Meli's Story, "This Little Light of Mine"

I am so honored to be able to share my friend, Meli's story. Meli and I are in each other's lives for a reason and it's because we get to grow together and encourage one another to keep going. God planted a seed for our friendship, and it has grown over this last year and a half.
"Meli, I am so happy to be a part of your life and to call you my friend and sister through Christ. We have been not only watching each other grow but holding each others hands through our ever challenging healing process. I look forward to seeing where we both are a year from now and how we will grow us as individuals and as friends. Thank you for being a light in my life and allowing me to be a part of your healing process. Thank you for sharing your story especially in this month to give hope and show survivors that there is a light at the end of that dark maze we sometimes call life. I love you my dear friend! "

“When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~ (John 8:12)

I do not believe that this Bible verse just so “happened” to fall into my hands in the back of a strip club dressing room on an Easter weekend when I was getting ready for work.  This is a story of how God restored, renewed, and transformed a broken, hardened heart. My story is a story of a 2nd chance and it begins with a silver bracelet……

Every year around Easter, a group of churchy ladies would drop in at the club with gifts for the girls. I always made sure that I got a gift but never paid attention to what the churchy ladies had to say. I already knew what they were there to do. I chose not to have any interaction with them, because in them, I could see the light of Jesus and it was too bright, so I stayed away.  As the Bible says in John 3:20,All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.”

I remember vividly on a particular Easter weekend, a lady who was about my mom’s age walked up to me and handed me 3 baskets. She smiled and said to me, “Happy Easter and God loves you very much, please keep one basket for yourself and give the other two to your girlfriends.” I made very little eye contact with her, thanked her and took all three baskets with me.  When I got home, in one of the baskets I found an average looking silver bracelet.  There was nothing special about it and just when I was about to throw it in the trash, I realized there were some words engraved on it. Out of curiosity, I took a closer look and it said, “When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~ (John 8:12).  This verse was engraved on the bracelet, but if you didn’t pay close attention, you almost couldn’t see it. Isn’t that how God speaks to us sometimes? He is all around us, but we have to pay close attention to His voice in order to hear Him.

John 8:12 is a very familiar verse that I used to read to the kids at my church when I served at the children’s ministry back in high school.  I was baptized in the summer right before high school started with my mom after just moving to the United States for a year.   I was born in LA, grew up in Taiwan and moved back to the States at age 12 with my sister, Jen. Both of my parents did their best to provide for my family, we weren’t rich but lived a very comfortable life as kids.  I have two older sisters and we used to be very close before I moved to the States.  After my oldest sister was born, my mom had a vision. She flew to L.A. and made sure both my 2nd sister and I were born in the States so that we could have American citizenships. I knew at a very young age that I was special and different from other kids because of my American passport.  My mom had an “American Dream” for my sister and I. She wanted us to have the opportunities and options in life that many would kill for.   Before moving to the States, I thought my childhood was perfect in Taiwan.  We always did things together as a family and enjoyed each other. It took my parents a lot of convincing for me to say yes about the move. I didn’t want to leave my family and friends in Taiwan. When I moved to the States with my sister Jen, my parents couldn’t come with us because of their Visas. My sister and I stayed with a friend of my dad’s in Scottsdale, Arizona.  All of the sudden, in a foreign country, my sister and I were forced to grow up fast.  We stopped having fun and were busy looking for acceptance at school. I knew I was different, yet I wanted to fit in.  We had to learn a new way to live and a new language to speak. Everyone was new and foreign to us.  Since my parents were so far away, we learned to suck it up when times got tough at school. When we missed our family, we turned to and comforted each other. We knew at such a young age what not to do to disappoint our parents & to give up on the hope they had for us. I became very independent and learned how to figure things out on my own. I learned to say the right things my parents wanted to hear so I didn’t worry them.  I was forced to grow up fast and eventually grew further away from my family.  Finally, my mother sensed the urgency to come to the States and live with us. She left my dad, her business and our older sister behind in Taiwan and moved in with Jen and I.  When my mom moved in with us, she had to quickly find a Taiwanese community in Scottsdale. Regardless of her Buddhist faith, my mom started going to church with an intention of meeting other Taiwanese housewives.  In a few months, God’s overflowing love touched my mom’s heart. She found her true purpose for life.  My mom and I were baptized on the same day in the summer after my middle school graduation.

