My father was a man of few words, yet many sayings. When it came to reaching out to others, he often said, “Charity begins at home.” He was not a man on a mission to change himself—let alone the rest of the world—and he certainly was not a man who had any time for Jesus. Yet, he married a woman of deep faith—a woman who kept her faith throughout her life and her marriage—a faith he would have nothing to do with.
My mother stirred a deep love for God in me. She nurtured it, God grew it, and at the age of 13, I made a personal commitment to Jesus. As close as I was with my mother, my father and I lived far from each other emotionally. Not only were there many layers of misunderstanding in our relationship, my father also kept himself out of reach behind many bottles of beer.
All my life, I interacted with my father through my mother. She buffered me from his hurtful ways and his drinking. Five years ago, my mother died unexpectedly from undiagnosed acute leukemia. Her death not only plunged me into deep grief, it also removed the buffer between my father and I—revealing just how painful this relationship was to me.
My father had been a serious drinker for as long as I can remember but, after my mother’s death, his drinking escalated. There was only one way he knew how to deal with any emotional pain, loss, or regret—and that was to drown it in alcohol. As my father lived in my home country of South Africa, I was spared having to watch him drink himself into his grave. However, I heard reports of his drinking binges and the hurt it was causing the rest of the family.
During this time of grieving my mother and concern for my father, Jesus put his finger on my heart and applied the gentlest of pressure. “What are you going to do about it?” He seemed to be asking me. “Nothing,” was my reply. In fact, I hoped the problem would go away, and soon. But Jesus would have none of that. Rather, He intended to take my lifelong father wound and use it to heal our relationship.
I had always wanted to have a story that ended with my father forsaking alcohol, accepting Jesus, and living a transformed life. It did not happen. However, shortly before my father was to die unexpectedly, Jesus sent me on a two-week mission to love my father with His love at a time when my father’s drinking was at its worst. Jesus changed my heart and gave me His eyes to see my father as a man of worth, who was broken and lost in his alcoholism. For me, this time, reaching out to seek and save the lost began at home and, because of Jesus, my father and I finished together well.
Short-listed in the 2018 Women’s Journey of Faith Contest, Brenda’s memoir When God Says No, My Journey through Grief to Acceptance chronicles her grief after her mother’s untimely death and how Jesus transformed her relationship with her alcoholic father. Having experienced the healing power of story, Brenda teaches writing courses online to help others capture their stories. Learn more at brendasmitjames.com