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.

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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

Look Up!

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While technology, in essence, has shrunk the world and brought us closer together, it’s also threatened to push us further apart. Being intentional in controlling the use of our handheld and lap devices is essential in leading a more meaningful life. It is true, I have read many articles pertaining to the use of technology and relationships mostly because I need a staunch reminder myself to Look Up. Recently I stumbled across this video that stopped me in my tracks as I had my ear buds in sitting at a coffee shop looking at You Tube videos on my Smartphone. Ha – God has a good sense of humor. But, I pray that upon watching this video you will be encouraged to put down the Smartphone and Look Up at the people and world around you. We miss out on so much when we let technology rule our lives. 

Enjoy!

Love, 

Kristen

Related articles:

Electronics Addiction: Another Leading Cause of Busyness – Terri Brady

Leadership Soft-Skill: Building Relationships – Orrin Woodward

Leaders as Heroes – George Guzzardo

Relationships – Chris Brady

Delivered: An Encounter with Jesus

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This is an original poem that I wrote last night. Sometimes amidst my sleepless nights my best thoughts come to me. I’ve been having a lot of those lately and thankfully God knows how to re-direct these thoughts into constructive words that will glorify Him. I pray this poem touches your heart and allows you to be reminded of the love He has for you!

God Bless,

Kristen

Delivered: An Encounter with Jesus

A sound so faint I could not hear,

The whisper of this voice.

“I want to talk to you my dear,”

“…Although you have a choice.”

Confused my thoughts begin to race,

“What do you want with me?”

He answers, “look upon my face,”

“I’m here to help you see.”

 

“You’ve been lost for far too long,

I’ve watched you from the start.

You need to know where you went wrong,

so you can accept me in your heart.”

 

“My faith is weak, my trust is low,

I don’t know what to do.

I need a Savior, this I know.

How can I follow you?”

“My love is free, I offer grace,

Your sins have been forgiven.

I have delivered you from this place,

But you need to change your livin.”

 

“Lord, your timing is perfection,

I need you so much now.

I do not know my own reflection,

I’ll follow you, but how?”

 

“Study, grow, pray and live,

A life that glorifies me.

Serve and love and always give,

So others, too, will see.”

“But Lord the sin, the struggle, the pain,

How do I remain strong?

Life is hard, it’s often insane,

It all just seems so wrong.”

 

“I offer strength, just look to me,

You are not alone.

I overcame the struggles, you see,

Turn and call on Heaven’s throne.”

 

“God the Father gave salvation,

to every soul on earth.

When I was sent to the cross I saved the nation,

For every human since birth.”

 

“This isn’t your home, trust me, there’s hope,

In Eternity that lasts forever.

Heaven is real, hang on to the rope,

Look to this Truth as your lever.”

 

“Jesus, I love you, I’m grateful you’ve came,

to share this Truth with me.

I know my life will never be the same,

At last, I can finally see.”

 

“You will sustain me in your love,

with what I’m going through.

Your promise fits just like a glove,

I am victorious in You.”

By: Kristen Seidl

Part 5 (Brain Tumor Sequel): Draw Closer to God

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Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Recently I have been studying the story of Job. Anyone who knows his journey in the Old Testament knows that he was one of the most faithful of all biblical figures in that time period and his story is marked as one of the oldest books in the Bible. For those who don’t know the story I am going to briefly summarize a portion of it for you now.

Job had a very good life. In thinking about LIFE leaderships 8 F’s I would say Job ‘had it going on’ in all eight categories. He was strong in his faith – he worshiped God in everything he did; and all other categories were exceedingly abundant. “He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” Job 1:2-3

While Job was not perfect (but he was darn close) Job knew that he was a fallen man and was very humble despite of all his blessings. He always knew Who to give the credit to. “Then the Lord said to Satan, Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Job 1:8

JobGod loved to brag on Job because he was the model man for all of God’s people. Satan didn’t like that and was sure that Job was only faithful because he had been blessed abundantly. “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” Job 1:9-11

God sets out to prove to Satan that Job is not righteous just because he is being blessed.  God challenges Satan telling him, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger” Job 1:12. Job lost just about everything; his sheep, his oxen, his camels, his servants, and all of his sons and daughters, but remarkably he did not lose his faith in God. What was Job’s response? “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.’  In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” Job 1:20-22.

