105: Stepfamily Relationship Building: Stepping Stones for Success
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Gayla GraceGayla Grace serves on staff with FamilyLife Blended, a division of FamilyLife, and is passionate about equipping blended families as a writer and a speaker. She is author of Stepparenting with Grace: A Devotional for Blended Families and co-author of Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Gayla holds a master’s degree in Psychology and Counseling. She and her husband, Randy, have been married since 1995 in a “his, hers, and ours” family. She is the mom to three and stepmom t...more
What are key stepping stones every stepfamily needs that will lead to healthy relationship building? Ron Deal and Gayla Grace discuss how perseverance, flexibility, commitment, Christ-likeness and other core attributes work together to create familyness.
105: Stepfamily Relationship Building: Stepping Stones for Success
Gayla: We had four kids when we married—I had two; Randy had two—back and forth between homes. We both had a former spouse. Man, you can get so hung up on, “Well, but this is how the schedule is,” “This is what the divorce decree says,” “This is how it's going to be,” and it just can't always work that way and so you have to be willing to bend, and especially for the sake of the kids.
Ron: Welcome to FamilyLife Blended. I'm Ron Deal, here with Gayla Grace. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most.
Gayla, good to see you again.
Gayla: Good to see you, Ron.
Ron: Nice to have you here.
Gayla: Yes, always.
Ron: All this week, Nan and I are with a few hundred people at the FamilyLife® Sandestin Hilton Resort getaway experience. Nan and I are sharing our Empowered to Love marriage seminar for all the couples that are there. That's something that we're offering to churches by the way. If you're interested in that, you can look that up.
I also want to get on calendar since we're talking calendars. I want to remind to everybody Blended and Blessed® is coming up Saturday, April 29th, 2023. We'll be live in Melbourne, Florida at a church there, and we would love to have you join us.
If you're anywhere within driving distance, come be a part of the live event. Everybody else can livestream through your phone, your computer; your church can host it, so that's why you want to get it on your church calendar at this point—start having conversations with your leadership. They can host this thing for less than a hundred bucks, and you can get some blended family couples in the room, and everybody benefit from it.
Ron: Well, all this year, on our podcast, we're revisiting some themes from a book that originally, I wrote 20 years ago in 2002.
Gayla: Can you believe it's been that long?
Ron: Oh, my goodness. It is just amazing. It's been over 20 years that the book's been out and available, and it's gone through a couple of revisions. Just pretty neat.
Ron: The Smart Stepfamily is what we're talking about. What we're going to be talking about today is a theme that comes out of the book: Stepping Stones for Stepfamily Success.
Here's my question to you. Have you ever had somebody wise come alongside you and say, “No, no, no, Gayla, don't step there. [Laughter] Go, go this way, not that way.”
Gayla: Oh yes. I think about two ladies that come to mind. One of mine was a writing mentor. Ron, you know how perplexing the publishing journey can be in the beginning. It's overwhelming.
Ron: Yes, it is.
Gayla: And you don't know which way to go.
Ron: That's right.
Gayla: And this gal, she taught a critique group that I attended. She was heavily versed in publishing, and she was definitely able at times to say, “No, no, no, don't do that. Yes, go this way. It was just very helpful and encouraging.
And then I had another lady in our neighborhood who led a prayer group that I attended on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 AM—6:00 AM, Ron.
Ron: Yes, it's early.
Gayla: I know, but you had no excuse to not be there. [Laughter] She was just such a dear woman of God, who also became a mentor to me, and it was just a beautiful relationship.
Ron: Well, I could list a lot of names, everything from just authors, people that have written books that impacted my life, that made me a better dad and hopefully a better husband and, you know, still working on all of those things but my goodness, how I've been shaped. I think about FamilyLife. Dennis Rainey was one of the founders of FamilyLife and for years I listened to the radio program and read some of his material long before I ever developed a relationship with this organization. He influenced me as a man, as a husband, as a father.
Ron: I had an elder when I was a young minister, Joe Selby, who was—just took care of me.
Ron: And more than once he got in my face [Laughter] and he said, “Ron, I don't think you're taking care of yourself well. I think you're overextending yourself. I think you need to slow down a little bit. Let's talk about this.” He really shepherded me. Here I was working for this church. He was gentle. He was humble about it. He really cared and so it wasn't harmful. I didn't feel bad. I wasn't hurt when he would confront me about something, you know?
