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Episode 97: Returning to God - Melanie Beerda's Story

Although Melanie Beerda was raised in a Christian family, her life experience alienated her from the concept of a loving God.  After leaving Christianity to go her own way for several years, she finally discovered the loving God who had been there for her all along.

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Transcript


Hello, and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics flip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic, but who became a Christian against all odds. We’re also beginning to include those who struggled with doubts and deconstruction within the Christian faith and found their way back to solid belief. You can hear more of these stories on our Side B Stories website at sidebstories.com or on our YouTube channel. We welcome your comments on these stories on our Side B Stories Facebook page or YouTube channel. You can also email us at [email protected]. We love hearing from you!

We all have a concept of who God is. Our understanding of God is often shaped by our life experience. When trauma or abuse happens, it's hard to conceive of a God who is good or loving, despite what everyone tells you. Bad things aren't supposed to happen to good people. The two don't seem to go together. This confusion often leads to the conclusion that Christianity must not be true. It becomes easy to leave your tattered remnants of faith behind. This struggle is not new. In a broken world where broken people live, bad things happen, even bad things at the hands of those who call themselves Christian. The question then becomes: Where is God in the midst of it? Who is God after all? Is He worth trusting?

In today's story, as a teenager, Melanie left her Christianity behind in the wake of emotional pain and feelings of alienation in order to pursue her own path away from God. But now she lives to declare the reality and goodness of God, fully surrendered to Jesus Christ. She speaks for an apologetics ministry in order to help others find the love and truth of God that she has found. How did that happen? I hope you'll come along to find out.

Welcome to Side B Stories, Melanie. It’s great to have you with me today.

Thank you so much for the opportunity. I'm happy to be here with you.

Terrific! I would love for the listeners to know who you are, where you live today. We met at a conference recently, and I had no idea that you were from Canada, a very different part of the world than where I live here in Atlanta. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, what you're doing today, your interests, those kinds of things?

Yeah. So as you said, I live on the west coast of Canada. I am an adjunct speaker with Apologetics Canada, and I have been for the last year. I am currently a stay-at-home mom. I've got two small children, ages five and three, so they keep me busy. And I'm married to my husband of seven and a half years.

Oh, fantastic! Yeah. I bet you do have a busy home with those little ones roaming around.

So, Melanie, let's get into your story. I would love to hear: Were you always from Canada? Did your family grow up in the Vancouver area? Tell me about your home life, your family life as you were growing up. Was there religion in that world at all?

Yeah. So I was actually adopted at ten days old. I was born just outside of Vancouver, BC, and I was adopted at ten days old by my mother and my father. And so my biological mother was just in a position where she recognized that she was unable to care for another child. She has two kids from a previous marriage that are 10 years older than I, and yeah, so she just found herself in a position in life where she knew that she wanted to give her baby a mommy and a daddy, and she really wanted to have a healthy Christian home for me to grow up in. So she gave that to me and hand selected my adoptive family for me.

So I did grow up in a Christian home. We went to church on Sundays. I was part of girls club and youth group and all those things. And so God was a really big part of my life growing up. But I did also struggle quite a bit with the adoption. Either you can take it as being accepted and being chosen or you can take it as being rejected and abandoned. And I guess I took the latter of that. And so I really struggled, and it caused a lot of insecurity within my heart and my spirit, just like where did I belong? And who was I like? And all of those struggles and things.

I can't imagine what that must feel like growing up. It really is a juxtaposed kind of view, isn’t it? Either you can adopt the, “I’m just so thankful, and I’m chosen by these wonderful people,” or, “What happened?” Did you have any relationship with your biological mother at all during this time of struggle? Did you know who she was? Did she know who you were? Was there any relationship there? And how did that affect how you felt?

No. I didn't actually meet my biological mother until I was 18 years old. And so I knew of them. My parents were very forthcoming with the information that they did have around my birth family, and so I knew who they were. I knew their names and all those things. And I knew about the circumstances of where I was born and that my biological father was very toxic towards my mother and all of those things. But yeah, no. I think the hardest part about the adoption was how everybody else, like all of my friends and everything, they either looked like their parents, talked like their parents. They had this sort of unseen bond with their parents that I just always… I didn't know what my ethnicity was. I didn't know where I came from. I didn't know if I had the same character traits as my biological family or any of those things. So I think there was just a really deep disconnect of, “Who am I?” in those younger years and just always wondering and wanting to know more but not being able to know more.

