“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” Philippians 1:6

Last Sunday marked another year; another year I did not buy a Father’s Day card for my father.  In fact, I don’t recall ever buying a card for either my biological father, or my stepfather.  It is possible that in grade school I may have made a card, but I have no clear memory of doing so.  Now, I have purchased cards for my husband, celebrating the wonderful, nurturing father he has been to our children.  I have also bought cards for my grandfather, my father-in-law and my uncle, who acted as positive male role models in my life.  Yet, I will never make a warm sappy post highlighting that I am still a “Daddy’s girl” on Instagram.  I will never share a picture of my father walking me down the aisle on my wedding day, instead it was my uncle who fulfilled that role.  The harsh reality is that I don’t have a father to celebrate or honor!

For you to understand my situation, I will share a brief history of my family.  My biological father signed away his parental rights when I was a baby.  I did meet him once and subsequently decided the relationship was not worth an investment.  I was raised by my stepfather, an alcoholic who sexually abused me.  He was later arrested and convicted of sexual assault.  Its easy to understand why I don’t buy a Father’s Day card for either of them.

I could close my blog right now, and I am sure comments of sympathy and empathy would ensue.  I might even get questions about the details, or about forgiveness.  But not spending $5.99 for a Hallmark sentiment on Father’s Day is just a prologue to the main story.  It doesn’t tell the story of a woman in her late forties who cherished and treasured every picture her friends shared on Father’s Day with their own amazing dads.  It doesn’t tell about the woman who loves to plan a full day celebrating her husband on Father’s Day.  It doesn’t show the restoration that has taken place.

Restoration is defined as the action of returning something to a former condition.  I love old furniture, but to antique purists, like my father-in-law, I don’t love to restore furniture.   Instead, I love to paint it a fun, new color and replace the old hardware.  It fits my décor style and takes less time.  And a good coat of paint can cover up a lot of damage.  But true restoration takes time and effort.  Often, you have strip away the old finish, sand the piece down, and carefully stain it to its former glory.   My husband and I toured The Breakers, an old Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.  The curators of this mansion did an amazing job trying to find as many original pieces of the time period to furnish the house.  The restoration of these pieces was carefully done and is priceless, demonstrating the amazing craftsmanship of the designer!

Photo credit by Margaret Collins

Imagine with me that when I was born, I was a beautiful table, designed and carefully carved by God himself.  My wood grain was stained carefully to let the beauty of the piece shine through.  Yet, within a few short years of my life, this table was damaged beyond recognition by misuse and abuse.  In some areas, the beautiful wood grain was marred with scratches that cut deeply into the surface.  It no longer functioned as a table and most people would not have even bothered trying to sell it at their yard sale.  Its battered surface and legs looked worthless and unsalvageable.

Thirty-one years ago, my life, or my table, was on its way to the dump, all but crushed by the weight of worries and burdens I was never meant to carry.  I had just shared with the police and social workers the details of my years of sexual abuse.  My stepfather was arrested, immediately, and I was experiencing post-traumatic shock.  Yet, within a few months, I experienced the love of Jesus, an unconditional love that forever changed my life.  Being filled with the Holy Ghost, I felt peace amidst the chaos, pain and brokenness.

This infilling of God’s spirit was the beginning of the restoration process.  This involved therapy with counselors, but a lot of the process involved God using His word, His spirit, and His body of believers to restore me.  Some of the process involved stripping me of the wounds of abuse, carefully sanding my distorted thoughts and views to bring out the beautiful grain.  It included refinishing me with a new stain, restoring in me the trust and beauty found in a marriage, family and friends.  It entailed ripping out damaged places such as coping mechanisms that led to food addiction and replacing them with new, sturdier hardware, including the satisfaction and fulfillment found only in God.  This restoration didn’t happen overnight, and I can’t say that all the restoration is complete, yet.  I can’t say that there aren’t some scars underneath the table that still need to be uncovered and healed.  However, I can say that God has done an incredible work in my life, restoring me to what He had intended from the beginning.  I am not the same table that I was when I was born.  God, through his restoration process, has created a new masterpiece that reflects His amazing craftsmanship!

This is just a glimpse into a major project I am working on: writing a book about the restoration of a life.  In this blog I have used the metaphor of restoring a piece of furniture for simplicity’s sake.  In my book, I am relating my life to the restoration of a home, a deeper and more involved project than a simple table.  My goal in the book is to walk you through my restoration process, unfolding how God has ministered to me in different areas of my life.  This journey of restoration is my story, but I believe, whether it is childhood trauma, as in my case, or a failed marriage, an unexpected death or any situation that causes us to be broken, we all have areas where we need God’s intervention to help bring us back to a place of restoration.  In Jeremiah 30:17, the Lord prophesies, “For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds.”  According to the Matthew Henry commentary, most of Jeremiah’s prophecies fall in the area of reproof and threats.  Yet, this chapter is one of two chapters that stand out as a source comfort and of hope.  Despite the effects of sin, whether self-induced, or inflicted by others, God had a plan to restore His people to health and heal their wounds.  This promise was not only for Israel, but for us, today, as well!

Father’s Day will arrive every year for the rest of my life, and there will always remain some “nevers” in my life, including never buying my father a Father’s Day card.  But this is not a source of pain or contention for me, but rather a reminder of God’s grace and love.  Like the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in “Sherry” will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  God has begun a good work in me, and I can’t wait to finish my book so that you can read about it!

