Nicki Koziarz: The Best Decisions to Make When Life Is Hard
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“Please, God, no more hard things.” Author Nicki Koziarz knows what it’s like to be flooded with hopelessness when life is hard—and seek God there.
Nicki Koziarz: The Best Decisions to Make When Life Is Hard
Dave: When your sister was dying, I know what I felt. Did you ever doubt if God existed?
Ann: No, I remember it was the hardest thing I had ever gone through. I doubted if He was good for a while. When you see someone you love so much suffer—at a young age and with four children that she was leaving behind—it shakes you to the core. I did feel like all the prayers I was praying—I wondered if they were even being heard—because everything seemed to go the opposite way.
Dave: Yes; all of us are going to live there. Some of us are living there right now, so that’s where we are going today.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: We have Nicki Koziarz in the studio with us at FamilyLife Today; welcome.
Nicki: Thank you guys so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here.
Dave: You’re sitting over there, like, “Oh, great; so we’re going to talk about hard stuff.” [Laughter] But you’ve written a book called Flooded, which is really—I’ll read the subtitle—The 5 Best Decisions to Make When Life Is Hard and Doubt Is Rising. You’ve been with Proverbs 31 Ministries—how many years?
Nicki: I think it has been almost 15 years now.
Ann: You’re married; you have three daughters.
Nicki: Yes; yes.
Dave: Yes, but you’ve got goats and horses—
Nicki: No goats; no goats.
Dave: No goats?
Nicki: No, no, no.
Dave: What do you have? You’ve got the fixer-upper farm. What does that mean?
Dave: You’re always fixing it up?
Nicki: Always; something is always broken. We bought the farm about nine years ago. It was foreclosed, so everything was broken. We just started calling it the fixer-upper farm. It was when Joanna Gaines like launched that whole fixer-upper show. We don’t have a fixer-upper house; we’ve got a whole farm. [Laughter]
Dave: Were you always a farm girl? Did you want this?
Nicki: No; absolutely not. I could not even keep my girls’ beta fish alive. They went away for the weekend, and I killed it. [Laughter] The fact that I run a whole farm, with 20-some animals now, is hysterical to God and to me.
Ann: It’s impressive, actually. [Laughter]
Well, your book, Flooded, is interesting because it is the story of Noah as well.
Dave: You open the book—I mean, I’ll read it; I want to hear what you have to say about it—but you say:, “I wrote these words through the suicide of my brother, a worldwide pandemic, a national race crisis, plus a dozen other hard personal things.” From the very beginning, we know we are on a ride. Walk us through what that was like for you—talk about a valley—you were in it.
Nicki: I started writing the first words in October of 2019. It was already just a really hard season, because my mom had just recently passed away. She had had a brain tumor, and I went through six months of taking care of her. It was just what I considered, then, one of the hardest things I had ever walked through.
Ann: Right there, how old were your girls at that time when your mom was sick?
Nicki: So they were 17, 15, and 13—I’m sorry 12—it was a really, really tough season. My mom was only 62, and she was a four-time breast cancer survivor. When she got this diagnosis of this brain tumor, I really believed she was going to beat it; so went through that.
A year after my mom died, my brother started to decline. He had struggled with mental health and addiction for about ten years. He lived in Seattle, Washington—was married, had three children—and just very quickly declined, and tried to commit suicide four different times over that year. On the fifth time, he did not come through; that happened in October.
Then, I got home from all of that, and our horse died. And for those of you who are horse people listening today, you can feel the pain in that; and then just several other very significant hard things hit. And then—boom—February 2022 rolls around, and a pandemic hits the world. And life, as we all know it, was flipped upside down in that moment.
Ann: You’ve lost two people, who are so close and dear to you. How did that shake you? What was it like?
Nicki: It was very hard because, before the age of 40, I would lose half of my immediate family. That’s a hard thing to swallow; but you know, I’ve realized, in the process of working through this, Flooded/the book actually took a very drastic turn when all of that happened. I had initially/originally started to write about like grief and loss, because Noah definitely experienced all of that. I thought that was what the book was going to be about; but God was like, “No, we’re going to go an even harder direction.”
