Showing items for 'Marlen Hall'

Showing items filed under “Marlen Hall”

It's Never Too Late

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My grandmother was a strong, independent woman with even stronger opinions. She never shied away from a debate or filtered her words to hide her true thoughts or feelings. Her love for her family was even stronger and she showed it through acts of service. Respect for elders was paramount even if undeserved or misguided.

When she and my grandfather visited the Christmas after I became a believer, I tried to share my testimony with her and encourage her to put her faith in Jesus, too. She responded very sternly, “I need Jesus? I certainly never talked to my parents the way you do! Maybe you need an extra dose of Him, but I am just fine.” Her words cut deep but gave me pause as a new believer. My actions needed to reflect my new-found faith.

She would go to church with us when she was in town, also attending events at the Christian school we attended. But, she never wanted to discuss religion or politics with us, always changing the subject or leaving the room.

In 1995, when my grandfather’s Parkinson’s had advanced, she allowed our pastor and his wife to come for a visit and pray with them. But, she was very adamant that no one speak to my grandfather about his relationship with Jesus or eternity. It weighed heavily on my mother’s heart as she wanted assurance that my grandfather would be in heaven, so she spoke to my grandmother about it often and my grandmother felt like she was being pestered about it.

One afternoon, my mother took my grandmother shopping and I stayed with my grandfather. My mother asked me to speak to my grandfather. As soon as they were gone, I asked him if anyone had ever shared the plan of salvation with him and he said, “You love me enough to tell me about Jesus and heaven?” Of course, I did!

In talking with him, I learned that as a young man working for a beer distributor in Baltimore, MD, a Methodist preacher introduced him to Jesus, but he had gotten away from having a close relationship with Him. I knew from our conversation that he was a believer and would spend eternity in heaven. He seemed at peace and told my mother and grandmother as soon as they got home. My grandmother was not happy that her request had been ignored. In fact, she did not speak to me about it until after my grandfather passed away 6 months later.

When my grandfather died, our church gathered around to comfort our family, especially my grandmother. They held the wake in the fellowship hall, catering the food and taking care of everything. With just a few visitors left at the gathering, my grandmother came to me and said, “You know that conversation you had with Pop? I would like to know more about Jesus and heaven, too.”

It was such a sweet blessing to see her relationship with Jesus grow. She started to attend church faithfully, joined a Bible study and gave of her resources to building funds and missions. And even though she was afraid of the water since she never learned to swim, she got baptized in the inground swimming pool in my parents’ backyard. She remained outspoken and opinionated and starting defending her faith, engaging in living debates when our pastor and his wife would visit her during weekly visitation. She even brought her cousin to church and was instrumental in her decision to rededicate her life to the Lord.

In the fall of 2006, when the doctors told her that the cancer had spread too much for treatment, she moved in with my parents. She was 82. I was a stay at home mom at the time and was able to care for her as my parents worked. In those last few weeks that I spent time with her she spoke of being able to see my grandfather soon and other relatives gone before her, especially her sisters. But, she was a bit anxious about the ‘between’ part of dying, the part between the last breath and seeing Jesus’ face. She would ask me to sit with her and hand her hand while I read the verses in Psalms that she had highlighted. They spoke of peace and not being afraid. She said she did not fear death but feared the unknown of how and when.

It was a pleasure to stand with my family as she peacefully took her last breath and slipped into eternity with the assurance of seeing Jesus and my grandfather. Jesus had changed her destiny without taking away her tenacious spirit. She was still independent, strong, opinionated and at times stubborn, but now she left a legacy of faith and trust for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is a true example that when you find Jesus is not nearly as important as finding him and letting Him change your life.                        

 

Photo by Edu Carvalho from Pexels

 

 

The Joy, The Pain, and The Art of Blending

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Typically, when a man and a woman get married, there are only two lives that are being joined together in holy matrimony. It is a challenging and daunting task to weave two separate lives intimately into one, but it is rewarding as a couple begins to learn and grow together.

The Bible says, Genesis 2:20b-24, “But, for Adam no suitable helper was found. So, the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

It is after there has been a time of getting to know each other and how to navigate life as a couple that children are conceived and brought into the family. Transitioning to parents from newlyweds is not an easy adjustment.