One Drop of Water

“And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

When my daughter was three years old, I found the perfect Christmas dress at a local store.  Crimson velvet trimmed in white fur, I envisioned Maggie in the dress twirling around while singing “Jingle Bells”.  As I ransacked the racks, I found every size but the one I needed.  I clung to the dress as I looked around to see if the right size had been inadvertently misplaced.  After looking down a few aisles, I despaired and put the wrong-size “perfect dress” on the nearest rack and walked away.

While I was checking out, the store owner approached me and demanded that I follow him and a clerk to the office.  Within a few minutes, I was being interrogated in front of my daughter: they wanted to know where I had put the dress.  Startled and confused, I tried to make sense of their questions, answering in a disjointed manner.  They informed me that they had me on the surveillance camera holding the dress and now the dress was missing.  My mind raced as I started to panic.  What if they couldn’t find the dress?  Would I be arrested for shoplifting?  I immediately worried about my daughter, who was blissfully unaware of what was going on and humming a tune to herself.  I told them I thought I remembered where I put the dress, so they followed me as I led them down the aisle.  After grabbing the dress from the rack, they walked away without apology, leaving me feeling violated!

This incident left me feeling angry and frustrated!  The owner of the store, even after a phone call, refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing, with no words of apology or any explanation as to why he was so aggressive.  I felt unheard and misunderstood!  Although this was a traumatic incident in my life, nothing like that has ever happened to me again.  It is a terrible feeling to be treated unjustly because you are absent-minded and simply put a dress in the wrong spot.  Yet, I can’t even imagine how terrible it feels to be repeatedly treated unjustly based on the color of my skin.

These past few weeks have again exposed terrible injustices faced by African-Americans.  We can sit back and debate about what happened, and whether or not these are isolated incidents.  We can examine whether or not the protests and ensuing violence have fueled the situation, or have they come as a natural result of decades of frustration.  We can discuss the responses of both political parties; are they defending, aiding, or helping create real solutions?  Yet, none of this debating is moving us toward any resolution!  It doesn’t examine the heart of the issue!  More importantly, these debates deflect responsibility onto a larger group, and don’t move us, as Christians, to self-examine and grow as individuals!

For the past few weeks, I took a break from writing.  I felt strongly that I should write a blog addressing racism; not because I have great insight, but because I have something to learn.  I have spent this time researching by listening to different Christian podcasts dealing with the concept of systemic racism and how Christians should be responding.  My very soul has been challenged, and I have come to some conclusions, which are by no means conclusive.  In order for us, as a society, to begin effectively dealing with racism, we, as individuals, need to listen, learn, and grow.

First, let’s set the record straight.  I am a white, Caucasian woman who grew up in a predominantly white community with little ethnic diversity.  I attended a small, predominately white, private college.  So, although I have worked in places where diversity was encouraged and celebrated, and I have a few friends that represent different ethnicities and cultures, the reality is that I have limited experience in this area.   I cannot pretend to understand the experience of the average African-American or, for that matter, of anyone else of non-white ethnicity.  I cannot fathom what it is like to live in a place where I am misjudged or mistreated because of my skin color.  I have never had to explain to my children that the reason they were treated badly by an adult or by other children is because their skin isn’t white.  I have no history of my ancestors being slaves and then being unjustly segregated after being told they were full, free members of society.  I have never experienced the harshness of systemic racism, but I have benefited from being a part of the majority!

These facts from my background have shaped my view of the world and placed limits on my perspective.  I can postulate all the opinions in the world about a typical African-American experience, but I haven’t walked in their shoes.  As a result, I need to be open to hear stories of the daily prejudices they face, whether it be overt racism, or racial insensitivity.  I need to listen with an open heart and mind.  I need to let others grieve over the injustices and work through their pain.  Not only do I need to listen, but I need to be willing to ask myself the hard questions.  Have I ever been racially insensitive?  Have I been as inclusive with others as I should be?  How can I be a more sensitive friend and a more effective Christian?

The next step I can take to stop racism is to learn.  Learning is an active process.  I need to read materials by authors who are different from me.  This will help me to understand, not only the challenges they face, but also the cultural histories that have shaped their lives.  I need to actively seek the other perspective, even if it is not from a Christian world point of view.  Trevin Wax, in his book “This is Our Time”, says, “…add to your news intake people who have vastly different worldviews.  Read articles and listen to podcasts from people with whom you differ, not just so you can critique and counter them, but to hear where they are coming from.”  He goes on to say that this will help you learn empathy.  Empathy will enable you reach across the divide and “engage in good conversations”, showing them true Christianity!

Finally, I need to grow.  For too many years, I have openly declared that I am not a racist and then shut down conversations about racism without really listening and learning.  I exposed my children to some different cultures, but should have been more intentional in my approach.  I denied the existence of white privilege without being willing to discover what that really meant, how I contributed to it, or even how I benefitted from it.  The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery need to impact me and force me to change as an individual!  I need to search myself, examine my heart in light of scripture and repent!  I need to do my part in creating an environment in my local church and in my community where everyone feels welcomed.  I cannot remain silent when I see injustice!

               This quote, in relation to the events of the last few weeks, has impacted me: “No single drop of water thinks it is responsible for the flood.”  Initially, I saw the quote from a negative perspective: how have I contribute to racism?  Yet, after listening to other Christians having tough discussions, I felt hope rising in me.  I started thinking about the gospel and how it can change lives.  After all, in Mark 12:31, Jesus declares that the second greatest commandment is this, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  If I can be one drop, a drop that demonstrates God’s love to all, regardless of ethnicity, I can be a part of a flood that impacts and changes our world!