FamilyLife Blended® Podcast

117: Trusting God in Difficult Times

with Davey and Kristi Blackburn | July 31, 2023
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No one wants to walk through grief and suffering. But God uses hard times to grow our character, develop perseverance, and find hope in Him. Ron Deal talks with Davey & Kristi Blackburn about how to trust God's faithfulness during painful seasons and find healing and restoration through Him.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Ron Deal

    Ron 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 of books including the bestselling Building Love Together in Blended Families: The 5 Love Languages® and Becoming Stepfamily Smart (with Dr. Gary Chapman), The Smart Stepfamily: 7 Steps to a Healthy Family, and Preparing to Blend. Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist, popular conference speaker, and host of the FamilyLife Blended podcast. He and his wife, Nan, have three sons and live in Little Rock, Arkansas. Learn more at

No one wants to walk through grief and suffering. But God uses hard times to grow us up and discover hope in Him. Ron Deal talks with Davey & Kristi Blackburn about how to trust God’s faithfulness in our pain and find healing and restoration through Him.

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117: Trusting God in Difficult Times

With Davey and Kristi Blackburn
July 31, 2023
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Kristi: I think for a lot of us, when we go through it, it's not like if we're going to go through something hard, it's when.

Ron: That's right.

Kristi: Honestly, I used to be afraid of the next thing, like, I don't want to go through the next hard thing, the next hard thing. It's like, no, it's going to happen again and so now, how do we walk through it?

Davey: And how do we now have the tools from what we have learned about how to lean into that pain? In the past, you know what Kristi's saying there, is you have to go into those deep dark places of lament, of grief, of sorrow, of working through the hard things if you're going to come through and share in the resurrections of Christ, and there is hope in that.

Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most. And the reason we do that, in case you're wondering, is because we believe there is great joy in loving God and loving others, and that just makes the world a better place.

Well, just over 20 years ago, my book, The Smart Stepfamily was released. And thankfully, I'm very grateful that it has helped to advance stepfamily ministry around the country and around the world to make it what it is today. But there were some things I left out of the original edition of that book that I wrote in 2002.

In 2014, we did a revised and expanded version of that book, and there were a couple things that were different. First of all, we had more research on stepfamilies that I was able to pull from and share. And I was able to address many different parent and stepparent challenges. But there was something else that was different and that was me. I was different. See, in 2009, Nan and I lost our son Connor to a MRSA staph infection. If you don't know that story, I've talked about it many, many times because it's so fundamental to who I am today. He had his first symptom on a Saturday and ten days later he was gone.

Now that loss has completely recalibrated my life, my marriage, our family. It taught me so much about grief, about sadness, about how small I am, about where God is in the world, about grieving hard things and about pain. So I worked those insights and that experience into the expanded and revised edition of The Smart Stepfamily, the one that's available to you today. And I continue to talk about the hard things of life in my seminars. It really has changed who I am as a teacher, as a therapist, and all the other works that we have done in The Smart Stepfamily series reflect that journey to some extent.

Well, today we're going to talk about the universal experience of loss in blended families. We're going to get into the hard stuff, and we're going to talk about finding faith in the midst of that difficult journey because you've got to grieve well, and you've got to help your children to grieve well. We'll get into that in just a minute.

Recently we heard from a woman on Apple podcasts. She said, "Listen, I'm so grateful to have found FamilyLife Blended. Wish we would've found it sooner. I have learned so much from the podcast and resources, and we have grown immensely as a family, and I have grown as a Christian woman, wife, mom, and stepmom." Well, I am just thrilled to hear that. Thanks for sharing.

You might be interested, by the way, in our Women and Blended Families Livestream, that is done by Gayla Grace, hosted by Gayla Grace. They happen once a month now and they're on Facebook and YouTube. And of course, if you miss it live, you can always watch it later when it's convenient for you. We just had one the other day, so look those up. The Women and Blended Families Livestream. The show notes will show you how you can get connected.

Well, my guests today are Davey and Kristi Blackburn. They each brought a child to their blended family when they married a number of years ago. Davey's a former pastor who currently hosts the Nothing Is Wasted podcast, which Nan and I highly recommend.

As a matter of fact, Davey, I'm carrying a message from my wife to you today to tell you how grateful she is. We were able to be on your podcast. We've listened ever since. On a regular basis, my wife is referring the moms that she coaches who have lost children. She's pointing them to your podcast and many of the great things that are there. Thank you very much for that.

Davey: Wow.

Ron: It's so good to have you guys with us. Davey and Kristi, thanks for being with me today.

Kristi: Well, thank you so much for having us.

Davey: It's so good to be here with you guys. You just start, I mean, you're trying to get me misty eyed right there talking to me. [Laughter]

Oh, Ron, thank you. I mean, we respect you. We respect Nan and the work that you're doing so much that we got tuned into the blended, to a FamilyLife Blended podcast and all the stuff you're doing with blended families pretty early on, and we've tried to tune in as best we can and learn as much as we can. And so, it just means a lot to hear that from someone like you and Nan that we respect so much that it's been ministering to you as well. There's a reciprocity in the kingdom of God with the ministry that's happening there, and then how you guys are paying that forward as well. So thank you. This is just an honor to be with you.

Ron: Well thanks for being here. You know, I think this experience of loss is a universal narrative in blended families. You can't get here without somebody having experienced some sort of significant loss: death of a spouse, a death of a marriage through divorce, break of a relationship between two people that have shared a child together. Something has happened, and that's just really the beginning of the loss. Then there's all the little spillover losses that follow that, and they add up over time. You guys are no strangers to the narrative of loss.

Davey: That's right.

Ron: Everybody's journey is a little bit different. Your journey's a little bit different than some of the people that are listening right now, but I think there's a lot that we have in common. Let's just start with your story. Tell us about how you ended up coming to your blended family.

