Yep. It’s true. I’m engaged! I know for MOST of you this comes as a complete surprise so let me back up and tell you how I met this girl and how we got to this point.
Last September (2016) I watched this gorgeous dark-haired, brown-eyed girl walk through the doors of the Crossfit gym I work out at. She had my attention from the moment I saw her. I thought I was being subtle, but she would tell me later I was being far less discreet than I hoped. At the time I had just started writing the book Nothing is Wasted. The process of writing about everything was bringing a lot healing, so much so that I started to feel like it was healthy enough to poke my head up and be open to God bringing another woman into my life. I realize for many people this may seem a bit soon and trust me, it did to me as well. But I had been exposed to some incredible people and environments over 2016 who helped me get to a healthy place after losing Amanda and I thought I was going to be ready soon to put myself out there again.
I WASN’T READY, AND NEITHER WAS SHE. BUT I’LL GET TO THAT SOON.
I had decided I wouldn’t pursue anything with anyone no matter who it was until after the one year anniversary of Amanda’s death. I knew this is what God put in my heart and I was going to stick to it. In fact I kept my wedding ring on until Nov. 11th, 2016—one year after Amanda’s death. So from September until the beginning of November I just observed this girl. We said maybe a dozen words to each other, mostly cordial hello’s, but things got interesting when she showed up to my church one Sunday in October. You see prior to her coming to church I only suspected she loved Jesus. I had overheard a conversation with her and some other girls in the gym about a Christian rap concert they went to. “Okay!?” I thought, “This girl has good taste in music and maybe she loves the Lord!” (Those are the ultimate pre-requisites, music connoisseur and Jesus-lover). So when I saw her walk into my church for the first time, drop her daughter off in ResKids, sing during the worship time, take notes during the message, pick her daughter up, and leave, something stirred in me. It was apparent to me church was an important thing to her. As a pastor I can tell right off the bat if church is a priority for someone. There is a certain intentionality they approach it with and this girl demonstrated that. So when I saw her do this week after week I was more and more determined to find out her story.
For several weeks I tried to “naturally” run into her in the atrium and ask her a bit about herself, you know, in a very pastoral way. The problem is, she was so elusive! I’d find myself in a conversation with someone, watch her walk across the atrium, hope she’d linger, but by the time I concluded my conversation she was gone. This made me want to talk to her even more! A bit of advice to single girls. Play hard to get! It drives guys crazy!
For much of 2016 I was a bit wary of single girls and single moms who showed up to our church. There seemed to be an influx of them after Amanda passed. I hoped it was because they felt especially connected to the story and not for ulterior motives, but at the time I knew I was in a vulnerable place and couldn’t really trust everyone’s motives. I’m sorry if you came to our church during that season and felt that coldness from me, but I couldn’t be too careful. This girl conducted herself in a much different manner, however. She not only didn’t go out of her way to talk to me after each service, she seemed to avoid me. And it made me want all the more to learn more about her!
One day in early November I was working at our bi-weekly clean-up in the inner-city community we serve and this girl showed up. Ok, now she had my attention. Who was this cute Carmel mom who walked into my church with poise and confidence in her heels and clutching an actual Bible (this is unheard of in modern church) now wearing old jeans and a sweatshirt with a shovel in her hand? She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and seemed to have a genuine heart for helping people. I secretly hoped she wasn’t there because she knew I’d be present and she was trying to get around me. And yet, I wanted to get to know her. So I asked our worship pastor’s wife, Ashley, to round up a bunch of folks for lunch that day and be sure to invite this girl. She said yes and I finally had the makings of a match made in paradise.
The problem is she stiff-armed me the entire lunch. She practically sat with her back to me the whole time while chatting with a couple other girls. Each time I’d ask her a question she’d barely turn, give me a curt answer and then turn back around. Wow, I thought, I must be a little rusty on this charm thing.
She got the message across loud and clear at lunch that day. It was a dead end. There was going to be no getting to know her, let alone her reciprocating my interest. Oh well, I thought, it was probably for the better. What I didn’t know is The Lord still had some work he needed to do on my heart before I could truly love and pursue another girl other than Amanda. Over the course of November, December, and much of January he revealed this to me very clearly.
