August 12, 2022

Film based on local woman’s true story ‘reclaims beauty of adoption’

In this scene from the Lifemark movie trailer, Raphael Ruggero as David Scotton and Kirk Cameron as David’s father Jimmy Scotton share a deep conversation. (Photo courtesy of Lifemark Movie; lifemarkmovie.com)

In this scene from the Lifemark movie trailer, Raphael Ruggero as David Scotton and Kirk Cameron as David’s father Jimmy Scotton share a deep conversation. (Photo courtesy of Lifemark Movie; lifemarkmovie.com)

By Natalie Hoefer

EDINBURGH—Melissa Coles received a call in the late summer of 2019. She didn’t listen long before she figured it was a prank call and hung up. When the person called back, she hung up again.

“On the third call, they had all the producers on the line—Kirk Cameron and the Kendrick brothers,” she says, referring to Alex, Shannon and Stephen Kendrick, producers of Christian films such as Fireproof, War Room and Courageous. “They said they wanted to make [the documentary] I Lived on Parker Avenue into a movie.”

Coles knew the 2018 YouTube documentary well—she was one of its subjects.

“It’s three powerful stories wrapped into one,” says Coles: the story of her decision against abortion; the story of the son she offered for adoption; and the story of the couple who adopted him.

Cameron told Coles he saw the documentary and “fell in love with it.” He told the Kendrick brothers about the documentary and asked their thoughts on him making it into a movie.

“They said, ‘Not only do we like it, we love it, and we want to be part of it,’ ” says Coles.

Three years after that call, their vision has become reality. The film, Lifemark, will show in select theaters throughout the country on Sept. 9-16. A novel of the same name will be available sometime in August.

Coles calls Lifemark “a meaningful, faith-based film that reclaims the beauty of adoption. You’re going to laugh, you’re going to cry, there’s drama, there’s four-wheel driving and skydiving—I’m an adrenaline junkie,” she admits.

But Coles, born and raised in Columbus, was hesitant to say “yes” to the film at first—unlike her instant “yes” in 1993 when something told her to get up from an abortion table.

‘I was doing the right thing for him’

Coles was 18 when she experienced an unplanned pregnancy. As revealed in I Lived on Parker Avenue, she and her boyfriend knew they did not have the means to raise a child. They decided to abort the baby.

Soon, Coles was on a table in an abortion facility in Indianapolis with a doctor seated in front of her. As he was selecting a tool to start the abortion, an extraordinary thing happened: she heard a voice.

“It said, ‘Get up, get up. It’s not too late,’ ” she recalls. “I said, ‘I can’t do this,’ and I literally ran out the door.”

Through a private adoption agency, she selected a couple from Louisiana, Susan and Jimmy Scotton, to raise her son, whom they named David.

The documentary records the emotions of Coles, David and the Scottons in 2013 as they all meet for the first time nearly 20 years after David’s birth. It was the first time Coles held her son since the day he was born.

She doesn’t deny the pain of giving a child for adoption.

“It’s still hard,” she says, even after being in touch with her son for 10 years. “I think, ‘If I’d been better off when I had him, he’d still be with me today.’

“Even though I knew I was doing the right thing for David—not me, but David—I’m always going to miss him. There’s always going to be this void.”

But then she considers her son’s life. He is now 29, a law school graduate and newlywed who works as an attorney in Louisiana.

“You can’t look at David’s life and think the alternative would be better,” says Coles. “He was five seconds away from becoming a person non-existent.”

‘That’s just how God works’

Coles eventually had another child, Courtney. She loves her daughter with all her heart and loves being a mom.

Despite that joy, Coles says she was “angry with God, bitter. My whole life has been a struggle. Why did I have to give up my son? Why didn’t [God] give me what I needed to keep him?”

Then she met Shawn Coles, her husband now of 16 years.

“On date number one he called me out on where I stood with the Lord,” says Coles, a non-denominational Christian. “I realized I wasn’t living for God. I just needed something to wake me up—hence my husband. I didn’t give my life to God until I met Shawn.”

He helped her learn to trust God. She recalls one Sunday when she felt a call to put all they had in the basket at church—$40, with nothing in savings—and Shawn supported her, saying, “If God is calling you, we have to do it.”

The next day, says Coles, the mail came earlier than usual—with a surprise check for $400.

“We weren’t expecting it—it was for an over-payment on some bill,” she says. “That’s just how God works.”

