Locked Doors

The fact that I suddenly had an unexpected, very tearful breakdown, was evidence that there was still much work to be done.  It was clear that the pains from my past were still much bigger than I thought.

I had truly believed that I’d put my past behind me, and I was much better for it.  I was growing in my faith and in my relationship with God, and I was learning about my true identity.  It’s been a very long road, and I knew it wasn’t over yet, but as I embarked on a 21-day Daniel Fast with the start of the new year, God was revealing to me that I was going to have to unlock some doors that have since grown covered in cobwebs due to lack of use.

As I began the 21-day journey, my prayer was to simply grow closer to God.  I wanted to hear from Him as clearly as my Pastor had on the day God told him to take a tuna sandwich to a stranger around the corner.  I wanted to hear from Him as clearly as my Pastor’s wife had on the day she ended up in the ER with a broken finger because God wanted her to stop, not one, but two people there from ending their lives.  God knew the horrible thing they had each been contemplating, and He sent His faithful servant to tell them that their lives mattered.

Of course, God knew the long-time desire of my heart was to be freed from this issue I’ve always had with food, but I purposely did not want to make that the sole focus of my fast this time. 

It was evident that God was with me on each of those 21 days in those quiet moments, because He had been revealing His presence to me time and again, day after day.  He was speaking to me in ways that were so clear, there was no room for doubt!  I spent some time every day journaling about my journey and about the things God had been revealing to me, and I have decided to share this journey with you in a very transparent way.  I would like to share bits and pieces of my journal entries with you, because it’s much easier than trying to explain the way God was making His presence known to me.

About a week into the 21 days, I had already begun looking for the next bible study I would do after the completion of my fast.  I knew it would take me a good week or two to decide, because I would agonize over my choice- wanting to be sure I was making the right one.  I would pour over book descriptions and customer reviews for days on end, praying that God would reveal His choice for me.  It was odd this time, though, as I came across a study called “The Missing Commandment: Love Yourself.”  Without even reading the back cover, I placed the title into my shopping cart and made the purchase.  I never really gave it another thought after that, and then continued to peruse other titles that might pertain to me.

When my package arrived several days later, I placed the study guide on my shelf, intending to “get to it later” because I had still been searching for the title that God wanted me to do next.  Then Day 18 happened.

I was journaling about a conversation I had with my Daniel Fast accountability partner.  I told her about the three new bible study titles I had been kicking around; one was about living to your fullest potential, one was about personal growth, and one was about the power of daily affirmations.  I was excited to hear her response and thought that if one of them sounded interesting to her, we might be able to do it together.  I was a bit taken aback when her reply was, “Hmm, why do you always feel like you can be better?  You are already an amazing wife, mother, and friend.”

Wow.  It had never occurred to me how obsessed I was with “being better.”  I began to jot down my thoughts in a written prayer.  “Am I trying too hard, Lord?  Is it that old lie of never being enough that keeps me striving for perfection and then berating myself when I miss the mark?  I thought I was past all that.  Why can’t I get free from it?  Will I ever be satisfied with just being me?”  Cue the unexpected, tearful breakdown.

Friends, when I started this blog, I made it no secret that I did not have all the answers, and that we would be “learning together.”  This is a perfect example of that truth.  I really did believe I had overcome my past hurts.  I really did believe I had moved on.  And I have; I have made strides in my healing over the years.  I have forgiven and forgotten, and I have risen above my past hurts by doing a lot of learning about my true identity in Christ.  Unfortunately, some of the pain and negative behaviors are still there, and it’s going to take a little more work before they are no longer an issue.

I continued my journaling after I dried my tears and regained my composure: “I see now that the Love Yourself bible study I impulsively bought over a week ago was no accident.  While I was still browsing other titles, Lord, You kept bringing this to my mind, and now I know why.”  I finished writing out my heartfelt prayer with a renewed sense of hope.    

I made a new commitment to depend even more on Jesus as I prepared to delve deeper.  My bookshelves are covered in bible study materials about health, addiction, a desire for God, battles of the mind, bondage and freedom, and so on and so on.  Never once have I ever entertained the thought of doing a bible study about loving myself.  I had finally gotten the memo, and it was settled!  I had made my decision about what bible study was “on deck” after my Daniel Fast was over.  Then Day 21 happened.

