FamilyLife Blended® Podcast

115: Stepchildren and Marriage: How to Build Trust

with Gil and Brenda Stuart | July 3, 2023
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Blended family life doesn't often start with every relationship experiencing harmony. But it's not unusual to develop it along the way. Listen to Ron Deal speak with Gil and Brenda Stuart about how disappointment and confusion in their family relationships with 7 kids eventually morphed into redemption and joy.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Ron Deal

    Ron L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series of books including the bestselling Building Love Together in Blended Families: The 5 Love Languages® and Becoming Stepfamily Smart (with Dr. Gary Chapman), The Smart Stepfamily: 7 Steps to a Healthy Family, and Preparing to Blend. Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist, popular conference speaker, and host of the FamilyLife Blended podcast. He and his wife, Nan, have three sons and live in Little Rock, Arkansas. Learn more at

Blended family life doesn’t often start with every relationship in harmony. But it’s not unusual to develop it along the way. Ron Deal speaks with Gil and Brenda Stuart about how disappointment and confusion eventually morphed into redemption and joy.

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115: Stepchildren and Marriage: How to Build Trust

With Gil and Brenda Stuart
July 03, 2023
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Gil: When you enter into a blended family, it's like you're jumping onto a moving train. It's at full speed. [Laughter] And literally those first couple of weeks after I moved in, and into Brenda's home, and now it's becoming our home, I mean, literally within a couple of weeks I looked at her and I remember we went on a walk and for some reason we got separated and it was like, “Uh oh.” She was mad. I was like, “Oh no. What did I get myself into? Now I'm in this house with these strange kids and I'm—my kids are kind of somewhat alienated from me, and all of a sudden, I'm feeling really isolated.”

Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, to pursue the relationships that matter most. And why do we do that? Well, because we're trying to make your home a better place, and in so doing, we think we're going to try to help the world be a better place as well.

You know we love telling authentic family stories around here, and today we have one, so stay with me. We'll get to my guests in just a minute.

If this is your first time listening to the podcast and you're not familiar with FamilyLife Blended, let me just tell you, we're the largest blended family ministry in the country and likely in the world. We've developed numerous resources designed to strengthen blended families and to equip those who are leading local ministries to blended families as well. We have resources you can listen to, watch, read, or lead, a dozen books and resources for groups, eight different video series you can go through, online courses, live and virtual events.

And if you're looking for help, we have an international referral list of counselors who have gone through my training in stepfamily therapy. One of them is one of my guests here today. We also maintain a free, searchable map for churches who have classes or small groups for couples in blended families or churches that host our annual Blended and Blessed® livestream. Again, feel free to take advantage of all of this. You are not alone. That's the thing we want you to know. You are not alone. You don't have to do this by yourself. We would love to help. The show notes will get you connected to all of this and more.

I want to make sure we get this on your calendar. Our next Summit on Stepfamily Ministry is going to be Thursday, October 12th, 2023. It's a virtual event this year, which means, which means you get to just stay home and be comfortable. This is our ministry equipping event for pastors and lay couples who want to minister to blended families in their church or community. Again, the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry, Thursday, October 12th, 2023.
Okay, Gil and Brenda Stuart are no strangers to this podcast or to our FamilyLife Blended events. They are good friends; they're wonderful counselors, coaches and blended family speakers. They live just north of Portland. They have seven children between them and a growing number of grandchildren.

I highly recommend their book and their video series called Restored and Remarried. And Gil also has a video series for stepdads that we've talked about before on this podcast, and you can find that on the stepfamily network. Gil and Brenda, welcome back to FamilyLife Blended.

Brenda: Hello, nice to be back.

Gil: Always a pleasure.

Ron: It's good to have you guys on, friends. I enjoy our time and it's always good working with you guys. So got to get this straight. How many grandchildren do you have at this point?

Brenda: Well, as of right now, it's 9.9.

Ron: Oh, we're close to ten.

Brenda: Yes, Huntley comes next week, so we'll be at number ten next week, so excited about that.

Gil: Woo-hoo!

Ron: Yes, that's pretty cool, number ten. We'll be praying about that birth and hope everything goes well. How long you guys been married?

Gil: Twenty years and a couple of months and a couple of days in about five hours so yes. [Laughter]

Brenda: So now we say we're married almost 21 years.

Gil: Almost 21 years.

