by Sarah Hemingway
For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12).
She was barely nine months old when he left. Her sister was almost three. They were just getting to know each other when duty called him away to the hellish chaos of Vietnam. No one could say for sure if he’d live to return to his beloved wife and two little daughters.
Committing him to the Lord’s keeping, they waved teary good-byes as his plane disappeared into the clouds. Now it was time to get on with the business of living, at least for awhile.
It reads like something out of a saga. Only I happened to be the heroine, and I surely didn’t feel like one. It was an awesome responsibility to raise two little girls alone for a year. Laura was almost three and Beki was then nine month old.
Other mothers had shared with me some of the pitfalls they’d been through. Their advice was to prepare for the fact that our baby wouldn’t even know her daddy when he returned. She’s just too young to remember, they warned. Don’t expect too much, another said. It’ll take time, but they’ll start all over again.
With that advice, I purposed in my heart to be different. I would do all I could to give my girls a sense of having a father, even if he wasn’t with them for months on end. Each day we talked about Daddy. We sent artwork and cookies to him and even made a tape or two. When the mailman brought a letter, it was a time for celebration.
Daddy would send the girls kisses (they smooched the letter and giggled), and once he was able to send little treats. But it was, after all, a war, and Dad had to be gone. We began a ritual every night. After dirty sneakers and sticky fingers were exchanged for bubble baths and storybooks, we all got together and prayed for us and for Daddy. And then each of the girls would kiss goodnight the picture of their uniformed dad.
So many nights I fell exhausted into bed. Sometimes I cried myself to sleep for want of a partner to help me raise these little ones. I refused to entertain the thought of his not coming back.
There was always that chance, but I prayed for the strength for each day, and each day brought enough to be concerned about. I did get discouraged with the voices that said, They won’t remember their dad. On especially wearing days, it was a temptation just to tuck them in bed, but we kept on with the prayers and kisses. Were they too young? I wondered.
Months passed and Beki was growing. While dainty Laura had begun walking at nine months, chunky Beki was now fifteen months old and a hefty armload–and she still wasn’t walking. We did pre-school, Moms and Tots swimming lessons, teething, and all sorts of pediatric ailments, along with picnics, Disney movies, and hopeless attempts at arriving at Sunday School intact, on time, and all of us not in tears!
Finally the day came for Dad to return. I could hardly contain my excitement. I’d spent months smocking a dress for Laura to wear to the airport and Beki was in her best pink dress. Soap and water had never done such an amazing job, and barring mud puddles, last minute vomiting, or wet training pants, we’d be reunited in high style. The voices continued, “Be prepared. They’re so young. They won’t know him. Give them time.” I prepared for the worst, but oh how I hoped for the best.
The wait for him to deplane seemed interminable. Never had it taken so long for leaded doors to open and let one special man walk through. Suddenly there he was, coming through the door. He rushed to us with open arms, and I could hardly believe what happened next. Laura ran toward her father yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!” Then, with no warning, Beki literally lunged from my protective arms into the big strong arms of her dad. “Daddy!” she repeated and clung to his neck with a big grin. Through laughs and tears we all just stood there hugging each other. It was the reunion of a lifetime, a miracle for the four of us!
That reunion was over thirty-three years ago, and I still get goose bumps when I think of it. Yet, today I see a very similar picture. As mothers of young children, we are so often told that our children are too young to understand about their heavenly Father. They’ll forget whatever they learn at this age, but later when they get older they’ll get to know him. As a result of this thinking, many of God’s delightful toddlers begin their framework of life without the security and knowledge of a God who’s bigger than any thunderstorm or imagined monster in a closet.
Parents wait until they’re older, but no one is really sure when that time is. Suddenly they find out that when Jason or Jessie is older, he’s far too cool to be interested in our Father.
As mothers and dads, we have a wonderful opportunity to begin introducing our little ones to our Lord. Bible storybooks aimed at appropriate age levels are a wonderful tool. Tapes and songs and conversations about God in our daily tasks provide a sense of His loving presence. Look at the rainbow God made! and Did you know that Jesus loves you even more than you love this little puppy? are natural ways to incorporate a youngster’s understanding of the Lord we serve. Daily (or nightly) prayers on the most simple level help children to begin to learn a conversation of faith.
Yes, there were times when I thought perhaps the voices were correct. Yes, there were times when I thought kissing the cold glass picture in the frame was a pretty stupid thing to do. I had more than one moment of doubt as to whether our girls would know their father when he returned.
But somehow, we kept on. We did what we knew to do and gave it our best shot. There were no guarantees. But on that day of his return, the joy was almost unbearable!
Jesus says, “Suffer the little ones to come unto me.” Other voices will call to us, “they’re too young. They won’t understand. They won’t remember. It won’t mean anything.” Yet somehow, through the silliness of songs and pictures and conversations, even feeling stupid, weary, and full of doubts, we can look forward to that day when our children, secure in our arms, will jump out, hug our heavenly Father’s neck, look into his face and say, “Daddy!”
On that day, he will no longer be to them a picture in a book, but a wonderful, strong, breathing, laughing, caring Father.