“But God!” A Lesson About Moving Forward After Loss

I spoke at the “Bakersfield Gives Thanks” event on November 4th and the Women’s Club of Bakersfield was full of people from different denominations and cultures.  I made new friends that night but it was a blessing to be reunited with old friends too.

In particular, I saw a mom whose children went to junior high and high school with my children.  Nneka and I have seen each other throughout the years at school functions at our son’s tennis events.  But this time when our eyes met, I had no words.  I was overcome with emotion.

You see this was the first time I’ve seen her since her 15 year old son Nedu went home to be with the Lord last summer.  My friend Nikki happened to capture the moment:


Typically when a friend loses a loved one, WE are the ones consoling, hugging, loving them through the grief.

However, that night I experienced and witnessed true healing.  Nneka was consoling me!!

I remember looking at her and reaching out my arms to her.

I had no words.  My ugly cry face in the photo above communicated how sorry I was for her loss of a son gone too soon.

She looked at me square in the eyes and exclaimed, “I know…I know….BUT GOD!”  As tears filled my eyes, she said, “a year ago I would never think I could be here today….BUT GOD!”  Tears could not stop flowing.  With every breath I took, Nneka kept encouraging me, even saying…”it’s going to be okay…BUT GOD!”

As I sit here typing, I’m filled with emotion again.

What I’m learning on my journey of recovery is our trial isn’t going to last forever.  The sting of hurt, in time, doesn’t affect us like it did on day one. Every story has a beginning, middle and an end.  

Think about the end.

The end is what you’ll be telling your children.  The end is what others who are wounded are most interested in.  The end is what brings glory to our Lord.

I heard this quote from William Vanderbloomen, “Will I be healed up? Or damaged goods?”

We cannot control our circumstances, but we can control our response to said circumstances when: 

  • Churches split.
  • Children reject parents.
  • Spouses betray.
  • Friends move away.
  • Life storms challenge our faith.
  • Relatives misunderstand.
  • We have to say goodbye to loved ones.

Some of us, like Joseph in the Old Testament, are victims of hardship and broken hearts.  In the end, Joseph was found “healed up.”

If you are indeed a victim, my advice is to resist the temptation to have a pity party and welcome sympathetic hugs and words of agreement to your situation.  The world welcomes an attitude of entitlement and culture teaches us to seek vengeance.  

Pray to have a response such as my friend Nneka.  Remember this earth is NOT our home and our response to devastating situations is an important testimony to those watching us live out our Christian walk.

Nnekas’ son, Nedu, left this earth at only 15 years old.  No parent should out live their child.  I know there were times when her weeping became unbearable and her heart literally ached…however her words, “But God!” reminded her and should remind us, God is in every circumstance of our lives.

Genesis 8:1
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

Genesis 50:20
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Psalm 73:26
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Matthew 19:26
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

2 Timothy 2:9
for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.

That evening left me encouraged.  I too want to be found like Nneka in the middle of life storms. She is living and moving forward in her new normal only via the grace and promises from our Lord.  

Thank you Nneka for inspiring me, being a Godly example and reminding me of God’s undeniable healing power.

Need prayer? kidmin.kelli@gmail.com 


Pulling Back the Curtain on Spiritual Abuse – Video #1

I recently read a quote, “An untold story never heals. It just festers until it comes out in unwanted behavior.”  I write this today as a survivor.  I write this today because the last thing I need in my life is unwanted behavior. I think you’d agree there is enough of that in this world already.  If you are currently experiencing conflict or have survived the hurts and wounds of an unhealthy church atmosphere, I’m telling my story with the intent that you’ll be comforted, inspired and given hope.  The hope needed to make it through one more day, one more hour and even those times hope is needed to endure one more minute.

February 27, 2015

As a survivor, I’ve  resolved to live the rest of my life serving the Lord healed and whole. It’s because of the grace of Jesus, I can take back my life and write the narrative of my story of abuse and recovery so others can see the faithfulness of God. By documenting my journey of healing via writing and video, it’s enabled me to safeguard any unwanted behavior that may result in me hurting others.  Knowing I was wounded, I was afraid of becoming a wounder.  My purpose is to be a voice of the indescribable healing power of Christ, while offering hope and clarity for those who suffer in silence.

