There is Nothing Like a Daddy’s Love

I see my daughter, Gwendolyn, standing at the top of a staircase. She is dressed in a flowing white gown. Her strawberry blonde hair is swept up into teasing tresses. The aroma of fresh flowers drifts down to me. My heart is about to burst with love. It is her wedding day, and she is about to descend the stairs one last time before leaving her mother and me to start her new life and marriage.

Except that it won’t ever happen that way.

Gwendolyn has a mitochondrial disease. She can’t stand or walk. She can’t say, “I do.” Dresses are not wheelchair-friendly, especially when she wants to pull her legs up. She is nine years old, and it is likely that she won’t live to marriageable age. That’s the brutal reality I’ve had to mourn. But, even as I have let the wedding day dream die, I have discovered something greater from the heart of that dream — there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

I can’t fix Gwendolyn. I am not going to discover the cure for mitochondrial diseases, no matter how many articles I read or doctors I meet. I can’t figure out what will motivate her to do something new in her therapy. I have no idea what tomorrow might bring for our family. But that’s OK.

There are times when Gwendolyn will only calm down if I take her in my arms and hold her close. She snuggles into my left shoulder just a certain way. At night, she needs me to sing her a hymn or two and whisper, “Daddy loves you” before she goes to sleep. Sometimes when I come home she just smiles and giggles. On fall Sundays, there is no place she would rather be than watching a Steelers game with me (before napping). I can bathe her, change her, brush her hair, and make her do her therapy. I can navigate a wheelchair, make her daily food, start her feeding pump, and administer her medications. I’m Daddy, after all. And there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My wife is tired. The daily grind is exhausting. I have a full-time job that pays the bills but demands my energy. Our other
children need Dad, too. I don’t know how we will pay for a wheelchair van or home modifications. I still don’t have that special needs trust in place. Our vacations are tougher, if we can take them. Life could be easier, right? But I am here to stay, for my children and my wife. They need me because there is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

My strength is sapped. I wonder what God is doing. Does God really care about what is happening to us? Then I realize I can climb into my Heavenly Father’s lap. He comforts me when no one else can. Even though I am broken seemingly beyond repair, He can fix my deepest needs. He provides our shelter, food, clothing, medicine, jobs, caring doctors and therapists, a fantastic church, and even occasional respite! If I stop to listen, through all the doubts and fears and questions, I can hear Him. He sings over me and whispers, “I love you.”

There is nothing like a Daddy’s love.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. 1 John 3:1a

(Previously published in May-June 2013 FOCUS newsletter. Some editing done here.)

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Did E’er Such Love and Sorrow Meet?

People are asking very legitimate questions about suffering during these days after the Newtown shootings. Below is part of our family’s Christmas newsletter in 2005, the year we got Gwendolyn’s diagnosis and watched her suffer through seizures almost every day. 

Christmas is a time of contrasts. So many people generously give to others in need. But there seems to be so much need. Families put up lights and decorations while darkness clouds their relationships. We shop and spend and wrap gifts and cook and party to the point of fatigue, and then we complain that there isn’t enough time or money to enjoy these days. We mumble, “Happy Holidays” and wonder why we have lost the spirit of the season.

Some might say that Christmas is escapism. For a short time we try to forget about the troubles in the world. Tsunamis, wars, and hurricanes have challenged our compassion and understanding. Can there really be a God who cares and who can do anything about it?

We have wrestled with this question even more personally this year [in 2005]. Can we trust God when Gwendolyn’s seizures don’t seem to stop? If He can heal her, why doesn’t He?

God is not silent about suffering. One of oldest books in the Old Testament, Job, is a story about suffering. Job was a righteous man. God blessed him with many children and possessions. But one day, that all changed. His livestock was stolen. His servants were killed. And even his children died in a storm. Then he lost his health, suffering painful boils all over his body.

How did Job respond? He did not curse God; he did not sin. He kept trusting God. Job’s friends were convinced that Job (or his children) had sinned and deserved God’s punishment. They debated with Job and begged him to repent. Job fought back and asked God for a fair hearing. Surely God would correct this injustice.

Finally, God appeared. “Instruct me,” He asked. “Tell me where you were when I laid the foundations of the world? Where were you when I created the stars?” Job finally understood. His circumstances were not determined solely by his behavior. God had a larger plan. And He didn’t explain it all to Job.

We don’t always get what we deserve. And thank God for that! Usually we deserve much worse than we get. Why do we struggle so much when adversity comes? Because pain hurts, and we don’t like it. But the truth is that God has never left us, never forsaken us, and never stopped loving us.

Jesus didn’t initially get what He deserved either. The King of Kings was born in poverty and then cruelly executed. But His perfect life and death and subsequent resurrection made a way for us. Now, He is exalted in His rightful place. And we can have eternal Life and a home with Him forever. Jesus is the answer for suffering.

A Dad Who Will Never, Ever Leave

I am a pretty easy-going guy. But there are a few things that get my blood boiling. Probably the most personal is “dads” who leave. My daughter, Gwendolyn (8), has a mitochondrial disease. There are no cures, and it will probably end her life early. We know many other families who are facing the difficulties of these diseases. In too many cases, though, “dad” has left. Now it is just mom handling a child (or children) with special needs. Like Gwendolyn, most of these children need 24 x 7 care. That’s a tough job with two involved parents. Some “dads,” I guess, bail out because they can’t fix the problem so they just move on.  It is abandonment.  I won’t mince words – that is evil.

It is probably more personal to me because I didn’t have a dad that stayed either. My parents divorced when I was 7. I saw my dad each summer for a few weeks, but that was it. (We have built a better relationship as adults.) My mom remarried, and my stepdad did stay for awhile. He was an angry man, though, and the relationship was never strong. After I was gone, my mom divorced him. Anger was not his only problem, though I don’t know all the details. The strongest male figure in my life was my grandpa. I am so thankful for the investment he made in my life as a young boy and teen. However, I do sense that “something is missing” because dad was not around.

The Scriptures reveal to us a greater dad – our Father in heaven.  Listen to the promise quoted in Hebrews 13:5:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (NIV – emphasis mine)

 Those “nevers” are even more emphatic in the original Greek language, with multiple negatives stacked together. It could be paraphrased as “I will never, no, not ever, no never abandon you.” There is no doubting the intent of this promise. God is a Father who says He will never leave, no matter what.

Can we trust Him that it is true? My experience says, “yes!” When I walked away from God, he did not leave. When I have disobeyed him directly, He did not abandon me. When I shouted “WHY!?” He patiently listened. When I need Him most, I find Him. He has been true to His promise even though I have never deserved it. You can trust Him too!

How have you found God faithful to this promise to never leave? In my next post, I will talk about the results of this ever-present fatherhood.