Why I chose to forgive my dad…

Today marks the day, fourteen years later, when the news came of my father’s passing. It was an odd, shocking, numbing feeling; one which I still cannot frame in words. The finality is jarring, knowing the last words spoken were the final exchange. While I had no regret in that, specifically, it was harsh nonetheless, and I recall my mind trying, as if by sheer force of will, to turn back time one day, and call him. I’m not sure there was much left to say, really, though there are a few questions I wanted to ask… the kind that always felt too frightening and vulnerable to say out loud, even after he asked me to forgive him for the harm he brought into my life. That day, an old, broken, and fragile man he wept and asked me to forgive him. And  I responded, “Dad, I chose to forgive you a long time ago. Yes, I forgive you.”

That was 2001. I was 32 years old, a mom of four and pregnant with our fifth. I called Tim before I left the hospital that day, crying, to tell him about our conversation. “Miracles still happen,” I remember saying through tears. Choosing consciously and purposefully to forgive my dad dated back more than a decade before that day. But it didn’t look the way many fit forgiveness into a perfect little box. The consequences for his choices meant that I suffered flashbacks, anxiety disorders (including PTSD), and nightmares every time we had contact for many years, and they became especially haunting after we had children. This continued even after I forgave him most sincerely. My fear that some horrible thing would be done to my family prevented us from feeling comfortable interacting too closely. I meant we attended at most one family event a year, if that.Tim and I chose early in marriage to not risk the lives and innocence of our children by placing them in an environment where abuse of every kind had run rampant and remained buried. This choice, in the eyes of some, would have been cause to judge me as unforgiving. Nonetheless, we made the choice and never looked back. No regret, for the sake of our children.

The cost to me was significant. It meant I had to miss out on family gatherings, and years later the lack of relationship leaves an emptiness within. The loss is ongoing. Still, I choose to forgive my father. And still I don’t regret having the boundaries, in spite of that cost.

My choice to forgive was first and foremost for my freedom. Not a fraction of that decision was to overlook his sins and crimes, or make myself okay with them. They are not okay. But the power of his sin, by allowing bitterness to take root in me, frightened me far more than did the consequences of his choices against me. Secondly, I chose to forgive him for the sake of my husband and children. To let his sins rule my life would be to give him permission to pass on the curses of many generations to my children, through my bitterness. (And generational cycles are well documented in both secular and spiritual literature.) I didn’t want that, and to the best of my ability I protected our children from anyone who had molested, and never left them unsupervised in an environment where known offenders were present.

That said, I was not perfect by any stretch of imagination, and made choices as a mom that left scars on my children, and those are choices for which I take ownership. When I chose to forgive my father, I chose also to take ownership for decisions I made, even if birthed out of the scars and emotional deficits he left in my life. I did this so that the chains would end with me.

I chose to forgive my father to break generational chains that he struggled with to his death, to end cycles of abuse and violence, to leave a new legacy for the next generation, and to prevent bitterness in my life. My children will need to decide whether they will forgive me for ways I sinned against them, and whether they will take ownership for the ways they sin against their own children. And the generation to follow will need to make the same decision.

forgiveness-quote

Forgiveness isn’t a choice to overlook violence, molestation, neglect and various abuses. It is the decision to break chains, end vicious cycles and leave a new legacy. It doesn’t mean everything is all cozy and the wrongs are never spoken of again. It means we do our best to lead the next generation, even at personal cost. And sometimes it means we tell broken, painful and brutal stories, so that the amazing grace of God in our lives is understood, and so others can draw hope and strength for their own journeys.

When my father asked me to forgive him, I chose to verbally extend that grace and reflect the heart of God the best I knew how. It didn’t change how we protected our children by not giving him access, and it didn’t change much of anything at all in a practical sense. But I knew my forgiveness was genuine, and he knew it too. And that was enough for me.

If I could go back to the day before February 21, 2003, knowing what I know now, I might still visit dad and ask some hard questions…. but maybe I wouldn’t change anything at all. I told him I loved him. I told him I forgive him. And, when he doubted that God would forgive a man like him, I told him that because of what Jesus did on the cross, there was a place in heaven for him.

*****

I stood alone by his coffin in the funeral home and wept as I repeatedly whispered the only three words that formed, “Thank you Jesus.”

 

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger

“Unleashing the Potential That Lies Within Each of Us”

“Please join me on the journey of unleashing the potential that lies within each of us.” Kirk J Goodwin

These words, penned by my friend, and fellow John Maxwell Team Founding Partner, Kirk Goodwin, are powerful words. They are an invitation to teamwork, an invitation to making a difference and, more than that, these words speak life over every individual. There is potential in everyone.

Today I am not posting my usual ‘series related’ blog. My heart is heavy, and sad for Kirk’s family, because last night Kirk left this world. This gives his words even greater impact–a challenge to leave a legacy that inspires others. A challenge to make a difference in the years that I am given, a gift from God.

