A Grateful Heart Doesn’t Need a “Restart” Button

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Has anyone ever thought this? …I wish I could change the status of my life like I change the settings on my computer or my cell phone.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have uttered these words under my breath. “If only my life had a restart button, I would do so many things different.”

“… I’d do this better… I’d manage this more appropriately…I’d be more intentional regarding this…I’d make better decisions regarding that…”

When my grandma was dying she quickly started to fade into dependence on others (and God). In her final weeks and days, she lost her independence and her ability to take care of herself, but she never lost her spirit. My grandma was always so strong and independent; she rarely asked for help and even lived alone for an additional five years after my grandpa had passed away…without transportation, technology or a “restart” button on her life. She enjoyed quality time with friends and family (especially with me!), loved to cook, sing, dance, read her Bible, pray and bring joy to others.

The last week of her life I remember having a bit of a crying spell. I knew her time was coming to an end and I just couldn’t bear the thought of living without her. I remember our last conversation so clearly. She was sitting in her recliner at home, weak and frail but looking for the strength to stay alert; and somehow God gave her the capacity and ability to talk with me for nearly an hour – fully “grandma.”

I asked her: “Grandma, whatcha’ thinking about?”

She said: “Kristen, I didn’t think it would come this soon.”

Trying to fight back tears for nearly an hour, I asked: “What do you mean? What does it feel like?”

She looked me square in the eyes and said: “…it feels short. I remember my childhood, my wedding, the birth of my children and every event that brought me joy throughout the years. When I am alone, I think of all the good times. It makes me grateful. None of the hard times even matter.”

I just remember sitting there holding her hands, looking into her eyes, trying to embed the feeling and image of this angel woman who changed my life, into my heart.

I asked her, “Is there anything you wished you could do over?”

She responded confidently (as she always did for as long as I knew her), “Nothing. I loved my life. It wasn’t perfect but it was the perfect life God had for me.”

If there was ever a time that someone might want to hit the “restart” button on their life, I’d think it would be at the end. And as I reflect on this conversation with my grandma, I am convicted and reminded that no matter how much I sometimes want to “hibernate” or “shut down” or hit “restart” on my life, that I am just wasting time being ungrateful for the current status of my existence; fully perfect in its beautiful mess because it’s the life God gave me.

restart

I often wonder if I was asked those same questions would I respond in the same manner. Would I answer with a grateful heart or a regretful heart? Would words of wisdom flow from my tongue or a sense of weariness flood from my heart?

I believe that in order to be grateful at the end, we must first learn to be grateful at the start:

Grateful when we start a new day…

Grateful when we start a new chapter in our lives…

Grateful when we face new challenges…

Grateful …ALWAYS…

A.W. Tozer once said, “The goodness of God is infinitely more wonderful than we will ever be able to comprehend.” (This promise alone leaves me filled with gratitude!)

God didn’t give us buttons to push in order to change our life, He gave us His Son.

In that same conversation just five days before she passed away, I joked with her and said, “Well grandma, it looks like you are going to get to see Jesus before I do.”

And in a quick wit that served her well to the end, she teased with a twinkle in her eye, “Are you jealous?”

We both smiled with tears in our eyes. She knew that I knew she would be okay. Selfishly, I didn’t want her to go. But, I am grateful that she had a relationship with the Son who saved her life for eternity. Because of Him, I will get to see her again someday.

Don’t pray for God to change your situation or your status, pray for God to change your heart…to a heart of gratitude.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and gives hope for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie

Love,

Kristen

Remembering my best friend and guardian angel: 

Ann Mardoian: March 26th, 1925 – February 23rd, 2014

grandma

 

Top Quotes at the 2015 LIFE Leadership Summit

The 2015 LIFE leadership summit did not disappoint! I am leaving here inspired and proud to be a part of such a purposeful organization. I thought it would be fun to share some of the highlights and quotes that came from the hearts of the leaders who graced the stage this weekend. I pray that these words leave you hungry for leadership and thirsting for your dreams! Enjoy!

God Bless,

Kristen

(This is Part 2 of the weekend. To read Part 1 check out Claim Your Victory in 2015)

life coaches“Are you doing your best with what God gave you?” - Terri Brady

“High achievement is as much about the challenge as it is about the victory.” – Chris Brady

“Being a leader is who you are, not what you do.” – Claude Hamilton

“You can’t have a million dollar dream with a minimum wage work ethic.” – Bill LewisLaurie Woodward

“Use your obstacles as an opportunity for change.” - Amy Marks

George and Jill“Achieving your dreams takes time, but it doesn’t take forever.” Jill Guzzardo

“He who controls the fools gold, controls the fools.” – Orrin Woodward

“It’s not your circumstances that determine where you are, it’s your thinking.” – Tim Marks