A year after my baptism, the summer before my sophomore year, I was raped by a guy I met and his two friends. He was 21 years old and I met him through a friend’s brother at a football game.  I was attracted to him because he was older and I thought he was more mature than the boys at my school. I had never had a boyfriend before him and was never exposed to sex before the rape.  My parents never talked about sex with me and I had very little knowledge about it. At that time, I never even kissed a boy before.  I simply had a crush on this guy because he was older and nice to me.  Sex was never on my mind at that age.  The night of the rape, I felt exposed, dirty, ashamed and confused.  Four months after the rape, I continued meeting with him on a weekly basis to satisfy his sexual needs.  I kept my mouth shut about the rape, because I didn’t think my High School friends would understand or believe me. I kept this dark secret to myself because I didn’t want to lose him in my life.  I needed a father figure in my life since my dad was thousands of miles away in Taiwan.  He convinced me that he made a mistake about the rape and promised me that it would never happen again.  I believed and forgave him. The truth is, I put the rape incident behind me because forgiving was easier than to face the pain of accepting the truth.  Sophomore year in High School was a year of devastation for me, dealing with the rape all alone. I isolated myself from everyone in my High School. I thought as long as no one knew about the rape, it never happened.  Isolation drew me further away from God and brought me closer to this guy and sex was the only thing that kept us together. My low self-esteem allowed me to do whatever pleased him, as long as he was happy, I was happy, or I thought I was.  One day he confronted me and told me that he had other girlfriends, and for some reason, I was okay with it. Eventually, I got sick of how he treated me and found myself crying in a co-worker’s arms on my 17th birthday.  My co-worker and I started dating, and I completely cut my connection with my toxic relationship. By completely cutting him out of my life and with my new boyfriend’s support, I was able to temporally forget about the rape.

I worked hard to finish high school early so that I could graduate with my boyfriend who was one year ahead of me. After high school graduation, we both moved on to college, and life seemed normal. My sister Jen had moved to California at this point, and I continued to go to church with my mom and served at the children’s ministry. My mom often had her life group meetings at our place with housewives, and I enjoyed coming home from school to them. God slowly came back to my heart as I started to love myself more. Being around with kids at church was very healing for me. The innocence of little kids was an escape for me from the real world and the scar from the rape. I felt like I found my childhood in little kids’ smiles and I felt at home at church.  Through the love of Jesus, my mom and I grew even closer as we shared our faith together.  However, I still didn’t have the heart and courage to tell my mom about the rape, I thought again, as long as I don’t tell anyone about it, the scar will eventually heal and go away. Time heals, right?  Or does it?

At the end of October in 2002, after we celebrated my mom’s 55th birthday with church friends at a park, my mom went home feeling sick.  A few weeks later, my mom found a lump on her neck and immediately booked the next flight to Taiwan for a physical checkup.   The doctor diagnosed my mom with final stage of gastric cancer and told us that she had less than 6 months to live.  That Christmas, I flew to Taiwan and spent a month with my mom.  I thought it would be my last Christmas with her.  For the next two and half years, my mom was on chemo therapy fighting for her life. In the midst of all her trials with cancer, my mom’s love for Jesus grew tremendously and many friends were saved because of my mom’s courageous faith.  My mother was the oldest of five, and growing up, she was always the one taking care of her family.  My mom was a very strong, independent, smart, caring, and loving woman --- she was my hero! My earliest memory of my mother was going to motivational events with her where she would speak to and encourage hundreds of entrepreneurs with their businesses. She worked very closely with women and mentored them in different walks of life.  My mother also had a huge heart for the poor because she grew up with nothing.  I remember visiting families with my mother as a kid, and everyone welcomed her, appreciated her and looked up to her.  I was so proud being my mother’s little girl.  Wherever my mom went, I had to tag along.  Whatever she did, I was like her shadow, imitating her every movement. Perhaps this is why my dad always tells me that I am my mom’s “mini-me”.

