There are individuals who are remarkably able to lift others even as they themselves journey through one of life’s most feared trials and tribulations. My sweet friend, Shelly, is one of those people. Her walk with Jesus both astounds and inspires me as I marvel at her beautiful grace and tremendous faith every step of the way. Her walk gives me the strength to fight my own personal battles.
In our home, my mantra tends to be, “Surely if Shelly can do this, I can.”
I know she would argue that the she isn’t doing anything special. She’d also assure me that it isn’t she who is able to do this, but God.
And Shelly would insist this isn’t her story, it’s His; she is merely the vessel through which God is truly working miracles and bringing a family, a school, even an entire community closer to Him through her.
Just after Thanksgiving, Shelly Kraus was diagnosed with the dreaded c-word. In fact, it was the double c-word: colon cancer. By the time it was located, it had already metastasized to two other organs. The prognosis was dismal, at best. Even with immediate, aggressive treatment, her very forward oncologist continually reminded her and her husband that there was no cure; the treatment would only give her a few more months, possibly years, if she were really lucky.
Despite this, within 24 hours of receiving this world-shifting news, she had calmly and clearly explained her diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plans with her immediate family, which includes a son in college and a daughter in high school. She’d told her sister, the woman who is her best girlfriend and classroom neighbor. Finally, the hardest discussion came when she had to share the news with her own mother, a woman of tremendous faith and love. I cannot imagine the many, many tears.
But then the real work began. Shelly underwent a strong chemotherapy treatment two days later and will continue those every two weeks until her body just can’t handle anymore. A substitute teacher filled in with her third graders, and her sister began bringing her daughter Emily home after school everyday. Her husband started working from home as much as possible. Shelly’s daily job became her health, from enduring the treatments and their terrible side effects to getting plenty of replenishing food and rest. She dared not leave the house often as the treatments made her susceptible to every virus, worsened by the time of year, and the few visitors donned surgical masks, just to be safe.
When most women would be paralyzed with fear and wallowing in self-pity, Shelly instead went to her Bible and claimed the verse of Psalm 62:6.
“Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress; I will not be shaken.”
She believes it with her whole heart and soul. Anytime doubt or fear have begun to wiggle their evil way into her mind, she has remembered, said, sang, or shouted her Bible verse and been filled with peace, strength, and hope.
Two months ago, missing her students and the everyday activity of teaching, she began creating a weekly video for St. Patrick School teachers to share with their students. Each video includes that week’s focus scripture, a fun praise song, and a video of Mrs. Kraus herself dissecting the scripture and providing examples of how students might apply it to their lives. Each week, she leaves the kids with a challenge; Week 5, for example, focused on Matthew 5:16 and encouraged students to find a way to let their lights shine for Jesus.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16
THIS is the link to that video, accessible to any reader who is able to sign into a Google account and click “Present”once it loads. Push the arrow button on your keyboard until you’ve watched the entire episode of Praise House with Mrs. Kraus. You may need to use your mouse to click on the play arrows on the videos. Remember, Praise House is geared toward children in grades K-7, but I’m sure you will feel the chill-inducing power of Shelly’s words and positivity.
As our children are learning such important lessons from Shelly’s videos, I asked if I could share them here, specifically for parents who wish to support Shelly’s words, continue important conversations, or even just sing along with the praise music. What begins in the classroom can easily be reinforced at home. Trust me. Even if you don’t have children at St. Pat’s, you will appreciate these messages.
It was Mrs. Kraus’s challenge for students to let their lights shine that prompted fifth grade to initiate the Kindness Campaign. Each St. Patrick School student was given three Random Acts of Kindness cards to leave with recipients of each act. A Facebook page, SPS Random Acts of Kindness, as well as an Instagram campaign at #KrausHouseofPraise were created to allow students and recipients to share how these acts have impacted them.
While we are praying for Shelly, she is finding ways to shine her light to glorify God. When I should be lifting her up, I find myself constantly learning from Shelly instead.
For months, I searched and searched for the Biblical answers to my whys. I read book after book about suffering and pain through the eyes of God. At the most elementary level, I desperately needed to understand why bad things happen to good people.
