Women & Work

Kristen Free, Product Manager for Abbot

Kristen Free

Product Marketing Manager for Abbott, a Global Healthcare Organization

Kristen Free is a product marketing manager for Abbott, a global healthcare corporation. She loves seeing God’s glory in his creation of people and is passionate about using her work to honor the Lord. When not at work she enjoys time with her friends and family, watching Texas A&M athletics, participating in church life, and exploring her new home state of Minnesota.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and the journey that God has taken you on over the past several years.

Thanks for having me! I am the oldest of four children to my dad who is a pastor and my mom who is an awesome pastor’s wife. I joke with people that if you need a frame of reference for me as a pastor’s daughter, you can place me somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between a Walk to Remember and Footloose. I wasn’t quite all the way into the cardigan fashion statement, but also not a wild child, which is really just a testament to God’s grace in my life.

I was born in Dallas, Fort Worth and moved to New Mexico when I was young. As a small child, I got to see my parents participating in a church plant, and I really saw a model of relational ministry as a career and a vocation. Ultimately, we settled back in Texas and I would consider Bourne, Texas to be home.

After I finished high school, I attended Texas A&M University and received a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. I really thought I wanted to work either as a physical therapist or a physician’s assistant but while I was in college, I had a change of heart. When I finished my undergraduate degree I was unsure about what I was going to do. During that time I had some health difficulties that led to the discovery of a heart issue called a patent foramen ovale or PFO. I had to have a procedure which I got to stay awake for and watch happen. As a biology major, it was pretty fascinating to watch.

After that happened, I tried to move east and God told me He wanted me to go west, back home, which felt like failure to have to move home after graduating with a degree. During that time He used my procedure to direct me into the medical device field, which was something I hadn’t initially considered. I started working for Abbott, a large healthcare company, that makes the device that’s actually in my heart. I started in sales and moved into marketing a few years later. I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I thought I was going to be kind of an intern, maybe making copies, fetching some coffee for meetings and such. What I actually got was being thrown into the deep end, which really grew me and was exciting and challenging. I always say I get to work for the company that’s literally in my heart and I love what I do.

How did you come to recognize the gifts God has given you? And what were some of the motivations for leveraging those gifts for the kingdom of God and for his glory? How do you seek to represent Christ and image him through your work?

I think the Lord gave me interest and abilities in organization, networking and connecting people, and through my education, I was able to access those gifts.

I remember in sixth grade having a moment where I was at church listening to a sermon, and I remember the Holy Spirit speaking to me about the fact that all of life was supposed to be about the Lord. He wanted not just my relationship with Him to be relegated to Sundays or church activities but He wanted everything. Every part of my life, all my gifts and talents were to bring Him glory. I was reminded of that again my freshman year in college. I always had a plan for my life and I was going to go and accomplish it. And then all of a sudden, I didn’t have any goals anymore. I remember crying on the phone to my mom, about not knowing what I was going to do with my life. I just knew that I wanted to love God above all else. In that moment of what felt like defeat, the Lord in His kindness showed me the way to go not because of my own personal revelation but because of His goodness.

Where the tension can come is that it is so easy to fall into the trap that if work isn’t overtly sacred, such as working for a ministry or a charity, that you’re not imaging the Lord. That is simply not true. In scripture, we see examples of people like Paul who was an evangelist, but he also took time to make tents along the way. That was part of his discipleship with some young believers outside of the church. I have to remind myself that even now I can leverage my gifts and abilities for the kingdom. For me that looks like a lot of time in the workforce, trying to communicate medical device products to companies that will help benefit others just as I once benefited from the ideas and technology that ultimately led to my interest in this career path.

You work for a company that empowers women to be strong leaders in the workplace. Will you share more about how that has impacted your life and the life of others that you work with?

Oh, I am and I’m really thankful for that. Maybe they don’t do it out of motivation of the Christ-follower, which would be that every person bears the image of God and has worth, but they communicate the value of everyone having a seat at the table, particularly women. For me, that’s been a blessing and it’s been encouraging. It’s provided women the confidence that they matter and that they have a place to contribute their ideas.

