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When I was little, I was always overwhelmed.  I’ll spare you the clinical details, but basically, I had a brain that wouldn’t regulate emotions. I was unmanageable, and constantly overwhelmed, which was often even physically painful.  I didn’t yet know the peace of Christ, so I had little relief.    

I spent a lot of time taking care of my Mom, whose own emotional difficulties left her quite impaired some days.  My Dad, though, was my biggest monster.  I blocked it out for years, but the memories came back.  I remember hearing his voice in a faded memory, telling me that what he was doing to me was necessary, so I’d know how to be a “good wife” when I had a husband one day.  I had accepted the lie that all fathers taught their girls how to have sex.  By the time I was 11 and the sexual abuse stopped, I’d begun to self-harm and was starving myself, trying to take control.  Two years later I threw alcohol into the mix.

But God was planning something.  I remind myself today when I filter through these memories, that even in the worst moments, God was right there, planning the next move, knowing how the story ends.  

In grade 10 I had the chance to go to church with my sister.  I remember looking around the room and thinking, that many people could not be crazy about the same thing.  Minutes later I was asking Jesus into my heart.  Now, this was a prayer that required trust, but even at 17 years of age, I had no idea what trust was.  

A year later I moved to Edmonton, an on-fire young believer with a heart for missions and a passion to study scripture.  But when I got here… the shit hit the fan.  Oh, Melissa, am I allowed to say that??   I’d never lived alone or had adult responsibilities.  Suddenly I could drink legally.  I could do…anything.  I drank a lot and started dabbling in drugs.  I did a lot of self-harm, and I had to acknowledge for the first time that I had an eating disorder.  

Still, I did everything I could to rely on God and to find strength in my faith.  I started coming to McKernan and slowly built friendships.  I moved into Lyle and Jeannie’s boarding house and there I learned what a Christian community looks like. I transferred from the UofA to NABC, then Taylor, and started looking for my niche in ministry.  I tried all kinds of jobs on for size here at McKernan, working in children’s ministry, at the daycare, in the office, and more.  I taught lots of your kids Sunday School, and I’ve been so blessed to see how they have grown.  Those were years of immense growth and learning.  I was living for God and making better choices, but I still did not trust.  

I crashed.  I was hospitalized, primarily because of my eating disorder, but ended up with a whole pile of psychiatric diagnoses (and a whole pile of medications to take).  I allowed myself to get sicker, and weeks in hospital became months and years.  I spent 10 years in the eating disorder program, and endless weeks on locked units with padded walls.  Slowly, I allowed more and more darkness into my life.  Drugs…homelessness…. debt… divorce….  A few scratches with a knife became scars that covered me.  I experienced things I didn’t choose, as well.  Rape, violence, a miscarriage.   I lost a friend to suicide…then another….and another.  I stopped counting at 11. 

In 2019 came face to face with the Edmonton Police Tactical unit when I threatened suicide by cop.  I was evicted as a result and found myself back on the street and back on the bottle.  Finally, I’d had enough.  It was Boxing Day, and I went into a crowded mall and jumped 4 stories.  I woke up in the hospital a few months later with every bone in my body broken, every organ somehow punctured or dysfunctional.  I knew from the start that this was a second chance…but I had no idea where it came from or what to do with it.  I was told I would be flat on my back for the rest of my life.  I couldn’t even lift my head. But I healed and I learned.  I learned how to eat, swallow, dress myself, etc.  Eventually, I was sitting up, then in a wheelchair.  After a year on the trauma unit, I was discharged to my own apartment, but I couldn’t keep it together and lost my housing again.  Then again.  I was living on a camping cot in a harm-reduction shelter when I started going back to McKernan.  

I had to go in for a big surgery and I reached out to Pastor Melissa to see if the church could offer some practical support.  She went above and beyond (of course) and put together a fantabulous group of women to pray with and for me and visit me after my surgery. 

So, all those years of experiences, of traumas, where Jesus was there, but silent, working and weaving the pieces together that would become my future… all of a sudden it came together.  My new friends and mentors taught me what connection really means.  Jesus came out of the woodwork in a way that I could no longer doubt his constant and unwavering presence in my life.  Past and future.  And… all of a sudden…. I trusted him.  

For the first time ever, I took responsibility for the choices I had made in my life.  I owned up to the relationships I damaged and accepted the consequences that have come from the life that I lived.  Sometimes it’s hard to accept the consequences of my attempt.  My health is still quite poor, and I will likely live a life full of surgeries and hospital stays.  There is a chance that this will still end up being what kills me.  But those things are nothing in comparison to the life I have in Christ.  Now that I have truly trusted Jesus … WOW.  I’m in school.  Me, with two brain injuries – in seminary, working on a Masters degree.  I’m self-employed – doing exactly what I want to do – providing web design and marketing for Christian ministries.  God has given me a desire to see people welcomed into the church who ‘don’t fit’ for whatever reason.   People with disabilities, especially people who struggle with their mental health.  God is moving in churches to help them understand mental health and how they can effectively provide resources and walk beside those who are struggling.  I’ve been praying these last few years for God to ‘sharpen’ my vision of how I can be involved in what he’s doing.

I want to leave you with this.  I did things “backwards” in a sense.  I became a Christian, then my life got worse.  This is a phenomenon that a lot of us are either afraid of or in denial about.  Either we believe a Christian can’t fall backwards to that extent, or we are really, really scared it will happen to us.  

Our strongest weapon here is humility.  We have to be humble enough to ask the Spirit to show us what “gaps” there may be in the faith we have placed in Christ.  For me, it was trust - that’s a big one, and my problems reflected that.  But whether our problems involve holding a gun or something much simpler, God sees us all the same.  As we are learning today, we all bear the same image of God.  Just because I found trust doesn’t mean I have a perfect faith.  None of us have ever arrived – and this is a promise, that there is always more of Jesus to experience.  So, have the humility today to ask yourself, “What may be missing in how I experience Jesus?  Where can I go deeper in experiencing his character and reflecting his image? 

Join me in a short prayer from a favorite devotional….

“LORD we ask that your cry

would echo in our prayers,

pulling us gently

where we are ensnared

that in our worst fears

we would come to fathom

honesty about our hopelessness

precedes resurrection.

Amen, Lord Jesus”