write whatever you will. come short in nothing lest pride

A Mom’s Prayer on National “See you at the Pole” Day

28 Sep

I parked strategically, near enough to see the small group of teens huddled around the flag pole in the rain, but far enough away that I couldn’t see my son roll his eyes if he spotted me in what was clearly his “space.”

There amid the hustle and bustle of cars, buses, horns, and umbrellas, I prayed. Grateful to be living in a time when public prayer is still allowed, grateful that my youngest is unapologetic about bowing his head to the Lord in front of his friends and peers, and grateful to know that this scene is being repeated at schools across the country today. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll lament that such a sight may one day disappear in this nation’s race to proclaim tolerance for everything BUT the Living God, but today I feel only peace.

It’s fitting, I think, that they’re gathered around another symbol being bashed in the latest cause du jour, and I pray that each continues to hold the other up through the battles we all know are coming.

I’m so proud of these young people. These are the ones who will carry our nation forward, who will be asked to do and accept things we never imagined could be forced upon us. They’re told today that it’s perfectly acceptable for a healthy child who lived and grew in its mother’s womb for nine months to be killed on its way into the world because mom doesn’t want “it.” And they’re told that this beautiful child, whose clear blue eyes would have been able to move and blink and see and process light using ten interconnected components has a lineage that traces back to an amoeba, and that those eyes somehow evolved out of nothing. They’re going to need thick skin and strong foundations to stand firm as people they consider friends today spit on them tomorrow, hurling vile threats and claiming their Jesus is a harbinger of hate.

Which is why I pray today, not for the schools, because I know that’s what they’re doing now. They are praying their school remain a safe and healthy place to learn, that truth be taught without bias in their classrooms, that healthy and solid friendships form, and that everyone in the school feel accepted and free to pursue those unique interests that give each of them joy and purpose. They’re praying for believers and non-believers alike, for their families, their friends, and for the future of their nation.


But in my car on the side lines, I pray for each child in the group, for moral and spiritual strength as they head into adulthood. That they push forward to do good works for Jesus’ sake, and not their own. That they choose the paths they know to be right, regardless of difficulty. That they might each demonstrate to those around them the inexplicable, unquenchable love of Jesus in such a way that the NOT-evolved eyes on our college campuses are opened and ears unstopped. That this generation of Believers will never be silenced.

Will you add your voice to mine today, and to theirs, and to those of the angels in Heaven? Pray with all the gladness and thanksgiving you can muster, because your voice matters. Remember, where there is one person praying, there is always hope.


Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6



A Story is Born: From the Remnants Just Released

12 Sep

It’s official!

Today Cathy Schrader and I released “From the Remnants, A Story of Light and Hope.


It is the true story of Cathy’s journey from heart-shattering brokeness to a place of healing and purpose.

This book is for anyone whose faith in God has been tested by the sudden and unexplainable loss of a loved one. Although we all race through life understanding its inherit brevity, we sometimes take for granted the days we’re given to share with those we love. We choose our paths based on what we expect they hold for us. However, God, in his sovereign mercy, knowing infinitely more about our journey than we do ourselves, sometimes allows devastation in our lives by calling our loved one to Himself sooner than we could have predicted, turning those paths into dead-end roads, and thereby prompting that age-old question:

Why, God?

This book responds with the age-old answer:

We don’t know.

Because we’re not God.

However, sometimes, if we press forward through the anger and pain, and we resolve to retain our faith despite the apparent senselessness of it all, we can catch a glimpse of the larger picture—an aerial view, so to speak—of our lives and purpose through His eyes.

This vision may not, and probably won’t heal the scars of our suffering, but it’s not supposed to. Those scars brought us to the place we are, to a place of awareness that we are not the author of our own destiny, but that we can walk with the One who is. And when we walk with Him, we can know we’re on the course he intended for us to travel. Only then can we truly receive the joy and peace He has placed along the way.

