My story of how God redeemed a broken father-daughter relationship through forgiveness and love and captured it in one memorable moment.
About a year ago, I sat in a beach chair enjoying the Florida morning with my cup of tea and my Bible. It was a pleasant sunny morning, and it was also the last day of visiting my dad who was in the hospital. As I prayed, I asked God for a memorable moment with him that day. I told my Heavenly Father that I was not sure what to ask for other than I wanted a moment to remember the rest of my life because I was quite certain this would be my last time seeing him in this lifetime. So, I just simply asked for a “memorable moment”.
Before I share these events from my life, I want to say that I can only share it from my own lens, for I have not walked in either of my parent’s shoes. The poem “Pray Don’t Find Fault” (Author Unknown) reminds me that I have not been called to judge, but I have been called to love.
Pray Don’t Find Fault
Pray don’t find fault with the man who limps
or stumbles along the road,
unless you have worn the shoes he wears
or struggled beneath his load.
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt,
though hidden away from view,
or the burden he bears, placed on your back
might cause you to stumble too.
Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today
unless you have felt the blow
that caused his fall or felt the shame
that only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
that were his if dealt to you,
in the selfsame way, at the selfsame time,
might cause you to stagger too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man who sins
or pelt him with word or stone,
unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure,
that you have no sins of your own
for you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice
should whisper as softly to you
as it did to him when he went astray,
it might cause you to stumble too.
“You may be strong, but still the blows that were his if dealt to you, in the selfsame way, at the selfsame time, might cause you to stagger too.”
As a child, I walked in the wake of the aftermath of my parents’ divorce and the way they chose to deal with life afterwards bearing battle wounds I could not see nor understand. The hurt they experienced in their childhood and the times in which they grew up shaped how they responded to a broken and dysfunctional marriage. If you read 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, you will find records of historical events given by inspiration from God, but told from a man’s point of view. When you read 1 and 2 Chronicles, God then reveals the same events in light of what was going on spiritually. God always sees things for what they really are, but we see as in a glass darkly. Ephesians 6 states, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”. Make no mistake, the true battle we are engaged in is a spiritual one, and our perceptions of what goes on in life are just that- perceptions. God is the one who can lift up the veil so we can see and know what it is we need to know, if and when we need to know, so He can bring about redemption in our lives, set us free, and guide our paths with His eye.
So, as I share the different events from my life, please know that I share it with the heart that I love my parents, I have forgiven them, and that I share it only so you can see God as the God of Redemption that He is. I share it so it can give you hope that no matter what has happened to you in your life, God not only sees what happened, but He also sees it from the truest perspective. He is the only one who can take what Satan meant for evil in your life and turn it around for your good and His glory. I share it to inspire faith in you that God has the ability to take your mistakes, your brokenness, your heartache and turn it into a message that ministers to others.
A Long Journey
As I mentioned above, it was about a year ago when I sat in a beach chair enjoying the Florida morning with my cup of tea and my Bible when I asked God for a memorable moment with my dad. That very morning my dad was going to have a procedure done to determine if the MRSA had spread to his pacemaker. If it had, we had a big decision to make. He was just about to turn 88 years old in about a month, had been struggling with Dementia for several years at that point, and over the past several months he had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. What do we do if the MRSA did indeed spread? Do we keep treating him, or let him pass naturally without interventions?
I stepped into the room he was in with the doctor as he waited for the procedure to begin. He had fear in his eyes because he did not understand all that was going on. My stepmom, sister, and the doctor all stepped out for a moment, so I thought that this was going to be the memorable moment I had prayed for. I silently prayed for my dad then decided to sing a few hymns to him. As I sang “Every Moment of the Day” his whole demeanor changed as he calmed down. His body relaxed, his eyes closed, listening to me sing. I told my dad I loved him then continued to sing a couple more songs until the others returned, I thanked God for this special moment, but I was to discover later on that same day, that God had something more meaningful planned. But, to grasp the significance of the memorable moment God blessed my dad and me with you need to hear of the long journey with my dad over the many seasons we traveled through.
