Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Father's Day: A Letter to You, Dad.

Well, I never thought it would end this way. Not like this. Over the past few years, I've written a lot to the "fatherless generation," and shared the depths of my own journey of ups and downs and deep pain and even greater redemption. You know, I never considered that this story, that my story, would end without reconciliation.

I always assumed there would be a tomorrow, a next week, a next month. I always envisioned that slow motion scene of me running into his arms, him embracing me and us weeping together, then laughing--Jesus' glory, daises, and all.

This Father's Day, I'm learning that even if that scenario never will play out on this side of Heaven, that Jesus receives no less glory.


Well, it's Father's Day and if it were an option for me to call you, my guess is I probably wouldn't. And today I'm choosing not to feel guilty over that because I trust my heavenly Daddy, and have no want to stray from right where He has me. Our story, my story with Jesus and you--well, I just didn't think it would end quite so suddenly, dad. It's funny how when you suddenly can't do something, you seem to want to do it all the more.

And today, I just really wanted to call you up and talk to you.

Dad, if we could talk today, I'd remind you that none of us are promised tomorrow. I would plead with you to stop living your life for things that have only temporary, earthly gain. These things, dad, they will leave you lonelier, emptier, and more broken then when you started. I promise. Sin takes us further, keeps us longer, and costs us more then we were ever willing to pay. I would tell you I've tried what you're doing--I've been there. You're not alone, dad. The cycle feels endless and all-consuming. It takes more and more to satisfy, and even a little more then that to feel nothing at all.

That's why you keep at it, dad.

You're not some exception, one who is destined to some crappy life. You're more like the rest of us then you may have ever imagined. You are broken and have fallen short of God's glory. But in that very place dad, dead in your sin and brokenness, there is One who gives hope. You can know freedom too--you can be free. I know you try and try...and try again. You do better for a little while, but then the pain gets real and you go back to drinking it away--because that's all you've known to do since you were fourteen and opened that liquor cabinet for the very first time.

I read recently that fatherlessness creates an appetite in the soul that demands fulfillment, and from my own experience, that could not be more true in my life--and I see it in yours as well.

I want you to know, dad, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry you didn't have a daddy who loved you as he should have. I'm sorry for the horrific ways he hurt you, and all things he never taught you--and I'm even more sorry for all the things he did teach you. I'm sorry I never asked.

My little girl heart yearns for the love of her earthly daddy that he just never knew how to give her.  Yet my adult heart weeps for the decades of pain and darkness you endured, seemingly with no way out. For the way that his abuse shaped the man you would become, the choices you would make, the pain you would feel, I grieve with you dad.

"The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." -Zephaniah 3:17 

I just wish you could have had the joy of knowing a father's love. That you could have had a breath of relief from taming that raging appetite inside--for something, anything, to just offer a few moments of true satisfaction.

Dad, I want you to know, it's never been about doubting your love for me. Jesus has secured me as beloved, and that really is enough.

He taught me that sometimes we are so broken inside we don't know how to show our love to those around us, like some fathers may instinctively do. The letter you wrote to us kiddos, we all read it now, dad. I knew you were broken, because I was too. Broken people break things, even things they value the most, yes, even their little girls.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." -1 John 4:7-8 

I need to tell you that I didn't pull away when your life got real dark because I was angry or fed up with your choices--though I'm sure I have been at times. I didn't withdraw to get back at you or because I had given up on you over these last three years, though both were tempting at times.

You didn't hear from me because I needed to soak in the love and discipline of a Perfect Father who knows best how to meet my every need and hears me--something you simply couldn't provide. I pulled back because I knew my tendencies--my savior mentality--to be destructive, and I was learning better.

Dad, I needed to be redeemed by the power of the Cross, I needed Jesus, who while I was still dead in my sin, He made a way for me to be reconciled to God through Himself. He loved me that much--that He knew I would turn away from Him, and spend years of my life searching to be satisfied and valued and whole--trying to earn something that I didn't deserve, only to find He had already provided Christ, the only way I could be reconciled to Him! I couldn't do anything to earn it--what a gift! Jesus met me in my brokenness and set my feet on solid ground--He made me new and my life never looked the same because I belonged to a Perfect Daddy so those others things no longer bound nor defined me. Praise God! He did that for you too, dad. Can you imagine that?

