At age 30, 10 years married, I made a devastating discovery. My Minnesota dad thought he wasn’t invited to my Texas wedding—and that’s why he hadn’t come all those years ago. Suddenly I had new tears to cry over an old wound: for 10 years I’d thought Dad didn’t come because he didn’t care. Now I knew he didn’t come because he thought I didn’t care. The loss hit me with a fresh punch to the gut, and I wondered: How did this happen? How many opportunities have we missed over the years? And How can I make this right?
Roots of ruin: Broken communication
As I thought back to my wedding, and even the present discovery of Dad’s heartache, I knew immediately what our problem was: broken communication. If God puts families together, it is Satan’s goal to tear them apart. One of the ways he does it is by breaking communication—and oh, how this theme resounds through my family’s story!
When I was 14 my family became a broken family. Stuff happened that no Christian family wants to claim. So we didn’t. Not in public. Instead, we turned inward until we self-destructed. Our home became a battlefield of accusations, the release of pent-up rage and shattered dreams. Words I’d never heard at home flew through our walls. Our “family time” turned into shouting matches wherein one party blamed the other party, and vice versa, over and over again. Communication broke down.
As for Dad and me, we grew further and further apart during my freshman and sophomore years—he became angry and stressed; I, suicidal and depressed—and when Mom moved out, the father and teenage daughter who remained didn’t know how to talk to one another. I moved in with Mom at the beginning of my junior year, then continued on with my Big Life Decisions—college, a 1,000-mile move, a spouse—without inviting Dad. And Dad, still wounded himself, didn’t force his presence.
When my groom, Marcus, and I decided to marry six months after meeting, I had already hightailed it to Texas, and I informed my parents: “We’re not planning anything, really. Just a quick, simple ceremony. You can come if you want to, but there won’t be much to see.”
Am I remembering this right? To this day, I think I (sort of) invited everyone, but that intent must not have come through for Dad. (Mom, incidentally, decided to come, and she and my little brother were my only family members in attendance.) A straight shooter who took words at face value, Dad believed me when I told him we weren’t planning anything; it didn’t matter if he came or not. And I believed that myself . . . until we pulled up to my in-laws’ house and went in.
Unbeknownst to me, my in-laws had pooled their talents to give us as beautiful and traditional a wedding as you can have within the walls of a living room, complete with decorations, dress, pictures, cake and even printed invitations that were sent to no one—only meant as keepsakes of our “happy” day. But oh, how I cried when I walked in and saw the wedding spread. It was then I knew I’d messed up.
Dad should have been there. My older brother should have been there. And I, too, should have been present in the planning of this day. We all should have celebrated my wedding.
Roots of healing: Open communication, open invitations
It was in the summer of 2015, when I was preparing my memoir for publication and asked Dad to read it, that I discovered the extent of his heartache over my 2005 wedding. He read the manuscript over four days, crying sometimes, before laying it down wordlessly. When he finally spoke—after I begged for feedback—he simply said: “I feel so bad I missed your wedding. I thought I wasn’t invited.” That’s when I realized I had some peacemaking to do with my father.
As I thought about how to make peace with Dad, I thought about Jesus and the many invitations He gives us; and the many ways He asks us to invite Him in. Come unto me, all ye who are weary. I stand at the door and knock. If you ask, I will answer. Jesus created families, biological and otherwise, and just as He wants to do life with us, He wants us to do life with our families. But He never forces His way in unless we open the door. It’s often that way with our family members, too, especially if the family has been broken or communication lines severed.
I’ve learned the hard way that, when it comes to restoring relationships, it really does take an invitation—a crystal clear phone call, letter or text—to assure our family members that yes, they are welcome in our lives; and yes, we want them there. Moreover, Jesus said if we are “offering [our] gift at the altar and there remember that [our] brother [or father] has something against [us], leave [our] gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them” (Matt. 5:23, 24, NIV).
A healing do-over
So, when I got the opportunity to share our family’s story in OUTLOOK, I reached out to Dad. I apologized again. And then I invited him to fly to Missouri on short notice, in freezing winter, for a vow renewal with my husband. To my joy, he said yes. “That would be healing,” he said. So 12 years later, thanks to Pastor Ken Olin and a precious group of members at West County Adventist Church, we got a do-over—a small moment to make peace with a missed opportunity, and with each other.
Dad, I’m sorry we didn’t celebrate my wedding together the first time. Let’s keep repairing our communication, and let’s live in the fullness of God’s plan for our family. I love you, Dad. Want to visit again next month?
— Lindsey Gendke is a wife, mother and writer whose passion is sharing God’s redemptive work in messy lives. Lindsey tells her own story of redemption in her memoir Ending the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression. Currently, Lindsey lives in Missouri with her husband and two sons and blogs at www.lindseygendke.com