So often in my childhood, I looked at families with mothers and fathers at home and wished for a different normal for myself. It wasn’t until I became a follower of Jesus Christ, I realized there are no perfect families. God showed me His hand had always been protecting, providing, and guiding my life. The decisions of others affected my experience, but the suffering God allowed into my life only led me into His loving arms. I can embrace the trials which come into my life as opportunities to draw nearer to God for His help, strength, and peace. On the other side of those challenges, I am even more aware of His saving grace in my life. Only from God’s perspective, of which I only receive a glimmer, do I see His compassion and mercy.
Some say we don’t deserve what we get, life is unfair. I say, praise God I have not received what I deserve. God has restrained his wrath from me and placed it all on His own Son. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 ESV).
Read more of Melanie’s experience in my ongoing project – Divine Restraint.
In the afternoon, Nick drove them to a nearby park with a hill for sledding. It was crowded with people of all ages. Small children with rosy cheeks ran by them squealing in delight. Teenagers in groups carried colorful snowboards up the hill. Parents huddled in groups at the bottom of the hill taking pictures with their cell phones.
They trudged up the hill carrying the family toboggan. At the top, they all piled on with Nick in the rear and Annie up front. Melanie made sure she sat behind Annie. Nick shoved them off and down them flew. They ‘Woohooed’ all the way to the bottom where they tipped to one side and fell into the snow.
“Again!” Annie cried, and her servants happily obeyed.
The sun was on its way down, casting a pretty orange color on the snow, when Nick said it was time to go home. They were all cold, wet, and exhausted, but grumbled all the same at the suggestion.
Abby’s father was home when they arrived and he greeted them at the door.
“Boots off right here, kids,” he said. He snatched Annie’s hat off her head.
“How was it Pumpkin?” he asked.
Annie gave him a bear hug. “Great!” she said.
Melanie and Abby hung up their coats and went to change out of their wet clothes. Mrs. Anderson’s voice trailed behind them.
“I need help with dinner girls!”
“Coming Mom!” Abby said.
Melanie had so many sensations throughout the day, it was an emotional roller-coaster. One minute she felt just like a member of the family and it exhilarated her. The next moment she felt like an outsider getting a taste of a fruit forbidden to her. Knowing they would leave for college in three days brought a sense of finality to the experience. It wouldn’t last forever, so she decided to enjoy the ride.
At dinner, Mr. Anderson asked about their day. Annie was their spokesperson, sharing every detail of their adventures outdoors. He asked Nick about his plans for the coming week. Nick talked about his internship, calls he’d made, classes he scheduled. Abby told her father about the responsibilities she would return to when she and Melanie went back to the University.
Mrs. Anderson shared her concern for a sick cousin of theirs. Finally, Mr. Anderson turned his attention to Melanie.
“How was your day, Melanie?”
“It was terrific,” she said, “I’ve never gone tobogganing before – “
“Melanie shoveled the front walk this morning Daddy,” Annie said.
“Annie,” Mrs. Anderson scolded, “don’t interrupt.”
“Thank you for sharing in the chores around here, Melanie. How’s your hand feeling?” he asked.
She hadn’t even remembered her sore hand. “Oh it’s much better, thank you.”
After dinner, Annie and Abby helped their mother with the dishes and Nick went out with friends. Melanie was left at the table with Mr. Anderson. She felt awkward. An old familiar feeling of vulnerability came over her, ruining her perfect day.
Melanie,” Mr. Anderson said breaking the silence, “does your father know you’re here with us?” he asked.
She shifted in her chair. Don’t lie, she told herself.
“He’s not at home,” she said, “he’s on the road working, driving. I told him I was going to stay with a friend and that she’d take be back to school.”
“I see,” Mr. Anderson said, “I just know, as a father, that we worry about our daughters.” He glanced toward the kitchen. They overheard the girls’ voices, mostly Annie’s.
“Do you mind if I ask a personal question, Melanie? You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to.”
“Uh, OK,” she said, but what she wanted to say was ‘Yes, I mind.’
“When you called on New Year’s Day, wanting to leave home so abruptly, I couldn’t help feeling that you were afraid of something, or that you felt unsafe where you were. Is everything alright between you and your father?”
Melanie didn’t know how to respond. She wondered how much Mrs. Anderson had said to him. She worried she was the cause of their conflict earlier in the week. She wasn’t sure if she could trust anyone – especially a man she hardly knew. She didn’t think anyone would understand.
“Melanie?” he asked.
“Well,” Melanie began, “my dad works a lot. We don’t spend very much time together. I guess we’ve kind of grown apart. When we are together, we don’t really know what to say to one another.” She was rambling.
“Melanie,” Mr. Anderson said, “I’m just going to ask you this straight out. Is there any reason for you to feel, um, unsafe at home?”
She realized he was asking if she was afraid of her dad.
“Oh, no, Mr. Anderson,” she said, “My father is OK. I just don’t like being home alone. My dad had to leave on the second for work, and I didn’t want to be left home alone wi- alone.”
She did it, she lied again. Why was telling the truth so difficult for her? She couldn’t count all the lies she’d told. She felt trapped. Melanie took a deep breath.
“Actually Sir, that’s not quite true.”
“What’s not true, Melanie?”
“I wasn’t afraid of being home alone. I was afraid of being home alone with him.”
“With your father?”
His brow bore down over his eyes. Was he angry?
“Not Dad, my uncle.” She let it out – the breath she had been holding so many years.
“Your uncle? Does he live with you and your father?”
“No. He was injured during the holidays in a car accident. He had to come stay with us because he couldn’t take care of himself.”
“Why are you afraid of your uncle, Melanie?” Mr. Anderson was looking so intently at her she began to feel very exposed.
It was too much, too real. She couldn’t answer, she didn’t want to answer. She had to leave. They knew too much – she said too much.
Melanie got up from the table and ran to Abby’s room. She had to go, now.
“Melanie?” Abby called behind her.
By the time Abby got to her room, Melanie was putting her things in her bag.
“Melanie, where are you going? What’s wrong? Did my father say something -?”
“It’s not your father.” Melanie didn’t look up. “It’s me. I gotta go. I shouldn’t be here. I don’t belong here,” she said and a tear dropped on the bag leaving a dark spot.
“Melanie, it’s late. Where will you go? Please stay until tomorrow. We’ll figure something out tomorrow. Please?” Abby placed her hand on top of Melanie’s and stopped her from packing. “Stay until tomorrow.”
Annie came into the room and saw Melanie’s suitcase. “Melanie, you’re not leaving are you?”
Melanie looked from one sister to the other.
“Tomorrow,” she said.