FamilyLife Blended® Podcast

139: Growing Up Blended: My Stepdad

with Marshall West | June 3, 2024
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Growing up blended often includes hard transitions and isolation for those involved. But Marshall West's story is different. He shares with Ron Deal the beauty of God's provision for two families coming together after loss, giving him a dad he never had and two brothers who were never considered “step.”

Marshall was 12 when his mom married his stepdad, a pivotal point for him. Marshall had been praying to have brothers join his family, and his stepdad had been praying for a Mom for his two boys. Marshall credits the Lord and His goodness for bringing two broken things together and creating a family.

  • 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

Growing up blended often includes hard transitions. But Marshall West shares with Ron Deal the beauty of God’s provision for two families coming together after loss, giving him a dad he never had and two brothers who were never considered “step.”

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139: Growing Up Blended: My Stepdad

With Marshall West
June 03, 2024

Ron: How long did it take you to start calling Joe, “Dad”?

Marshall: Not that long. I remember the moment, wanting to call him Dad. I was like, “Hey, Mr. Joe, if you're okay with that, I'm going to start calling you Dad.” And he's been Dad since then. And they started calling my mom, “Mom,” very quickly. I mean, they started having full course meals all of a sudden. You know, they were having gummy bears and McDonald's all the time. [Laughter] It's like, seriously, that's all they were eating, and all of a sudden, they started eating homemade meals and they're like, “Can we call you Mom?”

Ron: It's funny how that happens.

Marshall: Yes, yes.

Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most. It's June; Father's Day is just around the corner. Today we're telling a stepfatherhood story that really needs to be told so I'm glad that you're with us.

Before we jump into that, our donor premium gift this month is my book The Smart Stepdad. That is the best-selling book on that subject, and it's yours for a gift of any amount to FamilyLife Blended. It's our way of saying thank you for partnering with us. We can't do this without you. FamilyLife® and FamilyLife Blended are donor-supported ministries so we appreciate any gift that you might be able to give. And let me just say again, this is an exclusive to FamilyLife Blended listeners and viewers so make sure you use the link in our show notes.

Joining me in the FamilyLife Blended studio today—we're here in Little Rock—is Marshall West. Man, thanks for being with me.

Marshall: Yes, it's good to be here.

Ron: I appreciate you joining me today. Marshall is Associate Pastor at The Summit Church here in Little Rock. How long you been on staff?

Marshall: Almost four years.

Ron: Okay.

Marshall: We moved here in the middle of the pandemic; middle of 2020.

Ron: Well, that was just a fun time to move.

Marshall: Yes, we had to meet people twice. We met people the first time, [Laughter] you know, with face mask and then we met them again without face masks.

Ron: Yes, you probably couldn't recognize them just from the little thing from the eyes.

Marshall: My joke I always made was, I never thought like, how did bank robbers get away with it? You know things like that, but you live in that world long enough and you really don't recognize people with a mask on.

Ron: [Laughter] That's right.

Marshall: Anyway, so—

Ron: Who is that masked man, right?

Marshall: Yes.

Ron: Oh, do you even know what I’m talking about? –what I’m referencing there? You're a little younger than me. I'm talking about the Lone Ranger. See, I just aged myself. [Laughter] You had no idea.

Marshall: No idea.

Ron: [Laughter] Some of our listeners will know, some of them will not. It's okay, either way. Lone Ranger; look him up. He was kind of cool.

Marshall: I know what you're talking about.

Ron: Okay, that's good.

Marshall: It’s all I got.

Ron: Did you grow up in Little Rock or in Arkansas?

Marshall: I did not. I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. After I got married, we lived in Atlanta for a little bit, and then we, back in Mississippi, and then ultimately here.

Ron: Cool. Well, we look forward to hearing more of your story.

Let me just back up for our audience and let you in on something. Our conversation today is part of the Growing Up Blended series, in which we invite someone to look back on their childhood and reflect on growing up in a stepfamily. What we, you and I, the listeners, get from this is insight and some perspective about what it's like to be a kid, to be a child growing up in a stepfamily and on family dynamics.

If you like what you hear, I want you to know there are multiple previous episodes of the Growing Up Blended conversation that's a part of our podcast. So just scroll back through our list. We've got well over a hundred podcast episodes available now, and a number of them have the subtitle Growing Up Blended, so just take a look.

If you listen to a number of those conversations, I think you'll discover you really get some good insight into your kids, stepchildren, what's going on with children as they move back and forth between homes. So that's what we're doing here today.

