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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

Human Kindness Overflowing

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“Never look down on anybody unless you are helping them up.” Jesse Jackson

I am filled with gratitude today.

I’m sure I am not alone when I assume that many people are fed up with the negativity surrounding social media, news stories and natural conversation in the public. It seems that the drama of negative news poses entertainment for some people who can’t find positive things to be conversational about.

Early this morning I spent some time at a local small town coffee shop. So small that they only accepted cash for purchases. Being someone who rarely carries cash I proceeded to pay for my coffee with a debit card and quickly found out that they didn’t accept electronic transactions. I felt bad because I wanted to support their business and wanted the convenience of not having to search for another venue. The bill amounted to only $2.25.

The conversation went something like this:

Them – “No problem about the payment, can you stop back later to pay?”

Me – “Probably not, I won’t be able to get back here before you close tonight.”

Them – “Well, when is the next time you are in the area? We’ll square up then.”

Me – “I can stop back tomorrow morning. Will you be here?”

Them – “No, but I will just write your name on the receipt and you can just pay whoever is here.”

Me – “Really? You trust me that much?”

She proceeded to take my receipt and tape it to the wall; and mine was not the only one up there.

Them – “Yes.”  (With a smile)

…(And of course I will be dropping off my ‘payment’ – with interest, tomorrow)!

Human kindness is an expression of the heart that can’t be bought or sold but can only be given freely through our actions. The fact that this coffee shop believes in trusting people is an ACT of kindness.

Action includes some kind of self-sacrifice and therefore generosity on our part. I have been the receiver of so much kindness lately that it has encouraged this posting. Have you received any kindness lately worthy of sharing? I would love to start a feed of positive postings surrounding the good things people are doing in the world.

Please share in the comments section below.

“Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions.” 1 John 3:18

Love, Kristen

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The Silver Lining – Our Worst Brings out His Best

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‘Beneath every cloud there is a silver lining’ is a phrase I think of all too often when faced with challenges. I received a text message from a friend a couple of weeks ago regarding her job loss. Her response to this difficulty was, “it’s okay, this just frees up more of my time so I can build my business and spend more time with my children.” This perspective encouraged me and helped me to see how God often uses challenges for good.

Of course, if you are reading this in the midst of a major set-back, I know it’s hard to see the silver lining. But please keep reading. I was going for a walk this morning marveling at the beauty of God’s creation when I noticed an airplane far off into the distance. Within seconds the plane disappeared. Clearly it had flown through a big patch of dark clouds that interrupted the plane’s route. I can only imagine the turbulence the passenger’s on that plane were experiencing as I was watching from a distance in the calm of my morning walk. I thought about the enormity of this vehicle transporting hundreds of passenger’s from one destination to the next and how from my perspective in that instant the plane appeared as nothing more than a spec in the sky. But for the passenger’s on that plane, experiencing that turbulence, I am certain those civilians were just praying for the ‘turbulence’ to go away – they weren’t thinking about the silver lining.

The silver lining principle is nothing more than having the right perspective. As I watched that plane literally disappear into the clouds I immediately recognized the silver lining God was revealing to me. Up close, our challenges may appear big and overwhelming. But, from a distance they are nothing more than a dot in the universe. I imagine God looking down on us as we battle the decisions and calamity of such stress in the midst of these trials and His response, “(my child)…For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” Romans 8:18. Therefore, we must look to Him when faced with these tests in order to gain the proper perspective.

This analogy reminded me of the story that Glavin Reid shared of a young man who had fallen down some stairs as an infant and had shattered his back. He had been in and out of hospitals his whole life with one surgery after another. But at 17 years of age this young man made the comment that He thought God was more than fair with him. When Galvin Reid reminded him that he had practically lived his whole life in hospitals, he asked the young man, “How can you say that God is fair?” He smiled and said, “God has all of eternity to make it up to me.” In our sufferings, it helps to see things from an eternal point of view and know that our pain has no comparison with the joy and glory of living eternally with God. In light of Heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.

silver liningWe will never be able to avoid the tests and trials (the clouds) that come at us in life. But, having the right perspective will offer peace and encouragement through the turbulence. There is something so magnificent knowing that God already knows the solutions to our problems. We may not understand them but God does. Our worst brings out His best.