And then, when I was 18, and I met my biological mother, it’s just kind of at a position in my life where it was too much too fast, and I really struggled with the fact that I didn't have coping mechanisms, because I had spent 18 years, essentially, waiting and thinking and planning about what it was going to be like when I met my biological family, and then all of a sudden, I'm there and it's happening, and it was just an overload to my system in so many different ways.

Again, I can't imagine. What a joy, but yet, I would imagine, overwhelming at the same time, because it's another whole other reality that enters your life, especially as related to, as you talk about, when we're trying to consider who we are, what is our place, where we do we come from, who are our people, and that sense of belonging and acceptance, and just trying to figure all of that out. Going back, I think that this probably is an undercurrent with regard to your growing up years. So, when you're growing up in a family, you know you're adopted. You’re loved by your adopted family. They’re bringing you into this view of Christianity, that there's a God and you go to church and all of that. Did you accept that, the things that you were being taught, both by your parents and by your church environment growing up? Did you feel a sense of belonging there?

I think in the very early years I did, and I think that I did have a relationship with God, but I really started to struggle as a teenager. Part of my childhood also has sexual trauma within it. My parents were hoping to adopt another child. In this case, it was a foster boy, and so they brought him into our home, well intentioned and everything, but things happened there where I did end up getting molested by this boy, and it went on for a number of years, so then, when I look back and I think about those very vulnerable years of my life, how I struggled with the identity of my adoption, and then I'm struggling with the identity of what's being done to my body, and I grew up in a time of purity culture, where sex was bad and, “Save yourself for marriage.” So there was kind of like, in those teen years—I mean, we all know that those years can be so difficult, and for me at that time, it was just everything that I had learned about God and everything I had learned about His love and His compassion and  His care for me, really just kind of was nails on the chalkboard for my spirit, because I felt like I was damaged goods, and every time somebody tried to speak the language of love, of Christianity to me, it felt like I was just pushed further and further away from that ideal Christian persona, essentially.

And so, yeah, I ended up… as a teenager there were situations within my friend group and everything where I felt a lot of judgment. I was kind of bullied and stuff by some girls in my class and all those things and kind of made a fool of, right? And then so, with growing up and being at a Christian school when this is taking place, I have these open wounds of my identity with adoption and the abuse that's going on and just the struggling of life in general, and then I'm coming to a school where people are making fun of me and gaslighting me and all those things, so I just kind of painted God with that brush. And the way that I internalized His character at that point in my life was that He was just an angry guy in the sky with a lightning bolt waiting for me to screw up, so He could smite me. I just felt like I was just a game and I was just always going to lose the game. And so I chose to walk away from religion and all of the things while I was a teenager because I felt like I would never be able to measure up to whatever standard it was that Christians and God had for me, and just struggling with the hypocrisy and the condemnation and the judgment that I felt from other Christians, it was just not worth it to me. I would have rather run away and have just been completely free of this whole God concept, so that I could just be broken by myself, because everything in the Christian culture was making me feel like I would never make it.

Wow! There’s a lot there. And I can completely understand why you wanted to push back from Christian culture, from all of these concepts of God that were presented to you but not lived out, in any stretch of the imagination, that you were rejected and bullied and felt condemned, and then what was going on at home, that you never could live up to anyone's standards. What a burden and what devastation, really, to try to be living in this place where Christianity is supposed to make sense and, like you say, being this loving God, but these people who represent God, Christian friends even, not accepting you, not loving you. And then what was happening at home, just unspeakable.

So you decided, as a teenager, that this was not anything for you, that Christianity was not anything for you. God is not worth believing in, I presume. Like you say, He was kind of a vindictive bully, along with those who were bullying you in the Christian school. I would leave that behind, too, I think. It’s just not…. Who would want that? So were you required to continue to go to church and go to Christian school, although you were internally rejecting that?

Yeah. So I think that my whole separation from relationship with God really started at age 16. And so obviously I was still living with my parents at that time, and the house rules were, “As long as you're under our roof, you’re going to church.” So I did continue to go to church with them, but it was just, “I’m showing up. I'm here. I'm doing what I have to do,” and then when I leave…. I started to get into the party scene. I found friends that allowed me to not feel like garbage, really. So people that maybe were just more carefree, didn't really… weren't worried about anything. They came from different family life. Just a place where I felt like I could land and just kind of exist in my chaos without feeling the judgment. And I ended up actually friend hopping quite a bit as well. I look back now, and I think that was just a way of trying to protect myself, because I felt very vulnerable, and I tried to play it off like I was tough and that I had it all figured out, but at the core, I was just a lost and broken little girl. And so I would hop from friend group to friend group, so that people wouldn't be able to figure me out, wouldn't be able to see what I didn't know they might be able to see. I just felt like I had to protect myself and continue to build up walls and continue to move around, so that people wouldn't get to know the real me, because I had no clue what people would find.

