During the first year of my life my father fell away from the faith and left my family.
I was born in Thailand while my parents were studying the Thai language and culture in preparation to become missionaries through Bethlehem Baptist Church. When our visas expired after that first year, my mother, sister, and I moved back to Minnesota without him. Growing up without a father was hard in many ways. The hardest part might have been that my mother didn’t have the energy or willpower to both take care of us and really teach us about personal faith — something she’s always regretted.
I remember growing up heavily involved in Bethlehem. We attended all the Sunday morning and Wednesday night sermons and meetings. We were in a Bible study, and we attended many other events, but I never paid attention. I believed in Jesus — that he “died for my sins”, and that I would go to heaven if I believed that — but if you had asked me any more about it, I wouldn’t have known what to say.
I didn’t really understand the gospel — why it was a big deal, and why it was called “the good news.” When we read as a family, it was almost always Narnia or some other fantasy novel, and we never put much effort into understanding Scripture. We prayed before every meal, but never really stopped to consider what we were doing. Throughout primary school I chased popularity and good grades, at least externally, all the while internally struggling through low self-esteem, anger, and trust issues.
I hadn’t been baptized. I rarely prayed — and if I had it was usually before meals. I never opened my Bible on my own. I had no desire to. I figured that since Jesus had already died for my sins, I didn’t have to put any personal effort into following him.
After my freshman year of college, I got connected to Campus Outreach — a ministry partnered with Bethlehem — and attended their summer program. During that time I dug far deeper than I’d ever gone into the gospel and why I believed it, and especially how much I needed it. I learned that everything God does, he does for his own glory — and how that is a wonderful and perfect thing. I learned that I can sin in my mind as well as through my actions (Matthew 5:28; 15:19), and that these internal sins are just as serious to God as external ones. I learned how God’s glory is increased by justly punishing those who do not trust him, and I also delved into the love and grace of God in sending Jesus to die in place of his chosen people. I had never before thought about the implications of that action — how the perfectly just side of God’s nature is made even more glorious by showing his mercy in saving those who deserve nothing, and just how lucky and undeserving I was that God still pursues my heart, even after all I have or haven’t done.
It is still amazing to me that after all of my failures, God is still faithfully pointing me towards himself (Ephesians 2:1–10). I am in no way “there” — I struggle constantly with prioritizing reading the Bible and prayer, among many issues. But God — the best father anyone could have — and his unwavering faithfulness to his promises (Deut. 31:6, Is. 42:16, Heb 13:5, Mal. 2:17-3:6, 1 John 1:9), is far greater than our inability to keep our own. He will never leave us or forsake us.