We Are Our Father’s Daughters

Dad has three daughters. That’s us at a surname bakery in Kilrush, County Clare.

Mom and dad took us to Ireland two Junes ago and in a week we all were smitten. We’ve since lost the lingo and forgotten what towns we toured, but Erin’s feeling lingers. Someone said, People will forget what you say, and they’ll forget what you doBut they’ll remember how you made them feel. 

As I sat down to throw a few Father’s Day memories together, my sisters conference called. Then I mentioned about Dad and they gushed.

They gushed, I think, because it’s so easy to remember how our Dad’s love makes us feel.

Faith Working Out In Love

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love. Galatians 5:6

Let us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18
Maybe the reason we remember is that Dad lives and breathes Galatians 5:6. Without love, we’re nothing and Dad’s faith works its way out in love. We all remember how love feels.

Like when he’d let one of us sleep in on Monday mornings until the last second and then he’s wake her and drive her the two hours to college. She’d grab the special Dad-made latte with just his right touch of honey. And she’d sip her grogginess away while Dad drove the miles back up to UW. 
When one of us bounced a check in college, Dad didn’t criticize. Just ask if you need help, he said with concern writ-large in his eyes. And when one locked her keys in the car (again), Dad was Johnny on the spot. With a smile. No guilt trip. That was that and life goes on. 
One remembered stay up late, late, late to make sure the driveway was cleared of snow. He’d let his gardening be hindered by grandsons at the drop of a hat. And drop his plans without complaint and dash to town to deliver a forgotten trumpet or, more recently, a laptop. 
Or drive his John Deere tractor eight miles into town to drag a pesky bush out of city daughter’s backyard.

That’s our Dad. Drop everything, drive far, go low to show his love.

Kind of like Christ. 

Wise True Words, Too

I will run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free. Psalm 119:32

Man looks at the outward appearance but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

God cares not so much what you do but what is in your heart. Faith expressed in love. Those are prime-time, all the time, for ourDad. Loving kindness comes out in words, too.We remember the feeling of love and we remember his wise words, too. 

God’s given our Dad a well-instructed tongue to sustain the wearyWhen one sister’s baby died shortly before she was born at 36 weeks, Dad had healing words for her. Hope is in the best place. We can never protect our children fully. Hope is perfectly happy, perfectly safe. Hope is home. 

When one sister couldn’t decide on which college and another was torn apart about leaving a career she loved and another about taking on a new job, that was dad’s advice. It didn’t always make the deciding easier, but still, Dad’s insight was freeing. Love God and do as you please.

When one sister was on the fence, conscience-stricken about whether watch a friend’s dog one week, Dad helped work that through, too. Loving that friend by loving her dog will limit the way you love your other friends who don’t like dogs. Being human means loving one will limits love for another. God knows. It’s okay.

Dad’s no blow-hard. He doesn’t bluster on. Dad didn’t make up rules that seem good to him, and then say he speaks for God. He quoted Augustine and lived it: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. Charity. Love. What counts is faith expressing itself in love.

John Calvin knew about fathers who get preeminence and then become presumptuous. This seems good to me, they say and subject their family to their own opinions. Instead, Calvin urges fathers, Let there be no teaching authority that advances what we invent, but let us learn from God so that He will dominate and alone have all preeminence. (Quoted in Sermons on Genesis, Vol.1, Banner of Truth)

What does the Bible say? If it’s not plain, if it’s a non-essential, then Dad wouldn’t come down hard either. Dad’s words were not presumptuous. Dad’s opinions didn’t rule. God’s Word did.

That’s kind of like Christ, too.

Love The Body

This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Corinthians 8:1
Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10

Our Dad deeply loves the body. He doesn’t much applaud we sister’s in our fitness kicks. But how he loves Christ’s Body. And he’s taught us to love it, too.

Not that it’s limited to Sunday worship. But maybe four times in four decades have I missed a Sunday service. Not because of guilt. I want to be there. I love a worship service and for that, along with the Spirit, I credit Dad. 

Dad was my pastor most of my growing up years. And while some pastor’s kids are irked and recoil at the PK spotlight, I relished it. I relished worship. I relished the singing and the preaching and the being with my friends. It was all good.


There was that one Sunday when Dad interrupted his sermon. He stopped mid-stream and craned his neck up to address the kids up in the balcony in back of the church. That’s where I sat sans parent beside Mike and Trish and Scott and Stacey. 

Where Trish was talking and the guys were laughing and the preacher’s kid must have been carrying on, too. We all carried further than we knew. Then Dad looked up and didn’t pull his punches that muggy Sunday in June. Smack dab in the middle of the sermon, Dad’s big pastor voice boomed, 

Would the youth in the balcony please stop talking? Your voices are disrupting the service. 

So I learned a meaning for mortified. But I also kept learning to love this sacred coming together time. Gathering on Sundays was no penalty but joy to our young spirits.

And still is. The sisters invest themselves in the church’s children’s ministries and worship teams and life groups. Because the three see that building the Body of Christ is a treat. Our Dad showed us how. He made is easy.

