I remember one friend of our family’s whispering words in hopes of making me feel better, “Melissa, as much as your mom loved you – God loves you even more!” Again, words meant to comfort that – instead – sent chills up my spine. Deep down I didn’t believe it. Deep down I felt more unloved by God than ever before. If God loves me so much – he would never allow this to happen. If he loved her at all – he wouldn’t allow her to die that way. In my opinion, he was no longer to be trusted.
That morning, in my tiny one-bedroom apartment – I literally "broke up" with God. It was, for me, the final straw. I prayed a final prayer. I prayed out loud:
“You’ve gotta be freakin’ kidding me, God, if you think I’m ever going to worship you, again. You don’t deserve it! I don’t trust you! I mean – where were you that night?? Did you just happen to fall asleep? If you are so mighty and powerful – why didn’t you cause their car to run off of the roadway? You could’ve prevented her from opening the door. Where were you, God? I’ve got a great idea…why don’t I follow in her footsteps? You know…do what she did…bring orphaned children into my home, open my heart to reach out to others in need, do all of the things she did to worship and serve you and the people you love - only so I could then be brutally murdered in the entryway? Great idea, God! Is this how you treat your people? Wherever you were from 3am-3:10am on Sunday, October 3rd, is enough for me to know that I don’t trust you with any other part of my life. I don’t - I can't. I will never need you, again, like I needed you in those ten minutes. I am making a decision right now that I am going to live my life and live it to the fullest in this world. I am not trusting you to take me any further. I will do this on my own!”
The irony is, while I was having a major spiritual ‘meltdown’ and crisis in my life – the smile on my face and good exterior made it look like I had everything together. People I knew made comments like, “Oh, wow! Melissa seems to be handling this all so well. She has just bounced back from it all as if nothing has happened.” I continued to succeed in my career in television news. A year later I was offered a job at the number one station in Dallas (my ‘dream’ station) WFAA-TV where I became a morning reporter and was then promoted to weekend morning anchor. I bought a house in the trendy Dallas neighborhood where all of the 20-somethings lived and I just kept doing all I could to survive it all and to put the pieces of my life back together. As the outside of my life began to be pieced together so carefully – on the inside I was dying a slow, spiritual death.
For the next five years I was on overdrive to do all I could to make my life better. But deep down, there was a crevice still in my soul. I lived with a level of sadness that I truly believed was like a “sentence” to me. Just as my brother Max was serving a life sentence for my mom’s murder, I was now serving a life sentence of living with a pain that I truly believed would never go away. All of the decisions I made during this period of time – I made from this place of belief: My life was different from others. For whatever reason, I was made to suffer. I had to get used to it and accept that this is the way it would be.
I made decisions during this period of time because I believed those words were true. Again, the outside of my life looked “good” and “successful”. On the inside, I continued to wither away.
It wasn’t until I moved to New York in 2004 that I truly began to heal. I came here to do a writing program at Columbia University because I wanted to write a book about how people deal with grief. As a reporter, I was continually fascinated by how some people seem to deal with grief better than others. I wanted to know their secret to survival. In an effort to meet others, I attended a meeting that my real estate agent in Dallas told me about. She suggested I check out an organization she had heard about through a friend called Priority Associates. She told me there were quality people there around my age who would be good to get to know. I only had two friends in New York at that time (a friend from high school and my college roommate). But one of them was moving out of the city later that month so I thought this ‘gathering’ could be a great place to meet people and make new friends.
I was immediately impressed with the caliber of the men and women I met and wanted to get to know them better. However, it seemed like they had more to offer for the men – weekly breakfasts, evening meetings, weekend retreats. Why didn’t they have something like that for the women? So, in talking with another woman who I met who also just recently moved to NYC from Dallas, we decided to host a weekly breakfast for women. She had recently graduated from seminary and offered to lead a ‘devotional’ each week. I offered to do what I had learned to do best from my mother – which was to make the weekly breakfast and send out the correspondence connecting women and inviting them to join us.
A year later, I suggested we take a ‘break’ for the summer since our leader was going to have to step down (she had taken a new job and was going to be unable to make the 7am meeting time). However, the women in the group wanted to continue meeting. So, the ‘news reporter’ in me suggested we focus on stories. If each woman shared her story with the others it would give us a chance to get to know one another. The stories could be anything from what brought them to New York, a struggle or trial they had overcome, an event in their life that shaped who they were. I simply asked women to write in and let me know what the ‘theme’ of their story would be and then I sent out an email to the group letting them know what topics would be discussed which week. We had everything from topics on “work/life balance”, “dealing with an eating disorder”, “wrestling with forgiveness”, etc. On week four, a woman who “seemed to have it all together” came in and said something that stunned us all. She said, “I think it’s time we cut the crap!” Stunned, we didn’t know what to do or say. She continued, “I had an abortion in college and have never told a Christian friend that for fear that I would be judged. Since then I have been trying to earn grace. And, frankly, if I can’t say this here without you judging me – then I think we are all wasting our time”.