Losing the One I Loved: Ron Deal, Davey & Kristi Blackburn
Imagine losing your pregnant wife in a home invasion and navigating the challenges of getting remarried years later. Join Ron Deal, Davey & Kristi Blackburn as they share their journey, emphasizing the significance of leaning into the pain of losing someone you love for healing and blending their families.
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How do you navigate grief and remarriage? Ron Deal, Davey & Kristi Blackburn know the happiness of finding each other—amidst the reality of losing someone you love.
Davey: You know, you think about the family of God—it’s a blended family. We, as Gentiles, are grafted in as a blended family. That’s the beauty of what God’s people can be. I think that’s what has stirred my heart in this blended-family thing, as difficult as it can be, is to [say], “We’re painting a picture for our kids, and for the world around us, of the kingdom of God.”
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Ann: There are hard situations in life, and then, there are really hard—
Dave: —really hard—
Ann: —situations. [Laughter] And not all losses are the same magnitude. Let’s just say this: “Not all blended families begin the same way, but both require really trusting God with what you can’t change or control.”
Dave: Today, we’re talking about some hard stuff. I mean, every family—every person— goes through difficult—and we were laughing; we said, “really difficult,” but it’s not funny at all—
Dave: —it’s really hard when you’ve got to trust God in hard times; difficult times.
We’re talking about blended today, because we’re going to listen to a conversation with Ron Deal. He’s the director of our blended family ministry here at FamilyLife®, and he has a FamilyLife Blended® podcast. Today, we’re going to listen to his conversation with Davey and Kristi Blackburn. You and I both remember Davey’s story, which is horrific.
Dave: I’ll let you hear them tell the story. They came into a blended family from very different paths, and had to blend with a couple of kids. And it wasn’t easy, and it isn’t easy. We’re going to just turn it over to Ron and the Blackburns, and let them tell you their story.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Everybody’s journey is a little bit different. Your journey is a little bit different than some of the people who are listening right now, but I think there’s a lot 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 [that] “blended” is actually a terrible term, because you just don’t stick it into a blender and blend it up, you know? Sometimes you try to, but that's what we're in this space just trying to figure out: “How do we weave our lives together now after experiencing different types of trauma?”
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 [my wife] was pregnant with our second, as I just mentioned. 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 our home. Amanda, my late wife, was shot 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.
That's where I wound up at the end of 2015; and, Kristi, you can share a little bit of yours.
Kristi: Yes, 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. 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.
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—shortly after we met, she began attending the church that I pastored. About three or four months later, [we] had, 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. He ministers to them every single week, sharing the gospel with them.
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."
Davey: And so that began, in me [thinking], "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. We began dating and got married at the end of 2017.
Ron: Okay, so you guys have just summarized—in about, I don't know, three or four minutes—[about] ten massive earthquakes in your world. And those of us, [who] 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, there's a whole huge element of sadness, and sorrow, and bitterness, and anger, and lost relationships, and confusion. 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: When God puts you through grief and suffering, when you go through the other—another time of—grief and suffering, you kind of know the play in a way. You're like, "Okay, what does God say in Scripture about that? It creates character, perseverance, and hope." 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 and the next hard thing.” It's like, “No, it's going to happen again; and so, now, how do we walk through it?”
Davey: What Kristi's saying there is so key in what you alluded to, 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. If we can see our lives overlaid by that, then we can begin to walk in hope, that we share in the resurrection of Jesus only by sharing in His sufferings; but the key is that we have to lean into [it].
As we summarize that in three minutes, there is, as you said, so much underneath that we've had to dive into—we've been forced to dive into, and we're still diving into. There are still things that are coming up that, as you start—as we start—blending our lives together, and we're parenting, there are 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—
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 resurrection of Christ. There is hope in that.
Ann: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today. We’re listening to just a portion of the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal and his guests, Davey and Kristi Blackburn.
Dave: Yes, I mean, we’re only half way through the story;—
Dave: —it’s intense.
Our FamilyLife Blended ministry loves supporting couples and stepfamilies and educating leaders as to know how the local church can build healthy blended families. This podcast is just one resource.