Job’s reaction during such a trial is so encouraging. He never lost faith. He worshiped God, he said that he came into this world with nothing and will return with nothing, the Lord has taken away all he had except his wife and even his wife told him to “curse God and die” and Job continued to bless the name of the Lord (Job 2:9).  In all of this, “Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong!” Job 1:22.  Satan must have been angry at Job’s response.  Job suffered unjustly and yet he did not blame God.

There is a lot more to this story. I encourage you, if you have not read it, to learn the intricate details of Job’s faith despite all of his challenges and even more, learn the ending. This is a very basic summary describing Job’s faith but I share it with you today because it is quickly becoming one of my favorite books of the Bible; and here is why.

I am reminded that even though the story of Job is so old, it is very much applicable and comparable to most people’s lives today. Let me be very clear that I am not saying people’s lives today can even compare to the sufferings of Job, but his story is a measure of struggle in our lives and allows us to examine our own faith. For example, when everything falls apart (whatever that may be for each person) does one curse God and blame God for their suffering or worship Him and draw closer to Him in faith? Those are the questions I continue to ask myself as I examine my own circumstances.

For those of you who have followed the journey regarding my brain tumor last year, you already know that by God’s grace and love and the support of amazing people in my life, I was healed last August. At the time I closed the book on that story and attempted to put the pieces of my life back together when everything fell apart. I just knew God was faithful. I knew He had a plan. And to my amazement His plan was carried out in one of the most miraculous ways possible. Looking back on all the intricate details of that journey and how each decision was carried out and examining God’s mighty hand throughout all of it, I am humbled that He gave that story to me. But, while I thought that story was over, God must have known it was just the beginning. Just another reminder that we can never predict God’s plan.

In a follow up MRI in late January I was told that there is another tumor – different diagnosis from the first but similar location, but it is benign. I didn’t quite react as foolishly and fearfully as I did the first time knowing that my options were completely different than the first time around. In knowing this diagnosis and realizing that God led me to homeopathy last year through amazing friends in LIFE leadership, I have decided to choose the homeopathic route again, completely trusting in Jenn and knowing that God is in control of this outcome as well.

HomeopathyHowever, in addition to the most recent diagnosis in January, just this past week at a recent appointment I was told that another tumor has been spotted near the back of the brain, attached to a nerve. This one is described as malignant. Yes…cancer. So now there are two. This recent news has forced me to think about my entire journey so far and in doing so it has also allowed me to re-examine my faith; hence why I started this post with the story of Job.

The very essence of this has certainly caused me to think deeper about life but beyond that, it has forced me to draw closer to God in searching for answers and accepting the reality that this is serious… but not fatal. Why? Because I have one of the wisest homeopathic specialists in the country working with me and I have a very powerful and mighty God. I know with certainty that God did not cause this to happen. This is not God’s fault (so non-believers get that out of your head), how could I possibly get mad at him? The reason things like this happen isn’t because of God, it’s because of sin. God didn’t create sin and He didn’t create evil. We (humans) did – way back in Genesis. God only provided a Savior (when He knew we would be faced with injustice and suffering) in His son Jesus Christ to overcome all the sin and evil of the world – even brain tumors..yes Jesus died for me so that someday I could live eternally with him, tumor free! Even if not in this life, I have hope that this plague isn’t forever… all because of Jesus. And for that I will always thank Him and draw closer to Him.

God is the hero, not the villain. In fact, it’s an even stronger reason why our relationship with Him is most important – especially during challenges. One day those challenges will cease to exist. One day we will know why bad things happen. But until then all we can do is what we know God has given us the power to do – trust in Him, pray, love Him, live for Him and draw closer to Him. Because in the end, our relationship with Him is what will really matter.

So with this recent news I thought it would be fair to ask this question:

Has an obstacle challenged your faith?

Has a terrible loss of a loved one burdened you to the point of giving up? … If so, draw closer to God.

Has a difficult relationship with someone in your life torn you to pieces? … If so, draw closer to God.

Is your health on shaky ground? … If so, draw closer to God.

Are you faced with a financial challenge that you can’t seem to overcome? … If so, draw closer to God.

Are you questioning your purpose? … If so, draw closer to God.

Are you lonely? … If so, draw closer to God.

Are you afraid? … If so, draw closer to God.