I pray that you choose the proper perspective and see the Son beyond the clouds and the light that illuminates the silver lining through the turbulence.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Love, Kristen

Community and Influence: It’s Not About the Pebble

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“Every life comes with an expiration date” said the acquaintance in line as I waited close to 3.5 hours to say my goodbye’s to a good friend who tragically lost her life in a boating accident. “This certainly isn’t an ideal situation” he said as the awkward conversations continued to magnify in this extended visitation. Ha – ideal…death is never ideal!

I spent a lot of time thinking about Megan’s dash in those hours as I looked at her remembrance card that read 1986-2014. I thought about the memories I not only had with her but with all of my loved ones, friends and family who had reached their expiration date. It’s hard not to imagine your own dash in those moments. Will I leave the type of legacy or impact that they left? How will I be remembered? It’s not a coincidence that many of my articles are purpose centered or ‘difference’ driven. Life really is short. It’s not just a cliché. Knowing this, shouldn’t our life mean something?

I reflected on all the times I may have stood in line at the supermarket thumbing through my social networking sites on my Smartphone when just inches away there was an elderly woman just looking for a little social interaction…and I missed it…knowing full well that she was probably closer to her expiration date than I. I thought about the comments my dear grandmother would make as too often my cell phone seemed to take precedence over our relationship when all she was hoping for was an uninterrupted conversation with her grand-daughter; and those missed opportunities are now gone because she is gone. The choices we so often make without realizing the effect or the regret we may later experience because of those decisions. Sometimes God shows Himself during the most in-opportune times and we either seize the opportunity or we miss it.

I have reflected on those moments more often in the last 6 months than I ever have in my life. The average person is not thinking about their dash; they are not thinking about how their decisions will affect their relationships with people; they are not thinking about their expiration date.

The anxiety (or urgency) I generally experience on a daily basis has disciplined my awareness to the people and situations I am in and with so much un-anticipated grief around me I can’t help but slow down and reflect on what is truly important. I spent some time last night looking out over the waters of a beautiful landscape thinking about my friend’s whose lives had just expired realizing that my life could end in an instant just like theirs; understanding that I too am faced with an expiration date.

While sitting in my silence, I reached down towards the pebbles below and tossed one into the calm waters that reflected the bright setting sun. The ripple practically stretched for miles as I discovered the metaphor that God was revealing to me in that instant. It didn’t take long for me to understand the parallel that even just one pebble could stretch further than I ever thought possible – if thrown into a large body of water.

Imagine this with me if you will:

ripple effect 2Pebbles are small acts of kindness we do for others and the body of water is our community. If we have a small body of water wouldn’t it make sense that even multiple pebbles thrown into a small body of water would only extend as far as the body of water that it’s thrown into? Everyone will leave a ripple effect. But the difference in the ripple will be determined by the number of people you’ve influenced…NOT just the number of pebbles that you toss into the water. Which, metaphorically speaking, it doesn’t matter how much influence you have in one person’s life or how many small acts of kindness you make in a small community, if our ripple only extends to as far as our body of water reaches then it’s only logical that our impact eventually stops once that ripple reaches the shoreline.

Knowing this, I would rather focus on the size of the body of water rather than the number of pebbles thrown. Most people have no problem helping their friends and family or the people they already know, tossing more and more pebbles into that same small community. But wouldn’t it make sense that if we want to increase our influence and impact more people’s lives, we have to look outside of our current circle of friends and family?

ripple effect 1The next question may be, how do we gain such influence? That’s simple – servant leadership. The people who have made the biggest difference in my life were complete strangers to me before they decided to extend their body of water, increase their leadership and serve others. They are men and women who looked outward from their own circle because they knew that it wasn’t about the size of the pebble or the number or pebbles, they knew it was about the size of the body of water and ‘the people’ they were led to serve. Men and women like Orrin and Laurie Woodward who choose to extend their body of water and serve on a daily basis, not because they expect something in return, but because they care about people and the purpose God has for them in helping people.