I invite you to walk briefly along Cathy’s path, and to discover as she did, that God’s ways are not our ways, but when we trust him, they tend to be just a tad better…

Blessings and Happy Reading!


Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:19-21

Teachers: Perpetual Sowers of an Unseen Harvest

6 Sep

Every September I get this colossal sense of wonder and gratitude regarding the men and women to whom we’ve entrusted the minds and dreams of our children. Where would we be without these wonderful people who can explain concepts to our children that, let’s face it, we don’t understand ourselves? Some of the concepts that elude me include the binary code, why Pluto isn’t a planet, and, if atoms are made up of 99.9% empty space, how can we touch things? And the greatest mystery of all: math.

Teachers Rock.

Have you stopped to think about this lately? They have the power to inspire, crush, see, ignore, challenge, nurture, and motivate our children, and they are the ones who actually teach our children what they need to know to make it to the next milestone and beyond. That’s a power we shouldn’t take lightly, but pray about and praise when we find the ones with that extra something. I’m excited to think that someone my son has just met may be the person he looks back on with gratitude, the one who first recognized his gift and planted those first seeds of encouragement that turned into a career.

Yes, that teacher will always be special, the way I still remember Mr. DeRobbio handing my essay back to me in the 9th grade and saying, “You might want to consider becoming a writer.” But he alone didn’t bring me to this place. It took years of passionate, patient, sorely overworked and underpaid teachers, each adding seeds of wisdom and encouragement to the pot to make a whole me. And behind the scenes were hundreds of administrators and support staff collecting data, answering phones, shelving books, fixing lunches, and mopping floors to ensure we had a healthy, safe, and nourishing environment for learning. (I’m married to a man we all call The Lunchroom Lady, so he gets props too!)

Consider the blog page you’re reading right now. The very fact that I can string 900 words together for you to and you can actually read a 900-word blog (I know, I know, you just look at the pictures, but you could if you wanted to) says we had some pretty good teachers. Mr. DeRobbio not only encouraged even my weirdest writing in high school (I’ve read some recently and wondered what he could possibly have been thinking), but he also introduced me to that beautiful creature: the short story, and he led me to write for the school paper. The rest is history.

But it doesn’t stop there. I’m able to set the words on the page thanks to ten months in Mrs. Mahoney’s Typing 101 class, where we sat in rows before our enormous gray Smith-Corona Super Sterlings chanting “A S D F Semi L K J!” (Sure, kids today can two-thumb the Gettysburg Address in the time it took me to slide the carriage return, but at least I know what the MR key does. . . did. . . whatever.)

And speaking of the Gettysburg Address, I wouldn’t have been able to slide that snarkism in there were it not for Mr. Delgado, my history teacher (whose funky wrap-around comb-over and snow-drift dandruff shoulders are hauntingly unforgettable). Mr. D managed to make the American Revolution and Civil War come alive for me, and give me an appreciation for back story, and his sense of humor taught me that writing needn’t be boring.

Even my math and science teachers contributed. (Strange, but I cannot remember the names of any of my math or science teachers. Is that a writer’s subliminal rebellion?) These people whose ways are alien to me taught other people enough about math and coding to hold this webpage together without duct tape, and enough about circuits, components, electricity, batteries, and that mysterious binary code to make computers, thereby eliminating the need for an MR key. They inspired the kinds of imaginations that made search engines work so you can find me, and some mystical network of tubing under the oceans that keeps the lines of communication humming, and don’t even get me started on touch-screen technology, because I’m already way over my head here. All of this so I can entertain you for ten minutes once a week and hopefully inspire you to read my books.

Seagul in the mist

Fascinating, don’t you think? But I’d like you to consider something else all those wonderful people have in common: Most teachers share your hopes and dreams for your children, yet never find out whether those dreams were realized. They’ve sown thousands of seeds over the years, and they may have set hundreds of young men and women on right paths, but how many of their former students ever report back?

