Father’s Day is coming. It’s a harder one for more people than I think we understand. We celebrate fathers, but Father’s Day is also tempered with pain. Joy and pain, they often seem to go together. We have David and Bathsheba and Absolom and Tamar. I bet there’s far more Tamar’s in our church pews than we are aware of. Abuse, abandonment, neglect, coldness, shame in places where warmth, light, solidarity, and compassion were needed by fathers.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light”- Brene Brown
The last few weeks have been filled with making choices that bring much fear. I have had appointments, visits, and engaged in conversations that flat out near terrified me. I’ve looked at systemic issues in my heart, made life altering decisions, and took steps to love, which riddled me with fear to points of being sick to my stomach. Just this morning, at an appointment a doctor asked me about a piece of my story, a painful hard piece, and I was reminded that fear can be good. It can protect us. It protected me. We SHOULD be afraid of some things. We OUGHT to have some fear in our lives, but sometimes fear gets distorted. Sometimes fear is misused. And too often, we carry the pain of that fear into our lives where it enmeshes into circumstances and relationships and inflicts pain and harm.
This morning I thought about Father’s Day and my step-father. He loved me, I think, in some way. But he did not really know how to love appropriately or well. He was hurting. He hurt so much that I can imagine he lived in a constant state of pain and agony. I do not know what caused him to be so calloused, so cold and angry that he would injure others, but he did. He had a history of rage and assault.
He abused many women. He abused many drugs. He created a small community of people who were terrified of him and his domineering authority over them. His crimes were horrendous. He was to be feared.
I want to care about this suffering world more than I care about my rights. It is my hearts cry that those outside of the Christian subculture that we’ve created might be able to ask, “Even me?” and be welcomed with, “of course you.”
And somewhere along the line all the avenues my step-father managed to cope with his rage caught up with him and he became ill. For 2 years he layed in a hospital bed, paralyzed on quadruple bypass. A couple weeks before Father’s Day I happened to have to spend the night in our van at the hospital overnight while my mother visited him for the night. I had not seen him at all since he first entered the hospital. No one ask if I wanted to see him. They just assumed it was clearly not a good idea. This was a fluke and I was not happy about having to spend the night at the hospital against my wishes. Mother didn’t have time to drop me off beforehand.
I used to see it in his eyes, the switch. Mostly he was cold, but sometimes the rage would be there. And those days and nights and weeks were the hardest. And every once in a while I’d see the sadness. And I hurt for my step-father in a very deep place inside of my little child heart. My little child heart knew his sadness as my own. In the midst of much chaos, neglect, and abuse, God created a gentle and compassionate heart inside of me.
Before I knew what I was doing, I was closing the van door. Walking into the hospital. I crept into the waiting room. No one was around. I turned the corner counting the room numbers. My heart was pounding. I was dizzy. I was afraid and fear gripped me, but I was also curious. I hardly knew what to expect. I glanced around his hospital room quickly to make sure no one was in there. I stepped into what I thought was an empty room, but as I got closer, there he was, my step-father, in his bed. Emaciated. Dozens of tubes coming out of him.
He looked at me, shocked. He couldn’t speak. He physically was unable. He couldn’t move. He was dying. And I looked into his eyes, such sadness. And I saw it, the lone tear fell from his eye as he looked at me.
Fear dissolved and my small teenage self filled with something I can only call the fullness of compassion. I whispered, “I forgive you. I’m okay. God loves me. He sees you. He loves you too. He wants you. He always has.”
And friends, his tears rolled down his sunken and bruised cheeks. I stood for a few more moments and walked back to the van, never to see my step-father again. You see, Jesus had gripped my heart a few weeks previously and a whole new world of faith existed for me, a world of hope and possibility in a place that was once dead. I was more alive than I knew possible. And if we are only good news to each other, what good will that do for the Kingdom and our world? There’s real, living people in need of hope in their darkest and most painful moments.
Love conquers death. Love restores fear to it’s rightful place. Love corrects wrong, brings justice.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love conquerors a multitude of sin. Love never fails. Fathers may fail. Families may hurt us. The weight of life and living may fall very hard upon our tattering souls. But God, he takes the things that are little and weak, he takes the pieces of our fear filled lives that “ought not to have been that way”, and he breaths courage into them, life into them. He heals. He creates places where those outside can now enter in, as equals. And the lamb can rest with the lion.
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