On the way to the airport the day I left for Colorado I did something I’d only done once before in six years: I visited my dad’s grave.
I remember telling my mom six years prior, the week after my dad’s death, that the only reason I would ever go to his grave would be to pour gasoline on it, light the grass on fire, and pray to God he could feel the searing pain of the flames… the kind of pain I was feeling. The kind of pain my mom and my brothers were feeling.
Maybe that shocks some of you. Maybe that doesn’t sound very Christian. But then again, when you’re reeling from trauma and bleeding emotional wounds, and your entire life seems to have fallen into a thousand broken shards that graze your skin and slice through the tender most parts of your heart, sometimes you don’t act very Christian.
A Legacy of Brokenness
For years I blamed my dad for my scars. I blamed him for all my damaged pieces. I blamed him for the gaping holes in my heart; the bitter longings for a father that would never be satisfied. And when he left us; when he committed suicide after a life-long struggle with addiction, depression, and abusive anger, I blamed him for my lost future.
I remember telling friends it seemed as if my dad had played Russian roulette with my future—with all of our futures. We were down to our last thousand dollars the week after his funeral. We were drained of our finances, and had bills to pay. We had no idea what would happen next and we feared the worst.
This Thing Called Grief
I will never say suicide is the worst kind of grief. But I will say it is a different sort of grief. There are so many emotions, including some that aren’t pretty; the kind people feel uncomfortable talking about in Christian circles. Like bitterness. And apathy. And furious, boiling anger.
For years I told myself, “If only my dad hadn’t done what he did, I wouldn’t be such a mess….” If only he hadn’t told me years ago he wished I’d never been born, maybe I wouldn’t struggle with so much self-loathing or be stuck with so many unhealthy emotional coping mechanisms.
If only he hadn’t chosen vices like alcohol and illegally obtained prescription drugs—things that made him act like a monster and hurt his family so much, maybe I wouldn’t have all this baggage.
If only he hadn’t told us day after day that he “could’ve been successful” if only he didn’t have to provide for us. If only he hadn’t made having a wife and kids seem like such a torturous burden maybe I wouldn’t have so many issues with relationships and family and the idea of motherhood… maybe I could actually want to be a mother.
If only he hadn’t been so volatile and unpredictable, maybe I wouldn’t have this innate, protective, reaction to turn off my emotions when I’m around people. Maybe I could feel more what others seem to be able to feel so easily.
If only… if only… if only… and with every “if only” my heart grieved and agonized. Each time I said those words it made me feel more damaged and hopeless than before.
There were days I tried to love; to forgive… but most days I screamed till my lungs burned at a dead man who couldn’t do a thing to fix my broken, damaged heart.
At His Grave
Fast forward years later and I stood at his grave. My bags were packed. I was doing something the old me never would’ve dared to do, and was setting out on what would become a life-changing adventure. But there was something I needed to do first…
I stood in front of his grave with a crumpled piece of paper in my hand that I laid on the cold flat stone. On it I had penned the words God had led my hand to write: “I forgive you.”
I’d crumpled the paper first; distorting its shape and bending its edges because I wanted whoever might see it to know that it wasn’t an easy thing to write… because forgiveness isn’t easy.
It’s not crisp and clean and neat and simple. It’s a long, hard, difficult, gut-wrenching, soul-tearing, bondage-breaking journey; and it requires the power and love of God Himself.
The Healing Journey
You see during those bitter years of thrashing my way through the healing cycle, God did an incredible work in me. Not only did He weep with me and grieve with me over the pain and hurt I’d experienced, but He fought for me against the lies; against the enemy who wanted to poison my mind and destroy me. He tore apart the lies that had wound their sharp tendrils around my heart like a vine of thorns. He taught me what identity meant and who I was in Him because of His love, and how that love could change my life.
He disintegrated my own self-destructive cycles with the healing power of His love. He freed me from the bondage of my own mind with His truth. He showed me the power of His grace, and as that happened, my life was forever changed.
I went from a girl who wallowed in dark emotions almost every night, to a girl who found herself pulling over on the side of the road, getting out of the car and falling to her knees in sobs because the joy of the love of God, and the realization of His grace, was too overwhelming to grasp.
He gave me a new hope, a new future, and a new way of living. He showed me that nothing is impossible for one who seeks and follows the Lord. That no one who “trusts in [Him] will ever be disgraced” (Psalm 25:3, NLT).
He showed me that what the enemy intends for evil, He can use for good. He takes even the painful consequences from people’s sins, and open doors, and creates dry paths through the sea. Paths to restoration. Paths to healing. Paths to good things. He restores. He transforms. He redeems.
A Reason to Hope
He showed me there is always hope. Teeming, bursting, brimming, inexhaustible storehouses of hope because of His name. He showed me that He is the God of the impossible. That he is real, and alive, and active, and He longs to be intimately involved in every believer’s life, and because of that we have nothing to fear.