“You will never be rewarded for more than your commitment can handle.” – George Guzzardo

“There are only 2 things you can do when someone says you can’t do something – prove them right, or prove them wrong.” – Chris BradyChris and Terri

“Make the creator of the universe your partner in business.” – John Stahl-Wert

“What we do with our time makes up our life.” – Dan Hawkins

“There is no such thing as a problem without a solution” – Dan Castro

Bill Lewis“In America you were born on third base. Get up and run home!” – Bill Lewis

“Commitment is the glue that binds your goals.” – Lisa Hawkins

“You make 35,000 decisions a day! Why not make one that can help change your future!” – Steve Scheibner

Chris Swanson“Just because something happened yesterday, doesn’t mean it has to effect you today.” – Chris Swanson

“The moment you don’t think your future is brighter than your present, that’s when you will sell it out.” -Claude HamiltonClaude and Lana

“Most people spend less than 20 hrs a year learning about freedom, yet many wonder why it’s in decline. Don’t fight upstream. Instead, turn it around.” – Oliver DeMille

“I was so concerned with not looking poor that I was rapidly making myself poor.” – Laurie Woodward

“You may be beaten up but you aren’t beaten.” – Chris Swanson

Orrin Woodward“Your business will only get as big as the shadow of your character.” – Orrin Woodward

“If you are struggling with the person in the mirror, remember that’s the same person Christ died for.” – Venkat Varada

“Wealth is not a sin, it’s a responsibility.” – Terri Brady

“It’s not the size of the man in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the man.” – Chris Brady

“Danger is real, fear is a choice.” -Bill Lewis

“The first business asset you should invest in is yourself.” – Orrin WoodwardLisa Hawkins

“Hope and faith have to be given away. They can’t be taken away from you.” – Lana Hamilton

“Whoever serves the most, profits the most.” – Claude Hamilton

“If you want to win at anything you must first identify your ‘hot button’ then dance all over it.” - Chris Brady

“God had to take me down completely before He could lift me up.” – George GuzzardoDan Hawkins

“So often, we ignore the reality of God’s judgement.” – Dan Hawkins

“We don’t use people to build our business, we use our business to build people.” – Claude Hamilton

Claim Your Victory in 2015

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convention

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who loved to complain about their problems? I have. In fact, I have been on the giving and receiving end many times. Often, our natural tendency is to think negatively about ourselves.  Negative self-talk is nothing more than the enemy’s voice entering our subconscious mind in order to defeat us. When we focus only on our problems, we willingly let the devil win over God. I heard from a friend this weekend at the LIFE Leadership summit that when we complain, we commit over 150 sins. This changed my perspective tremendously realizing that when I complain, I transparently expose my ingratitude (to others). Ugh! …A tough reality to swallow. One of my favorite quotes that reminds me of this topic is by Terri Brady: “Suffering is not a competition.” So many people wear their problems on their sleeve like a badge of honor.

The 2015 leadership summit has been specifically targeted at an audience who has experienced deep adversity but who have chosen to overcome any obstacles in order to claim their victory. I believe that God gives his biggest battles to his strongest soldiers and the iWireless Arena in Moline, IL is filled with some of the strongest men and women that I know. But, even the strongest among us fall down sometimes. I love that the theme of the weekend is directed at leaders who understand the uniform of leadership is thick skin (Chris Brady) and the armor for handling adversity is knowing and pursuing your purpose. LIFE coach George Guzzardo said last night that “People without a purpose will never understand what a person with a purpose is doing.” God is bigger than all of our struggles and problems and has equipped each and every one of us to overcome our challenges in order to fulfill our destiny.

Guest speaker and best-selling author Dan Castro quoted what God promises in scripture that “there is no such thing as a problem without a solution.”

Dan Castro

Guest speaker and leadership expert John Stahl-Wert said, “We are not the captains of our destiny but we can communicate with the captain of our destiny.”

John Stahl-Wert

I love that Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady created a culture of leaders and over-comers who, when they fall down they get back up…again and again and again. The LIFE leadership community is unlike any other organization in the world because it is filled with people who embrace their struggles and use their adversity as fuel to influence and help more people in order to live their God-given purpose. Amy Marks encouraged the audience to “use your obstacles as an opportunity for change.”

There is no greater feeling in the world than experiencing a victory after you have fallen. Everyone has a pending victory in their future; and everyone experiences setbacks. The question we need to ask ourselves is, will we have the courage to continually overcome setbacks and claim the victory that awaits us?

God Bless,

Kristen

(This is Part 1 of the LIFE leadership summit re-cap. Stay tuned for Part 2!)