You grew up in a blended family.

Marshall: I did.

Ron: Do you mind, just back up a little bit, what happened that brought about that blended family for you?

Marshall: My mom and dad were never married.

Ron: Okay.

Marshall: It was just me and my mom growing up. When I was 11, 12ish, through church, my mom met who would eventually become my stepdad.

Ron: Okay.

Marshall: They met there, and they actually met because in Sunday school one morning me and this other guy—it was his first Sunday—we sat by each other, and we decided instead of listening to the lesson we were going to cause trouble. [Laughter] And so, we immediately bonded over our—

Ron: I like the way you kind of got soft in your voice “to cause trouble.”

Marshall: It's true. It's funny when you think about it. Well, we literally bonded over the fact that we were like, “Hey, instead of listening to this man teach the Bible, let's throw stuff.” So that's what we did.

Ron: Is that right? —throw big stuff or little stuff?

Marshall: Papers and Play-doh. [Laughter] Yes, I don't know. Anyway, I don't remember much. I just remember that me and this kid named Joseph bonded really quickly and it was actually crazy. We start talking about our family, start talking about our grandparents. And he's like, “My grandparents live in this town called Brookhaven.” And I was like, “Oh, that's where my grandparents live.” And then we find out they live close to each other. It's just crazy. We become friends instantly, and then, through our friendship, my mom and his dad met. I'll never forget the day.

Ron: Wow.

Marshall: I hadn't seen my mom one night for like an hour and I go to her bedroom and like, “What are you doing?” and she's on the phone. She's talking to Joseph's dad. I'm just like “Joseph from church?” you know, anyway. [Laughter]

Ron: “The guy I got in trouble.” Or maybe you didn’t get in trouble.

Marshall: We got in trouble, but crazy tons of details in all of it. But the Lord brought us together and even cool that our families were in the, from the same town.

Ron: Oh wow.

Marshall: You know, so when we ended up, Thanksgivings and Christmases and stuff like that were super easy.

Ron: Okay.

Marshall: Oh, super cool.

Ron: Okay. We're going to come back and pick up that story at that point. I want to back up a little bit. So for ten or eleven years, mom was single?

Marshall: Yes.

Ron: Okay. And what was life like for you growing up single parent home?

Marshall: Yes, a little different. So my dad was around-ish. My dad was married to another lady. My mom was not a believer and so I came into the picture and my dad was kind of living two separate lives a little bit. He had this life over here and then he would come and see me sometimes, but he didn't live with us. I thought it was normal. But he coached my baseball team, but then he would leave. I didn't think much of it, because when you just grow up with it, you don't realize.

It's kind of a weird thing, but at the same time, it was just me and my mom, you know? So, didn't know any of my dad's family. I grew up just my mom, just her family. Christmas was just her family. Thanksgiving was just her family. My dad was sort of there, but not really so it was just me and my mom.

Ron: Yes. Do you remember looking back, having longings for more time with dad or it was cool the way it was?

Marshall: Both.

Ron: Okay.

Marshall: As I got a little older, you know, I started realizing, like, my next-door neighbors, their dad's always there, right? Like, they, he goes to baseball games and comes home. I remember specifically, like, on Christmas mornings, having to wait to do presents until my dad got there and not really realizing, like, “Well, where has he been?
What is this?” you know, I just didn't understand it. And as I was getting older, yes, the longing was starting to come out more. Like, yes, I need—

Ron: Do you mind, older, what age would that be?

Marshall: Probably nine, ten, I think, is when I started—maybe even a little younger. I remember like when my dad would show up, I would be like, “Let's go outside and throw the ball.” You know, things like that. And he would do that, you know? It wasn't like he was a bad guy. He would do those things, but again, he would leave.

Ron: Sure.

Marshall: So the things that I got older that I really noticed was like, he wasn't there for dinner. He wasn't there for all the other things. So again, when you grow up in it, you don't think about it. But as I'm older, and as I'm a dad now, I think, like, “What did my dad do for this?” And I was like, “Oh, well, yeah, I don't know.” But the Lord is so good, right. And ultimately, he gave me a dad in my stepdad. And ultimately, He's a good Father, too but, you know—I know we'll get into all that.

