Monday, June 22, 2015

The Wood's Edge by Lori Benton: a Father's Day devotional

As a tribute for Father's Day, I thought I'd go back to one of my favorite novels of the year, The Wood's Edge by Lori Benton. (Yes, the year is only half over, but I know a masterpiece when I read it). 

As the author mentions in the dedication, this book ended up having much to do with fathers, including birth and adoptive fathers, as well as our Heavenly Father. It tells a poignant tale of a father's love for his children, imperfect though our human fathers' love may be.

Benton's story begins when two women give birth in a British fort amidst battle during the French and Indian War - the wife of Major Aubrey to a dead son, and Good Voice, the Indian captive, to twin sons, one white and the other dark. In a rash moment of grief and love, the major steals the fair twin and leaves his dead son in its place, sparking a wildfire of grief and guilt to wrack two families for decades. Aubrey serves as an adoptive father not only for his abducted son, but for a young, orphaned girl he rescued in the midst of battle. He feels that rescuing Anna was the one truly right thing he's done in his life, thus he shares a very close relationship with her. On the other hand, his son William is a constant reminder of the worst deed he ever committed, and the guilt constantly eats away at him, holding him back from embracing William as he should. The guilt taints all his relationships, including that with his wife and close family friend Lydia, and as a result, he holds himself aloof in spite of his love. To top it off, he is not allowed to grieve the death of his beloved little son, because in the eyes of the world, his son lives.

While Good Voice, the mother of the twins, is anguished in the abduction of her son, her husband, Stone Thrower, is eaten by hate and thirst for vengeance. I think some guilt plagues him too - he was unable to protect his wife and save her from being carried away to the British fort where all the problems began. Good Voice initially demands vengeance, wanting her son back, and he takes up the cause. But as years of failure pass, he falls into alcoholism, thirsting for revenge and strong drink, while she grieves and forgives. The obsession with finding his abducted son causes him to neglect the child that remains, and the love he feels is frequently buried under hate and demon-rum.

Both sons feel unloved by their fathers. And I have to say, their fathers are not prime examples of loving dads. And yet, their fathers are real examples of dads - imperfect men who have made mistakes, whose imperfections sometimes bring out other emotions that mask the love they feel. Whose pasts cast a shadow over the present, shadowing their love also. Dads that could be ours.

The only perfect father in the story is God the Father, and He's the only perfect father we'll ever see too. While His children - be they thieves, abusive, self-destructive, alcoholic, or neglectful - make foolish choices, hurting each other and themselves, He loves them still, showing that love by using His hand to work the heartbreaking circumstances for their good. As Romans 8:28 says: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Thankfully, that promise does not expire when we - or our fathers - make mistakes.

Given the various examples of fatherhood expressed in the story, it begs us to look past the places where our own fathers have erred - all the foolish, destructive things they may have done - and see the love instead, even when they have a hard time expressing it in a loving manner. Recognize that love before it's too late, and love them regardless.

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