On July 28th of this year, as I was making sure I had enough clothes, bed sheets, and pillows for my travel and stay at the Three Mountains Retreat Center in Clifton, Texas, my phone vibrated and indicated I had an email about the Jesus Youth Teens Retreat which I was heading off to. Somewhere in the ocean of words, my eyes picked out the specific sentence: This will be a silent retreat.

“Jesus. Help me.”

Was there still time to get a refund? It had only been a month since the desire to know the Lord had ignited in my heart. There was still time to turn back. I was only 17. There will be more retreats. More opportunities. Silence was just not my thing.

Despite my reluctance, I knew it was too late to turn back, so I carried my luggage into those woods where there was nothing and came back having received everything. I’ve been to many retreats before, but this was the first I went to with an open mind and heart. Everything that was said to me, I let sink in. Some things offended me. Some things scared me. Most things brought me joy beyond all else. I let it all sink in. Every day, when we would enter praise and worship sessions, there were rivers under my eyes. I never knew why. It was as if I could feel the Lord’s embrace, and I finally experienced the perfect love I searched for in all the wrong places.

Soon, God kept bringing my dad into my mind.

When I was 13 years old, my father had suffered two massive strokes, and his whole persona was altered. Not only was he physically handicapped from this point, but in a span of one night I saw my dad’s confidence transformed into self-doubt, his compassion into anger, and his humility into a need to prove independence. I watched on the sidelines for four years as my dad lost his abundance of friends and every relationship he had deteriorated. I found myself avoiding him more and more.

I rarely had kind words to speak to the man who raised me. I saw him as an obstacle and a burden. I loved him but despised his company. During those four years, I constantly and unknowingly inflicted pain onto the person that loved me more than anything. I victimized myself when in fact, I was the villain.

On that Monday night during the retreat, in front of the Blessed Sacrament where Jesus was holding me in His arms, He showed me everything. He showed me how when we were still in India, my dad would always bring me candy after a whole day of working at his office. He showed me how my dad protected me from my grandfather’s disciplinarian ways.He showed me that everything I had ever asked of my dad ,I had received.

I broke down.How could be so cruel?I always thought of myself as a good person, but I was hurting one of the only people who cared for me unconditionally. I kept feeling my dad’s pain, and in that moment, I was very conscious of my heavenly Father as well. If my earthly father can suffer so much even when I see him and talk to him every day, how much more agony is my God in, when I don’t even bother acknowledging him?

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.”

I finally understood this. I walked most of my life, selfishly assuming I’m not loved, but my Father in heaven loved me enough to give me an amazing life, an amazing family, and most importantly a chance to get to know his Son. The Lord made me understand that when I hurt my parents, I was also hurting his children.

After adoration, wiping my tears, I asked around to borrow a phone, and called my family. I cried and cried. I told my dad how sorry I was, and that was all it took for four years of bickering and sorrow to disintegrate. My life was whole again.

Though I often took the path that led me away from God, he always built a detour for me to get back to Him. This retreat that I had been dreading became the turning point of every aspect of my existence. The Lord became my best friend. I was no longer afraid. I saw Him in everyone I interacted with. I mended broken relationships and let go of lost ones.

I found a haven at confession and joy at Holy Mass. Though I abhorred silence, I finally heard my God’s gentle voice in my head. I felt his love, mercy, and yearning for me.

As I spend my first year in college nine hours away from my home and family, the experience of the retreat remains in my heart. I ask God constantly to protect my loved ones and bring them joy, especially my dad who is not able to drive himself anywhere or experience the support and camaraderie he desires, but I know it will be okay because of how much my Father loves my father and me.

Alicia Sreeny lives in Texas,USA, pursuing a high schoolteacher certification and a Bachelor of Arts in Literature.