As I was journaling in response to Day Twenty-One’s reading, I reflected on that past Sunday’s church service.  I had an incredible moment at the alter that day, and I had been wanting to share with Greg everything that God had been speaking to me over the last three weeks during my fast.

Although my husband loves the Lord and is ever grateful for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us, his relationship with the Lord has a different dynamic than my relationship with the Lord.  Although Greg spends his own personal time with God on a regular basis, he rarely has time to “go deep” with God like I desire to do for my own walk with Him.  I wanted to share this part of myself with Greg, but “spiritual” conversations with my husband never really come easy for me; I often feel like he wouldn’t understand.  Greg’s faith and trust aren’t quite, for lack of better terms, on the same “level” as mine, and if I’m being completely honest, I sometimes wondered if it was possible for a husband and wife to grow apart in that area while they are thriving everywhere else.

I decided I needed to talk to Greg about how I was feeling, and while this blog post isn’t about dissecting my husband’s relationship with God, I share this very personal conversation with you because it’s very relevant to what happened next.

When I told Greg that God was supposed to be first in his life, then his spouse, then his children, he said something I never expected.  He looked me dead in the eye and confessed, “Well if that’s true, then I’m in the wrong, because the idea of making you ‘number two’ behind anyone or anything is a foreign concept to me.”

I didn’t know how to react to that statement in the moment, though my gut instinct was to crumble into his arms.  I sat in silence for a minute, because I could tell there was something else he wanted to say.  He was fighting the urge but finally gave in when he realized this conversation wasn’t over.  “When you talk about this stuff,” he began, “it makes me…”  he paused there.  I patiently waited for him to voice what he was apparently afraid to put out into the universe.  Then these words came out of his mouth, “Whenever you start talking like this, I’m afraid you’re going to leave me because you think we’re incompatible or something.”

Oh my.  For a split second, I was speechless, then logic kicked in and made me respond with, “Well that will never happen.  I can’t even imagine my life without you.”  When my own words went out into the universe, my floodgates opened.  Something deep inside of him made him worry I might leave him?  I didn’t even know how to process that.  I was always the one who was afraid of people leaving me.  I had never been ‘number one’ in anyone’s life until now.

I wrapped my arms around Greg and curled up into his chest as I reflected on how blessed I truly was to have him as my life partner.  God knew exactly what He was doing, and suddenly I was overflowing with gratitude….

And chastising myself for being so picky.  God brought me a true, blue knight in shining armor, but leave it to me to focus on the flaws.  Wait, back up, there I go again.  Chastising.  “Rebuking or severely reprimanding.”  Well that negative behavior of beating myself up had reared its ugly head once again.

Perhaps the real question, though, is, “Why did I reprimand myself for bringing up a legitimate concern?”  Was I truly being picky, or was I just trying to have an adult conversation about something that was troubling me?  And why did I feel that doing so was not okay?  Did I feel I didn’t deserve to have my concerns addressed because Greg is so good to me?  Of course I did!  And I felt that way because a part of me still believes I’m not worthy.

I’ve spent several years- more than I can count- learning how to reverse these negative behaviors and learning how to dispel the lies of the enemy, but here I am, still learning.  Evidence of my spiritual growth, though, is that I’m starting to recognize it now.  I am learning to hold those thoughts captive as soon as they come, and I’m learning how to make a conscious effort to combat Satan’s lies with God’s truths.

I returned to my journal a little later, recounting the conversation and documenting my feelings and revelations.  I realized that God must think I’m ready to go back “there” again.  He is ready to use His master key on some of those old, locked doors.

I often talk about baby steps when I’m writing for my blog, and I want to take a moment here to remind you that God is constantly working in and through us now, and He will continue to do so until Christ’s return.  During the many years I’ve been working on my Christian research about facing and overcoming past trauma, trials and tribulations, I learned that if God were to give us everything all at once, we would never be able to handle it.  I believe it is by God’s design that He works on us in baby steps.  In John 15:2, we are told, “He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” (NLT)

According to Harmony Gardens Landscaping, “Pruning is the cutting away of unwanted parts of a plant for more fruitful growth and shaping.  You should prune a plant or shrub to remove crossed, damaged or diseased branches which will stress the plant. Pruning also improves air flow through the plant and can encourage better branch distribution which results in a healthier, more vigorous plant that is more disease tolerant.”  Is that relevant to how Christ cares for us, or what?

