I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Those were my thoughts the other day as I gripped the wheel and turned into the park in Woodinville where I would be meeting my step-daughter and her mom for a Mommy and Me session.
As a photographer, I’m used to shooting mommy-daughter photos. That’s no big deal. I enjoy it.
The big deal came down to the fact that this was the first time I’d be spending time with my partner’s ex- wife. And I was pretty sure she hated me. Who could blame her, after all. Our year hasn’t exactly been easy.
I had spent a lot of effort feeling not so great about her too.
This past year has been laden with more contention that I can even describe. After all, both of us have endured divorces, the painful and uncomfortable process that comes with blending families, and lots of misunderstandings, bitterness, cold shoulders, and insecurities.
And now here I was, hell-bent on changing the nature of our relationship and terrified that it would never work all at the same time.
How could it work? How would she ever accept me?
And yet there we were, within minutes of pulling in to the lot, walking toward each other and deciding to try anyway.
And it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I never thought I’d be writing something like this and if I had read something like this in the past I probably would have labeled it as bizarre. I’m sure some of you might be thinking it.
Here we were, ex-wife and current significant other, co-parents, women who have every right to massively dislike the other—actually laughing on the trail that we walked. Holding our Mia’s hands as she went on and on about birds in a nest that she saw and about the dogs she waved at along the way. There we were, two characters in a story that’s supposed to pit us up against each other, and somehow we rewrote the lines.
Our hearts softened.
And it’s just because we decided it should.
Being a step-mom is the hardest job description in the world, hands down, in my humble opinion. It’s often a thankless, credit-less, time-consuming and emotionally handicapping role that fills you with the most joy and the most lows you’ll ever experience. Add on to that the heartache of dealing with the child’s mother and the pain and old feuds and pre-existing bitterness and misunderstandings and assumptions, and the lifestyle can become downright poisonous if you allow it to.
I have read every book. I have joined every support group. I have poured over essays and blogs and personal diatribes about what it takes to succeed in a blended family.
And yet—nothing has healed my heart or has empowered me the way simply deciding to love her has.
After Mother’s Day and the photo session, Jeff said something that stopped me in my tracks.
“Do you know what my favorite part about you has always been?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s the fact that you are genuinely good and kind. You love people sincerely.”
He didn’t mean for it to cut me the way it did. He meant it as a way to praise me and remind me why he loves me.
But in that moment I realized I hadn’t been doing very well at that trait that he so loves. Out of everyone in my life who deserved the most love, the most kindness, the most service—it was the mother of my step-child. And I had been holding out. I had been harboring insecurities and hard feelings and hurt. I had been deliberately choosing to not love her the way I love everyone else.
It was unacceptable.
And I was ashamed.
Suddenly the books and the advice and the message boards held no weight.
The only thing that held weight was this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” -1 John 4:7
And so there we were a couple weeks back, just Ashley and Mia in my lens.
Through my lens I was able to see them as I see all my subjects. As art, as beauty meant to be captured—as precious moments set in front of me for only a moment, meant to be immortalized and remembered.
And my heart swelled with Christ’s love.
It’s hard to describe how it feels to suddenly come to the knowledge that our own insecurities and fogged lenses and bitterness literally means nothing compared to the responsibility we have to first seek empathy, understanding, kindness, friendship, and forgiveness.
The most narcissistic and terrible thing we can do to each other in this life is to feel like we can only love if it’s convenient or easy or deserved or if it makes us feel better about ourselves in some way.
But like one of my favorite TV shows “Six Feet Under” states—”Love isn’t something we feel. It’s something we do.”
My feelings of, “What am I doing?” quickly changed, needless to say.
And now, moving forward, I feel strengthened and empowered by what we’ve chosen to be. We’re talking now, sharing stories and feelings—answering text messages and phone calls without hesitation, and sharing our common love of Mia. We are planning events to do with Mia in tow, and have developed a confidence with where we’re at in life and the roles we play.
By choosing to face each other in the sun—we chased out the shadows that haunted us.
We chased away misunderstandings. We decided to face it head on.
Sure, there is still healing to be done. There are still odds and ends to be tied up. There will still be hard days and awkward moments and the strange bends and push and pulls of co-parenting. There will still be future disagreements or eye rolls. There will be mountains to climb.
But never will Mia see a lack of love.
Never will she see hate between the people of her camp.
There is so much beauty to be found in one another when we simply choose to look for it. There’s so much to like within the people we chalk up as unlikable. And our monsters fail to exist when we decide to just open the dark door, flip on the light, and see for ourselves.
To be human is such a hard experience as it is—why make it harder by poisoning each other with indifference or hate?
What am I doing? I thought before this all began, running through the heartbreak, the fights, and the tension in my mind. What am I doing?
But as we hugged goodbye and as days passed and we eventually planned a girls day with Mia and discussed everything from my future plans to her goals and then sent random texts during slow days at work—I quickly realized exactly what I’m doing. And what she’s doing.
Choosing to love. Not just for Mia’s sake—but for ours.
And in turn, I think we’ve found that it’s not so hard after all.
I’m grateful for the beauty that I saw through my lens that day.
And I’m grateful that now–that’s all I see.
Without even trying.