It’s my birthday today. I thought I would tell you about a gift that I recently received… an unlikely friendship with my husband’s ex-wife.
Sounds strange, right? Let me explain.
Just over 6 months ago my 15 year old step-son, Mitch, was in a horrific accident. While he was riding his bike home from school, he was hit and then run over by a truck. It is a flat out miracle that he wasn’t killed. After a few weeks in the hospital, he was confined to a hospital bed at home in order for his multiple fractures to heal.
|Mitch’s bike after the accident.
Here’s where I need to give you a little blended family background:
Mitch has pretty much divided his time equally between our two households, alternating weekly. Handsome Hubby and Mitch’s mom, Michelle, split up when Mitch was just over a year old. Divorce is never pretty, but HH and Michelle were pretty amicable through the process and worked together to parent Mitch. He was almost 5 when HH and I got married. I thought Michelle was nice enough. Sitting side by side at soccer and baseball games was pleasant and we usually had something to chat about, but there always a little bit of underlying tension. On occasion there would be a parenting issue that would come up, or there would be a misunderstanding and people would get twisty, but by and large everyone got along. HH always described the situation as “Mitch has one big family, and they happen to live in two different houses.” We all did our best to make that description work, but sometimes it felt like lip service.
Michelle and I worked together to handle schedules and activities for Mitch. She had a very busy full time job, and I stayed home. (And as any mother will tell you, the term “working mother” is redundant.) There would be times when Michelle and I got along great, and there would be times when we didn’t.
There were times when she would send me an email and I would find myself gritting my teeth, irritated before I even opened it to read what she had to say.
There were times when I felt taken advantage of, unfairly judged or had my words twisted and my intentions questioned.
There were times when I just knew that she had it totally easy and I was doing all of the heavy lifting and dirty-work when it came to school work, or the crappy parenting issues and they got to be The Fun Parents.
There were times when it seemed to me that she was defensive no matter what, and that it was a competition, not co-parenting.
You know what? For every “there were times” moment that Michelle created for me, I am positive that I created the exact same thing for her.
Since I am one of those Stress Monkeys who can get physically ill if there is too much stress in my life, over the years one of my ongoing prayer requests has been to “get along with Michelle.” However, I always assumed that if God answered that prayer, He would simply make her nicer. (Poof! Presto-change-o!) It didn’t occur to me that I had some changing to do in my own heart. (Or if it did, I squashed out the sound of that quiet voice by just complaining more loudly.)
The weeks leading up to Mitch’s accident were not harmonious ones. Busy schedules, holiday misunderstandings and other mundane things built up a huge amount of tension for us all. Mitch was aware of it, too, and I think that was one of the first times in his life that he could really tell there was tension between the households.
The few days prior to Mitch’s accident felt downright contentious. It was very stressful, and I had been bitching and grumbling about things she did or didn’t do… now I have to do it… wah-wah-wah. Then came the call that no parent ever wants to receive: “M’am? Your child has been in an accident…”
And everything started to change.
The first few days at the hospital were a blur and incredibly stressful for everyone, but the mere fact that Mitch was alive provided perspective. We were so grateful that we were dealing with doctors, surgeons and physical therapists, instead of meeting with the mortician and planning a funeral.
I told you that getting along with Michelle had been one of my ongoing prayer requests. Don’t think that I didn’t hear God gently telling me, “You know, I’d like you to soften your heart towards her…” I would argue with Him and explain why I was justified in being irritated. I would resist, and reason, and do all sorts of things to avoid doing what He was asking of me: which was to treat her like a sister.
God’s answer to my resistance? He dropped her in my lap for 6 weeks.
Mitch’s prognosis was for a full recovery, but he would need to be immobilized for 6 weeks while his many fractures healed. What did that mean? It meant a rented hospital bed at our house, because we live in a one story and Michelle’s place has stairs. What else did that mean? It meant that there would be no switching back and forth between houses. It meant that my husband’s ex-wife was going to practically be here 24/7 to help care for Mitch/spend time with him. It meant that I would be walking on eggshells for 6 weeks so as not to upset her or make the situation even more tense than it already was! It meant that I would be hyperventilating into a paper bag.
I knew this was going to be tough for me. Then it dawned on me that she was probably breathing into a paper bag as well.
Michelle and I were working together to coordinate with the medical equipment deliveries, learn how to move Mitch from his bed to the wheelchair, from the wheelchair to the commode, clean him up, schedule physical therapy, and coordinate with the school district to get private tutoring due to all the school he’d be missing… but we hadn’t really talked about how this was all actually going to work.
