The Heart of the Matter

Guest Blogger:  Dea Braaten 

I have a complicated and slightly neurotic approach to the third Sunday in June. To say I have daddy issues is what I consider to be a vast understatement in regard to Father’s Day. When the elders looked at our blog calendar, it seemed only natural to have me write this week’s introduction to weekend services. After all, that, my friends is how we grow. We confront the things that make us uncomfortable, and we lean into God in ways that allow HIM to be glorified even when it hurts. So here I am putting to paper the issues that nearly consumed me and writing about my own triumph over deep sadness and loss. I know it is only by the grace and mercy of our mighty Yahweh-Rapha that I am able to truly say GOD in His mercy and righteous nature bestowed upon me a supernatural blessing of a forgiving heart.

Early on a Saturday morning my foster father Terry Joe Carlson lost his battle with leukemia. He died in a hospice bed in the living room of his home. He was surrounded by people who loved him most in this world. During the last days of his life he said things to me that I will always hold dear to my heart.  

Dea’s foster father, Terry and her oldest son, Chase.

When he took his last breath, in that moment I believed I would cry every day for the rest of my life. He had been my father for almost a decade, and all I wanted was more time with him. I had taken off my watch the last week of his life in a foolish attempt to slow down time. And yet, time continued. The man who had opened his home to me was gone. Although I wasn’t a believer, I did have a seeker’s heart. Matthew 11:28 says “come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Despite being lost and broken and having the proverbial rug ripped out from under my feet, I was also a young wife and mother. I found that I just had to deal with the hand I was given and would be a broken-hearted daughter who was untethered, hopeless, and fatherless the day before Father’s Day.

Dea’s foster father, Terry and her oldest son, Chase.

I hadn’t always been fatherless. In fact, over the course of the last few years I discovered I was like the character Sophie in the Meryl Streep movieMamma Mia! I had three possibilities for the role of father in my life. In recent months, I have named my neurotic notions The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (queue spaghetti western-themed music). The good dad is my notion that a father wants all the right things for his child and knows how to give good gifts. The one who if he knew about me would move heaven and earth to make his way to “rescue” his precious daughter. My idea of this man is one who is both sacrificing and loving and strong and brave. This man who not only hates injustice but does his part to defeat it in any way he can (within the limits of the law). The one who embraces his role of father and nearly every choice he makes is one that is measured against the lens of Scripture. The father that will raise his children in ways that honor God so when they are old they will not depart from it(Proverbs 22:8).

By contrast, since I fashioned the idea of a good dad, then it stands to reason that I conceptualize the bad dad. The bad dad idea is the type of dad that is distant, removed, preoccupied—the one that puts his own needs and desires above his family. This dad squanders his abundant blessings of family. He does not intend the harm he causes, and yet he does not cherish fatherhood as an honorable pursuit. The good and the bad can be two sides of the same coin. They are the potential, the beginnings, the foundation of who a man makes a choice to become the moment he takes on the role of father. 2 Timothy 1:7says “for the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self discipline.” To be a man of integrity and character is not for the faint of heart. The reality is I was not raised by either of these ideas of the good or the bad. I was raised by The Ugly.

Ugliness is the epitome of the father I had known the longest in my life. This father is the one that like the enemy, prowls around like a roaring lion looking to devour. This enemy destroys and hurts and robs and breaks hearts. This is the father that tortures psyches and steals innocence.The Ugly dad is the antagonist in every good versus evil scenario. This Ugly brings with him chaos and destruction. He is the father behind the staggering statistics of childhood abuse. The reason in which little girls are removed from their homes by detectives on June mornings. The father in which forgiveness is reluctantly given—eventually—but given nonetheless, so that peace is paramount, not anxiety, brokenness, and despair. This supernatural approach to forgiveness can only come from our sovereign God in Heaven. A human heart in my experience can only forgive because the cross teaches me the hard lesson of forgiveness.

The ugly earthly father with all his flaws and demons set me on a course that would ultimately bring me into the home of Terry Joe Carlson, an earthly father of flesh and blood. Terry and his wife would embrace me and call me daughter. Terry and Launa would begin to heal in me my deep-rooted sadness through love and humor. They modeled healthy boundaries and discipline. I am a slow learner, and there were definitely pitfalls in the process in which I could discover what it means to be loved by a doting parent. I made quite a few false steps that were riddled with consequences, but no matter how far I veered to the left or right, I could come back to center because my foster father fostered in me the desire to live a life that is good. And in giving me the idea of good, how could I not find myself pointed in the direction of the Gospel?

God, in HIS mercy pursued me and introduced me to HIS Son. Jesus did not come for the healthy; He came for the sick. He came for me so that I may live! God in HIS divine nature gave us the gift of the Son so that we may not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Jesus came so we may have life in abundance (John 10:10). I am healed from my broken heart. I am a new creation in Christ. I know who my Father in Heaven is, and He calls me His. I am redeemed. There is power in fixing your eyes on Jesus and overcoming the things of this life that seek to destroy you. There is hope and a future for us because God made a way with Jesus.

Over the course of this last year, my daddy issues, though not completely resolved, are greatly simplified. I discovered I am the biological daughter of Jesse Bryant, a man my mother mentioned by name on my 25th birthday. Through the wonder of spit in a test tube, I connected with family and visited the Mississippi cemetery where Jesse has been for almost fifteen years—that is a blog for another day. But in that chapter of self-discovery, I have learned God gives and He takes away. But in all things there is forgiveness, and that is the heart of the matter.