The writing of the book actually became very therapeutic for me—because I literally was sitting at my computer, in tears, just getting off the plane from burying my brother—and I am writing these words. It was a little too real; can I say that? [Laughter]
Ann: I would think.
Nicki: But I am grateful because it allowed me to step into a place, in my pain, so that I could understand other people’s pain.
Dave: I mean, was there—you know, when I asked Ann if she doubted God’s existence—did you struggle with doubt? It’s in your subtitle; so I’m guessing, “Maybe?”
Nicki: Yes; I did not doubt God’s existence either—that was not where I went—I doubted His goodness. That’s a real struggle I think a lot of people have when they are walking through something really hard. It looks like God is good to the rest of the world; but when the hard days just keep stacking, and stacking, and stacking—and you are looking at your friend, whose life just seems to seemingly just go flawless—and she has a few bumps here and there.
I think everyone listening can think of a time in your life, where you just felt like asking God, “Please, can You just stop with the hard things for just a second?” When that doesn’t come, that’s where I do think that our faith can become on the edge of what I call teetering between disbelief and unbelief.
Unbelief is where we don’t want to go, because that’s when we do really not believe in God anymore. But disbelief—I really wanted to normalize that in this message—because it is a very common thing to be like: “But why?” and “How come?” and “Why are You not changing this story when I am asking You to change it again and again?”
Ann: Yes, I remember thinking and saying to God, “It just makes no sense.
Ann: “I don’t see any point of why this could be a good thing,—
Ann: —“with leaving her four sons.” It just didn’t make sense to me.
To have those conversations with God—that’s an interesting way to put it—is “disbelief.” You are starting to question: “What is the point of that?”
Dave: So how do you two answer that question? If you get to the point of disbelief, what is your answer?
Nicki: I think it is time to really turn to truth; and even right now, in our world, it seems like everything is upside down; right? Every time we open up our phones, there is more bad news, or discouraging news, or shocking news. You just said something about it not making sense. We have to understand that there are things, on this side of eternity, that will never make sense to the human mind. A lot of what the world is experiencing right now: we cannot explain.
I think we have to stop trying to explain God away—like people would say to me, with very good intentions; I want to mention that—things like: “Oh, you know, heaven just needed another angel,” or “God did heal your brother, just not the way that you wanted Him to”; right? All of those things, I know, come from the best place inside of people; but that’s not the story that was unfolding before me.
I had prayed and believed for something, and I didn’t see it. So when we don’t see it, we have two options:
- We can turn away and go: “He didn’t do it for me. He does it for other people. Oh, well; I’m out of here.”
- Or we can turn to truth and we can say, “This is what the Word of God says, and this is where I’m going to build my life, and this is where I am going to stand, even when I question.”
It’s not our questions for God that messes up our faith—it is our questioning of God—there is a big difference. He can handle our doubts; He can handle our questions; He can handle our fears, our worries, our complaints, our grumbling. All of that we can bring into the throne room of God; and He is like, “Come on. Bring it in here. Let’s wrestle this down.” I mean, we see Jacob, literally, wrestling with God in the Scriptures—
Nicki: —literally. There are times when we’ve got to wrestle down our faith; and we’ve got to say, “Okay, I didn’t see this; but this is where I stand.”
Ann: Well, I think that is what happened to me, as well; because you hear so many stories—and you can see, “Oh, well, that happened; but look at the beauty that came out of it,”—you tie the perfect bow around it.
Ann: But for my circumstance, there was no bow; and there still isn’t. I still don’t get it; you know? I think you are right—we may not get it—but we have an option of either turning away from God, as you said, or turning to God.
Nicki: That’s right.
