Lori Kelly

My home was broken before I even entered the world, as my parents were already separated when I was born in West Texas. My father was an alcoholic and my mother was chaotic. There was always a lot of turmoil in my environment. My mother was married several times — my sister and I share the same father, and my other three siblings have different fathers. I went back and forth between living with her and living with my grandparents on either side of the family. We were shuffled a lot and we were always starting over, resulting in me attending nine different schools. A lot of adaptability was required and subsequently I learned to put on a good show because I was always the new girl. I developed great people skills as an act of self-preservation because I was constantly needing to fast-track my relationship-building. I was a likeable girl and made friends very quickly wherever I went, but lasting or authentic relationships weren’t on the table for me. The minute I made a great best friend, or got close to anybody at all in my environment, we were abruptly uprooted and relocated. It was only safe to keep all friendships surface-level and void of real connection. When I was in the fifth grade, I remember crying because I had just learned we were moving yet again and I didn’t want to leave my friends. I was told it wasn’t a big deal, that no one cared how I felt, and that I was just making the move harder on everyone. I believed that, so I learned to just not have any feelings when I was disappointed in my early life. I shifted my paradigm into a position of never looking back. I started to embrace the curveballs by just saying, “Where are we going? What are we doing next?” With all the unpredictability and reinventing came a lot of hardship. The money that my mom brought into the family didn’t stretch far among the seven of us, so there was a lot of stress about finances in my household and I was raised with very little. My mother had several men in her life and I recall being hurt at four years old by one of her boyfriends. I was also raped when I was thirteen and was not able to tell anyone. I just dealt with it the best way I could, and that was by tucking it all away and just moving forward. My heart was completely damaged at 13 and I built an impenetrable wall and developed bulletproof thick skin.

I spent all four years of high school living with my mom and going to the same school – it was unsettling to be settled. The fact that I was in a solid school location wasn’t synonymous with having a solid foundation at home. We moved into several houses in the small town we lived in. I didn’t see my father anymore once I started high school, because I used to only see him when I lived with his parents, my grandparents, in the summer. My mom was entering into her third marriage as I started my freshman year, and although my stepdad proved to be a consistent figure in my life it was still a difficult adjustment. My mom didn’t provide much wisdom or council about how to conduct myself, and at 14 I had embraced a lifestyle of promiscuity, drinking and smoking cigarettes. I had genuine feelings of contempt for myself about the choices I was making with boys, and those feelings manifested into long-term guilt and shame about who I was inside. I had no self-worth.

I was 8 years old the first time I remember thinking, “I can’t wait until I’m 18 and I can take care of myself.” It was a thought that was on repeat in my mind throughout my adolescent years. Once that landmark birthday rolled around, I wasted no time in leaving west Texas with my boyfriend and moving to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, with no money and only three outfits packed in the trunk. He was my high school sweetheart. I married him for a short time, but I quickly discovered that I married an alcoholic. We got a little apartment and I went straight to work. I took a job in electronics distribution and I excelled immediately. I started in customer service, was promoted into product management, and I found out I was very well-suited and primed for corporate America. All the years of moving around and starting over had developed within me a skill set of tenacity, adaptability and acuity in interpersonal relations. This was the first time in my life that I truly understood that I was smart and capable, and I embraced that reality and became very good at my job. This experience of a job filling me up emotionally and building my self-esteem was the beginning of a love affair with my professional life. I eventually became a Director of Product Management, making a great salary and overseeing a large group of people who worked under me.

I was divorced after three years of marriage to my first husband. Soon after we split in my early twenties I met my husband Jim. It was a whirlwind romance and we just loved each other recklessly and fiercely – we were married within one year of meeting. He was in the military and upon reentering civilian life he started a career at Microsoft, and together we had two demanding, all-encompassing careers to manage. Jim’s parents were still together and in my eyes they were experiencing a successful marriage, and that was the type of relationship that was modeled for him growing up. I, on the other hand, didn’t have the first clue how to be a wife. We were really trying to figure out the whole marriage thing, but when we failed at intimacy we always had our careers to fall back on for comfort. As I came to realize that I wasn’t conquering this challenge of building a strong marriage as easily as I had conquered my professional journey, it became easier to just build a lifestyle that made it LOOK like we had it all together than to truly fix what was broken. We had our first two children, Sean and Rachel, and they completed the picture of the ideal reality. Perfection became my first priority and my sole motivator.