Ron: That's good. Gil, I'm surprised and really disappointed that you didn't know how many seconds that you had been married.

Gil: Well—

Brenda: Up your game here, right?

Gil: —if that's the case, [Laughter] yes.

Ron: Alright, bunch of grandchildren, 20 years, almost 21 years of marriage. Let's go back to the beginning and let's just jump into your story because I really think this is going to serve our listeners really well. How many of your seven children showed up at your wedding?

Gil: Three.

Ron: Three out of seven.

Gil: Yes. My four did not come. Two of them were really, as we look back on it, in a great deal of pain, and two of them almost came, but because of what I would refer to as some modified parent alienation did not come.

Ron: Okay. Let's back up and unpack because I know that there's more to the story than that and really, I just want to start with the two of you. I mean, this is a story we hear in our ministry from time to time. It seems to be a lot of people who had adult children when they got married that some of their adult children didn't show up. Tell us a little bit about the ages of your kids, what you were anticipating happening on the wedding day, and then walk us through the disappointment I can only imagine that you felt when you discovered they were not coming.

Brenda: Yes.

Gil: Well, the ages of the kids on our wedding day, which was back in 2003, January 25th, to be exact—

Brenda: What time?

Gil: —about 7:30. [Laughter]

Ron: You passed.

Gil: The ages of the children at that time were 22 to about 10½ and so at that stage in time, anticipation and the hope that they would all share in that moment was a big anticipation. And not that we laid a lot of expectations upon them, but the doors were open and three out of the seven came.
Brenda: I just assumed that they would all come, because what a great event to celebrate, because we found love again so everyone else is supposed to just be happy, right? Yes, no.

Ron: Yes, no, so you didn't have any warning that they might not be there?

Brenda: I think the older two—

Gil: I think the older two we kind of had the inclination that they weren't going to come; that my two youngers, at that point, I really was expecting them to be there until the last minute they didn't show up. That really, it broke my heart because it was like I wanted them to be a part of it but because of stuff that was going on in the background they didn't come. And, you know, in that moment it was a great disappointment on my end.
My parents were there, my brothers were there, and my kids were not. And here was this great moment that we were going to share but all of my kids were either in confusion or in such pain that they couldn't come or wouldn't come. And that was really, really sad.

Ron: Yes. I'm sure you had a lot of grief over that. You must have just been so conflicted, happy in one part of you and deeply sad in another.

Gil: Very bittersweet—you know while I waited in the office to step out and see my new bride coming down the aisle with her dad, which was really a whole nother dimension of the wedding because her first wedding, her dad wasn't there. Her second wedding to me he was because I asked his hand for her marriage to me. His response to me when I called—I mean, I was in my forties; Brenda was in her forties—and I called Brenda's dad and said, “I'd like to marry your daughter,” and his response was, “Well, she can make up her mind. What are you asking me?” And it was like, “Well, I want to honor you.” It was the beginning of, “I want to start this thing off right.”

Ron: Brenda, okay, you said you were surprised, you expected that they would be there because why wouldn't they want to celebrate with you. Do you remember what you, what emotions you went through?

Brenda: Oh, confusion, disappointment, feeling like we were undermined, and that the kids were being told things that were not true. At one point, you know even Gil's daughter who was a ballerina at the time were just having fun of what she would wear, and she could come down the aisle and dance and—you know we were having fun with it. And to see things switch so hard and so quickly, we knew that there were other influences that we had no control over during that time.

Ron: I want to fast forward and just tell our listener, we are going to get to a different story. This is going to turn out differently, and really, sometimes, apparently you can have a second chance at having your kids at your wedding, and we'll tell you what we mean by that in just a minute. But I just want to go back and, okay, so there's all this confusion and disappointment and bittersweet going on for the two of you, how does their absence at your wedding impact the beginning of your family journey?

Brenda: And let me add also another whole layer to this is my guys—I have three boys who came—were just as confused. It's like, “Well, how come Gil's kids aren't here?” I don't even remember what we said because we were still in shock.

Gil: Yes. Well, if “It was like their choice, we can't force them. There’re other things that are out of our control, but we're so glad you are here,” and such but yes.

Brenda: I forgot about that layer.

Gil: There were lots of layers— [Laughter]

Ron: Yes, yes.

