The first time I encountered Jesus face-to-face was in the middle of a run. Running had become my escape. I was running and crying and talking to him. I knew I couldn’t live any real life in the tension of an affair. It was too dissonant. This life wasn’t me; it was deceptive and disgusting. Except it was me. I felt trapped and didn’t know how to get out. I knew the level of ruin I was looking at. Something stopped me right there on the sidewalk. I fell to my knees and said, “Get me out. However you need to. Break me.”
Those words had bounced around in my head for weeks. I knew they had been planted there by the Holy Spirit. I had a sense that they were serious, that I should not say them lightly. I knew they somehow signaled that I was ready for his plan and his way of busting in to come get me. Sounded scary. And ugly. And out of my control.
My first “yes” to Jesus in years was in those two little words. Two weeks after I dared say them out loud, a chain of events went down that led to my confession. I went home one day and told my husband about the affair. The relationship was also exposed around that time at work. I knew God was behind it all. I knew the crash was coming before it came. I knew it when I said those words to God. As painful as it was, I had a strange certainty it was part of something that had to be done. And I was right. The old foundation just wasn’t strong enough.
The weeks that followed were terrible. I felt more guilt, pain, hopelessness, and fear than I thought one person could take. I couldn’t eat. The only peace I had was the split second as I opened my eyes each morning before my reality all came crashing down on me again. For months after, I wondered daily if my husband would even come home. I was a pariah at work. The “house” I thought I was building was in a heap at my feet.
But the God I encountered in that time changed my whole life. In my worst and weakest moment, I found something much, much stronger, kinder, and better to stand on. I found the truth, compassion, and power of a living God who can hold up any life and rebuild after any fall. The first act of kindness was a vision I had one night while lying in bed. Alone. While I was wondering if “alone” would be my new normal, I felt God’s arms around me. I saw a picture—sort of like a daydream—of two long, welcoming, strong, warm arms reaching down and encircling my entire home. Not just for me but for my husband, who was sleeping in the room next to mine. I felt warm and held and, for a moment, I knew he was there.
I caught another glimpse of this God in the mirror one day. I paused, studying my own reflection. I told her the ugly truth: “Alli, you’re a liar, a terrible friend, a dishonest employee, and the worst wife.” I stood looking in the mirror, sobbing at the truth of it all. But something else happened. Right there, in the painful truth of that confession, I also felt a rush of reassurance and relief that I didn’t have to hold myself an inch above collapse anymore. I could let go and trust him instead of myself to hold it all together. I also felt his promise that one day I wouldn’t even recognize this person I saw in the mirror. I knew deep down she wasn’t me anyway.
I saw this amazing God again in a small room with the HR woman who I’d tried so hard to avoid. She was talking about what would happen to me at work—my reputation was another pile of rocks at my feet. I was crying; I couldn’t look her in the eyes. She paused awkwardly and gently said, “Could I pray for you right now?” My head snapped up and my eyes got wide as the room filled with the presence of God. Even in my shame and heartbreak, Jesus got down underneath me to hold me up.
Every one of these moments was a beam driven into my crumbling foundation. Jesus took the time and care to convince me when I felt worthless that he is a God who does not agree. He showed me over and over that he meant his words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Jesus seemed to want me to come to him especially in the places where I wasn’t on solid ground. It was in those spots he offered to let me stand on him.
He did that for the apostle Paul too. Paul had a huge collapse, but Jesus gave him a new foundation. You can read the story starting in Acts 9. Later, as Paul thought about the Jesus who chased him down with grace when he was at his worst, he recognized there was always a plan to rebuild his life. He wrote letters to the churches he planted about his own experiences with Jesus and how there was a plan in place for his life way before he knew it: “When God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles”(Gal. 1:15–16). God picked Paul even before his worst days, knowing they would come. God showed him the real Jesus so Paul could go on and tell others how to find this incredible strength and grace too.
