People Hope

all images care of Randy Kowlessar

all images care of Randy Kowlessar

Picture a beautiful mirror in which you see who you are — the product of your parents’ love and care, years of seemingly big decisions, hard lessons-learned, relationships, both successful and not-so-successful — all that you are as a woman.  Looking closer at that mirror you realize that you’re surrounded by community — friends that have come alongside you, family members who have celebrated your every victory and endured every awkward moment, people who have come to hold great influence and significance in your life. Looking in the mirror you feel warm and safe and sure of so many things all at once. Now picture that mirror shattering in an instant only to leave behind an empty room filled with isolation and emptiness; confusion and bitterness.  That thing that you’re feeling in picturing this — the uncomfortable loss and uncertainty — that’s exactly how I felt at one pivotal moment of my life.

Growing up my life was the stuff of those cheesy Hallmark movies that we all love to hate.  That’s not to say that everything was perfect.  Sure, I had ups and downs, successes and failures, weird family stuff like everyone else, but overall it was good and full and warm.  By the time I was twenty, I was in college, taking selfies with my roommates, and making countless memories with a group of friends that I was sure would forevermore be in my life.  And then I got sick. Cue the shattered glass.

Twenty years old. One night I went to bed healthy, the next morning I woke up sick.  A few weeks went by and I was only getting worse.  Food allergy, I wondered?  Enter the string of elimination diets, 5 doctor visits each week, endless lab tests over the next several months.  

Twenty-one.  How am I still sick?  My illness only progressed; my symptoms worse than ever.  My mind couldn’t seem to make sense of how quickly everything so sure had become so very uncertain.

Twenty-two.  The years ticked on, and my days became characterized by hopeless despair, and an ever-looming fear while trying to understand an unnamed chronic illness — basically everything on your “I’d Rather Not” list of less-than-ideal emotions.  I was trapped in a body that seemed to have turned on me.  

Twenty-three.  Beyond my daily physical symptoms, my heart became angry at God for “wasting” my purpose, and bitter towards cruel “church people” for telling me that my sickness was somehow my fault for not having enough faith.  I was sidelined, and I sat on the bench of life with profound wounds in my soul that I allowed to turn into bitterness.  I was broken, physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Just broken.

Twenty-four.  The wallpaper of my life closely resembled those sterile clinic halls that were all-too-familiar — empty, vacant, cold.  I was a living medical mystery, several years deep in a state of “chronic undiagnosis;” a state that neither I, nor my doctors could seem to understand.  The lab tests continued, as did the exploratory surgeries, the “pass-the-buck” nature of bouncing from one specialty to another, and of course, the symptoms.

Now before you decide that you can’t relate to me because perhaps your storm doesn’t include medical enigmas, let me just remind you that I am you.  At this moment in my story, I’m you at your lowest, most confused, lost time.  I’m you in the broken glass mess of loneliness and isolation.  You see, we’ve all been there.  We’ve all traveled the life-shattering highways; we’ve all watched the glass shatter a time or two only to find an empty room in its place.

For me it wasn’t the physical pain that was the worst; it was the complete isolation that hurt more than anything.  As the months of my sickness drifted on, I watched my friends drift off and slowly fade out of my life, one by one.  Aside from a few relentlessly, storm-weathering family members, I was completely alone, quickly losing my grip on hope.

I learned firsthand that hope is every bit as necessary for the human heart as oxygen in your lungs or blood in your veins.  Hope is at the core of why anyone pushes through a seemingly impossible challenge.  As humans, we have incredible abilities.  People love, grow, change, and adapt.  But perhaps nothing is more essential to our existence than the fact that people hope.  With hope, our hearts have purpose, even (and especially) on the days that hope isn’t just a feeling, but rather it becomes a dignified, resolved choice that we make.

So after several years of suffering, and after wrestling with far more bitterness and anger than I’d like to admit, I began to make some decisions about how I was going to live my life.  I drew a line in the sand, so to speak, and I determined that even my most painful, trying times will be my finest hour, not because I have the “feeling” of hope, but because I’m willing to actively choose to hope against all odds.

Out of that resolve, I truly felt led to create the very thing that was missing — a nonprofit organization, solely dedicated to sharing authentic, life-changing hope with people who daily battle chronic illness, regardless of diagnosis (or the lack thereof).  So in the midst of symptoms and sickness, I founded People Hope with the goal that no one else would have to experience that level of unnecessary isolation in the face of any chronic illness.  Today People Hope is two years old, daily reaching nearly 6,000 people in over 50 countries, sharing their stories, equipping and empowering them mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually to live with purpose and grace through extraordinarily trying times.

I’d like to say that from the moment I chose hope I then proceeded to live “happily ever after.”  My feet are well-planted in hope, but I'll dare to be honest.  I’m now over five years deep in an ongoing illness that still has no name.  I still experience symptoms and loss and sadness that feel like the glass is shattering all over again.  Hope is a choice I continue to make every day.  I’m still over here, all broken and bloodied and bruised from the storm.  But, now more than ever, still very much in the midst of my challenges, I believe that we were created to have community, and we’re meant to do life together.  As humans, we crave connection; we need “me too” moments in which we can relate and experience understanding, stripping ourselves of the damaging, unnecessary isolation.  And yes, community is uncomfortable at first; it takes time and it’s often inconvenient and awkward.  But people desperately need to hear, “you belong, you’re welcome here, and you’re not alone.”  That’s a hopeful kind of heart-healing that no diagnosis or medication could ever cure.         

Now more than ever I believe that everyone has a story.  Everyone has some sort of pain hiding in the back of their eyes if you look close enough.  I don’t know what your story looks like.  I don’t know the pain in your life.  I don’t know how you feel about God, or if you find yourself in a church on Sunday mornings.  And I wish I could speak these words to you as we sip coffee together rather than sharing my heart with you through your computer screen.

I want you to know that you're not alone.  I want to personally tell you that there is hope for you right now, no matter what storm you’re walking through.  Hope is not a gift that's promised to us only when life works out and gets good again.  Hope is not for things when they're neat and tidy.  Hope is not for hearts when they're unbroken. 

Hope is for the loneliness when your friends aren't your friends anymore.  Hope is for the emptiness when you know you've messed up and you can't take it back.  Hope is for the crumpled up roadmaps when you're lost and you need direction.  Hope is for bitterness when all you can do is bite your tongue and keep your venom to yourself.  Hope is for the laziness when you can't seem to wake your spirit.  Hope is for the depression that they told you was your fault.  Hope is for people like you and me.

Even through the mess I believe for you that God has a purpose for your life, filled with beautiful moments and joy, and I know there is a community of people desperately awaiting your raw, honest, facade-free heart.  So hold my virtually-extended hand as we step over the broken glass of our collectively storm-weathered lives, and let’s do the unthinkable in the face of the impossible.  Together, against all odds, and every single day let’s choose hope.  Make no mistake, hope is for you, friend.

And hope does not disappoint.

About The Author

After personally fighting an undiagnosed chronic illness for several years, Anna King founded People Hope in 2014 at twenty-four years old. Through her illness, Anna became extremely disappointed in the lack of resources tailored specifically to those in her circumstances; to provide support spiritually, mentally, socially, and emotionally through unthinkable circumstances. Out of those experiences she decided to design the very thing that had been missing.

Anna now works as the CEO of People Hope, building a distinctly unique organization with passion that could only come from personal experience. She has an unmistakable love for the global chronically ill community, and if you know her at all, you know she is a proud member of the People Hope Tribe!