The Sovereign Sustaining God
Born and raised in southern California, Rob and Kathleen couldn’t have known all God had in store for their lives when they met at a mutual friend’s wedding. Kathleen liked Rob instantly, drawn to his humor and creativity as a musician. Rob loved Kathleen’s energy and spunk, and her quick mind. They got to know each other better at the rehearsal dinner, and it didn’t take Rob long to ask Kathleen out on a date. They dated for one year before getting married and starting what has now been almost 27 years of life together.
Rob was a singer and songwriter as a traveling musician in California, hosting summer camps for churches, and performing at concerts and conferences. He was invited to churches for back to school and holiday events, and spent time recording his music. Rob had one son from a previous marriage and had two daughters with Kathleen. Life was turned completely upside down though when both Rob and their youngest daughter, Natalie, were diagnosed with leukemia. Battling leukemia meant focusing more time on treatment and getting better and less time making money doing what he loved.
Miraculously, both Natalie and Rob beat leukemia and fully recovered. Life could go back to normal. Rob continued his music career, producing an album, and leading various music events. But then 2008 brought with it the market crash, the housing bubble burst, and everything started to go downhill. Churches started cutting their budgets for special events, and invitations became fewer and farther between. Rob needed to provide for his family, so he took a part-time job at a church. But after two years of struggling with work, a lack of album sales, and fighting the mountain of medical debt, something had to give.
Rob and Kathleen discovered a family home was available for them in Jeffersonville, IN, where Kathleen’s family was from. They didn’t really have a good sense of direction from God one way or the other, but they determined staying in California was no longer the best option for their family financially and decided to make the move across the country. They moved away from the life they had built together, away from all of their friends, their children’s friends and schools, and away from where Rob had built his music career. In Indiana, no one knew who they were. No one had heard of Rob or his music. Rob had no job, and they had no friends. No connections. The only foundation they had now rested underneath the house they now owned.
Rob has always been a very positive person. Even during his sickness and his daughter’s cancer, his outlook was optimistic. Moving across the country dampened his spirits, but he still had high hopes. He was a big picture guy, a visionary, and was never short of another great idea. Kathleen, on the other hand, had a very different outlook on life. As a wife and mother, having endured watching her husband and child fight for their lives against cancer, she had always been the practical one. The one to make sure things could work out. She could dream and brainstorm with Rob, but she liked to keep her feet on the ground. It was hard for her to move away from everything and everyone she knew and has always had a sense that it wasn’t the right move. But together they trusted things would work out. They had to.
Grief and trauma began to take a toll on Kathleen. Trying to keep everyone afloat in the move while keeping her own head above water was just too much. Depression crept in and settled deep. Just getting out of bed may as well have been the same as running the Boston marathon. Watching her husband struggle to continue his music and find a job to provide for their family only made things worse. Suddenly, the husband who always had a smile and an idea was seeming to fade. The difficulty of finding work was starting to get to Rob, and for the first time, he started to feel like a failure. He hated to leave his wife at home, in the darkness of their circumstances and her depression. As one flesh in marriage, he felt her pain very deeply. He blamed himself for his wife’s struggles: if only I had provided more financial stability, she wouldn’t feel like this. If only I hadn’t moved her away from her whole life, she would be better.
In 2017, Rob and Kathleen experienced one of the most difficult years of their marriage. They were both just barely surviving. Kathleen’s depression was at its worst. She was convinced God was punishing them. She often wished she could just stay in bed and not wake up, and she couldn’t think straight. Medicine wasn’t doing its job. She felt so bad for her husband, who was trying daily to make things work. Rob refused to blame God but questioned what He was doing. Why was He withholding blessing? He just wanted to be a hero to his wife and come through for her and their family. He was working harder than ever, praying and begging for help, but nothing was working. He felt strongly that they were not bringing God glory by being so miserable, but he also didn’t see how to make it better.
All along their journey together, Rob and Kathleen have recounted how God has provided for them and sustained them through everything. There were times when inheritance money was left for them when they needed it most. Random gifts were given at just the right time. Community is very important to Rob and Kathleen, and while they struggled for a while to find it, they finally feel like they have what they’ve been waiting for at Graceland. They got connected in a small group and Kathleen joined a Bible study. Her faith had grown weaker over time and she was finally able to see God’s hand in the little things. Even when COVID hit and the community they had finally become connected to wasn’t as strong, she was still able to see some good.
When asked how Rob perceives God differently now versus then, at the lowest points, Rob feels he had things to learn and perspectives that needed to be changed, and that’s why God allowed him to be brought low. In California, it was about as good as it could get. “To lose all of it little by little was very painful, but as Phil Vischer says, ‘the work I do for God is not more important than my relationship with God.’” Rob believes God allowed him to lose everything so that he would be utterly and completely dependent on God alone. He needed to be humbled and surrender to whatever God wanted, even when that meant taking what Rob considered to be the lowest job position, in order to truly understand what it means to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Rob would rather have a good marriage and a better walk with Christ than to just be successful living in California. “I don’t want to be left alone by God to live a life of my own design.”
The moral of Rob and Kathleen’s story? Rob puts it succinctly: “God will sustain us, you, His people, the way He wants to. We humans want more comfort, more love, more success, sooner. We want our work to produce results that give us more, better. God is exactly going to do only what He wants to do because He is about eternity and transforming us into the image of Christ. He is going to sustain and provide and give the way He knows is perfect to sustain and give.”