On top of this, I didn’t know this girl’s story, but I was sure it had to have some kind of pain involved. She was 31 years old (at the time) with a three-year old daughter. I knew she had a backstory, but I guess it was in my best interest not to get involved with someone who was also carrying something into the relationship. You see up to this point I was pretty convinced I didn’t want to pursue someone who also had what some could perceive as baggage. I was bringing quite a bit of it into any relationship myself—recovering from losing a wife to murder, a two-year old son, an internationally known story, and the inevitable reality that whoever stepped into a relationship with me wouldn’t be able to help feeling like they were living in Amanda’s shadow and under the scrutiny of everyone who was following the story. In fact, when I gave it any considerable thought, it seemed an almost impossible hurdle to overcome. For that reason, I would occasionally feel pretty hopeless about finding true love again.
For the next several months after that lunch with her I worked heavily on the book. I was looking at a live album recording on the first anniversary of Amanda’s death, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were approaching plus I was in the midst of the daunting task of writing a book with a January deadline my publishers had given me. The most difficult part of the whole thing was the more I immersed myself in the elements of Amanda and my love story as I wrote the book, I grew more and more hopeless that I would ever find a love like that again. I’ll never forget driving in the car one day and weeping uncontrollably for thirty minutes straight as I headed back to my house. It all felt impossible. Everything. The story I was carrying. The pain buried deep inside. The feeling of being stuck in it and not knowing if I’d ever emerge back into a “normal” life.
AND YET I STILL FOUND MYSELF WONDERING ABOUT THIS GIRL IN THE BACK OF MY MIND.
One night early in January I was working intensely on finishing up the first manuscript of the book. I was writing every day from 7am until about 7pm breaking only for lunch. The owner of my Crossfit gym was kind enough to open up the gym for me after hours so I could still get a workout in. So on this particular night I headed to the gym for a little after-hours-WOD. The last class of the evening was finishing up when I arrived there and wouldn’t you know, this girl happened to be in that class.
I DECIDED I WAS GOING TO ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION WITH HER EVEN IF I HAD TO STEP IN FRONT OF HER.
“Hey!” I said, trying (to no avail) to play it cool. “You’ve been coming to my church for like 4 months now and I know almost nothing about you!” And of course to keep it pastoral I added, “What’s your story? How did you come to know the Lord?”
She must have known she was cornered because slowly she began to tell me her story. For the next thirty minutes or so we stood there as she regaled me on her upbringing and past. I was a little surprised that she didn’t spare many details. She was very up-front about her story, even with some of the rough edges. I’ll let her tell you her story if and when she ever decides to. Let’s just say that she informed me later she was trying to scare me off by giving me the gory details.
What’s funny is out of everything she told me I honed in on the five years she spent studying abroad and on the foreign missions field in Mexico and Cambodia. “Oh!” I replied. “So that’s why you’ve been serving in our inner-city a little bit. You have a heart for missions.” I was relieved that it wasn’t for the reasons I had previously suspected.
“Yeah,” she said with some hesitation, “But also my family lives in that area.”
“By choice?” I blurted out. The focus area of our city that we concentrate our inner-city ministry in is off the charts in crime, drug-related activity, poverty, and housing vacancy. (I write quite a bit in the book about how we got connected to that area. It’s a crazy God story and you can hear some of it here).
“Yeah.” She kept her poise. “My step-dad has lived there for seventeen years and my mom with him for ten. They feel called to that area as their life’s ministry. In fact, that was one reason I chose to attend Resonate. Everything you guys talk about with your ‘ForIndy’ vision and initiatives in that area is what my family has prayed for for years.”
“Wow. That’s really amazing!” So the family has a heart for ministry! That’s always been important to me because a ministry lifestyle isn’t a normal one. Since God called me to ministry I’d always wanted a wife who’s family understood the sacrifices that often must be made. I had that in Amanda’s family and definitely desired that in my next wife. I continued, “Yeah, you know ever since Amanda passed I’ve felt this huge burden for that area. She and I used to run by that neighborhood and pray for it while training for half marathons. Much of what we do as a church comes out of our story and the burden it’s placed on me.”
