After my dad went home to be with Jesus on May 6th, 2018, I came home and went straight to the box that held all of our family pictures.
The collection of photos of my dad was small and pictures of me with my dad was even smaller (that makes me sad just writing that). As I hunted for a picture to share I came across a photo of me and my dad taken in 1980, right before we rode in the St. Patrick’s Day parade when I was Miss Sacramento.
That snapshot of me and my dad sat on my desk for months since his passing. That photo triggered my recollection of what I felt at the time as it related to my relationship with my dad. Thinking back to that night, I knew my dad was proud that I had won the title of Miss Sacramento 1979, and that he really wanted to ride in the parade car as we made our way on that chilly night through the streets of Sacramento. I was excited that my dad wanted to be there with me, but also nervous inside. To have my dad’s full attention wasn’t normal for me and I wasn’t sure how to handle that or myself. But, seeing my dad smile as he waved at people along the parade route helped me push aside the nervousness. It was fun to be sharing that experience with him.
I don’t recall any other public appearances that my dad wanted to be a part of and three months after the parade my reign came to an end. Shortly after that, I went from being Miss Sacramento and a runner up to Miss California International, to being Mrs. Reggie Adams and three months into our new life as a married couple, we got the devastating news that my parents were divorcing.
Several years in to our new reality of being a divorced family, my dad needed a place to live and so he moved in with Reggie and I. I had hopes that I would have my dad’s full attention, and again, I was nervous inside. The living situation was to be temporary from the beginning, but my hopes and expectations of my dad having dinners with us, spending time with us, hanging out on the weekends and even attending church together never happened. As the months went by, we came to realize sadly that it wasn’t a good fit for us and he moved out and found a new place to live.
After that brief time living together with my dad, he remarried and I only saw him and his new wife Doris when my mom would gather all of us at Christmas and Easter. I never realized at the time of those family gatherings, how hard that must have been for my mom to invite my dad and his new wife. At my mom’s memorial service in 2011, I wanted everyone to know the grace of Jesus that flowed through my mom every year so that her kids would get to spend at least Christmas (my mom’s birthday) and Easter with our dad. In a hurry to leave those family gatherings early, my dad would tell us he had to get home to feed their dogs, I was thankful that I had the opportunity to get to know his new wife Doris, who I love and who my mom came to love as well.
During the 20 years of Christmas and Easter visits, the only other interaction I had with my dad was talking on the phone either on Father’s Day or our birthdays. Even though we lived about 30 minutes away from each other for most of those years. As those days would draw near, that same nervousness I had before the parade would surface again when I knew I was going to have to make the call. It never went away. The fear of rejection was always on my mind and it took a lot for me to muster up the courage to make the call. This, too, is sad and I wish it had been easier for me. I wish that I wanted to call more and that I could honestly say that I wanted to make the call, but it felt more like a have to.
When I was in my late thirties with three little beauties, I remember the nervousness surfacing before our family gathering for Easter. I remember wrestling with my feelings for what I had hoped and wanted in a relationship with my dad one day while I was at the park with my kids. I settled in my mind and heart that I needed to accept my reality and let go of any expectations I had of a close relationship with my dad. I remember a peace at the time and coming to the acceptance of unmet expectations did help me to not expect a relationship.
Accepting my new reality made me think I had dealt with my pain and the hurt of all the unmet expectations relating to my lack of relationship with my dad. But in reality, as I would learn years later, the hurt was still there and it was buried deep. And, hurt buried deep never stays buried. It always finds a way out.
The nervousness that I felt, was my unspoken broken heart behind a thick wall of protection. As Ann Voskamp says in her book, Be the Gift: Let Your Broken Be Turned into Abundance:
“There isn’t a barrier in the world that can block out pain. There isn’t a wall you can build that protects you
from pain. Addiction, escapism, materialism, anger, indifference- none of these can stop the pain and each
one creates a pain all its own. There is no way to avoid pain. There is no way to avoid brokenness. There is
absolutely no way but a broken way.”
As we received the diagnosis of Lymphoma Cancer for my dad, the wall of protection in my heart eventually came tumbling down and it spilled out pain. The hurt from daddy rejection and unmet expectations.The painful reality that what I had hoped all along wasn’t to be for me and that I would never have a “normal” father/daughter relationship. That deeply buried pain had become my belief system for all of my life. That belief system authored my behaviors to self-protect, to control outcomes of relationships by people pleasing and approval seeking, even controlling rejection, where I would reject first before I could be rejected.
As the pain bubbled out, the realization hit me that I had been living in emotional survival mode for years wanting my dad to love me the way I expected. I desperately wanted him to really know me, my husband, and my kids, and to want to spend time with me and be there for me when I needed him. That didn’t seem an unreasonable request. What I needed now that my dad was dying, was total freedom to not allow my past hurts to continue to hijack my life and more importantly to tarnish any hopes of a relationship with my dad before he passed away.
The only way to freedom from the hurt was to run to God, pouring out my emotions. As Nancy Alcorn says in her study guide book Keys to Freedom:
“The truth is that pouring out our emotions to God is where inner healing begins [and that] being open and honest with the Lord is vital in helping us move forward. His heart desire is to bring healing and to show us His perspective. He wants to let us know that He was never the source of our pain, but He will be the source of our healing if we allow Him to be. When we keep all our emotions inside, we can’t grow in intimacy with Him. He is the only one who can bear our hurts and help us to heal. He won’t force it. Jesus is very gentle with us. He simply waits for us to invite Him to come and heal our hearts.”
When it was time to call in hospice for my dad, I invited the Lord in, to heal my past hurts so I could love my dad in a way I had never been able to. I asked for the Holy Spirit to love through me as I knew I wasn’t able to in my own strength. Believing in what Psalm 91:4 tells me:
“He will shield you with his wings! They will shelter you. His faithful promises are your armor.”
Instead of my walls of self-protection, I relied on the one who created me to cover me with His protection, his shield, his armor as I asked the Holy Spirit to love through me. I held tightly to His truth and His promises, which gave me the courage to let go of my nervousness and love my dad as Jesus has loved me flaws and all. I was able to see that I had expectations for my dad to love me in a way that only Jesus can. My dad had walls of self-protection to avoid pain just like I did.
And then it hit me.
We all love broken.