“Reflecting” 6×6, oil on canvas, $75Buy Now
I broke down my tent last night at Alligator Festival. Given the threat of all-day rain, it seemed better to pack up than deal with the dreadful combination oil paintings and bad weather today.
I painted a lot yesterday. My first painting was a crab, the suggestion of my across-the-sidewalk booth neighbor, Rodney.
My second painting was this one, and I finished it today. Rodney had a little to do with this one also. As I watched him carry his two year old daughter everywhere he went, watched her play at his feet as he worked with his hands and then sold the work of his hands, I couldn’t help but reflect on a story I received from Denise, the sister of my best friend, Robyn.
I got Denise’s story in my inbox Saturday morning, read it on my drive back to Mandeville to pick up my paints, mulled it over all day as I watched Rodney and his daughter.
For my second outdoor painting, I chose this great blue heron because these birds have become little reflections for me– so still, patient, and graceful as they stand in unmoving water, waiting.
I also chose this image because both the male and female blue heron take care of the young, a rarity in the animal kingdom.
Denise wrote to me about her stepfather, a man she met as an adult but who, through his gentle kindness, has somehow managed to become Daddy.
Your stories have turned me into even more of a crier than I was before, but I find this story particularly hopeful especially when I think about my own son and the people who love and care for him.
This painting, then, is a quiet reflection on fatherhood. I created it with one eye on Rodney and his daughter, my head spinning around with Denise’s words, my heart grateful to “Mr. Keith” and his ability to love without hesitation or reservation.
When my biological dad left our family, I was devastated. I had always felt like a disappointment to him, so it was difficult not feeling responsible for his leaving. I was convinced I wasn’t smart enough. Or graceful enough. Or pretty enough. I embarrassed him. When he started a new family, it felt like we were being replaced. Like he was upgrading. If I had felt insecure before, his having a new family, with perfect and beautiful daughters, pushed me into feeling absolutely worthless…
To cope, my heart didn’t harden, and it didn’t die. That might have been easier. Instead, it became hyper aware. Hypersensitive. Hyper needy. Hyper FULL. The part of my heart devoted to dad had a large, vacuous space crying out for my dad’s love and acceptance. I expected that. It was akin to grieving. But, what felt like would kill me was the large area reserved for the love I had yet to GIVE my dad. Sure, it hurts to hunger for love. But to have love busting at its seams to be GIVEN and have no one willing to receive it? That is the stuff horror is made of. I thought I would die of the bigness…the heaviness if it all. It was too much.
Years went by, and over time, God took the pain. He helped my heart to heal from the wounds caused by my dad’s abandonment. But, He didn’t take the bigness of my heart. The suffocating heaviness remained- despite a wonderful marriage and a beautiful baby boy. I was happy and blessed!! And, yet…
I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t fix me completely. I questioned my faith. I questioned God. Was I doing something wrong?
I found out later that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. God was just up to something really, really RIGHT!
My beautiful mom remarried when my son was about three years old. As soon as I met Mr. Keith, I knew he was one of God’s special people. He was the perfect compliment to my angelic mama. God’s fingerprints are all over that union.
Mr. Keith was married before. He’s got some wonderful children. But God seemed to have carved a spot out in his heart and left it empty and expectant just for us Barringer kids. He has taken us, as young adults, and welcomed us into his heart just as if he were our biological father. I call him my “Jesus Dad”. He is my present from The Lord.
Over the years of spending time with Mr. Keith, I noticed something. God had already healed my heart of the pain caused by dad’s leaving. But, that room had sat there vacant, crippled. As Mr. Keith CONSISTENTLY poured his Daddy love into my heart…and onto my husband and son…I noticed that my heart began filling up. The broken place started working again! It wasn’t just healed, but WHOLE!!
But, God was not finished. The most amazing thing happened one Father’s Day. I mustered up the courage to tell Mr. Keith how much I loved him. He didn’t know it, but I was terrified as I shared that with him. That room in my heart had been hoarding and protecting that love for many years– saving it in the hopes of one day finding a place for it all. My insides shook, and I thought I would be sick as I gave voice to my feelings… but when I looked in his eyes, there were tears. There was gentleness. And, most remarkably, there was a sincere Daddy’s love. I saw his love for me in those eyes. And, I saw that I WAS smart enough. And pretty enough. And…well, my clumsiness seemed to endear me to him even more. I wasn’t an embarrassment. I was his DAUGHTER!!! I knew at that moment that all my stored up love had finally found its home. A SAFE PLACE. A WELCOME place. A place with a room just for me!! I excitedly unpacked and relocated it all. The heaviness was gone immediately…
To be generously given the unconditional love of a Father? What a beautiful, nourishing, welcome gift. But, to be able to safely share a such a big and timid love (as mine was) with a Father– and have it warmly, gladly RECEIVED? There are no words to describe that sort of glorious and freeing affirmation!
As I reflected on this story yesterday and now as I type it, I’m a little in awe– kind of the way I am when I see a heron or egret flying overhead. They are not flamboyant or loud birds and their grace can easily be overlooked. I began this 30 in 30 challenge with Donna’s story about her father, the way he introduced her to unconditional love, and here I am on the verge of closing out the challenge with Denise’s story about that very same love with a very different timing.