“For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

 

Love,

Kristen

(Sequel to Part 4: God’s Plan is Always Perfect)

 

The Hourglass

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Sometimes I lay in bed at night and think about the day’s events and just wonder if all of this is real? I have to pinch myself just to make sure that I am alive. It’s on nights like these, when my mind will just not shut off, that I reflect on how strong God made man to be.

grandmaThis past Monday I had to bury my grandma. She was my last living grandparent and a woman who stole my heart while she walked this earth. We had a very special bond that I believe very few grand-kids develop with a grandparent. I never imagined living my life without her and now that she is gone, it has made each day just a little bit more empty. She lived her life as a reflection of who Jesus Christ was. She was self-less, loving and forgiving. She lived a full life into her late 80’s and fought all the way to the end. Just moments before her passing she still had the strength to make the sign of the cross as the priest prayed over her. A woman who is living life eternally with the Creator of the world, she has left a legacy behind to all those who were blessed to know her.

In the meantime, during all the events of my grandma’s passing I was thinking about and praying for a very special lady who has also made an imprint in my heart as well as thousands of other people’s lives, LIFE co-founder, wife, mother of four and friend to many – Jackie Lewis. When I heard of her worsening condition Sunday evening I fervently prayed that God would heal her. Each day that went by her condition continued to worsen and by Tuesday evening we were praying for a miracle. In those days I have never prayed so much or cried so much.

jackie-quoteI believe Jackie’s fight brought 10’s of thousands of people closer to Christ in just a matter of days. And in her last 12 hours people literally put their life on hold to lift Jackie, the doctor’s, her family and friends in prayer in hopes that a miracle would happen. Communities around the world were consumed by her story, her fight and her faith. People who have never believed in anything started to pray and began to have faith and believe in a higher power. People who didn’t even know Jackie were crying out to God for a healing. While Jackie may not have been able to physically see the impact that her fight was making in thousands of people’s lives in those days, I am certain that as she looks down on us today she can smile and know that she is still in this world by the legacy she has left behind in people’s hearts and souls.

hour-glassIsn’t it interesting how God has a timeline… or hourglass (as my friend and mentor George Guzzardo likes to say) for everyone’s life. We don’t know how much sand is left in the hourglass; but what we do know is that one day, our last grain of sand will reach the bottom and it’s what we do before that last grain falls that makes all the difference. We would all like to hope that our sand moves slower through the hourglass so that we can live a long life into our late 80’s, just as my grandma did. But that isn’t always the case. We see that in a woman who went Home to be with the Lord at 32 years old and realize that the hourglass is so unpredictable. We recognize that we have no control over the speed of the sand that falls. But what we do know is that Someone is in control of that hourglass – and it isn’t us.

Jackie lived on this earth for 32 years and while we may not understand why she was called Home so soon – we can know that she made a difference in more people’s lives than most people do who live a full life. Not only did she impact thousands of lives while she was living – she changed even more lives while she was dying. We can never claim to understand why God does the things that He does but as I reflect on all these events this past week, I can say with certainty that He does have a plan and His plan is always perfect – despite what we want to believe or the confusion we often feel as we live in this world.

I pray that everyone who has been affected by Jackie’s story uses it as a reason to live a life of significance and purpose. Very few people leave the type of legacy that Jackie has left behind but I believe we are all capable of leaving that type of legacy. God knows what He is doing. He is waiting for us leave the type of impact that Jackie did. He is waiting for His people to draw near to Him and pray like their lives depended on it. To fight for their place in Heaven by living while they are alive and being an example of Jesus’ presence in the world. That is what I know my grandma did and that is what I know Jackie did. While the grains in their hourglass were completely different, their legacy was very similar and they are both being rewarded in Heaven today for who they were when they were alive. They are celebrating today with all the angels in Heaven who did not waste their hourglass.

What a gift we have to know that Jesus Christ has saved us for all of Eternity. We don’t have to fear death. We don’t have to worry about the last grain of sand in our earthly hourglass. We can leave that in His hands. Our hourglass in Eternity with Jesus is never ending and that is the hourglass we should be striving for in this life.

Hugs and prayers to everyone who is mourning the earthly loss of Jackie Lewis, Ann Mardoian and any other angels who left this earth to be with Jesus. God gave us the strength to overcome these earthly losses and use them for His glory!

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” Psalm 119:50

In Christ,

Kristen

Veritas Vos Liberabit

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The hinges of the flood gates were weak and the salty downpour was a constant threat.

I was at the point where anything had the potential to tip me over.

I’m normally not an emotional person, so being in that state made me feel unstable, vulnerable and weak.

