Keeping Hope Alive Through Unexpected Losses: Lauren Alaina and Kreis Beall
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Lauren Alaina: I’m on stage, and all these people are screaming my name, and all these people are singing my songs. And then I get offstage, and it’s kind of lonely, and it’s this high from being on stage and this huge feeling, and then I’m in a hotel room, or I’m on the bus and I’m alone. But I’m not alone—because the older I got, I learned to do Bible studies or pray or have friends that I can talk to about the Lord. And it really grounds me and centers me and helps me to feel like I know where I am. I know who I am.
Keeping Hope Alive Through Unexpected Losses: Lauren Alaina and Kreis Beall – Episode #189
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. This week we talk with two women using their artistic talents to share hope and healing after achieving huge success and suffering devastating losses: country music artist Lauren Alaina and designer and hospitality pioneer Kreis Beall.
Ever since she was a little girl growing up in Georgia, Lauren always knew she wanted to be a singer, and by the time she was fifteen, she was competing on season ten of American Idol. Suddenly propelled into the spotlight, Lauren found herself subject to comments and criticisms made over social media about everything from what she was wearing to how much she weighed. The pressure was tough on the young singer and eroded her confidence, which was heightened by an eating disorder. She now shares her story of learning to love herself and how her family, faith, and therapy carried her through to a better place—with the hope that she can help other young women avoid this trauma in their own lives.
Lauren: I’m Lauren Alaina. I’m a country music singer. I was on American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and I’ve been making music for ten years.
I grew up in Rossville, Georgia, which is really close to Chattanooga, Tennessee. My childhood was a normal childhood, I guess. We grew up kind of poor, but we had a ton of love, and my parents both worked really, really hard and made sure that my brother and I had everything that we wanted and had really good parents. They worked really hard, which I think is why I work really hard now. So I’m thankful for the way I was raised.
I don’t really know where the idea of me being a singer came from. I feel like I’ve always kind of known that’s what I wanted to do, but that support of my family really locked it in for me. My parents started driving me to Nashville when I was eleven years old. They knew. They knew that’s what I wanted to do, and they could not afford it. They couldn’t afford anything. They put me in all kinds of singing competitions, and I played around town with my dad. My dad would play guitar, and we would go around Rossville, Georgia, and play in different restaurants and places. And I sang in church.
My parents put me on stage at a very, very young age, because they recognized something in me. So I’m really thankful for that, because I don’t know if I would be here if I didn’t have parents [who] believed that I could do it. I think they struggled a lot financially and stuff, but they wanted my brother and I to know that we could do whatever we wanted to do. And I said I was gonna be a singer, and they said, “All right, let’s do it.”
The Perils of Public Opinion
I grew up obsessed with American Idol, it was my favorite TV show. If I got in trouble, I wasn’t allowed to watch American Idol. That was my punishment. And I told people from the time I was like six years old that I was gonna be on American Idol someday. I actually auditioned for this thing called Chattanooga Idol, and if you win that, you don’t have to stand in the lines.
I got fifth place in the Chattanooga Idol—I didn’t even make the top three. But I auditioned anyway. My parents drove me up to Nashville, [me] and the guy who won. I watched him audition and not make it. It was the craziest thing. I started crying, and I was like, “Mom, we have to go home because he beat me.” And my mom said, “Sit down. We’re gonna stay. If you don’t audition, you’re gonna regret it for the rest of your life.”
I can’t believe I did that at fifteen. The pressure after the show is what was really hard for me because I went from being a small-town girl to a girl in the public eye. And when I was on American Idol, that show was huge. I think there were, like, forty million votes the night of the finale, or something ridiculous. It may have [been] more than that.
I was kind of in my awkward phase. You know, everybody goes through an awkward phase. I just happened to go through mine on national television, and people are mean online. People can be really, really mean. And I would say the hardest part of my journey was [age] fifteen to nineteen, trying to figure out fame and how to be the happy-go-lucky girl, but also deal with the criticism. It was really tough for me for a while.
I started struggling with an eating disorder in middle school, and then I went on national television and people would make comments about my weight. There were blogs that only called me Miss Piggy, and they put pig noses on my face. I was fifteen, already struggling with an eating disorder. So that it’s kind of a recipe for disaster. I really struggled for a few years, until it caused some serious health problems for me.
I started doing therapy and stuff, and [learned] how to deal with that scrutiny, because there’s no preparation for that. No amount of confidence in the world prepares you for total strangers to have an opinion about you.