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More Than Words: What Autism Taught Me About “Unspoken Encouragement”

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

God is so amazing! I often find myself reflecting on my current path as a means to understand how God is able to use me in certain situations. When I moved down to North Carolina a few months ago I never anticipated being on the path I am currently on – in an immeasurably good way. The friendships I have been able to forge in such a short amount of time leaves me feeling grateful each night my head hits the pillow.

me and RickyOne of the surprising friendships I have begun to develop over the past couple of months is with a 14 year old boy who has Autism. Each morning I am with him I am reminded of just how well God knows me. He couldn’t have picked a more perfect child to put in my path.

This little boy has an insatiable passion for music – you will usually catch us jamming out to George Straight, Chris Young or Beethovan (in that order!)…but our favorite being Amazing Grace by Alabama…as we worship the King and shout “Amen” and “Hallelujah” (arms reaching to the sky) because we both love the Lord! This little boy also loves to hug (another favorite of mine!) While his words are limited, it is not uncommon to hear him whisper, “I need a hug…” with my response always being, “how did you know I needed one too?” He is one of the most loving and caring teenagers I have ever met.

While I could go on and on about how much this little boy has blessed me, the greatest reward I receive each day by serving him is encouragement.

When I think about the true meaning of encouragement, I immediately think of specific words or phrases I use to uplift or support HIM… “Great job!” “You are doing so amazing!” “You are so smart!” “I am so proud of you!”

In fact, if you were a fly on the wall during my sessions with him, you would hear these phrases quite frequently and directed towards a specific task. “I am so proud of you for eating three bites of your turkey! You are such a big boy!!” (He hates turkey lol).

I used to think that I didn’t need encouragement – that I was “self-motivated.” HA! That is funny! We all need encouragement. But, children with autism REQUIRE it! It helps them stay focused and on task and even more important, it reminds them just how special and amazing they truly are!

Because of the frequency of my encouraging words, I often find myself being more encouraged each time I encourage him. Why? Because it’s sincere, it’s from my heart and I mean it. I never encourage him without a smile on my face. Again you ask, why? Because he will think it’s fake. Just like a typically developed person, kids with autism are very perceptive to facial expressions and feelings. They recognize when you hurt, when you are angry, when you are sad and….when you don’t care.

How many times have you been encouraged by someone and it felt “insincere” or “fake.” Having taught in several different schools, I noticed this a lot; teachers who attach sarcasm to their encouragement. Or a boss whose words often feel discouraging even though they intended to encourage you. How motivated would you be if the encouragement you were receiving was phony? Sadly, in the special needs field, this happens a lot as caregivers seem to think the child ‘won’t understand.’

But I digress. The point is, the more we encourage, the more we are encouraged! And it’s more than words that encourage; it’s how we say it and how the other person responds to what we say.

Are they responding positively or negatively?

Does it really make you proud? (How does it make you feel when you say it and they accomplish the task?)

When I work with him, never do I hear the words “I am so proud of you Ms. Kristen.” But yet, every day I leave him feeling more encouraged than when I started…EVEN on the bad days; I don’t need him to use words to encourage me. It’s what I like to call “unspoken encouragement.” And it’s really easy to receive too…all we have to do is give! No need to wonder if the other person really thinks you are amazing. You will know it but how they respond and how it makes you feel when they accomplish what you encouraged them to do…even if it is just eating three bites of a food they don’t like or reading a book from “beginning to end.” In fact, unspoken encouragement is about the only type of encouragement I know of that you can receive and be in complete control of.

Even though he doesn’t always like the tasks on his schedule or the choices he is given, him and I are buds. I encourage him in the little things and the big things. I show him love and I mean it. And I am always encouraged because even on the bad days he still calls me, “My Kristen.”

Encourage often and you too will receive encouragement.

With love,

Kristen

(Permission to use his photo and story was okay’d by mom.)

To LOVE More…A New Year’s “Revolution”

It is easy to get trapped into survival mode these days. We can all probably think of several moments, just this past year, when the days and weeks passed as quickly as a clock in the night (Psalm 90:4). When time seems to slip through our fingers like water and dries up with the first gust of wind that blows and the moment we turn our head the “day” has already disappeared and (WOW!)…another year has passed.

Admittedly, 2014 was filled with days like these and this mere recollection leaves me wanting to turn back time. But I can’t. And I am okay with that. There is something very freeing knowing that the past is gone. I used to consume myself with ‘what was’ rather than rejoice with ‘what is’ and ‘what will be.’ Starting a new year can metaphorically feel like a starting over period. Kind of like the scripture says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.” How perfectly inspiring to know that God gives us an opportunity each and every day to ‘become new’ because we are in Christ.

As I was reflecting on this past year and thinking about the new year of 2015, a resolution was not the solution that God challenged me with this morning. Yeah, I could probably set a goal to lose a few pounds or save money to buy a new car, etc. But who is that serving? (ME)! It’s humbling to admit that when we are in the tedious cycle of survival living, our unconscious selfishness is often the root of our despair and regret and each day feels like it’s devoted to serving ourselves. Scary reality and even depressing at times!

