Updated: May 29, 2018
First and foremost, I need you to know that this post is not being written to shame my dad. I am not writing out of bitterness or resentment, nor am I writing as a form of revenge. I am writing from a place of peace and love. This post reflects truth; the good, the bad and the ugly. But above all things, this post reflects how God can reveal the most beautiful things out of any storm that life throws our way. It just so happens that this storm includes my dad.
For those who don't know my story, I was born a pastor's kid. Both of my parents were pastors and led their church side by side. However, when I was 7 years old something happened, my Dad decided his life should go in a different direction... one that no longer included pastoring our church nor one that included being a part of our family. I can remember many things about the day they announced their divorce to us, in fact I remember most of the week leading up to it. I remember all the boxes lining the hallway, the lies of re-organizing and donating old stuff. I remember my parents leaving us with our Nana to attend a pastors retreat, and I remember my mom coming back alone. Finally, I remember sitting beside my mom on the couch watching my little brother cling to my father, screaming through each sobbing breath that he wasn't allowed to leave. I remember sitting in silence, and not shedding a tear as my brain made the almost immediate switch from eldest child to taking up my father's place as the head of the house.
At first, we saw him quite often, once a week and even staying over on some weekends. But as time passed the visits became more sparse... what started off as once a week became once every two weeks, turning into once a month and soon the months added up between each visit. All the while he began a relationship with a woman that had gone to our church. As their relationship became serious, my brother and I became even less involved in their life. We were no longer invited to their houses, we were blamed for issues or 'gone wrong' situations, broken items, and all of it topped off with not being invited to their wedding... you see it was for close friends and family only as my dad explained. What the reality had become was him moving on from the family that included us and into his new family that clearly didn't.
I had always heard stories from my mom about her relationship with her father, how she was a daddy's girl and loved being his right hand girl... that was all I wanted.... I just wanted to be a daddy's girl. For years, I longed for him to want a relationship with me. I would try each and every way possible to get his attention... I would act out, I would lie, I would do nice things, I would do not so nice things, I even went as far as telling him to his face how much I wanted a "father daughter relationship"... but nothing came of it. The ball was always in my court, in fact, I was mostly playing the relationship game by myself. For over 13 years I held onto that dream that I would find love in that relationship, a dream that was constantly accompanied by pain, hurt, betrayal, anger, unworthiness, unwanted, loneliness and fear.
However, everything changed in my early 20's when I finally decided to let go; to let go of the dream... the pain, the hurt, and the abandonment that came along with it. I let go of the grudge I held toward my stepmother for taking him away from me. I let go of the idea that I was not good enough, pretty enough or worthy enough to be his daughter. It was that day that I chose to forgive and move on. And it was in writing that letter to him (that I did send by the way) where I poured out my heart; I told him of every emotion I had felt over those 13 years. Every event that left a scar on my heart and every moment that my heart broke because my love was not reciprocated. And with every written word, the weight was lifted and God gave me a peace that only he can give.
While not everything was healed all at once, as time passed God revealed to me the truth that I could not see through the pain before. As I sit here on the other side, I can honestly say there are 5 things that I have learned from walking through this storm. I don't know if I would've learned these 5 lessons if it weren't for the process of forgiveness, and frankly, if it weren't for the actions of my dad.
1. Never settle in your Marriage
Divorce was never a new concept for me, my family is littered with it. This disease of divorce has taken captive many generations, and when it hit my parents part of me wasn't surprised. But even though the act wasn't surprising, the destruction and pain felt while going through it did surprise me. And it is because of that pain that I decided early on that I would never, ever stop fighting for my marriage, for my spouse, and for my family.
When I met my husband one of the first things we talked about as we discussed marriage was the idea that we can never be content with where we are at as a couple. That there is always something that we can work on, something that we can improve. And part of that is acknowledging the necessity of not only striving to grow closer to each other but striving to grow closer to God alongside one another.... both as individuals and as a couple.
I believe that Satan attacks the cracks in a family because of just how strong and fierce a family can be for God's Kingdom. My family will be a force to be reckoned with, and I will continue to fight for my marriage until the day I die.
2. Blood has nothing to do with Family
I can easily say that one of the greatest gifts God has opened my eyes to through all of this is the notion that DNA does not determine who our family is. While you would think that sharing blood with someone would result in an obligational loving, caring relationship; the reality is that its only obligation is to pass on characteristics and physical attributes. The loving, caring relationship is a choice that people make, something that they decide to act on, not an assumed function that is automated. Some examples...
1. First and foremost, God gave me my stepdad. While it took many, many years for my stubborn heart to truly appreciate him, this is a man that consciously stepped into a broken family and claimed it as his. He knew the mess that he was walking into and chose to love each and every one of us all the more. He has shown me what it means to be a loving husband, one that protects and stands up for his wife. He loved me when I wasn't so easy to love, and remained a constant, reliable pillar of strength and wisdom when I needed it. We might not be related by blood, but this man is the best Father I could have asked for.
