8.20.2013

Forgiveness and Re-Establishing Relationships

Many of you are aware that my relationship with my dad has been strained for much of my life.
I won't go into the history or a detailed timeline of events here because, even though I am very much an open book and share my heart in this space, I feel that some things are sacred.
Out of respect for my dad and other family members I will not spell everything out for you; however, I will share with you some things that I have learned over the years about extending and receiving forgiveness as well as re-establishing relationships.

I will share some basic information about my relationship, or lack thereof, for background purposes.
My my dad filed for divorce when I was 6 years old and the divorce was final that same year.
We spent every other weekend at our dad's house, which was an hour and a half away from where we lived. 
When I was 10 years old my dad remarried and by the time I was 15 he had 3 more children. 
I am the oldest of 5.
From the age of 14 (8th grade) to the age of 18 (12th grade), there was virtually zero communication with my dad. 
He reached out to me at the end of my senior year of high school (2004) and we re-connected.
Right after I graduated from UGA in 2009, he and his family moved from the suburbs of Atlanta to northern Indiana, which is where my step-mom is from.  
From then until this summer there has been virtually no communication yet again. 
That is the basic synopsis, and as you can surmise, it has been quite a roller coaster over the years. 
During my teenage years when there was no communication, I can distinctly remember laying in my bed at night and praying that God would make my dad reach out to me. 
Those were my adolescent prayers..."make my dad reach out to me."
I'm sure God heard me, but He also knew that I was young and that I had quite a bit to learn about re-establishing relationships.
Thankfully, God hears the prayers of all of his children regardless of age or spiritual maturity. 
Sometimes the simplest and most direct prayers can resonate just as loudly as deep and drawn out prayers.

As I neared the end of high school, my dad did call out of the blue and tell me he wanted to re-establish a relationship. He was polite and told me I could take some time to think about it and get back to him.
I immediately responded that I didn't need more time to think about it and that I wanted a relationship, too.
I mean, I had been praying for this for about 5 years. 

After I met Brandon my spiritual walk really began to change. 
I heard a sermon by Andy Stanley on forgiveness and it is still one of the most powerful messages I've listened to. 
Basically, forgiveness is a cancellation of debt. 
The offender no longer owes you anything-that means an apology, and explanation, repayment, etc. 
It may sound simple enough in those two sentences, but I can assure you that true forgiveness isn't always any easy task. 
Many times we claim that we've forgiven someone, yet we harbor bitter or ill feelings toward that person in our hearts and minds.
That is not what forgiveness looks like. 

Forgiveness looks like a sinner (me and you) at the feet of Jesus repenting of his or her sin and Jesus casting that sin away...as far as the east is from the west and remembering it no more...and still loving us with an unfailing love and pursuing us with fervor.
"So watch yourselves, if a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them."
Luke 17:3
"As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."  
Psalm 103:12
"Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption."
Psalm 130:7

Once I understood the true meaning of forgiveness, my heart softened toward others.
That doesn't mean that I promote or advocate sinful living, it just means that it is so much easier for me to forgive others rather than hold a bitter grudge. 

The last time I saw my dad before he moved away I knew in my heart that it would be a really long time before I saw him again. 
I'll be honest, my heart broke all over again watching his Suburban pull away. 
I had watched the taillights on his vehicle more than any other during my life.
I felt I was always watching him leave, just a tear stained girl in his rear view mirror. 
I was 23 and yet I felt exactly the same way I felt when I was 6 years old and his truck with all of his belongings strapped in the bed pulled away from the home we shared as a family. 
Our home and our hearts became broken and deeply wounded.
"Why, God?"

Life went on and I still felt the sting of the burn of not understanding.
I had made plenty of mistakes in my own life by that point and I was searching for forgiveness of my own sins.
I found forgiveness in August of 2009 for something that I had done and that literally rocked my world.
You Pearl Event readers know all about that. 
I found redemption of my own and it ignited a fire in my heart. 
Everything came full circle in my journey to understanding forgiveness. 

In the spring of the following year I remember listening to another sermon series by Andy Stanley called "Fight Club," which is all about choosing to get in the ring and fight for relationships that have been strained.
One of the messages was delivered by a young lady who had a very strained relationship with her own father, very much like mine. 
In the series there were some points made on the scripture:
"Honor your father and mother--which is the first commandment with a promise--so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."
Ephesians 6:2-4 

Honor your father and mother period. 
There is no comma BUT. 
That can be a hard one to swallow. 
We are to honor our father and mother no matter what. 

Fathers, do not stir up or provoke anger in your children. 
Two wrongs do not make a right. 
Children and parents both have commands from God. 

