A Chance to Love Again
About the Guest
God can create beauty from ashes. Michael and Gina Spehn, who both lost their spouses to cancer within a few months of each other, tell of the marvelous way God crossed their paths each with the other in order to build a new family of seven.
God can create beauty from ashes.
A Chance to Love Again
Bob: Michael Spehn was a father of three, and Gina Kell was a mother to two boys. Both of them lost their spouses within a month of each other. They decided it would be good for the kids if they got the families together so the kids would know they weren’t alone in what they were going through. Here’s Gina.
Gina: It was a refreshing evening because there was so much laughter. It was kind of raucous, really. The children were so much just like themselves. They were just so kids. It felt so normal, and okay, and comfortable. The fact that you hear yourself laugh like that—out loud—for the first time in a really long time—that just feels good.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, June 11th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Michael and Gina Spehn join us today to talk about the surprising new chapter God had in store for both of them. We’ll hear their story today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. We’re visiting this week with a couple whose story was recently featured in a Hallmark® Movie Channel movie, called The Color of Rain. I want to start today by asking you an impolite question, right off the bat here; okay?
Dennis: You’ve asked a lot of different styles of questions over the years, but impolite—
Bob: Impolite. This is just one—
Dennis: —that means you’re going to be rude.
Bob: No, this is one of those questions you don’t talk about in public company. I just—I want to know, “Have you ever imagined”—I know you’ve had situations—Barbara had her heart race 300 beats a minute for awhile. You wondered if she was going to die in the midst of that situation.
Dennis: On four different occasions—that’s correct.
Bob: Have you imagined Barbara dying and whether you would date again?
Dennis: Well, because she faced death on four different occasions—especially, when we were raising our kids—we talked about: “What would happen if…” and the need for the children to have a mother and me to have a companion. Barbara and I have had that conversation. We’ve discussed that. It is not a pleasant conversation, I have to say.
Bob: It’s hard to even imagine what that could be like, or what it could feel like, or how falling in love could happen again.
Dennis: Well, it’s such a fleeting thought. It’s not something that you imagine in any kind of robust Technicolor®. It’s kind of like you go visit that spot—and you go: “I don’t like that. I’m not there yet. I don’t have to do that; but if I have to, ‘Okay, we’ll go there.’”
I do know that Romans 8:28 is not just a sweet verse that we quote to people: “All things do work together for good to those who love God and to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Bob: In your case, Barbara did not die from those 300 beats per minute.
Bob: They did a medical procedure that was able to correct her heart problem.
Dennis: About 20 years ago that was done. We’ve been free of extra heart beats, except when I kiss her. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, but—
Dennis: If you can be impolite, I can have a little fun.
Bob: I’m not going there. I’m not going there at all. The couple we have been hearing from this week—have not only had to imagine that—they’ve had to kind of experience: “What is life like once the love of your life is gone?”
Dennis: They have. Michael and Gina Spehn join us again on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome back.
Michael: Thank you.
Gina: Thank you.
Dennis: Michael and Gina live north of Detroit. They have five children between them. As we’ve talked about this week, Gina and her first husband, Matt, suffered through a three-year period of cancer that ultimately took his life and left you with two children. Interestingly, Michael’s wife, Cathy, went to your husband, Matt’s, funeral and was there—not knowing that, within six weeks, she would die of brain cancer—a very rare type of cancer that took her life in, actually, 17 days from the time of diagnosis.
I just have to pull back to the big picture—as you write about in your book, The Color of Rain, and ask the question: “How did you guys meet?”
Michael: Well, we have, perhaps, the world’s worst “How I met your mother” story in history; but—
Dennis: I mean—what a drama to set between you two folks—and then, all of a sudden, we’re sitting here. You’ve got quite a story to tell.
Michael: Yes, well—
Bob: Your wife had told you, on her death bed, to call Gina; right?
Michael: She did say that in her last hour. She said for me to call Gina Kell. I had never met Gina. In fact, didn’t even know what she looked like; but at her visitation—at Cathy’s visitation—I saw mutual friends of Cathy’s together. I just assumed, “That woman there must be Gina.” I approached her, introduced myself, and asked her to sit with me for a moment. She was kind enough to do that.
The first thing I asked her was, “How are your children doing?” because this was going to be a frightening experience for me—being a single dad. My children were nine years old and younger. We talked about the kids, and we talked about her experiences. After a while, we just sort of looked at each other. We were looking across—at mirror images of each other.
The funeral home was teeming with people from Cathy’s life and from my life. I looked at Gina and I said, “You know, you and I just met; but I think you’re the only one I know here tonight.”
Bob: So, when Michael came up to you, and grabbed you, and wanted to talk to you, were you taken aback by that?
