Pastor rob’s story after tragedy
Prologue: Hi guys. This is Pastor Rob. I made this announcement in an email to Journey Church on October 3rd about my personal life: Most all of you are familiar with my story and the pain that the first part of 2018 brought. As we begin winding down the year, I am very excited to announce my engagement to Heather Kelley. I asked Heather to marry me on Friday, September 28th, and she said yes! Heather has experienced her own pain and struggle over the past few years, and now God has aligned our paths to experience the next part of life together and leading Journey Church. Near the end of this month, we will get married in a private ceremony conducted by Pastor Anthony Milas (a member of my accountability team). We will be having a party to celebrate and invite our church family to, although we are still figuring out those details. I am very grateful for God's goodness in my life, and I'm so glad to move forward into the future.
Both Heather and I have been very blessed by mostly positive responses, but I also recognize that there is a story that most people don’t know, because, well, I share much from the pulpit but I don’t share all the details of my personal life to keep some of my life, well, personal.
But in this, I also recognize the need for greater clarity and to help fill in some of the gaps that those who call me their pastor might have. Here is my attempt to do so, and to take a look behind the scenes at some of the hardest and most intimate moments of my life.
My late wife Krista and I were married for 26 and 1/2 years, with so many of them fantastic years where we served God together. We experienced our highs and lows, like any other couple, but the hardest moment of our lives came in January 2015, when Krista was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, and the prognosis was that if she did well, she had 3+ years to live. SO many people were part of the story of Krista’s final few years, and we had (have!) THE MOST wonderful church, friends, and ministry partners by our side from beginning to end. I could not have asked for anything more, and I thank God regularly for His blessings through so many.
In 2015, as Krista was psychologically dealing with what the cancer meant for her and the future, one of the things that she began expressing to me was that she didn’t want me to be alone after she died. Candidly, I did not want to discuss it (and I prayed for healing!), but she was intent on me knowing her wishes. One of the wishes she had was that I would marry someone who could continue walking with me through the ministry. And it was at that point that she said, “If it were possible, I would want you to marry Heather.” Now there was a reason why she said this that will remain unsaid, but she made her desire clear.
Now, I chuckled and made a joke and said, “Well, Heather’s great, but she’s married. And last time I checked, we’re not Mormon!” She just responded, “I know, but that’s what I want.” If you knew Krista, you knew that she had a pretty determined will, and so even though I’d balk and say, “Baby, that’s not happening,” she’d just go on her merry way, making sure I knew her wishes. I shared Krista’s wishes with a few close friends, including my brother Ray in May 2016.
For the next few years, we lived. The church gave us a cruise that we took our kids on (as part of a 10 year pastor anniversary gift), and then she and I did a few cruises with our best friends on the planet - the Redfearns, Wentworths, Kelleys, and Neals. Because we knew time was so valuable, what Krista wanted, I gave her - a new car, a new computer, trips to see her daughter, a Willow tree planted in our yard, etc.). I loved her the very best that I could.
Things began to change in early 2017, and I noticed a marked difference in Krista’s energy and overall health, and in the last 16 months, she experienced a rapid decline. She would sleep for 12-14 hours a day; she fought off several infections; and she was constantly tired, even as she continued to do ministry. She would put most people to shame for her love for Jesus and devotion to His church. People quit ministry all the time - Krista gave it her all dealing with declining health, and she LOVED the church.
But to be very personal, it became a very lonely time for me (and I’m sure for her). My best friend who I’d built this church with and done everything with simply couldn’t keep up, and when she gave to the church, there was little left for me. And she had to battle things physically, emotionally, and spiritually - it was a hard road in 2017. When 2018 came, and her health declined even more rapidly, I was by her side almost 24/7.
During the lonely times in 2017, during the fall (almost exactly a year ago from this writing), Krista and I were driving home from a chemo treatment from Frisbee. As we sat in the car quietly, all of a sudden she blurted out, “I don’t feel like I can talk to you!” Awoken as from sleep, I looked at her and said, “What are you talking about?!” (Note: I now recognize that I wasn’t giving her permission to talk about what I would do after she passed - looking back, I wished I’d have given her more opportunity as it weighed on her. I could hardly bear it, but I wished I’d have given her more of an outlet).
Krista responded, “Well, I want to know after I die if you’re gonna marry and if you’ll sell the house.” I responded kind of begrudgingly, “YES, I will most likely remarry, and yes, at the right time, I will sell the house.” Krista’s heart for me shone through loud and clear. She was determined that I know her intentions of moving forward, and she wanted me to move forward and be happy. And several times, to several people including myself, she made it clear: she considered Heather a perfect choice.
Now, unbeknownst to Krista and I, Heather’s marriage was falling apart. Without going into any details, her marriage was being ripped apart by forces that she could not control, and in late November 2017, she let Krista and I know what was happening, and that it was bad - really bad. And she wanted wisdom on what to do. Our group of friends rallied around Heather to try and help her save her marriage, but choices were made that were beyond her control, and so in March 2018, she began the process of bringing a final end to the marriage.
As her marriage was falling apart, Krista’s health had declined because the cancer had gone into her spine (previously undetected). Krista was admitted to Wentworth Douglas Hospital on February 23, 2018, after almost two months of dealing with immense pain. It was so awful to watch.