Love

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Personal goals are important and necessary to make but instead of only making a list of resolutions this year and commitments to personal goals that only serve self, I propose we create a revolution (a new and obvious social order in our culture and communities), to honor and serve God, by loving more even when it feels like we are just trying to survive the day; a conscious effort to show God’s love by loving others.

Here are some examples of ways to show love to others each and every day:

  • Make time for them, no matter how busy you are.
  • Offer a hug.
  • Help them or serve them in some capacity to make their life easier.
  • Surprise them randomly – (note/card/gift/act of service/etc)
  • Cook or clean for them.
  • Listen to them.
  • Encourage them.
  • Smile at them and look them in the eyes.

I pray that this year challenges you (as it will me) to be ‘others focused’ each day, no matter what is going on, with the goal of glorifying God in our meaningful attempt to change a society from ‘self-serving’ to ‘God-serving.’

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Love,

Kristen

How LIFE Leadership Saved My Life

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Sometimes a personal testimony is the most powerful form of belief we can offer people. I have been thinking about this topic for quite some time in anticipation to share how incredibly valuable my involvement with LIFE leadership has been over the years. I often get asked by critics that have known me a while why I am still involved with this company; somehow they still seem to think that this is just a business to me. I pray that this post clears up any confusion for those people.

Anyone who has been involved for any length of time (whether it was during company changes and transitions or the launch in 2011) would probably agree that it’s rather challenging to put into words the impact this organization can have on your life over time. In fact, it’s been such a challenge to formulate this piece of writing because the real blessings are so intangible and hard to express in written form.

I wanted to stay away from any sort of financial discussion because one of the misconceptions critics believe is that because LIFE leadership is a business, “money must be all they care about.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is a very lucrative, successful company with hundreds and even thousands of members experiencing incredible financial success due to their influence in the lives of others, making money is certainly not the companies purpose. But, for those members who treat it and build it as a business they will achieve business results. But I digress. All you have to do is read Orrin Woodward’s highly popular blog or best-selling leadership books like The Leadership Train to understand the incredible business formula and system for LIFE leadership.

The idea behind this article was not to talk about a business but to talk about a purpose. I believe the purpose of LIFE Leadership was organically developed years ago when a group of men and women bonded their convictions through years of struggle trying to create a better life for themselves in less-fulfilling projects, eventually realizing that the real meaning of their struggle came from serving others and helping people grow.

Orrin recently tweeted, “A great life is the reward received when you give your life in service to others.”  Now that sounds like a worthy cause and purpose! But even still, I have to wonder if Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady planned to create a company 20 years ago that might otherwise save people’s lives in the future? It’s not like we have the cure for cancer here – our products are books, CD’s, meetings and people! How could that type of commodity actually save lives? And yet, it has.

Let me explain:

LIFE Leadership is built on a foundation of four important categories of development. Without these four components, a member will not experience the full value that someone like myself and many others have been able to experience over the years. Even the absence of one of these components can be detrimental to ones personal journey. Actually, because these are so important I thought that the most effective way to organize my writing would be to break down specifically through these categories how my involvement with LIFE Leadership has actually saved my life.

1) READ

LIFE booksBack in 2006 I picked up a book at a leadership convention titled The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. I was young (about 20 years old), naive, a non-believer and very lost. No one had known at the time that I was struggling with an eating disorder, family challenges and other risky behaviors. I had always heard since day one of my involvement that reading was an important habit to develop if I ever wanted to be successful someday. I must admit, I was not a reader. In fact, it took me 2 years after getting involved to read a book from start to finish. This happened to be that book. The title of it caught my attention because at the time I had no sense of purpose. So what better way to discover something that was absent in my life than to gain wisdom from an author who may be able to help me. It did help me. In fact, I didn’t realize at the time that the first book I would ever read on my personal development journey would someday lead to my salvation in Jesus Christ.

Over the years I have read hundreds of books across multiple categories of personal and professional development genres. LIFE Leadership prides itself on delivering some of the best published content in the market so that people like myself can foster the necessary skills to develop internally so we can help other people externally. I could probably write a book just on the impact habitual reading has had on my life. It is one of the most powerful but under-utilized tools to success. In fact, it is so powerful that the information in books can actually save your life. I know it did for me.

2) Listen

CDsI started this article stating that a testimony is often the best form of belief we can offer people. One of the first audios I remember listening to that helped me realize the impact of listening was an older version of LIFE Founders Tim and Amy Marks story, Superman. Not only did I relate with Amy’s struggles but with the challenges Tim experienced growing up without a father present. The story is very familiar. This amazing couple taught me something that was extremely critical early on; that the script and story of our lives does not have to be a reflection of our past, but that we can write a new story. Our past does not have to determine our future.

