When Christine and I got married, she already loved my teen daughter, Sarah. Although Sarah lived with my ex-wife, she and Christine spent plenty of time with each other. We were her other home.
But just a few weeks after Christine and I returned from our honeymoon, we were faced with a challenge. Sarah dropped out of school, and my ex-wife asked if Christine and I could offer a more structured home where Sarah could start fresh. My wife and I agreed to take her in.
Sarah was a gem, putting up with new rules and expectations. She agreed to everything, even though I wasn’t easy on her, and she lost much of the freedom she had been used to. Christine poured herself into helping Sarah thrive as a home-schooled teen. She even took a monthlong work sabbatical to jump-start our daughter’s academic excellence. In the year that Sarah lived with us, we saw her grow.
During this time, we thought Sarah was happy. But it was all a facade. It turned out we had a very troubled teen to deal with. When she had the option of going back to live with her mom four states away, Sarah was able to push an eject button on her relationship with us. And she did, though we weren’t sure why. Nothing had happened to warrant an abrupt exit. Without a goodbye, she was gone, back to her old life with my ex-wife.
Supporting each other
For months, various stages of grief enveloped Christine and me. We sought help from the Lord and each other in dealing with disappointment in ourselves and Sarah.
Christine struggled with denial, saying, “Surely she wouldn’t abandon us for her other home. Perhaps she’s just wanting to spend more time with her mother before returning.” Knowing Sarah’s flighty history and lack of commitment and loyalty to relationships, I helped talk Christine through these patterns that had become so predictable.
Even as I helped her, Christine was an understanding ear for me to vent my frustration to, yet she consistently exhibited unwavering grace and love toward my daughter. It moved me toward forgiveness. Forgiving Sarah for the ungratefulness we felt from her despite all we’d done to help. We’d upended our lives to make her feel welcome, and she left without any explanation.
Discouragement can distort our perspective. Sometimes kids just need time to grow up. Maybe we do, too. Many times, in the midst of my bitterness, Christine suggested we stop and pray. The Holy Spirit convicted me to speak words of affirmation about my daughter, replacing complaints with gratefulness for the time we had with Sarah.
The situation was no longer in our control. All we could do was trust God’s sovereignty, and in time, He showed us the bigger picture. Focusing on what went right and the good that God accomplished during Sarah’s stay nurtured acceptance in us so we could move on.
We chose not to second-guess our decisions, but instead we relaxed, knowing that her abrupt departure hadn’t surprised God. We trusted Him. The experience eventually helped us form better boundaries and expectations for our other children.
A few years later, Sarah reached adulthood and apologized for leaving so abruptly, thanking Christine and me for all we had done to help her. She acknowledged the love and sacrifice and recalled happy moments with us, including some of her favorite memories of being with Christine. Sarah and I agree that although it was difficult, we nevertheless treasure the time we had together.
Today, Sarah is a woman in her mid-30s, and our relationship is wonderfully sweet. It’s a joy to make new memories together and see her interact with her teenage half sisters.
Our faith and reliance on each other kept Christine and me going. The journey felt long, and there was no guarantee that time invested in Sarah would have a return for us. But as we continued to trust God, we saw His hand guiding our family. Through this experience, we learned that God is bigger than all of the messes life throws at us, and knowing this has brought us comfort.