Coming Out of the Clouds
About the Guest
As a forty something woman, Rhonda found herself widowed. Her late husband had been a Godly man, a highly respected surgeon, a great dad and the love of her life. Now he was gone. Across town, Rhonda's pastor, Rob Bugh - her husband's best friend and pastor - had only recently watched cancer take the love of his life. Now, even in the midst of their grief, sparks were beginning to fly between newly widowed Rob and Rhonda...but could it really work? Hear Rob and Rhonda's story of blending two very different households.
Rob and Rhonda BughRobert Bugh is a graduate of Southern Methodist University. He received a Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served as the Senior Pastor at Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, Illinois since 1994. Rob also serves as the chairman of the board of Greater Europe Mission. Following the death of his first wife, Rob married a long-time family friend, Dr. Rhonda Williams, a pediatrician who previously lost...more
As a forty something woman, Rhonda found herself widowed.
Coming Out of the Clouds
Bob: It was not long after Rhonda Williams had lost her husband to cancer that her pastor also lost his wife to a fatal disease. Then, months later, all of a sudden, almost out of nowhere, something started to happen.
Rhonda: All of a sudden, we were a little more intentional in trying to sit together and talk together; and yes, that heart rate goes up—all those hormones that we all know about started again—
Rob: And we’re catching up with each other: “How you doing?” “What are you feeling?” We have this amazing commonality in the death of our spouses, and that was a huge magnet.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Rob and Rhonda Bugh join us today to share with us their surprising, unexpected love story.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, Mary Ann and I have had the opportunity, over the last—more than a year now—to walk with a friend who became a widow last year. The adjustment to the new normal is—you don’t just flip a switch and get there. It is a journey, and it’s moment by moment; but along the way, God shows up, gives grace, and you get there.
Dennis: And to a widow who has children and is young enough to remarry—that makes it an even bigger adjustment—
Dennis: —when that takes place. We have a couple here who are sharing their story with us. Rob and Rhonda Bugh join us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Rob: Thank you.
Rhonda: Thank you.
Dennis: Rob has written a book called When the Bottom Drops Out. It’s subtitled Finding Grace in the Depths of Disappointment. There’s a reason why he’s written that book. His wife of 27 years, Carol, died of cancer. They had four children in their family, at the time. He ended up marrying Rhonda, who had been married to Rob’s best friend. You were married to Tom for 25 years. You had three children. You’re a pediatrician. He was a surgeon, and he died of cancer.
What I want to ask both of you, “After you’d been through this valley”—I mean, for both of you, it was a quick valley from the time of diagnosis to death was pretty rapid—“How long before either one of you had any thought of even considering someone else?” Rob, you are smiling. Why? Rhonda?
Rhonda: I really never thought of remarrying after Tom died. Both of my grandmothers were widows at 45. I just assumed I was another widow in our family. As most widows and widowers will tell you, “When you lose your spouse, you are in this cloud, this fog, that you seem to be in for a period of time”—and everybody is different.
But I—my personal experience is I was in this fog, and many times, amazing forgetfulness until about 18 months after Tom died. It was a very clear, lucid time. It was the beginning of December. It was as if this veil lifted, and there was this clarity of thought. There was this new joy that seemed to take over. I could decorate for Christmas.
Dennis: What caused it? What caused it to occur?
Rhonda: Well, I don’t know. I assume that it was God’s timing. It just happened, and it—and I know that it probably happens at different times for different people; but for me, it was very clear when I felt better. It was shortly after that that the Lord brought Rob into my life. [Laughter]
Bob: Hang on. I don’t want to get there too quickly. I want to come back to the lifting of the cloud.
Bob: Did you feel guilty that you were starting to experience joy again?
Rhonda: No, I don’t recall ever feeling guilty. I felt this heaviness lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I could breathe again, and I could start doing life. I don’t think I felt guilty.
Bob: There wasn’t a sense of somehow betraying Tom’s memory by having joy reemerge in your life?
Dennis: And the question I wanted to ask—and again, this is totally unfair. So, you’re just going to have to forgive me. You’re a pediatrician—you forgive kids for all kinds of stuff. You’re sitting out in the congregation, underneath the teaching of your pastor, Rob Bugh. You didn’t have a conscious thought?
Rhonda: Not at all—he was my pastor.
Bob: Yes, but you’d seen him lose his wife. You watched him walk the same valley you’d walked. In fact, in the midst of your common grief, did you ever reach out to him and say, “I know what’s going on”?