Ron: Because he did it in such a way that it was really, really useful. I just am so appreciative, but guys like him who made a big difference in my life.
Ron: Well, in this little section of the book, The Smart Stepfamily, I sort of wanted to just offer some of those basic tips to people to say, “Okay, don't do this.” [Laughter] “You need to do this.”
Ron: I wanted to try to just bring some wisdom, if you will, in what I called Stepping Stones—qualities, attributes, decisions that I feel like people who seem to go the distance in their stepfamily journey—the families who make it—here's some things about them that they do well.
Ron: And so that's really what this section was all about.
Gayla: You know it even reminds me of the verse in Proverbs, Ron, Proverbs 13:20 that says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” I think there's a lot to think about in that verse.
Ron: Yes, so the imagery there, I love that. Thanks for sharing that verse, “Walk with the wise.” If you can imagine the wise person next to you laying down a stone saying, “Okay, step on that because if you step off of that, you're going to sink, you're going to fall, you're going to trip, something's going to catch you there. Here’s where we want you to land.”
Ron: Okay. So that's what we're sharing with you today. Let's just react to some of these. Listening and understanding are two Stepping Stones. I kind of think they work in concert with one another.
Gayla: I agree.
Ron: And really, it's at the heart of communication. It's at the heart of connecting with someone. I think at the end of the day, if you listen well, and you try to understand what's going on with the other person, you develop empathy.
Gayla: Sure. Right.
Ron: And you can stand in their shoes, so to speak.
Gayla: But you know what I think about is a big part of listening is listen with ears of what they're saying, not what am I going to—how am I going to respond to that? What am I going to say? Because so often it's easy for us to go into that and so then we get lost in really listening to what they're telling us because we're too concerned about how we're going to respond.
Ron: You just stepped on my toes, [Laughter] because I am actually really good at thinking ahead and arguing [Laughter] in my head about what the next part of the argument's going to be so that I can, you know, win the argument with my wife. Like, this is a huge discipline. Listening is really hard.
Gayla: Right. It is.
Ron: Some of us more than others, [Laughter] but it's really, really hard because “Yes, I got something to say. I want to make my point. I want to be heard.” We all have that feeling and so listening is that personal discipline to slow down and say, “Let me try to see your point of view,” and then really get it and sort of feel it. That's what empathy is, not that you feel it like the way they feel it, but that you can at least have a sense of what it is that they're feeling.
Gayla: Right, and you are trying to understand it through their eyes because we all come at things based on what our experiences are, what we've walked through, and it changes us. When we're listening to somebody, we have to realize the road they have walked has changed them. They’re going to feel differently about things than we do so we have to try to understand the road they have walked.
Ron: Yes, so let me make a little additional point here about empathy because I think sometimes, we get this wrong. It doesn't mean that you have to agree with their point of view.
Ron: It doesn't mean that, “Oh, now that I understand how you see the world and how you see me and this relationship or this moment, that all of a sudden, I don't get to have an opinion anymore, and I'm supposed to just go with whatever you think.” No, nobody's trying to dictate or control the outcome of this. It is just though that you slow down and really, really, really try to hear it. Otherwise, if you're like me, you're already arguing something that's irrelevant to the conversation. Like you heard the wrong thing; you're reacting to that. You're not even paying attention to what the point is.
Ron: That's hard. I still slip into that.
Gayla: Well, and in stepfamilies, one of the hardest dynamics I think, is with a stepparent and a stepchild. Because too often we are seeing it from our point of view, “Oh man, you don't get how hard this is for me as your stepmom.” We're not seeing how hard it is for them and the experiences they're walking through. They have a parent in another home, and they come into this home and have dynamics they don't want to deal with, and they are not given a choice about it, but we forget to listen to that part because we're too caught up in our own stuff.
Ron: Very much so. And there's another element to that adult child little combination there. I think there's more responsibility on us as adults—
Ron: —parenting a child in a moment that we should work towards listening and understanding and have some maturity about it, that a child is just not going to be able to do.
Ron: Especially a young child. They're just not going to be able to, you know, see it from your point of view necessarily.
Gayla: Right; right.