What I love so much about the LIFE Leadership community is that it’s a platform to extend our body of water and our influence so far and so wide that our ripple effect could essentially echo into eternity. I have been blessed to meet and befriend so many people that were complete strangers to me prior to being associated with the LIFE community; and conversely people have befriended, helped and influenced me in more ways than I can even describe. And in all of our interactions we have been granted a mission to pay it forward affecting another person’s life and potentially, their legacy.

When Jackie Lewis reached the finish line, 100’s of thousands of people across the nation were affected by her life and her message and she continues to change and impact people’s lives today. Because of her love of people and her servant heart, Jackie’s ripple and her legacy will continue to extend for generations and I am certain she is reaping a boundless reward in Heaven today.

But certainly the best example of influence is Jesus. We have a model of servant leadership in Jesus Christ that has directly impacted and changed lives for thousands of years and His ripple continues to span across the globe. It is because of Him, that we have any influence or ripple at all. His influence is eternal and it’s the type legacy we should all live our lives striving for.

Life is short. As my mentor Jill Guzzardo says, “We don’t have a 1,000 years to do this…”

Live your life so that when you die you continue to live through all the lives you’ve changed.

Love,

Kristen

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Fight

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Phil 3-14

The Christian Life is not a playground, it’s a battleground.

So today I will give no place to fear or failure, I will not accept a trace of apathy in my attitude or actions.

I will reject complacency and embrace the greatness that God has planted inside of me.

I will waste no opportunity to glorify God and maximize everything he has entrusted to me.

I will fight.

My battle is not against flesh and blood but against a spiritual enemy who opposes me.

So I will draw the battle lines and face my enemy with a bold determination.

My enemy fights against me because he fears me, every time I resist him he must flee.

And every time he reminds me of my past, I will remind him of his future.

I will make no excuses but through every obstacle I will find a way.

I will not procrastinate my progress, I will not defer my destiny, I will not waver when I’m weak, I will not cower when my circumstances take a turn for the worse.

Because greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.

I will fight.

Even if I lose the battle, I will win the war because I am more than a conqueror for Him who loves me.

I will reject the lies that echo in my mind telling me that I don’t have what it takes, that my best is behind me or that humiliation awaits me.

The devil is a liar!

And my God always causes me to triumph through Jesus Christ my Lord.

I will fight.

I’m unashamed to represent a kingdom that is unshakable, no one will be able to stand against God’s plan for me.

All the days of my life, with my God I will advance every truth.

With His help I will scale every wall.

Though my enemies surround me, my God surrounds my enemies.

Though they may come at me one way, they will flee seven ways.

Because no weapon formed against me will prosper and every evil thing that rises against me I will condemn.

I will fight.

My heart is steadfast, my purpose is immovable, I am always abounding in the work of the Lord and my potential is unlimited because a limitless God lives within me.

I will fight.

The Cross is before me, the world is behind me.

I’ll never turn back.

I’ll never give up.

I’ll never settle.

I’ll never stop short.

I will work towards the mark for the prize that is already mine.

For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come.

Neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate me from my God.

And if my God is for me, who can be against me!

I will fight!

~ Pastor Steven Furtick ~

Love, Kristen

‘Potential’ Regrets

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For several weeks, since the weather has actually started to feel like Spring, I have utilized every opportunity to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. My new routine has been a 6am early morning walk through the streets of Waukesha where I listen to worship music, drink coffee, think, pray and ponder. It’s taken me about two weeks to map my route as I get bored with the same scenery every day. So each day I choose to start in a different direction to add some variety to my morning.

In sticking with my routine this morning, even on the weekends, I decided to go a little bit further and walk a little bit longer than usual. I spontaneously started in a westward direction, coffee in hand, breathing in the purity of a new day. Pacing at a fairly slow and relaxed speed, I took in my surroundings and enjoyed the splendor of a beautiful daybreak. These early morning walks have been a great therapeutic addition to the chaos of life; reminding me of how beautiful life is and how much I appreciate being alive. These walks have allowed me to think more deeply about my purpose and also pray more faithfully to the God who created me.

