Guideposts Classics: Kathie Lee Gifford on the Source of Her Joy

In this story from January 1996, the actress and television personality discusses the role her faith plays in her life and career.

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Kathie Lee Gifford

Our neighbors in Connecticut must think we’re a bunch of nuts. In the morning when two-year-old Cassidy comes up to me saying, “Hosanna, Mommy, hosanna,” I say, “Okay.” And out we traipse onto our deck where we march around singing, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Hosanna! Hosanna!” I’m sure people all the way in New Jersey hear us.

But I don’t care what they think. I believe worship should be fun and exciting so children can embrace it. After all, David leaped and danced before the Lord with all his might, and sang out with joy.

We Christians don’t do that enough. Often we’re all so terrified of what somebody’s going to say. But if you love the Lord, you should show it.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. That’s Nehemiah 8:10, a verse that has always been important to me. People ask me where I get my energy. But what most people perceive as energy is really strength of spirit. It comes from the joy of knowing God, loving him, and being loved by him. It’s so simple we sometimes stumble past it.

I first began my walk with Jesus at age 12, when I came home and found my mom and my little sister, Michie, crying together in the living room. Immediately I sensed these weren’t tears of sadness, but of some more momentous emotion. Mom had been flipping between TV channels when she came across a Billy Graham crusade. She had always scoffed at this sort of event before, but that night as she watched, she had spontaneously fallen to her knees and asked God to come into her life. My sister joined her. Then I arrived and was deeply affected as well. Not long after, I saw a Christian film called The Restless Ones, and at its conclusion the pastor asked us to come forward and receive Christ. It was an electrifying and life-changing experience.

In the teenage years that followed, my commitment only deepened. God seemed to be saying to me, “Kathie, everyone has to make choices. Choose my way and I will help you make something beautiful of your life.” By then my dad was a Christian too, and over and over I got the message: Shine in the light of God’s love; be a blessing, not a burden; and love others. I was taught to bloom where I was planted, to find joy in whoever I was or whatever I became, and to spread that joy generously and enthusiastically.

My husband, Frank, says I get too enthusiastic sometimes. “I can just see your motor overheating,” he says, laughing. But I think if you love the Lord and love others as yourself, the Holy Spirit gives you a natural exuberance in which you say the right thing at the right time. Scripture tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. If I believe God loves me perfectly, then I won’t be afraid of life. I won’t be afraid to try new things, to look foolish, or to fail. And if I do sometimes fall on my face, so what? Even though we make mistakes daily, the Bible says that God’s mercy is fresh for us every morning.

In 1985 when I first started working with Regis Philbin, who was hosting WABC-TV’s The Morning Show, I knew he had a reputation of teasing his cohosts. But I repeated to myself, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” and it kept me from feeling intimidated. I was able to relax and throw wisecracks right back at Regis. The show is now called Live with Regis and Kathie Lee and it’s still unscripted, spontaneous and outrageous. Regis and I have become great friends. Knowing we’re doing some good is so rewarding to us. We’re not curing cancer or AIDS, but a lot of healing comes through laughter, and if we can be a part of such a process, we’re grateful.

My life hasn’t been all fun. Michie, my sister, almost died at the age of 23 from acute ulcerative colitis. She had an ileostomy and lay in a coma. As I sat at her bedside, I silently cursed God for the unfairness of it all. Why should my sister have to go through such agony? At that moment Michie opened her eyes, looked right at me and said, “Kathie, don’t curse God; thank him. This bag means I get to live!” It was one of the most humbling—and elating—moments of my life.

Two years ago I learned a disturbed man had threatened to harm me. Even in jail and serving two life terms for another crime, he continued to write me letters. From the start I decided I was not going to worry and let this spoil my life. I have to hand certain things over to God. It’s the living out of my faith that makes me a believer. God doesn’t just get rid of hardship or suffering, he heals in the midst of it.

My reading of the Scripture has taught me that people who love the Lord don’t automatically rise to the top in business or beat cancer overnight. At times, faith means enduring surgery or chemotherapy or any number of other difficult experiences; it means tapping into a deeper dimension when loved ones suffer terrible illness or misfortune.

One of the lowest points of my life was when I went to Hollywood in the 1970s, trying to carve out a career for myself. One gloomy afternoon, sitting in my apartment after many rejections, I realized I was down to my last few dollars. “Lord,” I prayed, “if I don’t get a job by this time next week, I’ll go home to Maryland and be a florist or an interior designer.”

That week I was offered parts in five commercials. I took that flurry of activity as my answer. Today some people say to me: “What’s a nice Christian girl like you doing in show business?” My reply is: “Aren’t nice Christian men in the plumbing business?” We can’t all be ministers or priests or rabbis. But we are supposed to be the sweet fragrance of Jesus wherever we are, whatever our occupation.

I’ve never felt apologetic about my faith or my career; it’s the Lord I want to please, not critics or “religious” people. And when asked, “Don’t you find it hard to be a Christian in the entertainment business?” I answer, “No, I would find it impossible not to be one. How does anyone get through the day without the Lord?”

That’s why I jump in wholeheartedly to join Cassidy and her five-year-old brother, Cody, when we march around the deck doing our hosannas. They are learning from their earliest days that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. The joy of the Lord is their strength too.

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