Ron: Yes, no, it's really part of it. And at the same time, and here's one of the things we talk about around here a lot, is yes, the Lord redeems. And at the very same time, right alongside of it can be disappointment and sadness and grieving over something that wasn't, whatever that was. That's really the human experience, even of the Lord's hand of redemption in our lives, along with the sweet is some of the bitter. And my guess is even now as an adult, now that you're a dad—how many kids you got?

Marshall: Three.

Ron: —three kids, you know, you're in the deep end of the ocean with parenting and managing kids and all that kind of experience that constantly, my guess is makes you just sort of reflect back on your life, your childhood, your relationship with your biological dad and your stepdad and yes, that's the way life works. It's sort of this cyclical ongoing thing.

I'm curious. You as a father now at this season of the life that you're in, any reflections on, wow, those single parent years and what that was like and what you longed for with your biological dad? —that maybe you just didn't know as a kid?

Marshall: I think just the importance of being there for all of it, right; like, bath time, you know, when I give my kids a bath or my son watching me shave. [Laughter] He's just so fascinated by it. Just little things that I'm like these little moments matter and praying at the table and all these just little things that are so important. Just me as the man of the house, as their dad just pointing them to Christ.

And yes, I always go back and like, “I wish I had that.” I'm thankful again how the Lord directed my life to give me all that eventually. But it's huge, man. Like this, the father role in the house, just one of those things—again, when you grow up without it, you don't necessarily think much about it, but it is a big, big deal.

Ron: And that's one of the things I just want to say to our listeners and viewers is, you know, one of the cool things that God gives us an opportunity to do is to be the change agent in the generations.

Marshall: Yes, that's right.

Ron: That we get to do better than maybe was done for us. And we get to turn the corner, so the next generation gets to experience something in a more positive way.
So, good for you; kudos.

Marshall: Well, that's one thing I do with my kids is I want to be there for everything. Because my dad wasn't, I'm like, “Well, I'm going to be there for all the things.”

Ron: Absolutely, absolutely; good for you. So, Mom meets this guy because you and Joseph came up with a fun idea. I'm curious, when you were telling the story just a minute ago, and mom was on the phone with Joseph's dad, do you remember how you felt in that moment? Was it a little startling, or were you like super excited?

Marshall: It was all of the feelings, right? So, again, I was kind of getting to that age of, I have a dad; y'all aren't together. I feel like you should be. I knew he was—there was another lady in his life. I didn't at that time know they were married. I was still young.
So that was all kind of swirling in me about this time.

And then I hear my mom is on the phone with this guy. I remember also just being excited. Just thinking like, “Oh, you're talking to Joseph's dad.” You know, like, if they become a thing, I get this guy. So I'm just an only child, right? It was a lot of emotions at once, right? I'm like, “What about this man? What about this man,” right? You know that and what comes with him, this other and he had another son too. So it's like—

Ron: Okay, “I get two brothers.”

Marshall: Yes. I mean, it's just crazy. There's so many—you know, no one's ever really asked me that question, but I specifically vividly remember the moment. All of it. I remember what my mom was doing, how she was sitting, like how her expressions, just when she was talking to this man named Joe and a lot of emotions. I ultimately, I walked away like, “Awesome,” because I think my mom was happy. I was like, “Oh, Mom’s happy.” It was a weird time. I was young, still figuring it out.

Ron: Sure. Sure.

Marshall: If I would have been 13, I don't know. I might've handled it different. I might've gone and been like, “Bye Joe. Let's talk.” Yes, I don't know.

Ron: Yes, yes, right. So I'm hearing a little confusion because you have this swirl of emotions and it's hard to sort through all that stuff. It’s hard for us 57-year-olds to sort through all that kind of emotional stuff, let alone to be 9 or 10 trying to figure it out.

So there's that going on and there's excitement and you see mom is happy. Can't tell you how many times I've heard kids say, “But I saw a smile on my mom's face or my dad's face.” It just was like, “This is good for them.” And you're so invested as every kid is invested in their parents’ wellbeing. And you can't help but be drawn to something that makes them feel good. And sometimes that cuts two directions for kids, by the way. I'm wondering about you. Excited for mom; was there ever a time where you kind of felt a little torn about, “I lost my mom,” or “I lost a part of my mom”? Was there any of that or was there, “Wow, this is big adjustment for me.” Or was it just all sort of—

Marshall: And they’re dating?

Ron: Yes—at any point in the process.

