I have to start here. How can I not? It is the story of my heart dance with my father, full of everything that makes a story good: love, loss, brokenness, healing, then redemption. It is because of this first story that I believe, that I know in my bones, God can redeem anything.
My parents divorced when I was six years old. I didn't notice the damage so much at the time, because the slow ripping seemed commonplace to me. We still ate dinner, went to bed early, rode the school bus to school, hated our vegetables, brushed our teeth. But in between all the normal my heart was breaking.
I remember looking for my father's face in crowds of unfamiliar people. Sometimes I thought I saw him singing in the choir at church. After gazing thoroughly enough, soon I would see it was just another guy with beard and mustache. Not my father at all.
I used to think that this is when I became a perfectionist--believing that if I could just be perfect enough, pleasing enough, I could keep that kind of loss away; maybe people wouldn't leave if I was just good enough. My sweet husband says I was a perfectionist from birth. It's just the shape my grief became as I learned to manage the pain. If I were a different kind of person, my grief would have escaped in a different way.
Can I say, even with this ache in my heart at writing words so raw, even after all these years, I'm thankful for it all? I would not be the same person without the loss. I would not have known how to leave that perfection by the wayside and step into the real me, the messy, live it deep, love it well person I am on this day. I am oh so thankful.
It's hard for a child to know what goes through a parent's head when the family ceases to be the same one it started out as. All I can say, now after so many years have passed, is that everything I yearned for was there. It's written all over this precious picture.
The Bishop had just laid hands on my head. I had just been welcomed into the clergy club of the Church I serve. All the fancy hooplah of ordination had passed; it was time to return to my seat. But standing there, waiting to embrace me, was my father. This is the day of my ordination as Deacon in full connection in the United Methodist Church.
I am incredibly thankful for this rare glimpse into the heart of my father. How could I know that twenty feet away a dear friend held a camera, and snapped the shutter just in time? Often I look at this picture and think of Jesus holding the lamb, so full of tenderness and care. The picture says all I've had ever wanted to hear. It's always been there.
My flesh and blood father was there for my ordination. Not only present, he stood beside me, representing me as my sponsor during this holy moment in my life. In some ways he guided my way. I love the picture of his hand, resting on my shoulder. As holy words are exchanged above my head, his hand holds me still, settling my heart.
I am reminded of those first few days of thinking God might be calling me to ministry. As a twenty year old college coed I weighed my options. One moment I would wrap my heart around the crazy possibility. The next I would turn away, seeking a simpler path. In a letter my father's words helped me discern and choose God's path:
When I see these words, I can't help but feel like Timothy reading one of Paul's letters. Sweet words pointing me home! How could anyone but a father know where me true home is? My story is full of sweet irony. The father who was gone from my home so early in my life shows me the path to my heart's Home in a way no one else can! And twelve years later he is there to see, up close and personal, that relationship sealed in my life, as the Bishop lays his hands on my head.Now I want to take off my "Dad's hat" and put on my "Minister's hat" and respond to two sentences of your letter. That sentence is "If I were a man, I would go into the ministry. Since I'm not sure I'm willing to fight to make my place as a female preacher, I think I'll stick to psychology." Although I am a dad who would be very pleased and proud to see you become an ordained minister, I would not want you to become one under any circumstance unless it was the result of God's calling. On the other hand, the fact that you are not a man is not a valid reason not to pursue ordained ministry. That is a prophetic statement. I had a similar statement made to me by Rev. Gene Gordon, my pastor at Preston Hollow UMC, when I told him I was called to ordained ministry but that because of my failures in marriage I was not worthy. He said to me that was not my decision to make, that if I felt called I must submit that call to the church.
Now then, if you are called by God into ordained ministry then I believe that in order to be happy and fulfilled you will have to respond to that call.
Only God can do such things. Only God can take what is broken and mend it, give it life and wings and hope. And so I remember and celebrate my father on this week after Father's Day. In the story unfolding between me and my Dad I see the Holy Hand of God turning pages, drawing us always to Himself.