Happy Thursday, everyone, and thanks so much for joining us for this week’s unSeminary podcast. Today we have Christa Hesselink with us. She works in the church and non-profit context and is currently the Director of Next Generation Engagement with the Brethren in Christ in Canada.
At 24, Christa was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She knew it would be a difficult time, but she faced this trial with a positive outlook. As she was undergoing chemo treatments, her only sibling was also killed in a car accident. Feeling abandoned by God, Christa began a long, lonely journey into darkness. Her life and job revolved around ministry and God’s work, but she wasn’t sure how she could move forward and understand the plan God had in her life. Today Christa looks back at that time in her life and how it taught her about God’s love, transforming her into the person she is now.
- Don’t let go of the idea of God. // Through all the pain and heartache Christa went through, she couldn’t identify at the time how God was working in her life. All she saw was darkness and she had only questions that didn’t have answers. But looking back, she can see that God enveloped her in grace that enabled her to hold onto Him while He held onto her. There was a point when Christa was willing to just completely walk away from God. “I remember saying, ‘I can’t do this. My idea of God is not working for me,’” Christa says. From that point as she leaned into her pain, God rebuilt and rebirthed a new understanding of who He is.
- Transformation is motivated by God’s love. // Christa was raised with an understanding of God that didn’t really allow for the reality of pain and suffering. She had this idea that the presence of pain meant the absence of God. “Because I was supposed to feel comfort and joy in the midst of pain,” Christa says, “and I was not feeling comfort or joy.” She was in deep grief and confusion, and was finding no comfort in any of that. Christa found that she had to walk away from that idea of God in order to understand grief and God’s transformation of us. She then began to realize that maybe God’s transformation of us wasn’t because God was trying to make us more perfect like Jesus, but because He wants us to experience His love more perfectly. And maybe we need to undergo this transformation in order to better understand who God is and how much He loves us. Feeling grief and pain doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us, but that He is working inside us.
- It starts with love and it ends with love. // Out of her pain and grief, Christa found that she wanted to share this new understanding she had of who God was and how He works in our lives. So she wrote a book about the eight stages of transformation. That transformation within us is motivated by God’s love for us and then leads to more love—for ourselves, for God, for others. In between, there are key steps that you have to go through and face in order to come to that place of more love. It isn’t always easy, but if you allow yourself to be open to the process of God’s transformation, you will discover His love in new ways.
Christa’s book is called Life’s Great Dare and she is giving the proceeds away to two great projects that help people in need around the world. She has a goal of raising $500,000 to give away before she turns 50. You can learn more about the book and where to purchase it through Christa’s website LifesGreatDare.com.
We’re giving away three copies of Life’s Great Dare to our listeners. All you have to do is request information on having Christa come speak at your church and we’ll enter you into the drawing for a free copy.
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1:42 // Rich introduces Christa Hesselink and welcomes her to the show.
01:44 // Christa shares her amazing story.
05:43 // Christa talks about her transformation.
09:06 // Christa talks about the impact of her experience.
12:07 // Christa talks about the framework for her book.
16:20 // Christa reflects on surrendering and vulnerability.
21:40 // Christa introduces us to her book.
23:43 // Christa talks about the projects she’s supporting from the proceeds of her book.
26:13 // Rich announces an opportunity to get a free copy of Christa’s book.
27:21 // Christa talks about her hopes and plans for the future.
28:42 // Christa leaves her contact details.
Rich – Well happy Thursday everybody, my name’s Rich, the host around these parts, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. I am so glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us day. I know there’s a lots going on at your church and as you get ready for this weekend we’re just honored that you would pop us in your earbuds, to just listen in to today’s conversation.
I am so honored to have Christa Hesselink with us. She is a returning guest, which I think there’s only been two or three people that that’s happened for and I’m so excited to have Christa back on the show. Christa welcome.
Christa – Hello. Nice to be here again.
Rich – Oh I’m so glad to have you. Christa’s a longtime friend. Although we’re not that old, so it’s not that long.
Christa – Right.
Rich – A great leader. You really need to plug into and listen in to today’s conversation because we’ve got some great stuff happening. She’s worked both in ministry, kind of local church context, but also in some non-profit context her entire life. She really has been a part of seeing transformation happen in her own life and in lives around her in a lot of different ways, and we’re going to kind of dig into some of that today.
