I Can Only Imagine … A Father’s Love

By: Mary Ellen Collins

Last Friday, I saw the movie, I Can Only Imagine. In case you haven’t seen it, go. Highly recommend it. It is a story of the lead singer of MercyMe, Bart Millard. Based on the incredible true-life story that inspired the beloved, chart-topping song, I Can Only Imagine is a song that brings ultimate hope to so many – often in the midst of life’s most challenging moments. Amazingly, the song was written in mere minutes by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard. In reality, those lyrics took a lifetime to craft. The movie vividly displays the abandonment from his mother and the anger directed at him by his father. It is a journey to forgiveness.

This movie triggered a plethora of emotions in me. I think I cried throughout the entire movie.  Of course, no Kleenex, only a sweater to wipe away my tears. But why was I triggered? I know that whenever your emotional response is greater than the situation, it is unresolved loss that is the culprit.

I realized that I was not reacting to mother loss but to my own father loss. My father left me when I was 10 years old. He chose another wife and another family. I was not his special daughter. I was only a reason he had to pay child support.

All during my teenage years, I resented him. He was never a part of my life. I lived out the psychological drama of loss by being the girl in high school that every boy wanted to date. I played hard to get. Then, I would make them fall in love with me, only so I could drop them like a hot potato. I cannot remember how many young men I crushed, but I did it with a vengeance. Now I know what I did was hurting my father, over and over, and over again.

At 15, my mother died of cancer. When I asked the doctor, “What causes cancer?” His response was, “We don’t know, but we think it happens when there is an emotional trauma” – another reason to hate my father.  I knew the person who had killed her – my father.

I went through all of my teenage and young adult years hating the man who had helped to bring me into this world. I took every opportunity to wound him as I had been wounded. Like the time he showed up for my high school graduation and I told him he could not come. He was not invited.

I became an Emergency Room nurse. One evening, my dad appeared spitting up blood, coupled with shortness of breath – not a good sign. My training told me it was one of the three T’s – tumor, trauma, or TB. No doubt it was a tumor. He was admitted to the hospital.

I gathered up the courage to visit him in his hospital room, not knowing why or what I would say or do. When I opened the door, I was greeted with, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Not a hello, not I have missed you, not I love you, all the words I wanted to hear. My responses were, “I want answers. I want to know why?  You’ve got some explaining to do.” Silence. Silence. Then the tears. Through the tears he said, “I’m sorry” and out spilled all the emotions he had pent up inside of him. He told me about his childhood, he talked about his behavior and how it was wrong. He told me about his regrets. He told me, “I love you.”

Two hours later, the bitter poison I had swallowed was reversed. I had new insights. New empathy. New wisdom. It was not my fault. I forgave him, and it turned out I was set free.

In three short months, he was gone. During those months, I was given the opportunity to care for him and I did this with love. Like Bart in the movie, I saw God work in my dad and in turn, in me. The hard edge was gone. God has used me and my experience as he did with Bart.

I can only imagine – my father loved me. 

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