Archive for February, 2011
Friday, February 25th, 2011
1982 Nissan Sentra
Plush, steel blue, velour interior, electric adjustable mirrors, heated rear window glass! Wow, this is luxury for me.
It was time to trade in the old Dodge Colt and get something a little more dependable. This car really fit the bill!
I was amazed at how many features were standard on this economy car and all at 30 miles per gallon. It seemed my life was finally getting back to an even keel. This car symbolized a new beginning in life. Starting over with new friends, new activities, and certainly new priorities. This little white gem carried me from one life into the other with confidence! This car became a family car for my kids. Many wonderful conversations occurred from the back seat into my ears.
Reconnect with Mom
So many things were changing in my life and quite quickly. A process of reopening my relationship with my mom had begun. After four years of not seeing her, or talking to her, I got a call that my grandfather had died unexpectedly from a heart attack. He had been shoveling snow in his driveway and came inside and just fell to the ground.
This put me into a very precarious position. I was still with my gay partner when all of this took place and Jim said, “John, you have to call your mom.” I felt it was too late to act like I cared, after not talking to her for so long. But, the reasoning in his challenge was true. So, I called her to tell her I had heard about grandpa. She said she was going to see her family right away and that she was taking the train that evening. So, I agreed to go with her.
We met at the train station around 10:30 in the evening. Seeing her was very strange but she acted like we had seen each other just yesterday. We got on the train and embarked on a 10 hour over-night journey to Denver. She talked all through the night. It seemed nothing was said about me, about my life, nor about not having seen each other for four years. But, the tragedy of my grandpa’s passing brought us to talk with each other again. I guess that was a good thing.
My First Visit to FOCAS
After hearing about the Singles Ministry Retreat and breaking up with my partner, I went to the Thursday night regular meeting of F.O.C.A.S. Fellowship of Christian Adult Singles. There were about 80 people there and the room was abuzz with lots of talking, laughter and seemingly nice people.
I walked up to one girl named Debbie, who was particularly friendly. After 45 minutes of talking to her I discovered she was hearing impaired. I was so immersed in our conversation I didn’t even notice. She had great lip-reading skills and her speaking ability was like any hearing person’s. She was so nice and encouraging.
Then I met a man named Clark. He was also really friendly. He wasn’t like many other guys I had met. He seemed to talk about things that were interesting to me. He was very passionate about his faith, God, and ministry. I really felt at home here. My own understanding of God had grown and I was really encouraged to find these people who were going this direction like me. Most of us were around the same age and of course we all lived a life of singleness. Some had been married before like I had been. Clark and Debbie became very influential people in my life and we formed friendships quickly.
I didn’t dare talk about my homosexuality fearing what they might think. I did talk freely about having lived a party lifestyle and being sexually promiscuous. This didn’t seem to shake anyone I told. So I did feel a certain amount of liberty to be authentic and open. My new friends also shared quite openly about things they had done that were embarrassing, or unhealthy. I enjoyed my first meeting and really wanted to come back.
The retreat was coming up soon and I was already registered. I think more than anything, the curiosity of what a Christian retreat was all about was the main drawing card for me to go. But none-the-less, I was excited to get ready to go.
Two Men In A Bed?
The accommodations were four men to a two-bed hotel room. We were singles and none of us had much money so this was the cheapest way to go. When it came time to go to bed, anxiety filled up within me. I was about to get into a bed with another man and it wasn’t to have sex with him. This was all too strange. So, when I got into bed I felt my arms and legs as though they were glued to my sides. I didn’t want anyone to get any idea that I was going to touch them. I hardly slept at all that first night out of my fear that I would accidentally touch the other guy.
But the next morning I got up and the retreat started. The teaching was great. The activities were really fun and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event. I was pumped about these new friends. Mostly, I was excited because this was a new type of friendship and fun that didn’t involve anything I had to feel guilty over. I wasn’t sleeping around anymore or partying in the dark of the night with people who were looking for one more opportunity to get drunk or use drugs, or use each other for sex. I was also feeling free for the first time from the conflict of relationships that were so confusing.
After the retreat I went back to the weekly meetings and to Sunday church services. Now I saw myself as a full-fledged Christian. I have no idea what others were thinking about my new life. I am sure I talked a lot about it all to anyone who would listen. I have never been one to hold back from talking about something that I was passionate about.
Back, Back, Back Again
Although this was all very new and exciting, it was also unfamiliar and strange. I began to long for something familiar again. So, as I had done several times before, I called Jim. We decided to meet up and go out to dinner. We enjoyed talking and spending time together and the evening ended up where we had always ended up before. We spent the night together and the next morning I knew I had made a huge mistake. I had manipulated Jim back into my life, used him, and both of us clearly knew that it couldn’t work out. The heaviness was so hard to process that on Monday I decided to call the singles pastor and meet with him.
Dennis Franck had been at the church working with the singles ministry for just a year. As a matter of fact during one of my exploratory visits to the other side of life, I attended Dennis’ introduction meeting the previous June. Going into his office seemed so strange. Here I was just one month away from my homosexual partner, had sex with him again the past weekend and I was in the office of a pastor. What? Where am I?
I sat down on his beige leather and wood framed settee. He had some antiques around the office which were comfortable for me to be around. He had lots of pictures of groups, friends and activities that he had been involved in. The whole office was quite comfortable.