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However, this morning’s walk was much different than the rest. I was familiar with the streets and I was familiar with the area but I was not familiar with my surroundings. As I paced leisurely around this large open land I couldn’t help but notice that I was circling around a cemetery. I had driven these streets daily; I had even walked and ran these sidewalks several times before. But today was the first day I recognized the significance of my location. I abruptly halted my leisure pace, turned the volume all the way down on my music and sat on the edge of where the grass meets the pavement of a fully populated graveyard…the sun was just rising and there was hardly a civilian or car in sight.

In any other situation I would have sped up my stride in order to get away from the area; cemeteries have always creeped me out. Probably because I watched too many horror flicks growing up. But this time I was convicted to stop. And not only stop, but sit down. I gleaned at a distance to some of the plots where real people’s bodies lay at rest. I couldn’t help but think of my own loved ones whose bodies lay still underground in a similar plot just in a different location. It reminded me of how precious life really is and how much the sunrise meant to me today, because for the souls I was sitting amongst, they couldn’t see it. And someday, I wouldn’t be able to either.

I could not muster the courage to walk through the grounds but what I could see within close proximity of where I was sitting were the names of people…and underneath the names were their birth dates and death dates, separated by a dash. A while back, Chris Brady produced an incredible LIFE leadership audio titled “The Dash” and this talk has always remained etched in my mind. However, it wasn’t until this morning, that my dash first became real to me as I sat in the silence of that land.

I had a conversation with a friend just yesterday who I was introducing LIFE leadership to and ironically our conversation consisted of the very topic I am writing about today. God’s timing is so amazing.

Her paraphrased words were, “once the initial sting of my death wears off (to my loved ones), I wonder who will actually miss me or remember me? Will I have made enough of a difference for people to continue talking about me after I am gone…?”

Such a powerful question that I believe very few people ever ask themselves. And I am proud of her for asking it. Are we afraid to ask ourselves that question because we don’t want to accept the fact that someday we are going to die? Are we afraid to ask ourselves because we don’t want the responsibility and pressure of doing something important or significant with our lives? That was definitely me. For a long time I naively believed that my dash would last forever…as long as I didn’t think about it. And if I didn’t think about it then it didn’t matter if I accomplished anything important each day. I was successfully getting myself one step closer to death safely.

As I sat there this morning, looking at a field of hundreds of stones, I thought about all the people who had the potential to do something great with their lives but may have never had the courage to ask that question. Names forgotten…people forgotten. They went to the grave with ‘potential’ regrets; their lives ended and so did their legacy. Sadly, buried beneath the soils around the world and even blocks from our homes are people who never accomplished their dreams because they never had the audacity to pursue them: songs that were never sung, books that were never written, words that were never spoken, lives that were never touched, inventions that were never designed, plans that were never acted on, ideas that were never shared, stories that were never told and purposes that were never fulfilled – people who naively believed their dash would last forever. People who had the potential to leave a powerful and lasting legacy, but ran out of time. I know this is not very encouraging but I sure hope it is motivating.

Change

I reflect back on certain seasons of my life where I didn’t have goals, I didn’t have a purpose and I didn’t have a dream or a cause I was chasing after…they were very depressing, insignificant, boring and unfulfilling times of my life. I just imagine if my dash ended in the midst of my complacency – how would I have been remembered then?…scary thought. I thank God that those seasons didn’t consume me for several years but that He was patient with me in my temporary darkness. Sadly, for many Americans, this type of lifestyle is ‘normal’ and ‘common’ and often people don’t even realize the insignificance of their life because they are being deceived into thinking that it’s all okay; and they live this way for years…sometimes their entire life. But, it’s not okay. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

I feel a major sense of urgency as I write this…not just for myself but for everyone I come in contact with. None of us will ever escape death. As Terri Brady said on a recent audio, “there is a too late…” And as George Guzzardo says, “there is a finish line we will all eventually cross.”

The question is, will your life be buried and forgotten with ‘potential’ regrets or remembered and talked about because you lived your life well and made a difference?

