Blair and Shai Linne: Finding My Father
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Artists Blair and Shai Linne know the yawning gaps of living without a dad. Author of Finding My Father, Blair tells her story of fatherlessness.
Blair and Shai Linne: Finding My Father
Blair: I would say, for one, it is so important for you to understand: “Who is your God? Who is this Father who longs to father you?” and spend time in the Scriptures, getting to know Him. You know, He is the One from whom all fatherhood/all the families derived their name—it says in Ephesians 3—that actually/that Scripture was transforming for me. I realized: “Well, wait, fatherhood—it doesn't start with man—it actually begins with God. He's the One who defines fatherhood, because He's the first Father.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So we just had a pretty interesting weekend with celebrating your dad's life.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Dave: You didn't know I was going to bring that up?
Ann: No, I didn't know that's where you were going.
Dave: You’re smiling, like, “Oh, we just went on a vacation.” No, we—yes, talk about that a little bit—talk about your dad.
Ann: We just had my dad's memorial on his birthday, where he would have turned 93. So when you say the word, “dad,” we all have different feelings about that. I have different feelings about that, at different stages of his life and my life—because at the beginning, it was hard—I would have said: “I'm not seen.” But there was a greatness about my dad in that he was always growing and getting better; I get teary, thinking about it.
When he was 92, I was reading part of our book to him about parenting. I read the part, where I first started getting to know my dad—because when I was younger, he didn't really see me or pay attention to me—he stopped when I was reading that; he said, “Hey, I want you to know I'm really sorry for that. I'm sorry I didn't see you; sorry I didn't pay attention to you. I was wrong.”
It's crazy, because when I was growing up, he never once apologized; he thought it was weak to even say those words. I mean, that's/I feel like that's such a great attribute of being able to keep growing and getting better as you get older.
Dave: Yes; today, we get a chance to talk a little bit about the power of a father.
We've got Shai and Blair Linne in the studio today. You've written a book called Finding My Father. But first of all, we want to say, “Thanks for being on FamilyLife Today.”
Blair: Thanks for having us.
Dave: You guys have never been here; right?
Blair: Good to be here, yes.
Ann: We’re excited to have you.
Dave: You know what Ann just said about her dad—he was my high school baseball coach—so I knew him as a, you know, a friend of the Barons. And then, it's funny: he barred me from the house when I went to date her, because—
Ann: —Dave had a very bad reputation. [Laughter]
Blair: Oh, no.
Shai: Really? Wow.
Dave: —don't even go into it—but it was warranted; I should have been barred from the house. But he didn't know I’d just given my life to Christ. But/and again, he was a pretty great father; like Ann said, there were some obviously negatives.
As I read your book, Blair, about Finding My Father, I found my story a lot in your story. But let's talk; let's just—you know, here, first do this—tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do, because I bet I don't even know the half of it.
Blair: Yes; we live in Philadelphia. We've been there almost seven years. I was raised in California. I am a poet—I've been writing poetry since I was nine years old—writing gospel-centered poetry since I became a believer; speaker; Bible teacher. We have three beautiful children: Sage, Maya and Ezra. I have a wonderful husband, who's next to me.
Ann: Wait, and you're an actress?
Blair: Yes; oh, yes.
Dave: “Oh, yes; just now forgot about that part.” [Laughter]
Blair: I did; yes, I have. I started acting when I was nine as well. Actually, it's funny—because once I became a believer, I did wrestle with acting: whether or not I would continue to do it: “Could I honor the Lord with that particular artistic expression?”—I wrestled. Now, I've had a few opportunities to go back into it, just as a believer, and work on some projects with other believers. I'm really excited; I'm excited to explore.
Dave: Now, how did you two meet?
Shai: We met in Long Beach, California. We both were invited to an event, and we kind of met in passing. After that, we kept getting invited to different events around the country: just kind of kept running into each other, and speaking on panels, and things like that. We got invited to the same conference; I got to really see her do her poetry, I think, really live for the first time and was just blown away. I was just blown away by the Christ-centeredness of it and just the passion for the Lord Jesus.
Blair: It is funny; because when I saw Shai, actually, he was teaching on Christ—and just the gospel-centeredness—it struck me so much.
Dave: How many years?—been married?
Blair: Twelve years.
Dave: You know, one of the things that I didn't realize, when Ann and I got married, was my relationship/or sort of a broken relationship with my father—I didn't have any understanding the depth that I was carrying baggage of that into my new marriage—I mean, this is 41 years later: there's still baggage.
Let's hear your story a little bit because I'm guessing you brought some of that, both of you, into your marriage, just like we did.
