The other night I had a dream about my dad, who died over two years ago.
I was in the fellowship hall of the church we attended when I was a boy, and I (as an adult) called his cell phone number. This was odd because I knew he was dead and wouldn’t answer the phone, but to my pleasant shock, he picked up.
“Hey-lo!” Dad said in his twangy Arkansas accent.
My heart leapt. I hadn’t talked with him in months — I thought I couldn’t talk to him anymore.
“Hey, Dad!” I said, but then I looked up and saw that he was sitting in a pew in the sanctuary. I didn’t need a cell phone to talk to him. I could speak to him in person, so I hung up and took a step forward. Then I woke up.
I lay there, looking at the ceiling, wishing I could’ve gotten close enough to talk to him a little more, to feel his arms around me one more time.
At least I got to say hello, I thought, grateful to have heard his voice again.
I have been longing to talk to my dad lately. I’m facing some challenges that I’ve never experienced before — things he would understand, hard roads he traveled. And although Dad was normally talkative, under these circumstances, he would’ve been quiet until I was finished telling him what was on my mind. Dad would‘ve gotten upset along with me, strategized with me, and rattled the gates of hell with his prayer for divine intervention.
Dad once said that, in the very early years of a child’s life, his or her parents are God-like to them. Parents feed and care for children; give them direction and comfort; and provide a safe, secure center of the universe within the home. At least that’s the ideal.
My dad actually didn’t provide a secure home for my family and me. He was in and out — one day emotionally available, the next day breaking down. His soul had been handicapped by the trauma of severe childhood abuse and the horror of losing two children in a plane crash. He couldn’t provide stability when his internal world was in shambles.
And yet, God used my dad — with all of his failings — to be a glowing shadow of the One I really need right now. In Dad’s weakness, he led me to Father God — praying for me, singing songs to me, and helping my little mind understand the meaning of the universe.
Every night, I curl up in the bed next to my son and sing him goodnight songs to put him to sleep. A few months ago, he started saying, “Keep me, Daddy,” and nuzzling up to my chest in the dark as we participated in our nighttime liturgy. He still does.
It’s not enough to put one arm around my son. He says, “Keep me, Daddy — both hands.” So, I wrap my arms around him tightly, make sure he can feel both of my hands, and “keep” him as I sing.
Sometimes when I’m “keeping” my son, I whisper, “I’m keeping you, and Jesus is keeping me — so Jesus is keeping both of us.” It reminds me of Psalm 121:
He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
God is the Father I need so desperately right now. He’s the one who knows just what I need to hear and is curious enough to let me talk (even though He already knows what I’ll say). He grieves with me, feels my emotions, and rattles the gates of hell with the white hot anger of a protective papa.
God is the one who took my dad’s meager offering — who takes my meager offering — and, by His grace, uses us to lead our little ones to their heavenly Father.
God is the Dad who’s closer than my skin — the one to whom I can pray, “Keep me,” and know that His Son is right there, holding me close with two nail-scarred hands.
Check out my book, “Confessions of a Happily Married Man,” which tells the story of how God has worked in the ordinary (and extraordinary) of my marriage — and how you can see the ways He’s working in yours too.