Ann: I love that your book is so practical because you talk, even at the beginning, about walking with God: “What does that look like?” That’s one of your first principles; so let’s go there a little bit: “How do we walk with God in the midst of, maybe, being hurt, doubtful, angry? How do we put that into action when we don’t really feel it?”
Nicki: When I studied the life of Noah, I saw a pattern with him—God commanded; Noah obeyed. God commanded; Noah obeyed—it says it repeatedly in the Scriptures. We know anytime we see something repeated in Scripture, that is big/like: “Pay attention to this; okay?”
I sat with that for a long time. I realized that every action that Noah took, whether it was to build the ark, bring the animals into the ark, bring the food, bring his wife and their children, it was all [action]—right?—that stemmed from that [decision]. Noah was just so in tune with God every single day that it was like this communion that they shared every day together.
The reality is: “This is our decision—we can go to church; we can go to Bible study; we can sign up for all these programs and listen to podcasts and all the things—but it is our decision to decide that we are going to walk with God. Nobody can make that decision for us. I actually say in the first chapter: “You are actually the greatest mess you are ever going to have to overcome: you.”
Ann: What do you mean by that?
Nicki: Sometimes, we look at life, and we go, “If I only had this…” or “If I only had that…” and “If God would just do this or do that”; but really, it is us. We are sinners; we are messed-up people, and we’re looking to everything else for solutions. God is saying, “No, let’s start with you; let’s look at you.”
We have to have responsibility when it comes to our relationship with God—like our pastor can’t do that for us; I can’t do that for you—it’s a decision you have to make. So when we talk about walking with God, that’s what it means—it’s that daily decision of—“God, even when this doesn’t make sense, I’m going to stay in Your presence. I’m going to follow Your promises, and I’m going to ground myself in truth every single day.”
Ann: So here you are—you’ve just lost your brother—you are starting to write this book. You are still reeling from the pain of everything. You’re a mom; you have your girls. How did you walk that out? Because when you said that—like Noah is so in tune with God; he would hear Him and obey—I want that, but how did you do it? Like, in this first step, what did that look like?
Nicki: It was messy; let’s just be really honest. In a season, where you just walk through suicide with someone, it was messy; okay?
- Some days, that looked like me driving down the road, just bawling my eyes out, just saying, “God, I don’t understand this, but I know You are with me,” and then putting that worship music on, and just letting God’s presence soak in my life.
- Other times, it was me, flat on my face, in my office.
- Other times, it looked like calling up my friend—her name is Christy D—and Christy D loves me enough not to let me stay stuck in that place of doubt and fear. Sometimes, I would just call her up; and I would say, “Alright; preach me out of this,” and she would; you know?
It looks different for everyone, but you have to decide that you are going to do whatever it takes to get back to that place with God. You have to desire it, and you have to want it. It doesn’t always come naturally—I want to affirm that over someone, who has just experienced a huge loss in your life—you may not want that right now.
Ann: I remember, soon after my sister had passed away, driving. I remember talking to God; and I remember saying, “God, I feel nothing. I don’t feel Your presence; I don’t feel Your pleasure; I don’t feel joy. I feel like my heart is shut down, and it’s numb. I want You to know this is where I am, and I need You desperately. I need You to meet me. I need You to be with me. I need to experience You.”
Then I would be just still. I didn’t have a miraculous—I wanted some miraculous moment of healing; I have had those things happen in the past—but in this instance, it was just this daily talking to God. The worship music was huge for me as well. I couldn’t sing it, because I felt like my heart was so shattered;—
Ann: —but there was something so soothing about the words and the music that did my heart good.
Nicki: Worship music is one of our greatest weapons against the warfare that we face. I would just encourage you: whenever we are in a season, where doubt is really trying to write a bad story in our lives—of going to that place of unbelief—put that worship music on. You are right; you don’t even have to sing it. Let those words just sing over you and your spirit and just watch the power of God move in your life.
Dave: Well, it is interesting to hear the two of you talk about walking with God; because in some ways—at least, this is what I heard—it is like Noah. You are obeying, even when you don’t want to today—but: “I’m going to today. I’m going to obey and go through the walk, because this is what I have to do,”—is that right?
