“God, if you could just make this team win the Stanley Cup, I will go back to church.”
It’s true, I only came back to church because I promised God I would come if my hockey team won the Stanley Cup. Which they did.
It took me a few months to make good on my promise, but I finally decided to accept my friend’s invitation to join her at a Sunday service at Sandals Church. Within minutes, the message had me hooked. I started going for a few Sundays, maybe miss a time or two, and then go back again. I did this for a few months.
It all really started to get real when I attended a Good Friday service and my usually emotionless self was completely brought to tears. When I saw the words “It is Finished,” hit the screen it all hit really hard. I knew in that instant that this was true. And I had to know more about this story. I went home that night and signed up for the baptisms on Easter Sunday.
I was finally able to make the choice for myself, I knew Jesus had changed my life.
Down the Right Path
Right before the baptisms, something called the Path Groups for people exploring their faith were mentioned. It sounded interesting but I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to 9 weeks unless it felt right. When I got into the pool of water to be baptized, the minister said to me, “You’re on the right path.” Those words felt prophetic.
Immediately after I was baptized I made another promise, that no matter how uncomfortable the idea was, and no matter how much waking up even earlier on a Sunday would suck, I resolved to join the Path Group.
This was the first thing I had ever done to get involved at Sandals Church and I was so nervous. I was shocked when I walked in, meeting the leaders and the other two members of my group. The leaders were an older couple named Max and Jackie and I wondered what it would be like to connect with them. Would they think I was childish? Could I relate to the other people in my group? There were just 5 of us!
I remember wondering if the questions that I had were stupid.
No Stupid Questions
Right away, Max and Jackie started off by saying that no question was a bad question and if it came to mind, just ask. It was no surprise to me that I was the first person to answer the discussion questions asked in our book and challenge the leaders to answer the difficult or sometimes silly questions I had about God and Jesus. I was usually the last person talking when that day’s group was ending.
I had questions like: “Why did Jesus do these things for me?” and “are you sure that I don’t have to do anything to receive God’s grace and forgiveness?” Sometimes I felt like I was fighting with Max and Jackie to understand, yet they were so patient and kept assuring me that God offered his grace for me. My other group members didn't mind, I promise. I had four people supporting me, rooting for me and just being there for me.
It was a beautiful experience, because in a room of varying ages, backgrounds and beliefs, all of us were able to be vulnerable and open and real.
Before going back to church, I had looked into many volunteer opportunities, like the Red Cross and the Peace Corps, but nothing ever took hold. However, I knew that my time was meant to be used in a meaningful way. Within weeks of starting my Path Group I was working as a volunteer in the Welcome Center. Not long after that, Max and Jackie invited me to join their Monday night community group which has become a second home and an extension of my family.
This was a group of people who know what being a Christian means, but also know what it's like to live in a world full of hurt, sin, and anger and deal with everyday problems and temptations. These people celebrated my path and encouraged me to become even more active with church than I already was and to find more ways to volunteer.
They provided a place for me to be heard and loved.
Making A Difference
Before I knew it, I was signing my name on a piece of paper to donate a week of my time to serve foster children at the Royal Family Kids Camp. I was all in. I now know why I was never picked for anything else I tried to volunteer for. God wanted me at Sandals Church, and he wanted me volunteering my time where it wouldn't just make a difference in the world, it would make a difference in me.
During that week of camp I was able to spend 5 days teaching beautiful foster children about Jesus and his unconditional and unwavering love and grace for us. I got to tell them that I was in foster care myself, from the age of 14 to 18. My dad’s business went through a big loss and he changed dramatically, started doing drugs and cheating on my mom. He left and then my mom chose to follow him for a couple years instead of take care of us kids. I was put in foster care and aged out of the system, meaning my parents never regained custody of me.
I remember being 14 years old and being asked to make decisions that no child should ever have to make. All I wanted was to be a kid. During camp, as I shared my story about being in the foster care system, my camper’s eyes got as big as saucers and they were so curious as to how I was doing so well. I told them that their situation isn't permanent, they really held onto that. They needed to know that their world hasn’t ended. It was life-changing for them and for me.
Through the Path Groups I found peace, peace that I had been searching for for quite some time and I was able to find some meaning and purpose. My next steps are still being brought to light, but I know a few things to be certain; I know God will guide me and continue to change me. I will continue to say “yes!”