The Early Years
When I was a young child, (the youngest of four children), my dad was busy working full time, going to school to get his degree, and volunteering as a fireman. We did not get to see much of him in those years. My fondest memories of him are playing ball out in our yard. My brother and I played football, baseball, and sometimes basketball together with our dad. My dad would whisper in my ear a play to run, “Go out 15 paces, fake left, then turn right and run as fast as you can. Keep your eyes open because I’m going to throw a long one to you!” Or, during baseball season, he would have my brother and I out in the backyard with our baseball mitts while he would hit long fly balls in every direction for us to run after and catch. My dad would also take us to the fire station with him on Saturdays and hang out there. During the school year I can still hear him say to me on his way out the door in the morning, “See you later alligator!” And I would respond, “After a while crocodile!” Yes, I have some warm memories of this wonderful side to my dad.
The not so nice side of my dad that scared me was his temper. I did all I could do to avoid his temper. It was unpredictable and sporadic. I did not live in fear of him, I just did not know what was going to spark his temper, so I lived with a determination to be good not knowing what would trigger him. I learned to be good and was very diligent to do what I was supposed to do to avoid conflict. When he tried to teach me something, I tried to learn it quickly so he wouldn’t get upset with me. Overall, I have more happy memories of my father during this season of my life than bad- until I turned 12. Then life suddenly took a severe turn for the worse, as did my relationship with my dad.
At the beginning of this season, violence entered our home one late night that forever changed our family dynamics. My brother and I witnessed violence and anger between our parents for the first time. My dad was choking my mom as she cried out, “I can’t breathe!” The next thing we knew, our mom left us, and our dad became the sole parent in our home and, for the most part, of our lives. I blamed my dad for my mom’s departure, and I was mad at my mom for leaving us with dad and his temper. My mom was our buffer from his temper and she was no longer there. I felt vulnerable.
Our two older sisters were moving on with their lives- one to college, and one got married. My brother and I were left behind to figure life out on our own. We had brief and inconsistent visits with our mom in the beginning, but that changed as time went on. She was on her own search for a new life that lead her further and further away from us emotionally and physically. There wasn’t any explanation given to us for why our family suddenly erupted into a fractured segment of what it once was. There was no arguing over who got to spend time with us, or who got us for what holiday or vacation. There was an eerie silence in the wake of their divorce. Grandparents did not step in to help, friends looked on from the outside, and my dad, my brother, and I stumbled along in life bearing our own pain unable to help one another. All I knew was that one day our family was intact then the next day it was fragmented, unstable, and gone.
My father dealt with his hurt and shame by burying himself in his work, and my mom went through a few dysfunctional marriages, while my brother and I wandered through the ups and downs of our teenage years. With little adult supervision, there was a lot of underage drinking going on at our house, unruly boys pursuing me, and no protection to be found. I stayed in my bedroom behind locked doors for safety from them. One time an older brother of one of his friends tried to rape me twice in one night. The first time my brother and his friends were still there, so they heard me scream for help. However, this man returned later that night when I was all alone. At first I thought my dad had come home when suddenly this drunken man appeared in my bedroom. He began to chase me, but I pushed him over with an ironing board. I was able to get away from him since he was so drunk. I ran to another room and locked the door. I remember sitting there behind the locked door trembling with the realization that I couldn’t reach anyone for help and nobody was home to protect me- I was on my own.
My dad was diligent to provide the only things he knew how to provide- a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our back. For this I am thankful. However, he was not able to provide the emotional needs I had as a young girl developing into becoming a woman, nor was he present to protect me from the males who entered our home when he wasn’t there. Fear then anger began to stew in my heart as loneliness and feelings of abandonment took root in my heart. I became rebellious as a result. I was bound and determined to find someone to love me and to be with so I wouldn’t be alone. My heart began to harden towards my dad, and the distance between us became a chasm neither one of us knew how to cross.
