'POWERFUL': Pastors should read 'Melissa'

by Thom S. Rainer, posted Thursday, May 30, 2013 (one year ago)

NASHVILLE (BP) -- The words seem cliché in some ways: "It's a parent's greatest fear." But they are not cliché. They are real -- and haunting.

Frank and Dayle Page had the "perfect" family, or so it seemed to many of us on the outside looking in. He had pastored a megachurch and had been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Even today he serves as president and chief executive officer of the administrative offices of the denomination.

And he has three lovely daughters.

But one of those daughters, Melissa, was troubled most of her life. She was spunky and compassionate at the same time, but her life was dominated by problems and depression. Melissa took her own life. As a young adult lady, Melissa committed suicide.

A courageous story

Frank decided to write a book about Melissa. He took the courageous path. There are no false platitudes in this book, no syrupy cover-up for the distinguished Page family. No holding back. The book delivers one hard punch after another. It details the day Melissa took her life. And Frank writes again and again about Melissa's last words on that fateful day: "Daddy, I love you."

He writes it because he wants to remember her love for him. He writes it as if he can grab the words and snatch Melissa back to life. He writes it with both gratitude and deep pain.

Frank told me that he wrote this book out of selfishness; he said he wrote it for his own therapeutic needs.

I don't buy it. Certainly there was a therapeutic value for him to write the book, but there is no hint of selfishness. It took deep courage to write this book.

Many of us in vocational ministry want to try to fool our churches and the world. We want to act like our home has no problems. We never fight with our spouses. Our children are the embodiment of angelic beings. We are never tempted. We have no sin issues in our lives and we certainly don't have family members who are depressed and perhaps suicidal.

Frank takes down the façade. He lets us see a real family with real problems, real struggles and real hurts. It's a family not that much different than all of ours. It's a Christian family in a fallen world.

Why you should read this book

I wish every Christian leader in America would read this book. Frankly, I wish every Christian would read this book. It is one of the most powerful books I have ever read; I finished the entire 200 pages in one sitting. I could not stop. I did take occasional breaks to wipe tears from my eyes and a few other breaks to pray. But I couldn't put the book down. You need to read this book. You really do.

You need to hear the story behind suicide. We recently were shocked and saddened to hear about the suicide of Rick Warren's son. We were reminded again that depression and suicide could come to any family -- your family, my family.

You need to understand some of the issues behind depression and suicide so you can more effectively minister to others. Indeed, you may find yourself using the book to minister to your own family.

I also pray that this book will get into the hands of thousands of persons who are contemplating suicide. Frank writes a series of letters to those who are struggling and seriously tempted to take their own lives.

You should also read this book to see how a Christian leader courageously allows others to see the real world of a messy family. We all, to some degree, have messy families but are often too prideful to admit it.

Be part of a movement

The podcast interview I recorded with Frank will be broadcast Friday at thomrainer.com. Please take less than 30 minutes to listen. You really do need to do so for your own ministry and perhaps for your own family. Then get the book, "Melissa: A Father's Lessons from a Daughter's Suicide."

Read it for your ministry. Read it for your family. Read it for yourself.

Perhaps a movement will grow from this book. Perhaps lives will be saved because we have a greater awareness and sensitivity to this darkness. Perhaps we will learn to love more deeply. Perhaps we will become more compassionate people.

On one weary occasion, Frank was asked how many children he had. Because he was so tired of explaining where the third child was, he conveniently omitted Melissa. As soon as he did, he had deep grief and remorse. He had denied his firstborn, his third daughter. He vowed never to leave out Melissa again.

Yes, she had committed suicide, but she was a believer. Frank has no doubt where she is today. He will never deny her existence again. Melissa lives for us too. Her story, told by her father, is one of the most incredible tomes I've ever read.

Thank you Frank. Thank you Frank and Dayle Page. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your love of your family. And thank you for giving life to Melissa. May her story give life to many more.


Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared May 29 on Thom Rainer's blog ThomRainer.com.