I contacted Mr. DeRobbio back in 1993 when the Marine Corps named me Print Journalist of the Year, and I thanked him for making it possible. He was thrilled to learn that I not only wrote for a living but had achieved a measure of success, and he struck up a regular correspondence, even coming to Virginia to visit me once. When he passed away a few years ago, I could grieve without regretting that he never knew what his passion had produced in at least one of his students.

Is there a teacher in your past who deserves a thank-you note? I challenge you to get in touch if you still can, and congratulate that person on a job well done, because you turned out GREAT!

Even if it’s a math teacher.


Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. –Deuteronomy 32:2

New England in 15 Days: A Dish Best Served Warm

26 Aug


I’m walking mournfully from room to room, sighing heavily because the trip I’ve been waiting for and planning for nearly three years is now but a memory, and I long to go back. I yearn to feel that cool ocean breeze blowing into my bedroom window and to fall asleep listening to the waves crash rhythmically along the New England shores.

I unwrap the tourist magnets and find homes for them on the already over-full refrigerator: Prospect Harbor, Maine; Stowe, Vermont; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Newport, RI.

It was a whirlwind tour, designed to show my friend Michele as much of my beloved New England as possible in only 15 days. When she first told me she’d never been there, my mind nearly exploded with compassion and amazement. That meant she’d never stood on Concord’s North Bridge, where our nation was born. She’d never driven over Rhode Island’s Newport bridge into Jamestown and looked in wonder at the single house on the rock. She’d never stood in the center of Bristol Commons while the noon church bells chimed. Why, the poor thing had never tasted Maine lobster straight off the pier! Well, that certainly explains the thumbs up I’ve seen her bestow on our northern Virginia area “seafood” establishments.

It took some doing, but we finally set off on a 2,878-mile journey that zipped up the Massachusetts coast to Gouldsboro, Maine in time for the Winter Harbor lobster festival, then snaked back and forth through New England, ending in Hartford, Connecticut.

We saw all the touristy places, of course. The tip of Cape Cod, Plymouth Rock, Salem (big disappointment), the Gloucester seaport, Strawberry Banke, Acadia National Park, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream graveyard, the Vermont Country Store, the Newport mansions, and Mark Twain’s home. And although we did stop to see Lenny, a real chocolate moose, our memories of this trip are made of sweeter stuff than highway attractions

What made this a true adventure was the people we met along the way.

Jim Owens

We found 88-year-old Jim Owens in Eastman, Cape Cod, sitting in a windmill, apparently waiting for us to happen along. He spoke briefly about the windmill and its history, but then went into storyteller mode—obviously his preferred canvass. He shared his story of being left at a Newport orphanage at age 7 after his mother died. His father, in this age where dads didn’t raise children, wanted him to finish out his school year at the orphanage before going to live with relatives in Middletown, RI. He told us about his uncle, who served as a Marine in WWI, and his own military service and ensuing travels, which only served to deepen his love for New England. Today Jim is a renowned historian throughout Cape Cod and Rhode Island.

His joy for life is so contagious I could have sat at his side for hours.

Breakfast soup

We met Dolly at breakfast in the Acadia Oceanside Meadows Inn on Prospect Harbor. She served us breakfast each morning, delightfully naming for us each sprig and flower on our beautifully prepared plates. “All edible, and I picked them myself this morning!”

I could probably write an entire story about Dolly, but I’d have to first pin her down long enough to learn it. She flitted from table to table like a hummingbird, truly enjoying each guest, a perfect emissary for Maine hospitality.


Maine also introduced us to Joe at the Warf Gallery & Grill in Corea, where we had the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted. Near the end of our visit, though, we learned that the Warf is actually famous for its crab. Upon hearing that a customer had driven miles for his crab, which had just run out, Joe removed his shucking apron, jumped into a small dingy and sped out to a trap on the water to bring in some more.

