The Great Escapes of Lisa Miller
Lisa Miller was born on September 6th, 1968, the result of an unplanned pregnancy. Whenever her mother was upset with her, she would pull out the oval, peach colored pack of birth control pills (she’d saved it) to show Lisa the one week that was missing. That was the week she was conceived. A bright child, Lisa read voluminously to fill the loneliness.
In the absence of parental support, she devised coping mechanisms. Addiction #1, securing attention and control through food, started at age six, after she had become ill and had been hospitalized and fed intravenously. She added addiction #2, speed in the form of diet pills, at age seven, when her parents divorced. Addictions #3 and #4, cigarettes and pornography, followed during the middle school years. She stole the cigarettes from her father’s store when she visited on weekends, and the pornography came through her mother, who bought magazines and taped pictures of the women to the wall. Lisa taught herself what was going on by reading child development books. In addition, her mother would bring home legal briefs she was typing, many of which involved sex crimes and murder plots, and have Lisa read them. “It was during these years that I became quiet on the outside but wild on the inside,” Lisa would write years later.
In high school, she added addiction #5 after picking up a razor blade to kill herself. “I was too chicken to go through with it but discovered that I liked the feeling I got after cutting myself. … I was hooked. I cut on a regular basis.” Addiction #6, alcohol, preferably vodka, joined the mix in college, in conjunction with the man who would become her husband for a brief time.
Throughout her formative years, two threads ran through Lisa’s life. One was the neglect and abuse of her parents – her mother physically abused her for nearly ten years until Lisa mustered the courage to defend herself. The other was a seemingly loose connection with God.
Although Lisa’s mother restricted her social life, she did allow her to attend church, which she loved. At church, “I could be somebody and I tried my best to win every competition.” As a teen, she worked at a church daycare during the summer and discovered she loved working with children. A few perceptive teachers and church leaders extended special kindnesses which served as virtual lifelines for her troubled soul, but to most people, Lisa personified a wholesome student, child, and leader. No one saw the troubled girl ensnared in multiple addictions and struggling with loneliness, feelings of inferiority, and thoughts of suicide.
After college, as her marriage disintegrated, the 7th and final addiction took root. It started at the behest of a coworker at the children’s psychiatric hospital where she worked. Their shift was a difficult one, and staffers would go out drinking when they were off. One night, one of them confessed to Lisa that she was in a relationship with another woman. Lisa was floored. “But I was also fascinated. She said she had felt like she had never felt before. She was also abused as a child and didn’t have a positive relationship with her mom. … I was definitely lured by the adventure of the lifestyle, with the prospect of a good relationship with another person. At one point, I told her that I thought perhaps I was a lesbian. She assured me I was.”
At this point, Lisa was depressed, drinking heavily, and taking pills. A suicide attempt landed her in the hospital and during the three week stay, “I was told by a counselor that I was a homosexual. As part of my treatment, in order to be released, I had to meet with my immediate family, including my husband, and tell them that I was ‘a lesbian.’” She complied, the marriage ended, and Lisa immersed herself in the gay culture.
In the late 1990s, Lisa met Janet Jenkins at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The relationship that ensued wasn’t particularly a good one – pornography played a big part of it – but it wasn’t any worse than those Lisa had engaged in before, and soon the two moved in together. The relationship may not have swept her off her feet, but the political landscape had shifted dramatically in favor of just such relationships, and in 2000, when Vermont became the first state in the nation to recognize same-sex unions, Lisa and Janet traveled there to be joined in a civil ceremony.
Once wed, Lisa wanted to be a mom. She successfully became pregnant through anonymous sperm donation, but was put on bed rest due to difficulties with the pregnancy. Forced to be still, motherhood approaching, Lisa began to reflect. All her life, she had felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing. She’d attempted to fill the void with pills, withholding food, cutting, alcohol, pornography, and, now, lesbian relationships. None of them worked.
