Amy was six weeks pregnant when her husband’s army unit deployed to Iraq for eighteen months. I felt my friend’s pain deep in my bones, aching with a brand of grief reserved only for times like that. Caring for her two young children and their home would be stress enough for her without the added demands and challenges of a new baby on the way. Concern for her husband’s safety would mask every remotely joyful moment. The wonder of labor and delivery lay shrouded in loneliness. And the child would be many months old before meeting his or her daddy for the first time.
Change a few details and backtrack more than fifty years and that was my story.
My father served with the Marines during the Korean Conflict. Four days after I was born, his unit shipped out, leaving my mom and me to fend for ourselves for the next thirteen months. When relating my personal history, I have to start with that. It shaped my beginnings. I lived my first thirteen months seven thousand miles away from the dad who loved me and wasn’t allowed to hold me until I was already walking and capable of squirming out of his arms.
He’d read magazines during Mom’s labor. Fathers weren’t welcome in the delivery room in those days. He saw his first glimpses of me through the nursery window. Then he obediently reported for duty aboard the ship that would take him far from us and into the arms of daily danger.
In an era before the invention of camcorders, camera phones, and e-mail, my mother and father had only air mail letters to connect their hearts. Letters and scalloped-edged black and white photos.
As the firstborn child, my photo album bulged, all the more so since still pictures offered my dad his only tangible evidence that I was alive, growing, and as happy as a child can be without her father.
Mom would have sent him a lock of my hair from my first haircut if I’d had any to spare. When I learned to blow kisses, she’d “collect” some in an envelope to send to him. An amateur artist, Daddy sketched cartoonish scenes from his Marine unit—jeeps and tents and enlisted men and helicopters. Even before I understood a word she said, my mom read those letters to me over and over again. They were my lullabies. She showed me his picture and talked about what a wonderful daddy I had.
Mom wanted me to know who he was and what he was like before he came home. From the stories they’ve told, both of my parents were nervous about that first meeting. They worried I’d be frightened of the stranger who was my father. He’d survived the war, but my fearing or resisting him would have killed him, they said.
To compound the concern, I was just at that age when a toddler begins to fear strangers. Somebody would smile at me in church and I’d start screaming.
But my mom had prepared me well. The pictures. The letters. Her gentle words about how much that smiling man in the pictures loved me. I’m told that when he finally came home and walked through the front door, I looked up at my mom, pointed to the tall Marine and asked, “Daddy?” Mom nodded, her throat imploding on itself. Her nod was all the assurance I needed. The next minute I was in his arms, dodging his tears of gratitude that I’d accepted him.
I give my mother a lot of credit for the success of that first meeting. She had prepared me well, leaving nothing to chance. My toddler mind entertained no doubt that he cared about me. I knew that truth before he even got home from the war because of what my mother taught me about him.
If the Lord walked into the room in a few minutes, would the people around me recognize Him not by His beard or hair or flowing robes, but because of how I have described Him?
Would people meeting Him for the first time find the situation comfortable and reassuring because of how well I prepared them?
Am I constantly showing others snapshots of the Lord through the way I live and love, the things I say about Him, the things He said that I pass on to them?
Do I talk about Him frequently, with loving words, expressing how very much He loves even those who have not yet met Him?
Would His sudden presence seem intimidating and frightening, or more like a warm homecoming?
In light of how you and I act day to day, would others respond to His entrance into their lives this way:
“Oh, sure! I recognize Him. I’ve heard my neighbor talk about Him. I’ve seen my coworker act like that. I’ve heard those same affirming words coming out of my brother-in-law’s mouth. I’ve seen examples of what He’s like. His amazing love and generosity and compassion and caring don’t surprise me at all. They are just what I expected from what my friend shared about Him. I heard that His touch brings healing. I heard that He can help make sense out of the questions that trouble me. I didn’t need more of an introduction than the one my friend already gave me. I’d recognize Jesus a mile away.”
Pictures and reflections and stories and evidence still lack the wonder of that first face-to-face encounter. As I Corinthians 13:12 (KJV) reminds us, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Cynthia Ruchti writes stories of “hope that glows in the dark.” The drama/devotional radio broadcast Cynthia writes and produces—The Heartbeat of the Home—airs on 16 radio stations and two cable/digital television stations. Cynthia is editor of the ministry’s Backyard Friends magazine. She also serves as current president of American Christian Fiction Writers. Her debut novel—They Almost Always Come Home—releases in spring 2010 with Abingdon Press.
*Article reprint from Victory in Grace.