Davey: Well, both of our stories are two different stories of loss in different ways that are converged and now trying to weave that family together and graft that family together. I love the fact that you typically reference the—you know that blended is actually a terrible term because you don't just stick it into a blender and blend it up. Sometimes you try to, but that's what we're in this space of just trying to figure out how do we weave our lives together now after experiencing different types of trauma, each of us.

I was a pastor and church planter in Indianapolis in 2015 and I lost my wife and our unborn baby. They were murdered in our home, in a home invasion. We had a 15-month-old at the time, and she was pregnant with our second, as I just mentioned, and three men were on a random crime spree in our city. They broke into the house three doors down from me, watched me leave for the gym that morning and decided to break into the, to our home. Amanda, my late wife, was caught up in that and assuming that she was trying to protect our 15-month-old who remained in his crib, untouched and unharmed, she was shot then three times.

I came home and found her, and it turned my world completely upside down. And so, you know, here I am overnight trying to figure out how to grieve the loss of my best friend and soulmate and partner in ministry and partner in life and trying to be a single dad to Weston who is 15 months old, trying to figure out how to pastor the church that we started, who is also grieving, and what is my calling now that I'm half of what I was so to speak. So that's where I wound up at the end of 2015 and Kristi, you can share a little bit of yours.

Kristi: Yes, so I was married, and we had a daughter named Natalia. And just over time we realized it wasn't a healthy marriage for any of us, even for Natalia and so, we ended the marriage. We found ourselves both single parents and ended up meeting each other during that time.

Davey: Yes, we, fast forward about a year or so later, she began attending the church that I was pastoring. I had gone through this really tremendous healing process. I believe that really, the big c, Church had everything to do with it. You know our story was very public and there were a lot of disadvantages to that, but one of the advantages was that it seemed like all of Christendom just wrapped their arms around Weston and me. And if you were to build a prescription for our healing from something that great and that big of a trauma, God wrote that prescription for us. And so, a little over a year after losing Amanda, I met Kristi.

One of the most significant ways that I met her—to save all of the details. We've talked about this exhaustively on different platforms, but one of the significant things about when we—shortly after we met, she began attending the church that I pastored, and about three or four months later I had a, really, our first major conversation. It was a conversation where she revealed to me that one of the reasons that she had been avoiding me like the plague [Laughter] was that she knew a lot more about our story. She was deeper in our story than what I probably felt comfortable with.

I just pressed her on that a little bit, like, "What are you talking about? What do you mean?" This is the first time that my heart came alive again after losing Amanda; that I didn't even realize I could love and feel and be attracted or intrigued to somebody again. And so, here's this girl that I'm intrigued with. She begins to tell me that her stepdad is a chaplain in the Marion County Prison system, and that he has been assigned to the three guys that killed my wife, and he ministers to them every single week sharing the gospel with them.

In that moment, I was actually in the week of finishing up the manuscript to my book, Nothing Is Wasted, which hasn't released yet because of the trial process, and that trial just finished this past September. Seven years later it finally came to justice, here in the natural sense. And so, I was in the week of finishing up the manuscript to my book, asking God, "What's the redemptive part of my story? What are you trying to do? In this whole thing, I believe nothing is wasted. I believe that you're not going to waste our pain, but you, I want you to show me." And it was in that week that she shares this with me. So now I'm coming at a head with, "Here's this girl that awoke my heart and she's that connected to my story."

Ron: Wow.

Davey: And so that began in me going, "God's in this. There's something here that God is in, and I've got to chase that down and figure out what that is." She kept avoiding me like the plague [Laughter] until finally I convinced her to go on a date with me and we began dating, got married at the end of 2017, and started blending our family at that moment.

Ron: Okay, so you guys have just summarized in about, I don't know, three, four minutes, like ten massive earthquakes in your world. And those of us that have been through significant loss, one of the things we have to navigate is telling our story, kind of high level—you know, painting the picture: "Here's where God was; here's this. Here's where some healing came. Here's where the new and fresh heart comes alive for something. There's hope for the future."

And at the same time, the reality is, the truth is, that underneath all of that high level narrative, there is a ton of angst. There's a whole huge element of sadness and sorrow and bitterness and anger and lost relationships and confusion and isn't that just the craziness of the grief journey that we live in both of those worlds? You know—

Davey: That's right.

Ron: —somewhat externally, we're high level and we're sort of painting a quick picture and yet, day in and day out, behind the scenes, it's ugly sometimes.

Kristi: Yes.

Davey: Yes.

Kristi: I think the hardest thing, you know I'm 38 and I am in a Bible study group with women who are like in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, and so they always say like, "If I would've known that at your age, life would've been so different." I'm like, "It's through the school of hard knocks," so when you, when God puts you through grief and suffering, when you go through the other—another time of grief and suffering, you kind of know like, the play in a way. You're like, "Okay, you know what does God say in scripture about that? It creates character, perseverance, and hope." And so, you just know if I just walk through it and I just feel all the feelings, if I have the emotions and I'm able to feel them and then also just let them go, it will actually be a lot easier for you.

So honestly, when I think about these seasons of grief and everything like that, oh, they're horrible. I mean, you're on your face, you're wailing, you're weeping, you're like, "Lord," but the beauty of it is, you know there's beauty for ashes every single time, you know there's restoration because he says he is going to restore. I think for a lot of us, when we go through it, it's not like if we're going to go through something hard, it's when.

Ron: That's right.

Kristi: Honestly, I don't, I used to be afraid of the next thing, like, I don't want to go through the next hard thing, the next hard thing. It's like, no, it's going to happen again and so now, how do we walk through it?

Davey: And how do we now have the tools from what we have learned about how to lean into that pain? In the past, you know what Kristi's saying there is so key in what you alluded to it, Ron, that there is this high-level story that we can give you. It's kind of the story arc of our narrative, of our trauma narrative, so to speak. And, you know, it aligns with the story arc of God's narrative, right, of Jesus dying on the cross and the resurrection. And if we can see our lives overlaid by that, then we can begin to walk in hope, you know, that we share in the resurrections of Jesus only by sharing in his sufferings. But the key is that, that we have to lean into.