I lay in bed trying to figure out what’s wrong with me? Was I subconsciously drowning in my own self pity, fearfully questioning the next chapter of my life?

Perhaps, but something uglier was going on.

I had been feeling defeated, judged, worthless, guilty, ugly, unstable and selfish; and as a result my behavior and attitude reflected my thoughts.

Old habits that I had been freed of years ago were resurfacing, and lies I no longer believed were echoing in my ears and directing my actions.

As I lay crouched up on the couch staring into the fake embers of my gas fireplace reliving a day of selfish behavior and meltdowns, the ugly whisper returns:

…you haven’t changed one bit now have you?

…what a waste of a life you have had.

I was reliving the lies of my (misunderstood) purposeless past.

For months I had been believing these lies, indirectly forcing me to question my existence and calling.

When eventually one morning I woke up to a quieter whisper, gentle but firm.

It bid me to start writing about the lies that I had been hearing.

truth

When I was finished with that, I began to pray for change, truth and clarity.

I paged through the bible looking for verses that would bring light to my darkness and suddenly I found myself filling my page with words of freedom and hope.

“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:5

“Truth shall spring up from the earth and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” Psalm 85:11

“Little children, let us not love in theory and in speech but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

And, my favorite:

John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

…And just like that the lies had lost their sting – in fact these words empowered me.

It makes so much sense now. Of course Satan would tempt me into believing that I am worthless and purposeless. He is the complete antithesis of truth and life.

The chains that had been broken five years ago when I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior were already stripped from me and no lie, no matter how believable, could ever reconnect those chains.

Ironically, just a couple days ago I was diagnosed with another brain tumor – different from the first. Were some of the emotions I had been feeling linked to this subconscious but ultimately true reality? I may never know. But what I do know is that God does have a purpose and a plan. And despite the recent news, I am confident that one day I will have the answers. But until then, my hope rests in His truth and His word.

…”For I know the plans I have for you, “declares the Lord,” plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Jesus is freedom and He is truth! And it is by His grace that we have been set free from all the lies, sin and pain of this world.

For the rest of our lives we will be surrounded by situations and lies we can’t explain but the truth is that if we don’t receive them, they can’t have power over us. Remain faithful, live courageously and arm yourself with the Truth as your sword and shield as you go out and battle the deceit and trouble of this world.

(In Latin) Veritas vos liberabit – The Truth Shall Set you Free 

 

Love, Kristen

Just Passing Through

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“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20

FogAheadI had been driving from Southeast Wisconsin to Northern Wisconsin late one night on an intensely dark two lane highway when it started pouring rain. The densely thick fog made visibility strikingly difficult and I could barely see the white stripe on the edge of the road let alone two feet in front of me. I didn’t want to stop because I was afraid someone might come along and rear-end me so I unknowingly coasted forward hoping the rain or fog would subside in mere moments.

Up ahead I could see what appeared to be the taillights of a truck that was coasting confidently through the storm. He must have had fog lamps in front because his fearless and deliberate pace was no comparison to the disorientation I had been feeling in that instant. But somehow I knew that if I could just follow those taillights, I’d be headed in the right direction.

This experience provided a metaphor for clarity as I have reflected on the last two weeks or so. As some of you know my grandma has been fighting to live as her health is declining. In fact, just last week the doctor’s were not very optimistic about her even surviving through the holiday’s. It breaks my heart because she is my last living grandparent and our relationship is closer than almost any other relationship I have within my family. The deep and intimate talks and moments we share are etched in my memory forever.

About a week ago my mom had been leaving the nursing home where my grandma is staying temporarily and as my mom went to give her a hug to leave, my grandma tearfully gripped my mom’s shoulders tighter and didn’t want to let her go… she was afraid she would die that night. Up until these last few weeks my grandma’s tough outer shell has been broken down and her vulnerability for comfort and clarity is resting in the hands of those closest to her. Immediately the next day I went down to visit because I knew the fear and anxiety she must have been feeling and I just wanted to be there to comfort and encourage her through some of those troubling thoughts.

me and grandma 2When I walked in she lit up with joy as her smile contagiously brought a huge smile to my face as well. Before walking in I asked God to give me the strength to encourage her and give her hope in the midst of her darkness. Even though I know she is a Believer I am not certain if she fully understands God’s love and promise and hope in eternal life. I wasn’t sure how I would bring it up to her but I was just trusting in God to reveal to me the right time and I just knew that it was necessary to give her comfort in her last days, weeks or months.

