Kirk McGregor (far left, in green) and Lori Romberg-McGregor (to his right, in gray) married in February 2012. Together, with their four children from previous marriages, they created a blended family. Now the couple is passionate about helping nontraditional families like themselves see God’s grace in their own complex stories.
On a Saturday morning, the smell of bacon and syrup fills the kitchen. A round table is set with six place settings, a lazy Susan rotating in the middle. Abby McGregor will turn 13 years old next week, but she’ll be with her mom then, so this side of her family is celebrating early with a substantial breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and her dad Kirk’s famous “pan-cupcakes.”
Each family member, smiling excitedly, knows this tradition well. Kirk’s biological children include Alex, the high school freshman who’s a passionate kicker-in-training for his football team, and Abby, the birthday girl. Sitting beside them are their older stepsiblings. Sarah Probst, 20, is Abby’s confidant and a college student with turquoise tips in her hair. Sarah’s twin brother, Matthew, is 6 feet, 6 inches tall, autistic and has a gracious spirit that inspires joy in those he meets.
Abby McGregor, nearly 13 years old, dips one of her dad’s signature “pan-cupcakes” in syrup and sprinkles during her birthday celebration breakfast.
Their parents brought them all together nine years ago: Kirk McGregor, a volunteer pastor and blended family minister, met and married Dr. Lori Romberg-McGregor, an OB-GYN and vital partner in Kirk’s ministry.
Alex spoons a heap of scrambled eggs onto his plate to prepare himself for practice that afternoon. Abby dips her pan-cupcake in syrup and then covers it in colorful sprinkles. Matthew usually eats breakfast early, but he has been holding off because this is one of his favorite treats.
“He’d keep eating all of them if you’d let him!” Alex remarks about his stepbrother Matthew.
Kirk McGregor began making “pan-cupcakes” for his biological children when he was a single dad. To make pan-cupcakes, Kirk says, you need one cup of a premade pancake mix combined with ⅔ cups of water. Pour the mixture into a muffin tin, bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown, and serve with syrup and toppings. Recipe yields 10–12 pan-cupcakes.
Kirk began making this breakfast as a single dad with his two kids when they were younger because it was less messy than a conventional pancake breakfast. After marrying Lori, the tradition took on a life of its own. While there were painful challenges in those initial years, when you look at each family member now, pan-cupcake in hand, you can’t help but see God’s handiwork in their story.
As Lori says, God took something broken and made it good.
Kirk and Lori McGregor love the Lord, love one another and love their children — but, as a blended family, they had struggles within that others often could not fully understand.
Through study in Scripture and resources from FamilyLife Blended® — an arm of FamilyLife® that seeks to teach and encourage nontraditional families — they began to see Christ’s redemption in their story and apply His teaching to their experience. Eager to share this ministry with other families like themselves, Kirk attended seminary to become equipped to work with blended families and continues to be equipped by FamilyLife Blended.
The Texas Star Ferris Wheel is a 216-foot landmark located in Dallas, Texas. While Dr. Lori Romberg-McGregor originally hails from Escondido, California, and Kirk from Foxborough, Massachusetts, the two have made their family home in Dallas.
A Dallas Fire Rescue truck is parked among high-rises in the northern area of the city, near the McGregor’s suburban home. Kirk and Lori hope that as their children grow, and possibly marry and have children of their own, their family home in Dallas will be a central location for everyone to come and visit.
Blended families: A plentiful harvest
Ron Deal, director of blended family ministries at FamilyLife, has been a marriage and family pastor for nearly three decades, increasingly counseling single parents and blended families. He quickly learned that there was generally a higher degree of stress and more complex challenges in a nontraditional family than in a traditional one. He also realized there was no Christian curriculum for these families nor a model for how the church could engage them, in spite of the fact that up to 40 percent of any church could consist of these types of families.
“Approximately one-third of all weddings in America today form stepfamilies.”
“We are so far behind, as the church… 62 percent of couples under 55 have a stepparent or stepchild [relationship],” Ron says. “Nontraditional is the new traditional, but [stepfamilies] are marginalized in hundreds of ways we don’t even think about. The outreach potential is amazing.”
Learn more about the terminology for blended families.