That's a tough road, isn't it? And I just want to say I'm sorry for what happened to you growing up. That's just so difficult, and I can see where you would find freedom away from the constraints of this religion that you had rejected, but yet it sounds as if you were still a little bit lost, still a little bit searching. Maybe more accepted in some ways? I mean, we all want to belong. We want to feel accepted. But struggling to figure out who you were and exactly where you did belong. How long were you in this period of just kind of trying to find your way through the chaos and the hurt?

Yeah. So I came to the rock bottom of my life when I was 21. And when I look back to that rebellion time of my life, I can see how God was still working in my life and His hand was still over me and His hand was protecting me. Even though I had told him like, “I'm done. I want nothing to do with You anymore.” And I thought I had removed myself from Him entirely, but He is so gracious and so filled with love and compassion for His children, and I can look back now, and I can see how He protected me from a lot of different situations that could have gone really, really bad. And I can say that my mentality prior to coming back into relationship with God was very much the victim mentality, and I would use the things that had happened to me and the trauma, and I would blame people, and I would just play the victim, and I always felt sorry for myself, and that in itself is a bondage that I wish upon nobody, because there is no hope, there is no purpose, there is no release and freedom and peace within that type of a lifestyle and that mentality. But I can see how God is so faithful in the midst of our own rebellion.

So at 21, I came to the bottom. I came to the bottom of my barrel. And like I said, I had been in the party lifestyle, so I was drinking with friends, and I had tried to quit on a few different occasions, but then my friends, the people that I was hanging out with, like they would say things like, “Oh, that's not the Mel we know and love.” Like, “Come on, just have one.” So even in my efforts to try and free myself from this chaotic lifestyle that I had submerged myself in, I couldn't because of the people that I had surrounded myself with. They encouraged me to continue on this path that I was on.

And so at 21, because I was still living with my parents, so I told my parents I couldn't go to the island, Vancouver Island, to visit my grandma because I had to work, and then I told my work that I couldn't go into work because I had to go the island to visit my grandma, so I just lied to everybody, so that I could have this weekend away, like no responsibility, nobody to hold me accountable, hang out with my friends and have a great time, and it was the worst weekend of my life. It was so horrible. My soul and my spirit were just at the end of whatever chaotic roller coaster I put myself on. So it was at the end of that weekend. My parents had come back home, but I knew that they had gone to work for that day, so I finally came home, and I was looking around for a drink or something, a bottle of beer that maybe was in my closet, and I couldn't find anything, and I had so much anxiety and so much restlessness within my heart and my soul. And it was just like, in that moment, I just realized, like I hit a wall where I was like, “I can't do this anymore. I cannot do this anymore. The world, the weight, everything within me is just too much. I can't.”

And so it was in that moment that I just hit the ground with my knees, and I cried out to God, and I asked Him for help, and it was like [snaps] that, that He just…. This wave washed over my body. All of that anxiety, all of that restlessness, that discontent was wiped away in that moment. And I just started to weep on the floor in my room, and I just wept, and I wept, and I felt so consumed and embraced by the God of my childhood, the God that walked with me through all of the trauma, all of the hurt, all of the chaos, all of the insecurity of my identity. He was always there, holding my hand, walking with me. When the people failed to show up and measure up and when my expectations were too high and I was disappointed and I was rejected and hurt and abandoned, He was there every single step of the way. And so, in that moment, like I said, it was just a wash of peace came over my body and my soul, and I had a little ounce of strength to be able to get up and try again.

And so, from that point, I called my mom, and she came rushing home from work, and then we started the process of actually looking for a recovery house for me, which was a great opportunity for me, because it removed me from the group of friends that I had. I mean flip phones were probably what was happening back in that day, but I gave my mom my flip phone, and I just disappeared off of social media, the internet. Nobody knew where I went, what had happened, and I just vanished. And it was from that point on that the work really started to begin.