For us to be able to bear good fruit, we need to cut off the “diseased branches” that produce anything opposite of what Galatians 5 teaches us about the Fruits of the Spirit.  And just like a growing tree, it takes times to grow into what God has designed us to be.  Sometimes it will take some pruning and cutting to get there, and that means there will likely be seasons of pain or difficulty.  But consider this truth: “…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character, and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 (NKJV)

That being said, I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  While this may be comforting in times of suffering, it’s not entirely true.  (Don’t shoot the messenger!)  If you reference 1 Corinthians 10:13, you will see that Paul was specifically referring to temptation when he said that, not trials and tribulations. 

Here is what God does promise us through His pruning process, however:

  • Strength– “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)
  • Courage– “And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.”  Deuteronomy 31:8-9 (NKJV)
  • Comfort– “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  Psalms 23:4 (NKJV)
  • Wisdom- “For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”  Proverbs 2:6 (NKJV)
  • Peace- “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33 (NIV)
  • Freedom- “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 (NIV)
  • Hope- “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Sharing my journey with you is not meant to make you feel like you’ll never get to the light at the end of the tunnel.  My purpose is to encourage and inspire you.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that, although it might not seem like it right now, something good can, and will, come from whatever it is that the devil used to harm you.  God promises to use our pain for good.  In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (NLT) What a great example of faith and servanthood!

In a nutshell, God helps us to help others.  When we share our stories with the people who need to hear them, we are doing our part to further God’s kingdom by offering hope.  Christ is hope, and that is what my blog is all about.  Letting you know that God is about to do some more “pruning” within me is not meant to discourage you.  My intention is not to diminish your hope, but to ignite it!

We were never promised that our lives would be easy once we’ve turned them over to Jesus, but we are encouraged to stay the course and walk in faith.  Just like a business owner can’t open shop until he gets the loan, and the doctor can’t perform surgery until she gets the education, we can’t bless others until we get an understanding that this isn’t about us.  And don’t think that you have to have it all figured out before you can help others, because that’s just another lie from the pit.  Although we learn our life lessons in baby steps, we can still use what we learned to make a difference in the life of another.

I want to take a moment to thank you for walking through this journey with me, and I want to encourage you to “stay the course!”  God isn’t finished with us yet, so when you feel like you can no longer walk by sight, walk by faith!  He promises that He has a plan for each one of us.  That is the truth I hold onto whenever I begin to feel anxious or discouraged.

*What about you?  What are some of your favorite truths that get you through times of pain, doubt, or fear?  Share them below, because they just might help me out, too!

Attitude of Gratitude

With this being the week of Thanksgiving, it is only natural for us to think about the things for which we are thankful.  Of course, we will always be thankful for our family, friends, etc.  I love when our family sits around the table and takes turns announcing what we are thankful for- trying not to repeat everyone else’s answer!  But in addition to those awesome blessings, I like to think about the things that make me grateful unto God that are a little less obvious.  If there were nothing else, the sacrifice on Calvary would be enough for me.  If there weren’t one other thing I could think of, God sending His only Son to die on my behalf would be more than enough.  Oh, but there is so much more…

Sadly, many people focus on the negative.  For some, they only turn to God when they need something, instead of thanking Him every day for the “little things.”  For others, they might wonder why God allows so much suffering in the world.  Some people don’t even believe that God exists!  But let me assure you… there not only is a God, but He is alive, and He cares about His children- big and small.  The fact remains that there is evil in this world; it’s just that simple.  We have a real enemy who will stop at nothing to steal, kill, and destroy.  God doesn’t “make” bad things happen.  The truth is that God gives us free will to make decisions- good or bad, and the devil will use that free will to lead people into making bad choices.  Unfortunately, those bad choices, more often than not, affect others.

Why such negativity at a time of year when we should be filled with happiness, peace, and gratitude?  Because thinking of how God spared me from far worse fates during those times when evil was wreaking havoc in my life makes me want to jump for joy!  My story is a little different from others who have suffered such great trauma and tragedy in their lives.  For me, it was never about how God “let me down” or “wasn’t there for me.”  I was never, not once, angry with God because of the things that happened to me in my childhood.  In fact, I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t angry with God!  I didn’t realize it then, but God had my fragile heart in the palm of His hand from Day One, and He knew I was going to need Him.

