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Living Bravely, Vulnerably and Hopefully

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Alyssa Galios lost her husband, Nick Magnotti, to cancer at age 27 when their daughter was only nine months old. While facing intense struggles and doubts, she eventually found renewed faith in God along with an unexpected relationship with one of Nick’s longtime friends, Jay Galios.

Alyssa, now a 32-year-old mother of three, is helping thousands of other people through her book, “Made for Brave: A Journey Through Devastating Loss to Infinite Hope,” along with sharing her story on podcasts and in other venues that don’t typically host Christian authors. Amid her busy schedule that includes running Made for Brave Fitness and Coaching, Alyssa graciously spent an hour on the phone answering LIGHT + LIFE’s questions about her life and her writing. Space constraints won’t allow this magazine to share many of the ways God has worked in her life, but the best way to learn more of her heartbreaking and inspiring life story is to visit alyssagalios.com and to order “Made for Brave.”

You may have seen Nick — who died on Jan. 7, 2014, of mucinous adenocarcinoma (a form of appendix cancer) — in a popular November 2013 video, “Young Man Battles Cancer With A Smile,” that is available at fmchr.ch/nickvideo via YouTube where it has more than 1.1 million views. The video was uploaded by Alyssa but never monetized to receive money from advertising. She has received multiple requests from media companies seeking permission to republish the video (some of which have added subtitles in other languages), and she doesn’t charge them to use it. Nick was still alive when the initial requests came, and he wanted the video freely available to spread hope.

“It’s been really incredible to see it go so far and so wide,” she said. “You never know how many lives you’re impacting for the better, and that is such a testament to Nick and the life that he lived and the faith that he lived up until his last day.”

Shifting Priorities

Early in “Made for Brave,” Alyssa writes about “working insane hours in those first several years of marriage.” Alyssa told LIGHT + LIFE that instead of having an “eternity mindset,” she initially had a “here-and-now mindset that I needed to achieve certain things as fast as I could and that included getting a great big house, buying the right cars, wearing the right clothes.”

She said that when Nick was first diagnosed “with cancer and had his subsequent surgery and was declared cancer-free [before the cancer unexpectedly reappeared], that was really a wakeup call for us on how little time we had spent together. We had been married for three years, and our only vacation time had been our honeymoon. We had been working our tails off, each working 60-plus hours a week, and we both loved our jobs. We loved our clients, and we loved our community members, but, at the end of the day, we weren’t spending any time intentionally on our relationships with each other and not even close to enough time building our intentional relationship with God.”

The couple began making church attendance and weekly date nights priorities, and they examined their career goals and spending priorities.

“We realized when Nick got sick that all of the things we’d been working toward, suddenly didn’t matter,” said Alyssa, who recalled conversations from Nick’s hospital bed in which they discussed “how many hours we had spent just earning a paycheck to pay for a house we were hardly ever in because we were always gone because we were always working.”

Career advancement suddenly wasn’t as important.

“We made a complete shift when he first got sick, and that was an incredible two and a half years of my life. I was able to work from home almost right away,” said Alyssa, who took a new position doing content creation for a local startup. “I actually left my position as the chief operating officer of an incubator here in Seattle because there was no way to balance those hours.”

When she started dating Jay, she let him know, “I don’t live my life according to money. I don’t live it to try to earn a paycheck. I buy most of my stuff secondhand. My focus is on God, and my focus is on my family, and then it’s on taking care of other people, and eventually I want to build my business better.”

Sharing Openly

The book also reveals Alyssa’s own battle with Behcet’s disease, a rare autoimmune disorder causing blood vessel inflammation throughout the body.

“I’ve had so many incredible conversations with people who are going through their own chronic pain and chronic illnesses,” said Alyssa, who thankfully has not had an attack in four years.

“I choose to believe that I am fully healed in Jesus’ name,” she said. “Every once in a while, I have something that hints a flareup might be coming, and I use the tools that I’ve learned about anti-inflammatory eating and exercise, and general stress and anxiety care.”

Along with her health challenges, Alyssa discusses mistakes she made when she moved from Washington state to Florida for a year and dated a man who was part of a church worship team.

“For me it was very important to share about my experience in Florida, because I think there’s a popularity in choosing what looks to be correct to the rest of the world. There’s a popularity in picking and choosing things from the Bible, and the outline that God gave us for His version of our best life. We like to pick that apart and say, ‘Well, this one doesn’t make sense. Not sleeping together before you’re married, that doesn’t actually make sense in this day and age,’ and it’s really easy to fall into that trap,” Alyssa said. “I’ve lived that life of trying to put my own lines in the sand and change them from where Jesus has put those.”

She said that sometimes she finds it scary to share openly about personal experiences, but then she thinks “about those private messages I get — and I honestly get them almost every day — of someone who reaches out and says, ‘Me too. I’ve been there, or you’ve finally put words to something I’ve been experiencing, or I’ve been having these same thoughts, but I’ve been scared to approach it, and now I’ve read it and know that I need to make a decision.’”