Gina: Yes, I mean, he definitely startled me. You left out the part where you hugged me right away. I didn’t know who was hugging me because, frankly, there were so many people there because Matt and Cathy had gone to the same schools—many similar faces.
I thought, “Well, maybe this is a high school friend who I don’t recognize,” or something; but I quickly realized that this was Cathy’s husband. In that moment, I just understood that: “Okay, he’s just—he needs to be understood right now. I’m going to go sit with him and talk with him.” It was very—there was no sort of spark, of any kind, at that point.
Dennis: Michael, you’d been married to Cathy for 12 years. Gina, you’d been married to Matt for 13 years. I mean, the parallels on this are amazing. How did you ultimately come to see one another in some other form, other than two grieving spouses who had lost the love of their lives?
Gina: Well, on the very first time that we ever got together—as a group / as a family—which was just about the only way we ever did. We always got together with our children. The first night that we did that—the title of the chapter in the book is called “Dinner with Strangers” because we didn’t know—none of us really knew each other—but we get together.
It was the most normal, remarkably easy—in fact, many times very inappropriate. The children—the noises at dinner, the one kid accidentally squirting ranch dressing all over her shirt and all down her front, the milk spilling, and all the normalcy of it. It was this one moment of us, looking at each other, going, “Okay, we’re going to be okay together here—me and you.”
It wasn’t like, “We’re going to get married and have a new family some day.” It was just this connection of: “We get each other. We’re in the same place. We all are kind of—
Michael: In the aftermath of losing your spouse, so many people are very solicitous—very walking on egg shells—trying not to upset you / trying not to challenge you in any way. So, in walks this fiery, Italian lady here—
Gina: That’s me. [Laughter]
Michael: —who, for an evening, essentially, took over my kitchen and ordered me around and said—
Dennis: Well, now, I want to figure out how she got into your house, at that point!
Bob: Was this at your initiation—
Bob: —that you called and said: “Bring the kids over. Let’s have dinner”?
Michael: What happened was—it had been a couple of weeks—several weeks—since Cathy’s funeral. I brought the children back to church for the first time. We’d taken a couple of weeks off. Gina found out that we had been at church. She sent me an email saying: “Good for you. I’m glad to see that you’re back in worship. If you’d like to get the kids together sometime, feel free to call me.”
So, what was odd was that—now I had had Cathy tell me, “Call Gina,” and now Gina herself was saying, “Call me.” So, for the sake of the kids—to let them know that there were other children, just like them—that they were still normal / that they were still going to be okay—we decided, “Let’s get the kids together for a dinner.” So, we did; and it was crazy.
Dennis: That was all there was to it, Gina—“…just get together for dinner”?
Gina: Well, there was. I mean, it’s true when I say there were other families in our church who were—actually, they were women who were widowed. I’d done the same with them. I said: “Let’s get our children together. The best thing we can do for our kids is to let them know they are not alone—that there are other children, just like them, who understand them.”
So, I’d reached out to them. I’d reached out to Michael in the same way. He invited us over. He said, “I have a freezer full of food that my neighborhood has put together for me.” He said, “So, they are all like mystery-chicken dishes.” He said: “Come over. You don’t have to cook anything.” I said, “Okay.”
That’s out of my character—I like to cook—but I did. We went over, and the—
Michael: She did—there was a moment, after the kids—we sent the kids down to the basement to play after dinner. The two of us were kind of sitting on the couch, looking at each other, and shaking our heads a little bit. At one point, I just simply said out loud, “How is it that you’re here in my house tonight?” She had really no other answer but to say, “By the grace of God.”
Gina: I really believe that. It felt like we were friends immediately—not only because we had a shared grief—but we also seemed to just really connect as people.
Bob: Did you initiate a next time?
Gina: There was one thing that happened—which was that I was working at our church at that time. I had taken a position in the office there. I had previously been doing a lot of volunteer work there in the Marketing Department. They had asked me if I would like to be involved in a project to bring life to this atrium, out in the hallway.
Every time I ever did a project for our church, there were always two things that were missing. One was a budget and the other one was somebody who had the ability to do graphic design / artwork and those types of things because I lack in that skill.
So, when they asked me to do this project at the church, I said, “Absolutely,” because, first of all, I knew that they had a budget; but then I also now had met somebody with this background in photography and graphic design.
I immediately called Michael. This was an opportunity for he and I to, now, work together. What began as a friendship and getting the kids together was now, “Hey, we have a project to work on together for this church that has so taken care of all of us.” What an opportunity for he and I to now give back a little bit of something to them.
Bob: Did the thought enter one of your minds to say, “I think there’s something more here than just being friends”? Did that start with you, or did that start with Michael?