I recorded myself on February 27, 2015 one day after my first counseling appointment and have it here for you to watch. I have more videos documenting my journey.  Deep down in my soul I felt my story may help some one. I watch this vlog now and notice how TIRED and EXHAUSTED I was at this time of my journey.  I was still shaking the sadness and seeking to understand what was happening to me. (This was recorded 6 months after my family left the church)

I consider myself a “Seasoned Saint.”  I am part of the older generation in my church and I believe God allowed my life storms so the younger generation can learn from.  One such storm that’s guaranteed in this lifetime is the experience of intense pain inflicted by betrayal, rejection, grief, or you “fill in the blank.”  Relief from that pain becomes the primary obsession of the victim. I compare my search for healing of my hurt heart like that of a drug addict looking for their next fix. Or like a mom searching for her child that has been abducted. It was my obsession to understand my circumstance and be better.  Healing, peace and forgiveness became the finish line I strived to cross every single day.

This pain however is magnified to a confusing degree when its source comes from the Church.  By the leadership you trusted.  By the very people you’ve prayed with, served with, labored with, admired, respected, loved, and done life with.  I so relate to the words of Anne Graham Lotz in her book Wounded by God’s People:

“Those who have been most hurtful, those who have been the most unkind, those who have betrayed, slandered, and undermined me have been those who have called themselves by God’s name.”

After serving at my local church for 23 years, I was compelled to walk away in August of 2014.  I was not fired.  I resigned.  I could no longer be associated with the decisions that were being made by the leadership.  The decisions were not biblical and my conscious was getting the best of me.  I struggled with resigning since, wait for it… 2007. I’m not proud that I stayed seven years longer than I should have, but now I understand WHY I did.

I’ve been diagnosed as being Spiritually Abused.  A term not well known but the practice is wide spread.  As soon as I heard those two words come out of the mouth of my counselor, I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom and an immediate relief of distress.

No more rationalizing it, defending it, ignoring it, excusing it or covering it up.  The weight of seven years consumed with confusion and shame immediately lifted off my shoulders.  It’s like I knew something was wrong but I couldn’t put words to it.  I have beaten myself up wondering why I didn’t leave that church when I first witnessed the sin.  I was abused by narcissism and frozen with fear.  Uncovering and naming  my problem was like sitting in the doctors office thinking you have a terminal disease, but then the  doctor diagnoses you as simply having the flu.  Heavy sigh right??  There is nothing like the gift of CLARITY.

As I dove head first into researching my diagnoses, I’ve found that churches across America have swept this issue under the preverbal rug.  I’ve also discovered that many people who are aware of this type of abuse are afraid to talk about this subject due to many factors. People don’t want to believe that someone they admire, especially a Pastor, is capable of abusing others.  Denial, denial, denial.  Across the nation, church leaders are hurting others as they hide behind the mask of position and authority.  Why isn’t something being done?  People fear change. People don’t want to be the one who calls someone out. People have been deceived to think their need for a leader supersedes taking a stand for what is right and wrong.  This line of thinking overpowers them and they end up compromising what’s right in order to keep the status quo and not interrupt their comfortable routine of life.

One detrimental factor that the enemy uses in today’s church community is fear.  Fear is paralyzing.  Fear is clever.  Fear and complacency  caused me to compromise the very principles I believed in and taught to children and their parents.  My fears overwhelmed me and got my eyes off of the promises of Jesus.

-The fear of thinking that no one would believe me.
-The fear of leaving the families I’ve nurtured without a leader.
-The fear of misleading families by leaving the church without exposing the true reason.
-The fear of not providing financially for my family.
-The fear of committing social suicide by leaving friends of 23 years.

2 Tim 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

I read that scripture on this side of my situation and it’s so clear.  I’m ashamed it didn’t resonate within me years ago, but I understand all that was attacking me and all that I was navigating just to survive, hindered my ability to make proper decisions.

There are many things that have helped me on my healing journey but reading the definitions of Spiritual Abuse was the best resource that jumpstarted my road to being whole again.  With each sentence I read, validation and redemption swelled up inside of me, as I had a clearer and deeper understanding of what I had endured.

It’s difficult to describe what happened to me.  So I have provided the exact definitions that blessed me and here’s praying they bless you:

Defining Spiritual Abuse

Jeff VanVonderan, author of Soul Repair writes: “Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people MORE free, misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes which are really their own.”

Dr. Ronald Enroth, Professor of Sociology at Westmont College, defines spiritual and pastoral abuse this way:

“Spiritual abuse takes place when leaders to whom people look for guidance and spiritual nurture use their positions of authority to manipulate, control, and dominate.”

