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I stepped off the bus with a changed life and a red sweatshirt. I know what you may be thinking, and no, the sweatshirt didn’t change my life. The sweatshirt did look pretty nice though -- it was a lovely deep maroon with two white triangles that overlapped. But anyways, the design of the sweatshirt (no matter how cool) is irrelevant.
The life-changing event occurred just this past weekend, and I unfortunately, cannot narrow it down to a precise moment. Ever since the date of the winter retreat was announced, I had been counting down the days until December 9th. I was ready to spend time with my friends in my small group, and I was even a little excited that my crush would be there too (even though I have yet to work up the courage to talk to him).
I hastily packed my bags on Friday. Naturally, I had procrastinated, and I had less than an hour to be at the church ready to leave the city. I arrived at the church with not much time to spare, although it was okay because I was still in time for the pre-retreat prayer. I crammed my bags into the luggage compartment and went to sit with one of my best friends, Sydney.
We passed the hour long ride by spamming a group chat with memes, and talking about whatever random subject came to mind. I knew we were there when the road got insanely bumpy and my cell service went out. The retreats at my church have always been in the same place: an obscure canyon devoid of internet access. I personally think it's a bit ironic that churches have camps in a place called Devil’s Canyon, but that’s just me.
I jumped off the bus, and went to go find out which cabin I would be staying in. Although I was disheartened to see the distance I would have to carry my luggage, I was also relieved that we would be staying in one of the newer cabins, which meant nice showers and a working air unit. Sydney had told me before that she wanted the top bunk, because I had it the last time, but once she found out that the heat would be blowing directly on her, she informed me that it would have to wait until next year.
After getting unpacked, it was time to go to small group. I was nervous because our small group always consisted of girls in my grade, and now we were going to have co-ed small group for the weekend. Unfortunately, my crush wasn’t in my group, but that was okay. There were four boys, all from a rivaling school, and Sydney and I were the only girls. Small groups with the boys was drastically different to what I was used to. In our all girl group, we would talk on and on about random tangents. With the boys, their answers were short, and part way through they would get restless and start walking around the spacious room.
Our first small group consisted of basic get-to-know-you questions. When asked what store we would spend $1,000 at, I said a music store (my clarinet needs to be recorked), Sydney said Hot Topic, and all the boys said varying sporting goods stores. It was a little awkward, but by the end of the weekend we all talked a bit more freely amongst each other.
When small group ended, we went to the tabernacle for group worship. After singing a couple of songs, the youth pastor came up and introduced us to who would be speaking for the weekend. The man who taught us had also gone to our church growing up. He told us that he was once exactly where we were. He launched into the message, where he talked about Peter laying down his fishing nets to go follow Jesus. He then had us each take a notecard and write down what our “nets”, or things holding us back from having a close relationship with God, and then put them up on the bulletin board. I sat and thought for a moment before writing “guilt from hurting people close to me” on the card. I pinned it up onto the board and went back to where I was sitting.
A couple minutes pass. Then, the guest pastor told us to go back to the board and get someone else’s card. After we read the card, we were supposed to flip it over and write “follow” on the back.
As I scanned the cards, it struck me how many burdens people carry on a daily basis. They all hid it so well. I grabbed a card that had large and shaky handwriting on it. Was it fate that I grabbed that particular card? Or was it simply because I didn’t want to acknowledge what the card next to it said? Anyways, I returned to sit by Sydney, and I began to read the card that I had subconsciously chosen.
Maybe it was fate that I grabbed that card. It spoke to me on a deeply personal level, even though I didn’t know the author, and the author surely didn’t know me. I looked around the dim room, and I was once again astonished at the burdens each person was carrying. The speaker warned us that at some point in our lives, we would return to the nets, just as Peter returned to his.
We closed worship with a couple more songs, and I was struck with a strong sense of irony. You see, what was written on the card I read was mentioned in the lyrics. It wasn’t mentioned in the same way, but I thought of it as quite ironic and I wondered if the anonymous author felt the irony as well.
We went back to small group to talk about what the message we just heard was, and after that we went to our cabins before Late Night.
After such a serious lesson, it was good to have some fun. At our retreats, our church will have something called a Late Night, and we usually hang out and eat snacks or play a game. I had a long day at school, and I was exhausted, but I still went to Late Night.
I entered the tabernacle (again) and stood around with my friends as we waited for the activity (whatever it was) to begin. Someone set down a plate of fudge, and since there was nothing better to do, I went and tried a piece. I’m not really a fudge person, but it was actually really good. After about three more pieces, it was time to start. Someone pulled up YouTube and projected Just Dance videos on the same screen we use to show lyrics or scripture verses. I grabbed a couple of friends and we danced to whatever random song came up next. It was really fun and embarrassing, but who cares? Life is so much better when you don’t get caught up in whether or not people will approve.
Exhausted and giggly from all the dancing, my friends and I returned to the cabin and promptly fell asleep.
I woke up feeling warm and content. Maybe it had to do with the message the night before and how it impacted me and my faith. Maybe it simply had to do with the fact that I was right underneath the air vent and I was feeling all the warm air washing over me. Perhaps it was a mixture of both.
The others had been up for a while, but I naturally tried to sleep in as long as possible. When I had only five minutes until breakfast, I jumped out of bed, hurriedly got dressed, and walked over to the dining hall. Breakfast was biscuits and gravy with sausage and eggs. I skip the eggs, sausage, and gravy, but eat the biscuit. One of the camp rules is that you have to eat at all meals, and since I didn’t think a lone biscuit would fit that criteria, I grabbed a pre-proportioned bowl of plain cheerios in case I wanted to snack on them later. (It is my somewhat unpopular opinion that cereal without milk is superior to that with milk, but that’s just me.)
Next was small groups yet again. My friend’s dad was one of the small group leaders, and he had a huge bag of fun-sized candy, which was nice when I wanted something to eat, but not so nice when it distracted the boys. We continued to talk about Peter, and even though he messed up several times, how he was still forgiven and he eventually became a very vital part of the church.
The rest of the weekend passed in a blur. We played Family Feud, and explored more about Peter. It was bittersweet as I stepped off the bus on a cool Sunday morning because I would no longer be in the isolation of that little canyon in the middle of nowhere. Now, it was my turn to teach others in the real world, just like Peter.