Over the past few weeks I have been sharing all that God has been doing in my life. These are exciting times for me. I just love it when God is doing His thing! I was unsure whether I would be making myself too vulnerable by sharing details of such a personal kind. Last week at church we were encouraged to live a life of a radical Christian with a fearless faith. Whilst I have shared bits and pieces of my testimony in past posts, I have decided to share it all. I’m afraid it doesn’t paint a terribly rosy picture of me and please know if Dad or any of his close relatives were alive, I would not share this out of respect for them. Funnily enough, I am fairly certain that Dad would read this and smile. It is the story of a father who loved his daughter but had no idea how to express it; a story of a daughter who just wanted to be loved by the man she called Daddy and a God who loved both of them enough to bridge the gaping expanse separating them by filling it with forgiveness and grace.
My Dad was an alcoholic. Growing up in an environment where you didn’t know if your Dad would be happy, sad, angry, sarcastic or just plain silly was hard. Dad had two personas. One was drunk, the other was hung over. And it was very hard to respect a man who frequently collapsed at the front door after a night of drinking.
When I was twenty one I went travelling and met Gary. Gary was a Christian running away from his faith, whilst I was an agnostic who believed there had to be more to life than the one I had been exposed to thus far.
Cutting a long story short Gary and I were a holiday romance gone right. We met in America, dated with one of us in Northern Ireland and one in England, and finally married here in the village’s ancient church almost 18 years ago. He introduced me to God, the Father I had never had and that I needed more than the air I breathed. Meeting me brought Gary back to God. We were both baptised and shortly after married. At my baptism Dad met with God. Dad needed God even more than I did. From then on he spent the rest of his life battling against his addiction with alcohol with God at his side.
Shortly after T13 was born, I felt that God was prompting me to apologise to Dad. This would be my first introduction to the living God. I had given my life to Him six years previously, but I hadn’t really had a meaningful run in with Him until now. And it was a true run in. I was stubborn. There was no way I was going to apologise to my father. I wasn’t sorry, I reasoned to myself, and to say so would be a plain lie. Plus the fact, I really did feel God had got things up side down. Surely this is a conversation He should be having with Dad, not me. After all it was Dad who had destroyed my childhood. But God’s ways are not my ways and God’s thoughts are not my thoughts. God had more tenacity than me and I eventually gave in and, out of sheer obedience, yet defiant inside, I went to say sorry.
My goal was to just get those three words out, but it was almost as if God was guiding me what to say as I (far more eloquently than normal) expressed my sorrow for not being the daughter I should have been, how sorry I was for not respecting him, and how from this day on I would give him the respect he deserved as my Father. I realised that as I said the words I actually did mean them. I realised in a way I never had before that God commands his children to respect their parents, and in this I had failed. He abruptly and gruffly turned away but not before I saw he had tears in his eyes. I left the room. I didn’t know what else to do.
Fast forward 8 months and I gave birth to twins. I nearly died having a massive placental haemorrhage. I was given five units of blood, and missing T, who was only 9 months old at the time, I discharged myself. The girls were big and healthy, but I was sick. Unable to cope with the fact I had very nearly died and having three babies under nine months, sleep which had been episodic at best since I was a child, ceased altogether. Three and a half months later I still hadn’t slept, not even for half an hour. Each time I tried I would panic, thinking that if I slept I would die and then who would look after our gorgeous three babies? So I stayed awake.
When the twins were four months old Gary took me to see the Doctor where I was diagnosed with a severe post natal illness, and I began treatment. This was the darkest time in my life. I felt like I was in a narrow, deep pit scrapping at the sod walls in a desperate attempt to free myself. Everything was dark. I became a complete recluse, not wanting to see friends and completely ashamed of having depression/anxiety of any kind.
I’d like to say I turned to God in this time but I didn’t. I was in my own little Hell unable to see out past my own feelings. But God really did never leave me or forsake me. I was unable to go to Him, so He came to me. In the horror of an anxiety induced reality He reached down and whispered in my ear. Only the words He whispered were not any I wanted to hear. But His voice was the still quiet voice in the numbed confusion of my brain and he never let up. He was telling us to move to Northern Ireland. Gary felt it too. I gave Him a hundred and one reasons why it just wasn’t a possibility. Yet His voice remained. Still. Quiet. Insistent. Loving.
