I have only seen my dad cry on a handful occasions in my whole life. The first time was when I was 10 years old. He walked in the back door from washing the car in the driveway, his face ashen.
“What happened?” I asked, immediately sensing something was wrong.
He knelt down in front of me, getting at eye level, and took my small hands in his. His hands were shaking, and water pooled in the corners of his eyes.
“Erin, I’m so sorry,” he answered in a voice that shook like his hands, barely gripping mine in their unsteadiness, “I hit Mineau with the car.”
I was shocked. The kitten I had wanted for so long and had finally gotten three weeks prior was dead. We buried Mineau in the backyard in an ice cream sandwich box. I had wanted to see him one last time, but my dad had gently refused. I wept as only a child first experiencing death first hand can.
Years later, as a teenager, I saw my dad cry a second time. It was a regular morning. I waved goodbye to him as he backed down the driveway to head to work. He waved back, eyes on me. Suddenly, my seven year old cat, Sox, darted behind the vehicle. I watched in slow motion as the car tire clipped his back side.
My waving turned frantic and I screamed, “Stop, stop!” My dad stopped the car, and I pointed to the side of the road where Sox was writhing on the hot concrete in pain. Gurgling noises were coming from deep in his throat, and I started screaming. I’m not sure if my dad saw the cat before jumping from the car. Maybe he felt the thud and deduced the rest from my reaction. Instead of running to the wounded animal, my dad ran right past the cat without a glance, and wrapped me in his arms.
“Daddy, do something!” I pleaded.
“What do you want me to do?” he questioned, not in defeat, but earnest to help.
“Please kill him. He’s hurting!” I knew that it was too late to save my cat, but I didn’t want him to be in pain.
For the first time, he looked back at the cat, now still. It was already over.
Dad hugged me close, and apologized with shaking voice once again. With teary eyes, he led me inside away from the furry lump in the road that had housed my beloved pet just moments before.
I have never blamed my dad for the death of my two cats or have been angry with him over the accidents. There was never a question in my mind that he would have done anything within his power to keep me from having to experience those losses. I have forgotten the sting of losing my pets, chipped away slowly over time, as the rushing water in a river smooths out the jagged edges of rocks as they travel along.
But there is one enduring demonstration from those two memories that is etched deep in my soul where it cannot be sanded away- my father’s love. Even though decades have passed, I can still feel my dad’s shaking hands holding mine. I see the watery edges of his eyes and forehead deeply creased with concern for my pain. I see him running to me with arms outstretched, passing my cat without a glance, his whole attention on me alone- the one he loves.
This is such a beautiful picture of our Heavenly Father. When we go through loss and are in pain, His eyes are filled with tears on our behalf. While we are focused on what we are losing, He is focused on us.
When we cry out to Him, “Daddy, do something!” He is at our side, listening intently, character unchanging and promises enduring. While His promise is not to fix the problem, it is that He will not leave our side. He will lead us away from the loss and we will find our peace and comfort in Him. Decades later, when the pain pales like the last rays of a sunset pulling away one tendril at a time, what will remain etched in our souls is His enduring love for us demonstrated so beautifully in those dark moments.
So often we want to blame Him or get angry when tragedies happen. But how can we when we know of the depth of His love for us as our Father? How can we question His intentions for our good? We know that these incidents are simply the consequence of being residents of a fallen world. He would do anything in His power to keep us from experiencing the pain of death.
In fact, He already has.
Can you feel His pain at sending His only Son to earth to be at the mercy of our sinful nature?
Do you see Jesus’ deeply-creased forehead in the garden and His tears mingled with sweat dripping as blood at the thought of the task ahead?
Do you feel the urgency of His pleading, ‘Daddy, do something! If there is any other way…’?
Do you hear the sound of hammer against nail, piercing His shaking hands?
Yet, even in this, God isn’t focused on the loss. Instead, He looks at us. He steps through the opening of the stone rolled away and the curtain torn in two and runs to us with arms outstretched. He is waiting eagerly for us to draw near.
His love is undeniable. His promises to us fulfilled. His character unchanging. In this world we will have trouble, but take heart! The love of our Father, displayed in the power of Christ, has overcome the world (John 16:33).