Nicki: Yes; absolutely. Let’s just be real. Noah probably did not want to obey God; okay? I am sure he wasn’t like, “Yes! This is the greatest assignment ever.” [Laughter] Talk about a hard place of wanting to obey God. I am sure there were many days he was just getting out of bed, just going to get the wood, just doing what he had to do that day. A lot of times, grief and hard things—that’s what it looks like—it’s just us going through the motions and just doing the thing that is in front of us that day. So yes, you are exactly right.
Dave: Your first decision is: “Walk with God.” Your second one is: “Listen to God.” What’s the difference? How does that flesh itself out?
Nicki: Okay; well, can I give you an example?—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Nicki: —because I have these three daughters who live in my house. [Laughter] You know, girls have a lot of shoes.
Dave: Oh, yes, they do; don’t they? [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, we do.
Nicki: For some reason, in the fixer-upper farmhouse, my girls just love to throw their shoes everywhere. Sometimes, I will just get into that mode, where I am like, “I just want my house in order.” I’ll call upstairs; and I’ll say, “Hey, girls, can you all come help me pick up your shoes? I’m trying to get the house cleaned up.” Silence—nothing—nobody is coming.
I’m walking around, doing my thing, and thinking they are coming any second. Then I go to the stairs; and I say it a little bit louder: “Girls! Come get your shoes. I need them up now!” Nothing—silence—whatever; you know. [Laughter]
Dave: I’m sure they can’t hear you.
Nicki: I’m sure that’s what it was. [Laughter]
But then, I go to the stairs; and I say something like, “Girls! If you don’t get down here now, and pick up your shoes, I’m taking everyone’s phones away!” That is like Mary Poppins’ snapped her fingers; and all of a sudden, they all appear at the top of the stairs. [Laughter] They will come, stomping down the stairs, like [sassy], “Okay, you don’t have to yell at us; we heard you.” [Laughter] I want to say, “Which time did you hear me?—the first time, the second time, or the third time?”
But there is a difference between hearing and listening; right? It took that threat for them to listen and to follow through with what I asked them to do. Don’t you wish that God would just yell at you; right? Wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier? [Laughter] I think we are, sometimes, waiting for this loud “Ta da!”; or the doorbell to ring and the answer just to be right there. Or sometimes, we’ll open up our phone, and we will go to social media; we’re like, “Someone is going to post something that is just what I needed.
Nicki: “I just need to hear today.”
Ann: He does that at times.
Nicki: He does. Absolutely; He does that.
But you know, I think, if we feel like God is being quiet, it’s time for us to get quiet; because God is never the One who stops speaking. We are the ones who stop listening. There are times when we do need to become very intentional.
You know, I talk about some of the spiritual disciplines in the Christian faith; and one of those disciplines is silence. We don’t really teach that in the church anymore; I don’t know why. We teach people how to pray, and study the Bible, and read the Bible. But man, solitude and silence [are some things] we see Jesus model; and it’s something that we need to experience in our own lives, too, because we live in a really loud world. There are times when we just really need to get quiet—and just listen to what God is saying to us—through His Word, through worship, and through prayer.
Dave: How did listening, for you, help you walk through your valley?
Nicki: Well, there were times, where God was saying things, and I wasn’t listening. That’s just the truth.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Nicki Koziarz on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear how listening to God helped her through her valley in just a minute.
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Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Nicki Koziarz and how listening to God helped her through her valley.
Nicki: Now, I want to be careful that I don’t try to paint this over-spiritualization picture of what this really meant in that season. Sometimes, for me, the listening part was simply just the obeying and the stepping into it. During those hard seasons, there were still assignments that God had given me to do: I mean, I had to write a book; I had other things I had committed to. I needed to listen to God say: “You have My strength with you,” “You have My power with you,” “You have My authority with you.”
