Never Take Your Days for Granted: Amanda Kloots & Nell O’ Leary
Amanda Kloots: Live your life. You know, you have to take chances. You have to believe in things. You have to try and you have to never take a day for granted.
Never Take Your Days for Granted: Amanda Kloots & Nell O’ Leary – Episode #280
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. When the problems of our life are pressing in from all sides, we can be blinded to the beautiful moments that are also happening. Through our grief and pain, our sorrow and confusion, it’s really tough to turn our eyes away from the wreck that’s happening in front of us to focus on those little moments of joy that are inevitably sprinkled into the tough times. Romans 5:3 tells us to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Our guests this week were able to find rays of hope through times of adversity and change—we’re speaking to talk show host Amanda Kloots, who lost her young husband Nick Cordero to COVID-19 in 2020, and managing editor of Catholic Women’s ministry Blessed Is She, Nell O’Leary.
Let’s begin with Amanda’s story.
Amanda: My name is Amanda Kloots, and I do a lot of different things. I am a talk show co-host on the CBS show called The Talk. I am the author of the book Live Your Life. I own a fitness company called Amanda Kloots Fitness. And I am a mom.
I grew up in Canton, Ohio, which is a suburb of—well, it’s about an hour south of Cleveland in a beautiful neighborhood called Avondale. It was kind of this idyllic neighborhood, kind of like a Norman Rockwell painting, a lot of old homes and beautiful tree-covered streets. There are five siblings in my family, so five of us total, I mean. One brother, four sisters. We were all very close in age. We loved spending time together, loved doing things together, supporting one another. My mom is a housewife and my dad sold insurance for his entire life, worked every single day of his life except for Sundays, and they just taught us the importance of hard work and kind of what it means to be a family and love each other and putting family first and putting God first.
And we had a beautiful church that we went to. It was a Lutheran church and we were very involved in the church, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, choir, catechism acolytes, and Sundays, and just kind of also loved that whole community growing up as well.
Chasing a Broadway Dream
I wrote an essay in sixth grade that I wanted to be on Broadway and be a Radio City Rockette, and we all went to a performing arts middle school, like a magnet school that sadly doesn’t exist anymore. And so that’s how I started dancing and performing in musicals and just fell in love with it.
My mom and dad took us to New York for Easter weekend one year, and I saw the Rockettes perform and I was like, “This is what I want to do with my life.” And so I knew very early on and kind of always just had that in the back of my head as I grew up and went to high school and then deciding what college to go to. I definitely was the only kid in my family that wanted to move to New York to be on Broadway. But luckily, with a lot of persuasion from teachers and myself, my parents actually moved me to New York when I was eighteen years old and allowed me to go to musical theater school conservatory in efforts to make those dreams come true.
I remember even at a very, very early age starting to dance and just loving how it made me feel while I was dancing, while I would be in ballet class at the barre and hearing the pianist play the play music and dancing to it. For me, any kind of movement, whether it’s dancing a ballet class or running on a treadmill or jumping rope or whatever it is, going for a walk, it’s just an instant mind shifter, body shifter. It just helps. It never doesn’t help. That’s how I can best describe it. It just never doesn’t help. It will always make me feel better, especially if I put music on. There’s just something about movement for me that really just kind of is my number one mental health, anxiety, stress reliever.
“For me, any kind of movement, whether it’s dancing in ballet class, running on a treadmill, jumping rope, going for a walk—it’s just an instant mind shifter, a body shifter. It never doesn’t help. That’s how I can best describe it.” – Amanda Kloots
“We started falling in love with each other”
I met Nick at a Broadway reading of a new musical called Bullets over Broadway, and it was like a week-long reading that we were doing one summer before the show ever kind of conceptualized for Broadway.
And so when I met Nick, we were just friends. And he was doing his part in the show, very much focused on that. And I was doing my part in the show, very much focused on what I was doing. And we didn’t really meet up again until our first day of rehearsal for that show, which was months later. That’s how we got to know each other, as just coworkers and friends.
And we got closer and became really close friends and then started falling in love with each other. In our differences is how we complemented each other. I definitely helped him stay more on top of things and more focused, maybe. He also helped to calm me down and chill out. We just challenged each other and helped each other grow in the areas in our life where we were short. We filled in each other’s blanks, I think is maybe the best way to describe it.
A Season of Confusion and Loss
It’s so funny how you can really take health for granted until you are at the risk of losing it. And then it’s just so scary. The months that Nick was sick were very hard, obviously. They came out of nowhere. I had never had anyone I loved in the ICU or even in the hospital. Nick himself had never been in the hospital, and was a very healthy guy. So that was already scary. And then adding on to the whole pandemic and COVID and being scared to even leave your house, added that whole other layer of, you know, just extreme terror and hardships.
