A couple of assurances:
1: It was a surprise to see how long it's been since my last post--I've been writing a lot! But it's been of a less public nature--no big stuff, just processing. (And, for the record, I wrote this two weeks ago...!)
2: I haven't spent the three months since my last post stewing on fatherlessness. Promise.
Four people--two adults holding two toddlers--stand in front of a huge mirror and count themselves, call themselves by name and identity. The names of two little boys, "and Mommy Karen and Daddy Matt." The boys smile, but there is something else in their eyes, and it will take its time in leaving.
I spent two weeks of this month in Canada getting to know my new nephews. They are towhead blonds and they squawk and scream and make silly blubbering noises and crash trucks and trains and hammers into every surface from book to floor to flesh and I am head over heels. I love feeling out each one's personality, finding how they overlap and distinguish themselves even at two and three years old. And even in our play, it breaks me to see them working out their already broken history as they test their new parents, claw for attention, need to be assured of sameness and stability. I want to wipe this away from them like maple syrup from their faces, but I know it doesn't work that way.
I know even as I watch my brother embrace and be this new thing, a father--alternately joking and tickling, teaching, gently disciplining--that this initial brokenness may stay with them, not unhealed but not erased. I know because even as I went to write about it, I found myself breaking apart. It has been nearly three decades and countless prayers and journal entries and blog posts since my father left us and that ache still opens every once in a while.
Pulled from sleep with that ache, I stood in the kitchen making coffee and thinking about early brokenness, about how it is the ultimate sucker punch: the one who is supposed to have your back, to never fail, to always be waiting for you is suddenly not there. At times, I still haven't caught my breath. I wonder if these beautiful boys will know the same.
Even as I started to write this, I had to spend a few minutes having a full-waterworks ugly cry--for me, for the boys, for getting broken before you know what whole is. I cried and I looked through the ceiling to the God Who Hears and I had no words but He listens anyway and it's there that I find the response to that sucker punch: the God who fashioned supernovae and the gnats that circled the cantaloupe in the kitchen this morning has every right and reason to be above, away, outside... and instead He is right here. He doesn't pat me on the head or remind me how often we've talked this one through. He just is. He just stays. He just heals and restores and remakes and breathes new life into us--the ultimate resuscitation--and fifteen years after I started bringing each angle of this hurt to Him, I am still pulling that new breath into my once-crushed lungs. He remains, and that is a truth stronger than stories.*
I watch my brother and my sister-in-law act this truth out to their boys, reflecting the love and restoration of God. I see it as they count themselves in the mirror, as they hold and hug. I hear them speak slowly and carefully: our books, our toys. Our house. Our forever family. Even in discipline, in time-outs and temper tantrums, love and stability and permanence are woven in amidst it with "I'm still here" and "I love you." They echo the love God has lavished on them, the healing He has worked on their wounds.
"God in His holy dwelling is a father to the fatherless...
God provides homes for those who are deserted."
Psalm 68:5, 6 (Holman translation)
* "a truth stronger than stories" is maybe my favorite line from a poem I wrote about the loss of my father, saying that he "was gone, and that is a truth stronger than stories." (You can read it here.) That remains true--but there are other, better, eclipsing truths.