Blessings,

Kristen

Patience and Hope: There is Always a Calm After the Storm

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“…He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45

Most of the articles I write are born out of personal experiences. When a crazy idea or experience emerges, I then reflect on whether the information will be helpful or relevant to whoever may read it. Usually it will take days, weeks or months for an idea or experience to be a complete; however, this one took just hours.

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Sunday afternoon I was reading a book at my usual spot down by the river. The sun was shining, a warm breeze cooled the Wisconsin air as husbands and wives paced side by side for their afternoon walks, father’s and son’s cast their fishing lines into the raging river hoping to reel one in for a picture, avid runners clocked their times as they hit each mile marker. It was a beautiful day.

It wasn’t long before the clouds rolled in and I felt the first rain drop hit my nose. In seconds people started to flee towards their cars to shelter themselves from a potential heavy rainfall. I couldn’t believe how quickly an active and friendly area soon became an empty, dark and desolate landscape. I froze this moment as I sat and witnessed this and began to connect and relate this scenario to real life…how the physical weather carries a similar connection to the mysteries of living. How sometimes we can go days, weeks, months and even years experiencing ‘pouring rain’ with little hope that there is a misty calm approaching; or sometimes how our life can feel like one big gray cloud that never seems to rain and never seems to shine; or sometimes how people run and hide from potential rain when most of the time it’s never as bad as they anticipate.

Let me relate this to my own personal journey. Anyone who has experienced any major challenges understands the pain associated with losing patience and hope. For the past 18 months I have gone through a cycle that I can honestly say has been the most challenging, painful and stressful time of my life. I thought I knew struggle prior to this rainfall but my perspective has significantly changed in the last year and a half.

It was around 2011 when the warm and bright sunlight of my life started to turn into gray clouds. I was anticipating a storm I just didn’t know how bad the storm would be or how long it would last. I was living a very happy, healthy, purposeful, financially stable lifestyle with a thriving business and a passionate pursuit to make a difference… when subtly gray clouds started to come in. I wasn’t surprised. Life is full of unexpected challenges. However, these gray clouds seemed to be different. They weren’t real obvious at first and I continued to live my life as if the clouds weren’t there – like I would get a headache and call it ‘stress’ or I would have a sleepless night and blame my coffee obsession. The physical pain of life never really bothered me. I was used to physical pain. I was a competitive athlete for over 18 years. I’ve blown my knees out playing basketball multiple times, sprained my ankles more times than I can even count, have had concussions, jammed fingers and black eyes from elbows to my face…my bones pop, my muscles ache, it’s just the reality of being a former athlete….so the little daily abnormalities never raised any concerns for me.

But, it seemed very quickly the scattered gray clouds grew denser and darker. My personality and attitude began to change (for no clear reason). I was more edgy, unapproachable, negative and distant (or so I’ve been told). It seemed like I was having more bad days than good days. The physical abnormalities I had experienced for years were starting to frustrate me…a lot! It wasn’t long before other areas of my life started to get increasingly difficult. A rough batch of roommates/tenants created financial strain and extra stress, a good friend would quit my business (and I would take it personal), a fight with a family member created unresolved tension and conflict, a prior 30 minute headache turned into three days with no relief.

thunderstorms

My gray clouds quickly turned into scattered showers. It seemed like in some areas of my life things were still going well but in other areas things were just beginning to fall apart. Of course in the moment we don’t see these things as gray clouds or scattered showers. We live each day and thank God for only 24 hours because it means we can start fresh a new day; but some of those ‘new days’ seemed to be no different than the previous. I would wake up with every intention to have a positive attitude and outlook but then on the way to a meeting I would get a speeding ticket or I would get a phone call that someone close to me just passed away; pretty soon those ‘clumps’ of days turned into weeks of unending scattered showers. It didn’t take long for an unexpected raging storm to drench my life.

