When Crystal met Robert, she wasn’t so impressed.
He, however, walked away from their date knowing she would one day be his wife.
God had sent Robert the message letting him know she was the one. It took Crystal a lot more convincing.
Robert also knew he would have a son named Solomon one day, though, he didn’t know how since his cystic fibrosis left him unable to have children biologically.
Crystal admits their love story is far from perfect.
“I know God has given me this story for a reason, and I need to share it,” said Crystal Farris Locke, a native of Murray County who now splits her time between Chatsworth and Woodstock. “It wouldn’t be a true love story if we didn’t have some bumps and bruises.”
While engaged to Robert, Crystal married another man. Three times Robert went to her. Three times she left the other man to be with Robert. It’s a story that is similar to the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea, a parallel not lost on Crystal.
On Dec. 21, 2002, Robert Locke, a native of Whitfield County, and Crystal Farris Locke began their lives together as husband and wife. They moved to Woodstock to be nearer his doctors in Atlanta.
Despite the rocky start, Crystal never looked back or regretted agreeing to be his wife, even when he died unexpectedly earlier this year, leaving her to raise their two adopted sons — Solomon and Jeffson — as a single mom.
Now the family braces for their first Christmas without their husband and father.
“Sometimes God’s plan sucks,” Crystal said. “I don’t always trust the plan, but I always trust the planner.”
Finding the boys
Shortly after their marriage, Robert underwent a lung transplant.
“We lived life,” Crystal said. “You wouldn’t know he was sick. He had a good spirit.”
Robert worked as an electrical engineer. He had several bouts of illness that left him in the hospital.
They didn’t let the chronic disease, which affects the lungs and digestive system, change their plans of having children one day.
Crystal and Robert tried in vitro fertilization, but after one experience, they knew that wasn’t the right path to have children. Still, God’s message to Robert that he would have a son left the couple hopeful.
“I always wanted to be a mother,” Crystal said. “We knew we would have kids somehow, someway. ... He said, ‘We’ll do anything, but we’re not doing this again.’ I said, ‘You are so black and white about everything.’ And he said, ‘Everything is 50 shades of gray in your world.’ I’m a complete feeler. He is a complete thinker. Only God could have put us together. It’s typical of cystic fibrosis males to not be able to have children. He knew from the time he was 16 he wasn’t going to have kids.”
The couple was open to adoption and began researching options.
Solomon and Jeffson, now 10 and 8 respectively, were living in Haiti in incredibly impoverished conditions. Their father died, and their mother was incapable of caring for them. So they entered a orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti, where they suffered from physical abuse.
“Solomon had a lot of anger,” Crystal said. “In Haiti he suffered every type of abuse imaginable. Solomon took a lot of abuse for his brother.”
It’s “awesome” to live in America, Solomon says.
“Because we don’t get beat every day for no reason,” Jeffson answers.
The boys share limited memories from their days in Haiti. Solomon’s Haitian name was Rodriguez, but he didn’t want to keep it because he wanted to disassociate from the country that brought him so much pain. Jeffson kept his Haitian name.
“It’s hard to judge what people do in Haiti because that’s what happened to them or worse,” Crystal said. “It’s a different culture. What we see as abuse here is not abuse to them. Like, they would get hit with a belt buckle.”
She adds that she knows it’s not like that for everyone in Haiti, but that it’s more common and more accepted culturally there than in America.
At first Robert and Crystal thought they would be adopting a 3-year-old girl and newborn twins from Guatemala. But she said adoptions between Guatemala and the United States closed just as they were scheduled to sign papers to finalize the adoption.
“Both of us had done mission work in Central America and wanted to adopt from there,” Crystal said. “We looked at different countries.”
She found a website for an orphanage in Haiti.
“We were really wide open,” Crystal said. “We just knew we wanted two. They showed us the picture of the boys. They were 3 and 5. Rob was in the hospital and he said, ‘These are supposed to be our sons.’ They have so many traits just like us. Jeffson is so much like me. He looks at everything differently. I think God gives them a little of our DNA.”
The adoption process began in 2008. Even after they had legally become the Lockes’ children, they had to continue living at the orphanage while their paperwork to enter America was complete.
The couple visited the boys often, but there was still a language barrier to overcome. The boys spoke Creole.
The Lockes didn’t understand conditions at the orphanage were so horrendous. They didn’t realize their sons were being beaten daily.
“We thought they were being taken care of,” Crystal said.
A family comes together
The boys came to America on Feb. 10, 2010. It was about a month after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country.
“They remember carrying water on their heads in a five-gallon jug after the earthquake,” Crystal said. “They slept in tents under a tarp on concrete. There were 60 kids there. They have full memories of that.”
“If we didn’t get them home when we did, they probably wouldn’t have made it,” she said. “Solomon had pneumonia and Jeffson had dehydration.”
Both were hospitalized. But because the boys spoke a different language, it was hard to make them understand what was happening.
“God has always put who we need in our path when we need him,” Crystal said. “Every time we need something, God provides. God has done that again and again. We’ve been tremendously blessed even among huge challenges.”