I had to work really hard to get in a place where I felt good about myself and focused on the things that I do like about myself. And it kind of takes the power away from those people. I can’t control what they’re going to say. There are always going to be people that are going to have something to say that is not nice. But if I feel good about myself, and I have people around me that lift me up, that takes the power away from them.
“There are always going to be people that are going to have something to say that is not nice. But if I feel good about myself, and I have people around me that lift me up, that takes the power away from them.” – Lauren Alaina
Keeping Faith at the Center
I kind of grew up in a household where there were lots of ups and downs, but the one thing that I do feel like my parents nailed was Jesus, His unconditional love. I never felt like I wasn’t loved, and going through what I’ve gone through publicly, and all of the things I did, one constant thing I always had was Jesus. And I say this a lot: we turn our back on Him, but He never turns his back on us. And [if] we’re willing to go back to Him, He’s always there.
“We turn our back on Him, but He never turns his back on us. And [if] we’re willing to go back to Him, He’s always there.” – Lauren Alaina
I love Jesus Calling, because it’s just a quick little thing you can read in the morning to start your day off right, with something encouraging, a sense of comfort. I was given my first copy, I think when I was on American Idol, and I remember really needing it at the time. It’s so funny how just a little reminder in the morning, just a quick read, can just start the day off right.
I love you for who you are, not for what you do. Many voices vie for control of your mind, especially when you sit in silence. You must learn to discern what is My voice and what is not. Ask My Spirit to give you this discernment. Many of My children run around in circles, trying to obey the various voices directing their lives. This results in fragmented, frustrating patterns of living. Do not fall into this trap. Walk closely with Me each moment, listening for My directives and enjoying My companionship. Refuse to let other voices tie you up in knots. My sheep know My voice and follow Me wherever I lead.
I spent a few years after American Idol feeling the pressure of the spotlight, having to be this perfect girl, and trying to be a role model, and trying to be this and trying to be that. And I really carried the weight of wanting to be someone that people could look up to, to the point where I was kind of hiding who I am. And then I started writing these songs about these really personal things, and it freed me.
I don’t want some young girl out there looking at me and thinking that I’m just the most confident person in the world, because I choose to be confident. It did not come naturally to me. I’ve always been outgoing. I’ve always had a big personality. But I was very insecure for a long time, and I’ve had to work really hard on learning to love myself.
“I don’t want some young girl out there looking at me and thinking that I’m just the most confident person in the world, because I choose to be confident. . . . I was very insecure for a long time, and I’ve had to work really hard on learning to love myself.” – Lauren Alaina
The most rewarding thing is when a young girl comes to me and says, “I grew up with an alcoholic parent, and knowing that you’ve gone through that and how you’ve pushed through that is so, so helpful to me.” Or I had a girl that came to me and had an eating disorder from high school on, and she checked herself into a clinic because she finally realized, Oh, I don’t have to be scared to admit that I have this issue. And if I can do that, that’s all I want to do. That’s so rewarding to me.
Finding Out That Heaven Is Real
Lauren: My stepdad passed away October 21, 2018.
Sam was the most positive, upbeat, uplifting person you’ll ever meet. He was always smiling, always happy in any situation. He found positivity, always. The only time he cried, well he was kind of sensitive, and he cried every time I sang, every single time. He was really proud of me.
I remember when we found out that he was sick. The most positive, healthy [person]―he ran six miles a day. He was healthy. You’d never think that he would get sick. He had stage four melanoma, and when we found it, it was in his spine and in like six places. Both lungs, his liver. I mean, it was all over the place. And he fought really, really hard, and I really thought he would beat it out because he was so positive. You hear these stories about positive people beating it. You know, it really tested my faith, because he never once complained. He was so faithful the whole time, and said, “I’m going to be healed. I’m going to beat it. I’m going to . . . I’m going to be healed.” I mean, he said it a million times, and he always smiled. He never felt sorry for himself.
I just remember around September, August or September, thinking, Oooh, because he went home on hospice and the treatment didn’t work. That was around the time where anger set in for me, because I just didn’t understand how someone like him could be that sick, and someone who was so prayerful and so hopeful and so faithful could just be dying. I mean, he was dying. And I remember a few weeks before he died, I’ve never prayed more in my whole life. From the time he was sick to the time he died, I’d never prayed more [than] in the few weeks before he died. I remember saying to God, “I know you’re real and I know you’re out there, but you don’t seem to be listening. And when he dies, I’ll never talk to you again,” because I was so mad.
And for like a week, it was like he was having a conversation with someone, but not us. I mean he wasn’t able to communicate with us anymore, because his body was so weak. But he looked like he was in a constant conversation with someone. It was crazy. The day that Sam died, he opened up his eyes. He looked up at the living room ceiling, and it was like every ounce of pain left his body. And he said, “I found it.” And I said, “You found what?” He said, “Heaven. And it is so beautiful.” It gives me chills thinking about it.