Gil: —lots of moving parts because as your question goes, we start off in our new blended family, we're married, we're excited, much—you know many people have heard me say this before, is that when you enter into a blended family, it's like you're jumping onto a moving train. It's at full speed. [Laughter]

And literally, those first couple of weeks after I moved in, and into Brenda's home, and now it's becoming our home, I mean, literally within a couple of weeks I looked at her and I remember we went on a walk and for some reason we got separated and it was like, “Uh oh.” She was mad. I was like, “Oh no. What did I get myself into? Now I'm in this house with these strange kids and I'm—my kids are kind of somewhat alienated from me, and all of a sudden, I'm feeling really isolated.”

Ron: Wow.

Gil: Scary; it was really scary, but it was like, “Okay, hey we signed up for this.” It was trust and honesty. It was commitment, “We're in, no looking back.” We got to work. We had to get to work to start blending this thing and building a marriage simultaneously.

Ron: Brenda, do you remember you and your sons and their confusion, your confusion, about why his kids didn't show up? I mean, where does that leave you? I mean, stepmom to four children who didn't even come to the wedding.

Brenda: I think at that time I didn't really take it personally because I knew their story and what they were going through. They were just in so much pain. I was probably more sad because they couldn't be a part of it, and I was very protective of them. Like we had one wedding picture of us, I think in our bedroom, but I didn't put any out in the house. Early on we didn't really talk about the ceremony or anything when they were around because I just, I was so sensitive. It's like, “Do they want to know? Do they not want to know?” I didn't want to hurt them anymore.

And that progressed through the years to be much more positive, but early on I was just trying to protect your guys because I just felt like they really did want to come, and their hand was forced not to come.

Gil: Yes. I really appreciate the fact that you held out on that because that would've been like putting salt in their wounds and I forgot to tell you thank you.

Brenda: [Laughter] You're welcome. It's never too late, right?

Gil: Yes.

Ron: Never too late. Well done, Gil. Way to go, man. Okay, so—

Gil: Let's see, it's 20 years and— [Laughter]

Ron: —down to the second. Hey, okay, so Brenda, how insightful of you, A, to not take it personally and B, to see their pain. Now, I'd love for both of you to just talk around that for a minute because most people, when we're hurt, when we're disappointed, when we're shocked by something, we do take it personally and we don't see what's going on with the other person or what's behind their behavior. We just see how it's impacted us. What's the message that you would want to give to a stepparent who's listening and maybe wrestling with something like that?

Brenda: Well, let me, for my sake, let me just say for clarity, I'm 20 years past it, so I'm looking back, okay. I do remember feeling that pain for them, but that's not to say that as our family grew together that I didn't take stuff personally, especially because I realized that I was a different woman than their mom. And the way I interacted with them is the way I interact with my kid, with my boys, which was different, so they didn't know what to do with me because like it's a lot. [Laughter]

I think there were many times and at one point I actually had to take a step back because I felt like my heart was being trampled on. I think I maybe said to you, Gil, “I'm not going unless Jesus comes, or I get hit by a truck. I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying at that line of reconciliation, but I have to protect my own heart. I can't keep putting myself out and getting stomped on.”

Gil: Yes.

Brenda: I think there is a season of that.

Gil: But I think by you saying that Brenda, was the fact that because of what we had gone through in our divorces, we had both experienced abandonment, betrayal, I mean just humongous amounts of pain, and just stuff that brings hurt out. And wanting to lash out, but you didn't. And I think that was the very thing that established us, was “We're not going anywhere. I trust you.” That was the equivalent of saying, “I love you with all my heart.” Well, yes, I know you love me all my heart, but can I trust you? Well, the fact that when the pain came, you didn't run.

And especially with the pain that the kids were going through, we had to stick together. The fact that you made that comment and knowing that my daughter was, and my kids, because everybody was in pain and confused, “Where do I fit? How do I belong?” We didn't know what was going on. All we knew was, is that if we stuck together and kept each other's back, we'd make it.

Brenda: Yes. And it was amazing because every time something would come up with one of the kids and we're like, “What? This doesn't make sense. What is going on in the other house? What is being said? What?” You know, and we get—the conversations would just—

Gil: Oh yes.

Brenda: —get really intense and it never failed, Ron. I felt like the Lord gave us the information that we needed when we needed it every single time.

Gil: Right.

Ron: You mean you got enough that helped you be able to sort of see between the, read between the lines and figure out how to move forward.

