I used to look at family portraits and feel irreversibly alone. Other families were complete, I thought, and mine had been broken. Cancer had come and stolen away our normality, our innocence, our portrait-worthiness. It had changed all of us forever and left one of us in the grave. I used to look at family portraits and feel like an orphan.
The pain of my loss kept You at bay for so many years, and I chose to go it alone rather than let You in. I trusted You in a formal sense of course—I prayed, I called you “Lord,” I strove to live in a way that pleased You—but in my heart You were “Boss,” not “Father.” I lived out of that broken portrait for so long, see, that I still felt like an outsider in Your family. I was grateful for Your love and involvement in my life but never dared assume You’d want me in Your Christmas card.
But day after day, year after year, You stuck around—not as a boss, but as a parent. You let me get caught in high school for the destructive patterns of rebellion I’d learned, and yet You didn’t kick me out. You loved and supported me through the most awkward growing pains of my life; and when disapproving passersby stopped to whisper and sneer, You put Your arm around my rebellious shoulder and said, “She’s with me.”
Yet when the time for college came, I still couldn’t bring myself to assume You’d be involved. So I bit my nails in an anxious frenzy wondering where the money would come from. I heaped a hundred thousand dollars onto my little shoulders, choosing to go it alone rather than be wrong about You and be hurt again. I continued to play the orphan, but You continued to surprise me. Money—and clothes, and books, and plane tickets and groceries—continued to reveal themselves in all the places I hadn’t thought to look. In other words, You played the parent to this stubborn orphan and You provided.
In seminary, You were actually the One who explained to me the narrative I’d been living. You uncovered the broken portrait I’d buried in my heart and handed me a new one. In it, we were together, and I was standing right next to Your very own Son. The scars on His hands were the price You both paid to make me Your child—legally and truly—forever. No temporary favors, no part-time father figure, no distant boss who throws me the occasional bone. Those scars were proof that You’d thought this through; that You adopted me at great price to Yourself; that You really want me.
And since then, You’ve stuck around.
Daddy, in the last few weeks I’ve again pushed You away and played the orphan. Change is coming, and in my age-old fear I’ve again attempted to go it alone. I’ve shamed Your love so much that I’ve again—reflexively—wondered, if this is it. After all You’ve done and all I’ve given You in return, why would You stick around now? But as soon as the question flashed across my mind, You showed me the portrait. You showed me the scars. You’re not going anywhere, and You will parent me through this transition. I don’t have to heap a single thing onto my shoulders because You are right there to provide, to lead, to teach, to love me through this.
This morning I want to remember—and trust in—Your parental love. This morning I want to face the scary changes ahead not as an orphan, but as a well-beloved daughter. I want to believe my eyes as I look at that picture of us, a family. And I want to thank You for adopting me.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.