A Tribute to Cheryl
About the Guest
At the memorial service for Cheryl Spangler, Mathew Spangler reflects on the years spent living with his stepmom. He remembers times he spitefully told her she was not his mother. But she assumed that role regardless. Mathew shares a moving tribute to his stepmom Cheryl, whom he calls "mom."
Ron DealRon 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
At the memorial service for Cheryl Spangler, Mathew Spangler shares a moving tribute to his stepmom.
A Tribute to Cheryl
Bob: When Matt Spangler was just a boy, his dad, Sandy, got remarried. All of a sudden, there was a new woman in the house. Matt wasn’t so sure what he thought of this woman that his dad was now calling, “My wife”.
Mathew: I remember arguments—spitefully telling her that she was not my mother. She knew differently and willingly assumed that role, no matter what. I think sociologists would call us a blended family, but I prefer to think of us as a hybrid family. Somewhere, between my ages of 11 and 21, we had become the Spangler family hybrid, grafted together by God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 5th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We have the opportunity today to hear a stepson pay a tribute to his stepmom. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. We have, this week—had an opportunity to hear from a couple who experienced a radical transformation, in their lives and in their marriage, a number of years ago. Dennis, as we’ve listened back to the conversations we had with Sandy and Cheryl Spangler, a little touch of sadness—because of the events of this year.
Dennis: Yes. In fact, what our listeners need to know was—the impact of a Weekend to Remember® was so dramatic upon their lives, marriage, and family that Sandy and Cheryl decided to join FamilyLife staff—
Dennis: —and had been serving here until Cheryl was really stricken with a very aggressive form of cancer and, ultimately, has taken her life this past year—but in the process of [the cancer] taking her earthly life, she is breathing what Bill Bright referred to as celestial air in heaven.
Bob: Yes. One of the reasons that we wanted to feature these interviews this week is because our team wants to encourage you to do what Sandy and Cheryl did, two decades ago.
Bob: We’d love for you to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. We’re going to be hosting these weekend getaways in more than four dozen cities across the country this fall. It is a great two-and-half day getaway for couples. It is a fun, romantic weekend away, together, where you can get the biblical blueprints for building a stronger marriage.
Dennis: This is a great getaway if you’re engaged or contemplating engagement. It’s great for the rookie season of a marriage relationship—just getting started. You couldn’t have a better start than to go to this. It’s really great to take good marriages and move them to an even deeper level of intimacy and growth, as a couple. And yes, it is also a great place for a couple who are struggling in their marriage. In fact, almost every weekend, Bob, we hear stories back from couples who came to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—really on the last legs of their marriage—
Dennis: —and at the conference, like Sandy and Cheryl, they found the hope that they needed—the blueprints that provided that hope—and left the conference with a practical plan to know how to build a great marriage.
Bob: Well, the reality is most of the couples who come are doing preventative maintenance. They are couples who are there for a great getaway. But there are some, as you said, who are coming—in a dark place in their marriage. They find hope, and they find help. One of the ways we are trying to provide some additional incentive—because we know we’ve got listeners who are saying: “You know, we’ve always wanted to go to one of those. We’ve just never gotten to it.”
Well, if you sign up this week—actually, the deadline is a week from Sunday—but you sign up to attend a Weekend to Remember, and you let us know that you listen to FamilyLife Today—it’s a buy one/get one free offer. You sign up for yourself—your spouse comes at no additional cost. You save half price on the Weekend to Remember this fall; but we need to hear from you. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can register, online, if you’d like. If you do that, you’ll want to enter my name—you’ll want to put “BOB”—in the promotion code box in order to take advantage of the special offer. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today. You’ll qualify for the special offer; and then, join us at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway this fall.
You mentioned that Cheryl Spangler went home to be with the Lord, earlier this year. We’re going to get a chance to visit the house of mourning today.
Dennis: Yes, in Ecclesiastes 7, it says, “It’s good to go to the house of mourning rather than to the house of feasting,” because it’s the end of every person. Every person is going to die. It’s healthy for us to go to a funeral to really contemplate and think about our lives and reflect on what God’s doing in our lives. We’re going to do that. We’re going to hear from Cheryl Spangler’s stepson.
