Jeans, shirts, flip-flops, a jacket, socks, underwear and three packs of cigarettes. Once I got my toiletries bag in here, I’d be ready to go to Portland. I hadn’t been to the city in years, but the ever gray skies had left an impact on me. Always dress for rain when you go to Portland.

I was nervous, because Danielle was the only person I knew on this trip, and our relationship was shaky at best. She and I met at a hotel party quite a while ago, and since then, had gone on drives together and talked about God and music. I went to church with her once, but that was a nerve-racking experience; church people all accost the new person. Somehow, she had convinced me to sign up to go to Portland with the youth group at her church. In just a few hours, I’d be on an eight-hour bus ride. What had I gotten myself into?

I chain-smoked all the way to the church, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to touch a cigarette again for hours, let alone take a few relieving puffs off one. Oh God, I wanted to die just thinking about that! My sister pulled into the parking lot, said her good-bye and told me not to drink the kool-aid. That thought remained with me the whole weekend. My family didn’t go to church. My mom grew up Catholic, and my dad had a semi-Mormon background, but God was kind of a myth in my house. My mom wanted my sister and I to get baptized someday because she didn’t want us to go to hell. That was the extent to my religious upbringing.

* * *

The bus ride was difficult. Mostly because I couldn’t smoke, but also because the junior high-aged girl in front of me kept asking who the smoker was, and wanted to inform them that they would probably go to hell. My confidence in my decision to come on this trip dwindled down every time this was brought up. I slept, but not very long. I listened to Brand New on my discman and talked to Danielle. She was excited for me to be there.Fortunately, time is always faithful to pass, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Hours and hours later, we pulled up in front of the Pony Soldier Inn in Portland. Ryan, one of the pastors began calling out room assignments, I listened intently for my name to see who I’d be stuck with for the next few days, “Austen, Jason, Jake Lee, who’s that? And Pastor Shane, you’re in room 223.”

Pastor? I have to share a room with a bloody pastor? That’s the epitome of Jesus people, isn’t it? Holy crap, I better be able to have a cigarette, or someone’s going to have to die!
I was already a bundle of nicotine-deprived nerves, and this made everything worse! What was I going to do? I shot a look at Danielle, who affirmed that I would like Pastor Shane, he’s a good guy. I rolled my eyes, which made her chuckle a little.

I made my way to the room, tossed my bag on the first bed when I walked in. Four guys to a two-bed room. Awesome, looks like I’m sleeping with a stranger. And it’s a dude. I was still having regrets about coming on this trip. The guys came in, introduced themselves, Austen got in the shower, Jason went to the gym downstairs. It was just Shane and I, and now was my chance.

“So, I don’t know what Danielle told you, but I’m not a Christian, and I kinda have some random habits. I need to go smoke. Can I? I was told you guys would let me.””Jacob, (My NAME is Jake. The man still calls me Jacob when he addresses me) can I pray for you?

What? He completely ignored my question! Who is this guy! I just want a flippin’ smoke, I NEED a bloody cigarette!

Vindictive thoughts raced through my mind, but I remained calm on the outside. “Sure.”

What do you say to a stranger you’re trapped in a hotel room with when he wants to pray for you? Get the crap away from me?

I sat down on the bed, bowed my head and closed my eyes, isn’t that how it’s done? Silence followed, then footsteps.

Why is this man walking over here? He’d better not be a molester. I’ll be so mad!

The footsteps came around the bed, stopped in front of me, and a pair of hands slapped down on my shoulders. They gave me enough of a jolt that my eyes popped open and my head shot up. My face asked the question, “What the crap are you doing?” Shane smiled and said, “It’s OK, I’m going to pray for you.” That didn’t make me feel better about the situation, nevertheless, I got back into the assumed prayer posture.

To be honest, I didn’t really pay too much attention to what the man started praying, because I was so distracted at the situation, which didn’t get any better. I heard the door open, followed by foot steps, then another hand landed on my left shoulder. Somebody else was touching me now. Shane kept going on what was probably the world’s longest prayer, but then the bathroom door opened, with more footsteps, then a hand on my right shoulder. I cracked my eyes open enough to see the top of a towel, and a red happy trail. Austen was a red-head.

I imagined a cleaning lady opening the door and screaming. I imagined myself screaming and running away. Then I was distracted from my own thoughts when Shane, with softness in his voice asked, “Jake, do you want to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”

How could I say no?
They might kill me, because I’m already surrounded. Holy crap, am I taking the plunge? Maybe I can fake it for the weekend, but what if there’s something real to this? Oh God, if you’re real, then you’ll get me out of this and let me smoke!

I said yes, repeated some words, and stood up. I didn’t feel good, and I think I looked like it, too. Austen said something akin to “Good job, I’m happy for ya.” and began to get dressed. I needed out. I grabbed a pack of Marlboros and my lighter, and stumbled out the door. Five cigarettes later, and I had the courage to return to the room.