My first ”Hearts at Home” guest post is shared by Betsy Schultz. If you are a daughter or a dad, please take a minute to read Betsy’s story – it is heart-wrenching… and inspiring.
I was inches away from taking her by the shoulders, shaking her and saying “You have no idea, do you?! How can you shrug off the most vital person in your life? How can you laugh about a habitual area of miscommunication that could be your biggest joy and safeguard? How can you ignore something so precious, beautiful and powerful? How can you put off talking with your dad when…when in one moment you could forever lose that opportunity forever?”
I’ve never yet had the courage to say all that. But in the three years since my own dad died suddenly, I’ve been tempted countless times. When I see girls taking their relationship with their dads lightly, a cold chill runs through me. They might not know why I become silent and partially withdraw from the conversation continuing on around me, yet I can’t help it. Their casual words touch a deep, tender, still quite raw place in my heart and my mind travels back to my dad, the relationship we enjoyed, and how I would give anything to still share my life with him.
As the youngest of three girls, I was my dad’s right hand man. I joined him every chance I could, getting in on carpentry, splitting firewood and any other project he had going. I loved being with him, not only because of the work but also because I loved seeing his life in action. He was respected in our community for his walk with God, and my heart always swelled with daughterly pride as I listened to him share wise counsel or gentle comfort.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Actually, in all honesty, it was never a game. Dad was a strategic, highly driven man and while I knew he loved me, I never felt I rose to his expectations. And I labored under that load for years. I didn’t realize how much of a burden this pressure to perform was until just three years ago when Dad came to me and apologized for how hard he’d been on me. He asked me to forgive him for not providing a place in his heart where I could just run and be protected. He’d wanted my life to be good and right and he’d shot down my heart so often that I didn’t really feel safe with him. He said he wanted his heart to be a place where I could come cuddle up. I was stunned. I’d never heard anything like this before in my life!
This is the point in any good testimony when the writer wraps things up and says that they went on living happily ever after. But that’s not real life. My dad could say all that to me, but there were twenty-two years of past actions that suggested the opposite. How could I know that his heart was really trustworthy? Why should I assume he had truly changed over night and that he really would be gentle with me? Did I dare share my heart with him? He’d not understood very well in the past – why would he now?
That’s when my Heavenly Father took over. I had joined Dad for a day of being alone in the wilderness, just spending time with God. Out in the silence of mountains and trees, my Father began speaking to me. He showed me that most of my problems in my relationship with Dad, mirrored those in my relationship with Him. Sure, I knew God loved me, but I felt I was never good enough to live up to His expectations of me. I never sensed that He really truly understood my heart and emotions….and why ever would I want to share my deepest dreams with Him?! What if they were wrong? But my kind Father gently, carefully told me of His heart that day. If my dad wanted to have a place in his heart where I could run and cuddle up, wasn’t it true that my Father had that place already, and was simply waiting for me to come there? I didn’t have to fix my problems on my own or spruce myself up before coming to Him, I could just run there, and He would take care of me.
Old habits die hard. It’s one thing to talk about running into God’s heart, but it’s another thing entirely to do it. And the same was true with my dad. He could still look very stern sometimes, and I wasn’t completely convinced he would understand me or be able to handle my sometimes volatile, emotional state. So I was left with a choice – would I take Father and Dad at their word? Every child is formed with a nearly desperate desire to experience the love, protection and strength of a father, and I couldn’t hold back.
Dad and I both made plenty of mistakes. He could still push my buttons and I was still bound by unreasonable fears. But together we gradually entered into a new level of relationship. I began going to him with questions, concerns and dreams. He, on the other hand, began to trust me implicitly as he realized I would tell him everything. Not only did he trust me, but as he became aware of my dreams, he did all in his power to make those dreams come about.
That was an odd season of life. I was ready to move on, delve into politics or law or counseling or…anything but everyday life at home! But somehow it wasn’t the right time. Subconsciously I knew it was my chance to invest in Dad and his ministry (as speaker and author) and while it didn’t make sense and I took some flack for it, I knew it was right.
Then came June 6th, 2008. Dad was speaking at a convention in Chicago and had just finished one of his messages. I joined him at the stage and listened to him as he chatted with people. The room cleared and he wearily sat down on the stage, talking with the one man who remained. He suddenly tensed up, his body struggling for each breath; his eyes became vacant and glassy. Then he collapsed.
As I saw his graying face and gently touched his hair, pleading “Daddy….Daddy wake up” I intuitively knew my dad, my hero, my protector, my stability, was gone. Forever.
I had no idea what my journey of grief would be like, and it’s been pretty wretched. The suddenness, the horror, the ripping, grinding, shredding of my heart was nearly more than I could endure. Yet even there, in the lowest, most horrific times of pain and loss, I could never say I was fatherless – for who has promised to be the Father to the fatherless? God Himself. And He has never let me down. The night after we were told Dad would never wake up again, I sat hunched in our hotel room writing…. A sense of great peace has came over me as I realized that because of the relationship I had with my dad, and of learning to be vulnerable with him, the transition to relating to my heavenly Father as my current protector and comforter will be seamless. There have been many long, hard days since, but my confidence in my Daddy-God’s love and intimate care has never faltered.
I know there are girls who could say I have no idea what I’m talking about – I had a great dad, how could I know what they face as they’ve been abused by their fathers or have a dad who has abandoned them or one who is emotionally absent. And they are right. I don’t understand. But I do know God is and longs to be our Daddy-God even there, and He will do it if we at all respond to His invitations and run headlong into His heart.
Tears sting my eyes as I think of my friend at the coffee shop. These are the words I’ve longed to share with her and countless other girls I’ve watched who are spurning or at best, ignoring the very relationship that can provide more than they imagine. Though we can be lulled into ‘life as it has always been,’ it won’t always remain so. Our lives can be dramatically altered in one single moment. I long to ask…Are you satisfied with the relationship you have with your dad? If you knew he would die today, is there anything you would want to tell him? What about your Daddy-God? Do you see Him that way? Do you trust His heart toward you?
May God give each of you the courage and vulnerability to intentionally cultivate a relationship with your dad where he can say in nearly his last breath “I don’t know any other father and daughter who enjoy the relationship we do.” And may you see the safe, welcoming heart of your Daddy-God held open to you and may you run there, coming to know Him more fully, deeply and intimately than ever before.