For starters, there is the fact that I suffered with Dissociative Amnesia for a number of years- I still do.  I just could not remember any sexual abuse or trauma, and when I started to realize I “fit the bill” for such events, I was obsessed with trying to remember every sordid detail.  I didn’t want to remember the details in order to dwell in the abuse, but I realized that remembering details was more like my way of feeling validated.  Like, somehow if I remembered the actual events themselves, I wouldn’t be “crazy.”  I was one of those who thought, “something like that could never have happened to me.”  It absolutely tormented me.

I was not a survivor who remembered mental pictures, but rather, I remembered sounds, smells, circumstances.  My therapist made me realize that maybe I didn’t have “visual” memories because I could have had my eyes closed the whole time.  I had never given that a thought.  I had been in and out of therapy for over ten years putting all the pieces together, and when I finally found out what had happened to me, I was shocked and horrified, but all of a sudden, things about me and my life finally started to make sense.

I was attending an intense spiritual retreat in 2009 when the Lord finally delivered me from the heavy oppression I had been living with every day.  If you can imagine a fifteen-year-old boy having full-blown sexual relations with an 8-year-old little girl, that was me.  After much calculating and deducing, I learned that it started around the time I was just five years old, and he was twelve.  I was going through this assault and violation repeatedly for at least three years; no wonder I couldn’t remember anything!  And why would I want to?

I no longer needed those visual memories to feel validated.  God knew the truth, and that’s all that mattered.  I finally gave that part of myself up to God at that retreat, and I felt lighter than air!  I couldn’t even walk back to my room that night without help, and it is an experience I will cherish as long as I live.  God protected me from those visual memories because He didn’t want me to have to relive it all, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

There are more instances like this than I can count.  Instances of God’s protection have been evident in my life all along, and although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I can look back over my life and see where He was in every moment.  Not only did God protect my heart and mind while I was the target of someone else’s bad choices, but He gave me a supernatural ability to forgive.  In my Psychology studies, I learned that it was my perpetrator’s way of feeling in control.  God gave me the supernatural understanding that he was only doing to me what others were doing to him.  God also freed me from the burden of unforgiveness, so He could protect me from living a life filled with anger and bitterness.

When Greg and I first got together, I went to a hypnotist because I so desperately wanted to remember what exactly had happened to me to make me the way I was- neurotic, insecure, and depressed.  Back then, I was overwhelmed with the need to have some kind of proof that there was a reason behind my emotions and negative behaviors.  We weren’t Christians then, and I didn’t know that being hypnotized was a big no-no!  But God was with me even then- years after the trauma- in more than one way. 

I was having a great deal of trouble going “under,” and I wasn’t sure what was hindering the process.  I wanted it so badly, but I just couldn’t relax.  I know now that God protected me from being subjected to, not only that kind of vulnerability, but also from letting Satan have his way with me.  No matter how long or how hard he tried, the hypnotherapist just couldn’t succeed in getting me to “sleep.”

The icing on the cake?  This was at this man’s personal home, and he had sent Greg to pick up our take-out that we’d ordered.  I was alone with this stranger on his own stomping ground, not even in an office, but on his couch.  Greg didn’t want to leave me there, but I insisted.  I believed that I couldn’t relax enough for the hypnosis to work, because I was embarrassed that this was happening in front of my future husband.  I convinced myself that I was just afraid Greg would learn something about me that I didn’t want him to know.  The bottom line is that the hypnosis failed, and I never tried it again.  Was God with me in that moment or what?

As a teenager, God protected me from being assaulted more times than I can count.  When I was younger, I was often called nasty names because I would let the boys believe one thing about me, but then I wouldn’t live up to their expectations when they wanted to take things too far.  As an older, more promiscuous teen, God protected me from sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.  Even more spectacular is that He went as far as to let me find my one true love early in life.  Greg and I were married by the time I was nineteen, and we are still like newlyweds over twenty-five years later!  I was headed down a slippery slope, and God redirected my path.