Practically what this has looked like for me is that I work in a division called electrophysiology, which has to do with how electrical signals travel around your heart to control the beating of your heart. Our business is to design tools and technologies that help diagnose where that goes wrong in the body and to hopefully give physicians what they need so that they can help address it, and make people feel better.

One of the really interesting things about our company is that we work with a subset of cardiologists, physicians, and electrophysiologists which are all subspecialties. In the field of cardiology on average, only 8-10% of all cardiologists are female. My company over the course of ten years has hosted a program called Women in EDP. EDP, elective physiology, is designed to promote the research, investigation, and findings of women in cardiology and gives them a forum to share their research. We are one of the first companies to do a program like this, and there’s always space for more people to come and be a part of it. We also host employee resource groups at Abbott and one of them is called Women Leaders of Abbott, which is an employee resource group where men and women can participate in mentorship. The goal is to raise up women as leaders and to encourage them in their giftedness and abilities.

Even further than that, we have women in STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This program is designed to help women and even girls in middle school and high school, get exposed to science topics and encourage them in their pursuits and abilities. For a long time, it was thought that women didn’t do as well in math and science and that’s just not true. When I have an opportunity, I really enjoy participating with those groups and events that highlight the excellent achievements of women in science.

It’s a blessing to get to work somewhere that values and lifts up women as leaders. Men and women are both valuable, and men and women were both given work from the very beginning of creation. Adam and Eve were both chartered to tend to the garden. Hopefully, for me as a believer and for the other believers, it’s something we actually do. Not just because it sounds nice on a campaign ad or on a poster, but because we believe in the inherent worth of women. As God’s creation, we are people made in His image and so that’s a benefit to the world and ultimately to the kingdom when we work towards making things whole, healthy, and flourishing. I’m thankful for a company that does that, and I hope other women feel that they have that opportunity, that I know I’ve been blessed to have.

What are some challenges you have experienced and how have you seen God at work around you despite them? How has God used the relationships that you have developed in challenging times for his glory and your good?

You know, when I think about challenges, there are many things that come to mind. Speaking on a personal level, it feels like my family has had some sort of major health issue or other event, every year and a half to two years. I love my family so much and when things are hard for them they are hard for me as well. I think I naturally have a bent to be extra relational. I often can take on people’s emotions, even at work. I have noticed that if somebody is having a hard day and they tell me their story, I feel the emotions they are feeling. On the flip side even though I am relational, there are those hard people to love and it’s only by the help of the Holy Spirit that I am able to show them that love.

Another personal challenge is that I’m pretty stubborn and I can be pretty convinced that my way is the right way. It’s a challenge for me to not bulldoze people in the interest of getting things done. I think some of the emotional setbacks or personal challenges such as moving to a new state in the middle of a pandemic, when that wasn’t initially on my radar, has really humbled me in a way that hopefully helps me better empathize with people and reminds me that they have hard things going on in their lives as well. I’m often reminded that if I’m struggling and not sharing that with everybody at work, there are probably other people I’m encountering every day who are dealing with some real similar levels of hurt or pain or frustration or loneliness in their own lives. Not everyone has a network of support, so as I encounter those people who are struggling, I hopefully offer grace to them just as it has been given to me. Ultimately, everything is for God’s glory and our good, right? I think that’s the mantra of my life. Whether it’s work challenges, singleness, moves, and even an unexpected heart condition that I didn’t want, it’s all for God’s glory and my good.

How do you keep yourself encouraged that the work you’re doing is valuable and worthwhile when the world tempts women to believe otherwise? Are there any scriptures God has given you to keep you present in the work to which he has called you?

I think discontentment can be a temptation for all of us because griping is so easy and work can be hard. It’s really easy to grumble when you don’t always get the outcomes that you are looking for. I now work on the development side of the technology spectrum from a marketing perspective, and when a day in our lab doesn’t go as we wanted and we have to work on redefining something, I’m tempted to say, “all is vanity.” I have to stop and remind myself that what I’m doing is valuable and worthwhile. Work was given to us in the garden and work was actually a gift before the fall. I must remember that when I’m tempted to gripe and be bitter because that is not the heart of God towards work. It was truly meant to be a gift.

