I remember the first time the name of God ever passed the lips of someone in my family. I was standing in the kitchen with my dad at the age of five. The microwave was at eye-level, which made me incredibly tiny compared to my father’s then-six-foot frame. My father always intimidated me—I never had a real explanation for why that was—but my fear quadrupled when he was angry. He has never been a violent man, but when he was angry—especially after the initial divorce proceedings with my mother took place—he was a yeller and swearer. I hated it when he swore, but I grew used to it in my first five years of life.
On that particular day, however, when he exclaimed the word, “Shoot!” when he stubbed his toe on the dishwasher in front of where I was standing, I was confused. I was used to another word he used quite often.
“Dad,” I said to him, “that isn’t the word you use.”
My father looked back at me with raised eyebrows. “What are you talking about, Rach?”
I was trying to explain what I meant in a way that wouldn’t get myself in trouble, but my five-year-old brain was struggling. “It’s like the word you just said, but it isn’t.”
“Oh, you’re talking about the word I used to say,” my father replied with a nod. “It’s the word ‘shoot’ with an ‘i’ instead of the ‘oo’ sound, right?”
I nodded, and he crouched down to look into my eyes—which were the exact copy of his. “I don’t say that word anymore,” he told me. I remember being even more puzzled, so I asked why his word usage changed, and he replied, “I don’t need to do that anymore now that I have God in my life again.”
Around this time in my life, I spent a majority of my time with my dad. Though my mother had sole custody of my brother and me—which gave my dad bimonthly visitation—we stayed with my father almost all the time because my mother was going through chemotherapy. She was often too sick to have us around—she was either too weak to handle a five-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy, or her immune system wouldn’t be able to fight off illness if she was exposed to something from one of us.
This time in my life gave me a good chance to see my father’s change in demeanor. Now that I’m older, I can see the significance that this time in my life was for my father. I got to see my dad as a man of God and not a man of anger and bitterness. He started taking my brother and me to church, which began to give us a basic understanding of who God is.
I loved church. I was excited to go every Sunday. Yes, part of it had to do with the fun games we played, but I loved learning Bible stories like David and Goliath—which is the first I remember learning—and Jonah being swallowed by the fish. It opened my eyes to a whole new world, even at the tender age of five.
When my mom finished chemotherapy towards the end of kindergarten, she started attending my home church faithfully. We went periodically until she was diagnosed, but now that she was healthy again—and she had married my stepdad, who introduced her to our church—she felt refreshed. I attended my parents’ respective churches for many years.
When I was around nine years old, my father decided to quit his job to become a pastor. It took its toll financially on both of my parents, since my dad was now living on my stepmother’s income only, and he didn’t pay child support to my mother anymore.
This is around the time my relationship with my father started to become strained. I resented him for what he was putting my mother and stepfather through—my stepdad happened to lose his well-paying job around the same time my father stopped paying child support—and he seemed to feel that nothing was wrong. It didn’t seem right to me, even if he was dedicating his life to teaching others about something so important to the both of us.
I remember one day when I was eleven, I looked at my dad straight in the face and said, “I don’t want to be here with you anymore.”
My dad, in a moment of weakness, sneered, “Stop acting like your damn mother.”
I rolled my eyes and left the house, wanting to never go back. However, God had other plans for me.
That same night was the first night of youth group. I was finally old enough to go, and even though I didn’t know anyone super well so I didn’t want to go all that much, but my mother told my youth pastor’s wife that I would be there. I’m glad she did.
Since then, I have been very involved in my church and youth group. I have gone on numerous trips with my church that have changed my life. When I was thirteen, I was baptized after a trip we took to Knoxville, Tennessee, and it changed my life forever. I felt at peace, close to God, and happy with my life for the first time in a long time.
When I was fourteen, however, my father just had to turn my life upside down. One Friday evening, my brother and I went to his house like we normally did when it was his weekend for visitation, and he stood against the table with his arms crossed.
“We’re moving in a month,” he said to us. My brother rolled his eyes and went to his room, while I stayed in place.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Up north. Start packing your things.”
When they left, I felt partially relieved because of all the stress I was under from moving, but I felt abandoned more than anything. I’ll never admit it aloud, but I never felt more abandoned in my life than I did at that time. What happened to the father who changed his ways and did his best to be like God? He seemed to disappear.
It took a long time for that feeling to go away. I still felt it this summer when I went on our church trip to Kansas City. I still believed that God was with me, and I still wanted to keep a relationship with Him, but it was different now. I felt like I only wanted Him around when it was on my terms. If I could survive—barely—without my real father, then I didn’t need a Heavenly one, either.
God knew my mindset, and he knows I’m a stubborn human being, so he did his best to make me change my mind. The second night of the conference, we talked about the book of Ephesians. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” It really struck a chord with me because I realized that I had spent so long focusing on the resentment and anger I felt, that I had changed as a person. I noticed that I didn’t even act like God was around me anymore.
Since I’ve been home, I’ve taken the time to look back on my life and find God in everything. Even as I write, I can pinpoint certain moments where God was watching over me, and it’s helped my faith immensely. Even in my darkest hours, where I felt alone, I wasn’t. As difficult as it may be to fathom, I’ve never been alone. God has always been there, and I’m starting to learn that He’ll never leave me.