These were turbulent years as my relationship with my father became emotionally cold and distant. I spent a lot of time alone in my house once my brother got his license. My father continued to bury his grieving heart in work, and he just did not know what to do with two teenagers he was suddenly in charge of, especially with me being a girl. At one point when I was 15 years old, I ended up moving around a lot and lived in several different places. My mom decided to have me live with her and her second husband. The first attempt with this living arrangement ended up with me running away to my sister’s apartment. I tried living with her and her son, but I ended up being too much for her. So, I was sent right back to my mom’s. After three months of awkward moments with her husband, being left alone a lot again, and not feeling comfortable there, I moved back in with my dad and brother. By the time I moved back, our house had become even more emotionally cold and barren with the three of us existing under one roof.
Feeling Broken Beyond Repair
When I was 18 years old, I left my home determined to never live home again after a huge family brawl over Christmas break. My dad had apologized for the family fight that happened in our home. He also said we would all go to family counseling. However, when it came time to get help, he did not follow through. That is when my anger towards the whole situation erupted from deep within me, and that is when I decided that I would never live home again. Any door of hope in my heart that I had to connect with my father was clamped shut. Our relationship was emotionally bankrupt, and neither of us knew how to repair what was broken. I left that winter in January seeking the answers my heart longed to find with an angry, lost, and broken heart.
I sat on the steps of the main quad on campus when I returned to college and cried out to God, “Do You even exist? I need to know if You exist, because if You don’t I do not want to go on living the next 18 years like the past 18 have been.” I was losing the will to go on. I found myself teetering between suicide and fear of insanity. I sought out counseling at this point only to be told a few months later that they couldn’t help me. I left feeling like I was broken beyond repair.
Over the next three years while I was at college, I found places to live when school was out because I refused to go home. No one in my family called me at college to see how I was doing, and no one came to visit me either. Looking back, I think we were all drowning in our pain and were unable to help each other out of what we were in. But, from where I stood at that time, it felt like no one cared if I lived or died.
I began my search for God during this season. I did indeed find that He existed and discovered a love for God, His Son Jesus Christ, and His Word. Learning how to get born again and how to speak in tongues solidified in my heart that I was God’s daughter. I belonged to Him. God assured me of this one day when He said, “No man can take away the work I have done in you. (He gave me an image of an umbilical cord) You belong to Me. Just speak in tongues to remind you that you are Mine.” This helped to soften my heart towards my father and my family, but I was also afraid they would try to take away from me the inner healing I had found. There was even a summer when I did not tell my dad where I was living, until a friend’s father sat me down and encouraged me to reach out to him to let him know where I was and that I was okay. I chose to take this man’s advice and called my dad. To my surprise he was happy to hear from me and relieved to hear my voice. “Maybe my dad really does love me,” I thought.
Forgiveness Paves the Way
The believers I lived with taught me I needed to forgive my dad like God for Christ’s sake had forgiven me. They told me to look to see how my dad showed his love to me rather than looking for him to give me love in the way I needed it or longed for it. As a result, I wrote my dad a letter telling him that I forgave him, and told him that I was thankful for the ways he showed me he loved me. Soon after I sent the letter, as I walked up to my house, I saw him sitting there through my living room window. Something warmed my heart towards him. Instead of fear and anger in my heart, I felt a longing to be with him. He had come to see me for my 21st birthday! He was taking a step towards restoring our relationship.
My dad had remarried during my college years, and by his wife’s example of calling her children once a week, my dad began to call me. We mostly talked about the weather and my grades, but it was a start. However, one time he called me stands out because we talked for about a half hour and we had a real conversation. God was doing a work in both of our hearts, and slowly but surely a bridge was building to span the wide chasm that had grown between us. We even started to say, “I love you” at the end of our conversations. I also started to visit home more as well. The tides were turning.
“We Are Family”
During my dad’s wedding to Joan, all of my siblings and I, along with her children got out on the dance floor and danced to “We are Family”. We laughed and sang to the song, and I thought to myself, “Our family is healing.” A new family is being formed. Although I still would not move home to live, I did visit more often. It is hard to describe, but coming home brought a mixture of hope and fear. It appeared like things were okay, but there was an underlying brokenness that still existed. Nobody talked about what happened, nobody really knew what had happened to me during my teen years, and nobody knew how to repair the damage that had happened. Our family foundation was very fragile and so were our hearts.