“Pastor Dennis, I have Something To Tell You”
“Pastor Dennis, I have something to tell you that is really hard for me to work through.” I began to unravel my life story and my recent homosexual involvement. Dennis’ response was to affirm his love for me, and not respond in shock to what I had just disclosed. He was kind, supportive, and finished with a commitment to walk alongside me in any way he could to support my life.
I didn’t know that a meeting like this one could have been a shipwreck, like I have heard so many homosexuals had experienced from their pastors. I was clearly naive, but in this case my naivety was a good thing. His unconditional acceptance and support connected me to him and this ministry more than ever and began to build close bonds with the people I met with each week.
Send In The Clowns
Just a couple of months after that meeting I read an article in the local newspaper about someone who had been involved in “Clown Ministry.” Well, I had always enjoyed clowns and had a clown costume that I made several years earlier. I used it to hand out balloons at the mall once. But other than that I hadn’t done much clowning. I felt a spark in me to look further into this clown ministry thing.
At the next FOCAS meeting I talked to Clark about what I had discovered. He told me that several of the other singles had already done some clowning. They had facilitated a “Pantomime Clown Worship Service” several months earlier. I was shocked and elated at the same time. I asked Clark if maybe they would want to do more of that kind of thing and he had a positive response.
So, several of us decided to participate in “Clown School” for 8 weeks. We had a special session where the teacher came to us and taught us in our own group. We all graduated and began to ponder what we wanted to do with what we had learned. I named my clown persona, “Rainbow.” I used my testimony of coming in out of the rain into the “SonShine” of the love of Christ as my message.
Our clown ministry grew to become “Clowns Created by Christ.” We developed pantomime skits that were designed for adults to hear messages of faith, breaking down denominational barriers, and living in the freedom of the gospel. People began to invite us to present our ministry all over the local area and eventually we were invited to Canada to present our ministry at a high school graduation.
I was amazed about the things the Lord was allowing me to do. Here I was just months away from a very sexually promiscuous life, telling others about how much Jesus loved me and would love them too. I became knitted deeply into the group and loved every minute of it. We were like a family. We spent a lot of time together, traveled together and I was now discovering many of the great things in life that I had missed out on earlier.
A New Life For My Kids Too
I was also in a place where I could begin to enjoy my kids again. The FOCAS group had events for the children of single parents and they were included in our social events. My life had started over, and this time, I found I was accepted just as I am and my kids were welcome too. My church became a central place for me in life.
I thought back to my decision to leave behind God, church, or anything religious. It was because I didn’t feel like I fit in or was wanted. I really believed there was something more to this religious thing but had a hard time finding it. Now, I had found what I had been looking for since I was 16 years old. A place where people knew each other, got involved, and enjoyed life together all under the umbrella of their faith. I fit into my new life very well.
One day I was out shopping and walked into Target. Right there in front of me was Pat! The girl that had been in my first wedding and talked with me at the pancake house was shopping there too. I had not seen her since the pancake house. I walked up to her and with great joy said, “Guess what, Pat?” I began to tell her the story of becoming a Christian like she had encouraged me to do many years earlier. Pat had come into my life at such interesting places and seemingly random situations but it was clear that day that the Lord had arranged for us to interact for a special reason.
Later, Pastor Dennis called me at work and said he wanted to meet with me so we arranged to go out for a coke together. He said he could see that I liked to talk. (Duh.) He told me that one of the singles leaders was out for a couple of weeks and asked if I might like to fill in as the weekly meeting emcee.
So Scared I Was Shaking In My Feet and Praying My Guts Out
Oh, my gosh. This petrified me. No way would I ever be able to do that! But I held all of this inside me and said “Sure, I’d like to do that.” So with great fear and trepidation, I prayed my guts out and stood in front of the 100 people at the next meeting and led the order of things for the evening.
I felt wanted, affirmed, and allowed to pursue things that were new and exciting. I said yes to the position because someone acted like they wanted me there. I followed the same pattern that had led me into so many promiscuous relationships, but this time it wasn’t for sex. It was to build my character and showing a belief in me that I had something to offer others.
After a few weeks of filling in, Pastor Dennis told me that the regular guy was moving out of town and he wanted me to take the job permanently. But, this came with more responsibility. He asked me to coordinate the whole evening meeting each week. This meant meeting with the team to plan the meetings, manage the book sales table, work with the worship team and – I would be a part of the Executive Committee for the whole ministry.
The social life that came with my involvement was exciting, fulfilling, and something like I had never experienced in my life. This included traveling with friends and enjoying all of the things that life could bring.
Clark and I began weekly meetings with each other. Through our talks, we discussed our past lives, current desires and struggles. Clark was very open with me and took the time and the sacrifice to spend three to four hours together each week. He became a very good friend. I was somewhat emotionally dependent on his time and attention. I wasn’t sexually attracted or tempted in any way, but I sure appreciated having this new friend in my life.
As I look back, Pastor Dennis’ decision to bring me into something like was ludicrous. But, with the leading of God to do it, this role within FOCAS was the very thing that propelled me into a deeper relationship with God. It gave me the ability to no longer feel tempted to go back to my unhealthy relationship with Jim.
Ok, so now, what’s next?
I am leading within the singles ministry. I am the “Director” for Clowns Created by Christ. I am enjoying my kids again and each week is a new adventure. But there is something missing. I feel lonely for a relationship. I love all that I am doing, but I want to share it with someone.