God not only redirected my path, but He has blessed me in ways I never could have imagined.  In Jeremiah chapter 30, verse 17, the Lord says, “For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds.” (NKJV)  In Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 3, we learn that, “God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered.” (MSG)  Isaiah, in chapter 61, verse 7, proclaims, “Instead of your shame, you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace, you will rejoice in your inheritance.  And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” (NIV)

There are so many more verses than just these that tell us of the restitution God promises.  I grew up fatherless (at least without a good example of fatherhood) and learning about intimate love in all the wrong places, with all the wrong people.  When God brought Greg into my life all those years ago, little did I know how God was going to pick up all my scattered pieces and restore what I had lost.  Greg is such a loving husband and wonderful father that he ended up being so much more than a double portion!

I don’t want to be misleading here.  I am not trying to pretend there were no repercussions from the trauma; that is far from the truth.  As a young adult, I spent what felt like an eternity dealing with distrust, insecurity issues, paranoia, claustrophobia, and of course, depression and anxiety to name a few.  I exhibited negative behaviors and thought patterns, too, but with God’s help, I was able to be freed from those damaging emotions after a lot of time and hard work.  He was with me every step of the way- before, during, and after.  And He is with me still.  I know that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

After all I’ve mentioned in this post, I must let it be known that these are just a few examples of why I am grateful unto God.  He has done so much more for me than I could ever tell.  From giving me a supernatural understanding that He was not to blame for my past trauma, to giving me daily blessings today, God has continually shown me His faithfulness, provision, and unconditional love.  That is a lot for which to be thankful!

One story I hold near and dear to my heart is of a particularly bad day when I had been struggling, yet again, with poor self-esteem and body image.  Greg has always been faithful in telling me I was beautiful and that he loved me so much, and on this particular day, I had a break down in the bathroom and asked God to show me what people were seeing in me that I didn’t see in myself.

As I was staring intently into the mirror, my reflection suddenly went out of focus.  Right before my eyes, I watched as long, dark wavy hair began to frame my face.  My nose somehow grew slightly pointier, and my eyes became a bright, piercing color I couldn’t quite identify.  Even my skin seemed to darken a bit, and I thought the light had somehow shifted in the room.  It seemed to happen in slow motion, but yet so quickly, too.  I blinked in shock, and everything had gone back to normal just as suddenly as it had changed.  Oh my goodness… Jesus was showing me Himself!  He was telling me that people saw Him when they looked at me!  It was similar to the experiences that, until then, I had only read about.

On another day, I was on my way to a job that I had grown to dread.  It had gotten to the point where my work ethic and willingness to help others was taken for granted, and I had begun to feel taken advantage of more often than not.  I had been praying for God’s direction in making a decision about whether or not to seek employment elsewhere, and I found myself stopped at a red light.  Right in front of me, hovering above my car, was an eagle in flight.  I had rarely even seen an eagle in passing let alone hovering over my vehicle for the duration of the red traffic light!  God was reminding me, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV)

Even in moments that aren’t quite as intense, there are evidences of God’s presence and faithfulness all around if you know where to look for them.  Even if you aren’t consciously looking for them, just being aware of your surroundings will help you see them.  One crisp Autumn morning when I left the house, the car windows were all frosted over- save for one little spot right in my line of sight when I got into my vehicle to start it up and put on the defroster.  There was one little clear spot- in the shape of a perfect heart- singled out amidst a whole windshield of thick frost.  God was sending me a little love note, and I didn’t even have to ask Him for it!

I am grateful unto God for always taking a moment to remind me of His love and of His presence in my life.  Although the earth is His footstool, He is El Roi, the God who sees me.  He sees little old Alicia from a map dot in Pennsylvania, and He cares about me in the big things and in the little things.  He has never let me down, and He never will.  He feels the same way about you, and He wants you to know that He is everywhere, in every moment.  He promises, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” (Jeremiah 29:13)  How thankful I am that God makes Himself so readily available to us!

Have an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving, and take time to remember who God is and what He means to you.  Look back over your life, and challenge yourself to point out those moments when you doubted His presence but now realize He was there all along.  And if you can’t think of one other thing He has ever done for you… remember to lift up a thanksgiving for His sacrifice on Calvary that made you free! 

