Zack was standing in the back of the chapel as the speaker wrapped up his last session for the weeklong summer camp. The speaker’s words tuned in to focus again: “God loves you because He made you…” These words echoed in Zack’s head as he bolted for the backdoor, everything within him warring against the speaker’s declaration. God was pursuing Zack, and he had no choice but to respond. That evening, Zack received Jesus as his savior.
With the end of summer came the start of sophomore year - and now Zack was the only child at home. His mother had left before Zack could remember, leaving him and his three sisters with their grandmother and father. Over the years, Kaitlin and Alyssa had moved out, leaving Kara to bear the brunt of the physical and verbal abuse at home. Once Kara left, all attention shifted to Zack.
Repeated head trauma injuries from football and wrestling began to keep Zack from school. Excused absence eventually turned into truancy, which marked the remainder of Zack’s high school career. After a difficult relationship breakup, Zack fell into depression, barely eating or sleeping. “I would stay up on the phone talking to girls. I listened to a lot of depressing music. I blamed God for a lot of things…I blamed Him for my parents being jacked up. I blamed God when I stubbed my toe. I blamed God for other people's pain…”
When Zack was finally expelled for lack of attendance and failing grades, he was in his senior year of high school. After a summer of consistent church attendance and hanging around positive influences, Zack began to experience academic success at his continuation school. Unfortunately, that was short-lived. After Christmas, difficult home circumstances impelled him to leave. When his initial plans fell through, Zack moved in with his girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, Zack dropped out of school.
“We weren’t doing Christian things. It ruined me. I didn’t realize it broke me. It broke her, too.”
In May, Zack approached his pastor about a janitorial position at the church. As the conversation progressed, his pastor shared with Zack about CEM and encouraged him to apply. A couple of months passed when a former intern who was coming up for the Agony Ride invited Zack to join him. With nothing else to lose, Zack agreed.
Just a few weeks later, Zack stepped foot on CEM property for the second time, this time with the intention of staying longer than a weekend. Zack arrived in August, just weeks before the annual 15-day backpacking trip. “In my head I thought I’d come and be a perfect Christian example. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. Wilderness sucked. I was pretty impatient. Basically, it was a slap in the face of all the things that are wrong with me...Everyone saw it. I regretted coming to the Ranch. There was stuff I had to deal with, and I didn’t want to deal with it.”
Zack’s impulsivity, impatience, and anger continued at the Ranch. When Zack returned home for a 3-week suspension, his eyes were opened. He realized how much he needed the Ranch. Before his return, he decided that he would take the program more seriously. Unfortunately, his resolve to change proved futile. “I realized I wasn’t just running from the Ranch; I was running from God.”
“I decided to not run away - to accept and do what He wanted. I did do that for awhile. And then, I stopped doing what He wanted. I didn’t know I stopped doing that. He was telling me not to, but I didn’t know. Then I realized it, but I didn’t like it.” Zack’s resentment toward God piled onto past blame.
Then, a family emergency called him back home just before he was to depart on his second 15-day backpacking trip. After an extended time away from the Ranch, the decision to return really became a matter of choosing life over death. “I came back because I figured if I did not, I would have killed myself pretty soon. I was depressed. I was doing nothing. I was getting nowhere. I was feeling sorry for myself. I felt worthless.”
Zack couldn’t envision a future for himself. “I wasn’t feeling like I could succeed. I’m not confident in doing anything. I’m not confident that I can get a job and keep a job. I’m just not confident in success in my life. That’s how I was before I came to the Ranch. The Ranch helped me believe in myself...God made it happen I guess. When I decided I was going to trust God, I wasn’t caring whether or not I would succeed or not. I just did what I thought God wanted me to do. When I did do what He wanted me to do, I had 100% confidence I was going to be okay.”
Zack would tell you that the hardest thing he’s ever done is taking the first big step of surrender - his life, his hopes, his desires - to God. Since then, he has taken many detours. Pray for Zack as he continues on the path of surrender, and that along the way, he would find much grace and healing.
Written by: Zoya Lee