A tribute to my earthly father...
Life is never as easy as it's laid out in a preacher's sermon. We have God's Word in the Bible. As Christians, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit to write the law on our hearts.
Unlike millions of other Christians who grew up in Christian homes with a close approximation to Christ-like examples, my parents came to the Lord in an Oregon church without prior knowledge or experience what a Christian looked or acted like.
My parents weren't unchurched. My father strived to be the best Mormon he could be as a young man, but inconsistencies he saw as an adult and a difficult childhood led him on a spiritual journey as an adult that was not a direct path to the Cross.
It is with great admiration that I write this, that not only did my father hear God's call, he was courageous enough to herd me there, too. And let me tell you, I was one defiant sheep, but I'll get to that in a second.
After experimenting with New Age hookiness that culminated in one very scary seance, he somehow wound up in an Eagle Point, Oregon, church where God met him in a powerful way. I was a small child full of confusion, but the cloud had lifted for my parents. The transformation in our house began.
I experienced difficulties beyond my parents' control as a child, things that still haunt me to this day, but my parents offered me support, love, and discipline. I can't imagine what kind of horrors of the heart they experienced upon learning of these complications, but as much as I was terrorized, I am sure they were broken by their helplessness.
I was about nine years old when we moved to Gridley, CA, where my father began to seek ways to fulfill his new calling in Christ. My family settled into a church home where my father would eventually discover his gift of teaching, and would eventually take up the duty of an assistant pastor. I would grow into a teenager living two lives: one, as the child of a preacher, reaping the benefits of the love and affection of the church and my parents; the other as a secretive, manipulative teenager seeking wordly adventure.
The more my secret life came to light to my parents, the more my father persevered to shepherd me in the right direction and discipline me. My mother, a sensitive woman with a heart of universal love and concern, comforted me. I did not understand my father's reactions. He felt distant, unaffected to how I viewed my needs. I wanted to be catered to. He wanted me to fall in line.
Without a strong fatherly example of his own, my father scrambled and improvised ways to keep me from physical, emotional, and spiritual harm. I could not see the error of my ways. He knew the penalties of my actions all too well. On the outside he attempted to be firm, unmoving. Inside, his heart was breaking as hewatched while I headed down a path he knew from his own experience, one of selfish consumption, and relationships to the world that would destroy me.
I entered adulthood desperately seeking ways to break those bonds. My heart was divided. While I had seen the wonderful change God did in my parents, and I had been received unconditionally by a loving church body, there were things I craved that I could not get from those people who loved me. That void in my life -- that God-shaped hole in my heart -- was going to be stuffed with many misshaped things in the coming years.
This unbalanced life continued until, at the age of 24, I went in for a surgery and almost didn't come out. A year of touch-and-go moments, occasions where I was minutes away from death, times of such agony and hopelessness that I wanted to end it all myself. My parents watched it all and it nearly destroyed my father. He had become accustomed to rescuing me in my darkest, most difficult troubles. This time he could only watch and pray and maintain a faith that was being challenged with every doctor's furrowed brow. I did not see this myself. I only learned of it as I read through the letters he wrote to the church, words written with an understanding of hope in the head, but a heart that had been crushed on the rocks of failed expectations.
God delivered me out of the hospital. I spent periods in and out of hospitals after that, but I stand (mostly) on my own today. There were times I wasn't sure my father's faith ever left that hospital room with his body, yet his persistence in caring for me and loving me with guidance was an endless resource as I rebuilt my life.
I write today unsure if my father understands the deep love I have for him. I write today unsure if my father understands the deep respect I have for him upon reflecting his own struggles coming into Christian maturity while raising an immature daughter. I want him to know the depth of the eternal love I have for him for remaining on task, for leading me into a real relationship with Christ. I want him to know that I will feel eternally grateful.
I'm an adult now. I have a husband. Recent events and circumstances have led me into a fuller understanding of my relationship with Christ, that ultimately we are all on our own. My father cannot believe on my behalf, he cannot serve on my behalf. I am responsible for walking out my faith, and when judgment day comes, I will have to answer for my actions on my own just as everyone else will stand and answer for their own actions.
But I would not have arrived here without the spiritual grit of a man I once cursed, a man who looked beyond my actions and into my heart, and did not give up on me.
Thank you, Dad. God has honored your faithful service on my behalf, pulling me closer to Him and giving me grace to walk on my own. I hope to honor you for your work, as well.
And in case you've been wondering, there are no earthly words for me to express the love, respect and gratitude I feel for you that could never change, no matter what you say or do. I can only hope that this love letter to you, Papa, can begin to show you. I always have and always will look up to you, bursting at the seams with pride for who you are, all you've done and what you mean to me...
I love you more than the whole wide world and all the trees.