Kristi Kenkel’s God-Given Purpose
Meet Kristi Kenkel! Having arrived to CORE in September, 2021, Kristi is working the 12 Steps and has recovered. She actively contributes to our program as a 4D Recovery instructor, 2nd Mile member, mentor for newcomers, and avid volunteer.
In fact, Kristi volunteers for so many things at CORE, we never know where we’ll run across her path. She was quite the sight some months ago at CORE’s golf tournament. We saw her standing on the back of a fast-moving golf cart, pointing out sponsor signs to be collected. She kind of reminded us of a sailing ship captain atop of the quarter deck, shouting out orders to sailors below.
Happily, just the other day, we caught up with her at CORE’s Recovery Center in Branson, where she was getting ready to teach class. Standing behind a podium, she wasn’t going anywhere. So, we snapped her photo and, after class ended, we dragged her in for a chat about life, addiction, and recovery.
Kristi isn’t shy with her opinions, confidently declaring “God has given me purpose; this place has become like my home. If all I do is help newcomers understand the 12 Steps and recognize that God is the answer, that’s enough for me.”
Her insightful words reflect the wisdom of someone who has faithfully embarked on a genuine recovery journey. They contrast starkly with the 20-something person who arrived here two years ago, who’d never been to a rehab in her life and had no idea what the 12 Steps even were.
Kristi’s spiral into addiction lasted six years, disrupting her promising college career in biochemistry and life sciences. Adept in math and science, she was a straight-A student who’d made the dean’s list multiple times. However, the allure of the party and club scenes proved to be her downfall.
At first, it was just alcohol. “I didn’t see a problem in what I was doing because I’d always made good choices; I didn’t see any consequences from it,” she says. Then a friend introduced her to opiates which, she recalls, “gave me the feeling I was looking for. I’d never felt confident or comfortable in my own skin. They made me feel at ease, confident and comfortable with myself.”
Kristi not only abandoned her studies, but she also lost jobs, wrecked cars, and strained ties with her mother and family. After switching from opiates to methamphetamines, she lived a perilous existence, couch-surfing and resorting to desperate measures, “whether to beg, borrow, or steal”. Meth, she says, “started taking my self-esteem away. I never thought that I could become that person, who would be on drugs like that.”
She identifies an abusive relationship she suffered as the lowest time of her life. Kristi saw no hope of ever getting out and despaired of her future, but then fortune smiled upon her in a most unforeseen way. “I got caught on a possession charge for methamphetamines. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, even if I didn’t see it at the time,” she says.
While sitting in jail, Kristi encountered a fellow inmate who spoke highly of CORE. “She said that it was the best time of her life, that it worked and she was doing good, but she’d fallen off the program and relapsed.” Kristi grasped onto her words like a life preserver. She doesn’t remember the person’s name today, only that her claim turned out to be prophetically true: the 12 Step program works if you work it.
When Kristi decided to seek help, the court made an order sending her to CORE. Her family, notably her mother, with whom she had little contact, arrived to her support. “I stayed the night at my mom’s house for the first time in six years. My mom and little brother drove me here,” she recalls.
Upon arrival, Kristi quickly learned about the cycle of addiction and how it applied to her. She’d always denied, minimized, confused, or rationalized her attachment to drugs, but what she learned at CORE “made perfect sense,” she says, adding “I’d always asked why I’m different. People said I had a problem, but I never understood why. When the cycle was right in front of me, I knew. I am different, and I saw why.”
In addition, Kristi came to believe that God had been looking out for her all along. There had been opportunities for her to leave her abuser, in fact, but she never acted upon them. It took what Kristi saw as the most unlikely of circumstances – the criminal charge, jail, the enigmatic (yet inspiring) claims of her cell mate – to carry her to a place of complete safety, where people understood her circumstances and honestly wanted to help. “He was looking out for me. He did that. He’d answered my prayer.” Kristi then accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior; shortly thereafter, she was baptized.
She also had the fortune to land a job with an employer who understood her connection to CORE. In fact, her manager had been a client here, too, and took genuine interest in Kristi’s progress. Kristi remembers “She kept asking where I was on the steps, about my fourth step, and fifth.” Impatient with her efforts, the manager issued an ultimatum. “She said, well, you’re not coming back to work until you do them. I actually ended up doing my 5th Step with her.”
Kristi says upon completing these important steps her spiritual experience was “immediate.” “I felt different inside, like a weight had been lifted from me. I felt free. In the hallways, instead of looking down, I could look straight ahead and smile.” Kristi then began to tackle her character defects and started making her amends. A perceptible, personality change accompanied her progress. Her obsession was lifted, and Kristi developed a heart for service. “It wasn’t about me anymore,” she says, “it’s boring if I’m not helping others because, it was like, then what am I even here for?”
Her relationship with family, especially her mother, definitely has been restored. A veritable caravan of family members showed up for Kristi’s graduation ceremony from CORE’s one-year program. “My mom, stepdad, older and younger brothers, stepbrothers, my other stepbrother’s wife, uncle, stepmom and her husband,” she notes out loud. Kristi absolutely beams while telling us “I talk to my mom every day now. She doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night wondering where I am, whether I’m still here, or if I’m still breathing. It’s great to have family back in my life, a family that trusts me to be at home!”
Kristi talked at length about her recovery, the exciting projects she’s been part of, and her hopes for new adventures in the future (like mission trips with the 2nd Milers). Still, the best part of recovery for Kristi is simply living serenely, in the present:
“I used to take the little things for granted, without being present in the moment, like conversations with people, and never enjoying simple things like cooking, going out with friends, or watching movies together. I live in the present now and remember, and I don’t take anything for granted. I never thought I’d be happy, or have a personality or peace of mind, sober. I never thought I’d have anything. Now, being here, the 12 Steps, God, recovery – with all of this – I can have it all!”
We at CORE are overjoyed by Kristi’s commitment to God and her remarkable recovery journey. Our hope is for her continued growth in both her sobriety and her relationship with God. May all the dreams she envisions for her newfound life materialize toward a future filled with fulfillment, joy, and purpose. We’ll continue to stand by her side, unwavering in our support for her beautiful journey that lies ahead.