My mom and dad have been divorced since I was 2 years old. Growing up was difficult – I experienced the fallout from their divorce. I had no idea what a real relationship – friend or romantic – should look like.
When I was a teenager, I realized religion was not important to me. I thought that there was no real truth and no matter what people think, no one can ever know if there really is a God.
After high school I attended the University of Vermont. The first week there, I went to an activity festival and saw this guy yelling, “Free outdoor trips!” I bee-lined, shook his hand and signed up for the trips. I had no idea it was faith-based. I didn’t even know what Lifelines was at that point.
That first weekend we went on a hike up Mount Mansfield, the highest peak in Vermont. During lunch on the hike, staff member Gabe McGann led a discussion about love, using Scripture in a relaxed environment.
We didn’t get to the top of mountain, but I was starting to understand more about Christianity and who God is. I liked having a real conversation.
That next week, Gabe texted me, asking if I wanted to hike that mountain again and finish it. Of course I did! We had a great time, talked about a lot of stuff and I became more comfortable hanging out with him.
I asked Gabe if we could start meeting once a week to hang out and talk about spiritual things, God, the earth and questions I had.
Three or four months after hanging out talking about spiritual things, Gabe asked me what I believed. I told him I believed there is something connecting us, a force that we can’t see, but I didn’t think a circle could be drawn around it and anyone could point to it and say, “That’s God, right there.”
Gabe asked, “Can a force love you?” I said, “Well, I guess not, it doesn’t have any characteristics.” Gabe helped me realize the force I believed in didn’t matter to me, it didn’t love me or have the capacity to love me.
I started thinking about how my view was all about me. It was a bleak future. I didn’t like it.
Gabe asked, “So, if you believed this force could be God, would you want to pray about it?” I froze up and got freaked out. Gabe said, “I didn’t want to offend you, but it seems you have a long overdue conversation with God.”
At the end of the year, Gabe took me to lunch and we talked about how all the things that had happened are for a reason. God is reaching out and wants to love me, but I just have to be willing to hear it.
Outside I was smiling and agreeing, but inside I was thinking, What the heck? This guy is crazy. And he called me on it. He said, “Dude, I know you think I’m crazy, but trust me, I know where you’re at.” Then he told me about the Lifelines summer project in Colorado and invited me.
On the project, everyone assumed I was a Christian, and in discussions they realized I wasn’t.
On a backpacking trip, I got to hear peoples’ testimonies and stories about how God had changed their life and what brought them to this point. I understood why they chose to believe in God and why they chose the path they did, but I still didn’t.
I felt like true Christianity was about people who are in love with God and who want to honor God with their life and learn more about Jesus. I had never seen that.
After that weekend, I was in a weird place emotionally and went to hike a mountain. The leader made me take a GPS just to be safe.
I plugged in my iPod and went to hike Crested Butte, a 12,181 ft. climb.
I was processing all kinds of things about life, emotions and what I believe.
I was wading through waist-high snow and someone came out of the ski lodge to tell me the trail was closed. He told me it wasn’t safe to be hiking.
But I was confident, and stubborn, so as soon as he turned around, I ducked into the woods and continued on the path.
About 15 minutes later, it started snowing. Blizzard-like snow. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.
I wanted to get to the top, so kept hiking until I arrived at a 50-foot knife-edge. If I fell, I probably wouldn't have made it. I had hiking poles and would stab them into the ground on either side of me to tell where the edge was.
Maybe 20 yards into it, I stopped and said in my head, God, this is ridiculous! Almost immediately the blizzard snow was gone. I could see everything. The sky was blue and clear. I thought, That was weird, and kept hiking.
When I arrived at the top, I decided to talk to God. I started off saying, Hi and ended up yelling at Him saying things like, God, I have been searching for you this whole year! I came to Colorado for you! I need to know what the truth is. God, you can break my legs, but I need to know you are real. I need to know. Then I said, “Amen” and my heart felt lighter. I felt good.
I hiked down and went to talk with some of my friends. I explained the day to them and I had this huge list in my head of why I wouldn’t believe in God. When I was talking to them, I didn’t get everything but I finally heard what they were saying and I started moving things on the list over.
That night, I knew the people on the trip had something I didn’t have.
I was trying to get from point A to Z without taking all the other steps.
I decided I wanted to follow God, even if I didn’t understand it all yet. I was ready to commit.
I prayed, asking Jesus to change my life that night.
I wasn’t entirely convinced that everything about Christianity is true, but I was willing to give it a try. I told Gabe the next morning and he flipped.
The last two weeks of the summer project, God was really moving in my heart.
The more I learned about God, the more I fell in love with Him. The more I learned about what Christ was saying about how to live my life and how to put that in action, the more it came true.
I knew I was living my life for Christ and I believed that Christ was the Son of God.
This story isn’t about me, it’s about God. He has a plan for my life and He loves me. It’s about what I can do for Him, not what I can do for me.
Zack is a junior at the University of Vermont, studying Parks, Recreation, Tourism. He will be studying abroad in New Zealand next semester. Zack loves white water kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, anything outdoors and is considering joining staff with Lifelines after graduation.