Melissa is such a vibrant and cheerful part of the Covenant Life family, it is hard to comprehend the pain and darkness in her past. Let’s hear Melissa’s Story of Rescue in her own words:
“I was 17 when I met him. I had just graduated high school and moved out on my own. The night we met we drove to the park and talked all night, and we soon became inseparable. It wasn’t long, however, before he began trying to control where I went and who I talked to. One night I came home from a family gathering later than he thought I should have. That was the first time that he hit me. I had never experienced such rage in all my life. I was terrified, but he said he was sorry and that he would never do it again, so I stayed.
It was several months before he hit me again, but in that time he became more and more cruel. He began isolating me from my friends and family by making me feel guilty for going to be with them. The emotional abuse got worse and the physical abuse started again. He made me feel like no one else would want me because I was fat and ugly. He also told me it was my fault that he was angry and that he hit me. He was always conscious of where he hit me, making sure not to leave any visible marks. Eventually I began to believe that I was unworthy of love.
I hadn’t told anyone what was going on. I was alone and scared, but in 1998 we moved in with some friends, and they soon became aware of what was happening to me. My friend told me I should leave. Inside I knew she was right, but I was scared. He had told me that if I ever left him, that he would hunt me down and hurt me worse than ever, and I believed him. He fine-tuned his abuse while we were living with our friends. He began grabbing my arms, biting my shoulders, and pinching me in places where no one could see the bruises.
One weekend we were invited by some friends to go camping. I was excited to be out of the house and around other people because I thought it would give me a break from the abuse. On the first morning the guys were going fishing and the girls were going to go swimming, but he wouldn’t allow me to go with the girls. The girls were giving him a hard time about it, but on the inside I was begging them to quit knowing that I would have to pay the price for it later. That night he got me into the car and started choking me. He would choke me until I almost passed out, let me go so I could catch my breath, and then choke me some more. Finally he drove us away from the camp and dragged me from the car. He threw me down so hard that it knocked the wind from me and then he just left me there. At this point the friends we were living with said we couldn’t stay with them anymore so we moved out and found an apartment together. I stayed with him because I had nowhere else to go. I didn’t know about women’s shelters and I was completely isolated from my friends and family. The abuse continued to escalate and I had become just a shell of a person
In April of 2000 I found out I was pregnant. I was scared and devastated because I did not want to bring a child into this environment. During the three years we were together he had only worked for a few months, while I was working up to 3 jobs at a time. When it came time to have the baby I was unable to work for 6 weeks. We were already behind on bills so his parents offered to help if we moved close to them. I already felt isolated from my family so moving 4 hours away from them was not something I wanted to do. I told my mother about the abuse and begged her to let me move back in with her, but she couldn’t because she didn’t want to deal with the trouble it might bring, so I moved to what seemed like the other side of the earth.
I tried to be hopeful. I thought that things might get better since we had a newborn daughter and we were close to his parents. He still didn’t have a job so he spent most of his time with his high school friends. His mother watched the baby, and I went to work. But the abuse didn’t stop. He became more manic and less strategic. Because of this his mother discovered what was going on. I was relieved that someone I was close to finally knew. I considered her to be a Godly woman, so I thought that she would be able to help me by talking to her son. Instead she told me that I should stick with him through the abuse because God would eventually get a hold of him and change him. That was what had happened with her and her husband and she was sure it would happen with us. I was completely shocked.
One night after work I picked up the baby from his mom and went home. He started yelling at me as soon as I came in the door. I tried to just keep my head down and get the baby settled. I sat down on the couch with my daughter still in my arms when he put a gun to my head. He accused me of skipping work to cheat on him and threatened to kill me right there while I was holding our daughter. I told him it wasn’t true, that I had been working and that he could call my boss to check. I was so scared that he wouldn’t believe me, but he did and put the gun down and left
I decided I wanted out. I wanted more for my daughter, and I wanted to get her away from him and that environment. I decided to confide in a co-worker and she agreed to help me. We began trying to figure out how to get my daughter and I away from him safely. I didn’t feel safe just leaving him. He knew where I worked and I believed more than ever that he would try to find me and kill me if I left.
One day, as I was getting ready for work he decided to pick a fight. I picked up my daughter and was walking out the door when he grabbed my arm and punched me right in the nose. But this time there was someone to witness it. My neighbor was outside and saw the whole thing. My neighbor yelled at him to let me go and he did. I ran down the steps and toward my neighbor’s house. His wife came out and helped me inside and they called the police. I was still terrified. He had told me that he would kill me if I ever called the police so when the officer arrived I told him that I didn’t want to press charges because I was afraid of what might happen to me. The officer told me that according to Missouri law he had to arrest him whether I pressed charges or not and that they would hold him for 24 for 72 hours if I wanted to get away from him. I saw the opportunity and took it. He was held for 72 hours and in that time, with the help of my co-worker, I was able to secure a place for my daughter and me, and move all of our belongings.
A couple of years later, my daughter started going to church with our neighbor. I had been saved when I was 16, but my relationship with God had become non-existent. I just couldn’t understand how a God that I had asked to save me could allow me to go through the abuse that I experienced. It wasn’t long, however, until my daughter invited me to a special “V.I.P.” day at the church. I was apprehensive, but of course I went. When I saw how happy and involved my daughter was it softened my heart. I just wanted to share that with her. Soon it felt like I had come back home.
It wasn’t until December of 2007 that I finally got a glimpse in to how God can work all things together for His good. Our church found out that a local women’s shelter was in need of volunteers to cook meals and I jumped at the chance to serve. I was still very closed about my experience and I hadn’t talked to anyone about it since my escape. There was too much shame involved. I had heard people say things like “why would she stay,” or “ I would never allow someone to abuse me.” It felt to me like they were blaming the victim. But I decided to suck it up and give volunteering at the women’s shelter a chance anyway.
Things went according to plan the first time we went to the shelter. We cooked, we cleaned, and we went home, with little contact with the ladies. But the more I served the more I noticed, until one evening I saw an exhausted lady struggling to feed herself and her three small children. I went and sat next to her and asked if I could help feed her little ones. That night changed my whole perspective about what I was at that shelter to do. I began asking God to show me where to go. He began leading me to listen to the ladies stories, and eventually gave me the courage to share my story, a story with hope and a happy ending. Not only was God using what happened to me to help others, but He was healing my wounds and giving me a sense of purpose.”