Family Vocabulary Key
Sarah Probst, 20-year-old stepdaughter of blended family pastor Kirk McGregor, urges anyone hoping to serve nontraditional families to take cues from the families themselves when it comes to vocabulary.
“Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in specific labels, like, this is my stepdad or my stepbrother or my half-brother. And that can be important, especially if it’s new. So, it’s about what the family themself is comfortable with. Take your cues from them.”
Traditional family (or nuclear family): Two parents and their biological children.
Nontraditional family: Any family that is not “nuclear,” meaning two parents and their biological children. Examples include a single-parent family, blended family created after divorce or blended family created after the death of one parent.
Blended family or stepfamily: When a family forms with at least one adult bringing at least one child into the marriage from a previous relationship.
Stepfamily couple: A couple who marries with at least one member having at least one child from a previous relationship.
Stepparents (i.e., stepmother or stepfather): A stepparent is the partner of a parent with a child from a previous relationship who is not the child’s biological parent.
Stepsiblings (i.e., stepbrother or stepsister): Stepsiblings are children born of two different families who have been joined by marriage of at least one of their respective parents.
Half-siblings: Half-siblings biologically share one parent, their mother or father.
Ron says many blended families can be apprehensive in Christian environments, especially if divorce is part of their story, as there can be a sense of shame over past sin or complex needs in their story. “It’s far easier for people in the secular world to talk about being in a blended family than in a Christian context,” he says.
So Ron began publishing books and small group studies with his ministry Smart Stepfamilies®. When he joined the FamilyLife team in 2012, he jokes that his ministry and FamilyLife combined to create a blended family: FamilyLife Blended®.
One of the McGregor family’s favorite pastimes together is playing video, board and card games. Kirk even had two trophies made for these occasions. The first is smaller, for everyday games, and can be seen on the table between stepsisters Abby and Sarah; the second larger prize, which they have named the “Prombergor” award (a mix of the three last names represented by the six family members — McGregor, Probst and Romberg) comes out for their annual Thanksgiving games.
But as passionate as Ron is about blended family ministry, he did not have firsthand experience as a part of a blended family, so he was thrilled to hear from Kirk, whose theological education and family story could contribute to the ministry.
Sarah Probst, 20, the eldest sibling in the McGregor clan, plays a wind instrument called an ocarina. She is a talented musician, primarily experienced on piano and marimbas, although she loves to try new and unusual instruments. Currently, Sarah is a college student pursuing a degree in astronomy.
The two (families) shall become one
Kirk sits with his laptop, waiting to join his biweekly Zoom meeting with José Colon. He has a special connection with José, who is also a father in a blended family.
José explains it’s been a tough week. His adult son went through a personal tragedy and was hospitalized, but José was in Dallas while his son was in New York. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, he was out of reach. Fortunately his ex-wife, whom he hadn’t spoken to in years, and his current wife were able to work together to get his son the help he needed.
Kirk meets José Colón on Zoom. After hearing Kirk’s testimony in a church class, José, also a parent in a blended family, asked Kirk to be his accountability partner. The two chat biweekly.
“It’s truly a testament to God … to see this blended family come together in a moment of crisis,” José says.
Kirk knows José’s hurting, and he supports him in his faith. “It’s so encouraging to see you knowing there’s only one answer: coming to Jesus and saying, ‘please help,’ knowing you’ll be healed,” Kirk tells José during their call.
Lori (left) helps her son Matthew Probst (right), 20, and Sarah’s twin brother, with laundry. Matthew is a whiz at movie quotes and holds a special place in the hearts of his family members.
Because of Matthew’s special needs, tools like this chore chart help him in keeping order and making strides toward independence. The McGregors are also grateful for programs like H.E.R.O.E.S. that help teach life skills in a supportive environment to children and adults like Matthew.
Kirk and Lori are confident in the redemption and healing God brings to difficult situations because they’ve experienced it firsthand. Kirk says in his divorce from his first wife, because of his own mistakes, he “hit rock bottom.” Although he was raised in a Christian home, the end of his marriage ultimately motivated him to seek the Lord and His help.
While Lori grew up attending church for a short time, her faith dwindled as she experienced her parents’ divorce when she was 9 years old, remarrying each other when she was 12, and then re-divorcing her senior year of high school, after which her mother left the family.
