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She's sleeping—my daughter, Sarah—curled into a little ball, safe in her bed. It was her birthday today.
Five years old. It doesn't seem that long since Sarah—the last of three daughters—entered our lives. I remember so well when I first laid eyes on her. The doctor had placed her tiny, naked body into my quivering arms. She was still unwashed, only seconds old. A strange mixture of excitement, fear, thankfulness, and awe churned within me.
That strange, though not unfamiliar, set of emotions is ranging through my heart this night as well. The excitement of being a father to a young daughter is there. Thankfulness for this precious gift of God is also beating in my breast. This special gift has enriched my life in so many ways. And awe, that is there too. How fearfully and wonderfully does God make people.
But guilt floods over me as I gaze down upon my fair-haired "most favorite Sarah in the whole wide world." I wasn't home to celebrate her birthday this evening. I didn't get to see the brimming smile as she opened her gifts: paints, backpack, ball, baby bottle, money and a variety of trinkets. I didn't hear her giggle gleefully as the rest of the family sang happy birthday to her. I didn't share a piece of her special-order cake, lemon cake with lemon frosting. I didn't take the pictures I trust we'll treasure decades from now. I was away at a meeting. Guilt because I'm afraid I'm not the father I ought to be.
We did share lunch together today. I offered to take her to a variety of nicer restaurants, but five-year-old tastes favor fast-food hamburgers. We ate our burgers at a park. She was so pleased that her dad would spend such special time with her. We walked hand in hand through the park's nature trails after disposing of our lunch. She giggled, smiled, and glowed. The man of her life was at her side.
We talked about a number of things which interest those who have reached a half decade of life: why the clouds move, the little creek so far below the trail we took, flowers, and kindergarten next fall. I also apologized that I would not be with her tonight. It was her answer that caused me the haunting guilt.
"That's OK, Dad," she assured me. "You've got a meeting. Maybe for Bekah's and Rachel's birthday you'll have a meeting too."
Evidently having a daddy away from home because of meetings has become normal for Sarah. Daddies—at least her Daddy—aren't expected to be around much during the day or at night, sometimes not even for supper, sometimes not for several days.
I rejoice in the roles the Lord has made available to me for service in his kingdom. I'm honored to serve him and his people with the talents and gifts, which he has entrusted, to me. But how fearful I am that while I am about that service, I am neglecting an even more important opportunity to serve him by being a Christian father to my children.
I've struggled with balancing my role as kingdom servant and Christian father (not to mention Christian husband) since my first daughter's arrival almost a decade ago. I've never been satisfied with my juggling act although the Lord has continued to help me to see that my family belongs before my job—even my job in his kingdom. Tonight is one more of his reminders.
She lays there, covers kicked to the side. An assortment of toys keeps her company in her bed. Gently sweeping away several wisps of long golden hair, I bend to kiss her cheek and with misty vision whisper, "Happy birthday, Sarah, my love."
Author: James Aderman
Copyrighted WELS Forward in Christ
Fathers, do you remember holding your newborn child for the first time? Remember the overwhelming sense of wonder and joy? Perhaps mixed in with that sense of awe was a sense of apprehension. Can I handle this? Can I provide all that he/she needs?
Have you experienced blessings or been through struggles that changed your life? Do you have a story that will inspire or encourage others? We'd love to hear it.
Looking for more stories and resources that relate to your life situation? WELS has developed materials for some of life's biggest challenges and changes including going to college, death of a loved one, financial problems, divorce, parenting, fear, aging, and more.