If my parents had never divorced, I would’ve never had the honor of having Brenda (Bren, for short) as my stepmother. I don’t think anyone ever gets married hoping for a divorce. It is a horribly tragic, rending affair. Yet, one of the things that sometimes happens in the wake of that tragedy is that a new marriage is built out of the rubble. That is how I got to have Bren in my life.
Both of my parents remarried after the divorce. Since my brothers and I were living with my dad, we added a stepmother to our household. I was in my freshman year in high school when they got married, my brothers were 12 and 9. Bren, who had no children, married into a testosterone-laden, pimple-popping, awkward-acting, b.o.-stinking boys club. I can’t imagine how intimidating that must have been. She performed admirably, though. From the outset, she made it clear that she was not trying to replace my mom, though she hoped that we would have a close relationship. She expected the same respect I would give any adult in a position of responsibility over me. I hope that I gave it to her!
Bren gave me the gift of confidence. I was (am) someone who deals with a lot of second thoughts and self-doubt. This was intensified in my freshman and sophomore years in high school (isn’t that true of everyone, though?). Bren turned to an unlikely place to instill some confidence in me: math. Yeah, that’s right, math. I was struggling with algebra in high school. I’d never really been that bad at math, but algebra was difficult for me. Bren, who is quite gifted in math, obtained a teacher’s edition of the textbook we were using in my algebra class (the Saxon method) and we would review the lessons and she’d help me with my homework.
If I hesitated when I came up with an answer (and sometimes when I didn’t), she’d ask me “Are you sure?” At first, I took this to mean that my answer was incorrect and that I should try again. That wasn’t always the case. She was trying to separate my desire to please her or my teacher with correct answers, from my ability to do the problem and know I’d done it correctly. That is a valuable life lesson. Sometimes, you need to know you’re right, even in the face of doubt.
Bren has offered her ear to me on many occasions. I am a lot like my dad and there were many times that he and I got angry with one another. Bren would run interference or serve as peacemaker, calmly moving between the two of us, brokering a better conversation and explaining the position of the other. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about my dad from those conversations. I’m convinced that my dad and I have a great relationship because she was able to diffuse so many hostile situations.
I’ve also been privileged to have Bren and my dad as a model for what a successful marriage of two equal parties looks like. Theirs is the only marriage I’ve observed closely. Both of them have been through painful, unwanted divorces and both of them wanted to make sure that their second marriage wouldn’t meet the same end. So they put in a lot of work. Honest communication has been the centerpiece of their success, coupled with the ability to admit fault and ask the other for forgiveness. Sometimes, it’s more important to be forgiven that to be right.
They’ve spent the majority of the marriage helping others through the pain of divorce. They have launched a couple iterations of the national ministry DivorceCare, and were instrumental in the creation of DivorceCare for Kids. Every Thanksgiving, their table is filled with people who are going through, or have gone through, a divorce. Bren has mentored dozens of women through anger, fear, bitterness, sadness, and feelings of worthlessness. She’s opened the eyes of dozens of men to the ways their words and actions are perceived by members of the opposite gender.
While Bren will likely never be publicly recognized or remembered for these things, their effects will ripple throughout generations. Loads of marriages, including my own, owe their success to her words and actions. Those stronger marriages will raise kids who see their parents modeling a healthy, successful marriage for them. Her work will last for generations. I’m so fortunate to have her in my life.