Our wedding anniversary falls on Good Friday this year. Of course it does, I thought, when I first saw April and realized. How exactly right.

The ‘good’ in Good Friday is a strange kind of good. If you and I had watched Jesus go to his death, we would not have called any of it good. Horrible, maybe. Brutal. Confusing. And so very sad.

After the fact – that’s when the good begins to show clear. From up ahead, we look back and slowly learn to see. How the dying would lead to living. How the pain would make room for so much joy. How none of it was for nothing. He is Risen! And with the rising, everything is changed.

Our marriage has been a strange kind of good. Marriage is that for everybody, I expect, to one degree or another. But when that marriage makes a stepfamily, the good tends to lie buried way down deep.

Five years ago, Michael and I married. A first wedding for me – a prayer answered, a hope fulfilled. A second wedding for him – a second chance, a fear overcome. Two squirmy young boys watched – bewildered and expectant – as I became their stepmom.

I was not prepared for stepfamily life. Neither was Michael, though he had fewer illusions.

When our magical honeymoon ended, we arrived home to a life that didn’t feel like home at all.

Nothing was simple or easy. Not the weekends suddenly and irretrievably devoted to energetic little boys, full of Lego-building and grilled cheese sandwiches and the smell of pee. Not the weekdays full of negotiations with the Other Household over who-would-pay-for-what and who-would-drive-where-and-when. All this along with the usual stretching and shrinking it takes for two single people to form a single, true We.

Newlywed bliss? Nope.

From there, things never slowed down enough for us to catch our breath. We packed an awful lot into the next half-decade: moves (four and a half), massive reno project (one), boy babies of our own (two), job changes (too many). Five years for us, Michael and I like to joke, is like some people’s ten.

What’s not on that list of events is the reality of our stepfamily life – a complicated mess of issues that soaked into everything, and made so much of it so much heavier. But not just ‘issues’: really two energetic little boys struggling with their boomerang existence, who were dependin on us grown-ups to be grown-up. For Mom and Dad and Stepmom to get along and get on with loving them and helping them with their homework and paying for their summer camp.

I wish I could say I was noble and Jesus-like, that I graciously let God transform me into a selfless, wonderful wife and stepmother. But God, I felt, was the one who had gotten me into this mess. No way was I going to cheerfully cooperate with him anytime soon, thank you very much.

So mostly I just did a lot of falling apart. Everything felt so difficult. I couldn’t see much good in any of it, least of all in myself. For a long time, I was like the disciples on the Saturday that followed Good Friday: sad, defeated, angry, confused.

It’s this spring that my own Easter Sunday has come. I’m not sure why, or what I’ve done to deserve it. Likely it’s less about what I’ve done, and more about what God (stubborn in his love and grace), has done. Nothing is less complicated. But everything looks different. The good is starting to show clear. The picture is still a little fuzzy. After all, it’s only been five years. But I begin to see.

I see how much Michael and I have learned. How we’ve learned to speak and listen and work through unspeakably stressful issues, together. How we’ve grown in forgiveness and trust, how deep we’ve gone into brokenness. How we are learning – the learning never ends – to love and care for these four little men God has entrusted to us, no matter the complications.

I begin to see how this marriage has hollowed me out – like a jack-o-lantern: God scooping out the guck, carving out bits and pieces, all so his light could shine better through me. I see how the dying – Michael’s and mine – is leading us to the living. I see how maybe this is what God intended for me all along.

And it’s good

Photo Credit: Michael Salvato