It was a headless horseman kind of morning. Anyone with half a sense would hesitate before venturing timidly into the roiling mass of grey. Who knew what lurked behind the line of trees? Or what had happened to the steady stream of children whose small backpacks provided the last visual evidence of their pedaled progress into the foggy stew?
If a grown woman with a reasonable grasp of natural forces sensed the eeriness, then a child who lives as familiarly in the land of imagination as in the comfort of her mother’s hug, certainly could have conjured up countless creatures bent on reaching, snatching, grabbing and dragging unsuspecting children into the hovering darkness never to be seen again. And yet, she pedaled fearlessly down the path, her small frame hurling itself into the smoky mass with eager determination.
Was this the child who just a year before had clung timidly to my hand and insisted I escort her to the classroom? What had happened in the short months since this dear child left the state of muddy swamps and humid nights for one of rocky coasts and fog-drenched morns?
For a solid year, she, along with her mother and sisters, had lived with me. We had experienced hard times—the extended absence of a beloved daddy and the fear-inducing hospital stays of her safe-haven mommy. We had enjoyed fun times—laughing our way through Cousin Camp, Christmas mayhem and a stand-up gig as attendants in Uncle Chris and Aunt Jill’s wedding. We had faced uncertain times—the first day in a new school and the life-altering entrance of a baby sister.
I had comforted her when she cried, sung silly made-up morning songs to make her smile and listened to a litany of complaints about her younger sister. None of my reassurances produced the peaceful confidence, general cheeriness and ongoing goodwill that now glowed through her second-grade stature.
I recognized instantly it is her father who has brought about this transformation. During the previous two years, his work had taken him away for over 18 months. His best efforts to assure her of his love couldn’t replace the solid comfort of being with him daily. Now in his steadying presence, she blooms with confidence.
He isn’t just any kind of father. He isn’t content with passing along just his name and genetic markers. His provision for his family isn't limited to depositing his paycheck. The intentional and invasive love he shows his daughters is what makes such a profound difference in the life of a once timid child.
He gives of himself in specific ways that are designed to nurture the heart of his child.
- He knows and accepts her for who she is. Seldom have I known a man with such a keen understanding of the four women with whom he shares his life. He is acutely observant and uniquely gifted at knowing and responding to their individual characteristics.
- He spends time with her. Long hours on the job and the 24/7 nature of his duties do not keep him from setting aside time just for her. When he is home, he is fully present with her, coaching academics, reading bedtime stories and tucking her into bed.
- He establishes boundaries. He buffers her world with reasonable expectations. There is no back talk to mommy and no fighting with sister. There are personal habits to follow, a room to clean and trash to carry. There is safety inside the boundaries of his consistently enforced guidelines.
- He teaches her new things. Knowing her curiosity and scientific bent, he leads her to discover the intricate details of her natural surroundings. It is the continuation of what began when she was a toddler and he took her outside after dark nightly to look for bugs and learn their names. He provides an ever-widening sphere of education that takes place in the hands-on laboratory of their current environment.
- He challenges her to expand the limits of her abilities. With kindhearted coaching and a watchful presence, he encourages her not only to try new things, but also to strive toward the next level. And so, this seven-year-old, who only recently learned to ride a bike, pedaled with her dad for seven miles on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
I am grateful for this man who enhances the lives of the people he loves.
His watchful eye and intimate involvement remind me of the one I call my Father. Like this earthly father, my heavenly Father knows me intimately and accepts me as I am. He is continually with me, establishes his rule for my life and gives me wisdom. He challenges me to be more than I think I am as I become increasingly like his son. I can make my way confidently because I am his child.
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1:16-18 NLT