I held it like it was you, that red crochet heart. It hung on my bed post reminding me you were out there, just not here. And how can a 7-year-old reconcile that?
Mom said you loved me and I wanted to believe her. But tears soaked my pillow many nights that second grade year, because if you loved me, where were you?
Sometimes a mom can love enough for a mom and a dad. She did. And she’d sit with me and tell me about you. Good things, actually. It made me smile to hear you were voted “Most Popular” by your eighth grade class. I thought it was cool that you sang in a high school rock band. And my friends now would laugh to know that you worked in your family owned bakery since there’s little I hate more than baking. I’d replay those few facts I knew about you over and over in my mind acting like you were familiar and hoping that would change reality.
When I was brave, I’d look at the picture taken on one of the last visits I had with you when I was three. It’s of us sitting in a bean bag, reading a book. I’d imagine what it would be like to feel your reassuring arm around me again. I couldn’t remember and I knew a little girl needed a strong arm to steady her in this scary world. But all I really had was that red crochet heart you sent me one Valentine’s Day.
And it’s not just that we didn’t have you, but it’s who we got in your place. We got more heartache and pain. But when he was gone, Mom got Jesus, and we said you can have all this world – with families good and bad – as long as we could keep Him.
He never left us. Never hurt us. Never went back on His word. He was perfect. I know. I read it and couldn’t pull my eyes off the page. I underlined over and over all of those promises He made to the fatherless. And I started to believe them. I started to believe I could trust Him. That I had found the perfect Dad. Or rather that He had heard and found me! “If [the fatherless] cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” (Exodus 22:23) He rescued me and quieted me with His love just like I knew a Father’s heart should.
And He keeps hearing. When I enrolled in a Christian college that was clearly unprepared to deal with me and my Gen-X baggage, and was harassed by my admissions counselor because I couldn’t provide your address or any information about you, I cried out and He heard. Then in Freshman Orientation when the Vice President piled up statistics about being doomed to repeat the cycle of dysfunction if you were from a broken home like I could be scared out of sinning but would always be a second class Christian, I cried out and He heard. And when a girl in my dorm approached me like I was wearing a scarlet letter and said, “Do [the young man’s] parents know he’s dating you? I mean, my dad would never let me date someone from your kind of background,” I cried out and He heard. And when I pulled out my birth certificate a couple months ago and saw the line under “Father’s Name” staring back at me blank and bare like I didn’t even have one, I cried out wondering how my heart could buckle so quickly under the weight of something that’s empty, and He heard.
The thing about the past is that it doesn’t stay put. It comes with you and you have to keep dealing with it. That’s something we have in common, right? But because Jesus has dealt with it, we can too.
“[W]hile [I] was still a long way off, [my] father saw [me] and was filled with compassion for [me]; he ran to [me], [and] threw his arms around [me] and kissed [me].
“[He] said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on h[er]. Put a ring on h[er] finger and sandals on h[er] feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this [daughter] of mine was dead and is alive again; [s]he was lost and is found.’ So [we] began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20, 22-24)
The Father’s looking for you too, ready to open His heart of compassion and arms of love and meet you where you are. There’s nothing more I pray for you this Father’s Day than for you to know Him. I can imagine Father’s Day is difficult for you. But this one can be different. It can be filled with the joy of new life, a changed heart, repentance, and restoration! And so, tomorrow I wish you, Dad, a Father’s Day worth celebrating!