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I Choose Peace: Raw Stories of Real People Finding Contentment and Happiness

I Choose Peace: Raw Stories of Real People Finding Contentment and Happiness

by Doug Bender


Learn More | Meet Doug Bender

Introduction

Peace.

It 's what we are all looking for.

We look for it in relationships. We search for it in our jobs or in dropping that last five pounds. We try to win it, earn it, or buy it, propelled by that intangible, all-powerful urge at the base of our souls.

We may not call it peace. We may say we 're searching for happiness, contentment, purpose. But we definitely know when we don 't have it.

Our lack of peace shows in our overstuffed closets full of clothes we never wear. It reveals itself in our complaints about work and our fights at home. It glares in our vain search for more affirmation, more accolades, more likes—and in the anxiety that stalks so many of us.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five of us experiences an anxiety disorder in a given year and one in three experiences one at some point in our lives. Most go undiagnosed. Often we don 't know the name of that itch in our souls. We just know something is wrong. We feel lonely even when surrounded by people. We work too hard and play too frantically. We self-medicate and overindulge. We keep on asking life why? Why us? What now?

These are all attempts at finding peace. None of us would care who we were, what we had, or who we had if we had an underlying sense of peace.

Peace tells our hearts that everything 's okay. It speaks to the mind and removes the worry and the doubt. It calms the emotions and soothes the spirit. No matter what life has for us, when we have peace we can smile and feel secure.

Are you happy with your work? Do your relationships bring you joy? Do you know who you are and why you 're here? If not, you 'll find yourself filling life with noise so you can 't hear the emptiness.

But your life can have a different story. It 's a story that so many have experienced through the I Am Second movement. I Am Second began as a website with a handful of films. It has since spread the message of peace to millions by telling the raw, beautiful, broken human stories of people just like you.

That 's exactly the kind of stories you 'll find in this book. They are the stories of people who looked for peace but couldn 't find it. They tried drugs, work, love, and everything in between, but they never found peace in these. They didn 't find peace in a bottle or in a pill. They didn 't find it when they fell in love or got that job. They looked in all the places you have looked, but they found it only in Jesus. For many, Jesus was the last place they ever cared to look, a place they 'd sworn never to look. But finally they did, and there it was.

Peace doesn 't get you pout of the pain. It gets you through it.

It doesn 't remove you from the craziness. It removes the craziness from you.

It doesn 't take away the nasty comments, the frowny-face emojis, or the dirty look someone gave you. It just says, "I 've got you."

Peace is you smiling at the thunder and laughing at the wind, not because you control the storm, but because you know that the One who does is on your side. That 's the peace the people in this book found. That 's the peace they chose when they chose Jesus.



Finding Peace in Love and Loss

Love offers the greatest highs and the deepest lows. Nothing compares to falling in love, and nothing despairs like falling out of it. Love holds both the beauty of God and the frailty of humanity. But whether we encounter it in friendship, family, or romance, human love reveals only a foggy glimpse of the more perfect thing. It whets our appetite for something more. Love here on earth never lives up to they hype, but it does give us a taste of something better to come.

If you 've ever wished for more love in your life or more from the love you have, these stories are for you. They are the stories of people who found peace in love and loss. They are the lonely souls and the broken hearts. They sought companionship, passion, and family. Some found it. Some had it and lost it. But all of them discovered a greater love in the process, a love that gave them peace.



Chapter 1: Bliss

My Love and My Loss

Kathie Lee Gifford, TV Personality

"Wouldn 't it be a wonderful feeling," asks Kathie Lee Gifford, former cohost of NBC 's fourth hour of the Today show, "to wake up in the morning and understand that no matter what goes on today, God can make something good out of it?"

Kathie Lee says she was born to entertain. If you were to meet her, you would be tempted at first to think you were encountering someone doing a slapstick version of herself. But it 's just Kathie Lee being Kathie Lee. She didn 't get in front of a camera and discover her television personality; instead, the performer came first and the camera followed.

Kathie Lee 's father told her many times while she was growing up to "find something you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid for it." Kathie Lee did exactly that. She always knew God made her to perform, and she knew the entertainment industry was where she would fulfill her destiny. In fact, she earned her first paycheck as an entertainer when she was just ten years old.

"It was thrilling getting my first paying job singing," she says. "I knew exactly what I wanted to do from the time I was a baby. But to be a young woman in that business is brutal because of the rejection. It 's nonstop."

