Fear

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

The God Who Gives and Takes

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For every life, there are moments that define us.  The good, the bad and the ugly parts of life all direct us into becoming something else.  If we’re honest, we usually give God credit for the good and full blame for the bad.

For every life, there are moments that define us.  The good, the bad and the ugly parts of life all direct us into becoming something else.  If we’re honest, we usually give God credit for the good and full blame for the bad.  He is, as the book of Job says, the God who gives and takes away, but I find I'm not always singing, “Blessed be Your name."  Especially, when He is taking.

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In August of 2013, we were on a much needed vacation.  My wife and I took our 3 children; ages 9, 5, and 2, to a Florida home to stay with friends.  It is a favorite destination of ours and we had been there numerous times.  But this year would be different.

While we relaxed inside, our two year old, Lincoln, decided to sneak out of the house.  And I do mean sneak.  In a room full of adults, not one of us heard the door open.  One of the perks of vacationing there was the backyard pool.  If you know anything about a two year old, you know most of them can't swim.  Ours was no different.

This would be one of those moments.

Our friend was washing dishes in the kitchen.  Casually she asks, “Why is the door open?”  Instantly, my mind raced to the only possible solution, “Where is Lincoln?”  Her husband and I jumped up and ran to the pool.  In that moment, I saw what no parent should ever be forced to see.  My son, whom I was supposed to protect, was floating lifeless in the pool.  The world does pause in those moments and clarity is lost.

He is the God who gives and takes away.

My friend was the closest to the pool and reached in to grab lifeless Lincoln.  He immediately performed CPR.  Face blue, Lincoln was unresponsive.  Within that moment, the God who takes away graciously decided to give Lincoln back.  As Lincoln took his first breath, so did I.  

I cannot describe for you the joy of seeing someone come back to life, but relief is, perhaps, the best word for that moment.  Then anger.  Then weeping.  Then back to relief.  Then ultimately joy.  This was a miracle by anyone's standards.  Even if you don't believe in God.  The paramedic confirmed miracle status when he tested Lincoln's oxygen levels and found them to be higher than most adults.  He confirmed it when he said, “We never get to drowning victims in time.”  The doctor in the ER confirmed it was a miracle when he said, “You had seconds between life and death.  Literally, seconds.”

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If our friend doesn't see the door open, Lincoln is gone.  If her husband doesn't perform CPR right away, Lincoln is gone.  I believe that all of these moments were God given to shape us into believing in Ephesians 3:20 which states that “God is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever hope for or imagine."  He proved it to us.  Boldly.  And He did it in such a way that we could celebrate Him to everyone.  The receptionist.  The grocery clerk.  Strangers on the street.  It didn't matter; everyone needed to hear this story because, in a world of pain and heartache, we all need to know that He is the God who gives.  He gives life, grace and salvation.  It was easy to live out the command in Philippians 4:4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always."  It was easy until March of 2014.

He is, after all, the God who gives and takes away.

March began a full year of trials and pain; starting with losing our 4th child to miscarriage.  God had physically saved one child but, this time, He took another.  That pain would play a part in my stepping down from my position as a church planter and changing life as we knew it.  Exactly one year after losing our 4th child, we were blessed to learn that we were pregnant again.  Nine weeks into pregnancy; we lost our 5th child.

We were mad.  At God and at ourselves.  We kept thinking that maybe there was a limit to how many miracles one family was allowed to have.  We had hoped for and imagined an outcome so much better than what we had received.  Ephesians 3:20 did not seem so true for us anymore.

However, God did not remain silent.

After the miscarriage, God spoke through a sermon on the rest of Philippians 4, including these verses:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

We know that God is using each and every one of these moments to draw us near to Him.  He gives us these moments to somehow fulfill the promise that we can have peace.  He is for us not against us (Romans 8:31).  God alone has the right to give and take away.  I wish I could say that in every moment, my heart screamed, “Blessed be Your name!”  It didn't, but I know this.  He is daily moving me toward peace.  One that passes all understanding.  And I am grateful.  Through it all, I can hold on to this verse from Philippians 1:16,"Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.   

My prayer is that God uses my moments to grow this confidence in others.  Pain is not our destiny.  The good work that He began, although it is painful at times, will be brought to completion and, in that moment with certainty, we can say, “Blessed be Your name”.

 

 

Author: Devin DelGrosso

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