I ran with perfection so hard, and I had no idea I was white-knuckling everything, trying to keep everything appearing flawless. I almost lost my marriage because of perfection, and I treated Jim very poorly for the first seven years of our relationship. Eventually he ended up having an affair and our future together looked ill-fated, but we miraculously pushed through this hardship and made it to the other side stronger than ever. At the time, I said it was for the kids, but now I know it was the extravagant grace and love of God that gave us the strength to persevere. As messy as our situation was, we loved each other and we needed each other. We were able to use the heartache as kindling to rediscover each other and reconcile our hearts to one another.

Not long after our marital crisis, I reached a point in my career where I was exhausted, burnt out and confused about what I wanted – and that scared me and paralyzed me, because I had no coping skills. I had no tools to use, no cognizance to ask for help and no idea how to take a timeout. All I knew how to do was run at 110% — I was at work at 7 AM every day and stayed… UNTIL. Even when the kids were young, I would pick them up at daycare, drop them off at home and go back to work. I traveled all over the place, I did everything myself so that I knew it was done right, and I was completely job-oriented. I was not family-oriented in the least and I had no spiritual life. Something had to change.

I was terrified to make a move because I didn’t know anything else, so in an act of true leadership my husband stepped in and insisted that I leave my career. I resigned. I didn’t know what I was going to pursue next, but I wasn’t worried about it because I was smart and crafty and could easily win over the powers that be at my next vocational stop. I somehow chose real estate as my next endeavor, which is an easy profession to get into, but a hard one in which to remain relevant and enduring. It can also be a very lonely job if you don’t know anybody. It was a difficult and humbling change of pace for me.

One day I met a colleague for lunch and as we dined she proceeded to open up on a personal level that was so visceral that it was foreign to me. In my estimation I didn’t know her well enough to be engaged in what seemed like intimate conversation, so I didn’t know how to discern her intentions at first. She tearfully and vulnerably spoke to me about her family and about her childhood, which was a mirror to my own in some ways, and the more she shared the more comfortable I became. As I listened, I felt like I had taken a breath for the first time. I felt like somebody “got it” – they got ME. I certainly had no experience being vulnerable, but I surely knew that I wanted some of what she had. The conversation turned to Pathways and I told her straight to her face, “I don’t do therapy.” She proceeded to tell me that it wasn’t therapy, but rather an emotional intelligence training and it would help me build my career, and suddenly my interest was piqued. I didn’t need a heart-level approach – I needed a corporate talk, and she said all the right things to speak to my emotional currency. I agreed that it sounded like a good opportunity and that I’d check it out. In a cunning strategic move, she wouldn’t let me drive away in my car until I had made the call into the Pathways office to register. She said that she knew I was the type of person who would honor any commitment I made, so I needed to make that commitment on the spot. Smart lady.

Before my Weekend started I asked my sponsor if I could bring my laptop to take notes and what the dress code would be, and despite her response that it was a casual environment I still showed up in dress slacks and a professional blouse on Friday night of the training. Upon arriving at the hotel, I instantly noticed that everyone in the hotel lobby was hugging and embracing each other and overly happy. I instinctively questioned my decision to attend and started considering a fast getaway. My sponsor sensed my hesitation and just looked at me with pleading eyes and said, “You’re going to have to trust me. When you get scared and want to run, hold on to your chair. God has something big coming.” That was my first indication that my expectations were probably not accurate, but I did choose to trust her and entered the training. We couldn’t have been more than ten minutes into the introduction when the facilitator asked, “Who’s here because you don’t know who you are?” A force came over me and I raised my hand, and he looked at me and said, “You know who you are. You just don’t like what you see.” In that moment, my heart fell to the floor and I felt instantly exposed. I thought, “How did he know? And who else can see that I’m fake and have shame about who I am?” I thought I was doing a really good job at presenting an image of perfection, but he saw right through me instantly. I felt discomfort and relief simultaneously, knowing intrinsically that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I walked into that room so emotionally numb – I had spent several years taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, taking an aid to help me sleep at night and pouring coffee down my throat in the morning to wake up and stay productive during the day. I was smoking cigarettes on top of that – that was how I maintained daily functioning throughout my thirties. I had nothing authentic to give my family – I was so numb! For me to sit in that training room and within ten minutes start to actually feel something genuine was a miracle. Even if it was painful, it was genuine, and I knew there was something profound waiting for me in that room.