The months prior to her admission and after, even though they were candidly the worst days of my life as I watched Krista suffer and felt helpless looking on, I was still very incredibly blessed. Krista’s parents were amazing in providing support and love. They went out of town in January and February, so while they were gone, Krista’s friends (who are like family) were incredible. Krista’s best friends were Rachel & Scott (BBF!) Redfearn, Heather, Jessica Wentworth, and Stephanie Neal). And these four ladies took tremendous care of Krista during my gaps in coverage, and at times when I just needed to rest (along with some other sweet ladies who did nails, gave back rubs, and just were awesome!). She could not have asked for better friends. (As a note, I had some tremendous friends too who ministered to me greatly!)
During those final four months, I was very aware of Krista’s wishes about who I’d marry. She planted the seeds not just with me but with my kids and several others. With all the terrible things that Heather was dealing with, I just watched. I watched as Heather ministered to my wife for long hours while trying to also work on her marriage. I watched her love Krista while putting aside her own needs. Whether it was laying next to her for company, rubbing her back, doing a project, or helping her in any way, I witnessed a woman who exemplifies Proverbs 31 minister to my Proverbs 31 woman. Her heart was so aligned with Krista’s, and her love for Krista was displayed time and again. Others might talk about how much they loved Krista - Heather (and Krista’s close friends) truly demonstrated love in action ALL the time.
When we received the announcement on March 15 that Krista had weeks/months to live, we were devastated. Krista and I held each other and cried, and our hearts were broken. To this point, I did not want to think about life without Krista, but now… life began looking different. During that final month (Krista went to be with Jesus on April 19th), I watched as her friends and family visited and ministered and said goodbye, and one of those continued to be Heather. My wife loved her, loved her company and soothing presence, and she was such a huge blessing.
Now, I’ve known Heather since she and her ex-husband started attending Journey in 2011. She literally volunteered and worked her way into the leadership circles of Journey, and in 2014, she assumed the leadership of the women’s ministry and made the ministry in the mold of what Krista wanted. Heather has been a tremendous women’s ministry leader, and she LOVES the ladies at Journey Church and has for several years. She currently is our top volunteer leader, and she’s just excellent. Beyond ministry, Heather and I have had the privilege of doing life together as married couples, ministered together at church, taken vacations together as families… Heather has been a close family friend and someone who I’ve considered a top friend for a few years.
So when Krista passed away, and having watched Heather be an incredible blessing to Krista and my family, I thought, “Maybe Krista was right. Maybe I should pursue something.”
After Krista passed, I spent time travelling for the better part of 5 weeks (May into early June). When I was back in town, I invited Heather at various points to hang out with me, knowing that there was a timeline for what was happening with her own stuff. And so we did. And very easily, because we’ve done so much life and ministry together, it became evident that there were butterflies and feelings developing. But we knew that we had to wait before we could step forward and make anything public.
Because of the complexities of the legal system, we actually started dating (I asked her out on June 29th), only to find out a week later (through some not-so-pleasant avenues) that the divorce was not final - a final hearing had been scheduled for Thursday, September 27th. So we had to pull back the reins and wait some more. I let two of my spiritual counselors know about this - Pastor Anthony Milas and Pastor Duke Hergatt (and they’re both thrilled for what God has next for us!).
During the time of waiting, Heather and I hung out with regularity, visited both our parents in Connecticut, took two fun day trips to New York City, went to a few concerts, and ministered at church - and we just waited. With church and work obligations on both our ends, while we had time to hang out, we also have plenty of other things to keep us busy.
On Thursday, September 27th, the judge signed the final order, and so on September 28th, I asked Heather to marry me. When we receive the final decree from the state, we will move forward in a private ceremony to get married.
Falling in love with Heather - who I’ve known for over 7 years and have done an immense amount of life with, and who I’ve considered a top friend of mine and my wife’s for years - was about as easy as taking my next breath. Krista and I knew each other for 10 months and got married (and it lasted over 26 years!). Heather and I have known each other for seven years, and we plan on spending the rest of our lives together.
I like what my friend, Pastor Josh Gagnon said in a text the other day: No one questions your love for your wife in Heaven and no one better question your need for love here on earth. I’m so glad to find love again.
One last thing: neither of us wanted to be in the situations we were in. I wish Krista had never had cancer, and Heather wishes that the toxicity and destruction of her marriage had never taken place. But we are so thankful for a God who brings beauty from ashes, and who breathes life into dry bones. And we are thankful for each other - Heather is my perfect choice.
Epilogue: These past 6 months since Krista passed haven’t been easy. Even as we’ve done some life together and worked to draw some clear boundaries, we’ve experienced our fair share of pain, criticism, and attacks. I also recognize that for parts of Krista’s family whom I love dearly, this hasn’t been an easy transition (or season), and I continue to work to try and make things easier. But our goal is to get to the clear point where we can be focused on life ahead, ministry to come, and living to glorify God.
If you’ve read to the end, thank you. I share my story, knowing that most people will be thrilled and excited for what God has next for us. There will be some people will struggle or fill in gaps with suspicion (rather than trust) and generate rumors (which is not what I want!). Others will disagree and move on, even to another church to worship, and that’s okay. We will respectfully disagree on some matters.
Heather and I look forward to life ahead. If you have any questions or just want to send a note, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Grace & Peace,
Note: Heather and Pastor Rob were married on October 29, 2018 and then given an amazing wedding ceremony on Friday, November 2, 2018. They reside in Newington with Heather’s mom and their 3 dogs!