by R. A. VanderWerf
Dan's Note: Dan the Story Man is about transformation and transformational, personal narrative. Transformation IS Real—people can and do change. Since personal transformation is such a unique experience for anyone, it's not surprising that people understand their own change within a narrative passed down to them. Today's writer sees her change from the perspective of deep tradition she finds in her faith life and holy scripture. That story within scripture is an inheritance to her, and no doubt a gift.
R. A. VanderWerf is a friend with whom I've recently reconnected. Within the time span we were out of touch (over 20 years) she's changed. When a writer contributes such a personal and moving account of that change within themselves, I take notice. This is one such piece. Enjoy!
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
I came across a picture on Facebook today.
A friend lost her father last year. They were close, and she took it hard.
Today she posted a picture of herself and her dad. She looked so happy, and so loved. And he did love her. She was his precious treasure, and she knew it.
Several years ago, my church held a small women's ministry event around Christmas time. Cardboard testimonies. Before and After stories. Women that I had known for years walked silently up on stage holding cardboard signs with their “Before” stories for us in the audience to see. Deep secrets that we didn't know about our friends. Things that we did know that made our hearts hurt to see them starkly written in large black letters. Unwed teenage motherhood. Struggles with body image. Death of loved ones. Finally a familiar face followed the procession to the front of the stage holding a cardboard sign that made my world stop. My vision blurred and tears were flowing before I had a chance to worry about what anyone else around me would think.
Abandoned by my dad.
That picture on Facebook today had the same effect. For a few brief moments, I felt a sad sympathy for my friend who was remembering her lost papa. And then I had to look away and close my laptop because unexpected grief hit me like a brick wall.
I will never have a picture like that. I am the cardboard testimony.
I have a friend whose father took off before she was born.
Over the years I've watched her grow into an angry, defiant woman with a chip the size of Manhattan on her shoulder. I told her once, in the spirit of expressing a shared experience, that I thought we had been like so many other fatherless teenage girls -desperately seeking love from any apparently worthwhile male (and some not so worthwhile) who was willing to give it. I had desperately needed some decent guy to tell me that I was his precious treasure. Because girls need fathers. Girls need dads to love them and treasure them and tell them they are good and beautiful and valuable and loved. And if they don't get a father's love, they will seek to fill that deep, dark emptiness with something. Someone. Because it has to be filled. My friend looked at me with total self-assurance and told me that she had never felt that way, had never missed her father, had never been affected by his absence, never gave a crap that he was gone.
This is called bullshit.
My friend is so angry about that empty void, the missing voice that never told her that she was loved, that she was his most precious, that she lashes out at every rejection. She pretends not to care when a friend doesn't return an invitation or she's left out of a group, but the seething anger creeps out every time.
I know about that anger at rejection, too. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I hate. Sometimes I seethe, and then I break, because there is no underlying foundation of acceptance beneath me to hold me up. There's just a black silence. You weren't good enough. You were too bad. Too annoying. Too much of a problem. You didn't do things the right way. You didn't do anything the right way, so...I'm outta here. Silence. And the helplessness of a little girl who doesn't get it turns into the helpless anger of a woman who can never, ever fix it.
I just want to be loved. I just wanted to be loved! That's all! Is that too much to ask? Really?
Is there any wonder we lash out in anger at rejection?
If you've ever seen a Cardboard Testimony, you know that the front side tells the old story, and the back side tells the new story.
Front side: Lost my earthly mother. Back side: Clinging to my heavenly father.
Front side: Unforgiveable. Back side: Forgiven.
Front side: Abandoned by my dad. Back side: Beloved daughter of the King.
I do have a Father. A better one. A real one. An eternal Abba Father who will never abandon me. And you know, I'm still trying to come to terms with that.
They say that your relationship with your earthly father affects your relationship with God, your heavenly, eternal, Abba Father. That's has absolutely been my experience. But it has gotten better. I’ve started to discover Him.
My mom, dealing with her own rejection from my dad, knew Him. Oh how I know she did. As a young child I was surrounded by people who knew Him and loved Him, and knew they were loved by Him. Their daily experience was unmistakable. And all through my childhood my mom pointed me to my Abba Father, waiting for me to find Him.
Finally, about twelve years ago, I did find my Abba Father. I thought because I’d grown up in the church with people who were radical believers, that I must already know Him. But when I suddenly discovered Him for myself, I was stunned. It was unbelievable. Instead of feeling vaguely guilty for ignoring Him, I loved time I spent alone with God, digging through the letters to the Corinthians and the Romans and finding unbelievably relevant statements seemingly directed to me in Isaiah. I devoured A.W. Tozer and felt like C.S. Lewis was a close personal friend.
So He was talking, and I was listening. But I still couldn't hear everything He was saying. I heard Him telling me about everything He could do and would do, if I would just do what I was supposed to do. And I heard Him telling me what I was supposed to do. But I couldn't do it. My life was one big fat example of Romans 7: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do; but what I hate, I do." I was failing right and left, day after day. And I heard Him tell me to trust him, but I couldn't hear Him say that it was okay if I couldn't trust. I could hear Him tell me not to doubt, but I did doubt. And as I desperately sought some clear, comforting answer from God, who was supposed to be my Abba Father, all I heard was that the one who doubts shouldn't expect to receive anything from Him.
And I formed a picture in my head of God, my Abba Father, as a distant, disapproving Teacher that I had no hope of ever pleasing. All I could hear was that I still wasn't good enough. Still too bad. Too hopeless. No commitment, no perseverance, no stamina. Too stuck in the world. I looked at my Abba Father and heard my dad. The words were different, but the rejection was painfully familiar.
I know it's not true. I know it like I know that God exists, that He created this universe and everything in it, that He lives and moves in our lives and cares oh, so deeply about you and me and every lonely man and woman and every abandoned child. I know that He weeps over my sadness and can't wait to wipe away my tears when I see Him face to face in heaven. I know my Abba Father loves me.
I haven't come to terms with it yet. I still doubt and I still don't trust. I still identify as that abandoned, unruly child and I still don't understand why I'm stuck in Romans 7. But I'm still working on it. I know I will get there one precious day. And on that day, I will know in my heart that I am the beloved daughter of the King.
In the meantime, I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
© Copyright, 2015 R. A. VanderWerf. Reprinted with permission.