Kind of like Christ

Like Father, Like Daughter (And Grandson)

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness. Oscar Wilde

Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Philippians 3:12

Dad’s not perfect. He doesn’t claim to be. When my nine-year takes the Heinz and dabs it bite by bite on his brat, then licks his ice cream bowl clean, explaining, 

That’s the Grandpa way. 

As if that’s the final word on etiquette.

I’m not proud that I nibble right down to the nubs. I don’t know why I do. But Dad bites his nails too. 
I walk fast. Strolling sort of hurts. Sometimes I grab weights to handicap my pace, and impatience, when friends go slow. Dad’s real fast, too. Ask Mom. Especially on vacations.

I talk with zeal and interrupt. I’m not naturally slow to listen. Sometimes Dad talks with passion too. But I’ve also learned from him how to slow down and apologize.

I indulge-sometimes overmuch- in ice cream. Preferably cappuccino almond fudge. And drink to addiction strong coffee. My first cup was one Dad brewed. 
Even here in temptation, Dad shows me how much he needs God’s grace. Dad points me up to God.
And that too, is kind of like Christ.

Sowing Gospel Seeds

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. 1 Corinthians 3:5-6

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 4

I know Dad holds these verses close. He knows his children walk in truth in part because he did what he was assigned to do. Dad did his job.

He planted. And watered. And sprayed and weeded too. Dad’s a faithful hard-working farmer. He knows that when the Word goes out, it doesn’t return empty. He did his job even though he didn’t know which seeds would grow.

Dad knows how rain waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and sprout. How many times he prayed the ancient prayer with us, Blessed are you O Lord our God the King of the universe who brings forth bread from the ground and fruit from the vine? Dad knows who brings forth.

Dad would be first to say- and his daughters would be fast to agree- that it was God who made the seeds of faith that he and mom planted grow.

Dad’s taught me to embrace this divine paradox. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are not incompatible.

Christ Jesus taught that,  too.

Words fail and wounds still heal, so I’ll hold some details back. But I’d like to paint one more picture.

When I was thirteen, Dad was offered the pastorate in a small church in a smaller place called Lyons, Wisconsin. I was in my last year at a little K-8 school across the border in Illinois. You’d think Dad would have jumped at it. By then, he’d been mopping floors and driving a school bus for five years.

But Dad didn’t jump. He weighed it with mom and prayed. Then he weighed it with his children, too-including an insecure, adolescent me.

What do you think, Ab? I know you’d have to leave your friends and you like our little farm here? Would you be okay if we moved? If I took the job in Wisconsin? 

I was okay. We did move. I met my husband there. Eight years later, when Dad gave this bride away, he said, He must increase, I must decreaseand did.

Things at church got rocky and dad resigned just shy of two decades at that little church. He left graciously and meekly, and- as I’m coming to see- partly he left for me. The peace of Christ must rule.

But God is ever on the move and works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. And discretely and gently, considerate of his wife’s wish to worship with the kids and grandkids, after a decade in a church two towns away, Dad decided to come back.

Which is a story in itself, but not where this one’s heading. Because this one ends in the basement, in the church nursery. That’s where Dad, with Mom, heads. To basement depths, and nursery deeps, Dad goes low. To dwell with babies and toddlers who barely talk and cannot grasp his great wisdom.

Which is a lot like Christ.

Dad Made It Easy 

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” Matthew 19:14

[B]ut we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 1 Corinthians 9:12

Dad made it easy for his kids to come to Jesus. Some of you don’t have a dad like that. Some fathers make it hard. They lay stumbling blocks instead of sowing gospel seeds.

A good father lays down his life for his kids. He goes low to love his ownDad feeds his kids what his sweat has grown, potatoes and berries and beans. He watches grandkids, unlocks cars, and, for love, drives his John Deere miles to uproot a single bush. Where once he preached in the pulpit, now he plays in the nursery. That’s Dad.

He’s probably blushing at this. Not because nursery is beneath him. Not at all. He’s the one who taught us to walk humbly with our God. So it’s not because of spit-up and runny noses and diapers. No. Dad doesn’t mind his big farmer hands getting dirty.

If he’s sheepish at all, it’s because of this semi-public sort of praise. He prefers his praise come later, from his heavenly Father. Which is where I’ll leave off.

The first church Dad pastored had Swedish roots. They sang a song that Dad still sings. Maybe you know it. It’s called Children of the Heavenly Father.* 

It goes like this.

Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given
Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord His children sever
Unto them His grace He showeth
And their sorrows All He knoweth
Though He giveth or He taketh
God His children ne’er forsaketh
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them pure and holy
Good dads make it easy to come to Jesus. They don’t hinder it. Good dads make us want to seek our Heavenly Father. 

Our dad made that easy.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God.

1 John 3:1

*Words by (Swedish pastor’s daughter) Karolina Wilhelmina Sandell-Berg and translated by Ernst William Olson

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  1. Love this message Abigail. Would that all papas were like this. I married a great one I must say – it's the best gift I could give our children – a man knowing Christ living with integrity to pass on to our children.

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