Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of domestic abuse and suicide that may be triggering to some.
“I am not a cryer.
I used to be, but I haven’t been much of a cryer for about 6 years, only giving in to the occasional cry every several months or so. Even then, I don’t like to cry in front of people. I don’t like people to see me as vulnerable.
After being in an abusive marriage for 4 years, where I birthed three children and foster parented five, I had built a wall around my heart where very little came in and even less came out. I would stand in my kitchen after an argument with my husband, barely able to breathe, and I would tell myself, ‘Build the wall, but don’t let your heart get hard.’
I knew the moment my heart began to harden, bitterness and anger would take over and joy wouldn’t have a place anymore. Every single morning when I woke up, I had to choose joy. I chose to snuggle my babies, savor their giggles, and try to turn the hell I lived in into a beautiful life.
My marriage continued to unravel as if someone was pulling the yarn on an unfinished sweater. They didn’t even have to pull very hard. I watched this beautiful sweater I had created with my imagination, plastered-on smiles, and many apologies, completely disintegrate. I would sit in the front room of my house and stare at the custom, built-in bookcases I had always dreamed of and simultaneously think, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I need out,’ and ‘I can’t stay married because of a house.’
One day, I sat in my mentor Marla’s office and breathed in sharply when I heard her say, ‘You need to ask the Lord if He has released you of the covenant you entered into when you got married.’ When she speaks, it is best to listen because her words are usually hilarious or full of deep wisdom. At my next therapy appointment, I heard the Lord speak clearly to me He had, indeed, released me of that covenant. (After all, a one-sided covenant is really no covenant at all.) As I drove home, the tears flowed as easily as my conversation with the Lord. I asked Him if He trusted me. I told Him I was ready for the battle, that I was willing to fight for my marriage. But gently and tenderly He responded, reminding me I had already been fighting for 4 years and it was okay to stop fighting now.
I watched childhood dreams and fantasies, my teenage ideas and beliefs, and every longing and desire turn and leave on its heels, as if it had never even meant to stay in the first place. I said goodbye to dear friends who didn’t agree with my decision, my dream house, my car, and the false reality I had lived in for those 4 years of my marriage.
I never even missed him because my world was much less scarier without him in it.
5 months after that, I stood in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit waiting room. My arms wrapped around my brother and parents, while our pastors sat in chairs behind us. The rain poured in the blackness of the night and I began to sing.
My mom joined in and we sang and prayed while they stabilized my sister just beyond a few sets of double doors. After attempting to take her own life, my sweet 16-year-old sister had gone a long time without oxygen to her brain and we were waiting to see how her brain would respond to the injury that comes after being deprived of essential oxygen. I know now, the first 72 hours are critical for a brain injury. During those 72 hours, hundreds of people visited the hospital (we were never alone), and many family members and even friends drove all night and day to be by our side. Thousands and thousands of prayers were whispered, sung, cried, and shouted by thousands and thousands of people as we all pleaded for Krissie’s life.
And when those 72 hours were over, we said goodbye to our precious Krissie.
Her brain had gone too long without oxygen.
Kristel Renee Hope.
My sister had been named after three of our great aunts, and the name Hope seemed to fit everything about her. The doctors told my mom she would never have children, and she knew, even as a teenager, she wanted to adopt. In her teen years, she began praying for the future children she would have through adoption. It was a miracle when she got pregnant with me, and another miracle when she had my brother, KJ. But the miracle that completed our little family came 4 years after KJ was born when we adopted my sister.
She came from a mama who loved her so deeply she knew she needed to let another family raise her as their very own. Kristel was born into two families.
I had prayed for a brother. Then I prayed for my sister, and the Lord heard the prayers of a little girl and gave me both. I’ve known for my entire life He is a hearing God because of this.
It was for this reason, on the night I found out she had attempted suicide, I circled the island in my kitchen and repeated again and again, ‘I prayed for her! God! I prayed for her!’ I wanted to run out the door and punch the trees in my yard just to let out the pain welling up within me. I was so angry. Not at her. Not at God. I think I was angry at the brokenness in the world. Angry at the enemy; angry he temporarily gets to think he wins. But I didn’t run. I didn’t punch anything. I just circled that island and whispered to God, ‘I prayed for her!’ before heading to the hospital to meet my family there.
Sometimes, God answers our prayers the way we want and expect Him to. Sometimes, He doesn’t. When I was seven and praying for a baby sister, God didn’t give me that miracle by opening my mom’s womb– which didn’t even exist anymore thanks to a full hysterectomy. He gave it through a beautiful redemption story.
God didn’t heal my sister on this side of heaven. We didn’t get to see the exact miracle we were praying for, but He gave us our miracle through a beautiful redemption story that happened nearly 2,000 years before when Jesus rose from the grave.
We didn’t get our miracle on this side of heaven, but we knew in just a few days, even hours as some people received a phone call, they would be getting theirs. Krissie was an O-blood type, making it an option for her blood and organs to be received by anyone. My sister, who was passionate about life and planned to save lives as a career by being a paramedic, and had even traveled the world on a medical mission trip, was able to save many in this final act of generosity.
We continued to pray over her body the next few days, this time praying for her specific organs. We prayed for the people who would be receiving her heart, her kidneys, and her liver. We prayed for the people who would get to see for the first time thanks to her donated corneas. (Krissie literally had perfect eyesight. I can’t imagine waking up every morning and just being able to see clearly, but Krissie did.) We prayed for the people who needed her bone marrow and skin grafts. We thanked the Lord for Krissie, that we got to hold this earthly body of hers.
And on the morning of April 23, the day after what would have been her seventeenth birthday, we said goodbye to her beautiful body. We walked down the halls of the PICU with our extended family trailing behind. We walked by technicians, nurses, and doctors who lined the halls paying their final respects to this hero: my sister. I looked to the transplant nurses, pushing her bed and walking alongside us, and watched as the tears streamed down their faces. They didn’t take this important and sacrificial job lightly. They knew the heaviness that came from what they were about to do. The double doors opened, and she was gone. We knew her spirit had left her body several days before, but getting to hold onto her earthly body had been comforting.
Kristel Renee Hope Stahl.
When I say her name, I don’t imagine a hospital bed and a funeral. I don’t imagine our final days with her, although I can get there pretty easily. No, I imagine her great, big smile that lit up an entire room. I imagine her laugh and picture her little eye roll at me and my ‘mom fashion.’ I imagine her soft hands and perfect pixie nose. I imagine her holding a tiny bird with a flower crown on her head, the wind softly blowing her hair. I imagine her spunky walk and the curls in her sandy-colored hair.
I prayed as a little girl. The Lord heard and transformed those prayers as if creating them out of the dust of the earth itself into the body of a baby. He breathed into that body and my prayers came to life.
I cry a lot more these days. I’m healing. With the help of therapy, my family, incredible friends, and of course, God, I have healed in so many ways. My heart was never hardened, and the stones I had carefully laid around my heart to protect it have been removed stone by stone, bit by bit.
Through the tears, I’ve experienced fresh and new hope. Hope my story isn’t over and my pain will not be wasted.
Hope the grief of losing my marriage and losing my sister won’t always hurt quite so much.
Hope I will get to see Krissie again because this earth is not our home.
Hope while her physical life is over, her story isn’t, and I get to talk about her always.
Hope that is living and breathing because Jesus is living and breathing.
I share this whole story with tears streaming down my cheeks because I’m healing.
Maybe I am a cryer again.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kendra. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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