Rhonda: Well, it was an awkward time. Shortly, after Tom died, my oldest son was struggling with the loss of his father. He was in a difficult place and fairly rebellious. Finally, in August, I called Rob for help. Rob had sort of disappeared from my life. Tom was his best friend; but all of a sudden, Tom died, and I never saw Rob again. I can let Rob explain why he felt uncomfortable with that, but I felt abandoned by my pastor. My children, actually, had some of the same feelings, “Where did Rob go?”
Rob: Yes, I had been there with Tom faithfully; but when Tom died, I got concerned about male/female boundaries and got really busy in ministry. I, frankly, just wasn’t there for her. I moved on and let the press of life push and pull me in a direction that led me away from Rhonda.
So, when Rhonda and I started to talk, she sat down with me one time and said, “I’ve got to be really honest with you. Here’s how I feel.” She was spot on, and I was really wrong. God was beginning to change me in this area through the death of my wife, and all the time we spent in cancer hospitals, and just seeing another side of life that I had stepped into but would always quickly step out of, as a lead pastor in a large church. I just had too many other things coming at me.
Dennis: I just wonder, “Were you in a cloud?”
Rob: There was certainly that going on. Yes.
Dennis: You just didn’t have it to give. I’m not trying to make an excuse for why you weren’t engaging there; but I mean, it’s not like you had zero going on in your life.
Rob: Exactly. Suddenly, I was a single-parent of four kids; but it’s not too hard to pick up the phone and call and say, “How are you doing, Rhonda? How are the kids?” It wasn’t until December, after the fog lifted—now, we didn’t have any idea of any of this—I didn’t—that we finally reconnected through some friends that were mutual friends of ours.
Bob: Yes, I’ve just got to ask you about this because I know about this dinner you had—this setup dinner from somebody on the elder board.
Rob: Yes. Don’t say setup, Bob. The chairman of our elder board and his wife—we all got together—we always got together at the end of the year.
Dennis: Their motives were pure.
Rhonda: They were!
Rob: They—and actually, they were horrified at the thought of Rhonda and me starting to date because of how much pain Rhonda had been in and how raw I still was. We were just getting together. One other couple couldn’t come. Jim and Sandy set it up at a restaurant. I got there. Rhonda was a little late because of work. She walked into the restaurant. I looked at her, and I saw Rhonda in a way I’d never seen her before. I felt like God was saying, “How stupid do you have to be, Rob?” [Laughter]
Bob: Now, there had been people—from almost the time your wife died—there had been people in the church thinking, “Well, this is obvious!”
Dennis: Well, maybe not. How many people go to your church?
Rob: We have about 5,000.
Bob: Yes, there had been people in the church—trust me! [Laughter] Trust me.
Dennis: Why are you laughing, Rhonda?
Bob: This had been—
Dennis: Had some of them said something to you?
Bob: —this had been talked about in small groups and prayer groups around the church. I guarantee you. “Wouldn’t it be something if Rob and Rhonda got—I mean, they just”—you know that buzz had been happening; right?
Rob: Well, you know one of my favorite authors is a guy by the name of Mark Buchanan—tells this wonderful story about the fall of the Iron Curtain and the line was, “Well, we’ve got a bunch of older women in this country that have been praying for decades. Is it really that surprising that the Iron Curtain has fallen?” We had a bunch of older—[Laughter]—mature, godly women who were praying—
Bob: —for the Iron Curtain between the two of you—
Rob: —that this woman would rescue the now single-parent senior pastor from doing something absurd like moving to Southern California and deciding to surf the rest of his life or something.
Dennis: Well, we now know who to blame on the cloud part, too.
Rhonda: Exactly; exactly! [Laughter]
Rob: So, there were lots and lots of people—and think about it from one perspective. I mean, when a senior pastor loses his wife, and he starts to date, and think about remarriage—how potentially divisive—
Bob: Oh, yes.
Rob: —and controversial that can be in a local church. There was none of that.
Dennis: So, what did you do after you said, “Wow!”?
Bob: I want to know—
Dennis: Yes, right.
Bob: —she walks in—were you—
Rob: I started talking to her, in the presence of Jim and Sandy, our friends, and just had this conversation. I was thinking, “What’s going on here? Could this”—you know? You’re kind of walking through all of these things in your mind, and you’re still kind of reeling. You’re coming off 27 years of almost perfect—
Dennis: How long had your wife been gone?
Rob: Carol had been gone four months—just four months.
Rob: And these were just thoughts that I was having alone. Now, Carol and I got engaged after five months.
Bob: So, we see what kind of guy you are. [Laughter]
Rob: My girls keep reminding me of that: “Dad, this wasn’t that surprising, frankly, because this is the way you tend to operate. Give us some crash helmets.” [Laughter]
Bob: Rhonda, did you notice at that dinner that he seemed particularly friendly?