Gina: Actually, I think it started independently, probably, for both of us; but you never want to say it first or be out loud with it. I would talk with my dearest friend in the world, Colleen, who I write about in the book. She is an important person in my life. She would come to me first and go, “What’s going on between you two?” I’m like: “I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it.”
Part of it was that I didn’t—you know, there are sort of rules—society has rules—too soon and: “You are callous,” and you wait too long: “You need counseling.” You know what I mean? There is sort of this sense of that. I had none of that, but there’s a little fear that goes along with this. There is this risk factor. When you begin to feel that way, you don’t want to say it out loud right away.
Michael: My children—just a couple of months after their mom died—they huddled, as I was butchering another dinner in the kitchen. They huddled together over a piece of paper in the other room. I said, “What are you doing?” They said, “We’ll show you after dinner.”
They present me with a contract that they drew up in their own hand with pencil. I’m paraphrasing, but I’m pretty close here. It said, “I, Daddy Spehn, promise to never, ever, forever marry another woman unless I get the approval of my darling children.” [Laughter]
“Otherwise, I will face crying, screaming, and worse.” [Laughter]
Dennis: There were threats!
Michael: There were consequences spelled out. I had—just like you—I had a great laugh. I said: “Give me a pen. I’ll sign this right now.” I kept it in my office—in a very prominent, secure place—you know, the things that are important to young children in those moments. I was happy to say, “I’ll sign this.” That contract remained in my office for the entire time.
Then, as Gina and I became closer to each other, we started considering, “What would we do?” We never showed outward signs of romance to the children. We never held hands in front of them. We never kissed in front of them. We just were very close friends.
Even when we did decide to try and test the mettle of this relationship by travelling together—you know, airport delays do bring out the worst in everyone. We stayed, with both families in separate quarters, but completely together.
Bob: Okay, since I’ve already given myself one impolite question—
Bob: —you didn’t kiss in front of them—
Bob: —but tell me about the first kiss you had that they didn’t witness.
Gina: Yes. We had spent many nights together, as a family, and having dinner together. One night—it was in the summertime—late summer—
Dennis: When you say spending nights together—
Michael: Evenings is what she means.
Gina: Not the night—no, no, no.
Dennis: Yes, well—
Gina: Although, we did let the kids have sleepovers with each other. We would tell them—
Gina: —very specifically because my kids would say, “Well, can’t you just stay with us?” I’d say: “Yes, I can’t. I’d love to stay here, but I can’t because grown-ups don’t have sleepovers.” I taught the kids that.
Michael: We didn’t even stay on each other’s couch. It was: “That’s my house, and that’s theirs. If the children are going to have a slumber party, that’s great; but adults don’t do that.”
Dennis: Good for you because there is such a thing as co-habitation today.
Michael: Oh, yes.
Dennis: A lot of people could hear us talking about this and assume that. So, keep going.
Gina: Yes—no! We did not want to teach our children that because, someday, they are going to be older—then that’s going to be okay for them.
We had had—the children—we had dinner. We were sitting out on what we call the Happy Patio. It’s this patio off the back of the house. It’s just beautiful. There were flowers blooming all over it. Every time we were out there, it just seemed like the evenings were just perfect out there. We just really enjoyed each other’s company, and the kids seemed happy and wonderful.
That particular night—they had come to us and said, “Mom and Dad, can we have a sleepover?” They begged and begged. “Okay, yes, yes, yes.” So, they stayed the night, and we tucked them in. We sat down on the patio. It was getting very late and kind of cold. He just pulled me in very close. He very—he, actually, asked and I didn’t even have to answer—we just had a really nice, sweet kiss.
Bob: So, did you know, the night of the kiss, where this was headed?
Michael: I knew where I hoped it would lead and, again, much relied on our children.
Bob: There was still a lot that had to be tested; wasn’t there?
Michael: Yes; there was still a great deal for us to go through and to intentionally walk that walk.
Dennis: How did you get permission?
Michael: Well, that’s an interesting story. Eventually, we sat down as a family. We weren’t officially a family, but we had a bit of a family meeting. We finally blurted it out and said, “Guys, what would you think if we were to become a family—and Mom and I—Momma Kell and I were to get married?” Well, the room exploded. They just jumped up. They were laughing and saying, “Whoop!” and, “Yay!”
Gina: They wanted bunk beds and a dog. [Laughter]
Michael: They immediately started with their demands; but my three children took off, running for my office to try and retrieve the contract. I said: “Where are you going? Where are you going?” My daughter said, “Dad, we have to tear up that contract; otherwise, you have to go to jail.” [Laughter]
Gina: That’s great.