Blair: Yes; my story is I was raised by a single mother—she raised my sister and I—and moved us to Los Angeles from Michigan when I was three years old.
Dave: What part of Michigan?
Blair: Grand Rapids, Michigan. We struggled. My dad lived in Chicago, so he was thousands of miles away. I would have a relationship with my dad—if you could call it a relationship—it was really phone conversations, maybe a few times each year. There might be some years, where I didn't hear from him; but it was just over the phone.
I remember, as I began to grow older, I just longed for something more: I longed to really know my dad; I wanted to be known by him. Even at nine years old or so, I thought, “I just really want to speak and share with him that his absence is impacting my life in many ways.” At that time, it was only really relationally that I saw. It wasn't until I got older, and realizing, “Wait!”—you know, the struggle with not being able to have much—we moved 25 times, from that first move to Los Angeles, until I was able to get my own apartment.
Dave: Twenty-five times.
Blair: Twenty-five times: so shelters, sleeping over at other people’s homes; you know, my mom just scraping to get by. She really did try to give us the best life that we could [have]—started me acting at nine, and different classes, and getting head shots, and all of these on-camera acting classes, and things—but we were living above our means; we really couldn't afford that.
As I began to get older, I realized: “I really am struggling with my identity. I don't know who I am.” I didn't have my father there to speak life to me. My dad was very kind; so when we did talk over the phone, he would say little things like: “Stars don't need no polish; they always shine.” He would, in his way, try to encourage me; but he was dealing with his own issues and his own things as well.
Ann: So at nine, were you angry that he wasn't there? What were some of the emotions that you faced, even as a young girl?
Blair: Right; I wouldn't say I was angry. It's interesting because, sometimes, when you don’t realize what you [don’t] have—even though there's a loss there you can't really put your finger on; you know, what that means for you—it wasn't until I was really 18 honestly, where I realized, like, “Wait; okay, guys are expressing interest. I don't even know what to look for in a guy,”—you know?—"I don't really know who I am.” I'm struggling in all these ways.
That's when I had my first conversation with him, where I just laid it all out there, and said, “I've been afraid, for almost ten years, to speak to you and share with you that you being absent is impacting me; and I'm really hurt by it.” And he told me/he says, “You know, I've been afraid too. I haven't had my dad in my life—not that that's an excuse—but just like I don't really know what I'm doing, myself.”
I think him expressing his own pain, and his own fears and burdens, it just caused me to say, like, “Oh well, he's just as broken as I am. He's just as needy as I am.” It helped me to see that the very thing that I was trying to get from him, he really didn't have it to give.
Ann: Where was your faith at that time?
Blair: It was only maybe three years later that I actually came to Christ. Someone shared the gospel with me very clearly, and that's when I put my faith and my trust in Jesus for the first time. And then I started to realize: “Well, wait; God can be a Father to me.”
But that came, I think, a little later in that I looked at God almost through the lens, I think, of my pain and brokenness. You know, I was like: “Oh, yes, God has forgiven me. He's—here's God: He's holy—I'm unworthy; He's forgiven me of my sins. Praise be to God!”
But I didn't see: “Well, wait; and He's a loving heavenly Father, who lavishes me with His care and love. And you know, He wants to be this Father to me.” It took me time to get there. It took me really spending time in the Scripture versus looking at it, just through the lens of: “Man, my own dad doesn't seem to really want to have this relationship with me; how could God want this relationship with me?”
Dave: Was that a hard transition? This could be for you—Shai, as well—because I know that we often, and you're talking about it right now—we project onto our heavenly Father what we believe about our earthly father. We don't even know we're doing it.
Mine was always because he [my father] was never there: I struggle with God's presence. You know, people say: “God’s with you.” I'm like, “Hey, what's that mean? I don't/I don't believe you. I read it; I see it—it's true, scripturally—but I don't/I don't sense it.” That was my sort of what I had to get over: “No, the/your heavenly Father really is literally right here.” Was there anything you struggled with in terms of that?
Blair: Not necessarily His presence, no. I think because my background, actually, was quite emotionally based; so it wasn't the emotion—it was the love/it was: “God has pursued you,” “He loves you with an everlasting love,”—it's not based upon anything that you've done; and if you sin, he's not going to snatch it away.
I think, oftentimes, as a child, even when it comes to our earthly father, we center ourselves around, like: “The reason my dad is not here; it must be something wrong with me.
Blair: “I must have done something to disappoint him. Maybe if I fix myself, or get myself together, then he'll stay.” It can kind of send us into this perfectionism and wanting to please.
