{Forgiving is a Miracle: Courageous and Holy. “When Daddy’s Rage”}

We are not too old to take courage.

We are not too late to sacrifice.

We are not too lost to reach out to each other and linger on the rim of time.

– Ann Voskamp

As I read those words this morning I was thinking instantly of my relationship with my Dad — gone since May, 2003. He was a tortured soul in many ways or perhaps I just didn’t understand him.

It was when he was dying that he admitted to me that he often felt righteous in his anger and raging at us.  All this reminded me of something I wrote several years ago. I share it now.

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Forgiveness of grave acts of injustice can feel like an abstract concept to those who have not experienced those acts. (PRISM magazine)

My pastor said yesterday … that anger and the need to retaliate when someone has hurt you is “normal” even as normal as the reflexes a doctor checks when she taps on our knees during a check-up.  Normal.

I hate that word – “Normal”.  I don’t understand the use of it.  It is a bit reckless to say anything is normal these days when people have such diverse experiences and upbringings. But think I understand what he was trying to say, that a wish for vindication when you have been hurt is a healthy response.  But even that doesn’t sound quite right.  It is a human response?

But what response should one have to being hurt or abused or rebuked or shamed or yelled at — retaliation?  No, I think he means a human response to lighter stuff.  If you are being gossiped against it is “human” to want to strike back.

When I think about my childhood, I think the healthy response is to shrink and cower.

One learns to hide, to disappear, and to not be the object of Dad’s attention.  Perhaps this response is not “normal” but it sure was reflexive for me. That’s why it is hard to hear that wanting revenge is a normal, human response.  If that is indeed what my pastor meant.

Then, as I look back, I see that THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES when I wanted a sort of revenge with my father and mother.  I have carried fear of my father for as long as I can remember and an anger at my mom for not protecting us.  And a kind of fury.  I used to have rage dreams all the time. On the really rare occasion I will have them still, but they are thankfully now years in-between.

The powerlessness that comes from having a father who never admitted he was wrong creates that anger and sense of worthlessness.

It is not worth trying to explain yourself.

It is not worth having your own opinion.

It is not worth expending energy because nothing really matters, nothing really matters at all.

I am so glad I am past that.

It’s just too bad my father had to die for me to come to this place.

I carry a huge feeling of loss that I never knew sweetness in my relationship with my dad.  I loved him out of fear and a wish to please him.  I know he loved me.  But he just – couldn’t – help himself? If it is true he couldn’t help himself, I wish he could have let God help him.

I miss him now, as I ponder what could have been.  He really was a dear man, loved by so many around the world who were his friends and never knew the secret rage he carried inside him.  I’m glad that many people didn’t know – in a way – because Dad accomplished many good things, helped many people, was loved by many.  God why did you take him so young?  Sixty-two?

I hope it wasn’t simply so that I could live. No, I don’t really think God works like that.  It was a convergence of events coming together to give him cancer and take him.  And my ability to heal, to forgive — I have to believe that I might have come to it even if my dad was still here.  Perhaps it would have taken longer, but it would have come.  Eventually.

I have forgiven my father and then I think of my mother who still has a story to tell.  I don’t know if anyone would believe her, but she has so much in her life story that could be helpful to others.  Surely we can’t be the only ones in this situation, caught between a person who does good things and has their secrets A Christian leader who means well but whose home life isn’t right, isn’t right at all?  That’s our story

IN THE END what needs to be said is this: Forgiveness is what each Christ follower is asked to do in response to the forgiveness Jesus extends to us.  It is not easy.  It can take a long time.  It often depends on the emotional health of the person doing the forgiving.  It always depends on all the factors surrounding the situation and each person has to sort that out, often with the help of a pastor or a counselor.

I have been in therapy of one sort or another, off and on, for twenty-five years!  Wow, that’s crazy sounding but it’s true.

Pulling back the layers of pain,

the years of stagnation and lack of healthy growth as a human being,

the crazy mixed up ideas,

the strange perspectives and opinions picked up over the years.

The times of resisting God.  Or not being willing to obey God.

And finally, I came to a point of decision, for myself – without the guilt, or fear or coercion of others, but in complete obedience to God.

Forgiveness, it’s messy.  It’s damn difficult. But it is so sweet, when finally healing, forgiveness and the mercy of Jesus come down.

And you begin anew. And your story continues…

I am still left with where rage comes from? What makes a daddy hurt us so bad?

I have pondered my father’s strange rage for many years.  I cannot pretend to have answers and obviously I cannot ask him.  But I have a friend who works with incest survivors.  She has a very special ministry. My father always said that he was sexually abused as a child, by a minister in his church.  I never believed him.  But I asked my friend about this and she said:  “When a person admits to this as an adult, they are telling the truth.  They have no reason to lie.”

No reason to lie.  She also said very often anger like that comes from abuse in the past.

I don’t know if it is true but I cannot ignore this about forgiveness, about following Jesus into radical loving.

Paula Huston says: “Regarding the tender souls of children, Jesus says in a passage that can be read as referring either to young human beings or to “baby” Christians: ‘Things that cause people to sin will inevitably occur.  It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.’ (Luke 17:1-3)  The roots of our adult sin patterns are often to be found in the still-gaping wounds of childhood.”

