Meet the real life Leona Harper

I love introducing my readers to women who've reinvented themselves...and KIM GILSON is at the top of my long list of outstanding women. She is tough, resilient, and filled with faith. I met Kim at church, but it was our love of shoes, a good laugh, and the mutual dislike of whiners that made us instant friends.

Whenever Kim is around, you can expect a party. When I launched my Roman time travel series, Kim showed up at our book club meeting wearing a sheet. 

I thought you said this was a Toga Party?

I thought you said this was a Toga Party?

What neither of us expected when I wrote the fictional story (WALKING SHOES) of a pastor's wife suddenly being widowed that, in many ways, I would be writing Kim's future (minus the pastor's wife part).

On July 2, 2014, Kim, who was only 43 and her husband Paul, who was only 45, went out to dinner. When they came home, Paul said he wasn't feeling well. He'd been complaining for a few weeks about a "charlie horse" in his leg. With his background in body building and physiology, she took it for granted he knew what he was talking about. That evening, he died from a blood clot. It was Kim's second day on the job at the Region X Service Center as a data and accountability consultant.

Paul and Kim

Paul and Kim

Now, the mother of two teenage boys had to figure out what to do next. She says the job was a blessing and she continued the 45 mile commute through Dallas traffic. Her parents offered to help with the kids because they knew it offered greater opportunities for her, and that took on new meaning as a sole provider. Three weeks later, she sold her house and put a contract on a smaller one closer to her sister. She continued commuting through the throngs of Dallas traffic and has since been promoted to a Program Coordinator at Region X where she oversees the P-16 Team. 

Kim tackled grief the same way she has always tackled life: with a determined sense of joy.

It is my pleasure to share with you a small glimpse into the mindset of someone who successfully puts one foot in front of the other, no matter how painful, and continues to walk toward the light. Every day...even on the hard days.

I pray Kim's story will touch you as much as it has touched me, but more importantly, if you're struggling to take that next terrifying step perhaps it will give you the courage to find your walking shoes.

Door Number Three

by Kim Gilson

You’re surrounded by enough screaming women to fill a Macy’s on Black Friday. Holding their purses, ready to dig for the random item that will get them a chance to play, the women gyrate in whatever movement matches their quirky getup. The go-go dancer might be cute if her outfit was 12 sizes bigger, and you pray she doesn’t experience a wardrobe malfunction that endangers the lives of her seatmates. The clowns remind you why they give you nightmares, and the tennis player behind you hits you inadvertently with her racquet. The host, a middle-aged man with a tacky suit, loud tie, and super-skinny microphone, bypasses them and goes straight to you, as if only one crazed shopper has the correct doorbuster coupon.

“He’s wasting his time,” you think to yourself, “I’m sure I have whatever item he’s looking for, but I couldn’t find a wet cat in this bag.” In a total breach of game show etiquette, he holds out his hand, imploring you to follow him to the stage. You’ve been saved from the embarrassing experience of pulling out three weeks worth of fast food receipts to find the earring back he’s asked for, lodged between a sticky penny and a rogue Sudafed in the darkest corner of your Simply Vera Wang satchel from Kohls.  

You know how this works. There are three doors. One contains a valuable and desirable prize, usually a new car, that’s more a curse than a blessing once you pay its taxes. Another contains a less expensive, though functional prize, often a home appliance you normally wouldn’t purchase until yours goes to the Sears Appliance Outlet in the sky. The third usually contains a barn animal wearing a cute costume. You’ve always wondered if the poor schmuck who gets stuck with the cow dressed as a mailman has to tether it to her sedan for a long ride home.  

Breaking all game show rules, the host doesn’t even ask your name, let alone which door you choose.  He simply waves his microphone wand in the air and the panels on Door Number One slowly open. 

You gasp. 

There is your life on stage. Your husband, your home, your children….the life you know.  You’ve never used the word “bucolic” in your life, but it’s the only fitting description of the scene. You’re at the dinner table, eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Mouths are moving to form words, but the volume has been muted. Everyone seems so happy, so….normal. Before you can process the meaning, the doors slowly begin their march towards each other as the lights on the homey scene fade to darkness.  

Your eyes move to the host. Surely game shows pay enough to buy better toupees. He looks strangely sad, and you begin to suspect this episode is scripted, and everyone knows their lines but you. His eyes show sympathy, and your fear meter rises as you see pity in them as well.

What on earth could be lurking behind the other doors? 

He waves the microphone again. Door Number Two slowly reveals a future Christmas. You and your husband are old and gray, rocking in chairs by a Christmas tree, holding hands while looking on grandkids opening their presents.  

Your grown children and their spouses hover nearby, ready to assist with unwieldy tape or packaging that requires a NASA engineer to open. It’s everything you expected on that wedding day so many years ago when you said “I do, until death us do part.” It’s the sequel to every fairy tale ever written. You know, it’s what happens after the prince and princess ride off into the sunset and the words “Happily Ever After” are scripted in beautiful lettering inside the back cover. No little girl has ever asked to hear the rest of the story. Deep down, she knows it’s not nearly as glamourous. Mortgages, car payments, labor pains, stretch marks, PTA meetings, a vomiting dog under your bed at 3 in the morning, graduation parties, student loans, retirement receptions, adult diapers, denture cream….the list is never-ending. And yet, it’s exactly what you wanted when you traded the fairy-tale wedding dress for yoga pants and flip-flops, wedding cake for frozen dinners, and a shoe-polished limousine for a mini-van with stick figures on the windshield. It’s the way life is supposed to be. 

