{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.


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!


** 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.

A Poem: Shame Falls Heavily

Shame Falls Heavily

I first noticed them arrive
as the two women settled their kids and husbands in two rows
in front of us in the stands.
Then the men were gone.

I saw how they laughed playfully, sitting close.
One touching the back of her friend.  Whispering
to one another.  This was intimate familiar territory.
I thought it seemed to be an attraction
which was clearly more than friends.

Suddenly her husband appeared and she turned her back,
Completely forgetting the friend, to fall asleep
on his shoulder.
The game began.

After a long while the boy, her son, looked
back questioningly, eyebrows raised.
Then both children look again
at her and at the man. Not asking with words, but clearly wondering
what’s wrong?  They needed to know what’s going on.

He shrugs again. And then again, when they glance back later.
His shrug is slow and heavy
as if to say: he doesn’t know why she’s asleep.
But he knows.
I don’t know. Not yet.  At first, it seemed innocent, even to me.

The game was Hockey and I have to admit it held little interest.  So
my curiosity with this hauntingly familiar scene grew. I couldn’t help
Staring.  Wondering.  A nagging sense of foreboding as the woman slept on.
And the kids are cheering. Knowing
but not wanting to know.

Startled I see that she has thrown up into her hand.
All over herself, and him.  As he tries to comfort her,
and then to clean her up without anyone noticing she begins to weep.
He was so gentle as he whispered into her sticky hair
all the things I knew he didn’t believe.
It’s going to be alright.  HUSH… It will be okay.

like a wool blanket
on her shoulders as she continues to weep
quietly into his shoulder.  Wiping her own mouth again and again.

The smell of alcohol and the stench of puke finally reaches me.  Then
without thinking I unwind my gray scarf from my neck to help.
Hesitantly at first. I thought
against it.  These thoughts almost made me sit back again, as
I re-twisted my scarf back around my neck.

What would I have wanted?
How do you love like He would in a moment like this?
So, unwinding quickly I tap softly on his shoulder to hand to him the gray rayon scarf. Wordless
for there are no words. He knows.

The moment s l o w s in time when he won’t let go of my hand.
The hockey game fades.
I don’t hear the screaming fans or feel the cold air in the stadium.
All I feel is his warm hand on mine.

And his panic.
He does not know what to do.
It flows into me, his fear, his sorrow because this isn’t the first time.
His tears, welling deeply inside.

As he presses down on my hand it all flowed into me.
In that second, a moment of passing so briefly, I know again
the shame which falls so heavily.
As I remember my own.

Finally, pulling my hand away, I sat
through that game as if I were that woman, again.
The children mine.  The friends and husband
all — unsure.   Afraid.  Watchful.  Not knowing what to do.

This morning, I am grateful for my sobriety.
And wonder, of all the thousands of people in the stands last night, why did this woman sit in front of me?
I saw what it was like to be the sober ones. And hope I never forget
the frightened doe-like eyes of her children.

I will add this to my frayed two and a half year old,
yellow, 3 x 5 card of reasons I am gratefully sober today.
But I am no longer the Woman.


Some of the things I have written about my alcoholism:

I am not Ashamed
The Slow Crawl Of Healing
What Can I Say About Two Years of Sobriety?
Choose Joy
For Everything There is A Season.
Eulogy to Life.
Letting Go.  Thoughts on Being An Alcoholic
ReThink Everything
My First AA Meeting
My Crooked Heart
It’s Lonely Here on the Wagon
The Place of Nowhere
A New Way to be Human
Eulogy to Life
Winter Comes
Splintered Truth
This Epic Grief
No Dignity
I Need a Filling

I am Not Ashamed




At the end before I quit completely, I was a messy drunk because by then I had to drink a lot to be messed up.   More than I want to admit I had occasions of being a mess, stumbling to bed.  And many, many Sundays I sat through church with the world’s worst hangover.  My faith was shot.

I don’t really know why I was in church, except that I was still keening inside for God to help me.  I am glad I was there, in the end.  Thankful!