He started explaining heaven, and I was the girl who had just told God two weeks before that I was never gonna talk to Him again. So you can imagine how I felt, sitting there listening to this story. And I was like, Oh, boy, the joke’s on me, you know, and my stepdad was literally describing heaven, and he said he saw his mom and he saw Jesus. I can never, ever, ever, ever put into words what we experienced. And my four-month-old nephew—I don’t even know if he was that old at the time—was staring at the ceiling, at the same place that my stepdad was staring, giggling and smiling for the longest time. And then Sam said, “I love you all, but I have to go now.” And he closed his eyes, and a few hours later, he passed away.
That day changed my life forever. Honestly, I will never forget that as long as I live. The look on his face, I mean, he was so sick, and in so much pain, and it was like . . . it was all gone. It was all gone. He literally explained heaven.
And you know, faith is hard because you can’t really see it. You just kind of have to have this feeling, and you believe in it. And the moment that my stepdad opened his eyes and described heaven to us, I was like, I will never, ever doubt it again. [I will] never, ever doubt that there’s somewhere out there that we’re going to go if we can just love others and be kind to others. I think the most important thing we can do is lift people up and love others and know that someday we’re all going to be reunited in the kingdom of heaven. I’m going to see my stepdad again. I’m gonna see him again. And he’s with Jesus.
”I think the most important thing we can do is lift people up and love others and and know that someday we’re all going to be reunited in the kingdom of heaven.” – Lauren Alaina
The thing about losing someone like that is it’s hard for us. They’re in heaven, but we’re the ones that have to go on and be sad without them.
And that’s why I wrote the song “The Other Side,” because I feel a need to share that story, because there are a lot of families out there who lose people, and may lose that faith and lose that hope that there’s a God. Our story ended in tragedy. We lost Sam, but we gained this amazing story, and I have a platform to share that. So that’s why I wrote “The Other Side,” and then I got to dance to it on the anniversary of his death.
Growth & Healing on Dancing with the Stars
I performed on Dancing with the Stars the year before I ended up being on this show. Bobby Bones was on the show, who’s one of my dear friends. And he ended up winning it. I was so proud of him. Well, while I was there, he’s like, “You would be perfect on this show. You have to be on this show.”
And I said, “Oh, sure, Bobby, I’ll just get right on that.”
And then they called me to do it. At first, we weren’t sure we were going to do it, because I was headlining my first tour, and we ended up actually postponing the tour to do Dancing with the Stars. And thank goodness we did because it ended up being amazing. I made the finale. It challenged me in every way: spiritually, physically, mentally.
The one-year anniversary of [Sam’s] death fell on a Monday. I was about two, three weeks into the show and realized the day he died was going to be the day of a show, that I was going to be on national television, and I was like, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this. I need to be with my family. How are we going to do this?” And earlier in the year in the summer, I had written a song about him called, “The Other Side.” I threw out that maybe I should dance to my song on the anniversary of his death, and I ended up doing it, and it was one of the most healing things I’ve ever done in all of my life, for my family and my friends and everyone that knew him. It was kind of unbelievable.
The Next Season is “Getting Good”
People always ask me if I could go back ten years, what would I say [to myself]? And I would say to take more pictures and be more present because I feel like I’ve always just been excited about what’s going to happen next. And lately, I’ve been trying to focus on what’s happening now.
[My new EP] Getting Good is all about being present in your life. I am very goal-oriented. I’m constantly thinking about the next step, where we’re going, what we’re going to do. I love to set goals, but I think it’s also really important to count your blessings where you are right now, and “Getting Good,” says exactly that. It says in the verses, “if I could have this house, or if I could fall in love, or if I could get this job, I’d be happy.” But the truth is, we need to all learn to be happy where we are. And that’s what the whole song says.
“I’m constantly thinking about the next step, where we’re going, what we’re going to do. I love to set goals, but I think it’s also really important to count your blessings where you are right now.” – Lauren Alaina
My walk with God has been really defined as an adult. That’s when you really have to be like, “Okay, what do I actually believe? Am I gonna choose in this time of darkness to see the light?” And that’s what I had to do the last couple of years, and I think it’s super important to find what God means to you. He means something different to everyone. He is my best friend and my father and all of these things, but for me, He is just a source of strength and someone that I can talk to. When I’m weak and I don’t understand what’s happening, I know He’s always listening and I can talk to Him. I think that faith and your walk with God, it’s different for everyone, and I’ve been really fortunate the last few years to really define that for myself, and that I have Him to rely on.