Ron: We have to work harder at that, even in the face of something that feels lopsided. But it comes back to, “Alright, if I was them dealing with me,” that's a great question. [Laughter] You know that sort of helps you get towards understanding a little bit.
Gayla: Right; it does.
Ron: What have they experienced? What have they been through?
Ron: What's their backstory, their narrative? That sort of helps you begin to take it in and see it. Just try to start with that. I think listing and understanding is going to bring some insights. That's where this is headed. For a blended family on your journey together as a family unit, getting inside the other person's shoes and going, “Okay, what's it like to be them dealing with me? Or in this moment, what might they be feeling or experiencing?” Now I have some insight into who they are and why they are the way they are.
Gayla: Right. Why we're seeing the behavior that we're seeing. Sometimes we are too quick to take it personally when it really doesn't have anything to do with us. It's just the experiences that they are walking through are affecting them. The more we know about that and the more that we listen to them, then the better able we are to respond to them appropriately in a mature adult fashion.
Ron: Yes, last comment, then we can go onto the next Stepping Stone. I just think listening and understanding—I actually listed those first because I think this is the core to relationship building and connection and familyness.
Ron: You’ve got to learn to do it. You’ve got to keep working at it and none of us can ever stop. I have to keep listening actively responsibly, you know, suppressing my own need to talk in order to really try to hear my wife, my kids, whatever it might be. I have to do that my whole life.
Gayla: Right. You have a need to talk; is that what I heard?
Ron: Yes. [Laughter]
Ron: Yes, I do. [Laughter] That's why I like podcasting.
Gayla: [Laughter] Okay, let's go to the next one: perseverance. Oh my gosh, Ron, this is one of my favorites.
Ron: Yes. How come?
Gayla: Well, because I just think that we live in this instant society. I'm going to microwave my meal, or I'm going to call Door Dash, or I'm going to fast forward the commercials because I don't want to watch them. I mean, all these things, everything is instant.
Ron: I record stuff all the time, so I don't have to watch commercials. [Laughter]
Gayla: I know, I do too.
Ron: Yes, yes. Perseverance though is so costly. I mean, it is hard to wait.
Gayla: Yes, it is.
Ron: None of us like to do that. I'm thinking about the conversation we had with Cheryl Shumake about her book Waiting to be Wanted. How beautiful is that imagery of especially a stepparent like she is and hoping that the kids will finally embrace you. How long you have to wait for that.
Gayla: And you don't know that they ever will embrace you.
Ron: That's what perseverance is, is saying I am going to continue to pursue them, to be responsible to them, to love them, to lead with love, even when I'm not getting much in return.
Ron: That is such a hard, hard thing.
I got an email from a guy just this last week where he was celebrating—you know, Promised Land Payoffs. This reminds me, all this year we're inviting people to write to us, social media or send us an email at email@example.com. Call us; we've got a phone number. The show notes will tell you how you can call, leave us a voice message and tell us one of your payoff moments where things happen, or there was a moment where you, “Oh, it's getting better,” you know?
Ron: You kind of felt that. A guy sent me an email about a payoff moment, and it was year 20. Now, I'm not saying that was the first; don't hear that, alright. It wasn't the first payoff, but he had this really amazing experience. But it was 20 years in before that little moment came to him, and it was something he waited for a long time.
Ron: And I thought, “That's perseverance.”
Gayla: It is. It is.
Ron: And without that quality of that attribute, you're never going to find that moment because people give up.
Gayla: Right. I think too, you have to realize there's risk in it because you have to continue to invest knowing that you don't know what the end result is going to be. But I do believe if we're called to stepfamily life and being a stepparent that we are called to invest in these relationships and not walk away.
Ron: This reminds me of the next one; the next Stepping Stone is commitment. You know I've said forever “God's little joke on us”—I will go to my grave saying this. [Laughter] “God's little joke on me is that I stated my vows at the beginning of my wedding, and then life now teaches me what I committed myself to.”
Gayla: [Laughter] That's a good point.
Ron: I had no idea what I was saying when I said, “I do, for better or for worse,” I had no idea what worse meant.
Ron: Richer for poorer, had no idea what financial stress would be like.
Ron: How do I maintain who I am with integrity and live under the lordship of Jesus in the midst of angst or pain, or difficulty or stress, or worse.