“I dropped out of a lot of things, including church,” she says.
Lori prays with her son, Matthew, before bed. Matthew likes to maintain a strict schedule with specific times for going to bed, meals and chores. This schedule can be interrupted when his stepsiblings visit every other weekend, or when he goes to visit his dad, stepmom and half-brothers in Washington. Although it can require extra adjustment for him, Matthew is excited when he gets to spend time with other family members.
She says abandonment became a mark in her life after her mother left. Lori married an agnostic man; they removed all references to God from their wedding vows. She gave birth to their twins. But after 10 years, he asked her for a divorce, re-introducing abandonment into her life. She turned to unhealthy relationships with men as a coping mechanism while juggling her career as a physician and raising her kids, Matthew and Sarah. Unexpectedly, because of one of those romantic relationships, Lori began to attend church again, embraced Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for her sins, and began a relationship with God.
“God met me in all my mess and wasn’t expecting me to clean myself up first. He met me in the middle of my sin, and for this I was so relieved.”
Dr. Lori Romberg-McGregor
Four years after returning to church, Lori met Kirk, who would become a husband who “cherished and honored” her, and they married in 2012. But to their surprise, the “messiness” of life didn’t cease simply because they were now in a healthy, God-centered relationship with each other.
Kirk (far left) and his son, Alex, 14, walk alongside the football field where Alex practices kicking. Playing football is an activity the two enjoy on Wednesdays when Kirk spends the afternoon with Alex and his sister, Abby. Usually the outings end in a meal, just the three of them, at a favorite fast food restaurant.
“More complex than we realized”
Lori had been a single mom to her kids, 12 years old at the time, for seven years when she and Kirk married, and was used to co-parenting with her ex-husband. She’d often make decisions about the kids without consulting Kirk, leaving him feeling ignored. When he’d give input, Lori felt criticized in her parenting.
To add to the mix, young Sarah struggled under Kirk’s authority and had difficulty suddenly sharing her mom. While she and Matthew were entering their teen years, their new stepbrother and stepsister were just about 4 and 5 years old.
Alex (right) practices kicking for his high school football team with his kicking coach, Scott Blanton. Scott was a kicker for the Washington NFL team for three years. Kirk is proud of Alex’s skill, especially as a freshman, noting that his longest kick so far has been 42 yards.
“It was very weird to have this new person living here and these new little kids running around, always trying to implement all these [rules] — obviously [I was] blowing things out of proportion [but] that’s how I was feeling. I was a kid,” says Sarah.
In addition to new family dynamics, the McGregors were unsure of how their church family would view their new family. This is a common struggle for blended families of all kinds, whatever their history.
Kirk receives special attention from Phasma, one of the family’s three cats. Kirk and Lori say Phasma, along with her feline brothers, Yoda and Lando, have helped to bring the family closer together. Kirk notes that he never really wanted a pet; but Abby, helped by her stepsister Sarah, put together a 42-page PowerPoint slide presentation on why the family should adopt a cat, and he was sold.
Hanah and Andy Bartee, who’ve been married for nine years and participate in the McGregors’ blended family ministry, came together from two different situations: Hanah’s first marriage ended in 2008, and she had two small children when she reconnected with Andy, a childhood friend who’d been single up until then.
“We were extremely hopeful and excited to blend,” Hanah says. “But we learned quickly that things were more complex than we realized. The whole dynamic of exes and their decisions affecting you, the newness of coming into a situation feeling like an outsider — we were completely oblivious to all of that.”
Instead of being “the knight in shining armor” Andy expected himself to be, he learned he wasn’t immediately accepted and that the four, as a new family unit, desperately needed help.
Kirk and Lori attend a Zoom meeting held by FamilyLife Blended® Director Ron Deal on the topic of the “smart stepfamily” and various trials and biblical solutions distinct to blended families. A large portrait of Kirk and Lori’s wedding day hangs in their dining room, inscribed with their wedding date. Above it is a placard that reads, “We still do.”
Through counseling, the couple was introduced to Ron’s books, which were welcomed, as up till then, they’d only had secular movies about blended families as a reference point. But they still felt their situation was taboo in the church. It was difficult to explain to others the unrealistic expectations and complicated dynamics in church, where their situation was never addressed or acknowledged.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s most detrimental is pretending [nontraditional family dynamics] don’t exist when they’re a major portion of our society,” Hanah says.