Gil: Right. How to get the insight because you know, like you said, when people are hurt, they lash out. I think my comment to couples now, looking back, like you said, 20 years behind, if you feel like lashing out, do everything in your power to stop yourself. Because by so doing, you will probably mess up things more and have to then unravel stuff more because now you've created more pain. It's like if you're in doubt of doing something, don't do it. If you're in doubt, stop. You know if it's not out of love, don't do it. [Laughter]

Ron: Yes, that's good.

Brenda: I think looking back too, I would tell my other, my younger self, I guess, younger stepmom is, “Stop overreacting.” It's like, okay, is this season that we're in—I mean, how am I going through it and what am I saying and doing? How will it impact my relationship with my kids and with us five minutes from now, five months from now, five years from now? Is this really worth getting my panties in a wad? [Laughter] Getting so upset, you know is it really worth it?

Gil: Keep it raw.

Brenda: It's like, come on, let's just bring it down a notch which is hard because we get, our emotions get the best of us, right?

Gil: Yes, exactly.

Ron: And you do feel like there's so much riding on those moments and you know it does build on you. So that's difficult and having that 20-year perspective obviously is helpful.

Okay, so I want us to do that; fast forward 20 years. A few months ago, maybe a year ago now, you guys decided you wanted to renew your vows. I believe on your 20th anniversary, is that right?

Gil: Yes. Yes.

Brenda: Yes.

Ron: And you wanted to invite all the children to join you for the renewal so I, we just got to ask, so did you have some apprehension about inviting them or had things changed?

Gil: We were so excited because over the 20 years, we just kept investing. My comment with respects to my own children, to build forward was to, as I would say it, pursue their hearts. And my own stepsons to pursue their hearts, even though inside of me that created a lot of things internally, which, you know I kind of talk about in one of the video sessions that I do about reverse betrayal, but that's not the point. The point is, is that we looked at this 20-year anniversary as an opportunity to do a renewal vow and to have everyone present. Everybody was in. When we put the word out, like, “Here's what we want to do,” and literally we started that process two years ago to say, “Let's plan on this.”

Brenda: Well, and if I can say, Gil, do you remember when your kids came back and apologized that they didn't like how—I lost track of time.

Gil: Oh my goodness. Yes, I mean, we were in maybe year five or six, just to give perspective and again, as we've learned from you, Ron, and the material, you know the blending process takes anywhere between four to seven years even if you're doing everything right. Because in those first four or five years, there were still many opportunities for engagement.

And some of them still resisted, but we did not unpersist. We continued to persevere their hearts and so, you know probably year four, five, six, seven, maybe even eight or nine, each one of my children now that were adults, literally came back and apologized with tears to say that “Dad, hey, we're sorry that we weren't there. Your biggest moment where things were changing for you and for our family, we were”—let's just say they used a lot of different verbs and adjectives—"that we weren't there.”

And the most sweet, probably was for my two oldest sons. Yes, because of, you know where they were at in their walk as young men and, you know just way more story than this time gives, but just the fact that they one by one came back and apologized and recognized that what was being established here was restoration through our remarriage as well as establishing legacy and heritage for them, of which hopefully they will build on as we get old.

But yes, it was a—there was restoration that took place in those earlier years, and like I said, we just persisted even though sometimes like, “Oh man, this is—is this ever going to change?” in the midst of all the hassles that they were having to deal with because of my—you know because of the other parents.

Ron: You've mentioned that a couple of times; that the other home was an influence over them not coming to the wedding and whatnot, and don’t know how much you can share about that, but I guess really, what I'm wondering is, as your kids' hearts changed and they softened and eventually even apologized, what over time did you come to see was the pain that kept them from showing up? I imagine it's a number of different things, but was there something kind of at the core of that?

Gil: You and I have talked about this over the years, and literally from stage at one of the Summits a few years ago, of why the divorce took place and you know maybe you can reference that later on, but I don't share it very often but with the audience today I'm just really going to be bold. You know, my first marriage ended because my first wife left me for another woman. And not only did that blow a hole through my chest as my own masculinity was completely decimated, but my children literally were submerged under so much confusion and demand upon them accepting their mother and her partner that it's just too much to go into.

