Karen's Story--Part 2

Welcome back for the rest of Karen's amazing story! If you missed the first part, click here: When Health Problems Take Everything Away--Karen's Story

Let's jump right in...

6. What do you feel illness has taken from you?

·         It has taken my voice—my damaged vocal chords prevent me from singing
·         It has taken my ability to just get out and go with friends, since I can’t walk or climb.
·         It has taken my ability to travel—I never know if I will fit into an available seat if I have to carry things myself (like food trays), or if there is a restroom I can fit into and get up from.
·         It has kept me from serving as a volunteer and doing my fair share of work
·         It has prevented me from keeping my house in order, cooking healthy meals because I can’t stand for that long, and having fun with healthy people.

7. What would you tell others who suffer chronic illness?

I recently had an epiphany—Satan can affect our physical body because we live in his domain. Our soul, however, will be released from the physical world when we die and we will never be at Satan’s mercy again. This is the definition of freedom for us. We will be free indeed. In the meantime, what Satan means for evil, God will use for good.

So many times we forget that there is a spiritual world we cannot see with our eyes. Those of us with chronic illness are involved in this spiritual warfare every day in a physical way. For years, depression stopped me dead and kept me from believing God loved me. I reached such a deep pit of depression that I wanted to die. In my deceptive belief that God didn’t love me, I decided not to kill myself. That choice was not because I felt it was wrong. It was because I felt God hated me so much that I would fail at suicide, too, and end up maimed for the rest of my life and at the mercy of people who didn’t care about me. In my total despair, I realized the only light in my dark world was hidden under my negative heart. It was God. He told me to get out of the way and He would light my world for me. No matter how dark our world seems, God is always there willing to lead us to victory over the spirit of darkness.

8. How do you stay joyful despite disappointment and pain?

I admit that sometimes my ability to laugh is “acting.” People don’t like people who are depressed. So, I have learned to adapt. When I realize I’m pretending to be happy, it is a clear indication that I need to spend some alone time with Jesus. I need to focus on Him, instead of myself. If we place a holy cloth over our pain and suffering and shine light on the needs of others, we can’t help but find joy. Suffering is selfish. I am guilty of this way too often. None of us is perfect and sometimes we just need to have a Pity Party. I try to make it a party for one and not affect others. But, there are times when we need to be open and honest about our struggles. They are necessary to serve as encouragement to others.

I remember once when a lady in my Bible study, who was dying from her diabetes and kidney failure, broke down and asked for prayer for her attitude. Now, this was the lady who came into the church with a smile on her face every day. She never complained when infection set up in her port for dialysis. She never griped about the pain she suffered every day. She never stopped smiling when insensitive people asked about how she could smile when she knew she was dying or what sin she had committed that caused God to punish her. But that one day, she sobbed in despair, asking us to pray because she was overwhelmed with pain and suffering and the daily struggles. I got up from my chair, walked around the table and wrapped my arms around her. I said, “Thank you. Thank you letting us know it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay not to smile every day. You have helped me more than you can know today. When you smiled through it all, I felt inadequate, selfish, and unspiritual because I couldn’t smile.”

How many people are out there in our world smiling through their suffering because people who have never suffered think we are sinning if we don’t smile?

I stay joyful because I know nothing is wasted with God, I trust Him to use my pain for the benefit of others and to further His kingdom. I relieve the strain of suffering by sharing with others and by praying with them.

9. What would you tell others about living with chronic illness?

1.      Don’t use it as an excuse to separate yourself from others and God.
2.      You need people. If you are homebound, write notes to others who need encouragement, call people who are also alone, get on the computer. Don’t spend your time whining or talking about yourself. Ask others about their lives, their struggles, their joys.
3.      Keep a list of blessings. Add to it every day. Force yourself to think about all the good things you have in your life. What you concentrate on, dominates you.
4.      Keep a prayer journal. Pray constantly for others.
5.      Keep a journal of your journey. Sometimes, when we just put our feelings on paper, we can see things we wouldn’t normally see. What makes you happy? What frustrates you? What do you wish you could do for someone else? Come up with your own list.

10. How do you still believe God is good when so much has gone wrong?

This has taken years to understand. At this point, I know that God has a purpose in everything. If my health problems can help one other person grow closer to Him, it is worth it. If my vulnerability can lead one other person to His forgiving grace, it is worth it. If it brings me to a closer relationship with Him, it is worth it.

He promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” This is true. He has never left me. He didn’t promise life would be easy, He promised to be there with us. I know when I die, I will be released from the prison of this body and will be free finally, totally and completely. No more pain! I will dance, sing, and move painlessly forever.

Karen Nolan Bell entered the world fighting for survival—and the trend has continued. She grew up in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, amidst the smell of coal dust and the majesty of mist rising out of the hollers in the early morning light. Her dream was to matter to the people who judged her, to be loved by her family and friends, and to make a difference to the lives of people who struggle like her. She never knew that dream would lead her through a lifetime of adventure, struggles, challenges and achievements beyond her imaginings. Her artistic gifts of music, art, photography, writing and acting have been the tools God used to reach out to the hurting hearts of her world to validate, encourage, and pray for their struggles as well.
For more on her story (some of it had to be cut for length, but she's willing to send the full interview if requested), or just to say hi, contact Karen at karennolanbell@gmail.com.


  1. I love your transparency, Karen! I have to print this out and use it to motivate myself when I am feeling I am inadequate because of my progressive vision loss. You have written so succinctly what I believe and what I aim so imperfectly for. I am so grateful to Kim for putting this together and to you for sharing your deepest goals and struggles.I like the bio of you, too. Each time I interact with you, I feel your heart more. Thank you. =)

    1. Thanks, Amy. It thrills me when I see that the struggles are not wasted. We are never alone in this journey--even on those days it feels like we are. I just said a prayer for you in your struggles. I know God will use you mightily. You are an inspiration to those who know you.

  2. Karen, thank you for sharing your story. I'm blessed to have met you at She Speaks in 2011.

    1. And I am tickled pink to know you, Tammy! My world has expanded so much through writing and my computer. I just love the way the Lord has brought so many amazing people into my life to encourage me and let me know I am not alone.

  3. Oh Karen, my heart is overflowing and so are my eyes...so blessed to call you friend. You show me Jesus each time we talk...whether on the computer or in person. I'm so blessed...

    1. Thank you, sweet friend. You are a blessing to me, too. It's so wonderful to know someone who is so willing to encourage and pray with me. God has blessed my socks off!

  4. My sweet, sweet friend, it is such a beauty to see God's blessings on you. Not a time of discouragement faces me that I don't remember your advice and wisdom to keep trusting and doing what I can. Once again, you have reminded me that I do not have to focus on my health or myself, but that I can focus on my blessings.

    1. I pray for you constantly, my friend. You are an encouragement to me, too. I am always here. Love ya!


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