One night when my littlest one was sick, I sat rocking her back and forth when she looked up at me with a quivering lip. My little one looked into my eyes and confessed her great fear. Not six months before a stomach virus had held her in its grip, while she lost her dignity and her stomach contents several times over the course of a night. She was afraid the same would happen this very night; and, she was certain she could not make it through a night like that again. The “what-if” scenarios fell from her lips as her blue eyes searched mine for comfort and assurance.
I looked back into her eyes with as much love as I thought she could hold. Then I shared with her the truth I knew she needed to hear. “Little one, I will loan you the courage you need while you are scared tonight.”
Her little lip quivered even more and a small tear fell from her right eye. She whispered “Thank you Mommy.” The effort of these quiet words pushed out several more tears. Her little hands reached for my neck; and, I held her tight.
It takes courage to admit your fear and call it by name. When I think a situation is too hard to handle, doubt will often paralyze and convince me I am unable to handle what’s ahead. For me, courage comes the quickest when I admit my fear to God; asking for the courage I need. I have found this to be true countless times in my life, but never as much as when I had to choose to forgive my Dad.
After my high school graduation, I had chosen to walk away from Dad. He and Mom had divorced just as I started junior high. Life became divided between life with Mom and life with Dad. It was hard to balance the emotional swings of growing up with the emotional swings of being a family divided.
When Dad remarried during my freshman year of high school, he made it clear that his new wife was first priority and I was not. He also seemed to require I make him my biggest priority whenever he was available to see me. My teenage brain did not comprehend his double standard.
The night of my senior prom, I chose my friends and my needs over him. To teach me a lesson about loyalty, he decided to skip my high school graduation. After years of feeling unloved and unimportant, I didn’t see the lesson as he intended. Instead, I saw an unforgivable commentary on my unimportance in his life. I walked away from Dad ready to never speak to him again.
The silence lasted three years. During the summer after my junior year of college, Dad called me on the telephone. The reason, he explained, was he needed to transfer an investment, on which he was the beneficiary, before my twenty-first birthday. He wanted to meet at the Italian restaurant just off campus to get me to sign some paperwork for the transfer. After an awkward conversation, I agreed to meet with him.
It was a hot August afternoon when I walked the mile to the Italian restaurant just off campus. As I stood outside the red door, looking in at joy filled people sharing plates of spaghetti and pizza, my heart skipped a beat. I could not believe I was here after three years of silence. I did not belong with the joy filled patrons gathered around tables. I wanted to run away from the happiness seated inside.
I knew the choice to walk over the threshold would change my life; and part of me wanted to stay mad and distant. Frozen to the sidewalk, I was afraid of the anger the red door kept locked deep within me. But, another part begged for the anger to be addressed so I could leave this sidewalk and sit at a table of true joy. I prayed for the courage to just walk through the door.
The courage came, not from me but from a prayer. It was just enough to unglue me from my spot outside the red door. I was able to join the joy filled people eating spaghetti and pizza and on this occasion pretended to be one of them. The borrowed courage was my first step toward forgiveness and healing; but there would be a long road ahead.
The anger had taken root deep in my heart. And although I made one step forward, my gut continued knot with anger every time I saw Dad. It took more than one prayer and one step through one door to make everything all right.
As the years moved forward, the anger released itself in so many different emotions: pain, fear, depression and shame. Each new emotion impeded my progress toward forgiveness and healing. So, I continued to pray, never perfectly mind you (see my post on Not Being Christian Enough), but always earnestly.
Through each difficult emotion, I prayed to borrow just a little more courage. Each and every time the courage came. I did not have it within me to move forward without a loan of courage for the next step. It took many years of borrowed courage to walk through the pain and anger; but then there came a day when I could face Dad without the knot of anger. There was finally a day when I was actually one of the joy filled people, instead of just pretending.
As I released the little one from her hug, I stared back into her bright blue eyes once more willing her to know she would be all right. Willing her to know that courage can be transferred. It is why we have each other. She smiled a weak little smile and closed her eyes knowing she had what she needed. I rocked her until she fell into a deep sleep.
On that night, she slept without fear.