The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
– John 1:5
My perfectionism and desire to be “good” all too quickly carried over into my newfound Christian faith. I couldn’t have put words to it at the time, but looking back, being good still equaled being loved. Instead of understanding my identity and worth through my academic success and in how nice I could be to others, I now had another arena in which I could strive for achievement. I wanted to do everything right; read all of the popular Christian books, serve early on Sunday mornings, show gratitude and kindness in all situations. The problem was that my attitude and actions were not coming from a place of love, but instead they were coming from a place of fear. Now that I had glimpsed a life of being loved by God and tasted a moment of freedom in Christ, I became terrified of Him taking His love away. I didn’t want to be abandoned again, and I did everything I could to try and prove to God that I was worthy of His love.
I didn’t trust God. I didn’t really believe that He was good, or at least that He would be good to me. For many years it made sense that He would love others unconditionally, but not that He would love me like that. My faith wasn’t about Jesus, it was still about me. For the better part of the next decade, I would slowly surrender parts of my heart to Him. Sometimes fear would creep in and I would reclaim the pieces, only to have my Father gently loosen my grip and take back what only He could breathe life and beauty into. The piece I clung to the longest was the place in my heart that wanted validation from men. Regardless of how strong my faith felt in other areas, I couldn’t seem to align my mind and heart with the reality that I could trust God’s love to be enough. It still breaks my heart when I think about the ways I would chase validation and affirmation from crushes and boyfriends, compromising the faith I professed and inevitably resulting in a string of broken relationships and a heart often filled with deep disappointment.
My faith wasn’t about Jesus, it was still about me.
I can look back now and see God so specifically and patiently reminding me of His faithfulness and love when I was struggling to trust Him with my whole heart. I spent most of the summer after high school graduation in Sri Lanka on a mission trip. A devastating tsunami had hit southeastern Asia six months before, and the goal of our trip was to help rebuild fallen homes and schools while sharing the healing hope of Jesus with families that were displaced and distressed. Prior to this trip, I had never prayed aloud with or for anyone, and was unfamiliar with the concept of Spiritual warfare. I was introduced to brothers and sisters in Christ that taught me what daily dependence on God looked like, and I learned that my Father was way bigger than I had ever imagined – I had family members on the other side of the world, and the church being the body of Christ started to make sense to me. It was quite miraculous that I was even on that trip, and it brings tears to my eyes when I think about the ways that God was working and weaving together the blessing of that summer long before I was kneeling next to my dad and crying out for a Father from a hospital room in east Texas.
My dad was in construction and had become a co-owner at the small company he worked for a few years before he passed away. The one thing that my dad never neglected was his work, and regardless of his mental or physical state, he would do or take whatever substances he needed to in order to get his work done. Shortly before my mom and I moved to Oregon, my dad was heading up a large contract-project that involved the construction of a campus for a youth ministry and missions organization. I would visit the work-site with him when I was in town to see him during Christmas Break and Spring Break of my 6th grade year. We would spend hours there every day of the week, but I didn’t mind. The people there were quick to smile and say hello, and seemed to be filled with a real joy and light that felt familiar after living with my uncle.
I first met the founder of the organization when I sat in on a quick meeting he had with my dad about the progress of the construction. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I saw his face again as a senior in high school it would change my heart forever. I was up late watching a local TV program and there was a segment on about youth culture and Christianity. I immediately recognized him when he came on the screen, and I was overwhelmed with emotion. He might have been the only Christian man that my dad ever knew, and they spent countless hours together during the months leading up to my dad’s accident. For the first time, God gave me peace about the death of my dad, and even hope that he was given a chance to witness a man truly walking in the freedom and forgiveness of Christ while he was still on this earth. Praise Jesus! I jumped on the computer and sent messages to every single one of the email addresses listed on the organization’s website. I wanted to let the founder know that I met him as a child when he worked with my dad, and that I was a Christian now too and just wanted to thank him for being a light in my dad’s life, whether he knew he had been or not.
A couple weeks later I received a large package in the mail with a letter from the founder I had written to. He thanked me for my email and for sharing my story, and said he remembered my dad very well. He said he believed God had put it on my heart to reach out to him, and that he would be honored to have me join one of the organization’s upcoming mission trips. I flipped through the pages of the pamphlets and selected the longest trip with the highest Spiritual and physical difficulty rating. The Sri Lanka trip was also one of the most expensive due to the amount of weeks we would be overseas. After my dad’s estate was settled I ended up receiving a little less than $20,000 that would be accessible on my eighteenth birthday, which had passed a few weeks prior. My trip was already paid for.
The incredible irony and beauty of the situation continues to bring me to my knees. My Father called me to go on this trip, and then provided everything I would need in a way that softened my heart towards my dad and made me feel loved and taken care of. My mom dropped me off at the campus that summer and I got to worship my sweet Savior in the same room I stood in with my dad seven years before, in a building that he designed and constructed. I returned from that trip to my mom who had accepted the love and forgiveness of Jesus while I was gone. Since that time, God has blessed us with a closeness in the Holy Spirit and a journey of faith that continues to overlap. Although my lovely mom is far wiser and more humble than I am, our paths of seeking and discovering truth will forever be entwined.
The incredible irony and beauty of the situation continues to bring me to my knees.
I couldn’t imagine that exactly 10 years later in the same mid-July heat of Texas, my Father would provide another blessing even more miraculous and unmerited than the one I experienced that summer.