One of the more interesting things about their marriage is they had one stepson that Cheryl’s husband, Sandy, brought into their marriage. They ended up having a daughter—a biological child—as well. They formed a stepfamily. So, we’re going to hear from Mathew Spangler as he gives a tribute at Cheryl Spangler’s memorial service.
Bob: And we’ve asked Ron Deal to join us on today’s program because Ron gives leadership to the FamilyLife Blended Ministry. Ron, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Ron: Thank you. It’s always good to be back on the broadcast.
Bob: You had a chance to be at the memorial service. You were pretty moved by what this stepson shared about his stepmom.
Ron: There are so many good things about this. I don’t even know where to start.
Bob: Well, let’s listen together to what Mathew shared at the memorial service. Then, we can talk a little bit about it, after we hear his comments.
[Previously recorded audio]
Mathew: For all of my adult life, my parents have been discussing and talking about leaving a legacy; but I can honestly tell you that the first thing that popped into my mind, when I sat down to write this, was constantly learning the value of a crisp, hospital corner when you’re making your bed. [Laughter]
My mom had a great deal of wisdom. She shared it with me and everyone else all the time. Most of it, I utilized; and what I didn’t, it was usually to my detriment. [Laughter] One of those is—I have not made my bed with hospital corners since I moved out and went to college. [Laughter] But I have a couple of lasting memories that I will treasure about her forever. Here’s just a taste of some of the idiosyncrasies about her that made her my mom.
I hope that this sounds familiar to you and it makes you smile, like it does me. Soft-serve ice cream is the only ice cream that is worthy to be on a cone. A sundae without hot fudge is nothing more than ice cream with fruit sauce. Curled potato chips—you know the ones that fold in the middle—are worth fighting over. And a properly vacuumed room will have those symmetrical lines that run straight and parallel. [Laughter] If you haven’t moved the furniture, you haven’t really vacuumed. I can’t fully explain the satisfaction and the memory that it gives me of my mom when I’m ironing and I get a good, crisp line on the shoulder of my dress shirts.
I remember her teaching me how to drive a stick-shift. I remember us getting stuck out in the country road. I was puttering along, and I kept stalling the car out. I got pulled over by a park ranger. He came up to the window and told us we needed to find a safer place to do this, where it wouldn’t be quite so dangerous. My mom looked up, past me, through the window, and looked at him and said: “We’re in the middle of Leroy. This is the middle of nowhere. Where are we going to find anywhere more secluded?” [Laughter] He left, and we just kept on stalling home. [Laughter] My mom was not very easily intimidated.
She taught me the proper viscosity of homemade gravy. She taught me to slow dance before my first middle school dance. [Emotion in voice] She explained the importance of giving my wife flowers for no other reason than just to give her flowers. She told me to pay attention to my future mother-in-law before I proposed because chances are my wife, Stacy, would be just like that. That was good advice that I did take to heart and did make good use of.
This all sounds pretty normal for a mother and a son, but our relationship was not a cookie-cutter relationship. One of the most important memories I’ll have of my mom is learning how to graft plants together. You might recall, from seventh-grade science class, how you slice plants and you stick the stem of one into the other to root a plant. I remember—I remember doing that in an experiment in seventh or eighth grade, thinking it was very cool. But that experiment is not quite so cool when you’re life is that metaphorical stem. [Emotion in voice] The cutting and the grafting is painful. My mom spent a good portion of her life grafting severed families together—and that started with her own.
This is going to sound kind of funny to some of you—but until I was out of college, I called my mom, “Cheryl”. I’m sure most of you can guess that she’s not my birth mom, but I know that she realized that she was my mom before I realized she was my mom. I know this because I remember the exact conversation when it took place. We were discussing the planning of my wedding. I was 21, and she was asking about what our plan was—whether my birth mom would be there or not.
Perhaps, I should give a little bit more context. My dad and my birth mom, Nancy, were separated before I was even in school. Cheryl and my dad got married when I was six. By the time I was in fifth grade, my life with my birth mom was pretty complicated. I ended up moving in with my dad, and that began a grafting of our new family. Nancy remained an inconsistent and unhealthy part of my life. By the time I was 21, she was pretty much completely out of my life.