It was the same way with God—I wanted to please Him, which we should want to please God—but in that works-based way—
Ann: —not to have to perform for His love; yes, yes.
Blair: Exactly; exactly.
Ann: Shai, what about you? What's the story of your dad?
Shai: Yes; I grew up, also, in a single-parent home. My mom raised myself and my older sister. My dad was around periodically, so it was pretty sporadic throughout my youth. Over time, it became a kind of thing, where I would have to pursue him if we were going to interact. I think, as I got older, I began to resent that and to resent him.
By the time I was later in my teens, 17/18, I was angry. I was furious at my father for not being there. I think the older I got, the more I recognized the different deficits and the things that I would have liked to have known but didn't; because I didn't have a dad there to teach me those kinds of things. I had a lot of bitterness and rage towards my dad.
I was also converted as an early adult—so 24 years old; brand-new Christian—the world, just seeing everything through new eyes. I realized, very early on, that I needed to forgive my dad. At that point, we hadn't spoken for a decade; and so I reached out to him one day, as a new believer, and said, “Can we talk?” I went to his house. I think I had built it up in my mind like it was just going to be this kind of climactic moment: we were going to embrace; he was going to ask for forgiveness; I was going to share the gospel; he was going to get saved. There's going to be—
Shai: It would be great.
Ann: “This is good: it’s like a Hallmark® movie.” [Laughter]
Dave: —soundtrack behind it.
Shai: That's right; that's right: Chariots of Fire.
Ann: Ooh, yes. [Laughter]
Shai: But when I met up with him, he was very kind of matter of fact about it. I said, “Why weren't you around?” He said, “You know what? My dad wasn't there when I was growing up, and so I kind of did the same thing,”—basically—“You’ve got to get over it.” After that, I didn't talk to him again for another seven years after that.
Shai: Yes; and so it was just a process of just struggling, trying to/trying to forgive him.
Ann: Were you more angry with him after that?
Shai: No, I wouldn't say I was more angry. I think it was just more/more deflated maybe.
Shai: But seven years later, I was at a coffee shop. There's a guy in front of me, and he turns around; and it's my dad.
Dave: No way! You had no idea?
Shai: I had no idea. Next time I saw him was at my grandmother's funeral; his mom died. We've never been able to connect, relationally, even up to this day. It's been very difficult.
Dave: Is there a deficit you feel still? Or is it something that God’s healed?—or is healing?
Shai: I definitely still feel it.
Shai: So here I am, in my 40s. You know, there's an example—I did an internship at a church in Washington, DC; and I was with the other interns—and we were doing one of the sessions was on budgeting and finances. As the instructor’s kind of going through different things—these are things that I'm hearing for the first time; and I'm in my 30s, and I'm just being blown away—like: “Wow; this is amazing.” I turned to one of my fellow interns; I'm like, “Are you getting this?! This is great.” And he's like, “My dad taught me this when I was a kid.” I was just like, “Aww.”
So even going into marriage, there was a lot of trepidation, just feeling like: “Man, am I even ready for this? There's so much lack, throughout the years.” But God has been really gracious in providing members from our church/our local church to kind of help fill in those gaps.
Shai: One of the things that we did, when we were dating was, we went on basically like a tour/like a couple’s tour, where we go to different couples’ houses, and just find out: “Okay, just talk to us. Tell us everything. What have you been doing? What works; doesn't work.”
Ann: What a great idea.
Shai: Yes; and the church we were at was just really/it was just great. There were so many godly couples that we could glean from, and so that was really helpful for us.
Blair: Yes; I think, sometimes, even when we think about our spiritual adoption, we think about God becoming our Father, but we forget that we have a family in the church as well—that this is what we've been given as believers—it has been a huge blessing to have so many people that we can pull on.
Dave: I mean, based on both of your experiences, what do you say to a person, possibly listening right now—I'm sure a lot, who grew up without a dad, but they had this same experience that you had/I had; and maybe, they're struggling with that deficit—what do you say to them?
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Blair and Shai Linne on FamilyLife Today. Stick around for Blair's answer; you're going to want to hear it.
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Alright; now, back to Blair Linne and what we all need to remember about God, especially those without a good earthly father.
Blair: I would say I think that the Lord does heal us—of course, we're being sanctified—it's a process. I would say, for one, it is so important for you to understand: “Who is your God? Who is this Father, who longs to Father you?” and spend time in the Scriptures, getting to know Him. You know, He is the One from whom all fatherhood/all the families derived their name—it says in Ephesians 3—that actually/that Scripture was transforming for me. I realized: “Well, wait; fatherhood—it doesn't start with man—it actually begins with God. He's the One who defines fatherhood, because He's the first Father.