So as we summarize that in three minutes, there is, as you said, so much underneath that that we've had to dive into, we've been forced to dive into and we're still diving into. There're still things that are coming up that as you start—you know as we start blending our lives together and we're parenting, there's things that are constantly coming up that we're having to deal with, but you know you can't heal from something that you're not willing to feel through and so you—

Ron: Exactly.

Davey: —have to go into those deep, dark places of lament, of grief, of sorrow, of working through the hard things, if you're going to come through and share in the resurrections of Christ, and there is hope in that.

Ron: I want to come back to the new things, the new spillover of grief, the aftershocks, I like to call them, that continue. We'll come back to that in just a minute, but I, there's so much good in what you guys have just said, so much insight there. Davey, first of all, you're right, the arc of Scripture is a three-minute narrative.

Davey: That's right.

Ron: I mean, you know in Matthew, he starts with the genealogy of Jesus like, are you kidding? We're just going to sum it up like that. Like there's so much to unpack on inside that, right? And that's sort of what scripture gives us is those quick little narratives. I love in John 11, two words, "Jesus wept." Like, whoa Lord, I want to get inside that. I want to know what it felt like, what was going on for you. Put more words on that. But we just have this high-level arc, which is sort of the scripture's invitation to all of us towards trust.

Davey: It is.

Kristi: Yes.

Ron: I mean, at the end of the day, that's what Kristi just said is you got to feel it. You got to allow yourself to go through it, and you hold on to this bigger narrative that God is with you behind the scenes, something is happening. It all ends up okay, not that any of this is good, but somehow at the end it's all made right.

Davey: That's right.

Ron: And we can trust the Lord with that. That's the narrative we've got to keep inserting into the daily grind of life.

Davey: That's right. It's going to be very easy to fall prey to the devil's schemes in trying to get you to buy into a different narrative; to buy into the fact that where you are in your story right now, if you're in the deep, dark state of depression, or if you're in the valley of the shadow of death, that that's the end of your story; that that's where it stops, and that's not where it stops.

Ron: Right.

Davey: That the Holy Spirit of God, the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead if you're a believer, lives in you and because of that, even though you might be in the depths of despair right now, you might be experiencing the Friday of being in the tomb or the Saturday of the waiting, there is Sunday that is coming. As long as we can hang on to that hope, there is something that we can reach toward. Scripture says this light and momentary affliction is producing for us, is achieving for us, an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all and so there is something that we can hope for and that we can reach toward even in the midst of it.

I think the reason why we see those three-minute soundbite, so to speak in scripture, is because constantly God's calling us to remember how faithful He's been. And the best predictor of His future faithfulness that He will be faithful in this next battle that we come to, or this next valley that we fall into, is the fact that He has been faithful in the past. And we can trust that; we can bank on that. So even at 38 years old, we're going "Hopefully we have a lot more life to live and a lot more joys to experience, but we know He has been faithful. He's going to see us through this one too."

Ron: Yes, and that is so absolutely right. And at the same time, I have this thing that rises up inside me that is directly related to my grief journey. The same time that's true I want people to know that my hope in Christ, that the joy that I anticipate experiencing someday, does not erase my pain.

Davey: That's right.

Kristi: Not at all.

Ron: And I always want to come back to that because the only message we give people is, "Hey, look, your faith should really overshadow any sadness or sorrow or pain in you or your children as you're walking out this grief narrative." All of a sudden, we start feeling guilty. We start feeling ashamed that we're still having pain, we still have sadness. No, no, no, no, no, my faith informs my pain.

Davey: That's right.

Ron: It teaches my pain. It talks to my pain. It reminds my pain of truth, but it does not erase my pain.

Davey: That's so good.

Kristi: And what you're saying is we don't really do a great job of—we always talk about the hope—you know there's hope, there's hope.

Ron: Yes.

Kristi: But we don't do a really great job of lamenting. I just read through Lamentations this year, and really when I started reading through it, I looked at my husband and I said, "Oh my goodness, this verse," and if you think about the verse, it says, "His mercies are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness." Contextually, these people were exiled. The Israelites, God's chosen people, that's the verse they were using during that time. It puts things into perspective because now you're sitting here seeing like, "Oh, I see lament everywhere. I see it in the Psalms. David lamented all the time."

Ron: That's right.

Kristi: When I think about church, I'm like, how amazing if church, we had songs of lament where everyone could just weep together, and we could just mourn together because everyone's going through something hard right now. And so, you're a hundred percent right. We don't sit in that grief aspect and that's why I love Lamentations because it gives you permission to question God and ask him all the hard things and for him to actually like answer your questions.

Davey: We can hold those two things in tension.

Ron: Yes.

Davey: I think that's what you're saying, Ron, is that we can hold them together in our hands. And I think that's what's beautiful too, about the fact that from loss emerges or can emerge this grafting together, this blending together. You know, I think about that in terms of I don't have to diminish my past and my love for my late wife to step into being absolutely passionately, madly in love with Kristi. It's not an either or. In fact, we're able to hold space for that.

One of the first ways I knew that she was the right person for me is we had this moment where she invited me to grieve in front of her. We're just sitting on the couch at my house and she asked me some questions and I wasn't sure she could handle the answers, you know? She could see that I was forlorn that day, that I was struggling. She was like, "What's going on?" And I'm like, you know, so we tested the waters, and she was such a safe space for that. There was no jealousy. There was no—she actually began to weep and cry in thinking about what Amanda went through and what I'm going through in grieving Amanda. And it's like, how does that exist? Only in the kingdom—

Ron: That's right.

Davey: —only by the spirit of God—

Ron: That's right.

Davey: —can someone walk in that kind of Holy Spirit confidence in who they are in Christ and hold that space with someone they're falling in love with.

