Its early morning on the island, when the light casts shadow on marsh grass and egrets stand stick footed, frozen in stillness. We walk side-by-side, father and daughter down the causeway before applying suntan lotion on sandy beach towels.
We’ve only done this once before, had this time together alone at the beach and I can tell by the pace he keeps, the smile on his face, there is joy to do this with me. We’ve never settled into being comfortable with this kind of being alone. Circumstances separate us when I am just three years old. How do you get to know your father in just one week over the summer?
I’ve never escaped the grief of what divorce does to a family. Maybe I never will.
As we talk about kids and work, his hobbies, thoughts about retirement, he says he probably should’ve never been a father, that he isn’t very good at it. And maybe for him, that was an apology of sorts for not being there for me in the way he could’ve been if things were different.
But when he said it, what I heard was this: You should have never been born because your presence makes me feel like a failure. And I opened my fist full of rights to be loved by a father that day and let those seeds blow into the wind and scatter on the sticky mud. Because I don’t want to be a reminder of failure to anyone.
There are different types of failures. The first isn’t necessarily the sin-type of failure. Rather, this is when we fail to live up to some expectation we have of the way things ought to be . . . . the thing about this type of failure, whether real or perceived, is that it reminds me of my own limits and takes me to a place of recognizing I can’t make this life work the way I want, no matter how noble or worthy or good my intentions. ~Emily Freeman, Grace for the Good Girl
And being a daughter to a father that says he never should’ve been one, feels like pushing a broken down car on a hot day. It takes effort and time to get to the town of relationship and sometimes you just give up and walk away because the distance seems overwhelming.
That doesn’t mean your heart stops beating love in trying to make it work, you just let go of the expectation that it’s going to be something other than what it is.
It turns out Jesus, he stood there holding the key outstretched in his scarred hand the whole time. He walked on the road that day with my father and I. Stood in the place between my expectations and reality, the wounded, empty place that neither one of us can fill for each other.
The hard shell of entitlement to be loved by a parent, it cracked off me and washed away in the tide that drifted in to fill the empty places full. And just like that water coming in and going out, His love is steady and sure, isn’t limited or shifted by our failures or good intentions as a father and daughter.
The disparity between expectation and reality, it’s Jesus.
Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman inspires this post; Chapter 16 entitled Safe, Even in Failure. I’m giving a copy away before I leave on my vacation because it’s just that good. Leave a comment on the blog and I’ll add your name to the drawing on Friday.
Linking with Life in Bloom and Thought Provoking Thursday.
This is SO powerful. I know the feelings so well, not ever really knowing or holding onto my fathers love. He left when I was four. He is 85 now and we are distant. We sit in a room and talk around issues of past and present as if he is just a ‘senior citizen’ who lives in the retirement home and I am there to visit with small talk. I know the empty hole… that God had to fill … your words are really touching tonight. Thank you
(oh and my parents remarried each other 20 years ago)
Sharon, we never grow out of needing love and acceptance from our parents do we? But really, anything we put in that God shaped space feels unfulfilling and empty. It’s letting Him fill the soul holes where peace resides.
And that is quite a story, about your parents remarrying.
This is such a tender, poignant post, Shelly. I am so very sorry for any pain you experienced through your parents’ divorce. I simply can’t fathom it. I had a father who had difficulty expressing his love for me, and I can empathize with the awkwardness you both felt and the longing that you particularly had. I knew that Daddy loved me by his actions, and he was finally able to express it in a letter, which I treasure today. But I longed for his verbal, demonstrative expression at the time. Unmet expectations can lead from disappointment to despair, and you are so blessed that now you place your expectations in Jesus, the only One who can fulfill them–or any of ours. There are so many bountiful blessings that we actually *can* expect from Him–His love, forgiveness, faithfulness, comfort, peace, joy, grace, and abundant life. No one wants to think she has caused another to experience failure. And, of course, it wasn’t you at all, but your father’s own unmet expectations in not feeling that he lived up to being what he could have been for you. And once again, only Jesus can bridge the chasm for any of our shortcomings. This, too, we can boldly expect. Thank you for yet another beautiful post!
You have such wisdom and I did experience sorrow and despair for many years growing up but I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was the day God gave me new eyes to see things the way they were and cast my cares upon him. It’s not good for anyone to place expectations on someone, even when they are your parents.
