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Just in Time, the True Father

On the day I graduated from high school, I saw my father for only the third time in four years. That’s what divorce does: my parents separated when I was in eighth grade and divorced a year later. My Dad lived a thousand miles away.

That graduation day I wasn’t even thinking about my Dad, because I was the graduation speaker. It took weeks to write and practice the speech. I stood up that day, wearing a ridiculous robe and a hat that looked like a red aircraft carrier. I was supposed to say something profound, but really–how profound can you be at 17 years old?

What made the day memorable was that my father had come to my graduation. I didn’t know he was there. He and my mother weren’t on speaking terms. She didn’t want me to have anything to do with him, so she intercepted any mail he sent. I hadn’t heard from him in over a year.

The graduating class marched into the gym, crowded with people. Like most high school students I cared only about getting the diploma and getting out of there. I didn’t realize that all those people came to graduation because they love those who are graduating. Sitting somewhere in the back, my father was watching.

After the speech and the endless roll of names, we were ready to leave that old high school building forever, and celebrate. In the confusion of the students and parents and hallways and shouting my father suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He had come to see me graduate. He didn’t know I would be speaking. I was shocked when I saw him.

“Dad!” It was as much a question as a statement.

“Congratulations, son.” He gave me a hug, and looked around quickly. I saw the tears in his eyes when he looked back at me. “You’ve really made something of yourself. I’m so proud.”

And then he left. As quickly as he had appeared, he disappeared.

It’s been a few years since that day. I’m married, and now I have kids of my own. That day sticks in my memory not only because of what my father did, but also because of what it reveals about our Heavenly Father. Here’s what I discovered that day:

Fathers can’t turn it off: Even though my Dad was separated by divorce, years, and distance, he still fought through to show he cared. We place plenty of obstacles in God’s way, but he doesn’t stop being a Father. He fights through our defenses and demonstrates his love. He will never stop.

Fathers don’t have to be perfect: Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:11) Jesus recognized that earthly fathers have flaws. Earthly fathers are not perfect. Jesus still pointed to imperfect men–fathers–and indicated that we can catch a glimpse of the Perfect Father. It’s crazy, but God has chosen to leave the work of parenting to radically flawed people.

The Heavenly Father fills in when earthly fathers let us down: My personal story isn’t just about graduation day. I grew up in a family characterized by bickering and bitterness. No one had a relationship with God. When this flawed family began to break apart, the Heavenly Father was already at work. As a fatherless teenager, a thousand miles away from my Dad, Jesus was drawing me toward the true Father. My first year in high school was also my first year without a father. I was welcomed by a high school ministry called Campus Life. They gave me my first Bible. They gave me friendship and confidence. And most of all, they gave me Jesus when I became a Christian at the end of my freshman year. I may have gone through high school without my Dad, but the Heavenly Father took me in. He accepted me the way I was, and gave me a new family.

If that’s where you are—teenager or full grown, I promise He’ll do the same for you.

Reader Comments (11)

Thank you!!!

I know and relate to all three: my father, my Father in Heaven and I as a father/grandfather. The love of a parent is a bond that goes beyond any logic of Man. Fathers and mothers do so much more than their children are even closely capable of being aware of. So very often I secretly watched from a window enjoying my children at play in the yard; only occasionally running out to prevent injury due to the unintentional immaturity of their actions, emotions and reasoning ... I had to intervene even if it was to just show my presence to let them know I cared (like your father at graduation).

Us children of God are often unaware that He is a full family of nurture, protection and support more able than any human family. My family God is Mother, Father and Siblings all constantly and eternally of one heart and one mind. The persona known as our Father in Heaven is known to us that we might trust that God wants more than anything else to see each and every one of His children to graduate to appreciate their inheritance.

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHerm Halbach

Hi Herm. You wrote, "God wants more than anything else to see each and every one of His children to graduate." I like that indeed. Blessings.

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Very well written Ray. As I was reading your post, I thought you were writing about me. Very close to home. Thanks for sharing. ^Jeff

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Brown

Thanks, Jeff. Isn't it amazing when we share our own story how it finds resonance with so many others? Blessings to you in your relationship with the True Father.

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

A fault I find -- yes, I find a fault -- with many pastors is that they project the need for a father, or a father's discipline -- onto people who are looking for the Father. My Father was not upset at me for asking real questions about things like mandatory tithing-or-leave-the fellowship; nor for my socializing in purity with another single, a woman; or for puzzling about dinosaur bone. They were named as brothers to me; and I was and am specifically enjoined to "call no man father." But this seems to escape us; though it is quite simple.

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Hi Charles: I know (only in a very small way) from your previous comments that you have had some bad experiences at the hands of others, especially pastors. For this I am--and always have been--very sorry, and (I hope) supportive. This post. however, is about my past, my boyhood, and the Heavenly Father's kindness to me. I honestly don't understand the connection between your experiences and what I have posted here.

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

I will be forever grateful for the role model my father was, even in his many imperfections. So often I find it possible - and a blessing! - to draw comparisons to how my earthly father behaved and how my Heavenly Father operates. Through error, I have also discovered how such was not the case with everyone, and the mere mention of "father" recalls pain and horror in the minds of the listener.
On the upside both of my adult children have expressed gratitude for the model of father I presented to them, that despite the mistakes we all know I made. Fortunately for me, sufficient time has passed that we can all laugh about those mistakes...you know, the ones that I internally cringe about.
Additionally, as my son is a police officer, in his desperation to explain why, and to express his dismay at how truly disadvantaged most inner city kids are, he repeatedly remarks that he is so glad he had a father, especially as a teenager…and how little hope the kids he sees have without one.
One day driving home from work I experienced an epiphany. It was a powerful experience that I kept to myself for a couple of weeks until I couldn’t keep it in anymore…knowing that by voicing it I would be held accountable to it.
(This is true; and not intended to sound overtly mystical)
In part one I saw myself in a coffin with my son looking at me in anger…upset that as a smoker, I had literally killed myself. In part two I watched from afar as my son wandered the streets, a criminal, because I was not there to guide him. The message was to quit smoking. When I told my wife she said that I must know what I had to do. I did. And…now you know the rest.

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEd

That's so powerful, Ed. Thanks for laying it out so clearly. Between you, your son, and the Heavenly Father, I think there's a book waiting to be written. Blessings!

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

That's a bitter-sweet story.

You really looked Asian asa kid too.
;)

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Ray,

I really enjoyed your story. What was particularly powerful to me is your ability to see the goodness of God in a painful event. I to often just get angry about my past instead of celebrating the past and how God has used it to shape the man I am. Thanks for the reminder Ray.

Jeff

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Anderle

Thanks for stopping by, Jeff, and for the kind words. Blessings to you.

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

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