“Have you bought Dad a Father’s Day card already?” My sister asks casually as she picks at her kale salad.
My head jerks up. I glance around the restaurant trying to buy time to find a satisfactory answer.
We had been enjoying a quiet lunch catching up on each other’s lives — her husband’s new business, my son’s growth spurt — but some catching up is not necessary. I am annoyed at the shift in topic. She is the good daughter; the one who always shows up. She knows I’m not, and that’s the way I like it.
“Not yet,” I reply as nonchalantly as possible, “it’s been busy.”
Busy, yes. Too busy, probably not.
My eyes catch hers, and I know that she knows. I grab a dinner roll. Amazing how much one can focus on buttering a dinner roll. Thankfully she takes the hint and drops the subject.
I concentrate on finishing my lunch. I’m not a bit hungry.
Later while driving home, I find myself rehearsing all the reasons why a card isn’t really necessary. He should know I love him. We’re not a sentimental family. He’s never given me a card. He’s never given me anything but trouble…
I stop myself. Not wanting to continue that line of thought, I put on the radio. Maybe some praise and worship music will soothe the oncoming storm in my heart. The radio springs to life with a Johnny Cash song. Great! Obviously, my son was the last one to use the radio. I turn it off.
I don’t like country music. My dad does.
For the rest of the day, I can’t shake the darkness. By dinner time, I stop trying. Rather, I embrace the familiar fog of sadness and heaviness like the old friend it has always been. My family senses my mood, but says nothing. It isn’t new. They know by now that Mom just ‘has her days’.
Getting ready for bed, my husband looks at me carefully. “Do you think it’s time to deal with it?”
I pretend I don’t know what he’s talking about. “Deal with what?” I glare at him — daring him to continue.
Brave man that he is, he carries on. “Maybe it’s time to talk to someone about your past. I hate seeing you like this.”
“You hate seeing me like this?!” I explode. “At least you’re not the one suffering from it!”
Usually my anger is enough to make him withdraw. But not this time.
“We are all suffering with you, hon. Do you really think you can hide the pain and anger? It’s spilling all over….towards me…the kids.”
I can’t even look at him. I am so angry — and so ashamed. It’s true, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I crawl under the covers, shut off the light, and turn away from him. I hear him sigh in the darkness. Eventually he falls asleep, while I lay awake. So many emotions to untangle that I can’t even begin. I try praying, but it seems useless. I’m not even sure that God really cares. Surely, He has more important things to worry about than my pitiful life.
On my good days, I believe He loves me and has a plan for me. But on the bad days, I struggle to believe He even knows my name.
I cry myself to sleep again that night.
After the breakfast rush the next morning and the goodbye kisses, the house is still. I sit down at the table and reach for my Bible. It’s been days since I’ve touched it. My heart is heavy and my mind is distracted — unintentionally drifting through past memories. Memories of harsh blows, harsher words, and the bitter smell of drunkenness. Survival meant shutting down. Extinguishing the need to be loved. Squashing the desire to be seen. Retreating to live another day.
When I became a believer, I revelled in the joy for a week before I found the courage to tell my parents. Not surprisingly, their response lacked enthusiasm. “Good for you if that’s what you want. We’re fine.”
When my dad began attending a recovery program, my sister and I were ecstatic. Maybe this was the change that our family desperately needed. I certainly never expected my dad to find Jesus. I thought he would die old, cranky, and drunk. But here he is now — my brother in Christ. My mind can not accept this.
I flip open my Bible and a slip of paper falls out. As I reach for it, I recognize that it came from a friend who passed it on to me. We had been talking about forgiveness one day during a coffee date when I had blurted out, “How can I ever forgive him? It was terrible! I hate him for what he did to me!” The next Sunday, she slipped this paper to me. I had since forgotten about it.
“THE GRACE OF FORGIVING“
Great! That’s not what I want to hear. I am tempted to throw the paper away. What could it really say? You need to forgive, let go of what happened, be a happy family….blah blah.
Maybe it’s the Spirit. Maybe it’s remembering the tears of the night before. Maybe it’s because I know I am broken. I sit down to read.
Forgiveness is a crisis of your will. — Lovely…thanks. Already I hate it.
Forgiveness is not giving up your pain but handing it over to the ONE who will hold it in His hands. — But my pain is precious to me, do I really trust that God will take care of it?
Forgiveness is not the same as justice. — I sigh with relief. Finally one thing on which I agree.
Forgiveness does not restore trust. — I’m not sure that a lifetime will restore this broken trust!
Forgiveness does not erase memories. — I am surprised that this makes me happy. How many times have I heard the words “forgive and forget”. I know this to be impossible.
Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. — Now I am confused. So far all I know is what forgiveness is NOT. Have I misunderstood the meaning of forgiveness all along?
Forgiveness is cancelling a debt that the offender owes you. — He owes me a great deal! And I know he will never be able to repay.
Your own forgiveness depends on your willingness to forgive. — I stop reading.
Surely this is a mistake.
I read it again.
The words leap off the page and land in my soul with a sickening thud.
God’s forgiveness of me depends on my forgiveness of others? But that’s not fair! I have not sinned in any big way. I’ve spent my life doing good things, even teaching Sunday school and leading Bible study. I have worked hard to be a good wife and mother, devoting myself to my family. I have one lousy speeding ticket on my record.
Surely God can see all that I’ve done!
Surely my small sins don’t equate with his.
Surely I don’t need as much grace as my dad.
Surely my pain outweighs his right to forgiveness.
My head wants to continue arguing, but my heart knows the truth. Tears begin to flow as the light dawns on me. For all the times my pride won. For every lie that escaped my lips. For every moment I gave bitterness room to grow. My sins would have accused me, were it not for the Father who forgave me.
I hear the voice of God whisper, “Oh Beloved! Your tears matter because you matter. You are precious to me, and your pain is precious to me. Let me hold it for you. It’s too big a burden for you to carry.”
My hands are trembling as I wipe the tears from my eyes. The scars inflicted by my earthly father are placed in the nail-scarred hands of my Heavenly Father. The one who hurt me is overcome by the One who Heals.
Handing over my pain is only part of the process. Is it possible to forgive the unforgivable? Does the cross really cover all?
It’s a war. I know what needs to be done, but I find I can’t breathe. An elephant is sitting on my chest. My head pounds. The room spins. I know I will not find peace until I wrestle this elephant to the ground. Will I die here and now? It surely feels like it.
So this is what it feels like to fight Satan. “Oh God, help me!”
I don’t even remember how to do it. But somewhere in the wrestling, I say it aloud. “I forgive you, Dad, for hurting me. For making me feel unloved, unworthy, rejected.”
In an instant, the elephant is gone. I can breathe again and I sob all the more. So this is what freedom feels like.
I spend the day trying not to dance, though my feet betray me a time or two. I catch myself revelling in this new feeling of lightness.
I don’t know what lays before me. It’s a path I’ve never taken. But I know that the God who is holding my pain in His hands is also holding the rest of me.
I grab my keys, I need to go get a card.
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