I’m CSPC member Pam Stovall, and this is how I’m living deeply.
My dad was very controlling. If I agreed with him, I felt like he loved me. But if I challenged him, if I questioned him -I mean, just in everyday conversation- he would become very angry. Sometimes he would throw things across the table. He controlled with his money, too; he would dangle it and was generous with it as long as people agreed with him. So growing up like that, I learned certain behaviors. I tended to have perfectionism in my personality. My dad also led a very promiscuous life, made very poor choices, and was always gone. My mother did a great job of trying to protect my sister and me from all that. I think she knew, because my dad was never home, that he was probably up to no good. But she wanted to try to make the marriage work. They finally divorced when I was in college, and looking back, I’m amazed they stayed married as long as they did. But my mom felt, from very early on, that God was telling her through Scripture He was going to take care of her. I saw her demonstrate that trust. She made sure to take me and my sister to church, which was a stabilizing influence. And I was in Young Life, which was instrumental in helping me learn more about a personal relationship with the Lord. Decades after my parents’ divorce -and even after his second wife passed away- my dad continued to make very poor choices. I lived in Knoxville by this time and he still lived in Augusta, Georgia, where I grew up. (Characteristically, he told me he’d never forgive me for moving to Knoxville!) I loved him, but I did not agree with the choices he was making. I knew they weren’t healthy for him and very strongly wanted to communicate that. So in 2015 and 2016, I wrote him numerous letters- these are letters a daughter would write to her father and expect his heart to be moved. I never heard anything from him regarding those letters, so I realized his heart must really be hardened.
Around this time, I had started seeing a counselor about my dad. I struggled with how to honor him- because I’m commanded to do that. He’d had a profound impact on me. I felt like I had to be perfect or agree with him in order for him to love me, and my counselor helped me see that. She also helped me grasp the idea that God was my good Father. I didn’t have a good earthly father, but God was the best Father, and God was bigger than all of this. I guess I already knew that in my head, but I wasn’t living as if I did. And so I began to live that way. Once you experience that truth, that no matter what, God is your Father and He loves you more than anyone else… well, it was just very life-changing for me. I suddenly had strength to challenge my earthly father. I wasn’t afraid to share with him how he’d made me feel because I had everything I needed in my heavenly Father. So I went to visit my dad at his house in Augusta. I told him he had controlled me all of my life and he wasn’t going to control me anymore. I told him I was praying for him. And my dad, very casually and flippantly, responded that he read his devotional every morning. He threatened to cut me out of his will. I said, ‘In your heart, if you really feel that’s what you want to do, then do it.’ It was just him threatening. Typical behavior. The time with him did not end very well. I finally just said I was sorry he didn’t understand what I was trying to share. I was saying things he didn’t want to hear, and I think he just shut down. There was nothing else for me to say- I again just realized his heart was very hard. A little later I felt like I needed to send him my favorite devotional book, so I did. Again, I never heard anything, but I felt like those were ways I was honoring him while having boundaries, which was freeing. When he passed away in 2016, I didn’t have any regrets. I was able to share everything I ever wanted to share with him through our talk, the devotional gift, and those letters he never responded to.
My counselor helped me work through other learned behaviors I’d developed because of the relationship with my dad. For example, I could not be transparent with people- I might reveal a crack in my personality or risk exposing a personal weakness. As we spent time delving into that, I realized I am so drawn to people who are transparent, and I wanted to be one of those. Now I love it when people share with me, and I don’t even think about guarding my response anymore. They may see I’ve got a quirk or something- that’s okay. Everybody’s quirky. I can just be myself, and it’s a great way to live versus the baggage and burden of the other way. And after so much family trauma in my life, I feel like God –the only Father I truly need- has given me such a precious gift: I have three grown children, and they all live within 10 minutes of me (they could have gone anywhere- we didn’t move to Knoxville until they were adults). I also have the best, most supportive husband by my side in Jeff. And we even moved my mom to Knoxville a few years ago. When I was growing up, family was a source of tension and distance. Now it’s my stronghold of joy, support, love, closeness. I never want to take any of that for granted- it is a gift from God. I’m looking forward to sharing a little more about how my good Father is at work in my life next week.