As mom and I were discussing the planning of my wedding, she was worried. She wanted to know if Nancy was going to be there—if she was, “Who was going to light the unity candle?” I remember that conversation taking me off-guard because never, for one moment, did it even occur to me that anyone other than Mom would light my unity candle. [Emotion in voice] That was reserved for the mother.
After that conversation, I was beginning to understand what I think she already understood—that somewhere, between my ages of 11 and 21, we had become the Spangler family hybrid. We had been grafted together. I remember arguments—spitefully telling her that she was not my mother. She knew differently and willingly assumed that role, no matter what. We have no common blood; but we have been grafted together, by God, as mother and son. I think sociologists would call us a blended family; but I prefer to think of us as a hybrid family that was grafted together by God.
Paul uses a similar illustration in Romans—where he discusses the adoption of the Gentiles, as children of God, by grafting them into the roots of the nation of Israel—into one family. My family is a painfully beautiful illustration of that concept. God has woven beautiful symmetry into my life through my relationship with my mother. I’m her adopted son. [Emotion in voice] I’m father of two adopted little girls, and I’m an adopted child of God.
When this day passes and today becomes tomorrow—becomes next week, becomes next year—I will remember my mom’s legacy this way—as someone who leveraged everything that she had to graft severed people and severed families into God’s hybrid family of Christ. Thank you.
Bob: Well, we have been listening as Mathew Spangler reflected on his relationship with his stepmom at her memorial service, just a few months ago, as Cheryl Spangler went home to be with the Lord.
Dennis: Yes. As I was listening to that, Bob, my mind was just flooded with all kinds of messages that Mathew was sending about the love of his mother and how God did, indeed, graft them together. I love his concept of hybrid families. I guess I want to ask Ron Deal, who heads up FamilyLife’s Blended Ministry, “What stood out to you, as you listened to that tribute?” It was powerful; wasn’t it?
Ron: It was awesome! It’s the tribute that I hope, to some degree, his stepmother, Cheryl, got to hear from him. I would wish that every stepparent, living today, would be able to hear this tribute because it’s the words they so desperately want to hear. What I loved about it—guys, is it was honest; and it was real.
Ron: It was a journey for them. You know, I had a little contact with Mathew, after he gave this testimony. He shared with me—you know, earlier on, they had some real conflict—he and his stepmom. Mostly, he said, “We were just kind of fighting over time with Dad.” He said, “I remember saying to myself, ‘Wait a minute! He was my dad long before he was your husband.’”
So, they had their conflicts. This was no easy journey for them. But over a period of time, what happens is—the outsider, Cheryl, becomes the insider. I just want you to listen to that for a minute. To me, that’s so powerful. What he is saying is, “God does that for us;” right? Jesus spent His whole ministry career turning outsiders into insiders—spiritual outsiders into spiritual insiders. That’s what grace does for us. Cheryl, as a stepmother, spent her career turning that outsider relationship—that she had with her stepson—into an insider relationship.
Bob: It sounds like she had the wisdom, as a stepmom, not to try to force the relationship to be more than Mathew was ready for it to be.
Ron: Yes, I think so. You know, a lot of times, I think step-parenting comes down to the mundane aspects of life. You know? So, she’s teaching him how to drive. She’s teaching him how to cook gravy—
Dennis: How to fold the bed sheets.
Ron: —how to iron his clothes. A lot of step-parents look at me like, “Okay, Ron, give me the three-point plan to win this stepchild’s heart and for our life to be harmonious.” Well, you know, I kind of think most of the plan is just walking out life together and doing so with grace, and mercy, and just showing yourself to be somebody who has something to offer. One of the ways you share you care to a child is just by teaching them life skills; and she did that very, very well.
Dennis: And she lived life on purpose, too. I love his summary of her legacy: “As someone who leveraged everything she had to graft severed people and severed families into God’s hybrid family.”
Dennis: And that’s why they threw in their lot, here in FamilyLife, to want to see other families find the Savior—just as they had found Him at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—and how He had transformed their marriage, and redeemed it, and gave them a message to pass onto others. You know, back to your point, Ron, a stepson got that message.
Ron: That’s right.
Dennis: That’s cool.
Ron: That’s right.
Dennis: That’s really cool.