But, when a man and a woman get married and bring their own children into the holy union, it is even more complicated. Not only must the husband and wife learn how to become one as a couple, but they must learn their new roles as stepparents and co-parents. Many times, along with those new relationships comes a new home, possibly in a new state. Not only is the marriage new, but parenting is brand new in an unfamiliar place. This exciting time in the newlyweds’ lives can become overwhelming, stressful and uncertain. Thankfully, God’s hand is always in His plans and He can bring peace and blessings in the chaos.

I once read in Reader’s Digest that there are ten occurrences in your life that can cause overwhelming stress - death of a family member, marriage, pregnancy, illness, job change, incarceration, new home, strained friendships, success, and moving – and they recommend to avoid having more than two happen in a year’s time. I wish I read that when I was younger. Within five months, I got married, quit my job as a teacher to become a stay at home mom and moved into a new home 1300 miles away from the only place I had ever lived in 27 years. And 12 months later, I was pregnant. Talk about stress. I was in the stress Olympics!

When Rick and I met online in 1999, it wasn’t as popular as it is today to meet strangers on the internet. The unknown of chatrooms and IM-ing was a bit scary. But, living 1300 miles away from each other, being single parents with jobs and responsibilities and only having email, IM-ing and phone calls to communicate allowed us to get to know each other more intimately. We sent pictures and cards but did not get to see each other until seven months after we first met online. Rick hadn’t planned on proposing that whirlwind weekend we spent in Maryland and Texas meeting each other’s families and friends, but we got engaged and were married five months later. For two 20-somethings, it was an amazingly crazy and exciting time. For our children, it was amazing, crazy, exciting and life changing.

My son prayed daily for nine years for a Daddy and siblings. He desperately wanted a family. When I spoke to him about Rick after we had been talking for three months, he was excited. He loved talking to him about football and Texas. He was thrilled about the idea of being a big brother to Rick’s daughter and son. Before Rick proposed, he spoke with my son to get his permission to marry me and permission was given gladly. He asked if he could call Rick “Dad” once we were married and could not wait to move to Texas.

Rick’s daughter and son had gone through the divorce better than most nine and five-year olds. They adjusted well to moving in with his parents while he adjusted to being a single parent and seeing their mother two weekends a month and during the summer. They both expressed the desire to have a family again and were cautiously happy when we were introduced. They were eager to have another sibling, a new house and a mother who lived with them full time. Requests to call me “Mom” came after our engagement was announced and we started writing letters and talking on the weekends they were home.

When we all got to see each other in person, it was like being back home, with family, not like being in the same place for the first time. It only took a few minutes for the children to be in the back seat of the car together before they started bickering like siblings, falling asleep on each other on the hour ride from the airport. They giggled in the bedroom as they fell asleep and spent the next two days playing and enjoying getting to know each other.

But, after the wedding, honeymoon and four-day road trip moving our lives from Maryland to Texas, it was evident that navigating this new life together was going to be messy, complicated and hard. Each of us had a new place to fit into that didn’t always make sense or feel right.

I was trying to figure out how to be the perfect wife and mother. It was a big adjustment to go from single mom of one to married mom of three. Having a husband was wonderful, but after taking care of the children all day, I found myself exhausted and struggled finding time to spend with Rick before heading to bed. We were a busy family with school, sports, church and family gatherings. Rick was busy with a new promotion, but was at every practice and dance event, helped lead the children’s ministry at church and co-hosted many family get togethers. There was also the dynamic of being so far away from my family and my son’s biological father while trying to figure out how to include Rick’s ex wife and her family into the children’s lives.    

It was a delicate balance that we did not always get right. If we didn’t have his children for the weekend and Rick was working, I made sure I spent extra time with my son who was adjusting to a huge move and a different family dynamic. If Rick wasn’t working, we would spend time with my son, but also carve out time for a date night. During Christmas break and the summertime while the children were spending time with their other parents, we made sure to take trips and do things to strengthen our relationship as husband and wife. It was challenging to do that when we were with the children 24/7, so we enjoyed the breaks.  

