"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Psalm 68:5 (NIV)
Moments after I stopped by my parents' house, my dad clutched his chest.
Knowing the hospital was close, my mom and I helped him to the car. I pressed hard on the gas pedal, keeping an eye on the man who reclined in the passenger seat as I raced toward the nearby emergency room.
The news was not good. Doctors said his heart was badly damaged, and open-heart surgery was the only option.
Doctors scheduled the procedure for the next day. Since I lived in another city, I drove home to gather my things before returning the next morning for a long stay.
The sun crept over the horizon as I drove westward to be with my parents during my dad's surgery. Visits were strictly limited, and my time with my dad was to be an hour before he would go in to the operating room.
When I arrived, a nurse informed me that my dad wasn't in his room.
I rushed up the stairs to the surgical floor waiting room. "They took him back a half hour ago, Suzie," my brother said. "It happened so quickly we just barely got to see him." I buried my head in my brother's chest and wept.
My dad was in surgery with his chest split open ... and I didn't get to say thank you.
Thank you for taking the place of our biological father who should have loved those tiny girls but for whatever reason didn't.
Thank you for taking two little girls who didn't have a father and making them your own.
Thank you for never seeing us in a different light than my brothers and sister who were born later.
Thank you for rejoicing that you won the prize another failed to claim.
When I was younger I didn't always appreciate this gift. I loved the man I called Dad, but often wondered about the other one. Did I look like him? Where was he? Did he think of me? What might it be like if I had my biological father in my life?
As an adult, and as a parent, I saw it differently. Being a dad isn't always tied to DNA.
One man was there at my conception, but another took the more difficult path. He went to work every day. He showed up at events. He disciplined and loved me, watched me graduate and marry. He took the name "Papaw" as he embraced my children.
I know not every woman who grew up without a biological father's love has this type of experience. But all of us can know the love of God as our heavenly Father.
Psalm 68:5 describes God as "a father to the fatherless." It's a theme woven throughout Scripture from beginning to end. Our God loves orphans and rescues the abandoned. This is a work close to His heart.
Later that evening, after Dad's surgery, I sat in the shadows with the rhythmic swish of the respirator the only sound in the room. I silently offered up gratitude.
First, because my dad had made it through the surgery.
Second, because this man partnered with God's heartbeat when he stepped in to love two little girls without a daddy.
I leaned over the bed and whispered the words I could no longer hold back: "Thank you, Dad."
And thank You, God, for loving me with a perfect Father's love.
Dear Lord, thank You for loving me as a Heavenly Father. Thank You for bringing people into my life who partnered with You in that love. In Jesus' Name, Amen.