That’s it, Shelly, what we’ve said before: having new eyes to see! Praise God that He opens our eyes–sometimes, it seems, as if for the first time.
Shelley, I’ve been here. This resonated: “…you just let go of the expectation that it’s going to be something other than what it is.” I know this shedding of expectation and letting Jesus meet me in the gap that’s been left. Every daughter desires her daddy’s love and approval, even years into adulthood. Yet, in some cases, you come to a point that you realize what you need so desperately he is not capable of giving, and you grieve, and you forgive, and you remember that Jesus is your everything.
You said how I have felt for years very well, like we just had a healthy conversation and walked away from a long hug. Thanks Theresa.
even though my parents did not divorce…I know this pain…the deep longing to be loved…not to feel like you were a mistake. God walked me down a deep road of forgiveness…and I am amazed and thankful that I am finishing stronger with my 87 yr. parents than I could have ever imagined. But yes…Jesus has to come and fill in those soul holes. It must be the day for a book give away…I have never done this…He put it on my heart…then after that when I was searching through my archives I noticed it was my 1 yr. anniversary. tender post…blessings as you prepare for your vacation.
Congratulations on your one year anniversary Ro, it’s a feat to be proud of. I’ll stop by and see what you are giving away.
Shelly, thank you for your words and your life. I so feel I have failed. I have failed as a wife of a pastor. I have failed my daughters in teaching them to walk strong in the Lord. Yet when I read the quote from Emily God’s voice spoke to me…you can’t make life work the way you want, give it to me. You continue to teach me and mentor me through your writings. You my friend are being used by God and I am blessed to soak it into my heart.
Hope your time away is refreshing. I will picture you on the porch, sipping tea, and reading.
We fail every day because we are fallen. We’ll never measure up to the standards we create for ourselves. And its the in the fallen state that we see the beauty of who He is, redemption waiting with open arms. I’m so glad that quote spoke to you. I could’ve copied the whole chapter, its why I wanted to give the book away. Love you and hope you are getting some time to just be, not do.
It wasn’t until I gave up my expectations (in my 40’s) that I was able to forgive and love a father, who was there physically, but because of deep depression, was absent emotionally most of the time. In his later years, God’s healing grace brought us together, and before he died, he gave me his blessing.
What a gift your story is Mark. To have that kind of end to the story of relationship with your father. It takes that long sometimes to let go of the expectations, it did for me.
Hearts wide open…loved it!
That was so hard. I ache for the little girl longing for a father’s love. So much, Shelly.
But only by grace…. that LOVE will never fail us, never desert us, it is for keeps…. and He says to eternity.
Shelly, I am so thankful the His grace has covered all your pain. And also for the reminder that we have a choice over failure…. and it should lead us to salvation, not to sin.
My warm wishes for you, in Jesus love.
I wonder if it’s a painful lesson for all of us to learn: That Jesus’ love is enough… maybe some more painful than others. And my heart hurts to learn more and more how you discovered it, Shelly. I don’t know why I haven’t read this book yet, but you’ve helped me see I need to. thank you!
And have a wonderful time at the lake!!
I suppose we all learn at some point that our faith cannot be in other people or circumstances. The we are made for Him. It’s a more painful lesson for some than others, but He knows that too. I’m packin’ up, can’t wait.
I was brought to tears by this. I have many times felt grief because of parents including the biological dad I’ve never met but Jesus always loves and that is always something I need reminded of when my earthly parents fail.
He never lets us go Cimarron, and he heals the brokenhearted. Love you.
I ‘feel’ everything I read that you write. <3 Thank you!
“you just let go of the expectation that it’s going to be something other than what it is.” That is so true, Shelly. Thank you.
And that doesn’t happen over night unfortunately. It’s like most things, we grow into learning it.
Oh my goodness, Shelly. What a beautiful, heart-rending post. God has brought you a long way. Ugh, there’s still so much for me to learn. But I thank God that I read this today, and will soak in its truth. Thank you.
I have a lot to learn too Heather. If what I’ve learned along the way gives hope to someone, then I am happy.
“A reminder of failure for anyone?……….Just know that you are a reminder to me that even in suffering, that joy can find its place. From the book Boundries, “Emotional distance is a temporary boundary to give your heart the space it needs to be safe; it is never (in an ideal world) a permanent way of living.”