Maine is also a place to find beautiful, hand-made artwork. I learned why from Cindy Fisher, at the U.S. Bells shop we ducked into to avoid a brief summer storm. The gorgeous bronze bells sold there are hand-cast by her husband Richard in the Forge nearby. Expecting to find only bells in the shop, we were surprised and delighted to see walls lined with lovely pottery, quilts, jewelry, and other artwork. “It’s what we do in the winter,” she explained. “The snow kinda’ forces you to stay put.” She happily talked about each of the artists whose work was displayed there, making me wish I could meet them all.


In Stowe, Vermont, we spent an evening watching the Olympics with the bed & breakfast owner Randy and his giant Bernese, Mickey. Randy and his wife Annette purchased the inn with dreams of forever in their hearts, but the world had different plans. Near the inn, a lone bench under a currant tree waits for Annette, the garden behind it clearly untouched in the year or so since her passing. Randy, wearing a sad-sweet smile, continues pushing forward with Mickey, his new greeter and partner. The inn was homey and welcoming, and Randy must be a classically trained chef, because the food that he sent to our table made me want to stay on another week.

Although we found breathtaking scenery at every turn, Rhode Island’s shoreline offered the best, in my humble, Rhode Island-native opinion. I sat on a breakwater on Little Compton’s Sakonnet Point for perhaps 30 minutes, listening to the waves lap the rocks and just wishing I could stay forever. We travelled nearly every inch of shoreline from Tiverton to Charleston, stopping at each breathtaking vista to photograph lighthouses and meet the locals.


In Galilee, we stopped at George’s Restaurant for one last taste of fresh lobster, and there met Julia, a delightful waitress who was eager for us to enjoy what the local seaport had to offer. When I explained that Michele still hadn’t seen a real quahog shell, she went back to the kitchen and found us two shiny, purple-streaked beauties that I’m sure Michele will treasure more than any store-bought souvenir.


In Narragansett, where I just HAD to show Michele the famous stone towers, we met Christina in the Chamber of Commerce office at the towers’ base. Her enthusiastic love for Narragansett nearly had me searching for realtors on the spot, as did the familiar ocean view. I honestly reached the point where I thought I’d do anything to be able to stay in New England. Then I spotted a picture that stopped my longing immediately. Regrettably, it wasn’t for sale, but Christina sent me to Sharon Mazze, a delightful shop owner who might know where I could obtain one. After a brief chat (where I learned she knows Jim the Miller), she sent me down the pier to John McNamara, the photographer.

I bought the picture as soon as I saw it. John’s image not only reminds me of all I love about New England, it also reminds me why I live in Virginia. I will hang it over my desk to help me recall what was quite possibly my best summer vacation ever, but also to help me keep my perspective. I should have realized when Cindy explained the origins of Maine’s lovely artwork:


It comes every year.

blizzardI’ll be back, New England, many times, I hope. And I will always love you…

From afar.


No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. — 1 Corinthians 10:13


Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Quit Looking at Me!

26 Jul


A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. — Roald Dahl

It goes far beyond the makeup, ladies.

There’s a movement afoot reminding women that we don’t have to paint our faces to be beautiful, and that’s a great start, but there’s a much more important question that needs to be asked by women everywhere, and men as well:

Who gets to define beautiful?

At a luncheon recently I heard two women chatting about their hair. The first, who had a lovely mop of naturally curly locks said, “I’ve always wished I had straight shiny hair like yours.” The other replied, “I hate my hair, I wish I had your curls.”

Why, when we look at ourselves, do we want to see someone else? And worse, why do we go to such lengths to change what we have for the sake of fitting someone’s definition of beautiful?