I didn’t want to go back to a homosexual relationship and at the same time I wasn’t sure I wanted to be alone either. So, I entered into some one on one time with some of the ladies I met.
Here we go, John Smid in the dating scene. It wasn’t a good thing.
Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Valentines Week, 1984. When roses were being handed out, I was calling it quits with a gay partner.
The 1970 Continental Mark III was a personal luxury car produced by Lincoln and sold in North America in the 1969 through 1971 model years.
This car came into my life through a new man that I met at the “Stage Door Lounge”, a local gay bar. Jim, one of my partners, bought this car because he had always wanted one and he found a perfect model at a reasonable price. It was beautiful, luxurious, and he was so excited to find it. I have to say, I loved it too. When I rode in it I felt rich, sassy, and first class.
The Cars Keep Coming
As I write all of these stories about cars that remind me of my life, this car symbolizes for me the confusion, immorality, and brokenness I experienced. I was trying to find a gay partner that wouldn’t cheat on me and leave me. But was blind as to how I was the one who cheated, lied, and left people hurting in the dust.
After such devastation of Steve leaving me and becoming involved with my friend, Don, I was determined I would find someone who would love me. I went to the local gay bars and discos on the weekends hoping that one of those nights I would find the right person.
Saturday nights were obviously the main gathering time but since I was desperate, I started my weekend going out sometimes as early as Thursday nights. There were many ways a guy could manage the bar depending on his circumstances. If I didn’t want the pressure of approaching men, I would sit with friends on the side and make it clear I was with a group. If, on the other hand, I was looking for someone then I would stand alone and show that I was open to someone approaching me.
On one night in particular I remember driving to the bar. It was about 10:30 at night and I saw a handsome young man walking down the street. I stopped to ask him if he need a ride. As we talked I found out that he was gay and I asked him if he knew about the local gay bars. He said no and I asked if he’d like me to take him there. So, he agreed and I escorted this young man to the gay bars for the very first time. I always felt guilty that I introduced him to the gay bars but that was the only way I knew of to connect to the gay community. When I took him home, as was often the case, we had a one night stand. I saw him many other times at the bar. Many times I wondered what it would have been like for me if I had found a place to connect that wasn’t through the bar scene.
Maybe This Will Work Out Better
One night I saw a guy standing alone. He had jeans, a plaid shirt, and suspenders on with boots. He looked quite alluring. I walked up to him and he seemed aloof to talk with but he also seemed kind. He wasn’t drinking much so that was a good sign. I didn’t like to be around people that were drunk.
We introduced ourselves and he said his name was Jim. Jim and I really hit it off and at the end of the evening he asked me to follow him home to his apartment. I was more than eager to spend more time with him. I thought maybe this would be the man I was looking for.
We went to his place and it was in a classic, really cool, old building. In his apartment I found his things to be organized like an antique store display window. It was done with great attention to detail. He had a lot of things and talked about how he really didn’t care much about them but valued relationships more.
Jim and I talked into the middle of the night. Well, I am not so sure Jim talked that much because he seemed to be more of a listener. I was very open about what had just happened in my life and Jim seemed to be a comforter for my wounds.
So, Jim and I began to hang out a lot and he always wanted to see me more. One Sunday Jim said he wanted to go with me to get my kids and hang out with us. This was very new! Jim really liked my kids and they liked him. He was funny and enjoyed teasing them a lot. By this time, they were three and four years old so they were easily entertained.
We exchanged staying at each others houses and it seemed we were moving into a deeper relationship. However , Jim made it clear that he wasn’t eager to share a home. There seemed to be a resistance to giving up his apartment and his personal way of living. I couldn’t say I was very interested in giving up my place either. I had a great apartment and my home life had calmed down since Steve moved out and my personal time at home became very important to me.
Jim had a large, boisterous Italian family. He talked a lot about his mom and dad, who had passed away. His aunt “Babe” was now like a mom to him. He loved her so much and talked of how he loved to go hang out at her house. She was very dramatic and he loved that about her. We used to laugh a lot about how Aunt Babe responded to life. She reminded me of an old screen actress who always had some drama going on.
His Sister is a Jesus Freak!
Jim also had two sisters and two brothers that he loved dearly. He was particularly close to one sister. Her name was Jen. Jim wanted me to go with him to meet Jen and her family. Before we went, he wanted to brief me on some things. He said that Jen and her husband were Jesus Freaks. He said they talked about Jesus all of the time and he wanted to warn me before we got there.
Jen was delightful! She clearly loved her brother, Jim. She talked of his homosexuality in kind of a distracted way. She treated Jim’s friends with respect but called them Jim’s “funny friends.” We all laughed about the way she put things and it was clear she had loved the other men Jim had introduced her to as much as she showed me she loved me. As a matter of fact, Jen and I are still connected today.
My relationship with Jim became kind of complicated. Jim would at times say he didn’t want to hang out on a particular weekend and said he was tired. He and I worked out a special telephone signal that would tell each other we were going to bed rather than to talk. So Jim would ring the phone at 11:00 PM and I would know he was going to sleep. I felt close to him with our special code system.
On one Friday night I decided to go out to the bar and arrived around 9:30 PM. Jim had said he was tired and was staying home so I took advantage of the free evening to be with other friends. I walked in to the bar and Jim was standing in the “looking” pose? I felt betrayed and distrustful for obvious reasons. This began a series of ups and downs for Jim and me. I loved Jim a lot and overlooked the open, unspoken agreement. Actually, I took advantage of the opportunities to be with other men. We hung out often and spent time with family and of course, Jim loved my kids so we did fun things with them too.
