When I was in middle school, I was a completely different person. I was always in a bad mood. I completely isolated myself and I put everything before God. I was depressed and I never wanted to go to church, nor did I have a real relationship with the Lord. And it was actually the night before my first high school CIY conference that I hit rock bottom, and I thought that it was over, and I could never be forgiven.
The next day, when we were loading up the luggage, and I was getting on the van, I remember thinking, “I wonder if I can get my money back because I really can’t do this.” My heart was racing and I hardly knew anyone, and the people I did know, I wasn’t even that close to. “This is going to be awful,” I thought.
It took a couple of days for me to settle in and get comfortable. And once I did, I started noticing all these people around me, and they were all talking and laughing and having this great time, and they were talking about someone that I used to know a little while back. My old friend named Jesus.
A few days in, I sprained my ankle, and I felt really stupid. I felt like everyone was judging me, but apparently, that wasn’t the case at all, because all these people that I didn’t even know started helping me out. Like I met Stephen McGraw when he slung me over his shoulder and he was carrying me, and he’s like, “Hey, I’m Stephen.” And I was like, “I’m Kaitlyn.”
By the time that we actually got to the university, I was really starting to enjoy myself. I was starting to talk to people and be friends with people that I thought would never even want to talk to me. And I expected to be calling my mom and begging her to come to pick me up. But instead, she was calling me asking why I hadn’t checked in. And I was like, “I wish I could live here.”
The theme of the week was You Are Here, and when I first heard it, I was like, “Okay, I know that I’m here, but tell me why I’m here.” But it turned out that it wasn’t about me. It was about God and God being everywhere. I prayed that I would really, really take something away from this week, because I was miserable, and I needed something more.
And I saw all these people around me that had what I wanted because I saw the way that they held hands during prayer, and I saw the way that they raised their arms during worship.
So now I was on cloud nine and I never wanted to leave, because I don’t know where I found myself with all these new friends who actually cared about things other than the world. And I started to feel God everywhere. I felt chills in worship, and I heard his voice in sermons, and I was happy. I was a lot happier than I’d ever been in a long time.
And close to the end of the week, during the sermon, there was a time when we were all standing up for different things and allowing people to pray for us. Some people stood up because they wanted to go on mission trips, and others stood up because they wanted to become the future of the churches.
But I stood up when they said, “If you’re at a point in your life where you feel hopeless and broken and you want to repent and turn away from your sins, then you should stand up, because God is merciful, and he has defeated the enemy, and no one could ever take you away from him.”
And that is a moment that I see as my faith defining moment. Because when I stood up, I knew that that was the point where I decided to give my life back to the creator of it. But when we were leaving, I was scared, and I was scared because every other church camp that I’d been to, I was on fire for Jesus for maybe a couple of days afterward. And I didn’t want this to be the same, because I wanted to keep playing signs all day and worship 24/7, and have scheduled lunchtimes.
I didn’t want to go home and stop talking to all my new friends, especially the one named Jesus. But the craziest thing happened because it didn’t stop, and the fire just kept going and going, and I was changed, and everyone was telling me, “Wow, Kaitlyn, you’re such a different person.” And I was like, “Well, God changed me. He changed me.”
God has done tremendous work in my life, and I truly believe that if I would have actually tried to get my refund and had gotten off of that van, my faith wouldn’t be nearly as strong as it is right now. So CIY is an absolute blast, and I think that everyone should have a chance to experience what I experienced.