Currently, her day job, she’s the Director of Next Generation Engagement, which is one of the fanciest titles I’ve heard in a long time.
Christa – It is.
Rich – With a group called the Brethren in Christ in Canada. They’re a fantastic denomination. Christa why don’t you tell us, kind of give us a bit of a nugget of your story, give everybody the story here, which I know is a lot, so just a little nugget.
Christa – Well sure. Like you said, I’ve been in a ministry context my entire life, right out of school actually, university. I went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and became sort of a youth pastor in a church in Rochester, New York. When I was 24, my life took a really dramatic turn. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I sort of went into that season thinking, “Oh, this is going to be hard but I am going to have a great story at the end of this and I’ll be better for it.”
I went into that time, it was obviously incredibly challenging, chemo and radiation and sort of living on my own, but right in the middle of that time, my brother, my only sibling was killed in a car accident.
So I know it’s a little bit of a shock to people who are just like tuning in, because I get right there but…
Rich – No, no.
Christa – That’s a defining moment in my whole life. I sort of see my whole life as before April 7th 1999 and after. It was the beginning of an incredibly difficult, lonely, long, spiritual journey into the darkness. I think obviously, it’s incredibly traumatic to lose your only sibling, who I was very close to, his name was Todd, but what was probably more difficult was just the deep sense of abandonment I felt from God at the time. I actually thought my life was completely over for me. My whole life was defined by my faith in Christ, my job, my friends and I just wasn’t sure I was going to be able to continue.
So it was a long journey of sort of deconstructing a lot of things and reconstructing a lot of things and now, 17 years later, you know, I can reflect back on an incredible transformation in my own life, from literally face down in the death zone, physically, emotionally, spiritually, to this rebirth of joy and gratitude and abundance really.
So that’s a long, long journey. That’s like the 17 years in a nutshell, but that’s my own story, but when you talked about, at the beginning in the intro, just about witnessing other people’s transformation, a couple of years ago when I was on the podcast, I was talking about my work in Global Outreach and Compassion Engagement Ministries and obviously the incredible transformative work that I would see from, sort of, development agencies on the ground and the transformation in people’s lives, from really, yeah faith down in the death zone in really dramatic ways to this sort of rebirth, not only in physical ways but also just community transformation.
Then being a pastor for ten years, your listeners know this, how many times do we sit across from people and really the heart of it is, “I just want to see some change in my life.” It could be, “I’m struggling in my marriage,” or “I’m really lonely,” or “I want to grow closer to Jesus.” It’s like there is this, “I’m here and I want to go here.”
So I spend a lot of time thinking about transformation but it really was motivated by my own experience of just the miraculous, slow transformative work of God in my life.
Rich – Well I don’t want to leave that. Let’s lean in here a little bit.
Christa – Sure.
Rich – So I think a lot of people, faced with the situation that you were faced with 17 years ago, it would have been easier, very easy to go bitter rather than better and I’m sure there were long moments in there that were filled with darkness. Let’s talk a little bit about that. What part did you play in the transformation that happened in your life, and then what part did God play in that transformation?
Christa – Yeah, let me just say right out of the gate, this is really hard, I would not have been able to have had this conversation and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to identify the answers to that question right in the throes of the pit.
Rich – Yes.
Christa – And quite frankly, even a few years later, you know, you don’t really realize what’s happening until you look back.
I think, in our culture, when we think about personal life change and transformation, I mean honestly, if you Google transformation, you will see images of people who are flabby to six pack ab [Inaudible 00:06:15].
Rich – Right.
Christa – So it’s like what we have to do and it’s like self-help books, that’s the whole point, it’s like, “You change yourself.”
When it comes to, I think, really significant life change it is an interior thing and it’s something that we partner and remain open to with God, but it is the work of God in our life. I think it’s unique for everyone, in terms of how they would identify like, “What did you play? What part did God play?”
There are some key moments where I would say there were these, sort of very unique, supernatural zings, like less than five, you know, I can count them on one hand, over the last 10 and 15 years, but you look back and you realize the timing of the conversations, you look back and you see the people that were in your life and I feel like there was just an enormous amount of grace given to me by God, as he would for anyone, to not let go of me, so that I couldn’t let go of the idea of God. Even though, I was completely willing to just walk away.