Marshall: No, I never felt that way. I never felt like, “I'm losing some of my mom.” She may go back and be like, “You don't remember when you—” but I do not vividly remember or specifically remember a moment feeling that way. I was just super excited just seeing her be so happy and even—so there's a lot of depth to Joe's story and how the Lord brought that together and in seeing him happy and seeing His sons be—I mean, it was just this beautiful moment. Everybody was just so happy, and it was the Lord, right? The Lord in His goodness brought us all together.

I always tell people, you know, like when Jesus is talking to his disciples and he says, “Who do people say I am?” Well, “Elijah...” I know this may sound silly, but the Lord has many facets to who He is, right? —good, holy, Father. But I also would say I really think he's a family man. Like he's all about the family and He just brought a family together, right? He took two broken things and brought us together for our good, His glory.
And I just think we were all so happy, right? They were just—we didn't have time to question or doubt.

Now that did come when my real dad kind of came in and started prying a little bit. That was the moments where I started, “Oh, I didn't think about that,” which is interesting, right? Like, those were the moments where I started asking the questions and feeling some— It's when my mom married Joe and I started thinking of him as the stepdad, right? Because of what things my dad was doing.

Ron: It sounds like the transition into mom and Joe being together was a happy transition.

Marshall: It was beautiful. Can I actually?

Ron: Yes.

Marshall: So two sides of the coin here. My mom, pre-Christ; we move from Mississippi—we move out of a bad area of town to a nicer area to live. And just that whole story meant how God provided and brought us out of where we were. But just me and her, single income—you know, didn't have the money, but the Lord provided us a house, great neighborhood.

I'll never forget the moment. Neighbors come over, and they're talking, and they got to talking about religion, and heaven and hell come up. Never gone to church in my life; I'm like seven years old. I remember my mom telling our neighbor, “You know what, Hell if it's real, I'll probably go there; but my son, I'm going to do everything I can that he won't go there.”

Next day or two, we go to church. And I'm like, “Why are we waking up early on a Sunday?” [Laughter] We go to church. Well, by God's grace, because of that, my mom becomes a believer. You know, over time, going to church, my mom radically falls in love with Jesus. I just love this part of my mom's story. She was an adult, and she didn't know anything, and she—I'm going to kids church every Sunday morning and she decides to be a volunteer in kids’ church.

Ron: Okay.

Marshall: I'm learning Bible stories for the first time and she's sitting there with me, right? [Laughter] It's just such a cool moment. I'm hearing about Daniel in the lion's den and she's like, “Wait a minute, like this guy got through.” I say that to say so she becomes follower of Jesus. I become a follower of Jesus. My neighbors have seven kids, right, and so I get to be about eight and I'm like, “I want brothers.” My mom tells me, now; she's like, “I didn't know how to tell you.” They don't just pop up on the doorstep, right?

Ron: That's right.

Marshall: But here's what I did know. I was told that God hears us when we talk to him, so just to ask him. I prayed every night. I said, “God, will you give me a brother? God, will you give me a brother?” My mom said for years, she just was like, “I don't know; I can't; I don't know what to say.”

Ron: She heard your prayers; she didn't know what to do.

Marshall: On the flip side of this story, same town, you know, a couple miles away, there's Joe. He's married to a woman named Janice, and they have two sons. Joe comes down with cancer. In the middle of him coming down with cancer, Janice comes down with cancer, and so they have cancer at the same time. So both of those boys see the effects of all that and Janice passes away and Joe gets better. They watch their mom pass away and they're just—he's just kind of in a state of depression.

As he's kind of coming out of that; specifically, one night, he ended up watching a sermon on tv one night. The preacher was talking about “Just ask God for what you need, what you want. He hears you.” And so, he says his story and he's like, “I remember specifically saying, ‘God, I need a mom for my boys.’ And he's like, ‘If I could just be honest with you, I'd love her to have blonde hair. I'd love her to have a strong personality.’” [Laughter] What's funny, it's my mom to the T.

So he's asking all this, and I'm over here asking for brothers, right? And then the Lord takes these two broken things and brings—

Ron: Man, beautiful.

Marshall: Well, what I tell my—Joe, my stepdad, I call him Dad now—what I tell him is, “Man, you got the package deal. You got my mom, and you got me.” [Laughter] But it's cool and I got two brothers out of the deal too, and a father and just so cool how the Lord did all that.

