Part 4 of a series: Listen That You May Live
HILLSVILLE, Va. (May 4, 2017) -- Melanie Alderman is 33. Her eight-year-old son is with her.
It’s a pleasant Friday afternoon at Out of the Box Worship Center, a storefront church where people congregate through the week. Everyone is laidback, laughing, looking forward to the weekend.
Melanie tells her son to stay with the others -- he doesn't need to hear this. Then she closes the door, and another world emerges.
“I started doing heroin at 16,” she says. “I lived on the streets through my late teens and early 20s, in Baltimore.”
Propping her feet on a row of chairs, Melanie shares her story with little emotion at first … She had an older sister who died as a child. … “My parents never got over it. It was all downhill from there.” … Her parents divorced when she was eight. … “Dad was alcoholic and abusive. Mom was a binge drinker.”
Her mother kicked her out of the house when she was 14. Her stepfather, Frank, tried to help as she struggled. “He used to pick me up and take me to a hotel to get a shower. He spent a large chunk of my life trying to get me clean.”
Years passed. Melanie went into rehab and recovery in Virginia in 2007 and had two sons. She relapsed in 2011 and lost custody of both.
Melanie was heartbroken when Frank died, and no one told her. “I missed his funeral. It was an especially bad time in my addiction. I was selling drugs and living really foul.”
Yet there were people who emerged, like Frank, who didn’t treat her like an outcast -- like the DEA agent who pulled her over and found a lot of drugs in her car. “He was Christian, and we ended up having a crazy, weird conversation about God, Jesus and religion,” she says.
Soon after Frank died, she found her way to Out of the Box, where she often cried through the recovery worship services because she was either coming off a high or a fight with her boyfriend. She met people there who took her under their wings.
“It took a mother figure in my life to help me get clean,” she says, “a group of women who would love me until I could love myself.”
Melanie has been clean since September 2015. She was baptized by Rev. Ronnie Collins in 2016.
She has a good job because – during a Lions Club eye exam last November – the ophthalmologist heard God repeatedly tell him to “give her a job.” (“Are you serious, God?” he later confessed to asking.) The doctor was a member at First United Methodist of Hillsville.
She’s able to visit with her younger son, Chris, who lives with his father, after being apart from him for three years. She hasn’t seen her older son, Michael, for six years. Melanie’s mother has custody of Michael.
Now she’s one of the regulars at Out of the Box who knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the doors.
“I was so low when I found Out of the Box, so low and so full of guilt and shame,” she says. “But Jesus is love, not judgment. … When people walk into the door on Wednesday night, I try to make them feel welcome and not judged.
“It’s never too late to start over. You are worthy.”
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.