And so I think spending more time, and seeing: “Okay, when He says, ‘I'll never leave you nor forsake you,’—when He says His promises to you, this is different—it's not the same as the broken promises you may have received from your earthly father.” I think starting there is important.
I think also seeing, Lord willing, that the church would be a refuge to the fatherless. I see so many Scriptures, where God tells us to have a heart for the fatherless. Sometimes, we think of the fatherless as the orphan; but it's like the person who doesn't have their father. There are many—even single parents, you know; or children, who are being raised by single parents—who are right in your pew. Maybe you have had a wonderful father, who's talked to you about many different things; maybe you can pour into that person, who's right there in your pew.
Or if you are the fatherless child, seek out those who—you know, godly men who are around you, or those you see being fathered—like we did and like we're doing, to say, “We don't have this all figured out.” It's not like—okay; it's not the prosperity gospel in the sense of, like, once you come to Christ, your whole life is going to be, you know, ViVa VaVoom: everything is going to be great—it's like: “No, we're working; we're growing in our sanctification. We're becoming more like our Father as days go on.”
And then also knowing forgiveness: it's a process; it takes time; sometimes we have to forgive over and over again—especially, if our parents are still near to us—those wounds can be opened again and again. Sometimes, when we think about forgiveness, we think: “It’s one and done.” No, you need to forgive, again, at times. I think those are a few things that I think of, that might be helpful.
Dave: Anything come to your mind, Shai; because I know that I was in my 30s before I forgave my dad. I think I was in my late 20s when I started the healing process.
Ann: A lot of it was—because I remember him—our kids were playing on the floor; but Dave looked at them and he said, “How could my dad leave me at that age?” And so I think—
Dave: —it began this process. I think a lot of listeners have never started that journey. You both, not only started it—but as I’m sitting here, I think, “Wow, you’ve been through almost a complete healing,”—not that it’s ever complete—but it really is.
Again, I’m thinking of that listener, who’s like: “I’m not there yet.”
Ann: —or “Where do I begin?” But what do you think, Shai?
Shai: I think recognizing the deficit—that it’s there—because I think what we can do is try to paper over it—act like it’s not there; try to deny it—but just to be very honest with ourselves and say: “You know what? It’s there, and it exists. I need to look to the Lord
to begin to heal those wounds.”
Our God is a healer. He knew exactly what He was doing when He placed us in the different family situations that we ended up in. God, in His mercy and in His kindness, desires to be the Father who’s far beyond any earthly father that we could ever imagine.
So ultimately, we have to acknowledge the deficit; look to Him. Prayer is going to be a very big part of this—and just being very honest before God—and just crying out to Him. And ultimately, the healing comes through looking to Christ and trusting in Him.
Blair: And I think that's so beautiful, just to think we can be honest with God. He knows it already; right?
Ann: Isn’t that good?
Blair: We don't have to put on airs; we don't have to pretend. We can be honest; and we can share: “This is how I'm hurting…” “Here's where my pain is…” “This is overwhelming”; you know?—or—“I don't know what to do.”
Ann: —or “I'm angry.”
Blair: —or “I'm angry”; absolutely—or—“I can't forgive right now.”
I think, in our honesty, that's where, when we confess that to the Lord, we find true healing, and help,—
Ann: —and freedom.
Blair: —and freedom; absolutely. It takes away the shame. There can be shame related to not having your dad, you know, and crisis—you know—"I'm [God speaking] taking that away,”—you know, like—“This doesn't have to reside here anymore, because I'm here.”
Shelby: You've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Blair and Shai Linne on FamilyLife Today. Their book is called Finding My Father: How the Gospel Heals the Pain of Fatherlessness. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You ever wonder where that line is between what's constructive criticism and what's actually tearing someone down? Ann Wilson's words feel so relatable to me; she says, “How many times have I used my words to tear Dave down and to destroy him, thinking I was helping him and doing good, when all the time I had this power to influence, to be able to speak life into him?” Wow.
Could your relationship use a shift towards using words to respect and cherish each other? Well, check out our marriage studies at FamilyLifeToday.com; and use the code, “25OFF”; that's 2-5-O-F-F to save today, and beef up your communication; so your marriage becomes more life-giving to both of you.
Now, coming up tomorrow, the weight of Blair Linne’s poor upbringing with her father and family life shaped a lot about her future, which had her asking the question: “How can you make a conscious effort to leave a positive legacy within your own family?” Well, she's going to answer that question tomorrow; we hope you'll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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