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Parenting In Blended Families

We sat on a daybed in the cramped housekeeping unit behind an old motel. "My husband gets out of prison in September, and we want to put our family back together." The woman speaking was the biological mother of our youngest daughter, 13-year-old Rae Lynn. Rae Lynn sat next to her mother with her head down. I could see tears rolling off her cheeks onto her knees.

From my earliest days, I had dreamed of having a perfect family. When we discovered that we were not to have the requisite flesh-of-our-flesh offspring, we watched the Lord piece together a patchwork family. It was at times like these that the traditional "woven of whole cloth" families looked mighty enticing. Especially now, when it seemed we were in for another gut-wrenching upheaval.

Rae Lynn had deeply mourned the loss of her abandoning mother and dreamed of a moment like this for nearly three years. Her imagination had conjured up a hundred ways for her mother to ask forgiveness and beg to take her back. I didn't have to ask if she wanted to live with her mother and her stepfather. No matter how scary the home situation or how much Rae Lynn loved us, she would fight to get home to her mother. Because we have legal guardianship of Rae Lynn, the courts would have the final say.

Of one thing we were sure: We couldn't keep ripping our family apart and stitching it back together again. I resolved to get through this, if we must, and move on. I looked at my husband, Keith, and saw that this was as hard for him as it was for me. Thinking about our other two children, I said to Keith, "Once the courts make the decision, it must be final. We can't continue to put the family through this kind of pain. If Rae Lynn leaves, we cannot take her back again."

Driving home after the visit, I looked in the visor mirror and saw this precious daughter struggling with dual loyalties. The Lord spoke inaudibly, but I heard Him as clearly as if His words were coming from the radio: "And how many times have I taken you back, Wendy? No matter how much pain it costs Me, My door is always open to you, is it not? Can you do less for this little one?"

It reminded me once again what a challenge it is to have a patchwork family. Not patchwork in the sense of the carefully constructed quilting patterns like Jacob's Ladder, Road to Oklahoma and Wedding Ring. We're more like the crazy quilt that was popular in Victorian days. Made of odd-shaped patches of worn velvets, silks, corduroys and wools, the pieces are randomly stitched together, then richly embroidered.

Irregular Pieces

The most intriguing feature of a crazy quilt is the irregular patchwork. Open-door families are like that. Whether the family is blended by marriage, built by adoption or foster parenting, or even created in a group-home setting, the unexpected shapes result in a beautiful pattern. In Matthew 25:34-40 we are called to reach out to those the Lord referred to as "the least of these." It may disrupt the seamless composition of a traditional family, and it may leave us open for heartache, but the blessings can far outweigh the pain.

Running a hand across the variety of textures in the patchwork — nubby corduroy, well-worn wool, slippery silk, plush velvet — exposes the richness of their combination. Because patchwork families don't share genetic traits, sometimes the diversity is striking. All families have differences in temperament and personality, but they're more noticeable in brothers and sisters who weren't raised together from babyhood or who don't share a common childhood. In our family, we not only enjoy these different textures, but our colors add interest as well, from fair-haired and blue-eyed to brown-skinned with black eyes.

The more intricate a pattern, the more it says about the quilt maker. Just as a much-worn patch from an heirloom quilt inspires a memory ("This blue wool was from the dress Grandma wore when she met Grandpa"), our patchwork family is a living reminder of God's love. I look at my oldest daughter and thank God for the miracle that brought her into our life. Seeing our 6-foot-tall, 16-year-old son peering into the refrigerator, I'm reminded of the baby picture — clipped from a magazine and taped to a long-ago refrigerator as a commitment to pray for another child to adopt. And when I look at Rae Lynn, I remember that God sometimes unexpectedly gives us the most wonderful gifts.

The real magic of a crazy quilt happens when the quilt maker embroiders the pieces. Over the top of every seam is an intricate design of multi-colored embroidery. I've seen quilts that never repeat the same embroidery stitch, going from delicate feather stitches to blanket stitches to lazy daisy chains. What a miracle to learn that when God stitches a family together, the thread that connects is stronger than shared genetics. It's the thread of love.

God's Own Patchwork Family

A similar crazy quilt construction is evident throughout history as God keeps His door open to His children. From the fall of Adam and Eve through the blending of foreign marriages into the line of David, from the covenant with the Jews to the New Covenant, it's a fascinating patchwork. On those days when I yearn for an uncomplicated family woven of whole cloth, I picture the complexity and beauty of that crazy biblical quilt. Opening the door of our home — and the heart of our family — is kingdom work.

Rae Lynn is still with us. Her mother has not yet acted on her intentions. If Rae Lynn leaves, it will feel as if a hole has been torn in the fabric of our family, but we'll keep the relationship open. As the Lord reminded me that day in the car, we need to be ready to piece her back into this patchwork family if the time comes. The emerging pattern may be uncertain, but we continue to trust the Quilt Maker.

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This article appeared in Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2001 Wendy Lawton. All rights reserved.

Next in this Series: Smart Stepparenting