The phone call came at the worst time; I had company. It was a semi-informal business meeting in my home and I had neglected to turn the ringer off on my phone.
“Is this Mrs. Munsell?”
When I said that I was, the caller identified himself as the Senior Advocate for a county in Illinois. He explained that he had gotten my name from my aunt and was calling me as my father’s closest relative.
In some confusion, I listened as he went on to tell me that my dad had been found collapsed and incapacitated on his bathroom floor. He had been left there overnight, exposed to the cold by an open window, because his housemates hadn’t wanted to call an ambulance.
He went on to say, “Mrs. Munsell, you need to know that your father’s condition is quite serious. In addition to diabetes, he’s weak, confused, and severely malnourished. He is going to need care for a long time.”
I excused myself from my guests and found a quiet corner, as he continued, “The circumstances encountered by the paramedics when they found your father indicated elder abuse, which is why I was called into the situation.”
As the official came to the end of his report he indicated that he wanted to know what I intended to do about my father’s admittedly dire situation.
“Actually, I…well,” I stammered, feeling trapped and a little panicky, “I haven’t seen my father for twenty-two years and we haven’t spoken for about four or five. My sister and I are estranged from him for a reason. He molested all three of us for years. One of my sisters never recovered emotionally and after suffering from years of PTSD eventually committed suicide.”
After a moment of silence, the man apologized for bothering me and told me that hospital authorities were trying to figure out what to do with my father as he couldn’t care for himself. The conversation ended with me agreeing to call him back after I had some time to digest the news.
I returned to my meeting and tried to pay attention to the discussion but inside I was reeling with shock. Thoughts and feelings that I had neatly packaged away now rushed at me with overwhelming rapidity.
“Why now, after all this time, was I having to deal with my dad? Should I get involved? If so, how much? How was my mom going to take this? My sister?” These and other questions crowded my brain as I said good-bye to my guests and tried to pull myself together.
Long ago, Jesus Christ had enabled me to forgive my dad. But there were many unresolved issues between my father and I that had not been addressed. I had never confronted him with his sins against me and the idea of doing so made me feel ill.
The passing of years and the difficulty of enduring even the shortest of conversations with my father had left our relationship empty and dry. I wasn’t mad at him anymore; I just didn’t feel anything at all.
In addition, the heartbreaking tragedy of my youngest sister’s suicide had pretty much taken away any lingering desire to maintain even the pretense of a relationship.
As the next couple of days past, in prayer and discussion with my husband and pastor, the realization that I needed to be there for my father crystallized and deepened. My mom released me with loving words and gave me her blessing to care for Dad as I saw fit. Her biggest concern was that I do this because I felt led to, not out of duty or obligation.
All I knew was that God had allowed this moment; my connection to my father was not over after all, and that somehow, and in some way Jesus would see me through this.
The next days and weeks went by in a blur. Phone calls were made, information regarding my father’s needs obtained, tickets bought, and legal procedures looked into. Connections with dear friends who helped immeasurably with the many practical aspects involved in a trip this complicated were re-established.
God’s hand of provision and peace was abundant and clear. Although I had no idea how this whole situation was going to play out, I walked in a peace that I was not alone in this, and that I didn’t have to figure it out myself.
Step-by-step, Jesus walked me through an amazingly complicated situation. He opened doors that I would never have even known needed opening… and that included the door to my heart that I had been carefully ignoring… the door that hid my desire to have a healthy, pure, father-daughter relationship.
On occasion that door had cracked open, usually catching me by surprise and leaving me feeling vulnerable and stupid; like when I burst into tears watching a bride dance with her father at a wedding reception, or when I overheard my friend chatting casually on the phone with her father.
With infinite gentleness and love, Jesus walked with me through the entire situation: through the door of my father’s nursing home room, as I stepped to my dad’s side as he sat, slumped in the wheelchair, and as I leaned down to kiss the cheek of the man who had done so much wrong to me and my sisters.
Jesus did what I had been afraid, so long, to do. He confronted my father with His grace and mercy. As I looked into my father’s eyes for the first time in twenty-two years, I saw tears, and I saw love; a father’s love for his daughter.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Father God, in His wisdom and love, did for my father and me what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He brought us together and continued a work of healing and forgiveness in both of our hearts that I never in my wildest dreams believed was possible.
He caught me, unaware, with His Love!