My dad always drank. But when I was very young his drinking became unmanageable. I can still recall in disturbingly vivid detail my dad's drunken rages. The threats. The put-downs. The shaming. The blaming.
I am astounded at the power that flashbacks hold. All these years later, a simple dislodged memory can make me want to run and hide.
But, just as remembering Dad's angry outbursts continues to trigger fear in me, recalling my hiding places still brings a strange sense of peace to my soul. Under my bed. In my bed, under the covers. My bedroom closet. The trunk of our blue Plymouth. When I was real little I would crawl into the doghouse and huddle in the straw with our Fox Terrier, Max.
As I shared these twenty-plus-year-old memories in my counselor's office, he tenderly brought me back to what it was that I needed as a frightened little boy. I stated again my deepest desire: I wanted a close, intimate relationship with my father.
With that goal in mind, my counselor suggested a seemingly easy remedy. Yet I found his prescription hard to swallow. Knowing I might never experience what I needed from my earthly father he said, “Sounds to me like you need to crawl up in your Heavenly Father’s lap and let Him love you.”
Just picturing that scene caused tears to stream down my cheeks. How I hungered for a father's love. How I craved the calm assurance that I was loved. How I need to find solace and safety in my dad's arms.
I knew it was a place I needed to go if I was ever to find healing for my soul. So I planned regular times when I would go off alone with God in hopes of finding what I was looking for.
I discovered that building intimacy is a process. At first, my alone time with my Heavenly Father was best depicted as me standing near Him (at a comfortably safe distance), hands in my pockets, making small talk. I had learned to be apprehensive around fathers. But as my spiritual journey continued I began to explore God's Word to found out more about Him. And the more I understood His true nature, the more I trusted Him. The more I trusted Him, the closer I drew to His side. Then one day, I found myself in His lap, basking in His tender embrace. I can't remember ever feeling that safe before.
I have come to know my Heavenly Father as He is described in Scripture. As my Hiding Place. My Refuge. My Protector. A Father who never misses an opportunity to show His kids just how much He loves them. In His lap I have found the intimacy I was searching for; intimacy that God meant for children to have with their fathers. What a gift.
God also gave my dad and our family a gift. The gift of sobriety. The last several years of my dad's life were alcohol-free. I'm eternally grateful that God brought about a degree of reconciliation between me and my dad. Although it didn't erase the painful memories, we made amends.
In 1997, my dad passed away. As my siblings and I went through the difficult process of divvying up my parents' belongings I came across an unexpected treasure tucked away in a dresser drawer. It was a picture I had never seen before. Yet another image that triggered tears. It was a photo of me, on my first birthday, pre-addiction, sitting in my father's lap.
That picture is framed and displayed on a shelf in my office. It is my constant reminder that, even though alcoholism gave a very different message, my father loved me. And even if I had never experienced the love of an earthly father--a dilemma that far too many people in our world face--we can find safety in relationship with a Father who wants nothing more than to be close to His kids. In His lap is the safest place we could ever be.