Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where is Dad?

It's that time of year again. It's the day where cards are given, Home Depot gift cards are bought and families are grilling. All to celebrate their dads. It is the day that for years never meant anything to me. When you grow up having never met your father it becomes just another day. In high school it meant the day where most of my friends couldn't hang out. But in my house it was, truly, just another day.

Growing up without a dad definitely sets one apart. I mean, at least in suburban Webster. Some of my friends had parents that were divorced but as much as I can remember they all had relationships with their fathers. I have never met my dad. Well, I was told that once, at a birthday party when I was little he was there. I just didn't know he was my dad. The story goes that I asked him to fix my watch. I don't remember that. I don't remember him.

I've always thought that not having a dad was better than having a really horrible father. And that might be true. Instead of learned dysfunction, in a way, I just had a blank slate. As I grew older the void of not having a dad hit me. It came in college during my toughest semester when I was struggling with depression. I felt the need to overcome. And so, I did some digging and I found out all the information I could. When I finished information gathering I prayed. And I prayed. Yet, there was still a restlessness in my soul. So, I got an extra Bible, I grabbed a friend, and we drove into a bad section of Rochester, pulled up in front of his house, and took a very deep breath.

I was 21 years old when I showed up on my father's doorstep, Bible in hand, ready to share the hope I had found in God with the one who never wanted me. I had written a little note on the inside cover and I let him know that I forgave him. I thought that perhaps, he might feel bad about having a daughter but never being a dad. His sister answered the door. His sister, whom I looked like, answered the door and just stared at me. "Hi, is this where James Kelley lives?" She answered yes. "Hi. I'm Danielle. I'm his daughter."

Talk about awkward. Talk about feeling as if life was moving in slow motion. Talk about my stomach twisting in knots, my heart about to leap out of my chest and run back to the car. In that moment I put everything on the table. I left myself completely vulnerable. But I knew there was no other choice. I needed to do it in order to grow and to overcome my personal struggle and anger over not having a dad. It wasn't about what his sister said. It wasn't even about what would happen with him. It was really only about knowing what I needed to do and being obedient to the Lord.

In what seemed like minutes but was only probably seconds, his sister (Sharon), my aunt, began to cry and hugged me. She invited us in to her house (where my father lives) and she was sweet to me. She gave us a tour and showed us his bedroom (it was messy). She sat at the kitchen table and talked and asked questions and she took pictures of me with her disposable camera. I learned that this man liked the Simpsons and that he worked on cars. I learned that she had lost a son. I learned that he didn't really ever believe that I was his daughter. And after a few hours she gave us $20 to grab dinner on our way home.

I'd go back two more times to try to meet him. Both times he wouldn't be home. And I would learn through Sharon that he didn't understand what he had done that he needed forgiveness for. It was after that that the Lord graciously gave me peace and that I knew the goal of my journey was not a relationship with James. It was in letting go and trusting God to be the healer of all of my wounds.

I stood in church today remembering all of that like it was yesterday. I still remember the black sweater coat I wore on that first visit. I felt hurt today as I stood in church, voices ringing out around me, praising God. And the Holy Spirit covered me as I realized this: while growing up without a dad does leave a blank slate, it also attributed to all of my self-esteem, lack of self worth issues. Imagine being a little girl living in a world of chaos. A princess who needs to be rescued. But no one comes for her. What did I learn? I wasn't worth the effort. I wasn't worth being fought for. I was easily forgettable and who would want to be my friend or love me or date me if my own father didn't even want me.

I lived for years believing those thoughts. That was the truth in the world I lived. And do you know something? That could still be the truth. It was, after all, affirmed when I went back the third time to meet James, when I learned of his heart attitude of not understanding my forgiveness. Oh, the sweetness of the forgiveness I extended. It took everything in me, to daily surrender the hurt to the Lord and to be able to come to a place where I could offer it and truly mean it. And it was as if he just took my beautifully wrapped package that took 21 years to put together and left it on the doorstep. He didn't want it. He didn't need it. Oh, but the gift it would have been!