I remember saying, “I can’t do this. My idea of God is not working for me, so I have to leave it all behind.” In fact, I did actually leave it all behind, but what was rebuild and rebirthed in me was a new and more comprehensive and thorough and robust and beautiful understanding of who God is.
So in that process, I’ve written this book. I’ve developed. It’s not necessarily unique, but it’s certainly my own, sort of, rubric of what is transformation and I sort of see it as eight progressive, interweaving steps, I guess you could say. I don’t know if you want me to go through those?
Rich – Yeah absolutely. Before we jump there, I just want to highlight one thing you said.
Christa – Yeah.
Rich – Increasingly, as I talk with church leaders, about kind of, what’s next, faith next? I think there is a sense that, we’ve kind of come to the end of something, that we’ve come to the end of, in this case you’re talking about your own personal transformation.
Christa – True.
Rich – You’re talking about coming to, kind of the end of your faith. Even I like, when you said there, “I kind of did walk away from it all.”
Christa – Yeah.
Rich – But found something new on the other side of that, that in some way connected back to what had always been there. Can you talk a little bit about that? Talk about kind of walking away, what were those pieces that you feel like you walked away from and what did you find on the other side of that experience? Then we can jump into the framework for sure.
Christa – Absolutely. Well quite honestly, I think I was raised in a Christian understanding of who God was but didn’t really allow for pain. So it wasn’t necessarily, I wouldn’t be able to point to a sermon specifically, but it was just the culture that, for me I sort of intuited at 25 years of age, the presence of pain means the absence of God, because I’m supposed to feel comfort in suffering and joy amidst suffering and I was not feeling comfort of joy. I was in deep, deep grief and disillusionment and confusion and sadness and fear and anxiety and that did not feel like comfort, that did not feel like peace, that did not feel like joy.
So for me, I can track it up to the naivety of youth, but I think the Church hasn’t always done a great job of helping us understand, just about grief and mourning and just, sort of being willing to let the sovereignty of God not be put on trial just because people are in a really bad way.
So for me, I couldn’t actually have that understanding of God. So I felt like I walked away from that more, maybe simple approach to thinking that the absence of pain means the presence of God and the presence of pain means the absence of God, in my own life, in a very personal way. It sort of opened me up to really understanding lament and grief.
To be quite honest, this is something I’m still learning, but I think that, when God is transforming us, whether it’s from a real tragedy, like you want to move out of the pit to something different, something better, but even just in our own sort of life transformation, we want to be a better version of ourselves, we want to become more like Jesus, I think that we have often thought that God was changing us, so that we would become more perfect in his eyes, so that he could love us more. I wonder actually, if God is in the business of transformation because he wants us to experience his love more perfectly.
Rich – Oh that’s good.
Christa: That’s the essence of the whole book. That to me is so key. It’s like, “What if God wasn’t changing me to be more perfect, so that he could love me more, but he was changing me, so that I could actually experience his love more perfectly, this abundance?”
Then transformation is actually motivated by his love and it always leads to more love, more abundance and I can step into that, I can grab onto that.
Rich – Very cool. Well why don’t we talk through a bit of the framework, obviously at the end of the day I want people to pick up your book, but why don’t you give us a sense of what you’re talking about?
Christa – Sure okay. Well I started about three years ago, with no intention of writing a book. I just felt like it was time for me to write my story down and I went away and I took about three days and I just sort of wrote my story down. I have been journaling my whole life but never aspired to write a book. When I did I really enjoyed the process and I went away again, about five months later for about a week, just to sort of muse on some of these things that I had been thinking about as I was writing my story down and really this framework poured out of me. That’s when I thought, “There might be a book here. It might just be for me.”
Rich – Yeah, right.
Christa – Anyways, so basically the book that I’ve written is a way for people to sort of step into this conversation about transformation. It’s illustrated with some of my own stories, but it’s really a conversation about transformation.
