Beauty for Ashes

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Father’s Day for me is both sad and glad.  Very sad and very glad in some ways which is amazing actually.  I’m sure there are some of you that feel the same sense of conflict.  Many of you, like me, have a dad who has passed from this life.  And many of you, like me, have had a very complicated, possibly broken relationship with your dad.  After forty + years of ministry experience, I’ve heard many of your stories.

I’m so thankful to the Lord this day, though, that Father’s Day has become a reminder and a celebration of redemption that can only come through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit working within us – beauty for ashes.

Though there were many years, at least 45 or so, that I had no relationship with my dad, there were about 10 years, the last 10, that I did and most of that was good.  It was definitely a time of both of us working to redeem the past.  Although we never discussed it, our past relationship, in fact years of being a broken family, was like the elephant in the living room.

Billy Wayne Moore was born on his mother’s birthday on the family farm in Lone Tree, MO, a few miles south of Harrisonville in 1931.  He loved his life on the farm with his brothers and sisters although it was a very hard life.  He did well in high school – smart, athletic, and handsome.  That’s where he met my mom.  They settled into life and he eventually started his own construction business.  At some point as a young husband and father, however, he started drinking too much.

I had taken him to a psychologist doctor appointment when he was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease – I don’t even remember why we were there or how the doctor knew about his 40+ years of alcohol abuse, but the doctor asked him, “Mr. Moore, why do you think you drank too much?”  After some thought, he answered, “I don’t know – I think I was trying to medicate myself.” This was the first time I think my dad ever acknowledged his alcohol abuse and although we never discussed it further, it was quite a moment for both of us.  Addiction had defined our family life for over 40 years.

I have pondered his statement to that doctor so many times and as I look back at his life, his personality, his relationships and business, I’m sure what he said was true.  Why does anyone abuse drugs or alcohol?  For several reasons, but the bottom line – being numbed by any substance gives at least a temporary easing of pain – emotional or physical – or whatever we want an escape from.  But the consequences?  Oh, they do come and at such a cost.

My father was a very complicated man.  He could be very charming and kind; fun-loving and clever.  But like most of us, he had a dark side as well.  Alcohol enhanced the dark side.

I could best describe our home life as being like living on egg shells or on the edge of a mine field just waiting for the next cave in or explosion. I learned to keep a safe distance emotionally from my dad.

There is something inside a young girl, however, that is longing for that relationship – an occasional conversation about your life – an acknowledgement that you even exist.  I know that my dad loved me but there developed a gulf of rejection between us that got wider and deeper as I got older.

On the day I got married and I took my dad’s arm, I’m quite sure I had not ever had a meaningful conversation with him.   I remember a few good family moments and I’m grateful for those because it showed that side of Dad that was fun loving.  There was the year “Santa” left my sled on our roof and Dad had to get the ladder out to retrieve it.  There were moments – but they were oh so few.

Although he was not drinking on our wedding day (for which I was very thankful), the distance between us was so very obvious and uncomfortable.  So many feelings and emotions I had never expressed to anyone until a major event in my life changed all that.

Shortly after Tom and I were married (at age 19) I became a Christian.  I had a new life in Christ.  Old things were passing away and a new life was starting to grow, and many things were changing.

It’s funny, but the one thing that I remember I felt I had to do was write my dad a letter – the man I didn’t know or talk to.  We were living in Oakland, California, so I was a safe distance away (just kidding).  I don’t remember all that I said except that it felt so awkward and yet right.  I said that I was sorry we didn’t have a good relationship and that I was sorry for the ways I had contributed to the problem (I didn’t know of anything I had done, honestly, but I guessed I had to have done something!).  I told him that I had accepted Jesus into my life and wanted to make things right with him.

I don’t know how he received the letter or if my mom read it – I heard nothing and nothing changed in our relationship.  When I did see him, I still didn’t know how to approach him or talk to him so we just didn’t.  Many more years of an awkwardness that was so thick you could cut it with a knife continued.

Good moments with my dad were like remote islands in a stormy sea. One of the islands was his grandchildren – he had three, and he always seemed to enjoy being around them as he did all children.  That was a trait of the Moore family.  I watched him as it seemed so easy for him to interact with them.  I continued to subliminally ask myself, “What’s wrong with me?”

Then when my mom became ill with breast cancer the awkwardness became even more profound.  There she was so sick but my dad spent most of his days and evenings very intoxicated.  We never discussed her illness because we didn’t discuss anything.  My mom prayed and prayed for my dad and loved him with her life although he had brought much sorrow to her.