Each time I started my journey home for visits I would be excited, but as I crossed the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge a wall of defense would rise up, and the sense of detachment and numbness would emerge. The feeling of “I am not safe” would torment me, especially when the drinking began. Somewhere along the line, a hyper vigilance had crept into my heart every time my family members began to drink. I was on guard mentally and emotionally. When I returned from a visit from my hometown, I found myself stuck in a world of numbness, a feeling like I did not exist, and didn’t know how to get out of that place. I had tried counseling at one point during my college years, but after being told they couldn’t help me, I kept my pain and struggles deep within me and tried to figure out how to manage life with my anxieties and emotional instability on my own. I hid it all the best I knew how.
Since I had found Jesus Christ and developed a love for God and His Word, I was finding healing in certain places of my heart, and building a new life in Christ. I even met my husband during this time. I have a funny memory of the first time my dad met Dick. My dad and I went to the airport together to pick him up. The whole way there our conversation was minimal, but as soon as Dick got in the car, a full length animated conversation took place between Dick and my dad. I sat in the back seat of the car amazed as I heard them talk about sports teams nonstop the whole way back to my dad’s house. I thought to myself, “I didn’t know my dad could carry on in a conversation like that.”
A Season of Cultivation
Dick and I began to raise our family together. I read every book I could find on marriage and parenting. I was bound and determined to learn how to build these relationships in a healthy way. Our marriage and family were growing well, we built our first home, and I felt good about my life. We spoke to my dad once a week on Sundays, and visited them on holidays, and during the summer. As long as I was in the town where we were raising our family, I could manage the anxieties and detached feelings I carried with me. However, every trip back to my hometown brought back the old wounds and the effects of them. I suffered from migraines for days after we returned from visits to New York. Dick listened to me as I tried to process my feelings, but it was just a spiraling cyclical mess that neither one of us knew how to untangle.
No one in my family of origin was aware of the emotional battles I was fighting because we never talked about the past. We focused on our children and the new family dynamics whenever we got together. On the surface, it looked like we were a family again, but tension was palatable at times, and arguments would flare up now and then indicating all was not well. It went on for years like this. My relationship with my dad had improved now that Dick and our children were there, but there was still an emotional distance that I wished we could get past. I still jumped if he displayed his temper, I did not feel it was safe to leave our children in his care, and I longed for us to be able to talk about the past so it could heal. I wanted him to understand the things I struggled with, and why I did some of the things I did in staying away during the college years. Those conversations never happened, and so the pain remained buried deep inside.
Throughout my twenties and thirties I focused on nurturing my marriage and being the best mom I knew to be for our children. God led me into a closer walk with Him as He taught me to open up to Him in my quiet time as I have already shared. He was healing me from the inside out, one heart layer at a time. But, the area of my heart that had gotten walled off so long ago was a place not even I could reach. The emotional wounds would stir up confusion within me. My sister-in-law once said to me in the most loving way, “You wouldn’t know a real emotion if you had one.” She was right. My emotional responses to life were not always in the right proportion or appropriate to the situation at hand, or I would not have an emotional response at all. I wrote bible verses on index cards and placed them around the house, in my car, and kept some in my purse. I read God’s Word, prayed, and wrote in my journal every day. I went on prayer walks,spent time with believers, and tried everything I knew to do to try to get free from the emotional trap of my past that I was ensnared in. I could not find my way out.
. I was sitting in a nursing home room with my grandmother, mother, and my uncle when something finally snapped within. My grandmother was terminally ill, so my mom, who I had not seen or talked to in eight years, had flown out to see her. Just being near her was causing me a lot of internal distress. On top of that, these three people had deeply wounded me in the past, and had no idea the hurt and damage they had done to me. They were acting loving towards me as if nothing had ever happened in the past, but I was coming apart within. I had a hard painful lump in my throat, I needed air to breathe, I needed to escape that scene, I needed to get home to my husband where I felt safe. What was wrong with me?
