Gifts for Dad ➔

There once was a little girl. She was feisty and creative, talkative and headstrong. She heard her parents fighting every night, on every trip, at almost every meal. She heard the arguments, accusations, and animosity between them. She knew they were unhappy together. Sometimes the fights annoyed her, sometimes they scared her, but rarely did they surprise her.  

She was not shocked or saddened when she packed her belongings and left with her mother because she knew her parents were better off apart. 

She didn’t anticipate, however, how her own life would change. 

The girl heard her mother crying at night, both mourning and relieved. She saw her mother struggle to make ends meet, working whatever jobs she could while juggling a child and the costs that come with them. She moved a lot, this girl, and missed a lot of school. Other kids teased her for her poor attendance, her hand-me-down clothes, her tattered backpack. 

RELATED: Dear Single Mom, I See Your Heart

The girl moved again, then again. Her mother tried and tried, but life didn’t seem to be set up for a single mom to succeed. She missed work when the girl was ill, then got fired for not being there. She missed school deadlines and events so she could work, then was judged for not being there. The girl missed so much school she was threatened with court dates nearly every year, for which her mother also had to miss work. 

Every few months her address would change, her mother’s work number would change.

Every few months the girl and her mother had to start all over. 

The girl was alone a lot . . . as was her mother. The girl sought entertainment when none could be afforded and the mother sought companionship when none could pass inspection.  

They struggled a lot, this girl and her mom. Knives and bats were hidden to keep them safe, gifts were returned to keep them fed. They only had each other, but often this was not enough.  

So God made a stepdad.  

He was patient with the struggles and did not judge or discount the package deal he encountered.

He worked all day, then talked on the phone for hours with the mother. The girl saw her mother happy, excited, feeling worthy for the first time in a long time. 

He didn’t push the girl to accept him and he bent when she pushed to exclude him. Bent, but never broke. 

RELATED: Here’s to the Stepparents Who Show Up

He provided without question and supported without reason. The feisty daughter became a feisty teenager, and he didn’t run away. He knew he wasn’t always welcome but never returned the sentiment. 

They were safe, finally, the girl and her mother, in a home that couldn’t be taken away, at an address they’d have for more than a little while. They were loved, this girl and her mother, by a man who didn’t have to. They laughed and cried, made memories and had arguments, ate together at a table, and made trips to see grandparents.

They became what the girl had not known for many, many years—a family. 

This stepdad came to concerts, bought season tickets to football games. He danced with the daughter at her wedding, and he loaned his name to her newborn son. He loved them through the storms, committed to them both in sickness and in health. He raised another man’s daughter, paid another man’s debt. He met them in their chaos and he offered them welfare. He worked hard, both to provide and to hold his tongue when the teenager he didn’t have to love gave him many reasons not to.  

Related: To the Daddy Who Didn’t Have To Be

He calls the girl his daughter and her children call him PawPaw. He cares as much as ever, works as hard as ever, and has been a steady rock to a girl who didn’t realize how much she needed one. 

God dealt the girl a rough first hand, but then God made a stepdad.

And I’m so grateful that He did.

Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.

I’m an Emotionally Exhausted Mom

In: Living, Motherhood
Tired mom in hallway

I awake to the sound of my 4-year-old asking for breakfast. For him, every day is exciting. It’s whipped cream on pancakes, bike rides, and hugs. He smiles and chatters away as I make my way downstairs. I try to shake off the nightmares that kept me up all night, but my body feels tired and sluggish. My stomach is in knots. “Will you read to me, Mommy?” How can I say no? I sit down with a cup of coffee as he piles his favorite books onto my lap. He snuggles in next to me, and I put my...

Keep Reading

I Was 16 with Nowhere to Turn

In: Living
Teen walking down road in sunlight

Trigger Warning: This post discusses teen suicide. If you or someone you know is thinking about harming themself, please call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 As an adolescent, I was trapped in two bad relationships: the one between my parents, and the one between my conflicted selves. Self number one (as I thought of her) desperately wanted to succeed in school, but self number two sabotaged all her efforts.  I might have been able to run away from my parents, but how on earth was I going to escape my selves? My parents and teachers acknowledged only a...