In my particular line of work, I often think about the fact that I was a person who was having health problems, passing out for no reason. I had the symptoms of a stroke as a healthy eighteen-year-old. A medical device greatly changed my life, so I am reminded that if I do my job well then I can help many more people receive the benefits of medical device interventions. That is super motivating for me. And so while again, it’s a little cheesy to say I work for the company that’s literally in my heart, that is true in a lot of ways and it’s a blessing that I get to enjoy my work.

Proverbs 3:3-4 were my first memory verses, which say, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight.” Love and faithfulness are what I’m called to and what I’m doing, not perfectly knowing all the answers but trying to have love and faithfulness be the undergirding of my life. The things that I do give me success ultimately in the sight of the world, but it is for God’s glory why I do those things.

A few years ago, I was in the middle of a transition trying to discern whether or not I needed to make a pivot into a different vocation. As I prayed through it, the Lord brought to mind the story of Lydia in Acts. She was a seller of purple cloth and a woman in the marketplace selling goods and wares. She was one of the first converts in the early church and helped Paul to build his ministry. If I can infer here for a moment, in practical ways, she was leveraging her network and connecting Paul to those whom she knew so that the church could grow. It doesn’t explicitly say that Lydia introduced all of her colleagues to Paul and that she gave him 15% of her revenues, but I think we can see that she was leveraging what she had for the kingdom. That story has always encouraged me.

On a personal level, as a single woman, I relate to this story because we don’t know whether Lydia was married or not, but that wasn’t what was most important about her. As a single woman who doesn’t always enjoy singleness, I see a clear example in scripture of a woman in the marketplace who had a business and also built up the church. Oftentimes the temptation is to believe that I don’t have a place in the church because I’m single, and most of the women my age at church are married and have families. When I ask myself where I fit, I remember Lydia as an example of a businesswoman who was about building up God’s kingdom while she stewarded her business.

As a single woman who has lived all over the United States, how has the local church and community played an important role in your life?

Oh man, it’s imperative. I’ve mentioned several times that I’m super thankful for my parents. They always wanted my siblings and I to know who we were in Christ and who we were to them.

As I have gotten older and moved out and moved away, I need to be reminded that I belong to Christ and that I belong to His people. The local church and community are part of that. In all the places I moved that I didn’t expect, God’s never not met me with friends and community. I think it’s also an opportunity for a way I get to image Christ because Christ has pursued me. So I therefore must pursue others, and that often happens in the context of the local church and through community. I think that’s been huge for my own encouragement and is ultimately just biblical to pursue those things.

Is there any advice you would give to women who are not single, on how to love single women well?

Definitely. There are a couple of practical things that immediately come to my mind. One being, I want to come to your house and sit and talk to you, not during a playdate with other moms but just me and you. I want to hold and love your children. I love getting to hold my friend’s children. That is precious to me because I don’t have my own children that I have the opportunity to pour into. Whether it is someone else’s child or my own I want to help nurture them.

Another thing is the art of basic conversation skills. I want you to ask about me, and I want to ask about your life. Me asking about your work and your children makes you feel cared for, and I want you to do the same for me. Your family is part of your sphere, but my sphere might be my coworker or the friend I told you about the other day. Not forgetting to ask me those simple things makes our friendship worthwhile. God has given me a sphere of influence just as He has given you, your family and your friends or your job, if you also work. I would also say don’t forget to ask me about my fears and my dreams as well, things I long for.

When it’s possible, let me be just as normally integrated into your life as possible, but also let’s try to set aside some time to do things that you don’t get to do when you have your kids with you.

I think that can be fun for you as well as fun and a blessing for me to get to relate to you in a way more similar to the life stage that I’m currently experiencing.

Ultimately, I think it’s just about inviting people into your life and knowing them just like you would anyone else.

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