And I know sometimes people get a little bit weird, like, “Oh, why does God show up for you in that way and not me in that way?” And I think a lot of us can assume that, from that point on, Melanie had it easy and everything was perfect rainbows and butterflies. The reality is that I've had to fight my way to this side. Every single day, I've had to lay my life down and ask God to have His will be done in my life, to move past my own personal wants, wishes, and desires, to dig into the truth of Who God is and why He cares for me. And the life that I have today is a direct result of that process of seeking God above all else. Everything that is so…. My life, it is beautiful today. I have a wonderful husband. I have two incredible children. I am sober for 13 years. I’ve been in a relationship with God for 13 years. I am a fully functioning grownup, And if you just met me on the street, you're never going to guess that my testimony was my testimony because, of all of the work that God has done through my story and through the process of me laying down my cross and chasing after him on a daily basis.

Yeah. No doubt, it has been a long and self-sacrificial road in order for you to get here. It sounds like your trust in God completely changed in that moment. You were in your closet on your knees, and you felt His presence, and the trust was restored. You had mentioned that you felt… you could kind of look back and see that God was with you even through all of the hard times, but yet, while you were experiencing your lostness, I guess your rebellion, as you phrased it, there was a sense there where you felt alone.

You were pursuing life on your own, in your own way, finding chaos, but yet you can look back retrospectively and say, “He was with me.” There's a real, again, juxtaposition there, the feeling of aloneness during the time itself versus looking back and saying, “Oh, no. He was always with me.” So I can imagine someone listening in and going, “Well, why didn't you see? Why didn't you feel it when you were experiencing the hard things? Was He really with you? How do you know He was with you?” What brings you to that resolution that He was actually with you the whole time?

Yeah, I think that, during my rebellion I didn't want to see. I didn't want to look for the good. I didn't want to seek out a relationship with God at all. I just wanted that cold, hard separation from God and from religion, because I resented it so much. And if I really think back to that time and that rebellion, I do think that I did sense that God was still with me, but I just desperately wanted to ignore His existence, because I didn't understand what it meant to be loved by God. I didn't understand what it meant even to be a Christian. I didn't understand what it meant to share the gospel with people. None of these things made sense to me. Christianity did not make sense to me. It was like I just got fed the cookie cutter Christianity as a child, and I'm not saying my parents and the church did such a horrible thing. What I'm saying is that, at some point, we need to move away from the milk and move into the real solid food of our faith. And for me, that wasn't possible until I removed myself from it, walked away in my rebellion and saw that my parents weren't just trying to control me, they were trying to protect me from a life of chaos. And when they said, “Don’t have sex before marriage,” it was an effort to try and protect me, emotionally and spiritually, as a child of God, that I would honor my body and honor my husband with my body. When they would say those things though, it was just like Satan just took a dagger and jammed it into my heart and told me, “Oh, well you're already damaged. You're already dirty and filthy and unclean.” So the negativity in my mind, ever since I was a child, was just always so very prominent there.

And when I think about it, on this side of my relationship with God, it’s like Satan’s been trying to destroy me since my conception, because my mother was told that she should get an abortion, and she chose not to, and then with the abuse that had happened and just my internalization of how adoption was a horrible thing and nobody loved me, I just disqualified so many of the beautiful gifts that God had given me in my life and the gifts of my parents. And I grew up with a sister. And there’s just so much beauty in my life that I totally disqualified because I was fearful, because I didn't want to be vulnerable, because I didn't want people to have power over me. I'm defiant. I'm still defiant. I'm just defiant in different ways now. Now I'm more defiant towards society, like, “Why do I have to do that?” Like, “Don’t tell me what to do? I'm going to do what I want to do.” So it just comes out differently now, whereas back then it was a defiance towards God. It was defiance towards my parents and towards Christianity as a whole, because I didn't want people to try and control me. I wanted to have control.

But now I'm at a place where I recognize that God is the ultimate authority, and He has control over my life today, and as a result of that, I have a beautiful life. A direct result of God, and He gets all the glory and all the credit, because without my process of seeking after Him and His truth and His heart for me, I would never have gotten to where I am today.

That really is beautiful and so redemptive. Your language of…. I guess, earlier, too, that you had felt a victim, instead of looking at the blessings, but the reality is you did suffer under the hand of your brother. It was something he had power over you. You were the victim there, and in a sense, powerless at that young time in your life. Looking back, how can you reconcile—because I'm sure people ask you this question. How can you reconcile what happened to you as a child? It was something that was beyond your control. It's not something that you wanted. It was something that happened to you. How could a good and loving God, a God Who loves you, allow that to happen?