Having always struggled with self-worth and control issues, I realized that the thoughts I constructed in my own mind were the most lethal form of self-destruction on my personal success journey. I knew that I would never become successful in anything if it was left up to my own thinking. I needed to change my thought process dramatically (not with the use of medication therapy, but through CD therapy). I became an audio-aholic listening to several CD’s a day just to keep myself out of my own head. Over the years that habit has created a hunger in me to want to share this information with everyone I meet. When people see stacks of audios in my front and back seats and in bins scattered everywhere throughout my car I am no longer embarrassed but proud of these resources. It is because of listening to these audios that I am still here today. In fact, my own bad thinking almost cost me my life; and listening was a direct path to saving it.

3) Associate

associateWhen I first got involved with the community building industry that has now become LIFE leadership, I completely fell in love with the people. There is just something different about hanging around with people who have a passion to grow personally and who want to make a difference. As hard as it is to believe, there are a lot of people in the world who don’t care about these things. I learned very early that who I hung around with would directly reflect the results I would have someday. I have always wanted to become like the people I respect so I have made it a priority in my life to surround myself with people like that. Even today, the association is my favorite part of all four of these components. Why? Because it’s about relationships. It’s about bonding. It’s about developing lifelong friendships. It’s about community.

Throughout this (already) two-year brain tumor battle if I didn’t have the LIFE leadership community I know for certain I would not be here today. Even through the most painful and challenging days I have looked forward to my Tuesday night meetings, monthly LIFE live seminars and quarterly leadership conventions. I believe having hope is about having something to look forward to even amidst the most difficult days of our lives. Not only do I have eternal hope in a life with Jesus someday but I have hope here on earth every time I get to associate with this incredible community of people. I always have something to look forward to. The relationships I have been able to foster among this organization has led me down paths medically I would have never had the opportunity to navigate. For those reasons alone, LIFE leadership has saved my life. However, all medical aside, the association has also allowed me to discover a purpose that I never knew existed – offering people hope (in a Savior) while pursuing real lasting friendships with other believers as we all journey toward Heaven together someday. To think, this crazy community and association of leaders is influencing people for Jesus – and saving lives for eternity!

4) Mentor

The final component and I could argue the most important! Since I was a freshman in high school (15 yrs old) I have been blessed to have a mentor – someone who has been able to guide me not only in basketball (at the time) but also in life. His name is Dave Chatmon and he is the direct reason I am involved with LIFE leadership today. He somehow convinced a very stubborn, shy but competitive girl to get involved in this industry at 18 years old that I would have never joined in a million years if it wasn’t for the trust I had in him. Today, I get to call him a business partner, a mentor and a friend.

baptismThe wonderful mentors I have been fortunate enough to work with over the years in this company are a true blessing from God – specifically speaking in regards to Dave Chatmon, George and Jill Guzzardo and Orrin and Laurie Woodward. There is absolutely no way I would still be here today if it wasn’t for these men and women and their servant hearts. Mentors help behind the scenes in ways that friends are not even qualified to do – they take on some of the heaviest loads of pressure in our lives but offer love, support and constructive direction towards better decision making in all aspects of our life. If you have a mentor, never ever take them for granted. Your mentors are some of the most selfless, loving and wise people you will ever meet. These mentors that I have mentioned above have directly, in their own specific way, saved my life and I am forever grateful for them every day of my life.

So there you have it. LIFE leadership may not the cure for cancer but it certainly is the cure for hopelessness. This is not just a business to me, this is my purpose – to lead people to truth and hope. It’s why I still do it. It’s why I will never quit until God calls me Home! It’s saved my life a countless number of times and I pray that it saves millions of lives (for Jesus) as we continue to share the message of leadership and truth across the world.

How has LIFE leadership affected your life? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

“It’s not just a business with a purpose, it’s a purpose… with a business.” Orrin Woodward

God Bless,

Kristen

 

Everything is Going to Be Okay

It often feels like life moves in a million different directions and just when we start to get comfortable with one path, God throws us another curve ball to change-up the game.

The text message I received from a friend shortly after the incident said it all, “Gotta love God’s reminders of what is important.”

I had seen the man out of the corner of my eye as I was making my transaction at this local bank. Just days prior I had opened a new account due to my recent move. It wasn’t minutes later when the shattering of glass from the front windows and doors echoed screams and cries that still make my heart race as I write this. I saw him…he was holding a gun and a baseball bat.

“Get down!!!!”…were the only words I could think to yell as I witnessed the glass shatter in front of me.

