Growing up in a traditional church, TC Chapel was unlike any church I had ever been to. When my own family was falling apart, Teen Challenge represented a family and a support network. It was a place where many people were not afraid to let their real selves show. It was this acceptance to be vulnerable and real that attracted me to TC, and ultimately to God. The people were by no means perfect, but Jesus working in them was.
As part of a Christian ministry and theology course I was taking at school, a requirement was to regularly be going to a church. At the time I was sixteen, and I had occasionally been going to the church I had grown up in with my Dad, and also TC Chapel which my Mum attended. I soon found myself regularly attending church at Teen Challenge. This course coincided with one of the hardest years of my life. My parents were separating. At the time it felt like the loss of all I had. What made things harder was the fact that my Dad had been battling alcohol addiction and depression for many years.
Growing up I never dabbled in drugs or alcohol, but I experienced the damage addiction and mental health can do to a family. What do we do when our emotional and physical needs are not being met by someone who is meant to love and care for us the most? Some may become addicts, passive or abusive; I became angry and lost. Subconsciously we all have these expectations and ideals on how we need our parents to look after us and rarely do these standards completely become reality. I cried for what could have been the what ifs. I constantly questioned why my Dad could act so selfishly and be so blind to reality. It took a long time to move on from these why questions.
As much as I struggled to accept my Dad as he was, I always knew he loved me and tried to put me first. However, only God could teach me about His Fathers Love. The affirmation and acceptance we all seek comes solely from the perfect Father. Through this hard time God showed me that He was everything I was searching for. God could provide what my Dad was not able to.
My Dad would never be what I wanted him to be while I was striving to change him. I could not understand why my Dad was the way he was, so I certainly could not change him. I learnt that only Jesus has that ability. I had to take a step back, to remove myself from the environment that seemed to bring out the worst in me. Coming to that place of acceptance was hard, but worth the struggle because God was beside me.
I found Teen Challenge to be a place of acceptance and a vessel for God to transform me into the strong and confident daughter He made me to be. Gods healing work certainly was not strictly confined to the students on the TC Living Free program. I learnt just as much as the students did. God reached out, discipled and ministered to me in those early days.
Through the trial God built strength and character in me. While it forms a significant part of my testimony, God revealed something important to me: never let your past define you. It can shape you, but it should never determine who you are.
2 Corinthians 6:18 – I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.
This is the greatest hope we all share that we have a Father who loves us, provides our every need and desires to spend time with us. Though it was not an ideal situation, I would never change the way it all unravelled. With the recent passing of my Dad, the Fathers Love has been magnified in my life even more and this supply of grace and love will never run out.