There was a guy named Jerry that kept calling me to get together. One day he came to my house and it was clear that he wanted to have sex. I didn’t see him in that way and really didn’t want to do anything sexual with him. But he kept trying and eventually I gave into his advances. It was at this time that I realized I was compromising. I felt disrespected, used, and certainly unfulfilled. There were sexual opportunities with men that at the time I wished would have moved into more of a relationship, then there were those I wanted to forget completely. My friend, Don, always told me that it wasn’t a good idea to have sex with your “friends” because it would ruin the relationship. That happened to me too.
A Revival Service? What’s That?
Jim’s sister, Jen, called me to invite me to one of their church services. She described it as a “revival” service which sounded quite interesting to me. I hadn’t been to a church other than a wedding or funeral since I was married to Kristy. So, on a Wednesday night, I met Jen and her husband at a small church in Council Bluffs Iowa, without Jim. He wasn’t interested in going.
I don’t remember much about the speaker, or the event but something happened to me that evening that was quite amazing. I heard this voice, not out loud, but it was clear. “John, you don’t have to live this way any longer.” I clearly understood what that meant. I had gone through such turmoil and disappointment that it seemed that God Himself was telling me that I could make a dramatic change in my life that would free me from all of the unhealthy relationships and sexual promiscuity that I had been involved in.
I had not been sexually faithful to any of the men I had been with. I had many one night stands along the way. Steve’s rejection wounded me greatly, Jim having other relationships was hurtful. My own promiscuity was messing with my mind as well. This message from God changed something deep in my heart. It seemed He had heard my cries for help and acknowledged my inner pain.
After those words, came an instruction. “Call Laurie, and ask her out to dinner.” Laurie was a girl that I knew from the community theater that I was involved with. She was delightful, fun, and spending time with her was something I knew I would enjoy.
So, I went home from the “revival service” and called Laurie. Her response was energetically “yes.” So We went to dinner at a little place in mid town Omaha. As we talked I mentioned to her that God had spoken to me and that I was seriously interested in finding out more about this Jesus that so many had talked about in the recent months. I also was also honest with her about my divorce and being gay.
Laurie’s response was surprising. She said she was a Christian and that she had been divorced too. She went on to tell me that her first husband was gay and that his homosexuality was the reason for their divorce. She still loved him but their marriage didn’t survive and ended amicably.
Oh, my gosh. This is the first time I had put all of my lives together in one discussion. Laurie told me she knew I was friends with several of the gay guys at the theater and that she accepted us the way we were and didn’t reject us for being gay.
I didn’t spend much more individual time with Laurie but our time together made a huge difference in my view of Jesus and other barriers between me and religion were knocked down. I became even more vocal about what I was discovering about Jesus. Jim and I would argue about this often because he was Catholic and held to different views than I was discovering from people that I was talking with.
Another Jesus Freak on the Scene
I worked with a girl that was a very energetic “Jesus Freak.” Her name was Pat and she had a bible on her desk, Jesus stickers all over and she frequently talked about her faith with all of us at work. She began to open up the Bible with me and talk about things it said. One day she walked in with a paperback Bible that she gave to me as a gift. She told me to read it starting with the book of John.
Pat also invited me to go to church with her but I wasn’t quite ready for that yet. So, I began to read the book of John and found I actually understood it for the first time in my life! I started to understand what the “gospel” meant and Pat and I talked about what that would mean for me if I would accept Jesus’ offer of eternal life through His sacrifice. Yes! I get it!
Oh, now I am a Christian and Jim and I battled even more. He thought I had become like his sister Jen and our relationship became even more rocky. But I still loved him and it seemed he still loved me. After a season of challenging circumstances Jim and I separated. Now what? Well, now I’m a Christian and I am thinking differently about many things.
Have Sex and Tell Him About Jesus!
While walking in a city park I met an attractive young man. After we talked we arranged to meet again. Of course, we did and it ended up in a sexual evening together. But this time was different. He was hurting about something that was going on in his life and I spent a lot of time talking to him about Jesus, the gospel, and how God would help him through the challenge he was facing.
With Jim out of the picture I figured maybe it would work better if I met a guy that was already a Christian and would support my new understanding of Jesus. “Yes, that’s it! A Christian partner.”
You’re a Christian, and You Love Me!
At the theater there was one guy, named Pete, that everyone really liked. He was kind of close to Laurie so that was a good sign. One evening Pete and I were alone in his car talking and something came alive in our time together and we ended up going to his apartment. We started off our closeness with a lot of talking and ended up having sex that night. But this time something was different. Pete was different than all of the others I had known and slept with. He seemed to have spiritual convictions about life, relationships, and was very strong about his faith.
Pete was a school teacher at a local Lutheran grade school where he wasn’t necessarily open about his homosexuality, but was dearly loved by the other teachers and by the kids. His dad was a Lutheran pastor and he had been raised in the church, knowing the Bible, and clearly having a relationship with Jesus. I loved that about him.
We spent every night together after our first date. Mostly at my house, he began to move his things in from his house to mine. After a couple of months, Pete decided to let go of his apartment and totally move in with me.
