One woman is making it her mission to spread kindness--among anger, hope among fear, and love among hate. Kelly Asbell is that woman.
Spending too many years in fear
Wednesday, March 21, 2018, was Kelly Asbell’s 40th birthday, a date she never imagined seeing. At age ten, Kelly was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that primarily affects the lungs, but also impacts the pancreas, liver, kidneys and digestive tract.
"Doctors told my parents to save money for my funeral instead of my college fund," Asbell said. "I wasn't expected to live past my teenage years, and eight of my childhood friends died from the same horrific disease I fought so hard to overcome. I had a midlife crisis at 14."
Each passing year began to bring more fear and trepidation to Asbell. "I feared getting sick, having to fight harder and harder to breathe, and having to say goodbye to loved ones," Asbell recalled. "I feared getting older."
The life expectancy of a child diagnosed with cystic fibrosis was approximately 10 years during the 1980s, when Kelly and her family learned of her diagnosis. Since then, it has drastically improved. In 1998, after spending her twentieth birthday worrying about her diagnosis and reminiscing of lost friends, Kelly was plagued by guilt and began to wonder if she had truly lived her life. Kelly made the decision to no longer view her birthday in fear, but to instead celebrate her years on earth by performing one act of kindness for each of her delicate, amazing years of life.
Experiencing the joy of helping others
Her 21st birthday goal was simple: to spend the day performing 21 acts of random kindness. "I didn't have much money back then so I spent twenty-one dollars to perform twenty-one different things," she said. Kelly hid dollar bills in the pages of coloring books at her local dollar store, left children’s coloring books in doctor’s offices around town and put change in vending machines. “Before I knew it the day had passed and it ended up being the best day of my life. I found for the first time instead of fearing getting older I embraced it as I saw how much joy it brought doing things to help others. And so it began," Asbell said.
Each year since her twenty-first birthday, Kelly has made it her mission to celebrate her life by performing small acts of kindness on her birthday.
March 21, 2018 was no different.
40 acts of kindness
Forty kind acts for forty miraculous years. Kelly dropped off detergent and spare change at a local laundromat. She placed quarters into candy and toy machines, remembering the joy she felt as a child twisting that shiny handle and watching a prize fall down.
She strolled through her local grocery store placing coupons on items on store shelves. She left toys and trinkets on a local playground. At one Redbox kiosk, she placed bags of microwave popcorn with a note exclaiming “Have a bag of popcorn with your movie!”
She left coloring books and crayons in the waiting room of a pediatrician’s office. She delivered a box of cupcakes to the fire department.
She left art supplies at a local elementary. She placed sticky notes with encouraging messages like “You are beautiful just the way you are” on the bathroom mirror of her favorite coffee shop.
Kelly delivered a bouquet of flowers and lent an ear to a precious nursing home patient. Kelly’s acts of kindness didn’t just extend to her hometown. Asbell made a facebook plea “On Wednesday will you help me reach 40? It could be as simple as letting someone go ahead of you in the grocery store to buying the persons coffee behind you in Starbucks. Whatever it is please post it to my timeline. From New York to California. Kindness knows no boundaries.”
Across the world, people honored Kelly with their random acts of kindness, big and small, from making charitable donations in Asbell’s honor to the Cystic Fibrosis foundation, to buying a stranger’s morning smoothie.
Optimistic, but honest
Kelly’s thirty year battle with cystic fibrosis has taken a toll on her body. Cystic fibrosis has made her diabetic, among many other issues throughout the years.
She has stopped counting the number of hospital visits since childhood. Every breath has become a victory, not a given. New clinical trials fill her with equal parts hope and anxiety. Will this be the cure? Will this new treatment work? Or will this one be a flop, too?
“I have faith,” says Kelly, who credits and gives praise to God for her bonus years of life.
Although Asbell in not on a lung transplant list at this time, she does know and understand that it could be a possibility in the future.
Kelly spends about three hours a day with aerosol therapies, nebulizer medications, and vesting: a medical device designed to help break up and loosen the mucus in her lungs. She also takes more than sixty pills a day.
“When you have cystic fibrosis, you can’t take anything for granted, especially another year of life,” says Asbell.
Ten years ago, during Kelly’s pregnancy with her twins, she recorded herself reading books, in case she didn’t survive. She has already bought her ten-year-old son and daughter birthday gifts through their teenage years. Asbell tries to plan ahead for everything, from birthdays to future weddings and her inevitable demise.
“Every day is a gift. And every birthday is the best gift of all,” says Kelly. So the next time you tune in to the evening news and hear nothing but messages full of despair, remember Kelly Asbell and her kindness-filled birthdays.
It doesn’t have to be a special day to be kind. It’s easier than you think!