Ron: I got to just pause and say I was rereading the book of Ruth and was reminded that whole arc of that whole book is about tragedy, and God looking after people who have been through hard, and caring for them in ways that provides for them in terms of family. And ultimately bringing about His purposes in the form of the Messiah who ends up being one of the great, great, great, great, great grandchildren of Ruth. It's an amazing story, and it's a familiar story, and there's still tragedy in the midst of it. There’s still hard and difficult and painful in the midst of it and yet God is there. Thank you for sharing that.

Marshall: Oh, yes.

Ron: I'm curious, like in the beginning days, like they get married, and you guys all hop in one house together. What was life like? What were some of the logistics that you can recall? —good, bad, ugly, what was that?

Marshall: It was great! They sell their house. My mom tells the story of she's at their house cleaning it to sell it and they're going to move into our house. And the reason that was—their house was actually bigger—but the reason they came to our house is because you've had three boys living together for a few years now, and it was just trash. [Laughter]

My mom tells the story. She said, “I remember looking under the TV stand and seeing something, and I pull it out, and it's a whole large pizza that had probably been sitting there for years, that had like hardened.” Then my brother's like, “Oh yeah, I remember hiding that there.” So it was gross.

Ron: So, sold that house.

Marshall: Yes, sold that house and they moved in with us. The only thing that, I mean, honestly changed was my mom's bedroom door was shut and locked now. You know what I mean? [Laughter] Like, seriously. But besides that, I was just, I was living the dream. I went from no brothers to two brothers, and the hardest thing in my life at that time was like, having to share the video games. You know, I remember, I'm serious, right? I remember my little brother, Jonathan, deleted a save. I was like, “Why would you delete this?” And he's like, “I”— you know, he's like seven.

Ron: Yes, he didn't know.

Marshall: For us, it was just perfect. There was never an awkward transitional season. I feel like, honestly, maybe part of that is because, you know, their mom had passed away and my dad was really out of the picture completely. We didn't really have that conflicting part.

Ron: I want to talk more about Joe and what he's meant to you in your life. Before we do, loop back around. So, your dad, sort of got more involved once Joe came into the picture?

Marshall: He did. He did a little bit. When he realizes, like, my mom's getting serious with this guy named Joe, he just, he doesn't want to let go of, you know, and so he—

Ron: —a little envious or possessive, maybe.

Marshall: Yes, yes, yes, yes. It's a great way to put it, actually. And they hadn't been a thing for a long time. My mom came to Christ, and they were just kind of in each other's world, but not, there was no relationship at all. And she kept, you know, he's my dad, so she let him come around.

Ron: Sure.

Marshall: But yes, he kind of raised his head a little bit and would say things, you know, “He's not your dad. I'm your dad.” “When you get to this age, you can come live with me.” At the time, you know, all of a sudden, I went from, I really liked Joe, to like, “Oh, he's not my dad.” I'd never thought that, but he was planting these little seeds in there, kind of bitterness, and I'd you know—again, I'm a little kid.

Ron: And dad means everything to you, of course.

Marshall: Yes, and that was the hardest season. I say all that also to say, I said bye to my dad one night and then a week later he passed away.

Ron: Wow.

Marshall: Yes, and sad and all that but at the same time, like what could have gotten worse, just ended.

Ron: Yes. How old were you?

Marshall: —twelve.

Ron: Okay.

Marshall: I was maybe 12.

Ron: So mom and Joe hadn't been together long when—

Marshall: Oh, they had been married maybe a year when my dad passed away. And you know what is so cool, just to brag on my—when I say dad at this point, I'm talking about Joe.

Ron: —fair enough.

Marshall: My dad, you know, got to look at him and tell him about Christ, you know, and they talked about it in my mom's driveway, right, as my dad's getting some of his stuff out of the house that my mom let him keep there.

Ron: How long did it take you to start calling Joe “Dad”?

Marshall: Not that long. Okay. You know, you see a guy love your mom well, and he loves me, and he loves the Lord—maybe a year; maybe a little longer. I don't necessarily remember. I just, I remember the moment telling him I was going to, because I called him Mr. Joe forever, “Mr. Joe, Mr. Joe.” For sure that whole, until my dad passed away, I just called him Mr. Joe. There was not going to be—

Ron: Gotcha.

Marshall: “I'm not going to call you dad.” I had a dad.

Ron: Yes.

Marshall: And there was no disrespect from me.

Ron: No, none.

Marshall: But then my dad passed away. I remember being at my grandparents’ house and it just me and him were on the back porch. I just remember wanting to call him “Dad.” How do I tell him, you know, and I was like, “Hey, Mr. Joe, if you're okay with that, I’m going to start calling you Dad.”

