Melody Joy Welton anxiously sits with an organic bottle of cola in her hand. She looks at it, smiles at how cute the label is, then puts it down. She shifts in her seat, fixes her dress, straightens out her cardigan, tousles her hair, and as if she can’t hold it in any longer, exclaims, “I am so excited to share my testimony!”
Five years ago, however, that same sentiment didn’t burst from her mouth like it does now. From age 14 to 21, Melody hid her testimony, embarrassed by its lack of punch.
At 14, she trained with 30 other teenagers for a mission trip to Mexico with the organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM). She listened to these other kids’ stories of hurt. How they turned to alcohol and drugs. How their families broke. And how in the depth of their darkness, God rescued them and restored them.
And while amazed, she couldn’t help but sink further into her chair. They simply had better, cooler testimonies than her. Melody always loved God from a very young age. In fact, at five- or six-years-old, she accepted Jesus into her life multiple times. Just in case. Alcohol and drugs never interested her. Her parents loved her unconditionally. And she loved the chaos of eight other siblings scrambling through the house more than anything in the world. Her life consisted of love, fun, and more fun.
Maybe I can just backslide for a little bit and come back, she thought. And then, I’ll have an amazing testimony to share!
“I was so naïve,” she laughs. “Even when I tried, I couldn’t deny that I really, really loved God.”
When Melody entered college at Western Michigan University in 2003, she wondered if this was her opportunity. She grew up in a Christian home, attended Sunday school, and later, youth group.
attended Sunday school, and later, youth group. So as an eager freshmen moving into the college dorms, she faced a huge decision. Would she continue this relationship with God, which was all she knew, or would she stop?
Well, Melody just couldn’t help herself. She loved God too much, and she knew that she wanted her faith to keep growing as well as her love for Him to grow deeper.
Moreover, she soon discovered that her “lack” of experience did not mean she lacked the ability to help others. In fact, it wasn’t what Melody didn’t have, but rather what she had been given from birth.
Before Melody was born, her parents suffered a miscarriage. So when they found out they were pregnant with Melody, they were so happy, they made “Joy” her middle name.
Little did they know how integral that name would be in Melody’s life. Even when kids teased her for her thunderous laugh and unique voice, she’d shrug it off, unashamed of her quirks.
“I was at Pizza Hut once with some people I’d just met,” Melody explains. “And somebody said something and I laughed, and the whole restaurant turned and looked at me, and everybody in the booth—it was one of those big corner booths—looked at me and said, ‘Oh my gosh. Shut up. I can’t believe you just laughed like that. Oh my word.’”
As Melody shares this story, her words increase in volume, causing stares around her even now, as if being transported back to that corner booth in Pizza Hut. But the moment passes with an echoing laughter and a flip of her hair. She quiets down but only a few decibels.
“So when I later explained to them my history and how people used to always make fun of my laugh and me still being able to find joy and know that this is just who I am, they all apologized and said that they love my laugh.
always make fun of my laugh and me still being able to find joy and know that this is just who I am, they all apologized and said that they love my laugh. And I just looked at them like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you say that now...’” she says, laughing at her own story.
On another occasion, at the start of a semester abroad in South Africa, Melody sat around a campfire with the other students in her program. As they introduced themselves, Melody heard a student across the campfire say loud enough for everyone to hear, “I can’t believe her name is Melody and her voice sounds like that.” Shocked, everyone looked at her to see her reaction, but Melody kept her mouth shut. Then, later that evening when that same student approached Melody to apologize, she responded with “I forgive you.”
Despite the student’s maliciousness, moments like these failed to steal her joy.
“It never really penetrated,” says Melody. “There were times it wanted to, but for some reason, I was constantly able to be happy and find that joy. Even now, God is constantly reminding me of who I am through my name, and how I’m called to give that joy to other people.”
