"...how can I not extend the same freedom found in forgiveness..."
My father had been an alcoholic for as long as I could remember. In October of 2016, he had an incident and fell down a steep hill. He ultimately went into a coma and was taken to the hospital where his blood alcohol level was found to be .44 (for reference, the legal driving limit is .08). He was unresponsive and doctors didn’t believe he had much brain activity. My grandmother, who had let him live with her for 15 years, called and told me I should come and say goodbye. I was the only one of his 4 children at that time who really had any relationship with him because of his years of drinking. My siblings could not understand why I would have anything to do with him. Fortunately, my Christian walk, bolstered by the teachings of years of church messages on grace, gave me eyes to see him differently than my younger brothers and sister could.
I couldn’t drive at that particular time because of a severe bout of a vertigo-like condition I was suffering from. It had been very frustrating being dependent on friends and family to drive me everywhere and I found myself being angry at God and His timing. With limited other options, I kept being nudged in my spirit to call my brother Chase who lived in town to let him know about our father and see if he would be willing to drive me 6 hours to Georgia to say goodbye to him. At first, he wanted nothing to do with the assignment because Dad had always been very critical and even downright mean to my brother. They hadn’t even spoken in 5 years. I assured him that Dad was in a coma and had no real brain activity, so this would just be a quick trip to say goodbye…so he couldn’t say anything hurtful to my brother. A while later, my brother called back and said he would pick me up in 2 hours. I happened to be at the Tuesday Morning Bible Study at the time I got his call and I asked the women to pray for this to be a healing time in our family.
About 2.5 hours into the trip, after much light-hearted and humorous conversation, my brother abruptly turned to me and asked me how I could possibly be going to see Dad after everything he has put us through. We were driving on a stretch of I-75 that had these giant billboards with various Jesus Saves messages on them. One of them a few miles back had mentioned the forgiveness found in being a follower of Jesus. It was like I didn’t even have to rack my brain on how to simplify my answer to someone who wasn’t a believer; I basically regurgitated the words from the billboard, adding that I just figured that if Jesus can forgive me for all of the not-so-great stuff I have done and will do in my life, then how can I not extend that same freedom found in forgiveness to the people in my life who have done not-so-great stuff to me? He didn’t have a response, but the question seemed to hang heavy in the car for the rest of the trip.
When we arrived at the hospital and got to the ICU, our grandmother had stepped out of the room for a few moments, leaving Dad alone in his room. A nurse spoke to us in the hallway and said Dad had been very quiet all day, still unresponsive, and not to expect much. My brother was going to wait outside the room, but I encouraged him to come in for a minute at least. We walked in together. It’s quite a gut-check the first moment when you see someone who has played an important role in your life hooked up to so many machines and looking so lifeless. For a split second, it’s like a giant vacuum sucked all of the oxygen out of the room, and it took me a moment to breathe the grim reality of the situation in so I could make words come out of my mouth.
“Hi Dad…it’s Ansley. I came up to see you. And Chase is here with me.”
“Hi Dad,” Chase said.
I really don’t remember how much time actually transpired between our words and the movements we saw in his arms. Or how much time between those movements and the gurgling, moaning sounds that came from our Dad. I do know the nurse came in right about then and witnessed the lifelessness being traded for signs of something happening. The nurse was shocked, proceeded to do his vitals, and started talking to him more.
He was awake within a few hours.
Not in great shape, but awake.
We stayed a few days, and my brother came with me on every trip to the hospital, even sitting with Dad on his own for a while. I’m not sure if that simple message on a billboard high above that stretch of I-75 was the catalyst to healing in our family, but I definitely believe it was strategically placed there. And I understood fully from that trip why God had allowed me to have the vertigo that required me to need a driver to Georgia.
Dad has been sober since that fall of 2016, and has given his life to Christ, sharing his testimony of how Jesus brought him back to life to give him another chance. He completed 2.5 years of intense alcohol rehab and counseling, voluntarily, and has regular contact with my brother and myself. Our other 2 siblings are still working on their own forgiveness journeys for now, but we are still praying they will come around. Even though Dad is in end-stage cirrhosis from all of those years of abuse to his body, his sobriety has made him eligible for a liver transplant, should a donor be available in time. But if not, he knows he is also now eligible for the ultimate, eternal life-saving measure that ensures he will be able to go to Heaven, thanks to the forgiveness found in knowing Jesus Christ.
Questions to dig deeper:
What feels hopeless in your life? What is God saying to you today about these circumstances?
Who is God inviting you to pray for right now?
A prayer to pray: Lord, breathe your life into the things that I have given up on. Give me the wisdom to see your plans for the hurting things I’m holding inside of me, and give me the mind of Christ when I don’t know what to do next. In Jesus’ name, Amen.