I vented and poured out my heart to HH, to my mom and to my BFF. I shared my stress, my fears and my certainty that God had a purpose here (and that I was dreading it). They listened, reassured me, and promised to tell me if my stress-induced eye-twitching started up again. But my BFF had some sage advice too. She told me that whenever she had a task she didn’t want to do, or had to work with/for a person she didn’t like, she would say, “OK God, I am not doing this for them, I am doing it for You.”
That hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I decided my goal was to make sure that Michelle felt comfortable in our home… because how weird must it be to have to hang out in your ex’s home, with his family and his current wife, and to be worried about your child and out of your element.
We worked out a schedule where Michelle would come in the morning, make Mitch breakfast and do his physical therapy with him. I got to keep up my morning workouts and she got time alone with Mitch. I showed her where everything was, asked her to make herself at home and tried to give her space when she was here as best I could. Since I work from home, sometimes that was tough, but I made arrangements for our family to eat out at least one night a week so that she could cook and prepare a family dinner for just their family…
As the first days turned into weeks, it became more and more comfortable. She loosened up, I loosened up… we did a couple of workouts together, then I took her to one of the classes I take and she loved it, signed up and that became something we did together. We started to confide in each other, had dinners together as a BIG family. (A week after Mitch came home from the hospital Michelle’s husband broke his arm in a snowboarding accident and had to have surgery! Poor woman! It was raining broken bones! We went through 7 bottles of wine at that family dinner.) Grant and their young daughter started playing together more and more often. Spending time together was pleasant.
What do I think happened…? I think she observed us in our natural habitat, so to speak, and saw that we were a loving family… that Mitch had nice brothers who love him, a set of parents who only have the best intentions for him, and that there were no underhanded or sneaky plots going on. She softened towards me and I had the opportunity to see her as a person, and a nice one at that. She wasn’t my arch nemesis, rubbing her hands together with glee and figuring out ways to torture me… she was just like me, a mom trying to keep all of those plates spinning without dropping any. We have a lot in common.
As the week approached where Mitch was well enough to be able to go back to Michelle’s, we went for a walk/run workout together. I felt like I was trying to work up the courage to ask her to the prom or something, but I knew we had to talk about the “what next?” once we got back onto our normal schedule. I basically proposed that we should try to see each other at least once a month for a glass of wine or coffee, so that we could continue to bolster this new idea of being friends. We talked about how each of us had misconceptions about and been hurt by/mad at the other, and we agreed to just move forward without trying to air any old grievances… a clean slate.
Guess what? We get together more than once a month. I think I see her about once a week and I text and talk to her several times a week. You know why? Because I miss her if I don’t.
What kind of craziness is that?! It’s a good kind of crazy, I will tell you that much. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I am lighter and happier than I have been in years. To not have that stress has been a blessing to my physical and mental health, my home life, and to my marriage, and I am pretty sure that she feels the exact same way.
To call this a “blessing” is kind of an understatement. A friendship with Michelle is such a fantastical concept that I wouldn’t have even prayed for it. Moreover, I don’t know that back then I would have even wanted this. It sounds pretty weird, right? But that’s where I am confident that God is moving things into His plans. I’ve often heard people quote scripture where they will say, “God will grant you the desires of your heart!” As if God is a genie in a lamp and will do your bidding. I looked up that scripture (Psalm 37:4, if you’re interested) The full verse is:
“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
I feel like once I stopped fighting God and started listening to Him, I did get the desires of my heart… not because I got what I wanted, but because I grew to desire what God wanted for me. Can you appreciate the difference?
We even took a vacation together over Memorial Weekend. We went camping and we had a great time. It was really fun. Some people are weirded out because they imagine there is underlying jealously, or it’s uncomfortable for HH and Michelle to be near each other. Not at all. Everyone is happily married to the person who is perfect for them.
People have been asking how Mitch is doing. He is doing great. He has been cleared to run and surf again. He started cross country practices last night and went surfing last weekend. We expect he will get clearance to get back on a bike or a skateboard very soon.
I think Mitch is doing better mentally and emotionally than he ever has… because he now really does have one big happy family, who happen to live in two different houses. When I have told people how things have been going, and about this amazing little miracle of my friendship with Michelle, I watch people get goosebumps, tear up and see jaws drop in amazement. It’s powerful stuff, I think, and why I wanted to share it with all of you. I asked Michelle about sharing this story, and wanted to make sure she was comfortable with it. I have her blessing to do so, and we both think that maybe it can spark a little hope that it is possible to have a better blended family.
When bad things happen, people shake their fists at the heavens and shout WHY!? to God. I don’t necessarily believe that God causes bad things to happen, but I do believe that all things can be used for good, somehow, somewhere, according to His purpose.
Mitch was run over by a truck. Definitely bad. But through that bad, we have a more harmonious blended family, less stress, an unlikely (but now treasured) friendship, renewed and grateful hearts, and further evidence that with God, anything is possible.
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