It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Ray Alsdorf recently retired from law enforcement after 37 years. For the past 22 years he served as a detective/inspector for the Alameda County District Attorney specializing in welfare fraud, child endangerment, and other abuses. He is a Biblical lay-counselor, a member of AACC, and serves in the New Hope Ministry team at his local church. He currently counsels couples in blended marriages or those who are considering remarriage. He and his wife, Debbie, teach blended family classes at Cornerstone Fellowship.
Debbie Alsdorf has served as the director of Women’s Ministries at Cornerstone Fellowship for the past 13 years. She is a teaching leader, a mentor to other women in leadership, and equips and trains about 200 key women’s ministry leaders each month. In addition, she serves as a Biblical lay-counselor and is a member of AACC. In addition to her position at Cornerstone, she is also an international speaker and author and the founder of Design4Living Ministries—a ministry to equip and encourage women in their spiritual walks by providing resources that help them learn truth and line up to Biblical truth in the practical places of real life.
Visit the authors' website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
When Love and Loss Become Our New Reality
White lace and promises, a kiss for luck and we’re on our way.
“You have gotta be kidding me!” I was in disbelief after reading the new court papers served to my husband.
I was ranting and pacing as he made his way into the house. Waving the papers in my hand, I let it all out—“How can things go from being so good to being so bad in a matter of weeks? A few weeks ago it was fine for me to be in your daughters’ lives, and now, without knowing what hit me, I am suspect at every turn. If I don’t put ponytails in their hair, I haven’t cared for them, and if I do put them in, they’re not the right kind. I send the wrong thing in their school lunches and the wrong drinks for their thirsty little mouths! I can’t do anything right! And now—now you’re getting served court papers to take away the joint custody you have always had with your girls? How can that be fair? How can she do that? This is not what I signed up for!”
We were only two weeks into our new marriage when reality hit us. Before we had opened every wedding gift, we were opening the gift that would keep on giving—the aftermath of divorce and remarriage.
I suspected that Ray’s ex-wife filed the new custody papers because my little boys were now living under Ray’s roof and sharing the girls’ turf. Add to the equation the fact that another woman was in their life, and you have the recipe for blended-family wars. What once seemed smooth was now turning into a full-force battle. It was hard not to take this slap in our faces personally.
My mind raced through anger, frustration, and guilt. Anger that someone else now seemed to have control over my daily life, my finances, and my husband’s future—and frustration that our dream of uniting our two families as one was being dashed right before our eyes.
I went from blushing bride to the wicked stepmother in record speed. The guilt associated with being the one who was apparently the problem was almost more than I could bear. The guilt made no logical sense, because Ray had been divorced several years before meeting me, but if Ray hadn’t married me, his custody arrangement would have stayed the same. Watching him fight for his girls broke my heart. This was our new life—not exactly what we had in mind.
Once a Family—Always a Family
Divorce ends a marriage but not a family. The couple divorces; the children don’t, so they remain the constant link between their divorced parents. Remarriages jolt the entire family dynamic, affecting ex-spouses, in-laws, and all the children. In her book Remarried with Children, Barbara LeBey addresses the drama:
The stepparent is usually blamed for any negatives that occur. The wife’s family will blame the
new husband, his ex-wife, and his children. The husband’s family will blame the new wife, her exhusband, and her children. There’s so much blame to go around, it’s hard to imagine how anyone
can get beyond it. But they can, and will, if they enter the uncharted waters with a loving heart,
an open mind, and a willingness to allow for vast differences.1
From the beginning of my new life in a blended family, rejection and hurt became part of the routine of my existence. I did not like my new reality. I kept wishing I could turn back the clock to a time when everything seemed to have the promise of happily ever after—a time when everything seemed so perfect.
Most single parents I meet have the dream of meeting another love and living happily ever after. And, according to statistics, most adults do remarry after being widowed or divorced. But the sad fact is that approximately 70 percent of remarriages that involve children are failing. We think it’s time to get real about the dream of happily-ever-after-times-two and relinquish it—to the Lord. He can give us what we need to live in a life that is no longer typical, in a family that is not “ordinary,” and in a world where our nuclear ideas of family have been blown apart by the reality that our blended families barely resemble a blend!
