy, and compassion.
So, that’s us. Living, learning, turning, and teaching. We were down in that pit too, like some of you. Somehow we climbed out, and have gone for rope to come back for you. Hold tight, someone’s coming! You are not broken or messed up. Everyone on earth is not one way, and you the other. Your family would not be better off without you. For you, the entire universe was created. Let go of your knees, stand up out of the mud, and let’s move forward together, my friend.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jess Norman. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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