Emblem: Loving the Way God Loves
After graduating from NBC, Carol Cool has spent her life showing the love of Christ to her neighbors, coworkers, and community.
Carol Cool was walking down the hall when she was approached by her coworker Cyndi with an unexpected question: “So what is it that you believe anyway?” Carol and Cyndi worked in nearby departments at a Philadelphia area department store but hadn’t interacted often. But now, as Cyndi’s life had fallen apart, she was interested in what made Carol’s life so different from hers.
It was no accident, though, that Cyndi approached Carol with her question. Carol had been asking God to send someone into her life who would want to hear about Jesus, so when Cyndi asked Carol what she believed, Carol started inviting her over to her home and telling her about her faith. Carol eventually invited Cyndi to church, and Cyndi would walk to the second row of Carol’s formally dressed church, wearing the eccentric clothes of a 1980s artist and occasionally a baseball hat that said, “I survived Friday the 13th.” After many conversations and lots of love, Cyndi finally called Carol and told her, “You’re right, I need Jesus.”
Carol (Anderson) Cool always knew that she wanted to be in ministry, but it’s taken much of her life to figure out what that’s looked like. She grew up hearing stories of her grandparents’ work with the Salvation Army, ministering to the New York City bread lines during the Great Depression. While Carol’s parents weren’t in full-time ministry, they encouraged their children to use their lives to serve God. “We were raised,” Carol said, “to believe that there was nothing better we could do with our lives than to serve Jesus. It was the tenor of our home; even if you were a layperson your goal was to serve Christ.”
When it came time for college, Carol chose to attend Northeastern Bible College, hoping to use a Bible degree to go into youth work and eventually become a missionary. There were some missionaries from her home church who had attended NBC, and she was drawn to the small size and its emphasis on the Bible.
Once on campus, Carol enjoyed her classes, especially the Biblical languages. “I really liked that I was able to take Greek and Hebrew with really great teachers. I loved the original languages, so I was just thrilled.” She looks back fondly on Mr. Lincoln’s Old Testament class, where each student had to do a 60-page analysis of a section of Ezekiel. Looking back, Carol is thankful for what was a difficult assignment, because “what it really taught me was to dig deep into the Scriptures.” Carol credits Northeastern for instilling in her a love of studying the Scriptures and for teaching her not just what to think, but rather how to think. As she went through college, though, Carol wasn’t sure what direction her life would go. She’d spent a summer abroad in Sweden to see if missionary life was right for her but found the experience incredibly isolating. This caused her to reevaluate her interest in mission work, and since few churches were hiring women youth workers, she wasn’t sure where God wanted her to serve.
But during her senior year, Carol met a new transfer student named Leslie Cool. Les had started college at a large university, but when he became a Christian during his freshman year, he felt God’s call into ministry and left his full-ride scholarship to transfer to NBC. As their relationship progressed and they made plans to be married, Carol took a retail management job. Les completed NBC and worked as a meat cutter to put himself through seminary.
Carol began to work her way up at Bamberger’s, a Philadelphia department store that was owned by Macy’s. She was first promoted to assistant store manager and then became a buyer in the corporate offices. While Carol still had full-time ministry as a goal, she and Les were both so involved in doing youth work in their home church that she was okay with her retail work. And through Carol’s ministry gifts, God started carving out a unique ministry for Carol at her job. “I really found God using me in the workplace,” Carol said. “I always joke that I’m the kid who never had the rebellious phase, never smoked or drank, but God has ended up using me with people who were on the far edge of hating Christianity.”
Carol learned to minister to her coworkers through her relationships with them. She would write down things they’d share as prayer requests on post-it notes and stick them on her computer monitor. When her coworkers started to ask what the post-it notes were for, she told them that it helped her remember to pray for them. People connected with that and it gave her opportunities to talk about Jesus without them feeling uncomfortable.
God particularly used Carol in the life of one of her bosses, Barbara. Barbara was a confident and successful businesswoman who had embraced polytheism and the occult, proudly telling her team about her many out-of-body experiences. One day, though, Barbara’s mother died unexpectedly, and she asked Carol and another Christian coworker to pray for her. Carol and her coworker prayed for Barbara and shared a few Bible verses about the peace that was possible with God. Barbara went on bereavement leave, but after she came back, she sought
out Carol and told her, “Your god answers prayers.”
