(Dear Friends, next Tuesday, the 21st, my new book finally releases: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hate and Hurt . A project that has taken me 3 years to write---and a lifetime to live---with much pain and tears along the way---and deep, amazing mercies, above all. Here is a tiny snapshot of what God has done in my life---and a glimpse of what He can do in yours.)
Duncan and I are
alone in the kitchen, sitting at the table, tense. We are having words, the
kind a long-married husband and wife have when they cannot agree. We are not
calling each other names, but we alternate between frustration and anger as our
words trigger painful memories. Somewhere in this exchange, I feel my stomach
and heart soften. I listen closely now
to what Duncan is saying and what he is not saying. I begin to understand how
he feels. I mentally close the door to long past hurts and relax into my chair.
It is not long before we are making tea
Our disagreements don’t
always end so easily, but it happens more these days. We are both becoming our
real selves, the people we want to be, who put on the habit of forgiveness more
often than the robes of bitterness. I have my father to thank. He was a
supremely selfish, damaged man who barely spoke to me throughout my life. But God
had something in store for me through him. It started with a phone call from my
sister a few years ago.
“Leslie, Dad was at the VA hospital last
week. They thought he might have had a
little heart attack. I just found out today.”
My father was in
his mid-eighties by then. In the then twenty-five years since I had left home, I
had seen him three times, but I saw him then, lying helpless in a hospital
“I talked to Dad
on the phone today.”
“Yes. I’ve been
calling him almost every week,” she said, her voice calm and assured.
“Every week? And he talks to you?” I could not hide my
amazement and confusion. I couldn’t believe that out of the six siblings, she was
the one calling him, the one who was consistently abused. We didn’t know it
until decades later. And my father had
no relationship with anyone, as far as we knew. He showed no interest in his
six children, nor did he have any friends.
When all of the kids left home, he moved 2000 miles to Florida to live
on a tiny dilapidated sailboat. I was glad.
I was silent for a
moment, then asked, “Why are you doing this?”
I could not speak,
astounded. His abuse of my sister was enough to justify my anger against him.
But there was so much more. Throughout our childhood, he refused to seek any
employment other than as a traveling salesman. But his detachment and his
inability to fulfill simple tasks cost him job after job, until no one would
hire him. Without an income, we lived in
unrelenting poverty. Once he took the
only money we had left to live on and drove away, leaving us penniless.
“Dad ruined my life, you know?” Lora had said
to me one time. Yes, I knew. We all
knew. I had never even thought to pray for my father, who was an avowed
A few weeks after
this phone call, I was praying the Lord’s prayer, head down, eyes shut tight,
and I hit the middle of the familiar words, “And forgive us our sins as we
forgive those who sin against us.” I stopped as though hearing those words for
the first time. What did I just say? I mouthed the words silently, then ran for
my Bible. What was that phrase doing there? “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”?
How could I have missed that all these years? Was God really attaching, in some
way, his forgiveness to our forgiveness? I could run no further from these
I have always
believed in forgiveness, of course. Isn’t this the heart of the gospel? Don’t I
know that God’s forgiveness of my law-breaking heart brought me this crazy life
of freedom and joy and constant second chances? But---forgive my father?
so began my return to my father’s life. I flew from my home in Alaska to
Florida repeated times to visit. After he suffered a stroke, I pushed him
around the rehab facility in a wheelchair, helped him in and out of bed, took
him on outings in a rented car, sat with him at mealtimes, watching him eat his
baked beans with trembling hands. I
bought clothes for him. Sent him gifts on his birthday and Christmas. My children and I prayed
for him. Constantly.
were difficult and guarded at first. He did
not speak much, as always. He seldom thanked me. He told me repeatedly and defiantly that he
was an atheist. And in the midst of my
care and attention, I could never quite shake the awareness that every act of
kindness I was showing him, he had never shown to me.
I began to see the pain in his life. I saw that few—maybe no one?—loved him and
some had done violence to him. I realized that he likely suffered from schizoid
personality disorder and was incapable of loving me as I hoped or wanted. I
stopped crying for myself and was able to cry for the hurts he himself had
I could not ignore
all the harm my father had done to me and my family; in fact, forgiveness
requires an honest accounting of all that happened. But I was no longer
fragmented by feelings of hate and hurt, nor even the more insidious feelings
of apathy and numbness. I grew into an ever-deepening realization that God’s
forgiveness of me, his release of all my debts against him---uncountable
debts---could heal me to release my father from his much lesser debts against
And I did. But
this is no fairy tale. Forgiving my father’s debts did not turn out exactly as
I hoped that he would
reciprocate my actions; that he would
acknowledge me, thank me and even say he loved me. More, I hoped that my
own forgiveness of him would lead him to seek God’s forgiveness before he died.
None of this happened. Though his heart softened for a time after his stroke,
as he returned to better health, he reaffirmed his unbelief and turned stonily
from any mention of the gospel. Nor did he express concern or love for me, even
on my last visit, when we both knew we would not see each other again.
I cannot lie and
say this doesn’t hurt. But I have found God’s love so empowering, I believe we
are enabled to love and forgive even those who have hurt us and cannot love us
back. Here, then, is an ending I had not foreseen. Forgiveness of my father is
healing the broken and bitter parts of me and bringing me closer to my real
self, the person God desires me to be: whole, not easily offended, full of
mercy, quicker to forgive.
It has taken
me two fathers to truly know this: one who hurt and one who continually heals.
He can do the same for you.
Have you experienced this freedom yet, dear friend? I pray you will. The mercies of God are so much vaster than we can imagine.
Next Tuesday, on the release date, I'll be here again offering some copies to give away. Would you all pray with me that this book will go out into the world waging forgiveness and peace and winning freedom for the captives? Thank you. Thank you.
(The book is wonderfully inexpensive and can be pre-ordered now)