*Before you read, this was written and sitting in my drafts folder for the longest time. Enjoy.*
This weekend, I am fully immersing myself in the glory and salvation of God. As a newfound Christian, I can tell you that this journey was not an easy one. If you had asked me ten years ago if I would ever go on a weekend-long retreat to revel in the joy and the word of the Gospel, I would have thought you were absolutely mad. However, here I am, at just a week shy of 21, on said retreat.
When I was younger, I dabbled in religion. I know from an objective point of view that sounds awful, but religion was never “hard pressed” in my family and so any and all experiences with religion were solely my own.
I was 11 years old when I had my first, very basic conceptual understanding of what my christened religion of Catholicism was all about. At half my age now, I didn’t really view religion as anything more than something I had to conform to like a label to wear so I could fit in. I had friends in middle school who would take part in the Wednesday church group YoungLife, but I never expressed my interest in joining to my family and consequently pushed off my endeavors into Christianity.
At 12 years old, I joined my Catholic church’s children’s choir and began to go to Edge, which was our version of Wednesday school. I met a lot of cool kids my age, but I just never had a grasp of what the whole concept of “devoting yourself to Christ” was about. I figured this was just a place to talk about how good Jesus is and meet friends (a very superficial understanding, now that I can look back on it). Almost everyone in my grade had these amazing and borderline prolific understandings of the Bible. They could recite John or Ephesians with their eyes closed while I barely knew the reason why I was going to church, or why I believed in God, or if God even existed.
I was never really sure of the reason we left the Catholic Church, or why my family didn’t continue our education of the Bible, but I remember one day just not going to church anymore on Sundays. I stopped going to Edge, and in turn, I stopped actively pursuing Christ. For my high school years, some of the most formative years of my life, I didn’t know if I was really the textbook definition of a “Christian.” I felt outcast when topics of religion and God came up, and I finally settled on not defining my religion beyond, “I believe in God. I believe in Jesus.”
When I was about 15 or 16, I went to a non-denominational Christian church. Twice. I was still living with my parents, obviously, and didn’t have a car. During our time at the church, they were asking for donations to fund their newest church being built in Cape Coral, a city about 45 minutes away from where I grew up. That was all it took to strike a familiar chord with my parents and we stopped going (we were used to giving money to the Catholic Church every Sunday). I asked why we stopped because I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and I was given some reason that didn’t make sense to me at the time; something that now I can’t even remember.
I went to a Baptist church once with my father because he was dating a religious woman at one point in my life, but that—like most church trips—didn’t last long.
Fast forward to just last year around February. I was talking to Jacob, my boyfriend, about trying a new church group and restoring my faith before my big move to Tennessee in December of this year (just two months away now). I knew of three ministries at the time; Thrive, Ignite and Chi Alpha. I was hearing all sorts of good things about Ignite and really was interested in trying it out. We—meaning my S(he) Will Fade girls and I—got our group together and headed over one night in the spring semester, possibly sometime in March or April.
I instantly fell in love. The people, the environment, the service, and most importantly of all, our pastor Adam Alexander. Adam is one of the kindest, most understanding, accepting and welcoming people that I have ever met. When talking to him, you really get the sense that this is what his entire life is about; upholding the word of Christ through His people.
This retreat was… incredible. It was enlightening, beautiful and honestly soul-crushingly real. I felt vulnerable but in a good way. The way that makes you feel new again after you’ve been hurting for a while and finally let yourself show.
I got really sick the second day of the three-day retreat, but I only missed one session out of the entire weekend. We were surrounded by good company, singing, the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. I know that might sound hokey, but it truly was an etherial weekend.
I watched one of my SWF friends, Lexi, get baptized and I can promise you that nothing will make your heart soar more than seeing someone who you care about give themselves over to God. Lexi had always gone to church with her grandmother, and when she passed away Lexi fell away from Christianity for a bit. However, this weekend she redeemed herself on Deerfield Beach in the middle of the ocean while Adam and Stephen baptized her under the blue waves.
Fall retreat is a special trip that will always hold a special place in my heart. This was the first time that I had given myself over to my religion entirely and it only sparked a greater fire in my heart to find a home at a church in Knoxville once I move.