God led, and I followed By Bridgett Kielhofner

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Philanthropy owner Bridgette Kielhofner stands next to the Dove Tree inside her Cape Girardeau store. (Laura Simon)

Part 1: Losing control

Have you ever been driving down the road with your significant other and hit the passenger side imaginary brake? So often, when I grasp the door handle and stomp on that imaginary brake, my husband chuckles and claims, "I've got this. I am in complete control!" Funny! He thinks that HE can prevent or stop a car crash. As much as we think that we are in control and can handle everything in our lives, sometimes we are reminded that the Lord is guiding our life and he is in control.

Hi! I'm Bridgett! And, much in the same way that my husband thinks he is in control, I am also guilty of "control." I used to think that I was in control of my life. Two years ago, my life was interrupted with a skin cancer diagnosis. I was 34 years old, a mother of two and happily married to my childhood sweetheart. I also had an amazing career where I spent more than 10 years working hard and climbing the corporate ladder. I was so focused on my career that many times I shooed my son away so I could sit at my computer and get a few more hours into my already 10-hour workday. To say that my diagnosis scared me is an understatement. And what scared me the most is that I realized that I was not in control of whether I live or die. In a simple second, everything can change -- my life could end. Was I ready for that? No!

When I received my cancer diagnosis, I didn't have a personal relationship with God. Sure, I read my kids Bible stories and attended church on the important Sundays. You know what I'm talking about: Christmas, Easter and … I guess that's about it. There's nothing like the "C" word to scare you into evaluating your relationship with God. Upon realizing that I was not in control, I started searching for my faith and the One that truly is in control. I read books and researched the Internet. (Don't laugh!) It was like writing a term paper. I would read and take notes. The research helped, but I decided it was time to start speaking to people in my life who were obviously living their life for Christ. So, I continued my faith-finding journey and confided in some wonderful people. I shared my fears and my future hopes. It's hard to admit that you don't quite feel close to God and haven't made a relationship with Jesus Christ a priority. Amazingly, they all told me the same thing. They told me that I had to let God love me and trust him. What did they mean, "Let God love me?" What did they mean, "Trust in God?" I was a headstrong, opinionated, highly ambitious woman. I didn't let anyone do anything that I didn't agree with and I didn't trust easily.

My oldest friend (not old in age, but number of years of friendship) encouraged me to travel with her to Swaziland, Africa, the year after my skin cancer diagnosis. I had undergone surgery on my face to remove the skin cancer and had received four benign biopsies. So, I really started to think hard about going to Swaziland. I had a lot to be thankful for and maybe I would find God there. That's what a mission trip is for, right?

In July 2011, after a windstorm of the enemy's obstacles (illnesses, passport issues, etc.), I continued on my faith-finding journey to a country 9,000 miles away. While serving in Africa, I met the happiest, most faith-filled people I had ever met in my life. Their songs of praise and dances in His glory were contagious. I truly felt the love of Christ and completely surrendered myself to him. After returning from that trip, I gave up control of my life because I trusted him to have a better plan for me.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him

and he will make your paths straight." --Proverbs 3:5-6

After Swaziland, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed with the voice in my head. The voice of the Lord was whispering to me and he told me to quit my job. The job that had been No. 1 in my life was no longer important to me. All I wanted was to feel God's love and work for him every day. I am a planner. I write to-do lists for everything from daily itineraries to cleaning tasks. I couldn't imagine actually quitting my job with no plan for my future. What would I do? How could I quit without another job lined up? Did the Lord really have a better plan for me? How would I pay my bills? Without answers to these questions, I quit 12 hours after I heard the voice of the Lord. I quit my job of 12 years. I completely trusted in the Lord even though none of it made sense in my head.

Part 2: God led, I followed

One thing I learned during my faith-finding journey and discovery of God's love was to pray and be patient. We all want a quick fix to a prayer or question. Unfortunately, we do not always receive direction, an answer or guidance immediately. As much as God has a set plan and a set future for each one of us, he also has a timetable in which all of these plans will manifest in our lives. By being patient and having complete faith in the Lord, he will provide clear direction for the Holy Spirit to guide us down the path set before us. Sometimes we don't even know he is leading us.

A few weeks after I quit my job, I hopped in my "old" friend's mini van for a road trip to Nashville, Tenn. As much as I wanted to back out of the weekend getaway because I felt that I needed to be saving money (remember, I was almost jobless), I was not going to back out on her birthday celebration. I am glad that I didn't stay home and pig out on the couch as I waited for the Lord's next whisper, because his next nudge occurred while on a shopping detour to a store named Philanthropy in Franklin, Tenn. Anyone who has visited Philanthropy knows that the moment that you enter the store, you feel God's love. Through the music, scripture and friendly faces, you feel at home. If you have anything major happening in your life or one of life's interruptions occurring, every emotion you are feeling just seems to rise to the surface. Honestly, I had to leave before my friends were finished shopping because the emotion I was feeling was overwhelming. Thankfully, I did not leave before I was introduced to the "heart of Philanthropy" (Christina Martin). At the time, I didn't think much about the introduction. I remember thinking that the store was inspirational and how awesome it would be to enter those walls every day. I kept thinking about the mission of Philanthropy after I returned home. I really wanted to inspire, to give back and be part of something that could only be described as his mission.

With much hesitation, I emailed someone at Philanthropy and shared my two-year journey from cancer to Africa to accepting God's love. I say "someone" because I had no idea who was going to read it. The email address I had was the basic contact email. As far as I knew, it would hit someone's spam folder. I hesitated because I am a very private person and to share my story with someone I didn't know was scary. I did it because I felt God leading me, and what do you do when he is leading? You follow! A reply to my email didn't come quickly, so I waited and I prayed. I waited and prayed some more! I know that God will fully take care of me and will always answer my prayers, but sometimes it feels like I'm in the doctor's office waiting room. It feels like forever and as you sit and wait, you can't help but wonder if your name was called or your prayer answered, and you didn't hear it. As I waited, I started thinking about all the possibilities God could have for me and kept listening for his guidance. For someone who is a detail-oriented planner, following blindly is downright frightening.

I did receive an answer from the "heart of Philanthropy" (Christina) and because of our complete and full surrender of our entire lives to God the Father, he has brought us together as sisters. He does have a plan for us: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" --Jeremiah 29:11

God is an amazing being who can help guide you through life to many joyous things. He does have a plan for you and will give you hope and a future. However, you must have faith and trust in Him. He will lead you; you only have to follow. Let the journey begin.