“And they overcome by blood of the lamb and the WORD of their testimony…” Revelation 12:11
Within our stories lies the power we need to overcome. Some of us struggle to recognize the overcoming power in our own story, as so many of them still hold loose ends, moments of intense loss, or perhaps unanswered questions. Paul so beautifully reminds us that it is “in our weakness” that Jesus is seen and made strong- and so therefore we can boast in our weakness! It is often our own stories of brokenness and pain that Jesus rides in with overcoming power.
Are there parts of your story that feel unfinished, pending, or irredeemable? “What was that season about God? Where are you in that?” Are there seasons of pain or loss that have yet to be filled with Jesus’ strength, comfort, and healing perspective?
I’m writing this article with a deep conviction I want to impart to your heart: God will use the most broken, discarded, neglected, abused and shattered parts of us to reveal His deep love. Here is the story of how He has met me in mine….
I grew up in the little mountain town of Sisters, Oregon, with 2 older brothers and a little sister. My parents fell in love working for a missions organization on the Kona base in Hawaii in the 80s, and I am so thankful for the understanding and connection to the Holy Spirit that they laid a foundation for in my life. I see now that it was the source of strength that got me through most of my journey.
When I was 9 years old, one unexpected day my mom packed all of us kids up and drove us from our home in Sisters, Oregon to our grandparents house in San Jose, CA.
I remember my mom was crying, and I worriedly asked her what was wrong and “if daddy was ok?” She told me daddy was sick and we needed to go stay with grandma and grandpa for a while, until he got well.
This was the first time I realized something was not right with my family. There had always been clues- like the fact that as a child I was afraid of my friends’ dads, and would cower around them. Being afraid of a father seemed completely natural to me. But this moment at 9 years old is where I became aware of the reality that has shaped most of my life.
My dad had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and several other psychiatric issues. I didn’t know at the time that my parents’ marriage was hanging by a thread.
This moment led to a 6 year season in Fresno, California where we hoped to receive healing for our family at a christian counseling center that specialized in mental health. We found out later that my dad evaded many of those counseling and therapy appointments, and eventually stopped getting help all together.
What unfolded from his choices, was years of a home environment where we walked on eggshells. I know now that perhaps my dad was doing the very best he could in the midst of his own unique suffering and manic depression, and I hope to honor him in how I proceed in telling this nuanced and tragic season for our family. I am not presuming to tell his story, only mine. And I pray that if he ever reads this he will know that I love him and that he will see how the Lord has been faithful to me even in the brokenness.
Through those young adolescent years, my father became more tense and volatile, emotionally and on occasion, physically, abusive to our family. It eventually led to a long awful separation, and finally divorce. The four year separation was strung along through awful court battles involving us kids, restraining orders towards my dad for extreme behavior, too many counseling visits, and culminated in my heart shutting down. Depression and a numbness like a film covered everything in my world for several years.
One summer, in 2015, I came to Oregon to attend Camp Crestview with some of my Oregonian friends, escaping for just a few weeks from our families tumultuous life in Fresno. Ryan and Kate Rhoden were directing that camp and that is where I first met the Living Waters community, who I now work with. Who would have thought, all these years later! One night during worship, I had a profound, personal encounter with the love of God that shook and melted all of the hardened places inside of me. It wasn’t until feeling again at that camp, that I realized the loss of our family security and damaged relationship with my dad had led to such a deep depression.
After worship, I remember sitting in my cabin and for the first time realizing I had held unforgiveness towards my father. The thought of saying I forgive you made my stomach sick- it felt inauthentic. But the Holy Spirit encouraged me to take a step of faith. In the witness of my cabin leader Alison and some of my friends, I remember choosing to say out loud “I forgive you dad” for the first time in my life. This moment at camp unlocked my world. The rest of the week, and the year that followed I was in shock at the joy that flooded back in! It was like going from seeing in only black and white to seeing in full color. The depression and numbness I was under completely melted off as I wept with my cabin leader and cabin mates that day.
I thought that forgiving my dad said that the pain my father caused wasn’t valid or that big of a deal, or that somehow holding unforgiveness was actually me giving back justice for what he had done. But it was here at camp that I realized that I was the only one being held captive by my unforgiveness. Letting it go began a process of me choosing to forgive my dad every day, even while his actions were still oppressing our family in real time.
Sometime during this season I remember reading Psalm 68:5-6 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing”
That’s me!!! I thought. Singing was, after all, one of the expressions that burst out of me when I felt most free. I felt like God had written that verse just for me to find. I decided to take God up on His offer – He said He could do it after all. So I asked HIm “Ok Lord. You say in the word that you do this- that you father people who don’t have dads. So I’m asking you- would you come fill this gaping hole of Father in my life? Would you do that? Would you be my Father?”
Looking back, I recognize this was the turning point in the trajectory of my entire story.
