My Father's Hands

As I sat in church today and the first song was being sung, I remembered the first time I met my Father. It was in an unassuming church in Athens, OH on the Ohio University campus. My friend, Angie, brought me to church with her. The pastor asked a line of questions meant to find people or a person in the pews that needed the message he had that morning. In the end, when he told those still standing to open their eyes and come forward to hear this message, I opened my eyes and there I stood in the midst of everyone else realizing this message was for me. As I walked nervously up front, I met him at the altar. He laid a hand on my shoulder and whispered to me that God told him that I felt I had never really had a father and I needed a father. The pastor went on to tell me that God was going to be that Father and take me into his arms. The tears poured from my eyes. In this moment, I was transformed in a way that only my Creator, my Father could change me and heal me.

Don't misunderstand, though, I did have a physical, earthly father. He was in my life. I knew where to find him. I just didn't really know him nor did he know me. He is not a bad man. He loves me in his own way. In fact, there are very distinct moments in my life when he came through for me when I really needed someone. He was by my side at the airport when I left for bootcamp. He believed in me when others worried I would fail. When I was pregnant with my first child and my mom told me I didn't have to keep the child, my dad called and told me that he loved me and that he would stand beside me regardless of my decision. In 2002, when my husband left me, my dad sat on the front porch swing with my as I wept; I poured my heart out to him as he held me and told me it would all work out in the end. He may not have been around a lot. He wasn't full of hugs, kisses and wise words. He didn't do a lot of the things that I had wanted, but in times of great need he came through for me.

A father is the most significant influence in a child's life. Children without the influence of a father struggle more than those with a strong, loving father or father-figure in their life. The studies don't lie. The statistics tell a sad story. Being a father is a big job; the most important one any man may find himself. God had a plan for me all along, though. While my dad was absent, I was born into one of the most amazing and loving extended families a girl could be born into. My aunts and uncles lavished us with love. In our village-family, no matter how little or how much you had--love, money, time, etc.--an aunt or uncle or many of them were part of enabling you to achieve all you were meant to achieve. I am blessed beyond measure in this way. My Uncle Matt and Aunt Sibyl were my second family and their kids as close to me as my own brothers and sisters. My older sister and I were the first two grandchildren so we had the attention of my dad's parents and his youngest brothers and sister, too--Uncle Pat, Aunt Theresa, and Uncle Joe were constant companions in my early years. My Aunt Brigid is my godmother and she has loved me through some tough times and her prayers have richly blessed me. Aunt Mary without children of her own, took on loving my little sister, Kate, who is also her goddaughter in the years I went away to the Navy. It took a village to raise our family and it was a blessing. This is the amazing family, the Burke's:
Aunt Theresa and Uncle Mike's wedding - 1994

In 2009, my sister, Megan, got married. My dad, mom and I flew out to California for Meg's wedding. My dad was dressed in a tux and looked so handsome. As we practiced for the ceremony, I was standing in the ship's command center with my dad as we waiting to go up on deck. My eyes welled with tears as I stood there next to my dad thinking about how when I was married, he didn't give me away. He pulled me in close and put his arm around me. He said, "Heath, some day it will be your turn and I will walk you down the aisle, too." I leaned into him and laid my head on his shoulder and nodded my head. I want to believe he will someday get that opportunity. Sometimes in my emotional distance from him, I find it hard to embrace these moments where he rescues my hurting heart and reminds me that I am loved. He may not often use those words with me, but this is the man who has hands like his father whom I dearly loved and whose hands my own my resemble. These hands of mine are like those of my father's though absent the calluses of hard labor that has been all he's known his whole life just like his father before him.

While I seek the love and acceptance of my heavenly Father, the one who has promised to prosper me and not to harm me, the one who plans to give me hope and a future, I still like knowing that my earthly father has been there for some key moments as well. Thank you, daddy, for loving me when I needed it most, thank you for being from the most amazing family, and thank you most of all for making me go to church even when it was the furthest thing from my heart. You planted to original seeds of faith in my life through your insistence that I attend Catholic school when you and mom divorced and you were the one that made me attend mass even though I would much rather have been doing something else entirely. Those were hard times, but it was thanks to those desires you had for me that I was able to achieve the things I did in high school, the Navy and eventually in college. It was thanks to those beginnings that I sought a deeper relationship with Christ and not just the rote and repetition of what I knew in those times. Daddy's are not perfect men. They are men that give love, that direct us in the pursuit of a better life than they had, and who hope for our future.

If you don't have an earthly father or the one you do have has left you hurt, wounded or broken, know that your heavenly Father is waiting to hold you, His beloved daughter, in the palm of His hand. His love is the only love that never fails. It is the only love one ever needs. Call out to Him, dear one, and learn what it is to know true love. I am blessed that one day so long ago, my Father claimed me as His own and I accepted His offer. Now, He woos my heart; healing the 
broken places and setting my path for His kingdom. Join me!


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