Thursday, October 16, 2014

Looking for the Bright side

He wanted everyone to know that he had a perfect life.’

     Tim Bright died on Saturday, Oct. 4, after a four-and-a-half year battle with cancer. The Riverside High and University of South Carolina baseball standout, who alongside his wife Jenny founded the Brightlife organization to support cancer research, was 32.

     His death stirred up a well of grief in me that I was told shaded everyone in my path for the next few days. He was a former co-worker. He coached my son in travel baseball. But he wasn’t my son or my brother, so why did the grief swallow me up? It’s not an easy question to answer. The best one I can give is rooted in the way Tim lived his life and the way he invited me and anyone else who would listen to invest in relationships and living even when we are unsure of the ending.

     When Jenny and Tim asked me to pray, I prayed. I didn’t merely mention them in passing. I prayed the kind of prayers born out of love, believing all things, hoping all things. I took it on as a mantel. He was supposed to be one of the miracles. He had cancer for nearly five years and yet his death caught me off guard.

     I began telling Tim’s cancer story in 2010 for The Greer Citizen when we were asked to write Christmas stories that featured a different side of the holidays. With trepidation, I asked Tim and Jenny to tell me how they would spend Christmas, knowing that they had just found out that the colon cancer had returned a mere three months after it was defeated and this time in his lungs. They were grappling with the new truth that chemotherapy would be a part of their story until a cure for Tim was found. I shouldn’t have been worried. They thought it was a great idea.

     They gave up their Saturday morning to meet me at Broadway Bagel for breakfast. With hope and determination, they decided to spend their first Christmas as husband and wife without chemo. It could wait until January. And they decided together to become vocal about their story. They wanted to share it and help others in similar circumstances.

     When Tim called in 2012 and asked if I would write a story about Tee it Up for Cancer, Brightlife’s golf tournament fundraiser, I eagerly agreed. The tournament brought in thousands of dollars for the Institute of Translational Oncology Research (iTOR), a clinical research group founded by Tim’s doctors. The next year, we met again to write about the 2013 Tee it Up tournament.

     I also wrote about the time his brother Steven caddied for him at the BMW Pro-Am event. Steven asked officials for a waiver into the prestigious tournament just to put a smile on his big brother’s face. Tim, who had undergone a biopsy on his lung just two weeks before, thanked his brother by making sure his bag wasn’t too heavy to carry since the brothers refused the golf cart they were offered.

     Tim’s memorial service was last weekend and the very large auditorium at First Baptist Church Greenville was packed with people. It was a testament to Tim and Jenny’s willingness to tell their story in all of its ups and downs. We all wanted to solemnly applaud their bravery and show Jenny how grateful we are that she shared Tim with us.

     In a very poignant tribute, Steven caddied for his brother one last time. This time, instead of carrying golf clubs, he opened the pages of Tim’s journal. He said that Tim had written that he wanted everyone to know that he had a perfect life. If he helped one person along the way, it was worth it.

     By sharing his battle and giving others hope, Tim showed us all that life is not about living as individuals, but about investing in relationships and sharing in the nitty gritty of life. His legacy is this: share your story in such a way that everyone in your path wants to be a part of it. The investment in others, though painful at times, is worth it.

     We all wanted a happy ending, but perhaps another young cancer patient said it best not long before she died. “Maybe it’s not about the happy ending,” she said, “but about the story.”

     You gave us one heck of a story Tim.

This tribute first appeared in The Greer Citizen, Oct. 15, 2014. 
Visit for more of Tim and Jenny's story. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

56 is the new forever

     Today, my mom and dad celebrate 56 years of marriage. They said, “I do,” shortly before their sophomore year at Oklahoma Baptist University on Aug. 22, 1958. From that time on they planted their tree on the foundation of Jesus. It has become a sheltering tree for countless boys, girls, men and women for the past 56 years. 

     They started with three children. Jay, Krista and Kyle. Now there are six. Jay and Hope (married 32 years); Krista and Billy (30 years); Kyle and Shannon (15 years). They have welcomed our spouses as their own from the first day we came home and said, “This is the one.”

     Our family tree is filled with many others. Some related by blood and some not. From a very early time, my parents taught us to share life with every soul God places in our paths. I shared my room with several teenage girls that needed a helping of the abundant love they had.  I shared my room with my grandmother Mollie Oaks when the Oklahoma winters became too cold and lonely after my grandfather died. I still share my parents every time I go home for a visit because weary souls know where to come for counsel and hugs and they seek them out often. 

     There is a tree near my house that is a beautiful picture of the family tree started by my folks. Last winter, a huge limb broke off from the top and the lower branches caught it. Ensuing spring storms could not wrestle the limb free. Today, behind the green foliage of a hot, wet summer, the limb stays snug between the remaining branches.

     My parents taught us to catch falling branches. They taught us to love the broken. They taught us to hold on tight, even when others can't see what we were doing.