Bob: And I have to think there are some step-parents—who listen to a tribute like this and, right now, where they are, they are thinking—
Bob: —“That would never—my stepson/stepdaughter would never say words like that about me.”
Ron: I did the math. He talked about when he was six she came into his life. When he is 21, he finally realizes her significance. She moves from stepmom to being “Mom”. Now, notice what he said about her—she knew she was his mother, long before he realized it. I found that so profound. I think that is a common experience for step-parents.
They know what they are doing for the children—how they are giving to the children—and really, they kind of have a sense of how significant they are in the life of a child—but for whatever reason, it takes the kids a lot longer. So, do the math. Fifteen years—she lives, not knowing that he has finally embraced her, in that capacity, in his life. That’s a long 15 years. I think there are a lot of step-parents, listening right now—and I just want to encourage them—to say, “Persevere.”
Bob: You wrote a book for stepdads called The Smart Stepdad; and co-wrote a book for stepmoms called The Smart Stepmom.
Bob: Cheryl sounds like she was a smart stepmom—
Bob: —before you wrote the book.
Ron: Absolutely. We should have asked her to co-write it. Yes. She did a lot of things right; and again, she didn’t realize she was doing them right—but look at the payoff at the end.
Ron: That just—what a beautiful testimony to her life.
Bob: Well, we should mention, if folks are interested in a copy of The Smart Stepmom or The Smart Stepdad, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or they can call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information on either of those books.
This would be a good place to let listeners know about something that you’ve got coming up in Dallas, later on this month. This is something that is brand-new; right?
Ron: It is. In late September, we’re hosting The Blended and Blessed Summit on stepfamily ministry. Never before, in this country or—to my knowledge—around the world, has anyone gathered together those who are invested in stepfamily ministry and blended family education. We’re pulling together leaders, lay couples, pastors, people who have written books and are writing curriculum—and we’re getting them into one room. We’re going to talk about how we can advance stepfamily ministry within the church and within our culture.
Bob: Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got a link there that will get you right to where you can get more information about The Blended and Blessed conference that is coming up in Dallas, here on September 25th. Really, it’s with couples—like Sandy and Cheryl Spangler—in mind that we’re hosting this conference because we want to see couples—who come together and experience some of the problems that Sandy and Cheryl experienced—we want to see them end well, as was the case for the Spanglers.
Dennis: And what I don’t want our listeners to miss here is that Cheryl and Sandy’s marriage nearly ended. They almost became another statistic; but instead, they went to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—just as thousands of other blended families, and intact families, and engaged couples—have come to these weekend getaways to equip them to know how to do marriage.
If you haven’t been to one of these—I don’t care if you’ve got an intact family, whether you are engaged, or whether you have a blended family and you feel like you are on the brink—you know what? Get to one of these events and do something, on purpose, for your marriage and your family, as well as your legacy.
Bob: I think the comment we hear more than any other comment from folks who attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway for the first time is, “I wish we had come here sooner,”—especially couples who come, who have been married for ten or more years, and are thinking, “Boy, this could have helped us through some of the bumpy moments in the earlier years of marriage—could have helped us develop some better habits and patterns than what we’ve experienced so far.”
We’ve got about four dozen of these events, that are kicking off this month, in cities, all across the country. This week and next week, our team is making a special offer to FamilyLife Today listeners. You can register for an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—you pay the regular registration fee for yourself, and your spouse comes free. So, it’s a buy one/get one free. It’s essentially 50 percent off the regular cost. It’s good this week and next week, and you have to be a FamilyLife Today listener to qualify.
So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can find out more about the Weekend to Remember, online. Find out when a getaway is going to be in a city near where you live; and then, register online. As you fill out the registration, type my name—just type, “BOB”—in the promotion code box that you’ll see on the registration form. That will automatically kick in the special offer.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We can answer any questions you have about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. We can get you registered over the phone. Again, just mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today so that we can make sure you get to take advantage of the special offer we are making this week and next week. It’s good through next Sunday. So, if you want to take advantage of this, you need to act quickly. We hope to see you at an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to introduce you to another couple who got to the breaking-point in their marriage before they finally got to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. And we’ll hear how God worked in their marriage and how God is using them in the lives of a lot of other couples. I hope you can tune in for that.
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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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