He came around the corner of the barn to the west side, out of sight of the house. He touched me again. However, this time I mustered up everything inside of my 12-year-old self I could as I wheeled around on him and hollered, “Stop it!” Then I raced off to the only sanctuary I could find, a pond about a hundred yards away. My dad never touched me again in “that way,” but from that moment on, any semblance of a father/daughter relationship was severed.
Living with the wounds
As I moved on from that day behind the barn, I worked hard to hide the wounds of my childhood behind a façade of perfectionism and shyness, both defense mechanisms to help me survive in the “real world.” I poured myself into school and sports and found great worth in the praise of others. I looked for peace and safety at Grandma Mansfield’s house, but when I was home, I usually found sanctuary in the woods or in the melodies of John Denver. And I tried my best never to be alone with my dad again.
Years passed, and only by the grace of God was I able to come out of my shell, enter a successful teaching and coaching career, and get married. Soon after, my husband and I decided to try out a Bible study at a fellow teacher’s home. I was soon hooked, and eventually we found a wonderful spiritual home in the Rosebank BIC Church (Hope, Kans.).
I’d never encountered a group of folks before who loved on people as soon as they walked through the doors. Most importantly, I’d never heard the Gospel before—the Gospel that proclaimed the love of a God so deep and profound that He sent His son, Jesus, to die for me. I discovered the love and salvation of Christ, and I soon chose to believe on Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.
Life was good! However, even with all the blessings already in my life, God, in His infinite love and grace, had a plan for me that I never would have fathomed. And, even though decades had passed since my abuse as a child and I’d pretty much buried the past, God knew I needed to deal with the issues with my dad before that plan would ever come to fruition.
A retreat leads forward
In the magnificent Colorado Rockies, God invited me to experience a deeper manifestation of His love. At a women’s retreat hosted by the Midwest Regional Conference of the Brethren in Christ Church, the Spirit impressed upon my heart the need to forgive my dad.
One afternoon, I chose to forego a shopping trip to Colorado Springs in lieu of a hike up the mountain overshadowing the retreat center. At the end of the trail were several large slabs of granite, and I lay down on one to soak in the afternoon sun.
I spoke to the Lord on that marbled surface, and I soon found myself sitting up and saying out loud, “I forgive you, Dad, for what you did to me.” The tears poured forth: tears of refreshment, tears of healing, even tears of sorrow for my dad, who I knew was not in the best of health.
I camped out on that slab for several hours, took in the beauty of nature, and basked in the love and grace of my Eternal Father. Later, I slipped back down the mountain and headed straight to the evening session.
On that pivotal evening, the leaders asked for volunteers to share experiences of being set free from any kind of bondage. Nervously, I described my mountaintop experience—and, for the first time in my life, shared about the abuse I suffered at the hands of my dad.
I will never forget the words that Chris Sharp (current executive director of BIC World Missions) spoke to me that evening: When an eagle is weary, it will perch on a rock in the warm sunshine to rejuvenate and gather strength. I was awestruck by what she shared, and from that point forward, I’ve had Isaiah 40:29–31 as my life scripture:
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
To my amazement, other women approached me later that evening to share about their own abuse. Together, we all soaked in the love of a Father and Savior who had tenderly spoken to my heart about forgiving my dad. I was finally able to rise up on wings like those of the eagle.
Healed . . . and healing
My mountaintop experience taught me that the fence of my unforgiving spirit toward my dad had magnified itself as the “Great Wall of China” between my heavenly Father and the plan He had for my life. The Holy Spirit soon laid on my heart the desire to pursue pastoral ministry. I firmly believe to this day that the Lord would not have been able to speak His will into my heart until I had taken that step of faith to forgive my dad.
I have truly experienced the heartfelt love, grace, and forgiveness only a perfect Father can impart to His children. And for about five years now, I’ve had the incredible privilege of not only preaching God’s word, but also leading women on the path of forgiveness and healing through the Life Skills classes held at Rock Island.
Life Skills helps men and women to not put a band-aid on their woundedness, but to deal with the core of who they are and the root of their unhealthy, sometimes even violent, behaviors. No two individuals experience healing in the same way; after all, our creative God made us all different and meets us in different ways. Nevertheless, Life Skills is built on the premise that true healing occurs when a person confronts their wounds and grounds their road to healing in forgiveness. The power of forgiveness is at the crux of the program. When a person understands that forgiveness offers freedom not only to those being forgiven but also to the person doing the forgiving, incredible change takes place.
Never in a million years would I have imagined such fulfilling ministries in preaching and teaching. However, God had imagined and planned it all along, and I can see Him at work throughout my life, even when I was a 12-year-old girl, trapped behind a barn.
How can we grasp the love, grace, and forgiveness that we experience through our Savior, Jesus Christ? We open ourselves to it, live in it, pass it on, and allow God’s healing to begin!
My earthly father’s abuse wounded me deeply on many levels. When God reached out to me over the span of many years, I experienced the miracle of healing and forgiveness. And as I opened my heart to the Lord’s, I discovered that the miracle doesn’t end there: It continues to unfold as we discover His incredible plan and purpose for our lives.