Pete drove a 1980 Toyota. It was a simple, yet practical car. His car was much better than my ‘75 Dodge colt so he’d almost always drive when we went places. I felt special when he’d often come downtown to pick me up from work. I usually took the bus so this was a real treat.
New Partner, Christmas in Florida! More Christian Growth
Christmas was coming and Pete had planned a trip to his parents home near Orlando Florida. He talked to them about bringing his “roommate” with him this year and they were delighted to have me to come. This was 1980 and Disney World was very new and a brand new park opened up that year called “Epcot Center.” I was more than elated that I was going to go to Florida, to “Epcot”, and to be with Pete and his family. We were ecstatic about our new relationship and the future looked bright for us.
When I arrived at his parents’ home they were more than gracious. His dad and I would discuss the Bible and he answered many questions I had about my new faith. I am sure his parents were encouraged to see this new Christian coming into their home. We slept in the guest room and spoke many times about his parents not knowing anything about our “friendship” that was occurring in their guest room. But we just kept our little secret and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with his family.
When we got home something inside me tripped and I began to feel drawn to talk with Jim again. I missed him. We had been together for a couple of years and I liked the way he made me feel. So, unbeknownst to Pete, I called Jim. We got together and this just stirred things up all over again between me and Jim. I didn’t seem to be able to keep from calling him. This of course created some stress in my relationship with Pete.
Eventually, I thought I wanted to get back together with Jim. So, I told Pete and he moved out and was obviously very hurt. Jim and I started our relationship up all over again and soon the disappointments came back. Jim was unfaithful and lied about some things again. I was so disappointed. I thought it would be different this time.
It had been only a couple of weeks so I called Pete and told him I wanted to meet with him. I told him I was very sorry and that I really loved him. So, Pete moved back with me and life was good between us. I had gotten into such a pattern of lying and deceiving that all over again, I contacted Jim. I was so unstable with all of this. Pete found out that I had deceived him again and after just knowing him for about 8 months, Pete made a healthy decision and broke up with me for the last time. I was now alone and had no one.
By this time I had begun the process of buying a little house. Maybe the third time is a charm. I called Jim once again and he seemed to have made some big changes in his life. He said he was ready to move in together. This had mostly been the breakdown between us so this was quite the step for Jim. I felt he had changed, so I was game to take this step as well. We began talking about the house and what it would mean for us both to settle down and make a life with each other.
Me! At a Pentecostal Church?
By this time, I had agreed to go to church with Pat. I found her church to be alive! It was exciting to go there. One Sunday morning after I had been out with Joe the night before, the Pastor, John Walker, came up to me and said, “That’s a fine yellow sweater you have on there, my friend.” He didn’t know that I bought it special for my date with my gay partner the day before. The yellow sweater became symbolic of my two lives. The life with Jim who didn’t want anything to do with my new religion, and going to church at a Pentecostal church! I felt torn, but I didn’t want to be alone either.
I had now begun to evaluate my life at a deeper level. I had divorced my wife and abandoned my children. I became sexually promiscuous and couldn’t maintain a healthy relationship with any of my partners. I was emotionally dependent and compromising with Jim and it seemed he was all I had. But the conflict grew within me.
I reflected on what God had told me at the revival service and realized He had given me hope that I didn’t have to live in such relational turmoil and insanity. I found out that there was a singles ministry that was pretty active at the church I had attended and that they were hosting a semi-annual singles retreat in February. I wanted to go to that retreat but I knew that Jim wouldn’t like that too much.
Valentine’s Day Week, 1984
Interestingly the day I am writing this is February 14, 2011. Valentines week, 27 years ago, I called Jim up and told him I couldn’t see him anymore. Our relationship had always been rocky, confusing, and hurtful for us both. Jim’s response was, “One day, I’ll pursue my faith like you are but I am not ready yet.”
I hung up the phone and my life was about to dramatically change.
I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the LORD: “LORD, save me!”
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The LORD protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.
For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
I trusted in the LORD when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”
What shall I return to the LORD for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, LORD; I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the LORD.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD—in your midst, Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD.
Thursday, February 10th, 2011
1975 Dodge Colt
Nothing fancy about this car. It wasn’t even a real Dodge. It was a Mitsubishi incognito. After a crash and a fill in car, it was a new start from a bad place in life. It was easy on gas and ran well so it fit the bill.
Leaving John’s house in my ”67 Olds, I drove up to the apartment building where Ben and Don lived to unload my things and climbed up three flights of stairs. Ben opened the door welcoming me in with a great big a hug.
The song, “What I Did For Love”, was blaring throughout their apartment when I arrived. It was from the soundtrack “A Chorus Line.” There was a gay character in the musical that I seemed to resonate with and my new life felt like a blank page to be filled in.
That’s the way I saw it, the old is gone, the new has come and John Smid is going to redesign his life.
I stayed in the guest bedroom at Ben and Don’s apartment for about a month. I went to bed the first night in a haze, like it was a dream that I was living in. I felt safe and yet I recognized nothing around me. I had only been around these guys a few times. Their conversations, their friends, this was all so strange but at the same time exciting. I felt relieved that I didn’t live in the tension that I had been in for so long.
Ignoring the reality of what I had just done, I could hardly wait for the next weekend when I could spend time with my new friend, John. I wondered what he would show me, or open my eyes to next. It was a discovery process to find out what my new life was really all about.