So, the confusion and the pain of, how do I love my children when they are in such turmoil and turbulent waters, as well as build a new marriage at the same time. I felt like without the power of the Holy Spirit and just God's grace, there would've been no way any of us could have survived. And so, the hearts were mending and being put back together again so when this vow renewal took place, there was so much redemption and joy, even though on their faces, they were all kind of like, “Wow.”

So, in one way, I could sense that they were kind of feeling guilty. I mean, this is, I don't know for sure, but I could kind of look at them and go, what did they feel? “You know we missed the first one, but we're here now and we're not going to let you down this time, Dad.” But, you know, in light of what they went through and they're having to accept, and you know really have to intergage with—still, you know because I never told them to stop loving their mom. It was like, love your mom. You know she's always going to be your mom and to respect them in that.

And even as I was thinking about it a couple of times, because in my own hurts in those early years, something would get said and honestly, I lashed out and it was like, “Ooh, I’ve got to go back and fix that and heal that.” And that still plays into this very day, of areas of their life and my life as children and father, that, you know God is still bringing healing, but here was this renewal and it just was such a sweet moment of redemption—because we had chosen to the best of our possibilities to love well.

Ron: Guys, don't you think it's so important—you mentioned lashing out; earlier Brenda, you talked a little bit about, you know some things you did take personally, and it was really hard. It's so important to repair those things, to lead with humility and be broken about it. You know when a family is trying to come together and figure out, under what expectation do we relate to one another? And how do we do this thing called family here in this particular home? That when you lead as an adult into an apology, you're helping to define, “Hey look, around here we make mistakes, we own up to it, and we seek forgiveness from one another. I mean, that has to be something that in the long run brings more good than any awkwardness at the moment.

Brenda: Yes, because it lays a foundation for safety that I feel safe enough in this family environment to mess up, to be humble, and ask for forgiveness or extend forgiveness, and that's just really important, especially even with adult kids. You know so many people think, as you know, that, “Oh, my kids are adults, so it's not going to be an issue.” No, it'll be an issue. [Laughter]

Gil: Yes, it'll be an issue. That thus is kind of one of the things from our material that we came up with rebuilding the wall. Because when you think about what Nehemiah went through, he was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem out of what? Rubble. I mean complete decimation, and that's how we felt like we were rebuilding and so when we were sharing that with other couples, we thought, hold on a second. We need to share this with our own kids because we're rebuilding the walls of our family for them, just like Brenda said, for them to feel safe and to say, “Hey, we don't want that wall to come between us and you anymore between us and our marriage.

But you know the building of safety to bring them in. I think little by little they did feel safe to come and share how they felt, and then meeting them in humility to begin the conversation of reconciliation, which says, “Hey, I messed up. I need to ask your apology. I need to apologize to you and ask for your forgiveness before”—because if—you know I think that's the whole thing. You don't get it unless you give it.

Ron: Yes, exactly. Okay, I want to press into that a little bit more because you guys, you nailed it. This idea of emotional safety in a relationship really sets the tone for the direction of the relationship. And so, if you're trying to repair and rebuild the wall—you know when we say it, it's sort of like black and white. Okay, we were trying to rebuild safety, so you apologize, and then boom, there's safety and everybody's happy. [Laughter] Wrong, right? I mean, that's not reality. Reality, my guess is—I mean, how did that roll for you guys? You do apologize. You do bring it up. That didn't necessarily mean—it helps to create an environment of safety where it's more likely, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they automatically feel that way and can respond in kind.

Gil: Right, and this is where I would borrow from The Gottman Institute, that trust, and safety is rebuilt by consistent, genuine trust actions of behavior. It is not done overnight. It is consistent behaviors that's trustworthy, and that's an endurance test.

Ron: Yes, yes.

Brenda: I was going to say the same thing, [Laughter] but also, I would add to that in little steps. It doesn't have to be big things. It's those little things where that connection, those sinews of trust are built on the day-to-day. “I'm keeping my word,” “I'm giving you positive feedback and compliments,” “I'm your biggest fan” kind of thing. It doesn't have to be a big ordeal, but those little things over time really pay off.

Gil: They're grounded in love. They're grounded in trustworthiness and that's something we are so that you can rely upon us and who really benefits? We do because they grow up and move away. But then they come back. It's like, “Okay.” [Laughter]

Ron: It's funny how that works.

Brenda: Yes.

