Note from RA: Before the current CA system, each intern “core group” was led by a staff member whose title was “Intern Advisor.” The CA’s reported directly to the IA and each intern had regular meetings with the staff member as well.
From my very first one-on-one meeting with Nikki Bradshaw, (my assigned Intern Adviser for my year as a Teen Mania intern) I knew I didn’t measure up to her. I have been overweight for the majority of my life and, since joining a controlling and legalistic church at the age of 15, I came to have guilt complexes about many things. As can be imagined, Teen Mania only escalated this. I told Nikki that I felt guilty any time I ate. I hoped she would help me work on that guilt because I knew even then that it wasn’t from God. However, Nikki’s response was to put me on a strict diet even though she had no medical or nutritionist training and really had no right to tell me what I should and shouldn’t have in my diet. As it turned out, I have hypoglycemia and anemia (among many other conditions, but those were two that I had then, even though I hadn’t yet been diagnosed). I never made the connection then, but now I see the connection between her “past” struggle with anorexia and the way she tried to “fix” my guilt concerning food. It was one instance of her control issues spilling out onto her interns.
I never liked the restrictions she gave me. The only sort of sweetener I was allowed to have, ever, was honey. I was not allowed to ever have any desserts, or sweets of any kind. Even when my mother sent me care packages containing cookies or candy, I was expected to surrender it to her or give it to someone else. At this point in my life, I wasn’t even considered obese. I was overweight, sure, but her extreme restrictions on me had the opposite effect once I was out of the honor academy. I recall being at fun nights for our core group, and all of the other girls eating M&Ms and other treats. I already felt like a misfit, and this only solidified the feeling that my weight made me different than the rest of the group – undeserving of special treats. It wasn’t anything like “have a small amount,” or “check the serving size on the bag and stick to that.” She was the one who gave me the restrictions. She was the one who provided the snacks, and she did not provide any alternatives for me. When I brought up that I thought it was unfair that everyone was snacking on M&Ms and Doritos, and I was left out, I was asked if I would react the same way if all of my friends were sinning and I was the only one not sinning. Everything was rules. Nothing was seen with the point of view of love, grace, or building relationships.
In fact, I feel as though very little that happened in our group encouraged camaraderie amongst us young women. A lot of it was the elevation of her favorites and subtle degradation of the rest of us. We were never asked to lead anything, to speak publicly, to put to practice what we were supposedly learning in our leadership training class. I remember feeling like God had an encouraging word for me to share with the assembly during a worship night led by Nikki. I was told no without a chance to say what it was, that maybe I could share it at the next core group meeting, but that never happened either. I felt like this was only one example of how Nikki Bradshaw and the leadership at Teen Mania told me out right or sent messages that I had nothing to offer other interns or the leadership. All I was good for was impacting the lives of the kids they wanted to recruit to the Honor Academy or to missions. I was at the bottom of the Teen Mania barrel, and I know I am not the only one to feel this way.
Most of my one-on-one interactions with Nikki were a bit demeaning. I worked on B-shift, and I had a meeting with her a bit early in the day, so I went there before my shower. My hair is thin and gets sort of greasy w/in 24 hours, so since I had not showered since the day before (or, God forbid, maybe I didn’t shower the day before for whatever reason), she opened with “Did you exercise before you came here?” I said no. Then she asked if I had showered right before, and I think it was obvious that I had not. So I said no again. She grimaced and I believe she said something about my hygiene, which was not poor by any stretch. I just had greasy hair that morning since I had woken up with enough time for a (mandated) hour quiet time and breakfast before my appointment time with her.
Nothing was ever good enough for Nikki, or any staff member who had input in my life that year. There were two exceptions that I can think of to this rule. I remember Nikki saying many times that there is no such thing as too high of a standard. Even then, I felt this was wrong, but I had to fight hard inside myself to maintain even some semblance of this belief, since she and so many around me held that you can never be too holy. This goes directly against scripture in Colossians 2:18-23
Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on self-denial. And don’t let anyone say you must worship angels, even though they say they have had visions about this. These people claim to be so humble, but their sinful minds have made them proud. But they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For we are joined together in his body by his strong sinews, and we grow only as we get our nourishment and strength from God. You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world. So why do you keep on following rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle, don’t eat, don’t touch.” Such rules are mere human teaching about things that are gone as soon as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, humility, and severe bodily discipline. But they have no effect when it comes to conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires.
So much of what we were fed daily at Teen Mania’s Honor Academy goes directly against this passage. So much of what Nikki Bradshaw emphasized was in direct opposition to this passage, and so many more that are rich in grace.
Most of what I can clearly remember regarding her is included in this letter. Much of my time with her is fuzzy in my mind now. This is the way it goes with most harmful times in my life. Overall, I remember a sense of being looked down upon and of never being comfortable with her. I was too emotional for her — something harshly frowned upon. Mind you, being too emotional at Teen Mania was having any significant “negative” emotional reaction. We were given extensive personality tests — something I’ve always found fun, but only people of an “A type” personality were ever promoted, put in leadership positions, seen as the ultimate interns, and, if you ask me, were taken seriously. Nikki was only one of many who told me that I was allowing my emotions to control me any time I became upset. In retrospect, I feel as though I was being stripped of who I was and of my own desires and was being conditioned to shove my emotions and reactions and sense of injustice regarding anything done by staff or leadership. I was being taught to chalk anything of the sort up to my emotions trying to be in charge.
I’m sure more will come out about Nikki as I continue to process what happened at Teen Mania, but the worst offense has never left my mind. Despite the negative factors there, I did seek God with all my heart while down there, and he did meet me and began to work some deep healing in my life. Some of that healing meant remembering repressed memories. Also, I had grown close to a couple of the January interns who were assigned to my bedroom. The weekend of our Intern Adviser Group retreat, I had remembered hearing my mother being raped by my step father about three years prior to my year there. I sought comfort from this in one of my roommates during the first night of our retreat. After a bit, Nikki pulled me aside — something that was never good. She told us that the way we were sitting, we looked like a lesbian couple. I told her what was going on, and she only reiterated that the way we were sitting is a way a man would hold a woman. Then she coldly brought me in her room and made me tell her what I remembered. Then she prayed for about five minutes or less, and when I tried to talk more, she told me she had already given me all the time she had to spare that night and that I needed to pull it together for the rest of the weekend. I felt as if she stripped me naked, stole all my clothing, and then sent me into a social gathering. It was awful and I remember telling someone it was a weekend from hell. Later on, in the great fashion of an intern, someone told me I was being over-emotional and should have a better attitude about Nikki and the people in our group.
Once Shannon Ethridge was hired, in the last two or three months I spent there, I had begun to seek her out and received more compassion and helpful insight from her in two or three months than I had in nine or ten with Nikki. By far at that, since all I seemed to receive from Nikki was judgment.
When I look back at her, I’m appalled that she was ever put into a position of mentoring young woman. I am angry that I was treated as a the red-headed step child because I am more open with my emotions than she is and because I was heavier than most, but not all of the girls in my group. I feel a great sense of injustice because I realize she never tried to see me for who I am, and never sought to find out my strengths, but only put stress on my weaknesses — whether real or imagined by her and teen mania. Sadly, she is only one in several to leave me with this sense.
I have asked RA to leave my name off of this only to protect my mother’s privacy, and that of my family, However, she has my permission to put anyone in contact with me who wants to talk to me about this for any reason.
Thank you for reading my story.