Yeah. It's definitely a commonly asked question. How can God let bad things happen to good people? And I believe in God, so I believe that God has an enemy that is very, very actively trying to take away the opportunity for us to come into relationship with Christ and to recognize the goodness of God and the sacrifice that He has made and the goodness that He has done. And do I wish that those things never happened to me? Absolutely! I don't wish those things would happen to anybody. A child does not deserve to have to walk through that dark tunnel of complete despair and be a victim at the hand of another. I can't change it. There's nothing that can take me back to change it. And like I said, I lived with the victim mentality for so many years that it took away my ability to live in freedom. It took away my ability to live as my own individual person. Really, that situation had control over me for years after that point. And even now, as a grownup, there are still things that I have to heal from because of what was done to me. And I have to choose to heal. I have to choose to do the work, to come to God and to bare my heart before Him. and to allow Him to heal those parts of my heart.

I think, for myself, I held on to a lot of the darkness of my childhood for years, because at least I knew how it felt. Even though it felt horrible and it felt disgusting and that victim mentality was just always hovering over me like the rain cloud for Eeyore, it was at least something that I knew hurt. What scared me more was to walk away from that pain and choose to heal from it. What scared me more was to accept God unknowingly. What is going to happen? What is the good life? What is this freedom from affliction that he promises us? I was more scared of the unknown, of the good stuff, than I was to know exactly how much it hurt to be stuck in the muck.

Yeah. We are often motivated by fear, aren't we? And we live in a broken world, with broken people, who do really broken things. And sometimes that’s hard to reconcile, but what I appreciate about your story and about you is that you chose to move out of that victim mentality, move out of your fear, and into faith in the God Who loves you and desires the best for you, so much so that, in that day, again, when you were 21, you surrendered to the God that you then trusted again with your life.

I imagine that…. You’ve described a lot about how your life has changed, that you moved from victim mentality to one of surrender, to one of growth, to one of trust in God. How has that affected your life, when you finally turned everything over to Christ? You speak of freedom. You speak of restoration, really, and a redemption. And I can see it. I can feel it from you. I can hear it in your voice. How has your life changed since you decided to give your trust and your life back over to God?

My life has changed a lot in the way of just how my perspective is on life. When hard times come, I get to rest in the arms of my God, and just two years ago, just an example, my biological brother died. And it was really hard to go through that grieving process, and I think I am still grieving it, really. But what I noticed in the first initial moments of finding out that he was gone, I noticed that it was like, for the first time in my life, I had gone through a season of deep mourning. Well, I've gone through lots of seasons of deep mourning, don't get me wrong, but this was the first time that, in the midst of it all, I didn't feel hopeless. I felt filled with hope. I felt God's embrace, and I was able to process the grief from a place of being grateful for the time that I had with him, because I was able to connect. Since I met him and my sister at 18, I had the opportunity to connect with them and to get to know them. You know, somebody said to me, they're like, “Oh, well. You weren't that close, so why are you having such a hard time?” And it's like, “Well, for me. Yeah. I wasn't super close. We didn't grow up together. We didn't grow up play fighting. I didn't know what his favorite food was or his favorite color was. There's so much from my identity of adoption that I’ve missed out on, and now, all of a sudden, there's a huge sever, that I'll never get that stuff.” I'll never get to ask him what his favorite food was, what his favorite color was. But in that moment of that mourning, I was able to just rest in the arms of God and to know that it's okay. It’s okay.

And that's where God has just reconciled me to Himself. Even though I have that life behind me, of the struggle and the hardship and everything, it’s like all of those things that have happened to me, all of the experiences that I've had, I get to use that to bring glory to God today. And that's all I really care about, is to be able to share my testimony and share what God has done in my life, because what I didn't know prior to coming back to Christ and going through the work that I've done over the last 13 years of getting to know Him, establishing that relationship, and healing from my own stuff, is that people are like icebergs. And I don't mean in the sense that they're cold and aloof. I mean that we only see the surface of what's going on in people's lives. We can't dig down underneath the water and really see what's going on.

And so that's where my heart is at today, I get to remain calm in the embrace of my God and recognize that there are things happening in this world that I don't know about. And also just about reconciling to my past trauma. Nobody wants to talk about it, but there is still trauma that is happening. I feel like we live in a time in our society where we're like, “I'm a victim. I’m a victim. I was hurt when I was a child. My parents failed me.”

