When I was 7, I came home from school one day to learn that the night before my father had fatally shot a man before unsuccessfully attempting to take his own life. The news forever changed my world.
The man my father murdered was a family friend from church with a wife and four kids. We learned later my dad had been living a double life. The fight took place at a gay bar, and the man had been my dad’s homosexual lover for years.
For the next 11 years, I endured abuse and threats from my father that planted fear inside me. Although I could not trust my earthly father, I’ve learned I can trust my heavenly Father. Jesus is helping me heal and forgive.
I grew up on a peach farm, the only child of my church organist father and church pianist mother. On the outside, we looked like a perfect family. My dad never laid a hand on me, but I was afraid of him from the beginning. My childhood memories are sparse. When faced with trauma, memory loss can be a defense mechanism.
In my parents’ divorce settlement agreement after the murder, I was forced to visit my dad in prison twice every year until I was 18. During my first visit to the county jail, I felt the presence of evil and prayed for Jesus to make me brave. I sat in front of bulletproof glass as my dad was escorted in, his hands and feet handcuffed, his face forever scarred. We spoke through a telephone, like you see in movies. It felt like a horror movie.
My dad told disturbing stories about life behind bars—things a child should never hear. He never apologized for or acknowledged what had happened. My mom says I trembled and vomited before and after each visit.
Once my dad accepted the plea deal for his sentence and was moved from the county jail to prison, glass no longer separated us, and he would request one-on-one time with me. Although officers guarded us, he damaged me with words: “I can’t believe that not wearing a condom one time with your mom created you. Someone I never wanted, never intended to have.”
I had repressed this poisonous memory deeply. Although the enemy tried to silence it so I could never heal, God called it into the light and spoke truth to my broken heart. Connecting with a Christian counselor allowed me to talk with a trusted, trained professional. Had I suppressed the trauma, I would’ve been destroyed from the inside out.
In high school, I developed friendships and played volleyball. Exercise was a healthy outlet, and my confidence began to return. However, things with my dad worsened. My busy schedule meant I wasn’t home as often when he called and didn’t respond quickly to his letters. That angered him.
When I turned 18, I no longer had to visit my dad in prison. My dad knew that and began twisting Scripture against me in an effort to control me. Fear kept me paralyzed until I began receiving letters in which he physically threatened my life.
Refusing to be the victim, I filed a prison’s version of a restraining order and felt a weight lifted.
I wish I could say it’s been easy ever since. But my fear continues as my father comes up for parole—so far he’s been denied—every few years. His next parole date is in late 2019.
When certain triggers take me back to being that traumatized little girl, I lay the fear at the feet of Jesus, who died on the cross to break our chains. Healing is not a onetime thing; it’s a process.
Shortly after ending communication with my dad, I attended Bible college, later earning a psychology degree from Fresno Pacific University and getting married.
I’ve learned I can release my desire for justice and trust we serve a just God. He might not change my circumstances, but he will be with me.
God has taught me the power of forgiveness. Many of us have been sinned against, some in life-altering ways. Why should we forgive someone who has caused suffering? Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget, need to trust that person again or that your anger will go away. But choosing to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it brings healing.
Jesus was wronged, slandered, beaten, abandoned and murdered, yet he forgave. When we offer our hearts to God, he gives us the Holy Spirit, who gives us strength to forgive and to heal from what or who tried to break us.
The author and her family attend a Mennonite Brethren church in California’s Central Valley. Her name is withheld online due to the sensitive nature of her story.