Ironically Wisconsin has been hit with several days of heavy rainfall. Even as I write this the thunder is rolling. But on Sunday afternoon the analogy was so clear. I could see the clouds getting darker in the distance. I could see the rain a few miles out. However, I could not predict the downpour that was about to take place. That’s what happened in 2012 when the downpour of my life hit me without warning. Sometimes, if you are lucky, the rain dissipates before it reaches you. Sometimes it moves in a different direction and someone else gets hit with it. In my case, God pointed that rain in my direction and I was not prepared to take shelter.

Looking back I can see that the scattered showers were actually warning signs from God. Either I would listen to the warning signs and do something about it before it got worse or I would have to accept the fact that heavy rain was coming my way. I’ve also learned that sometimes God has to go to extremes in order to wake us up and/or teach us something. Again, anyone who has experienced heavy rainfall for any extended period of time knows what I am talking about. I am not referring to the one or two bad days a month where everything seems to be going wrong. I am referring to the continual ‘bad days’ …and worse, not being in control or having a solution for those days.

I could argue that probably 90% of the time most people have a choice on whether their day is going to be filled with sunshine or filled with rain, just by their attitude. During most of my scattered showers, there probably could have been more days of sunshine if I would have just chose to have a better attitude. But, it seems like 10% of the time (in life) there are those moments that even a good attitude usually can’t improve the situation (i.e. grieving the loss of someone you love, serious illness, abuse, marital stress, financial disarray, etc, etc). That 10% is what I like to refer to as the ‘raging storms’ of life.

It’s in times like these that our trust and faith in God is most important. Without going into any major detail I can say with certainty that the heavy rainfall I experienced these last 18 months have been, without a doubt, an enormous test of faith. From a car accident that left me lifeless for over a month, to an inoperable brain tumor diagnosis, to major treatment decisions such as 6 weeks of radiation and several months of chemotherapy, to multiple days and weeks at a time of physical pain and sickness, to financial stress due to large medical bills, to almost losing my house, to watching team members and friends walk away from their dreams, to a healing that left me relieved but completely lost, to financial collapse, to depression, to loss of hope, to another brain tumor diagnosis, to the loss of my last living grandparent, to a family collapse and a 3rd brain tumor diagnosis; it has been a period of pouring rain with very little sunlight. I guess the old saying is true, “When it rains, it pours.”

And yet, even though it is still raining, I can finally see the sunlight beaming through the clouds. I can’t even count the number of times I thought the heavy rain would never end; that I would never see the light of day.

All of us experience different heavy storms in life and most people experience storms multiple times throughout their life, even for extended periods of time. It’s a very challenging and confusing place to be. And sometimes the storm hits you even when you try to seek shelter but often times there is no shelter at all. The storms of life are meant to change your landscape. If your landscape isn’t changed in some way, then it probably wasn’t a storm.

If you are being drenched right now, I want to encourage you that things will get better. There is always a calm after the storm. But in the meantime, here are some things that have helped me have patience and hope in the pouring rain:

  1. Stay positive - Always be the light in a dark room. You can’t always control your circumstances but you can control your attitude in those circumstances. It helps to surround yourself with a community of friends and people who are encouraging and uplifting. LIFE Leadership has been that community for me.
  2. Stay busy (with your priorities) – Keep your mind focused on the things and people who are important to you.
  3. Do things you enjoy and are passionate about - Even when you don’t feel like it, force yourself to do it anyways.
  4. Don’t complain about your problems or your bad day - The more you complain, the worse it makes you feel.    BUT…
  5. Communicate with trusted family, friends or mentors - The storms of life should never be handled alone. Guidance, support, encouragement and love is so crucial. But make sure to communicate those struggles only with those closest to you.
  6. Serve Others – Help other people make it through their storms and you will likely think less about your storms.
  7. Pray – Spend time communicating with God.

There are a number of other ways to overcome the raging storms of life and these are just a few that have helped me. I pray that if rain is pouring down on you right now that you cling to the hope that there IS a calm after the storm. There is a rainbow coming. There will be sunshine again. It’s just part of the process. Be patient. God has a plan for the rain you are experiencing and He wants you to use this experience to glorify Him.