Gil: Yes, and then, now what do we do? Because we've built this, this wall of, of our family, even though we rebuilt it out of busted, broken, bruised, beat up, burnt, you know, debris. But that's exactly what God specializes in. But you got to get along on his program, not your own, which is you got to learn how to be humble. And that's, I mean, when God's speaking to you, He'll yell at you if He needs to through affliction. Because it's really about, you know the character. Anyhow, I'll start preaching on—

Ron: Oh no, no, that's good. No, that's very, very important. Okay, I'm wondering about your goal and having the renewal. You know what you were thinking you were going to accomplish by doing that. And I'm also wondering if somebody's listening and they’re thinking, “Yes, we're still in the rebuilding process. Maybe we should have a renewal to rebuild.” What would you say to that? What was your goal, and then how would you react to that?

Brenda: I probably wouldn't do it too soon because it’s going to feel forced and won’t be real.

Ron: Okay.

Gil: Yes, don't rush the field. You might have good information, but don't rush the field. Let God get hearts in the right place.

Ron: Okay. Yes, I think that's good. You know that reminds me, weddings are the culmination of dating and an engagement. You don't have a wedding to fall in love with somebody. I mean, I realize in some cultures they do. But most people want to do all that work on the front end and then the wedding is the culmination of that falling in love, developing a dream with one another. So likewise, I hear you guys saying, no, don't have a vow renewal because you think it's going to magically move the family past a stuck point into something really good.

Brenda: Right because with that, I would say that the focus of the renewal was not the kids, it was us.

Ron: Okay.

Gil: Yes, they were actually being affirmed as I would, you know in wedding vows that I've conducted as an officiant, I bring up this concept of the children, especially in blended families that are remarriages because I do a few of those. And there's one thing that I put in the vows for couples that are going to be remarried, is that the children can stand in the shade of our love. It cast a shadow upon them that brings them shade. Because if our love's not intact, if it's not genuine, there's no shade. They're going to be out in the cold; they're going to be out in the heat. And that's that place to where “No, I know that we're solid.”

I think there's one of the emails that we got from one of the kids that were actually used as part of the vows, and maybe it would be appropriate to share it right here. I think it would be a good one.

Brenda: Well, and to let the viewers know we—I thought this was a pretty bold of us. We asked our friend, who is a pastor, who renewed our vows for us, to email all of our kids and whoever wanted to give their thoughts of what our marriage meant to them and our family over the last 20 years. Like we say, “We're not going to read them. It's all anonymous and the emails were going right to our friend.”

Gil: And he wove them into our renewal vows as a gift of words to us, so we had no idea who said what.

Brenda: But they knew.

Gil: Yes, they knew who said what, but then we got the back information anyway so. [Laughter] Yes, everybody remains in the will by the way.

Ron: [Laughter] Very important to know that. Okay, so let's hear some of their thoughts.

Brenda: Okay, so this one says, “My mom and Gil's marriage is a testament to the redemption work of God's grace. Although neither of them likely anticipated the path their journey took, the strength, grace, and joy exemplified along the way has paved the way for many more to follow. The only thing I love more than their story is a story they are in the midst of writing with our kids,”—our grandkids. “Their love prayers, and encouragement of both us and them is regularly needed and appreciated.”

Gil: Yes.

Ron: Yes. That feeds your soul right there, doesn’t it?

Brenda: Yes. I had no idea what kind of impact.

Gil: Go to the next one.

Brenda: Okay.

Gil: I'll read it because I know you won't be able to get through this one. Alright, so “Getting to witness that their relationship for so many years has impacted my marriage in more ways than I could say, and it is more ways than I probably even know. What's beautiful is, is it was messy and far from perfect”—God bless this kid; it's true—"especially early on,”—and this is where I would just bite my lip and go “Mm-hmm, especially with you”—"but early on it wasn't perfect and yet God was good in bringing healing and wholeness. My mom and Gil gave us a taste of God's love for us in how they have continued to pursue each other. And have continued to pursue making our family as healthy as it can be.”

Ron: Wow.

Gil: “They have been many hard seasons and they are far from perfect. Yet they have faithfully sought to love each other, God and us at all times. If my marriage could have an ounce of the way they pursue each other and us, I know I'm on the right track.”

“Lastly, something that always comes to my mind when I think about their marriage is how Gil serves my mom. This is one of the most direct influences in my marriage and how I take such a servant's heart approach to my marriage. This reflects Jesus as he came to serve us by laying down his life or his enemies, and I will for be ever grateful to Gil for that.”

