THE TESTIMONY OF DANIELLE JOYNER KELLEY
While having a conversation the other day with a friend of mine, we started to discuss religion, not an unusual topic for me these days. We were discussing a blog post that I had done, and how someone wanted evidence of miracles still taking place today.
Jokingly I said, “I am a lawyer who quit her career to be a Christian writer, I think that qualifies as a miracle.” While we were still discussing the blogs, she referred to my blogs, online bible study groups, and members as a “ministry”. Being the granddaughter of a Baptist minister, that word hits heavily with me. I was taken aback, and had to think for a moment how I ended up where I am now.
Ever since I started my Christian devotionals and online bible study groups, I have received more messages and emails from so many sites which include everything from prayer requests, to heartbreaking and uplifting stories of faith and survival. At last glance I have over 500 messages still to check in my inbox, and realized that I haven’t gotten to all of them yet because I have actually been “working” for the first time in my life.
I wasn’t sure I could call it working because now I am doing something I love to do. There is a hunger going on right now for God’s word that is inexplainable. Over the past year I have seen people who never knew Jesus and were the wildest of the wild completely transform their lives in Jesus name.
What I didn’t pay attention to were the questions about how I have gotten here. People are willing to share their stories, so I should be willing to share mine. Through a period of self-reflection and prayer, I think I didn’t say much because I was still reeling from the changes going on in my own life. It is not glamorous and not half as bad as what others are enduring, but I owe it to those who ask to tell, and to God to show Him how thankful I am of where He has taken me.
Where I am now started long ago while I was a little six-year-old girl in a Baptist church in Southern Alabama. I was taught all about Jesus, and was told that I needed to ask Him to come into my heart and forgive me for my sins. One night I went hand in hand with my cousin, who was five-years-old at the time, and we kneeled at the altar crying and asked Jesus to come into our lives.
Then I opened my eyes, and did not see what I thought I would see. No bells, whistles, no burning bushes, no angels appearing before me. All I knew at the time was there was a man named Jesus who died for me and I needed forgiveness. I remember feeling a lot of love for anyone who died for me, and being really sorry for the things I had done.
Where I made my mistake was buying into the lie that I had to be perfect from that point on, “or else”. That was hard to do. I set myself up for failure by overcorrecting and overdoing to the point where my rope broke and I fell backwards.
Growing up, I had a hunger for His word. Through tragic situations in my childhood, I read my Bible for guidance. I had been taught I needed to walk correctly because this God of wrath would come down with hail, brimstone, and fire, but I was also being told that He loved me so much He sent His son to die for my sins. I became completely confused, and that fueled my hunger.
I remember asking people in church why bad things happened, and getting the answer that the sins of generations carry down. I remember thinking, “Who is this God who is punishing me for someone else’s sins?”. I became angry, but was so curious I could not stop reading.
Through attending two Baptist churches with different sets of grandparents, and growing up in an Episcopal school, my confusion exploded. Either God was out to get me or He loved me, but I could not make sense of it.
Still I kept on reading although no one except my mother knew it. When I was in high school, events were taking place that were forcing me to deal with the question of why God lets bad things happen to good people. Tragedy, generational sins, curses, I heard it all and could not make sense of a bit of it.
Then I picked up a book other than my Bible and read “Hope for the Troubled Heart” by Billy Graham when I was sixteen-years-old. I read about this God of love who was with me through every heartache, every bit of pain, and waiting for me to come to Him and turn it around. I learned that I did not have to feel guilty for questioning God and asking “why” because even Jesus did on the Cross. Then I became more curious.
But the world never stops. I found myself refusing to attend school, bored to tears, confused, hurt, and completely alone, or so I thought. I remember coming home and telling my parents I wanted to get my GED and start community college. They were mortified. But I did, and never looked back, and went on to be a double major in Political Science and Communication Studies at Florida State University. During that time I got married and later moved on to Law School.
The problem was that I did not realize what was going on behind the scenes. God was pulling me in another direction, but I ignored what He was saying. I wanted to become a lawyer to have money and security. If my husband ever left me I wanted to make sure I would be okay. My motives were impure, not to help, but to protect myself.
One day I went to a local copy shop to copy my law school application, and an older gentleman was there copying. In my usual southern-style manner, I struck up a conversation with him. He asked me what I was copying and I told him, “My law school application” with so much pride. I asked him what he was copying and he told me he was copying his paperwork to go back to college. I looked at him and said, “That is awesome that you are going back to school. What are you going for?”. He replied, “Psychology. I want to help people. I have been a lawyer for 30 years and I hate my life.”
It is safe to say the point was missed, and when I felt weak through my pursuit I drove by the biggest mansions in town to fuel my motivation to study all night. I wanted it all, and nothing or no one was going to stop me.
