“This is our story of Hope. God knew just how to reach us and transform us. Our marriage faced challenges, but, as we said yes to Jesus, he radically restored it.
Melissa: We were both raised to believe in God. However, that belief didn’t extend to a personal relationship with Jesus or an understanding of the Holy Spirit’s power. During our time at the Vineyard, we would come to know both well.
In 2007, we started looking for a new church community. One day, while I was in the Walmart parking lot, a stranger approached me with an invitation to try out the Vineyard. This especially struck me because my sister already attended. The next Sunday, my three girls and I attended and knew right away it was for us. For myself and my eldest daughter (age 13 at the time), we felt that way as soon as we heard the first words of the sermon. They were exactly what we needed to hear. For my two younger daughters (ages 8 and 10), they loved everything about kid’s ministry downstairs. When we picked them up, they both asked, “Do we have to go anywhere else?” It was settled. This was our new home.
Tom: For the first couple of years, I struggled with attending. I grew up in the Catholic Church and my parents expected me to attend church every week; I did, but I never connected. As soon as I moved away from home, I stopped going. When we started attending the Vineyard, I would periodically join Melissa and the girls because I liked that it was important to them. To me, it was also something that families are supposed to do. Looking back, though, I now realize I bought into the lie that there wasn’t anything there for me.
Melissa: For the first couple of years, the girls participated in every way they could. It was sweet to see them participating and serving at our new home church. Meanwhile, I could sense Tom’s reluctance and I made sure not to pressure him to come with us. He made it about half the time but even when he did, he didn’t seem truly present. I felt painfully torn by the situation and shed many tears. The enemy was telling me that the closer I got to God, the further apart I’d become from my husband, and I believed it. As a result, I wasn’t sure how involved I should be and how much to serve. These thoughts would go through my head whenever I felt called to say yes to something.
Then, in 2011, while I was in Freedom for Life (FFL), I had a miraculous breakthrough in personal transformation. The stage had been set by weekend teachings, small group meetings, and the FFL classes. I had been changing all along little by little but one weekend I went up for prayer and things suddenly went into high gear. I felt God’s presence strongly. I felt it so strongly that in that moment I experienced God’s healing of the shame and guilt I had carried around for decades because of past wounds. I felt a weight lift off from me. After that, I started on a path of freedom from codependency. I stopped comparing myself to others. And, more importantly, I truly believed God loved ME. My self-worth came from him.
During this time, I also started to serve in more areas. I wanted to share God’s goodness I had experienced. I still felt a tug from the enemy’s lies about my marriage, but the more I said yes to Jesus, the more the enemy’s hold on me broke off.
Fast forward to the summer of 2012 and Tom and I had a disagreement that was so bad we barely talked to each other for months. Our marriage was at a definite low point. While it was scary, neither one of us wanted to give up on our relationship. I prayed and held onto hope. It would be another two years before our marriage was restored completely, and God made it stronger than ever.
Tom and I were driving to the twin cities and I was telling him about the Vineyard youth retreat for girls that I had served at the prior weekend. I served as the main cook, which is definitely my love language, and was also blessed to share my heart for purity in a breakout session. I was still so filled with the Holy Spirit as I shared with Tom during our drive. I wanted to tell Tom why I was passionate about the topic of purity for these young girls. As I shared, it felt as though the words weren’t coming from me but from the Holy Spirit—the words just poured out of me. I told him about the statistics on date rape on college campuses and casually mentioned that that happened to me. I kept talking not even realizing I had shared this piece of me that I had left buried for so long. I had only told one other person in over 25 years and that was my small group leader just recently.
Tom: I was stunned. What did you just say? In the days and weeks that followed, I went into a tailspin. I was filled with anger. How could someone do that to her? Where were the people in her life that should have been looking out for her? The bitterness was impairing my life and I didn’t think I could ever forgive. Melissa had worked through this, forgiven, and freed herself from guilt and shame. I was amazed by how she was able to do that, and it eventually became clear that it was Jesus who allowed her to forgive. One day I simply told her, “I want what you have.” As I said that and began to turn my life over to Jesus, the following days seemed more difficult – the enemy poured on the attack, but I didn’t realize that until a few months later. While reading Wild at Heart, a line jumped out at me that read something like, “As long as you are no real threat to the enemy, his message to you is you are fine.” This was a lie I felt like I had heard most of my life. I never really thought of the enemy as real. The realization of that and that I needed Jesus to help me resist the devil was the turning point in my healing and getting to the forgiveness necessary to heal.
Melissa: Our marriage has changed in every way. We now talk to each other about everything, we pray together, and we serve together. We have God in the center. We also changed practical aspects like going to bed and waking up at the same time and even riding to work together. We work just four blocks apart but had never carpooled to work before. We are of course still a normal couple and are not perfect by any means; our communication skills still need a lot of work. However, when I think of where we have come from and where we are now, it still amazes me and brings me unending hope. God makes all things beautiful and I feel he made our marriage beautiful. God’s beauty is a beauty that extends beyond human imagination.”
—Tom and Melissa Donofrio