It was during this time, the lowest time in my life, that I stumbled into the everyday habits of this book—coming broken to him, trying to read the Bible again, and risking actual moves of faith. Because I had nothing to lose, I told the truth to every question I was asked. I didn’t have the energy to pretend anymore. It was obvious who I was, and it wasn’t pretty. I confessed, apologized, took responsibility, and repented. I prayed every day—pretty much all day. I told God I was willing to follow him anywhere. And I really tried to do that. What I didn’t know was that I was slowly uncovering the key of life as a disciple: taking risks on God. I risked telling the absolute truth and found forgiveness. I risked destroying the last bit of trust when I confessed and instead earned a tiny bit back. I risked a no when I asked, “Can you forgive me?” Instead, I heard a yes. Life as a Jesus follower is full of all kinds of risks to convince us of the truth:
“Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice—I will show you what he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep, and laid the foundation on bedrock.” (Luke 6:47–48 NET)
There’s a life and a strength for you far beyond your own. There’s a better foundation for your life than you or your money, your reputation, your connections, your adventures, your intelligence, or your morality and goodness. Paul and I and many others have preached the same gospel: Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead according to the everlasting plans of God so that you could be offered a life that will never end, standing firm on the only foundation that’s strong enough to last. And it’s all by his grace. You will never deserve it. Whatever you build on him will stand. Nothing else will hold.
It’s all about the foundation.
The good news is that no matter where you are when you start this book, Jesus can build or rebuild anything. He fills in cracks, adds steel beams, and drives piers through your old concrete. And you can meet him in three simple rhythms of faith.
Come to him. Hear his word. Practice it in your life.
Today is a day you either widen a crack or fill one in. Let’s dig deep and build on rock.
Alli Patterson is passionate about helping others build a life on the firm foundation of Jesus’s truth and grace. She holds a master’s degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and is a teaching pastor at Crossroads Church. She lives with her husband, Bill, their four children, and one very bratty cat. Alli is a fan of Mexican food, Ohio State football, geeky Bible maps and timelines, pedicures, long runs, and good books.
To connect with Alli and find more information about her book How to Stay Standing go to www.theallipatterson.com.
As we recently shared the first Sisters and Friends episode of the year, I figured it was only fitting to share it with you here on the blog! My mom and I sat down to talk about all things relationships, community and marriage. Here’s how it went!
I wanted to talk to mom about the things that she walked through and learned in her college years because I know many of you are college students navigating that season of life. But even if you’re not a college student, we unpack so much more in this episode to tune in for.
First off, we dove into discussing mom’s relationship with my dad. They began dating at a young age and quickly decided they were going to get married. However, right before they took the next step, they broke up and soon after, mom went off to college. Mom went into college with a lot going on, such as the breakup, a new city, meeting new people, etc. So, I asked Mom to describe what that was like as she began a new journey with all those emotions.
Mom mentioned how crazy it is that it’s been 32 years since she and my dad began dating. She was 17 years old at the time and they both instantly knew they were in it for the long haul. They’d been in youth group together and had basically grown up together since third or fourth grade. Because of this, marriage was talked about within the first couple months of their relationship. They decided to get married the following summer, and when they mentioned it to Mom’s parents, it was clear that they didn’t see it as the best idea. After all, Mom and Dad had no plan and no money. They were genuinely living on love. Plus, mom DID have a scholarship for college to Harding University, where her parents had gone. So, her parents had a point. Looking back, mom sees the wisdom in the things they were saying. But at the time it was really difficult. At the end of that summer, mom chose to go to college. Well, Dad had decided that if Mom went, they were going to break up. So, they did, and mom was devastated. She cried all the way to Harding and one of her friends came and stayed with her in her dorm for a few days to console her.
I love that her friend came and stayed with her because in those moments it is so important to bring community in. And often those are the times that we push community out because we don’t want anyone to see us in a vulnerable state. Mom talked about how vital it was for her to have someone she could truly open up to during that time and help her through a season of major transition.