And a quote I copied and kept from an unknown source….”Forgiveness is letting go of the “hope” that things could have been any different.” And, as my younger sis reminds me; He is the only father we need. Love you.
Love that you’re reading that book and look forward to hearing about it.
Can I ever relate to this! I spent years hoping my relationship with my father would be more than it was. When he died, I mourned because I knew there was no hope that it would change. It took me many more years to realize that he did the best he could. Alcohol was his priority when I needed a father. But, even though I was unaware of it most of the time, my Heavenly Father always had me in the palm of His hand. Thank you Shelly. Your writing and reflections make me think. And I particularly enjoy the beauty of the photography include. Love you!!
The comments on this post tell me we are not alone Linda. It’s something that many of us share. Thanks for your encouragement, glad to know your joining the journey here.
“The disparity between expectation and reality, it’s Jesus.” Oh so true! Thanks for sharing this story. Stories like this are hard to tell, but often reach the heart’s of others with similar wounds. My own father struggled to love and give as a father should. It took me a long time to realize that Jesus fills all those holes left vacant. He showed me what it is to be loved by an all loving Father.
They are hard to share Christina, my heart beat a bit fast when I hit publish. But from the comments I’m getting, I’m glad that I did.
“It feels like pushing a car on a hot day”, what a word picture! I am buying this book, it sounds really good.. just like I will buy YOUR book one day. XX
Oh, I think you’ll like it Kelly and probably want to give it to friends. She is writing one for teens that I can’t wait for Murielle to read too.
I’m reading Grace for the Good Girl now and just finished this chapter the other day. There is much truth in this post. Thank you for sharing the hard stuff.
Yep, that chapter did me in. The words came pouring out of me for this one.
Such a profound post. Daily I realize how my expectations get in the way of really enjoying what God has for me in the now. And the reminder of grace is one I need daily too.
Andrea, thanks for coming by and leaving a comment, appreciate it. We’re all living by grace aren’t we?
Reposting this. Beautifully said.
Dear Shelly…Thank you for baring your heart today. You so made me think once again of my relationship with my own Dad. Infidelity, separation, my mother’s broken heart, and her death. So many things happened. So much heartache. My Dad and I were never as close as I wanted us to be, and because of all these things, I held unforgiveness for years against my Dad and his new wife. It has taken me 30 years, but after reading R.T. Kendall’s book, ‘Total Forgiveness’, God showed me the childhood of my own Dad, and why it was so hard for him to love as he ought. He had no one to model it for him. He had his own pain and sorrow to bear. Only when I ‘saw with new eyes’ was I able to forgive. I grieve all the lost years between us, and we still don’t see one another very often, but I’m not angry anymore. I have always loved my ‘Daddy’, and way down deep, I know he loves me too. I have set him free, (although he doesn’t know it), and thus, I have been freed as well. PTL He is 80 years old now and does not know the Lord. His name is Bill. Please pray.
I said a prayer for your father Jillie. Thank you for sharing your journey here and the way God has been your father through the brokeness. That books sounds good. And isn’t great the way God uses words to restore a soul? Love it.
Beautiful post about an experience many of us have. I remember praying one day for God to help my parents love me for me, not for fulfilling some expectation of theirs. Because, when it came to meeting their expectations, I almost always failed. Sometimes the failure was beyond my control (I couldn’t help it I was a girl), other times they wanted me to be be (or do) something I just wasn’t me (a career woman). 🙂 After the prayer, I realized I already had someone who loved me for me, God. Because he created me to be who I am, and who I was back then.
Nita, your words made me examine my own parenting. I don’t want to make my kids feel like they have to meet unrealstic expectations from me or their Dad. Thanks for your comment, it made me think.
Accepting what is rather than what I hoped things would be has been (and continues to be) a long journey for me. I love the picture of Jesus standing in between the expectations and the reality. Thank you.
I think it is one that most all of us grapple with in life. Letting go is hard but in the end it is freeing.
Thank you for sharing Shelly. I too have deep hurts from my parents divorce. I am on a path of healing and forgiveness. Love you !
I’m so proud of you Laura, for the way you live your life in pursuit of God despite your circumstances. You are so inspiring.
Your post struck a nerve today. My challenge has been to love despite dashed expectations and loveless behavior. Thank you for a post that washed my heart with truth.