“It’s like [the church thinks] if they support blended families, they’re condoning divorce,” says Lori.
Lori and Kirk participate in a weekly Smart Stepfamilies® video meeting along with more than 100 other participants from nontraditional families.
But luckily for the McGregors, their church had one pastor who grew up in a blended family and was familiar with Ron’s resources as well. Through reading these books, and connecting with this pastor and another stepfamily couple, Kirk and Lori began to study what Scripture said about their marriage and family.
In studying passages about divorce and remarriage (such as Matthew 19, where Jesus addresses divorce, and Deuteronomy 24, an Old Testament example of honoring remarriage) Kirk learned many significant things. He realized that when he and Lori married each other, they were motivated by desire and love for one another, but they also could have taken more time to pray and seek God’s heart for them and their new reality. However, he also learned that God would take care of his marriage and family now as it was a covenant relationship committed to the Lord.
Kirk has coffee and studies Scripture with his spiritual mentor, Dick Wakeman (right), 80. The friends meet weekly to pray through a passage of Scripture.
In-depth study of Scripture is the foundation for Kirk’s ministry to blended families. In passages like Matthew 19 and Deuteronomy 24 he learned about Jesus’ heart for marriage but also His desire to redeem and bless families dedicated to Himself. Dick (whose hands are pictured here) grew up in a blended family and, although he mentors Kirk, has learned and healed through Kirk’s knowledge about blended family ministry.
Kirk also learned that churches have several different perspectives on divorce. While some recognize divorce as valid in the instances of adultery, abandonment or abuse, others will seek every avenue for reconciliation.
He also began to understand there were all sorts of different blended families — families that formed after the death of a spouse, families that include extended family caregivers, families with primarily adult children, and blended families of varying cultural backgrounds. He realized there are similar struggles between all, as well as very distinct hurdles for each.
In addition, different cultures, even within the U.S., have blended families that function differently; while some cultures may have more rigid boundaries between the homes of a child’s parents, other cultures may see the divorced parents and new spouses as an extension of the current family dynamic.
“We know that we serve a God that redeems our wrongs. It’s only Christ working the gospel through me [that gives me] the opportunity to be in the presence of God. And that’s [where] a blended family can get true healing.”
While Kirk now says that he believes he and Lori made more of an emotional decision to remarry than a theological one, he also says Christ’s entrance into a couple’s complicated needs (and even mistakes) and His healing is the primary message of blended family ministry, which has helped him personally.
Dick holds up a project he and Kirk made together for discipling younger followers of Christ. The wheel, which Dick carved and Kirk engraved, represents the Christian life, the vertical axis representing a relationship with God and the horizontal, a relationship with others. Dick, like Kirk, enjoys building new believers up in their faith and mobilizing them for ministry. He sums up discipleship in a popular phrase he learned from the Navigators®: “Tell ‘em why, show ‘em how, get ‘em started and keep ‘em going.”
“Your mess is not a problem for me.”
Lori, in her role as OB-GYN, sits in an examination room with a patient who has become a friend.
Lindsay Wallace, Lori’s patient, had her first appointment a decade ago on a difficult day; she’d learned simultaneously that she was pregnant and that she had cancer. She went to Lori’s practice to confirm her pregnancy and “felt an immediate connection with her,” Lindsay says.
Lindsay has been cancer-free for 10 years and now has two children who are 9 and 8 years old. She also married for a second time a couple years back.
Lori (right), known in this context as Dr. Romberg, meets with friend and patient Lindsay Wallace in an examination room at her OB-GYN practice. While Lori has helped Lindsay through the birth of her two children, she has also connected with her as a fellow mom of a stepfamily. Lindsay says the issues she had when she divorced and remarried took her by surprise and caused a great deal of stress. She says, “Having non-judgmental support and encouragement from someone who ‘gets it’ is everything.”
“At first, I was carrying around so much shame and guilt from having a divorce that I didn’t tell [Dr. Romberg] about it for a while,” Lindsay says.
“When I finally told her, she was a wealth of support. I believe that because of her own experiences, she has a special sensitivity to some of my challenges and knows what questions to ask.”
