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Excerpted from No Less Than Greatness by Mary Manin Morrissey. Copyright © 2001 by Mary Manin Morrissey. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"How easily we are lured into a false identity."

  Mary Manin Morrissey, No Less Than Greatness, Part 3

The disposal. So that was where he thought his new family-to-be belonged. I’d been kind — excruciatingly nice, actually. Devastated by his parents’ divorce, Michael was still a bit lost. He didn’t fit in at school and rarely brought friends home. Under the circumstances, I could overlook his manners and behavior, I told myself; the poor guy had been through enough. Besides, I wanted him to like me. So without a word, I headed into the kitchen to start the potatoes for dinner — Michael’s favorite, mashed russets — and took care not to peel directly over the disposal.

I managed to keep a smile plastered on my face not only that evening, but over the next few months, whenever Michael spent time with us. He would refuse to shower, brush his teeth or comb his hair, and I let it go. Inside, I’d be seething. I wanted him to shape up. But maybe if I let him get away with a few unhygienic habits, I thought, he’d warm up to me.

It didn’t work.

How easily we are lured into a false identity. You know those times you tell people, "I’m just not myself today"? With Michael, I felt "not myself" all the time. I didn’t know how to be a stepparent — or even if I should be one — so instead, I turned myself into what I thought Michael needed: Mother Nice. In return, Michael, uncertain of his own role and untrusting of this sweet-tempered fiancee of his father’s, worked hard to make himself into someone he believed to be unlovable. When I asked him to clear his plate at dinner, he snarled, "You’re not my mother," and went and plopped himself down in front of the TV with a bowl of Cheetos. He refused to do his homework. When Ed or I tried to encourage him to do his assignments, he’d respond that his teachers all thought he was stupid, so what was the point?

It was ten o’clock on a Saturday night a few months before Ed and I were to be married. I was just getting ready for bed when the phone rang. Sunday mornings, I’m up at four o’clock in order to put the finishing touches on my sermon and prepare for the busiest day of the week at church. Michael, now twelve, had been scheduled to spend the weekend with his father, but Ed had gone out of town on business unexpectedly, and I was called in to baby-sit. Naturally, Michael had sought escape as soon as possible and had been spending the evening at a video arcade with friends. He was expected home shortly, so I was surprised to hear his voice on the phone.

"Mary," he said, "I need you to come get me."

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