Every November, Apex commemorates Orphan Weekend as we explore God's heart for the orphan and how we can manifest His love to them. Meet the Burkles, an Apex family who picked up their entire lives to serve orphans with Back2Back in Monterey, Mexico. Read their story to prepare your hearts for how you can get involved with orphan care.
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
All along there was Jesus.
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