I was out shopping with the most beautiful girl in the world. She was 3 years old – with gorgeous red curls and bright, happy green eyes. We were at a major department store looking for a size 3T Easter dress – with extra frills, ruffle-butt tights, and those fold-down socks with the lace that look beautiful in patent leather Mary-Janes.
She kept running off – looking at the tiny purses and teddy bears. I was afraid I would lose her. So I did what any good mom would do to teach an object-lesson: I let her get lost.
This was the perfect moment – no one else was in this section. I got really quiet and just let her wander from rack to rack. Books. Toys. Purses. I didn’t let her see me. I kept hiding until I watched panic slowly set in – all over her tiny little body. Her eyes got wide. Her feet starting running. Her eyes darted all around looking for safety. Her little voice began calling out – “Mommy. Mommy? MOMMY!”
I let that go on for about 30 seconds before I scooped her up in my arms and said, “It’s okay, Baby Doll. You’re safe. Mommy’s gotcha.” And she looked up at me with her big green eyes and said, “I lost you, Mommy. I thought you were gone.”
She didn’t lose me. She only thought she did. I was right there all the time.
I’ve felt this level of panic set in before. Have you?
The first time I felt something like this I was 7. My 2 brothers and sister were all playing together behind the apartment building and I wasn’t allowed to play. They had formed a “no-Melissas allowed” club. I ran around the building to try to play anyway. They circled up. I just couldn’t believe it. Panic set in as I realized that I was alone – and left out. Big tears formed in the depths of my universe. Something shattered. I remember this being the first time I found solace in making up a story in my mind as a form of self-comfort. This was the beginning of writing for me. My parents figured out what was going on and they formed a “let’s-walk-to-7-11-to-get-a-Slurpee-club” that my siblings weren’t invited to. I learned from this to run to my authority figures for comfort. As an adult, I remember this incident when I feel left out and it reminds me to turn to God. I’m always welcome in his club.
The next time I felt like this, I was in high school. At age 16, a boy I liked from school took an interest in me. I was over-the-moon excited. I had “his-initials-plus-my-initials” written all over my school notebooks. One afternoon, when I was home alone after school, he came to my house. I was so excited that I ignored the rule about not having friends over when my parents were gone. I let him in – only to find out that he had come with 5 grown men. They made me go to my room and would not let me out. One-by-one they came in and took turns doing awful things to me. The boy who I thought liked me left me humiliated, ashamed, and feeling very alone. They warned me they would hurt my family if I told. I never told. Not anyone. This may actually be the first time my family is reading about this.
In the middle of the whole thing, one of the guys told me he loved me. This shattered my heart. If that was love – and love was what I was so desperately longing for – I didn’t really want to be loved anymore. I wasn’t sure I really even wanted to live anymore. It was at this point when I made an attempt on my own life.
I looked around and couldn’t find anyone there to rescue me. The shame, embarrassment, and guilt led me to keep this a secret – even from God. Through counseling years later I was able to open this horrible memory up and see that God was there in the room with me that day. He was screaming at those men – STOP. THIS IS MY DAUGHTER. YOU SHOULDN’T BE DOING THIS.
But His voice was drowned out by the voices of Lust, Desire, Control, and Greed simultaneously screaming – DO WHAT YOU WANT, TAKE WHAT YOU WANT, SHE’S JUST THERE FOR YOU TO USE.
God showed me that He was there that night to comfort me. He was my pink teddy bear and the blanket I slept with over my head. He was there then and on so many other nights when I cried myself to sleep and felt alone in my shame. I didn’t lose him – he was right there all along.
These incidents plus the fact that my bio-dad left before I was born caused me to have a decades-long thought pattern that said – “You’re not good enough. You’re not worthy of real love. You’re just an after-thought, a second choice. You’re not wanted. Get lost – no one wants you around here anyway. If you want love, you’ll have to do something to earn it.”
Lies. All lies.
I had a fairy-tale wedding right out of high school that resulted in two beautiful redheaded daughters.
One day my husband came home and was acting strangely. We’d had a great first 7 years. We had our moments, but it wasn’t anything major. But I’d noticed that he had become violent with his words and sometimes with his hands. I confronted him and he said he did not love me anymore. His porn habit had turned into real affairs over the last 3 years of our marriage – resulting in his latest girlfriend becoming pregnant. I didn’t know. I guess I didn’t want to know. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe what I was feeling. Some words I have for the next months after that are numb, lifeless, severely depressed, and hopeless. Once again the voices crept back into my thought-space.
I was angry. Very angry. I was angry at my husband for hurting me in this way, angry at myself for not having seen this coming, angry at God for knowing this was coming and not letting me know for 3 years, and angry at life in general. I had to move out of my home and back in with my parents while he moved his pregnant girlfriend into my home. It was humiliating.
So how does youth minister/housewife cope with this kind of tragedy? In my case – I did not cope very well. I began a secret life of binge drinking on weekends when my kids were gone to their father’s house. They say bitterness is a poison you give yourself – hoping the other person will suffer. My drinking and lifestyle of masking my pain through any means necessary was a poison. I felt unlovable. I was taking out all of my frustrations alright – but all that I was doing was only hurting ME.