Here’s the thing: in the next part of Ron’s interview, they talk about how both families and churches, sometimes—and this is true—can become polarized after tragedy. This is sort of hard to believe, but some people didn’t like Kristi becoming the new pastor’s wife.
Ann: Wouldn’t that be hard to step into?
Dave: Oh, yes. Let’s go back and listen to more.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: 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. They were invested in 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, that agenda has been thwarted by the new stepparent. In effect now, there's an easy target; 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, [who] 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, [but] 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 their brains develop, and they can think more abstractly about how life would've been had Mom still been here or Dad still been—sometimes, the angst comes out 15 years later. Have you experienced any of that?
Kristi: I think there are 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 [was] 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 in like that; so, he is my son. For us, it was always this: "Hey, you have the option: you can call me Mom, or you can call me Kristi still,” because when we were dating, it was just “Kristi.” 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. 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. I think if it's more of this: "Hey, I'm not your mom," then he doesn't—he feels like he doesn't have a place to belong.
Both older kids have mentioned: "I don't feel like I belong in the family."
Davey: When Natalia—she's told us before, “It feels weird to have two dads.” We've actually heard her say to her friends, "I have two dads. I know it's weird." It's like: “Oh, man, that just 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 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 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?
Davey: “There's just such a blessing that you have two dads.” We try to do things that encourage that. The last two years at the Daddy-Daughter Dance, both her dad and I took her to the Daddy-Daughter Dance. And every year, we're probably going to have to navigate that with her, saying, "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.
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; it is confusion.
Kristi: When Weston said, "I don't feel like I belong," it [was] like, "Alright, well, let me know how." Because when they talk about, when you have kids—and especially, when you're blending—you're supposed to give each kid a role. They have this role in the house. If their role is not fulfilled, then they don't feel like—
Davey: —there's some kind of purpose.
Kristi: —they have a purpose in the house.
Kristi: We've done all the things, you know.
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] “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.
Kristi: It's not even just in the family, it's in the world. They have that sense because God has created that inside of us, and so, for him specifically, he just wants to understand: “Why does he look different than the rest of us?”
Davey: I think you just touched on something, Babe, that I [think] it's probably—you're the expert on this, Ron—but I think that is paramount to this whole blending family thing: 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. So, we're grafted in as a blended family. 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, [is] to say, "We're painting a picture for our kids, and for the world around us, of the kingdom of God."
Ann: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today. We’re listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal and guests, Davey and Kristi Blackburn.
Dave: We’ve got Ron with us. Ron, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I mean, what a conversation that was. What is the first thing that comes to your mind?
Ron: Yes. Well, first of all, I am just encouraged by how they have dealt with their challenges in life and how they walk in faithfulness. Now, we all know—we’ve talked about this before, you guys and I have—that suffering does not mean faithfulness is pretty.
Ron: It’s often very challenging and difficult; but their story encouraged me. I really have enjoyed working with them.
I’ve got to tell you guys, that last comment that Davey made about how we’re all grafted into the kingdom—if we’re a Gentile, we’ve been grafted into the kingdom of what God is doing in the world—really caught me. How that parallels with what the church is doing, and how we open ourselves to people of all shapes, and sizes, and backgrounds, and sin narratives in their stories. We’re all grafted in.
Here's my soapbox about that: he’s referencing Romans, Chapter 11. And in that passage, Paul warns the Gentiles: “Now, listen, because you’ve been grafted, this is not cause for you to become arrogant,” you know? “Don’t be getting proud, because now you’re part of the kingdom.” Here’s the thing: I think sometimes, we do get proud within the church. Sometimes that arrogance is on the other foot; it’s the people who look pretty and seem to have everything together, [and] there’s a temptation to look at others who are coming into the church—and maybe their life is not as pristine as your life is or other people that you think their life should be—and there’s an arrogance that can come where you sort of look at everybody else as less than.
Ann: It reminds me of the prodigal: the older brother and the prodigal son story.
Ron: That’s exactly it.