Keep Reading

Find the People Who Will Root for You

In: Friendship, Kids, Motherhood
Empty sports field, color photo

My son participated in tryouts out for a new travel soccer team at the end of a recreational fall soccer season one chilly evening in November. He has been playing recreational soccer since he was three years old when we started with the local club. He has been asking about joining a travel team since kindergarten. In recent seasons, I watched him struggle in the recreational league. I watched him wanting a little bit more in the sport as he developed his passion—he was ready to grow.  We knew he loved soccer, and it was something he had always wanted...

Keep Reading

An EF-3 Tornado Hit My Small Town. What It Can Teach Us about Strength.

In: Living
Tornado warning in Michigan town

It didn’t seem like a bad storm. In fact, I thought it would miss us. And I was a little bummed, to be honest. Because I love a good storm.  My 6-year-old son and I stood at the sliding door, listening as thunder roared in the distance. The sky started to light up, as droplets of rain began to hit us through the screen door. Suddenly a streak of lightning hit the ground in the near distance. Followed by another.  Maybe this storm won’t miss us after all.  We shut the door as the wind seemed to pick up. The...

Keep Reading

I Know My Friends Aren’t Bothered by My Messy House, but I Am

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Sad woman by laundry pile

My house screams at me. It screams to clear off the kitchen counters, to put away the clean clothes, to organize the shoe collection in our entry, to gather up the scattered toys, to sweep the crumbs up, to place the throw pillows back on the couch, to clean off the table—you get the idea. Everything in my sight speaks volumes to the state it does not want to be in, for the chaos it is imposing.  Keeping home is a labor of love and never of balance for me. Everything that is cleaned, made, or organized will always get...

Keep Reading

A Medical Diagnosis Challenges a Marriage

In: Cancer, Living, Marriage
Bald woman holding clippers over husband's head, color photo

It is no secret now that Albert Pujols and his wife have announced their divorce shortly after she had surgery to remove a brain tumor. As a breast cancer survivor, this news hit me in a special way. As I was reading through an article from Today, there was a quote that hit me hard, “But a marriage falling apart is far more common when the wife is the patient, researchers have found. A woman is six times more likely to be separated or divorced soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than if a man in the relationship is...

Keep Reading

You Are So Much More than the Doubts in Your Head

In: Living, Motherhood
Little girl looking out window, color photo

Keep pushing. Push through every doubt the enemy instills in your mind.  Push through the depression. Push through the worrisome moments. Push through that anxiety that won’t let you win.  You’ve got to keep going. Keep moving forward.  You are a great mother. You are a great wife. You are a great employee and an even better friend.  RELATED: Struggling With Mental Health Makes You a Bad Mom—And Other Lies I’ve Believed Don’t get stuck in the same spot that depression has led you and those thoughts that say you aren’t good enough or worthy enough.  You are.  God says...

Keep Reading

I Will Live For You

In: Living, Motherhood
Mother and child silhouette

“I would die for my child, ”a well-known, often said sacrificial statement. I didn’t really know how my fierce love for my child would manifest until the first time she was extremely upset, and I didn’t know why.  Readers, I would have cut off a finger to console my baby.  I would die to protect her.  Both are strong, love-filled sentiments. And both, God willing, are unnecessary.  But there’s a daunting task that is absolutely necessary. At times it needs to be a conscious decision. Sometimes it’ll require taking care of yourself so you can better care for your child....

Keep Reading

Don’t Write Off How Far You’ve Come

In: Living
Woman smiling

Tonight when the demons in my head want to take over, I’m reminding myself that I am amazing, and I have accomplished things I dreamt about for years. I graduated from college. I have a B.A. in psychology. Other people had that. Not me. But now I do. I’m getting my Master’s degree in social work. I am a published writer. Yes, my brain and other people are tearing me down and screaming at me that I can’t do anything right. But the evidence? The evidence is that I have survived 16 years of special needs parenting. And that is...

Keep Reading

Dear Girl, Give Jesus Your Mess

In: Faith, Living
Woman holding Bible, color photo

Oh, dear girl, Give Jesus the mess. Your mess. The mess you think is too much or too big or too unbearable. The depths of the mess. The very worst of the mess. Lay it at His feet. He knew you long before the mess existed. Nobody knows your mess like Jesus. I assure you—this will not catch Him by surprise. Even when you do not understand, even when it is most difficult, even when you have your head buried in your hands. Praise Him, for God wastes nothing.  Even when it feels like opposition is coming at you from...

Keep Reading

 5 Secrets to Connect with Your Kids


Proven techniques to build REAL connections