This isn’t going to work.
How could it?
My mind is made up. I’m done with God.
If it wasn’t for my mom practically begging me and my former youth minister’s persistence, I wouldn’t be at Catholic Heart Workcamp right now.
I tried to explain to them it’s a waste of their breath and a misuse of my time. I finally agreed to make the trip with the youth group after my mom promised me this was her last attempt at saving me.
Don’t get me wrong, I used to go to church every Sunday. I was highly involved in my youth group, helped the community and talked to God every night.
Those days are long gone.
Why would I dedicate another minute of my life to such a cruel God? A God that doesn’t care about me and turned his back on me?
It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday. I could be sleeping right now, but here I am outside my former church. I haven’t been to this place in almost two years. The youth minister pulls up in a white, 15-passenger van he rented for our trip to Dayton, Ohio and beeps twice.
I watch as my mom nervously fiddles around in her purse and pulls out some money. She hands it to me and tells me I’ll need it for my group’s “free day” at Kings Island.
“This is going to be good for you,” Mom says. “Try and have a good time, please? For me?”
I give her a reluctant hug and get out of her 1997 Ford Explorer without saying a word.
It’s a small group, only about 10 kids and two adults. I listen as the group makes small talk, but I refuse to participate, even when they address me directly. I have nothing to say to these hypocrites. In fact, I’m already counting down the minutes until I’m back home and don’t have to put up with this farce.
After several hours, we arrive at our destination. The other kids pile out of the vehicle first, I grab my Detroit Pistons backpack and put my headphones on and reluctantly make my way out of the van. The youth minister is holding the door open for everyone and has a smile on his face. When it’s my turn to get out that smile is wiped off his face and his expression turns to concern.
“Hey, I know things have been tough lately,” he said. “But this is going to be a great opportunity for all of us. I am really excited that you decided to join us.”
He warmly put his hand on my shoulder, but I quickly brush it off and act like I can’t hear him over the music and head towards the building.
After dropping my bags off in our assigned sleeping quarters, I head to the cafeteria and flop down at one of the empty tables. The lunch room is packed with people from all over the country. Most of the groups are wearing identical shirts that identify which parish they are from. I look around at the rainbow of colors from bright pink to pumpkin orange to fire engine red.
I watch as the multitude of colorful shirts mingle with one another. I try my best to put up a “don’t approach me” sign on my forehead and for a while it works.
Ten minutes later I feel a tap on the shoulder and look up to see a staff member of the camp. He doesn’t look much older than me. I push one of ear pieces to the side so I can hear what he is saying.
“I really like that jersey you’re wearing.” He said.
I look down at the blue jersey with the word “Pistons” spelled out in red across the chest. I look back and just nod.
“Chauncey Billups is one of my favorite players too,” the stranger said. “One of the more underrated point guards in the NBA, in my opinion.”
I don’t say a word.
“My name is Jimmy by the way,” he said. “This is going to be a great week. Have you been to camp before?”
I don’t respond, but rather stand up and walk away.
This is going to be a long week.
Ready to go home
It’s midweek and I have made the past few days a living hell for my youth minister.
I’ve barely lifted a finger at my worksite, haven’t participated in any group activities and I sit in the back by myself during program.
After the first work day, my assigned group was so irritated with my actions that I was reassigned directly to my youth minister’s group.
I don’t care. Why should I act fake? Why pray to a God that lets bad things happen to good people? I did nothing to deserve this. God doesn’t care about me, why should I care about him?
The one constant throughout the week has been Jimmy.
I don’t understand it.
I’ve been rude to him time after time, but the guy continues his attempt at having a conversation with me at least once a day. Every morning as I sit by myself at breakfast, Jimmy will leave his post to come sit at the table and attempt to converse with me. After several minutes of being ignored, Jimmy stands up, smiles and tells me to have a great day as he walks back to the kitchen.
I walk into the program area several minutes after it starts and sit down in the back row.
As normal, my youth minister sneaks his way into the back and squats down next to my chair.
“Come sit with the rest of us in the front, we’ve saved you a seat.” He whispers.
As usual, I tell him no thanks.
I stay seated as everyone else sings songs, I mock the carpenter commandos and roll my eyes at the testimony a staff member shares.
Program doesn’t end there. Tonight there’s an event called “Four Corners” taking place.
A staff member details what Four Corners is all about. Words like hope, healing and prayer are discussed.
Afterwards, the entire camp is led to the gym which is nearly pitch dark with the only light coming from at least 100 lit candles. Adults are seated Indian style on the hardwood floor with a candle in front of them and a box of tissues to their side.
This isn’t my style. I need to get out of here.
I turn to exit, but I am told no one is allowed to leave the gym until Four Corners concludes.
I sit in the only open section of the bleachers — by myself.
Tears are shed, tissue is crumbled and there is a long line waiting for confession.
This time I don’t criticize anyone.
Instead I watch as my youth minister listens intently to a teen I don’t believe he’s ever met. I can’t hear the words between them, but I can tell it’s an emotional encounter. One that ends with a smile and a hug.
In the middle of the gym is a large picture of Jesus. I can’t take my eyes off of the portrait. I focus on his eyes. I try hard to let it fuel my anger, but his eyes are so compassionate.
I stare at the picture for what feels like an extremely long time. There is no hatred in me, but I feel a sense of sadness overcome me.
I feel a tap on my shoulder.
He’s holding a candle and asks if he can join me.
I surprise myself by saying “yes”.
Jimmy places the candle by our feet as he sits next to me on the old wooden bleacher.
I wait for him to start asking me questions like he normally does.
He doesn’t say anything.
Ten minutes go by and he doesn’t say a word.
After fifteen minutes of silence, I find myself sharing my story.
“You know, I haven’t always been like this,” I said. “I haven’t always hated God.”
Jimmy looked at me and asked why have I given up on God?
I raddle off everything that’s gone wrong in the past two years. I tell him about my dad’s addiction to alcohol and gambling. How he lost every asset our family had. I talk about being forced to move to Detroit because dad lost the house. How my mom is working 16 hours a day in a factory because dad abandoned us for another woman. I tell Jimmy how Detroit is like living in a war zone. I share the story of the best friend I had in this world unexpectedly committing suicide. I tell him about how I feel all alone.
I feel wetness drip from my chin and realize I am crying.
Jimmy stands up and asks me to stand too. Then he gives me a huge hug and asks if he can pray for me.
We sit back down and hold hands as Jimmy closes his eyes and begins to pray out loud for me.
I can’t concentrate on the prayer. Instead I’m looking over his shoulder and into the eyes of the portrait.
Jesus’ eyes are forgiving.
I’m so tired of being angry. I can’t keep living like this. God hasn’t turned his back on me, I turned my back on him. Yet, he’s still here waiting for me with open arms.
I can’t do this without God.
I feel Jimmy squeeze my hand and say “Amen.”
I respond, “Amen.”