It was tough. The ICU is a true roller coaster that I don’t think you can fully even understand unless you, unfortunately, have to be a part of the ICU for a while, because it’s hard to really understand how up and down it is. And it was hard too because Nick could never really communicate or speak with me, so it was kind of my own journey that I was on with his mother and my family and his family, being there every day and trying to just get through every day and doing everything and anything we could for Nick. A lot of doctors, a lot of medical terms, a lot of learning, a lot of investigating, a lot of research.
You know, finding comfort came from my family, from his family, definitely from God and from prayer and believing and having faith, and from my social media army that came to my aid. Which is crazy to say you could find comfort in complete strangers, but it definitely happened. I mean, anywhere and everywhere, but I would say that was kind of the main source.
“Finding comfort came from my family, from Nick’s family—definitely from God and from prayer and believing and having faith.” – Amanda Kloots, after losing her husband Nick to COVID-19
I received the Jesus Calling daily devotional from one of my Instagram followers. It showed up in the mail one day and I decided to start taking it to the hospital with me and reading it aloud to Nick. And at the hospital each day, I had a couple of daily devotionals, and Jesus Calling was one of them. Sometimes we just need that daily reminder that, again, we’re not alone and we don’t have to fight through a day alone, we have His companionship.
[Loss], it’s such a tough process. Grief is a journey that you really can only go on on your own. I think that you have to look beyond that anger, you can’t say what if or it should have been a certain way or could it have been a certain way because that’ll just tear you down. You can’t change what’s happened. So I would just say that it’s a journey that we all have to go on. I found comfort in other widows and widowers for sure. Hearing those stories, hearing their stories, helps me feel not alone. And the more we say these people’s names, the less their memory dies.
“Grief is a journey that you really can only go on on your own. I think that you have to look beyond that anger. You can’t say what if or it should have been a certain way or because that’ll just tear you down. You can’t change what’s happened.” – Amanda Kloots
Keeping Nick’s Memory Alive
[My son] Elvis just makes, I mean, everything better. I don’t know where I’d be without him because he keeps me smiling and happy and moving forward and busy in all the best ways. You know, he not only looks like Nick, but he just is the cutest thing in the entire world. I am so grateful that he’s here and that I have him and that I’m not alone going through this. Of course, I don’t know what he understands because he’s two, so there’s no way of knowing what he understands or what he knows. And that will be a whole other journey of this whole process once he does and once he starts to understand and figure it all out. But until then, we just do everything we can to keep Nick’s memory alive by talking about Nick and talking about DaDa and singing with Nick, you know, all his music that he has recorded and playing it and doing all the things that we can to keep his memory alive in the house. I pray with Elvis at night before I put him to bed.
Jesus Listens, October 21st:
My faithful God,
I look to You this day for help, comfort, and companionship. I know You are always by my side, so even a glance can connect me with You. When I look to You for help, it flows freely from Your Presence. You are teaching me to recognize my constant need for You—in small matters as well as large ones.
When I need comfort, You lovingly enfold me in Your arms. You enable me not only to feel comforted but to be a channel through whom You comfort others. As a result, I am doubly blessed. While Your comfort is flowing through me to others, some of that blessing absorbs into me.
Your continual Companionship is an amazing gift! As I look to You, I find You faithful, true, and lovingly present with me. No matter what losses I may experience in my life, I know that nothing can separate me from Your Loving Presence!
In Your comforting Name, Jesus,
Narrator: To learn more about Amanda, please visit www.amandakloots.com, and be sure to check out her story about loving and losing her husband Nick in her new book, Live Your Life, wherever books are sold.
Stay tuned to Nell O’Leary’s story after a brief message.
Find Peace Today: Jesus Listens by Sarah Young
When your days feel overwhelming, and your life has you anxious and stressed, you can find peace and hope in Jesus. There’s a brand-new 365 day devotional prayer book called Jesus Listens from Sarah Young, the author of Jesus Calling. With Jesus Listens, you can strengthen or renew your relationship with God through the continual conversation of prayer. Jesus Listens is perfect if you’re busy with life’s demands but want to grow in your prayer life. Looking for rest and hope from difficult times? Or, are not even sure how to pray? By praying scripture through this daily devotional prayer book, you’ll experience how intentional prayer connects you to God, changes your heart, and can even move mountains. For more information on how to get the new 365-day devotional prayer book, Jesus Listens, visit www.jesuscalling.com/jesuslistens.