Dayna Drum, contributing author at revelantmagazine.com wrote:

“Spiritual abuse is similar to other types of abuse, but it’s committed under the banner of spirituality. It can be subtle or painfully loud—anything from unquestioned pastoral authority, to practices of shaming members if they don’t fulfill religious expectations, to badmouthing members who have left.”

In the book Healing Spiritual Abuse, Ken Blue compares other types of abuse with spiritual abuse:

“Abuse of any type occurs when someone has power over another and uses that power to hurt. Physical abuse means that someone exercises physical power over another, causing physical wounds. Sexual abuse means that someone exercises sexual power over another, resulting in sexual wound. And spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.”

Another definition of the term spiritual abuse is found in the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen and it states:

“Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.”

How I wish I could see your face as you read the above definitions.  Some of you may not even realize you’re in an abusive situation until the clarity found here in these definitions.  You are not alone.  You are not going crazy.  You ARE seeing it right.

All in all, Spiritual Abuse is when someone in a key leadership position at church manipulates and takes advantage of you for their personal gain.  The abuser has worked hard at mastering the skill of manipulation.  The deceit and maneuvers are effectively subtle that you are unaware you are being used.  Because of your respect of their position, you assume they are above doing wrong and are above sinning in the manner in which you have witnessed. They have covertly earned your trust, which causes you to dismiss the sin, believing they are held accountable by others.  But often never are…

What do you do next?

Talk about it!!!  Talk about what has been honestly going on with a trusted colleague, friend or family member.  Strongly consider counseling.  Getting help from a reputable  Christian counselor is nothing to be ashamed of.  I believe Christ gifted those individuals for such a time as this.

I learned that your abuser is counting on you to NOT talk about it.  It is one of the things they know about you. They are well aware that you are concerned about the image of the church that you’ll keep its secret.  You see, if you keep the church’s secret, you will conveniently keep their secret too.  I was manipulated in this exact way.  Trust that the Lord of the universe is BIG enough to handle your situation.  The church belongs to our Savior, not the pastor or leadership.  Talking and processing your experience is healthy and it is your first step to recovery and healing.

1 Corinthians 3:11-13
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.…”

A good friend of mine, who served on staff with me for ten years, reminded me that all the ministry I built in the past, under the stress and unhealthy circumstances was built with hay and straw.  Pastor Eric McPherson witnessed first hand what I endured and went on to explain that if fire was put to the Kingdom work of that time period, it wouldn’t stand the heat and would burn away.  He encouraged me that in the new chapter of my life, to focus on rebuilding using precious stones, as those stones will withstand the heat of the fire and persevere because Jesus is the foundation.

I’m led to believe that this blog/vlog is one of my precious stones. There many teachable moments I know the Lord wants to use relating to my story and to try to fit them here in one post would not do them justice.  Please stay tuned as I piece them together with each upcoming post.   I covet your prayers and comments as my intent is to give comfort to those who are hurting and confused.  There’s hope in our Lord and He will meet your needs and shelter you in your storm.  He did it for me.  Healing and feeling myself again didn’t happen overnight.  It’s a process that needs to run its course.  Decide to lie down at the feet of Jesus and allow our Savior to save you. Victory is around the corner…I promise!

Spiritual Abuse Links:

Soul Repair and The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Jeff VanVonderen

http://www.jeffvanvonderen.com

Dayna Drum Article – “It’s Time to Address Spiritual Abuse”

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/its-time-address-spiritual-abuse-church

http://www.spiritualabuse.org

http://www.spiritualabuseawareness.com

This link from Truth Guard helped me navigate my last few months on staff.  “Should I Confront My Pastor”

http://www.truthguard.com/Articles/answering-the-question-should-i-confront-my-pastor-a64.html

10 Ways to Spot Spiritual Abuse

http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/155481-10-ways-to-spot-spiritual-abuse.html

Facebook Pages to like:

Spiritual Abuse Recovery

Spiritual Abuse Awareness

Follow my Spiritual Abuse Recovery board on Pinterest

Confessions of a Mama Who Misses Her Son

 

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I just returned from dropping off my baby boy at the New Mexico Military Institute. Heavy sigh.

Our family was blessed as the United States Merchant Marine Academy sent Kiani as a sponsored “prep,” to NMMI.  He’ll attend 2 semesters to prepare him for the rigorous military life at a Service Academy.

