On your 40th

Colleen Elisabeth Chao is an editor and author. She enjoys dark-dark chocolate, side-splitting laughter, and half-read books piled bedside. She makes her home near Boise, Idaho, with her husband Eddie, their son Jeremy, and Willow the dog. 




On your 40th

On your 40th

On your 40th

She was the It Girl in college: drop-dead gorgeous, smart, with a slew of handsome suitors and a voice that earned her a recording label. She was going places, and we all anticipated the day when we would say, “I knew Lisa Kolbo before she was famous….”

We thought we knew what life should look like back then. The beautiful and the gifted—those were the ones God put on platforms and used in mighty ways. Because she was the whole package, Lisa and her music ministry would be unstoppable.

But He was scripting such a different story. We could not have guessed what was going on behind the scenes and what the next two decades of life would hold. But He knew, and He was holding it all together in love.

Although Lisa and I shared a propensity for music, coffee, and laughter, it was eventually our brokenness that bound our hearts together. I began to see a strength in Lisa that I could no longer attribute to beauty or giftedness. In unexpected suffering and disappointment she was pressing herself into God, and I saw Him. I could relate to her because she was weak, like me; but unlike me, she could poignantly express what was going on in her heart. I listened and learned.

We talked of love and waiting and marriage. And I watched her fall in love with and marry the best man she’d ever known—her lifelong friend, Michael Hamel. It was now Lisa Hamel, not Lisa Kolbo. But it wasn’t just her name that changed.

After six years of marriage, God gifted her with her firstborn—a beautiful boy with special needs. This former campus celebrity was now quietly caring for an autistic child behind closed doors. Day in, day out. No applause could be heard but His.

And Lisa went deeper with Jesus.

And as she did, she took us with her. Sure, her giftedness and gorgeousness could wow us, but her suffering by faith with eyes fixed on Jesus would forever change us.

Today my dear friend turns 40 years old, and I’m reflecting on God’s kindness—to her… to me through her. I’m thanking Him for derailing small dreams, for saying no to some prayers, and for birthdays that mark His faithfulness.

Happy birthday, dear Lis. Your life has made mine unspeakably rich.