Kelly's story: Bitter past, sweet heart
As a child Kelly remembers drawing a chair up to the kitchen shelf, grabbing a knife and levering the child safety cap off a cough mixture bottle: self-medication helped her sleep and forget the nightmares of life. This was her way of dealing with the trauma of being abused by a family friend. It also set the pattern of behaviour that gave shape to her adult life.
In the years that followed Kelly struggled with unresolved emotional pain and an underlying addiction. It was in the midst of this journey that God reached her.
Some people come to a faith in Jesus Christ through a dramatic conversion experience while others through the teaching of parents and their church community. Others struggle to pick up the pieces of a fractured life, and in the midst of the turmoil God brings new life and hope to a seemingly hopeless situation. That is what Kelly’s journey of faith has been like.
“My bedroom became unsafe,” Kelly remembers of her childhood ordeal. “But really I didn’t feel safe anywhere.”
She was unable to find the words to tell her parents, but her pain made itself evident in so many other ways. She began fighting with her mother, her school work suffered, and she was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As the abuse continued, she grew to hate the pristine waterside community she was growing up in. At 15 she left home, moving in with her boyfriend and his mum. During drunken rages, her boyfriend’s mother would regularly force the pair onto the streets of inner Sydney. This was the way Kelly grew into adult life: living on the streets and using drugs to kill the emotional torment.
Cynicism, not faith, dictated her life but God’s voice was never far away.
“I always felt a presence there in my life,” she says. “I just didn’t understand it was God.” Despite strong attempts to establish a stable life for herself, homelessness has been her overriding experience. Kelly, now 30, lives at Wesley Mission’s Community Housing in Sydney’s inner west. She has a three year-old son and a newborn baby and is wondering what the future holds.
While she has faced many harrowing experiences in the past, and will probably continue to face challenges in the future, she is grateful that these experiences led to her spiritual awakening. “It was the grace of God that saw me through really hairy situations,” Kelly recognises.
At 16, she spent a few days in juvenile detention for theft. Upon release, Kelly was referred to a refuge. This was when she encountered support services.
“It was the first time I was able to talk to people about what I’d faced,” she recalls. “It planted the seed about finding a voice and asking for help.”
With this new support and confidence, Kelly returned to her hometown, took a job in a little coffee shop and stopped using heavy drugs. She divided her time between her boyfriend’s and her parents’ houses. For the first time since childhood she enjoyed a safe and stable life. However, the few years of peace and respite were not to last.
The man who abused her as a child returned to the town and made unwarranted sexual advances. The experience rekindled feelings of vulnerability and Kelly’s anger rose to the surface. Everything had been going so well and now everything felt unsafe again. She quickly left town and returned to the streets of Sydney. Alone and homeless, heroin became her constant companion.
“At 25, the drugs caused me to get really sick with pneumonia and septicaemia,” she said. “That was when I got really serious about getting off drugs. In rehab, I started to address all these difficult things about my life.” Kelly spent more time in rehabilitation programs than she did using drugs. Finally she found a way to manage her addiction and is now a regular at Narcotics Anonymous.
It was here that Kelly said faith became real, and made a commitment to continue her faith journey.
The Serenity Prayer which is recited at Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous resonates for Kelly in her daily prayer and meditation:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
When Narcotics Anonymous members hold hands a bond of peace embraces them all: this is an experience she cherishes.
“That unity is very important to me,” she says. Like most people, Kelly often struggles to understand why bad things happen to good people. Such a paradox can be perplexing for many people, including Christians. For Kelly it is profound and close to home.
“Dad’s business recently went under,” she said. “He’s a good man who works hard and it’s not fair that this happened.”
Giving thanks, even in the midst of adversity, is a solid reminder of God’s grace and love.
“If you are open to looking around, there are blessings everywhere,” Kelly believes. She smiles warmly at the thought. “I have two beautiful children.”
“At the moment, I feel like I’m being tested,” she said. “At least I have ‘quality problems’, serious problems worth all my attention to find a solution.” Despite life’s valleys and hills, the path Kelly follows is straightforward.
“It helps to keep it simple: God is love and cares about us.” Her practical and uncomplicated trust is a reminder of another woman’s trust: the woman we read of in Luke’s Gospel who is in need of physical healing. Encountering Jesus, the woman reaches through a dense crowd of people to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, resolute that even the lightest of touches will restore her broken body (Luke 8:40–48).
Kelly’s persistence in exploring her faith is inspiring. It’s integral to her life—a life she shares with her son Charlie and her newborn daughter, Ava Adore.
For a long time, Charlie lived either at Kelly’s mother’s home or his father’s residence. Since Kelly now has a safe place to stay in Wesley Mission’s Community Housing program, Charlie has been able to stay with her more often.
“Charlie used to ask me where I went while he was staying with my mum,” she remembers. “It’s very hard for a kid to understand why he can’t live with his own mum.” Kelly was over the moon the first time Charlie came to stay with her.
“I told him this was his home too,” she said. “He has his own little bed and a little toy box.” Becoming a parent has been a life-changing experience for Kelly, making her more determined to fulfil her dream of one day having her own home with her children. She recalls the first time she held Ava Adore in her arms with Nick Cave’s ballad Into my arms playing in the background.
“I was in total awe of such beauty,” she said. “I never felt love on this scale until I had my children. I love being a mum. It’s challenging but there is nothing like it. It brings me such joy.”