So I'm not trying to disqualify people's experience and everything, but the reality is, if we want to break generational curses, then we have to do the work to heal from our own trauma and not pass it on to the kids, but we also can't disqualify the fact that there are children today that are experiencing trauma. And what are we doing to help them? Even as a grownup, I've tried to share with family members some of the things that happened to me as a child, and they can't. They cannot stomach it. They cannot carry the burden and the weight. And that's okay. I don't need to go throwing my trauma at people and making them feel bad about the things that they had no control over saving me from, but at the same time, I want to be at a place where I can come, that I can be steadfast and deeply rooted in Christ, that I can come alongside people that are in the thick of it, and I can show them the love and the grace that God has given me so freely. And that's where my ministry that I've just started is coming from.

Yeah. It’s from a very authentic and beautiful place. You were adopted as a child. We are all adopted into the family of Christ or family of God. So you have a very unique perspective that you can understand that you have been brought into, grafted into the family of God through Jesus. It sounds like you’ve turned, like you say, from victimhood to appreciating being a part of the family of God. And you had mentioned earlier that you had trouble finding your identity, settling that, and I wondered if you could speak for a moment…. Like you say, there’s freedom when you take the view of victimhood and you bury it and you leave it behind and you identify—you find your identity in something bigger and greater than what happened to you, in the Person of Christ. How would you perceive your identity in Christ now?

My identity today is in Christ alone, and I love it because Christ is the same yesterday, today, and every day after. And what I've learned from my relationship with Him is that I don't have to wonder what He wants from me. I don't have to speculate. I don't have to poke, prod, and try to figure it out, like, “Who am I? What do You want from me?” It's like He doesn't change. His expectations of me don't change. He will come alongside me, and He will give me what I need to be able to face a new day with His grace if I choose to.

And so for me today, I don't so much think about my identity as being in the things of this world. I don't think, “Oh, yeah. My name is Melanie. I’m an adoptee. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m a friend. I’m a mother.” Those are all things that can change. They will change with the seasons of time if, God forbid, one of my family members dies. Like it's, “Cut. Hard stop.” Things change. Seasons in life change. But God remains the same every single day.

And for me as an adoptee, I take great comfort in knowing that I am adopted into the family of God. And, like, I don't know what my heritage is. I don't know what land I come from really. I’ve taken the DNA tests, and they've conflicted. So I don't really know. Am I Scottish? Am I Irish? Am I from Canada? Who am I? I have no idea. But I know that my identity comes from Christ alone and that at the end of this life, I get the honor and the privilege of walking with God into eternity, if I continue to pursue that relationship with Him and put my identity in Him, and even when people come at me or society changes and the opinions of people happen or my opinions change, it doesn't change the fact that I am a child of God.

That's beautiful. Melanie, you’re sitting here across from me, and there's obviously a very strong relationship between you and the Lord. There's an experiential walking. There's an experiential knowledge, a spiritual oneness or knowledge of what that means and that you've been growing that, like a relationship that's real. But you're also sitting across from me.

as someone who works for Apologetics Canada, as someone who is proclaiming the truth. In addition to the reality of the Person of God, there's a truth that He is Who He says He is in a way that's a rational, reasonable, and evidential. And I wondered how it is that you pursued this avenue. Why is it that you didn't just say, “I know God is real. I feel Him, I sense Him. He’s with me.” You use a lot of personal language, but I wonder, again, just thinking of the skeptic who's listening, who’s thinking, “Well, that's good for you, but I don't believe it's true.”

How did you, or why did you, pursue grounding the truth of what you knew to be real?

Yeah. I love this part of my story so much, because God actually used a non-Christian friend to light a fire under my butt and wake me up. So it was during the pandemic, and I had this friend of mine that was posting anti-Christian memes on social media, and I was kind of like, “Excuse me? That’s nothing of what I believe. What does this even mean?” I was kind of flabbergasted. I guess, up until that point I just kind of assumed that people knew what Christianity was, and I had kept my faith… not quiet, but I wasn't overly open with it, because I didn't want to make people outside of Christianity feel uncomfortable.

So up until that point, I kept Jesus for myself, and then God used this friend to just light the fire. And I realized, “No. I need to be able to accurately represent the God that I say that I serve. I need to know what I believe, how I believe it, why I believe it, and I need to be able to share it with other people in a way that's going to allow conversations to start and people to recognize that a lot of us misinterpret Who God is.” And a lot of us, as Christians, wearing the label, we misrepresent God on a daily basis. Even myself, in my early years. I do feel like those years were so important for me to lay down the groundwork, dig into what it meant for myself personally to love God and understand God, and deeply root myself in that. But then it's like we have a responsibility now to be able to share the truth of Who God is and why He loves us with the people around us. I am responsible in my daily walk to represent God and represent Him well. Because that friend that posted those memes, she comes from a place where she's only ever seen Christians that tell her that she's going to burn him hell. She's only ever been told by Christians that she's never going to measure up. She’s only ever seen the negative side of Christianity. And I believe that a lot of us have that desire to wake people up and bring them into faith, but for her, it has burned bridges and it has separated her from the opportunity to get to know the truth of Who God is and why God created her and loves her deeply.