During our wedding, I actually, part of our vows was I had a basin of water and some really smelly perfume and all that.

Brenda: The first wedding.

Gil: The very first for us, and I actually washed Brenda's feet as part of the marriage ceremony. While Brenda sat there, her sons observed that, and to hear this from one of my stepsons, that was how I started to love their mom and just tried my best to continue on with that, so to hear him say that was pretty cool.

Brenda: Well, and this just goes to show too, you know old statistics where the kids from divorced families have this view of marriage that could be really negative. I think that's why our focus when we work with couples is the strength of the marriage will positively impact their kids. For them to have the marriage we have and to see that in writing is really kind of cool.

Gil: We have two more.

Ron: And are some of these—I know our listeners are probably wondering, are some of these from the four who didn't show up at the original wedding?

Gil: These next two are. The first two are from Brenda's, and then the next two are my guys. [Laughter] and this is from one of them who said, “Better late than never.” So, some words as we approach the renewal. “Two things I've learned from Dad and Brenda by observation and reflection. Dad guards our heritage with pride and encourages toward valance regarding our legacy. If it were to be given words, it would be something like this: Always keep your royal Stuart flashes on your hose regardless of their visibility. I've seen compassion for people in Brenda that quiets my heart to empathy I did not know in my younger years. It motivates me to embrace the world and all the people in it with love and that's first and foremost.”

And so, this one was the fact that he's making this comment was the empathy that he had with Brenda. And this is where I would tell couples, you don't have any idea how your small gestures are impacting your kids. Even when they're older than you think that they're not observing. They are observing and your little gestures of empathy and love are like seeds and they will come back if you keep to watering them. It's kind of like, you know that quieting his heart because he hadn't received that as he needed in his younger years for a lot of reasons.

This last one—

Brenda: Here's a guy who's forty now and when we were married, he was older, so it's not like he lived with us, so the times that we had the time to connect were very few and
far between.

Ron: And yet, he still saw all that.

Gil: He still, he still felt it.

Brenda: I'm blown away.

Gil: Yes. It's like you just, those little touches that is so important.

Let's read the last one. This is hard, you know it's hard and it's good because basically it says, “This is Gil and Brenda's kid and I apologize for really being late.”

Brenda: Okay, I need to stop. For her to say not this is Gil's daughter but Gil and Brenda's daughter, I mean—

Ron: I'm hearing there's a big heart change that has taken place over the years for her to be able to say it.

Brenda: Yes, and I would've been fine if she said, “This is Gil's daughter.” That's totally, but for both of our names to be in there. That's what I call the little wins that we need to look for.

Gil: Yes, and that took 20 years. It's, again, part of things that you probably talk about on your podcast with many people, is what do you want your stepkids to call you? Or what do you want them to call you or us to call them? And at this stage, 20 years later she's saying, “I'm your daughter.” It's like, wow.

So, you know it's kind of interesting because she goes on and says, and she's now married and she says, “My husband and I finally got this email together” and apologized for it but anyhow, “Dad and Brenda have influenced us in our marriage to always have open communication and to keep our relationship playful. We have observed and been motivated by Dad and Brenda that communication is a key point in a healthy and successful marriage. My husband and I have deeply rooted the importance of communication and relationship no matter how easy or challenging the subject might be. A key pillar in our relationship since day one is communication is key.”

“Dad and Brenda have also been a great influence of exhibiting the importance of feeling comfortable, of being your own weird self with your significant other. We all know Dad is kind of goofy.” Thanks sweetheart. “And I love to see how Brenda, Mom—again, Mom is put in parentheses—embraces that true side of Dad for his big heart and goofiness. Appreciating your significant other's weird quirks, as well as their unique personality traits is important to fully understand and love your spouse as their true self.”

She went on and kind of had a little poem, which and in some cases was a little raw, but the point that she was able to share something that was really dear to her heart, again, just was just the significance of redemption for both of us.

Brenda: And affirmation; it's like, have we made any difference in these kids' lives?
And it was like, we think we did but to hear even, you know four of them out of the seven email back those precious words. It's just like, “Okay, we're on the right track.”

Gil: Still learning; still learning.

Ron: And really the whole story is a testimony to faithfulness, trustworthiness, and persistence. You know those are big themes that we talk about a lot around here: staying with it, continuing on the path, doing what you can do, feeling like you're not really getting anywhere, not making a lot of progress, and yet at some point it all sort of adds up to something and you look around and you go “Wow. Look where we are now.”

