(Photo: Courtesy of A&E and Howard Books, an Imprint of Simon and Schuster)
Miss Kay, the matriarch of "Duck Dynasty," and Jill Kelly, the wife of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, were among the Christian celebrities who spoke at the Women of Joy Fall conference held in San Antonio, Texas, last weekend.
Kelly told The Christian Post that she surrendered her life to Jesus Christ after she and her husband were told that their only son, Hunter, was going to die from complications of Krabee disease.
"Jesus has changed everything," she said. "Ultimately, the diagnosis and suffering of my one and only son, Hunter, and finding that everything I put my hope into up-to that very point was empty and meaningless. All of the worldly things; all of the money, success, fame, celebrity, power, all of those things came up empty when we were told Hunter was going to die. In the midst of that heartbreak and devastating news, I was so empty, helpless, hopeless, broken and fearful, afraid that every day I would wake up and think: is this the day."
Putting her hope in things that came up empty led her to seek after Jesus Christ, she said.
"I'm just in awe of how God can use my greatest heartbreak to end up being my greatest joy; because it was through my heartbreak that I found the only thing that ultimately matters in this life and the next. He's real and He's changed me; He's changed our family. He's rescued us, and He's rescued my marriage from complete and utter destruction. In the midst of all that struggle, in the midst of Hunter's suffering, God reached and drew me to Himself and surrounded me with people who love Jesus."
Kelly explained that she wanted something more than the world could offer. She wanted her son healed and to be a healthy child, but if that wasn't going to be the case, she was going to choose to depend on God to give her hope, guidance and discernment.
"There's so many things that He continues to do with our family, even being here at the Women of Joy and allowing me to share my tears and the story of my heartbreak, and yet that is actually what's going to build someone up and encourage them to trust God more. But I also think that's where we all stand on a level ground together, where we all actually are family in our struggles more so than in our triumphs."
She continued: "I don't choose to come to a conference and speak, I choose Jesus. And because of that, He has brought me to this place to share my testimony. Our testimonies are His story. I don't have a testimony without the Gospel. Automatically, when we share our testimony, we're sharing the Gospel."
Quoting from Revelations 12:11, Kelly further noted that Christians triumph over the enemy when they share their testimonies, and added that God has the power to save anyone, but He allows people to make a choice as to whether they're going to believe in Him and participate in a relationship with Him.
According to Kelly, it's through struggles that people find greater compassion, and noted that she allowed God to speak into the circumstance of her life as she built an authentic relationship with Him.
"I think the more you get to know God through His work the more he reveals to you – who you are," she said. "When you read the Psalms and when you read Job, and how they poured their hearts out to the Father – it's such a beautiful thing. I think that's where surrender takes place is in knowing Him more and knowing who you are in Him."
Kelly shared with CP that the scripture she chose for the Hunter's Hope Foundation is Jeremiah 29:11; but she also finds great joy in Philippians 1:6, because it says that He who began work in you is faithful to complete it, as well as Psalms 73: 23-26.
Before the duck call business took flight
At the conference, Miss Kay expounded on her testimony that she frequently shares by describing her childhood and the impact her grandmother has had on her life.
Since both of her parents worked at the largest grocery store in the town of 300 people where she grew up, she spent a lot of time with her grandmother who helped raise her and not only taught her how to cook, but taught her about Jesus Christ, salvation, marriage and about satan, whose goal she said is to destroy people, families and marriages.
"My grandmother taught me about God and faith. She wasn't highly educated and married at 15, but she had a world of wisdom about life. She taught me that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, and that I was going to have to fight for my marriage. She said she hoped it wouldn't be much, but I would have to fight for my marriage because satan wants to destroy people and he wants to destroy marriages."
At 14, Miss Kay's father died of a heart attack when he was 49, and her mother turned to alcohol in an attempt to cope, which led to her becoming an alcoholic. By age 16, she married Phil, whose drinking and infidelity was destroying their marriage and their young family.
Fortunately, she said, for four years a local minister and his wife, who was blind, took their young sons, Alan, Jason and Willie to church on Sundays and during the week. Phil's drinking was getting worse and she continued to think that their problems could be solved by moving to new locations. But she later learned that their problems weren't going to be resolved simply by moving.
Fans of the Robertson family know how their lives have been transformed through their faith in Jesus Christ, but Miss Kay emphasized that sharing and hearing people's testimonies plays an import role in life because "you don't know about a lot of people and the things it took to get where they are now."
"Don't ever think that what you share with people doesn't mean anything, because words and messages do stick with people," explained the matriarch whose first book will be released on Nov. 5.
Phil Waldrep, whose ministries organize the Fall and Spring annual Women of Joy conferences, told CP that he wants people to leave the conferences knowing that they cannot tackle all of life's obligations and struggles by themselves, and "when they make that surrender and commitment to [God] and commitment to His word, then they're going to fund true joy."
"Now, that doesn't mean life will be perfect. It doesn't mean that instantly there are no struggles in our marriage, or with our kids or with our employer or life in general, but it does mean that there's a source of joy because we want them to understand that when we surrender to the worship of Christ, joy is not dependent on circumstances, it's dependent on our relationship with Him," Waldrep emphasized.
He continued: "You can try to do it your way, but in the end it's not going to be fulfilling and there's certainly not going to be any joy; and it's going to cause you a lot of frustrations. When we talk about surrender, we mean in every area of our life. We just lay it at the feet of Jesus and say, 'We surrender it all to you.'"
In his experience, Waldrep has found that surrender is a daily decision, in which he gives every aspect of his life to God, and asks for His wisdom. "It has to be a daily decision. Some people feel like we surrender to the Lord one time and we go back two years, five years. If you do that, you're going to wander away. It has to be a daily decision, a daily commitment."
Next year's Fall conference will be held Sept. 12-14 in San Antonio, Texas, and will continue the Spring theme: Beyond Beautiful.