We made our way down the aisle, to the third row from the front of the sanctuary. I settled in to my seat and looked over the bulletin, then sat quietly, people watching, as a slow trickle of people filled the seats nearby. A couple, probably in their mid-50s, took seats in front of us. I studied the man. Something about him was curious to me. To anyone else, including my husband seated next to me, this man was just like any other in the room. There was no real reason I should have been so interested in who he was, except that God was highlighting him to me for a reason. Throughout the 15 minutes before service and all through worship I was distracted as I watched his familiar behavior. This man, he resembled… my father–the father I met once for a few fleeting moments during a child support hearing, when I was seventeen years old.
The poor posture of this man was the same as I remember of my father’s, six years ago. Instead of facing the stage or screens during worship, this man stood sideways, facing down the aisle, like he was nervous to participate in singing with so many people congregated around him. I am told my father was a socially nervous man. And because this man was positioned in such a way, I could see he had blue eyes and a full mustache, just as I remember my father having that single day I met him. The man was not very tall, which fit the mold of my father, also. As I continued examining this man, in the least noticeable way possible, I had the funniest thought…
What if this man in front of me is my father? I snickered to myself, thinking–knowing–there was no way. He lives in another state… but he could have moved within the last six years. His parents lived in north Texas six years ago… but what are the odds he would end up here, in the same room, sitting a row in front of me, for a Saturday evening service at my church?
I was missing all of the worship service. I wanted to worship. I needed to worship, especially with this strange anxiety developing in my soul, about a stranger on the second row. I commanded my heart to worship, just in time to pour out my praise in the last song of the set. The campus pastor stood on the stage, welcoming all attending, and before the sermon, he invited everyone to greet someone around them before being seated. So curious about this man, I remained forward facing, hoping he would turn toward me, and he did. His hand reached out; I shook it and smiled inquisitively. He voluntarily shared his name with me. Randy. He smiled and turned to sit down. A weakness flooded my body. How uncanny, this man, whom I had studied for the previous 30-40 minutes, comparing similar traits to a man in my memory, also shared the same name as my father.
Now, I needed to know this man’s last name. I needed to know if I had just shaken the hand of a man whose DNA I shared. The weekend message had already begun, so I leaned in closely to Kyle’s ear and whispered as quickly and understandably as I could, to bring him up to speed with the ongoing (mostly in my mind) of the past half hour. Seeing as he is quite comfortable with greeting and meeting new people, because it comes with his job description as someone who oversees a ministry, I suggested (okay, I insisted) how after the service he should inquire more about this man and find out his last name. Kyle agreed and continued watching the pastor speaking. I did not hear much of the message, though, because I was too busy going over what if scenarios in my mind. What if this was my father? Would I tell him who I was? Would I remain another face in the crowd?
I recalled in fast motion my childhood without my father present. A very yucky feeling arose within me. I had a great childhood. I really did not suffer much without him in my life. I do not carry ugly thoughts toward him each day, because I do not give him a single thought most of the time. But as the memory filled my mind, of a sweet little, six year old girl, delightfully twirling in a new dress, modeling for her mommy, saying, “He doesn’t know what he’s missing, Mommy,” an anger roared from the pit of my stomach to defend this tiny little girl, this tiny little me in my mind. Now that I have two tiny, little, precious girls of my own, and I have witnessed the sweetest adoration of their daddy, and the affirmation he provides their spirits, I cannot imagine how a man would choose to miss out on such irreplaceable sweetness. After this memory, I no longer wondered if I would tell this man in front of me (if he was my father) who I was, but I wanted to completely tell him off, for not only missing my life, but sending money to my mother even before my birth, desiring to end my life!
I began imagining the scenario, however, what I intended to imagine of blasting my anger at the man, the Lord took over and gave me a vision of his desire for the situation, should I sit face to face with this man in a moment of “coincidental” collision. I saw myself sitting on the second row of the sanctuary, next to the man in front of me. Upon introducing myself, and reminding this man who I was (his child), I calmly and kindly showed him the palm of my hand. I said to him, “My Father in heaven wrote my name on the palm of His hand before my birth. He made an incredible plan for my life, and I have a beautiful family as a result of His love and direction for me. So, while you may not have had a plan other than to end my life, those 23 years ago, my Jesus did, and I am so thankful for that plan. And harboring ugly feelings and unforgiveness for you does not enhance my life or His plan, so I forgive you.” I smiled a genuine smile, stood up, and walked away with my husband to pick up our girls from childcare.
What a vision! That is not at all what my mind would have created on my own, when presented with such an opportunity. I was shaken by this change of attitude, and shaking as I continued to wonder if the man sitting inches in front of me could truly be my biological father.
The service ended, Kyle made small talk with the man, and obtained his last name. When he came and found me, I begged him to share the last name of this man with me, before I told him the last name of my biological father (because my maiden name was all my own; it did not come from him). When Kyle revealed it to me, I felt both relieved and disappointed. This man’s last name was not the last name of my father. And while, he could have also recognized me during the service, and told Kyle a fake last name (I have clearly considered every possibility), I do not think it was my father seated a row away.
I do know I have discovered a new understanding of forgiveness from that strange hour of questioning and considering. For years I have thought I had forgiven my father for choosing to miss my life, for choosing to live making poor choices, instead of taking responsibility to turn his life around. I have thought because I do not dwell daily on the hurt or sadness he caused; because I do not have ugly thoughts of him often; or every time I hear the word, “dad” or “daddy,” I do not feel sad; because none of those things happen, I must not have unforgiveness in my heart for him. But all I discovered in the midst of a stranger, who could have been my father, is how just because I moved on from his hurts, does not mean I had chosen to forgive him for those hurts. I still had chains, though rusty and buried somewhere very deep, holding onto my heart, holding me back from some piece of the destiny God holds for that occupied area of my heart.
Yesterday I sat quietly alone, before my girls woke up, and chose to release any negative feelings I knew or did not know I had for my father. I chose to ask God to help me forgive him. I chose to believe, through the power of the blood of Jesus, should I sit inches away from my father, I can say I have forgiven him and use only words of kindness. When we choose to forgive, we vacate another piece of our heart to receive and dispense more love and truth. The power of forgiveness is freeing and critical to the condition of life we want to experience. I have asked the Lord to reveal any more forgiveness needing to take place in my heart, to be replaced with even more of His love to share.
God will work through anyone at any time to get the attention of the ones He loves. He does not present us with coincidences, only divine appointments and opportunities to learn more about a God who desires us to live freely in His love. However strange, I am thankful for the stranger sitting a row in front of me this past weekend. I am thankful God used such an odd opportunity to continue revealing His love and freedom to me.
Lord, will you reveal to each reader anyone he/she needs to forgive, so he/she may experience your healing power and your extravagant love for him/her in a brand new way. Thank you for loving each of us so much, you have not left us to forgive on our own, but offer your ability to do it for us if we release the desire into your hands. We love you and we are expectant of the work you will do in our lives through this process. Amen.
by Jacqueline Fox