Without warning or reason, Mom entered my bedroom that fateful winter morning to tell me Dad was gone. I was 11 years old at the time. In my slumber and innocence I asked, "Where did he go, for how long?" Her answer turned my secure world upside down. With anguished sadness in her eyes she replied, "I don't know where he went or if he'll be back again."
Weather drawing by Elizabeth Archer in Ms. Hemstad's third-grade class at Baxter Elementary School.
I wanted to erase that conversation from my memory, but my reality wouldn't allow it. I walked to school that day in a haze of confusion and questions. Why would Dad leave us? Why didn't he say goodbye? Who can I talk to about this? Days turned into weeks, with no concrete answers to any of my questions, save one. I could talk to God.
Prayer had always been a rote nighttime ritual at our house. After Dad left it became my lifeline, tethering my thoughts to something more sure than the crumbling world around me. I knew God could be trusted to hear my heart's cry. If he cared enough to send Jesus to us all, I thought surely he cared about my pain, too.
Where my other siblings seemed to deal with their pain on the inside, mine overflowed. At times I would act out in rebellion and anger. But often I came sobbing to my mother, telling her how much I missed Dad and how badly I wanted him to come back. Mom eventually got Dad's address, so she gave me a pen and paper each time, encouraging me to write how I felt in a letter to him. Those letters, like my pillow case, were a tear-stained testimony of my grief and my prayer, "Please come home, Dad. Please come home."
Christmas season came once again, but without Dad there was little to celebrate. The lights, music and magic of Christmas seemed meaningless without the framework of my whole family. It had been almost a year since Dad left and my hope for his return was dwindling.
Then, just as he'd left without warning, my dad was coming home. He would arrive late Christmas Eve on a Greyhound bus. No Christmas present, no matter how beautifully wrapped or eagerly sought, could compare to this gift. As I sat through the Christmas Eve church service that year, I was filled with tears of joy, thanksgiving and praise. God had answered my prayer.
Many Christmases have come and gone since our family was reunited, but rarely does the season pass without tears as I remember that night long ago. I later learned some details about dad's abrupt departure, but by then the reasons didn't matter to me. I would never allow the disappointment of that difficult time to rob me of the joy of having him back again. The lesson I learned that Christmas is one I will never forget. Besides God's gift of Jesus Christ, a family is his most precious gift here on earth.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.