A father’s heart

The summer I turned 12 there was a puppy wandering the neighbourhood, desperate to escape a couple of mean-spirited teenage boys. She greeted me on our doorstep every morning with a wagging tail and hopeful eyes. Before long she was sleeping in the crawl space under our house. I began spending my allowance on Milk Bones and this black and tan Shepherd mix easily worked her way into my pre-adolescent heart.

She became my best loved playmate, confidante and companion. My mother let me feed her table scraps and even bought dog food for her. But Ma was clear from the beginning that I shouldn’t expect to keep this dog. She didn’t want the additional work or expense attached to another pet. Occasionally we discussed finding a good home for my new friend. I named her Lady and tried not to think about the possibility we might ever part company.

One day my dad announced he had found a permanent place for Lady with family friends. I knew they would love her and care for her. She would have a good life. It made perfect sense. Except for the heaviness in my chest.

The dreaded time came. Ma went to work and Pa and I took Lady to our friends. I fought back tears all the way there. But when we arrived, the lump in my throat felt as if it would explode.

Tante Hilde gently patted the dog’s head and asked, “What do you call her?”

I swallowed hard, then blurted out, “Lady.” That’s when the floodgates burst and the tears let loose. The harder I tried to stop, the more they flowed. I sobbed. I managed to calm down after several minutes, but I couldn’t speak and the tears returned every time I looked at Lady.

We visited for an hour or so. Then all of a sudden my father drew a deep breath and said, “I can’t take it anymore. You can keep the dog.”

I scarcely believed my ears.

Extravagant love
That evening we sat on the garden bench waiting. Finally Ma came around the corner and laid eyes on our rebellious trio.

“You’d better take your dog for a walk,” Pa said. I happily complied.

When I returned he said, “Well, I have to build a dog house big enough for the three of us, but you get to keep the dog.”

Pa died eight years later. Lady lived to be 16. Ma never let me forget how we had coerced her into dog ownership, but when I got married she kept Lady.

I truly never intended to manipulate my father with tears. But my sorrow broke his heart that day. He couldn’t bear to see me so distraught, even though it meant facing the wrath of Ma. He was an extraordinarily kind and loving dad.

I’ve been studying the Lord’s Prayer lately, contemplating the implications of calling Almighty God, “Our Father.” As I listened to lectures and read commentaries, I was deeply moved by the tenderness and unsurpassed generosity so characteristic of our heavenly Father. The truth is, as good as my human father was, I have a Father in heaven who is perfect in every way, with unlimited power and resources, and whose love for me far surpasses all human love.

We must have broken God’s heart when our sin indelibly stained this world he had so carefully crafted. In the midst of that breathtaking garden we catapulted ourselves into a world of sorrow and suffering, all with one quintessential act of cosmic treason. He would have been justified in destroying us all at that point. A weaker father would have been at a loss to help, even if he cared to go on with us. But our Father, our heavenly Father, promised right then and there to reconcile with us as only he could. In a grand plan of redemption, he would bring us back where we belonged. Thousands of years later, a Child was born.

Christmas brings with it treasured memories of years gone by, but more importantly, the blessed reminder of my Father’s heart – willing to give the most perfect gift of all time to a child who never expected such extravagant love, and who certainly didn’t deserve it.

Merry Christmas, Abba. 

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  • Heidi VanderSlikke lives on a farm in Mapleton Township with her husband Jack. They share their home with a gigantic Golden Retriever named Norton, who thinks he's a lap dog. Heidi and Jack have three happily married children and seven delightful grandkids.

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