|Jenny and Forrest|
Today would have been my father's 59th birthday. He died the month before I turned 25.
My dad and I had a... difficult relationship. Without airing too much dirty laundry, I will just say that he was not a good husband to my mother, and he was rarely a good father to me.
There were moments of happiness, probably more than my heart remembers. There were things he and I did together; we worked in his garden, he took me to Razorback games, he taught me how to fish. I think he wanted me to be a boy, or he wanted me to be better than all the boys.
But there were also moments of great pain. He hurt me repeatedly throughout my entire life. It was hard for me to respect him, and it was hard for him to see me as anything other than a junior version of my mom. In fact, it wasn't until the very last time we spoke that he admitted he treated me badly for my whole (albeit short) adult life because he was still angry with my mother.
I spent most of my time after my 15th birthday being angry with my dad and growing in distrust. It wasn't just nasty teenage rebellion, it wasn't typical "Omg I hate my parents they're so lame they like totally don't get me" angst. It was a palpable fear, an experience-based dread.
My dad was manipulative, power-trippy, irrational, and he completely refused to take responsibility for his own actions. In short, he was a textbook example of a functioning alcoholic. For years, I mean, years, I had nightmares that centered around my dad, and it broke my heart and terrified me every time I woke up.
It took me a very long time to begin the grieving process when my dad passed away. I felt like I'd been grieving the loss of my father for years. Even after he died, the nightmares and the tight chest and the anxiety continued. As a one-time wannabe psychologist and an emotionally intelligent person, I fully recognized that I was, in fact, very screwed up in the noggin.
I spent time in daily prayer for months on end asking God to let me let go, all the while knowing I was holding on to dangerous anger.
"Please, God, c'mon, I'm tired of feeling like this."
"Ok, Lord, I'm ready to be done thinking about it all the time."
"No, really, I'd like the nightmares to stop. I want the pain to end. I want to get over it."
Yet, I was still angry. I was still hurt. I was still full of righteous indignation over all the ways I had been wronged.
In April of this year, twenty months after my dad died and exactly two years since the last time I spoke to him (he spent the last four months of his life unconscious in an ICU), I went to our church's annual Women's Ministry Retreat. One of the breakaway small group sessions focused on a single question: "Who do you need to forgive?"
There it was. It was that simple.
My dad died without ever receiving my forgiveness, and without ever asking for it.
Because he had never apologized for the injuries he inflicted upon those around him, I hadn't forgiven him. Because he never admitted he was wrong, I hadn't forgiven him. Because he never told me that I was good enough, I hadn't forgiven him (o hai daddy issues and below sea level self-worth). Because I carried around a heaviness I couldn't shake, I hadn't forgiven him.
And then, sitting on the floor of my church's sanctuary, surrounded by women in silent prayer, in the middle of a quiet moment, forgiveness found me. I did not have to plead, I didn't bargain, I didn't ask another time to be able to forgive... it was just... there. The Peace that Passes Understanding.
(I have to say right now that I am not flippant about saying "The Lord spoke to me." Neither do I take lightly claims of seeing God in a grilled cheese sandwich. I had a beautiful and brilliant friend tell me once that you know it is the Holy Spirit speaking when the words are those that you'd never say on your own. And that? What I felt? Where I was? Was a place I would have never been able to get to by my own willpower or want to.)
I forgave my father. I was at complete peace for the first time in over a decade. No, the memories of the hurtfulness didn't dissipate, but the actual pain was gone. A literal weight fell off my shoulders. I felt no leftover anger. I was a person removed from fear. I was freed.
I had thrown exactly enough rocks.