By chance, they met a Haitian doctor who was practicing in Chatsworth at the time. He spoke Creole and was able to talk to the boys in their native tongue to explain the procedures and that they were being helped.
The boys also needed extensive dental care. And they both suffer from reactive attachment disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
They struggled to trust their new parents and to learn to better manage their anger.
“It has not been an easy path,” Crystal said. “But God is doing amazing things in their lives.”
Jeffson said he didn’t trust Robert at first.
“We started getting used to him,” Jeffson said.
“When we fell he helped us and asked if we were OK,” Solomon added.
The family was close and did many activities together.
“We had family time on Sundays and we’d do stuff together,” Solomon said. Robert read to his boys from the Bible each night.
And though he often didn’t feel well, it didn’t stop Robert from attending Boy Scout functions or football games with his boys.
“We told him to stay home if he didn’t feel good, but he was stubborn,” Jeffson said.
The boys fondly remember playing with their dad at the beach by burying him in the sand, having water gun fights and playing together at a park.
Robert had a kidney transplant scheduled for August of this year. Medication had caused renal toxicity. Crystal had learned to be a dialysis technician so she could handle his dialysis sessions, but he needed the transplant.
On Aug. 9 around 9:30 p.m., Robert told Crystal he had a fever. She asked if he wanted to go to the emergency room, but they dismissed it because everyone in the family had had a cold. As the fever rose overnight, they decided to go to the emergency room as a precaution since the transplant was scheduled soon.
Everything happened quickly, Crystal said.
The nurse asked who Crystal was.
“I said, ‘I am his wife, and sometimes he claims me,’” she said through tears. “I will never forget it. He looked up at me and said, ‘I will always claim you. I will always love you.’”
Shortly after, all his vital signs dropped.
“He became unresponsive within 30 minutes of being there,” Crystal said. “His body was worn out. He never regained consciousness.”
Robert crashed twice, and on Sunday, doctors told her there wasn’t much they could do to save him. She hadn’t signed the hospital’s “do not resuscitate” (DNR) form.
“I had this matter-of-fact way of talking to him,” Crystal said. “I said, ‘You and God make a decision because we’re not doing this roller coaster.’ At 11:30 (a.m.) I got this undeniable calm. I knew he was not going to make it. He had been responding to us by squeezing our hand, but after that, he didn’t respond to any stimuli again.”
She knew it was time to sign the DNR.
“I knew he wasn’t there and not coming back,” she said. “I heard a still, small voice saying, ‘It’s time.’ There was no denying it was time. I knew it was time to let him go.”
In the room was Crystal, her mom, Brenda Farris, and Paul Whitton, pastor from her home church, Spring Place Baptist.
“He prayed a beautiful prayer to release his spirit,” Crystal said. “I was ready to go. I said I have to go take care of my boys.”
Robert died on Aug. 11. He was 43.
“God has taken me on an amazing faith journey ever since,” Crystal said. “I always walked with God, but I went from a zero to 10 in faith in an instant because that’s what God knew I needed. God gave me peace when I needed it.”
Robert requested a “celebration of life” service in place of a funeral.
Life went on for Crystal and her boys. She even took them to football practice the day she made his funeral arrangements.
“I tried to support her and the decisions she made for her boys,” Brenda Farris said. “She had strength that I didn’t know she had. Their life has to stay as normal as possible. She always put the boys first. We loved him like a son. We did not have to worry about her because he took care of her. He took good care of the boys.”
Even in the midst of so much tragedy, Crystal maintains a positive outlook.
“We’ve been blessed through the whole thing,” she said. “I’ve learned about learning to trust (God).”
The boys struggle with missing their dad. Jeffson says he loses himself in homework sometimes to prevent thinking about it.
Jeffson believes he will see his dad again in heaven.
“Jeffson said, ‘Dad will say you were only 8 and 10, and now you’re grown men,’” Crystal said. “He’s gotten saved and baptized. It’s amazing what God’s been doing.”
Crystal continues to rely on her parents for support and help with the boys. Her dad is Ralph Farris.
She hasn’t let Robert’s death or her grief stop her from living out their dreams. Crystal has been able to continue homeschooling the boys. She’s also going ahead with her and Robert’s dreams of adopting two girls.
“We always said two boys and two girls and our family would be complete,” Crystal said. “I will probably do an Ethiopian adoption this time.”
Since Robert’s passing, Crystal has been given ministry opportunities, including serving on a board of directors for Harvesting Hope, an organization that helps children get the organ transplants they need. She’s also involved in a widow ministry at Woodstock First Baptist. She attends Bridgepointe Church in Woodstock regularly and still attends Spring Place Baptist regularly.
But Crystal says her family isn’t ready to celebrate Christmas again.
“We’re running away,” she said. “We’re going skiing. When life gets stressful, I travel. Grief makes you grow up a lot very quickly. I’ve experienced an amazing outpouring of love. So many times we let pride get in the way of a blessing. When we’re willing and humble enough to accept help, we are blessed.”