So the framework, I would say that I’ve pulled together, is eight stages. It starts with love and it ends with love. Just like I said, our transformation is motivated because of God’s great love for us, but the process of our transformation always leads to more love, for ourselves, for God, for others. But in between, there’s some interesting things to think about when we think about transformation, but I see it everywhere. When I think about transformation, whether I look at babies who are growing, I look at the seasons outside, business culture and transformation and these things I think remain true. So here it is.
Obviously we need to remain open but the posture of being willing to be transformed, I think is really key and I’ve had situations in my life where I’m like, “I know I want to become more whole in that area, but I’m not really open to like the process of transformation,” because I know it’s going to probably require some hard work and it’s not going to be easy, so I think the open posture…
You know, one of the stories I share in the book around this is, I used to be a Camp Counsellor, many years ago, in Pennsylvania and I was whitewater rafting, leading or guiding a bunch of kids down the river and, you know, if anyone’s every whitewater rafted, you know that you need to lean into big boulders jetting out of the rapids in order to actually make it through the rapid. But leaning into something that seems like it will bring you to ruin, is very counterintuitive.
Rich – Yes.
Christa – But transformation is like that, you have to be open to sort of leaning in. So when you do that, I believe that next step is the sense of surrender. Any time we are invited to be transformed in our lives, we have to, sort of, unfurl our hands on the things that we like to control.
Rich – Wow. You’re talking to pastors, that’s hard to do.
Christa – Oh man. It’s the hardest thing to do and to be quite honest, when I’m sort of, on this side of reflecting on some of the things I’ve written and even, I’m not in the same pastoral role that I’ve been in for about eight years previous, I am like, “Oh man, I regret some of my approaches.”
Rich – Yes.
Christa – Because I really like to control. I like to have control and I like to be the authority and I like to know what’s happening here, but to be quite honest, in order to become more whole, in order to step into this life of more abundance that God has for us, we have to surrender the things that bring us some satisfaction and some security and some significance and we see this actually modelled obviously in Christ. When he’s tempted in the forty days, what he is being invited to is to grab onto significance, grab onto security, grab onto satisfaction and when he’s tempted and he’s like, “No, I surrender all that to something greater.” But when you surrender, you step into vulnerability. So, you know.
Rich – Tell me about vulnerability here. So this being vulnerable obviously in your relationship with the Lord, with other people, what does that look like, how is that a part of the process?
Christa – Well I think what your surrendering into is the vulnerability of being uncomfortable with letting go of your control. So that’s going to be different for whatever it is. When I think about transformations in my own life, specifically I’ll use a ministry example.
So I’m a single woman, I’m 41 and in my mid-30s, after I had been in a relationship, I thought I was going to get married and it sort of ended. I mean I was lonely and I worked hard. I overworked because I did not want to feel lonely.
Rich – Yeah.
Christa – In ministry you can do that, you can work really hard.
Rich – Absolutely. You get rewarded for it.
Christa – Of course you do. Even those internal rewards, it’s not just like people think you’re great, but you feel like you’re doing the Lord’s…
Rich – Yeah, because you’re helping people.
Christa – Yes.
Rich – Absolutely.
Christa – So I worked really hard and I remember getting to about 36 years old and thinking, “I hate my life. I have nothing to talk about other than my work.” I remember the transformation I wanted to see happen in my life was to embrace a rhythm of Sabbath.
So I had to surrender all the things I had control over and obviously this takes time and lots of time, prayer, people supporting you, but the vulnerability that I felt, by being really honest with how I was feeling, that I was actually working because I was working, that’s the vulnerability I had to feel.
So you say the answer there was vulnerability.
Rich – Absolutely.
Christa – So vulnerability to me has the ability to feel quite exhilarating but exhilaration, the definition is like terrifying and exciting all at the same time.
Rich – Right, right, right.
Christa – My closest most visceral example of that is bungee jumping.
Rich – Okay.
Christa – I did that in South Africa once and it was the most amazing experience but it was definitely a feeling of vulnerability.
Rich – Oh my goodness. Yeah, absolutely.
Christa – So anyways, vulnerability, it’s like, when you’re surrendering yourself to the vulnerability, the fear of surrendering yourself is bringing yourself to a place, that something must die. So something must die in order for something to be reborn, that’s the equation.
Rich – There has to be a death if there’s going to be a resurrection.