I asked Mom to talk about the process of her and Dad getting back together. She said that two weeks after the breakup, Dad called her dorm room and said he’d had a change of heart and that maybe long distance wouldn’t be so bad after all. He basically poured out his heart saying he wanted to get back together. Mom said it was a really great regrouping time for them as a couple for her to say “I love you, but there are things that need to change in our relationship.” She used that to encourage anyone who might be in a similar situation. She mentioned that it’s not always the answer to breakup. Sometimes it takes just sitting back and admitting there are some things that just need to be restructured. Well, Mom and Dad ended up getting back together, but Mom did let Dad sit in it for about an hour before she gave a final answer to him.
The truth is, you need people like Mom’s friend who you can confide in, knowing that they love you and your partner equally and want what’s best for both of you. You need friends who will trust you enough to believe that your partner is a good person, and it might just be a bad moment.
A couple months ago, Christian and I were walking through a really difficult time. A lot had been going on and it was just chaotic. We needed to get back on track, so I suggested that we start taking communion in our house. Well, at the time, we’d been ignoring and not wanting to address many of the things we were walking through. So, our first communion in our house was when everything we had been feeling came out. It was certainly a hard conversation, but I find it beautiful that when we came to Jesus, truth came out. Although it wasn’t necessarily pretty, it’s what needed to happen. I love that because this scripture speaks to the situation so well:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)
Next, we dove into the topic of roommates. Mom’s freshman year of college, she had a roommate she’d never met before, which is extremely common. Many people either move into an apartment or college dorm with someone they’ve never met. Sometimes it clicks and it works, but sometimes it’s difficult. Eventually, mom became really close with her roommate, even though they were a lot different. She actually ended up being a bridesmaid in Mom’s wedding. I asked Mom to talk a bit about what that was like. She only had one semester with a roommate before she married my dad. But she said even that one semester helped her so much because when my brother Will went to college, he’d been planning to room with one of his friends for years. Initially, when he found out he was going to have a third roommate, he was not thrilled. But mom was able to share her experience with him encouraging him to have a positive mindset about the situation! Mom reminded us that in situations like these, you have to trust that through others, God is going to teach you something. Oftentimes, people try to get out of these situations before God has time to work in them. Mom encouraged everyone to give it a full year in college for God to do something, whether it be the roommate, the major, or whatever else you may be having difficulties with. And then if you still don’t think you’re where you need to be, make a move.
You have to give it time for your roots to grow. When I was little, I would take apple seeds and plant them outside my house. But I never marked where they were, so I could never properly water them. I think about how I was throwing seeds in all different places, and I gave none of them time to nurture and grow. I think a lot of us do that. We are unwilling to stay in one place and water that soil and see what beauty grows from it. Because we get frustrated by the process, we just go to the next place and plant new seeds. But you’ll never get the tree unless you stay and water that ground. There’s a process to growing where you’re at. There’s a process to community. There’s a process for most things. Mom talked about how difficult it was when my sister Rebecca moved here from Taiwan. Her first semester was incredibly difficult because she had broken English, wasn’t making friends easily, and was struggling to stay in contact with her family because of the time difference. If she’d been given the option after the first semester, she probably would’ve chosen to go home. But the second semester rolled around and she was thriving. She was making friends, going to prom, and having a great experience. Now, she’s been here for 16+ years and is married with two kids!
Back to the roommate situation, I wanted to mention that not everyone is going to be your best friend. This is something I’ve had to learn as I’ve gotten older. Some people might be a great friend. You can still laugh and have fun with them, and even cry with them. But they don’t necessarily have be your best friend. And then some people will be your best friend, and often when that happens, it just comes naturally. For instance, my friend Laney will always be one of my best friends, and it came naturally. All of this to say, you don’t have to put pressure on any of your friendships to be your very best one. You have to be content and confident in the relationship you do have with your friend.