On Friday night, we went to the “Stage Door Lounge”, a local gay disco, where he introduced me to some of his friends. The scene was full of excitement, dancing, men embracing each other. Some men were standing alone, postured to gain attention. John said they were hoping to find someone to go home with that night. The cultural education of the local gay scene began. The place smelled of smoke and alcohol making it pungent. But, with the loud, energetic music like “Evita” and “Donna Summer” songs, John and I enjoyed the music and the evening and went back to his house with yet more sexual contact.
Going to work on Monday morning was quite different from all the many years before. I was now getting a divorce and my friends around me knew but no one really said much. I kept my reasons for the divorce vague to most of them. So, the questions on Monday morning were as usual, “What did you do this weekend?” I talked about partying, going out, enjoying new friends. It felt so odd but yet I was proud of my answers because for the first time in my life it seemed I had something exciting to talk about. I was now popular in party circles. Unlike my high school years and those following, I was now like others who enjoyed their social lives intensely.
The next weekend I went out again. But this time some of my friends and I decided to go out to the local pancake house after the bar closed. Once we arrived in the door two girls came across the room to greet me. “John, come sit with us for a minute.” It was Pat and Randy. These girls had been high school friends and bridesmaids in my wedding with Kristy. Pat had actually introduced me to Kristy in high school.
“John, you need Jesus!”
So, I sat down and right off the bat, “John, you need Jesus!!” It seemed like they were speaking in unison. They began to tell me how they had found Jesus and how exciting it was to be Christians. They were extremely energetic about their new belief. We all knew that the life they had lived after high school was less than moral. They were party girls who lived together. I remember going to a party at their apartment. Since I was the conservative married guy at the time I was surprised at the atmosphere they were living in. So this was really strange to think of them as “religious” people.
I had no idea what this was all about. I had been raised Catholic, Pat was too. So she talked about that, “John, this is nothing like going to Catholic church.” Oh, boy, what did I get myself into? I felt trapped by these two girls who cornered me to tell me about Jesus. I didn’t want to hear about Jesus. I wanted to be with my new friends. After some time of listening to their spiel, I got up to go back to sit with my friends. In my entire life, I had never been approached like this about religion, much less such a strong emphasis on “Jesus.”
What? Where did they go? My friends had left and they didn’t even say goodbye. I felt rejected, abandoned and all alone. These girls had robbed me from time with my friends then they just left me. So, I went home and didn’t really want to think about the discussion with Pat and Randy. It was all too confusing and certainly contrary to the direction I was heading.
The time had come for me to find my own apartment. Ben and Don had been extremely hospitable but I wanted my own space. I found a great apartment that was just right for me. It was a classic midtown apartment and cool. It had a living room, a bedroom, a long primitive kitchen and a small sun room. Old woodwork with wood floors added to the feel of the place. It wasn’t very clean so I scrubbed it to a shine and began to dream of how I could decorate it to be really cool. I gathered a couple of things to make it a home and started my new independent life.
Then one afternoon, my life was once again challenged. After the shock of the “Jesus girls” it seemed like “someone” was trying to get my attention. I was driving to the mall after work one day and a huge storm came into the city. I felt the winds pick up, the rain started to fall and it soon felt like a cyclone was hitting. Going down a hill the water began to rise and the winds blew harder and all of a sudden “CRASH!” I heard the back window of my car cave in. Leaves were blowing all around inside the car. It felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz! As I was going down the hill a large tree branch had fallen on the back of my car. The car stopped suddenly and it was trapped underneath the tree.
I got out into the street and the flood of water took me off of my feet. My shoes, my glasses, and my watch all went down the gutter . I got out of the water, socks soaked and hanging over the end of my feet and ran into a garage close by where others were standing.
The storm subsided and not knowing what to do about my car, I decided to walk 10 blocks to my home in my flopping socks. As I stood in the bathtub taking my wet and muddy clothes off, for one moment I pondered my life. I felt confused and alone. But surely, there would be a time when I would find someone to help fill my life again. Much like when the girls talked to me, this was a moment of personal honesty, but I didn’t want that right now. I just wanted to get on with where I was headed. My office had a little newspaper they compiled for moral building and my “tornado” experience made the next issue. It was titled “John Smid was mugged by Mother Nature.”
My friend, Don, was selling his 1966 Chevelle, so I replaced the Oldsmobile with his car. It was only $600 so that was manageable for me. It seemed to be the right provision at the right time.
John was pretty social and remained uncommitted to a monogamous relationship with me and would often proudly speak of other sexual conquests. This was not my plan. I wanted to find that one person who would love me, and me alone. Even though I was heading towards promiscuous relationships, there was something in me that still wanted something stable, trustworthy.
The New Guy
One evening John said, “Hey, John, I think you should meet a guy that I just met. His name is Steve.” I was interested, so John set up a meeting with Steve and we seemed to hit it off well. It felt like John wanted to expand our relationship boundaries so I wasn’t so focused on him. Steve invited me to spend the afternoon at his suburban home one Saturday afternoon. We sat outside in the sun while Steve fixed Pina Colada’s. Steve seemed really interested in spending more time with me. He talked about working in town just a few blocks from where I lived. I was so romantic to share a quiet afternoon sipping cool drinks. Steve pridefully talked about his roommate being a very wealthy business owner in Omaha. He seemed to have a strange connection with him, but I was so enamored with the attention he was giving me that I just ignored the thoughts that it might have been a sexual relationship.
