A year ago, yesterday, I was parked along the interstate in Kansas City ready to dial 9-1-1 because it felt like someone took a chainsaw to my sternum and yanked out my still-beating heart. I had just received a haphazardly written email with typos from three out of four board members of the nonprofit organization my wife and I had spent numerous years and thousands of our own dollars funding and founding. I was the fourth board member- the President, CEO, and founder – and did not know they were having an official meeting. One board member was so new he had barely been on board for a week. All had been invited to serve by me. Two had started out as my friends.
The email let me know that I was being terminated, along with the other ten staff members. Two of those staff members were my sons. They were all my friends. In the previous two years we had engaged over 150 thousand volunteers to package over 25 million meals for the hungry of the world.
Seven years of dreaming shattered around my heart like a crystal chandelier that had fallen from two stories high. I could barely breathe.
It’s been a year now and my heart is back in my chest and is healthily beating again. In fact, the circulation is better than ever and I am much stronger.
I am because I chose to be. I could have let anger, bitterness, and disappointment consume me, but there are ten things I wrote about then and I have followed those things. Because of that, I can say I’m now in far greener pastures. Here is what I said I would do then; I have followed my plan; I am much stronger:
Trust that God will make me better
I used to think – mostly because that’s the common message of religious pundits and preachers (I admit I was one, too) – that the Bible was written for behavior modification. I long believed that God’s only concern was for me to behave myself better. However, I discovered the stories of the Bible are of people who come through the fires tougher, happier, and with a greater sense of purpose. I figured if God could take a jarhead like Peter and make him a saint, then I stand a pretty good chance.
I used to get in trouble for peeking during prayer, but have learned that prayer is simply talking to God. I almost never close my eyes when I pray; I try not to do it around a crowd so I don’t get carted off in a padded wagon. I always struggled with prayer because it was seemed so one-sided, but once I learned God’s methods of talking back to us, it became a two-way conversation. No, I don’t hear an audible voice so don’t call for the padded wagon, but I have learned the other ways He speaks to us.
Do NOT retaliate
I was given numerous opportunities to retaliate and can honestly say I turned them all down. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted desperately to strike back, but I figured God and I knew what really happened and He was okay with me so it really didn’t matter what anyone did or said.
Say nice things to myself
I recently heard a well-renowned psychologist say that the number one problem with people is shame. Leading up to the email and shortly thereafter, I had some horrible things said to me and about me from the tiny board. Growing up in a culture of religious guilt, I could easily have absorbed other people’s negative opinions into my heart and let it define me. I refused. Therefore, I learned to literally speak, out loud, nice things about me and to me. It worked. Solomon said the power of life and death is in the tongue so I started positive self-talk, something I would have been very religiously discouraged to do years ago and, surprise, surprise, it works. I can speak words that actually give me life. It’s almost like I speak out loud, a word goes in my ear, rattles around in my brain, and courage comes into my soul. Try it. It might surprise you how well it works.
Turn a deaf ear to the rumor mill
The only way for some people to make themselves look good is to make others look bad. I didn’t read the papers. I didn’t watch the news. I was appalled when my son came out to my man cave and told me the news truck had been sitting out in front of my drive for an hour. (I did not know it was there). I learned long ago that there is almost nothing one can do about a rumor so just let it wear itself out. If its’ true, then it will come to light and deal with it honestly. If it’s false, it will disappear in the darkness where it originated.
Seek wise counsel
I carefully chose people to seek out their advice. One man in particular guided me through the valley of despair. Not surprisingly, my sons and wife gave the wisest counsel.
Lean on my lover
I simply do not know how I would have endured without my wife. She was my coach, my advisor, my cheerleader, my confidant, the lifter-up-of-my-head, and the voice inside of me and outside of me constantly rooting me on.
I’ve learned there is a difference between forgiving and forgiveness. I was asked recently if I had forgiven them and I honestly said, “No, but I’m forgiving them and that’s all that matters.” Forgiving is a process; forgiveness assumes it’s complete. It’s pretty hard to completely forgive someone in one year what it took seven years to build. To give grace means that I work at forgiving and recognize it’s a process. To say that I already have forgiven them as if it’s a done deal would be a lie. But I’m trying. And that’s all that matters to me and to God.
Anticipate great things
- A few days after what we have since termed the “Kriepmail”, I received a phone call from Ambassador Tony Hall of the Alliance to End Hunger. He asked if I would serve as Treasurer on the Executive Board of the Alliance to End Hunger in DC. Since then, he’s asked me to Chair a newly formed Advocacy Committee.
- I finally published my first book, Hunger Bites: Bite Size Stories of Inspiration, and have others in the pipeline. I write more than I ever did before and find words to be my friends as I write to encourage and inspire people to overcome whatever hurdles they have in their way. I’ve been honored with international platforms on which to write about the topic of hunger.
- I’ve been given an amazing job and international opportunities with an organization called Outreach, Inc., which has been part of feeding over 230 million people in the last ten years. Furthermore, I am able to spend a lot of time with the founders Floyd and Kathy Hammer, who are incredibly humble visionaries. I’ve bounced down red dirt roads in Africa with them absorbing the scope of the promises they made 10 years ago to mamas of starving children to provide food, medicine, education and safe water. In a couple of weeks, they will be at the White House as one of the five nominees for the Points of Light Award. (They’ll win, I’m sure!)
- One of the greatest things has been watching my sons land on their feet. Isaac now owns a very successful remodeling business that specializes in custom cabinets and Caleb, well, he as a pretty cool announcement he’s making any day about his new position in the company where he works.
Adjust the course
Over 90% of an airplane’s flight from point A to point B is course correction. The pilot sets the course for the plane, but a variety of factors require constant adjustments be made. I made a promise to a little girl in Nicaragua years ago that I would feed hungry people the rest of my life. I know my goal. I just need to adjust the course occasionally.
I’ve learned that much of life is determined by how well we react to difficulties and disappointments. The last year hasn’t been easy, but it has been extremely good.
I don’t want to go through it twice; but I benefitted greatly by going through it once.