I remember the day my dad left. He knelt and hugged me and cried. The skimpy dress of a five-year-old girl could not protect me from the chill that gathered around my arms and legs. The scratchy tickly whiskers-would I feel them no more? The arms that felt so safe-would they be gone forever?
What would it be like not to have a father?
The years to come provided harsh answers to those questions. Mine was not a carefree childhood. Shuffled with two brothers between foster home, relatives, and-when things worked out-my mother, I toughed out the tough times. My innocence gave way early on to a cynic's worldview: Don't depend on anyone and no one will disappoint you.
As we approach the celebration of Father's Day on June 21, anyone without a father will understand that the loss doesn't end when you grow up. The scars are like the glossy, too-tight skin that grows over a deep wound. Beneath the protective cover lies too much tenderness.
For the longest time I didn't know about the tenderness. I tended the gloss-taking control of my future, acquiring a good education, rising above the pattern of my family's past. I guess you might say with no one to believe in, I learned to believe in myself.
Only when this unsustainable strategy dropped me down and out-and more alone than ever-did I finally face my fatherlessness.
So it was in my 30s, sensing a spiritual vacuum, that I finally launched a search for God. For someone like me the New Age movement held enormous appeal. Here I could wander into nooks and crannies, borrowing this and that to construct an image of God to mesh with my own deficiencies. Crippled by the lack of a real father in my life, seeing God only as some remote and impersonal force, my hope was that through understanding I could appropriate the force-recognizing "God within me"-then manipulate it to find happiness.
With my eyes on the ground, happiness was as high as I could aim my sight. I wouldn't have thought to seek God's love. And yet how amazingly unconditional and enduring that love remained for me. As I misunderstood God and wandered, he still protected me from harm, continuing to draw me nearer, gradually softening my heart.
My husband helped to soften me-though I never could have told him then. Watching him father our children was like peeking through a frosted pane into a warm and cozy room within. Although seeing my children experience a happy childhood was the next best thing to having one myself, how I wished sometimes to climb inside and receive that kind of love myself.
How ready I was the moment I first understood that God was my father. At last, I was someone's little girl! To this day, 10 years later, I cannot approach God intellectually, but only as a child and with no reservations, I feel such love: Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me (Psalm 27:10).
Is it not a miracle that someone who missed an earthly father's love can be healed to receive the love of the Heavenly Father? But isn't he the Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals? Isn't it the greatest privilege of all to call him Abba, Father?
According to Vine's Word Dictionary, "Abba is a word framed by the lips of infants and betokens unreasoning trust. Father expresses an intelligent apprehension of the relationship. The two together express the love and intelligent confidence of a child."
I remember once, before he left, my father carrying me home in his arms as blood gushed from a jagged cut on my foot. I was four and I was frightened, hoping that my father could take care of me. But though that day he stopped the bleeding, no earthly father could have healed the wounded heart he later left behind.
That hurt cried out for the love of a Heavenly Father. And so I will always be God's grateful little girl-trusting, dependent, and filled with faith in the arms that will never let me go.