Dave: When you said that, I honestly thought, “In the church, we’re known for that.” [Laughter] It’s terrible, but I think outsiders to the church think: “Church people are sort of arrogant, and act and treat others like, ‘We’re better than you. We’re in; you’re out.’” Man, is that the opposite of the gospel!
Ron: Absolutely. That’s right. We should be humbled by being grafted in. We should be full of mercy for others who are finding their way into the kingdom of God, rather than harsh or judgmental.
Dave: Yes, I mean, they should feel so loved and warm.
As you work with blended families, is that pretty common?
Ron: It is. That’s actually one of the biggest barriers to our ministry: people sort of feeling second-class. They’ve been treated that way; they’ve gotten the message that somehow they’re not quite measuring up. They’re even bashful about raising their hand and saying, “Hello, pastor. We need a little help,” or “Here’s a new resource—a small group tool—that we can use. Could we start a group?” They’re sort of reticent to stand up and say, “How about a ministry [for blended families] that we’ll even lead.” It’s just because, sometimes, they’re looked down on. We’ve got to remove that.
It’s not just blended families. I mean, there are people of all walks of life who enter a church environment and think, “Boy, I don’t measure up to these people.” We should be the ones—if we’re on the other side of that equation, we should be the ones—running to them, saying, “We are so glad you are here. You absolutely belong here.”
Remember that other comment they made about belonging and how important that is?
Ron: That’s exactly right. We’ve got to delight in people who don’t look like us. We’ve got to make them understand that God is applauding [and] celebrating them stepping near the kingdom of God. When we bridge that, then all of a sudden, the doors fly wide open.
Dave: Ann mentioned the prodigal son. You just wonder, “What would an outsider, or a blended family, coming into a church feel like if we represented the father, running to them?” If we were the heart of the father, saying: “I see you.”—
Ann: —“You’re welcome.”
Dave: —“I know your pain. I know your struggle; I’ve struggled as well.” I am at the front door, welcoming you: “You have no fear here. You’re loved here. There’s family here. Come on in.”
Ann: “You’re welcome.”
Ron: The irony is, when we stand in arrogance against other people, we’re really judging ourselves. Think about it! If what we’re saying to others is: “Hey, you’ve got to measure up to belong here,” what we’re saying to ourselves is: “If I don’t measure up, I don’t belong here anymore.” We’re all living in fear at that point. That just cannot be something that we do. That doesn’t open the doors to the body of Christ.
Dave: The last thought I had was this family, or this person, or this couple we’re running to—to love them and welcome them—is also in pain. They’re carrying pain, just like the Blackburns are carrying pain; a lot of people know about their pain, but every couple has a struggle; every family is hurting in some way. We get to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to say: “We know your pain. We’ve experienced that pain,” and “We know the One who can heal. Let us welcome you [because of] Him.”
Ron: That’s right.
Ann: Yes. Ron, thanks for sharing this interview. It was really good. It’s always great to be with you.
Ron: Thanks for having me.
Shelby: Yes, this has been a super-powerful time today. If you want to hear the entire interview with the Blackburns, you can go to the FamilyLife Blended podcast, episode 117 (one hundred seventeen), which is called “Trusting God in Difficult Times,” or you can get the link in today’s Show Notes.
I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. You know, the ministry that Ron Deal runs is called FamilyLife Blended®. They have an event coming up called Blended & Blessed®, a one-day marriage livestream event for couples in blended families.
You know, building unity in a blended family can be extremely difficult. I know; I came from a blended family. We want to encourage you to come join us for the one-day marriage event, Blended & Blessed, as we explore ways to help you have peace in your home and between different homes. This is a live event from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, but you can watch it from anywhere in the world as you stream it. It’s happening Saturday, April 27, and you can find out more information by going to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the Blended & Blessed link, or you can find the link in today’s Show Notes.
Do you ever feel like the stuff you’re doing at work doesn’t really matter? Like the people who are fulltime missionaries—those are the people who really are having their work matter and count for the Lord? Well, Jordan Raynor is here tomorrow with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about the fact [that] that’s not actually true, and what it would look like to integrate your faith into your daily work. That’s tomorrow. We hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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