I don’t know about you but after all the disasters and tragedies of the past few months, I need a feel-good story. Ask, and you shall receive.
Do you know the name Kristina Kuzmic? Ok, how about the Truth Bomb Mom? Still doesn’t ring a bell? Well, let me introduce you, but first some backstory.
Almost 20 years ago when I was serving as the Lead Pastor at a church in Cuyahoga Falls, I received a phone call asking me if our church would consider hosting a missionary family, for at least one month, in one of our church-owned homes. Of course we welcomed the opportunity to fulfill Jesus’ words, “I was a stranger and you let me in.”
Dr. Peter Kuzmic and his wife, Valasta, arrived from the country formerly known as Yugoslavia, with their three beautiful little daughters and yes, Kristina was part of their package. Little did I know at the time that one day she would grow up to become an Internet celebrity and television phenom.
Her climb to celebrity status began in 2011 when Kristina was chosen from 20,000 applicants and was crowned the winner of Mark Burnett’s reality TV competition “Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star.” The competition involved numerous grueling challenges, such as writing and producing television segments, and interviewing celebrities including Susie Orman, Gayle King, Arsenio Hall, Oprah Winfrey, and Mark Ford (just kidding about Mark Ford).
The trophy won Kristina her own show titled “The Ambush Cook,” which aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. She became a media darling, seen in magazines and media outlets all across the country. Kristina quickly made a name for herself as a creative, yet unpretentious parent, as well as a world-renowned motivational speaker/comedian.
Although Kristina is living her dream today she can testify that her yesterdays were very dark and filled with heartache and heartbreak. After a difficult marriage that ended in a divorce, Kristina found herself at rock bottom with two beautiful children and filled with a sense of despair. In her blog post titled “Broken, But Not Worthless” she describes her painful life.
“I was sad. Understatement, I was depressed. Depressed, as in my doctor suggested all kinds of pills, depressed. Depressed, as in my friends were a little more than worried about me, depressed. Depressed, as in I gained 20 pounds in one month, depressed.
And I was struggling financially. Another understatement, I was broke. Broke, as in sleeping on the floor next to my kids’ beds, broke. Broke, as in feeding the three of us on food stamps, completely stressed out over how I was going to pay rent, broke. And I was lonely. I was really, really lonely. And bitter, and angry, and confused, and cynical, and miserable, and yes, those are all understatements, too.
When you get like that, when you fall so deep into depression, you become self-consumed, or at least I did. And I was starting to realize that if I didn’t destroy it, it would destroy me. And then one day I’d had enough of myself! I was disgusted by how low I had sunk. And it hit me that the only way I’d ever get out of this ‘poor me’ state was to stop focusing on myself and start looking outside this pathetic little life of mine. And the best way to do that, I thought, was to volunteer somewhere. That was the first brilliant thought I had had in a while. It might have been the first brilliant thought I had ever had. (Not an understatement.)
So I picked up the phone and started calling various organizations asking if I could come and volunteer. At that time, my daughter was 2 and my hyper little son, barely 4. I couldn’t afford a babysitter, and while my kids were with their dad on the weekends, I was working. So naturally, the kids would have to volunteer with me. But no homeless shelter, hospital, or any other sane organization I called wanted 2- and 4-year-olds ‘volunteering.’ Here I was with my first brilliant thought; I had finally come up with a constructive idea for how to save myself from my stupid self-pity and misery and even that had failed.
Immediately that same old broken record started spinning in my head: I am a complete failure! Every idea and thought I have is useless. I am useless. I have nothing to offer. I don’t know how to do anything well except change diapers and cook a meal. That’s it. That’s all I know how to do. And even my diaper changing skills could probably use some work. So there you have it. The only thing I’m confident about is my cooking.
So what? Cooking. It’s the only thing I knew I was good at. So if I couldn’t find a place to volunteer, I figured the only other option was to do it in my own apartment. Brilliant thought number two. (Yup, two in one day. That was a record for me… yet to be broken.) I wrote an e-mail and sent it to all my contacts in the L.A. area. It said something like this.