Ron: Well, one of the ways, Kristi, I imagine that you were able to do that is because you have your own pain. You have your own journey that you've been going down and that sort of prepares your heart to hold somebody else's sadness.

Kristi: Oh yes. You definitely learn how to empathize with other people whenever they're going through something, because you know how bad it can actually get and actually feel. I think the biggest thing is I walk through a lot of—with a lot of people who are marrying widowers because they'll find me on my DMs and Instagram like, "Is there anyone else doing this because this is so hard, you know?" and so they'll reach out to me.

And a big battle—we always talk about the battle versus the war. Like, it's okay that you struggle with certain things. It's natural, you know, like pride. Some people have the battle of pride; some people have the war of pride. But like when a woman steps into now, a role where she thinks she's replacing somebody else and that's not true. When she feels like it is though, the intimidation or the jealousy can start to creep up whether she realizes it or not and so there's a battle or war with that.

A lot of times they'll ask me like, "How do you do it? How do you ask him these kinds of questions? And how do you think about all the stuff?" and all this is to say, you can't step into another person's life unless you know the whole entire book. For me, it was honestly like a third of his book was written with Amanda and so he became the man he was today because of Amanda as well. And so, if I'm sitting here like, "No, close that part of your book, I don't want to know anything about it because it makes me feel jealous or intimidated or threatened," then I'm losing an aspect of who he is and also who Weston my son is going to be. And so, Weston, I think we introduced that he was your son before with Amanda.

Ron: Right.

Kristi: I think it's just wisdom of knowing, "Hey, I'm going to have to accept every aspect of who that person is with the other person as well."

Ron: That's so good. And I'm sitting here thinking of somebody who's listening right now who does not have a personal pain background story, not of a magnitude that equals the person that they've married. Their partner went through a death or a divorce and you just sort of, you know, was doing life and didn't really have one of those big, monumental losses and so maybe you are taken off guard by the level of pain that you see in your spouse.

Had a woman write to us recently, talked about, "I don't understand the animosity my husband has for his ex-wife. They just have a lot of hatred for each other. Like, where does that come from?" Well, she'd never walked, been down that road before, and so all of that to say, if you don't have that personal narrative, you've got to really learn how to listen well to the narrative of your partner, because as you just said, it has shaped who they are today. It is a factor in your marriage and for you to discount it, minimize it, pretend like it's not there, or the people that preceded you never existed, all of that means you can't really be authentically married to the person you're married to. You really do have to make space for their story.

Kristi: It has to be consistent space. I think a lot of times people have like a meter. They're like, "I'm going to give you this much, and then that's enough." Like, "I can't give you anymore because it costs me a lot of energy." And it's like, for him, he knows there's endless and I wouldn't say I'm like that in every aspect of our marriage, but that specifically when it comes to him grieving Amanda and him having to process through all of that, that to me is endless. Like he can talk about her anytime that he wants to, and I think that's what keeps us in a healthy marriage when it comes to Amanda.

Ron: Well, the thing that's going to perpetuate the grief narrative is children.

Kristi: Yes.

Davey: Yes.

Ron: The fact that each of you has a child from those previous relationships means every single day you walk into the kitchen, there is a living, breathing reminder of the people who proceeded, and you then see grief walked out in their life and in your family experience with one another. Let's turn the corner and talk a little bit about that.

So you find this person, Davey, that you can, that will step into your grief with you. Amazing; that's incredible, right? And along with that comes your heart opening up and reaching out and love begins to take, to flourish and then, you know life kind of gets real in terms of kids and merging and parenting.

Davey: What?! We're still in the honeymoon phase Ron. I don't know what you're talking about. [Laughter]

Ron: Let's talk about some of those realities. For you guys, how did the reality show up?

Davey: Well, day one— [Laughter] No, I mean, the reality showed up in a few different ways and I think that the—you know, our kids were really young when we got together. There was a lot of it where we noticed that, especially in Weston, his primary caregiver was ripped from him at 15 months old. And most of us are familiar with the research that zero to three, especially with that consistent caregiver, the rhythmic way of life, that's where your foundations are built—

Kristi: —for attachment.

Davey: Yes, for attachment and everything intrinsically and internally is going to get kind of grounded right there. And it doesn't typically come out until later if there's some fragmentation. We're experiencing that in a lot of ways currently with our family, trying to figure out, "Wow, our kids were really young when they went through this major transition. Now, how do we attune and attend to their needs presently that we're seeing are residual effects from that?"

Ron: Remind our audience how long it's been since you've been married. Let's do it that way.

Davey: Just over five years since we've been married.

Ron: Okay, okay.

Davey: Now our daughter's nine and our son Weston is eight. And then we also have a three-year old who's ours together. So just to throw another—

Ron: You got the "yours, mine, and ours" thing.

Davey: —thing into—we have your—and they're all three firstborns.

Ron: Yes, yes.

Davey: And we all have very passionate personalities, so it's a lot in our home, but the, the biggest thing is they were three—

Kristi: two and three when we started dating; three and four when we got married.

Davey: We weren't seeing necessarily a lot come out at that moment, but soon afterwards you start to see some things come out within your kids. You see the behavioral issues. You see some of the milestones that are missed, some of the development, stuttering, and you're going, "What is happening here?"

Kristi: Well, we—there was this test, it's like an inventory. I mean Ray Holmes or Holmes Ray stress test. It's all kinds of life stressors, so it's positive and negative.

And so, we added it up for our year and it said if you're over 150, you have an 80 percent chance of a mental breakdown, and we were at 360. I looked at Davey and I said, "We're fine," but then I looked at him and I said, "But what about our kids?" Like our kids have gone through every single one of these as well.

You know with kids I think what's so hard is that it comes out in different ways. They can't vocalize like, "Hey, you guys getting married and now we live in a new home, this is stressful for us." Like they do it in so many other random ways. You're like, "What is that? How is this coming out sideways?" You know?