During my first year of law school, I suffered a miscarriage, and thought I was losing my mind. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as a result, and the fear within me was so great I could hardly leave the house for months. Months later I reorganized, went back to school, and started all over again. The loss of a child never left me. I had my first son my second year of law school, and became pregnant with my second son my last year.
I gave birth to him two months before I took the bar exam. I took the exam and passed, and started looking for bigger houses that were more than the 800 square foot duplex we were living in with four dogs and two small children.
I got my first job, and we got our house. But I was not happy. Each new job that came about presented its own problems. I found myself in certain jobs where I had to challenge ethical behavior by others, and others that were great, but I just did not like. Something was missing.
Eventually I went out on my own, and managed to grab some high profile media cases. There was nothing quite like having an interview with yourself as the lead in story on the six-o-clock news time and again. There was nothing like seeing your own picture on the front of the newspaper two days running and times past that. I thought I was well on my way.
But my emotions were not completely stamped out. I was on the news and in the paper because someone else suffered a tragedy. I remember driving home from interviews and court hearings crying my eyes out. Again, I wondered why God let bad things happen to good people.
By this point, I had three small children, a growing career, and still wanted more and more. No house was big enough, no car was fancy enough. I remember wanting to stop, but I could not. I didn’t stop until I was stopped.
I was miserable, falling, failing, and felt hopeless, but from my childhood I knew where to go for help. I found a church that I loved and that helped me grow and I came back to God full force.
Previously, I was diagnosed with psoriasis and I thought it was no big deal. After I came back to Him, I found out that the type I had would cause fevers, was life threatening and extremely painful. At home, barely able to walk, too vain to tell anyone what was going on, I started to talk to God in a way that I never had. And this time, He talked back.
I spent months on my couch crying, seeing the things I had done, feeling horrible, but this time something was different. I finally realized that God was not doing the bad things to me in the past, but something else was trying to keep me from finding Him. I realized that just as God is all knowing, so is the enemy and he knows which of us have the power to seek God the way King David did. I learned that he was doing everything he could to stop me from my childhood on up.
I took back that power, and started to praise God for everything good I had experienced even in the midst of the crisis. I thanked Him for my eyesight, my hearing, the fact that I have felt the ocean, seen a sunset, and on and on. I did not stop thanking Him during that time, and still haven’t to this day.
I reread the Bible, but unlike the four times I had read it cover to cover before, I actually understood it. I would ask God to show me what He was talking about and through the Holy Spirit He did. I didn’t understand why that did not happen before, and then He pointed me to the scripture: 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' Jeremiah 33:3. Before I had not called to Him, I was just reading because it is what the church said to do.
Things started clicking, and I started to enjoy my conversations with Him so much I could not wait to wake back up in the morning. Even while I was asleep, I was talking to Him. I felt like I was about to bust with so much information, so I started writing.
I had no idea what that would do. For every person thinking I was nuts, God provided two more who were sending me stories that ripped my heart out. What everyone could not see was not what I was writing, but what I was reading. Those people kept me going day by day, and changed my life. What grabbed my attention were the prayers I said before asking God whether I was doing the right thing. Those people served as that confirmation, and evidence that God is still working through us.
Now today, I can tell you that I have been married 11 years and struggled just as bad as anyone. I have almost sabotaged my marriage many, many times because of fear that he would leave me first. I have sinned, not wanted to get out of bed in the morning, and fought God more times than I could say. I still do. What I can say now is that I regret everything I did, but I know that one man’s sacrifice was so brutal, painful, and agonizing that I would not ever take it in vain enough to say that I am still allowed to beat myself up. What I can do is go on.
If you ever wonder whether miracles happen, just trust that I was the most negative person you would have ever met. In one year, my thinking was transformed, so much so that those around me don’t even recognize me anymore.
I am still a sinner, but luckily for me I am also a Christian. That promise offers total forgiveness, but also guidance in my day to day life. All I had to do was ask, wait, and trust, and the rest took care of itself. He kept trying all those years I turned my back, and when I needed Him He was still there. I will never give up as He never gave up on me.
Now I have an illness that they say is life-threatening, but nowhere near what many others have to encounter. Now I have lived with a foreclosure, and sold everything I own, but many more don’t have anything. Now I have lived with electricity turned on and off due to non-payment, as well as everything else, but many people in the world never had it to begin with. And even though I have hurt so many, I know now, and did not know then, what it is like to be truly humble.
And I thank God for all of those experiences in my life every day, and would not trade how I feel now to undo any of them.
Learning to see myself as He sees me was a journey, but well worth the trip.
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