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Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail
Author: Margot Starbuck
IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press
Many of us can identify with the feeling of being orphaned, to at least some degree. Whether one or both of our parents have died, or we were given up for adoption as infants, or we have simply left home, thus declaring ourselves independent of our fathers and mothers, most of us have, at some point in our lives, been parentless, felt lonely, and perhaps been rejected and abandoned. In her engaging memoir, The Girl in the Orange Dress: Searching for a Father Who Does Not Fail, Margot Starbuck describes her own particular experience of these universal feelings and desires, and her personal quest for a father, for belonging, and for an understanding of her identity as a child of God.
Starbuck relates her experiences as an adopted child with bracing honesty, a certain amount of self-deprecating humor, and ultimately a wisdom that comes from years of searching and questioning. Even though her adoptive father was an alcoholic who left her family, and her stepfather was also an alcoholic, as a young person, Starbuck never considered herself personally affected by the negative circumstances of her life. In her mind “being relinquished by the parents who had borne me had left me completely unscathed because I had two – and then three, and four, then three again, and eventually the original two – parents who loved me. I had not been affected by living in a home with domestic violence because I had never personally been physically hurt. I hadn’t really experienced my adoptive father’s alcoholism because I’d been so young when we shared a home and because my mom had sheltered me from it. I certainly wasn’t like those kids who are scarred by their parents’ divorce, either, because my own parents had behaved so civilly. I was not affected by my mother’s divorce from my stepfather that year because, after all, it wasn’t like he was my real dad” (26). In college, Starbuck attended meetings for the children of alcoholics, telling herself she was going as a support for a friend, unable to admit even then how much she had been hurt by her own alcoholic parents.
Finally, after years of people-pleasing and pasting on a smile like her childhood hero, Little Orphan Annie, Starbuck engages on a quest for a connection with her birth parents. The rejection she ultimately suffers from her birth father haunts Starbuck and causes her to question the very foundation of her faith. Far from the blithely unconcerned young woman who refused to consider herself wounded by her childhood experiences, Starbuck finds herself at thirty-four, completely devastated by the realization that “No one wanted me to be born. That’s not to say that anyone tried to thwart my arrival. No one did. But at my birth no one had been delighted. No one had rejoiced. No one had been insanely giddy that I had finally made my way into the world. No one had strapped me securely to their back, tightly bound in a leather papoose, to proudly parade me around the village. I was tribeless” (171).
These revelations, combined with crippling and unrelenting physical pain in her feet, cause her to question God himself. Starbuck relates a conversation she had with God out of the depths of her depression: “Why am I in so much pain? Why won’t this end? What sort of meanie Father God are you, anyway?" And there it was. The string of questions that began with me, me, me always ended up with you, you, you! The deep conflict in my bones, that I had assumed I’d known the answer to but had never dared to ask, was: "Are you like this string of human fathers I’ve experienced, or are you something else? Because, quite frankly, I’m not seeing how you’re very different.” (158, 9).
Thankfully, joyfully, Starbuck comes to understand her Heavenly Father as the only one in her life who can completely say, “Margot, I am for you” and that he reveals his care for her through his Body, the Church (for Starbuck, “the Tribe”). “My angry, clenched fist now released, I found in my palm the key to home. It was cross-shaped, the place where all absence had been redeemed. Of course. This was the One who chose to empty himself in order to be completely for me. A fatherly voice assured me: ‘It’s what I do. It’s who I am. I do not seek my own life at your expense. I’m completely for you.’” (182).
Just as many of us can identify with the experience of feeling orphaned, we all have a Heavenly Father who is speaking the same words of assurance and acceptance to us today. While her story of longing and fulfillment is a universal one, I think Starbuck’s book will be especially appealing to female readers. This would be an ideal selection for a book club or women’s small group, who would enjoy the lighthearted moments of the story, as well as Starbuck’s serious message. She tells her story with a grace and transparency that draws her readers in, helping them to recognize their own need for an unfailing Father who is for them.