Ron: Exactly.

Kristi: I was trying to step into that. It's so difficult. So that was a layer of the honeymoon phase not really ever existing in our marriage.

Davey: Yes, we lament that a little bit, to be honest with you, that we didn't have a season where it's just the two of us learning how to grow and be grafted in together as one and then having kids. And so now you're just kind of colliding together and going, "Man, we're just overcoming, both of us, grief and trauma from our past, and also trying to help our kids with figuring out how to emotionally stabilize within this whole transition that's happened here."

Kristi: Another layer is, I mean, we were running a church together and so a lot of the people at the church, they—it was started with Amanda, him and his late wife, Amanda, and so for some of them it was really hard for them to accept me as—you know it felt like a replacement and it's not.

I mean, I remember one woman came up to me and she goes, "I hated you." I said, "Oh, okay."

Ron: Oh, nice to see you too.

Kristi: Yes. What does that even mean? And so—

Davey: God bless. [Laughter]

Kristi: It was the things—I think what you can understand though in grief, you can understand they have a grief lens. And so that's what the hardest part about when you step into a role with a widower is that you're not grieving like they did and so you, kind of in a way have to absorb like a punching bag. There're days where I'll say, "I'm tired being a punching bag today. I'm tired of it." Because it's exhausting, but you can actually see that they're not saying that to you because of, there's something wrong with you. They're saying because they're grieving so much and they don't know who else to attack, really. You know a lot of times—it's just there's so many layers. If you think about all the people that love Amanda, there's just going to be so many layers.

Ron: Right.

Kristi: And you just have to in wisdom and—I don't know. I always go back to like Jesus on the cross. He literally died for the people who are murdering him, and He begged the Lord for them to be forgiven. I'm like, man, if that's a litmus test of the way to follow Jesus and to be like Jesus, like the least I can do is when someone says they hate me, I can literally just love them and pray for them. That is my goal. That's my heart all the time. It's not easy. I mean, it is not—coming into a grief situation, it is not easy. You are the target a lot of times and it's not fun, but you also have to realize again, "How can I be more like Jesus?" And this is the perfect test to be just like him.

Davey: Well, and I think that that informs those of us who are going through grief to remember that you're going to put your pain somewhere.

Ron: Yes.

Davey: A lot of times we misappropriate our pain. And if we don't take it to the feet of Jesus, it's going to come out sideways on other people, and you're going to end up in the blame game. You're going to end up resorting to the lowest common denominator in dehumanizing people who they just happen to be there. They're not—but for whatever reason, other people become scapegoats for your own pain if you don't deal with it.

Ron: What Kristi has hit on here is that the community around couples forming blended families sometimes is polarized. Some of them knew half of you, but they didn't know the other half of you, and they were invested in, you know, the old family, if you will, and now they're trying to figure out how to make space for the new family. That's certainly true of the extended family, right, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. All of those people have to get used to the new step people coming into the new family as well. But that dynamic really hits close to home when it involves children.

Now, I'm curious about your children. Here's something that's fairly common with blended families when the children are a little older and they have a lot of memories of the divorce, or you know the parent who passed away. Maybe they're teenagers when all that happened. They're deeply invested in, if I could say it, the old family, what was. And if anything, what they want is mom and dad who divorced to get back together again and so they have an agenda.

But then when one parent recouples and you know, marries somebody else, now that agenda has been thwarted by the new stepparent. In effect now there's an easy target and just like with Kristi, you were the easy target for some people within the church context.

Sometimes it's your kids who sort of target that stepparent, just take all that angst out on one of the adults right there in the house, and that's when things get tough for families at times. I don't know about you guys.

One of the stories we hear from families when the children were really young when they married, as in the case with yours, is that as they grow, as they kind of get more perspective and uh, the brains develop and they can think more abstractly about how life would've been had Mom still been here, Dad still been, sometimes the angst comes out 15 years later. Have you experienced any of that?

Kristi: I think there's different roles that you can take in a home. I think the term stepmom for me is actually, I feel like it's a cuss word. I don't like that word. I remember when I was dating Davey, I remember praying for his son Weston's future mom, and praying for Davey's future wife even when I was dating him.

Davey: It's because she didn't—even while she was dating me. She's like, "Eh, he's going to move on." [Laughter]

Kristi: All that being said, it's like when I did step into marrying Davey, I took in Weston like he was a biological kid. I always had the heart of adoption, so I took him on like that. So he is my son, like, this is my son. For us, it was always this, "Hey, you have the option of you can call me mom or you can call me Kristi still," because when we were dating it was just Kristi. And so, he chose to call me "Mom" and he's young at the same time. And over time, you know you start getting the different questions. I mean, he's a dreamer too so you start thinking, he starts thinking through like "You know, what would life be like in heaven with mommy, Amanda?"

Ron: That's right.

Kristi: And "I don't remember her, but I also like heard all these great stories about her, so it must be way better in heaven," you know? And so that is the hard tension of consistently navigating, because again, I'm not his stepmom, I'm his mom. And he now has two moms, one in heaven and one on earth. I think when you step into a role, when you step into it with ownership, the kid feels like he belongs somewhere. And I think if it's more of like this, "Hey, I'm not like your mom," then he doesn't—he feels like he doesn't have a place to belong. Both older kids have both mentioned, "I don't feel like I belong in the family."

Davey: And that is just recently because they were able to articulate that, but they don't know what that looks like. You know, when Natalia—she's told us before, it feels weird to have two dads. You know, she, we've actually heard her say to her friends, "I have two dads. I know it's weird." And it's like, oh man, that just like hurts your heart because even though this is essentially her normal and her cognizant memory, it feels like she doesn't belong in a lot of the sectors of society, especially in the church where it might seem more abnormal, right, to the friends that she's around.

You know we want them to—our desire and our heart is for them to feel like they belong and try to frame it for her that like, "You've got two families that love you so much and what a blessing this is." I think you use the term bonus family a lot of times, right?

