A breeze and a Bible changed her life
It was a clear, sunny February day. A breeze was blowing through the open window of her apartment; the closet had finally been cleaned earlier in the week and the small study Bible her best friend had given her when she was 12 was laying on the nightstand.
That was when Spc. Kelly L. Lee sat down on the floor next to her bed, placed the razor against her wrist and said, “God, if you’re there, you better let me know because I’m going to come meet you.”
“I was at such a point of self-loathing; that’s why I got out the razor blade,” the 27-year-old Dallas native said. “I had my own place, a good job and a wonderful fiancé at the time. All the pieces of the puzzle were there, but something was missing. That missing piece was the life I didn’t have.”
And life had not always been great for Lee, she said. A self-proclaimed Army brat, the fiery redhead grew up in an unstable home filled with drug and alcohol abuse. Her parents were divorced by the time she was 12 and her mother had been in and out of jail since Lee was 9 years old.
As she sat with the blade against her wrist, a breeze blew the small Bible onto the floor and opened to Psalm 34. As she began to read, a verse leapt out at her: “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
“I didn’t get saved the ‘traditional’ way by being preached to or talking to a minister or anything like that,” Lee said. “You can’t deny a face-to-face meeting with God like that, though. I cried out and he heard me.”
Like most youth, Lee had been searching for an “identity” before she was saved. It was during her search that she first began to express herself through body art by getting her astrological sign, Leo, tattooed on each of her hands.
“I loved being able to express who I am through body artwork,” she said. “When I came to know Christ and his love for me, that translated into the tattoos I have now.”
The artwork now covers her entire left arm in what is known as a “sleeve,” and Lee uses them as part of her “personal ministry.”
“When people ask what they mean, it gives me a chance to express myself and tell my story,” she said.
From the depths of despair, she looked to a razor blade for salvation and instead found a calling, Lee added. “It was all he said; to be prepared. About a year and a half later, he laid on my heart: ‘Army.’ I prayed about it for about eight months, asking, ‘Is this really what you want me to do?’”
She asked for advice from her father, who had already lived the life of a soldier. She considered the life of her father’s best friend, an Army warrant officer killed in action in Iraq in 2008. She embraced the support of her husband, Josh.
In 2007 she followed her calling and enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a chaplain’s assistant, adding another chapter to her life story encompassed by the artwork covering her arm.
“I love having her as my assistant; she’s one of the finest chaplain’s assistants I’ve ever known, and we’re fortunate to have her with us on this deployment,” said Capt. Benjie Bender, 36th Infantry deputy division chaplain. “The quality of a chaplain’s deployment often depends on the quality of the assistant. She and the other chaplain’s assistants are making all the difference on this deployment.”
The story of how Lee was saved is not a common occurrence, said Bender, a 39-year-old native of Evansville, Ind., now a resident of Dallas. “Many times I’ve heard people say that coincidence is God’s way of working anonymously. God has many ways of reaching out to people; for -Lee- it happened to be a breeze.”
In fact, said Bender, reading the Bible is much less painful than getting a tattoo.
“If you’re seeking God, he’s easy to find,” Bender said. “You don’t need to test him the way it happened with Lee; he’s always there to answer if you’re willing to listen.”For anyone who has met Lee, it can be difficult to reconcile the cheerful, smiling chaplain’s assistant they know with the darker, suicidal person she once was.
“Her story is amazing,” said Bender. “It show’s God’s interest in all of us; how he can take someone’s life with all the mess it’s in and make something beautiful out of it.”
When not serving on active duty orders with the Guard, Lee manages a Sonic drive-in restaurant and is a full-time student in her junior year at Dallas Baptist University, where she is working on her bachelor’s degree in Christian studies.
“I joined to be an assistant with the goal of becoming a chaplain myself,” Lee said. “I love this country and I love God. The chaplain motto is Latin for ‘God and Country,’ so I couldn’t resist having that for a tattoo.”
“She’s amazing; she’s someone who can’t help but wear her ‘faith on her sleeve’ as it were,” said Bender. Chaplain’s assistants do their jobs “for a variety of reasons. It’s rare to have one who has the calling, the compassion she does for the soldiers.”
Lee’s love of tattoos makes it easy for her to fit in with the rough-and-ready life of soldiers. “I feel really comfortable being here doing what I’m doing. I think God prepared me mentally for what I would be doing here.”
What she does is take care of the spiritual well being of soldiers and reach out to those who need it, regardless of what their faith is or if they claim no religion at all, she said.
“For a civilian, it may be a little difficult to put that ‘evangelist’ away, but the Chaplain Corps prepares us well to understand the ramifications proselytizing could have in a foreign nation,” added Lee. “I feel blessed to be a part of a division staff and I take seriously this opportunity for me in my career to have a pivotal role in the lives of our seven-thousand-plus soldiers in [United States Division-South].”
Her first deployment has been busy, she said, between the long hours at the office and even more long hours keeping up with her college education. Although her work is never done, she said being deployed is easier on her than it is for her husband.
“It’s difficult for him because he has no military experience whatsoever, so [the deployment] has been a world-changer for us,” Lee said. “He supports me, though.”
Military life certainly suits Lee, said Bender. “She can clear a room with the best of them and put the ‘hurt’ on in combatives. And she is an excellent shot with the rifle.”
“She’s very thoughtful and a joy to work with,” Bender added. “I hope she pursues her ministry as a chaplain, although I have mixed feelings about that. We will gain her as a chaplain, but we lose her as an assistant.”
Despite all the challenges Lee has faced in her life, she said she has every intention of carrying on full-throttle.
“People ask me, ‘If you could go back and change anything, would you do it?’” she said. “I would have to say no, because all of it happened for a reason. It has made me -who- I am today.”
Story by Sgt. David Bryant
Table of contents for Military Chaplains
- Jesus Walks the Battlefield
- Father Martin C. Hoehn
- Church: Chaplains are heroes, too.
- Chaplain Gave All-Chaplain (Major) Henry T. Vakoc
- Father Vincent Capodanno
- Father Elmer Heindl
- Father Heindl Saved America
- Father Leo – Saving Souls in Iraq
- Father (Capt.) Emil Kapaun
- Priest Called to Serve – in the Army
- Former Stunt Man Makes Leap to Airborne Ministry
- Female Chaplains Serve God and Country
- West Point Priest in Iraq
- Father Tim Never Surrendered
- Guard Member Earns Chaplain of Year Award
- Aiding God and Country: Chaplain Assistants
- To one Marine chaplain, karma is everything
- New Zealand chaplain making a difference to Afghan orphans
- St. Elijah’s Monastery in Iraq
- Captain Dale A Goetz KIA
- Mass celebrated in a far away land
- Serving God and the troops in Kyrgyzstan
- A breeze and a Bible changed her life
- Our Best: Spc. Heather Lane
- Military service a testimony of faith
- Father Emil Kapaun to be awarded Medal of Honor
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This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011 at 9:30 am and is filed under Military, Military, Our Best: Military Women, Religion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.