On July 23, 1982, Sharon and I were married at Mechanicsville United Methodist Church where I was serving as pastor. We had met a year earlier at Woody’s Funeral Home when I did her grandmother’s funeral. Having each been divorced, our marriage was a fresh start for us, and for the children we each brought into the blending of a new family.
Having failed at marriage, starting over was a giant step of faith. We needed, and received, the support of our families, both church and biological, and our friends. More than that, we needed God’s grace and guidance, which we received in abundance.
Our district superintendent told us about a group called the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment (ACME). We became involved, learning new skills in communication, dealing with our emotional “baggage,” and relationship-building that gave us a strong foundation. In time we attended leadership training with David and Vera Mace, ACME founders. We led marriage enrichment retreats, and even served a term as leader couple for the Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia Region of ACME.
We soon discovered a realty we hadn’t weighed. When Sharon and I married each other, that didn’t mean our kids automatically fit together as a family unit. Some people thought calling a step-family a “blended” family, would “fix” the issue by changing the focus. In reality, what was needed was “bonding” with each other, respecting each other’s separate identities, and intentionally working at identifying and building a common bond. Couples facing these tasks needed a supportive network. To address this, Sharon and I formed The Stepfamily Connection. Under the umbrella of Mechanicsville UM Church, we held monthly meetings with other stepfamilies, sharing experiences, skills and resources. The group existed until I was transferred to a different church.
Stepping into the role of a pastor’s wife at “mid-stream” brought challenges of its own for Sharon. It also brought new spiritual growth and a deeper sense of God’s love, strength and redirection. A full-time secondary teacher, she soon found building a new family unit required primary attention. She moved to part-time teaching.
“Fresh starts” continued to occur. Spiritual growth opened new vistas of God’s call in Sharon’s life. After a few years she went back to graduate school for a Master’s Degree in Counseling, then went through the steps to become a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist. She spent fifteen years helping other’s find their own fresh starts.
Today, Sharon and I are celebrating thirty-five years of marriage. We could never have become the persons we are today without the bonding God has given us in our life together. When she went through a neurological crisis, we wrote a book about the experience in order to help others. I have continued a life-long artistic expression through painting, drawing, and writing. We’ve had struggles and triumphs, and most of all, no matter what, we’ve had each other.
We’ve also learned that around each corner, if we keep faith with God and each other, there is the promise of yet another life-enhancing “fresh start.”