Our conversation transitioned perfectly later in the evening as she said to me, “Kristen, I am dying” with defeat and fear written on her face. While everything in me just wanted to hold her and weep I just knew I couldn’t. I wanted her to know that dying is not a defeat and it is not the end. I wanted her to know that dying is actually a victory because when our bodies are no longer here on earth it means our souls are rejoicing with Jesus in Heaven for all of Eternity. It means that all the pain, struggle, fear, disappointment and chaos are now behind us and we get to live victoriously with the Creator of the world. I told her that she needs to live the remainder of her days with hope in her heart and celebration, not fear and defeat because whenever God decides to call her Home it’s because He couldn’t wait to meet her face to face.

I also told her, “if you live each and every day as if it’s a celebration, I would be willing the bet God would keep you here a lot longer because you will have appreciated the gift of life He has given you. Heck, He might even keep you here another 10 years!” She laughed and said, “I don’t know if I can handle another 10 years.”

It was so wonderful because her spirit turned completely around over the next week leading up into Christmas. Two weeks ago we were talking about Hospice and funeral arrangements and now we are talking about who is going to take care of her when she goes home!

church steepleSo let me finish the story I began with. I had been just passing through this storm while trusting in the taillights of this unknown truck for what seemed like hours when eventually the storm had passed and I could finally gain some visibility.  I could clearly see some landmarks as I rounded a curve that was silhouetted against the night sky. Just ahead I saw the steeple of a church and the cross of Christ reflecting off of the moonlight and I realized in that instant that the confusion of the fog, the heavy rain, the uncertainty of direction – it was all God revealing to me the beauty and light that is promised in Heaven beyond the fear and disorder of the world.

That experience helped me to realize that this life is only temporary and we are all just passing through for a period of time. It also encouraged my grandma during a very unfavorable and scary stage in her life. Even though it’s hard, we have to have faith in the unknown, we have to trust that God is leading us in the right direction, we have to have hope beyond the darkness and we have to realize that our struggles are temporary and eventually the storms of life will pass as victory awaits us.

People need hope. Not just hope for tomorrow but hope for all of eternity. And it is our responsibility as believers to share that hope with others. It’s real easy to allow our own fear and doubt to cloud the truth that we know in our heart. My grandma knew the truth, she just needed confirmation that what exists in her heart is the real promise of God. We celebrated Christmas to thank God for sending His spotless son to earth to die on a cross for our sins so we would never have to experience an ‘end.’ Jesus was just passing through for a mere 33 years just like we all have our own timeline – the difference is, His life (as short as it was) is the exact reason we celebrate – it’s because His legacy changed the world and our eternal lives forever!

Join my grandma in celebrating life and God’s promise for us all:

(At the request of the couple in the mirror – who were Jewish, we all joined them in Celebration on Christmas Eve – just two days ago. Enjoy!)

(I should probably clarify, grandma is still here with us. This is my way of being able to celebrate her life while she is still here).

Love,

Kristen

This… is Water…

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A fish doesn’t appreciate water because they are born into it. They have never experienced life without it; until they are taken out of water and realize how important that water is to them.

Americans who are born into freedom don’t always appreciate freedom because they have never lived without it. Until that freedom is taken from them, then they realize how important freedom is.

 

In order to have freedom, we have to be aware of our freedoms.

“Awareness to what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight, all around us all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over, this is water…this is water.” David Foster Wallace

God Bless,

Kristen

Cut the Bull!

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“What if the kid you bullied at school, grew up, and turned out to be the only surgeon who could save your life?” Lynette Mather

My student moved from Zimbabwe to America two years ago; a smart, likable dark-skinned 15-year-old with a positive attitude and a low self-esteem. As he walked into class I over-heard one of his outspoken 17-year-old peers sarcastically comment, “Hey, Zimbabwe! What’s up?” …as he went to slap him a high-five and pulled his hand away just as they were about to make contact. The 15-year-old chuckled as the other students laughed under their breath but little did he know that his peers were laughing at him and not with him. Immediately I pulled my 15-year-old student aside and asked him if he was okay with his peers calling him Zimbabwe? These kids were all the same ethnicity so I wasn’t sure if it was a nickname or an insult. Sometimes it’s hard to tell with teenagers. But I thought I would ask just to be sure. In his sweet pre-pubescent voice he responded, “well…not really, but so many people do it now that I’ve kind of gotten used to it…”

