Dad’s birthday is today; gone now nearly 5 years, he would be turning 92.

He hated Christmas.  Apparently his birthday was forgotten every year in the midst of Christmas preparations when he was growing up.  The pain of being forgotten never seemed to leave him.  He would not allow us to put up a tree until his birthday had passed, and even then did so grudgingly.

I know now Dad’s Christmas experience is only a tiny window into his life story.

There was an undercurrent of anger, resentment, and pain between him and his mom to the very end of both their lives.  I can understand this now, as an adult having processed childhood pain.  I also have a better understanding of why he treated me the way he did -in response to unresolved anger and pain from his childhood.  My grandmother was often cruel, setting the tone for the next generation.

Though many of us are preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ, I am also reminded this time of year of my Dad’s birthday.  There are so many differences between my Dad and my Father.

Dad’s love was conditional.

Jesus’ love is unconditional.

Dad erupted in fury when I made a mistake.

Jesus waits patiently for me to realize the errors of my ways.

Dad criticized any opinion I had that differed from his.

Jesus graciously allows me the freedom to consider new ideas, and express the creativity He gave me.

Dad didn’t forgive, or ask for it himself.

Jesus forgives freely, and it is for this reason I am able to forgive also.

I wrote my Dad a letter about a year before he died, telling him I forgave him.  Forgiving didn’t erase anything, but it began to take the power of the pain away.  It also freed me up to begin forgiving myself for things I’ve said and done that I regret.

Forgiveness isn’t a magic wand, I never spoke with or saw my Dad after I wrote the letter. Sometimes forgiveness still requires boundaries for various reasons. But six years later, I know without a doubt that by taking the deliberate step of forgiving him, I freed myself from a prison of resentment.  It wasn’t easy, and only came after I processed much of my pain and anger.  I found forgiveness to be a journey, not an event.

My Christmas wish for those of you hurting, or who have hurt others – is to consider the gift of forgiveness.  Maybe you need to forgive someone, or maybe you need to ask for it yourself.  Either way, it has the potential to be life-changing.

May we all remember the greatest gift of all during this season, the gift of salvation and eternal life.