It wasn’t like God and I were sitting in the morning, at five o’clock, having this great conversation. It was just these really simple things—again, all grounded in truth—God wasn’t saying things to me that don’t align with His Word; that is never how God speaks to us. It was just going back to His promises, and that became part of my listening-to-God process in those really hard places.
Now, on the flip side, there are times, where I do need direction in ministry/in life. I mean, you guys know that; right? So when we are walking through something hard, listening to God can be really, really simple—it’s just those: “You have My strength,” “You have My glory,” “You have My honor,”—all those things. But then there are other times, when we do need His wisdom. James tells us that, if any of us lacks wisdom, we can come to Him; and He will give it to us.
But do we want to hear the answer?
Dave: —and will we obey?
Nicki: It can go—in the midst of hard things, or even in the midst of big decisions, and everyday things—there are different ways we can learn to listen to God.
Dave: You know, back in the—oh, I don’t know: ‘80s—you are a little young for—
Nicki: I was born in the ‘80s.
Dave: Well, there you go! [Laughter] Well, you were just a little toddler when CB radios—
Dave: —were a thing in cars. Do you remember that?
Nicki: Yes; absolutely.
Dave: I wasn’t a big CB guy, but Ann’s brother was. When you’d pick up the thing, he would say, “Breaker, breaker 1-9; you’ve got your ears on, good buddy?” [Laughter] That was like: “Is anybody listening?”
Dave: I’ve always remembered that phrase; because you are just trying to say, “Is anybody listening? If you are, I have something to say.” I thought, “That’s sort of God saying, ‘Are you listening? Do you have your ears on, good buddy?—because I’m about to send you a message.’”
I always preached this—I don’t know if anybody ever remembered it—but I’m an acrostics guy. I always said, “God speaks to us through the PEWS.” People sit in pews, often, in church—right?—so you can use that. Here is what I said—because we always think it’s going to be this audible voice, which I’m not saying He can’t do that—but often, it isn’t.
Dave: PEWS stands for:
- [“P”]: He often will use a person/people. He could use your kid; he could use your pastor; he could use a good friend, like you said, when you’d call. God is speaking through a person.
- “E” is events or circumstances. Often, He is lining things up; and He is sending a message. But again, if we don’t have our ears on, we miss it.
- The “W” is Word of God. He often uses the Word of God to speak. I can’t tell you—and I’m sure you have had the same experience—when you open the Word of God in a life situation; you’re like, “Oh my goodness! This is exactly what I need to know today.”
- Then “S” is the Holy Spirit can nudge/can give us a nudge and say: “Here is where I need you to go,” or “Here is what you need to know in this thing…”
Am I right?—the PEWS.
Ann: I have always remembered the PEWS, because it is a really good way to remember that God is always speaking—He is just doing it in different ways—but to be looking. I like that, too, like: He is speaking; we just need to listen—
Ann: —and hear.
Nicki: That’s a really good example. Can we go back and add that into the book?
Dave: Go ahead; it’s yours! [Laughter] I never put it in a book, so it’s yours. [Laughter] We’re going to write a book called Sitting in the PEWS; I don’t know.
Nicki: Yes! Listen, I like that idea.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann with Nicki Koziarz on FamilyLife Today. Her book is called Flooded: The 5 Best Decisions to Make When Life Is Hard and Doubt Is Rising. You can order a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You ever wonder about where that line is between what is constructive criticism and what is actually tearing someone down? Ann Wilson’s words feel so relatable to me; she says, “How many times have I used my words to tear Dave down and to destroy him, thinking I was actually helping him and doing him good? When all this time, I had this power of influence to be able to speak life into him.” Wow.
Could your relationship use a shift toward using words to respect and cherish each other? I know mine could. Check out marriage studies at FamilyLifeToday.com and use the code, “25OFF,” to save today and beef up your communication so your marriage becomes more life-giving for both of you.
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will talk, again, with Nicki Koziarz about how she faced the upward battle of walking through her doubt. That’s tomorrow; we hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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