The most life-changing things that I took away from the Weekend were the capacity to connect to other people without reservations and rediscovering how to connect to my own emotional center. Before Pathways, I never cried. After, I was able to cry tears of sadness as I lamented over things that happened to me as a child and teenager that were shameful and painful. I realized as I shared that if I made the choice to bring these experiences out of the dark and into the light, then I would no longer be able to hide from them. After stuffing my memories and my feelings deep within for so long, I hadn’t realized that I was holding on to traumatic defining moments in my past from which I needed healing. I got to a root of something that I didn’t even realize was a root. I spent my whole childhood being taught to never look back, and that if I just kept moving forward all my problems would resolve themselves. There were so many moments in the training where I thought to myself, “If I actually say this out loud, I’m going to lose it,” because saying it out loud made it real and I had built a life around pretending it wasn’t there. I had to take an inventory of the harsh state of my heart and examine what holding onto those traumas was costing me. And then they asked me what I wanted, and I was dumbstruck. I had spent decades living in the present, just hustling my butt off to be successful in the big bad world, never wasting time dreaming about desires or the future. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around longing for more or making choices centered on obtaining personal joy or satisfaction. When I left that training, I knew my life was forever changed because I finally knew what it felt like for my voice to not only be heard, but for someone to care about and understand the cry of my broken heart.

After the Weekend my heart was overflowing with emotion, both good and bad feelings, and I knew I had to complete my journey in order to make sense of what my heart was doing. There was so much unraveling and rebuilding to do. I actually went through the program without sharing anything about the training with my husband Jim. After P1, I did come home and tell him that I had completely forgiven him, which he found perplexing because he was under the impression that we were already over that hurdle. But it was this healthy process of unraveling that kept revealing unfinished business in my soul. I came out of P1 knowing that I was going to do the hard work to revolutionize the quality of our marriage. Jim thought I already was a great wife, but I knew he had not yet experienced the authentic, healthy version of me. I made a commitment to really be invested and show him what a wife should be, instead of just going through the motions and only allowing him restricted access to my heart. And then in P3, during the last exercise of the training, the Lord became really real to me for the first time in my life and I experienced a radical spiritual transformation. After letting go of all the pain and tragedy and baggage that I had collected over the years, there was now enough room in my healing heart for the Lord to enter and reside there. The Holy Spirit gripped my heart in an unshakeable fashion, engaging me in such a tangible way that it would be impossible moving forward to not embrace that vertical connection. I had believed in God for all my life, but I had never felt His presence like that before. I knew my future was forever changed, as I moved from the arena of religious knowledge into a loving relationship with my heavenly Father. I was able to attend church and actually experience what a connection to God feels like for the first time, and I could listen with an open heart about how He sees me and how He cherishes me… and believe it. And understand that it was possible. I felt lovable, and I felt worthy to be loved by my God.

From that moment on, our family was transformed as I showed up in a different way for my husband and kids. I knew how to use my voice in a way that they could hear me. Instead of distracting myself with activity when I got upset, I mustered up the courage to face my feelings head on so that I could let them go readily. I was really devoted to being consistent, available and involved. When I held my kids I embraced them with my heart as if it was the first time – as if I was trying to absorb all the perfection that I had projected onto them over the years. I realized that my perfection was a symptom of fear and feeling out of control. When I operated out of perfectionism I achieved immediate results, but it prevented me from reaching into the future and embracing any long-term dreams. As the dynamics of my relationships changed and grew, so did my husband’s belief that this program was the real deal and that the change in me was permanent. About a year and a half after I started Pathways, my husband attended in class 279 and thus we began a whole new chapter of speaking the same language, jointly using tools, and communicating in a way that demonstrated mutual honor and respect. Out of that renewed passion and connection we created our Pathways baby, Alexis. She has completed our family in a way we could have never comprehended. She’ll never know a before-and-after Pathways version of her Mom and Dad – she’ll only ever experience the reformed and empowered versions of us, and that is so comforting to my spirit.