What prompted re-connecting with my dad this time around?
Conviction.
I felt the Lord stirring my heart and nudging me to reach out to him early in 2013.
Not in a picking up the phone kind of way, but in a show up at his front door and hug him in person kind of way.
I spoke with my sister about it and she had been feeling the same way.

My sister is the only person who really understands how I feel because she was there, too. 
We stood side by side at the ages of 6 and 4 the first time our dad left. 
We rode side by side in the front seat of his truck every other weekend and took turns riding in the middle seat so that we each had a turn to ride beside our dad. 
We stood side by side at the ages of 23 and 21 as he drove away to a new life several states away. 

So we reached out, received confirmation that it would be okay for us to visit, set a date and made the trip.
Was it awkward seeing them and our 3 brothers that we haven't really seen or heard from in 4 years?
Not really. There was a peace. 
A Divine Presence.
I'm so thankful that the Lord prompted me and that I was faithful this time.
There was no hashing out the past or deep conversation, just a simple apology and quality time that was spent talking about the present and the future.
Here are the questions (and my answers) so many people have:

"Why should I forgive him or her for what they did to me/my family?"
Because Christ would forgive them.
Because Christ would forgive you.
Because forgiveness isn't for the other person, it's for you. 
Forgiveness is for your heart health, to heal and prevent bitter roots from growing, and scripture instructs us to guard our hearts.
"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."Proverbs 4:23

"Does forgiveness mean that I have to re-establish a relationship?"
No, it does not.
Not every relationship is worth re-establishing. 
God is a God of seasons. 
Some people are in your life for a short season, some are around for a lifetime.
A healthy relationship occurs between people who have a desire for the relationship-it takes two willing parties.

"How do I know if I should reach out and re-connect with a family member?"
Pray.
Ask God to reveal to you what His desires and will are for the relationship.
As I began to mature spiritually, the prayers of my adolescence were transformed from, "Make _____ want to have a relationship with me..." to 
"Lord, if it is Your will and Your desire, please confirm my desire to re-connect with _________, and work in and prepare both of our hearts for the right time to re-connect. I know Your timing is perfect, and I trust that if it is Your will that You will bring us together again in Your time when our hearts are prepared. If it is not Your will, please remove the desire from my heart to re-connect with ______ and close the door. Open my eyes to the work of the enemy and help me recognize relationships that are not ordained by You and to flee from them. I trust You with every relationship in my life and I want each relationship I have to honor You. "
No one taught me that prayer, I just sort of developed it over time and it became a constant prayer. 
God is faithful, and He will reveal His plans for your relationships in HIS time. 

When I forgave my dad, I felt such a peace as a burden was lifted.
I not only forgave him for everything that has been, but everything that will be. 
He is human, he makes mistakes, and he will more than likely let me down or disappoint me in the future, but I have already forgiven him for those times ahead.
Not only have I forgiven him, I have released him from any expectations I may have had for him as a father. 
Whatever he does for me, whether it's giving me 10 minutes of phone time or sending a card, I count it a blessing and a bonus.
I no longer keep tally marks of all the things he doesn't do, but instead of the things he does do. 

I would love to have had that close daddy-daughter relationship that so many girls and women have, but I don't. 
Instead, I choose to be thankful for the relationships I do have and I trust that God chose the plan for my life for good.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."
Romans 8:28

So, if you are struggling with a strained relationship in your life, my prayer is that the Lord will grant you some peace and comfort. 
My prayer is also that you would completely give yourself and the relationship over to Him by praying the prayer, or something similar,  that I did.
Have enough faith to trust that His answer will be the right answer even if it's not what you thought it would be. 
Even if all the relationships in your life are right, maybe you can now better understand others who are struggling and you can know how to pray for them.
We are ALL broken sinners, so chances are you or someone you know carries a heavy burden of a strained familial relationship.
Perhaps you need to ask forgiveness from the Lord or even a loved one.
It is never too late.
Just keep in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect relationship because no one is perfect. 
Every relationship takes time to develop and grow, but it also takes work to maintain.
Damaged relationships take time for healing.
Ultimately, we need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to be best equipped for  maintaining healthy relationships. 
When God is living in us He lives through us and as a result we are better at extending mercy, grace and forgiveness and loving more abundantly. 

"For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!"  
Romans 5:10

17 comments:

  1. Oh this sounds all too familiar to me! This is a great honest post & beautifully written! thank you for sharing!

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  2. I identify all too well with this post. Unfortunately after much prayer the Lord has shown me that yes, I can forgive but at this time my relationship is not meant to be reconnected. I am so glad for you that it was His will for yours to be!

