I was in my third month of expecting my fourth child when I had a very disturbing dream. I dreamt that I miscarried in very vivid detail. I remember looking in the mirror the morning after, feeling satisfied that all was well. I had seen my doctor several weeks before and he said I was fine.
A short time later, however, that dream came true. How good of God to prepare me for one of the toughest times of my life using a dream. The OB on call reassured me that bleeding could be perfectly normal, but in my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn’t. Not for me. At the hospital, the ultrasound technician confirmed that my baby had stopped growing four weeks previously. There was nothing to do but go home and wait for the loss to be complete. I didn’t feel comfortable doing anything surgically. I had driven myself to the hospital and my husband had met me after we got someone to watch the kids. I felt completely alone when I got behind the wheel and turned on the radio. The lyrics playing on my favorite Christian radio station were, “When you feel like you’ve lost it all, Jesus will still be there.”
I was comforted and really thought that knowing for sure I had lost a baby would be the worst of it. It wasn’t. The next several weeks brought excruciating pain as I miscarried at home alone, a hormonal roller coaster that made PMS seem refreshing, and painful questions about God, relationships, and the future. Even while in the middle of the valley, I knew that I was there for a reason. I called my editor and asked to write a pamphlet for Lutheran Hour Ministries called “Losing a Baby Without Losing Hope.” My experience and the process of writing opened my heart to so many women I knew who had miscarried. I even called a friend who lost a baby years before and apologized for not being as sensitive as I should have been.
One of the recommendations I made in the pamphlet was to find a way to memorialize the baby. I knew I wanted a Christmas ornament, but I hadn’t yet chosen one when I spoke at a church on the subject of grief and loss. (As an aside, that speech happened to be scheduled the day after 9/11.) I was given a gift as a presenter–an angel ornament. I am comforted looking at that ornament every year as I decorate the tree, but I really look forward to seeing my angel in heaven one day.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
Me in early 1986 at my highest non-pregnant weight
I had tried just about everything to lose weight from the time my high school nurse expressed shock that I weighed 128 pounds as a freshman. I already got lots of exercise being on the track team, but I added more working out to my schedule. I also went on a very low calorie diet, eating dry toast and having lettuce with lemon juice dressing. I quickly lost 13 pounds; I regained it even faster.
Every year of high school I tried to lose the weight and ended up heavier than before. Then I went to college and entered a world where eating had no built-in controls. I gained the Freshman 15 in a matter of months. I know I don’t look particularly heavy in that photo, but my extra 30 pounds had become a very weighty issue in my life. I jumped at the chance to take a weight loss class in college. The instructor was really nice and the weekly weigh-ins motivated me. I became a walking caloric encyclopedia. At meals, my friends would ask me for the calorie counts of foods and I knew them. I lost the Freshman 15, but I was very despondent about something our instructor had said. She told the class that people like us would never be able to eat hamburgers, pizza, or ice cream.
The following year I read the books, Thin Within and Diets Don’t Work. I became convinced that dieting had resulted in my weight gain and that I could be at my ideal weight without counting calories or restricting certain foods. Within a very short period of time, eating anything I wanted according to hunger and fullness enabled me to lose another 13 pounds. I was ecstatic, but not for long.
Although I never again returned to my freshman weight high, I also was unable to maintain my ideal weight. I couldn’t understand it. I knew that if I ate according to hunger and fullness, I didn’t have a weight problem. I just couldn’t seem to restrict myself to eating when I was hungry and stopping myself when I was satisfied. This was particularly upsetting to me as a future psychologist. I wondered how I would be able to help others make behavior changes when I couldn’t make them myself.
In graduate school, I began lifting weights and briefly tried dieting with my friends again, but to no avail. When I met my future husband, I became more committed to exercise and when we got married I weighed what I wanted to. The problem was that maintaining it was a constant battle. My weight bounced up and down like crazy. The only thing crazier were the thoughts bouncing around my head. I would get up in the morning, weigh myself, and decide that I would be “good” all day. By mid-morning, I had already blown it, so I would commit to eating like a rabbit at lunch. When I blew that, I would promise to do well at dinner. When that didn’t work, I would spend the evening ruminating about my fat and my lack of self-control.
One day I saw the article title, “Can God Make You Thin?” on a Woman’s Day Magazine in the grocery store checkout. I had to know the answer to that, so I bought the magazine and read the article. I was so excited to read that men and women were combining the Thin Within hunger/fullness philosophy with a reliance on God and were losing weight for good. I ordered materials and offered a class at church. At first I quickly lost weight. Then as the months wore on, I had the same disappointing results. I would eat when I wasn’t hungry or until I was stuffed.