Ron: You know whatever that is—worse in my marriage, worse in my family, worse with a loss—I had no idea what that would require me. You said risk a minute ago. It's all a risk.
Ron: That's essentially what trust is. We're risking putting ourselves into the heart and soul of another person, or even trusting God is really about “What? Do I really release all this to him? All of that is costly and hard and difficult, and there's moments where you think, “I don't want to give anymore. I don't want to stay committed anymore,” and yet to maintain a singular focus and say “I am going to live up to these vows. Just found out what I committed to; I'm going to try to live up to that. I think that's so important.
Gayla: And every married couple walks into that; you don't know. We have friends who are facing a very serious illness and they're young. The wife is committed though, to whatever it takes to take care of her husband. It's a beautiful scene but man, it's hard to watch and think “She had no way of knowing that she was walking into that.”
Gayla: I think we often say that in stepfamily life, “Man, if I had known what I signed up for, would I have done this again?”
Ron: It's kind of an irrelevant question to be honest.
Ron: I mean, parenting; I've said that about parenting for years. Anybody who wants to have a child and then has a child by natural birth or adoption or foster or step parenting. You had no idea—
Gayla: No, of course.
Ron: —what you were in for.
Ron: I had a conversation with a guy just the other day, “Are you getting—"he's got a, you know six weeks old—"Are you getting into sleep?”
Gayla: No, you know the answer to that.
Ron: Exactly. I'm like, “Yes, it'll come back eventually but right now you're miserable. You had no idea what that meant.” And that's just sleep, you know, let alone the angst you're going to feel when she's 16 and dating, you know?
Gayla: Exactly. Or when they're a young adult and they left the house and you hope you've done your job in raising them, but you don't know; they're on their own.
Ron: If we don't have this bedrock Stepping Stone, called commitment, we won't stay committed. We will—you know the wind will blow us here or there, and we will lose our direction. For blended families, I mean—and notice how these are sort of lining up and helping—you know, listening and understanding is about relationship building and commitment and trust and really connecting with one another and perseverance is about being dedicated to the long-term picture here. Commitment is that thing that says, I didn't know what I didn't know and now I just found out, and yet I'm going to keep working at this.
Gayla: Yes. I think about those that have a prodigal child. That's another area that we have to stay committed to. We don't know if that prodigal child will come home, but we can continue to pray. We can continue to do whatever we know to try to do, to stay committed to that relationship and never give up.
Ron: The next Stepping Stone—patience.
Gayla: Patience. Oh gee, [Laughter] who likes to talk about this?
Ron: I know. We've sort of talked around it already—Perseverance, sort of related to that—but I think patience is just that quality that says “I've got to set aside everything that I'm hoping for and trust that, in time, some of it will come to fruition. I’ve just got to trust God with what's not happening today, and trust that it'll happen and just keep going.”
There's another side of patience and then I'd love to get your reaction to just the idea of it because you're a little bit down the road in your blended family journey. [Laughter] So looking back, what has patience given you? The other side of patience to me is the complexity of blended family life. Of course, you want it all to meld together quickly and yet it takes a while. You know we say stepfamilies don't have a family tree; they have a family forest.
Ron: Right. Well, when you're talking forest, there's so many people and dynamics and relationships and backstories, and all of it matters that you just can't control that or force that. It has to come together authentically, in its own timing, and that often takes years, not months, not days. And so, if you're not patient, you're just constantly frustrated.
Gayla: Right. But I think if you can remember through those years of time that it takes to develop your family and grow relationships, you're forming identity as a family. You have experiences that you can come back to then later that you can reminisce about, and that's just part of your family identity, even if it’s a challenge.
Oftentimes, though, as you get older and the kids are older, they can laugh about it. There are so many things, even games that some of our kids are super competitive and there were times they'd just walk away from playing a game because they couldn't deal with it. Now, we just make fun of them and say, “I'm glad you've grown out of that, but you can sit here and play a game.
Ron: Yes, that's right.
Gayla: All of those things just grow family identity, I believe.
Ron: That's a good, Promised Land Payoff, right there.
Gayla: It is.
Ron: When you see that moment shift from what it was.
Gayla: Right. But I think too, even in our own character, we have to look at how patient are we really in just day-to-day interactions? Like, I'll be honest, my husband is more patient than I am and so sometimes I'll look at him and I'll think, “How are you being so patient with this”—
Ron: Stop it!