Even as she reminisces of her first boyfriend at 17-years-old, which ended in heartbreak, she only remembers the fun and purity of the relationship. On their first date, they watched a cartoon at a movie theater and moseyed to a nearby diner afterward to play the board game “Candyland.” Their other dates included stargazing on the hood of their car and spending time with each other’s families, as if characters straight out of a romantic comedy.
“I really feel that my name is powerful, and God is always speaking to me about my name,” Melody says. “Because no one can steal my joy…my joy has been my strength.”
Which explains how Melody stepped into the role of a counselor, a sister, a mother, and a protector to people with issues she never experienced before.
In her third year of college, Melody led a Bible study and met Michelle, who had recently found God. Michelle’s rough past—a mom with cancer, brothers in and out of jail, and a poor relationship with her dad—surfaced a lot. Yet Melody mentored Michelle through it, and a close friendship quickly formed.
But when Michelle’s mom passed away from cancer in 2007, she turned to alcohol. Melody and her other friends weren’t aware of Michelle’s drinking problem at first. But a year later, when Michelle’s boyfriend, Jason, proposed to her and she got extremely intoxicated, Melody knew something was wrong.
“I drove to her house when I got off of work to congratulate her,” Melody says. “But when I got there, she was totally gone, and I could tell in her eyes that she didn’t want to be there.
“And that’s when I heard God ask, ‘Are you going to do something about it?’”
Melody talked to Jason and to their other friends, Stefanie and Joe. Collectively, they decided to intervene. But when they sat her down to confront the problem, she refused to acknowledge there was a problem worth discussing.
A month later, in the summer before their senior year of college in 2008, Melody and Michelle planned to hang out. But with a pounding migraine, Melody cancelled. The next morning, she received a phone call that Michelle had been in a really terrible car accident. Drinking and driving, Michelle’s car flipped in the parking lot of a church. The firefighter resuscitated her on the spot, leaving her in a coma at the hospital with a brain injury and a broken collarbone.
“I became her sister, her mother, her father, and I completely emptied myself for her,” Melody remembers. “I was in the hospital every day, before and after work and school.”
When Michelle’s fiancé, Jason, who lived and worked in Maryland at the time, flew in to be by her side, he, too, turned to Melody for support.
“So not only was I caring for Michelle, I was also helping Jason and trying to be there for him, too,” she says.
Within two weeks of being transferred out of the intensive care unit, Michelle left the hospital. Her rapid recovery proved miraculous, and within two years of the accident, free of her past addiction, Michelle married Jason in the spring of 2010. And Melody, through it all, never left Michelle’s side.
Meanwhile, Melody’s other friends, Stefanie and Joe, hit a rough patch of their own. They started dating when they were 14 years old and got married at 21 in 2008. Growing up, Joe struggled with pornography, which affected the way Stefanie viewed herself. She began taking diet pills because she didn’t think she looked good enough for Joe. But they worked through it as best as they could, and he said he stopped.
However, a couple months into their marriage, around the time Michelle got out of the hospital, Stephanie discovered that Joe stopped watching porn much later than he originally said. When she found out, she felt lied to and betrayed, so she called Melody immediately and asked her to come over.
When Melody arrived, Joe left. He returned a few hours later and asked Melody if she hated him. She said, “No, Joe, I love you.”
“I had a good friendship with Stef and Joe separately,” she explains. “I was never angry at him, but I still had to be on Stef’s side…but I also had to be there for Joe.”
be there for Joe.”
The situation proved to be quite challenging for Melody. Essentially, she counseled them in their first year of marriage despite having no grid for porn, let alone marriage.
“There were so many times I’d sit in my car before going into their apartment, and I’d just pray, ‘God, I don’t know any of this. I’ve never struggled with this or dealt with this. I’ve never been married. I don’t know how to be in the first year of a marriage. I’ve never even had a long term boyfriend,’” Melody remembers. “But He always answered, ‘That’s why I chose you, Melody. I’m using you. When you speak, it will be Me speaking, so don’t worry.’”