As the class facilitator, I was quite embarrassed that I couldn’t succeed. I would dedicate myself to eating extra slowly and reading my Bible before and after eating. But to no avail. The weight was not only not coming off, it was coming back on. After confessing my sin of gluttony and worshiping the idol of food countless times, and after praying about the problem over and over, I don’t know what finally led me to quit. But that’s what I did. I stood in my kitchen, looked up at God, and said, “I can’t do this! I quit! If you want me to lose weight, you’re going to have to do it, because I’m done.”
For the life of me, I cannot recall how I ate after that. But I do not remember always sitting down, eating slowly, eliminating distractions, only eating when hungry or until satisfied. I really meant that I was done. Three months later I finally weighed myself to discover that I was at my ideal weight. I had no idea how I arrived at that comfortable number. I do suspect, however, that God removed my weight problem without giving me a clue how it was done so that when people ask, “How do you stay so thin?” I couldn’t give them the Melanie Plan. God took away that weighty issue and I remained at my ideal weight for five years when I had another crisis that is a story for another time.
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6)
When I got married and finished my Ph.D. in psychology, I wanted to start a family. My plan was to work part-time. I really thought it was the perfect plan. At least until I had a baby.
I couldn't fathom turning my baby over to someone else. I cried when I was on maternity leave and told my husband, "He doesn't want me to go back to work." My husband was scared of me from the pregnancy/childbirth ordeal, so he just said, "OK." I felt sick when I left my 8-week-old baby with a woman I barely knew. Everyone told me I would get over it.
It was nice to get back to the job I enjoyed and to see my colleagues. But it wasn't long before my perfect plan didn't seem so perfect. On my work days, I had time to bathe and feed my baby after I picked him up, but then it was time for him to go to sleep. I felt like I didn't even get to see him. I loved my off-days with him, but as I saw him change in new and exciting ways on those days, I wondered what I was missing on the days I worked.
Things were okay until we were finally off the waiting list to get our son into a daycare within a nursing home. There were only three other babies and several toddlers in the daycare. I liked that it was small and that he would be around older people. I didn't have to wait long for him to get sick, however. The daycare called and said my baby had a fever and I would have to come get him. I had to cancel appointments, pick up my son, and take him to the doctor. My pediatrician examined him, said he had an ear infection, and pronounced, "It's because he's in daycare."
I don't remember what I thought when my pediatrician said that. I was a brand-new mom and a brand-new psychologist. I was making a lot of adjustments. I probably thought that this was just part of being a working mom that I would have to adjust to. My baby got better and I took him back to daycare. I got another phone call. He had a fever, so I cancelled my appointments and took him back to the doctor. The doctor diagnosed another ear infection and said, "It's because he's in daycare."
This became a script for my life and my poor baby's life that we replayed every week or two. During one doctor's visit, my pediatrician warned that if he got another ear infection, we would have to consider tubes. Once again, the doctor said, "It's because he's in daycare." I went home that day and sat at the kitchen table with my head in my hands and cried. I needed a new plan.
My husband and my boss agreed that I could cut back to working two evenings a week. When my husband was out of town those nights, his sister-in-law agreed to take care of the baby. From the day that I decided to stay home, my son never had another ear infection. I, however, continued to have some pain. I faced the disdain of people who thought I was wasting my education staying home and the pain of loneliness and a confused identity. I went through several months of depression. I eventually invited several mom acquaintances from church to join me for a Bible study. I made friends and peace with who I was. My baby and I were both feeling better.
Today I marvel that God used a pediatrician who wasn't politically correct to call me home. My first baby will be 15 on Monday.
4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (Titus 2:4-5)
From childhood, I suffered from night time fear, but not of the dark or monsters. Mine was a more sophisticated fear. I was terrified that someone would break into my home and hurt me or my family. My parents were sound sleepers and I was convinced that it was up to me to save us all.
My sleepless nights where every noise seemed to be evidence of a horrific scene about to unfold became even worse when I lived alone. My first year of graduate school, I lived amidst a wife beater, an alcoholic who thought I ought to be counseling him, and a stalker who called me repeatedly and left me notes. Many nights I could barely breathe because the fear was so overpowering. I prayed for God's protection many, many times. After I got married and practiced as a Christian counselor, I asked God for relief from the fear itself.