Lori, in her practice, helps new mother Olivia Rice to hear her baby’s heartbeat. Olivia, her husband and their adoptive son constitute a different kind of “nontraditional family” than the blended families the McGregors often interact with. But through their journey with unexplained infertility, adoption and a surprise conception, Lori has been a support.
Lori, Kirk and Ron point out that there are many examples of complex family situations in the Bible. In The Smart Stepfamily, Ron says, in fact, he couldn’t find an example of a “normal, faithful, healthy” family dynamic in the Bible, noting that even Jesus was part of a blended family –– with Joseph as His adoptive stepfather. There are a plethora of biblical examples of God meeting people from complex family dynamics where they are and faithfully loving them.
Ron points out the example of the woman at the well in John 4. “She was socially isolated, had a messy background, was spiritually isolated and Jesus said, ‘Your mess is not a problem for Me.’ [And there was] transformation.”
Kirk meets with Cecil Blanton (right), who helps lead a recovery ministry at their church. Although Cecil is single, he jokes, “I’m in the blended family of God!”
Kirk and Cecil pray together at the end of their meeting. Although Cecil is the leader in his recovery ministry, he asked Kirk to mentor him during this season, as he knows he still has room to grow. The past year, with social distancing, has been a huge challenge for outgoing Cecil and he says, “I know I wouldn’t have gotten through it without my faith.” Kirk calls Cecil a great soul with a servant’s heart.
Kirk and Ron see the type of ministry they do as twofold. They want to care well for blended families, but also consider the ministry a bridge between nontraditional families and the church. Churches desire to care for these families but often don’t know exactly how to do so. The gospel is at the heart of both.
Kirk and Lori (right) laugh with their friends Carl and Regina Gordon, who attend a small group with them. The families met when their eldest children were in the high school band together and have remained friends in faith ever since.
Kirk, Lori and their friends, Carl and Regina, pray together. Regina says, “What I appreciate about the McGregors is … they’re the real deal. They’re real people with real lives and real problems and joys. They’re authentic, but also fun! There’s a great balance between Christ being the center of their lives, but also we play cards.”
Generations of redemption
Not only can stepfamily couples experience transformation through grace by blended family ministry, but Kirk also notes that ministering to the couples can build a strong foundation for generations to come after a family “blends.” Especially in the case of divorce, abuse or abandonment, Kirk says that a healthy remarriage can set an example for children involved.
“The generational cycle of divorce can be reversed when blended families center their marriage around Jesus Christ,” Kirk says. “[Kids] can see a godly marriage right in front of them and say, ‘This is why I want to get married. This is what marriage should look like.’”
How you can get involved in ministering to families at your church
Ron’s Top Tips for Blended Family Ministry
According to Ron Deal, marriage counselor and director of blended family ministries at FamilyLife®, up to 40% of any church could consist of nontraditional families, but the vast majority of churches lack resources (and sometimes awareness) to help these families with their complex needs. Here are Ron’s top three tips for getting involved in blended family ministry.
For Blended Families Looking for Help
Get connected to FamilyLife Blended® to become a part of our worldwide community. Follow FamilyLife Blended on social media and subscribe to the monthly newsletter to find out when and how you can be involved in the future.
Kirk says he hopes his own children and stepchildren — some of whom are involved in church, and others who are not — see the grace of God in their family and through their story. The kids say being welcome and having a place to be honest has made a difference in their lives as well.
Abby, Kirk, Alex, Lori, Matthew (left to right) and Sarah (in the foreground) close Abby’s birthday celebration weekend with dinner and a chocolate-chocolate-chip bundt cake.
Sarah, the eldest of the McGregor stepsibling clan, reminds people that her family, even with its chaotic schedules and occasional butting of heads, has something beautiful to teach the world.
“One of the strengths of blended families is the ability to create a familial bond without being blood related,” Sarah says.
“It makes you think about the fact that life is short and we’re allowed to choose who we have in our lives and who we love. And, for my mom, that’s Kirk.”
Explore biblical resources for blended families at FamilyLife Blended®.
Guy isn’t much of a city person. Paddling down the Wda river in northern Poland with participants of a Cru® summer mission project describes a great place for him to photograph. He likes being outside, doing anything with water, and he enjoys making things with his hands. Guy serves as a photographer for Cru.