Ron: Do you remember how he reacted?

Marshall: Oh honored. He probably wept. I probably walked up, you know, I was like, “I'm going to throw the football now.” And he probably wept, which I get. And he's been Dad since then.

And they started calling my mom, “Mom,” very quickly. I mean, they started having full course meals all of a sudden. You know, they were having gummy bears and McDonald's all the time. [Laughter] It's like, seriously, that's all they were eating and all of a sudden, they started eating homemade meals and they're like, “Can we call you Mom?” [Laughter]

Ron: It's funny how that happens.

Marshall: Yes, yes, and it's also just really sweet. We still talk about Miss Janice, you know, and I look forward to the day of meeting her in heaven one day. We talk about, you know, my dad, and it's not a weird elephant in the room. We're like, “Yes, the Lord took things that were broken and brought it together, and it's beautiful.”

Ron: Sounds like you and your stepbrothers, call them brothers—

Marshall: —brothers.

Ron: —you know, you guys hit it off fast. If they were sitting here, and I was talking to them, and you weren't in the room and they just, you know—

Marshall: They would both say I'm their favorite brother if that's what you're asking.

Ron: That's where I was going. That's exactly what I was going to say.

Marshall: Yes, yes. I love them.

Ron: Would they say they had to work into that brother relationship with you? —into the mom relationship with your mom? Or would they say, “Yes, it took a little while, but boy, happened quick”?

Marshall: —happened incredibly quick, especially for my youngest brother, Jonathan.
He was like a baby. He was like seven years old, so my parents were dating when he turned eight. He might have turned seven, might turn eight. I don't remember. I remember my mom being a big part of his birthday party and they hadn't even gotten married yet and he was in such desperate wanting a mother. I don't even think they were married yet. He was like, “Hey Mom, Mom.” So no, it wasn't hard for her.

And for my brother Joseph, I do not remember it being hard for him. I think there was just a little bit of, because he was older. You know, he watched his mom pass away.

Ron: Kind of your age?

Marshall: Yes, he's actually like six, seven months younger, but same grade, so maybe a little harder for him, but I don't remember it being anything.

Ron: Sounds like you; it was a year there your dad was still alive, and things changed a little bit. Your relationship with him developed and deepened.

Marshall: I know they were calling her “Mom” way before I was calling him “Dad.” But I do remember once that happened, it just completed it. It was like, “Hey Dad, you're my dad.”

Ron: My little commentary to our viewers and listeners is, we have written prolifically about this topic—what do kids call parents, stepparents; what do stepparents call their children—and the right answer is there is no right answer. The right answer is the one that you co-create with children and adults, and you decide together what feels right.

But everything, Marshall, that you've been telling us is a good illustration of that. There are other factors, especially in a child's heart and mind, that come into play for them. Sometimes those are significant; sometimes they're not. The younger the child, like your younger brother, the more easily they, kind of move towards momness or dadness in terms of labels.

So you let a child have their own pace with all of that. You let them find their comfort. And so if it's Mr. Joe for a season, then let it be Mr. Joe. And it might just stay Mr. Joe for some kids. And that's okay too, right? You don't have to reach Mecca with dad. You don't have—that's not the point. The point is relationship and not a label, and so labels often reflect relationship, but you're less worried about the label and more interested in—

Marshall: That’s good. And I think even when I called him Mr. Joe, he had all my respect and honor as a father figure. I mean, there was no—I mean, if he told me to do something, I was like, “Yes, sir.” You know, like, you married my mother, right? I walked my mom down the aisle, by the way. Like, it was a big, like, for her, it was like, “I want you to be the one,” so it was a cool moment, which, as a kid, I was like, “Okay.” Now, I'm like, what a cool thing to do. But it's kind of like from that moment, you know, I viewed him in that regard.

Ron: What role, through and through, has Joe played in your life?

