Family

Victim No More

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

God Doesn't Waste Pain

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All along there was Jesus.

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During my time with Anthologies, I have heard and read many stories. Some are filled with joy, some are filled with blessing, some with suffering, and some with pain. But all of them display God’s work through human lives. I sat down with Cathy and was quickly made aware that this story is one of pain that reveals God’s steadfast presence, His provision, and His use of the pain we cause each other to reveal Himself to us.

The story of Cathy’s childhood is replete with pain: physical and mental illnesses, dysfunction, alcoholism, misery, injustice, abuse, abandonment, suicide, and legalism.

Hers is a story of how sin wreaks havoc in children’s lives, of how people either knowingly or unknowingly bring such deep harm to each other that some only see escape in death.

Hers is a story of a schizophrenic mother forced to live in institutional care away from her children, repeatedly attempting suicide, eventually cancer took her life.

Hers is a story of a father abandoning children emotionally and physically; a father that divorced his mentally ill wife, remarried and brought one of his daughters with him when he moved to Florida, leaving the others behind.

Hers is a story of siblings torn apart, some forced to live in abusive and crowded foster homes; a brother who passed away from leukemia and another who committed suicide – his step-daughter died from an accidental overdose just 9 months after.

Hers is a story of a Baptist-run foster home with instability due to legalism and constantly rotating foster parents; sometimes they were good, sometimes they weren’t.

Hers is a story of having just enough to live through college and summers where a home wasn’t guaranteed.

But that is not all of the story. All along, there was hope. A hope that can’t be undone by pain or erased by sin.

Cathy encountered Jesus while living in a Baptist-run foster home. She watched a Christian film at church that day and accepted Him as her savior and Lord. She remembers seeing a rainbow in the sky that evening, marking the beginning of her transformation into a woman of faith. She finally met Jesus, the same Jesus who carried her family, sometimes unbeknownst to her.

All along there was Jesus.

Jesus who strengthened Cathy through her suffering with a work ethic that got her into Cedarville University despite a lack of resources, showing His truth through Ephesians 3:20, which has become her life verse. He blessed her with extended family and friends to provide a home each summer.

Jesus who saved her mother with His grace, healing her enough to get her out of the institution and back to her children before cancer set in.

Jesus who revealed Himself through the brother who died while still in high school from leukemia; sharing the gospel through his testimony to all who would listen.

Jesus who led her father to salvation, and during his third marriage to a Godly woman brought her remaining siblings into his home.

Jesus who showed her brother His love and gospel through Cathy before he took his own life; and showed her Psalm 116:1-6.

Jesus who brought Cathy and her sister into His service using their testimony to fuel His ministry; Cathy serves the mentally ill and her sister works in an inner-city ministry, creating Christ-filled rap music.

Jesus who empowered Cathy with grace to comfort her sister-in-law with the love that only He can generate as she endured the loss of her husband and daughter just months apart.

Jesus who brought a man into Cathy’s life with whom she can share her love of Jesus for a lifetime; together they have three children who all love and serve the Lord. They consider their house church to be family.

Jesus who gave Cathy a love for us that she would share her heartbreaking story of pain and ultimate redemption so we could know the truth of our Lord Jesus even more than we do now; and bring comfort to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

As Cathy says, “I want to be used by God.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

 

Author: Jonathan Allain

Hustle, Hush

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The hustle returns. My striving is starving me. I have to ask God to nourish my soul and fill me once again. My life with God in the center sounds less like hustle and more like hush.

"You need to be better." The summary of my childhood. I hustled to be better than my three older siblings, to be the perfect daughter. I was terrified of breaking the rules, and made mental notes to do or not do what my siblings were doing in order to please my mom and dad. My parents rarely disciplined me because I would melt if they used that tone of voice or hint that they were disappointed. "You need to be better," rippled into my teen years too, but my desire to be seen as perfect now included the opinion of everybody else. All A's. Student body president. Team captain of the soccer team. Hustle, hustle, hustle.

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My perfectionism was insatiable, eating away at every good thing in my life. While playing soccer as a freshman in high school, I lost over 30 pounds. I wasn’t eating and I was working out all the time, even after soccer practice. Though my parents took me to every professional to help me, and my friends and family tried to nourish me with their love, I kept on starving. I never felt deserving of any love I received.

That year I was stripped of my life. I had to quit soccer. I lost the upcoming student body election. I was empty. But God.

Jesus said "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13)

That year God filled me up again, not with food, but with himself.  God used a youth pastor to tell me the story of the woman at the well in John 4 who was trying to fill herself with men. I was the woman at the well, just trying to fill myself with other's approval. No amount of hustle could save me. No number on the scale. No grade card. No checkmark on the never-ending list Satan himself was crafting for me. Jesus Christ shredded that list and saved my life. He gave me freedom from myself by giving me himself. He filled me with the spring of water welling up to eternal life. "You need to be better" transformed into Jesus whispering, "You need Me."

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My older cousin reached out to me at this point in my story and mentored me. She shared that she had the same struggle, but that God was using it to pull her to himself. Up until that part of my life, I idolized my cousin. I wanted to be her. But God. He showed me again that no human is perfect. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23.)

God has given me so much joy and freedom in my life since he started to invite me into his story of grace. Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love." Psalm 139 says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  God has overwhelmed me with his love and satisfied my soul. Praise the Lord, I am an imperfect person loved by a perfect God.

What does that look like now, over ten years later? God led me to become a counselor so that I could help others like I was helped. God has given me multiple opportunities to encourage others to the path of freedom, much like my cousin did with me. There have been so many times I've had to ask God to change the inner dialogue I have towards glorifying Him instead of myself, especially in times of transition. Getting married. Having a baby. Starting a house church. Quitting my job to take care of my son.

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If I am not careful, perfectionism can creep its way back into every detail of my life. Some days, I'm pinteresting how to make baby millet cereal or trying to make the most gourmet potluck dish for house church or staring at my post baby stretch marks in the mirror or running mile after mile and I'm left empty. The hustle returns.  On these days,  I pray that God would show me that my striving is starving me. "God, nourish my soul and fill me once again." So my life with God in the center sounds less like hustle and more like hush. This side of heaven this will be my soundtrack. Hustle, hush, hustle, hush.  "I will quiet you with my love."  And he does. Every time.

 

 

Author: Jillian Vincent

Photographer: Linnea Banz

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