Melanie Crenshaw – Before & After
Short Stories By Jesus Series
Our fall worship series was entitled Short Stories By Jesus, in which we were looking at Jesus’ parables, especially some of the most problematic ones. We enlisted the congregation to write Before & After stories. Each Sunday one member shared a story in which there was a before and an after, and after which, many things in his or her life changed dramatically. Here is one of those stories.
Melanie Crenshaw – Before and After
“I don’t see a future for us where I can be happy.” I glanced down at the ring glittering on my left hand which just a few months earlier had expressed the opposite sentiment. Was it my imagination or did it immediately lose its sparkle as all of the air was sucked out of the room by those words? How could such a simple sentence carry with it such weight? Before those words, I was planning a fairy tale wedding followed by happily ever after. After those words, I landed harshly back in reality, like Cinderella sitting on top of that pumpkin at midnight. Only this wasn’t a story, this was my new life.
I went straight to the phone and called my best friend of over 20 years and told him I needed a place to stay. His response was, “Come on.” I spent that first sleepless night on his couch flipping through channels. Sometime around 6:00 in the morning I heard the voice of televangelist Joyce Meyer delivering her no-nonsense theology across the airwaves. God’s ways are mysterious, but I knew in that moment that this was going to be the hardest time of my life to date and at the same time I would never be alone. This early morning encounter with God would be the first of many times He reached out to me, breaking through the grief and despair.
During the months I had planned a wedding, I sent an email to a minister at First Presbyterian Church. Somehow my email address was passed along to Austin Carty, the intern for adult education, and he began what seemed like incessant invitations to attend his Sunday School class. I am sure in reality it was like 3 emails. God was knocking and asking me to answer, so one Sunday I did. Austin was only one of many people that God put into my path to teach me the lessons I needed to hear to heal. Austin taught me that love is the only thing that frees us from our self-imposed prisons, and for Christians, God is that love. I was very familiar with a God that held a gavel in one hand and a tablet of rules in the other hand, but this loving God was new to me. I wanted to know Him and feel His love and be set free. To know Him meant I had to spend time in His presence and nurture the relationship like I had nurtured the relationship with my fiancé, Paul, a year earlier.
The wise words of Mumford and Sons taught me that “Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you; it will set you free; be more like the man (or woman) you were made to be.” I knew God was love and if I substituted His name in that lyric, I knew He had not forsaken me by saving me from a marriage I wanted but shouldn’t have had. I also realized that my love for my fiancé was a beautiful thing. No matter how it ends, giving love to another person is like thousands of acts of faith and hope that change the lover in such positive ways. A friend who knew me before and after the breakup remarked that I was different, as if all my walls had been torn down. Love did that: my love for Paul; Paul’s love for me; and God’s love for both of us. Leonard Cohen wrote, “There is a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in.” I agree with Mr. Cohen, but would add, the cracks are also how the light gets out to others.
So that first sleepless night at my best friend’s house led to four months in his guest room. After watching me wallow in sorrow on the couch too many nights, he exclaimed that I needed a hobby. He was secretly jealous because he was working all the time and I was soaking up his cable while surfing on his couch. I thought to myself, “I’ll show you. I’ll Google Monday night Bible studies in Greensboro.” Admittedly, this is not the best motivation behind beginning a Bible study, but it led me to Bible Study Fellowship. I ended up joining in the last six weeks of the study of Genesis, just in time to experience Joseph’s sorrow, waiting and redemption. Every week, I thought, “I hear you God, I hear you!”
Dancing with depression and despair was a daily battle with the devil. I fought it with every weapon I could find: anti-depressants, cake, men, TV, binge eating, music, travel, yoga, friendship, family. Finally, I was driven to my knees, quite literally, in prayer. I still fight this fight everyday. Sometimes, I cry to God to deliver me. Sometimes, I thank God for delivering me from all the pitfalls I could not see. Sometimes, I praise God for being the Almighty. Sometimes, I just weep and let Him hold me. Every time, I feel His love envelope me as a shield against the devil.
Before what I came to refer to as “the day the world ended” I thought I made things happen on my own power. After that night, I learned fully that in my weakness God’s strength is made perfect. The irony of having my heart ripped out in my personal life is that in my professional life I am a divorce attorney. Heartbreak is my business, and business is good. Before my heart was broken, I dealt with the brokenhearted harshly for their weakness. After my own heart was broken, I learned compassion.
My friend Austin liked to teach about God by using literature, so thanks to him I learned a lot about C.S. Lewis, but perhaps my favorite piece I learned is the poem, “As the Ruin Falls.” The last two lines read: “For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.” Nowadays, I try my best to remember that everyone I meet is wounded and we are all in need of a God-sized bandage. Rather than judge someone for where they are standing in front of me, I push myself to see the journey they have overcome. I learned from Anne Lamott that God loves me too much to leave me where He finds me, and if He loves me that much, then He loves all of us that much, and we should treat each other as God’s treasure.
As for Paul, I continue to keep him and his family in my prayers because that is what Jesus would do. A year after the day the world ended I emailed him my forgiveness. I learned from God (with help from his messenger C.S. Lewis) that I had to forgive Paul the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in me.
I am still healing, maybe I always will be. But each day, I see a glimpse of wholeness returning. I hear it in a sermon or a song at College Park. I feel it in the love of friends and family. I see it in the mirror. On New Year’s Eve 2011, I caught my reflection in the mirror as I prepared to go with Paul to the Avett Brothers concert in Greensboro. My reflection stopped me in my tracks because I could see the love glowing in my eyes, my smile, my cheeks, my whole being. After the day the world ended, I thought the glow would never return. Not for the first time, I was wrong. As I do every time I hear “Murder in the City” I cried a little that night as Scott Avett sang the lyric, “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.” I did not get to share my name with Paul, but I do get to share the name “child of God” because Christ loved me enough to die for me. Christ died so I could live this life, if that doesn’t bring the glow back to my eyes, I can’t imagine what else could.
Melanie Crenshaw, October 2015