In our Stories of Hope series, we connect with everyday individuals to learn more about what Hope means to them, how they’ve overcome challenges and obstacles and the ways in which they practice Hope in their daily lives. We share these stories in the hopes that someone, somewhere, might be inspired by and encouraged to pursue and practice Hope in their own life. Because no one should live in despair and hopelessness. Not even you. Read the latest from of Stories of Hope series below.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m Anna Kowlessar, and I’m a 28-year-old Minnesota girl who really cares about people! I just recently celebrated my one year wedding anniversary with my very best friend and fellow goofball, Randy, and we have a dog named Walter Norman who keeps us laughing. I run a nonprofit organization called People Hope that I founded almost four years ago, and I’m wildly passionate about our mission to share hope with and create community for people who are battling all different kinds of chronic illnesses, regardless of diagnosis or lack thereof.
2. What life challenges have you faced, and how have you been able to overcome?
I think the most appropriate answer comes with a preface that I’m deeply and profoundly grateful for the beautiful life that I get to live. It’s anything but perfect (just look at my sink full of dirty dishes or my list of things I keep procrastinating as ample evidence), but this life is rich and full and sometimes awful and always blessed. That said, just like anyone else reading this, I’ve definitely “been through some stuff.” One of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced is my health, as I’ve been battling a mysteriously undiagnosed chronic illness for over seven years now. I’ve been through countless tests and procedures; I’ve seen the waiting rooms in what feels like every hospital, doctor’s office, and specialty. I’ve gone through it all — the pain and symptoms, the complete loneliness, the bitterness towards a God who I was once certain was wasting my time and purpose, the ugly comments from “church people” telling me that my sickness was somehow my fault (spoiler alert: it’s not). I’ve been there. And while I’m still very much battling harsh symptoms and a lot of the uncertainty that comes with having an undiagnosed chronic illness, I certainly am overcoming.
My “life challenge” has not disappeared, much to my dismay, nor have the cares or concerns that come with it, but I have done the most audacious act that a human can, and I’ve chosen hope against all odds.
That is how I am continually overcoming every single day. With each new symptom and each frustrated moment, I’m choosing hope.
3. What is your definition of Hope?
For me, hope is knowing with confidence that my God is bigger than my sickness, He’s not wasting my time, He’s strong enough to handle my frustration, He’s never ever going to leave me or let me down, and He’s patient enough to love me through some very real prayers and conversations with him where I’m fully honest about how I’m feeling. My hope in Jesus is my lifeline, and no, it’s not pretty and perfect. To the contrary, it’s full of me wrestling with the daily reality of my circumstances. But one of my favorite things about hope is that it’s for broken people just like me who are “going through stuff.”
Hope is for all of us as we wrestle with life and patch up our bruises.
4. How has having hope impacted your life?
Close your eyes and picture someone who’s completely lost all hope. To be daily battling health issues and to end up in a place where you’re void of all hope and full of despair would be the most natural, understandable progression. Hope is the difference between despair and determination, and either one will drastically alter your life. The beauty of hope is that it’s a free gift available to every person. It’s not always “easy” to hope, but choosing to live with hope through the unthinkable will always change lives because it takes the same set of circumstances and points that life in the direction of purpose.
Because I have found and am willing to daily choose hope no matter how ugly my circumstances get, I get to live my life with extraordinary purpose.
There is no greater impact.
5. What have you learned about yourself along your journey?
In a life that’s full of twists and turns, you learn an awful lot along the way, but there are two big lessons that come to mind.
First, I’ve learned that few things are as damaging as isolation. You can talk to people who are being tormented by physical symptoms and so many of them will describe their greatest source of pain being isolation and loneliness, which is both completely valid and also unnecessary. Community is so valuable. Being understood on a deep heart- level, cheering each other on, and building one another up is how we’re designed to do life. If we can learn to be vulnerable, to champion each others’ victories, and sit with one another in our weakest moments, we would eliminate so much unnecessary suffering.
Second, I’ve learned that my life is brimming with purpose, just the same as the person who’s reading this and telling themselves that’s not the case for them.
And if I can talk directly to you, friend, who’s sitting there feeling purposeless and shaking your head, I’d want to grab your hand and tell you that you have a huge purpose that is distinct and intricate and unique to only you, and that purpose is only more evident after you’ve “gone through some stuff,” like I know you have. Your pain and hardship means that you get to relate to so many more people and speak to their hearts in a special way that only comes from weathering that same storm. I can’t share hope the same way to that same group of people as you can. You, in a way that only you can do, get to lift up the chins of your fellow warriors, and don’t you dare talk yourself out of it. You, as a work-in-progress, just as you are, have purpose.
6. What advice would you like to give to those who are feeling Hopeless?
Oh so many things! But honestly I think first I’d just want to sit with you for awhile and let you know that you’re not alone. As the hours passed and you ran out of tears, I’d tell you that I hate what you’re going through and I’m hurting for you with a special kind of pain because I get it and I’ve been there.
And I wouldn’t, for a second, let you shy away from hearing that you do have purpose, and that there’s a whole tribe of people who need your voice.
I’d tell you that God hasn’t forgotten about you and that He’s not a mostly-angry God who’s punishing you, but rather He’s been loving you this whole time even during the hard stuff. And ultimately I’d dare you to ask Him if he loves you. Really, right there, no matter what you believe or how weird it might feel, just ask Him right out loud if he loves you. Because friend, He is hope, and hope never disappoints.
After founding People Hope at age twenty-four, Anna now works as the Executive Director, building a distinctly unique organization with passion that could only come from personal experience. She has an unmistakable love for the global chronically ill community, and works to provide support spiritually, mentally, socially, and emotionally through unthinkable circumstances… despite diagnosis or lack thereof.
Connect with Anna Kowlessar
Social Media: @annakingskywalker and @peoplehopeorg