If my father were still alive, I would call him on Father’s Day. I would not lie. I would not thank him for being my father, because I could not do that honestly. But I would send him photos of our Alaska island, our boats, the ocean. He loved the ocean and dreamed his live-long life of sailing around the world. Here, Dad, is the island we live on in the summers, where we fish.
He never came to visit. Not because I lived in Alaska, but because he had no interest in visiting any of his children and he didn’t.
But I visited him. Finally. After 50 years of caring nothing for a man who cared nothing for me, God rattled my cage of a heart and sent me from Alaska down to Florida to see him. He was in his eighties then and in a nursing home. I couldn’t believe what I found.
The 4 day visit did not go well. On the first day, my father, with all of his teeth gone, but his 88 year old face still unwrinkled, proclaimed his atheism again. In halting breathy words he made it clear he still didn’t believe in God. And he thought I was a fool because I did.
I was defensive. I sniped back. I remembered why I had never liked him. But didn’t I come here to try and love him? I wasn’t doing a very good job.
But slowly, slowly, I began to see beyond my own hurt and dislike. He was so very alone. Did anyone love him? I calmed down, just focused on being with him. Giving him space when he needed it. Helping him eat his dinner in the dining hall. On the last day, knew, after 30 years of absence from his life, I knew I would come again. I wanted someone to love him. More, I wanted him to know about a love so much better than mine---the love of God. Had he seen it in me? If I asked him, he would look at me blankly, I am sure.
It was time now to leave. I inched toward the exit doors, my heart tight and heavy. A woman sat at a table near the door smiling at me. It was Sally. My father had introduced me to her that first day as she hobbled down the hall, her body twisted with arthritis.
I hesitated, then came over to her table. “Sally, I’ve got to go catch my plane. But I’m so thankful that my father has a friend here. “
“Oh yes,” she smiled back, her eyes on mine.
“Does my father talk to you?”
“He doesn’t say a lot, but yes, we talk.”
“What do you talk about?”
“Your father and I and Bill, we meet out back in the smoking shed every day. We talk about God. Your father says he doesn’t believe in God, but I’m not so sure.” She lifts her eyebrows and looks wise.
My eyes widen. “You talk about the Lord with my father?” I did not even know she was a believer.
“I sure do,” she says, smiling her beatific smile.
I see Sally and my father out in the smoking shed sharing cigarettes and the gospel.
I grabbed her hands, curled mine over her swollen, curled fingers. ‘You’re the answer to my prayers.” We talked for five more minutes, then hugged, promised to pray for one another. I walked out, my mind ablaze.
Are God’s mercies really this vast? Narrow is the gate that leads to heaven, and so shall it always be, but wide are God’s mercies, so much wider and vaster than ever I knew. This was his love for my father. And had I not seen this same love even toward me?
And this is how it went: Jesus, the hound of heaven, lovingly dogged my father’s heels all his days, even at the last.
A loving witness was constantly present with my reclusive, renegade father who had no friends.
I don’t know if my father ever yielded to the God he was unsure of before he breathed his last lung of air. But I got to go visit him two more times. I got to love him. I got to live out Mercy. I got to see these staggering displays of God’s character and heart. How narrow, yes, is the gate, but how inclusive His invitation, how wide and never-ending are his mercies.
This Father’s Day, Go and be mercy to any father who needs it.
Every Father's Day it is my joy to give away 5 Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate. (It tells the rest of my story with my father---which ends so differently than I imagined. It's been translated into 8 languages and by God's great mercies has led to much healing.)
How do you enter?
1. Please share this hopeful message with others on social media---and let me know below in your comments that you've done this.
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That's it. Friends, a Blessed merciful Father's Day to you all!