Ron: Yes.

Davey: There's just such a blessing that you have two dads and, and, and we try to do things that encourage that. Just the last two years of the Daddy Daughter Dance, both her dad and I took her to the Daddy Daughter Dance. And we were the only two dads that took their daughter to the Daddy Daughter Dance. But it was a beautiful thing and an awkward thing in trying to help her navigate the awkwardness of that. And every year we're probably going to have to navigate that with her and going, "What do you prefer? Do you want to not have to show up with two dads? What does that look like for you?"

Ron: Great, great thing there, giving a child voice as much as you possibly can because their choices very well may change one year to the next. And what I would just say to anybody listening who has a similar situation to that; that you've sensed that in kids. I just want to say, don't panic, you know? That is a child working out the reality of their life. "Two dads, what does that mean for me? Who do I belong with? How do I belong? How do they belong? What's this big picture? How does this make sense?" That is the inevitable walking out of grief into the reality of their life. It's not rejection. I think one of the mistakes stepparents make is they interpret that then as rejection when it is not rejection. It is confusion.

Kristi: Yes.

Davey: Right.

Ron: That's totally different than rejection.

Kristi: Yes. And the biggest gift is too, like with him, when he mentioned that, when Weston said, "I don't feel like I belong," it's like, "Alright, well, let me know how." Because you know when they talk about when you have kids, and especially when you're blending, you're supposed to give each kid a role, and they have this role in the house so if their role is not fulfilled, then they don't feel like, you know—

Davey: There's some kind of purpose and meaning.

Kristi: They have a purpose in the house and so we've done all the things, you know, and literally his reason was, "Because I have blonde hair and blue eyes," and everybody else has dark hair. I'm like, "Okay, so I didn't do anything wrong." [Laughter] Like, "Alright, here we go. We got to check that off." But it's been nice to see how both of them are just trying to, I mean, you think about everybody wants to belong in the world.

Davey: Yes.

Ron: Yes.

Kristi: It's not even just in the family, it's in the world and so they have that sense because God has created that inside of us and so for him specifically, he just wants to understand like, why does he look different than the rest of us?

Davey: I think you just touched on something, Babe, that I, it's probably—you're the expert on this, Ron, but I think that is paramount to this whole blending family thing is belonging. You know you think about the family of God, it's a blended family.

Ron: Yes, it is. That's exactly right.

Davey: We as Gentiles are grafted into the family of God.

Ron: That's right.

Davey: We were not the original chosen people of the Israelites, if you're not Jewish by heritage, and so we're grafted in as a blended family, and that's the beauty of what God's people can be for people who don't have a family or a functional family or a healthy, functional family. We can be that for people. I think that's what has stirred my heart in this blended family thing, as difficult as it can be, to go, "We're painting a picture for our kids and for the world around us of the Kingdom of God."

Ron: Yes. I want to capitalize on that because I want our listener to really hear the magnitude of that. First of all, let me just say, I did an interview with Dallas Theological Seminary on how the church really functions more like a blended family than a biological family so if anybody out there is curious about that little piece, you can look that up—Dallas Theological Seminary's podcast. This notion that God is grafting us in, and God has adopted us all as sons and daughters, and we are all part of the kingdom, you know one of the elements of faith that's hard for some people is accepting that. Like, "But wait a minute, I haven't earned it. I haven't deserved it." This is going back to your point about belonging. Well, but see that's the cool thing about grace—

Davey: That's right.

Ron: —is that it's extended to us. The invitation is there, period, not whether you deserve it. It's based on what God has done, not what we are doing.

Similarly, parents and stepparents are basically extending an invitation to children who are not their biological children, but saying to them, "No, by my love and by my calm persistence in your life, I'm going to watch you go through confusion. I realize you may not know where to put me. You may not know how to accept this embrace that I'm offering to you, and you may waiver in and out of it,"—you know, move in, move out, move in, move out over time—"but I'm going to remain a consistent, loving presence with the invitation constantly available to you."

That is, I think, more often than not, it's overwhelming to us as it relates to God. Eventually, we break down and we just go, "I accept. I'll take it, Lord. Thank you."

Kristi: Yes.

Ron: And I think most children will do the same, not all. I mean, there's a wide road and there's a narrow road when it comes to spiritual embrace with God, and some kids really waiver with their journey, with their stepparents and step siblings, and they just can't open themselves up to it, but many, many will eventually. Your job is to not make them accept it, just like God doesn't make us. Your job is to be that loving, consistent presence who is constantly there and constantly inviting the other to come.

Kristi: You know, everything you're saying, it's just so spot on especially—I'm a functional medicine PA and I study about the brain and it's talking about, you know, perfect love casts out all fear. They actually did a study where they saw the amygdala and it, when perfect love came in, it actually wiped out every fear that came from the amygdala. And so when—I keep on going back to the hole, God want, He loves me in spite of me. And so even in the midst of my kids not doing what they should be doing right now; they're in this middle of processing and they're in that middle of

Ron: —confusion.

Kristi: —grieving and confusion, yes. Which it literally comes out in so many different ways that is so frustrating.

Davey: Randomly, and usually at the most stressful times.

Ron: Annoying. Just flat out annoying.

Kristi: Yes, it's exhausting. I just feel like the Lord just kept on saying, "Kristi, love covers a multitude of sins." Love conquers all. It's His loving kindness that brings them to repentance. And so, I just kept on going back to "Okay, if I just love them."

There's a verse in one of the books of the prophets and I just read it this year, and it was just talking about how he goes, "If only Egypt and Edom, if you would just—if you'd repent, if you'd repent." And I remember going, "Oh, I have an Egypt and an Edom." [Laughter] Like, I'm just begging them like, "Come on." But just to like, just see how he literally loved, he was so tender to his people who were just not following him and not obeying him. I just keep on going back to, "Man, if I can just be God in that aspect, be Jesus in that aspect." But I'm not perfect. I mean, there are days where I'm like, "Oh Lord, I'm going to need"—

Davey: "Lord, we need a little extra dose."