2. Secondly, God gave me my spiritual family. I don't think I truly appreciated the concept of 'brothers and sisters in Christ' until I began to see just how much these men and women showed me what family looks like. There were men of God who acted as Fathers, modelling for me what a man of God looks like, how he treats his wife and loves on his children. There are women of God who became spiritual mothers to me when I lived far from my own mother. Taking me under their wing, praying for me and supplying me with the basic things as I stumbled through various seasons of life. I had other men who walked alongside me as brothers, vetting all possible spouses and being protective of me. Sisters who gave me a shoulder to cry on, encouraging words and speaking God's truth into my life.
3. Your Actions must reflect your Words
Words mean something to me. One of my 'love languages' is words of affirmation, so when someone says something to me I take it to heart. This being said, if those words are not followed up by action then it is quick to result in a broken trust. I don't know how many times my dad's ability to say the right things or tell us how much he loves us or even explaining his way through various situations gave me a false sense of hope. To be honest, it is probably what had me holding onto that dream for so long. But each and every time, those words would fall lost and forgotten as his actions began to tell a completely different story. His actions, or lack of action, truly did speak louder than words.
I have always tried to live out what I preach. I don't just talk the talk but I try my best to walk the walk along side it. I want people to hear what I say through the actions I take and not necessarily through the words on a page. This for me has become essential in my faith walk. I didn't want to just recite the Bible verses, but I wanted to act them out. I am not 100% all of the time, in fact I can say that when I fall short I am probably harder on myself then I should be but it keeps me accountable.
I believe that as God calls us to be servants, then I shall serve.
If God tells me to love my neighbor, I shall love my neighbor.
If I am called to be a living sacrifice it means that my entire life, all areas of it, are dedicated to him whether it's convenient for me or not.
If God tells me to honor my parents... the reality is that I need to honor them, and while my dad and I aren't in an active relationship I do my best to honor and respect him. Not because he deserves it, but because God told me to, and that is enough for me.
4. A Label does not Define You
Labels are something that I have struggled with ever since I was little. I believed that a label would determine how much something is worth, what their value is and how much influence they held. For instance I believed that because my dad was... my dad... that meant that he had great influence on me. I would take the words he spoke with great weight and his actions would have a heavy influence over my life. So when those words stung, when those actions showed how little he cared... I took it personally. I then began to label myself with ideas and notions that reflected just that. I was not worthy of love, I was not good enough, I was too fat, I was too tall, I was too butch and tomboyish, I was not loved. But the reality is that these labels are lies.
In fact I would argue that all labels are lies... because labels are just stickers that are replaceable. If you are looking to define yourself, if you are looking to determine your character or your worth then you need to seek out your creator. The description of who you are, what you deserve and how much you are worth is found in only one place... God's word. It is found there because it is only there that we find T R U T H.
I had to remove every single negative, and even 'positive' label I had ever given myself. As I peeled away every lie I had stuck to myself, I began to reveal who it is that God had created me to be. Uncovered, unashamed, and low and behold I began to see the truth, God's truth. For the first time I saw that the only label worth keeping was 'daughter of God'. That it is only the creator that can determine the worth of his creation, He is in the only one who can see my character, my inside and out, who can tell me who I am and who I am created to be.
5. Forgiveness is not for them
This was the hardest lesson to learn but probably the most valuable lesson.
Like many, for years I believed that forgiveness meant that the hurt and pain I felt was okay. I felt that forgiveness was like a 'get out of jail free' card, that released the other person from any responsibility for their actions. I believed that forgiving and forgetting meant 'pretend it never happened'. So I would hold on, I would refuse to forgive and instead hold tight to the anger and the pain because it felt safe. That's right... safe. I knew what the pain meant, I knew what the anger was for, and I knew that as long as I held on that I had control. I had a fear of forgiveness, not just in the sense that it would erase the wrong but also because if I no longer held onto the pain... what would come next? If I forgave my dad and let go of all of the years of anger that I collected, then what would our relationship look like on the other side... would I be letting go of this relationship all together?
I don't know what the turning point was, I don't remember deciding that I had to let go. But what I do remember is that as I turned to God for support, for love and for the strength to follow through... it became easier. I remember that after writing the letter spanning many pages that I began to realize that all of this 'stuff' that I was holding onto was effecting me far more than it was affecting him. That I had been choosing to hold onto pain, when he had clearly moved on. That me forgiving my dad wasn't, in fact, about my dad at all... but about me letting go and letting God.
Forgiveness is an acknowledgement that nothing holds a power over you or your life. It is about understanding that we need to let go of control, since so often we tend to do whatever it takes to keep control. In this situation, I was content with holding onto things that would emotionally, mentally and spiritually hurt me JUST to keep control over the situation. But once I relinquished control and gave it to God, I began to step into a new found freedom that can only be found through him.
And I thank Him everyday for that gift
God is good, All the time
All the time, God is good