Rhonda: No, I must have still had a little bit of that fog—
Bob: Little cloud left?
Rhonda: Yes, cloud left because—
Rob: And anger. [Laughter]
Rhonda: I didn’t, at the time.
Dennis: So, what was your first phone call for a date? How long, Mr. Five-Months? [Laughter]
Rob: We got together on New Year’s Day with the same friends and our family—
Rhonda: That would be the next day. [Laughter]
Rob: —like we always did. We started to talk. There were a couple sparks going off.
Dennis: Hold it! Hold it!
Rhonda: And that’s when—
Dennis: In whom; in whom?
Rhonda: That’s when I would say the sparks started—was the next day.
Rob: It took her less than 24 hours. Now, hear that!
Bob: [Laughter] He’s vindicated. [Laughter]
Rob: I mean—I rest my case!
Dennis: I wish this wasn’t radio, at this point, because he’s looking kind of cocky at this point. [Laughter]
Bob: Tell me about the sparks going off, Rhonda. I just wondered—the next day when you’re having a conversation and you’re starting to feel things you haven’t felt in a long time.
Rhonda: That’s right. All of a sudden, we were a little more intentional in trying to sit together and talk together. Yes, that heart rate goes up—all those hormones that we all know about started again.
Rob: And we’re catching up with each other. “How are you doing? What are you feeling?” We have this amazing commonality in the death of our spouses, and that was a huge magnet. I wanted to hear from Rhonda how she was doing—as a pastor, but also, as a friend—what she could teach me as I was on the frontend of my journey of grieving.
Dennis: Were there any of your more learned church members coming forward to kind of go, “Hey, you need to be careful here. You could be two lonely people meeting on an island”—out of concern for you, as their pastor?
Rob: Some people, along the way—when Rhonda and I, in January and February, began to spend some time together, talking and trying to figure out: “What is this thing?”, “How are we doing?”, “What are we really thinking?”, and to kind of get our toes in the water of this potential, new relationship—there were a couple of people—
I tend to be really open, and I do life through relationships. I’ve got a bunch of really close friends, and I would talk to them about this. They would say, “Really; already?”; but most of them were, “Wow! Do you think God could possibly be in this?” or, “Man, this could make a lot of sense.”
Bob: Rob, if you, as a pastor, knew somebody whose wife had been gone for five months and he starting to show an interest in a woman, would you be a guy who says, “Really, already?” or would you be a guy who says, “I wonder if God’s in this?”
Rob: I would be a guy that would probably say both. [Laughter] In light of the almost five years of remarriage now that we’ve experienced and all the adjustments—and especially the adjustments for our kids—and our kids have remarkable relationships with one another. I would say, “You know, give this some time.”
That’s where Ron Deal has been a big help in his writing and his counsel to both Rhonda and I—just saying, “Hey, think about this. Look before you leap. What about this?” because it’s not a Rob and Rhonda in a remarriage—it’s a Rob and Rob’s kids and Rhonda and Rhonda’s kids’ thing.
Bob: And the church that Rob pastors and the whole big community. I mean—
Rhonda: That’s right.
Bob: —you guys, as much as anybody, have got a web here that people affected by the romance that sparked between the two of you. You can’t just think of it in terms of “the two of us”. You have to think of it in that broader context; don’t you?
Rob: But it didn’t help when I would talk to different people about this—elders, who would say, “Well, you know? We’ve been praying that you two would get together.” There was a lot of that. A lot of people at Wheaton Bible Church were praying that we would get together—I mean a lot. It was an amazing thing to behold.
Dennis: I’m going to ask the question that everybody in your church wanted to ask you but probably wasn’t courageous enough to do; and it may be the end of our relationship, Rob, right here. [Laughter] When did you kiss her? [Ahh!] I’m asking the wrong person. Rhonda, you’re the one who smiled. You remember it. Rob doesn’t! [Laughter]
Rhonda: Oh, dear. I’m thinking—I know the place, the time. It was approximately six weeks later. We were talking—and his body language—he was getting a little closer. I said, “Would you like to kiss me?” [Laughter]
Dennis: Oh, you did!
Rhonda: I did. I could tell—
Rob: Because I would not have—I would not have.
Rhonda: I asked him if he would like to kiss me.
Bob: And why did you ask that?
Rhonda: Because he wouldn’t have, I don’t think; and I could tell that he wanted to. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes. And did you want him to?