During chemo treatments, my mom’s faith grew stronger, but my hope for life was crushed.  I was always mommy’s little girl, and couldn’t accept the fact that my mom was dying. I was angry with God for putting my mom through this torture with cancer.  My lack of faith for God had turned me into a bitter person.  I forgot everything I learned at church and refused to listen to God.  So, I stopped going to church and avoided all the phone calls from church people. I didn’t want anything to do with church or God.  Once again, I isolated myself from God and everyone else. 

Since my mom moved back to Taiwan for chemo treatments, I lived by myself.  I became very needy toward my boyfriend, who was all I had. I didn’t speak to many people at work or school, not even my family. I hid my hurt from my parents as well.  I solely relied on my boyfriend for all my emotional support.  After a few months my boyfriend broke up with me because he couldn’t take it anymore.  He was a simple, happy kid and didn’t know how to deal with my complicated emotions.   He wanted to experience the “college life” without drama, and surely my life was full of drama. He left me with a phrase, “well, yes I wanted to marry you, but things change.”   I was devastated!  I even threatened him that I was going to kill myself if he didn’t’ take me back. I begged for his love.  He called the cops on me TWICE.  With my family’s reputation in my mind, I didn’t want to bring disgrace upon my family so I stopped “harassing” him. I started hanging out with friends and all we did was party.  Alcohol was the answer to my sorrow and medication for my sleepless nights.  I was careless with guys, and used my sexuality for their attention.  Once again, my low self-esteem took over me and did whatever I had to please men for their love. My grades at school started to fall and I stopped caring.  In order to carry some of my parents’ burdens, I lied to them that my tuition was paid with scholarships and I didn’t need their help with money. In my parent’s minds, I had everything under control and was making good grades at school.  Little did they know that my life was falling apart and I was lost. Sophomore year in college, I occupied myself with 19 credits and 3 part time jobs.  All I knew was work, school and partying.  Even with 3 jobs, and very few expenses as a college student, I was still unable to save any money and was behind on rent.  I spent a lot of money on partying and buying friend’s alcohol with my fake I.D. 

After I was given final notice from my landlord, I knew I had to stop partying and do something about money otherwise I was going to get kicked out.  A co-worker at the bank suggested I work at a strip club.  He told me that his sister made a lot of money and was buying houses as her business. I thought he was crazy to think that I would even consider taking my clothes off for money. My parents raised me to be an honest person. “I would never take my clothes off for money”, I said. 

At first, I thought I was getting a job at a 5-star hotel so I quit 2 of my part time jobs, and then I found out that the job fell through.  With a negative bank account, and an eviction notice at my door, you think I would go to my parents for help. But I had too much pride to go to my parents for help, so I listened to my co-workers suggestion and went to the strip club for a cocktail server position. Like many other girls, I was turned down for a server’s position but instead, the manager offered me a job as a dancer.  Out of my desperation, I found the courage to do it. I convinced myself that I was only going to do it for 2 weeks to pay off my bills.  Two weeks turned into a SEVEN YEARS of a lifestyle, stripping~~~

My mom passed away just 4 months before my college graduation in 2005.  My life was forever changed.  I didn’t even shed a tear at my mother’s funeral, because I was still in denial, praying that it was just a nightmare. My mom’s death was too hard to swallow.  After my mom’s death, I kept myself busy with school and graduated college.  I thought finishing college would be a beginning of my new life, but it was too hard to say good bye to the money, so I continued to strip~~~