Gayla: —"when I want to blow up.” [Laughter] I don't know. I think we can learn from that and recognize that we can determine to work at our character in things that we/places we need to grow.
Ron: Patience, to me is about perspective on the journey; you're still getting there. We got an email recently. Let me read this. “Dear Ron, I'm so grateful to have found your podcast discussing blended families. I do not feel so alone anymore. I feel affirmed and understood.” Alright, so you know the listening and understanding, like when we're portraying that as well and it's helping him. “Since I've started listening, I feel so much more of a sense of hope and energy.” Good. Exactly.
Ron: This is what we want, these concepts of patience and perseverance to produce in you. Look, you can get there, just not today. Don't panic. Don't give up. You’ve got to keep going. “He says it's difficult to explain how lonely it can be trying to blend a family. I'm divorced, my husband is widowed. We each brought three children into the marriage. I have three girls and my husband has two girls and one boy. I love my husband so much and he loves me but blending the family has been tough even after dating and getting to know one another for six years before getting married.”
Before we go on, I just want to comment, that's a story, a narrative we hear a lot from people dating doesn't necessarily give you a good picture of what life's going to be like after the wedding.
Gayla: Not at all, no.
Ron: Because too many things change at the wedding. Life gets really real, and everybody views it differently. Now, you're living in the house and people are stepping on each other's toes and so yes, they sort of got blindsided too. She says, “One daughter is currently estranged from us. This has been very tough for all of us. My husband does have communication with her and sees her a few times a year, but I know it's incredibly difficult for him.” Of course.
Gayla: Oh yes.
Ron: Like you were just saying; that is so hard when a relationship is broken.
“Your podcast has helped me with the guilt that I've felt, and it's also helped me to know that the best ways to react when I'm triggered by something. This has not been an easy road. It also has come with many blessings for which I am grateful. There really is nothing offered in terms of support for blended families in the area where I live, and I felt called to start some sort of support group.” You know we love this idea.
Gayla: Oh, right.
Ron: We want to see this happen with somebody listening right now; you're thinking “Maybe it's us.” Yes, it's probably you.
Gayla: Right; and don't wait till you have all the answers to start a group.
Ron: Yes, just support each other kind of fumble and meander together. [Laughter]
Ron: She goes on. “Even though our blended family is nowhere near perfect, I know it could be such a benefit and a blessing for other blended families to come together and support each other.” Great. She's got it. “I've looked into your curriculum. It seems amazing. I have not felt such a feeling of hope and purpose for a long time, and I want to thank you for this.” Catherine, thanks for taking the time to write to us.
That's the point of all of these Stepping Stones folks, is when you put them together, it builds a solid bridge for you to walk on to get across the gaps that you feel in life and in your family, and there's just no easy answers, but cumulative over time it gets you somewhere.
Gayla: Right. Also, I think about this starting a group. You can help others as they're in their own Stepping Stones and how to, where to walk and where not to walk and some of the things we've talked about. I'm a huge advocate of small groups because of how it benefited my husband and I in our early years.
Ron: I agree a hundred percent. I think that's huge.
Okay. Another Stepping Stone—
Gayla: —flexibility. This is a huge one.
Ron: Yes; how did it help you guys?
Gayla: Well, because for us, we had four kids when we married—you know, I had two; Randy had two—back and forth between homes. We both had a former spouse. Man, you can get so hung up on, “Well, but this is how the schedule is,” “This is what the divorce decree says,” “This is how it's going to be,” and it just can't always work that way and so you have to be willing to bend, and especially for the sake of the kids.
And then as the kids get older, into their teenage years, sometimes I see parents still try to be really rigid. It can backfire because there are times then when kids just, especially once they start driving and they have a job, and they're probably not going to continue to be at your house every other weekend or whatever that divorce decree says. You have to be willing to bend if you want to really stay in relationship with them, which we do. We want to continue to influence them and so that means that we need to be careful. We want to stay in relationship.
Ron: The holidays is a really good example.
Gayla: Oh, absolutely.