He taught me that He completes me. That He restores everything the enemy steals. That He breathes life where there was death and gives beauty in the place of ashes. He taught me that because of Jesus Christ, I have victory over every trial, every difficulty, every obstacle.
I mentioned earlier in this post that I had been to his grave once before. It was in the midst of the deepest, darkest depression I’d ever experienced. That day I stood at his grave and asked God with a heart too numb for tears, “Why should I believe I won’t end up right here, just like him?”
And as my heart feared there would be no answer, He replied in a still, small voice, “Because this broken man in the ground is not your father. I am. The legacy of brokenness has been swept away. In Me you have a legacy of victory and freedom. Because of My Son Jesus, you have become My child, and as such, you have been given power–the very power that raised my Son from the dead–to choose a better way of life; to choose Me.”
That day spawned a journey of choosing God. Of choosing life. Of choosing victory in His name. That day began the long process of realizing there are no victims in Jesus Christ. If I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior then I am not a victim anymore. Yes, I may still struggle with the effects of brokenness, but brokenness doesn’t have to win.
There’s a way out. There’s a way to find healing. There’s a way to find restoration for my soul, and His name is Jesus. And the work He does in my heart no one else can do. The places He fills no one else can fill. I am not alone. I am not forsaken. I am not cursed. I have everything I need to break free. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. Sometimes it seems unbearable but there is freedom none the less. And there is joy.
As God used His healing scalpel on my heart with the finesse of a skillful surgeon, I realized I had hope. And that kind of hope no one could ever steal from me. That hope enabled me to forgive. And to forgive again.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean a restored relationship. That requires two willing parties. I will never be able to experience that sort of relationship with my dad. That door has been irreversibly closed. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget what happened—that the memories don’t sometimes sting. Nor does it mean that the hurt is no longer real. Forgiveness means to release a debt. Because there is a very tangible debt owed. Some that can never be repaid by earthly means.
My dad can never go back and give me the father I always wished I had. He cannot repay stolen memories, or repair my damaged psyche. He cannot restore what was broken, or give me what never had the chance to be. But God can. God can restore all those losses and fill all those holes with Himself. With His love. And His love is better than life itself.
My God is the God of the impossible. And He has showed me this time and time again. I used to think I was a victim of whatever circumstances I was dealt. But that is not true. Because with my God, I can ALWAYS overcome. Because of Him I can never be hindered by chance, destroyed by chaos, or ruined forever by another human’s actions. Because of Christ, I can overcome even the most impossible odds.
I used to blame my dad for my brokenness. But even more so I blamed him for what I thought I could never be. Healed. Restored. Redeemed. Those are things I thought could never happen to me.
But I was wrong. God has shown me that healing, and restoration, and redemption, IS possible. I’m still a work in progress but the work God has done in my heart to this day has convinced me of these truths. He has done the impossible in my life. And He will continue to prove Himself faithful.
As I walked up to my dad’s grave a year or so ago with note in hand, there was a bittersweet joy in my heart. Bitter because I mourned the fact that my dad never let God in. He never allowed God’s love to fully penetrate his heart. And because of that, he never tasted the hope he could’ve had in Christ. And my heart was moved with compassion towards him.
The sweetness though came from the realization that I had been set free in so many ways with many more to come in the future. I was doing things my old wounds never would’ve allowed me to do. I was stepping out in faith. I was daring to do the things I never thought my broken damaged heart from years before would ever let me do.
My dad no longer owed me a debt, because God did in my heart what he never could do. He provided for me in ways my earthly father never could. He filled me in ways no human could ever manage to. My dad—my broken, hurting, human dad could never do for me what Christ had done. And that realization set me free.
It cleared away the anger and bitterness. It gave me new eyes filled with compassion. I’d experienced a joy so complete in Christ that no human effort could ever come close. And instead of hating my dad, I found myself wishing with a tender heart that he could’ve experienced these things himself.
My dad had his own scars. He had been hurt. He had been abused. He had been betrayed and broken. And as God led me through my own healing process He gave me eyes to see the obstacles my dad himself faced. Not that he didn’t have the power to choose better. But I can now recognize the weight that made those choices so difficult.
Hours later I would be in a new state. In a new adventure. Doing new things I’d never done before. I was a new person. And that was all because of Christ. He had convinced me body and soul that nothing could ever steal away my future because the hope for my future is found in Him alone. Thus the charges against my dad were dropped. The lies that fueled hatred were defeated by God’s truth. And even though I may still struggle sometimes with the emotions and the after effects, they can never steal my hope. I cannot unsee what I’ve seen. I cannot unknown what I’ve known. And that is, with God, nothing—even the healing of a damaged heart—is impossible.