It didn’t matter if I had big dreams after college, I was stuck being a stripper.  I was addicted to the freedom, money, and power.  I didn’t have a boss to tell me when to show up at work, I made as much money as I wanted, went on vacations as much as I wanted, and I felt like I had power over men. I knew the stripping world was dark and dangerous but I refused to be in the light and be seen with my brokenness. Women who have been stripping for a while warned me about it when I first started. But, I didn’t listen, so I chose the darkness. Greed and pride took me further and further away from my dreams and goals for life.  I worshipped money. I sold my body and soul to gain the feeling of being in control.  I thought I could buy anything and anyone I wanted.  I bought a house at age 22, went on trips, and convinced my ex-boyfriend to get back with me and made him believe that stripping was an honest living. With the grace of God, I was never involved with drugs like most of the girls were.  I have seen many girls go into the business and literally give everything they have for drugs.  I have had friendships with girls and lost them because of drugs.  The world of strippers is very small, because almost everyone in it follows everyone else’s footsteps. I thought I was different because my boyfriend had kept me grounded in many ways by constantly reminding me of my “real-world” goals. Outside of the club I was this giving and loving person that my mother raised me to be. Inside of the club, I am “SHY” who hustled and bustled for everyone’s wallets. “SHY” was my stage name at work that really didn’t have any meaning to me except that it was what everyone knew me as.  No one knew my real name at the club.  With a marketer’s mind, I treated stripping as a business. I always had plans about how to manipulate men to give me what I wanted.  I started becoming someone else at work, and when I was off, I constantly had to learn who I really was again.  I lived a very confusing life with my identities, after a while and I felt numb.   Occasionally, I drank alcohol to numb my shame and anger. The bottom line was I saw myself as a smart business woman who worked as a stripper, working fewer hours and making way more money than an average person would with a “normal” job. I thought I was smart with the money I made because I had a car, and a house, and other material things to show off.   I ignored the fact that even though I thought I had more power than the men at the club, the truth is I sold my soul to evil. I traded something so precious and valuable for something that has no value in God’s eyes.   Every time I showed up, a piece of me stayed at the club. I became jaded, angry, and even more broken. Even though, I felt God’s presence throughout those years, I chose to ignore His knocks at my door.

It wasn’t too long after I purchased my condo; the whole mortgage market went upside down. Like many people, I was stuck with a mortgage and a house under water.    I felt there was no way out of stripping. I didn’t know how to get myself out of this big hole.  Meanwhile, due to the pressure I had with bills, my 10-year relationship with my boyfriend was going downhill. I was living a double life between the club and the real world.   My boyfriend didn’t even recognize me anymore.  I dragged my boyfriend into my secretive world by convincing him for many years that I needed to strip to get ahead. He struggled with all the lies too, but he had no choice because I didn’t want to give up my lifestyle, and because he loved me, he chose to lie for me.  But, eventually, he couldn’t handle all the lies anymore.  His life kept moving forward, but mine stayed at the same spot.  Finally, we ended our 10-year relationship.  Stripping ruined our relationship. Most of all, stripping ruined my life; it took a broken heart and hardened it.

A girl friend of mine started dating a Christian man who led her to accept Jesus as her savior and eventually had the courage get out of the stripping world.  Because of her transformation, I desperately wanted the joy that I saw in her and I knew it was because of God. I wanted out of my lifestyle and I didn’t want to strip anymore! First, I made one of the toughest decisions in life, to let go of my house.  All the money I have ever made with stripping was gone because of my house.  It wasn’t just about losing the house that hurt, I felt like I lost 7 years of my life doing nothing.  The dreams I had for myself as a young girl were lost somewhere down the road chasing after material things and I couldn’t remember what they were anymore.  I was 19 when I started stripping, and 7 years later, with nothing to show on my resume was a huge disappointment for me.  “What have I done to my youth?” I asked.  I felt worn out, tired, discouraged, and hopeless.  My ex-boyfriend came back in my life, proposed to me and supported me financially after I quit stripping.  I took on my fiancĂ©’s offers and was engaged and living with him for 11 months since I didn’t know where else to go. He was the only one I could trust even though I had already fell out of love with him, I felt it was only fair that I stayed with him.  In a very “strange” circumstance, my fiancĂ© found out that I was involved with another man I met while we were separated before the engagement. He was devastated and angry. I was kicked out of his house and moved in with a friend who gave me a place to stay and food to eat without asking for anything in return.  He was a friend sent from above. He was a friend, who showered me with God’s love and words of encouragement in my darkest moments.  After 6 months of staying with him, I still had no luck with my job search.  While the world had its back against me, very few friends walked beside me. However, God uses people like them to show me that He never gives up on me even when it seemed like the sky is falling on me. Our God is a faithful God!