So God used that. That’s the pivotal moment of my recognition for how important it is that I understand theology, that I understand apologetics, and that I learn how to be able to articulate it in a way that—for me, it's important to articulate it in a way where regular, everyday people can digest and understand and get to know, “Oh, okay. You don't have to be a scholar in order to understand Who God is. You don't have to get all of those letters behind or in front of your name in order to really understand Who God is.” I think a majority of houses within North America have a Bible within the house, even if it's a non-practicing family. So we have access to the Bible, not to mention on the internet today, but how many of us really know how to start digging into it? So God just really has opened up this whole new world for me, and it's not anything that I thought I would ever do. I wasn't planning on getting into apologetics or becoming an adjunct speaker with Apologetics Canada, but it's just like God’s just been closing doors, closing doors, and opening other doors all along the way. And so I'm here, and I'm very, very grateful for the fact that I get to be in this time and I get to be with Apologetics Canada and with the people there that are mentoring me along the way, that I can better articulate and share the gospel with other people that may be struggling to understand.

Yeah. How terrific is that? For those who are confused or may never have heard the word apologetics, don't really understand what you mean by that, could you explain that?

Yeah. So apologetics is… essentially it's being able to give a reason for the hope within us, a reason for our faith. A lot of people kind of quickly associate it as Christians apologizing for things, but really it's just understanding your own faith, like Christianity, and being able to explain it to other people, and when people come against it or have questions about it or anything, that you can articulate what is truth based on on biblical truth.

That's great. And I'm just so glad that you have started, that the Lord has opened many doors for you and closed others to move you in this path, because you're quite an articulate young lady and beautiful representative of Christ. So, thinking about your story and thinking about those who may be interested and curious. How would you encourage someone who is curious, who's seeking, who would love to be where you are in terms of their relationship with, a beautiful relationship with God and walking alongside of Him in very personal way. What would be a next step for someone who's seeking.

I would suggest that you don't allow people to separate you from God. And what I mean by that is, like for me, I allowed people's expectations or the things that people would say or the things that people would do to create a separation for me and my relationship with God. You are invited into a relationship with God. If you give Him the space to show up as He wants to—He is not a genie. He’s not here to grant us our wishes and do what we want. He is Somebody that wants to step into an authentic and vulnerable relationship with you, to equip you, to guide you, to love you, and to help you navigate the ever-changing seasons of this life. Step into that. It is an invitation for you, specifically for you. Regardless of what your past is, regardless of what you've been through, you are invited into relationship with Christ.

Yeah. I love that invitation. And there are couple of questions here that I want to ask you with regard to Christians and their engagement with those who don't believe. while you were struggling and on your path away from God and during those rebellion years, were there any Christians, like perhaps even your adoptive parents, who maintained a sense of love and grace and generosity toward you, who were stable and persevering or praying during that time of lostness? Or you described, certainly, those who were hypocritical and bullying and really terrible and representing Christ poorly. Were there any Christians during that time that actually did better than that?

Yeah. I call my mom my prayer warrior, because she stayed true to praying for me, and she really pressed into God during that time of my struggling and my rebellion and everything, and I believe that she called on a lot of her friends and her church family to also come alongside and pray for me during that time. I have some extended family members that were very good at representing Christ well. I didn't see them very often, but it's actually my cousin's grandparents. They were very… like just on fire for the love of God, and they didn't shy away from sharing that love with the grandkids and whoever would come in contact with them. It was a beautiful thing, so I did have good representation of God and what it meant to have authentic relationship with God. And I think that just having that in my upbringing, even though it was quite far from me, it wasn't in my inner world or in my close proximity. But I still always saw them, and I was kind of perplexed. They were just so filled with the spirit and so true to their faith and willing to share that that it was like a bright spot in my life. And I do have some interesting situations where youth pastors had come alongside me and tried to help me and everything, but I definitely rejected a lot of it because I just needed to believe the lie, because I was just too fearful of change.