I could talk to you for hours about all the way God has since parented me.
But for the sake of this writing, I want to tell you just a few of the moments that followed, where God proved himself as a father in my life.
At 18, I moved to Australia to do a Discipleship Training School with YWAM- a missions organization.The first week the topic was the Father Heart of God. I wept on the floor of my DTS outbuildings for hours listening to the song Abba by Jonathan Helser, which had just come out at the time.
So much grief had to pour out of my heart to heal– I remember how saying the name “Dad” felt like a dirty word- it made my stomach sick. During Father Heart week, Jesus met me in the land of tears, and something profound shifted as I began to call God “Dad” that week. He even changed the way saying the word felt in my body! My heart lights up with joy now when I say it. He went so far as to redeem even the word.
I Started journaling God’s voice during this season- re learning what a father was and what he would be like and sound like. The tone of His voice, His countenance, how He would interact with me.
In those days God was wrecking me with His present, tender love, and I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me and say –
“Niesje, dare me to prove my love to you!”
We were going through a drought at the time in Australia- and I really missed the rain. I whispered to God one hotter-then-heck afternoon in Brisbane,
“Father, if you love me….. make it rain.”
I woke up the next morning, and I’ll never forget the first sound I heard.
It continued to rain record amounts for 2 weeks after that. In the middle of an Australian drought the Father of the universe and heaven came so close, so specific, to prove his love to an 18year old, broken girl’s heart. Talk about how much God loves us!!!
I am not exaggerating when I say this fervent, intentional re-fathering kept coming over the next 2 years. It’s as if Jesus had painted a target on me and every speaker or prophetic leader that came by saw it. Every man who carried fatherhood who visited the base called me out. There was a part of me as a middle schooler and high schooler in a family that had been splintered by mental illness – I didn’t feel seen- and Jesus spent years making sure I knew that HE saw me.
I began learning that my Father wanted to meet me in my most specific prayers. He began to teach me what a father-daughter relationship could be like. I told Him my secrets, He comforted me, spoke truth into my spirit. One week I remember specifically struggling with the lack of love I’d experienced from a father. The need for a physical being to be close to, hug me, hold my hand. Tears welled up in my eyes as I cried to God-
“God, I don’t even know what it feels like to be held by a dad.”
A few days later, a man named Ken Helser was visiting our base to teach on the Father Heart of God. He didn’t so much teach, as he did demonstrate the heart of God. I was the hospitality girl at the time, and as Ken had finished a session, I was about to show him and his wife where they were staying. As I greeted Ken, his face lit up like lightning had just struck him, he immediately sat down in a chair pulled me into his lap, threw his arms around me and began rocking and singing.
Tremoring in his husky southern drawl, he said “Sometimes a little girl just needs to be held by her daddy!”
I think projectile tears came out of my eyes. I know you may not believe me. It was too perfect. There were witnesses! I think his wife was more astonished as I was. Ken heard the voice of the Lord and obeyed. It could have been the most uncomfortable, awkward scenario- A 20 year old girl being rocked by a wirey 65 year old man. But It was sacred, it was somehow so safe and holy. And I knew those arms were God’s, not Ken’s.
All of this healing was changing my heart – massaging the pain out and filling it with new experiences of a father!
I began having dreams about my dad being healed during this time- I encountered a person In my dream that was almost indescribable- it was my dad, but all of his pain, illness, and brokenness removed- he was humbled, he was peaceful, he was safe.
This started to give me vision and hope for a better relationship and ultimately landed my heart in love for my dad and a desire for the best for him, whether he was ever capable of a relationship or not.
Do you know what healing is?
I think we recognize it as when a wound has healed, when it’s come back to the original dewy skin or innocent state. But you know what healing is to the Lord? When the very thing or person that wounded you, you now love and bless.
As I look back over these years of God becoming my true Father, I recognize a cycle that surfaced. It is a cycle of healing that I to this day go back to- one in which I continue to find myself at different stages of, with different people and experiences. My prayer is that by seeing this laid out, it will be helpful to you in walking through pain in your own life.
Cycle of Healing
- recognizing the wound, naming it: You can’t heal what you don’t feel
- Exploring, acknowledging and validating all of the negative effects this had on you, not leaving anything out.
- Facing the painful emotions and taking time to grieve the loss of what should have been or could have been
- Give it time: this often happens in waves, or stages
This is our superpower as Christians. An exchange! This is the tricky one- it is a CHOICE. But as believers we often want to skip to this immediately. HOWEVER it is nearly impossible to TRULY do the Forgiveness stage without the Grieving Stage.
- Forgiveness is releasing the person and the pain – truly letting go of the right for justice on our own terms.
- Unforgiveness doesn’t punish them – it imprisons us – It is“ like drinking poison expecting someone else to die,” as Danny Silk says.