Our dream wasn’t supposed to be filled with anger, hurt feelings, court cases, and costly attorneys. We started out with white lace and promises.
The Dream of a New Life
It was a beautiful August day—the pale blue sky spread like a blanket with polka dots of white clouds. The morning was picturesque, the perfect day for a wedding—anyone’s wedding—but this day was reserved just for us. Everything was perfect.
As the limo made its way to the church, I (Debbie) felt far removed from the bustle of life just down the hill and far removed from the pain of my past. This was my new happy ending—this was the day when I had a second chance at love. It was a day to redeem the dream destroyed by an unwanted divorce.
I (Ray) was about as excited as a man can be. After all, I was about to marry the woman of my dreams. As the limo made its way to drop off my groomsmen and me at the church, all I could think of was how blessed I was to have met this wonderful woman. I was excited about our future together. I was marrying a woman I had fallen madly in love with. Our courtship was something movies are made of. Debbie was the answer to my four-year prayer that God would bless me with a godly wife.
Our invitations read:
Ray and Debbie invite you to share in their joy
when they exchange marriage vows and begin
their new life together.
Our new life together included four children, all within a fouryear age range—two in first grade, one in second grade, and the oldest in fourth grade. I (Ray) had the girls and Debbie had the boys. Together we were all going to be the new little family—a real-life Brady Bunch.
The girls looked like little dolls, with curly hair, fancy satin dresses, and shoes right out of a fairy tale. The boys looked like little men with their pint-sized tuxedos, a splash of men’s cologne, and spiffed-up hair. After running about the building and doing the silly things kids do, they took their cue from the wedding coordinator and walked down the aisle to the delight of our guests. Once in their places, they waited with the bridesmaids and groomsmen for the wedding to begin. So far, the day was picture perfect.
Most brides are nervous on their wedding day, and I (Debbie) was about as nervous as any bride could be. I stood by the double doors of the church, my heart pounding. As the doors opened and the guests rose, I made my entrance down the center aisle, gazing at my handsome new prince waiting for me at the end of a rose-petaled path. For a moment I felt like Cinderella. My prince’s smile melted me, and it was all I could do to keep myself from running toward him and the kids. It was a moment I will never forget—a romantic snapshot etched in my memory. After we said, “I do,” we spontaneously gave each other an unrehearsed high five! Our guests laughed. We were going to make it—Ray and Debbie were starting their new life together.
We would never have believed that just a short time later, in the heat of a custody battle, we would seriously doubt the vows we made on that picture-perfect wedding day.
The Day We Became the Brady Bunch
At our reception, the new brothers and sisters entertained the guests by singing the Brady Bunch song. We all smiled, chuckled, and applauded. Ray and I felt a flush of parental pride rush through us. Oh, how adorable we all were on that day—Mr. and Mrs. Blend and the little Blends. We assumed that life would continue down this delightful path.
In record speed, the darling rendition of the Brady Bunch song was replaced by the sound of kids fighting, competing, and trying as hard as they could to position themselves in the new family. And we found ourselves in constant squabbles over the territorial rights of our own children. Add to that the ex-spouse dramas, and let’s just say our life was quickly becoming more than hard. We were suddenly face-to-face with an enemy we were ill-equipped to fight. Life was about to become more challenging than we ever thought possible.
Instead of a glorious new life, we quickly learned that the Bradys don’t exist in the real world—only in a Hollywood studio. I can’t recall a television episode where a stepchild or an ex-spouse treated Mr. Brady unfairly. I never saw a show with a court-custody scene featuring Mr. and Mrs. Brady fighting the past to hold on to their future.
There was never mention of strained finances, bad relationships, or past hurts. And Mr. Brady never mentioned a husband-in-law, nor did Mrs. Brady have to deal with the ghost of a wife past, even though both are common in blended families.
After You Say, “I Do”
We have counseled many couples in blended families, as well as taught blended-family classes at our local church. The thing that gets to us the most is the amount of pain people are in. The pain level in some of our classes is almost palpable.
When doing premarital counseling for those going into a remarriage with children, we share with couples the realities of what to expect after they seal their vows with a kiss. Most couples assure us that things are great, and that though they believe these unfortunate hardships are the experience of some, certainly nothing of the sort will happen to them—they are in love and committed to the Lord. (They all say this and really believe it!)