About four years after my Core Training, Jim and I attended Empowered Parenting together and we had no idea how enlightening and profound that training would be, or how instrumental it would be in further strengthening our family. We learned that our parenting styles were a reactionary response to the ways that we were raised. Being raised by an alcoholic father and a chaos junky mother, I never experienced any kind of stability or oversight. In trying to do better for my kids, I had let the pendulum swing way over to the other side of becoming a helicopter mom. Jim having a military background primed him for being a drill sergeant dad. We had to step back and realize that our approaches for protecting our kids could possibly be intimidating to their hearts and minds. We got the opportunity to learn Love and Logic, allowing us to remove reactionary behavior and respond with our frontal lobe instead of our limbic system. We developed deliberate strategies for creating a safe environment in our home – even something as simple as taking a break in a hot moment has made a distinct difference. We were also able to let go of the need to control the outcome of every experience our kids would have in the future. Before that, I never wanted my kids to fail and would steer them away from taking wrong steps, but now I’m okay if they fail. It’s not my job to protect them from consequences – it’s my job to consistently provide a soft place to fall and the encouragement to keep trying. Empowered Parenting gave us the opportunity to build a new legacy for our kids. I left home at 18 because I had to take care of myself and nobody was ever going to take care of me. My kids don’t ever have to feel like they don’t have a safe haven in our home. I want them to go pursue their education and explore the world, but hopefully when they settle down and have families of their own they will want to stay close to us because they know that our home is a den of love and support.

Four years removed from that training, I can see how vastly the skills we learned in there have changed the dynamics of our relationship with our kids. Our oldest son is 21 and although he isn’t involved in Pathways, he is grateful for the changes he sees in us. That kid knows that we have his back and that he doesn’t have to pretend to be anyone he isn’t. He’s about to graduate from TCU and is awaiting responses from six law schools, and I believe that our commitment to Love and Logic contributed greatly to his development of great self-management skills. We required him to use his brain, make calculated decisions for himself and accept the rewards along with the consequences of those decisions. I’m certain that without Empowered Parenting, I would not have had the confidence to trust his choices, and most certainly would have tried to control his circumstances more closely. The results of my letting go is a son who knows that we believe in Him and subsequently he’s learned to believe in himself.

Nothing was scarier in Pathways for me than attending Teen Camp with my middle daughter Rachel when she was 15. My perfectionism reared up a bit as the event drew near, because I was terrified to hear what my daughter really thought of me as a parent and unsure if I could handle the truth. It triggered old tapes of, “What if I’m not as good of a mom as I think I am, and I’m actually still a fraud?” It ended up being my most favorite training out of all of them, because I got to discover just how amazing my kid really is and how much she genuinely loves her dad and me. I learned that Rachel is truly proud of us. That Christmas, she told Jim that all she really wanted as a gift was for him to attend Teen Family Camp with her the next summer. What Rachel really needed from her dad was for him to start viewing her as a young lady instead of as a kid, and the training gave him the opportunity to hear her heart and respond accordingly. Discovering my daughter’s heart has been the greatest gift – she is so open and vulnerable, she enjoys connecting with us, and she’s not afraid to ask us for medicine when she needs it. At the same time, she’s displayed such maturity and wisdom, and has proven that she can stand on her own two feet. We have total assurance as she goes four hours away to start her freshman year at Oklahoma State University that we are sending a bright, vibrant spirit into the world and that she will flourish there.

Step Beyond was powerful as a participant, as it helped to solidify my convictions and confirm the relationship I’d already established with my God. It is by far my favorite training to volunteer in because of the many miracles I see in that room. My soul just lights up when I witness the dots connect for someone else and they experience forgiveness, intimacy and connection with their higher power. I know that my training would not have been complete without reconciling the spiritual piece that was missing, so being a part of those transformational moments for someone else is powerful and confirming. I just know without a doubt that their lives will never be the same.