But Barbara was still skeptical of Christianity and especially wary of Christians. “If I never accept this Jesus of yours,” Barbara asked Carol, “Will you still be my friend?” Barbara had had previous run-ins with Christians who only saw her as a project and disengaged from her when she didn’t immediately convert to their faith. Carol, though, developed a genuine friendship with Barbara, and over several years, found ways to share the message of the gospel with her, while at the same time refusing to base her love for Barbara on the condition of her becoming a Christian. Carol has remained friends with Barbara decades later and is still a part of her spiritual journey toward God.
Carol never set out to make her work a major place of ministry in her life; she just prayed that God would give her opportunities to talk about Jesus. “Most of my evangelism has been people that I’ve just loved and cared about their lives and invested in,” Carol said. “And sometimes years later I’ve learned that they’ve come to know Jesus and that their lives have turned around. God has always used me at work in ways to make a difference in people’s lives for his kingdom.
As Carol’s friendships with her coworkers grew, she and Les began adopting some of them into their home. A few came to live with the Cools for a few weeks or months while they were going through a tough time, allowing Carol and Les to love them and to become a family for them. Eventually, this spirit of inviting people into their home led Carol and Les to take in two teenage girls, one of whom, Joy, they ended up adopting. With two teenagers now at home, Carol needed a job with more predictable hours, so after 18 years in retail she started to look for, in her words, “a mindless, part-time job.” But God had other plans for her.
When a friend heard that Carol was looking for a part-time job, she asked Carol if she’d ever want to pack boxes at a print shop. Carol said sure! One of the tasks at her new job was to check to make sure the items were printed correctly before they were shipped. Much to her boss’s chagrin, she kept finding mistakes in the already printed books. One day, four months into the job, her boss told Carol, “Come with me,” and walked her to the office. Carol was sure they were about to fire her. Instead, her boss wanted to promote her! “We’re going to make you a proofreader,” her boss said, “because we’d rather you find the mistakes before we print things than after.” And so Carol was introduced to the world of writing and editing.
When her husband Les was asked by their denomination to plant a church in Delaware, Carol found a job proofreading and writing advertising copy for a large bank. Impressed by her work, a coworker encouraged her to find more ways to write. So Carol attended a Christian writers conference, where she met a mentor who showed her how to write for Christian magazines. Soon, Carol was writing articles for a variety of Christian magazines throughout the country.
After Les took a call to pastor a church in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Carol transitioned into being a freelance writer and editor. A friend told Carol that she was thinking about becoming a Christian speaker. Wanting to support her friend, Carol suggested she attend an upcoming conference for Christian speakers and writers and even volunteered to go with her. At the conference, Carol went through the speaker training with her friend and found that she loved it. She got all kinds of positive feedback from the other participants, so after they got back, her friend gave Carol her first speaking opportunity at a women’s retreat.
Now, Carol speaks at Christian conferences and retreats throughout the Northeast, helping her audience to understand God’s love and purpose for them. Through her speaking, she’s been able to tell others about God’s work in her life and minister to a variety of groups. She has also written and published two books, “Finding Balance in the Circus of Life” and “The 29¢ Baby Jesus,” and continues to write on her website CarolCool.com.
Margie Miller has served alongside Carol for over 20 years and has seen her love for others firsthand. “Carol always makes space for people and meets them where they are. If someone is struggling, she comes up with a plan to help them, meeting with them regularly, even those who are estranged from faith or any kind of religion.” How can Carol love others so selflessly? It’s because, according to Margie, “Carol, more than anyone I know, genuinely connects with the heart of God, who He loves and what He cares about, and her life reflects the desire to follow His heart. She really has that connection. What hurts the heart of God hurts Carol.”
Carol has always tried to use her life, whether in retail, writing, or speaking, to love people where they are. That’s why Carol’s coworker Cyndi could march up to the front of their traditional church and sit next to Carol, even when she didn’t fit in. “Cyndi knew that she was loved,” Carol said, “That’s what makes the difference.” Even now, forty years later, Cyndi still calls Carol her spiritual mom, despite the fact that they are the same age, to recognize how Carol’s love for her has changed her life forever. “You have to love people where they are and trust the Spirit to move in their lives when they are ready for that. That’s what I’ve tried to do.” Carol said, “It comes back to loving the person the way God loves them.”
You can learn more about Carol and read her writing at CarolCool.com.
This story is from Emblem VII, our annual magazine. Read the full magazine here