Sadly, most couples usually call us before they hit the threemonth mark. By that time, the realities of life in the blender have begun to rear their ugly heads. What couples can’t accept are the same things we found hard to accept—once you say, “I do,” things change. Shortly after we tied the knot, everything became real to all involved—and the children, who seemed excited that we were getting married, began their individual struggles to adapt.
It’s such a strange contradiction of emotion—on one hand, the new husband and wife are in love and happy to start a life together, but on the other hand, they see the children beginning to show signs of strain and unhappiness. The duality of this family structure can quickly get things off balance.
It became apparent that our new life would be a long, hard journey of two families trying to merge as one. Our union began to seem more like a collision course than a merge, and emotions were set to boil rather than blend. We had hoped that if we tried hard enough and did it “right,” we could overcome any adversity our blended family faced. After all, we were “in love.” Maybe you have felt the same.
We Need More Than Self-Strength
Remember the children’s classic The Little Engine That Could? The story gives hope that, with enough hard work and optimism, anything can be accomplished. As the little engine chugs along with, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.…” it makes its way up even the most daunting hill.
Certainly anyone in a blended family can relate to hoping for the future while muttering, “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.…” But once we walk down the aisle, the powers of hell are determined to see us fail. And when that happens, we all need someone bigger and more powerful than ourselves. We need the help and hope that only God, who created us all and understands us all, can give.
How could we have known? Who tells couples these things? We were all wrapped up in planning a wedding, considering what the kids would wear, without ever considering what life would be like after the ceremony. While we were busy budgeting a reception menu, it never crossed our minds that once we took the romantic walk down that aisle, we would quickly be marched back to court. We have talked to countless others who were also blindsided by the change in events once they said, “I do.”
After the Honeymoon—One Couple’s Story
Marci and Mike had the perfect life in mind too. They had been married just a few months when problems started to erupt. Actually, they started bubbling earlier, but they took time to come to a full boil. When they married, Mike was forty and had joint custody of his eight-year-old daughter. Marci was thirty-nine with two children—a ten-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son—and full custody.
Immediately after the honeymoon, Marci’s two children became the focal point of jealousy and bitterness for Mike’s ex-wife and his only daughter. The ex was insistent that her daughter was constantly being cheated, slighted, and left out. The ex began to tell Mike that his love was now directed only at Marci
and her children. Mike argued that it simply was not true, that his only “baby” was everything to him, his heartbeat—but his exwife now felt threatened, and she pulled out all the stops to make things difficult.
Naturally, Mom’s feelings transferred to Mike’s daughter. The girl began to refuse to go over to her dad’s new house—because she suddenly didn’t like Marci and her two kids.
Mike was devastated. His new life was not supposed to turn out this way. They had planned to be one big happy family. But before long, both Marci and Mike started being territorial and protective of their own children. Both were deadlocked in a competition to protect their turf—the children from their respective previous marriages. Steeped in pride and unwilling to let go, Marci and Mike almost brought their marriage to a devastating halt.
How could this be? They had been so in love, and the children had gotten along perfectly during the courtship. Did some evil switch get flipped? Was this a cruel joke of fate? Would they survive?
Why was the real life after the wedding so hard?
Let’s Take a Closer Look
Blending isn’t natural and is a challenge for all involved. Mike and Marci found that there was an unanticipated competition based on biological family ties. This competition is normal, but because it was unanticipated it seemed much worse than it really was. Ex-spouses often feel threatened once there is a remarriage and may work very hard to sabotage the children’s relationship with both the biological parent and the new stepparent.
There would be hurdles to jump and new things to consider, but if Marci and Mike put their heads in the sand (denial) or hardened their hearts (bitterness) toward to each other, or toward anyone in their extended family circle, family devastation would follow.
If they asked for God’s help, He would give it. He would answer in spiritual ways that would affect all practical decisions. In Christ, all things are possible—even love in a blended family.
If my people, who are called by my
name, will humble themselves and
pray and seek my face and turn from
their wicked ways, then I will hear
from heaven … and will heal their
land. (2 Chron. 7:14)
Marci and Mike needed to get real, admitting to themselves and each other that this was harder than they thought it was going to be. It was important to quit trying to “play” family; it was time to turn their hearts to God so that a proper foundation for their new family could be established. Without this reality check and the desire for a proper solid foundation, everything else would continue to fall short of what the couple was looking for.