Narrator: As the middle kid in a family of five children in St. Paul, Minnesota, attorney-turned-writer Nell O’Leary learned the power of community early in her life. A natural storyteller, Nell loved writing in her journals and reading stacks of books, but she also loved watching old court drama TV shows, and the combo of advocating for someone by telling their story drew Nell into pursuing a law degree. After practicing for a few years, Nell stepped away to begin a family with her husband, but her desire for storytelling never waned. She joined a group of Catholic mommy bloggers which eventually turned into a full-blown international ministry for women called Blessed Is She.
Nell: My name is Nell O’Leary, I’m the managing editor at Blessed Is She, which means I help manage all of our devotional writing, our products, our books, and work closely with our founder, Jenna Guizar. I’m a mom of five. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m an attorney by trade. But since having kids, I have turned to my first love, which is writing, editing, and speaking.
I’m actually the fourth of five kids, so a big Irish Catholic family up here in St. Paul, Minnesota. So there was always this idea of sticking together, having a bit of a clannish mentality of we’re loyal to each other. You stick up for your sister, you stick up for your brother. You’re kind of a little unit out there in the world trying to navigate it together. It’s a huge gift.
A Natural Love for Storytelling
I always loved storytelling. I was really captivated by telling my own story, I think I filled a million journals with colored pencils, probably mostly saying things like, “My sister pinched my bottom and my brother took my book,” you know, really profound stuff from the eight-year-old who was captivated by storytelling, a big reader as a child. And then we watched a lot of the old-fashioned Perry Mason shows growing up. I mean, we’re going way back here, right? Really dating myself. And I thought, Wow when you’re in court and you’re the attorney, it’s like the ultimate storytelling. You’re advocating for someone, which I love being that fierce, loyal type of personality. You’re telling people stories.
And somehow that kind of got ingrained in my subconscious that being an attorney would be part of protecting people’s stories and telling people stories. And so I ended up at law school, which is a bit of a surprise, but really just the right place for me. I clerked for a federal judge and then I worked as an assistant county attorney. And then I was a prosecutor and then I had my own small practice up until about when I was pregnant with our second child and I thought, Oh, I’m so sick when I’m pregnant, just hyperemesis and then caring for a toddler. Can I hang up my spurs and turn my attention more to the home front?
When I gave up my practice, when I put my license on inactive status and stayed home with my kids, I really still felt this longing for the story. So I started a little mommy blog, and a friend of mine from law school actually put me in touch with another woman in Minnesota who was also a mommy blogger, and she added me to a Facebook group. And the woman who had started the Facebook group put this post out one day—I’m sure I was in the pantry eating chocolate chips, hiding from my children, checking Facebook when I saw this post—and the post said, “Hey, guys, I think I’m going to start something for Catholic women where we write something about the Mass reading, about scripture for the day. Is anybody interested in something like that?”
And I’m sure I choked on a chocolate chip while shouting, “Me! Me! Pick me!”
I didn’t know this woman, I didn’t know her, I just knew that I’d been the managing editor of the Law Review Journal in law school, storytelling and helping people tell their stories was such a part of my heart that I really, really wasn’t plunking away at my mommy blog, spending time on the Internet to escape the mundanities of being an at-home mom, which I loved but could be challenging. So this woman, her name is Jenna Guizar. And now fast forward seven years later, she’s one of my closest friends. She’s the godmother to our fifth child. I’m the godmother to her fifth child. We talk and text all day long. We work together so closely on this beautiful women’s ministry called Blessed Is She.
The Ministry of Blessed Is She
Every day at Mass, we have certain readings from the Bible and we could just write little reflections on those readings from the Bible. And I know these other women who are blogging and who could kind of cobble something together here. So in the beginning, it was just very grassroots. There were, I think, twenty writers who said, “Sure,” it was all volunteer. We hadn’t met each other, most of us, it was just in emails and in a little Facebook group. And that grew from inviting women into a free email every day into the Word, to read the Word of God, to hear some other woman’s story about how that Word affected her, to short like 300/400 words that has grown into an international women’s ministry. My goodness, we have tens of thousands of women who receive our daily free email still. And we have over 45,000 women in regional Facebook groups all around the world. We encourage women to get together for Blessed Brunches. We have hundreds and hundreds of those a year where we provide them with conversation cards and encourage them to open their door and meet the women in their area. We have retreats. We have a little revival nights around the country.