Having a husband who is a black belt in jujitsu did not stop the fear, in part because he traveled a lot when we were first married. To cope, I had a security alarm put in and used a door brace under my bedroom door handle. Yep, I was completely phobic. I didn't get a dog to deal with my fear, but the fact that I had a little yapper who responded to anyone in the vicinity of our home, added to my feeling of security.
One weekend evening, I was battling a bad cold. We had been invited to a friend's party two hours away and I was fine with my husband going without me. He said he would be staying overnight with them as he often did while traveling for work. After he left, I went through my security routine. I turned off the power for the garage door opener, locked all the doors, and baracaded my bedroom door after I was sure my dog was with me.
In the middle of the night (2 or 3 a.m.), someone knocked on my front door. I had heard on the news once (I am sure all my fear developed from the news!) that robbers will often knock on the door to see if you are home and if you don't answer, they will break in. I wasn't going to let them think no one was home! My dog was barking furiously. I turned on the television and hoped whoever it was would move on.
Unfortunately, the knocking became more insistent. I turned up the volume on the TV. My dog was wild. Then my greatest fear became a reality. I could hear the person trying to break in. I ran to the bathroom, locked the door, picked up the phone and dialed 911. I could barely breathe as I explained to the nice man who answered what was going on. He reassured me an officer was on his way. He asked me where Mr. Wilson was. I told him while I picked up a can of hairspray to use as a weapon.
That's when I heard the most terrifying noise possible. Someone was IN my house. I relayed that information to the nice man and tried not to notice that he sounded frightened, too. He kept speaking to me in a calming voice. I could hear whoever it was rattling my baracaded bedroom door. I was living my nightmare! That's when I heard, "Melanie! It's me!"
I told the nice man that the would-be attacker was my husband. He laughed and I could tell that he was more relieved than I was. I honestly was NOT relieved, but furious at my husband for putting me through the ordeal. He explained that he hadn't been able to get into the house since I shut off the garage door opener. After I cried with relief and laughed at the absurdity of it all, I found that my lifelong fear was gone. All those years, what I was really afraid of was that I wouldn't be able to move if someone broke into my home. Now I know they better look out!
Although an unusual answer to prayer, God used my husband's break-in to take my fear away. Once again, He did for me what I could not do for myself.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
My dad changed dramatically when he retired. He had worked his entire life and he was truly happy when his time was his own. He quit smoking after five decades and spent lots of time fishing and spoiling my youngest brother. It was heartbreaking, when it seemed my dad had a new lease on life, to learn that he had COPD. He eventually required full-time oxygen.
I had a hard time watching my father, who had never been afraid of anything, have panic attacks when he couldn't breathe. Traveling and any activities that required him to walk became nearly impossible. At one point, he developed pancreatitis and was given a 50/50 chance of making it. He survived, but I had been warned. My dad was mortal.
Warning or no, I wasn't prepared the evening I got my mother's phone call telling me that my dad was near death once again. I cried and cried and kept saying, "I'm not ready. I'm just not ready." I had recently developed a habit of asking God to communicate with me through His Word. I begged God to let my father live. I loved him so much and I wasn't even sure of his salvation. I opened the Bible randomly and read from Isaiah 38:16, 18
You restored me to health
and let me live.
For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.
I was absolutely convinced that the Lord had heard my prayer and was giving my dad more time. I wasn't disappointed. My dad recovered. He had to move to a nursing home to get the care that he needed, but he never complained. He seemed to enjoy teasing the nurses and staff. I used the extra time with my dad to write him a letter explaining the Gospel and expressing my hope that he had received Christ as his Savior.
During a visit following my letter, my dad said, "Let's talk about what you wrote." He told me that he believed in God and had been baptized in infancy. I still had my doubts. My dad was a humble, generous man, but he had never said anything about God. Was it just because he was quiet? Or did he lack an authentic faith?
My dad and I had a routine. I called him at the nursing home the same night every week. On occasions when I had something else planned, I almost always forgot to call him until the next day. Dad was never upset when I forgot to call, though I always felt awful. I knew he looked forward to our talks. I did, too!
