NASHVILLE (BP) — “I love you, Daddy.” “I’m so proud of you.” “Thank you for being there for me no matter what.” Surreptitiously handwritten expressions, seemingly from the grave.
Melissa Page Strange had written the sentiments on yellow sticky notes to her father Frank Page, hiding each separately in boxes of books she helped him pack during a move. He would discover them more than a year later while settling in his Nashville office as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, months after Melissa had committed suicide at age 32.
“Oh, how I missed my little Melissa in that moment,” Page writes in “Melissa, A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide,” due for release June 1. “I lost it. Dropping into my chair, my shoulders heaving, I flicked my eyeglasses onto the bare desktop and wept as quietly as I could, spurred on by a kaleidoscope of emotions. Sadness? Oh my yes. Familiar waves of sadness.
“And yet somehow the stream of steady tears running down my face contained a distinguishable note of sweetness along with its bitter sting and taste.”
Such tragedies were not supposed to happen, at least not in families filled with the love Page and his wife Dayle hold for their three daughters, and the love the couple modeled as he served as senior pastor at congregations God placed in his care.
But the love that Page remembers so many showed for Melissa was not enough to deliver her from the inexplicable darkness that led her to take her own life one day after Thanksgiving in 2009.
The book arrives as the Christian community is becoming more aware of mental illness within the body of Christ, the same year Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren lost his son Matthew to suicide at age 27 after a lengthy battle with mental illness. Melissa is a release from B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources.
In Melissa, Page shares his story of love interspersed with Scripture, biblical wisdom and advice for families dealing with suicide and potential victims contemplating the act. He approaches the subject from spiritual, physical and medical perspectives, closing each chapter with letters intended to minister to and dissuade those considering ending their own lives.
“I began the book thinking that it would be cathartic for my heart as I dealt with the grief of the situation,” Page said. “Fortunately, not long after beginning the process, I began to pray that God would use this project in two very important ways.
“First of all, I began to pray that somehow it might be used to help people who are going through this situation with family, friends and church members. Also, I began to pray that it might be of help to those who were considering suicide. I want it to point to hope in Christ.”
The book deals with such difficult questions as whether suicide automatically draws eternal damnation, refuting it, and the subject of spiritual warfare, recognizing it and offering steps to victory. Healing and hope are key subjects, grounded in God’s love and eternal salvation.
“I hope that the readers will grasp the realness of the story, the admission that no one is perfect as well as the correct theology that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ,” Page said. “I also want it to be a resource for pastors who are attempting to find ways to help those in their circle of influence who are going through this or who are working with those who are considering this.”
What Page doesn’t attempt to do is answer why suicide occurs, a facet of the book former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now a Fox News host, points out in his forward.
“In all his years of exemplary leadership in local churches and in the nation’s largest evangelical denomination, he has never so effectively ministered as he does in his straightforward telling of Melissa’s story,” Huckabee wrote of Page. “Thankfully, he doesn’t try to provide sure-fire answers for all the ‘why’ questions, and exhibits the wisdom and maturity to recognize that even if an infinite God were to reveal them, our finite minds couldn’t receive them.”
The book includes affirmations from several of Page’s friends in Southern Baptist life, including GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins.
“He writes to us out of a heart of love not only for Melissa but for us,” Hawkins wrote, “… and for anyone anywhere who may be contemplating crashing the gates of heaven on their own initiative. Hope and healing come with every passing page. Read it and reap!”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).