Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers

What My (Terrible) Father Taught Me About God (& 5 Giveaways!)

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If my father were still alive, I would call him on Father’s Day. I would not lie. I would not thank him for being my father, because I could not do that honestly. But I would send him photos of our Alaska island, our boats, the ocean. He loved the ocean and dreamed his live-long life of sailing around the world. Here, Dad, is the island we live on in the summers, where we fish.


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He never came to visit. Not because I lived in Alaska, but because he had no interest in visiting any of his children and he didn’t.


But I visited him. Finally. After 50 years of caring nothing for a man who cared nothing for me, God rattled my cage of a heart and sent me from Alaska down to Florida to see him. He was in his eighties then and in a nursing home. I couldn’t believe what I found. 

The 4 day visit did not go well.  On the first day, my father, with all of his teeth gone, but his 88 year old face still unwrinkled, proclaimed his atheism again. In halting breathy words he made it clear he still didn’t believe in God. And he thought I was a fool because I did.

I was defensive. I sniped back. I  remembered why I had never liked him. But didn’t I come here to try and love him? I wasn’t doing a very good job.

But slowly, slowly, I began to see beyond my own hurt and dislike. He was so very alone. Did anyone love him? I calmed down, just focused on being with him. Giving him space when he needed it. Helping him eat his dinner in the dining hall. On the last day, knew, after 30 years of absence from his life, I knew I would come again. I wanted someone to love him. More, I wanted him to know about a love so much better than mine---the love of God. Had he seen it in me? If I asked him, he would look at me blankly, I am sure.


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It was time now to leave. I inched toward the exit doors, my heart tight and heavy. A woman sat at a table near the door smiling at me. It was Sally. My father had introduced me to her that first day as she hobbled down the hall, her body twisted with arthritis.

I hesitated, then came over to her table. “Sally, I’ve got to go catch my plane. But I’m so thankful that my father has a friend here. “

“Oh yes,” she smiled back, her eyes on mine.

“Does my father talk to you?”

“He doesn’t say a lot, but yes, we talk.”

“What do you talk about?”

“Your father and I and Bill, we meet out back in the smoking shed every day. We talk about God. Your father says he doesn’t believe in God, but I’m not so sure.” She lifts her eyebrows and looks wise.

My eyes widen. “You talk about the Lord with my father?” I did not even know she was a believer.

“I sure do,” she says, smiling her beatific smile.

I see Sally and my father out in the smoking shed sharing cigarettes and the gospel.

I grabbed her hands, curled mine over her swollen, curled fingers. ‘You’re the answer to my prayers.”  We talked for five more minutes, then hugged, promised to pray for one another. I walked out, my mind ablaze.

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Are God’s mercies really this vast? Narrow is the gate that leads to heaven, and so shall it always be, but wide are God’s mercies, so much wider and vaster than ever I knew. This was his love for my father. And had I not seen this same love even toward me? 


And this is how it went: Jesus, the hound of heaven, lovingly dogged my father’s heels all his days, even at the last. 

A loving witness was constantly present with my reclusive, renegade father who had no friends.

I don’t know if my father ever yielded to the God he was unsure of before he breathed his last lung of air.  But I got to go visit him two more times. I got to love him. I got to live out Mercy. I got to see these staggering displays of God’s character and heart. How narrow, yes, is the gate, but how inclusive His invitation, how wide and never-ending are his mercies.


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This Father’s Day, Go and be mercy to any father who needs it.


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Every Father's Day it is my joy to give away 5 Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate. (It tells the rest of my story with my father---which ends so differently than I imagined. It's been translated into 8 languages and by God's great mercies has led to much healing.) 

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How do you enter?

1. Please share this hopeful message with others on social media---and let me know below in your comments that you've done this.

2. Include your email info so I can contact you if you win!

That's it. Friends, a Blessed merciful Father's Day to you all!


Get Out of Your Prison!

It's Spring Break. I should be writing about hummingbirds and daffodils, which are here in abundance these few thousand miles from Kodiak (glory!!). But I'm writing about prison instead. I was there last night. In my semi-sleep. I was remembering something very painful that happened 2 years ago. I was plotting a way to hurt this person back. (What, me? The woman who wrote Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hate and Hurt??  Yes, me. I need to forgive and be forgiven as often as I need my daily bread.) 