Dennis: So, they gave you permission?!
Michael: That was permission; yes.
Dennis: I have to ask you this question: “What has been the biggest surprise of what it’s like to blend two families together?” You both can answer this.
Gina: There are some. I will tell you, though—and I don’t know if it’s because of the way we did it—leading into being married—but it’s been, for us, it’s been a very seamless transition. We’ve had minor bumps along the way.
One of the things that—I will tell—that we’ve never done—we’ve never used the word, “Step.” I’ve never been called a stepmom. I’ve never referred to any of my children as my stepchildren. We are mom and dad—they are our children. That’s something that we didn’t really have to think about too much. I mean, it just seemed to naturally occur that this is how we wanted to live. We wanted it to be okay to love new people and to not have to qualify it somehow.
Michael: Yes. We also keep their late mom and dad very present-tense in our world. Gina still gets to be in love with Matt, and I’m still very much in love with Cathy. There are nine people in our family—it’s just two of them have already been called home.
Dennis: So, did your children change their last names, Gina?
Gina: They have not, actually. Interestingly, that’s one of the things that we’ve—they wanted to keep their dad’s name. They want to still have that name. I honor that completely. In fact, I am Gina Kell-Spehn. I keep both names because he is still a part of who they are. They still love him. He was a wonderful man, and he left an incredible legacy. For them to carry that name—I think is wonderful. In fact, we’ve talked about—
Gina: —them doing what I did—which is to add the name. That conversation has come up, but we’ve never done it officially.
Michael: There hasn’t been a big need to do that, although the boys have talked about possibly doing it because, when they get—especially, when they get a little older and they start going to the high school where I coach and those kinds of things.
They’ve talked about it. I think, because we have not made it a priority: “It doesn’t matter what you’re called. It matters what’s in your heart,”—I think that has given them comfort.
Dennis: Okay, what’s your biggest “a-ha” about a blended family?
Michael: My biggest a-ha?—the blending of traditions. Each family, as it goes through its tenure in this world—they develop their own traditions for Christmastime, for instance—or birthdays.
Michael: Bringing those together, which requires—not only your immediate family but then those next tiers of family and friends, who participate in those traditions—whether it be in-laws, aunts, uncles, close friends. We have been terribly blessed with a twisted, crazy family tree, comprised of people who have just really opened their hearts and gone with the flow of our craziness.
We’ve blended those traditions very intentionally. Some of them have been—I’m a Cubs fan—just to talk about a superficial thing. I’m a die-hard Chicago fan, but I have two sons who are die-hard Detroit fans. We now, you know—we sit and watch all the Detroit games together. Those times, as father and son, are terribly important; and I’m not faking it. If my boys like the Tigers, well, “So do I.” Those kinds of things—even the superficial moments between parent and child—are terribly important during those years. Gina and I have been very intentional.
Bob: It is a good thing they are in opposite leagues; isn’t it? [Laughter]
Gina: Yes, a little bit.
Dennis: There could be—
Michael: You noticed that too; huh?
Dennis: —there could be a civil war in the blended family—no doubt about it. Well, thank you, guys, for sharing your story.
I think your book, The Color of Rain, is going to be used in a lot of people’s lives to bring perspective, and hope, and encouragement—maybe call them back to their Heavenly Father, like you write about. Thanks for being with us.
Michael: Hope so.
Gina: Thank you.
Bob: I need to just real quickly, Dennis, mention that Ron Deal, who heads up FamilyLife Blended, is going to be hosting an event in Washington, DC, on Friday, October 3rd. This is the Blended and Blessed Summit. It’s for people who are involved in ministries to blended families. There are going to be folks who work at local churches, who are involved with this kind of ministry; para-church organizations—anybody who has a heart to want to help strengthen blended families and help those families survive and thrive.
If you’d like more information about what Ron is going to be doing in Washington, DC, or if you’re interested in attending, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link at the top of the page that says, “Go Deeper.”You’ll find a link for the Blended and Blessed Summit in Washington, DC, on Friday, October 3rd.
Find out how you can attend. Of course, the next day is the FamilyLife I Still Do™ one-day marriage event in Washington, DC. So, come spend the weekend with us in Washington, DC, for the Blended and Blessed Summit and then the I Still Do one-day event for couples.
Of course, on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, we’ve got information about Michael and Gina Spehn’s book, The Color of Rain. You can order that from us, online, if you’d like. That’s at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the link at the top of the page that says, “Go Deeper.” The name of the book: The Color of Rain. Order online or call to order at 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when Todd Starnes, from Fox News, is going to be here. We’re going to talk about religious liberty—is it eroding in our country? What are some examples of infringement on religious liberty? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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