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It’s such an annoying, benign little thing. There’s a dark smear of black mascara on the light gray ceiling of my new car, about an inch and a half long, near the visor mirror on the passenger side. The smudge is compliments of my 20-year-old daughter, from a hastily completed makeup application session on the way to church service one Sunday morning.

I recall how angry I was at her for tarnishing my car interior. And I didn’t realize that mascara was one of the most difficult substances to remove from cloth. She may as well have smeared old motor oil on it; it would have been just as bad. “I’m sorry, Dad. I promise I’ll clean it,” she replied.

Some weeks passed, and the smear stayed there. But she was nowhere to be found. No doubt, in the whirlwind that is called her life, she simply forgot about it. But every morning getting into my vehicle to commute to work or wherever my travels took me, I spotted it. I take pride in keeping my car, interior and exterior, as pristine as I can. I open the door, put the keys in the ignition, buckle up and there it is. I try very hard not to notice it. But then I spot it again. That dirty black smudge.

But this morning, it was very different. This morning, it suddenly reminded me of the incredible blessing my daughter has been to me. How in the world did she ever get from diapers to mascara? Now I realize I have enjoyed a truly wonderful life with my daughter. She has provided so much laughter and love to her mother and me that, in my own routine of life, I sometimes overlook and underappreciate all she has become.

Tenacious, fearless, confident, joyful and warmly tender all at the same time.  A little rosebud, a sweetheart, God’s precious treasure that I once held in my arms. Memories of that cute, little, pig-tailed soccer player; the high school social butterfly, blossoming into that trustworthy and loving friend to her peers.  Mission trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with a heart fully embracing and encouraging the forlorn. Seeking out and cherishing all the goodness that she can find in folks. Cultivating that artistic, creative genius that she is.

Learning together with me at every age, in every situation, at every event, above all that our relationship as a dad and daughter is what mattered most. That is her.

Yet there is one more thing. And as her father, I have fought this feeling for a long, long time. I knew it was eventually coming; she’s no longer my little girl. She’s a grown woman, holding down a job, studying as a full-time university student, anxiously pursuing her career path. Five years ago, she met the man of our prayers and is now engaged to be married. The reality of it is that she’ll soon move on from being mine, to being his. Things will change dramatically for both of us when it happens, but as her father I expected this.

Of course it doesn’t make it any easier; it will be hard to let her go. She will marry, take a wonderful husband who will sacrificially love her and move 3,000 miles away. But what’s most important and reassuring to me is that I can be at peace and have incredible joy because my daughter and I have enjoyed a lifetime of unconditional love and have never taken each other for granted. I know it will always be that way. This is that special bond that fathers and daughters have, regardless of the physical distance between them.

I found some cleaning solution and rags on the garage shelf. But on second thought, I think I’ll leave that mascara smudge there for just a while longer. You know, it really doesn’t look so bad after all.