Okay, so I'm just curious, you're a few months out from this 20th vow renewal—and by the way, the pictures on Facebook were awesome. Love seeing all the men in kilts, just, you know that's a manly man right there, if you could do that—so what perspective would you have on it? What lessons learned or takeaways do you have on your own vow renewal ceremony?

Brenda: I think it was just as exciting moving up toward the event than the event itself, because, you know like all the girls were on a text thread and they named it vow renewal with a dress and a ring and everything. And just to see the girls because all of my girls were all so different, but they're perfect for the men they married.

Gil: Our sons.

Brenda: Yes, so for me to see them all talking, “What are you wearing?” “What are the girls wearing?” “What”—you know all this kind of stuff was just warm my heart. And that to me, if we never even had a ceremony, that was a gift to me. That was just amazing.

Gil: Yes, because one of the daughters-in-law actually said the wedding. We were just like renewal vows, but she called it a wedding, so I was like, “Oh, okay. I like it; I’d marry you again.” [Laughter]

Brenda: So, as a woman to be connected, because you know I have three boys. I don't have daughters so it's sometimes honestly hard for me to know how to connect with them because I'm not a girly mom. I'm a boy mom and that's something I'm still learning so to be part of that and see their excitement was just awesome.

Gil: Well, I remember Brenda sharing that, you know she had envisioned what it would be like when all the girls were getting into their dresses and the guys were over getting their kilts on, and she was like, “They're going to help me with my hair and my makeup.”
Well, here they're chasing their children, so, you know they're just crazy.

Brenda: It was mayhem. [Laughter]

Gil: It was mayhem but Brenda kind of stepped aside into a kind of a quieter space, and then my daughter followed her in and helped her with her makeup and her hair.

Brenda: She dressed me, so it was—

Gil: It was just such a, again, a moment of redemption that was so not planned but just show up and enjoy. But I think as I look back on it now, post renewal, here we are a few months later, just the enjoyment as I reflect back on it. Yes, they were all together. They still kind of, you know spin off to the separate clans from their side and our side, but then for them to all be together, enjoy the moment, and connect. And the anticipation that came, but everyone's reflection on it was, “Yes, that was such a really fun time. We're glad we came. We're glad it came together.”

And just the beauty of the closeness and really, the love and appreciation that they have for one another. And they're not like all best friends, but the fact that they really do love and care for each other and connect outside of, you know talking to us, that's a reward that it just, you can't buy it with money. It just, you can't.

Ron: That’s good stuff. Well guys, you know that I've said for years—I've joked that blended family couples do have a honeymoon. It just comes at the end of the journey and not at the beginning. And I think this story really shows that; it's the journey too.
And it just happened to culminate in a vow renewal ceremony and so what a great, great testimony and thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Gil: Yes. That's why we say if you ain't got the marriage—

Brenda: —you ain't got nothing.

Gil: Couldn't let that go by.

Ron: Thanks guys; great to have you with us today. Thank you.

If you want to know more about Gil and Brenda and their ministry, go to the show notes. You can get connected. If you have a question, you can find information there about how you can tell us about your question or an idea for a future podcast. We're always listening.

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We love hearing from our listeners. We heard from Carla who's watching on YouTube. She said, “I didn't grow up in a blended family, but I married a man with two kids and now we have a five-year-old together. It has been tough,” she says, “being a stepmother and a mother. My husband and I are learning our roles and how to parent in a blender.” Yes, that's exactly what you're learning, and we're honored to be able to help with that a little bit.

Another listener posted on Facebook: “Great episode. I've shared with a few couples and on my Facebook pages. Ron and FamilyLife Blended, thanks for all you continue to do.” That's a pretty good idea. Help somebody else; help somebody find us by sharing the episode with a friend or posting on social media. We appreciate you doing that.

Okay, next time I'm going to be talking with authors Moe and Paige Becnel about the Ghost of Marriage past. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.

I'm Ron Deal. I appreciate you listening.

FamilyLife Blended is produced by Marcus Holt and Josh Batson. Our mastering engineer is Jared Roskey. Our project coordinator is Ann Ancarrow, and our theme music composed and performed by Braden Deal.

FamilyLife Blended is part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network. Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


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