 No one is so far gone that they can’t be loved.

      I celebrate their fierce and all-encompassing love today. I celebrate the sheltering tree that I have been able to hide in when I need rest. I celebrate the deep roots that have sustained us all. I celebrate the new branches as we continue to add to their legacy of love. I celebrate Bill and Karen Colle and thank my Lord for allowing me to be a branch in their tree. 

Photo of my parents by Donna Irene Photography at my niece Laura's wedding in May. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Just Tri to Top This

     In honor of my mom's birthday on Monday, I'm posting this column that I wrote for The Greer Citizen in 2009. I'm so blessed to have an amazing mom and this was an incredible day in a life filled with happy memories with her. Happy Birthday Karen Lynne Oaks Colle. You are an amazing woman!   

  I will spend Mother’s Day exactly the same way I spent it last year: competing in a triathlon at Disney World with my mother. We swam in the lake; we rode bikes along service roads; and finally ran through the Magic Kingdom last year, crossing the finish line together in the Danskin Women’s Triathlon.
     My mom, Karen Colle, had been challenged by her Bible study group in the summer of 2007 to train for the May 2008 race with them. She reminded them that she was 69 years old. The thought of completing something so grand by the time she turned 70, though, made her take the leap.
     During a visit later that summer, she brought me into the fold. I was apprehensive, but this was the same woman who sat through my 0-30 tennis season in high school without complaint; the same woman who told me, “You can do this,” as I sat holding my newborn son with tears streaming down my face as she got ready to go back home.
     I couldn’t tell her no.
     A little background: I almost lost my mom when I was 16 years old. Just before my senior year in high school, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She had immediate surgery to remove a tumor, her spleen, part of her pancreas and 18 inches of her colon.
     Two weeks later, it abscessed and she had another major surgery. She stayed in the hospital for four weeks. I went to see her every day, twice a day, and it forged a bond so deep that our relationship was never the same.
     We trained for the race separately. Though a Florida resident for over 30 years, mom learned to swim the freestyle stroke for the first time. I trained here in Greer, swimming at the Eastside YMCA and biking and running around town.
     We shared our triumphs and our trials. The closer the race loomed, the more fearful she became of the Open Water swim.
     It is quite frightening; no matter how well you swim. Every five minutes, 150 women jump into the water and take off toward the orange buoys in the middle of the lagoon. A kick to your head or arms flailing into your back are typical and expected features of the swim. The race began at 6 a.m. so the water looked murky and uninviting.
     Mom, in the senior age division, went out in the first wave of triathletes. My wave started two behind hers. Over a thousand women participate in this annual Mother’s Day race.
I knew going into the race that I wanted to be able to complete the race with my mom, but I also know my penchant for competition. Knowing this, my mom told me to go on and try to race for a good time, not to worry about her.
     Right as I dove into the lake, the timing chip strapped to my ankle slipped off into the water. I looked down once, trying to find it, but the muddy muck had swallowed it. I knew then, that the best Mother’s Day present that I could give and receive was to find my mom and race with her, that the race clock didn’t matter at all.
     I found my mother by the time I reached the first buoy. With everyone wearing a swim cap and goggles, it wasn’t easy. She was hugging a flotation noodle so tightly I almost didn’t recognize her.
     A swim angel, one of the ladies designated to watch for those struggling during the swim, helped me get my mom around all three buoys. The angel found my mom before I did and told her that God said to find number 57, which was my mom’s race number that was tattooed on her arm with a marker.
     We did everything we could to keep her moving. We even quoted all the same scriptures that she had taped all over the house on sticky notes to encourage herself. At one point, I took her arm and pulled her for a while.
     Crawling out of the water, she told me she was done. She had faced her fear of the water and that was all she needed. My arm over her shoulder as we walked to the transition area, I told her there was no way we were quitting now. The worst part was over.
     I waited at my bike until she found me. We took off on the bikes and that’s when mom came back to life. This was her favorite leg of the triathlon. Many cyclists passed us, but we passed a few too. Everyone along the way shouted encouragement to us and we shouted back.
     By the end of the nine miles of riding, we were tired but determined to finish the race.
We walked more than we ran the last two miles of the race. We were inside Disney World traipsing through Adventureland and Cinderella’s castle. We just kept moving.
     We finally ran across the finish line hand in hand, mother and daughter, best friends and now triathletes.
I’m going back to do it again this weekend. I’ll have to swim and run alone, because mom is doing the cycling leg with a buddy team this year, but I know that she’ll be there at the finish line waiting for me to come across and will be the first to congratulate me. It will be another incredible Mother’s Day for me, as a daughter and a mom.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


     I was stopped dead in my tracks last week when my dog ate my lip balm. I have a whole drawer of unopened lip balm cylinders waiting to be used, but losing this particular one upended me. Seriously, I almost cried. 
       What in the world was going on? Did I need to return to counseling? How would I explain my loss of composure over a $3 luxury item?
      It was my fault. I left it in the pocket of my sweatpants that were tossed to the floor. While I showered, Dash sniffed out the small purple Kauai Kiss and decided it tasted as good as it smelled. My heart sank the moment I saw the little white cap bent beyond recognition beside her while she licked out the contents of the longer part. 