But I wasn't there in prison alone. Someone else was there with me. Just before I left Kodiak, someone sent me a message----secretly. Anonymously. A passage highlighted from a text. Who? Why? I pondered it for awhile. And then I knew.    

I knew who sent it. I’ll call her Debra. I know Debra’s story. And, strangely, Debra has sent this to me not about my own sin this time, though God knows there is plenty to choose from. (She has let me know about these as well.) But this time someone else’s mistakes and sins. Debra hopes I can pressure a friend we hold in common, I’ll call her Sheila, to confess her wrong-doings against Debra, so Debra can be healed and move on. This is not Debra’s first attempt to extract a confession from Sheila, through me.

I write this now to her and to all of us who are stuck sending desperate notes and jabs anonymously from an underground prison. Because most of us have been there---or are there now. In one form or another----we are there waiting. Waiting for those who beat us, who tricked us, who yelled at us, who spilled their human failings upon us . . . we are waiting for them to come forward out of the shadows of the past,
waiting for them to fall to their knees in sorrowful confession for what they have done.  Ah, the sweetness of that moment! To see them humbled! To be vindicated! Who doesn't want that?

And while we are waiting, we are not standing still, of course!  We’re  working very hard at hiding. We’re nursing our hurts and bruises. We’re busy making poor decisions in other areas of our lives. We huddle there in that cell …..  "safe." 

But what happens there, in that safe place of memory, where we can relive the bruising and gashing as long and as often as we want? The worst thing possible. We switch places. We become the torturers exacting our own sad form of "justice" from our offender. 

And---we're going to keep at it until that person comes back and apologizes, confessing her crimes against us. If she would just do that, then look who I could be!! Look who she's keeping me from becoming!!

I could be this lovely Christian who forgives as she has been forgiven.

I could move on with my life.

I could be whole and happy again.

I could love God again.

I could be myself again.

You can be fully yourself now. You can be more than yourself by forgiving. Instead, you're holding yourself hostage, pinning all your hopes and your life to come on a person so much more broken than you are. On a person who has herself borne other’s anger and failures.

Dear Friend. Listen. For God’s sake and all of our sake’s, pry your hand open and look what is already there in your hand. Look. Yes, it’s a key.  You’ve held it in your hand from the very start of all this.

That key was given to you the moment you found Christ and he set you free from your sin-bent heart, when he freed you from your selfishness and wont to use and hurt others. Just as he did for me. For all of us. We are all the same this way.

We once walked out of those barred walls, rejoicing. But we’ve crept back in, under our own power. And locked the door behind us. And wailed in our misery, “Let me out!”

I cannot say it any plainer.  Let yourself out of the prison you have built.

The prison is real. Ravensbruck was a real prison as well, a Nazi concentration camp for women, where 92,000 died . . .  A prayer was found here in the clothing of a child's body, 

"O Lord, remember not only 
the men and woman of good will, 
but also those of ill will. 
But do not remember all of the suffering 
they have inflicted upon us:
Instead remember the fruits we have borne
 because of this suffering—
our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, 
our humility, our courage, our generosity,
 the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble.

When our persecutors come to be judged by you, 
let all of these fruits that we have borne 
be their forgiveness."

I don't know if I could ever be like Christ enough to pray this prayer. But I can write these words:  Through Christ, 
we’ve been given all that we need to be whole people, people of peace, a forgiving people who won’t allow others’ sins to crush or smother us or imprison us.

This morning, when I woke up from whatever kind of sleep that was, because of Christ, I forgave him again, this man who so grieved me two years ago. I opened his cell door---and mine. And I thought of Debra, prayed that she too could open that door . . .

Dear Debra, I pray this for you. 
Dear Readers, I pray this for you. 
Dear me, I need this too. 

Walk on out of those bars and walls. 
Do you feel the wind on your cheek, 
the sun in your eyes, 
the love of God in your heart? 

Do you know how much he has forgiven you?

Do you see how sad and beautiful your offender is now?

*Would you help me help others out of prison?I will send a book to any bloggers who repost this on their blog. Email me here to let me know: or FB me with the link. 

Kodiak's Wrecked Beach, How to Carry the Wreckage + Giveaways!