I started volunteering not long after I graduated with class 262. I started as an intern in 2010, progressed into a TA, I became a Team Captain and now I’m a member of Community Council as well. The reason I have stayed connected to the Pathways community and have continued to volunteer all these years is my heart for the people. I believe in the healing and redemption that awaits those who seek it, and I truly believe that everyone deserves a second chance to become who they want to be. If you choose to change, you can change. It’s truly rewarding when I see people arrive at the understanding that their situation isn’t hopeless, and I see the light come into their eyes when they find just enough courage to believe that “more” is attainable. I was able to change the trajectory of my family, the direction of my future and my connection to my God through this training. It wasn’t without putting in a ton of work to manifest those things, but it was worth every bead of sweat and shed tear along the way. If I can be a small part of helping someone believe that they are worth putting in the effort, that’s a victory in my book. I believe in the mission so much that I plug in as much as I can, in any area where they need me. Volunteering at Pathways has also helped me develop the confidence to step out as a leader in other areas of my life, most notably at my church. As I’ve gained skills in mentoring women, I’ve become more passionate and effective in my volunteer efforts at Gateway Church. I lead a women’s group, serve as a Zone Leader, I participate in outreach programs that extend love to under-loved members of society, and I just went on a transformative mission trip to Israel last fall.

I stay on track with my training by making myself available and ready wherever God calls me to serve, whether that is at Pathways or at church or on a personal mission in my own life. I show up, with all my authenticity and my vulnerability and energy and resources in my arsenal. I try to operate from a place of no-strings-attached kindness and altruism. I also make sure I’m always seeking out new ways to develop and strengthen my emotional core. It might be a training class, or a Bible study or an online course – I just always pursue new avenues to further my healing and my learning. I cultivate my spiritual readiness by engaging with the Lord every day as a practice, not because it’s required but because I genuinely desire that connection. I do my best to never put my feet on the floor in the morning without spending some time in prayer, reading His word and inviting Him to join me in my journey that day.

Another big way that I stay centered is regularly taking inventory of where I am in my Life Plan, allowing myself to make adjustments and get inspired to engage in my goals more actively. Currently I’m initiating entry into higher education, an opportunity that my early life didn’t afford me. I want to go back to school to give my little girl in the forest this gift that my parents couldn’t give me back then, just so my heart can rest in that accomplishment. I am enjoying my career in real estate, because I get to come alongside people during a stressful and important time in their lives and help them make big decisions for their future. I’m a top performer in my firm and I can attribute my success to my desire to really connect with my clients and make them feel valued and comfortable. That is a quality I’ve developed with the help of my Pathways training, because I do genuinely care about people in a different way now.

One of the lasting gifts from my Pathways training is finding genuine, soul-connection friends and developing real and solid agape bonds with others. I was well-connected before Pathways and never at a loss for companionship, but on the other side of my training I realized that I was showing up in my friendships in a hollow and surface-level way. After God changed my heart in Pathways I developed a passionate desire to pour into others and demonstrate His love in tangible ways. I really started caring about others and revealed a capacity for empathy and selflessness. When I started doing differently and really showed my circle of friends the real me, many of them didn’t know how to respond and several of those bonds fizzled out. It took some time to rebuild my core nucleus, but I currently have the best set of intimate relationships with people who reciprocate love and hold me accountable in healthy ways.

The relationships I treasure the most are the ones I’ve built within my beautiful family. I miss my Grandparents who were truly beautiful people. My father died in 2010 and it was heartbreaking, but I did get to share my heart with him before he left this world. Even though he couldn’t speak I believe we shared a true moment of forgiveness. I do not speak with my Mother but I do honor her. We have not been able to recover a mother-daughter relationship and I believe it is because we never truly had one while I was growing up. I truly adore my husband – he is the love of my life and I will never stop nurturing the bond that we enjoy today. I have three precious children who are thriving, emotionally healthy and feel confident in their own skin. I’m constantly amazed and humbled by the blessings of love in my life.

The part of the H.O.P.E. acronym that resonates the most with me is definitely HEART. Pathways woke up a heart that was dead inside me and I’ll never let that light go out again. I do everything with love first, and I try to see people for who they are underneath the junk that covers up the genuine goodness inside. I do my very best to meet people where they are, free of judgment and with an open mind. Leading with the heart allows me to show up in my family, my career, my friendships, and my passion projects as an authentic version of myself, and hopefully it allows me to reflect the love of God to a world that desperately needs more of Him.