My first connection with Kirk was in April 2011, via Facebook, and in August I had the privilege of meeting him in person at the John Maxwell Certification Training, in West Palm Beach. We started with the normal ‘ice breaker’ chatting, inevitably talking about our families.

Kirk asked about my husband and our kids. I shared the usual. We have our hands full, but they’re great and Tim is an amazing dad. Two boys have varying degrees of ADHD, one is on meds during school, the other self-manages, and one daughter is ADD. Can’t sit still, none of them, but they do well in school. …Wonder where they would get that?

Kirk chuckled.  Little did I realize that he would understand more than most, what I was describing, and my personal challenge with managing ADHD/ADD over the years. He told me about the S.U.P.E.R. Learning Centre, specializing in helping kids with Autism, ADHD/ADD, PTSD, and other challenges. He talked about the role animals–particularly horses–can play in bringing out the best in kids who have some of these challenges. He mentioned a place in Ohio–not connected with the S.U.P.E.R. Learning Centre, if my memory serves me right–where you can take kids and have them interact with horses. He recommended I bring my boys sometime.

When Kirk said, “…unleashing the potential that lies within each of us…”, he said it because he believed it. His eyes sparkled enthusiastically as he shared the testimonies of kids, whose lives were changed through their work. And the way he took an interest and entered into my life, offering practical insight and sharing resources, was his potential coming through–his gift of impacting and changing lives.

Today, as I read the words Kirk wrote, I am reminded of the importance of living our potential now. We don’t have forever. We have today. It reminded me of  the importance of encouraging others, and inviting others to join us in changing lives, in making a difference.

My heart is heavy and sad that Kirk’s life was taken so abruptly. That tragedy has left a family grieving this loss. My thoughts and prayers are with them, and my hope is that those of us who knew Kirk, and even those who never met him, will be inspired to carry on the legacy.

Live your potential today. Believe in the potential that lies in every one of us. Invest in others and invite them to join you in making a difference.

What legacy are you building today, that people will remember tomorrow?

© Trudy Metzger

Visit also these tributes to Kirk Goodwin:
Bob Kittridge’s tribute
Barry Smith’s tribute

Breaking Chains: A New Legacy

Yesterday our family spent the day at Goderich, on the beach of Lake Huron, with some of Tim’s uncles, aunts, a few cousins and family friends for our annual ‘Beach Day’–a thirty year, plus, tradition. Tim and our children enjoy the water and spend their day swimming. I enjoy the sounds, the scenery and watching the waves–the bigger, the better.

Tim and I managed to get away for a walk, just the two of us, and wander over to the breaker, climbing over rocks to watch the waves for a while. The waters were quite rough, causing the waves to crash and splash over the rocks. It was lovely to watch, but I had no desire to be in it.

It made me think of life. Of the rough waters Tim & I have come through, many of which were caused by my responses to life, due to my background. I thought of the emotional struggles I went through because of those things, and how it impacted us in training our children. Some good, some bad.

As we stood there, high above the ‘storms’ in the water, holding hands, I realized how much our love and commitment to each other has played a role in breaking chains and building a new legacy for our family.

The one thing our children know, always and without question, is that their mommy and daddy are very much committed to each other, and still crazy in love. We display affection in front of them. Contrary to popular belief in some cultures, this does not damage children. (I recall being taught that physical affection should only happen in the bedroom. )

One of our children, at about age thirteen, commented, “You and daddy are kind of mushy.”

I was a bit surprised because we are discreet, never making out in front of our kids, or anything like that. We hug a lot. We hold hands. We kiss, but not super intimately–just sweet, gentle kisses. Still, that was her take on it so I asked, “Does that bother you? Do you wish we wouldn’t?”

Her eyes sparkled as she shook her head, “No.”

We talked awhile about it and she told me it makes her feel secure, that she finds comfort in knowing her daddy and I won’t abandon each other, leaving them with the aftermath.

Training is a big part of breaking the chains of sexual abuse and violence, or any other generational chains, but what we show through example is as important. Our lives should exemplify the things we teach, reinforcing the words we speak into our children’s lives.

To teach truth, and live a life of purity, commitment, love and hope, leaves our children with a new legacy Where we fail, we need to take ownership and then release it, trusting the same God who saw us through our parents’ failures, to walk them through their disappointments and the scars of our failures.

If we have shown them how to forgive those who have wounded us, and if we have demonstrated how to love and stand with our spouse in commitment, we will have equipped them to make wise choices.

One day, when they are adults parenting their children, they will remember, and hopefully they too will break the chains we carried forward, unwittingly, and leave their children with a stronger legacy than we gave them.

Last evening, as the day was wrapping up, I went for a brisk walk along the board-walk, enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean in the background, and playing worship music on my iPod. When it’s all said and done, it is God who redeems, God who gives strength resilience and courage, and it is God who breaks the chains, offering us a new legacy for our children.

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series