“It’s super important to find what God means to you. He means something different to everyone. He is my best friend and my Father and all of these things, but for me, He is just a source of strength, and someone that I can talk to when I’m weak.” – Lauren Alaina
I don’t know how I could have done it without the Lord, I wouldn’t have been able to.
Narrator: To find out where you can see Lauren Alaina in concert, or to purchase her new EP Getting Good, visit her website at laurenalainaofficial.com.
Stay tuned to Kreis Beall’s story after a brief message about a beautiful new edition of Jesus Calling that’s a perfect way to prepare for the Easter season.
Narrator: The Easter season is filled with joy and hope. Now, there’s a new way to focus on the holiday with the new book, Jesus Calling® for Easter. With 50 Jesus Calling devotions selected just for the Lent and Easter season, Jesus Calling for Easter includes Scripture verses alongside breathtaking imagery and exquisite design. Jesus Calling for Easter makes a stunning gift for those who love Jesus Calling and would like a new way to observe the Easter season. To learn more about this beautiful new edition of Jesus Calling, please visit jesuscalling.com/books.
Narrator: Kreis Beall has always had a knack for two things: beautiful design and warm hospitality. And over the years, she’s used those gifts to create an award-winning luxury hotel nestled in the Smoky Mountains called Blackberry Farm. Now, Kreis has turned her talents to writing, which she showcases in her new memoir, The Great Blue Hills of God. Today Kreis shares how finding a deeper relationship with God later in her life brought her peace during devastating, unexpected losses and how she’s learned the true meaning of home.
Kreis Beall: My name is Kreis Beall. I’m the co-founder of Blackberry Farm. Recently, I’ve written a memoir called The Great Blue Hills of God about my life story.
I grew up in a happy home in Knoxville, Tennessee. The neighborhood that I grew up in was sort of like a little Mayberry. I could bicycle to my grandmother’s, walk to my friends.
The Origins of Blackberry Farm
After graduating from high school, I didn’t know what else to do but go to college. I was an art history major. I loved anything visual. When I graduated from college, I figured out that I really didn’t have a degree that could offer very many jobs, so I went to paralegal school. When I came home, I met my future husband. His name is Sandy. After Sandy and I met, nothing was ever the same.
We met and we were married four months later, and within sixteen months,, we had moved to Blackberry Farm. I was really lucky to have found my passion in life when I was twenty-two. My mother had invited me to a cooking school, and I loved cooking so much that I quit my job as a paralegal and I started cooking every night, first for Sandy, and then for whoever we could get around the table. One night, Sandy and I were washing dishes, and he said to me, “You know, if we’re gonna be doing this every night, we might as well be in the inn business.”
Running an inn was not something that was passed down in our family, nor was it anything either one of us had a clue how to do. But the magic was that Sandy and I had complete and total trust in each other and in all the possibilities. I think having someone who totally believed in me fueled the fire. And it kept pushing me to dream and create. When Sandy and I moved to Blackberry Farm with Baby Sam, we were broke, but we were both risky dreamers and we had found what we love to do.
“I think having someone who totally believed in me fueled the fire. And it kept pushing me to dream and create.” – Kreis Beall
What Is The Definition of “True” Success?
Narrator: As she used her talents for hospitality and design, over the years Kreis and her family transformed Blackberry Farm from a nine-bedroom farmhouse into one of America’s most celebrated luxury hotels. But Kreis has found that success on the outside isn’t always what it seems—and, later in life, she found another kind of success that was more rewarding as she began a new relationship with God.
Kreis: I think sometimes the role of success can put a blinder on the things that are really important in life. If something is important to you, you will make time for it. Or if you need it, you’ll go find it. I think the Bible verse Matthew 10:25 is so true, when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” I think that work had become my god. I was just busy, busy, busy.
“Sometimes the role of success can put a blinder on the things that are really important in life.” – Kreis Beall
My whole life’s success was—and luckily my work was driven from my heart—but I became known for making things look seamless and beautiful. And this is in my world of design, and designing buildings, and developing Blackberry, and doing interior design. My attention to detail, everything that you could see in the external world.
And when I turned myself upside down and started rebuilding on my new godly foundation from scratch, I started from the inside out. And it wasn’t what you could see on the exterior, but it was what was inside my in my heart, and looking at that first and all the changes in me were nothing that anybody could see. But it was just a brand new foundation. And now, as I slowed down, I could experience more than in all the busyness and success that ruled my life.