Subject: Wednesday Night Dinners
Starting this coming Wednesday, I will be cooking for anyone who needs a meal. Please think of people you know who are either struggling financially and could use a free dinner, or perhaps a college kid who is sick of cafeteria food, or someone new to town who is lonely and needs to make some friends, or anyone else who would appreciate homemade food and good company. Invite them to my place. I will feed everyone. My door will be wide open starting at 6 pm.
Love you all,
I woke up early that Wednesday and went to a place I had become very familiar with – the 99 cent store. By this time, the 99 cent store and I were pretty much best friends. I loved it, trusted it, and it always came through for me. I bought a bunch of bags of pasta, and then I found some fresh vegetables and even some cheese. It’s amazing what you can buy at these dollar stores. After that, I went to the grocery store and spent my food stamps on anything that was on sale and would work well in a big pasta dish. I wasn’t trying to follow a recipe. I was just trying to create the most delicious-tasting meal on no budget for a lot of people. Or no people.
After all, I had no idea if anyone was actually going to show up, or if my friends would even take my e-mail seriously knowing what a pathetic mess I was. That day I cleaned my little apartment and cooked the biggest pot of pasta I’d ever cooked, made some homemade rolls (much cheaper than buying them), instructed my 4-year-old to offer our potential guests a glass of water (the only beverage I was providing and didn’t mind him spilling) and gave my 2-year-old a pile of napkins to hand out to people.
Then 5:30 rolled around, and I got nervous. Really nervous. What if no one shows up? What if my friends are embarrassed to bring people to my little apartment? What if I just spent this whole day cooking and cleaning for nothing? What if my idea is stupid? What if the one and only thing I feel I have to offer fails? What if?
At 6 o’clock sharp, I opened my front door. No one was there. There was a lot of pasta in my kitchen. A lot of pasta and no one at my front door. Within five minutes, three or four people showed up. Then more people showed up. And then even more. By the end of the evening, I had made a second huge batch of pasta, run out of napkins, met a lot of new people, helped a few newbies to town make some friends, and fed approximately thirty people. In my tiny little apartment. On my tiny little budget. With my tiny little kids (who, by the way, proved to be incredible at pouring water and handing out napkins.)
I will never forget shutting that door after my last guest left. I sat on the floor and cried. Another Understatement, I sobbed. I sobbed like a baby, like a broken little girl who just experienced her first glimmer of healing. There was something so powerful, so magical and wonderful, and above all peaceful in the fact that I could feed all those people. I thought I had nothing to give, but when I gave the little that I had, it turned into something so much bigger than I ever could have expected. And that was a new beginning for me.
The next day I got e-mails and phone calls from people who had come to my Wednesday Night Dinner. These people were so thankful, so happy. They told me how much they enjoyed my cooking, how it was nice to eat a homemade meal. Some told me how they had just moved to town a few weeks before and how the dinner made them feel less homesick. And it hit me like a ton of bricks – even when I think I have nothing, I still have something to offer. I, Kristina, have something to offer. I, Kristina, am worth something. This too is an understatement.”
Imagine my joy and surprise in scrolling through Facebook recently to discover Kristina in a video post that a friend liked or shared. After 25 years I reached out to her and shared how much I enjoyed watching her. Well, my reaction was more like I laughed until I about fell out of my chair. Kristina wrote me a note back to say that her time with our church and family was a warm memory of her childhood. She remembered my children, Greg and Kim, which in itself is amazing. We’ve been reconnecting lately via email, and I discovered her husband Phillip (she remarried) was raised in Hudson, Ohio and attended OSU. They now reside in Southern California, and we’re working on the possibility of her coming out to see our family.
So what is the moral of the story? Actually there are two. First, never pass up an opportunity to welcome a stranger because you never know the impact you may have, even during a brief encounter. Second, never give up on you. Kristina refused to give in to cynicism and hopelessness. Her faith held her up when life was pushing her down. Praise God for new beginnings.
So, now you’ve met my friend. Go check out her website and laugh along with her and her crazy life. Thank you, Lord, for reconnecting with friends, feel-good stories, and the gift of laughter in this crazy world!