Steve came by one night after work and the evening ended up with one more sexual encounter with yet another guy. This was now the fourth man that I had sex with. This one seemed different. He seemed like he wanted some kind of home, some kind of committed relationship. He was good looking, energetic, and seemed to enjoy life. To top it off, he made me feel really special, significant. That night, Steve stayed at my place since he was close to work. This began to reoccur and I thought he wanted me.
We soon talked about moving in together in our own place. This seemed fast but it was what I was looking for and it seemed to be mutual. So, it happened that there was a great apartment open in the same building that Ben and Don lived in. Amongst our friends, that building was thought to be a premium building to be in. It was all gay, and right in the middle of the mid-town location that we all wanted to live in.
Since my 6 month lease was up, Steve and I moved in together I had found that one person to be with. I put all of my energy into making this a home for the two of us. Steve was excited and it felt like we were married! I didn’t go to the bars anymore and just enjoyed every minute I could have with the new man of my dreams. Steve drove a 1978 Pontiac TransAm. It was bright red and boy did I love riding in it. I got to drive it sometimes too. I felt like I was really something when I would drive this hot car around town. At times I would drive it to pick up my kids. I felt pretty puffed up showing up in the driveway with a car that I knew Kristy would be jealous of. I wanted her to think my life was going pretty well.
My birthday was coming up that first year away from Kristy. When it arrived I waited for something special from Steve. But actually this birthday was one of the hardest ones I had ever had. I received nothing from Steve and as a matter of fact, I didn’t get a card from anyone. I felt so hurt that he had not done anything and everyone had forgotten my
This was just the beginning of an extremely painful season of my life. Steve not only didn’t acknowledge my birthday, but worse, he started going out without me to be with other friends. He said he needed some freedom outside of our relationship. I sat home grieving over him being somewhere without me on many nights. I would go to bed worrying that he may be getting involved with someone else. It got to the place where I was desperate to keep him even if it meant that I had to put up with whatever he may have been doing. I became sarcastic and manipulative because I was so fearful of losing him.
Our sexual life became a bargaining ground. He began to ask me to sleep in my own room because he said he needed his own space. I often begged him to allow me to sleep with him. He didn’t always agree and I wondered what in the world had happened to the “dream relationship” that I thought I had with Steve.
Halloween was coming and Steve and I decided to host a party. Since everyone around us thought of us as a couple and Halloween was a big gay holiday, this party was the talk of the town and many of our friends were coming. There were people I didn’t know because of Steve’s independence, but it didn’t matter, it was Steve and I that were hosting this party so there was still a resemblance of “the perfect gay couple.” At least he was living with me, believing I had the better end of the deal.
The Tin Man
During party, Steve seemed to be absent. I went into the kitchen asking if anyone had seen him and they seemed kind of awkward as they answered, “No, we don’t’ know where he is.” So, I went through the house to look further and found the bathroom door was closed. “Steve, are you in there? Are you sick?” From the other side of the door I heard, “Just leave me alone, get away from the door!” I was devastated at his response and couldn’t understand why he seemed so angry. A couple of minutes later the door opened and Steve came out, not alone, but with another man dressed as “The Tin Man.” Needless to say, the word devastation couldn’t begin to describe my broken heart about what I knew was going on.
When the guests all went home Steve was really drunk and he laid on the floor. I’ll never forget the picture of me sitting on the floor next to him sobbing, “Why would you do this to me?”
Our relationship obviously took a turn for the worse that night but I did everything I could to try to keep him. I did anything he wanted, let him do whatever he wanted, begged, suffered and cried. I couldn’t be alone without him.
Some of the greatest wounding I have experienced came from what happened between Steve and me. One day Steve and I talked in the kitchen and I’ll never forget him saying, “John, I have to be honest with you. You just don’t have what it takes to please me sexually.” The next day he moved out and I reached a new low in life. I was completely broken.
He told me that Don had said he could live with him. Don had broken up from Ben and was living alone. I felt deeply betrayed by Don. Why would he allow Steve to live there? Don was my only true friend and I needed him right now, but he had chosen Steve over me. He seemed oblivious to how I had been hurt.
With all of Steve’s things moved out I tried to put things together at my apartment. I used the coping mechanisms I had used other times to just shut down and move on. I just looked forward. I would find someone who would love me. But, the devastation went so deep this time I wasn’t sure I could move on.
1975 Dodge Colt
I had to get rid of Don’s car and it was time to look for a more economical one other than the gas hog V-8 of the Chevelle. I began the search and found one at a small local used car dealership. It was bright metallic green with white interior. Kind of sporty. It was a 1975 two door Dodge Colt. With a four cylinder Mitsubishi format, this was the one for me. It was a whopping $1300 dollars and I could afford that. It smoked a little bit, burning oil, but it was clean and easy on gas.
I haven’t said much about my kids. That is because I didn’t want to think much about that and saw them on Sunday afternoons and sometimes on Wednesday evenings. In the community I was in, kids weren’t really celebrated much.
When I was with my kids I knew that my friends didn’t really want them around and I am not sure I wanted them around these people anyway. The only friend that understood was Don since he had kids of his own and by this time, Don was out of the picture.
I had been attending a gay Alcoholics Anonymous group. Some of my friends said it might be helpful for processing my grief. One particular day in the group I shared some of what I had been going through and a young girl stood up and said, “I can relate to what you are feeling….” Something switched in me and all of a sudden I didn’t feel so alone in my pain. I learned the “Serenity Prayer” from this group that would come to be very helpful.
