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Prodigal Daughter Returns
She knew she could turn to her family and to God when things got bad enough. Eventually they did.

Kelly hit the cement floor with a thud. Before she could move, her enraged boyfriend jumped on top of her and wrapped his hands around her neck. She struggled to get loose, but the hands only squeezed tighter, cutting off her breath. She thought she would die. All she could do was pray …

When 16-year-old Kelly Gabriel left for a weekend away with her friends, she never dreamed that it would lead to a life on the run. For six years Kelly wandered far from home, enticed by a dangerous lifestyle that threatened to destroy her emotionally, physically and spiritually. Only by the grace of God and the support of her parents, did Kelly survive.

Kelly remembers how, as a child, her neighbours took her to Sunday school on the Salvation Army church bus. One day, her teacher asked the class who they would call if they were in trouble. Kelly immediately said she would call her mom. The teacher reminded her she could also call on God—anytime, anywhere. Little did Kelly know how desperately she would need that support.

During her first year of junior high, Kelly struggled with issues of self-esteem. False rumours spread about her in school had devastated her, and she began to rebel. Like many teens, she was searching to find her identity amid a crowd of negative influences.

"It is so easy to fall into a bad lifestyle when there is lack of self-confidence," says Kelly. "Parents must continue loving their kids, just as mine unconditionally loved me."

In spite of her parents love and attention, Kelly's judgment became clouded. She was incapable of making healthy life choices. Her refusal to communicate with her parents led to greater problems. At age 13, she would disappear from home for days at a time.

When she was 16, a boyfriend invited her for a weekend away in Hamilton, Ontario, to hang out with friends. She never returned. She was having fun and felt accepted. Why go home? Weeks later she phoned her distraught parents. Frantic with worry, they urged her to return, but Kelly refused.

During the next several years Kelly spent time in Niagara Falls, Vancouver, Calgary, Windsor, Ottawa and Montreal. She always knew that she was welcome at home but, although she periodically visited her parents, she never stayed for long.

In each city a new group of friends would persuade Kelly to join in their corrupt lifestyles. Her school friends had taunted her, but these people cared for her … or so she thought. The physical and emotional scars told a different story. By 20, Kelly had experimented with drugs, endured beatings from several boyfriends and survived two near-death experiences.

When she looked around, she realized that all her friends were experiencing the same problems. "I figured that's just the way life is," Kelly reflects. "People ask: 'Why do women stay with men who abuse them?' It's because you are afraid to leave. You are really terrified. You have such low self-esteem. You feel there is nothing left."

Through it all, Kelly experienced God's love through the actions of her family. Whenever Kelly faced a court appearance, her mother was present giving support no matter how far she had to travel. When she was 20, Kelly dated a man who was serving a two-year jail sentence. He asked if she would attend church with his mother, a wonderful Christian lady. Kelly went and felt a special experience that day. She continued to attend church, yet she still hadn't dealt with her poor life choices.

Eventually, things got really bad. While living in Montreal, Kelly was punched in the face and knocked out cold. When she awoke with blood all over her face, she knew it was time to get out. She couldn't take any more. Five months pregnant with her first child, she returned home for good.

Since then, Kelly has put her past behind her. She has committed her life fully to Jesus Christ and is attending church where she first went to Sunday school. Together with her husband, Sheldon, and two children, Kelly is involved in church programs and hosts a home Bible study. She drives a school bus for children with behavioural problems and her goal is to get involved in a street ministry program for the homeless.

"I tell my kids: 'When the devil takes a hold of you he can take you to places you don't want to be. But if you follow Jesus, you're going to Heaven.' " Kelly knows where her home is. And she's not running anymore.

Linda Leigh is a staff writer for Faith & Friends.

Originally published in Faith & Friends, January 2004.




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