I'd like to share with you the passion I feel in my heart at this very moment as I sit here and type this blog- I don't feel any ill feelings towards James. I feel a little sad for him that he missed out on me. I don't mean to be conceited or boastful. But I think I could have blessed him. I think I could have been a blessing to him. He will never know that. I am ok with that. And this is why. Because at 21 years old, as my friend drove me to Rochester, I spent the hour ride reading God's word and praying. And this is what God spoke to my heart that day:

"Sing to God, sing praise to his name,

extol him who rides on the clouds a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a]
his name is the LORD—
and rejoice before him.

5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.

6 God sets the lonely in families, b]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[b]
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

God is a father to the fatherless. At 17 years old I realized that. My earthly father didn't fight for me. And though I could still choose to believe the lies that I am not worth it, My heavenly Father speaks the truth that I am worth it. God fought for me. He fought for you. "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life," John 3;16. Romans 5:8 says this, "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us."

There was a spiritual battle raging and you and I, our lives were at stake. And unlike my earthly father, our Heavenly Father loved us too much to leave us. He knew exactly what it would take to rescue us. The King was ready to fight for his princess. He sent His only Son to pay the price to set us free. Because He is God. Because He is good and simply because He loves us.

The truth is, I am worth it. Not because of anything I have done or will do. I am worth it because my Heavenly Father thinks I am. The truth is you are worth it, too. It's a beautiful gift straight from God and the choice is to let it sit on the doorstep, unopened. Or to accept the gift of His Son, which, by the way, means having the humility to admit you need the gift. My earthly father missed out because he chose to not accept the gift of my forgiveness, which is so limited by my ability as a human to love and bless. But God's ability is not limited! And the gift of a relationship with Him is a gift worth accepting. It's worth every bit of surrender and humility it takes to receive it.

So, as I stood in church today feeling hurt this is what the Holy Spirit covered my spirit with, "Your Heavenly Father thinks you are worth it. He fights for you every day. He has put you in a family. I love you."

Our God is a consuming fire,
A burning holy Flame, with glory and freedom
Our God is, the only righteous judge,
Ruling over us with kindness and wisdom

We will keep our eyes on You
We will keep our eyes on You

A mighty fortress is our God
A sacred refuge is Your Name
Your Kingdom is unshakable
With You forever we will reign

Verse 3

Our God is, jealous for His own
None could comprehend, His love and His mercy
Our God is exalted on His throne
High above the heavens
Forever He's worthy...

We will keep our eyes on You
We will keep our eyes on You
So we can set our hearts on You
Lord we will set our hearts on You!

Redemption- that word gives me goosebumps! A father to the fatherless. He places the lonely in families. God has given me a wonderful husband that I am so grateful for. But do you know what else He blessed me with? I married into a family that loves God and loves me. Do you know that I prayed so hard to marry into a good family. I so wanted to be a part of something that was different from what I knew. And God did just that! He blessed me with in-laws that are beyond what I ever even asked for. My father-in-law has been an incredible father to his boys and to me. And I am brought to tears right now thinking that someday, when I have kids, they will have a great father. And Ryan will be a great father, because he's had a great father. And my children will not live the legacy of dysfunction and abandonment. That cycle ends with me. No, they will know of a Heavenly Father that thinks they are worth it. They will have parents that think they are worth it and they will have grandparents who think they are worth it. And it's all because of the Lord, the gift of Jesus and the ever present, ever working presence of His spirit.

So, Happy Father's Day, Heavenly Father. Love, your princess. xoxo

Monday, June 14, 2010

Death is a funny thing. It doesn't discriminate. Sometimes it gives fair warning and other times it just shows up. But it always leaves a sting. Always. Even for the ones that know they will leave this temporary place called Earth and go to Heaven. It stings for their loved ones. It stings the hearts of the ones who walked with them here and who laughed and cried and shared moments with them. And sometimes it stings for the ones who didn't know the life, but know loss all too well.