It was Shawn who encouraged his wife to say “yes” to the Lifemark film.

“I had a whole list of reasons not to do it,” she says. “I didn’t want people to see me at my weakest. I didn’t want to be used.

“Then my husband said, ‘What if it helps just one person?’ So, I agreed to do it.”

‘We could see the Holy Spirit at work’

Working with Cameron and the Kendricks was “just amazing,” says Coles. “They allowed me to be involved, read the script and make changes and suggestions.”

They even sought her input on the cast, sending her paperwork for the women who applied to play young Melissa and “current” Melissa—“I just don’t like saying ‘old Melissa,’ ” she jokes.

When she saw Dawn Long’s picture, “I knew she was the one” to play “current Melissa,” says Coles. “We had one call, and that led to thousands of calls. She really got to know my real character, my heart.

“She totally nailed my character [in the film], even some of my gestures and nervous habits.

“And I loved Marissa Hampton as ‘young Melissa.’ All the individuals did an absolutely outstanding job connecting with the characters.”

Coles and her husband were invited to spend a week on set at the studio in Georgia so she could offer support while emotional “Melissa” scenes were filmed.

“When you approach the studio building, you feel the Holy Spirit hit heavy and hard,” Coles recalls. “It’s even more powerful when you go inside. When we were with them, we could see the Holy Spirit at work.”

‘Not your typical, everyday things’

Other forces were at work during the project, too, says Coles.

“Accidents happened that couldn’t be explained by the cast or crew, so many health issues, and different things happened to different people—not your typical, everyday things,” she says.

Coles was no exception. She shares two incidents that occurred one day while running an errand.

“I came to a train crossing in Columbus,” she recalls. “I’ve crossed those tracks my entire life, and not one time have I ever seen a train on the tracks.

“But all of a sudden, I came just inches from getting hit by a train. I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t hear it coming, there were no flashing lights, no arms went down.

“The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes, and I was on a road nowhere near the train tracks. I didn’t even know where I was. It was like someone just picked up my Jeep and put me there.”

As she was driving home, says Coles, “Out of the blue, a monster limb fell out of a tree, and I had to swerve to stop it from hitting my windshield. It was a beautiful, sunny day, there was no wind—nothing I could see that would have made it fall.”

There were roadblocks to making the film as well, she says. The pandemic caused delays, and the producers struggled to find a company to distribute the film “because Kirk Cameron and the Kendricks don’t support abortion,” says Coles.

But those same pro-life values permeated the project, leading to the saving of one unborn baby before Lifemark was even released.

A pregnant woman on her way to an abortion center stopped to investigate a large crowd she saw gathered near the studio, says Coles.

“Raphael [Ruggero], the actor playing David, was giving a talk,” she explains. “She was invited to be an extra in the movie. She decided not to go through with the abortion.”

‘It increases my healing’

That story alone fulfilled Coles’ conviction that if the movie helped “just one person,” it would be worth the time and sacrifice.

Still, she hopes for more.

“I hope the film will help more people see the beauty of adoption and understand how important adoption is,” says Coles.

“And I hope it encourages people in a similar situation—an unplanned pregnancy, a forced abortion—that they have plenty of options. I know the documentary saved at least 11 babies from abortion—that’s 11 lives and 11 generations that will continue. If the documentary did that, how much more will the film do?”

Coles also looks forward to the film “expanding the platform” for her pro-life efforts. In addition to speaking nationally in support of adoption, Coles works with women in unplanned pregnancies, has finished one unpublished book and is writing another as well as a script while “dipping my feet in acting.”

She also hopes to create a non-profit organization. Its mission would be to help fund education for students—both women and men—who choose life for their unexpected, unborn child.

Helping others choose life is Coles’ driving force.

“I still feel the void of losing David,” she says. “But I think my heart is healing. When I see how I help others by letting God use me as his tool, it increases my healing.”
 

(Lifemark will show from Sept. 9-16 in select theaters around the country. In the archdiocese, the movie will show in select theaters in Avon, Bedford, Bloomington, Greenwood, Indianapolis, New Albany, Richmond, Seymour and Terre Haute. For more information about Lifemark, to find a local theater running the film or to purchase tickets or the novel, go to www.lifemarkmovie.com. To invite Coles to speak at an event, go to cutt.ly/MelissaColes.)

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