 

 

Birthday Blues

Balloons    We are now just over a month away from my next birthday.  As the day draws closer, I can feel myself start to fill with sorrow.  Not because I’ll be another year older, which, let’s be honest, is a problem for a lot more people than we realize, but because it is now, and forever, the anniversary of my dad’s passing.  Actually, I could feel the sorrow start to creep in as soon as the weather changed.  I felt it come on full blast when football season started, because it’s now just a blaring reminder that my dad didn’t get to see the Eagles win the Super Bowl.

Honestly, I am well aware that there are several people who will never understand my sadness at such a loss, for he was never really a big part of my life anyway.  If you read my blog post entitled His Princess, it gives a short synopsis of why my dad abandoned me when I was a baby.  To make a long story very short, he had suffered with a debilitating addiction to drugs and alcohol.  However, there is so much more to the story- his story, and mine.

I moved to the mountains of Pennsylvania when I was twelve years old, and as I met new people and made new friends, I began to realize that I didn’t really know a lot about my past.  As my friends and I continued to nurture our growing relationships and learn more about each other, I noticed that the memories I had of my “real dad” were few and far between.

I spent most of my childhood days at my maternal grandmother’s house, and one memory I have of my dad, that is still so prevalent today for some reason, is of the day he showed up to see me while eating a dog bone.  Yes, my dad was eating a big, crunchy Milkbone.  I remember worrying that he wasn’t getting enough food to eat.  There was another time he showed up eating an apple, and I was shocked to see him down the whole thing in a matter of seconds- core and all!

I was always so excited to see him, because it didn’t happen often.  My mother would tell me of times I would be playing in my grandmother’s yard and he would walk right by me.  I would yell for him like a banshee, but he kept on walking as if he never even heard me.  Once in a blue moon he would call me to tell me he was coming to see me.  I would plant myself on the front steps of my grandmother’s porch and never move a muscle.  I wouldn’t go in to use the bathroom, and I certainly wouldn’t go in for dinner.  I wouldn’t budge for fear of missing him.  Needless to say, just because he said he was coming, didn’t necessarily mean he was going to show up.

That’s how my relationship was back then with my dad… a long string of broken promises and missed birthdays.  I never got angry with him, though.  I was always so happy to see him on the rare occasions that he did come around; there was no way I was going to waste precious moments with him by being angry.  I do remember that each time he showed up, he professed his undying love to me and promised that things would be different from there on out.  Although, they never were.

What makes this story even more interesting is that when he wasn’t living on the streets, he was staying with his mom.  My grandmothers’ houses were just around the corner from each other, so when I was old enough to realize that, I spent my afternoons wondering if he was there.  One time I even escaped on my bicycle, hoping I would remember the way to Grandmom’s house and praying that my daddy would be there.  They were both so elated when I knocked on the door that day!  (But when he returned me later that afternoon, my mother and grandparents were NOT so elated that I had done that!)

Truth be told, I didn’t care that I scared the daylights out of them when I disappeared.  I loved my dad; I had him on a pedestal, actually, and I wanted to see him every single chance I could.  I eventually learned the truth about his addiction, but I accepted that things were the way they were back then because he was very sick.

When he got clean later in life, he even found a way to come see me up in the mountains when he could.  He had lost his driver’s license long ago, and he had no car, anyway, so in my eyes, it was no small feat that he found his way to me.  He was so remorseful and admitted there was no excuse for what he had done.  He asked for my forgiveness, but I honestly didn’t think there was anything to forgive.  His actions were dictated by his drug and alcohol abuse, not by a lack of love for me.

From that point forward, we were working hard to rebuild our relationship- to make up for the time we had lost.  So, when I became an adult, Greg and I would hop in the car and take the three-hour drive to go see him in Philly.  He had fought to get clean and stay that way, and he had been living with my grandmother again, helping to take care of her.  She never gave up on him, and neither did I.  And I wanted him to have a different relationship with my children than he had with me.  I wanted him in their lives, so we did what we could to make that happen.  As they grew older, we started to have my dad come and stay with us for a week over Christmas.

Things were finally going so well- too well.  It wasn’t long before my dad’s poor life choices caught up with him.  He had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C first, and later, with Cancer.  I would spend the rest of my time with him just watching him wither away.