Christa – Absolutely and we have just come through this beautiful church season of Lent and Easter, where we spend time thinking about that. it’s like, we are in the rebirth zone, we are in the resurrection zone and that leads to freedom and the freedom always leads to more love but the truth is, any time there is a transformation in our life, there is a death and so we need to consider, even at the beginning, when we say, “I want to be open to becoming to more whole. I was to be open to God transferring me,” we have to know we’re signing up for something to die.
I think that’s why Jesus talks about coming to the end of yourself and losing your life so that you’re going to gain it. I mean, that is in essence what we’re talking about here. What must die in order for something to be born? So anxiety must die and fear must die for joy to be born and selflessness must die for compassion to be born. You name it.
Rich – Yes.
Christa – So love leads to openness to surrender to vulnerability to the death of something so that something can be reborn. Rebirth is that next stage and to me, what I’ve learned about that process of rebirth and that I spend a little bit of time writing about, is it’s a very fragile place, you know? Coming to a new normal, coming to a new place, post death is awesome but it feel precariously fragile, because you’re like, “I know the old habit. I know the old way of doing. I’m a little bit… I’m just aware of stepping into that.”
But it’s a beautiful place and I think it can be an incredible invitation to a new freedom that we’ve never experienced before.
Rich – Well this is incredible. I hope you’re leaning in and listening today church leaders. We haven’t even talked about, I mean we just jumped into the content, we didn’t even talk about what the title of your book is.
Christa – Yeah.
Rich – What is the tile of it, if people want to connect, it’s called Life’s Great Dare.
Christa – I have it right here.
Rich – Oh and you have a copy. I have to admit something here. I feel a little bit bad saying this, so Christa sent me a copy of the book ahead of time, which is great, I had an opportunity to read it ahead of time, fantastic. But then she sent me a complete book, which was nice and I actually was going to hold it up today here, but I gave it away to a friend last night. I just feel like, man this would be a great resource, to really speak to this person’s story where they’re at right now and that’s really what our hope is.
Why did you write the book? Let’s kind of pivot a little bit out of the content, and into just the process itself. Why would you decide to write a book and do you want to become a millionaire, is that what you’re trying to do here?
Christa – Yeah that’s my secret.
Rich – No, no, no.
Christa – Okay, so the book is called, can you see it, because I can’t see it.
Rich – Yes I can.
Christa – So it’s called Life’s Great Dare: Risking It All for the Abundant Life. Hey and just so people know, because this is sort of secret stuff. People think this is me. This is not me. This is two images, a photoshop…
Rich – You’re giving away your secrets here. There’s a great image on the front of the book, it’s fantastic.
Christa – It’s a fantastic image but…
Rich – It’s fantastic.
Christa – Okay, so like I said earlier, I wasn’t planning on writing a book at all, in fact, I felt incredibly insecure, almost up until I saw it physically that I could write.
Rich – Right.
Christa – It became clear to me that I wanted to write a book after a few months of getting into it, but I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to read it, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to publish it. So why did I write the book? It sort of came out of me, but what I realize is, is that there’s something, this message here has essentially saved my life. I know that I’m always wanting to become a better version of myself. I always want to become more healed and more whole and who doesn’t want more abundance in their life? When I say abundance I mean, just this love and peace and joy that we’re created for.
So I am kind of always on the lookout for that, but I realized it only comes the work of transformation of God in my life.
So as I was writing I thought, “Well this has been helpful for me. I’m just desperately hopeful that it’s helpful for others.” So that’s why I wrote the book but I self-published, so it’s been this amazing experience of learning, top to bottom, what does it mean to write and edit and hire people to design and print the book. It’s been a lovely experience for me.
Rich – Nice, very cool.
Christa – So yes, I’m not trying to make a million bucks, because I’m actually giving the proceeds away.
Rich – Yeah let’s talk about that, that’s kind of where I was leading. You’re deciding to give 100% of the proceeds away to something called Love to Love Project.
Christa – Yeah.
Rich – What is that. What are you giving the proceeds away to?
Christa – Yes. Okay well the Love to Love Project is something that I have developed and it really plays on the theme of the book, that transformation starts with love and it ends to love. Love to Love and the truth is we all love to love don’t we? I mean, we all love to love.