Kiani is my youngest child and he was sooooo ready to take his education to the next level.  Our family has already experienced sending our oldest off to school. My daughter Ilyssa is a Master’s College graduate, has a full time job and lives at home with us and my middle child, Jordan.  Jordan is entering his junior year as a Music major at Cal State Bakersfield.  I realize I have 2 out of 3 of my children still with me. So why am I sad?  I know I still get to be a “mom” to a daughter and son.  I know, I know, I know!

Not gonna lie…. I miss my son, my heart sill hurts and is swollen with bittersweet sadness as Kiani starts the next chapter in his life.

Anyone who knows me well can say it doesn’t take much to make me happy.  I don’t require a lot of attention, I coach softball, love to watch sports, love ministry, and I consider myself a low-maintenance type of gal.  I also have the privilege of serving the  families of my church, celebrating and supporting them in their good times and in their bad.

So as I begin to navigate the feeling of loss that’s welling up inside of me, I thought it would be easier than this.  Grief is felt when a loved ones dies, but it also manifests itself when there’s separation or major change.  We grieve what “used to be,”  a type of loss.

My heart is swollen as my mind replays the videos of Kiani turning on ESPN, opening and closing our blinds, parking his car, playing basketball and turning off all the lights before going to bed.   In all honesty,  I’m disappointed in myself as thought I’ve had over a year to prepare myself for his departure .  I also disappointed myself in January 2013 when my daddy passed away.  I was blessed to lead him to the Lord in 1993, so I know I’ll see him again and thought with all that knowledge, his passing is something I’d handle well.  But I found myself weeping more than I thought I would and the profound void I felt was horribly overwhelming.  Triggers like white Cadillacs, Costco and NCIS still bring tears to my eyes. I’m surprised by my reaction as I come from a line of very strong women, I’m a child of divorce and my mom and dad were married 4 times…each.  Survival mode comes easy for me as a coping mechanism.

The Sunday before his funeral, I remember waking up and looking at the clock.  It was 8:00 am and I remember saying to myself,  “Oh good, I can catch the 9 a.m. service at the local church in my hometown.”  As I tried to shower and get ready, it was like a wave of grief was simply poured over the top of my head.  Bawling uncontrollably  I said out loud, “I know, I know, I know, I know!”  I was telling the Lord,  “I know he’s in heaven, I know I’ll see him again.  Why am I crying?” The next thing I knew, it was 12 noon and I had a pile of used up Kleenex next to me on the couch.  To this day, I don’t know where those 4 hours went.

I concluded, it didn’t matter how much I prepared for the day when my daddy would die.  It didn’t matter that I was a Kid’s Director and worked at a church.  It didn’t matter I knew for a fact my daddy was in heaven.  It didn’t matter that I’d already buried my mom when I was 28.  It didn’t matter that I’ve consoled many families and counseled them on loss.

My body HAD to grieve.  God’s design is that the loss was to be released somehow…to Him.

So at this stage of being a mom, it doesn’t matter that I’ve known over a year Kiani would go away to college.  I am sad.  I miss him and my body is designed to grieve, whether I act strong or not.  Just like Kiani and all of our children, I remind myself they are DESIGNED TO GROW.  This is what the Lord has planned.   This season will pass and the days will get easier, but for now heading into my new normal without my baby boy can only be done as I surrender it all to my Jesus.  It is only through the comfort of my Savior and the hope he has given us that Heaven is eternal, that enables me to endure.

Here’s how I’m letting the Lord care for my Mama Heart:

There are two things that are helping me currently cope with missing my son.

The first is a wonderful support group created on facebook recently for us moms with sons and daughters prepping at NMMI for the USMMA.  There are many Empty Nest themed blogs and articles on the internet. Here are some examples:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/articles/churchhomeleadership/celebratingemptynest.html?start=2

http://www.modernmom.com/c763efd0-3b35-11e3-be8a-bc764e04a41e.html

Maybe your blessed to be friends with other parents that are experiencing the empty nest syndrome just as you are, connect with them.

The second, but most important is God’s Word.

I love what Exodus 34:29  says, When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.

After spending forty days in the presence of the Lord, God’s word says Moses’ face actually glowed. According to Pastor Jon Courson, “Moses’ face reflected the glory he had experienced on the mountain.”

  • Spend time in the presence of Lord
  • Be still at His feet
  • Take time to pray
  • Worship
  • Spend time in the Word

When we do the above, refresh and re-energize, our gloom is replaced by a glow.

Moses spent time with the Lord and that is a simple example to me and to us all who are dealing with loss, grief, betrayal, sadness etc.  I want to be found a woman whose face glows. I pray that I can light up a room when I enter it and yet not know it, like Moses.