I left as soon as I could and fell apart on the drive home. I suffered with migraine headaches for a couple of days, and that is when I knew I needed to get some help. Instead of going to a counselor however, I went to a pastor I trusted. This led to a decision that would not only crush my dad’s heart, but it would torment me with guilt for years to come. I was told if I did not break ties with all of my family I could never be healed. In desperation to be made whole, I complied, and out of the blue I severed my relationship with my dad and my family. What followed was an extremely painful season of grief and mental torment, not healing. This misplaced act of obedience set a course of what could have been irreparable damage if not for God’s mercy and His loving hand of redemption.
“I Know Your Thoughts Afar Off”
During this season of separation from my family, my husband and I took our kids to a family camp. One of the leaders taught on Psalm 139. He expounded on this Psalm in light of how well God knows us, and how numerous and precious His thoughts are towards us. The verse that grabbed my heart was verse two as it is set in the context of the first four verses:
Psalm 139: 1-4
O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
When he read verse two, “You understand my thought afar off,” he said that God knows the thoughts of our hearts that are beyond our reach. We register the affects of these thoughts, but the thoughts themselves are beyond our reach. At that moment, God whispered in my heart, “I know the thoughts and feelings you can’t even retrieve, but you experience the affects of them. I can help you” In that moment I found hope rising in my heart that God was going to lead me up and out of that isolated place that had been locked up since my teenage years. God knew the thoughts and feelings I needed to be delivered from, and He was going to make a way for me to be free. My husband and I had prayed for God’s forgiveness for accepting the poor counsel without really checking in with God first, and for hurting my family. We asked God that if there was a way to reconcile with my family, would He please make a way to do so.
The Path of Reconciliation
During the year that followed the family camp, Dick was inspired to write a letter to my dad explaining our heart’s sorrow for the decision we made, the hurt we caused, and the desire to reconcile with everyone. God told him to wait to send it, and he told him not to let me know he wrote it. A few months later, God prompted Dick to mail the letter to my dad. The day my dad received the letter, he called Dick immediately. He told Dick that when he first received the news two years earlier that we were severing ties with the family, he went to his church, lit a candle, and prayed to God to make a way to bring his daughter back, and that he was sorry for the hurt he had caused me when I was younger.
My dad was like the father in the parable of the Forgiving Father- he had been on the lookout for my return. As soon as he saw me on the horizon, he ran to see me with a heart full of forgiveness and joy. He welcomed me back with open arms. He also encouraged the other members of my family to forgive me and welcome me back. It was a humbling and painful journey of reconciliation with my siblings, and rightfully so, for I had hurt them unexpectedly and deeply. I bore the shame and embarrassment and guilt of choosing to obey unwise counsel that had eaten away any progress that had been made in my family’s healing thus far. It would be a long time before I was set free from this burden.
A Season of Restoration
Joel 2:25 says, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locusts have eaten…” When I read this verse one morning during my quiet time, God assured me that He would restore back to me the years the enemy had stolen from my family. He would refresh and restore our relationships to a better place than before. Through forgiveness and love, my relationships with my dad and siblings mended. I remember the moment I knew my siblings had finally and truly forgiven me and welcomed me back. We were all visiting at my sister’s house in Maine. We were all doing the dishes together when the song, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher came on the playlist. We started singing it together when all of the sudden we came into a group embrace as my father watched. I saw the joy in his eyes and I felt the forgiveness and acceptance from my siblings. It was a moment I will long remember and cherish.
In the following years, I was able to spend more time with my family rebuilding our relationships. I was finally able to talk about a lot of the trauma I had experienced between the ages of twelve and twenty two with my siblings. Because of all the pain each of us had endured, no one had been able to deal with anyone else’s wounds. It had all remained buried beneath the surface like lava slowly boiling waiting to erupt. The pain smoldered in the silence. As I opened up about my pain and suffering I struggled with, my siblings and I began to have more open and honest conversations about what had happened to our whole family over the years. My dad was still unable to talk about those earlier years, but at least I had him back in my life to build new positive memories. My dad had forgiven me and my siblings had forgiven me. The only person who had not forgiven me was me.