We also experienced challenges in parenting since our children were 9, 9 and 5 when we got married. We had different parenting styles and it was very evident as we tried to figure out how to discipline and train children who already had established ways that they best reacted to discipline and training. We thought we talked a lot about how we would raise them and any future children, but we found ourselves disagreeing especially when it came to our own children. I had way more grace for my son than for my stepchildren. My son rebelled if disciplined in public, responding better to quiet and private rebuking. All Rick had to do was raise his voice to his daughter and she was repentant. The 5-year-old just needed a swat to get back in line. But as we disciplined them differently, we received flak from family members and the exes. It was difficult to establish rules for our home when those rules were not the same at their other houses or when with other family. Rick and I started to look at each other as enemies instead of partners and it was easy to be resentful or frustrated.

We had to have hard conversations about what our motives were in our discipline for each of the children. We spent hours in prayer and in counseling with our pastor. We searched God’s Word during our devotional times as a couple and privately. We apologized when we got it wrong and rejoiced when we got things right. We were a united front when questioned by family members and biological parents. And we modeled Biblical parenting to the children.

God was gracious in our growing pains. As we followed godly principles in child rearing and our marriage, we had peace in our home and in our marriage. Even though there is great wisdom behind God’s design for marriage to come first then children, His mercy and guidance allowed us to become a family. And as we added more children, we continue to seek God as we parent two unique children who are growing into incredible, responsible, creative young adults.

Good Grief

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Grief is a peculiar process that life takes us through when we lose someone or something in our lives. It can be through death, divorce, addiction, separation or even choice. We could grieve the loss of a loved one or a job, unmet expectations, or unfulfilled goals and dreams. Thankfully, God is very familiar with grief. He experienced grief when He cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden, when the Israelites continued to return to their sins, and when He had to turn His back on Jesus as He sacrificed Himself as atonement for the sins of the whole world in His death on the cross. God’s grief was deep, and it is real.

Because of this he understands our grief, meets us in our grief and helps us through our grief, and he shows us this in the Bible:

  • Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” encourages us that God is very near while we grieve.
  • Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” shows us that there will be healing in our grief.
  • Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” allows us to turn to Him in our weakest times during our grief.
  • Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.,” is a promise of the comfort God gives us in our grief.

Knowing all of that allows us to lean into Him during times of overwhelming grief.

I wasn’t expecting to be a single mother for nine years. But, once I accepted the fact that I would be raising my son without the consistent presence of his father, I worked hard to follow what I had been taught that Proverbs 22:6 meant, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” I truly believed that if I was praying, reading my Bible, attending Sunday school and church, disciplining my son when his behavior demanded it, and exposing him to positive, male influences, Christian school and appropriate music that he would grow to become a believer and live a life reflective of the scriptures. I named him after a strong Biblical character and claimed the verse Joshua 1:9 for him, praying it over him many times.  

I believed that checking off that list of things regularly would cause a spiritual change in my son…and at a young age he became a believer and was baptized. But I was checking off that list for my own holiness, locked in legalism, not living in a way that was stirring my son to desire a relationship with Jesus. Instead it made him believe that performance pleased God, not presence; that he wanted our sacrifices more than our obedience.

My heart broke the day my friend called to tell me that my son, J, had stolen from her son. When I questioned him, he admitted it and returned the money. I was desperate to make an impression on my 8-year-old son that what he had done was wrong, that I did not want him to end up a statistic or a cliché of a single parent home. So, I drove him to the police station. I sat with him in the car as he cried, and I asked him if he wanted to end up in jail and disappoint me, his grandparents and God. Of course, he didn’t and promised that he would not ever steal again, but this was the beginning of many repeated thefts.

Thefts that involved more money, more expensive things and greater consequences. By this time, I had met and married my husband and we were navigating being newlyweds and parents of three children in our newly blended family. We sought counsel from our pastor and elders, doctors and judges. Community hours were served and more promises were made.

When drugs became part of the reason for the theft, there was no remorse, no more promises and nothing that could stop J from climbing out of his second story bedroom window to sneak out to a party we forbade him to go to. When we finally got in contact with him 48 hours after he ran away, we begged him to come home. We told him that he could home, no questions asked, and we would do whatever it took to get him clean and the help he needed, but he only had 24 hours to decide. He said he didn’t need 24 hours. He was never coming home. He was 16.