Immediately I spent the entire class period wrestling with the words that I wanted to say to these particular students who I just knew were bullies. I didn’t want to humiliate my 15-year-old even more in front of class so I formulated a plan to talk to these students privately afterwards.

bullying (1)In my most choleric and serious tone I glared into their eyes with tears and anger as I told them about my friend in high school who committed suicide because of bullying, my brother who was humiliated and ridiculed in middle school and needed a restraining order against his bully (who today the guy is now dead from drug overdose) while my brother is a successful business owner and musician. I told them that people can get kicked out of school, get fired from jobs and go to prison for bullying and harassment.  I told them, “I don’t care if you think it’s a joke, if you think it’s funny or if you think it’s harmless…….because it’s not a joke, it’s not funny and it’s hurtful.” I told them I have NO TOLERANCE for bullying at any level and I would do everything in my power to stop it from continuing. Needless to say I have not seen or heard anything since.

BULLYPIC2This topic has and always will hit close to home for me. Not only have I seen and witnessed the effects of bullying and harassment in people who I care deeply about, I have personally dealt with it in my own life. Subtle comments that are remembered from my past: the tall girl, the tom boy, the girl with man hands, ghetto booty, the shy girl who doesn’t talk… probably the most hurtful was in high school people liked to ‘joke’ because I dressed in athletic clothes, played sports and rarely had time for a boyfriend that I was the single girl with a big question mark above my head. Stereotypes that were completely UNTRUE began as a joke which escalated to rumors all because one person wanted to be funny. In fact some of those comments were what led to my years of battling an eating disorder because of low self-confidence, insecurity, low self-esteem and poor self-image. I wanted to believe that I was strong and I could ‘handle’ their jokes but my heart was hurt as I began to get angry, depressed and isolated. One thing that is important to remember is that bullying doesn’t always look like bullying. We recognize that when we hear stories of parents verbally abusing their kids, friends teasing and spreading rumors about other friends, rampant gossip or inappropriate texts, e mails or social media messages about another person. It sometimes looks harmless but rarely is it actually harmless!

Bullying is a serious topic that needs more awareness and that is why I am posting this article. Just look at the statistics:

  • Over 3.8 million students are victims of bullying each year.
  • Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying.
  • 90% of 4th through 8th grade students report being victims of bullying.
  • Almost 60% of those bullied early in life are also bullied in high school.
  • Approximately 30% of young people ADMIT to bullying others.
  • 70.6% of young people admit to seeing bullying in their schools.
  • 62% admitted to seeing bullying three or more times in the last month and 41% admit to seeing it at least once a week or more.
  • The MOST common types of bullying are verbal and social
  • According to one large study, the following percentages of middle schools students had experienced these various types of bullying: name calling (44.2 %); teasing (43.3 %); spreading rumors or lies (36.3%); pushing or shoving (32.4%); hitting, slapping, or kicking (29.2%); leaving out (28.5%); threatening (27.4%); stealing belongings (27.3%); sexual comments or gestures (23.7%); e-mail or blogging (9.9%).
  • Out of 100 – LESS THAN 20% of students who are bullied ever notify an adult about the bullying!

Don’t be mistaken, young people are not the only one’s who are targets for bullying. Many adults face similar challenges in the form of harassment, verbal and emotional abuse and physical harm. None of this should be taken lightly and if you see it and it doesn’t seem normal – it probably isn’t. It’s not okay to be a bystander or walk away!

Check out this video that is both disturbing and encouraging…but mostly disturbing:

 

Leadership is doing what’s right regardless of the consequences. If there were more people with a hunger for leadership we could not only stop bullying while it was happening but more importantly prevent it from starting.

I believe LIFE Leadership provides the best information to develop adults and young people into strong leaders who would not only recognize an inappropriate situation but sacrifice their own comfort and safety to help someone else. The Edge series was designed specifically for young people to develop their confidence, self-esteem, leadership and thinking. George Guzzardo stated recently in his article, Everything I Always Wanted for Christmas how important it is that we get the right information into people’s hands this holiday season and it starts with the Edge series for teens.

I truly believe it will be leaders who get the right information into the hands of the right people who will make a difference in their schools, communities, churches and professions. It will be leaders who sacrifice the comfort of their own lives in order to change someone else’s life and it will be leaders who spread the message of bullying prevention across the nation and the world.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18

God Bless,

Kristen

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