As he was nearing the end, I prayed and prayed that he would not pass away on my birthday.  My birthday was on a Saturday that year.  I remember it, because we would have gone down to see him at the nursing home that day had we not already had a college visit with our daughter previously scheduled.  We planned to drive down on Sunday instead… but that Sunday drive never happened.

I clearly remember being in the car on our way to Slippery Rock when I got the call.  My husband got the call, actually.  We both thought it was odd that my aunt would call Greg’s phone instead of mine, but I’m the one that picked up anyway since Greg was driving.  In hindsight, I guess I should have known right away why she would call my husband instead of me.  When I answered Greg’s phone, she sounded shocked at first, like she had dialed the wrong number by mistake.  She clearly said she was trying to reach Greg, but after I explained that he was driving, she said the four words that I will hear every November 21st until I’m gone from this earth.  “Daddy died this morning.”

Um, come again?  That can’t be right.  We were going to go down to see him the very next day.  I had been discussing this moment with God on a daily basis, and He knew full well that I did NOT want Him to take my dad on my birthday.

I spent the rest of the drive in shock, I think.  I don’t really remember much after the phone call.  I tried my best to pay attention to what we were being told at the various sessions we attended during the college visit, but the thing I remember the most is when my aunt called back later to ask me if I wanted my dad cremated or if I wanted to have a viewing.

Everything after that is like a blur.  When I think about that time in my life, I am plagued with the memories of things that happened right before his passing.  When we had gone down to see him the previous week at the nursing home, he wanted to walk us to the door when we left, but I said no.  I could clearly see he was already so tired from the visit, and I didn’t want to wear him out any more than he already was.

That was the last time I saw him.  I am now consumed with the thought of, “If I had said yes, I would’ve had just a few more minutes with him.”  I try to replay the last words I ever spoke to him, and I wonder if there was anything I left out.  Is there anything more I could have said to give him, and well, myself, more peace?

When we went down to see him the weekend before that, I had found that he’d been hiding pain medication in his socks.  I took them away from him because of his past drug history.  I was so afraid he would become addicted again, but who did I think I was?  I had no right to do that to him.  I had no idea what kind of pain with which he had been suffering every day.  I made his fight against cancer that much worse.  Could I have contributed to his death by not only increasing his pain, but also agitating him when I took his pain medication away?

I started writing this blog six days ago.   Usually I can get something written in an hour or so, but this one… this one was giving me trouble.  You see, the purpose of my blog is to educate, edify, and encourage.  I was trying so desperately to figure out how I was going to be encouraging, when I was in such a bad place myself.  Originally, I had planned on simply reminding you all that we’re doing this together- learning life together- and I don’t have all the answers.  But then something happened.

Until now, I had tried comfort myself by believing that it wasn’t God “taking” my dad away on my birthday, but rather, it was my dad hanging on with every ounce of strength he had left, so he could make it to see one more of my birthdays.  Until now, I was plagued with the sorrow that came with the thought of him dying alone in an unfamiliar place.  I hated that he died alone in that nursing home, and I’d been trying to picture what it was like for him to Jesus coming toward him with open arms.  But still… that imagery left me feeling like God took him away from me forever.

I know for a fact that Jesus came and took my dad to paradise, because my father gave his heart to Christ years prior.  I know it was a tremendous struggle for a very long time, though.  Whenever my grandmother or I would try to talk to him about salvation, he would just hang his head and say, “Jesus doesn’t want me.”  I couldn’t imagine anyone feeling so badly about themselves or about their past mistakes that they would believe Jesus wouldn’t want them.  How tragic to know there are still people in the world today who truly believe that.  People who don’t understand God’s nature and His unconditional love and faithfulness.  People who don’t understand the whole reason behind God’s plan to send us Jesus!

I realized later that it wasn’t a matter of God not being able to forgive my dad, but it was a matter of my dad not being able to forgive himself.  He had asked the Lord to forgive him, but he just wasn’t able to accept the forgiveness that God so freely gives.

Finally, FINALLY, after years of prayer and prodding, he was able to forgive himself and accept God’s grace and mercy and sacrifice!  As if that weren’t enough to cause us all to rejoice, my dad was later baptized.  He was baptized at my home church, in fact, just one short month before his death.  He had been up to stay with us for a week, because we had been trying to extend his visits to more than just once yearly at Christmastime.  I was glad he was here, too, because he wasn’t doing well at all, and I truthfully didn’t think he’d be able to make it back up for Christmas that year, anyway.  I was right.

