I got married when I was 14 years old (more on this in a future blog). I did not “have to” and the proposal was not romantic. It went something like this, “We need to get you out of that house. Let’s get married.” I made such a monumental decision at such a tender age because I was desperate to escape a house where on my way home from school I would start planning how to get safely from my front door to my bedroom without my stepfather seeing me. My picture of the word “father” was that of an angry man in a sleeveless white t-shirt sitting on a green plastic kitchen chair waiting for me to enter and say or do anything that would give him a reason to unleash. I carried this picture of fatherhood for a very long time, even in my dreams at night, even after he died.
Before I tell you this part of my story, I would like to clarify my intentions. It is not my desire to vilify anyone. I don’t know the hurtful or damaging experiences that may have impacted the father figures in my childhood. As for me, I decided a long time ago to forgive them and make peace with this portion of my history. Nevertheless, in order to tell my story with truth and authenticity and to give you a perspective of what the word “father” meant to me during this time, I need to briefly describe my father experiences.
My parents were divorced around the time I was in kindergarten. I don’t remember my dad before this time and after we moved away, only one word truly encapsulates our father-daughter relationship…absent. I can’t pretend to understand all the reasons he was not there. I just know he was gone and it was my mom, my brother, and I migrating from apartment to apartment for several years after that. The only visit I remember was on my eighth birthday. He showed up with a brand new red Schwinn bicycle with a white woven basket on the front. I don’t really recall being much interested in the man standing on the porch talking with my mother. What I do remember was how excited I was about this bike and the newfound freedom it represented. I jumped on and took off, trailing the streets as far away as I dared to ride. When I returned some time later, the man on the porch, my dad, was gone.
My second father experience was more painful at the time, though very short-lived. After a few years of being single and struggling, mom remarried. I was so excited to have a dad, live in a house, be a traditional family, have a new life. My expectations for happiness were high and dashed quickly as I discovered that this man’s hopes and desires centered around my gorgeous mother and the two children he already had. My brother and I were irritants, intruders, did not fit in the dream he had for a wonderful life with our mother. My picture of a father went from mostly blank to blots of hurt and rejection and sketches of a small girl never good enough. The marriage lasted just short of a year and we were on our own again.
I have to take a deep breath before drawing for you a picture of father #3. Please don’t give up reading though. I promise it gets better. When I was 12, my mother began experiencing a variety of health challenges at the same time she met a man who seemed like an answer to an easier way for us. He was much older that my mother. He had a small house, a decent job and a strong desire to marry her, so she did. This time, however, was different for me. I was not going to go into this relationship with high hopes or open arms. I showed up closed and defensive. I was angry and sought out trouble at home and school.
It is hard for me to tell if this stance saved me in those days or could have been made better if I had been different. I can only relay that this man was the kindest man you would hope to meet when he was sober, but finding him sober was limited to a few choice hours in the early morning. After that, he was drunk. The alcohol held a strong and vicious hold on him that would plague me from the day we moved into his home. These were days and then years that were filled with, at first, fear and then resignation, fists and fights, and filthy words and accusations being spoken to my innocent 13 year old girl self. These days included attempting to come to my brother’s aid using a broken whiskey bottle, running away from home for four days , getting caught, and put into a juvenile detention center, and a suicide attempt. One night I called the police and asked them to take me to someplace safe, however, back in those days these requests just weren’t taken seriously. Nothing was done. “Unsafe” “Unprotected” “Dirty” “Beaten” were some of the words that framed the picture I was developing about me and having a father.
When I was 25, I invited and believed Jesus as my Lord and Savior and was introduced to God as my Father (I promise to fill in the blanks in future blogs), I embraced this new world whole-heartedly with all the blessings of having a Savior who forgave me, a Lord who loves me, a Redeemer, Comforter, Shepherd, Friend, Teacher, and much more. What I could not get a hold or be thankful for was God as the Father. Everything I knew about fathers did not cause me to embrace God in this way. In fact, it frightened me.
It was almost a year later, that I went to visit my new in-laws. My husband decided to take a nap and as I walked down the hall to go into the kitchen, I noticed my father-in-law in my husband’s old bedroom. He was tenderly covering his sleeping grown son with a well-worn quilt. I stopped…touched and mesmerized. In the next few years, this same father-in-law would teach me much about a father’s love. For example, one day we were in the mountains chopping wood for our stove and I left the group and walked up an isolated trail. I was grieving the loss of someone close and just needed a moment. Suddenly around the wooded bend came my father-in-law. He was carrying a large cotton jacket. He did not say a word, just put the jacket over my shoulders, and left. The idea that he would search me out to perform this small act of caring and comfort was incredible to me. I was beginning to get the picture. Could this be a taste of what the ultimate Father’s love for me was like? Over many years, this man never stopped being there for me, showing his unconditional love to me and our family, helping, protecting, and teaching me, even after his son and I were divorced, he did not stop loving me. I was so blessed to have this man come into my life and begin to change the picture I held about God the Father.
Now, I realize not every one has the privilege of having a fabulous father-in-law to help fill in those empty shapes where a loving Father should be. This example was very helpful to me towards understanding why God as our Father is such a gift. It helped me to realize His protective, just, all-in, unconditional, compassionate, thoughtful, dedicated, and above all love nature. However, with prayer and the study of His Word, those of you who, like me, did not grow up knowing that special father love, can also grow a heart-picture understanding of who He is. Psalm 68:5 says that God is “Father to the fatherless.” I believe this and am grateful.
In conclusion, I must say I have come to appreciate my childhood history. I would not want to change it. I am now thankful for the lessons I have learned from all of the father figures in my life- lessons of forgiveness, “what not to dos”, and how to have compassion for other children like me in similar situations. I will also forever be grateful to the wonderful fathers I have been surrounded with throughout my adult years, especially the one who helped me to see a clearer picture of my ultimate Father.
Please scroll down to click “The Ultimate Father-Study” as a mini-companion study that accompanies this blog if you are interested. Thank you all for joining me! Next week a lighter subject about “bling”. I love you all.