”As I slowed down, I could experience more than in all the busyness and success that ruled my life.” – Kreis Beall
One of the biggest lessons in my life is joy versus happiness, knowing the difference in joy and happiness. Happiness comes from happenings. And joy, once you uncover the joy that God provides for you, joy is always deep within. And it remains, whether happenings are good or bad. And you certainly will have both in life.
“Once you uncover the joy that God provides for you, joy is always deep within. And it remains, whether happenings are good or bad.” – Kreis Beall
When Life Gets Hard, God Is Still In Control
One of the many life-changing events in my life happened when my husband of thirty-six years told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. I was fifty-eight years old. I was totally devastated and lost. I was retired, but I had no idea what to do. And then my son Sam asked me to come back to work as director of design at Blackberry Farm.
As I moved back and I was so surrounded by this love, my spiritual faith was already growing, but I was a Christian in kindergarten. I mean, every month when I met my pastor, I’d say, “Give me books to read. Tell me which scriptures, the Bible’s so big. Please give me directions.”
And at this time, I was living in a tiny house, [it was] three hundred and twenty-four square feet. And there was nothing else to do in that house. After work, I just poured myself into books, into thinking, and that’s when I started writing. I began to look at my past, and as I connected the dots, I took responsibility for my mistakes and my failures. All through, I believe, God [was] whispering in my ear, and in that tiny place where I lived, my world expanded.
I’ve been reading Jesus Calling since my sister-in-law Anne gave it to me in 2011. I started reading it, and I didn’t understand Jesus in the first person. You know, I put the book away for one year, and I didn’t pick it up again until 2012, and now I’m not certain how many times that I’ve read it.
I’m reading April 14th, this is the second half of the devotion.
At the end of your life-path is an entrance to heaven. Only I know when you will reach that destination, but I am preparing you for it each step of the way. The absolute certainty of your heavenly home gives you Peace and Joy to help you along your journey. You know that you will reach your home in My perfect timing: not one moment too soon or too late. Let the hope of heaven encourage you as you walk along the path of Life with Me.
Oh, my goodness, it speaks to me in so many ways. I used to say God time, if not our time. Just because we ask for something, God will answer our prayers. Or if it’s in our best interest, He won’t answer it. I don’t have to understand everything, because He’s in control. And I think knowing God is in control and always looking after me is what has brought me peace.
Staying Focused on God and His Love Brings Joy During Sorrow
And life carried on, I was director of design for three years, a mentor for women. And then I told Sam, I said, “Sam, I need to retire. You need to have somebody on board that’s your age, instead of me with one foot out and one foot in.” And so I retired again, and I moved back to Knoxville, and I went out on my first date in forty years. And life was truly joyous.
It was only about three months before one night when I was cooking dinner with my friend, my phone flashed, and it was my daughter-in-law. And when I answered, I couldn’t understand her words, so I put her on speakerphone so that my friend would help me understand the words.
And the sorrow just rang over as we heard, “Sam is dead, Sam is dead.” There is nothing in the world that could have prepared me to witness my beautiful daughter-in-law tell my five grandchildren that, “Daddy’s not coming home, he’s not coming home.”
Grieving never, ever ends. I don’t know what I would have done without my faith if Sam had died five years earlier if either one of my children had—because burying a child is the most difficult thing a parent, a mother, could ever go through. In this world, I’ll never know why he had to go home so early. But all I have to do is to look around and see all the love that he left, and know that somehow God has a plan.
“I don’t know what I would have done without my faith if Sam had died five years earlier, if either one of my children had.” – Kreis Beall
I have had a lot of sorrow and loss in my life, but it’s important for me to look at all the joy. And as a believer, I have to remind myself to stay focused on God and His love.
“I have had a lot of sorrow and loss in my life, but it’s important for me to look at all the joy.” – Kreis Beall
Narrator: You can read more of Kreis’ story in her new memoir, The Great Blue Hills of God, available at your favorite book retailer today.
If you’d like to hear more stories about women channeling their artistic gifts into messages of hope and healing, check out our interview with country music artist RaeLynn.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we visit with Anne Beiler, the founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, which started in a farmer’s market and went on to have nearly 2000 locations in forty-eight states. While this success was happening in her life, Anne was hiding a dark secret that nearly destroyed her life and her marriage. She shares how shame took its beginnings in her life to define her and how finally believing God’s view of her broke shame’s hold on her forever.
Anne Beiler: Your shame tells you you are unlovable, unforgivable, and unchangeable. I mean, [it tells you that] you are such a shame. And so you begin to self-destruct because you don’t deserve anything good. And that’s the biggest lie out of hell. I mean, that is the biggest lie, because God values us.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/media/video.