It’s really nothing that we could have planned. I’ve been so lucky to work alongside Jenna and help support her and her dream where the Holy Spirit is leading her. But I have to laugh, like this is nothing more than my business plan, like we sat down and said, “In seven years, that’s what you’re going to do.” It really has evolved over time. It’s a beautiful staff of eight women who work consistently and then forty devotional writers who write every day.
We’re just so humbled by what the Lord is doing with our meager offering. The stories we hear from women who encounter Blessed Is She, to see whether it’s our Instagram account or a daily devotion emails, they kind of blow my mind. They kind of blew my socks off to think that people who had never encountered a relationship with Jesus are coming back to their faith. They’re going to church regularly. They’re reading the sacred scripture. They’re baptizing their children. They’re seeking healing and community when they thought that there wasn’t a place for them. I mean, the emails and the messages we get are so numerous. I can’t even quantify them just to hear how God is moving through us in people’s lives.
“We’re just so humbled by what the Lord is doing with our meager offering.” – Nell O’Leary on her ministry Blessed Is She
Recognizing Our Worth in Jesus
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine said, “You know, I’m reading this book, Jesus Calling, you might really enjoy it. It’s not Catholic, but it just has this incredible Christian perspective on God’s call in our life.” And listening to her, I thought, Oh, okay, I’ll check it out. So she left me her copy and just flipping through and seeing how women are being met in the pages, but also just having this presence. When you’re paying attention with the devotional book, it just kind of hones your attention on God’s work in your life. You start seeing it more. You start recognizing when He’s way out there, the opportunities that are coming up instead of the result happenstance. Realize now that the Lord is at work in all these little ways. So I think Jesus Calling is such a beautiful book and a way to help women enter into that with greater trust. We’re His beloved daughters.
My worth and value are just not contingent on all these external things in my life that I thought I had control over to make myself look like this capable, competent woman who was lovable and successful and worthy and all these things, to realize I don’t even have control over any of this. I’m lovable because my worth and value are something no one can take for me, it doesn’t matter if I’m covered in baby spit up, I haven’t washed my hair, like, the kitchen floor is disgusting, I haven’t answered my email, that’s not my value. I just don’t have to pretend anymore, so it’s scary, but I can turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, You’ve got to help me out here. You’ve got to take the reins. You got to take over. You got to guide me with your spirit. I can’t do it on my own.” It brings us to our knees in a way that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t heard that.
And to see how He did have this plan for me to happenstance meet Jenna Guizar, happenstance fall into this Blessed Is She managing editor role that’s grown and grown. And now it’s an incredible job I can do from home with my kids. I travel with a little baby right now. He comes along when we go on retreats. He just gets a little pouch and nurses and is happy as a clam. To think if I had known that seven years ago, Oh, someday you’ll do something that you’ll really love, I wouldn’t have learned the important lesson of just being trusting and satisfied with what God had in front of me.
“To think if I had known that seven years ago, Oh, someday you’ll do something that you’ll really love, I wouldn’t have learned the important lesson of just being trusting and satisfied with what God had in front of me.” – Nell O’Leary
This is from the book Jesus Listens from February 10th:
Your Word assures me that in Your Presence there is fullness of Joy. As I rest in Your Presence—pondering who You are in all Your Power and Glory—I rejoice in Your eternal commitment to me. Neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate me from Your Love! My relationship with You has been secure ever since I trusted You as my all-sufficient Savior. Help me remember that I am Your beloved child—this is my permanent identity.
You’ve shown me that I can find Joy even in this deeply broken world because You are with me always. I need to spend time refreshing myself in Your Presence—where I can relax and learn to delight myself in You above all else.
As the Love-bonds between us grow stronger, so does my desire to help others enjoy the blessings I have in You. I long for Your Love to flow freely through me into other people’s lives. Please lead me along the path of Life and teach me how to show Your Love to others.
In Your cherished Name,
Narrator: To learn more about the ministry of Blessed Is She and get a copy of Nell’s new devotional, please visit www.blessedisshe.net.
If you’d like to hear more stories about finding joy in tumultuous times, check out our interview with Mattie Jackson Selecman.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we hear from pastor Louie Giglio, who shares how we can experience true mental freedom in Christ.
Louie Giglio: Identifying lies and taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, as it says in Corinthians, the key to that is knowing the truth. And we don’t win by fighting against the lies. We win by clinging to the truth and walking in it. So, yes, we do struggle against an enemy, but we don’t win by fighting against the enemy. We win by fighting with the truth. Jesus didn’t try to punch out the enemy when he tempted Him three times. He just came back to him every time with the word of God. And then He moved on in accordance with the word of God. So there’s no replacement.