- Forgiveness does not equal trust. Just because we forgive, does not mean this person has earned the right to be back in our lives or that they have been able to show us they are capable of honoring boundaries, or have capacity to be safe. Trust takes 2 people, choice, boundaries, and safety to rebuild. Forgiveness only requires one person to make a change.
- Forgiving does not invalidate or make light of the pain we experienced- it actually says “what you went through was so significant that it will require a divine touch in order to be healed.”
- Recognizing the brokenness and need in the very person that wounded you
- Being able to see their pain and receive compassion for what they went through
- Getting God’s heart for them- you begin to see them through Jesus’ eyes of Love
- Being able to remain in love for them
- Wanting their best, being able to have thankfulness for who they are, pray for them
- A renewed desire to see them thrive, even if it doesn’t benefit me
I walked through this cycle with my own dad, and the proof of healing is how deeply I can say I love my earthly father again, and the hope I have for him. I would love to tell you that this all ended in a perfect happy reconciliation with my dad, or that God became my father and I never felt the need or ache of that father loss again. I still do not have contact with my earthly dad- and I wait, pray, and hold the door open every day, hoping that we can have restoration in the life. But whether or not I get that redemption in this life or the next, I love my dad and I bless him.
This healing cycle gave me an increased capacity- it prepared me to go through some difficult years where I watched a series of newer father figures have massive public failures, and yet I was able to remain rooted in my Heavenly Father’s love.
As I processed new father figure pain in my mid twenties, oftentimes it felt like going backwards, losing ground, and it was not all easy. There were many more times of facing new pain of betrayal and abandonment from men. Sometimes I wondered if I had “lost my healing.” Each time I asked this I felt the Holy Spirit direct me back to receiving more of His unending parental love for me.
I had to Fight through their failure to harvest something good.
That’s the beauty of true healing. When a bone breaks, it grows back stronger. Sy Rogers said – “true for the body, true for the soul”. You know something’s healed when the bone that broke has healed back twice as strong. I had to learn how to be fathered by the Lord, so that when this moment I’m about to tell you about came, it didn’t break me, it solidified Who the Lord was to me.
Almost 5 years ago now my mom remarried. She had been single and growing so immenselfy for almost 15 years, waiting only for the right man to step into our family. For 4 years of our step dad being in our lives, we celebrated that he was the golden answer to our prayers- the fulfillment of so many words and promises for our mom to have a faithful loving partner, for me and my siblings to have a male figure we could go to for wisdom and covering, for our family to have a patriarch, for our kids to have a grandfather…
Last year, a few weeks into Covid, during the shut down, we as a family received terrible news. My step father was at the time, the core leader and director of a prominent healing ministry, and a letter was sent to his overseer and associates that essentially exposed his double life, and who he truly was. I won’t go into details, for my mother’s sake, to cover my family, and even my step dad. There’s no need to waste time talking here about the devil’s handiwork. But all I can tell you is that what was unearthed was horrifying. Betrayal beyond belief, would be an understatement. The man we had come to love, that we thought was God’s redemption for us, was not- nor ever was- who we thought he was. Growing up I remember hearing about massive scandals with pastors in huge ministries and movements, and I always felt horrified wondering how something like that could happen. And here I was watching my family walk through a soap opera on steroids- it was happening to us.
This devastation re-splintered our family in words I cannot describe. My mother’s whole world was shattered, my siblings re-traumatized. I cried through several of the worship sets that we recorded during that time last year, the grief and anger was so close. It wasn’t always because of feeling so spiritually moved by Jesus as it was sometimes getting close to His presence that the grief involuntarily poured out of me. There was a point I deeply questioned my place in leadership- even going to the length of telling Ryan and Kate I shouldn’t be on the team. They, as good leaders, didn’t allow me to revoke my calling just because I was in a messy place, but embraced and walked with me while I limped.
This story is still in progress today, and me in my family are somewhere smack-dab back in that Cycle of Healing. Some days I think we are still just reeling from the pain, and grieving. Sometimes getting back in the cycle feels like a hampster wheel- but I’ve been here before- and I know there is an end that leads to mercy and hope.
Suffering revealed something to me. There is only One Father, who is My true Father. He knows and cares for me in a way that no earthly man will or should ever fill. His shoes aren’t fillable in my world anymore. And He is consistent, He is the Faithful One.
During this very recent and raw process, just months ago, I had the opportunity to go to a writing retreat with some other songwriters who loved the Lord.
Within the first few minutes of meeting the group that was randomly selected for me to write with, I felt a trigger rising up. One of the men was in his 50s…his name was Gregg. Greying hair….familiar build…same accent…and upon asking he told me the name of his hometown…and I shuddered. The very place my step father was from. My heart went cold, and my stomach locked up. I could feel the iron walls from my years of childhood distrust cascading to the sky, halting any twinge of creativity or openness available in me. Triggers are so interesting- they so often have nothing to do with the person who trips on them, but everything to do with our unprocessed pain. And this was NOT the place I was willing to process any of it.
