Save a Marriage Today

Grafting: A Painful but Beautiful Process for Blended Families

Your stepfamily may have another river to cross and a few more battles to face, but don’t give up—significant rewards lie ahead.

Stepparenting

Ever wonder what others would write on your grave marker if they had to sum up your life in one sentence? What would they say about you at your funeral?

I didn’t know Cheryl Spangler, but I know something about her from what her stepson, Mathew, said about her at her memorial service on April 4, 2013. Cheryl died after a long battle with cancer. Her stepson—or should I say son—shared the following thoughts at her funeral. (They are edited for length.)

…I believe Mom’s lasting legacy to me is the experience of grafting a hybrid plant. You may recall what a hybrid plant is from seventh grade science class. It’s where you cut two separate plants in such a way as to match the stems. A new stem is grafted into the stem of a rooted plant. You attach them together and you let it grow. I remember this being a really cool experiment in seventh grade science class. The experiment is not quite so cool when your life is one of those metaphorical plant stems; the cutting and grafting is painful.

My mom spent a good portion of her life grafting severed families together, starting with her own. Up until about 15 years ago, I called my mom Cheryl. As you may have guessed, Cheryl is not my birth mother. But I hope you can tell from what I mentioned earlier she is most definitely my mom. I recognize this sounds a little peculiar as I say it out loud, but I know she realized I was her son long before I realized she was my mom. I know this because I can remember the precise conversation when this began to dawn on me. I was 21 and the two of us were discussing the planning of my wedding.

Let me give a little context. By the time I was 21, [Nancy, my biological mother,] had essentially dropped out of my life. As we were discussing the planning of my wedding, Mom asked me about Nancy and whether she was going to be at the wedding, and if so, who was going to light the unity candle. I remember this catching me off guard, because never for one moment had it even crossed my mind that Nancy would do this. The unity candle is reserved for the mothers of the two getting married.

That conversation forced me to later consciously realize what she had long before understood—somewhere between my age 11 and age 21—we became the Spangler Family Hybrid. We had been grafted together. I remember arguments where I would spitefully tell her that she was not my mother. At some point, she knew differently and had willingly assumed that role. While we have no common blood and no matching physical characteristics, we have been grafted together by God as mother and son. I think sociologists would define us as a blended family. I prefer to think of us as a hybrid family, grafted together by God.

Paul uses a similar illustration in Romans where he discusses the adoption of the Gentiles as children of God by grafting them into the roots of the nation of Israel into one family. My family is a painfully beautiful illustration of this.

You, like them

The journey of life for most stepfamilies is sprinkled with uncertainty and stressful dilemmas. But you should never give up. No matter what phase of development (early, middle, or late) your blended family is in, I can imagine that some of life has been painful and some has been beautiful.

Either way, if you are allowing God to wrap your imperfect story into His perfect redemptive story, you are experiencing the redemption of your home and the next generation. Just one more river to cross and a few more battles to face and significant rewards lie ahead.

Are you in process? Yes.

Are you perfectly blended? No.

Can you trust God to provide a path through the wilderness? Yes.

Will He move through your faith in Him to redeem your family story? Yes.

Will that produce a beauty from your ashes? Yes.

Will it remove the ashes? No.

But might His grace change the story you tell about your ashes? Yes. Just ask the Spanglers.


Adapted from The Smart Stepfamily (2014, Revised & Expanded Edition) by Ron L. Deal, Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used with permission. All rights to this material are reserved.

Who is FamilyLife?

We exist to help you succeed in the three most important relationships in life. God, Spouse, Kids.