Are there people in your life that you are struggling to love? This week 4word contributor Stacy Repult shares the story of how she struggled to love her dementia-stricken father, even as she became his primary caretaker. Her deeply personal story is a great reminder that when our own hearts waver (as they inevitably do), we can turn to a God whose love never ceases.
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When someone asked about my dad in years past, my answer typically began with, “He was a marine,” because that one word description best embodied the dad I knew. He was tough, especially with me. The younger of two daughters, I was the complete opposite of my sister. She was the tomboy Dad taught to play tennis; I was the girly-girl, all cheerleading and make-up.
It was a complete shift for dad, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do with me. He wanted to make me tough, so he focused on instilling in me the ability to “buck up” and handle life. While I did learn those things, I also grew to fear him. He was never abusive, and I know he acted the way he did because he wanted good things for me. But he was a marine, and I felt it.
When my mom passed away, Dad was in the initial stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s. For years mom had sheltered him from any embarrassment, blanketing his comments of confusion with laughter and jokes to smooth out any awkwardness. Without her, it quickly became clear he needed help. We moved him to Dallas and the bulk of his care fell to me.
And I struggled with it. At first he was just outright angry at me – I was the enemy that took away his life, house, car and freedom. It was a dark period for both of us. Fearing him as a young girl was nothing compared to the resentment and rekindled fear I felt for him as an adult woman.
Today, five years later, I love him. He is a sweetheart, and I feel honored to take care of him. How on earth did I get to that point? God answered my prayer. And while it shouldn’t have, in all honesty, it stunned me.
Even though I believe God answers prayer, I still often stand amazed when He does. I began praying during those difficult times that God would soften my heart and help me love my dad. This part of my prayers became so repetitive every morning the words all but became a ritual. I knew God wanted me to honor my dad, and I needed help to get there.
Then one day I realized it had happened. I was sitting at lunch with Dad, talking with him in the manner I had learned to be the most calming – with respect, lots of patience and grace such that he would feel validated and heard. And suddenly it struck me. I love him! Wow. For so long my feelings were the complete opposite. Now there I was, loving him from the deepest point of my heart without even realizing it. Love had become natural.
I believe God put that love for my dad in my heart. I cannot explain it any other way. There was no way humanly possible for my heart to have changed in that way. When I had done all I could, God did more. He healed my heart. He replaced resentment with compassion and fear with love.
It sounds too easy, I know, but that is the truth of it. God answers prayer, and He certainly changes us through prayer. My dad, the tough, old, grouchy marine, is a sweetheart to me, and I love him! Thank you, God.
So what about you? Is there someone you want to love but to whom your heart has not yet opened? We are all broken and human, and that means our love is limited. But God’s love is limitless, and He is listening.