Isaiah 40:31  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”

 

 

 

Ever Been Wounded? How I went from the Pit to the Palace.

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It is interesting to me that after 23 years of serving the Lord, that I am finally admitting that this thing called “ministry” has it’s ups and downs.  “Pit to the Palace” is a workshop that I lead at conferences designed to help kid ministry workers navigate their way back to the palace in times difficulty, disorder, pain, trails and suffering.

I have not only experienced life in the pit personally and survived, I have the privilege of networking with Kid Ministry workers across the nation and praying with families in my own church who have spent their fair share of time residing in the pit of pain.

What I have come to know these past few years that many of us, kid ministry workers,  suffer in silence and in isolation.  It was only after sitting with friend after friend, that my brothers and sisters in Christ become transparent regarding their trials.  I was shocked that they too experienced the pit caused by pain.  I concluded many hid their problems and wore a mask called, “I’m okay.”  We are ashamed of our circumstances and feel that we will be judged harshly if we admit to having problems.  After all, we are church volunteers or are on staff and we need to be an example to those we serve.  I lived that lie for for over 15 years.  I allowed my trials to confuse my mind about the power that our Lord Jesus Christ possesses.   I didn’t comprehend what it meant to have faith as I hoped in people and my unique strengths rather than our Lord.  I limited God’s divine power and forgot what Hebrews says about faith:

Hebrews 11:1 “ Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

When we are in the pit, what do we pray for?  I know I prayed… relief from the pain.  What keeps us functioning?  Hope.  There’s a motivational quote that states, “A man can live about 40 days without food, about 3 days without water, about 8 minutes without air, but not for 1 second without hope.”

The Lord blessed us, gifted us, gave freely to us, examples of people in the Bible who had great faith:

  • Enoch – taken up to heaven without dying.  He was known as a person who pleased God.
  • Noah – built a boat by faith and saved his family from the flood.
  • Sarah – she believed by faith that she was able to have a child in her old age.
  • Abraham – offered Isaac as an offering.
  • Isaac – it was by faith he promised blessings for the future of his sons Esau and Jacob.
  • Moses – by faith he chose to suffer, left the land of Egypt and parted the Red Sea.
  • Rahab – she gave friendly welcome to spies and was not destroyed with the people in her city.

There are many more examples of God’s power and promises all through scripture.  I was too busy trying to survive, protect, and function to notice and truly claim His promises and to appropriately apply them to my life.  So…..God allowed me to experience a life storm and ultimately my residence for a couple years, was in the pit of pain and suffering.  What I now know about storms is that though they are fueled by strong winds, dark skies, even thunder and lightening, they don’t last forever.  “…there is joy in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Bottom line, when something difficult comes at you, realize that your faith is being tested.  It is only through the test is how you’ll learn to depend on our King.  Each test serves to help us deal with the next test or trail, if we abide and follow the Lord’s instructions.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while if need be you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6-7

Author, Debbie Alsdorf’, inspired me and helped me focus on His purpose in my life in her book, Faith Dare.  She bullet points the following statements about trials that kept me focused on the Lord’s promises and helped me inch and claw my way out of the pit and back into the palace:

  • Trials are tests of what you believe.
  • You are to rejoice in the fire of the trial.
  • You are to believe that God knows about the test or trial.
  • You are to believe that God is with you in the test or trial.
  • You are to believe that God has the power to change you through the test or trial.
  • You are to believe that since God is good, all his dealing with you is good – even in test or trials.

If you are in the pit today, whether the pain was self imposed or you are a victim of innocent suffering,  I pray you can realize that there are others like you,  that have their own Pit to Palace story.  You are not alone.  Jesus’ life is the prime example we could all glean from.  Allow the Lord to minister to you right now and help you surrender all your burdens. Starting today and everyday pray for healing.  Keep asking the Lord what is it that He is trying to show you through this, who do you need to forgive and ask Him to remind you of the many promises in His word.  God allowed this in your life for a heavenly reason.  What is happening to you, the Lord is working through you. Once you accept that fact, you’re one step closer to the palace.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

If you had full anonymity…would you agree that ministry is hard?

If you had full anonymity…what else would you share with me?

Why does anonymity make a difference?

You do have anonymity and you have a safe place in Jesus.  Turn and fully surrender to Him. You’ll find your way back to the palace.

Here’s the link to Debbie’s book “Faith Dare”

http://www.design4living.org/store/index.php?act=viewProd&productId=43