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Notebook Lifestyle

Better together

The Simmons Family (Handout)

Lifestyle

Better together

Christian blended families say faith helps steer them through relational problems

When people ask Little Rock, Ark., resident Roosevelt Simmons about his five children, few are prepared for his answer. “I have a 20-year-old, a son and a daughter who are both 18. I’ve got a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old.” When a follow-up question about the 18-year-olds comes, he explains they are two months and 10 days apart, but they’re not twins. The startled questioners “don’t know where to go after that,” he says.

When Roosevelt Simmons married his wife, Shannon, he already had two children from previous relationships. The Simmonses have now been married for 18 years, and while the Christian couple says they made some “disobedient choices” in regard to past relationships, they know their family of seven is no mistake in God’s eyes. They are among the many American couples seeking to navigate life as a stepfamily, or “blended” family.

Ninety percent of blended families form after one or both spouses have experienced a divorce. Twenty million Americans have gone through a divorce, and about 3 out of 4 remarry. The average wait time is four years, which means that about one-third of all weddings produce stepfamilies—and close to half of those stepfamily unions also end in divorce.

All of that can lead to social chaos. Unrealistic expectations, unexpressed loss and grief, battles with ex-spouses and stepchildren, and problems in combining holiday and family traditions are among the common pitfalls that threaten stepfamilies.

Handout

The Miller Family (Handout)

Andrew and Kari Miller, from Cumming, Ga., married four years ago after their spouses died. Their blended family includes five boys and four girls—all between the ages of 8 and 20. “When a parent dies,” says Kari Miller, “that person is held up to a very high standard because they’re not here, they’re just this magical, perfect being.” Kari says that’s a hard act to follow—and it’s one of the biggest issues facing families like hers.

‘When a parent dies, that person is held up to a very high standard because they’re not here, they’re just this magical, perfect being.’ —Kari Miller

The Millers say their Christian faith has been a key ingredient in the strength of their family. “Galatians 2:20 [“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”] has been with me since I first became a new believer at the age of 21,” Kari says. “Sometimes it feels as if I’m being crucified, because in order to stay in this family I have to give up myself … and the dreams I thought were going to come true.” Contentment, she adds, comes from “knowing God has a different plan and every single day I have to trust Him.”

Roosevelt and Shannon Simmons credit faith for supporting them as well: “Because we are on the same page, we are able to navigate through our blendedness,” says Shannon. “We rely on the Holy Spirit to help us apologize and forgive each other when we fail.”

Rebirth and remarriage

Buford, Ga., resident Ron Sheintal’s first marriage lasted five years and produced two children. Not long after his divorce, he married again and had another child. His second wife also brought two children to the union from a previous relationship. That marriage also ended in divorce: “Things seemed to be crashing in on me pretty hard.”

Sheintal, who is Jewish, says a co-worker took notice: “This gal, Mary, started sticking Scripture notes in my mailbox. … She seemed to recognize I had some pain and was pretty confident she had the solution.” Mary invited him to church, and he eventually went: “I had the distinction of being the only Jewish guy, the only white guy, and the only guy with a ponytail in the church.”

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The Sheintal Family (Handout)

Sheintal became a member of the First Baptist Church in his suburban Atlanta community. There he met his third wife, Dianne. She says she remembers him walking down the church aisle at his conversion “with tears in his eyes and that ponytail. I thought that was neat that he was Jewish and got saved.” The couple has been married now for 23 years—and that has made an impression on Sheintal’s other family members.

“My siblings knew me before I became a Christian,” he says. “They knew my insanity, my foolishness. So as I became a new creation, the Holy Spirit was working in me.” Sheintal says family members attributed his transformation to external factors: “That Dianne is pretty good; look at all the changes going on in Ron.” But, he says, “I told them Jesus changed me before she would even have me.”

Sheintal says, “Two of my three kids are also walking with the Lord.” He says when they were younger, his faith in Jesus made the difference. “It would have been a battlefield to have my first two kids on the holidays.” Instead of fighting with his ex-wife, Sheintal found Jesus showing him a better way: “It didn’t mean we wouldn’t have Thanksgiving. It just meant we might not have dinner on Thanksgiving Day.” —M.B.