Ron: The reason we call them traditions—[Singing] Traditions [Laughter]—is we're supposed to do them every year this way. This is the way you do it. There's security in that: knowing what's going to happen and how it's going to happen and what's required of me. And yet, when you're trying to merge family members and create your own family identity, traditions are up in the air. Some people like them; some people hate them. “You guys do what? French toast on Christmas morning. That's stupid. Why do you do that?”
All of a sudden, you feel offended and so what do you do? Flexibility—this is where that comes in to say, “Alright, we're going to have to bend, figure out some new pathways and I'm going to have to put aside my taking it personally thing.”
Gayla: Or my way is right.
Ron: Oh, but my way is right. [Laughter] That's what it is. I tell people all the time. Flexibility. Here's what it comes down to. Driving a blended family, if you could say it that way, is as different as driving a motorcycle or a bicycle from a car.
Gayla: Oh, okay.
Ron: You sit in a car—
Gayla: Oh yes.
Ron: —you're going to make a right-hand turn—you know at a corner ,90 degrees—well, you're probably going to crank that wheel one and a half little and you're going to make that right hand turn. Crank your bicycle steering wheel one and a half turns—
Gayla: [Laughter] You'll be in trouble.
Ron: —see where that gets you, right? No, that's not the way it works. And it's all about balance on a bicycle and you have other considerations and that little bit of sand on the road that doesn't hurt a car at all will wipe you out. There are just many other factors that make it a different vehicle. It's a vehicle. It's still going to get you from A to B, but you’ve got to manage it differently. Flexibility is one of those things that blended families just really need.
Gayla: Yes, and I think the bottom line is we are working to grow relationships and so if we are rigid, then it's not going to benefit the relationship building.
Ron: Humor—another Stepping Stone.
Gayla: Oh, humor's good. Oh goodness. It just can really lighten up hard days. And it doesn't have to be anything huge. Some people are better at just kind of throwing out a little one liner that can take the tension off for the moment.
Ron: Kind of gets you through the moment. Yes, laughter's the best medicine. Really, I think it comes down to the attitude—the heart that says, “I may need to laugh at myself a little bit.”—
Gayla: [Laughter] Right, right.
Ron: —which can help you find some humility when you need it.
Ron: Laughing at “Wow. We have always done this tradition this way every time my whole life—when I was growing up as a kid, now with my children—and now we're having to change it, I need to find a way to chuckle at this little moment rather than resenting this moment.” Humor can be a tool that helps to recalibrate and reset our attitude.
Gayla: Right, but a couple of things about humor. Humor is not sarcasm. Sarcasm can be harmful. I guess it can be humor, but it can be harmful humor.
Ron: But as you know, sarcasm is one of my spiritual gifts.
Gayla: Well, I don't agree with that. [Laughter] Sarcasm is not a spiritual gift.
Ron: Especially when it's cutting sarcasm.
Gayla: Yes, exactly; right.
Ron: Yes; yes.
Gayla: Also, humor at someone else's expense, which is really what sarcasm often is, okay, that's not funny. Humor at other people's expense is not funny.
Ron: You're right. You're right. Can't do it.
Gayla: Right, so we have to be aware of those things in how we use our humor.
Ron: I'm curious if you just have any fun blended family stories. In my first video series, I started it with a story that I have had people quote back to me for years.
Gayla: Oh really?
Ron: I quit telling it a long time ago, and maybe I need to tell it right here.
Ron: It's about a stepdad. True story—he told me about this. He, one day, his four-year-old stepdaughter came to him, and he was watching a football game in the living room. She walks in and she says, “Hey, I made tea.” She has got a little tea set.
Gayla: Aww. [Laughter]
Ron: You know cute little—yes. She brings it in, and she pours him a little cup of tea. He, oh, he puts his pinky out like she’s taught him, and he sips it. He's really got one eye on the football game, but he's trying to engage with his stepdaughter. There was actually—this was a big moment, he told me, because she had not really given him much of herself.
Gayla: Oh, okay, so this is a big deal.
Ron: And so, she came to him, initiated, and so he realized this is really important. He was able to turn away from the football game. That's, you know, wow. [Laughter] Obviously, it was important to him, so he gave her a little time and attention. She watched while he drank. He enjoyed the cup of tea. She said, “Okay, tea party's over” and she toddled off back down the hallway. He was like, “Wow, that is just awesome. I’ve got to tell my wife about this moment. Back to the football game.
