I wrote this in the 90s with a heart to minister to those struggling in their marriages. Please feel free to pass this on to anyone this may bless. (And may it bless you too!)
Five Hearts, One Hand
Seven-year-old Caleb spent his Valentine’s Day laboriously cutting hearts for Daddy. He fretted about the junk mail paper he had to use but rejoiced in the red crayon stub he located under the couch cushion just hours before. He traced five hearts, cut them with fumbling fingers, and wrote the best he could. The five hearts, if arranged just the right way, read “I love you Daddy, Caleb.” It’s not that Caleb didn’t love his Mommy. On the contrary, his Mommy was the center of his universe, but he possessed an inner link with his Daddy, a churning pool of admiration, awe, and devotion.
Caleb’s favorite place to be at 5:30 each evening was their six-paned picture window. He was tall enough to reach the lower left square, so he often would smudge his nose and lips to that pane, straining his eyes to see his Daddy drive up. Daddy would drop his lunchbox and twirl Caleb around with echoes of Mommy’s “David, don’t get him all wound up before dinner. He’ll get sick!”
But since this was a special day, Caleb asked Mommy if he could please borrow the scotch tape. He promised he wouldn’t pull it out long like the time he wanted to make the finish line for his matchbox races. She relented and instead gave him five pieces of tape. He fixed each heart on a pane of the six-paned window, leaving the bottom left corner open for his head to peer curiously through.
So Caleb waited. He pressed his right hand against the window pane, feeling its February cold. He tried to count as high as he could, thinking that when he reached “73” Daddy would be pulling in. Daddy didn’t come home. Mommy pulled Caleb very close. Her tears wet the top of his blond head as she held him fiercely. In stuttered speech, she recounted the unthinkable words, trying to translate the complexities of adult sorrows to the language of children. “I just found a note from Daddy. He says he needs some time away from us for awhile.”
“When’s he coming back?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“But, when? Tomorrow?”
“I…. I hope Daddy comes soon, but I don’t think he will for a long, long time. I am sorry. I am so sorry.”
Caleb crumpled into a heap at first, balling his fists into his eyes. Minutes passed. He abruptly stiffened his tired neck and let rage fill his body. He grabbed the five carefully cut hearts, and ripped them to pieces, leaving them in a heap below the picture window. Late that night, when sleep eluded him, he went back to the window. He pressed his hand as tight as he could to his window pane, as if his earnest pressing would usher Daddy home.
Only then did he notice something strange about the scene beneath him. Where did the torn hearts go? He scanned the floor in vain, only to be interrupted by Mommy’s soft voice. “Caleb, come here.”
Caleb found her at the kitchen table, heart fragments peppering the checkered cloth. She methodically taped the hearts back together and looked at Caleb. “Remember the Bible story of Caleb and Joshua?”
Caleb nodded. “Aren’t they the ones who wanted to go to the Promised Land, but their ten friends were too scared?”
“Yes, that’s right! Tonight, I want you to remember why we named you Caleb. If you hold on to Jesus’ hand and try not to be afraid, God will bring you to the Promised Land. Someday, you may have a family of your own and Jesus will help you to be a courageous father. Daddy may have left you, but your Heavenly Daddy will not. He will make your broken heart whole if you let Him.” Mommy handed him the stack of taped hearts, rose from her chair and padded to her bedroom. In the dim light, he saw that she had placed the repaired “Caleb” heart atop the pile.
Years passed since the paper hearts were mended. Daddy never came back. Mommy bathed Caleb’s life in prayer. Even so, as a young man, Caleb ran from God. The tiny hand that once pressed against the window was replaced by a clenched fist. In college, he reasoned, Yeah, right. God really cares. If He did, He would’ve brought good ol’ Dad back. He wouldn’t let Mom suffer so. If there even is a God, I want nothing to do with Him. Impersonal. Arbitrary. A lot of good that God did for Mom. I can do just fine without Him.
But one day in Literature class, Anna caught Caleb’s eye. They courted. She told him more times than he cared for that she loved Jesus. He pretended to listen to sermons by the faceless minister on their “dates” to church. I’ll do anything, just to get her, he thought. A few months later, nervously fidgeting in a tux, he stuttered out his vows to his beautiful Anna and began his new life. Anna and Caleb found themselves the happy parents of blonde-headed Ellie soon after. After Elile’s toddling gave way to measured steps, Caleb saw his little girl waiting for him each evening at the picture window of their yellow home, her face radiating from within. Instinctively, he dropped his lunchbox, grabbed her tightly and swung her around while Anna protested. “Caleb, don’t get her wound up before dinner. She’ll get sick.”
But there was a day, a day that turned into weeks, then months, where the pressures of life seemed to stifle the very breath in him. Conflicts tore at their family, and he felt trapped. His paycheck was just not enough, and the bill collectors kept calling. He drudged through the monotony of work and dreamed of a different life. Anna seemed to need a part of him that did not exist; she would insist that he share his day, yet his words had been spent on proposals and presentations hours before. Although Caleb loved Anna deeply, he hated her relentless need of him. Arguments ensued over those days that turned to months.
Instead of expressing his despair, he buried his feelings as far down as he could, but even that did not stem the roaring torrent inside. He flirted with co workers, but that left him feeling guilty. He drank occasionally, trying to hide it. So much had been stuffed inside that his rage lived barely beneath the surface, seeping out in trivial matters, slowly poisoning his fragile relationship with Anna and little Ellie.
Driving home from work one day, He directed his anger to God, “God, I don’t suppose you remember me. I’m not much for words. Mom’s the one who prays, after all. This marriage is impossible. I can’t see how even You can make it better. Anna does not deserve me, and I can’t be what she needs. I have failed. Are you happy? Learning that I can’t do it on my own, I suppose, is Your lesson for me. Well, I learned it. And I am wiser now. Life doesn’t make sense. The pain I feel inside won’t leave and now I am subjecting my family to it. I can’t put them through my tirades anymore. So, please forgive me, but I am leaving. Anna and Ellie will be better off without me.”
He intended to drive past his home one last time. He stopped the car at his mailbox and reached inside, half hoping his recent photos had been developed so at least he could remember the faces of his family. There was one parcel addressed to him in his mom’s shaky handwriting. Another letter about her arthritis, I suppose, he mused. He ripped the side of the envelope, expecting a letter. Instead, five tattered and taped hearts fell into Caleb’s lap . In an instant, Valentine’s Day returned to him, and he wept. Time stood as a halo of holy light engulfed the heaving man. Caleb grabbed the hearts, held them tightly to his own, and left his car idling at the end of the driveway. He ran to the Promised Land, cleverly disguised as a yellow house, with the tiny hand of a toe headed girl pressed firmly against its front picture window.