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  3. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Describing Andy Stanley is something I can't even begin to do. His sermons are like hearing something for the first time every single time. I attended North Point as a teenager, and loved hearing his messages in person. I'm pretty sure he could tell me 1+1=3, and I'd probably believe him. ;)

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  4. Bless your heart. Thank you for sharing this. Altho I can't really relate to what you've gone thru, I can appreciate how brave you are to share it. I'm inspired, as I'm sure others will be...and I just know God is going to use your story for His glory.

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  5. Oh I have been there but for me it was with my Mama. And you know what...God totally restored our relationship when I was 33 years old:) I am SO THANKFUL. It's not perfect, our history makes me sad but God is bigger than all of that.

    I love your blog. You are beautiful, blonde and Southern, three things I always wished I were. But what I love the most is that you are real. Thank you for sharing!!!

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  6. You have no idea what this post means to me.

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  7. I LOVE this! I have a similar story in that relationships with my parents have been strained. I know I've forgiven some areas but I'm not sure all areas. Thanks for this. I have a lot of thinking & praying to do. I can't wait to hear all about your 30A trip! I've only been once but I love that place! Such a fun atmosphere!
    Amanda
    P.S. My husband & I are still planning on coming to Savannah/Tybee Island next summer for our 10 year anniversary trip. Where should we stay?!?! Savannah or Tybee?

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  8. Such a sweet story! Made me tear up! Thanks for sharing! We still want to hear about your Pearl Event weekend and see pics! :)

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  9. Thanks for sharing such a private and "close to home" story. I'm happy for you that you and your dad were able to reconnect recently! You are a beautiful person and it's obvious that God lives within your heart:)

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  10. Cherish, this was so beautifully written. I believe whole heartedly that God especially chose you and your sister too to reach out to your dad and to show him forgiveness because forgiveness is what God has given him. Those tail lights you saw as a child and as an older you are the same tail lights God also saw. The pain you felt was also the pain God felt. God inspired the same feeling of seeking out your dad to offer complete forgiveness to your dad because that true seeking and forgiveness was in God's own heart for your dad. YOU became the instrument of God's forgiveness for your dad. On that day that your dad left when you were six years old, God pulled you close and whispered in your heart, I will take this hurt away and restore you because you are mine and I "cherish" you. How amazing that you have always known that God loved you and that you trusted in him enough for not only you to accept forgiveness and take up your rightful calling as God's beloved, but also to allow God to use you as an instrument of forgiveness for your dad so that he too can take up his own rightful calling as one of God's beloved. Thank you for sharing your heart and allowing God's light to shine to others through you.

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  11. If only...everyone could look at forgiveness the way you have, well...I'm sure the world would be a much better place....and God would be so pleased :)

    Continued blessings to you & yours!

    p.s. love your prayer!

    Karen

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  12. This is beautiful, Cherish. Beautiful. I am sure it was a hard thing to share, but thank you for doing it! I know that it will be so helpful to everyone!

    ~Tiffany

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  13. Aww, I truly love what you said about forgiveness "he offender no longer owes you anything-that means an apology, and explanation, repayment, etc." I don't think I've ever reached that point of true forgiveness with people because it's always in the back of my mind. This is something I truly want to take and work on. I'm so glad that you've gotten to that point!

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  14. This was such a beautiful post! I am getting caught up on all of the posts that I missed and it shows in each picture and in each word that TRULY the Lord's presence was with y'all! I loved what you said: "Not only have I forgiven him, I have released him from any expectations I may have had for him as a father." This is COMPLETELY evident in your smiles! Forgiveness is such a beautiful thing to see!! Thank you for showing this and for being such an example of our God!
    :) Rebecca

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  15. Cherish, I'm a daily reader of your blog and this post resonates with me as well. My father left when I was in high school so I was much older than you but the awful pain is still there. In the past year I have mended fences with my father and his wife but I agree with you that sometimes the relationship isn't meant to be re-established but just healed. I have learned over the years that I have to accept my father for he is not who I wish he were. Have a great day friend!

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  16. Thanks for sharing your story. I have a similar story but with my mother. I haven't spoken to or seen her in about 7 years. I know have a husband and 3 children who she has never meet. The thought of reconnecting is always on my mind but having problems committing to it. Thank you for reminding me to pray about it more and worry about it less. Truly feeling blessed to have found your blog.

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  17. I LOVE what you wrote about forgiveness. Do you know where I could find and listen to that sermon you mentioned by Andy Stanley???

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I sure do love hearing from y'all-you make my day!