My depression set in almost immediately. I felt a grief so deep as my hopes and dreams for him were shattered. As an educator I mourned that he would never walk across the stage as a high school graduate. I blamed myself and guilt swept over me like a crashing wave, making it hard to function, making it hard to breathe. I questioned every decision I had made, including my decision to have him at 18 as a single mother and trying to raise him in a Christian home. I thought I was powerful enough to stop J from making poor choices. I thought wanting him to do right and live right was enough.

I started to go through the motions of mothering my younger children and being a wife. My depression was the hardest at night when the house was quiet, and I was alone with my thoughts. I tried to pray, but my prayers were more inaudible cries or questions of why and how could this happen. Many times, I felt better and started to make sense of my grief, to only find myself grieving again with every phone call from jail. It was a cycle that left me feeling angry and confused.

The Text that Opened my Eyes

The stages of grief are different for everyone in that some of us stay in some stages longer than others. I stayed angry for a long time. My anger was misplaced and misguiding. I allowed my anger to become a comfort, a safe place and an excuse. Being angry kept me from having to be truthful with myself and others. I didn’t have to be vulnerable. I could be righteously angry, and I justified my feelings and actions in the cloak of angry grief. But it was paralyzing me and keeping me from processing my grief and allowing myself to properly heal.

One night I got a text from J after another theft and drug charge with another court date looming in the future and he wrote, “I just want you to know that you did nothing wrong. My actions and my decisions have nothing to do with the way I was raised. You did the best you could. I chose this path even though I knew it was wrong. It is not your fault.” It wasn’t until I read his words that I felt free from the guilt and shame of what J’s life had become. I realized that I was not powerful enough to be the Holy Spirit in his life. That God would have to do the redemptive work in his life and it was time to stop asking God why and start asking Him what He wanted me to learn from this heartache.

Leaning into God

I started to pray for changes in my life, in my parenting and not focus on changing others. I discovered that praise and worship music was a balm to my soul and convicting when I needed it to be. I talked to friends that I knew had been through what I was going through and had seen their children through the other side of sobriety and rehabilitation. I joined a grief and loss connection group where I was able to be vulnerable and once again open God’s word and let the Truth wash over me, allowing me to breathe and begin to function again.

Most importantly, I clung to the promise that God loves J more than I do—and more than I ever could. The things I grieved for him, God did, too. And the things I grieved as a parent, God knew and understood. I was also reminded as I prayed for J that his story is not over that it is just a part of his story, a story that God is still waiting to redeem.

Leaning into God allowed me to give myself permission to continue working through my grief and not put a timeline on the process. I needed time to grieve the loss of my son’s childhood, not having him present at birthdays and holidays, and my expectations for his future and the lost time with his children. Once I allowed myself to begin to do that and allow myself time to be sad and miss him now, it freed me from being angry.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” I now believe this to be true. God is still working and when He is finished it will be good.       

    

                     

Dealing with Unmet Expectations

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It has been said that comparison is the thief of joy. If that is true, then expectations are the root of all heartache. Whether they are unmet, unrealistic, or ungodly, they can break a heart fixed on how things appear and on what others think. Forgetting that the only expectations that matter are God’s can cause unnecessary sorrow and heartache. This has been a recurring part of our journey as a blended family.

I never expected to meet someone online in a chat room. I never expected to whisper, “I’m going marry that man!” after just talking to him for a few hours. I never expected to be married one year and 11 days after being introduced to him for the first time. I never expected to marry a man who was divorced with two children. But, God had other plans. His plan was unexpected, but that is how He operates. We were so blown away by His providence and provision.

I did expect to be nervous on my wedding day. But, I wasn’t. I had a peace that only God gives when you are in the midst of His plan. I expected there to be bumps along the road to our happily ever after. Discontinued bridesmaids’ dresses, rain the night before our outdoor wedding, and an argumentative matron of honor tried to thwart our special day. I expected many adjustments to becoming a family of five and to suddenly being a momma to three instead of one. And a momma to a girl? I couldn’t even braid hair! I even expected to miss my family after moving 1300 miles away.

