New Faces at the Table
By Terri Clark
one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he
does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will
not match the old. ~ Luke 5:36
The wallpaper in the children’s guest bathroom gave me nightmares.
It looked like a big coloring book with partially colored characters of
children playing happily all over the walls. The uncolored characters
seemed to beckon any child who entered the room to pick up their crayons
and finish the job. In fact, my husband obliged these happy little faces
on the wall by giving his daughters crayons while they sat on the potty.
Wisely, I held my tongue after seeing this wallpaper, but a notation was
made in my mind to change it as soon as possible.
After Harvey and I married, my children and I moved into the house he
had shared with his ex-wife and daughters. Because my husband’s
business is located on the adjoining property, moving to another house
was not an option for us. I didn’t mind living in this house, but
the very thought of embellishing it with my own personal style of décor
was energizing. Being a new bride, I was anxious to remove all traces
of its former occupant.
As it turned out, complications in the property settlement from my husband’s
divorce prevented us from making any changes to the house. I was destined
to live with those little faces on the bathroom walls for another two
years. When the time finally did arrive, enabling us to make changes in
the house, I was more than ready.
Approaching my husband with the idea of changing the wallpaper in the
bathroom seemed simple enough, but I was unprepared for his response.
He said, “The girls love that wallpaper, and besides, my ex-wife
didn’t pick it out, I did!” I don’t know why it hadn’t
occurred to me before—only a daddy would choose that awful paper
and then give his kids crayons to color on the walls! He explained that
he wanted to encourage his daughter’s creativity.
My argument was straightforward and had two points: First, the bathroom
in question was a guest bathroom as well as the children’s bathroom;
I was worried about giving my guests nightmares. Second, if this was to
be my house, I wanted to decorate it my way.
This debate continued for several weeks, usually on laundry day. The
laundry room was at the rear of the bathroom in question. Those little
faces sneered at me from the walls every time I walked through the bathroom
to change a load of clothes. To my relief, Harvey finally relented and
the faces came down. The wallpapering was done while the girls were with
their mother for summer visitation.
The new wallpaper was a simple design, matching the southwestern décor
in the rest of the house. Harvey’s house was finally becoming my
Everything was going well—until the girls came home on their weekend
visit. They didn’t seem to mind the main part of the house being
decorated in my style, but when they went into their bathroom and there
were no happy faces to greet them, attitudes changed. In their eyes, I
had done more than just replace wallpaper; I had removed a vital connection
to a past they were clinging to. The reality of their parents’ divorce
was still an open wound.
It wasn’t really the little faces missing from the walls that posed
a threat to the girl’s world; it was the new faces at the dinner
table. Although Harvey and I had been married for more than two years,
the wallpaper change was a rude reminder of the fact that Dad was married
to someone else. Adding sting to this tender wound was the realization
that my children and I were living in their house, making changes while
they were away.
Whenever two previously established families come together, everyone
sees new faces. In fact, there were several new faces at our table. From
Harvey’s vantage point and mine, it was a marriage made in heaven.
We actually thought our kids would be glad to see us happy.
Our children, however, were seeing these “new faces” at the
dinner table not as guests but as replacements or intrusions. From Harvey’s
daughters’ perspective, my three children and I were the new faces.
From where my children sat, it was Harvey and his three daughters who
Everyone at the table viewed the new faces differently from the old ones.
The new faces didn’t share the same memories, habits, mannerisms
or even looks as the old faces. For instance, when my daughter talked
about gymnastics in the third grade, only her brothers and I could remember
it. When Harvey’s daughter told of their dog, Peewee, and his funny
antics, we couldn’t visualize it because we had never seen him.
Peewee was a part of the girls’ lives long before my children and
I entered their world.
My daughter and I love to make a silly “monkey face.” My
mother, brother and several of my cousins in another state make the same
face because we all have the same shaped mouth. Harvey’s girls have
tried to make this face, but they can’t do it. Our physical bodies
are completely different. Harvey’s daughters are fairly tall, blond
and have fair complexions. My kids, on the other hand, are short and dark-haired
with olive complexions, like me.
Habits and disciplines are different as well. My children were used to
a set bedtime and had regular chores. Harvey’s daughters were permitted
to stay up later if they were watching a video, and life was generally
more laid back.
What does this mean? We would never blend because we didn’t share
memories, looks or habits? Of course not! However, in order for the old
and new faces, regardless of perspective, to come together and actually
become a family, a certain amount of stretching and shrinking had to occur.
My point is illustrated in another of Jesus’ parables. Luke 5:36
“No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one.
If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the
new will not match the old.” (NIV)
I used to do a fair amount of sewing when my children were young. Because
of my experience with cloth, I could easily relate to this parable. To
patch an old pair of jeans with a new piece of denim, it is important
to wash and dry the new fabric before sewing it into the old jeans. If
I get lazy and skip this step, my work, no matter how skillful, pulled
Expecting everyone in the newly formed household to instantly become
a family is like sewing a patch of new denim into an old pair of jeans.
Before an old pair of jeans can accept a patch of new cloth, this stiff,
new fabric has to be “worn” a little and experience some shrinking
and softening. In other words, a new piece of cloth must be properly “aged.”
When the whole family moves in together—or even when part of it
is separated, as in the case of another parent having custody of the children—everyone
in the blended family has to make adjustments emotionally as well as physically.
Each child needs to be affirmed and encouraged as to where they fit into
this new family. Likewise, a new stepparent needs to allow time for everyone
to adjust to these new faces, gradually and gently assuming a position
Excerpted from Tying
the Family Knot; Meeting the Challenges of a Blended Family,
by Terri Clark. Published by Broadman
& Holman Publishers Nashville, Tennessee. Used by permission.
Clark is a Christian author and speaker from Pearcy, Arkansas.
In 2001, Terri Clark was invited to speak and minister in Uganda,
East Africa to help evangelize the remote areas of Uganda and
Kenya. Since then, she has been involved in the effort of planting
and nurturing churches in this part of the world. All proceeds
from Terri's ministry, whether by speaking or writing benefit
the Ugandan Outreach. For more information visit www.terriclarkministries.org.
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