I’ll admit it… I’m a typical girl when it comes to a good love story. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy spends life looking for long lost love, boy finds girl through a series of miraculous coincidences followed by an epic reunion, a sappy song and a walk off into the sunset. It’s the plot of about a million Hollywood Rom-Coms and yet, somehow, it never gets old — just ask Nicholas Sparks.
But besides reading the synopses at your local Redbox, it’s rare to read a story packed with so many fateful turns and climactic romance…especially one that’s actually true!
So while many of you may have already read about Robert & Shelly in our most recent Fort Collins Rescue Mission newsletter or the Coloradoan, I’d like to take a little more time in the space-unlimited blogosphere to tell their story with a few more of its fascinating twists.
So at the risk of being redundant, I present the unabridged tale of Robert & Shelly, a story that shows how God is at work at every corner, beckoning his children to the right places, at the right times.
——————————————————————————————-On a cold night in October, Robert stood at a crossroads. He had been sober for nearly 13 years having seemingly conquered a life burdened by addiction. Yet, in spite of his sobriety, life was hitting an all-time low. He was out of money, out of work and lost his home. The urge to throw in the towel was strong – grab a bottle of booze, camp below the bridge and give up on the sober life that, in this moment, didn’t seem to be paying off. But he knew he’d be re-surrendering to addiction and dereliction and who knew how low that would take him. He was left with a choice: go back to his old ways or seek help at Fort Collins Rescue Mission.
He chose the second. Little did he know, a miracle was waiting just around the corner.
This story involves many corners. The first, 13 years earlier when Robert met Shelly – the love of his life. They met with a crash: rounding a corner, colliding and smashing Robert’s groceries. She offered to replace his milk. He asked for her number. Neither knew it was the start to an epic love story.
Robert soon became a father figure to Shelly’s kids and after three years of dating, the two set a date to be married. Unfortunately the couple struggled with addiction and in a brave act of self-preservation, Shelly called off the engagement three weeks before the wedding.
“I knew we were going to destroy our lives,” she said. And it seemed next to impossible to get off the sinking ship together.
They remained best friends for about a year, but due to a violent ex-husband, Shelly left the state in fear for her kids’ safety. It seemed that perhaps their relationship was not meant to be.
Yet they both still loved each other. And Robert clung to that love. He got sober two months after the dissolution of their engagement and joined a traveling carnival, searching for her in each city for the next five years.
“I used to go to different states looking for her. I would ask people if they had seen her, look for her in the phone book. I was working 16 to 18 hours a day… I would never stop looking for her though,” Robert said. “I’d search online but I never found anything.”
Finally, in 2003, Robert left his job on the road, went home to Indiana to be with his family and put the search on hold. It resumed in 2008 when he moved to Michigan where Shelly used to take her kids camping.
“I thought, maybe she’ll be up there. But she wasn’t. I couldn’t find her,” he said. His love of the mountains brought him to Loveland, CO in 2010, but some troublesome roommates who were abusing drugs, coupled with a lack of job opportunities, prompted him to move to Fort Collins in 2012. But Robert had more trouble finding work in Fort Collins than expected and he lost his housing in October. Hope was dwindling.
“I had nowhere to go. I was walking the streets, trying to find a job. Every day it was getting harder to stay sober. I could walk into a bar and take a drink at any time, or find someone that had drugs,” Robert said. “It was hard to be on the streets and not go back to my old ways.”
He entered Fort Collins Rescue Mission’s Steps to Success program on January 8th, hoping to find the support he needed to find work again and stay clean.
After fleeing from her ex-husband and leaving Robert behind, Shelly and her kids moved out of the state and in with her father in-law whom at 78, needed caring for. She got sober in 2004 – the day before her 40th birthday – and mothered her kids until they were all grown up. As an empty-nester, Shelly missed Colorado so she made it back to her beloved Rocky Mountains in September of 2011.
She became a live-in nanny in Denver for a friend, but when this friend failed to pay her and another acquaintance robbed her of her belongings, Shelly found herself homeless for the first time.
“I was terrified,” she said.
She found help at Fort Collins Rescue Mission just four days before Robert.
The two unknowingly slept under the same roof in different wings of the building.
On January 9th Shelly and Robert rounded another corner. Just like the first time, they collided. This time Shelly dropped her purse.
“Excuse you,” she said.
“Excuse you,” he said.
Not recognizing him, she gathered her things and scurried off.
“That’s not who I think it is,” Robert thought. They both felt a strong sense of recognition, but neither of them identified one another. Shelly had dyed her hair and lost a significant amount of weight. They were both sober and healthier than before. Yet, they were both struck with such a strange sensation of familiarity.
The next day they connected the dots: Shelly was yelling at someone in Spanish, Robert recognized her accent. He called her by her old nickname – “Shell Shock?” he said.
“Anthony?” she responded in shock, calling him by his former name.
They were reunited at last.
They spent the next few days exploring the city awestruck by their fateful reunion. They had lively conversations, catching up on the years lost and reminiscing. On January 12th, as they sat side-by-side reading books at the library, Robert sent Shelly a text.
“Honey, will you take my last name?” it said.
She said yes.
“It feels amazing,” said Robert. “I always knew we were meant to be together. Our heavenly Father brought us back together. He pointed me in the right direction to where I could find her.”
“I’ve never been happier. I’ve never felt more safe and secure,” said Shelly. “We’ve already been at the lowest points in our lives and we’ve made it through. Can you imagine what we could do together with Christ in our lives?”
Both Robert and Shelly knew before their reunion that God had a hand in their lives, but they had no idea the plans he had for them. At a time when they both thought they were hitting new lows, becoming homeless and entering the Mission, God had something good in store – a blessing in disguise.
Looking back, Robert sees his decision to take the right path at a fork in the road as a critical turning point in his life – one that had him round a corner into a future beyond his wildest imagination.
“I hung on instead of straying from the path,” he said. “And look what happened?”
Both Shelly and Robert plan to continue their individual Steps to Success programs at Fort Collins Rescue Mission where they both hope to continue to learn how to live stable, self-sufficient and sober lives.
How they envision the future: “Sitting on the front porch in rocking chairs getting old together.”