Those days were vile, don’t misunderstand.  But I do not feel ashamed.  I’ll tell you why in a minute.  Anyone who regularly reads my blog also knows I also suffer from major depression and that too wrecked my life.  You’re basically non-functioning when it is at its worst.

But I’m talking about why I am not ashamed of suffering from depression or of being a recovering alcoholic.

Why should I be ashamed?

I recently told a group of new friends (They are perhaps more like close acquaintances that I believe will become friends eventually) about my years of depression.  I told them quite matter-of-fact, asking for prayer for the process of slowly stepping down from the anti-depressant I take.  Afterwords, one of them came up to me and whispered out of the side of their mouth, full of embarrassment and clearly full of fear, “I struggle with depression too!”

In that moment I saw how frightening and risky it was for them to tell me.  And I realized all of a sudden that I did not feel that self-consciousness or shame.  I quite accept my lot in life.   Should I feel ashamed?  Am I supposed to be, because I’m a Christ-follower, perfect? I think too often people feel that same reticence.  They fear judgment.

This is the real deal.  Life is not perfect.  Life is what happens when you’re making other plans right?  I don’t know who said that?  But don’t get me wrong, I have not always felt this way — free and unashamed.

I have been there — Where I could not say these words in one sentence: I– am– an– alcoholic.  That four-word sentence took me five years to say out loud and two more to another human being. (Yes, I talk to myself.)  And now that I have, I am not going back to live in that shame.  So, no I don’t look at the person who shared with me in any judgmental way.  I understand the fear.

It took me almost two months to admit to anyone, including Tom for five weeks, that I was depressed.  There is an incredible bias or self-conscious reluctance (for Christians especially) to admit to the illness of depression.  I run into people all the time.  Well forget it.  I am not ashamed.

I’ve talked a lot here about alcoholism and family history.  Depression runs in families too.  Both of these things are simply my Thing.  My challenge.  My opportunity.  Other people have other Things.

As a Christian, what I hope people will hear the WOW in my storythe thing is that God is healing me! Yes, that is what I said.  That is what I believe.  There’s a psychological aspect to getting past/through/beyond these things, of course.  Doctors have played an important part.  Medication.  Finding balance.   But it came down to believing this simple statement:

You are the one Jesus loves.

My father sent me a postcard with this written on it, when I had the first episode of major depression eight years ago.  It was framed when I got it and clearly very important to him.  He had taken it right off his desk, stuck it in a padded envelope, wrote on a post-it that he loved me, and mailed it off to me.  The glass didn’t survive the journey, but the postcard did.  And over the years that statement has stayed with me.

When I read that day that “You are the one Jesus loves” I recoiled.  My stomach lurched.  Because, at that time in my life, I did not believe in the claims of Jesus I don’t think. I believed in the historical figure and in most of what the Bible said.  But, as for Jesus, the human and the son of God, who gave up life in a gruesome way FOR ME, well, I did not believe it.  I never believed I was loved growing up.  Not by God, not by my parents.  And definitely I hated myself.

So the healing that came in discovering how much Jesus actually loved me, well … as you can imagine that changed me.  Changed my life.  Changed my belief system.  Changed how I interacted with and treated others.  Changed my priorities.

I am a different person.

I not only like myself, but today I believe I am loveable.  I guess psychiatrists would say that my “self-esteem” is stronger.  Yay!  It’s true.  No wonder my mood is better.  But in all seriousness, knowing — believing — that Jesus would have given his life for me, and me alone, only me, well, that’s incredible!

[This wasn’t one of those miracles that happened quickly.  It took lot a of Bible study, times of prayer, listening to and working hard with my Shrink, giving up shit (drinking, smoking, being mean to people, compulsive spending, obsessive self-centeredness, … still working on perfectionism and a lot of other things.)

What I mean to say is this process took years. Deep times in the word of God (ie. Bible).  Time with friends in long conversations.  Opening my heart to love from others – especially Tom.]

So, no I am not ashamed of my ills, damn it! (Yeah, Tom thinks I should give up cussing for Jesus too.  It’s the last cheap drug to go aside from caffeine.)

You see, all of these thing they are a “weakness” of a sort that humble me and help me stay connected to the true source of everything.  And for that, I am oh — so — grateful!