Thursday, April 19, 2012
By The Riverside
Today’s blog feels like it was ripped from the pages of a diary of a mad black woman. In Fatherheart School today, we embraced the subject of heart forgiveness. Now mind you, I’m here as a team member and not a participant and while I readily admit that we’re all on a journey, I didn’t expect my journey today to be one of open-heart surgery. But that’s exactly what it felt like and of course it left me wondering how many other people struggle with similar issues. So, using myself as a guinea pig, I’ll invite you into the pages of my life and share what Father is doing inside.
As a little girl growing up, I was unfortunate enough to witness my dad physically abuse my mom many times. On one such occasion, his sisters joined in his attack trying to prevent my mom from fleeing as she was trying to get in our family car and drive away. One grabbed the door, one grabbed the keys from the ignition, another grabbed my mom’s purse and my dad jumped over them to grab my mom.
Adding to that memory, were plenty more that felt like rejection, emotional distancing and just plain dislike. I never felt welcomed in my paternal grandmother’s home, tolerated out of familial obligation, but not “I’m so excited to see you” welcomed. I felt like the dislike they had for my mom was passed on to me. I never experienced love, acceptance or any type of positive emotion inside my paternal grandmother’s home. To be honest, I don’t have one good memory of times spent there. I looked forward to our annual family reunion when people gathered there from different states. It was the only time I felt safe. The glares were hid discreetly behind the niceties of fellowship with distant relatives.
For years, even into adulthood, I managed my half of the relationship sending pictures of the kids here or there, going to visit for an hour when I came home.
One day, as I sat in my Tennessee home reflecting on my childhood, I wondered if I would be missed if I just stopped going ‘down to the house’, as we called it. No one ever called me. No one ever sent cards or pictures to me. I felt like I was having a one sided relationship with people who could care less if I came around or not. So, I stopped visiting altogether.
But, I carried that rejection, that disapproval in my heart for a very long time. I can’t tell you the number of times, I’ve chosen to forgive or the number of times I’ve repented for judging my paternal family or the number of times I’ve released them from my expectations of what family should be like, literally shredding into thousands of pieces every IOU I held against them.
Someone once said bitterness is when the pain of a memory is as fresh today as it was the day it happened. You know there’s still heart work to be done, when you look at that person and still feel hate, still feel pain, still want to close your heart and run away. Because I had chosen to disconnect myself from my family ties, I never had the opportunity to test the strength of my forgiveness towards my dad’s people. That is, until very recently.
A few months ago, my dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia. That diagnosis, along with other conditions, caused the doctors at the Veteran Hospital to be concerned about his safety as well as the safety of my mother so they chose to hospitalize my dad in the psych ward while looking for bed space for him in a Dementia nursing care facility. One Sunday, while visiting my dad at the VA hospital, his sisters came to visit. It was the first time I had seen them in probably 8 years, maybe more. They walked in. I greeted them with a smile. I felt nothing but love and an overwhelming since of honor that these ladies would love my dad enough to drive 40 minutes to come see him.
I didn’t walk away going, “Yippee!!! I’ve forgiven them!” I didn’t process any emotion or anything. On that day, we all had one thing in common. We loved the man sitting in front of us. The next day, we moved my dad into his new bed space and while we were there, my mom’s phone rang. It was my dad’s mother. She handed me the phone and said your grandmother wants to speak to you. I thought she was referring to her mother. I said hello and then realized the voice that greeted me back was not my maternal grandmother at all. My dad’s mother and I spoke for a few minutes and the conversation took place as if time had stood still and it hadn’t been 8 years since I heard her voice. Even my husband remarked at how well the call had gone.
I felt nothing, no anger, no rejection, no ‘you owe me’, no pain of loss relationship…nothing. Here again, this was a woman with one thing in common with me, we both love the man I was standing in front of: her son, my dad.
Since my dad has been admitted into the nursing home, several things have happened and all those estrogen-laden matriarchal figures want what they think is best for him: my mom, his mom and four sisters. And their opinions most often don’t agree. Because they don’t agree, it doesn’t often come out in the prettiest way towards my mom. Being a few states removed from the scene and my dad no longer able to provide a barrier between “those who love him,” these differences of opinions started bringing to the surface a lot of old memories and negative emotions towards my paternal family.
Insert Fatherheart lesson here: Trevor is teaching on heart forgiveness and he says, “When I forgive from my heart, my heart changes toward that person. With Holy Spirit’s help, I can release that person from my unforgiveness and pour the cup of poison I’ve been drinking down the drain. Circumstances of life are just circumstances of life. Heart forgiveness doesn’t mean the person changes or that the circumstance will change. It means you change.”
As he says this, I write the word HATE in big letters and double underline on my paper. And then I begin a journal rant, “ I hate them. I hate who they are. I hate how they love. I hate their ridicule. I hate how they treat my mom. I hate that they don’t change, won’t change, don’t care. I hate that they don’t see how their behavior, their control damages our family. “
And I realize, this is too much for me. I need to be alone to process this with Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit. So, I opted to skip our community lunch and lunch alone with the Godhead by the riverside. There I sat, food and journal in hand, ready to begin again.
As I open my journal to write, I immediately pen these words, “Father, I don’t hate them. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And then I ask Father, what was all that? I’ve forgiven them.
And He said to me, “ Those feelings are a familiar spirit. Those lies are the voice of the accuser.” The evil one was trying to get me to go back and pick up those negative emotions as if Jesus never took them away. He almost tricked me into believing that they were mine.