Rich – Very good, yes.
Christa – So for me, as people are buying the book and reading the book, my hope is that people are invited into this work of transformation and as they are transformed it just leads to more love and for me I can’t think of a better way of tangibly showing our love than supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
My experience in ministry has been this beautiful opportunity to travel, it’s mostly to Southern Africa, I’ve been to a few other places with World Vision around the world and I love the idea of being able to share the proceeds of this book.
So there’s two projects specifically. I’m working with World Vision and the Syrian Refugee Response and I’m also working with an organization called Mennonite Central Committee, who I’ve seen their work in Southern Africa for many years and there’s a specific girl’s home in Mozambique, [Inaudible 00:24:54] Girl’s Home and so the proceeds of Life’s Great Dare is going to those two projects and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
It means, obviously, a little bit more administrative work and it means obviously working hard financially to make a way but I love this. This to me feels really exciting.
I walked the Camino about a year and a half ago and I had this thought, I was turning 40 and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be…” I have never said this out loud actually or publically.
Rich – Fresh content.
Christa – Fresh content yes. I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could raise $500 thousand before I turn 50 to give away, somehow?”
Rich – That’s incredible.
Christa – Yeah, I’m sort of motivated by big goals like that and I have no idea if it will happen but at least that’s the horizon I’m walking towards. So even if it’s $100 thousand that I’m able to raise and give away.
Rich – Yeah, that’s amazing.
Christa – So that’s $50 a year, that’s ridiculous and very, very hard but I’m excited to try.
Rich – Yes.
Christa – So Life’s Great Dare, that’s a part of it and I’m thrilled.
Rich – Well I would really love leaders who are listening in today, we’re going to give away three copies of this book, but this is what I want you to do. I really want you to have Christa come and talk to your community.
Christa – Yeah.
Rich – Whether it’s a Sunday morning. I’m sure you’ve got lots of environments at your church where you could have Christa come and plug in. I would love to do that and this is what I want to do. If you go to unseminary.com/hearchrista there’s a little quick form there, I’m going to mail out to you, the first three people who say, “I’d like to get more information.” You’re not committing to having Christa come, but you’re just saying, “I’d like to get more information.” I really do think Christa would be a perfect guest speaker, we’re coming up to the summer and fall season, you’ll probably have some open time slots on a Sunday, Christa would be perfect to come, share some of her stories around her own personal life change. It would be an encouragement to your community and ultimately we’ll hopefully get people to purchase some books.
I think you’re also doing a book kind of club this summer as well. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that?
Christa – Yeah, I’m really excited about this. In July I’m going to do an online book club bible study for anyone who want to participate. The denomination that I’m a part of in Canada, they’ve already signed up and they’re buying 600 copies and we’re doing a huge book club for our whole denomination and I’m thinking, let’s just open this up to everybody.
So right now I’ve got five groups from all over Canada and the US, helping me shape and form this book club for the month of July. So people will be able to follow along and track along, participate on Facebook and I’m really excited for more people to just be able to process some of the ideas in the book.
What I’m hoping is that there will be maybe some communities, church communities, maybe different groups who are looking to have a little bit more of an in-depth conversation in the following ministry year, in the fall and into the spring, that I would be able to come and share. I’d like to do retreats and workshops and preach on Sunday mornings. So yeah, hopefully there’ll be some interest there.
Rich – Great. So like I say, you want to go now, we’re going to give these books away for free, go to the website. We’ll also have a link in the show notes for more information about that.
Christa I’ve really appreciated you being on the show today. This has been fantastic.
Christa – Thank you.
Rich – If people want to get more information about you or about the book, how can they do that?
Christa – Yeah, so my website is called lifesgreatdare.com. So you can go there and that’s where you can find me then on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. All the links are right on the website, lifesgreatdare.com.
The book is available on Amazon. It’s going to be coming out on Kindle a little bit later. You can go to Smashwords and get the eBook now. Like I said, I’m self-publishing, I’m learning this whole publishing thing, but lifesgreatdare.com and amazon.com you’ll be able to find everything you need.
Rich – Thanks so much Christa. I really appreciate you being on the show and sharing with everybody your journey. Thank you.
Christa – Thank you.