I had finally gotten my dad back, and then, in the blink of an eye, I had to let him go again.  I had spent my childhood crying after his sporadic visits because I never knew when I would see him again.  After his death, I cried because I knew I never would.

I mentioned above that “something happened.”  Something happened to change my perspective about this whole situation.  That something was my daughter and son-in-law who came over one night to watch the 2018 film I Can Only Imagine.  My daughters and I saw it in the theaters when it first came out, and I bought the DVD as soon as it was released.  It was still in its packaging when Brittany and Will came over that night.

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the film adaptation of the story behind Bart Millard, of the band MercyMe, and how he came to write the most-played song in the history of Christian radio.  According to, not only Wikipedia, but also the information given to us in writing at the end of the film, the song I Can Only Imagine has been certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, and as of April, 2018, has sold over 2.5 million copies.

Bart wrote that song for his father, Arthur, who had physically and mentally abused him all his life, but who later found redemption in Christ and became a new man.  Arthur was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and according to the storyline in the movie, had refused treatment.  The film depicts the journey that Bart and Arthur took together as they worked to repair their relationship.  In one of Bart’s journal entries, he wrote, “I finally have the dad I always wanted, and now he’s being taken away.  How is that fair?”  Oh my, how I could relate to that!  And I was tortured by the reality that my dad had overcome a horrific drug addiction just to later be taken by cancer.

When Bart’s Memaw, referring to her son, asked Bart, “Can you imagine what he’s seeing right now,” the seed was planted, and I Can Only Imagine was born.  Until now, whenever I listened to that powerful worship song, I would try to envision what it would be like for me to see Jesus.  What would my heart feel?  Would I dance for Jesus, or would I be still in awe of Him?  Would I sing hallelujah?  Would I be able to speak at all?

Since re-watching the film and reflecting on how closely Bart’s story resembled my own, I began to think of the song differently.  I began to think of my dad’s final moments differently.  Instead of dwelling on the belief that my dad died alone, I started to wonder… what was it like for my dad to see Jesus?  After such a hard life and even harder death, what did his heart feel when Jesus came for him?

I can only imagine… what was it like when Jesus walked by my dad’s side?  What did his eyes see when the face of Jesus was before him?  My dad wasn’t alone; he was surrounded by God’s glory.  Did my dad stand in the presence of Jesus, or did he fall to his knees?  Either way, I can now envision Jesus picking my dad up and wrapping him in His loving arms, taking away his pain, once and for all.  I can envision my dad’s body being whole again- a smile on his face.  I can envision his soul being whole- a smile in his heart.  For the first time since my dad’s passing almost four years ago, I can imagine him, arm in arm with Jesus, smiling at me as if to say, “I’m okay.  I made it, and I’m OK.  It’s time for you to be okay, too.”

It’s time for YOU to be OK, too.  Whether you’re someone who mostly resembles Arthur Millard or my own father- bound by guilt and shame, or you’re someone who mostly resembles Bart and me- suffering with pain and loss, Jesus wants to set you free.  There is no greater joy than the joy that comes when you give your heart to Christ.

When you let Jesus come into those broken places that only He can soothe, a divine healing takes place.  Even writing this blog post was cathartic for me, and it was no accident that the unwrapping of that DVD was carefully planned and calculated by our Father in Heaven.

He knows me better than I know myself, and He knew what I needed when I began to write this post as an outlet for my pain.  The earth is God’s footstool, yet He is El Roi, the God who sees me.  He also sees you.  He loves you, and as the Author of your own redemption story, He wants to take you into His arms and heal those broken places like only He can.  Let Him in, won’t you?  And if you have already given Him your heart, give Him your pain, too.  Just imagine being surrounded by His glory.

To hear the life-changing chart topper, I Can Only Imagine, click here.  To purchase your own copy of this movie that I believe everyone should own, click here.  To learn more about how to give your life to Jesus and let Him heal your heart, please visit my Jesus and You page.  For the first time since my Dad died four years ago, I can truly and wholeheartedly smile with joy and gratitude when I think of my dad’s final moments, and I thank you for taking this journey with me.  God bless.