Marshall: Oh, he's been huge, just the dad I didn't have. You know, as soon as, once he was there, he was there. I've learned so much from him. He's awesome. He's a great guy. I mean, you name it. It was also just such a pivotal time in my life when he came in.
I was still a kid-ish, kind of becoming that young teenager and just watching how he loved my mom was a big deal. And just to his credit, you know—so Miss Janice's family was still a big part of our life, right? I remember the tension of that moment and so—I'm kind of going on a rabbit trail here—

Ron: No, no, no,

Marshall: I remember—it's okay—the Thanksgiving where we go meet them. I remember walking in, and they were just—they took me in instantly I never felt like the odd stepgrandkid. I walked in and they were watching a movie, like, “Come hang out, man.” Never felt this weird—and again, I point back to just Christ was in the middle of all that. I called their grandmother my grandmother. You know she passed away a couple years ago, and I remember preaching her funeral and just getting to tell everybody, like, “I'm her stepgrandchild, but also a little more removed than that, and I never felt that.

Here's what's funny. The first Christmas, my parents aren't married yet. And she gives all the grandkids a little bit of money, and she gives me the same amount. And I'm like, you know, “What's up?” You know, I look at Joseph and Johnny, I'm like, “Did y'all get a hundred bucks?” We didn't get a hundred bucks. And every year after that, I got everything the other kids got. I never, you know, from the moment I stepped in, or my mom and I stepped in, we never felt the awkward tension of step or it's just—“No, we're family,” which is such a picture of the kingdom, you know, and just such a big deal.

Ron: I got to say, around here we say, possessiveness divides, grace connects.

Marshall: That’s right.

Ron: Grace is who Jesus was. He was always welcoming the outsider in. Man, what an amazing thing that your grandparents did that.

Marshall: Oh man, and both sides. My grandparents brought them in and. I remember when my grandfather passed away a few years later, my brother Joseph took it harder than me. I was super upset, right? I only grew up with my mom's parents, so that's all I knew, and I was devastated. My brother Joseph, who only knew our grandfather for three years, I mean, he took it hard. It's just cool, not the passing away part, but just the fact that he bonded so quickly. It's just the Lord. I just always point back to the Lord and how the Lord did it.

And one thing I know this might be helpful for people is, I've never asked my parents, I've never thought about it until this moment, but—so my dad sold his house, moved in with me and my mom, and we lived there maybe a year, and then they sold that house and we moved into another house. I think that was also helpful because it felt like, “This is our home,” you know, because up until that moment, I would refer to that as “This is my house,” not meaning anything by it but it was just “I grew up here. Y'all joined the party.”

Ron: That's right.

Marshall: That's fine but then something happened—

Ron: Yes, it’s a little more of, your and mine became ours.

Marshall: Yes, that's right. And when we uprooted from there and moved right down the street, it was “our” home, right? It was our home and that was a big deal for us too. Like, this is the house that the Lord brought us close and made us family. But anyway, I don't know if that's a thing. Like, maybe there's something psychological to that.

Ron: Oh, there is, there is. Just the fact that you language it differently creates this different climate for everybody that you're just talking about. Well, I imagine you got a bunch of Joe stories.

Marshall: So many, so many.

Ron: Is there one that just sort of captures what he's meant to you?

Marshall: I had some friends that were older than me that were really big in the theater and did big plays and stuff. They were like, “You'd be really good at this, you should try it out,” so I did it. I got a lead role in a play and as a freshman and I was nervous and all the things that come with that or whatever. I just remember we had four or five shows over a course of a week. I didn't know until afterwards that Joe, he came to every one.

Ron: Wow.

Marshall: All of them, it's a high school production, you know what I mean? Like, one's good enough.

Ron: Two would be fantastic.

Marshall: Yes, I mean, wow. And you're paying money, right? You're paying, I don't know how much back then, but ten bucks, something. But, you know, ten bucks five times. You spent fifty bucks, and you came to every single show. And I didn't know that. My mom told me. I don't even know if me and Joe have ever even talked about it. That was awesome; that was really cool. Like, you could have come to one, but you came to all of them, by himself. He was proud of me; that was a cool thing. I assume he'll be listening to this, so thanks, Dad. I love you.

Ron: On behalf of Marshall, thanks Joe.

Marshall: And sorry. I'm sure he's like, “Why didn't you tell him this?” I don't know, in the moment.

Ron: Did you tell him how strong I was and good looking and all those things?

Marshall: That’s right. And humble. [Laughter] He's great. He’s awesome.

Ron: You know, one of the things we talk about around here is how when stepparents go the extra mile and the kid sees it, there's something that can happen. You know, not that it will definitively, but it plants a seed that it's hard to deny “You are fighting for me,” “You are on my side,” “You are claiming me,” by showing up five times at a play, a production. There's something in that that says, “You're loved,” and “I'm here,” and “Wow.” That's pretty cool.