I read an article about the Lahwi women of Thailand, who put coils on their necks to enhance their beauty. These coils, which are rarely removed, weaken their neck muscles and deform their clavicles to make the neck appear longer. In another article I read that Chinese women used to bind their feet (beginning at age 4!) to keep them small and ladylike. The process involved repeatedly breaking the foot at the arch and letting it re-heal in a bell shape. Do you think that’s crazy? Well you’re likely doing something similar. According to the Spine Health Institute, 72% of American women force their feet into high heels, taking their hips and spine out of alignment and putting excess pressure on the knees—just for the sake of appearance.

Why can we not be satisfied? It’s nonsense, the way we stare at ourselves with such criticism and question God’s design. It’s like looking at the painting of the Mona Lisa and zeroing in on her receding hairline. We must get past appearance altogether if we’re to truly see ourselves the way God sees us.

When I was a teenager, I was ashamed of my crooked nose and the dime-sized brown spot on the side of my chin. My friend Tanya had three birthmarks in the middle of her cheek that formed a division sign, and she loved it! Guess which of us smiled more. Today I don’t give them a thought.

Consider international supermodels, Cindy Crawford and Lauren Hutton. If moles and gap teeth matter, how does one explain their success? In France, people with gaps in their front teeth are actually considered lucky, and in Ghana, they are beautiful. In fact, in many cultures, physical features that deviate from the ordinary are held in high esteem. They mark a person as unique, not ugly. Why then, in our Western culture do we buy into the lie that we are anything other than Created in the image of God?

…Which might make one wonder, what does God look like? I propose that He has buck teeth, ten thousand freckles, and radar-dish ears. It doesn’t matter. Since we cannot answer that question with any degree of certainty by describing physical features, we must instead draw from what we do know about God’s image. We know God is love, light, and peace. And I can assure you, when you get that first glimpse of Him, you won’t see physical features. You’ll see beauty, perfect beauty.

And to my new friend Maude: I haven’t met you face-to-face, but I know that if I ever do, I won’t be staring at that gap in your front teeth you fret over. Instead, I’m quite sure I’ll be drawn to the light in your eyes that I know is there, because the love in your heart for hurting young women comes through the phone like a beautiful beacon.


If you want to work on something, work on your health, on your mind, and on your thoughts toward others. Keep yourself physically fit for whatever comes at you, and mentally prepared to have meaningful conversations. Look for ways to shine your light in this dark world by caring for others and spreading joy. If you do these things, you will be considered lovely indeed.


But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” — 1 Samuel 16:7

Happy Birthday to Joe; Lessons Learned from a Sparrow’s Journey

5 Jul

Sparrow in prison book cover

This week we celebrate a birthday, of sorts, as my baby, “Caged Sparrow” is officially one year old. I suspect that’s about 20 in book years, judging by how much of my energy went into raising it.

Although completing one book hardly qualifies me as an expert in anything, I would like to share a few lessons I’ve learned over the past few years, because I know my dream was just one in a sea of dreams still to be fulfilled in the world.

It’s been two and a half years since I walked away from my “day job,” a job that paid quite well, where I loved my co-workers and needed to invest only three more years to qualify for retirement benefits.

But I couldn’t shake the pull to write full time.

I tried to ignore it, working 8-hour days during the week and spending my nights and weekends juggling responsibilities as wife and mother. Stories and characters filled my head until I thought I might burst. Every once in a while I’d have to steal away to a quiet corner and dash off a few pages of one project or another. Rarely did I finish anything. I did create a collection of short stories, but had no idea how to market them.

My one annual indulgence was to escape every May to attend the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference near Asheville, NC. Although I felt like a phony there, a pretend writer surrounded by real writers, I couldn’t stay away. Something about the creativity flowing through everyone I met wrapped around me like a lasso of possibility and just kept tugging.

This IS where I belong.

I drank in the writing seminars and workshops, basked in the warm writing talk at every meal, and left the conference on fire to keep writing, even though nobody wanted to read my short stories.

“Short stories just don’t sell,” said the experts.