After a dosen years working as a singer and actress, Kathie Lee rose to national fame cohosting a live morning television show with Regis Philbin in 1985. Beginning locally in New York, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee sprang to national syndication three years after she joined the program and became an American mainstay. Until the summer of 2000, she cohosted the show, which aired on millions of television sets every weekday morning.

She was in her element, doing what she had been born to do, what her parents had always encouraged her to do. But Kathie Lee 's mom and dad had never pushed her to perform.

"I 've never understood the kind of parent that says to their children, 'You 've got to be this or that, '" Kathie Lee says. "I was privileged to have parents like I had. They were extraordinary, loving people. They loved me for who I was and encouraged my dreams."

Growing up, she always had a song to sing and a show to perform. She found fulfillment in bringing joy and a smile to others. Her always-on-stage approach to life followed her throughout the years.

"I learned the reason that performing was so joyful to me is becaus God is our creator," she says. "I am created by God, and I 'm made in his image. That means I am also a creator. I feel most divine when I am creating something beautiful. It 's every human being 's purpose."

Kathie Lee 's joy is not a result of a lucky career or perfect family, as is clear when she speaks of the darker points in her journey. She may have earned eleven Daytime Emmy nominations, written books, released albums, and even contributed to several Broadway productions. But the brighter the limelight shines, the more caustic public reactions to a stumble can turn.

In 1996, reports surfaced that Kathie Lee 's clothing line was produced out of a Honduran sweatshop with abysmally poor working conditions. The reports held her personally responsible. She insisted she had nothing to do with the day-to-day operating of the clothing factories and was only a celebrity sponsor of the apparel. She even worked to bring about legislation to prevent similarly inhuman working conditions elsewhere. But still the public reaction came fierce and hard.

"It was a very dark, dark period for me," she says. "But God put me to work. There is slavery in the world, more than ever. There are labor conditions that are horrible."

"It 's unjust what you 've been accused of," she heard God say through all this, "but why don 't you get your eyes off of you for a minute and look at the unjust conditions that people are working under. You didn 't cause it, but you need to care about it."

She became a leading proponent of fair labor laws and used her on-air power to push for legislative changes.

In the following year, Kathie Lee 's personal life also hit a new low. Kathie Lee had married Frank Gifford in 1986, and after more than a decade of marriage and two children, Frank was caught in a humiliating and public affair. Tabloids seized upon the story and printed pictures that brought agony to Kathie Lee.

"It was devastating to me," she says. "But I was able to stay in my marriage and have God heal it. I 've heard from hundreds of thousands of people since then who got courage to keep their families together. Not everybody does. I didn 't do it on my own. God gives us everything we need every day."

Kathie Lee 's journey with God began as a child when Jesus called her name in a dream.

"It 's vivid to me to this day," she recalls. "In the dream I 'm outside in the front yard helping my daddy rake the leaves. We used to play in them. I looke up. There was Jesus sitting on a cloud. He smiled at me and he said my name."

A few years later, as a twelve-year-old, she walked into a movie theater featuring The Restless Ones, a production of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The movie has been widely panned for its stiff dialogue and overt religiosity, but for many the truth at its core outshone any artistic inadequacies. It told of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood making the choice between going down the road that led to death or one that led to life.

"I could hear the voice of the Lord in the movie," Kathie Lee says.

"Kathie," she heard him say, "will you trust me to make something beautiful out of your life and go down my road? It 's harder. It 's going to be lonely at times. It 's going to be tougher than the big wide road over there. Ultimately it 's going to be a much more beautiful life, but you 've got to trust me."

After the movie, as with all Billy Graham events, someone rose in the front and asked if anyone wanted to come forward and follow Jesus. The movie, cheesy as it was, served a function for the more than 120,000 people who 'd said yes to that question during the time it ran. Kathie Lee was in that number.

"I 've made a lot of mistakes in my life since then," she says. "I will make a lot of them before this day is done. But that is one decision I made that I have always been deeply, deeply grateful for. I listened to the voice of Jesus. I heard him tell me he had a purpose for my life, that he loved me. He wanted to make something beautiful with my life."

Kathie Lee has Jewish ancestry, and as a Christian she has discovered great sgnificance in a Hebrew word that is found in Jewish greetings, teachings, and scriptures: shalom. The word touches upon the idea of perfection and wholeness.

"Shalom doesn 't mean just peace," she says, "like it 's come to mean in our world. It means all of the aspects of God. It means justice, righteousness, faithfulness, unfailing love, and, yes, peace. It 's a peace that passes all understanding. That 's what we 're here for. Look around. Do you see the chaos? You 're supposed to be part of the shalom, the peace. That 's what every human heart longs for—to partner in that and know you matter."