“It’s truly amazing how you guys have walked through this, Davey. Obviously I’ve been following your story since it happened considering you guys were friends with my old pastors. Also my good friend is a Physician Assistant and she was on duty on the hallway below you in the hospital the night you were there with Amanda. She texted our whole small group saying, ‘You wouldn’t believe this family! They’re praying and worshiping right here in the hallway! It’s like a revival breaking out here!’”
“Wow. So you’ve been closely connected with our story for a while then, huh?” I peered at her with a new interest. You see, several months after Amanda passed I wrote something in my prayer journal: Lord, if you ever bring me another wife here’s what I ask for, that she loves you more than she loves me, that she loves me, that she loves Weston, and that she loves Amanda.
I knew that was going to be crucial because much of my life to come I’ll be sharing Amanda’s story and our journey through trial and tragedy.
IT WOULD TAKE A SPECIAL WOMAN TO STEP INTO THAT CALLING, A SECURE WOMAN, SOMEONE WHO WAS GROUNDED IN HER OWN IDENTITY WITH CHRIST AND WHO WOULDN’T MERELY BE OKAY WITH ME CARRYING THE STORY BUT WHO WOULD BE ABLE TO HELP ME CHAMPION IT.
“Um yeah. I’m connected in some other ways but I don’t think you’ll want me to tell you this.” She shuffled her feet a little and looked around the room.
“What is it?” I was intrigued.
“Well. Um. Davey, my stepdad is one of the Chaplains for the Marion County Prison System.” She paused as if to let what she said set in for a second. “And he has regular conversations with the men that killed Amanda.”
I felt all the blood rush out of my face and the room began to spin. “What?!” I was dumbfounded. What are you doing, God? This girl that I’ve been interested in for a couple months has this close of connection with my story?
I couldn’t help what came out of my mouth next. “You want to go grab some dinner with me?” No sooner did that come out of my mouth did I immediately regret it. I couldn’t be seen out in public with a girl! Everywhere I went in the city I’d regularly get stopped by people who knew my story. What would people say about the pastor who lost his wife a year ago to murder and was going out on the town with random girls?
She and I both decided it wouldn’t be a good idea for us to grab dinner, so we chatted a little more there at the gym and then left.
The next several months was a game of trying to get around her. I had to see what God was up to. So, naturally, I used my kid to angle some time with her. Much to her hesitation, she and I would coordinate when she was coming to Crossfit and bringing her daughter so that I could bring Weston and they’d have a buddy to play with while we worked out. I wish I could say my motives were altruistic. I really just wanted to be around this girl any moment I could.
In fact, I would drive 30 minutes (past the Crossfit gym which was only 10 minutes from my office) to pick Weston up only to drive 20 minutes back to the Crossfit gym in order to keep my end of the bargain. It was ridiculous, but it felt good to have butterflies and romantic feelings again. That was a part of my heart that had been dead for a long time and reawakening it was both bitter and sweet.
One night we went to Chick-Fil-A together, the four of us. As we walked through the doors she took the kids to the back where they were making balloon animals and I hopped in line to order food. As soon as I ordered my food a random lady comes up to me. “Davey Blackburn? Oh my goodness!! I can’t believe it’s you. We’ve been following your story and praying for you! Can we get a photo with you?” Now normally I’m grateful to run into people affected by our story, but this night was different. All I could think about was the fact that I was out in public with another girl!! Looking back on it now it probably wasn’t that big of a deal, but it sure seemed like it at the time. Despite this twist in the night, this girl and I remained at Chick-Fil-A with our kids. In fact, we closed the place down! Three or four times the kids came out of the play place complaining they were tired and ready to leave. “Just a little while longer, kids!” We’d say as we shooed them back into the play place. Both of us were captivated by our conversation. It was about the time the Chick-Fil-A employees started mopping around our feet that we got the hint it was time to leave.
On the afternoon of March 3rd, I wound up in a 3-hour long text conversation with this girl. Now, I’m usually the one getting onto teenagers for not picking up the phone and making a voice call but on this particular afternoon I found myself giggling as I typed out miscellaneous emoji’s. In this text conversation I discovered that although she chose the route of sports her whole life (softball, track, cross country, and volleyball) she was majorly into ballet. Immediately I looked up when the ballet was going to be in Indy next. This was my opportunity to ask her out on a date!