So perhaps my father was hurt as a child.  And I was a child, crushed by his pain and hurt, as he took it out on his family in his rage and anger.

At some point we are each responsible to work through our experiences and get to a point of healing.

Again, from Huston:

“Then, and only then (after the process to be sure) we can see the other person as “a human being, no matter how degraded, a fellow soul made in the image and likeness of the God we adore.”

“God causes his sun to fall on both the good and the evil, and his rain to fall on both the righteous and unrighteous.” (Phooey, I can’t remember the reference.)

The longer we shut up our heart against the one that has hurt us the closer we come

to losing our own heart,

our humanity,

even our life.

And for some even our minds.

These things happened to me in the form of depression, alcoholism, and self-loathing and disgust; a misery of life, abject poverty of soul. I was a dead man walking.

There is hope, found in Jesus at the cross.  Laying those things down, the heavy burden of pain, of picturing yourself putting your pain at Jesus’ feet.  If you truly give it to God, release it when you can and

be ready for miracles!

MELODY

** Some people have a hard time picturing things in their mind’s eye.  If that is true for you I would urge you to watch the movie THE MISSION.  That movie changed my life.  I believe it will give you a picture of your pain and lack of forgiveness as those heavy pieces of armor that the priest dragged up a water fall as penance.  Whenever I begin to forget what my bitterness and anger, lack of forgiveness are doing to me, I can see in my mind’s eye that sack of armor.  No one can live that way.  No one should live that way.  No one needs to live that way.  I did for so long.

Strongest in the Broken Places: A Tale of Domestic Abuse

Watching this video I was a child again.

It validated experiences I had growing up.  It made me sad.  I grieve watching it for beyond my own experiences, as I know three women who are living right now in this sort of marriage.

  • One is married to an elder in my church.  (Actually, he was an elder at the time that she talked to me.  We were in a Bible study together.)  He had anger and control issues, perpetrated in the name of “biblical submission.”
  • Another friend stays in an habitually abusive marriage out of love and commitment to her husband saying “Would you leave your husband if he had cancer?  Then how could you leave if he has a mental illness?”  I’m not saying that she should leave her marriage, but I grieve that she is so alone!   And I am ill equipped to help, though I listen.
  • Another friend asks for prayer for friends whose marriage that is in trouble saying he “may be abusive” but likely she “may be making it all up.”

You never know when someone is a perpetrator of rage and control.  I can tell you with assurance that is the most unlikely person.

I grew up in a home where my father was in ministry and was a generous, gracious loving God-fearing man.  To this day when I write openly about my experiences growing up (here and here and here  and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and I only stop because the list is endless.  He’s one of the reasons I started my blog.)

Here is the best example of what it felt like growing up.

To this day I have people who say to me “I knew your father…” implying that somehow perhaps I didn’t, though I lived in his home for nearly two decades and worked for him for many years.   They imply by their statement that my experience and my mother’s and my sister’s didn’t happen.  The man in this video could have been my father — except Dad had a lot more personality!

The video below is one of the best that I have ever seen that talked about raging in a home as a domestic violence.  It made me feel “less alone” when it comes to domestic violence which is not always physical!  It was not physical in my home, except one time when my parents were first married my father put my mother’s head through a wall.  This was before I was born, but he put it in his book and that is how I heard about it.  Even though he wrote about his anger he was unable to change.  And it became the Achilles heal for him over and over again, hurting people around him.  It was a significant factor in my spiritual life and my perceptions of God.

It is real and destructive and is painful for me to this day.  I so wish that my father could have found this kind of help and felt it was safe to “come out” the way the brave heroes in this video have.  I so wish the church was better equipped to help women who do suffer in this way and could create a context where it is safe to speak out.  And I wish the church helped men who know they have a problem but don’t know how to get help.

“Statistics show that victims of domestic violence most often go to churches for help. Unfortunately, churches are often ill-equipped and not helpful. This clip tells the story of one couple’s search for help and also offers some advice for creating an environment conducive for recovery.”

Please watch.  If the video doesn’t work you will have to follow the link prior.

This is a hard post for me to write.  By even talking about this others could be at risk and yet that is the great irony.

You are Beloved

This post is about being loved and feeling loved.  And what can happen when you don’t believe you are dearly loved — to your relationships and to your hopes and dreams for your life.

GROWING UP, I was not told…

I never believed that I was “dearly loved.” This was partly because I grew up in a frightening and unpredictable home and because of my father’s angry raging behaviors.  I have always been profoundly unsure of myself.  I remember how important it became to simply grow invisible. 

Invisible was safe.  If you aren’t seen or heard, you cannot upset anyone.  No opinions.  Eventually no thoughts at all at home, where you might slip up and express them.  This was okay if he agreed with you.  But if not, there was no telling what might happen.  You might be lectured at for hours, or berated in front of a friend. Humiliation.  Threats.  Intimidation.  Blame.  It just wasn’t predictable.