The Bible calls Jesus the Prince of Peace. He 's the one who brings peace and wholeness to the world. But he didn 't sit on that peace and hoard it for himself. He stepped out of heaven and got dirty with his people. he lived with them, ate with them, hugged them, and talked with them. He taught his followers to join him in this work of getting out and bringing peace to the world.

Kathie Lee finds inspiration in Jesus ' example. Jesus got out into the world and confronted the cultural norms of his day. He insisted on spending time with the poor, the sick, the sinner, and the outcast.

For fifteen years on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Kathie Lee lived her life publicly, discussing family, marriage, and raising children on a morning talk show for the world to see. People saw her cry, laugh, and ask the deeper questions. After leaving Live, she took some time away from the television, then rejoined America 's morning routine in 2008 as cohost with Hoda Kotb of NBC 's fourth hour of Today. For the next decade Kathie Lee continued to follow Jesus ' example of getting out into the world.

"We are supposed to get out and be the sweet fragrance of Jesus to this world," she says. "Love your neighbor as you love yourself is what Jesus taught. Don 't live in a selfie world. Live in a selfless world. Don 't walk over homeless people on your way to get someplace. We 're supposed to get down and dirty like Jesus did. We 're supposed to wash AIDS patients ' feet. We 're supposed to adopt children who have no home.

"God is perfecting us. Not a physical perfection or personal perfection, but God 's perfect love. He is perfecting love in us. That love leads to perfection in a world yet to come. It 's something to look forward to."

Kathie Lee 's husband, Frank Gifford, passed away in 2015 after more than fifty years in the public eye. Frank had been a star running back for the University of Southern California before embarking on a stellar twelve-year career with the New York Giants. He made eight Pro Bowl appearances and won the league 's Most Valuable Player award. He then turned to broadcasting and went on to host twenty-seven years of Monday Night Football. An entire generation knew Frank Gifford as the play-by-play announcer for football 's greatest games. But the expression Kathie Lee found on his face when he died said more to her than anything he had ever said on air. His eyes looked upward, as to heaven, a look of amazement frozen on his face.

"From that moment on I had the peace that passes all understanding," she says. "He saw Jesus, and Jesus took his breath away. I was so happy for him. Frank is exactly where he 's supposed to be now. So is my mother; so is my father. I have so many friends who have passed on through the years. I don 't want life to be all about what I 've lost.

"That 's the dilemma for people as they age. People start dying all around them, and there 's a hopelessness that can creep in. I don 't want to live my life in hopelessness. I 've been there. But I 've found a joy that has nothing to do with circumstances. That 's a hard place to find. But it 's a worthy journy and a worthy search."

Throught the many trials and joys of a career in the limelight and a private life made public, Kathie Lee has learned the secret to peace and joy. It 's not something that your environment dictates or that luck can steal. It 's based on something more sure and lasting.

"My joy is nonnegotiable," she says, quoting her personal mantra. "That 's the beginning of bliss in your life—when you understand where your joy comes from and you protect it with everything in you. I 've always known where my joy came from."

Kathie Lee has learned through experience that popularity and friendship come and go. Even a spouse can betray you or leave you. But she 's also learned that relationships here on earth open up a window into the greater beyond and a greater relationship.

"You have to let [God] touch you," she says. "You have to get up out of your seat, like I did, and walk toward him. You have to trust like I did so many years ago in that darkened little movie theater. He 's going to do what he says. He 's going to love you. If you 're broken, he 's going to love you back to life. If you 're sick, he 's going to heal you. It may not be the way you think, but he 's going to heal that place in your life that is not right. He 's going to help you forget the things that haunt you. He 's not only going to be your comforter. He 'll be your pillow, too, the one that you cry into. He loves you with an everlasting love."

Kathie Lee Gifford discovered a deep and lasting peace through Jesus. It 's not peace that looks traditionally churchy or religious. It 's raw and authentic. She laughs with God, and she cries with him. She has found a rock on which to rely when the tragic or the unexpected comes.

That peace showed up after someone invited her down the aisle at a movie theater. It came through the countless interactions she had on air, and it showed up in the eyes of her husband as he passed. The peace came from God, but it flowed through the many people and relationships that God sent her way.

We don 't always expect God to be working through the words and actions of others. We wish he would jump out of the clouds and speak to us directly. But God seems to enjoy doing just the opposite of what we expect.

Kathie Lee learned that.

And so did reality stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, whose story comes next.


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