I will never be able to express how much I regret my last interaction with my dad. I wish there had been a hug. I wish I could have said goodbye. I wish my last words to him hadn't propelled him to fulfill his lifelong death wish.
I wish he hadn't left me.
On the day his body was found, late in the afternoon, as I tried to choke down the one piece of food I was able to stomach that day -- a stalk of steamed broccoli -- I articulated to God the gut-wrenching wound that was ripping my heart apart. "He left me," I cried. "My father left me."
God's answer was immediate. "I am your father," he said. "I will never leave you."
Ever since then, God's been trying to show me what that means. For him to be my father. I believe he's my father, but I'm hardwired to think he's like my dad... emotionally crippled, shy to make eye contact, gone at work all the time, distant, restless, one angry word away from irrevocable abandonment.
Mind you, I'm also hardwired, because of my dad, to believe God gives amazing hugs, has a delightful twinkle in his eyes, laughs freely, extends kindness to everyone, remembers people's name, sings passionately, and loves beauty.
(Basically, I'm hardwired to think God is bi-polar.)
I've worked hard -- really hard -- to please God because you never know when my rashly spoken words might send him out into the frozen woods never to return. No, wait. That's Dad again. Not God.
God's been trying to tell the truth to my heart. I can stop trying to please him; he's already pleased with me. I don't need to perform in order to avoid abandonment; he will never leave me. I don't have to work to be accepted by him; he already adores me.
But what does that look like? How does it look for God to adore me? What does an adoring father do?
Well, the Bible says he is with me, he protects me, he delights in me, he comforts me, he counts my tears, he rejoices over me, he sings about me. My head knows all that, but my heart is slow on the uptake.
So I've been studying dads who adore their daughters. (Mostly using the tried and true method of facebook trolling.)
Reid, who adores his daughters, laughs with them, plays games with them, and cheers for them.
David, who adores his daughter, takes her on dates.
Daniel, who adores his daughters, posts video about their accomplishments.
Nate, who adores his daughters, jams with them, takes them out to breakfast, and poses with them for rainboot family photos.
Tex, who adores his daughters, takes in their children and gives them a secure home environment.
Dave, who adores his daughter, calls her his angel, teaches her how to beat him at dominoes, gently tells her hard truth even when it's sad, and then comforts her while she cries about it.
Tony, who adores his daughters, tells them he loves them every day, makes sure they know the Seahawks are far superior to the 49ers, protects them fiercely, texts me their latest quotes, and guides them wisely.
Uncle Nate, who adores his daughter, treks repeatedly to the Alaska bush to help her make a home for her family. And he adopts me as his daughter after I lose my dad, his brother.
And my own daddy, who adored his daughters, saved the broken sewing machine needle he extracted from the bottom of my left foot when I was five years old, always held me when I cried, wouldn't let me wear skanky clothing, spent lots and lots and lots of money on my healthcare needs, softly encouraged me with a gentle smile to "be nice..." when I wanted to be snarky, encouraged me to love and respect my husband, inspired me to stay active despite my chronic pain, called me his princess, and, six days before he died, wrapped his arm around my shoulders and whispered tenderly into my hair, "You'll always be my girl."
I've clung to that tender moment these past four years, three months, and three days since Dad died. I can still hear his voice in my head, like his benediction to me. "You'll always be my girl."
The dreams I have about Dad still wake me up at 3am, but they're getting better. I used to spend every dream trying to convince him not to hang himself, and he'd hang himself at the end of every dream anyway. But I haven't had dreams like that for about three months now. In last night's dream, I showed him some of the cool things I found in his file cabinet when I cleaned it out a few months after he died. Last week, I dreamed we went hiking in the woods together and he helped me learn the names of the peaks I live near.
But Sunday morning's dream was different.
I dreamed one of my favorite authors gave me a signed copy of one of her novels. She wrote her little note and signature between lines of text a few chapters into the book. (Weird.) I flipped to the next page and found another handwritten note, also between lines of text.
Blue ink, distinctive Greek E.
You are God's child.
He adores you.
You will always be his girl."
It felt like a baton pass. Like Dad was helping me transfer my affections. Helping me say goodbye. Helping me curl my heart up in God's lap, lean my head against his chest, and hear him whisper...
"You'll always be my girl."
And I think... just maybe... I might be starting to believe it.
"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save, he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." ~Zephaniah 3:17