If I asked you to share with me the time in your life that you were at your absolute lowest, could you? For me, that time was middle school.
Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh grade were the most excruciating years of my entire existence. Luckily by the time I hit 8th grade I finally began to embrace the fact that I was weird, and I should stop trying so hard. But 5th, 6th & 7th grade Tori? She was a fool. And, I feel bad saying that about her, because all she really wanted was to fit in. Which is human nature, right? We all want to belong.
The first group I longed to be part of was the Athletic Girls.
I’d begun playing rec league basketball in 3rd grade because I was slightly taller than average, my dad played basketball in ‘his day,’ and thus I felt it was my duty to live up to the family legacy. (Lol, legacy. My dad played for his high school freshman team then church league basketball for the remaining three years.)
In 5th grade I met a girl named Amanda who was cool, funny, an actual All-Star, and it wasn’t long before you’d find me exclusively in head-to-toe Nike garb in my attempts to be just like her and the other Athletic Girls. Unfortunately, this lasted throughout 5th and 6th grade.
Now there are many, MANY stories from my time as an ‘Athlete’ to share, but those are for another day.
I then began trading my boy’s Nike basketball shorts for flare leg jeans with embroidered flowers, and was trying to fit in with the Cool Kids. Tori…no. My days of attempting to hang with the Cool Kids were every bit as awkward and unpleasant and cringe-worthy as you’re thinking. Actually, probably even worse.
I wanted so badly to be ‘cool.’ For a good chunk of 7th grade I ate lunch with Lindsey and Ashley, cheerleaders who would use napkins to wipe the grease off their cafeteria pizza slices. Oh, and the boys. Trying to get the cool boys to like me. I’m almost 28 and I still haven’t figured out how to get the cool boys to like me.
Now there are also many, MANY stories from my time attempting to be a Cool Kid but again, those are for another day.
This brings us to the next chapter, which brought about the story I’m sharing today. I wanted to be one of the Church Kids. But not just any Church Kids. The Cool Church Kids.
For an awkward and insecure 7th grader just looking to belong, the Cool Church Kids were actually worse than the regular Cool Kids. The Cool Kids owned their egos and didn’t try to hide their attitudes. The Cool Church Kids had all of the same egos and attitudes, but used the whole Jesus thing to bring innocence to their names.
I don’t often speak openly about beliefs or religion but for what it’s worth, as an adult I do love Jesus and the Bible and would go to church if I weren’t so lazy. But I wasn’t raised in a religious household and so church experience was entirely new to me. It did seem interesting, but mostly, I was there to try and fit in as one of the Cool Church Kids.
The particular youth group I joined consisted of some of the coolest kids in school. You would think that being in a youth group with them, spending time with them every Sunday in the presence of the freaking LORD would make them seem more approachable. Nope.
They still made fun of me and pretended not to know me when I waved at them in the school hallways.
Now before you go feeling super sorry for me, (well you can continue if you want because it was pretty sad and I appreciate the pity. Also just to be clear, not only was I weird, I was annnnoyinggggggggg. I probably wouldn’t have been my friend either), I did have a few friends in the group. So when the flyers were sent home about summer church camp, I was all in.
It was an entire week-long camp, somewhere in the mountains. The venue was built specifically for youth groups and was as campy as any tv show has ever depicted.
Hostel-esque sleeping arrangements disguised as cabins, beach volleyball courts, horses, an ‘80s school-style cafeteria, an actual swimming hole, all of it. And of course a chapel, because church camp.
I was 12 and this was only my second sleep-away camp, the first being a basketball camp when I was 10 which was….well, that’s also a story for another day. (Spoiler alert: it ended with me calling my parents sobbing and them picking me up after a day and a half.)
The first day or two of church camp were actually okay. They kept us busy with activities and by mostly sticking with my few friends, I managed to enjoy it. But 48 hours proved to be plenty. I was over it.
I had foolishly tried to join into conversations with some of the Cool Church Kids, and even play volleyball with them. Most attempts ended in embarrassment. And I had nowhere to run and be alone with my weird, annoying self. I wanted to go home.
We weren’t even supposed to call home. To use a phone we had to walk through the cafeteria to a small, dark room with a wall phone that had terrible reception. But I remember calling my mom, begging her to come get me. I don’t remember exactly what she said but she made me stay, and after camp informed me that it was a lesson, and I needed to stick it out. THANKS, mom.