I remember the summer that I went away to summer project in college. I spent three months with a bunch of students I had just meant. As I left to go to Wildwood, New Jersey, a friend told me to make sure that it hurt to say good-bye come late July. Because then I would know that I had truly invested myself in others. That I had been impacted. And that my time had mattered. Come July I cried for days. My new found soul mates and I laughed and remembered and we wept at the thought that we'd have to leave each other.

I believe life should be lived in such a way that when your time comes it should hurt. Life is about relationships and when we come to the end of our lives I believe that the measure of our life can be measured by how much we loved and poured into others. Did we obey Christ's command to love God and to love others? If we did, then it will be hard to say good-bye. The hope is that we are leaving to go to spend eternity with the One that loves us beyond what we can comprehend. We are leaving for a better place- and there is incredible hope in that.

On Friday, June 11th, a 15 year old boy died. Fifteen years old. Let that sink in. He stood at a bus stop on the West side of Buffalo around 1pm. And he was gunned down by another boy on a bike. His name is Jawaan Daniels. I didn't know him. In fact, I've never actually seen him. But I can tell you this, his death has left a sting in my heart. Despite the fact that this murder happened in broad daylight, on a sunny afternoon, kiddie corner across from the place I work, I didn't see anything. I heard two boys yelling. I heard gunfire (that sadly, this suburban girl thought at first was fireworks) and the next thing I knew my board chair, who happened to be in town for a meeting, opened the door and told me to lock down the shop.

We locked the door and waited. And the 6-8 minutes it took the police to come seemed like an hour. Grant street was buzzing. People crawled out of the wood work to see what was happening. My director came in the building, after running over to the boy and praying over him until the police came, and let us know he had passed away.

People can and will speculate. Drugs. Gang related. Thug. I don't know. And what keeps running through my mind is, he was just 15. 15 years old. If this was in the suburbs, you'd hear people saying, "He had his whole life ahead of him." You don't hear that much in the city. People assume that he must have already been caught up in some pretty heavy stuff to be dead at the age of 15. And maybe that is true. But the truth is, it doesn't matter.

I can speak from experience. I grew up with a drug-addicted mother that was constantly high or leaving me. She was verbally unkind many, many times in my ten years of life. She hurt the people that loved her most- her parents, her sister, and me. She robbed from them. She robbed from me. Favorite stuffed panda bear- sold to the consignment shop for drug money. College fund started by my grandparents- emptied for drug money. But the truth is this, when she was robbed and then murdered by three teenage boys it didn't make it hurt less because she was not a saint. Death still stung. And it isn't the right of any person to decide who should live or who should die. That decision belongs to the Lord. But we humans have a funny way of taking what isn't ours and deciding the value on a life.

So, I wept for Jawaan because he was created in God's image. And he barely had a chance at life, let alone a second chance. God is a god of second chances and it hurts my heart that this boy may not have known that. He may not have known that while we were still sinners Christ died for us and that in God is hope, redemption, love, peace, joy, refuge and abundant life. His cup never got a chance to overflow. And whether he was a thug or an altar boy it shouldn't have been up to someone else to take his life away.

I am grateful that in those last moments of Jawaan's life there was a godly presence praying over him. I am grateful that, even though I don't know him, his death left a sting. My heart has not been hardened by great loss throughout my life. And the sting in my heart reminds me that it matters what we're trying to do on the West side of Buffalo. Christ didn't come for the healthy. It's the sick that need a doctor. And it's the drug infused, gang banging, prostitute walking, theft minded, gun buying, murder ridden streets of Buffalo that need to hear and experience the love and the hope of Jesus Christ. It's the same people killing and being killed that need to hear that life is found in Jesus. Abundant, overflowing, sweet, life. And in the midst of tragedy, sorrow and death's sting is a light and a freedom that comes only from laying down your rights and your lusts and your greed and admitting that you need a savior.

So, I will build relationships with the young people that step into my life through On the Job Ministries. And when my time comes, or theirs, whichever one comes first, I pray that it will be hard to say good-bye. And I will have laid it all down for the Lord. And I pray, that through God's great mercy, through Jawaan's death would come a work of the Lord and all the glory to Him. He is good. even when death leaves a sting.