So we began to make our plans to leave. I thought I would have peace. I had given in and done what God wanted. With much prayer from Gary’s parents I moved over, without Gary (who had to finish his term of teaching), to a place where I knew nobody, in a country where the sun never shone and the rain never stopped falling. Ever. I was alone with three three-year-olds, missing my husband more than words can say.
But something happens when God strips you of every physical safety net you have ever known. I was away from friends, family, and everything familiar. I was the most alone I had ever been. The climate matched my mood. I would take the children for long walks to Downhill, a deserted beach with a dramatic backdrop of sheer cliffs and waterfalls. Winds whistled and sea gulls made their lonely noises. God had taken me to the one place on earth which reflected back the misery I felt, and in that reflection I found God.
I slowly started to heal. I felt stronger than I had for three years and I knew with a certainty which surprised even me that God was going to do something wonderful.
We started to look for a church. It took us a while before we tried a Baptist church in Port Stewart. We walked in, and it was like a lightening shot from Heaven straight into my heart and I knew, without doubt, that this was where we were meant to be. I glanced at Gary and knew he felt the same way.
It was a few weeks later that we were invited to the new comers’ dinner. Here we were seated next to this lovely older couple who began asking the usual questions- about our back ground and how we became a Christian and the like. I was next to Michael, the husband, and found myself telling him all about Dad. I had told other people but had never really met anyone who understood. He did. He relayed to me his past which was an exact mirror image of my own. I knew he understood the pain, the confusion, the lack of confidence which comes from having a parent unbridle their drunken tongue on your failings, repeatedly highlighting things they were ashamed of about you. But I noticed something else. He was healed of that pain. As we talked I found out he ran a group for drug and alcohol abusers, from the church. Here he preached that true freedom from any addiction was achieved through Jesus. I knew there and then that Micheal was the reason for us moving to Northern Ireland.
I asked if I could come to the group. This was an unusual step for me. For one I am by nature very shy and unconfident and secondly the idea of being in a roomful of drunks filled me with horror. That Thursday I went along, honestly believing, rather piously, that I would be there to help them in some way. What materialised still takes my breath away today. I met a really special group of people who, devoid of all pretence, had the freedom to just be. It was an honour to be part of it; an honour to drink tea and chat with them. And it was a complete eye opener to the disease I now understand to be addiction. I learnt through these generous souls that alcoholism and drug addiction was indeed a disease. I had never seen my Dad as being ill, only as being selfish. If only I had known.
I went along to the group for a few months. A group that I had thought I would be there to help and support them, but who in reality had helped and supported me. I left in the end because I knew I was beginning to love Michael as the father I wished I had. I knew God had given me a different father. And so I turned towards Dad, bridging the hurt we had both caused each other. He more than met me half way.
Towards the end of his life we were talking on the phone every day, sharing every detail of our lives. Then I felt God talk to me one last time about Dad, directing me that I should write him a letter of love telling him what a wonderful Dad he had been. I started this letter time and again but could not find the words. I couldn’t really remember a time when I was younger that he had been a great Dad. But I knew my God by that time. I knew He wouldn’t direct me to do something without giving me the tools to do it. So I waited. Time and time again I asked ‘should I write it now?’ The answer was always ‘wait’. It was Christmas and Dad was due to visit us with my brother and my mum. The first time in years all our family had been together. I asked God if He wanted me to write it now, again I was instructed to wait.
A week before Dad’s 70th birthday I wrote the letter, except they weren’t my words. God brought occasion upon occasion when Dad had been a wonderful father. From letting me sit on his lap after I broke up with a boyfriend I had been with for five years; to protecting me when some local travellers assaulted me. He brought to mind the times he had driven me on my paper round when it had been wet and horrible; when he had helped me strip the paint off the walls of our first house; how he bought me our first cot. Every horrible memory of his alcoholic past was being erased to be replaced by a picture of a dad who doted on me. He had never, ever told me he loved me but at the end of my letter to him I knew without a doubt that he had loved me from the moment I was born.
I sent the letter to him on his 70th birthday. He phoned me up to thank me, tearful and emotional as he told me it had been the very best present he had ever received in his whole lifetime.
Two weeks later he died of a massive heart attack.
But I was at peace. God had shattered the two of us into tiny pieces and then He had lovingly put us back together again. Dad always lamented that he had never conquered his alcohol demons but I knew now he was in Heaven, perfect and at peace also.