That night at Crossfit I walked up to her and started in, “Hey, what are you doing on March 31st?”
She looked puzzled as she answered hesitatingly. “Uh, I don’t think I have anything planned. That’s a long way off though.”
Her bewilderment didn’t phase me one bit, “Will you let me take you to the ballet?“
All of a sudden her eyes widened and broad smile stretched across her face. “Really? Yeah! That’d be great!” I found out later that she didn’t know I was asking her out on a date, but that she was that obsessed with the ballet she practically would have gone with anyone. Oh well, I was in.
But on March 31st it wasn’t me taking her to the ballet. We had received some wise counsel that it would be a good idea to stay under the table with this developing relationship until after Amanda’s trial (which was set for May at this point). So instead of me taking her to the ballet I paid for her and one of our church overseer’s wives to go to a nice dinner and the ballet while I took her daughter to Chick-Fil-A and Build-A-Bear. We still tell people this was our “first date.”
When May came around and we realized Amanda’s trial was going to be delayed yet again, I called the Prosecutor on the case and asked him how it would affect the trial if my relationship status changed in any way. “Not at all.” He answered me. “You have to do your best to move forward with your life because you never know when this trial will actually happen.”
At that point she and I felt the freedom to go out in public on dates and mid-May we did just that. It was incredible. It was the freest I’d felt since Amanda’s passing. Certainly it was bittersweet to be dating again, but …
THE CONNECTION I FELT WITH THIS GIRL SEEMED TO OUTWEIGH THE SADNESS I FELT WITH THE ABSENCE OF AMANDA.
After a few months of dating and as things began to get a little more serious, we decided it was important to begin involving more people in our relationship. Because of the complexity of being in a relationship with me I wanted to make sure she and I focused on the two of us first. Then from there we wanted to make sure all of our families felt good about this; her family, my family, and Amanda’s family. So in August we spent a week with Amanda’s family in Elkhart, IN and then a week with my family in North Carolina. Her family lives here in Indy so we’d already had a little bit of time with them.
We approached those two weeks knowing it was make or break for us. We knew we had this sense that we’d either come out of those two weeks and hit the gas pedal on our relationship or we’d pump the brakes altogether. On the last day of these two weeks my mom sparked a marriage conversation and it led us down the road of conversations we had not yet entertained. We came back to Indy after this trip and tried to date as normal, but the cat was out of the bag and all we could think about was a future together.
BOTH OF US STILL HAD SOME HESITATION AND APPREHENSION BUT OUR HEARTS WERE QUICKLY MELDING TOGETHER.
One night in September I was asked to share Amanda and my story at a fundraising event on a rooftop penthouse overlooking the Indy downtown cityscape. This girl came as my plus one. At one moment I was standing in front of this group of donors seated at banquet tables, the sun fading behind the skyline in the background, and I looked over at my date. She was looking up at me, eyes beaming with pride. It was that moment I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. Here was a girl whom God had used her own painful past to shape a strength in her such that I was confident she could stand next to me as God continued to write my story. In the process both of our stories would see redemption–together.
You see a couple months after we began dating I read a book called Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It’s the story of the biblical character Hosea in a modern adaptation. Before reading this book I was asking God this question, “Lord, what are you going to do to redeem my story? How are you going to make all this right? How are you going to bring justice for Amanda, another wife into my life, and another mom into Weston’s?” While reading Redeeming Love I sensed God telling me,
“I WANT TO REDEEM YOUR STORY, DAVEY. BUT MAYBE I ALSO WANT TO USE YOU TO REDEEM SOMEONE ELSE’S STORY.”
Very quickly I was discovering that this girl was that someone else. The next couple of months were filled with marriage conversations and consulting wise people in our life. We both believe that “plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisors they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).” By October we knew we were ready to commit to marriage.
So last Wednesday night, November 8th I took her back up to that same rooftop penthouse, got down on one knee and asked her to be my wife.
AND SHE SAID YES!!
(In another blog post I’ll explain more of our proposal story. It’s pretty awesome.)
So friends, let me introduce you to the beautiful Kristi Monroy and her adorable daughter Natalia. Kristi has quickly become like a mother to Weston and Natalia an older sister. And I have quickly fallen in love with both of them.