In a matter of seconds I darted towards the closest office I could see, grabbing the woman’s arm who had no idea what was going on, as we crouched fearfully under a desk in an attempt to hide. However, the clear glass window exposing the office made this attempt almost pointless. I had fumbled with the door knob hoping to secure it but much to my terror there was no lock; so I crouched as low as I could behind the small desk garbage can. The woman who was crying and shaking to my right was mad at herself for not having her gun on her. She muttered angrily, “…what’s the point of conceal and carry if I can’t carry my gun into a bank for situations like this!!”

The woman to my left, who aligned her body perfectly parallel with the wall underneath the desk, was immediately on the phone with 9-1-1.

…I realized in that split second response that I had left all my belongings on the counter by the teller. I didn’t care.

(“Gotta love God’s reminders of what is important”)

…I had never felt so helpless…

So I started to pray…

…”Please Lord, protect us.”

…”Please Lord, protect us.”

…”Please Lord, protect us.”

The prayers from my mouth became louder as I heard the 9-1-1 dispatcher through the phone. I held the other woman’s hand and said, “We are going to be okay, everything is going to be okay.” But, in that instant, I only imagined my life ending.

As soon as I heard the office door open I almost threw up. It’s amazing how our bodies respond physiologically to fear. Even though I knew everything was going to be okay, I still feared the worst.

broken glass

But, when the office manager opened the door and said, “He’s gone,” I had never felt such relief. None of us could even stand up because we were shaking so bad. As we all slowly made our way out into open territory I couldn’t help but empathize for the others who were stricken with equal fear; tears streaming down their faces, terrified bystanders, concerned employees. I had never seen anything like it. Time had stopped. Work had stopped. Hugs were shared. Witnesses were questioned. Phone calls were made.

(“Gotta love God’s reminders of what is important”)

As I have reflected on this incident in the last 24 hours the urgency of my writing became great. Nothing bad happened. No one died. No one was hurt. But, I believe everyone who was there will never forget how they felt…and how it shook their world.

And I ask myself today, will it change them, like it has changed me?

…Will it change how they love others?

…Will it change how they live their lives or prioritize their time?

…Will it change their behaviors?

…Will it change what they believe or how they practice what they believe?

As I crouched underneath that desk assuming the worst, I still believed that everything would be okay. I was terrified, but I believed. I knew that if my life ended in that moment, that I would be with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But… did they?

Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!”

It’s not enough to secure our own salvation. Yes, as a believer I know one day everything is going to be okay. But, will everyone be okay?

It’s hard to live your life in the same manner when you understand the timeline of life vs. eternity. And yet, everyday I fall short of not serving more or loving more or praying more or leading more. I just wish in that instant I had the courage to ask those women under the desk with me if they knew Jesus. But…I didn’t. I was only thinking of myself.

I just wonder what it will take for more believers (like myself) to speak Truth into the world and not care so much about what the world thinks. If I knew I was going to die yesterday, why did I care so much about what those women would think? That may have been God’s one opportunity to speak Truth into their lives by using me… and I blew it. Shame on me for not standing up for Him!

God’s purpose for us is so big and often we forget that He is the only reason we are here. Shouldn’t that reality equally shake us?

(“…Gotta love God’s reminders of what is important…”)

This incident has stirred my heart and shaken my core. I just wonder how many times God has awakened me to the reality of how short life really is and how big my purpose is but how many times I have wasted those reminders by only thinking of myself. I am so grateful for the peace I have in my heart in knowing that everything is going to be okay in the end; but that doesn’t eliminate the urgency of wanting others to have that same peace too. 

That is all.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

Love,

Kristen

Life: Heaven’s Waiting Room

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“Have you ever done this type of work before…?” The facility director asked with optimism.

“Some, but not professionally.” I responded. “…But I love doing this kind of work.”

I was desperate to find something during a critical transitional time so it didn’t matter what type of work I would be doing. 3rd shift CNA-type work was acceptable as long as it filled the need I had been looking for.

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I took the position. I had one co-worker tell me, “This can be a disgusting job if you aren’t used to it…” My only thought was, what’s so disgusting about caring for others? It wasn’t the job or work that bothered me. These were human beings, people who had families that loved them and a life story. Another co-worker said, “Don’t try to get too close to the residents….places like this are where people come to die.”

You are kidding me right? What a heartless thing to say.

But, many did die…on my watch.

After spending some time with the residents, I began to wonder what their lives used to be. People change drastically when they grow old. Being a caregiver on the graveyard shift left me ‘getting to know’ the residents mostly through their pictures. In one of the pictures was a resident dancing in the arms of her husband with her eyes closed, smiling with such an infectious bliss, one would think it was the happiest moment in her life. But she deteriorated fast; it was painful to watch her in a catatonic state, barely blinking and not moving in her bed. That was very common on the memory care unit I was primarily assigned to.

After merely a few hours working in the facility, I could feel how lonely most of these people were. I find it too difficult to imagine how friends and family of a deceased resident could recall their fondest memories at the funeral while completely omitting the time they left the resident by themselves when they needed company the most.

