In a lot of ways, life unfolds like a card game. You don’t get to decide which cards you are given… but you do get to decide how you’re going to play them. Students often ask me why I do what I do – and it has everything to do with where I’ve come from. When I look back over my life, it’s clear to me that God gave me the cards He did for a good reason. I’d like to share with you how those cards have led me to where I am today… and why I’ve been blessed to spend my entire adult life serving as a youth minister/chaplain to some incredible young people.
I was Baptized a Catholic, grew up in a Catholic home, and went to a Catholic school. When I was little, we went to Church most Sundays – a habit that gradually dropped off as I grew older – but all of these things helped me to know a lot about God. I had been through my Sacraments, knew a few stories from the Bible, and tried to live as though I was a good person. I prayed when I was in trouble or when someone I loved was sick, but God was no different to me than a divine Santa Claus, perched high in the clouds keeping a naughty and nice list that would hopefully have me on the nice side when I died someday.
As a kid, I thought my family was amazing (and they really were.) I remember the smell of the house when mom baked bread – I could eat a half a loaf right after it came out of the oven, camping with my dad, going to Oilers games (back when the Oilers used to win), and family vacations to the east coast. One of the most meaningful things for me, though, was the way my older brother used to look out for me. In our neighborhood, he was the oldest kid and I was the youngest, and I can remember how he would insist that any hockey or baseball team that picked him had to take me as well. He’d pinch hit for me or show me how to play. From all three of them, I had a sense of being valued, loved, and safe.
As I got a bit older, my family fell apart – these were difficult cards to be dealt – so I looked for somewhere to belong. I wound up looking in different places: music, sports, and video games… but I couldn’t find that same feeling of being valued, loved, and safe I had known during my younger years.
It was about this time, in the winter of 1995, that my parish priest hired a youth minister. I was altar serving at my parish to fulfill community service requirements for my religion classes, but I also know I was pretty close to giving up my faith. There was no good reason for this; I just didn’t see much value in it. When I met my youth minister for the first time, I saw a glimpse of the love and care my family had given me for so much of my life, and decided to get involved. I’d like to say that there was an ‘aha!’ moment which turned me to my faith – God’s booming voice calling out from the clouds or something like that – but that’s not how my story goes. The next three and a half years would be a journey for me through retreats, youth nights, summer camps, and quiet times of prayer in my room where I went from knowing about God, to coming to know Him as a person, a companion, a friend- someone who valued me, loved me, and watched out for me- even in the hardest things I would go through. I had rediscovered the best things my family had given me (feeling valued, loved, and safe) in my relationship with God.
After graduating, I went off to Bible School to firm this faith up, and the rest is history; the sixteen years since have been an incredible adventure. I’ve had the opportunity to serve God on travelling retreat teams, running summer camps and retreat teams, as a parish youth minister, and now in my new role as a school chaplain. Along the way I’ve been dealt some amazing cards: I got married, and we’ve had four wonderful kids (with a fifth on the way). I’ve been blessed to study youth ministry and theology, and been given the opportunity to meet Jesus in different places like Phoenix, Atlanta, Steubenville, Toronto, Vancouver, and even London and Madrid!
There is no doubt in my mind and heart that God is really out there. There are many specific moments over these years where I’ve had a sense of His presence and love, a word of encouragement, or guidance on the direction He’s wanted my life to take. Ever since those years in youth group, Christ has become a daily companion for me, He who loved me enough to die for me – so I am trying to love Him enough to live for Him. There are days when I feel incredibly close to Him, and days where He seems far away. There are moments I’ve taken a leap of faith not knowing where things would go, and days I’ve either metaphorically or literally screamed at God because things don’t make sense. The point is not to give up on the journey- because it has been worth every struggle and joy I’ve come across along the way. I’ve been edified to go through this journey as a member of the Catholic Church. This Church has provided for me some of the security I felt as a child, because in many ways it is like a family. I have learned from her ways to grow closer to God, how to live as a child of God, and the breadth and depth of my Catholic faith. It really is something beautiful, because the more I’ve studied, the more I’ve come to understand.
While I know God is still leading me on this journey, I believe every step along the way has been worth the effort (both the wonderful times and the difficult times.) Each card I’ve been dealt has helped to shape me into the person I am today. And I’m grateful for the companions He’s given along the way- from the youth group in St. Albert nineteen years ago – some of whom remain among my closest friends – to new friends I’ve met along the way. I am especially grateful for my beloved wife, who is truly the greatest gift God has ever given me. This is my journey, so far, with many steps still to go- but well worth the effort.