Wouldn’t it be a wonderful feeling,” asks Kathie Lee Gifford, former cohost of NBC’s fourth hour of the Today show, “to wake up in the morning and understand that no matter what goes on today, God can make something good out of it?”
Kathie Lee says she was born to entertain. If you were to meet her, you would be tempted at first to think you were encountering someone doing a slapstick version of herself. But it’s just Kathie Lee being Kathie Lee. She didn’t get in front of a camera and discover her television personality; instead, the performer came first and the camera followed.
Kathie Lee’s father told her many times while she was growing up to “find something you love to do and then figure out a way to get paid for it.” Kathie Lee did exactly that. She always knew God made her to perform, and she knew the entertainment industry was where she would fulfill her destiny. In fact, she earned her first paycheck as an entertainer when she was just ten years old.
“It was thrilling getting my first paying job singing,” she says. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do from the time I was a baby. But to be a young woman in that business is brutal because of the rejection. It’s nonstop.”
After a dozen years working as a singer and actress, Kathie Lee rose to national fame cohosting a live morning television show with Regis Philbin in 1985. Beginning locally in New York, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee sprang to national syndication three years after she joined the program and became an American mainstay. Until the summer of 2000, she cohosted the show, which aired on millions of television sets every weekday morning.
She was in her element, doing what she had been born to do, what her parents had always encouraged her to do. But Kathie Lee’s mom and dad had never pushed her to perform.
“I’ve never understood the kind of parent that says to their children, ‘You’ve got to be this or that,’” Kathie Lee says. “I was privileged to have parents like I had. They were extraordinary, loving people. They loved me for who I was and encouraged my dreams.”
Growing up, she always had a song to sing and a show to perform. She found fulfillment in bringing joy and a smile to others. Her always-on-stage approach to life followed her throughout the years.
- “I learned the reason that performing was so joyful to me is because God is our creator,” she says. “I am created by God, and I’m made in His image. That means I am also a creator. I feel most divine when I am creating something beautiful. It’s every human being’s purpose.”
Kathie Lee’s joy is not a result of a lucky career or perfect family, as is clear when she speaks of the darker points in her journey. She may have earned eleven Daytime Emmy nominations, written books, released albums, and even contributed to several Broadway productions. But the brighter the limelight shines, the more caustic public reactions to a stumble can turn.
In 1996, reports surfaced that Kathie Lee’s clothing line was produced out of a Honduran sweatshop with abysmally poor working conditions. The reports held her personally responsible. She insisted she had nothing to do with the day-to-day operating of the clothing factories and was only a celebrity sponsor of the apparel. She even worked to bring about legislation to prevent similarly inhumane working conditions elsewhere. But still the public reaction came fierce and hard.
“It was a very dark, dark period for me,” she says. “But God put me to work. There is slavery in the world, more than ever. There are labor conditions that are horrible.”
“It’s unjust what you’ve been accused of,” she heard God say through all this, “but why don’t you get your eyes off of you for a minute and look at the unjust conditions that people are working under. You didn’t cause it, but you need to care about it.”
She became a leading proponent of fair labor laws and used her on-air power to push for legislative changes.
In the following year, Kathie Lee’s personal life also hit a new low. Kathie Lee had married Frank Gifford in 1986, and after more than a decade of marriage and two children, Frank was caught in a humiliating and public affair. Tabloids seized upon the story and printed pictures that brought agony to Kathie Lee.
“It was devastating to me,” she says. “But I was able to stay in my marriage and have God heal it. I’ve heard from hundreds of thousands of people since then who got courage from [my experience], courage to stay in their broken marriages and forgive their husbands and wives. They got courage to keep their families together. Not everybody does. I didn’t do it on my own. God gives us everything we need every day.”
Kathie Lee’s journey with God began as a child when Jesus called her name in a dream.
“It’s vivid to me to this day,” she recalls. “In the dream I’m outside in the front yard helping my daddy rake the leaves. We used to play in them. I looked up. There was Jesus sitting on a cloud. He smiled at me and He said my name.”
A few years later, as a twelve-year-old, she walked into a movie theater featuring The Restless Ones, a production of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The movie has been widely panned for its stiff dialogue and overt religiosity, but for many the truth at its core outshone any artistic inadequacies. It told of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood making the choice between going down the road that led to death or one that led to life.
“I could hear the voice of the Lord in the movie,” Kathie Lee says.
“Kathie,” she heard Him say, “will you trust Me to make something beautiful out of your life and go down my road? It’s harder. It’s going to be lonely at times. It’s going to be tougher than the big wide road over there. Ultimately it’s going to be a much more beautiful life, but you’ve got to trust Me.”
After the movie, as with all Billy Graham events, someone rose in the front and asked if anyone wanted to come forward and follow Jesus. The movie, cheesy as it was, served a function for the more than 120,000 people who’d said yes to that question during the time it ran. Kathie Lee was in that number.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life since then,” she says. “I will make a lot of them before this day is done. But that is one decision I made that I have always been deeply, deeply grateful for. I listened to the voice of Jesus. I heard Him tell me He had a purpose for my life, that He loved me. He wanted to make something beautiful with my life.”
Kathie Lee has Jewish ancestry, and as a Christian she has discovered great significance in a Hebrew word that is found in Jewish greetings, teachings, and scriptures: shalom. The word touches upon the idea of perfection and wholeness.
“Shalom doesn’t mean just peace,” she says, “like it’s come to mean in our world. It means all of the aspects of God. It means justice, righteousness, faithfulness, unfailing love, and, yes, peace. It’s a peace that passes all understanding. That’s what we’re here for. Look around. Do you see the chaos? You’re supposed to be part of the shalom, the peace. That’s what every human heart longs for — to partner in that and know you matter.”
The Bible calls Jesus the Prince of Peace. He’s the one who brings peace and wholeness to the world. But He didn’t sit on that peace and hoard it for Himself. He stepped out of Heaven and got dirty with His people. He lived with them, ate with them, hugged them, and talked with them. He taught His followers to join Him in this work of getting out and bringing peace to the world.
Kathie Lee finds inspiration in Jesus’ example. Jesus got out into the world and confronted the cultural norms of His day. He insisted on spending time with the poor, the sick, the sinner, and the outcast.
For fifteen years on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Kathie Lee lived her life publicly, discussing family, marriage, and raising children on a morning talk show for the world to see. People saw her cry, laugh, and ask the deeper questions. After leaving Live, she took some time away from television, then rejoined America’s morning routine in 2008 as cohost with Hoda Kotb of NBC’s fourth hour of Today. For the next decade Kathie Lee continued to follow Jesus’ example of getting out into the world.
“We are supposed to get out and be the sweet fragrance of Jesus to this world,” she says. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself is what Jesus taught. Don’t live in a selfie world. Live in a selfless world. Don’t walk over homeless people on your way to get someplace. We’re supposed to get down and dirty like Jesus did. We’re supposed to wash AIDS patients’ feet. We’re supposed to adopt children who have no home.
“God is perfecting us. Not a physical perfection or personal perfection, but God’s perfect love. He is perfecting love in us. That love leads to perfection in a world yet to come. It’s something to look forward to.”
by Kathie Lee Gifford, TV Personality
Excerpted with permission from I Choose Peace by Doug Bender, copyright e3 Partners Ministry.
* * *
No matter what goes on today, God can make something good out of it. Do you believe that? No matter what you were born to do, you were created in God’s image to love Him and love others. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you. ~ Devotionals Daily