I suppose that in a way, he saved my life. He didn’t realize it at the time. Neither did I. It would be years before I fully understood the significance of what my Dad did. But 19 years later, I can still hear his words and I can tell you they have shaped me and changed me. And for sure, they saved me.
For 59 days I had been trying to figure out how to tell my parents that I was pregnant. I had only known Erik for 6 months. And even though I had told my mother in the beginning that I wanted to marry him, I didn’t see how anything could make the truth easier. I was 22, pregnant and unmarried. And while I wasn’t worried about my parents kicking me out of the house, I couldn’t bear the thought of how this would hurt them.
Living in a small town, there aren’t many things as scandalous as an unwed pregnant girl. I shuddered just thinking about what people would say – most especially, what was my Dad going to say? I think I might have waited forever to tell them the truth, so it was a relief when my mother walked into my bedroom that hot July afternoon and asked me, “Are you pregnant?”
My mother hugged me while I cried tears of shame and relief. We sat and talked about Erik and our plans and she extended the forgiveness and mercy that I had been longing for. For the first time in 3 months, I knew everything was going to be okay.
She told me she would tell every other person in our lives about my pregnancy and upcoming wedding, but I was going to have to tell my dad and my grandparents. And it has to be TODAY, she said.
When Dad came home from work, Mom and I tearfully knelt on either side of his chair in the living room. She waited and waited for me to say something, but I couldn’t speak. Finally she said, “Jennie and Erik are going to have a baby and they are getting married.”
Dad leaned his recliner back as far as it would go and covered his eyes with his hands. But before I could take a breath, he quickly sat back up and wrapped one giant arm around me and squeezed. Then he leaned back again, covering his eyes. Mom looked at me and said, “You can go." I bolted to the bedroom with my sisters. And then I waited.
Thirty minutes later my dad called me into their bedroom. He walked up to me and took me by the shoulders, and with his voice shaking he said the words that saved me, “Someday you might feel a lot of guilt about this. Don’t! Guilt will eat you up from the inside out. Make your peace with God and let’s get on with life.” From that moment on, I felt no shame. With my father’s words, the guilt melted away.
Mom and I made our way around to all my grandparents that afternoon. Nothing could have prepared me for the graciousness and the love each of them expressed to me. Not only had my Dad lifted the heavy burden of shame, but then my grandparents spoke life and blessings over me and Erik and the baby. And the moment that still makes me smile was finding my mother and my Aunt Beth sitting in the kitchen as mom told her the news. When I walked in Aunt Beth stood up to hug me and exclaimed, “A baby!” Finally I was starting to get really excited about marrying Erik and having this baby.
Planning a wedding usually causes stress – especially for the people who are paying for it – and money was extremely tight for Mom and Dad. Obviously we didn’t have a lot of time to save and plan. Also, when you are pregnant and planning a wedding you run into a lot of quandaries that ordinarily wouldn’t be a factor. For example, we wondered whether it should be a family-only wedding. Should I even have bridesmaids? Maybe it should just be Erik, me and a preacher. Should I wear a white dress? It seems silly in hindsight because society has certainly changed since those days. But for us, we were finding our way along this very confusing, narrow path and trying to do the right thing.
One day my dad came in for lunch and my mother and I were sitting at the kitchen table discussing all of our options for my wedding. My dad is semi-famous for his quiet, yet profound communication styles. Sometimes you think he’s not listening, but then he might bowl you over with wisdom you didn’t expect. This moment was my favorite ever.
He turned to us and said, “You are going to wear a white dress. I’m going to walk you down the aisle. And we are going to invite every person we know.” Only my dad can speak something so huge in so few amount of words. He went back to work and left my mother and me in a puddle of tears.
And my dad did proudly walk me down the aisle on that rainy August day. We have never discussed how he felt in those first days after the news. He has never spoken to me about being hurt or embarrassed or disappointed. But of course, he had to have felt all of those things. What it must have cost him at moments to put my heart ahead of his own feelings. But his number one concern was ME – my heart, my relationship with God, my life in the years to come. As a parent I can now ask this question – how did he do it? Could I do the same?
I can’t think of a better example of our Heavenly Father. Can you? He does not condemn. He is never disappointed. He loves wholly and completely without prejudice. And he is more concerned with my heart and my future than he is with a clean house or my roller coaster walk with Him.
So yes, my Dad saved me. He allowed me to enjoy my wedding day and he honored me by standing next to me. He gave me the confidence to hold my head high in front of my family and friends. He gave me permission to accept God’s forgiveness and to forgive myself. And I’m most thankful that he helped me find God in the midst of the struggle.
God redeemed my life from the pit. He made my deserts like Eden, my wastelands like the garden of the Lord. And my Dad just happened to be standing right next to Him when he did it. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you!