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." -Eph. 1:7

One day, dad, I am praying I will get the joy and privilege of being a faithful wife to my husband and mother to my children--and that required this time of healing. It meant that these generations of brokenness before me, before you, before your dad needed to be broken by the power of the Gospel in my own life. I couldn't remain a victim who would continue the cycle by victimizing, dad. I needed space and time.

I just never imagined our time, that it would run out so fast.

I am so sorry for that dad. But I would not change the decisions I made because through those decisions I am no longer a victim of your decisions or my own--I am a child of the King.

I never got to tell you, but I forgive you, dad. I forgive you for all the ways you failed to be my protector and provider, for the ways you robbed me of innocence, and for the ways you failed to be a man of your word. I forgive you for continually choosing alcohol over your family, who tried everything to care for and fight for you. I forgive you for the way you taught me to fear men and the authority that comes with them, for the way that destroyed relationships. I forgive you for the lies I came to believe were true about my value and worth because of your words and behaviors towards me. I forgive you for fearing man more then you feared the Lord.

Dad, I forgive you for showing up hung-over to lunch after three years of not talking with one-another, which would also be the last time I ever saw you. I forgive you for abdicating your role in my life as an adult. I forgive you for even the consequences of your sin that play out into my adult life. It may be an intentional and re-occuring decision I will make the rest of my life, but Dad you are forgiven by me. Not because of anything great in me, but simply because I have been greatly forgiven and have done nothing to deserve it.

"Be kind to one-another, tenderhearted, forgiving one-another as God in Christ forgave you." -Eph. 4:32

I still find it shocking some days, like today, that you're really gone.

Since your death, I think I have grieved so many things that I never imagined I would. Layer after layer, they just keep peeling back more ugliness within me. I thought I had already trudged that path--been there, done that. I thought the pain was over and the redemption had taken hold. And it had--it has. The more layers, the deeper my love for and dependence upon Jesus is becoming, and for that I can rejoice in seeing Him working, in the midst of such brokenness.

Our Heavnly Daddy is patient and gracious towards us, desiring that we all would come into personal relationship with Him.

"But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." -Ps. 86"15

I still don't understand the seasons the Lord allows in our lives, but I know that none of my pain is without purpose nor can anything, not even loosing you or my grandpa this year, separate me from the love of Christ.

Oh how I wish you, my earthly daddy got the chance to know my Heavenly One--to have received that new heart of flesh in exchange for the one crafted of stone. Perhaps that occurred, and I pray that it did.

Dad, I forgive you and I am thinking of you today.

Friday, May 20, 2016

On Gratitude for the Thursday Night Ladies [and ten months together]

I'm sitting here, as often happens each week, plopped in the middle of the living-room floor, candles still flickering, crayons still sprawled about, a sea of food covering the kitchen counter that all needs to be put away and I haven't looked yet, but I'm guessing the cushions are off the sofas, tossed about in the other room, little chocolate hands left marks in random places, and the trash is likely overflowing.

For the past three hours this place was straight up chaos, as it often is on Thursday nights. Littles running rampant like they run the place or something, and beautiful women eating a little slower and talking a little longer--tonight I had to pause for a minute as I was walking out of the bathroom and into the chaos--just stood there and took it all in.

With tears flowing down my cheeks, I cannot even believe that the Lord would be so sweet as to provide, to entrust me with these dear friends and our Thursday nights together. He has truly done abundantly beyond anything I could have asked or dreamt up ten months ago.

I love these ladies fierce, y'all.

Back in August when a friend and I met two families in the park across the street from my house, I never could have imagined how our gracious Heavenly Father would  be to use that meeting to forever impact my life. One of the ladies we met that afternoon, shared how she had been living in the area for over a year and only one or two American women had ever even talked to her. Can you imagine that? It broke my heart and I desperately wanted to be her friend.

