Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary


  • blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos
  • Published Oct 15, 2019

I have been so focused on my Masters Degree (I’m halfway there!!) that I have had very few opportunities just to read for my own pleasure and growth. I am currently on fall break, Roy is out of town on business, and I am taking full advantage of the opportunity to read what I want to read.

I was blessed with incredible parents, and I still have an amazing relationship with them. Sadly, I see and hear way too many stories about people who were not blessed with the same relationship I have. I hear the sad stories of abusive parents almost every day. I see the scars from these relationships even within my own close circle. I have shed many tears over those I love who are trying to find the healing they so desperately need because of the deep wounds left by the abuse of those who should love them the most.

My dear friend Phylis Mantelli had such a troubled relationship with her mom. From alcohol to drugs to strange men to physical abuse to kidnapping…she has walked through it all. Yet, she has emerged a beautiful soul madly in love with Jesus and committed to helping others overcome the pain of their childhood.

In her compelling memoir Unmothered, Phylis tells the story of how she grew up exposed to things most of us would find appalling. With gut-wrenching honesty, she walks you through her childhood to her adolescence to her adulthood with all of its trials and pain and confusion. It’s when she meets Jesus that she is finally able to come to a place of peace with her life…and her mother.

Phylis opens with the compelling story of the day she walked home to find men moving all of their belongings out of her house:

I didn’t know what would happen when I saw my mom, but I was happy, for a change, because I was walking home with a new friend and neighbor. My older brother, Brian, dragged his feet behind us.

As we strolled to my house, I saw a huge semi-truck parked at the curb. Two men carried out our couch and loaded it onto the truck. Fear rose in me. What was going on? Something bad would happen when I stepped through my front door. That was how it was in our home—always something surprising, and mostly scary.

How would you feel if you came home to discover all of your personal items were in a truck and you, your mom, and your brother moved—leaving everything you had ever known behind—with absolutely no warning? It left Phylis in a state of confusion and pain. She was lost without her dad. She didn’t understand what had happened, why her dad had suddenly disappeared from her life.

It was months before Phylis’s dad finally found her, finally re-entered her life. It would be years before she was able to escape the abuse of her mom and reunite with her dad permanently.

As the years passed, Phylis’s mother had another baby…and Phylis became a surrogate mother to little sister Kecia. When mom was out at the bars all night, Phylis was always there with her little sister, being the care-taker. She was never allowed to be a child, to do the normal little girl activities. She couldn’t have friends over or try out for childhood because someone had to watch Kecia. The frustration raged within her.

One of my favorite parts of Phylis’s story is how God was always there, always faithful. Even though her life was spiraling out of control, the pain was overwhelming, there was always the touch of the Father. Throughout the years, Phylis always turned to God, always found Him in the midst of her pain. He was never far from her, always fighting for her.

She would be an adult before she finally surrendered, before God asked her to do the unthinkable. Without ruining the story, let me throw this out there for you.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:2-5

We’ve all heard the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. But have you contemplated that he knew Judas was about to betray him…and yet He bowed at Judas’ feet and washed them anyway?

Think about it. Who has betrayed you at the deepest, most intimate level? What is the most gut-wrenching pain you have experienced in your life? Who caused it?

Could you bow at their feet, take on the form of a servant, and wash that person’s feet?

It’s a question I’ve contemplated, and I’m not sure I’m enough like Jesus to be that humble, that holy. But that was the very question presented to Phylis as her mom’s mind and body deteriorated. This woman who had heaped all types of emotional and verbal abuse on her. This woman who had never been a real mother to her. This woman who had allowed men to treat her like an object. This woman who had hurt Phylis in unspeakable ways.

Yet Jesus asked her to do the unthinkable, to become a servant to the one who had used and abused her. What would you do?

I encourage you to pick up a copy of Unmothered today to find out how Phylis responded…and how God changed her life in the process.