On the random occasion when I would pick up a day shift, I noticed it was not uncommon for a resident to sit quietly by themselves looking out the window waiting for love and interaction with someone who cared to give them time. “This is Heaven’s waiting room…” one nurse said, as I remember a time sadly gazing at the woman who always kept her Bible and cross close to her side in the wheelchair with a lonely hollow glare in her eyes. However, her soul was anything but hollow.

…Heaven’s waiting room…? I thought…

Isn’t life a ‘waiting room’ for Heaven?

I imagine being ‘one of them’ – completely dependent on someone else to take care of me; how it must feel to completely surrender your independence because you just can’t do it on your own.

I remember back when I realized I just couldn’t do it on my own; when I needed to surrender my independence to The One who I could completely depend on. I wasn’t elderly, and I wasn’t needing someone to feed, dress, change and bath me. Actually, I needed more than that. I was in need of a Savior; a rescuer. Not a caregiver.

From the perspective of time, Heaven is eternal, everlasting, never-ending. Life is not. We enter into it about as fast as we leave it (and often the same way). God knew it would be that way; He knew it would be temporary, which is why He provided a Savior in Jesus Christ as a bridge to eternal life. He knew that in His waiting room we would experience fear, anxiety, anticipation, questions, anger and frustration. But he also knew we would experience courage, peace, patience, joy, purpose and love. He knew that some people would spend less time waiting than others (realizing that people who pass early in life just had an appointment with Him much sooner than the rest). And while we may not like that reality (right now), it isn’t the last time we will ever see them, because we have an appointment with Him too, someday – which will bring us back to them.

“Death is a lot less scary when you have something to look forward to…” I remember whispering in her ear when she was approaching her final days ‘in the waiting room.’

It was hard not to get attached. I love(d) these residents dearly.

residents

Every interaction was a reminder for me not to take my days for granted. Boy was that ‘desperation’ job a blessing. And as we sit in the real ‘waiting rooms’ of life, faced with the unknown of our present (and future), we are reminded of the promises God has for those who love Him:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith, be men (and women) of courage; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12

…and always remember in the waiting rooms of life that there is nothing ‘unknown’ to God.

Love,

Kristen

The Best Advice I Have Ever Received

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A few years ago I was having a conversation with a man who had sparkling silver hair and ‘stress’ marks (aka wrinkles) from the thousands of people he’s served throughout his life. His profession was Teacher and Coach but his expertise was in sharing the truth (in love). There are certain people you meet who cross the boundaries of co-worker or acquaintance and start to influence you in ways that only great friends and mentors do. While I only knew him for a short time via employment, he gave me some of the best advice I have ever received.

At the time I had been dating a person who I really enjoyed spending time with, however, this person was missing some of the qualities that were really important to me in a relationship – it must have just been a physical attraction because I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing. My wiser and older friend Mike (who, at the time, had been married over 40 years) frequently tended to ask me personal questions – so he knew me quite well; I believe he found satisfaction in counseling younger people who were naïve and inexperienced in life. I was 24 years old at the time, so I qualified. In any normal circumstance I would hesitate to elaborate on anything personal unless there was a foundation of trust in the relationship. But, Mike was different. He had earned my trust.

I had expressed to him the challenges I was experiencing in connection with the man I was hoping to pursue a relationship with. In my communication with Mike he asked me three very specific questions (as if this wasn’t his first conversation counseling someone on relationships):

1) Does this person challenge you in a way that makes you want to be better?

2) Is he passionate about something important?

3) Does he love God?

He said (paraphrased), “Imagine I am standing on top of this desk looking down on you who are standing on the floor. I want you to get to ‘my level’ but I can’t physically make you unless you have a desire to stand on the desk with me. It is nearly impossible to raise someone up to your level (i.e. change them, force them to grow or be where YOU want them to be). You can influence them by your actions but you can’t force them to change. In fact, what usually happens is the person standing on the floor, by default, will often lower you down to their level, causing you to go backward instead of forward. Negative influence is just as powerful as positive influence. People can always rise to a new level, if they choose to, but you can’t make them rise. If these qualities are important to you and these are the exact qualities missing in his life, then you may find yourself fighting a battle that you will never win.”

