Bedtime stories mean everything to kids.
Gloria Kustes remembers her mother reading her the story of the prodigal son.
Kustes rebelled in her teenage years, but eventually returned home as a prodigal.
That story took on new meaning as she read it to her children over breakfast last summer and realized she had become more like the older brother who served his Father faithfully but lacked intimacy with Him.
“I wrote in my journal that day. ‘I feel that I can serve You, but there’s no intimate relationship there,’” said Kustes, 35. “I kept coming back to this title of daughter. I want to have this fake life that seems put together and that I can control, but it’s hard to come to God and feel vulnerable like a child.”
Kustes learned more about her identity as a daughter of God during the Father God Workshop, which was presented over the summer by Southeast Christian Church’s Care Ministry. The workshop walked through the book, “Father God” by Dave Patty.
“It has been so transformational for me, which honestly blows me away,” said Kustes, a Southeast member. “I’ve read books on God the Father. I’ve done in-depth Scripture studies on the names of God. I’ve looked up the Greek and Hebrew and studied father traditions through Scripture. I loved going to church my whole life, and I know the churchy answers as to who God is as my Father. There has always been this huge disconnect with me. Even with that name, the word ‘father’ makes me cringe. It makes me think, ‘Abuse, violence, turmoil and abandonment.’ It holds a lot of negative connotation.”
As a child, Kustes had father figures come in and out of her life.
“Abuse, violence, abandonment, rejection, suicide and divorce were the picture of father in my life,” Kustes said.
She took on the name of “slave” as far back as she can remember, whether a slave of God or slave of men.
“I had taken on this identity of pleasing a man,” she said. “I said, ‘Lord, I need a new name’ because the way I acted as a teenager and into my young adult years was living out of that name. When Pastor Ashley Wooldridge preached at Southeast, he said, ‘If you take on a name God never gave you, you’ll live a life you were never meant to live.’”
That line turned her world upside down.
As she went through the Father God Workshop, she began to ask God for a new name.
“In the Hebrew culture of the ancient east, children were studied before they were given a name,” Kustes said. “God’s names always reveal His character. God my Father knew my character before I was even born, so there is no one more qualified to give me a name.”
She filled up 20 pages in her journal as she studied the Gospel of John to learn the characteristics of God the Father.
“I needed to focus more on who God is than who I am because once I figure out who God is, I figure out who I am,” she said. “Studying John completely changed my perspective. For example, in John 12:29, God spoke to Jesus. People thought it was an angel and others thought it was thunder. That really caught my attention because nobody was afraid of the sound of His voice. I just wrote down, ‘God the Father’s voice is deep and rumbling, but soothing like thunder.’”
In August, Kustes recalls praying with two ladies from her group. In that space, she said she felt like she met with God the Father.
“I remember the very date, Lori, Lynn and I prayed for four hours,” she said. “That night, I felt like Jesus ushered me up to the Father. Instead of saying to Him, ‘I’m a horrible person, and I understand if you’re ashamed of me. Can you have mercy on me and just make me your slave?’ I felt like I just came with nothing. He said, ‘You’re mine. You’re my daughter.’”
And God gave her a new name: beautiful.
“Being a daughter kind of freaks me out because I don’t know how to be a daughter,” she said. “One of the ladies said, ‘Being a daughter has more to do with who your father is than with who you are. It’s a lot more being than doing.’ I’m not really good at just being. I’m a busy person. I like to get up and go and fix things. Just sitting and resting is a new world for me.”