I did stick it out, and I don’t know if it actually helped me learn a lesson or mature or whatever, but it DID give me some good stories. Which leads me to this particular tale.
It was the last night of camp, and the chapel was vibrating with a live Christian band and church kids and camp counselors and pastors singing with their hands in the air, not unlike a club after midnight when the DJ blasts All I Do Is Win by T-Pain.
The energy in the chapel was tangible. Our church leaders were calling for those of us who hadn’t yet been ‘saved’ to pray, to talk to Jesus, to ask about being saved. All of us had our heads down in prayer while the band played when all of the sudden, a girl from my youth group made her way to the front of the chapel, whispered into the ear of one of the church leaders who immediately shouted over a microphone, “Praise Jesus!” And announced the girl had been saved.
The girl then took the stage. Slowly a few more kids followed suit. In their prayer during that worship, they’d heard from Jesus – they’d all been saved. One by one they approached the leader, shared the news, got a microphone shout-out, and took the stage.
I began to notice something peculiar – getting saved earned you adoration from everyone – the church leaders, camp counselors, and even the Cool Church Kids. Hmmm.
In my own attempts to talk to Jesus in that chapel, I heard nothing. But I wanted to more than anything. I wanted to walk to the front of the chapel. I wanted adoration and attention from everyone. I wanted to be saved.
Suddenly a voice popped into my head.
“You will be saved tonight.”
“Jesus, is that you?”
“No you idiot, this is you. Yourself. Your alter-ego, telling you, you’re saved.”
“Just GET UP THERE, tell the leader Jesus told you you’re saved, and get some freaking affirmation!”
That was all the convincing it took. Before I knew it I was approaching the leader. When I reached her, though, I asked if I could speak to her outside alone. My guilt was already getting to me.
Once outside I began, “So, I was praying. And I asked Jesus when I would be saved. And he said, ‘tonight.’”
The leader threw her hands up and embraced me so tightly I had a momentary lapse in breathing.
“TORI! Praise Jesus! This is amazing!’
I shifted awkwardly in the hug and didn’t really say anything. The guilt was definitely getting to me.
“Can I have you come back in with me to share this news with everyone?”
Guilty, guilty, guilty.
We walked between the pews and I knew there was no turning back now. Oh boy. And it only got worse.
“Everyone,” she said into the microphone, “something wonderful has happened to one of our newest church members. Tori?”
She looked at me. Oh fuck. (I mean ‘oh crap,’ because I was only 12.)
“Would you please share with everyone what you just told me?”
OH FUCK. (OH CRAP.) I had no choice at this point. I slowly reach out and take the mic from her, and with almost no enthusiasm, but an obvious amount of guilt, I spoke.
“I asked Jesus when I would be saved….and he said tonight.”
The chapel erupted once again and the leader pulled me into another hug/death grip. And then my couple of friends in the group ran up to hug me. Then a few kids I didn’t even know. And then – some of the Cool Church Kids approached me.
“That’s awesome Tori!”
The hugs kept on coming. So did the guilt, but hey, I was finally fitting in.
I was on a simultaneous high (from the sense of belonging) and low (from the guilt) for the rest of the evening, but overall it felt worth it. Just LOOK at how well I fit in. (Me in the group photo on the last day)
The next day our church bus (an old school bus) made the trek home and pulled promptly into the church parking lot. Kids began scattering, running to their respective parents’ cars. I noticed the particular leader who had me spill my beans to everyone was behind and for some reason, in close pursuit. I got into my mom’s car and by the time I looked up, the leader was already at the driver’s window.
“Hey Kris! Something very exciting for Tori to share with you.”
Oh no. Please no. Nooooooooooo.
“She was saved! She’ll have to tell you all about it, but it was so wonderful.”
I forced my false story for my mom on the drive home and I’m sure she didn’t actually believe it, though I don’t remember the conversation exactly. Nor do I remember exactly when I finally shared this story with anyone. It was definitely not until well into high school, though. But I did eventually fess up to my mom, and have shared the story with a few friends, and…now the Internet.
Jesus, sorry I used you to fit in.
Church leader lady, wow…really sorry. All of that joy you felt was a total lie. If we ever run into each other at Target, I promise to give you a big death-grip hug.
And to mom, although I’m still not over the trauma you insisted I suffer through, sorry I pretended to get saved at church camp. And thanks for the story.