     I finished getting ready to go to church halfheartedly, all the while knowing I was being incredibly silly over lip balm. I tried to take inventory of the pain while sipping my coffee. Obviously there was a greater dilemma going on inside.
     I bought the lip balm in Hawaii two years ago and every time I used it, I remembered how it felt being there, so far away from my own reality. It was in January of the year I turned 50 and my outlook on life was starting a new chapter.
     That trip was pivotal in many ways. It took guts to tell my husband that I would be going. It took time to save enough money to pay off the plane ticket and still have enough left over to enjoy myself. But in going, I had jump started a new approach to life. I had decided that I wouldn’t be the one buried under a tombstone that said:
Here lies Krista. She forgot to live.
     I think we can become so used to taking care of everyone around us that we forget to enjoy the life God has given us. I had become that person and I am grateful that I recognized it before it was too late.
     I have since made bigger decisions like taking a new job out of my comfort zone and planning my first trip across the pond to London and Wimbledon this summer.
    In the moments after I found my smashed and mangled Kauai Kiss, I had felt a swipe against my new boldness. I’m still tentative when it comes to crashing against the tide and choosing me. The lines blur between feeling selfish and being healthy. It is a learning process.
     Thankfully, I’m moving past the loss and I won’t stay in a chapped lip funk. I opened a new tube from the drawer and come June, I will purchase a British brand of balm to soothe my traveling lips while I plan my next adventure.

Life’s a Journey. Pay Attention.

Friday, January 10, 2014


     I pass a small white building that used to be a convenience store on my way to work every morning. The name on the side is ‘Crossroads’ and recently someone decided to decorate the peeling white painted walls with colorful graffiti.
     “Follow your dreams. You can do it. Stand up for yourself. Never Back Down. Dream. Inspire.”

     The building art piques my interest because I came to a Crossroads in my own journey and I decided to walk down a new path. I had no intention of switching careers at 51 years old, but when I look over my shoulder, I see a series of events that brought me to the place where it was time to do just that.
     I loved my job at the weekly newspaper. I met incredible people and worked with a group of folks that were passionate and hardworking despite the many obstacles that management put in our way. I was writing every single day. 

     I was writing: great.

     Every single day: not so great.

     My ability to invest in anything else in my life became null and void. Once one story ended I was immediately pulled into the next. Days blurred together and I forgot what it felt like to truly have a day off. The more I did, the more I was expected to do. One day I looked up and noticed that the people I was supporting with my work ethic weren’t even reading my stories. I started feeling like I was walking down a dead-end road. My eyes were also opened to a few behind the scenes incidents that I could not ignore. God used these revelations to get my attention.
     I began to pray more fervently. At first it was a cry to be recognized for all I was contributing. I wanted to stay. Then it was a request to help me be content in my circumstances and if not, that God would open a new door.
     A month or so into my prayers, I got an invitation to lunch. Then four days later, I got another invitation to lunch, this time to explore a new job opportunity.

     Then I heard God say, “Go.”

     I resigned from the paper, worked a notice and started working for Greer Community Ministries as the media and marketing coordinator. We have four programs, the most well-known being Meals on Wheels. Mostly, we feed and clothe people in Greer. Working at a nonprofit was not on my bucket list but I can look back now and see how God was progressively changing my heart to be right here.
     A few years ago I picked up a book from my mom’s stack and began to read it. “Take This Bread” by Sarah Miles opened my eyes to how I should put aside my way of seeing people in need for the way God sees them. It also showed me that God can use any of us if we are willing to be used.
     The next year I read “Weight of Mercy” by Deb Richardson-Moore. I read it to interview her for a story, but God used it to remind me that everyone has a story and there are people with deep wounds that make bad decisions all around us and we are to first love them and then help lead them. Sometimes love starts with a warm coat and a hot meal.
The author is a former journalist that God called into ministry and when I interviewed her, I was fascinated by how her heart had changed.
      Both books are bold in their message: We are called to serve – no matter what happens on the other end of it. I had too often focused on outcome when it came to the downtrodden. It is quite freeing to start consistently seeing people instead of their circumstances.
      In my life, I have seen too many Christians become stagnant and immobile in their faith because they refuse to ask God to open their eyes to what’s next. I don’t want to be them. There is always more and wanting more brought me here.
     Pray for me. Pray for Greer Community Ministries. Like us on Facebook to get a glimpse into what we are doing. (That’s part of my job, getting more likes!)
     And don’t forget to listen for God’s whisper. He may want you to shake up your life as well and move into the next phase of your journey with Him.
Life’s a journey. Pay attention.