“Can we ask God to tell Papa, ‘Happy Birthday’?” Eden said when I told her that today was my dad’s birthday.
The “Papa” she met twice before he died, carries an association to her as one who is close to God. His death, and subsequent station in the house of God, now more significant than her few interactions with him when the brain cancer had taken over many of his faculties.
My dad’s cancer diagnosis, and death, was the last lap of a long, painful season of my life. My “props”, it felt, had all been removed. There was nothing to lean on but Jesus. Not even my father.
But the not-so-ironic piece of this story is that the year my father died was the year I had my first encounter (at least the first one I can remember) with God as father.
Not too long after college, I attended a week-long conference put on by a local Presbyterian church called Sonship. The speakers and break-out sessions addressed just that: our role as sons and daughters of God. I walked away from that week aware of a major gap, in both my mind and heart approach to Christianity. I followed a God whose position in the trinity was Father, but I was impotent when it came receiving His love as a daughter.
I did not know God as father.
And had not a clue of how to get to know Him in this way.
I was an anomaly. Most of the people I knew in this predicament, who just couldn’t get their arms around God as loving, tender, compassionate father, had major issues with their own dads. Absent, distant or abrasive fathers seemed to be behind every friend’s struggle to grasp God as more than just “a great leader”. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not talking about friends uncertain about whether to follow Jesus. I’m referring to “zealous”, “radical” believers who — at their core — still couldn’t picture themselves on the receiving end of love from a Man who saw all their flaws and still delighted in them as His children.
I fell into this category. Sort of.
Except that my experience with my own dad didn’t fit with these others. My dad gave the best of himself to me and my siblings. He abandoned what he knew as a son from his father, and chose to be a patriarch who actively demonstrated his love to his children. My daddy’s arms were safe.
Perplexed that even in light of my own father’s expressed love, I couldn’t get my arms around God’s love, I continued to pray. Over a period of years.
During that time, I came to know Him even more as Leader. He is a powerful leader. I saw signs of Him as Shepherd, carefully guiding my weak heart. I grew to love Him even more as Savior, reminded over and over again how much in need of a savior my sinful heart was. As we walked through pain, He showed Himself as Sanctifier. Even Deliverer. We were being made new through every twist and turn of the road, all at the hands of God.
I couldn’t have explained to you what it meant to have my core touched with the knowledge of Him as Father, I just knew it hadn’t been. All the other facets of His nature had influenced my life, but it was as if their impact could only go so deep without the foundational understanding of God as Father. They came and went. They didn’t “stick.” They were lessons I could talk about with others, but not the infectious heart change which couldn’t be contained.
Then my dad died.
I made no correlation, except for the fact that in the same hour that I was praying for my grieving heart to heal, I was asking God to come to me as Father. The passing of time had made the gap in my understanding more pronounced and therefore I was frequently praying the prayer I had first prayed eight years earlier.
Had it not become such a key request, I may not have noticed when God’s exhale happened. But I had become a star gazer. I wasn’t going to miss it. The first night of 2010, just 3 months after my dad died, I finally caught a glimpse.
And it came in a most unexpected way.
Just a few days before, I asked God to give me His eyes for Nate. I had given permission to my critical spirit, focused mostly on my own failings in my adult life, to fix its lens on my husband — my biggest cheerleader. I was in a rut that had lasted a few weeks. A crisis of vision that probably could have been dismissed by the common eye, but when the world got quiet, I knew it wasn’t right. So I asked God to replace my muddied perspective with His holy one.
And days later, like a flood, came thoughts and insights and understandings of my husband which I couldn’t contain. Not sure how the conversation started, but towards the end of a 9-hour drive back to Charlottesville, with warm drinks in hand and children asleep in the back, our car filled with the glory of God. And with trembling, I confess that I was His vessel for that chosen night.
God gave me words of life for parts of Nate that he didn’t even know were broken. And in the meantime, broken parts of my heart were healed as I got to be His oracle. We drove an hour out of our way — at midnight — just to savor and extend the sweet presence of God that was in our car.
I couldn’t believe that God could alter my chemistry in an instant. My critical, skeptical perspective (which had been at its worst the previous few weeks, but really was permitted residence in me for years), seemed like a distant memory beside the beautiful truths of God. He allowed me to not only speak them this one night, but to deeply believe them about my husband.
And the impact of those words and the underlying belief, in Nate’s heart, were life-altering. We both were alert to what God was doing.
Is that really how God sees the heart? And, Can His words over someone’s life really carry that much power?
If it could be true for Nate, I knew it had to be true for me. I was the messenger coming face-to-face with the Man who sent me. And His words, when spoken, made light in places I wouldn’t have even called dark. What I had grown to accept as just me, was actually barely shoring-up under the burden of a weight it wasn’t meant to carry.
God made me to know love. His Father-love. And He made me to speak to others, namely my family, out of that love. All the principles in the world about loving and respecting your husband are void without the One who puts His daily touch first in your own heart to love.
So the year my father died was my first dance with God as Father. Awesome Leader, wonderful Savior, glorious Counselor … but ever lasting Father.
Yet another page in my history book which says that what has potential to give us a forever-limp, only provokes the greater beauty of God.