It is one of the greatest challenges isn’t it? I’m still working on it too. Glad you stopped by Jody.
This is exactly what I am struggling with….have really all of my life. I never could put words to it…to what my heart felt. Thank you for doing so.
Praying for healing to come now in the revelation of truth Laura. And I’m so glad you stopped by, thank you for leaving a comment.
The title almost made me not read. I was sure I could handle it. Here’s the sentence that stops me and makes me pray that God will enable me to live it: That doesn’t mean your heart stops beating love in trying to make it work, you just let go of the expectation that it’s going to be something other than what it is.
I think we all have to come to terms with this at some point, whether its with our parents or someone else. It’s hard I know, to live it out. I pray that the heart follows what the head knows, for you Laura, and for all of us. Glad you took the risk to read.
Our mutual friend, Nikki at Simply Striving, posted a link to your blog on Facebook today, and here I am. The title of today’s post was somewhat startling and even stunning, but the story you told . . . more than stunning and heartbreaking. I was pushed away by a parent but not because she thought she was a failure but because she told me I was the failure . . . in all things, in all ways. It hurts to think you’re not loved. Or that your the cause of someone else’s failure or unhappiness. Thanks for being willing to bear your heart and share it with us today. Looking forward to reading more from your blog.
Sherrey, so glad you dropped by and thanks so much for following. I sure do love that Nikki and am grateful she brought you here. This is something many of us seem to struggle with, and I’m sorry that you were told you were a failure. I can’t think of a message more difficult to overcome. Because you aren’t a failure when you are God’s child. I am leaving today for vacation, a two week unplug so I hope you’ll wait around and come back Sherrey, its a joy to meet you.
I thought of my son as I read this. His father and I were divorced when he was in high school and I’m not sure his heart has ever healed.
We follow a God of redemption, and for that I am thankful. He is the healer, the restorer of our souls. And even when we hurt, he is so much bigger.
Loved this! Thanks for the reminder that God’s love doesn’t shift in our failures and good intentions.
Aw, thanks Ginger. It was so great to bump into you the other day. Hope we can see more of each other in the Fall.
Wonderful post . . . my parents divorced when I was in third grade, my father brought tons of baggage into his marriage and his parenting. As a result of his addiction and abuse he lost the chance to have a relationship with his three children. The saddest part of that is that in his later years in life, long after his children were married and had lives of our own he made changes in his life, but we were too far removed to build any kind of true relationship with him. There are strained visits and strained phone calls that hold a lot of awkward silent moments and we all lost out on what could have been.
I’m so sorry to hear this Linda. We all live with joy entangled with sorrow over parts of our lives, its just a fact of life. And I’m thankful that we have a Saviour that loves us through it all, that His plans for us are not hindered based on our failures or those of others. I hope you’ve found a place of forgiveness toward your father so you can all move forward. It’s looking in the rear view mirror sometimes that keeps us stuck in the same place. Thank you so much for stopping by and engaging in this conversation. It means a lot to me, really.
thank you so much for your willingness to be vulnerable shelly. it finally gave me the courage to share on my blog. this section of the book truly led me to an epiphany. one that hurt and one that freed. grateful that emily brought us together on this portion of the journey.
Julie, I just realized that I somehow missed responding to your comment. I can’t tell you what a blessing it is for me to read what your wrote. This chapter was an epiphany for me too. I knew it was when I started crying. Thanks so much for being here.
No worries Shelly!
Expectations — they will kill you. What an insightful post!
This is 6 months after you wrote this. My youngest son 32 is battling with his feelings towards his father. We divorced about 15 yrs ago and he can’t seem to move on. My husband has a sketchy relationship with all my 5 children. They have all dealt, or not, with their relationship with their father. Only Tom is still in a lot of pain, the wound is very deep. I’m Telling you this because I was able to send him your post as it all seems so relevant to him! He has a lovely, supportive girlfriend but they know that unless Tom lets go of of his expectations of his father he won’t be able to move on.
So thank you for this post…. You never know where they end up!
Helen, I’m so very touched by our words here. How God uses this blog in what I feel are miraculous ways. Praying that perhaps my experience will open up some new thought for him and start the work of freedom from expectations. I know what it does to someone. I’ve lived it. Praying for your son today. Thankful you shared this.