The homosexual lifestyle had not been the glamorous adventure she’d hoped it would be, either. Like any woman, she longed to be desired and loved, but even while engaging in woman to woman relationships she didn’t feel connected to the other person. She’d tried to leave the lifestyle at one point, only to be persuaded by a therapist that she had simply chosen the wrong partner and should give it ‘one more try.’ Not knowing what else to do or where to turn, she’d acquiesced. It provided her companionship and a sense of purpose, but not much else.
Another stream of thought broke through. “I acknowledged God. I remembered how God had helped me through my childhood when my mother allowed me to attend church. … I began to pray, and talk, to God. From the time I had tried to leave the homosexual lifestyle to the time of my pregnancy, God had been convicting me about my living in sin. I would push Him away, though, and continue to live in sin.”
When she was on bed rest, however, she did not push him away. “I even took my Bible off the shelf and began reading it for the first time in years.” Ever stubborn, she proposed a bargain. “I promised God that if He would save my baby, then I would leave the homosexual lifestyle.” Within weeks, Isabella was born healthy and strong. But Lisa didn’t keep her end of her own bargain until a year and a half later.
One day, in the summer of 2003, a colleague bluntly asked, “What are you going to do when Jesus tells you that what you are doing is wrong?” She quickly apologized for speaking so forwardly, but the question became the springboard that launched Lisa to action. Three weeks later, she packed her things, and moved home to Virginia with Isabella.
It was a huge step of faith. Lisa left her job, her home, and the familiarity of the community and lifestyle she’d been in for seven years. Her brother helped with the transition, and she returned to church with him. And for the first time, she got what it meant to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Before her may lay a struggle to overcome addictions and emotional scars, but she asked God for forgiveness of her sins, and “I became a new creature in Christ. No longer was I bound to the sin of homosexuality.”
In December, she sent papers to Vermont to dissolve the legal union with Janet. Since Virginia did not recognize same-sex unions, the formality should have ended the matter altogether. But it didn’t.
As if she’d checked into the Hotel California, Lisa soon discovered she could check out any time she liked, but she could never leave. Janet responded to the dissolution by challenging Lisa for custody of Isabella. Furthermore, although Janet had not adopted Isabella under Vermont’s second parent adoption law, the state of Vermont, without precedent, adjudicated the case considering Janet as a de facto parent, placing her on equal legal footing with Lisa, Isabella’s actual parent. Six years of legal wrangling ensued until on November 20th, 2009, custody was awarded to Janet, with transfer to take place on January 1, 2010. Lisa’s legal options exhausted, she did not turn Isabella over to Janet as ordered. She is believed to have left the country.
To the LGBT side of the religious and sexuality divide, Lisa is a sexual and ideological defector, a criminal fugitive who “thought God’s law overruled a judge’s.” “Miller moved to Virginia, became an evangelical Christian, and suddenly decided she’d been cured of her lust for women,” wrote Pete Kotz. “She also decided it was unsafe for her daughter to visit Janet anymore, since the girl might catch lesbianism or something.”
There is a grain of truth to the sneers, but only a grain. Lisa’s flight in the face of a court order does have something to do with God (whose laws actually do overrule a judge’s) and Lisa’s understanding of her obligation to God as Isabella’s mother. Her faith survived the legal setbacks, not only intact, but strengthened and resolved, and she is determined to maintain it and raise Isabella accordingly, whatever the cost. “The cycle of abuse has stopped with me,” she wrote to Rena Lindevaldsen, her attorney and confidante. “I refuse to allow it to live on. I put it to death by laying it at the cross of Jesus. He takes it and I do not ever have to live it again.”
Postscript: Lisa Miller is believed to be living in Nicaragua with Isabella, who is now ten years old. An arrest warrant was issued for her in April, 2010. In April, 2011, FBI officials arrested Pastor Timothy “Timo” Miller (no relation) for aiding her escape, but the charges were later dropped. Lisa’s story is told in Only One Mommy, by Rena M. Lindevaldsen, Esq.
This article first appeared in Salvo 21, Summer 2012