Then “Caged Sparrow” fell into my lap in a most unconventional manner, during small talk in a lounge area at the writers’ conference with two women I’d never met. When I mentioned I liked to write people’s stories, the first, Linda Rondeau, became quite animated.

“I know someone with a story!” She then described this former undercover cop who had been framed and sent to prison among the very people he’d been putting in jail for nearly 20 years. As she finished telling me about Joe Tuttolomondo, the second woman, Diana Flegal, leaned over and said, “If you write it, I’ll take a look at it.”

She’s an agent! Who knew?

The rest is history. I started planning my departure from the typical work force almost immediately. Most of my co-workers expressed incredulous encouragement. I couldn’t blame them for the incredulous part, as I felt the same.

Am I really going to do this?
Why yes, I really am.

Today I’m barely making a living, editing documents and writing short stories to cover the cost of gas and groceries so I can write my own stories on the side. Both family cars will need to be replaced soon, the front porch is falling down, and there’s this barely perceptible drip, drip, drip coming from the pipes above the kitchen ceiling. But I’m not worried. As with everything else over the past two years, somehow, the Lord will ensure those issues are taken care of.


I may go back to work at some point, but I haven’t regretted leaving for a minute, because Caged Sparrow is an actual book, available in book stores. And because Joe is so gosh darned tickled pink to have his story in print, it makes me giggle inside. And because I am a “real” writer and have been since I was 14. (To anyone who feels the same as I did during my early writers’ conference years, know that you’re a writer because you write, not because you sell.)


I will wrap up by telling you some of the advice I heard along my journey:


It’s irresponsible to quit your day job for a dream. To that I say, humbug. If it’s really your passion, you’ll find a way to make it work. I’d trade 12 “safe” years for two years of living on the edge while doing what I love. Oh, wait, that’s what I did.

Nobody reads memoirs. Humbug again. These are real stories about real people. Memoirs can inspire, uplift, encourage, and enable others to dream. Perhaps if we could get our young generations to read more memoirs, we’d need fewer animated cartoon heroes. Oh, and did I mention, at this year’s writing conference, it took first place in the 2016 Selah awards for best memoir, and overall director’s choice for best non-fiction book of the year! Not bad for something nobody wants to read.

Self-publishing is risky business. So is crossing the street. Sometimes, however, self-publishing is the only way to go. Although Ms Flegal did take on my book, she met up against a brick wall of “nobody reads memoirs” publishers, so I took it back. I’m glad I did, because Joe’s story needed to be told. Of course, if you’re planning to go this route, ensure your book is professionally edited, make sure you’re linking up with a reputable company, and get yourself a kick-butt cover designer, but then, by all means, go for it.

Without a publisher, you can probably hope to sell about 300 copies. To that I say, 1,300 copies later, wait, what?

If you’re going to autograph your books with a reference, make sure you memorize it. Okay, this I have to agree with. I chose the encouraging, hope-filled verse from Proverbs 16:9, which states, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps,” because it’s the story of my life. However, somewhere around the 30th copy I noticed I was referring people to Proverbs 19:6, which is NOT my life verse at all. In fact, it states, “Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.” No doubt, the recipients of those autographs are still confused. (NOTE: If you’re one of those lucky few, consider yours a special “error copy,” which will no doubt be worth something one day.)

So here I am, about to release my second book, “From the Remnants,” and still clutching my collection of short stories that some expert has told me won’t sell. Considering all the advice I’ve received recently, what do you think I’m going to do with these?

You are correct…which is why I’m now resuming work on “The Perfect Parent, Parables for the New Believer.”  Details coming soon.


A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God – Ecclesiastes 2:24

When Fathers are Imperfect: You Call This Love?

14 Jun

No, I won’t be re-blogging all summer long. I just read this from two years ago and decided it’s still a fitting tribute. I hope you all have wonderful Father’s Day memories and, if not, can at least thank your father for making you you…because you’re fantastic!


Not everyone loves Fathers’ Day.