We parted ways that evening, one-another's phone numbers in hand, having no clue if I would ever see this sweet lady again. BUT GOD! He had a perfect plan and had gone before me in SO many small ways. I met up with my new friend from the park the very next week--she and her little girl went with me to a bookstore and for an ice cream--and the rest is truly history!

God used our friendship to solidify a desire He had put in my heart months prior--to use my home as a refuge for those feeling lonely and alienated. A few others with the same heart gathered with me and prayed that this home could be a place where women from all different tribes and tongues could find meaningful friendships, share vulnerable areas of theirs lives with one-another, and discuss where our ultimate Hope comes from.

So last August, this dream became a reality every Thursday night! Most weeks we share a big meal, talk about our lives, talk about stories or do fun activities together. Most all of the women coming have connected to our group through that ONE dear friend we met in the park that day--talk about God's perfect plan! Whew!! And none of it would be possible without some AMAZING American friends who come faithfully, bring food and joy, and walk with these ladies too.

One of my favorite memories of this group was when we got to celebrate one of their sweet little girls' second birthday party--with a houseful of like thirty people from all over the world! We have rejoiced together, laughed until tears poured out, wept together, prayed together, miscommunicated and disagreed about things, learned from one-another, needed one-another, come up with all the inside jokes together, tried to practice different languages together--with much laughing--and lived a year of life together and I am forever thankful and indebted to these ladies. They make me better.

Ya'll, they are the most brave friends I have known--they willingly leave everything that's familiar to them--their families, their culture, their FOOD--and trek half-way across the world where they then land in this corner of "the natural state" where they (or their husbands) purse intense degree plans at the University while they also raise babies and manage all the tasks of normal life, yet not knowing the language at first, not having a car, not having many friends to call on for help in their times of need and so on.

As Americans, we often tend to shy away from people who look, act, or even talk differently from us. I want to encourage you, wherever God has placed you in this season, to just pause and look around you--take note of the people around you who are different from you. Sojourner literally means "guest," "stranger" and even one who "belongs to another."

We mustn't forget that WE ourselves are indeed aliens, strangers, sojourners on this earth--we await a heavenly citizenship, a better country which God has prepared. The reality is, if we do in fact "belong to another," why wouldn't we jump on any opportunity we are given to befriend and care for those who might seem quite different from us, those who are sojourners in our midst and yet share a similar situation to me or to you--when we look with eternal perspective, right?

Every week these ladies thank me and tell me that I don't have to do this every week. What they don't understand is that what I do is easy--what THEY do on a daily basis is the hard and brave part! And ya'll, none of us are perfect but man, they are so incredibly kind, sincere, and trusting. They are EASY to get to know and even easier to love deeply. These ladies are some of the most kind and generous friends I have. And if you only knew some of their stories--some of the miraculous ways God has protected them and provided for them in the midst of realities you or I could not even imagine--these ladies are my heroes and beloved friends.

Tonight, paused in the hallway gazing out over the chaos--all I could hear was the Father saying, Courtney, this is how much I love YOU--that I would willingly, joyfully take a sojourner, an exile like yourself, someone that was far from me and I would choose to bring you near to me even when it cost me greatest sacrifice ever made. You don't even understand the heights and depths and breath of my unceasing and unchanging love for you. And as much as you love these ladies--I love them more then you will ever know.

As we squeezed one-another tight, all the kisses on the cheeks, utterances of "Masalama" and "In-sha-allh," the tears just fell yet again as they herded out the door--God has and continues to teach me SO much through these beautiful friends and our Thursday nights together. I can't wait to see what plans are in store for our little community in the months and years to come! What a sweet ten months it has been--learning from and loving you ladies!

As a side note, it was perfectly fitting, of course, for our last official Thursday night of the semester to involve half a dozen kiddos running around, two grand-mommas visiting from the other side of the world, and a dozen women from near and far--yes you never could have guessed--all getting facials and foot massages and being told to "relax in the quiet like we're at the beach"--HAHAH as if that were possible! Wouldn't have had it any other way!

"As I have loved you, you love one-another. Greater love has no one then this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
Now off to tackle those dishes and hunt for all the hiding crayons!