February 2018 Column Winner

My father was a very mean man
Kati Gibson, The Chelsea Reporter

My father was a very mean man.
And I can say that. Oh, I would hear the bits of yelling and arguing from time to time when I was young, but it wasn’t until he left us for his secretary that things got real. I was six years old.
My mom was on her second marriage and this was her Knight in Shining Armor. He was on his second marriage, too. They flew away to Vegas and decided this marriage would work. He had escaped the scrutiny of the never ending pressure from his dad, started a company, became successful – they bought a house, had a kiddo and even a couple of dogs.
There they started a family – they now had a mortgage, a business, pets, landscaping – everything that makes a photo album seem happy and good.
One day, he simply came home from work, late as usual, and said he was leaving. From there it only got worse. Fights, custody battles, bills that couldn’t be paid, child support that was never paid. Cops being called, I was kidnapped twice and my mom had all the battle wounds of an angry and abusive man.
I remember the last time I saw him as a child. We were in Rogers County Courthouse and I was on the stand testifying. My mom had recorded phone conversations between the two of us where I had told him I wasn’t going to come back unless he stopped drinking and he replied, “Well, I guess you can tell your friends you don’t have a dad – your dad is dead.”
That was it. That sealed the deal. My mom won custody and he was assigned to supervised visits – visits he never once came to. We went from him fighting for full custody to him leaving to start a new life – my dad was dead, remember?
Years later, married with two kids – I received a phone call from a man. A few months later, I met this man, I drove to Nebraska with that bearded guy of mine and two small children to meet this whole family. A family I never knew existed. Because when he left, so did his six brothers and sisters, his mom and dad – they all never came back. All the aunts and uncles, cousins I had seen only during the kidnapped times, there they were: adults, real and alive. They had been here all along.
I spent that weekend – the weekend after Thanksgiving being that girl who they all once knew.
I forgave my dad after that trip. I wrote him a letter – told him of my life. Told him of all the ways he could have made it better. I told him of how poor we were and how we only had each other. I told him of Daniel and our beginning marriage. I wrote it all out like a story – a play by play of the life he missed.
Years passed and I returned each year to that family gathering – that one the weekend after Thanksgiving. Even now with my dad gone, our little family still makes the drive to see the people I once never knew but now have grown to love. We’ve now vacationed together, we’ve shared stories together – we’ve become a family. Simply because I wrote the words: “I don’t know where you’ve been, I don’t know why you were gone and it is not okay. But because you’re here now – I forgive you. Because Christ has forgiven me, I forgive you – I don’t care where you were and why you weren’t there – you’re here now and that’s all that matters.”
My dad passed away two years ago and I was there when he said, “I’m ready to go.” There we were – estranged sisters, a brother I had never met... they were all there, sad. They had never forgiven him and now they lived a life of regret for all the things they couldn’t let go of. He leaned over to me and said over and over again, “I love you and I’m sorry.” and I just said, “There is nothing to be sorry for.”
I spoke at his funeral. I shared the story of a man, changed. A story of a man who had a life full of regrets. A man who hurt several, but eventually chose to love. A man who, by the standards of many, had “ruined any chance of heaven or grace” and spoke of his love for his Savior and the grace he found later in life.
I spoke of the man who would randomly call me and tell me he was proud of me. I spoke of a man who, eventually did figure out how to be a husband and father – even a grandfather.
Friends, lean in closely and hear me when I say: God is a God of love, grace and goodness. He knows us best. Don’t you ever, EVER let someone else make you feel unworthy or unloved. Don’t EVER let someone, here on Earth, make you feel like you or someone you love isn’t worthy of grace. Don’t let anyone tell you your life wasn’t good enough to spend eternity worshiping our savior and being whole.
Simply choose to lean on Jesus, love, serve, and forgive.
“If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.”
                1 Corinthians 13:2 NLT

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