And so, with that, 22-year-old Melody counseled them through their problems with pornography, comforted them through two miscarriages, and even helped them in areas of intimacy.
“I don’t remember much of what I said during that time,” she says. “I had to push myself out of the situation and just share what God wanted to say.”
For Joe and Stefanie, though, Melody became their rock.
“She was the one who kept our eyes pointing to God and to each other,” Joe explains. “Melody has this incredible ability to be supportive, challenging, convicting, encouraging, and comforting all at once...she helped us to keep our focus on seeking the Lord and trusting in His grace through failures. She modeled what it was like to have a God who is just but also grace-filled. She also simply spent time with us when we were hurting and also worshiped with us throughout it all. As we have grown from that trial, we always look back and thank God for Melody’s intervention and faith in our marriage and our lives.”
On another occasion, during Melody’s senior year of college, she participated in student teaching, a supervised instructional experience at a local school. Melody formed a close bond with her mentor teacher, Amanda (whose name has been changed for this article), becoming more like friends than a mentor-student relationship. Their lunch hours consisted of drives around town and conversations about anything and everything.
But one morning, Melody received a call. Amanda, crying on the other end, asked Melody to substitute her class for her. That morning, her husband hit her, left her arm black and blue, and spat in her face as their son sat by and watched the entire exchange. The moment Melody got off of work, she drove to Amanda’s place. And with the help of Amanda’s mom and Melody, the three of them moved all of his stuff into his truck and locked the house. Melody stayed the night.
Shortly after, at 23 years old, Melody moved in with Amanda to help her through the abusive relationship and to help care for Amanda’s son.
“Again, I found myself asking, ‘God, what am I doing? I’ve never been divorced. I’ve never been through an abusive relationship. I’ve never had a child,’” Melody says. “But God just said the same thing. ‘Through you, I am working.’”
In 2009, when Melody graduated from college and finished her student teaching, she flew to Seoul, South Korea to teach English. In all honesty, she assumed she’d find a church, jump right in, and serve as a leader, just as she’s done her entire life. But God wanted her to slow down, and rather than lead, follow.
For a year, she tried desperately to get involved in a local church, not realizing God’s new role for her. Instead, she spent most of her time with a group of friends who didn’t believe in God.
group of friends who didn’t believe in God.
“During that time, I was banging my head against a wall, trying to figure out why I couldn’t get involved in the church I was attending at the time,” she explains. “But looking back, you know that saying, ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’? Well, I realize that God was stripping all the familiarity I had with church away from me, and I was being emptied. He was emptying me of all my past experiences and all my growing up in church, and instead I was only hanging out with my non-Christian friends.”
Through that experience, however, Melody could show her friends what a Christian looked like. Not a religious Christian who “did” church. Rather, a Christian who genuinely loved God, and for her entire life, and with every ounce of her heart. Melody, in return, discovered that those friends wanted to know more about this God who blessed Melody with a life of joy. They were the ones who brought up the topic of God, and they even invited themselves to church.
“Looking back, I can see that God used that first year for me to just build and focus on those friendships,” Melody says.
And because He stripped all familiarity of church from her, when she found New Philadelphia Church—a community very similar to the one she grew up in—the experience proved fresh and exciting. Sure, she had seen people physically encounter Jesus at her home church, but seeing it again in Korea felt just as new as her first time.
And when she began to hear people’s testimonies again, just as she had heard at 14 years old, she sat amazed at how powerful her God is. But this time, she didn’t sink into her chair with envy or embarrassment. This time, she sat up a little higher, knowing that God gave her the best testimony of all because He saved her from ever going through any of that.
because He saved her from ever going through any of that.
“Christians don’t have a monopoly on grace,” Melody says. “And yet, God has shown me so much grace. I hear my friends’ stories, and I know God is using them powerfully, but I never had to experience any of that..."
“And for that, I am so, so grateful.”
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*The name of Melody's mentor teacher has been changed for this article.
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