     When this new year began, we went to our favorite beach on Kodiak Island. It was a rare calm day after a series of massive storms and deluges (3 inches of rain in a single day last week, followed by more and more, and an unrelenting wind . . . )

This gorgeous beach, an hour out of town, always has surf, always has something to say even when the wind is silent. And this day it did. Small waves of argument, enough to ride two surfing women.  

And it offered as well a beach full of wreckage. I had not seen this beach both so beautified and so littered before. 

Sea sponges, pulled from their habitat in astonishing numbers . ...

An alphabet of colors and shapes and sizes of once living things  . . . 

Beautiful, haunting, even devastating. Much of it no longer living, some still dying, marooned on the sand. In all ways, though, living, dying or dead, the colors still steal the sun's light . ..

And not all is beauty . ..

Among it all, the sea cast up questions. Creatures I do not know, that I have not seen often, and never this many before . ..

   (Alert readers have tentatively identified these as species of tunicates.) 

 The year is new and young. I am full of hope and plans and there is so much to celebrate. But, this week I have also felt like that beach. 
    The past so often intrudes upon us. In a moment, something flashes and we're back. We're back among the slights and meanness and persecutions we've known in one form or another. Some for many years. Some live in the midst of sexism and prejudice. Some have come through poverty and racism. Some of you have lived in houses of addiction, in other places where the mentally ill controlled your life. 

              There it is. The injustices and inequities we all have borne litter our beach. The year is new, but storms have ripped the past from their root and washed it all ashore again. 

How do we rejoice in a new year when the past is still with us? What do we do with all that detritus? If we are the surviving kind, we find a way to gather up all that junk and we just keep moving. But the weight encumbers.  We feel as though we are dragging the wreckage of a whole beach behind us.

It takes a whole book to say all I want to say on this (and some of you have read it here  already )

And there's nothing I can tell you that will make it all disappear. But I know how to make the load lighter. 

You know that everyone's beach has at least one wreck on it, yes?  We don't get to live through a life, let alone a year without some waves, some uprooting, some wash-ups, a cluttered line marking the high tides.  Yes you are utterly special and unique and your pain is unique but we all carry the pains of our shared humanness and selfishness.

But you know that. 

Just two more things---and we already do them when we walk a beach: Look at what you find and name it. This is our beach walking habit already. But it's not always a life habit. I know some who will not look at the flotsam in their life, who will deny it, erase it, pretend their beach is clean. 

Who wants to walk an empty beach?

No one's beach is clean. You'll waste what's come ashore without looking, holding, listening, naming . ..

                                      (fin whale skeleton)

                                    (Giant acorn barnacle)

One more. Do not pity this scavenging woman. I am her. All of us who live out on distant beaches collecting all we find are her. (The foundation of our house at Harvester Island is built from logs that drifted to shore.)  She is collecting what has drifted to shore to strengthen and beautify her own door. She will build and rebuild with what has come to her beach. As we do. As we all must do. 

                                                                                (My sons' driftwood fort)

Listen. What looks like wreckage in your life still has value. Don't discard it. Use it. Find the good in it. Build your house and life stronger with it. That's why it's been delivered to you. 

"We wear memories in our faces, in the whorls and folds of our brains; we bear scars and burns on our bodies.  Even when we desire to give up the memories that have formed us and even haunt us – we cannot.  Nor should we.  Patricia Hampl urges us to remember because, “we do not … simply have experience; we are entrusted with it.  We must do something – make something – with them . . ."  (Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers)

How do we do this? Start toward forgiveness. 

If you don't know how (and who does?), consider the book, which walks us through forgiveness of anyone who has hurt us.

(I cannot tell you how many have written to share the freedom and joy they've found through forgiveness . . ..)

I'm giving 5 of these away in the next few days. (I'd like to give you ALL a book---but until my ship comes in--and doesn't wreck on the beach!---I can only do 5!) 

  If you'll share this post on Facebook and anywhere else you can, let me know, and I'll enter your name in the drawing. 

I'm hoping and praying MANY can start the new year---bringing beauty out of wreckage.


A Tale of Two Fathers: The End of Hate

(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 together.

            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 bed. 
“How did you find out?”
“I talked to Dad on the phone today.”
“You’re talking to Dad?”
“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’ve forgiven him.”
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 atheist.


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 words.
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?
            And 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.  


These attentions 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.  

             But 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 received.                   
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 me.       

And I did. But this is no fairy tale. Forgiving my father’s debts did not turn out exactly as I hoped. 
 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)