Maybe you can see parts of your dynamics within Mike and Marci’s story. Though life didn’t end up exactly how they dreamed it would, there were many practical things they could begin doing. Let’s use them as a case study and discover how what they could do differently applies to us as well.
• Mike and his daughter needed some alone time to help with the adjustment. Mike was
trying to do all things together, involving both his daughter and his stepchildren. His daughter needed to know she had her daddy still and his love always. This alone time would help strengthen their relationship and negate the things her mom was saying about Daddy not caring about her as much as he cared for Marci’s kids.
• Both Mike and Marci needed to build alone time with their children into their schedules and not feel guilty about it. In time, after things had blended better, Marci could take Mike’s daughter for alone time and vice versa.
• Mike and Marci also needed to look for ways to make peace with his ex-wife. Meetings often don’t resolve things, because there is unspoken underlying hurt involved. They needed to start praying for her weekly and to find things that might bless her.
• If Mike’s ex-wife was not open to negotiation, they needed to leave her be and continue committing the situation to God and doing what they knew to be right. They needed to refuse to play her game, choose to bless her, and continue to make Mike’s daughter feel part of the family in tangible ways.
Because life will not feel normal and will be difficult in the adjustment phase, you will face emotional changes and challenges that you need to keep in check. Find a way to cope with your emotions—get counseling, join a support group, or talk to friends. Make sure you don’t confide in your child about all of your feelings. Rather than confiding adult things to your child, make time for your child and continue to build a relationship with him or her. Make sure you keep your word and are on time when you have a parent-child date. Continue living life; maintain your job, friendships, and schedules. Most of all, stay connected to Christ.
The prophet Jeremiah voices God’s promise of help and hope:
Call to me and I will answer you
and tell you great and unsearchable
things you do not know. (Jer. 33:3)
When we humble ourselves before God, He begins to do a work in us. But humbling your heart before God is not a quick fix. Blending still takes time.
Author and stepfamily expert Ron Deal likens this new American family to a Crock-Pot rather than a blend. He advises setting the pot on low and letting it simmer toward the blending of flavors and ingredients. In The Smart Stepfamily he says,
Stepfamily integration hardly ever happens as quickly as adults want it to.… Stepfamily researcher
James Bray discovered that stepfamilies don’t begin to think or act like a family until the end of the second or third year. Furthermore, Patricia Papernow, author of the book Becoming a Stepfamily, discovered that it takes the average stepfamily seven years to integrate sufficiently to experience intimacy and authenticity in step relationships. Fast families can accomplish this in four years, if the children are
young and the adults are intentional about bringing their family together. However, slow families, according to Papernow, can take nine or more years. In my experience, very few adults come into their stepfamily believing it will take this long.2
There is nothing natural about blending two households together. It’s as if you are transported to another country with no way back into your homeland. You are now on new territory with new sights, new customs, and new foods, and you must learn to live according to the new culture—you may even have to learn a whole new language! You are permanently planted in this new land, and you are never going back to the country you previously knew. Dr. Don Partridge calls this new land another universe—like being
in outer space. Barbara LeBey’s Remarried with Children says, “If the joining of two people in marriage is comparable to joining two different cultures, then the joining of two people who have been married, divorced, and have children would be more like merging two different galaxies.”3
Guess we better get our space suits on and figure out how to walk on the moon! Or at the very least, we need to reidentify who we are now—not who we were, or who we dreamed we’d be, but who we are today.
Bringing It Home
• Has blending your family turned out to be harder than you anticipated? If so, how?
• Have you asked for God’s help, or are you trying to figure life in the blended family out on your own?
• What choice do your actions demonstrate?
• Are you holding on to His promise of healing your family? If so, what specific promises are most important to you?
• Or, as we did at first, are you trying to do this with your own strength, goodwill, kind heart, and fairy-tale hopes of a better tomorrow? If so, how effective has that been so far? Why?
• What are you and your spouse doing to heal your relationships with your former spouses? Remember
that God has called us to be peacemakers.