Finally, on April 27th 2011, after praying for months, I decided that I would take a 3-month trip to Taiwan and China, where my sister and dad live. I wanted to reconnect with my father and sister, Frida. I packed very little with me and up on the plane I went. Two days after my arrival in Taiwan, I was offered a job at a computer company in Irvine, California. I stayed in Taiwan for a 6-week training at their headquarters. Meanwhile, I found my roommate and a place to live in Irvine through a Christian website while I was still in Taiwan.  A month later, I signed a one-year lease for our apartment without even knowing how much I was getting paid with my new job or even seeing the apartment. I flew back to Phoenix, packed my stuff and moved to Irvine on the 4th of July 2011.  I met my roommate in person on the day we both moved into the apartment.  I knew God would take care of everything at the moment I accepted the job. I was right, God took care of everything. He provides even beyond what we can ever imagine.   I met the man of my dreams just 3 weeks after I moved to Irvine on a hike. Greg is not just the man of my dreams, he’s the man BEYOND my dreams. We started dating with God as our rock. He prays and reads God’s word with me. Greg and I joined a group at church called ROOTED, where we spent 10 weeks with 14 other believers on God’s word. During those 10 weeks, Greg and I have gotten to know each other on a deeper level as we all shared our stories.  After ROOTED, we decided to stay together as a life group and meet once a week studying God’s words together.  God has taught me so much love through Greg.   God gave me a man who is respectful, God-fearing, and loving whom I know I will spend the rest of my life with.  On November 2nd 2011, with our life group’s support and encouragement, we proudly signed our vows of purity. We pledged to honor God’s promise for us and respect each other with God’s love. This is the very first time in my life, I feel free from my dependency on sex.  I don’t need to use my sexuality to get attention and feel loved anymore.  Greg loves who I am and cherishes every part of me. I feel very blessed to be with Greg and share future dreams with him. Our goal is to serve our Lord as a team for the rest of our lives.  Besides Greg, God also gave me a group of great friends in Irvine where I feel connected with the Body of Christ. Through friends, I finally learned that being vulnerable is a beautiful and Godly thing. I can look past the judgments and feel safe in God’s community.  I can truly say that I am happy with my new life in Irvine and grateful for the 2nd chance that God has given me.   I wanted to leave my past behind as I know that God has forgiven me for my mistakes. Recently, God has called me and put a burden on my heart --- reach the unreachable.  On April 27th 2012, exactly a year after my trip to Taiwan, I found myself sitting at Treasures Outreach training conference in Pasadena with two women whom I met 2 days before the training at church. Treasures is an outreach ministry that started by a girl named Harmony Dust, who has a story like mine. Treasures Outreach has been reaching out to women in the sex industry for over 10 years. Volunteers go into strip clubs with goodie bags for the women, love on them and being there for those women with the love of Jesus.   Treasures also goes out to church leaders who share the same vision and passion for these women, equip leaders and volunteers to reach women in strip clubs nationwide. Showing up at the conference was the first step of me submitting to God’s calling, as God shows me that my story is now His story and is meant to be shared. I declared that I want to be used by God for His glory even if it means that I have to step outside of my comfort zone. “Wherever he goes, I go! Whoever He loves, I love! I WILL FOLLOW HIM!”

 I know it was not a coincidence that at the conference I met a woman, who is from Phoenix, Arizona and had been one of the churchy ladies who goes to the club I used to work at for 10 years reaching out to the girls.  God used me to show her that one of the seeds that she planted a few years ago at the club is now grown and ready to plant more seeds for God. I am ready to be equipped by God to do His work.

The night before I went to the conference, I looked for the silver bracelet in my jewelry box.  The silver bracelet has never been touched since that Easter, yet it looked aged sitting in the box. I cleaned the bracelet, and have been wearing this silver bracelet ever since the training.  It is a reminder for me that God is faithful and no matter how dark our pasts may be, He promises to bring light of life to us.  Every time I look at this silver bracelet, a voice is whispering in my ears, “Go, my child, be my hands and feet so that the world may see light of life in you”

I pray that God would allow me to use the light in me and shine in darkness.

“Don’t blame the darkness for being dark; blame the light for not shinning in the dark.”

Job 33:28,” God rescued me from the grave, and now my life is filled with light.”
Meli's "Real Teal"

Meli is a Survivor and not afraid to show it!

Here is a beautiful song to go with your beautiful story!


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