I wanted to circle back around to my mom and dad’s relationship. Once they got back together, they got married the following January. So, by Mom’s second semester in college, she and Dad were married and Dad was beginning his first semester in college. The following summer, they actually went to Hawaii with Mom’s parents as their honeymoon, since they didn’t have much money. Three months into marriage, they still didn’t have a set in stone plan, and they were still broke. I asked mom to give us a picture into what that season looked like, the silly arguments over money, and the types of meals they would eat on a budget. Mom mentioned just how tight their budget was. She and Dad worked at a call center for a while. The people who call and ask you for money — that was my parents. Eating out was not an option, except for the occasional Little Caesar’s pizza for cheap. Monday’s menu was hotdogs with hormel chili. Tuesday’s was fried frozen chicken. She remembered one time when she and Dad were in the grocery store, they had $5 left over from their grocery budget and Dad wanted to buy a pack of baseball cards and she wanted to buy a magazine. It turned into a full out fight over who would get to spend the extra money.
Here’s another example. Some of Mom and Dad’s friends had loaned them a washer and dryer, so they wanted to do something nice in return. They took them to dinner at Shoney’s and it cost $40, which was way out of their budget. Mom said she still remembers the feeling of seeing the check and wondering how they were going to eat for the rest of the week. I love that she mentioned this story, because nowadays I feel like there’s so much pressure on young wives to have it all together. They’re expected to have all the snacks cut in the perfect shape and to be both healthy and perfect. Seeing how perfect other people’s meals can be through social media and other outlets will feel like you’re not doing your role well enough. But sometimes, there are seasons in life when ramen noodles and hotdogs will just have to do. For example, during this season of my life, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a great dinner. Cereal is just fine. Mom pointed out that looking back on the moments she shared, they’re such sweet and fun memories. Take note of all the ways you grow and the things you learn during those times in life.
One thing I love about my parents’ relationship when they were first married is that even though they were broke, they still had fun. It didn’t keep them from being hospitable. Many people think they can’t be fun or hospitable because they don’t have anything or they might not have the “coolest” house. Mom spoke into this topic well. She said the first time they had a couple over in their tiny apartment, she made spaghetti. However, she had no idea how many noodles to make to properly accommodate the amount of spaghetti sauce. So, needless to say, there were plenty of noodles left over. Dad began throwing spaghetti noodles at Mom, which turned into a full on food fight with their friends. There were noodles everywhere, even until they moved out of that apartment. They would have holiday parties at their house and everyone would bring something, which usually consisted of rotel cheese dip and hotdogs. The fact is, people don’t care what your house looks like. They care about being together.
Mom reminded us that we have to be the one to invite people sometimes. So many times we sit around and get sad because people aren’t inviting us places, but it might just be that you need to invite people to do things. Christian and I found ourselves in the place when we first moved back to Louisiana. I was throwing myself a pity party because we weren’t getting invited to a Bible study our friends were having. But then I had an epiphany — Why don’t I start a Bible study. I could be the one to text and invite them over, and now we’re all great friends! Mom chimed in with some good advice. She said that if someone says no when you invite them, don’t take it personally. Invite somebody else!
I wanted to mention that Mom was an Art Major in college. While here and there, she’ll use her artistic ability, for the most part she isn’t really using her degree. I think someone needs to hear that because often in college, you think, “this is it.” You think that if you make a wrong decision, you might miss the call of God on your life. I just want to remind you that you cannot miss it if you’re truly following the Lord. I love what 2mama posted recently. She said that if you’re doing whatever you’re doing for the glory of God, then you’re doing what He called you to do. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself now to think that whatever you decide now will determine the rest of your life. It might shape your life, but it won’t be the end all be all. God has your future and God has your now.
I hope this is all encouraging to you! Here are some questions to think about as we wrap up:
Look at the people around you in your life. How can you steward those friendships well?
How can you use what you have to have fun and to host well?
How can you work towards growing in your relationship, even if that means restructuring things?
