Liz could tell that her child’s tears were distracting the pastor. She leaned over her daughter’s ducked head and shushed her, whispering, “Almost done, baby. Hang in there.”
Coming had been a mistake. She knew it as soon as she walked in the door that Father’s Day morning, but strode stoically to their usual pew. Her three children crowded around her, not running the aisles before service as usual, but quiet, subdued, made skittish by the morning.
They’d all done well through the song service. Liz could feel Pastor Ray’s eyes on them, but made a point never to look his direction. The day was painful enough without acknowledging it to anyone.
When he stood to speak her eldest, only eight, began to shift, anticipating the words to come; words about being a father, about striving to make the family stronger—words about things so painfully missing from their lives.
As the sermon progressed so did Lynn’s inability to sit quietly. At first she sniffed and rubbed away silent tears, but as the minutes ticked away her soft sighs became sobs and then stifled hiccups.
Liz glanced at her watch. Fifteen minutes, if Pastor Ray ended on time. And when was the last time that happened? Liz thought.
She whispered at C.J. and Mary to follow her, grabbed Lynn into her arms and stood. Why, she wondered as she tried to maneuver Lynn’s long legs past the people sitting beside her, had they sat so near the front? She lost her hold on her daughter as Lynn shifted to bury her head in her mother’s neck and stumbled over someone’s purse. She clung to Lynn, felt C.J.’s little hand grab at the back of her dress, and became horribly aware of every eye in the church on her.
“Stop,” Pastor Ray said. “Please, stop.”
Liz froze awkwardly in mid-stride, hymnals pushed into her leg on one side, Mrs. McClarren’s knees pressed into her on the other. She looked at Pastor Ray for the first time that morning, only half sure he was even speaking to her.
He looked at her, his eyes so full of compassion and sympathy that she nearly burst into tears. “Sit back down, please, Liz. Kids, go back to your seats for just a minute and sit back down.”
Liz tried to move forward but Mrs. McClarren touched her arm and whispered, “No, child.” Liz blinked away tears and went back to her seat.
Pastor Ray looked over his congregation, glanced down at his notes and stepped away from the podium. “We have four families in our midst who need us now, more than ever. They’ve lost fathers this year. They’ve been on my heart all week…longer than that. Combined there are ten children in these families. Two were effected by divorce, one by a horrible traffic accident in which they lost not only their dad, but their granddad, as well, and one family whose father was killed in Iraq just last month. I came here this morning with my heart broken for these families.” Ray looked from Liz to three other spots in the sanctuary, places Liz knew to be occupied by the other single moms.
“We desperately need to step up now, men. We are commanded by God to be involved in these families—to act on His behalf as He becomes the Father to the fatherless. I don’t know that we’ve done that, men. I don’t know that we’ve offered our skills to these women as they struggle with household or auto repairs. I wonder which of us has gone to just one football game, taken one of these young boys into our arms and hugged them in congratulations or comfort. Which of us have gone to one of these girls and offered fatherly conversation? I have to wonder if we’re not dropping the ball. Surely in all of our time—168 hours every week—we can find an hour or two for these hurting families. And, gentlemen, with as many men as we have in our congregation, that’s all it would take.”
Liz didn’t hear the rest of the sermon. She sat with her three children, Mr. McClarren’s arm around her shoulder. She and Lynn cried some, but she didn’t worry about her tears bothering the people around her again.
She left church that morning feeling hopeful for the first time in weeks, and two things happened. The men in her church became her brothers, and her pastor became her hero.
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