One family's story of sorrow transformed into joy
by Donna Sullivan
It wasn’t supposed to happen to us. Isn’t that what every parent thinks? Our lives changed forever May 17, 2005, when our college-aged daughter Melanie tearfully told us she was pregnant. Through many tears, hugs and hours of talking and praying, we began our journey, moving through a variety of emotions: numbness, shock, overwhelming anguish, hurt, anger, guilt, a sense of grief and failure.
Being a pastoral family, fear and anxiety also threatened as we surmised what impact it would have on our ministry and on our lives. One of the hardest things for me was the feeling of helplessness to “fix” this. I couldn’t kiss this and make it better. We had to go through this difficult situation. But in spite of the array of emotions, our overwhelming desire was to shower Melanie, our only daughter who was scared, hurting and wounded, with compassion.
Picturing God’s love
Tim and I both were immediately reminded of God’s great love and forgiveness to us. We thought about our daughter, and knew Christ had already forgiven her, and we knew we would do the same. I was so proud of Tim in his response to her. He wasn’t angry—she had been so afraid to tell him—but talked to her like a little lost sheep, so gently and lovingly.
Tim talked about the prodigal son. When the son came home, the father didn’t yell at him or ask about all his sins but loved him and graciously forgave him. This is a picture of God’s love for us. How could we do less? We told Melanie we loved her no matter what, forgave her and invited her to come back home and stay as long as she needed to. We would always love her, care for her and protect her.
Some people handle this situation differently. Some parents send their daughter to a home for unwed mothers or kick their child out of the house or force the girl to have an abortion. We know people from all of these situations. But our first and only thought was to help Melanie through this crisis, to support her with love and forgiveness and to help her as much as she would let us in the decisions to be made in the future.
Melanie had made some bad decisions and poor choices and had pushed God and us away for a time. As she told us bits and pieces of the past year, our fear and anxiousness for her grew. She had considered abortion, but by God’s grace she couldn’t do that. It quickly became clear that we needed to get her out of her current environment, especially out of the abusive relationship with the father. It took almost two months, but with God’s help she was finally able to make the break, and we moved her to our home. We are thankful for God’s grace that kept her safe over those months.
Surrounded by love
During these first months, we experienced God’s amazing grace through his people. It was difficult at first to “tell” people—to expose our pain. But we knew we needed people praying for us, and we needed support – all three of us. When we did open up, we were surrounded with expressions of love and acceptance, words of encouragement and many prayers and hugs of support that we desperately needed. These were invaluable to helping us face the days ahead.
It was amazing to see how people at our current church opened their arms to Melanie, accepting, loving and helping her in many ways.
We went with Melanie to our former church where she was still a member. We first met with a group of elders and people that had influenced her growing up, and then Melanie stood before the church, confessed her sin and asked for forgiveness and prayers. It was a very healing time for us and for the church as we experienced many expressions of love and support and many prayers.
Another very tangible expression of God’s grace came when the church gave Melanie a baby shower, and over 75 women came; it was the highest attendance ever at a shower at that church. What a blessing to experience the church as it should be.
Showers of blessings
Our precious grandson, Shay, was born a few months later. During the past four years, God has continued to extend his grace in Melanie and Shay’s lives in amazing ways. From health crises to providing a new home for them, God has blessed them with this love, faithfulness and grace.
Even though it was extremely difficult and painful at first, we have seen and experienced God’s amazing love, grace and provision through this experience. We learned more about God as we experienced the truth that his grace is truly sufficient in all things. His love, compassion, enablement and especially his grace were what sustained us.
God continues to use this experience in our ministry, to share with and help others in similar circumstances or with children issues. It has opened doors that might not have been available for us previously. I also believe it has made us more compassionate and approachable. Melanie has had several opportunities to share her testimony as well, from Pregnancy Crisis Center banquets to churches and women’s retreats.
What have we learned? We learned that the younger culture, particularly college-aged, views sexual relationships very differently than their parents’ generation. Even being pregnant and having a baby is not a big deal, as it was for our and older generations.
We learned that even in the midst of what appears to be impossible circumstances, God still redeems and brings beauty out of ashes.
We learned that love and forgiveness can heal even the deepest hurts.
We learned that family is vitally important and that includes our church family as well.
We learned that children make their own choices. Their mistakes are not our fault even though we feel that way. Tim and I raised our children in a loving Christian home, and they participated in years of Sunday school, youth group, church camps, mission trips and youth conferences. We tried to do everything right, to be the best parents we could be. We had taught Melanie the importance of sexual purity and even gave her a purity ring. But even when our children have a personal relationship with Christ, they, like all of us, can stray from what they know is right and find themselves ensnared in sin.
Our hearts are so thankful and full of joy as we have a restored relationship with our daughter. We see Melanie, loving and walking with God, serving in his church, and raising her son in a godly home. God has been amazing in her life, rebuilding and providing for her. Even though she is still working through some of the issues and damage from that relationship, God has redeemed her and brought her back into the fold.
Donna Sullivan serves beside her husband, Tim, who is the Southern District Conference minister.