Did you have the perfect dad, someone who attended every sporting event, band concert, and scout ceremony? Who knew your friends’ names and read the articles you wrote for the school paper?

I didn’t. My dad barely knew me, and he attended nothing—not even my high school graduation.

Dads are a strange lot. When we’re young we think they’re perfect, but for most of us, at some point we learn the truth: that they’re human, and we’re disappointed.

What was that moment for you?

Perhaps your dad was away on business on your birthday one year and he didn’t call.

Or maybe he promised to bring you something and then forgot.

Perhaps he committed an unspeakable shame that your mother forbade you to talk about, even  with your best friend.

Perhaps one day, when you needed him more than ever, he looked the other way.

Or worse, walked out of your life.

Maybe he died before you even got to know him, and all you have of him is a photograph in a tiny frame.

Or maybe you don’t even know who he is.

I believe there’s a place in everyone’s heart set aside for loving a father, and we long for that love, but it doesn’t always look as we expect it to.

My dad was tough, a U.S. Marine, private first class. He fought with the First Marine Division in Korea, where one day a piece of shrapnel sliced through his head like a band saw. The Corps sent him home with a metal plate in his head and a glass eye, and a prediction that he wouldn’t live to 25. He beat the odds, married, fathered nine children, and died at the age of 64 in 1997. Love wasn’t part of his vocabulary.

Still, I know without a doubt that my father loved me, even though he only said it once. I was around 35, and home for Christmas, unaware that it would be the last time I’d see him alive. He mumbled, “luv ya” at the door when we were saying good-bye. I was so surprised I asked him to repeat himself, but he wouldn’t.

If I had measured his love for me according to outward affection, I’d be one hurtin’ puppy. In fact, I remember standing beside his easy-chair every night, waiting for my bedtime kiss. He’d touch his palm to his lips, turn his hand over, and slap me on my forehead. That was love.

Oh, how I despised him sometimes. Many times. He let me down; he let my brothers and sisters down, each one in a different way; and he let my mother down in the worst way. He never read to me. He got himself fired every time we were about to be ok. And he died, way too soon.

Oh, how I loved him. He was a good man. He made us all laugh. He could fix just about anything, and he loved dogs. We joked that he treated his dogs better than he treated his kids, but I challenge my siblings to consider this: he treated us just like his dogs. He wrestled with us, took us out on the water so we could feel the ocean breeze blow through our hair, and he always made sure we were fed. That was love.

Dad and his father

Dad’s own father was more than strict; he’d been hardened by events of World War I and the Depression, and by a secret past he didn’t want anyone to know about. To his children, he was as cold as ice.

So here’s my epiphany: Nobody taught my dad how to “do” fatherhood, so he did the best he could with what he knew. I believe my dad was determined to be what his father was not—warm, funny, and adventurous. He took the good from his dad, too, like a hard-working spirit and a sense of responsibility for family. We often went without, but we were always sheltered and fed (I know Jo, but a tent is shelter). You see, he could do the opposite of his father’s example and he could mimic those traits in his father he admired, but he couldn’t create a picture of what love looked like by watching a man who didn’t love.

I forgave Dad for being human long ago. He gave me my sense of humor, pride for my country, and a special fondness for the ocean. As a parent, I’ve tried to retain the good from his example and forget the rest. I’ve disappointed my sons many times, but I think I’m closer to getting the love part right because I saw into my dad’s heart, to who he wanted to be but didn’t know how. I pray my sons come even closer with their children.

I know now that there’s only one perfect Father, and He has shown us everything we need to know about love. He loved us first so we could watch and learn. I sowish my dad had known Him.

Regardless of where you stand this Fathers’ Day, there’s something you can do to make it a meaningful day:

If you’re angry at your dad, forgive him.

If your father is still here, tell him you love him.

If he’s gone, remember the good things about him.

If your heart is aching because you never knew a father’s love, call to the one true Father. He won’t let you down.

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19