Two weeks ago, I shared in my post about my 50+ years of struggling in a broken relationship with my dad. It's always been difficult and painful for me. Girls need their daddies. They need their father's undivided attention, affection, and adoration.
This had been missing in my life. It left a deep father wound. One that hurt so badly. I wasn't even aware of how it became toxic to me and everyone around me.
Year after year, it snowballed out of control. I became a very angry, bitter person. It impacted every single relationship, including with my husband and my kids. Sometimes, I unintentionally lashed out at them during moments of distress.
Hurting people can sometimes hurt other people. I'm not making lame excuses. Rather, I'm stating it like it is. When people hurt inside, they can find unhealthy ways to cope. While some may turn to drugs or alcohol to dull the pain, my vice was a hardened heart. It created a wall to divide me further from those who did care about me.
Three months ago, I had read the newly launched book, The Father Effect, by John Finch. From the first chapter, I was glued to this story. It shared John's personal journey of growing up without his dad and how it negatively influenced every facet of his life.
As I turned each page, I was blown away by how much I related to John's experience. It was like we shared the same type of pain; a jagged scar ripped open to expose the horrific father wound. For the first time, I started to view things in a new light. Suddenly, I came to have a new perspective about my dad.
By the time I finished the book, I was happy that God softened John's heart for his own father. His powerful message was one of forgiveness, hope, and healing. No doubt, it gave me a lot to think about.
At the forefront of my mind was that I had to take responsibility for my own behaviors and actions. I realized that some day, I would come face to face with Christ. Everything I've done in my life would be judged by God. How could I expect to receive forgiveness if I refused to forgive my dad for not being the father I needed?
This burdened me. It struck me like a bolt of lightening. Perhaps, it was my wake up call to make necessary changes? For me to reexamine myself, my past, and my future. To come to terms with the fact that I hadn't fully let go of my unforgiveness towards my dad.
Then at the end of November, I received a phone call that threw me into a tizzy. My sister Debbie invited me to join her and our three other sisters for a getaway. They planned to celebrate Christmas early with our dad who lives out of state. A festive holiday celebration to spend quality time together.
The mere idea of it sent my heart racing! Stubbornly, I told Debbie that I would not join them. Digging in my heels, I remained resistant and angry with a dozen legitimate reasons to not see my dad.
Out of nowhere something strange happened. Anything and everything to do with forgiveness and humility crossed my path. I kid you not, it seemed like all of the songs on the radio were about healing broken relationships or about humbling oneself. I'd be scrolling through Facebook and trip upon a post about forgiving one another. Or I'd watch a movie about people reconciling with one another.
Unexpectedly, God started softening my own heart. He even went as far as using red cardinals daily. A savvy way to grab my attention. A little symbol of God's love. The rich red shade of a cardinal bird is a true demonstration of God's love for us when Jesus sacrificed His life to give us life. The red cardinal symbolizes the red blood of Jesus on the cross.
Let's just say, the Messaiah sure had a unique way to get to me. He met me smack center in my mess. Oh boy, did He get to me! It became a wrestling match.
One by one, He gently broke through my brokenness. Those stubborn walls of anger and bitterness were shattered. They were replaced with empathy, compassion, and love for my dad. Who can do that, but our Savior?
This transformation was so remarkable that I knew beyond a shadow of doubt, I needed to visit my father. So last weekend, my four sisters and I headed to Michigan for this early Christmas gathering with our dad.
Prior to our arrival, I had a lot of trepidation. My father has advanced Alzheimer's and there was a possibility he wouldn't remember me. What if this visit was a big disappointment? What if he had negative feelings towards me, especially since I hadn't contacted him for over six months?
Once we reached Michigan and unpacked our belongings at the hotel, we visited our dad. My heart was racing with nervous energy! Silently, I prayed, "Lord, I know that I'm doing the right thing. No matter what happens, good or bad, may it bring You glory."
As my four sisters and I waited for our dad to open his door, I stood behind them. Part of me was scared of the unknown. This walk of faith truly was testing me. I felt strong about doing the right thing, but it didn't mean it was easy for me.
Actually, this may have been the most difficult decision I've made in my entire life. To lay down my will, my unforgiveness, and my years of hurt. To release my father wound to Christ.
When my dad opened his door, he welcomed us to come inside. Then he took time to hug each one of us. As he approached me, his voice was filled with joy. He hugged and kissed me, saying, "Dana, I'm tickled pink that you're here!"
For the next two days, I was walking on cloud nine. My father was a changed man. His usual business demeanor was gone. He was gentle, kind, attentive, and affectionate. Repeatedly, he'd stop what he was doing, wrap me in his arms, and tell me how much he loved me. It was an awesome answer to prayer!
During dinner, before we enjoyed our pizza and salad, my dad said grace with an added prayer. He thanked each of my sisters and I for taking time from our hectic schedules to spend time with him. Openly, he said that he was sorry for being a selfish man when he was younger and he wished things could have been different. He showed genuine remorse for not being the father we needed while we were growing up.
With heads bowed in prayer, he thanked God for our family, for restoration, and for Jesus being the center of our lives. My heart was touched by what he prayed. It was authentic and meaningful. And most of all, these were the words that I needed to hear. To know that he was deeply sorry for not always being there for me, but that he was grateful to have me in his life.
As with most weekend getaways, it was filled with a whirlwind of activities. On Saturday, we went to a Christmas musical, which was wonderful. Afterwards, we ate dinner together and enjoyed going down memory lane chatting about our fond memories.
In a blink of an eye, it was time to say goodbye to our dad before us girls drove back home. Saying goodbye has never been easy for me. It brings a flood of emotions, like each time I visited my dad as a child or teen and had to leave. I dreaded it.
The hardest part is knowing that this time could very well be the last time I see my father. He's in his eighties and not in great health. Having aging and sick parents has become a challenging part of my season. It's painful, yet I try to treasure each moment together.
As my father and I hugged to say goodbye, I told him how much I loved him. With tears in my eyes, I said that it was great seeing him and I would miss him.
Suddenly, I felt like that little girl again standing in the airport getting ready to board the plane. I dreaded leaving my father. There was a lump in my throat. I quietly had to tell myself to be brave. And instead of focusing on being long distance from my dad, I'd be grateful for the time that we shared.
Overall, this decision to reconcile with my dad has been the absolute best decision of my life. It's changed me. It's a special gift. It's healed me. It's filled me with peace. It gave me hope.
If you have family, a spouse, or a friend in which you are estranged, I pray for you to consider reconciliation. Forgiveness and healing is for you. Truly, the heavy burden is lifted and you become free!
Also, I recommend that you read the book, The Father Effect, as this was the key to my own healing journey with my dad. The best gift you can give yourself at Christmas or anytime of the year is restoration. Let go of the past. Release the regrets, disappointment, and hurt to God. Move forward to healing and wholeness.
For those interested in learning more about the book, The Father Effect, by John Finch, here's the link:
"God has done all this. He has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships." 2 Corinthians 5:18