One evening, I realized that I was supposed to be at church the next night, which was my regular night to call Dad. I decided to call him right then. I joked with him that I was really on top of things this time and hadn't forgotten until it was too late. We did the usual chit chatting. I told him about our new mini-van with the remote control door. I said I was walking around like the Queen of Sheba, expecting every door to open for me at the touch of a button. He laughed. He told me that a pastor had come and talked with him for a long time. My dad said, "And you know what? I agreed with everything he said." I was so happy to hear that. I was sure that the pastor had shared the Gospel with my dad and my dad once again affirmed that he believed.
The next evening I was getting ready to go to my church meeting when my mom called. My dad had had a heart attack, she said. They didn't think he was going to make it. In that moment, I knew he wouldn't. When I returned home from church, I got the phone call that confirmed it. My dad was gone. Although I felt ready in comparison to the previous time his life was in danger, I still felt like someone was trying to rip my heart from my chest. I am so thankful my husband was there to hold me up.
Even in my grief, I recognized how loving a God I serve. I'm fully convinced that He moved me to call my father a day early and made sure that I knew my father's salvation was secure. The Lord continued to comfort me as I attended a memorial at the nursing home where he lived. The staff seemed more broken up than I was! Today I continue to be comforted with a vision of my father living in perfect health and peace with the Father of us all.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Me in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in front of a statue of Alexander the Great
I traveled to Europe in 1989 as part of a month-long May Seminar through my college. I was so excited to go to the Soviet Union, especially. Although I was excited, I was also afraid of losing my passport. I had a history of losing things, but I couldn't afford to lose my passport or the case I kept it in. Inside the case were my cash, credit card, visas, airplane tickets, as well as my passport.
On the initial flight to London, I awoke with a start and realized I had lost something very valuable. The girl next to me could see that I was searching for something and started helping me. She enlisted the help of our other seatmates. Soon we were all searching diligently for the lost item. "What does it look like?" my initial helper asked. I didn't respond verbally, but gestured wildly as I tried to explain the inexplicable. We both started laughing when we realized that I had just been dreaming.
Two weeks later I was living the nightmare. We were on an overnight train from what was then Leningrad traveling to Moscow. Our seminar leaders advised us to sleep with our passport cases. American passports were very valuable in the Soviet Union, we were told, and were often stolen from train cars while their owners slept. I slept with my case around my neck. Early in the morning we were awoken and told we had to prepare to get off the train immediately. Groggily, I gathered my belongings and got on the bus that would take us to our hotel. We drove for an hour, listening to our tour guide tell us about the area.
When we boarded the boat motel where we would be staying, the hotel employees began collecting our passports. Foreign visitors always have hotel staff collect their passports for safe keeping. In that instant, I knew where my passport case was–in the sleeping car of the train. I had given the sheets a once over, but didn't see the case lying there. I searched my bags, but the sick feeling in my stomach told me I wouldn't find the case. I was shaking when I told my seminar leader what had happened. He immediately tried to get information about the train's location. We were told the train had been moved to a cleaning station. There was nothing to do, but check into the hotel and wait.
I had my clothes and about $250 in cash. I had no visa, so I would not be permitted to leave the country. My seminar leader gave me the grim news that the group would have to go on without me. I knew I would have to contact my family and ask for emergency assistance. The assistant seminar leader pointed out that my passport had probably already been sold. He further warned that a phone call to the US would be outrageously expensive. I had to admit to myself that my parents did not have the money to help me even if I could reach them.
That evening, the other students went off to explore Moscow. I stayed in my room, realizing that I could not afford to spend even a penny of the money I had. I took a shower and the water alternated betwwen freezing cold and scalding hot. I may have needed that shower to bring me out of the shock I was in. I cried and cried. I realized that all I could do was pray. I hoped that God was still God in the USSR. I remembered hearing once that you should pray until you feel peace. I began praying more fervently than I had ever prayed in my life. "Lord," I said, "You can do anything! You can cause the person who finds my passport to turn it in rather than sell it. Please, Lord, please return my passport case to me!" As I continued to call on Him for help, I felt a peace come over me. I knew that my prayer had been answered. Even though I was in the worst spot of my life, I fell asleep peacefully.
At midnight, my seminar leader awakened me to tell me that my passport had been recovered. I was not surprised. I went back to sleep. The next day, my seminar leader and I made a trip to pick up the passport. My leader was nervous as we were away from our guides. When we arrived at the station holding the passport case, a sterm looking military man watched as I verified that not one coin had been stolen. He shook his head in disbelief, the same way my mother always did when I lost something. When we were back with the entire group on board our tour bus, my answer to prayer was announced and the group began cheering in response.
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matthew 21:22)