I am living proof that there is redemption and reconciliation no matter what it is. There is restoration no matter if you are the person doing the harm or being harmed. God is the reason any reconciliation can be possible.
Melissa Wilson stopped asking why a long time ago. She says that it doesn't really help the healing. Between sips of Oolong tea, she was able to explain to me with a smile how God transformed her "Victim" story into a "Child of God" story.
Melissa describes her family as a "Yours, Mine, and Ours" family. "I was the Ours," she says. She had three older half brothers from her mom and dad's respective families and she was the youngest. When Melissa was just eleven years old, she realized while watching a Lifetime Movie that her half brother had sexually abused her multiple times when she was 7 to 8 years old. Up until that point, she hadn't realized that what they had done was wrong. She said she felt guilty and responsible. She wanted to tell her parents. When she told her brother about her plan, however, he convinced her to keep it to herself.
That evening, at just eleven years old, Melissa considered suicide. "It was the darkest night. In the moment even though I had claimed Christ, I didn't know to go to God. I just wanted to be loved. I felt this feeling, like someone saying 'No don't do that. Get that out of your mind. I will take care of you.'" The next morning, Melissa woke up her mother and told her about the abuse. Her parents moved her brother out immediately and began the long road of helping their daughter recover.
Melissa attended many years of counseling, through which she learned that the abuse was not her fault. At this time, she also convinced herself that she had forgiven her brother. Melissa quit counseling and her relationship with God grew throughout high school. Melissa notes that not much moved forward in her healing until she started attending a Christian college, where for the first time in her life she was surrounded by a Christian community. "I was pushed to understand things about God, about how he loves us. You are with people who are growing too and you are growing together. I was understanding God more and how he intends the world to work."
One day, after a phone call with a family member who was hanging out with her brother, Melissa had a feeling check. "I realized I was bitter and hadn't forgiven him. I didn't want him to be in our family." After this realization, Melissa decided to see a counselor on campus, who had a rather unorthodox approach compared to her previous counselors. Melissa's first assignment was to ask God to reveal her sin to her.
Melissa remembers thinking "This lady is crazy! Do I really want to do this?" As soon as Melissa asked God to reveal her sin, she describes the feeling of floodgates opening. Sin after sin after sin pounded on her heart. "I was so broken. I didn't even know why God loves me. I felt like Eeyore, just existing at that point, with no joy." When she went back to her counselor, she realized she had never reached the second part of the assignment: reflecting on God's grace. "I realized I was putting myself on a pedestal over my brother. I wasn't seeing him as a child of God. I wasn't seeing him as needing God's grace like I needed it. I realized there is nothing I can do to redeem myself. I think it was at that point that the real healing began." It was seven years after she told her parents about the abuse.
Since this time, Melissa was married to her husband Paul, who started encouraging Melissa that she might be able to reconcile with her brother. While Paul was deployed in the Air Force, Melissa was going to spend some time at her parent's house. Her mother called and warned her that her older brother was in town. Melissa began to feel like the Spirit might be timing a way to reconcile. With the prayers of her husband and house church community, Melissa was able to face her brother and tell him that she forgave him and about how the Lord had been humbling her heart.
Melissa reflects on her healing this way, "I'm not convinced that the healing will ever end because you have to choose it and you have to choose to be willing to let God work in your heart. I don't feel like a victim anymore or a survivor. I was defining myself by the situation and not by God. I'm just this person this happened to and God used it to show how he works."
When asked what she would tell someone struggling with this situation, Melissa replied, " I am living proof that there is redemption and reconciliation no matter what it is. There is restoration no matter if you are the person doing the harm or being harmed. God is the reason any reconciliation can be possible."
God is the reason. Melissa is not a victim. She is a Child of God.
Author: Jillian Vincent
Photographer: Hilary Tebo