Sunday afternoon when the rain came pouring down, I just sat there and let myself get drenched. It made me feel more alive than I have felt in a really long time. If you have ever been completely drenched from a rainstorm you understand what I mean – you can feel every drop, the chill runs through every vein in your body, your heartbeat races just a little bit faster than normal and it practically takes your breath away. It was the first time I was able to thank God for the raging storms in my life because it meant that I am still alive. It meant that no matter what happens to me in the pouring rain, there is ALWAYS calmness, rainbows and warm sunlight to look forward to – whether it be in this life or the next! Stay strong when rain pours down on your of life (because it will) and hold onto the hope that someday we will get to experience eternal sunlight forever with Jesus.

SUNAgain Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Love, Kristen

Our Life is a Ministry

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“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides.” 1 Peter 4:10-11

When I first came to the Lord back in 2009 I felt enormous pressure to share the message of Jesus. My life had changed so dramatically that the thought of someone living a single day without the hope of Christ terrified me. I felt I had a responsibility to share this message with every person I came into contact with. However, my naïve and ignorant understanding of the gospel proved that what I felt in my heart would be a more challenging task to accomplish than anticipated.

My story is much different than most for the mere fact that I didn’t have any pre-conceived notions of what Christianity actually was. I had no religious or spiritual background, no prior experience with the church and very little influence in my associations growing up. So, when I started to learn Biblical principles taught through personal development books and audios through LIFE Leadership, and surrounding myself with people who were living out these principles, it caught my attention. I started to witness and meet people who were actually married…and happy! I started to make friends with people whose passions didn’t involve partying, living for the weekends and substance abuse but loving and serving others (with no hidden agenda) and chasing after dreams.

That quick transformation from Christ-empty to Christ-full changed everything for me. Anyone who has experienced this revelation knows what I am talking about. But, with this transformation came an urgency that I had never felt before. And it’s the feeling of urgency that inspired me to write this article.

When I mentioned that early on I felt an overwhelming pressure to spread the ‘good’ news, I was not exaggerating. I went so far as to sign up for a mission trip overseas, write and send out support letters and plan time off (which I eventually never went on – a story for a different article)…learning you don’t have to cross oceans and borders to serve God. When I was teaching in public schools I felt determined to convert my students because I couldn’t live with the idea of them growing up and going through life without Jesus (like I did). I even remember a very specific conversation with one of my high school sophomores who challenged me regarding sin, eternity and salvation and her belief that there can’t possibly be a God – which was a belief that she concluded on the basis of her peers who were all professed atheists. Later learning that their belief was developed without ever hearing the Truth (just like me)… never hearing the story of Adam and Eve or how sin entered this world, let alone the story of Jesus. Of course these kids didn’t believe; most of my students came from broken homes with no Biblical or moral foundation. How can one possibly believe the Truth if they have never heard it?

I realized in those early experiences of attempting to play ‘God’ that WE (humans) cannot convert people into believing in Jesus no matter how excited we are, no matter how knowledgeable we are and no matter how deep Jesus is rooted in our hearts. Only God can ‘convert’ people. Sometimes he has to break us completely or back us into a corner and bring us to our knees in order to turn to Him; sometimes He has to put the right person or mentor in our path; sometimes He has to give us worldly ‘things’ like materialism or status and then take it all away in order for us to realize how meaningless those things are; sometimes He has to challenge us in the things we can’t control – like an illness or loss in order to put our faith and trust in Him for the things unknown.

My own experiences in attempting to analyze and understand God’s plan (which is a contradictory statement because I don’t understand and never will in this life) opened my eyes to how God might be using me to serve Him.

I started this article stating that when I first heard the Truth I felt pressured into thinking I had a responsibility (as a believer) to share this message of Truth with everyone. While this is a very true statement, it certainly isn’t realistic (if we are referring to words). In time I have learned that the message of Truth isn’t always what is spoken, but what is practiced. Most often our message of Truth is revealed in how we live our lives; in our daily interactions with people, in our attitude, in our behavior, in our choices, in our compassion, in our service, in our love and forgiveness. In fact, that’s exactly what led me to the Truth in the beginning. It was the people I started to surround myself with who lived their life as a ministry rather than trying to act like a ‘minister.’