Rob: I was dead meat, at that point. [Laughter]
Dennis: Did that seal the deal?
Rob: The deal had been sealed when she walked into the restaurant. [Laughter]
Dennis: So, the deal had been sealed when she walked into the restaurant. How long did it take to move to the wedding?
Rob: A year. We got married the following December. So, we—the sparks happened in December of 2006, and we got married in December of 2007.
Bob: Okay, for committed followers of Christ who are walking down this path—who have had marriage before—that’s a long time. That’s a long time to say, “We will keep our passions in check.” How did you do that?
Rhonda: It is, and it isn’t. You know, we love Ron Deal and his ministry. One of the things that Rob and I have really felt, after being married and gone through a lot of the difficulty with parenting a blended family, is the question of, “Should we have waited longer?” Both, Rob and I, would agree that a year was probably not enough time to make an easy transition into a blended family. You find out when reality hits and the family has to bond together—a lot of disappointment comes.
So, on the one hand, it seemed like a long time—and to control passion and keep our physical relationship intact, we felt that we needed to get married when we did. We felt that it was very clear that God was directing our relationship. We had been married a long time. When you’ve been married a long time, you miss the physical relationship.
So, all of that said, we got married a year after we started dating. If we were to do it again, I think we both agree that it would have been wiser to wait to see how each of us parents each other’s children, over a longer period of time.
Bob: I really agree. It would have been wiser—
Bob: —but it’s better to marry than to burn; right?
Rhonda: Than to burn; right!
Rob: The other—it’s just tension. As Rhonda has articulated, that was a constant source of conversation—a stress point for us. Yet, I had to do life in the context of a larger community. So, I really had to watch my life and what we were doing.
Bob: Even if the church wasn’t paying attention, God was.
Rob: Yes. Yes. Amen!
Dennis: I want to hear more of your story and how you guys navigated the grief but also the hard knocks of bringing two nations—two nations together.
Bob: And you talk about that some in the book that you’ve written called When the Bottom Drops Out. We’ve got copies of that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. In fact, you may know someone who has had a bottom-dropping experience—somebody who is a friend of yours, somebody who has experienced cracks in the foundation of their life in the last year. You may want to get them a copy of this book as a gift. The title is When the Bottom Drops Out, and you can order a copy from us when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Our website, again, is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. Ask about the book, When the Bottom Drops Out, when you get in touch with us.
Now, I have—I’ve never been to Alaska. I know, Dennis, you’ve been to Alaska; but we got an email, not long ago, from a listener who listens to us in Anchorage and said:
I have been blessed so many times by you folks. I’ve been incarcerated for the last three and a half years; and my wife and I have gone through a lot of difficulties in our marriage, as a result. I have six months remaining in my sentence, and we desire to continue with our marriage; but there are situations and obstacles we’re going to have to face.
When we get out, we would covet your prayers in all of this; and I just want to thank you for your work, your ministry, your commitment to marriages and families. I have done a lot to destroy mine and to hurt a lot of people; and I pray that God will give my wife and I strength to continue to heal our marriage and for me to become the man of God that she needs me to be.
You know, it’s humbling for us to think that God uses this program in so many ways in the lives of so many folks in so many different situations. In reality, it is the faithful declaration of His Word, empowered by His Spirit—that is what does the work. And we appreciate those of you who partner with us to help make that possible.
We’re facing a little bit of a dilemma right now because, over the past several months, we’ve seen a drop in donations to the ministry of FamilyLife Today from our radio listeners. As a result, we’ve had to pull back in some areas, turn some things off, and set some things aside for awhile. What happens here, at the end of the year, will give us an indication of whether we can start some of those things back up again or whether we’re going to have to make additional cuts. So, we’re asking you to, first of all, pray for us; and then, secondly, do whatever you can do to help us with a yearend donation.
The good news is, when you make a yearend donation, here in the last few days of 2012, that donation is going to be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of what is now $3.6 million. Our matching-gift fund has grown to that amount, and we hope to be able to take full advantage of those matching-gift funds. So, we’re asking you, consider making a $25, or a $50, or a $100, or whatever you can do—make a donation, here at yearend. When you do, that donation is going to be doubled—matched dollar-for-dollar. All you have to do is go online and give at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation by phone. Let me just say, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you’re able to do and thanks for praying for us, as well. We appreciate it.
We hope you can join us again tomorrow when we’re going to hear about some of the bumps in the road as Rob and Rhonda Bugh began to forge a new family from the ashes of two families that had gone through pain and loss. And we’re going to see if our friend, Ron Deal, can come in and join us tomorrow, as well, as we talk about these things.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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