Alyssa sensed God calling her to write the book in a way that shares her life story without telling other people how to live their lives.

“When I first started writing the book, I considered putting all my opinions in there,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people sharing their beliefs. I think that’s so necessary, but I feel like I have been called specifically, for whatever reason, to quell my quote-unquote ‘opinions’ and instead show people my experience that led to my opinions without overtly stating them, so that people can really put themselves in my shoes and understand where I came from.”

Alyssa said she has seen a lot of judgment — especially among Christians — about widows, remarriage and “what grief is supposed to look like versus what it actually looks like.”

Pastor Eric

A recurring character in the book is Pastor Eric who provides spiritual guidance and even career advice. For example, she writes, “After I got home, I touched base with Pastor Eric, letting him know I’d made it back to the Pacific Northwest. He knew I still had questions, but he had been undeniably happy when he heard what God had revealed to me, or rather what I had finally accepted, in Florida.”

Alyssa told LIGHT + LIFE that she first met Eric Spangler during her teenage years when her family began attending Lakeside Community Fellowship (now LifePoint Church), a Free Methodist congregation in Lake Stevens, Washington.

“He was a big part of my family, and I consider him honestly like a dad to me,” she said. “When Nick and I got married, he did our premarital counseling and married us. Then he did Nick’s celebration of life and was there the day Nick passed away. Then he did Jay’s and my premarital counseling and married us.”

Spangler told LIGHT + LIFE, “I remember one of the first times Nick and Alyssa walked through my office door. They had come for premarital counseling. That smile! I’ll never forget that defining, boyish, inviting smile! As a pastor, I’ve marked ministry over the years by watershed moments that open the door for the Father’s presence. Walking with Nick and Alyssa through the most challenging moments of life while at the same time sensing that powerful presence was defining for me, not just as a pastor, but as a follower of Jesus.”

The couple’s former pastor recalled Nick telling him, “God’s told me that I won’t die from this.” In his mind, Spangler heard the words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26 NKJV).

He later realized, “Nick was absolutely right. And when I sat with him days before his passage into eternity, I asked him what he wanted me to say at his memorial service. Just a few weeks later, I passed that message on: ‘Tell them I’m blessed, I have no fear, and that they should trust in God. God’s got this.’”

He said “Made for Brave” is not only “about Alyssa’s extraordinary experience of faith and trust or Nick’s indelible confidence in Christ, but it’s also about the Savior who stared death in the face on the cross so that we might all share in the hope of resurrection life.”

The Galios family is now active in RockCreek Church, a Free Methodist congregation in Marysville, Washington.

“Alyssa is passionate about helping people get healthy and staying fit but also integrates her faith in every aspect of her business. Her story of loss, grief and redemption will encourage your heart, fill you with hope and ultimately help you trust God in greater ways,” RockCreek Lead Pastor Bryan Rees said. “Alyssa and her husband, Jay, are incredible leaders at RockCreek Church, and we’re so thankful they are a part of our community.”

Together for Good

The book is selling well. After its release in November 2019, it became the best-selling new release in Amazon’s “Christian Death & Grief” category. Alyssa is not profiting from the book, however; all of the net proceeds are donated to organizations fighting cancer.

“That was a total surrender decision — not one that I made easily,” she said. “I just had this feeling in my heart, that still quiet voice that said, ‘I want you to donate the proceeds. I don’t want you to have the money from this,’ and I fought Him on that.”

Other people also tried to talk her out of the decision, but “it didn’t matter what anyone else said, because I knew what God was calling me to do.”

The book closes with Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (CSB). The book lists its publisher as Romans 8:28 Books, but when asked by Light + Life whether the dual use of the verse was intentional, Alyssa said the connection “wasn’t planned. It was a divine coincidence if you want to call it a coincidence.”

She explained that “Made for Brave” was picked up by Redemption Press, and the initial draft of the book listed the publisher as Redemption. However, the company surprised her by later deciding to publish her book under its new Romans 8:28 imprint that was established last year for higher-selling titles such as a devotional book for the movie “Unplanned.”

“Made for Brave” is one of the publisher’s best-selling books, and Alyssa said, “It’s been unexpected for me to see how far it’s gone and how many people are willing to get behind it and help spread the message of hope even in hopeless situations.”

The author is more excited by messages she receives from readers than she is by sales figures.

“There are so many people who are suffering and so many people who are scared right now, and I think that if we can allow Him to make good of it and take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it into good, then we have so much more potential as Christians,” she said.

“We can trust God no matter how hopeless it looks — no matter how bleak or how dark — to turn even the worst tragedies in our lives into opportunities to get closer to Him and into opportunities for good and opportunities for His glory. That understanding for me has allowed me to live through so many additional hard things.”

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[URFM] · L + L July 2020 · Magazine · US & World