After a few minutes, the football game's over and he starts thinking, “Where did she get that water for the tea?” So he invited her, “Hey honey, show me where you got this.” [Laughter]
Gayla: Oh no.
Ron: She said, “Come here, I'll show you.” She led him down the hallway—
Gayla: —into the bathroom.
Ron: —into the bathroom, opened the toilet lid—
Gayla: I knew it.
Ron: —and dipped that little cup of tea down there and got him some water. [Laughter] So now he's feeling a whole lot different about that moment, but they laughed about that for years. Well, that's a good story.
Sometimes, you know what you get in a blended family is not what you signed on for.
Ron: And yet you have to figure out a way to maneuver through and move on and find the humor in it is one way to do that.
Gayla: Yes, you do. I agree. Oh gosh.
Ron: Okay. Well, it may go without saying, but a big Stepping Stone that we believe in our ministry has to do with Christlikeness. That is the endeavor that we all have as believers, is we just want to be more like Jesus. And that is just a super hard thing to do.
Gayla: It is! Some days harder than others even.
Ron: There's a reason they call it discipleship because it takes discipline, takes effort, it takes work. And we're not all alone in this. The Holy Spirit, it's promised to help us, to teach us, to train us, to admonish and bring us into that image of Jesus and yet we also know our faults and our frailties. And so that's just something I encourage people to work towards because being more like Jesus makes you a better spouse—
Gayla: Oh, it does.
Ron: —makes you a better parent, stepparent, former spouse, co-parent.
Gayla: It does.
Ron: All of it rolls out of loving God and loving others,
Gayla: But there's some intentionality that has to happen with us. We are not naturally Christ-like. We're sinful. We are sinful people. If we are left to go our own ways, we're going to walk down roads that are messy, that aren't pretty. I just think we have to constantly work at “What would Jesus have done?” Remember that bracelet years ago that we all wore?
Gayla: I just think we need to come back to that all the time. How would Jesus have handled this situation? What would Jesus have said here? It's probably different than what we would do.
Ron: You're right, and it takes work, being in the word, studying with other people, attending a local church service. I think a lot of people, especially post covid—
Gayla: I know, we're not back in church yet.
Ron: Just sort of giving up on that. No, no, no, the reason we go is to worship, to be reminded of how great He is and how much He has done for us, how much He loves us, how great His mercy is, and to be around other people who are on the same journey as we are. We can help them. They can help us. This fellowship thing is really important.
Gayla: It is.
Ron: And then just the discipleship process.
Gayla: Right; and having our own time of just being still before the Lord and just listening for his voice and discernment in our life.
Ron: So that's at a high level. Let's just get really practical. Let me just read a passage out of Colossians chapter three, and you know, to the listener, let me just say, “Okay, so if you could do this in your family, in your household, how would it help?” Colossians 3:5. He starts by talking about what we're not supposed to be, what we can put off. He says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: Sexual immorality, impurity,”—by the way, pause, you know, just stop right there. Not doing things that cause distrust in your marriage. Sexual immorality causes great distrust in a relationship.
Ron: That will break it sometimes, in a significant way, so don't do that—“evil desire, covetousness, which is idolatry.” He says, “On account of these things, the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked,”—now there's the hopeful statement. We all used to be something and we're in the process of being transformed. “But now you must put them away:” Put away “anger, wrath, malice, slander”—just talking bad about each other. What? Oh, but I can slander against my ex-spouse, right?
Gayla: No, you can't.
Ron: I think it's in the fine print here somewhere in the Bible. No, we can't, like, put that away—“obscene talk from your mouth. Don't lie to each other.” Tell the truth to children, to your ex-mother-in-law, to whoever it is. Just have a spirit of truthfulness.
Gayla: Don't withhold information. That's another part of communication.
Ron: Being deceitful—I mean, all of that, it undercuts.
Gayla: It does.
Ron: That's what Paul's point here is—“seeing that you put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” That's back to that studying the Word. We know more about Jesus. We get to be more like Him over time.
Then he says verse 12, Colossians 3:12. “Put on,” so the things we take off and now we got to put on “as God's chosen ones,” You're already chosen. We don't put these on to become chosen. Very important.
Gayla: Right. Exactly.
