Margarita and her father

The Boulder in My Heart

by Margarita Guerrero

In a field at St. Ben’s, our Madonna House farm, there used to be a gigantic boulder, about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It was hidden under the surface in the field nearest the house, and it was a problem. Equipment got damaged by it and some of the plants that were too close to it didn’t have enough soil to reach maturity.

For years—decades, really—attempts were made to remove it, using shovels, picks, fire, or ice. Some of these attempts worked better than others, but still, the boulder remained.

All the while, we continued to plant in that field and the crops kept growing around it. Slowly, over many years, the earth pushed up the boulder until it was finally sufficiently exposed to be blasted apart.

After the blasting and the clean-up immediately afterwards, debris from the boulder continued to be found in the spring when the farmers stoned* the fields before planting. But there were no more problems with lost time and broken tractor blades. Now that field can be fully utilized.

I’d like to tell you about another boulder, a humongous boulder in my heart and how, over the years, God exposed it, broke it apart, and finally healed it—something I never, ever, in my wildest imagination thought possible. That boulder was my hatred toward my father.

When I was growing up, I experienced a confusing mixture of love and violence. Dad had many wonderful qualities, but he had joined the Marines at the age of sixteen and served with the Special Forces in the Korean War. His war experiences left him suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Dad could show great tenderness, but he was also physically and verbally abusive. For many years, my hatred, like the boulder in the field, stayed buried inside me damaging relationships and hindering maturity.

One day when I was in my twenties, I was out in the Texas desert ranting and raving to God about my hatred for my dad and my desire for vengeance.

Then, suddenly, the image of Christ crucified came to mind, and I heard in my heart: “I paid the price (for him). Is that enough?”

I wanted to scream out, “NO! I want him to suffer the way he made me suffer. I want him to pay.”

But I realized that if I said, “No, it’s not enough,” then Christ’s death on the cross wouldn’t be enough for me either.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those….” I was convicted, and I became willing to want to forgive.

My boulder was slowly being pushed up to the surface.

For about 25 years, I dealt with my anger, hurts, wounds, resentments, loss, grief and the attendant judgments and condemnation of my dad.

I’ve gone to counseling, 12-Step Programs, and a Family of Origin program. I also experienced deep healing and blessing through the sacraments, spiritual direction, and Christ-centered friendships. I received mercy, forgiveness, and innumerable graces.

It has been hard work; all of it necessary preparation and time well spent even though at times it felt endless and impossible. Like the early attempts to remove the boulder at the farm with shovel, picks, fire and ice.

Finally, by the grace of God, I was able to forgive my father. It was through this that the boulder was blasted, that the hatred was gone.

But like with the boulder in the field, some of the debris remained. My dad and I didn’t know each other, and there was a distance between us.

Then in July 2014, Dad had a heart attack, and I went home to take care of him. When I arrived I was still a bit guarded.

But Dad was no longer the strong, independent, totally self-sufficient Marine I remembered—a towering, impenetrable wall. He was flesh and blood, weak, afraid, and alone. He was so defenseless, vulnerable, and fragile, so completely dependent on others, so unable to control anything.

Moreover, I saw his suffering. My dad was having flash backs, being tortured by the things he’d seen and done in the war. He said he didn’t believe God could ever forgive him for all the things he’d done.

I had never before heard him talk about the war, and I began to realize that it had formed him in ways I would never fully understand.

As I became more aware of his suffering and the unbearable burdens he carried, my judgment changed into compassion.

And I began to see that my father had loved us as best he could, and that I had not reciprocated his love.

Now he was in the darkness of not knowing God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, and his mind was constantly, relentlessly going—on the alert, analyzing.

I would sing to him, and for a time, it soothed him, but when he started to get better my singing troubled him because his mind couldn’t identify the song and that was one more suffering.

But he was getting better, and it was time for me to return to Madonna House.

Ten months later, my sister called and told me to come home; Dad was getting worse.

During that time, he’d been sending a little money to me each month and it struck me, “Dad is dying, and he’s thinking of me!” Through this realization, God’s mercy both revealed my hidden resentment and healed my deepest sorrow: that Dad had never shown me the face of God the Father. But that wasn’t true!  Here it was!

It didn’t look like what I would have wanted it to be growing up.  Nonetheless, in showing me his concern and provision, he was now showing me the face of The Father. And, I was filled with joy!

Chunks of boulder that once lay buried were lying on the surface, ready to be picked up.

During my last visit, I learned that to stop and wait on Dad’s lead, to gaze upon him, to follow his pace, to do nothing but “be bored” together formed a bond between us which allowed for spontaneous and at times very meaningful exchanges.

I was convicted of never having let Dad lead me and guide me. I’d been too busy protecting myself from him, hating him, judging him through my narrow and distorted lenses.

And through this, I realized I’d been doing the same thing to God. I wasn’t acting on his lead; I hadn’t learned to follow Him. I didn’t let Him guide me.

More debris from the boulder was being exposed. The field was being stoned.

As judgment melted, all I wanted was to let dad know that I loved him and was thinking about him and that I would miss hearing his voice. Nothing else mattered, really.

The soil was being ploughed.

Then my dad died. After the burial, as friends and family shared memories of him, I was moved to learn how Dad had mentored and guided different people in very diverse ways.

I didn’t feel jealous—“he never did that for me!”—I was filled with love and awe. God was letting me see my Dad through His eyes; He was letting me see Dad’s fatherly heart!

My appreciation for Dad, which had already begun, deepened, and I am now filled with gratitude for the incredible gift of being able to recognize and begin to receive my dad’s love before he died.

Was dad able to receive God’s love, mercy and forgiveness before he died? I don’t know. (Please pray for him—Luis Manuel).

I only know that after receiving news of his death, I was filled with an overpowering joy that made me want to laugh and cry and sing and jump as the thought came to mind, “Dad, now you know! Now there is no doubt; now you know Love. Now you can love the way you’ve always yearned to!”

I also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God loves us so-o-o-o-o-o much, that he will go to any length to win over our hearts. And, he often does it through the very boulders we try so hard to keep buried under the surface!

Stoning: gathering up the rocks the winter’s freezing and thawing have pushed to the surface