Why children and mommies die.
The rhyme and reason for those who get sick and stay that way.
The fact that the kindest person I know –the one who hugged my girls a little harder when I was in the hospital, who prayed with them and for us for months and months, who my son refers to as his second mom because he practically lived in Alex’s mom’s basement (so much so that he had his own space for his clothing), the teacher who my daughter insisted never, ever raised her voice the entire year she was in Mrs. Kraus’s third-grade class, and many, many moons ago, the woman who was my supervisor as I did my student teaching –that this most faith-filled woman I know could seemingly overnight become gravely ill just rattled me completely.
It all feels so haphazard, like a tornado touching down, taking one house but leaving the one beside it completely unscathed. I needed to understand the logistics. I was consumed with the why, why, why.
It was Shelly who showed me that we are not meant to understand everything in this world. In fact, it is beyond our ability to comprehend many things. Someday there will be answers, but I suspect once we enter heaven, those questions we’ve kept close all our earthly lives will float away, unnecessary.
“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 3:56 (NIV)
It has been Shelly who’s showed me it’s in our trials and tribulations that we have the greatest opportunity to grow in our faith. God isn’t going to save us from every difficulty, just as I cannot keep my own children in bubble so they will never know pain. If He saved us from all suffering, we would be denied the room to grow in strength, perseverance, grace, and faith.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” –Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
Suffering drives us to scripture, to really dig in and lean into His love. It teaches us lessons we didn’t even realize we needed to know. Most importantly, we grasp that we are not always meant to understand. Sometimes I must just accept.
And, yes, that’s really tough.
But those moments when you get there, when you are able to accept and trust that God IS working in your life in a way beyond your comprehension, peace will cover you like a handstiched quilt. God’s immeasurable love will tuck you in, and your heart will open to a joy like you’ve never known. You learn to embrace the unknowing and the becoming. After all, if God can turn caterpillars into butterflies and coal into diamonds, surely he can make something valuable out of me.
“Behold, I have refined you…I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” –Isaiah 48:10
Our faith is tried in the fire of affliction, suffering, pain, loss, heartbreak, and grief. Sometimes it feels as if God has forgotten us or, at the very least, has broken a promise to us. After all, I’d spent my adult life generally trying to make right choices; overall, I consider myself a good person. Far from perfect and a sinner for sure, but certainly with a kind heart and good intentions. So when Lyme disease turned my world upside down and stole so very much from me, I felt cheated. I railed at God and His unfairness.
But here’s the thing. No where in the Bible does God promise us a life without pain or a world without suffering. There is no agreement that good behavior begets an easy life; if anything, it’s the opposite. The more God expects from us, the harder life may be as he creates room for us to grow. My anger at God for his unfairness is unjustified. He never promised such a thing.
I created this contract in my mind, but God never stopped by to sign it. He never betrayed me. My expectations did.
We all experience pain in life, whether emotional or physical, as grief or illness. No pain is alike, yet God does promise that there is a purpose in ALL pain and suffering.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” –Jeremiah 29:11
We can press on each day knowing that our God loves us and wants to use the hurt and pain in this world to create the Christians He intends for us to be and to bring Him glory. We’re also given another promise, the most perfect one: Heaven awaits.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 3:12-17
Shelly has shown me the purpose of pain in life and encouraged me to find joy in the middle of the suffering. She helped me to let go of the whys and to focus instead on the hows. How can I become a better person? How can I give God the glory with my story? How can I take my pain and help others in similar situations?
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” –2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)
Is it any wonder that within hours of learning her diagnosis, Shelly was comforting others? After all, she bases decisions on what the scripture has taught her, and the Word clearly instructs us to comfort others as God has comforted us. I will be forever be indebted to Shelly for helping me find the path out of the darkness. Her light continues to show me and so many others the way.
Shelly’s spirits and hopes are high, and she is an unwavering believer in the Ultimate Healer. Her last scans were unbelievably positive, causing even her cantackerous oncologist to pause at their miraculous results. She still has a hard road ahead, so please keep this strong, remarkable woman in your prayers today and always.