Marshall: Big deal; huge deal.

Ron: You're in ministry now.

Marshall: Yes

Ron: I'm just curious. What could the church be doing to, for kids’ sake, for students, for couples in blended families? Feels like there's space there for the church to improve, and I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts about it.

Marshall: Because I grew up in a blended family, it's not weird or awkward to me. I think people that maybe have never been around it, they don't know how to approach it or talk about it; or they just assume things are good and, you know, giving space for, I'm going to use students, or even kids. Like, let's talk about it; let's process that. I don't know, it's kind of this weird—you're like, “I don't want to single you out because you're in a blended family,” but at the same time. You know, maybe the bigger need is like, let's get these parents with these parents to talk about it a little bit. I don't necessarily have like a right answer to that.

Ron: No, no, no, what I hear you saying is acknowledge it.

Marshall: Yes, acknowledge it.

Ron: And don't be afraid of that territory.

Marshall: Absolutely.

Ron: For you, it's very natural for you to do that because that's part of your story.

Marshall: Oh yes, I'll walk right into it. People are like, “Well…” I'm like, “Oh cool, so was I.”

Ron: And what I can tell you from doing this for over 30 years now, most pastors don't walk right into it—a little cautious, guarded, you know, sometimes unsure if they're bringing up a sore subject or, you know, “Should I not go there? I don't want people to feel judged.” Or, you know, I think a lot of pastors have all the right motives but are just unsure. And what I hear you saying is, “No, it's okay, step in.”

Marshall: To not bring it up, I feel like it's more of a disservice. Like you may bring it up and it is a sore subject but at least you tried.

Ron: Yes.

Marshall: Bring it up; just bring it up. And I think that in any situation, right? I think that's what we're called to do is shepherd people and love them and just get through the awkward. I say that in this situation, it's easy for me, right? You bring another situation and I'm like, “Well…”

Ron: Yes, yes, yes.

Marshall: I say that with as much grace as possible and as a kid that was in it.

Ron: I'm just connecting a couple of dots here as you're talking about this ministry. I'm thinking about your dad and your grandparents, stepgrandparents, just extending their invite and how powerful that can be. It's the same thing that the church does when we acknowledge, when we step in, and that's good in the home, and that is good in the church house.

Marshall: Yes.

Ron: Marshall, thank you for being with me.

Marshall: Yes, absolutely.

Ron: I appreciate it.

Marshall: Yes, it's great to be here.

Ron: Thanks for sharing your story. I just got to say to our audience, if you liked it, again, let me remind you, we have a number of other Growing Up Blended episodes, so take a listen and I think you'll get something really positive out of the other conversations as well.

We appreciate you leaving a rating or a review. That always helps somebody else find us if you leave a comment. You can always email us at, and that'll reach us, and we would be happy to pray for you or offer whatever kind of support and help that we can.

And if you make a tax-deductible donation of any amount to FamilyLife Blended this month, we'll send you a copy of The Smart Stepdad. And hey, if you already have a copy, give it to somebody else. It's Father's Day month. Maybe it'll serve them as well. We'd appreciate you considering doing that. If you haven't subscribed either to the podcast or on YouTube, please do so. We don't want you to miss future episodes.

In addition to all of our online articles and videos and print resources, we've got a few things coming up that I want you to be aware of. The next Women and Blended Families Livestream is going to be on June 11th, 2024. Gayla Grace hosts that second Tuesday of every month so the next one is coming up soon. And if you miss it again, it's on social media: Facebook and YouTube so you can always go back and watch that.

I'm going to be doing a virtual Preparing to Blend leader training. That's coming up August 7th and 8th for our next time. We do that periodically for leaders and couples that do premarital counseling with pre blended family couples.

I'm going to be speaking in Charlotte, North Carolina in August and Houston in November.

And please make plans to join us for the next Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. That's coming up August 10 and 11, 2024. It is going to be in Dallas this year. Better yet, invite a pastor, maybe a few other couples to join you and come as a team. We've noticed that when churches send a team of people, they come back, and they are excited and they're sharing the vision together and you'll change some lives for the kingdom when you return home. So, check the show notes for more details on all of those events. Or again, you can email us

Well, next time, I'm going to be talking with Sabrina McDonald about her new book, A Home Built from Love and Loss. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.

I'm Ron Deal. Thanks for listening or watching. And thank you to our production team and donors who make this podcast possible.

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