Kristi: "I need a little extra dose."

Davey: He's patient and loving and kind and slow to anger, abounding in love and steadfastness, and we're like, "Man, I am so snippy and short," and I've got, I'm—"you are in the way of what I'm trying to accomplish today," and "This is such an inconvenience," and I, we find ourselves in that space all the time, all the time.

Ron: That's true.

Davey: Especially as we're like, we're in ministry. We're leading this, like—

Ron: Yes, it doesn't matter.

Davey: —thriving, growing ministry. We're trying, like, we're just—

Ron: I know that. I've lived that same journey. That makes no difference whatsoever in terms of being—like, for me, what that means is I know better than I act, and I still have to get ahold of my amygdala as Kristi says.

Kristi: Yes.

Davey: That's so good.

Ron: I still have to let the Holy Spirit jump in there and take it back so that I quit reacting and start responding the way God responds to us. Yes, you guys are—you've nailed it. Parenting will force us into self-control, or it will reveal our just inability to even try.

Kristi: Yes. I read in a book somewhere, it talked about how, are we disciplining our kids consistently or are we discipling them? And I just felt so convicted because I felt like it was like a formula. You do this, this is your consequence. And it's now, it's like, no, how am I discipling them right now? It's such a different outlook to parent them.

Davey: As exhausting as it is, how do I speak to the heart and draw out from the heart?

Ron: Yes, Davey, you said, a long time ago in our conversation you said two words that I thought were just great: attune and attend. Let's apply those to this in parenting—you know, attune and attend to the grief in our children, to the confusion in kids. The hard part is what you get on the outside is a child who back talks or just refuses to do what you've asked them to do, and that immediately ignites something in us that's sort of like, "Hey, I'm going to step on that. I don't want to see any more of that." The hard part is going, "Okay, let me slow down just a bit and ask, attune, and attend, what's underneath this?"

Davey: That's right.

Ron: "What's passing through my child's heart that's showing up as an attitude?" and that's the hard part, right?

Davey: That's extremely difficult.

Ron: I often find for me—now we're empty nest at this point. By the way, adult children will still activate the same thing inside. [Laughter]

Kristi: Oh, good to know.

Ron: Yes. Yes, get ready for that. But when they were young, definitely, oh man, it just, it would fly all over me and I would respond to whatever was happening in the moment. And then, it was only then that I could slow down and go, "Wow, I think I missed something. What did I miss?" And, hey, better late than never. You know, attuned to what is that inside you and slowing down and trying to begin to dialogue or have a conversation or open up that part of my child that is hurting in some way. And I need to know that and understand that so that in the future I can respond more patiently or calmer or something.

Kristi: Yes.

Davey: Yes, that's right. Ron, I was a baseball player growing up. I don't know if this is true or not. This is totally my theory, but with God's grace, I'm like, if we just 30 percent of the time, 3 out of 10, we're going to get in the hall of fame of parenting. Like if we get it right three out of ten times and most days, it doesn't feel like that. To encourage your audience, it doesn't. I feel like most days we're falling short, and we really need the grace of God to cover that for our kids. We think about that all the time. We pray for that all the time. "God cover our mistakes in our kids' lives."

Ron: Amen.

Davey: "Bring out what we've deposited in them that is unhealthy, that is toxic, that is not good for their soul and make sure that you plant what is good and right and true in their soul."

Kristi: Well, that's what we heard. We heard some research that was like 30 to 35 percent. That's the only percentage that you have to do to get it right. And well, they're like, "Well, how do you cover the other percentage then?" And they said through asking for forgiveness and restoring,

Davey: —repair.

Kristi: —repairing.

Davey: That was the psychological term for it was repair.

Kristi: Yes, and so literally every single time I'm like, man, I am asking for a lot of forgiveness for my kids. But that's really, if you think about it, that's the heart; like teaching them how to ask for forgiveness, and then knowing that they can restore relationships and repair that way.

Davey: Yes, yes.

Ron: Guys, I want to turn a corner and ask you one other question before we wrap up. Our last FamilyLife Blended podcast, we were talking about the Ghost of Marriage past. That's a little term that I have used for a long time and wrote about in The Smart Stepfamily. It's this notion in particular, for people who have been through a breakup, a divorce, to have a relationship that you loved and wanted, eventually evolve into something you didn't want or that was very painful and difficult, and then come to an end. That can just leave a residue of pain on your heart and make it harder to trust in the next relationship. Like you can't forget what you now know. And that is that loving people brings pain sometimes and so trust at a deep level is difficult.

I think that is also true when you've been widowed. Davey, in your case, in a very tragic manner that brings an added element of trauma to the loss. I'm just curious, kind of looking back at the beginnings of your relationship, could you look back now and say, "Yes, there were times where I just hit a trust wall and I just struggled to climb over it"?

Davey: Yes.

Kristi: Yes, so I remember when I married my first husband. I did not believe in marriage at all because of just watching my family. My parents divorced, so I'm a product of divorce. I didn't see a lot of like healthy marriages around me either. All that being said, it's like for me to even marry him, I had to pray like crazy and I had so much peace to marry him. I said, "I will choose to like love him." The divorce, it was the same thing when everything was going down. I remember just praying and the Lord gave me peace to leave the marriage as well. And I remember the trust wasn't with people anymore because in scripture says it's better to trust in the Lord than to trust man. I mean, He made it very clear.

Davey: Some trust in chariots and horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Kristi: Yes, and so for me, I actually started losing trust in God because I trusted that the marriage I was going to have was going to last the rest of our lives. And the thing is like, that was my expectation I put on God. It takes two to submit. And so, for me then to go into this next marriage, I remember just being like, "I will never marry again." That's what took me so long to be okay with marrying him. And then even up into the point I walked down the aisle, I chose not to trust him which is so funny to say out loud. I know it sounds so weird, but again, like you mentioned, that ghost, like I chose, like there's no way I'm going to trust him. I knew if I was going to marry him, that God had to lead me in it. And a hundred percent I knew that God led me into it. However, it's still, I still am working with God with that trust.

