Leslie Leyland Fields is a direct and quick answer to my specific prayer this time last spring. I was stuck. I felt a strong call to write more than a blog but I needed help. Miraculously, I found Leslie. Since then, I’ve read her books and columns, spent a week on her Alaskan fish camp island improving my writing skills, and am still learning much from her as a mentor. I am excited about returning to her Alaskan island again this summer! Leslie is my friend, a sister in Christ, a woman who writes and speaks powerfully and humbly from an intimate experience with her subject matter. Her latest book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, is one of the best I’ve read on forgiveness. I am so enthused about her book that I am GIFTING a copy to the first three people who share this post on Facebook!
And now, it’s my absolute pleasure to welcome Leslie Leyland Fields with an excerpt from her book . . .
It was my first visit to my father in his new nursing home. It had taken two days and four flights to get there. I hadn’t seen him for 8 years. When the divorce was finalized decades ago, he had moved thousands of miles from his children. I was glad. There was abuse, neglect, and a profound disinterest in his six children, of which I was the fourth. I was certain that at any time, my father did not know our middle names, our ages or the school grades we were in. He was mostly absent to us, and when he was present, he was present in all the wrong ways. What could be possible new, near the end of his life?
I opened the door and winced at the olfactory cocktail of urine, chlorine, and Febreze. Survivors sat dazed and blank in their wheelchairs in the living room, but no one who lived here was at home here, I knew.
I came because God had tied a noose around my heart and pulled it tight. I could no longer escape the words from Micah : “And what does the lord require of you but to love mercy, to do justice and to walk humbly with your God”?
I came wanting to love my father near the end of his life– for the first time. I came wanting him to love me—for the first time. I came wanting to love mercy. And even more—I came wanting him to know the love of Christ. Wouldn’t that be a sweet ending to a long, sad life?
The visit, five days long, did not go as I hoped. He proclaimed his atheism. I was defensive. I remembered why I had never liked him. I felt like a failure. But I began to care about him. He was so very alone. Did anyone love him? Had anyone ever loved him? He made it difficult—but is not every created person worthy of love? I knew, as I left, that I would be calling, writing, praying. I knew I would come again. Was that enough, though? How would he know about God’s love?
It was time now to leave. I inched toward the exit doors, my heart tight and heavy. After re-entering his life, it was too soon to leave. I looked behind me one more time. A woman sat at a table near the door smiling at me. It was Sally. My father had introduced me to her that first day as she hobbled down the hall, her body twisted with arthritis.
I hesitated, then came over to her table and sat down quickly. “Sally, I’ve got to go catch my plane. But I’m so thankful that my father has a friend here. “
“Oh yes,” she smiled back, her eyes on mine.
“Does my father talk to you?”
“He doesn’t say a lot, but yes, we talk.”
“What do you talk about?”
“Your father and I and Bill, we meet out back in the smoking shed every day. We talk about God. Your father says he doesn’t believe in God, but I’m not so sure.” She lifts her eyebrows and looks wise.
My eyes widen. “You talk about the Lord with my father?” I did not even know she was a believer.
“I sure do,” she says, smiling her beatific smile.
I see Sally and my father out in the smoking shed sharing cigarettes and the gospel.
I grabbed her hands, curled mine over her swollen, curled fingers. ‘You’re the answer to my prayers.” We talked for five more minutes, then hugged, promised to pray for one another. I walked out, my mind ablaze.
Are God’s mercies really this vast? Narrow is the gate that leads to heaven, and so shall it always be, but wide are God’s mercies, so much wider and vaster than ever I knew. And this is how it went: Jesus, the hound of heaven, lovingly dogged my father’s heels all his days, even at the last. A loving witness was constantly present with my reclusive, renegade father.
I don’t know if my father ever yielded to the God he was unsure of before he breathed his last lung of air. But I got to come two more times. I got to love him. I got to love mercy. And my father did not die alone. His children forgave him. Two of them were by his side when he died.
I could so easily have missed it all, these staggering displays of God’s character and heart. Forgiveness brought me there.
Leslie Leyland Fields is an award-winning author of eight books, a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a national speaker, a popular radio guest, and a sometimes commercial fisherwoman, working with her husband and 6 children in commercial fishing on Kodiak Island, Alaska where she has lived for 36 years. Her latest book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers (Thomas Nelson), released January 21, 2014.
Leslie also blogs every Tuesday at: www.leslieleylandfields.com.