Once Holy Spirit highlighted the evil one’s scheme to me, I began to journal again, “Father, I forgive them for being unable to love me like I need to be loved. I forgive them for their lies, for bashing my mom. I forgive them for trying to control everyone’s life. I forgive myself for hating them, for not being able to trust them. From the heart, I forgive them. I am tearing up every I O U and I repent for being critical of them and for judging them. These are Your kids, God. And You love them. Father, give me Your eyes, Your heart for them. Let Your voice, Your words be louder in my spirit than the voice of the accuser. I’ve closed my heart to them. I don’t know how to recapture what is lost. Truthfully, Father, I don’t know if I want to. “ And again that old feeling welled up within me, “I HATE THEM,” I railed.
“No, you don’t, “ He said, “you hate the brokenness. You hate the puppetry. You hate that their eyes are blind. I hate that too. I long for them to know me. I long to be discovered by them. Daughter, just make sure your boundaries aren’t brick walls.”
“I don’t want to be in relationship with them,” I said.
“No one is forcing you to be in relationship with them. Are you safe? Can you be vulnerable? Do you feel valued? Significant? You’re not required to be in relationship with everyone in the world, “ Father said to me.
Then, I had the thought; “Just because you’re born into a family doesn’t make them family.”
To which Father gently replied, “Even though it’s my desire for you to be family. There’s something I’ve placed in you, they need and something in them, you need. Beloved, love always requires a choice. “
“Nah, I don’t want that for myself,” I admitted to God, “I can risk loving but it’s not worth the risk.”
Father God says to me, “Remember Redeeming Love (Redeeming Love is a must read fiction novel by Francine Rivers that retells the biblical account of the book, Hosea)?”
To which I reply, “Yea, but everyone can’t be Hosea.”
Again Father whispers gently on my heart, “ Love always requires a choice. How have I loved you? “
I answer, “While I was yet in sin, Christ died for me. Even when I couldn’t love you back. “
Father says to me, “So why are you requiring something of them they can’t give you?”
I answer, “ I’m not. “
Father again, “And yet you’re withholding love because of that.”
I say to Him, “No, I’m just choosing to not be in relationship. There is no connection.“
And Daddy God says to me, “ There is the blood. Don’t repay evil for evil, my beloved. Overcome evil with good. “
“Hmmm,” I reply, “so what does it look like to manage my love towards them in a way that honors You? How do I re-present You to them?”
Father says, “Are you doing this for Me or you?”
“Oh it would definitely be for you,” I answer truthfully, “I’m not interested in a relationship with them.”
“Why?” Father asks.
To Daddy God, I say, “Because I don’t want to be around them.” That was the nice answer. My heart said, “I can’t stand the sight of them.”
Dad being Dad, who is more for something than against something doesn’t even address my verbal or heart answer. He simply says, “So what can you honor about them?”
To which I reply, “ They love their brother and their mom the best way they know how. I feel nothing for them. I don’t hate them. I don’t have remorse or regret. I don’t even feel numb. It’s as if they are strangers. “
Father says, “Then love them like a stranger. How would you love a stranger?”
I say, “I would speak when spoken to. I might speak or wave or smile.”
And Papa says to me, “My beloved, start with what you can do. I am the God of increase. I can take a meager lunch and feed thousands. I can take what you offer me and exponentially multiply it.
What did I learn today? What am I hoping you will learn by slicing myself open and sharing my insides with you? John 13:34 reads, “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Father always manages His love towards us.
How has the Father loved you? That commandment didn’t say love the people you like as I have loved you or love the people you get along with, as I have loved you. So, the question to me and the question to you, how has the Father loved you?
When you can let go of every expectation of what love in return should look like, you are free to love unconditionally.
So what does honor look like in the midst of dysfunction and toxic relationships? Ask God to give you an honoring thought. If that’s doesn’t come to you, ask yourself, how would you honor a stranger? For me, the answer is easy. When I don’t know someone and I want to honor them, I always ask Father how He sees that person. Then I love them through God’s eyes as I hear what He says about them.
Why is this so easy to do for strangers and sometimes not as easy to do for those we are familiar with? I’m not sure. But I do know that Father hasn’t loved me based on my performance. His love for me is far deeper than what I did do or what I didn’t do. His love for me isn’t based on me getting it right, saying the right things, or even reciprocating love to Him at the right moments. In all of my frailty, in all of my failings, in all of my successes, in all of my confidence, His love never fails. It never gives up on me. So, if I am to love as Father loves, what does that look like?
1 Corinthians 13 is definitely a great place to start. Does this mean for me that I’m running back to my paternal family to reconcile? No, no it doesn’t. It means I’m free to love them right where I am today. Reconciliation takes two. Just as I’ve made no effort to connect, neither have they. No connections = no relationship.
But I am committed to loving them. I am committed to seeing them and honoring them as Father sees them. I am committed to keep no record of wrong, which means I can no longer agree with the evil one every time they do something that reminds of days gone by adding it to my proverbial scorecard of wrong doing. I am committed to suffer long and to be kind. I am committed to not behaving rudely or being provoked. I am committed to NOT thinking evil of my paternal family. I committed to believe and hope that even in this, my relationship with my paternal family, reconciliation and restoration will come. I am committed to boundaries that don’t look like brick walls. Most importantly, I am committed to loving as Father has loved me.
I don’t hate them. I have forgiven from my heart. And today, beside the river, Holy Spirit empowered me with a plan to be more for love and honor than against being betrayed, rejected or hurt.
If you struggle with relational dynamics in your personal, immediate, or extended family, I pray you will grab a hold of the wisdom of Holy Spirit, the love of Father God, and the all sufficient grace that Jesus blood provides for us to love even has you are loved by Father.
I bless your coming in and your going out. I bless you to be bold, be strong, be resolute and confident in whom Daddy God has called you to be. May your face radiate His goodness and your children rise up and call you blessed.
©2012 Felicia Murrell