By Rose Pauly
“I’m dying!” Her lips were already engulfed in flames as she screamed those words.
Every part of her body was on fire. In desperation she looked for help in the eyes of her husband. Little did she know that the most dangerous time in a relationship is when an abused victim tries to leave. He stood motionless before her clinging to the empty gallon milk jug that had held the gasoline. His failure to move and emotionless expression stunned her. “I know” was all he uttered.
In panic she staggered for the front lawn and crumbled onto the grass. Her eyes caught the sight of her own arms and hands which looked like broken, shriveled sticks convulsing and crackling in the raging heat.
The abuse had come to a climax. This was the end. Her life was over now.
She looked up to see the towering figure of her husband watching her burn. She raged inside and spewed curse words in his direction. Knowing she was near death she began reciting a prayer she had learned as a child…the Lord’s prayer.
Suddenly a blanket wrapped around her marred body and the flames started to subside. A frightened neighbor had seen the terror and was trying in a last ditch effort to save her life. Then everything went black.
What led up to this day was not unusual. MeLisa was a beauty at an early age. She could turn the heads of those much older and she received a lot of attention. When she was just fourteen Ben began to pursue her vigorously. She was fatherless. He was needy. It was a volatile mix, yet the two married when MeLisa turned eighteen. Ben was thirty-nine.
The marriage was rocky from the start and the controlling, emotionally abusive behavior of her husband subtly grew. MeLisa was the wage earner. Ben had scattered jobs but said he needed her to survive. Finally at twenty-three years of age, Melisa felt she had an out. Ben got a full time job.
Gathering all the courage she could muster she told him she was leaving.
A short time later he called her out to the garage. With cigarette in hand she wandered outside wondering what he wanted. Nonchalantly glancing his direction she noticed him quietly picking up a gas-filled milk container. The next moment she felt the cold liquid douse her chest and begin running down her legs. Then she saw it. The cigarette in her hand.
MeLisa was bed-ridden on a burn unit for 10 months and then transferred to a rehab hospital to regain whatever muscle strength she could salvage. Anger set in with a vengeance. Why had she survived? Her life was destroyed. She describes that time, “The rage was far beyond anything I had ever experienced before. I wanted to die. I hated the hideous, half-human monster I saw in the mirror. I also hated anyone who wasn’t burned. How could anyone not burned understand what it was like to be trapped in the broken body of the grotesquely scarred, side-show freak that I had suddenly become? I was helpless and hopeless. I wanted to kill. I thought about death and suicide constantly.”
MeLisa hit rock bottom. She felt like a living dead woman, useless and without purpose or meaning. She knew nobody would ever love her again.
But there was a love waiting for her. A love that would change her life. One day in total despair she closed herself off in her room, pulled the curtains and sat in her wheelchair in the black darkness. Allowing the tears to flow freely she raged at God. She poured out her anger, pain and fears to Him. What happened next would totally redirect the trajectory of her life.
God met her in the darkness.
She didn’t hear an audible voice but felt His presence and the words that poured into her heart were dripping with grace and mercy, “MeLisa, I love you. I always have, and I always will. I’m not looking at your skin, I’m looking at your heart. You are beautiful to Me. You have value to Me because you are My daughter. I will always love you no matter what.”
In that moment a wounded and hurting young woman opened her heart up to the love of her heavenly Father. She let His love wash over her and fill her. Comfort poured into her very soul. Hope was reignited. She knew she had survived for a reason.
That afternoon, God poured out His love and MeLisa put her hope in Him.
It has been quite a few years since that day of epiphany. Since MeLisa had been burned over 95% of her body the journey of physical healing took time. But there was also the journey of emotional and spiritual healing that needed to take place. It was difficult and painful much of the time but God faithfully took her on that path.
Ben was never held accountable or dealt justice for his crime that day. He claimed it was an accident and showed up a few times to visit her in the hospital. Consistent with many victims of abuse she never filed charges. When she threatened to tell the authorities the truth he vanished. Divorce followed.
But MeLisa was given strength from above and over time found the freedom of forgiveness – releasing Ben from his debt to her and trusting that the God of justice would make things right.
This freed her heart to open up for love again.
At a burn survivor conference she met Erin Mounsey, a kind and generous man who was also a burn survivor, and the two fell in love. She says, “He is the man of my dreams and the love of my life... and then some.” They have been happily married now for 5 years.
Her eyes twinkle as she says, “It was only after God poured His love into me that I could love myself and give love to others. These very scars that used to make me want to run and hide now draw people to me, and I love to respond to their curious questions by telling them what the Lord has done in my life. My scars have become a badge of honor that I wear proudly as a survivor and a daughter of the King.”
MeLisa may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. She is available to speak for conferences and events and would love to share her inspiring and remarkable story.
By Rose Pauly