Where are you that you actually need to water the ground where you’re standing? Seeds can easily be thrown in the ground, but you need to take some time to be intentional and see growth.
It’s been long said that expectation is the enemy of joy. That should be the mantra of your blended family, especially in the critical first year or two. Paint it on your walls, write it on a sticky note on your desk, needlepoint it on a throw pillow…do whatever you need to do to keep this saying in front of you at all times. It’s crazy how much stress and anxiety you can save yourself as you blend your family if you simply remember those six little words: expectation is the enemy of joy. Or as Scott likes to say, “death by expectation.”
Many couples enter a new marriage with unrealistic expectations about how quickly and easily their children will adjust to all the changes. New home, new parent, new siblings. Maybe a new town, new school, new friends, new pet. New dynamic in the home. New person or people with whom you have to “share” your mom or dad. New concerns about what your other biological parent feels about you having a new stepparent. It’s a lot, especially for a child, and their transition will almost always be anything but quick.
That’s okay, your marriage isn’t a flash in the pan; you’re in this for the long haul, and that means your children are as well. You’ve got plenty of time to make this work. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Or, as Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Your blended family relationship isn’t a sprint; you’re running a marathon; you’re doing it as a team. The first step is to lay down any expectations you might have about what those relationships are going to look like and how quickly it’s going to happen. Forcing it or running at a faster pace than desired will leave you feeling defeated, exhausted, and depleted. The best you can do is ensure you’re creating a safe, secure atmosphere in which healthy parent and sibling relationships can flourish… and then wait. Relationships happen organically. Trying to force things to happen too prematurely can change the character of the relationship and the blessings the Lord wants to do in it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things you can do to create the best possible conditions for new relationships to develop. Let’s look at a few things that helped the families we interviewed throughout the project.
Put the “Fun” in “Dysfunctional”
The Lord is going to walk your family through some amazing mountaintop experiences and some seasons in a dry valley. Every family, blended or not, goes through seasons (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Even the best, most loving, and healthiest families have some level of dysfunction. Things simply won’t be perfect all the time. You know that’s true in your marriage, and it isn’t different for your family as a whole. Building relationships takes time under the best of circumstances and throwing kids in the mix — especially kids who don’t really know each other yet — doesn’t exactly make things easier! So we encourage you to find ways to put the fun in dysfunctional moments.
As we said earlier, kids like to build relationships around fun activities and time. That’s honestly not much different than how we do it as adults. Think about your relationship with your spouse, for example. Arranged marriages notwithstanding, you probably didn’t meet one day and get married the next. No, adults take time to build a strong relational foundation. And how do we spend that time? Dating! We see movies, go hiking, share meals, take vacations, ride rollercoasters, attend sporting events, and enjoy whatever other common interests we have. As we spend that time having fun together, we get to know each other. Ultimately, we fall in love. Why should things be any different for our children?
We were lucky in a way because Michael was our only child when we got married. The three of us had time to connect before Shay, our second, came along. That also meant Michael didn’t have to immediately “blend” with another child from day one. Instead, he got to enjoy our pregnancy right along with us, getting more and more excited about becoming a big brother. Of course, Shay and our other two boys were born with Michael already there, so they’ve never known a time when Michael wasn’t their big brother. As a result, we never had to help our children immediately blend with other kids. It just happened naturally.
“Be patient and guard your heart (open ears, quick to listen, and slow to anger—James 1:19). It’s okay for it to feel a little bit different.” – Marcus & Sara, A Blended Kingdom Family
Scott and Vanessa Martindale founded Blended Kingdom Families in 2020 in obedience to the calling that Vanessa received from God to minister to blended families. Through faith and radical obedience, they have partnered with God to help spread the Gospel into all blended family homes and equip the church to better serve blended families. The Martindales are a blended family themselves, and they know the struggles that come with the blending process. Their new book Blended & Redeemed released September 13, 2022.