Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

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A Father's Love

When you hear the word “father,” what do you think of?

I think of a big burly teddy bear. Many of my friends—even my cousins—were afraid of my dad. But me? I remember him on the floor with us, down on all four as we piled on his back. I remember the fun times we had at the lake, him endlessly pulling us behind the boat as we skied until we dropped. I remember his strength even when we were weak. I remember the fear in his eyes when he drove upon a wreck that could have taken my life. And I remember the pride emanating from his face when I gave my valedictory address in high school, when I crossed the stage as a summa cum laude graduate at college.

We laugh at him today. He would be perfectly happy to have all his little chicks living right here next to him. He is fiercely protective of all of us, and incredibly proud of the people we have become. He loves his grandkids as if they were his own. He hurts when we hurt, rejoices when we are happy.

He’s a pretty amazing man, and I’m proud to call him my dad.

Not everyone was blessed with the same childhood as me. Sometimes I look at my kids, and my heart aches. I see the hole in their heart from not having a dad. They don’t have all of the same wonderful memories that I do. They won’t get to look back as an adult and know they were loved, protected, rejoiced over the same way I do.

Instead, they deal with the anger of a life cut short, of a loss of hope of what one day might be. They struggle with the pain of a less than ideal relationship with their earthly dad. I’m not sure the word “dad” will ever conjure up particularly wonderful images like it does for me.

It breaks my heart.

I don’t know if you read or watched The Shack, but one of the most controversial parts of the story is when God was portrayed as a woman. Fundamentals yelled about how God is a male, how wrong it is to portray Him as a female when He clearly refers to Himself as a father.

But look a little deeper at the story. The main character, Mack, was raised by a father who was a mean drunk. He and his mother were both beaten by this man, and “father” certainly wasn’t a word that was synonymous with love and compassion.

Mack had a neighbor, though. A kind, compassionate woman who always reached out to him, sharing the love of Christ. Inviting him in for a fresh-baked snack. Simply delighting in him. And in Mack’s mind, she was the epitome of love.

Mack couldn’t understand the love of a father, but he could understand the love of a motherly woman. And, God in His infinite love reached out to Mack in the form he could understand, the form of a woman. Eventually, when God had won Mack over, He did reveal Himself as a father, a good father. But it was a process to get Mack to a point where he could accept and even understand a father’s love.

Sometimes I see my kids like Mack, and I wonder if they can accept God as the good and perfect Heavenly Father He is.

Can I tell you how much fun it has been to watch my kids and Roy together? Nothing brings me delight like watching them relish the love of a father-figure. No, he’s not their biological dad. But he’s doing an amazing job of filling a void my kids have.

I have to watch myself or I might get a little jealous of their desire to spend time with him. Cassie asked Roy to take her to the Toby Mac concert…and not me. Cole would much prefer that Roy take him to feed his sheep. Blake has taken to late night talks with Roy.

Honestly, just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. My kids have been blessed to have wonderful men from my family in their lives, but it’s not like having their own dad. And here we are…finally…eight years after the divorce…nearly two years after their dad’s death…and my heart rejoices as I watch them bond with Roy, as I watch God’s perfect redemption play out, as I see God filling that void in their hearts with an amazing substitute, as I watch God change the meaning of the word “father” in their eyes as he comes to them in the form they need in their lives.

As I contemplate the growing relationship, I’ve had to contemplate what exactly a father is. Here are a few reminders of who our earthly fathers should be…and who we can be assured our Heavenly Father is:

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. Psalm 68:5

Father to the fatherless. This phrase has echoed in my mind for years as I’ve watched my kids struggle. I’ve asked my kids about sharing aspects of their relationship with their dad, and they simply aren’t ready. But I watch as Roy fights for everything he can have with his kids. He fights for time and relationship and influence in their lives. I can’t imagine a mom that would ever deny a father access when they clearly love deeply and long for their rightful place in their children’s lives.

My kids have had a hole for years, a hole that was not easily filled. Despite the uncles and grandfathers who stepped up to the plate, there was a missing piece. God is the father to the fatherless, the missing piece, the completer.

The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. Psalm 103:13

Tender and compassionate. Not necessarily what you would expect from a veteran, a man who made the military his life for years. But Roy is. He’s caring, compassionate. He’s kind and loving. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him speak an uncaring word to any of us. He constantly looks for ways to build us up, to put a smile on our face. He cries when we cry and rejoices when we rejoice. He is the epitome of a tender compassionate father.

I think of John 11:35 when Lazarus died. Jesus’ response? He wept with his friends as they mourned Lazarus death. He hurt with them. He looks down and sees the lost as sheep in need of a Savior, with eyes of love and compassion. That’s a Good Father.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

Our Heavenly Father is the giver of good gifts (just look at how he’s blessed us with Roy). He delights in pouring out His love, His blessings on His children. I remember the day I gave my oldest his first car. I watched as he and his little brother just sat in it in the garage, counting down the last week before he could get his license. It was such a delight to know I had given him a treasure.

And I remember when God so clearly spoke to my heart telling me of the anticipation He had as He waited for the perfect time to drop that good and perfect gift into my life. The timing was impeccable, something only He could orchestrate. He put Roy into our lives just when my kids needed a dad in the worst possible way, just after their earthly dad passed away. Roy is our good and perfect gift…and he delights in blessing us in unexpected ways.

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

Love would not be complete without discipline. Roy loves by gently leading and guiding my kids. He talks with them about their choices, about the consequences of their actions. He never provokes them to anger, but disciplines in love.

And my kids thrive in that loving discipline.

For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:12

But it’s not just the discipline. He delights in my kids. How many times has he told me how easy it is to love my kids? How many times has he talked about the fun of having my kids around? How many times has he just gone to sleep with a smile on his face after a late night with my kids?

True fathers delight in their children. Their children are a joy, a blessing beyond measure. Just as God takes delight in us.

Fathers can give their sons an inheritance of houses and wealth, but only the Lord can give an understanding wife. Proverbs 19:14

Roy and I may not be materially wealthy by the standards in our country, but we are blessed in so many ways. But the greatest inheritance he will leave?

The inheritance of being a loving father and husband.

I remember one of my boys telling me how they longed for God to bring a model into their lives. A model of a loving father. A model of a loving husband. A model of a godly man.

Roy loves me well. He loves my kids well. He is teaching my daughter how she should be treated by a man, teaching my boys how to treat a girl. He’s showing them what it means to love God and love others. And there’s no greater inheritance.

And God? The inheritance He gives us is even greater. It’s blessings beyond measure on this earth and in the world to come.

The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise. Proverbs 23:24

What’s the appropriate response when we are faced with a loving father? How do we repay our fathers—earthly and Heavenly—for the many ways they love us, treasure us, guide us, and simply enrich  our lives?

We choose to walk in their paths, to emulate their hearts and their actions. We take time to learn from them, to become what they are.

And that’s when we, as children, bring great joy. For there is no greater joy than to see our children walking with God.

I don’t know what you think of when you hear the word “father,” but I pray you will let our Heavenly Father fill any hole left by men who have disappointed. I know it’s a process to experience healing. But when we choose to pause long enough to let God become that completer, to heal that father-wound, it’s the best experience ever. Let Him be you Daddy.

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