The lowest point for me was in the middle of the divorce. I was at a party one night at an apartment when everyone all went home at once – everyone but me and the guy who lived there. He kept pouring and I had kept drinking, but that last drink after everyone left must have had something in it – because the room began to wobble and I only remember bits and pieces of a torturous, sick, violent rape that must have lasted a couple of hours – and I was powerless to stop it. I woke up in an upstairs room – alone. I stumbled around, found my keys, and left – still full of liquor, or whatever it was I’d been given. I honestly think an angel rode in the passenger seat while I drove home that night – because how I got myself and my car home in one piece is a mystery. I decided that night I wanted to try to reconcile with my husband and make things right with my little family again. My kids deserved a whole family – and I was hell-bent on making sure they had one – even if it meant I had to do a makeover on my marriage. My husband agreed – but he had already told my parents about my having gone to a party and that I’d been drinking – so they kicked me out and, because I had no other alternative, I could not take my kids. I tried to explain about the night before and my transformed heart, but it was too late – the decision had been made. I was furious with what had just happened to me, and now I was furious that my desire to start over had failed. I lived the next two weeks out of my car, in the backroom of the store I managed, one night at a laundry mat, and at different friend’s apartments. After two long miserable weeks, I told my dad I was coming home – taking my kids, getting a divorce, and moving into an apartment. Enough was enough. I stopped drinking, reconciled with God, and tried to get my life back in order.
If I’m with you and you have a glass of wine and I politely decline, this is why. I’m not judging, it’s just that it reminds me of where I’ve been – and that’s a place I’d rather not remember.
Three years later I was back on my feet, studying for my undergrad in English at the local university, and raising my two girls. We moved out of the apartment after a year and back in with my folks so that I could focus on my studies.
During my time at the university, my brother died of cancer and my sister decided to leave the family – for good. Just because I don’t give these incidents many words here doesn’t mean they didn’t hurt me to my core.
Life thus far had been a hide-and-seek game with God – mostly hide. But what happened in 2007 changed the entire course of my life.
It was July 2007, right in the middle of my summer session at the university. I was taking what amounted to Poetry 101 and it was my day to be “workshopped.” I had printed enough copies of my poem for each member of the class and was expected to distribute them and have everyone critique my words. I was nervous. It was Texas Summer hot outside. I was suddenly overcome with nausea. Breakfast became a memory.
After the grueling 90-minute poetry workshop where my writing was called mediocre, at best, I made my way to the on-campus medical clinic.
I gave blood, endured the necessary pee-in-this-cup moment, laid down on the paper-covered table, and waited.
I must have fallen asleep because the Nurse Practitioner shook my shoulder.
I figured out what’s wrong.
I almost fell off the table.
My mind raced to an awful night four months before. I looked at her calendar and pointed to the date.
Yes – I remember. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was just one lonely moment during March Madness. Just one.
I pulled into my driveway 15 minutes later and spied my Mom on the porch swing reading to my 6-year-old, whose auburn pigtails wobbled as she flew into my arms. My 11-year-old was inside getting ready for the water park trip I’d promised them that afternoon.
My heart felt sick. How do I explain this to my girls? How in the world was I going to make ends meet with another kiddo on the way?
I sent the kids to their bedroom to finish getting ready for the water park and began to weep uncontrollably. My parents noticed.
All I could think was – my folks are gonna kill me. They are pastors at a local church. How do you tell your Dad, who is also your pastor, that you’re unmarried and pregnant?
Between sobs, I finally formed the words – I’m pregnant.
The truth escaped my mouth with finality. I repeated it to myself. Wow.
Mom started to ask several questions all at once, but Dad quieted the room.
He looked at me, right into my heart, and he slowly and deliberately spoke these words:
“You are my daughter, and I love you. “
In one sentence, years worth of feeling less-than, feeling used, abandoned, abused, picked last, feeling unlovable, unforgivable, unworthy, and like I just didn’t belong came to a grinding halt.
In one sentence I felt God speaking through my father’s mouth.
He spoke to my identity “You are my daughter,…”
He spoke to his identity “…and I love you.”
I belong to him and am fully loved because he IS love.
I’ve had many more adventures and mishaps since this day. I’ve written or will write about most of them—just look back or wait for the next blog if you want to see what else has happened in my crazy life. But since that day I’ve had a deep-seated knowing in my gut that I’m not alone. And I’m not alone because God is with me. And because God is with me, he won’t let me panic for too long.
And in the times where I’ve panicked and looked around, frantically searching for God where I’ve thought – “I lost you, God. I thought you were gone,” He has been so faithful to remind me that I didn’t lose him. I only thought I did. He was right there all the time.
I hope you feel God speaking to you from your screen, “You are my daughter (son), and I love you.”
And I hope your life will change – starting today.
If you’re going through any of the things I’ve gone through – please email me or message me and let’s talk about it. I’m always good for coffee and conversation.
And if you don’t know the God I’ve been writing about, please let me introduce you.
He’s a good, good Father. The best way to find him is to stop hiding and start seeking. Let’s seek him – together.