I’ve heard a lot of pastors say over the years, “Whatever your experience with your father was, has a lot to do with how you imagine God to be.” I one hundred percent believe that. You see, I’ve never met my real father. In fact, I don’t even know what he looks like. All I know is that I’m half-Persian, and that he was sent back to Iran because he was here on a student visa and didn’t pass his classes. When my mother told him she was pregnant with me, he dismissed her. The way the story was relayed to me, my grandparents took it personally that their daughter was pregnant out of wedlock. However, once they got over the initial shock, they took us in and made sure I had a nice childhood.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite enough to keep me from feeling out of place. When I was younger and I would see other kids with a complete set of parents, it really hurt. I imagined having a father that I called “Daddy”, who wanted to play with me, grab me up and swing me high in the air, hug me when I cried, and tell me I was the most beautiful girl on the planet.  Instead, I felt judged because my family was “out of balance.”  I felt that way for many years in my small, northeast Texas town.

And then I began to imagine that God was judging me as well. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever publicly admitted that I imagined God in a black judge’s robe for most of my life.

When I saw this image, all of the above came rushing back. However, those tears were happy tears, too, because this is the father I imagine. This is the father I know. This is the father that sends us out into the world to play, but grabs us up in His arms with a warm smile when we come back to Him, and when it’s time to come home. We make Him smile, but He hurts when we hurt, and He’s more than happy to kiss the boo-boos and hurts and make the monsters under the bed go away—if we let Him. He also loves doing things for us—if we let Him. Matthew 6:26 says, Look at the birds of the air; they do not so or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (NIV)

You better believe you are.

Most important of all, He loves me, and He loves YOU. He loves everyone—even the people we don’t like.

I know all of these things now. For a long time I didn’t. I’ll bet there are some of you out there that feel the way I used to. I really hope you don’t, because I know how much that hurts. But if you do, you may be thinking, “How can she possibly know that? How did that happen for her?”

I had to get to know Him. I had to start talking to Him. I had to start reading His word and getting into it so I could see who He was (kind, gentle, happy to hear from me, wanting the best for me), and who He was not (old guy in a black judge’s robe). It may sound crazy to you, but I often imagine Him giving me big hugs and that makes me happy. I think it makes Him happy, too.

You may be thinking, “I’m too broken, I’ve messed up too much, I’ve done this, I’m not that, insert-flaw-of-your-choice-here…” Let me tell you something: He already knew that and He still loves you.

Let me tell you something else: I know how hard it is to change those beliefs if you’ve had them for a long time. But here’s something else I do: I have a list of bible verses taped to my bathroom mirror that are a daily reminder of my identity in Christ. Whenever I’m in front of the mirror, I have a long list of verses to look at that remind me who my Father is, and that He loves me. I’d like to share some of those with you:

Genesis 1:27--I am created in His image

Galatians 4:9—I am known by God

Ephesians 1:6—I am accepted

Romans 8:16—I am God’s child

1 John 5:4—I am born of God

Psalm 18:19—I am His great delight

Revelations 4:11—I am His pleasure

That’s not even scratching the surface of how true your identity is in Christ. If this is something you’ve struggled with or are struggling with, please know I’m praying for you. If you’re hurting, know that someone else knows how that feels. More importantly, know that God is with you and loves you through all of this—if you let Him.

When we sing “No Longer Slaves” during worship, there is a line, “I am surrounded/by the arms of the Father…”  I am. You are. The very last line of the song is, “I am a child of God.”

I am. And so are you.