After she passed away, I thought for sure my dad would drink himself to death.  I think some deep regret was starting to set in.  At my husband and kids’ urging, I did start to reach out to him but I didn’t want to.  I was disgusted with his past behavior especially during my mom’s illness.  My family reminded me that as Christians we are to forgive and help people even when they are not good to us.  How dare they preach to me!  Of course, they were right. I made feeble attempts that were mostly not acknowledged.

But then something changed.  He started dating someone that he cared for very much and his drinking lessened (I believe because of her insistence) and his behavior began to modify.  He eventually remarried and started a new life.  It was not easy for me at first to watch him be so caring for his new wife and enjoy life.  If I had not been a Christian, I don’t know if I could ever have accepted this but I realized I had to give it a shot.  At this point, I am 44 years old and this “no relationship,” relationship had been going on for a long, long time.

My dad started calling me occasionally, acting interested in my life, and indicated that he wanted to have a relationship with me and my family.  At first I only responded because I had to (as a good Christian woman, of course!).  But it seemed we eventually got in a flow of talking and sharing time together and I could sense that there was much healing taking place for which I was very thankful.  I had many moments, however, when I thought about what our family could have been like if alcohol had not been involved. Then he became very ill.

Dad’s last year and a half on this earth was spent in a battle with severe Parkinson’s disease that kept him from ever living in his home with his wife again.  Life in a nursing home when you can’t do anything for yourself and you completely depend on others to take you to the bathroom, help you eat or even get from your chair to your bed two steps away is hard for anyone, but it’s especially hard for an independent, physically active, impatient man.

I spent several days a week sitting with my dad either in the hospital or nursing home trying to manage his care the best I could and provide companionship and comfort.  So many times I would be with him and think about his past and our past together and about all the time that had been lost.

I realize now that I could have been the one to initiate a relationship with Dad many years before it happened if I had sought counsel about how to do that from the Lord.  It could have been done – I had access to the tools I needed but I didn’t choose to use them.

My heart’s cry for my dad was that he would know Jesus before he left this life.  It was so very hard to approach him.  He had always let it be known that he didn’t need church or religion or anything of the sort and he for sure wasn’t going to talk about it with me or anyone else.  During his last few months of illness, however, he was very open for Tom to pray for him.

One night at the hospital when I didn’t know if he would make it, I prayed really, really hard for the Lord to help me talk to him.  I opened my mouth and somehow the words came out.  I told him that the Bible says whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved and asked him if he wanted that.  He said yes right away!  I prayed with him to accept Jesus and be forgiven of his sins.  Relief!  But there were more bridges to cross.

I knew that I would always regret it if he passed and he never heard, “I love you, Dad,” from me.  But I couldn’t imagine those words coming out of my mouth!  Once again, I had to rely on the Lord to lead me and help me.

So, one evening before I left his side at the hospital I asked the Lord to make me brave and said, “Dad, I love you.”  His eyes were closed but he smiled and said, “I love you, too, Ginger.”  What????  That was his wife’s name!  Oh, my goodness – rejection again!  Well, not really.  At this point I was able to just laugh and say, “Dad, it’s me, your daughter.”  “Oh, oh,” he said with a bigger smile and eyes still closed.  “I love you, too, sweetheart.”  That’s all we said that evening but it was the moment we both needed. A few days later, he was gone.

Now I can’t say that my dad became a dedicated disciple of Jesus, but I know that he meant the prayer we said that night.  I know that the moment he left this life he was in heaven and that the first person he saw there was my mom.  It was a reunion that she had longed for and for which I am very grateful that all of my fears and hesitation were overcome by God’s grace.

As I said, I write  because it is a story of God’s redeeming power.  Many of us experience the pain of broken relationships.  Trusting God to bring healing is the only way because only God can heal a broken life, a broken relationship, a broken family.  He gives us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.  (Isaiah 61:3)  It’s why Jesus came – not to just save us for eternity but to heal our hurts.  He takes what the enemy has designed for our harm and turns it into good.

Much of God’s goodness and beauty has been extended to me through my wonderful husband.  Much of the healing I experienced with my Dad was through his encouragement to extend forgiveness and be willing to let the past be past.  I have had the joy of watching him be an awesome father to our kids and having the comfort of his unconditional love for 47 years.  God is good.

If you never have the opportunity to find some sense of restoration in a broken relationship this side of heaven, that does not limit God’s ability to bring healing to your heart.  But if you have the opportunity to be a part of the healing God wants to bring, allow Him to use you.  His grace is sufficient for you to be an instrument of healing.  You will not regret it.

I miss my dad very much and I think about him all the time.  I remember painful things but I rejoice in what God has done.  I will think about him on Father’s Day and be very, very thankful for the healing he and I experienced.   I can celebrate Father’s Day this year and every year because God truly does give beauty for ashes!

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