Ron: Yes.

Kristi: And it's not with Davey—

Davey: Trust is a delicate thing.

Ron: It is.

Davey: I'll break her trust, and then there are other times where she's working with the Lord that I haven't broken her trust and she's trying to trust. And so, it's just a delicate thing. And we talk to our kids about the same thing. Trust takes so long to build and a moment to break.

Kristi: And God, thank God that He still tries to pursue us and show us that He's trustworthy. He doesn't have to, but He does. And so really, like God doesn't need to show me that He's trustworthy, but He will. That's how gracious He is to us.

Ron: Yes, so Kristi, I'm hearing you had to again choose to let God lead you into trusting Davey. And even when you did that, it's a process. It's two steps forward, one step back sort of a thing for you?

Kristi: Yes, and what's crazy is I thought I would never believe in marriage. Like I thought, "Okay, I'm going to be married to him and"—but what's beautiful is I'm seeing the heart of marriage, the heart of God, the heart of Jesus as our husband, just through the way he leads us. And so, honestly, I think through Davey and God using Davey, I really am at a different place than I ever was. And so, I would say I probably had like five percent of trust, and now I have probably like ninety-five percent of trust so there's like a lot less that I'm having to work on, if that makes sense.

Ron: Well, your idea of marriage is being redeemed by a loving relationship, so hallelujah for that.

Kristi: It is, yes.

Ron: Davey, did you have any ghosts?

Davey: Yes, in my situation, I would say that I've seen this a lot with widowers, you know, and widows too, but I work mostly with widowers directly, and I see that I'm a different person now than when I was married to Amanda. And I should be, right?

Ron: Yes.

Davey: We're continually being sanctified. Though our bodies are wasting away, our minds are being renewed day by day. That should be the goal when we're continuing the grieving process. It changed me. It refined me. I can't copy and paste who I was and what, how I operated in that marriage into this marriage. I think in the beginning I tried to, and I mistakenly thought I was a good husband because I was just doing the same things that I did with Amanda; that I had learned through years of learning who she is and what she needed from me thinking, "Oh, I can just copy and paste that." That's the easy, I've got this figured out.

And that was very foolish, very naive of me. And I still am trying to untangle a lot of that because Kristi's a different person and this is a different dynamic. She's exactly custom fit for me in this season exactly designed how, in what God wanted for me to have for us to move into this next phase of our life together.

I can love that and hold that and revere and honor that while revering and honoring the fact that this was a season with Amanda and this was who I was with her, and this is what our marriage was like. Because it's a totally different dynamic and it doesn't do me or anybody listening to this any good to try to draw back and go, "Well, I just wish or regret, or if it, if this was only like that or I—that just is the playground, I think, for the enemy to bring those little foxes that spoil the vine.

Ron: That is a good, good word. We have said for years on this podcast, if your yellow and your first wife was blue, then your "usness" was green. Hmm. And now you're yellow still, but you've married red. [Laughter] And guess what? Your "usness" is now orange.

Davey: Ron, this is why you're so good at what you do. [Laughter] I'm over here being all wordy and like pontificating, and you just, boom, right there. I'm like, absolutely, that's exactly what I was trying to say.

Ron: And the beautiful thing about that is the orange, man, what a beautiful sunset.

Davey: So true.

Ron: Your "usness" is going to be its own unique, special, amazing thing.

Davey: So true.

Ron: As was any "usness" that preceded, but this new "usness" requires something new of us. It always does, right? And that's where God grows, and He walks with us. And my goodness, I can see the Lord walking with the two of you and walking with your "usness".

Thank you so much for being with me. Davey, before we go, tell people if they want to find the Nothing Is Wasted Podcast. Tell them about it.

Davey: We're on every podcast platform. We're also on YouTube; Nothing is Wasted Podcast. And if listeners are trying to figure out how to untangle pain and trauma, we actually have 21 days of devotions that we'd love to just send to you for the next 21 days. If you text NIW, as in Nothing is Wasted, NIW, text that to 66866, we'll just start sending you some devotions for free that will help you to begin to heal from some pain and trauma that you've experienced.

Ron: Wow. Well, Nan and I are fans of the Nothing Is Wasted podcast. Thank you, guys, for being with me today.

Davey: Thank you, Ron.

Kristi: Thank you.

Ron: If you want to learn more about Davey and Kristi, you can look in our show notes. We'd love to get you connected to what they're doing.

Just a quick reminder that FamilyLife Blended podcast is a donor supported podcast and ministry so if you'd love to just say thank you, pitching in five bucks, we'd appreciate it very much. You could also leave a rating or review that helps other people find us. Give us a comment if there's something you want us to know or think about, or you got a suggestion for a future podcast, we will take that as well.

I want to get this on your calendar, our next Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. It's going to be Thursday, October 12th, 2023. It's virtual this year, so it's going to be very convenient for you to attend. You might be thinking, "Well, why do I want to do that?" Well, a lot of people want to do that because they want to start a small group, or they just want to be the catalyst to get their church leadership thinking about it. This year's event being virtual, this is a great time for you to say, "Hey pastor, if you'll attend, we'll pay for it. We'll attend with you. Maybe we get two other couples." Next thing you know, we've got a leadership team and your church is beginning to take off.

That's the kind of thing we'd love for you to consider doing and taking advantage of. Summit on Stepfamily Ministry, Thursday, October 12th, 2023.

Okay, next time, we're going to be talking about your kids, social media, and the loneliness epidemic with author Dr. Mark Mayfield. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.

I'm Ron Deal, thanks for listening. And thank you to our production team and donors who make this podcast possible. FamilyLife Blended is part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.

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