When I look at my children I’m appalled by my upbringing.  I want nothing more than to see my kids discover and grow into unique people.  I see incredible things in them and I tell them often, out of love and a wish to affirm those truths.

 “Those are beautiful words you have written.”

“God made you full of joy.”

“You memorize things so easily. That will make life so much easier for you.”

“You are careful and precise and that will serve you well in the future.”

“You make people laugh, what a gift!”

“You care about others.”

“You are gentle and kind and the world needs more men like that.”

“You will grow into someone who washes others’ feet.”

“Yes, that is sexist it pleases me that you saw it.”

  “You articulate yourself so well!”

I speak these truths and other, because I believe children need help to discover their talents and abilities and to experience the spirit of God.  I believe we don’t naturally know.  My place in God’s world, made in his image, is something that I never discovered in that shrouded, hidden place that I disappeared in to for so many years as a child and young adult.

THE CHURCH didn’t tell me …

Secondly the Church sent subliminal, and sometimes outright sexist messages to girls  where I was growing up in the south.  I “heard” that I am a second class person; less valued by God because I (somehow) need men to support me, protect me, and teach me, especially about the Bible.  I was to subordinate myself to men.

Though I heard those things, in my gut I knew it was wrong.  I have always believed that if you believe in the world of Gen 1 & 2, and in the hope of lasting and true restoration by Jesus on the Cross, then you cannot accept the cultural Church practices spoken of in the NT.

MARRIAGE

By the grace of God I married beautiful, ennobling, questioning complex thinking person of faith.  He lives with me in the land of questions and he does not attempt to tell me what the answers are.  Together we began the journey and partnership of marriage in June of 1993.  What he spoke into my life was hope, and goodness, and empowerment. He listened for my voice and I began to heal. 

I was a fanatically hard-working ministry leader when he met me.  I worked for my father (ironically) so at the end of the day, I finally had my father telling me what I was good at by giving me promotions.  The more I accomplished the more responsibility I was given.  I discovered I had many talents, I was a hell of a hard worker and I had a need to constantly be proving myself and my worth.  At the end of the day, week, month, there was always more to be done.  More to prove.  More to do to validate myself as a daughter, as a woman, as a leader, as a human being.

I still didn’t believe I was BELOVED.   Skip forward from my mid thirties to today.

TODAY I am …

44.  I have been out of the workplace for ten years.  I “used” my children as an excuse to leave an acrimonious place where (I felt) I had hit the glass ceiling. I was burned out trying to prove myself.  I didn’t know the grace of God in my life.  I didn’t really believe.

Over the last decade I have walked a painful path but I have discovered that I am beloved.  Oh yes, those difficult lessons (my experience with clinical depression, my alcoholism, losing my parents) were so vital to my becoming human again and the reason that I am alive today.  I got sober, which took courage in the Christian community.  Actually I didn’t get any help from Christians but by God’s grace, my life is living through and beyond being an alcoholic or being depressed.

Today my life is so incredibly rich and full.  And now as a woman, a burgeoning feminist, a feeble follower of Jesus, a sometimes photographer, a frequent writer, hungry student of the Bible, I am asking for others to speak truth into my life now about my unique contribution to be made.

If I let myself, I quickly become focused on what I am, who I am, why I am … and the fact that I am so afraid.  (I think) I want to study and learn and be able to articulate Truth by going back to school. When I look around my community there are needs everywhere.  I see them.  I feel them.  My heart breaks for it.  As a white person with affluence I believe I have a unique responsibility and a unique place of financial privilege.  As a woman, and a feminist and a follower of Jesus I believe my voice is unique.

The Jesus that washes our feet wasn’t a macho oriented, “women should be in the home cooking, cleaning, having babies and bringing me my dinner” kind of man who has been written and preached about in the Church.  He preached that we are to live in peace, he offers us a life full of victory (over our sin), and he makes us generous and loving. We are to speak against injustice. That’s the Jesus I know.   That’s my kind of faith.

But I am afraid and I can no longer blame my upbringing.  I can no longer blame the Church.  I can no longer blame my father.  With no one left to blame, I am here with my convictions and beliefs, greatly needing shape and formation.  It is time to act; to step out in faith that God is with me each step of the way and that there is a reason for each experience I have had.  In some ways I “woke up” just a few years ago.  A late bloomer doesn’t do it justice, but you are never too old to do something.

At fifty, my mother began a process of waking up.  She is now in her seventies and to her credit is a person continuously searching for truth.  I greatly admire that about her.

Andy Crouch, on his blog Culture Making, says disciplines are the key to excellence. Ten thousand hours is a good benchmark—that’s one hour a day, five days a week, for forty years (with two weeks of vacation each year!). If every Christian decided to spend 10,000 hours developing their capacity in a single cultural domain (painting, stress fracture analysis, genomic sequencing, you name it) and also 10,000 hours on the spiritual disciplines that embody dependence on God (solitude, silence, fasting, study, prayer), in forty years we’d have a completely different world. How are you spending your 10,000 hours?

I am a white woman of privilege, blessed by living a beautiful life, a feminist and Jesus follower, who finally knows she is BELOVED and is finding her voice and asking:  How should I spend my next 10,000 hours?