A couple weeks ago, I was asked if I would consider being the editor for the newsletter published by our women’s ministry at church. It was a no-brainer to say yes. I enjoy writing, I’m a stickler about grammar and spelling, and I’m pretty computer proficient. Sounds like a good fit right?
Then, once I’d committed, Kristen – the director of the women’s ministry said, “One of the things I’d like to implement is an article in each newsletter that highlights one of the ladies in our church. We all see each other, week in and week out, but never really get to know things about each other that are below the surface. Since you’re putting together the newsletter, why don’t you be the first woman we feature? “. How could I say no? So I agreed. Simple enough.
Except that I hate writing that kind of thing. Or maybe it’s not that I hate it, but really that I don’t want to sound boastful when writing about my successes and accomplishments. I don’t think I’m one to toot my own horn, and I struggle to share about all I’ve been through in my short 35 years because the glory is all God’s. When I share with anyone about where my life has come from, how it’s been changed, and why I hold the hope that I do, I never want people to think that it’s at all because I think I’m such a strong, talented person. Truth is my past (and even some moments in the present) is littered with hardships that without the love and grace of Jesus Christ, I never would have overcome.
I’ve been incredibly blessed that He’s taken what at the time seemed to be a curse, and turned it around into the greatest blessing imaginable. From my sickness and suffering, I’ve been able to find my ultimate purpose.
Anyway – many people have asked if I ever finished the article. I did – and here it is in it’s entirety. Maybe I’ll write my memoir one day afterall…
Remember your teenage years? Wanting the right hair and clothes, having a crush on that special someone – who didn’t know you existed? Recall feeling awkward and out of place…all alone? Remember trying to fit in? Now imagine that you had a chronic illness that required surgery to save your life. What if on top of all the “normal” adolescent issues, you used the bathroom through a pouch on your side, because your diseased intestine had to be removed. How’d you like to miss your birthday party, the big game, even prom, because you were in the hospital- AGAIN! Sounds like a bad dream, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately for Kristin Knipp, this was a reality. Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 9, Kristin spent much of her childhood in the hospital. When she was 15, she had her diseased large intestine removed, leaving her with a condition called an ostomy. The ostomy is a surgically created opening in the abdomen through which doctors bring a portion of the bowel and the person then wears a prosthetic ( called a pouch) that waste is collected in.
“My teenage years were trying, for sure. There’s a certain stigma attached to going to the bathroom ‘differently’, and when you’re a young person, that stigma seems magnified. It’s very isolating”, says Kristin. “For many years I asked ‘why me?’. I didn’t know Jesus back then, so no real answer ever came. In fact, the lack of answers, coupled with recurrent surgeries and medical trials, led to one very bitter young lady. I was mad- mad at my body, mad at my circumstances, and mad at God for allowing it. It wasn’t until I was 17 that things slowly began to fall into place.”
At 17, Kristin attended a summer camp for teens that had ostomies and other bowel and bladder diversions. For the first time, she met other kids that had experienced illness, surgery, and the same struggles she’d been facing. Finally, she didn’t feel alone. This camp, called Youth Rally, was ultimately the vehicle through which Kristin was introduced to Jesus.
“My second year as a camper, I met a young man who was also a Crohn’s patient and an ostomate. We were drawn to each other – initially because of teenage hormones and young love, but after camp ended and we returned to our respective homes, we maintained our friendship and I began to realize that we had a special relationship. Every time we talked, he offered me hope regarding whatever circumstances I was facing, and assured me after every conversation we had that he was praying for me. It wasn’t long before I realized that the thing that drew me to him most was his relationship with the Lord. In 1997, I visited him and his family in Tennesse, and it was there that I attended my first ever church service, and gave my heart to Jesus.”
It didn’t take long after welcoming Jesus into her life for Kristin to recognize how God had placed His hand on her long before that moment, and had been weaving a tapestry that on the under side appeared messy and disheveled. But now that she could see it clearly, through spiritual eyes from God’s perspective, she began to see the answer to her “why me?” questions.
Kristin has returned to Youth Rally for the past 12 years to volunteer as a counselor and offer hope to teens facing life with an ostomy. Volunteering with Youth Rally brought to Kristin’s attention the lack of support and resources for young people living with ostomy surgery, especially young adults, and in 2005 she founded YODAA (Young Ostomate & Diversion Alliance of America) a national network for young adults living with ostomy or diversionary surgery. Eventually the organization joined the United Ostomy Associations of America(UOAA) as an affiliated support group, and YODAA is still growing strong today.
In 2006, serving while serving UOAA as National Conference Planning Chair, Kristin was approached by the organization’s president about running for a national board of directors position. Kristin knew that it was something she was called to do.
“My life had come full circle”, she says. “At 15, receiving an ostomy had felt like a life sentence. Now, I was in a position to share my experience with an ostomy with others and let them know that it is indeed a LIFE sentence. Life is the key word. An ostomy gave me back my life, and this was my opportunity to use my experiences to change the course for others facing the same road. This was a significant answer to my WHY from so many years ago.”
Kristin threw her hat in the ring for the election, and was installed as the President-elect of UOAA in 2007. She served in that capacity for 3 years, and in January 2010, began her term as President of the organization.
“ While serving UOAA as president, I had the opportunity to travel the United States and abroad and use my God-given talents to work to improve the lives of ostomates around the world. I’ve lobbied on Capitol Hill for legislation important to those living with an ostomy, I’ve been to Mexico and seen the plight of ostomates in foreign countries who have little or no access to specialized care and ostomy supplies. I’ve been honored to serve on a selection committee that extends scholarships and awards to people who’ve made a ‘great comeback’ from ostomy surgery, and have been blessed to be a spokesperson for several campaigns aimed at eliminating the stigma that is attached to ostomy surgery. God has granted me the influence to affect change and the responsibility to help others along their journey”.
Kristin now works for a company that makes specialized undergarments for people that have had ostomy surgery, and feels incredibly lucky to be able to combine her vocation with her avocation.
“Every day, I have the opportunity to minister to someone who’s in need of a little hope. It’s not traditional ministry – I don’t work at a church and I don’t have a title, but I have the love and grace of Jesus Christ in my heart, and I’m able to share it every day in the form of knowledge and encouragement to help others along their journey. My WHY has been answered, and no longer is Crohn’s disease or an ostomy a curse. It’s been my biggest blessing.”