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Girl Without Father Counts Her Blessings

My youth group was hundreds of miles from home on a mission trip in New Orleans. We were piled in the van on the way back to the motel when someone yelled out, "I get the pay phone first!"

"Why?" another kid asked. "Who do you need to call?"

"It's Father's Day, dork!" came the reply.

Father's Day. I hadn't thought about that in years. As everyone scrambled for coins and planned out a calling schedule, I stared blankly out the window of the van.

My dad had died from a heart attack when I was 4, and I remembered so little about him. As for Father's Day, it was a holiday I had pretty much pushed out of my mind—until today.

Back at the motel, I wandered around by myself while everyone else scurried for the phones. I felt so sad, and so alone. Sure, I had my mom and my three brothers. But who was I supposed to call today? As the day went on, my sorrow turned into anger. Why did I have to be left out of today's celebration? Why couldn't God have taken someone else, some bad parent? My dad was a good guy. He loved his wife and kids. And just before he died, he had committed his life to Christ. He could have been doing great things for God—if God hadn't taken him away. Away from me.

I thought about all the things I'd missed. I never had a dad to cheer for me at softball games. I had to find a substitute for father-daughter events. By the time the sun set on that Father's Day, I was convinced I had been wronged in a horrible, unforgivable way.

In the days that followed, we spent our mornings putting on a Bible school for the local kids. Then in the afternoon, we volunteered at a youth center. I was still feeling sad and angry, but I kept my feelings to myself, convinced no one would understand anyway.

Working with the little kids during the day wasn't so bad. In fact, there were times it was a lot of fun. But at our nightly Bible study, I tuned out. As my friends shared special moments of each day, lessons God had taught them, I crossed my arms and mentally blocked out their voices. I wasn't in the mood for happy God-talk. I just wanted this mission trip to be over.

And it almost was. With just a few days left, I found myself at the youth center, helping 6-year-old Devin with his craft for the day. By that time we all had our favorite kids. Devin was mine. He had been given a few cruel nicknames by the other kids at the center—"Devin Devil" was the most popular—and it wasn't hard to understand why. He was loud, defiant, and angry. He wore a constant frown. I loved trying to make him laugh, and every once in a while he'd drop the tough guy act just long enough for me to see there was a pretty sweet kid in there somewhere.

"Not quite so much glue," I advised as Devin squeezed what seemed to be half the bottle onto his construction paper. He scowled at me, but put the bottle down. He picked through the pieces of colored tissue paper that were piled in the middle of the table. "Are you gonna be here for a long time, Heather?" he asked suddenly. His words and face were emotionless—he was playing it cool.

"Not really. Just for a few more days," I told him.

"Oh." For a second, he actually looked disappointed. "What do you have to leave for, anyway?"

"I don't live here. I live in Alabama. I have to go home."

"I don't ever want to go home," Devin declared fiercely.

"Why not?"

He picked up a piece of tissue and smooshed it down. "Because no one there loves me." His voice had lost all emotion again.

That was not the answer I was expecting. And I was shocked at the way he said it—like it was no big deal.

"Devin, that's not true."

"Is too."

I started to argue but stopped, remembering what David, the youth center director, had told us. These kids did not lead easy lives. Most were from broken homes. Some were being raised by grandparents because their parents were in jail or had abandoned them. A lot of them saw drug use every day. Who was I to tell Devin that everything was really just fine at his house?

"There are lots of people here who love you," I finally said. "And God loves you an awful lot, too."

He shrugged. He stuck a few more pieces of tissue paper down and then held up his creation. "Look—I made a stained glass window." He grinned from ear to ear. I'd never seen him do that.

"Great job, Dev."

He grabbed a marker, and I watched as he carefully wrote his name across the top of his paper, his knuckles turning white from the effort. And suddenly, I felt terribly ashamed. I had spent so much time that week pouting about what I didn't have that I'd completely forgotten about all the really good things in my life. I was going home to a house full of people who loved me. So maybe one of them wasn't my dad. Right then, my family was looking pretty great.

A couple days later I said goodbye to Devin. He gave me a big hug, looked a little sad, but said he'd only "probably" miss me.

It's been a few years since then, and I still think about Devin.

I pray that someday he'll feel secure in someone's love.

I still think about my dad too, and sometimes it makes me sad to think of all I've missed. But when those moods come, I try to remember Devin and his difficult life. No matter how much I may think I'm missing, there's surely someone out there who would consider me very blessed.

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