The Love of a Father

I recently began planning a trip to see a good friend of mine in Atlanta. As she and I started to review our schedules, we found a weekend in June we thought might work and began planning the (obviously) amazing trip we would have.

But then, it hit me. Like the oaf that I am, I was starting to schedule the trip for Father’s Day weekend. “It’s fine,” my husband said, “go ahead and book it. It’s really not that big a deal.”

To book it or not to book it? I struggled with the question.

You see, I’m kind of new to this whole Father’s Day thing. Sure, I have a father, but unfortunately, our relationship has been tenuous at its best, and at its worst, it has been – well, pretty damaging.

As the fifth of six children, I could never really tell why my dad seemed so angry and disinterested in us growing up, but whatever the reason, it certainly left me feeling alone and unloved.

Not surprisingly, this detachment from the man who was to be my primary source for how to have a relationship with the opposite sex led me to have a pretty distorted view of relationships. You could pore through the myriad research on the importance of the father-daughter relationship, orrr you could just read through the next couple of paragraphs because I’m basically a case study in “daddy issues.”

Throughout high school and college, I struggled with issues around body image and self-worth and ultimately flung myself into relationship after relationship desperately seeking love by any means necessary.

I gave up my body, I gave up my integrity, I gave up nearly every noble quality all in the name of finding love and hanging on to it for dear life. I needed someone to validate me. I made these choices, and in the process, I hurt so many people in my quest for happiness, but most of all, I hurt myself.

By the time 2011 rolled around, I was a mess. Down about 20 pounds and up about 10 drinks a weekend after my most recent breakup, my life continued to spiral. I became lonely, self-destructive, manipulative, and frankly, hurtful to just about everyone around me.

It was in this desperate and lonely place that I really met Jesus. I hadn’t given God a serious look in my entire 25 years, just passing glances here and there. The occasional youth group visit, the “Hail Mary” prayer when I was really in trouble (and I don’t mean, like, the actual prayer… just the “God- if you get me out of this, I won’t eat French fries for a week” kind of prayer), and even a semi-regular stint in my sister’s church choir. At no point prior to 2011, did I think very seriously about who God was or even that He was someone I could meet and have a relationship with.

The story of how I met Him exactly is a longer one for another day, but suffice it to say, when I met Jesus, it was the first time in my life that I was chasing a relationship for the right reasons. I was ready to heal the catastrophic damage that had been left in the wake of years of searching for someone to love me and find me worthy.

That healing has not been easy. I should stop here to note that my dad and I continue to mend our relationship. It isn’t a linear progression; it doesn’t wrap up perfectly and you certainly can’t tie a bow on it. I’ve found that while we often want forgiveness to be the end of our heartache, it often is only the beginning of a long and windy road.

Finding Jesus didn’t fix me. It wasn’t a magic pill. I’m certainly not living some perfectly stain-free and worry-free life as a result of choosing to follow Him. I stumble often… for a lot of reasons. In part, I stumble because it’s hard to walk and live in the love of a perfect Heavenly father when your experience with your earthly one has been less than ideal.

But. God. Shows. Up.

In my life, God shows up in the moments when I hear my husband carefully tiptoe into my daughter’s room in the morning to give her a kiss before he heads off to work. He’s in the moments when I watch Benny whisk her up to bath time, excited to spend some quality “Papa” time with her after a long day away. God’s in the moments when she gets a diagnosis, and my husband scours the internet to make sure he is as informed as he can possibly be about her care. God is in the moments when I hear my husband sing his daughter’s favorite songs to comfort her even though they happen to be his least favorite songs in the history of ever. And God is there each time that I see my husband squeeze our girl tightly and whisper “Hey. I love you madly.”

It is in these moments that I am reminded that God’s love is so much bigger than I can wrap my tiny little brain around. It’s bigger than my experience with my own dad, it’s bigger than what I deserve, and it’s bigger than all my doubts about His perfect, grace-filled love.

So, yea, I’m new to the Father’s Day thing. While I don’t know exactly how this thing is supposed to play out, there is one thing I can say with certainty.

I’m not taking the trip this weekend.
I’m staying home with my husband and daughter.

I’m choosing my family on Father’s Day weekend because fatherhood is worth celebrating. It is a reminder to me that God showed up in my life. More than that, it is a reminder that He keeps showing up to redeem my story. And yours too. And every single story out there.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there who remind us that the love of a father can change everything.