Well, that’s good. At least you had some embodied representatives of Who Christ is in a good way? It wasn't all bad. And how beautiful the prayer of your mother, who never gave up, and I'm sure she was overjoyed, in a way relieved, the moment you called her on the phone.

for those of us who are Christians who really want to be an embodied example of Christ to others, who want to reach others well, you have really commissioned us in so many ways, not only to live a surrendered life, I think, ourselves, so that others can see what a surrendered life looks like, but to live in a way that is not a victimhood, not in an embodied hypocritical way, of what Christ wouldn't do to others or treat others in a very poor way that would push people away. You’ve given really beautiful examples on both sides of what we should or maybe shouldn't do, but do you have kind of a word for us as Christians on how to best engage people who don't believe, maybe even people who are in active rebellion?

Yeah. Yeah. I think first and foremost, it's so important that, as Christians, we always put our relationship with God first. If I'm not tapping into the waters of the Holy Spirit and filling up on that, then I have nothing to give. And whatever I do give can possibly deter people or cause more harm than good. So, for myself, I’ve recognized that my relationship with God is the first priority in my life, because, without that, I don't have anything. And I think really it comes down to, after that, it's our word choice. Are we saying things just because it's the things that were always said? Or are we saying things from a place of love? When people would tell me, “Oh, Jesus loves you,” that meant nothing to me in that time, because I didn't love myself. I didn't know what true love was. I didn't understand why Jesus, of all people, would want to love me. I felt like garbage, and so when people would come up to me and be like, “Oh, well, Jesus loves you,” it just felt more like a dismissive verbiage than anything that really hit the heart. And I think really that comes with action. Are we showing people the love of Jesus in a way that it's not glorifying ourselves but it is solely glorifying God? Are we giving freely of ourselves to help other people? Are we being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world? And maybe it's going to come in the way of feeding the homeless or serving in your community in some volunteer position. Or maybe it's going to be by writing a blog and encouraging other people.

But again, all of those things can so easily become corrupted if we are not doing the first priority, which is seeking our relationship with Christ. And we have an incredible gift to be able to shine our light for Jesus in this world, in this time, with all of the cultural things that are going on, and people are expecting Christians to be hate filled. And you know what? I want to be a part of the change. I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a culture that thinks that Jesus just wants to condemn them. And I just want to get down into the depths of people's hearts and despair. And it's not about me. It's just I recognize what it's like to be there, so now God has commissioned me into that space, to be able to reach out and pull people from the fire.

So I hope that more of us can dig into that personal relationship with Christ, that we would set the time aside to spend with Him, not because Melanie says so, but because we genuinely want to represent Him well.

That is just such a simple but very profound truth. I think that all of us need to hear what you're saying. In order to be effective in culture, we have to be first pursuing first things, and that's Christ, in order for Christ to be demonstrated through us. Wow! What an amazing reminder. What maturity and wisdom for someone who is so seemingly young, but you're so wise and so mature in your faith and so insightful. It reminds me of Paul's letter to Timothy, when he said, “Don’t let anyone look down upon you because of your age,” and whoa! What you can bring to those of us who are older. And I just pray that we have ears to hear your whole story.

 So many jewels that come forward in your story and so many vulnerable places and so many realities. It’s obvious to me that you’ve reflected deeply about your story, understanding why you rejected God. You didn't have a good understanding of Who He was because of what was happening to you, all around you, but yet you have risen above all of that, beauty from ashes, and are on the other side and proclaiming a beautiful Christ and a loving God despite it all, Who is the author of all truth over and above that. And you're so bold.

Thank you so much, Melanie, for coming on, for, again, just speaking the truth in love and deep clarity. I appreciate your voice, your wisdom, and your story.

Thank you so much for this opportunity. It was great to meet with you.

Yes, so good to have you.

Thanks for tuning in to Side B Stories to hear Melanie’s story. You can find out more about her ministry and social media links in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me through our email at [email protected]. If you’re a skeptic or atheist who would like to connect with a former skeptic with questions, please contact us, and we’ll get you connected.

This podcast is produced through the C.S. Lewis Institute through the help of our wonderful producer Ashley Decker, audio engineer Mark Rosera, and ministry assistant Lori Burleson. You can also see these podcasts in video form on our YouTube channel through the excellent work of our video editor Kyle Polk.

If you enjoyed it, I hope you'll follow, rate, review, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we'll see how another skeptic flips the record of their life.


COPYRIGHT: This publication is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.

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