You want the obnoxious game show music to blare loudly from the speakers, signalling the end to another great episode. You wait to hear the announcer extol the virtues of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat, and learn how many months of Turtle Wax you get to lug home in your Hyundai. 

They don’t come. 

Slowly, to the stunned horror of you, the go-go dancer, and at least a dozen Kardashian impersonators, you watch the distance between the panels of Door Number 2 slowly diminish, as each prop disappears into nothingness.  

The entire room is silent.  

You’re afraid to look at the host, but you hate awkward silence more than anything and he’s the only one who knows his lines. Your eyes travel up the brown tweed, past the 5 o’clock shadow, over the heavily applied stage makeup...and you see a twinkle. He begins to smile.  

Now you’re really scared. Everyone knows one of the three doors has the booby prize and you’ve exhausted the two best options. No episode has ever had three winning doors.  

At best, you’re looking at fainting goats in pajamas. At worst, a bison dressed as a politician. The HOA will freak. 

“For you, Kim, we have what’s behind Door Number Three. It’s not the life you have. It’s not even the life you thought you were going to have. You get……(insert synthesized drum roll).....THE LIFE YOU WERE MEANT TO HAVE!!!” 

They pick this point to blare the closing strands of the theme song. Cue the announcer’s voice. There’s the rice...there’s the car wax….The sound of clowns, Kardashians, and other disappointed contestants leaving the studio audience.  It’s at this point you realize you surely wandered into the wrong TV studio.  You were looking for a GAME SHOW, not THE TWILIGHT ZONE REBOOT!!!! 

The announcer begins to walk away. You grab him by the sleeve. 

“Hey, what’s up with this??? What’s behind Door Number Three??? Do I get to come back tomorrow to find out?” 

He pauses and smiles again. It’s not a condescending smile, like he’s trying to appease you to let him go backstage for seltzer water and cookies. It’s compassionate. Patient. Respectful. 

“Door Number Three is your future. The script was written long ago. Door Number One is over. Door Number Two was never meant to be. Door Number Three is your reality.” 

“But, when do I get to see what’s in it??? When do I get to see who’s in it??? Is it good??? Will I be happy????

WHO WROTE THE DAMNED SCRIPT FOR THIS SHOW????” 

He pauses again. 

“The Lord wrote the script before time began. There was nothing you could do to change it.” 

Things just got cosmic, and you’re not exactly proud of your use of profanity given this turn of events.  

In shock, you barely hear yourself ask him to open the doors. If you’re not going to get the life you expected, the least he can do is show you what you will get. 

He places his hand on your shoulder. 

“The doors will open each day. One day at a time. You’ll wake up each morning with an expectation of what that day holds for you, and you’ll go to bed each night knowing what it was really meant to be.” 

“But, tell me!!! WILL IT BE GOOD???? WILL I BE HAPPY?” 

He touches your cheek. “In some cases, they will make you happy. Others will leave you sad, but they will all combine to create the life that will make you the person you’re needed to be to accomplish the Lord’s will.” 

“But, who will be there???” 

He continues answering your questions with patience, and a surprising hint of love. “People will come and go. They are, after all, mortal. But, know this. The God who wrote the script will be with you for every scene. He’ll direct, produce, and even co-star as much as you’ll let him.” 

“BUT WILL IT BE GOOD???” 

“If you believe the Lord’s promises, then it can be amazing.” 

You can tell he’s beginning to move away from you, headed to the Green Room, and you decide to go for one last question. 

“But, what about the others? What about their doors???” 

At this point, he looks slightly sad again. 

“The difference between you and them is this. They’re still living under the delusion they get doors One and Two.  You, on the other hand, know those are gone forever.  

Everyone gets Door Number Three. They will all eventually be called to the stage to learn the difference between their expectations and reality. You were called first to show them how to navigate that journey.” 

With that, he leaves the stage. You’re the only one left. You and the Door Number 3. It has a big question mark on it. You study it for some time and then realize you’re hungry. Food, friends, and life itself won’t present themselves by studying the door, analyzing the question mark. Door Number Three will only reveal itself on the stage of life. You face the Exit Sign, glad you’re not beginning the journey in a badly fitting go-go costume.  

The world outside is truly unknown, but at least you know you’re not alone. The producer, director, writer, and co-star of the script will take the show on tour. You clutch the gray bag, still hanging on your shoulder, believing that whatever random item, skill, or resource is needed to move the storyline forward will be provided when the time arises. At least there’s not a bowtie-wearing bovine following you home. 

Most Definitely Not….The End

Kim and her handsome sons today.

Kim and her handsome sons today.

Kim is the real Leona Harper...a woman who believes that if God begins a good work in someone, he can be trusted to finish it.

If you know someone who could benefit from Kim's story, please feel free to share. 

If you know a woman who is reinventing herself, I'd love to hear from you.