A Memorable Moment
Eighteen years had gone by since the day my dad and I reconciled. Now, there I sat by my dad’s side in the hospital. He had been battling Dementia for over five years, and had taken a terrible turn for the worse. I flew down to Florida to spend some time with him, and on my last day there, I sensed it would be the last time I would ever see my dad in this lifetime. As I wrote earlier, I asked God for a memorable moment, and although I wasn’t sure what it would look like, I knew God would bless me with a memory I could have with me for the rest of my life.
The results of the procedure revealed the MRSA had indeed spread to the pacemaker, so we were left with the decision to either have the pacemaker removed, or to not intervene at all. To not intervene meant we were going to let him just live out the rest of his life and to keep him as comfortable as we could. It was a very difficult decision, and we were not all on the same page. My stepmother and siblings had to work through our own emotions and opinions regarding my father’s care. In the end, my stepmother based her decision on the conversations she and my dad had when he was of a sound mind. He did not want to be kept alive in the state he was in. He was in pain, he was mentally not well, and he no longer had any quality of life. There would be no further interventions, but to ensure he would be kept comfortable and pain free.
Once the decision was made, I knew for sure this would be my last time with him, so I chose to have time alone with him before I left. I held his hands as I began to tell him all I was thankful for. I told him how thankful I was that he worked hard to make sure I always had a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat. I thanked him for paying for my college education, and for how good he was to my husband and children over the years. I thanked him for always choosing to forgive me when I made poor choices and hurt him. I began to cry as I told him how horrible I felt for severing ties with him and hurting him so badly. I could barely breathe through my tears of anguish over the realization of how much hurt that one bad choice had caused our family so many years ago. The shame, guilt, and embarrassment I harbored in my heart over the responsibility I bore for the pain that one decision had caused people I loved was hard to bear. I had not forgiven myself although everyone else had. In that very moment, my dad held both of my hands and shook them ever so gently and said, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” I cried until I had no tears left then thanked him for so graciously forgiving me when I least deserved it. The time had come for me to go, so I stood up, kissed his forehead, and said “I love you.” To my surprise, he responded back, “Love you.” Those were the last words I heard my dad say to me. The message in the parable of the Forgiving Father was “I forgive you, I love you” to his prodigal son, and so was the final message from my own father to me, “I forgive you and I love you.”
I went back to my stepmother’s house thankful for those precious moments with my dad, but because of the dementia I was not sure he even knew it was me he was talking to. But God was not going to let me leave with any doubt at all to that question. My brother-in-law came back from the hospital a little later after me. He told me that when he walked into my dad’s room after I left, the first thing my father said was, “Where did Charlotte go?” I broke down sobbing, but this time it was with tears of joy. My father knew it was indeed me he was talking to. Those words of forgiveness and his expression of love were for me. God had given me a memorable moment far beyond what I could have ever asked for or thought of. I now have my “memorable moment” to cherish for the rest of my life.
God is a redemptive God. Satan may have plans to kill, steal, and destroy our lives, but God sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay in full the price required for your redemption and mine. He can restore what was meant for evil and turn it around for good. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven. There is no wound that cannot be healed. There is no prison you cannot be set free from. There is no place so far that God cannot reach you. There are no mistakes that God cannot correct. There is no pain that God cannot mend. For God’s unfailing love reaches to the deepest crevice in our hearts, and can quench any thirst for acceptance, and satisfy any hunger to belong. He is the God of second chances. He is the God Who will go to the ends of the earth to find you in order to redeem and restore your life of all that the swarming locust have eaten. He will meet you where you are and lead you as He guides you with His eye into a life full of joy in His presence. He longs to give you memorable moments that you can cherish in your heart as well. So, enter now into the calm of His presence, and let Him do a mighty work of redemption in your heart and life, and make it brand new.