Ron: You put these on because we're chosen, because we're grateful for all that God has done for us. “holy and beloved, compassionate hearts,” He says, put on “kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against someone, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,”
Boy, there's some days where I am not letting peace govern who I am moment to moment in any interaction with anybody I care for. I am selfishness is ruling how I'm dealing with that moment. Pain sometimes is ruling.
Gayla: Sure. Right.
Ron: To let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Wow. How cool is that? This Christ-likeness stuff will transform your family.
Gayla: Yes. Sometimes, it can be worry that is keeping you from experience and peace. We have to come back to “Are we trying to control our circumstances?”
Ron: Any final reflections just on some of these Stepping Stones, how they fit together perhaps, or just thinking about the last 27 years?
Gayla: Yes, 27 years. Just know that be patient with the process. Let the process happen. Don't try to force it too hard. Don't demand that it should go this way and not that, and we're failing if it hasn't gone the way we think it should have. Just keep going; pick yourself up.
Ron: Nana and I are at year 36, approaching 37—
Ron: —and I'm still trying to walk on these Stepping Stones. I'm still trying to put on Christlikeness. I'm still trying to—I think about patience. Sometimes, I think the way to be patient—and I'm learning this—it's what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, “Don't be anxious about tomorrow.” We just live into the future in so many ways that we just don't live today. Be present today. “Today has enough trouble of its own,” Jesus says. Just focus on this, trusting God with what's coming. I think a lot of blended families live constantly in angst over what they don't yet have.
Gayla: I agree.
Ron: “I’ve got a stepchild who hasn't quite embraced me as their mom or dad.” Hey, that's somewhere off tomorrow. Quit worrying about that today. That helps you be patient today. It's those kinds of things that I think mature me. That's what I've noticed. I think it helps me be in the moment and live and love the way I am called to today. You look up one day and you go, “Wow, we're 36 years down the road. How did we get here?” One day at a time.
Gayla: A lot of what you're saying, I think is acceptance of where you're at today and not pining for how you wish it were and how you want your circumstances to change. And maybe they will change and get to that relationship that you want with your stepchild, but if you're not there yet, just accept it and do your part to continue to grow the relationship and then ask God to do His part also.
Ron: Gayla, thanks for being with me today.
Gayla: Enjoyed it.
Ron: Always enjoy having you here. To the listener, if you want to learn more about this book, The Smart Stepfamily, you can look in the show notes. We'll tell you how you can get ahold of that.
There's an exercise in this chapter, chapter two, that we've been referencing a little bit, called the Travel Log. It is, I think, a really good exercise developed by Patricia Papernow. it will help you have a dialogue in your family about where you've been and how you can move forward from where you are.
I think it's a very engaging, fun little conversation that will help you, sort of, take inventory of your family and think about these Stepping Stones as you move forward.
Quick reminder that FamilyLife Blended is a donor supported ministry. If you care to designate some money and make a donation to FamilyLife, especially for FamilyLife Blended, we would really appreciate that. That helps us do this podcast and all the other things that we do.
Please leave a review or a rating if you would; that helps other people find us. And we mentioned earlier that we're inviting people to share their Promised Land Payoff moments with us. Doesn't have to be a big story, just a little moment in time where you saw hope and you saw the progress that your family is making. We'd love to have you share that with us. You can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org, or look in the show notes and you can see a way you can contact us. Leave us a voicemail if you'd rather do that.
We've been talking about dates and what's coming ahead a little bit. Just want to remind you my annual retreat at the WinShape Retreat Center in Rome, Georgia, north of Atlanta, is coming up pretty soon—March 17 through 19, 2023. It's a great weekend to just sit and relax and be and study and grow. We'll have lunch together and get to know each other a little bit.
Our next Blended and Blessed event is coming up Saturday, April 29th, so make sure you get that on your calendar; start some conversations with your church.
Gayla: In Florida, what a great place to come.
Ron: Everybody wants to go to Florida.
Gayla: I agree, especially in April.
Ron: Join us; it'll be really good.
Okay, next time on FamilyLife Blended, we're going to hear from a number of our podcast guests over the past year. We've been asking them to share a scripture or a biblical concept that has been helpful to their family. Gayla and I are going to be reacting to those comments and sharing those with you. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.
I appreciate you listening. I'm Ron Deal.
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