We expected our new lives together to be hard, but things seemed to fall into place easily for us. The children asked to call us Mom and Dad before we crossed the Maryland state line on our way to our new home in Texas. They referred to each other as siblings without the step prefix. Family meals, family devotions, church, youth group - all of it fell into place quickly and seamlessly. Every morning started out with hot breakfasts, ironed clothes, devotions and walks to school. Our days ended with prayers and kisses goodnight. Even in the hard, what I had expected to be difficult wasn’t. I expected to be the wife that helped my husband lose weight, be successful, and be fulfilled. I expected to be the mom that fixed breakfast and packed lunches every day, picked them up from school and fed them healthy snacks while helping with their homework as dinner cooked. In all appearances, we were crushing the blended family stigma, but deep inside wounds had not healed and more were being made.

We knew we wanted to have at least one child together and I got pregnant the month after our first anniversary. When we shared the news with my in-laws they were overjoyed--until they weren’t. They expressed to us how unfit we were as parents; how obvious it was that we favored one child over the others and how irresponsible we were for having a child together. I was shocked, hurt and angry. I didn’t expect that. Thankfully, apologies were quickly made, and forgiveness was extended, but the wounds were there, and the healing was slow. I expected their support and enthusiasm but received judgment and disdain. I suffered postpartum depression after our daughter was born and I didn’t want anyone to know. It would solidify the things my in-laws had said and would worry my mother who was 1300 miles away from me.

I was able to get the medication and support I needed from my doctor, so when I found out that I was expecting just as our daughter turned 1 ½, I was cautiously excited. My husband had wanted to have another child and wanted a boy, so he was not surprised. We knew it would be challenging adding another child to our family during the time of transition to middle school for our oldest son and daughter, but we expected to see continued academic, emotional and spiritual growth.

Instead things started to fall apart - failing grades, stealing, lying and parties with alcohol and sex. Something else we didn’t expect. When we made the hard decision to move back to Maryland we encountered teen pregnancy, drugs, our oldest son running away, dropping out of school, probation and incarceration and continued premarital sex. Our middle son was diagnosed with ADD and ODD as our youngest son started speech therapy and our youngest daughter struggled with obesity. All of that was followed by several months of unemployment for my husband and major depression for me.

Our blended family was nothing like I expected.

I wasn’t the wife or mother I thought I could be. Our older children had become the blended family stereotype. We were not just a broken family, we were shattered. I was heartbroken. During all of this, I struggled with believing that God’s hand was in any of it, but He was not surprised by anything that had happened. He was there through all of it. I was just looking in the wrong place. I strove for perfection in a dysfunctional family. Blindly in love and naive in everything a blended family entailed.

My expectations had been unrealistic and ungodly.

There was no way I was going to erase the years of hurt and brokenness with hot breakfasts and bedtime stories. Even though I thought of my stepchildren as my own there was still the very present influence of their biological mother and stepfather. After a weekend or vacation at their mother’s house, we had to reinstate our rules and expectations. I was so concerned with what others thought of our family and how we looked more so than what heart changes were taking place. God looks on the heart, 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us, not on outward appearances.

By outward appearances we were a storybook family, but the heart issues were deeper and were not being resolved. I was not praying for help or for heart change for me, my husband or my children. I wasn’t as much concerned about God’s will as I was with what I felt was best for my family.

I wanted God to bless my expectations instead of seeking His purpose and plan.

Thankfully, God is gracious and merciful.

Even when I was looking to myself for answers and strength, God was guiding and blessing. Our oldest daughter placed her son with an adoptive family answering their desire for a child. Our oldest son blessed us with two amazing grandchildren. Our youngest daughter and son are excelling in school and in their talents, allowing us to see God’s promise after the rain.

Even though I had chosen to allow my expectations to override what God had expected of me as a wife and mother and for us as a blended family, God was patiently waiting for me to turn to Him, give up my expectations of how things should be and lean into what He has for us as a blended family. It has not been easy, but when I daily align my plan with His, He exceeds all my expectations.

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