Faces: Pequot Lakes woman uses her past struggles to help others
For the past two years, Pequot Lakes' Tania Melby has devoted much of her time to the Women's Ministry program at Eagles Nest Church in Breezy Point.
Melby uses her past struggles to help area women turn to God and overcome the challenges they face.
"We had a broken home. We had a broken family at the time, and a lot of things were going on in our lives that needed to change, and I just felt very empty inside," Melby said. "I ended up sick. I was sick for probably 10 years at least."
After three years of health issues that included heart attack- and stroke-like symptoms, Melby finally learned that she had neurological Lyme disease, an illness that mimics multiple sclerosis and that she still deals with today. The sickness made her excessively tired, affected her memory, made it difficult to walk on occasion and paralyzed the left side of her face for a time.
"My kids - they were younger then," she said of her now-grown son and daughter. "I would ... put on this face that everything was fine and get them off to school and then go to bed and just fight chills and sweats."
As Melby felt like things were falling apart because of her inability to drive, help her kids with homework and sometimes move in general, she turned to God and started reading the Bible a lot.
"God would just show me things and help me through it," Melby said.
She began attending Bible Study Fellowship, a large women's group in Brainerd.
"That really helped me because I would make myself go, whether I could walk, whether I wanted to go, I just knew I needed to go," Melby said. "God gave me the strength to endure, and I just didn't know exactly what he was doing at that time, but he gave me hope to hold onto."
Seven years later, Melby ended up as a Bible study leader, and that hope she had eventually transpired into the Women's Ministry program she helped to establish at Eagles Nest.
"There needed to be a place for hurting women because I felt like I was struggling so much trying to find a place," Melby said. "A lot of women, even in the churches, are struggling with some hard things, and it's hard to open up. You feel vulnerable. And we want this to be a place that's real, where you feel that you can open up and just know that it's confidential."
Now, Women's Ministry - with Melby as director - does just that.
"Our mission is 'Healing hearts, transforming lives through the touch of Jesus, one woman at a time,'" Melby said. "As soon as you walk in the door, you are being loved, and it's just a good feeling. And people who are hurting, they need that. They need to first know that they're loved and then listened to. And then we lead them to Jesus. If they don't have a relationship with Christ, we help them with that."
Eagles Nest helped Melby strengthen her own relationship with God when she first came to the church. Growing up with one Catholic and one Lutheran parent, Melby said she didn't go to church except for Christmas and Easter.
"When I had kids though, we did go to church," she said. "I felt it was what you were supposed to do, but I didn't have a relationship with Christ and know all the things he can do for us. So I was 38 when I got sick and gave my life to Christ."
Then came her discovery of Eagles Nest.
"As soon as I walked through the door, there was so much love," Melby said. "I just found where I was supposed to be."
Melby grew close to other women in the church, who now all work together to help women in need.
"God has blessed me with these beautiful, mature women, and he shows that each one has a gift and a purpose in this. And so that helps because this isn't about me; it's about God and giving him glory," she said.
One of those women who works closely with Melby is Lin Bickford, who is especially grateful for Melby's leadership through the program.
"Tania (Melby) has allowed all of us ladies to learn under her, to accept ourselves as ourselves and to step out into fields that we wouldn't necessarily step out into," Bickford said. "It's her lead by example that has impressed, if not on everybody, on me that there are things that I can do that I wouldn't necessarily want to do otherwise. And she gives us that strength to be able to do it."
Perhaps some of that strength grew within Melby before coming to Eagles Nest, as she previously worked in care ministry through another church and through the Minnesota Lyme Association. She also hosted a nursing home Bible study.
Melby hopes she can continue to use what she has learned and experienced in her different roles to spread strength to others.
"We want to be able to get outside of this church and let women know about this, that we're here to help them walk through, and they can feel safe and loved and protected," she said. "I just want women to know there is a place, and there's hope, and God can transform your life."
Though her struggles in life were severe - and still aren't over - Melby believes God used them to bring her to where she is today.
"He (God) knows what I need in my life to keep me close to him, and I love that because through those times is when I felt closest to him" she said. "I always tell women that God's going to take your brokenness and create something beautiful."