Recently, I had an experience that helped to confirm this revelation reducing some of the pressure I have always felt in my heart. To ‘speak Truth,’ that is powerful…but to ‘live the truth,’ (no matter what the situation or circumstance)…that is how you really spread the message of Jesus. Let me elaborate:

This past Friday night was interesting but not out of the ordinary. Let’s face it, I am getting used to the attacks and finding them quite humorous (after the fact). However, this one caught me by surprise. I had gotten home late and was preparing for a moving sale the next day and was running out of time. It was raining outside, my house was a disaster and all I could think about was how much I still had to get done. I remember one of my neighbors (on the left) telling me that I could borrow some tables for my sale. So as I am walking outside in the rain, complete darkness, the neighbor on the right immediately shouts from his garage as he is smoking a cigarette (and I am standing in the rain), “So you’re moving?” To which I responded…”well, not tonight (slightly sarcastic and jokingly).” Quickly finding out he was not in a joking mood. From there he proceeds to share rude and inappropriate comments regarding my decisions (under the influence of alcohol of course) eventually raising his voice and yelling at me for 15 + minutes (His words cut deep as tears started streaming down my face). I was speechless. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But I stood there and let him vent – at the expense of my emotions…without responding. Eventually I told him to ‘have a good night’ as I walked back in my house and continued my emotional meltdown – not understanding what just happened (and…never getting the tables I needed).

10 minutes later I hear a knock at my front door – around 10pm (I thought it was him). It was his wife. She came over to apologize for his behavior. While I was clearly upset (as the tears had not ceased), I did all I knew I could do which was to hug her and tell her that it was all okay and that I forgave him.

She continued to say, “NO…NO. How can you possibly forgive Him? Don’t forgive him. He needs to apologize. That was completely unacceptable and he does not deserve your forgiveness without a personal apology.”

I tried to tell her, “But Sue, I forgave him before I even walked back into the house. These tears are not from his words. These tears are just from stress. He just happened to stop me at a really bad time.”

She would not accept the forgiveness for her husband’s actions… (but it didn’t change what I felt in my heart). I’ve known this man for 7 years and I know he did not intend to hurt my feelings like she thought he did.

So, Sunday morning came (two days later) and as I pulled around toward my driveway after church he and his wife were outside. (Before Christ I would have gone around the block a few times and waited for them to go in the house in an attempt to avoid any confrontation or conflict). But this day I had no problem pulling in the driveway. I smiled out my drivers side window at them (like normal) and as I got out of my car, Brad (the neighbor) says, “I am so sorry…I am so sorry. I did not mean anything I said. I was drinking. You are wonderful. I completely understand if you don’t forgive me, but I am so sorry.” All I could think to do in order to show him I forgave him was to give him a hug and say, “No worries, I forgive you. Nothing to be sorry about”… and we both walked back into our homes and the issue was resolved.

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God IS forgiveness. If we forgive, we are revealing Him. My neighbors didn’t know my beliefs. All they knew was that a very ugly situation could have gotten much worse had God not revealed Himself through me that night. That is what I mean by living the Truth. (But please don’t take this the wrong way, this is not about me or what I did. This is about what God did. He sent His son to be nailed to a cross so that WE would be forgiven. He loves us that much. If He can forgive us, in all our mess and sin (often without apologizing), what right do we have not to forgive each other).

I am learning that even in the chaos of life, God is always calm. If we really have Christ in our heart then the best way to reveal Him, is to live like Him. Not just when it feels right or comfortable. Not just when things are going well. Always. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Be unaffected by circumstance. Do not let it control you. Do not be mastered by it. Do not let it get you down or determine your misery or joy.” This life is not easy. But, if we live it like it’s our ministry, expecting pain and struggle in the process, while continuing to serve, love and forgive, despite our circumstances, then we can never say to ourselves…I should have done more. There is nothing more we can do. The urgency we feel to ‘speak truth’ to everyone we meet is resolved in ‘living the truth.’ Continue to reveal Him through our actions and love people like He loves us; that is our ministry.

Love,

Kristen

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