Encountering God’s Grace through Suffering

Memoir reveals how suffering can strengthen faith

By Magazine Staff  |  Photos by David Rehor

While instilling the Catholic faith in their eight children, Kevin Wells’ parents never spoke of miracles or Marian apparitions. “I was always very hesitant to talk of miracles,” said Wells, ’90. “Your faith is your faith.”

After a line of blood vessels exploded in Wells’ brain on Jan. 2, 2009, his faith deepened and his perspective on miracles changed. “I was really, really supposed to die,” Wells said.


The doctors in the neuro-intensive care unit had performed three angiograms and an invasive procedure that cut deep into the cerebellum in the rear of his skull, but they could not offer a solution. “They closed me back up, and my surgeon said, ‘There’s not much else we can do.’” Then, where medicine was limited, prayer took over. A priest friend, Fr. Jim Stack, started praying over him, and—at Wells’ request—asked his late uncle, Msgr. Tom Wells, to intercede from Heaven.

The next day the angiogram came back clean for the first time. The blood in Wells’ cerebellum was gone.


Once Wells was home, relearning how to walk and facing a four-month recovery, he had time to think. He reflected on all he had experienced—the infertility issues he and his wife, Krista, had endured; the 2000 murder of Msgr. Wells; the heartbreaking loss of a child through adoption fraud; and now this near-fatal arteriovenous malformation.

“When you’re on the threshold of death, you see things in a different way,” Wells said. “You think of two things. One is judgment, and the other one is that I could have loved more.’”

It was then, as Wells lay in bed, staring at the white ceiling in the family’s Crofton, Md., home, that he decided to do more—to take on a project he had never had time for before during his steady six-day work weeks. It was time, the father of three decided, to write a book. And, having just survived a brush with death, he felt prepared to write about his personal, faith-filled journey.

Through his story, Wells hoped he could convey to readers how pain had drawn him closer to God. “To really love well, you’ve got to suffer some,” said Wells. “I think sometimes God drops postcards from Heaven that are heavy as anvils. He does that to draw you closer to him.”

Wells hoped to title his book Anvils of Love. His publisher chose a different title: Burst: A Story of God’s Grace When Life Falls Apart, which was published in January. In the first few weeks of its release, Wells’ memoir became one of the top-selling Catholic books in the country.


Wells had some old journals and a vivid memory of the most troubling times in his life. When he started writing in February 2009, however, the basic task of typing was a challenge. He reached for an E and hit a K. Still, he persevered. “All these thoughts were bubbling up,” he said.

And, accustomed to being busy as vice president for a three-generation masonry contracting company, he felt compelled to take on the task. “It wasn’t the most comfortable experience at first. You just plow through it and get it done,” said Wells, who found the writing helped him cope with the pain. “It was a wonderful, wonderful tool to get my mind off of the headaches. It was relaxing.”

During that recovery time, Wells wrote a few chapters. As he prepared to return to work, he submitted his book proposal to Servant Books, a Catholic publisher. He was surprised when the publisher offered him a contract. When they asked how long he needed to finish the book, he said, “I have no clue. Give me a year.” Suddenly he had a word count, a deadline, and a full-time work schedule back at Wells & Associates Inc.

“I thought about bricks and blocks and mortar for seven or eight hours a day,” he said. Then he came home to spend time with his family, slept, awakened to write for two hours in the morning, and then returned to his job. “It’s like exercise. I had this 4-to-6 window—that was all I had. You just bang away.”


The writing itself came naturally as events fell into place easily for him, aligned with the emotions and spiritual encounters he had had along the way. “I’ve always liked to tell stories. I’m Irish,” he said. “Writing has been my joy ever since fourth grade.”

Throughout his memoir, Wells speaks candidly and openly about his faith, his relationship with Jesus through daily prayer, his emotions at the most challenging moments for him and his wife, and the peace and joy they have found as they come through pain—without running away from the suffering.

Giving a glimpse into his life—and Krista’s—in the book in such a public way didn’t worry him or his wife. “She was comfortable writing about our path,” Wells said. “Krista is more pragmatic than I am. She said, ‘Kevin, go for it. But if it doesn’t get picked up, don’t worry about it.’”

Although the draft was intensely personal and candid about the couple’s relationship and the challenges they have faced, Krista made few changes. She merely clarified her husband’s description of what had happened in his hospital room.


Wells started his writing career at Loyola, an institution he chose for only one reason: He could walk from campus to Memorial Stadium to watch his hero, Eddie Murray, play for the Orioles. (Murray is mentioned prominently in one humorous section of the book.) By the time he graduated with a degree in communication, Wells was sports editor for The Greyhound and he was ready to launch his sports writing career.

Internships led to jobs and eventually a sports writing position for the Tampa Tribune in Florida, where he and Krista met in a Bennigan’s.

In the book, Wells writes about how they were married in 1998, hoping to start a family immediately. When they learned the next year that they would not be able to conceive a child without medical intervention, they were devastated. “It was a horrible time, as bad as brain surgery, gut wrenching,” Wells said. “Every moment Krista and I were filled with pain.”


As they considered their options, they learned that the Catholic Church—to which they were both faithful—was opposed to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Although they were open to adoption, Krista also wanted to consider IVF. The tension between the husband and wife took its toll, and one day, while sitting in traffic on the D.C. beltway, Wells called his uncle, Msgr. Tom Wells, then pastor at Mother Seton Parish in Germantown, Md.

“It’s spiraling out of control,” Wells told his uncle. “He said, ‘Come over tonight. Bring Krista.’” Although Krista knew Msgr. Wells would advise against IVF, she agreed to go.

The priest spoke with Krista and Kevin about the cross they were bearing. He encouraged them to let their infertility bring them closer to God. When Kevin and Krista left the rectory that night, they were at peace, full of hope, and on the same path—to adoption. Two days later, Msgr. Wells was murdered.


In Burst Wells takes his readers through the pain of losing his beloved uncle and the priest who had promised to shepherd them through the challenges that were ahead. They felt abandoned. But when they read the last message Msgr. Wells had written for his church’s bulletin—on the cross of infertility—they felt his presence, as they have many, many times since that day.

Throughout the memoir, in the darkest moments, the author’s faith and trust in God, love for his family, and occasionally even his sense of humor shine through.

At one point Kevin describes how he and Krista lost a baby boy through an adoption scam—a nightmare situation in which the birthparents they had supported financially called and told them to come meet the newborn at a hospital which did not have an obstetrics department. At that low point in their lives, Kevin describes how his anger takes him to regular adoration of the Eucharist.

“I put it at the foot of His cross and said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re really killing us here.’” Even through his anger, Wells felt peace from God—a peace that pervades his writing throughout the book as he shares the joy the couple feels through the adoption of their children, Gabby, 9, Sean, 8, and Shannon, 3. “He tugged all the bad stuff away and replaced it with love.”

Read an excerpt from Burst on the next page.

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1 Comment

  • Posted by Kristina Stewart Wesselink | April 7, 2011

    Kevin is not only an amazing writer but also an amazing person who I am proud to call a friend and Loyola classmate. He passed along a copy to friends of mine whose child was critically ill in the hospital and they say this book REALLY helped them on one of their most trying days.

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