I knew this would not work. I could not write a song out of passion and authenticity with my heart completely closed to this man and my gorup.
The Holy Spirit nudged me, “just tell them what you’re going through.”
Hellllll no, Lord. Literally, what I said in my mind.
I cannot tell these people who do not know me, the absolute disaster of a trainwreck that my family is, and let them see the pain in me.It’s far too much! Plus, I’m a pastor, I don’t put my problems on people! Especially ones I don’t know!
I felt the Holy Spirit smile with both snarkiness and compassion.
He reminded me of the session we had just come out of at the retreat- the one where my dear friend Antonio was sharing how the best art comes from authenticity and that requires vulnerability- bringing our weakness, not just our strength. He had implored us to risk being vulnerable, and being weak.
Are you freaking kidding me, God? I was set up.
“You can do it Niesh.” I heard the Holy Spirit encourage my heart.
“Do you trust me to cover you? Are you willing to risk being misunderstood and watch what I do with your weakness?”
Reluctantly, feeling terrified of benign that vulnerable and weak, I yielded. I told Greg that this had nothing to do with him, but essentially I was triggered because he was a similar age, demographic, and literally from the very place the man who just betrayed our family came from. I told him and the group minor details, just to bring understanding, as tears embarrassingly spilled out in front of these strangers.
It could have all been over right then. I stepped out in faith with my vulnerability, but Gregg and Tarryn could have responded in any way. But Gregg looked at me intently with tears in his eyes, and to my absolute shock, began to uncover his own story. He too was there carrying wounds. He had a step daughter he loved deeply who he was separated from and longed for a relationship with. As we talked, we ended up sharing where we were at in our families. Tears flowed on both sides. Gregg apologized on behalf of the men in my life and told me he was so sorry and that my family deserved so much more. I could not believe the parallel of our stories. We ended that time praying for each other, and came out of it teary-eyed, and so supernaturally encouraged and healed.
That night in worship I felt the Lord tell me that Gregg was the entire reason for the weekend. I wept as I felt God’s love and intention to bring someone to trigger and open up a wound, that then Jesus poured healing into. I felt the Holy Spirit ask me
“Niesje, what if you let this encounter be what you write the song from?”
Our group said yes to the invitation and we ended up writing a song in one day about my and Gregg’s perspective, and the relationship between a father and a daughter. The heart of the song was from both a parent and a child, both longing for connection, acknowledging the damage, and choosing to keep our hearts open to each other, despite the years of separation that had passed. Writing it was like therapy for us, as we hashed through what we would want to really say to my father/his daughter, if it came down to it at the end of the day. We were blown away at what God created out of our pain.
The last night of the retreat, every group shared their songs. When we began to sing, you could hear a pin drop. Each of us felt so much emotion. When the song was over and we opened our eyes- we saw a room flooded with tears. A girl in the front shot onto her feet and exclaimed through sobs,
I haven’t spoken to my dad in ages. We haven’t had a relationship- and hearing this song changed something in me. I am going to go and call my dad!”
There were so many layers of healing that happened for me, for Gregg, for our whole group that weekend. Gregg walked away with a room full of newly adopted adult kids who all wanted to have coffee with him. We are still hearing the stories of how that authentic song, birthed from pain and loss and honesty, is touching lives.
We were healed as we wrote the song, putting language to the process of our grief and desire for reconciliation. The song is now being recorded by the directors of the retreat and their production company. It’s only the beginning of Jesus’ using our wounds to bring healing. Isn’t that like Him? The one who heals us by His wounds, then He imparts that kingdom promise to us, to give away as well. I believe it’s His way of getting a return- the full reward of His suffering is when our sufferings are turned to freedom and healing for others. He wastes NOTHING.
Malachi 4:6 “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
I am still in the middle of the cycle of healing all over again. But I know who my Dad is and nothing will ever change that.
I want to speak to your heart- Your pain will be a source of healing for others, if you let it. If you are willing to do the work, and walk through the cycles of healing. If you are willing to open to Jesus, to be vulnerable and admit the weakness. You are not alone in this, and you have no idea what breakthrough your journey will have for others- even if you’re still in the messy middle, like I am. He can do anything.
God will use the most broken, discarded, neglected, abused and shattered parts of us to reveal His deep love.
I bless you to know the deep, tangible, personal, practical, always-available love of our Father God. That you would invite Him to parent you in every and any area there has been lack in your life. That He would be the ultimate Father and source of approval, encouragement, and championing that you need. He loves you, He loves you, He loves you! May you be encouraged to go on a deeper journey of knowing His Fathering in your life, and experience the immeasurable riches of His love.