This made so much sense to me because the key missing ingredients that created a disconnect in any potential future with this person were the very things that Mike was explaining. Understanding that the things that are important to me (personally) are a good indicator of the qualities that attract me to others. I have always known that association matters, but this visual changed everything. In fact, since that conversation I have not only been able to define what I am looking for in a future spouse but in every relationship I have with people; realizing that Mike offered me some of the best advice I have ever received.

friends

This example is very true of all our association – not just in searching for a spouse. Of course none of us are perfect. I am not searching for the perfect man, just a man who makes me want to be better by his example, has a passion for similar interests of importance and loves the Lord. But the point being that it is critical to surround yourself with people who also display all the qualities that are important to you. For me, it is people who have a hunger to grow with a passion and a purpose. LIFE Founder Orrin Woodward is often heard quoting, “You become who you associate with.” Whether that is a potential spouse, a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a business partner, etc. The worst thing that can happen is that you ‘get off the desk’ and stop growing and developing in the important things because of your association with a negative influence. That is why I love my association with LIFE Leadership. I am challenged to grow daily, I am surrounded by winners who are humble and hungry and I am mentored by men and women who love the Lord and are passionate about things that matter. I make it a priority to surround myself with people who have these qualities or are seeking to have these qualities because my priorities all fall under the umbrella of these three exact questions. I pray that you have a clear idea of the qualities that are important to you and that you never settle for less in your relationships than what you expect of yourself.

God Bless,

Kristen

Imperfect People: Part 1 – Confronting Critical Crossroads

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“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14

Every day we are presented with hundreds of choices that we must make, many of them seemingly unimportant but all of them unique to us; our attitude, appearance, lifestyle, food choices, career, scheduling, priorities, conversations, entertainment, living situation, relationships, financial decisions, etc. And we all eventually reach a point where we’re standing at a crossroads and have to make a decision on which path to take. I believe we are awakened by our own imperfections at these crossroads. It is when we feel the most vulnerable, uncertain, confused and afraid. We want to make the right decision but suddenly we are faced with the dreadful, uncontrollable feeling of fear: The unknown. What others may think. Making the wrong decision.

We are all imperfect beings with imperfect answers, acting on imperfect information for causes with imperfect results. We are bruised by our past, the stress of living in an imperfect world, our hearts heavy with constant disappointment; we feel small and insecure, often questioning the direction of our path and the intent of our actions, even as our hearts are enlarged by the humanity of our mission.

crossroad

For many, it is in these critical crossroads circumstances when we experience overwhelming pressure. Sometimes there are multiple paths that make decisions even more challenging. Sometimes we are paralyzed by fear so we sit down at the center of the crossroads and do nothing. We want God to do it for us… we want Him to audibly tell us what to do – ‘give us a sign’ or ‘confirmation’ and when He doesn’t we get frustrated and give up. It is also at these crossroads when we are tempted by sin; when our discernment and judgment is most crucial. Sometimes we are deceived by our own ignorance and if we aren’t careful we may find ourselves strolling aimlessly down a path that we didn’t intend on traveling.

I felt convicted in writing this because of the many times I have stood at these crossroads wanting to take the ‘easier’ road, but knowing it may not be the best road – but choosing to have more faith in myself than in God because it appeared safer than the alternative. In fact, my most cowardly decisions were always made when I listened to my own advice. The fact is, He doesn’t want us to travel these streets alone.

I believe God uses people to help us face these crossroads; to prevent us from constantly listening to ourselves and taking the ‘easy path’ – which is rarely the correct path. He knows our imperfections better than we do and He knows we can’t do it on our own so He provides mentors as friends and advisors to see things that we don’t see; to offer experience that we don’t have.

The word mentor means: An experienced and trusted advisor.

Jesus Christ is the perfect model of mentorship and He provides wisdom to His followers (you and I) in the form of scripture, prayer and experience so that we may be able to choose the right path…and not just the easier one – which our imperfect selves are so inclined to do. LIFE Leadership founder Orrin Woodward recently tweeted, “A mentor’s role is to help people discover where they are ignorant of their own ignorance.”

Keep in mind, our mentors are not perfect either. They are fallen sinners just like us. But, the right mentors who have the results, wisdom and experience to advise can offer the right perspective which can lead us down the right path. A mentor is often the very thing we need in order to make the right decisions. So now when confronting critical crossroads, instead of taking my own advice, even when it seems easier, I choose to seek a mentor who can offer guidance throughout the journey. These are some of the questions I must ask myself:

1) Do I have enough humility to recognize and admit when I need a mentor?

2) Am I prepared to listen and apply the advice my mentor suggests?

2) Am I willing to accept responsibility for the decisions and the path that I take, regardless of the outcome or advice I receive?

Sometimes the path still isn’t clear, and that’s okay… it doesn’t always mean that it’s the wrong path. It may just be possible that God is using our ‘crossroad’ circumstance to strengthen our faith. He may just want us to choose a path and put our trust in Him along the journey.

Thankfully, no matter what crossroad we are confronted with, we always have hope in the destination because of a perfect Savior who died on the cross for our imperfections. So when our path appears to be blocked, unclear, confusing or unending we can be reminded of the perfect path Christ has for those who choose to follow Him.

“Stand at the crossroads and look, ask where the good way is and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

Love, Kristen

 

 

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