Driving across town to pick up my kids one Sunday was another turning point for me. The route to my kid’s house took me right past Don’s house where Steve was living. It became apparent to me that Steve had moved into Don’s life further than just a roommate so my personal pain had just increased. This house was the “scene of the crime” and the anxiety that I felt seemed unmanageable. As I drove by and entered the interstate all I could think of was how I could drive off the road and hopefully die. The suicidal thoughts were pretty heavy and then I thought of the prayer and began to cry out; “God, grant me the serenity…..”
Something miraculous happened that day. I had spoken to God in a very personal way for the first time in my life and it seemed that He answered.
The deep grief I was feeling seemed to lift and for the first time ever I saw that just maybe, God was real!
Friday, February 4th, 2011
From a brand new station wagon and a newly built custom home, to an old car, an old apartment, and a different life.
A 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass wasn’t a status car in any way. It was an average family moving vehicle. The one I was about to buy was 12 years old. It was in pretty good shape and ran well. It was to be a second car. We only had one car and life was changing.
I told Kristy that I wanted a divorce.
I had plans to discover my true self. In my mind I told myself that I had found the missing piece of the puzzle that I had tried to put together for years.
I was gay. That’s it! I am gay!
I thought of myself as being a responsible person. I met my obligations. I wasn’t a deserter. I’m a moral person, I value family, marriage, and commitments. There was this part of my heart and mind that didn’t seem to fit that paradigm so I just split my brain into two parts. The rational, sane John and the John that was curious, confused, and longing for a connection that I had dreamed of. That part of John didn’t seem to think about responsibility, commitment, or values.
I was on a track to find others like myself. Ken, my gay friend from work, told me that he would introduce me to others like us, gay men. The first gay men that he introduced me to were a couple. Ken called them Tom and Ben. While it sounded strange to me to hear two men’s names used like that, I was curious and anxious to meet them. So, Ken invited me to their house one evening.
I told Kristy that I was “going out.” By this time she was in so much shock and grief, no questions were asked. I took this to mean that I was free to go wherever I wanted to go for whatever reason I had. Her lack of intervention told me that she understood and was accepting the situation. Boy was I wrong.
So, still only having one car, I got into our new station wagon and drove into the city. Tom and Ben lived in a sixplex apartment building. It was built in the 1930’s and was designed as a luxury building. Each apartment had a maid’s quarters, servant’s button on the floor of the dining room underneath the table. I was interested in seeing how “gay” men lived. Their house was well appointed, clean, and seemed to be a little old fashioned. Tom was the decorator and Ben was the more practical of the two. They told me that the entire building was gay men accept one couple that were accepting of homosexual people. They were the artistic type, so they understood. I think my eyes were wide from curiosity and satisfaction that I had found this new world. It was like going through the hole in “Alice in Wonderland.”
A New Gay Friend
I immediately had a lot in common with Ben. He was a United States Postal worker like my dad was. He had been married and had two gradeschool children. We talked a lot about what it was like to be gay and have a wife and family. He gave me hope that there was a life outside of my marriage. He also was clear that this would be a challenging way to live. He didn’t sugar coat anything as though it was glamorous. I remember one of the most significant things that Ben told me was, “John, remember you are John first, your identity isn’t in being gay.” His comment laid a foundation for me that has played back in useful ways all through the years.
As I was leaving their home, they mentioned they had a friend who was also named John that they wanted to introduce me to. It was as though they were setting me up for a blind date. They mentioned that there was another man named Bob that I should meet. Bob was a psychologist and was about 10 years older than I was. So, leaving their house, I had something else to look forward to, meeting other people like me.
In a couple of weeks, Bob and I met for dinner. During our conversation, Bob made a profound statement. I was talking about my desire for a life long committed partner relationship. Remember, I am faithful and maintain my commitments. Well, Bob’s response was, “John, I have been at this lifestyle for 10 years and I do not believe it is possible to find that kind of relationship.” I didn’t care what Bob had to say, from his own experience. I would prove him wrong and find that one person to be with, no matter how hard it was. I wouldn’t be confined to someone else’s experience.
After our dinner, Bob invited me to his apartment. He lived in a downtown highrise. His place was on the tenth floor. When I walked in, I found a huge floor to ceiling window looking out over the city. It was like “Bob Newhart’s” Chicago apartment. I was mesmerized by the whole scene. As the evening progressed, Bob initiated physical closeness and the night ended up with a second homosexual encounter. This time, I didn’t feel particularly convicted about what had happened. In my mind I had already given myself permission to stray away from Kristy. My double mind had become a way of living. I was moving on.
Ben called me one day to say that he had arranged for me to meet John. I tried one more time to meet with Bob but it didn’t really work out, so I was enthused to meet John. I met him at Tom and Ben’s home. John was energetic, intense, seemed to be a great guy and at our first meeting he seemed to like me. So, John and I arranged to meet again the next week.
Two guys with the name of John
That seemed even weirder than “Tom and Ben.” We met up at his house. John was a creative, artsy kind of guy with a professional career in Human Resources with a large department store chain. His house was one of the most unique homes I had ever seen. Since John was a very small man in stature, it seemed his house reflected his size as well. It was tiny, creative, and he had a “straight” roommate that lived upstairs. His roommate was OK with John’s homosexuality, so having other gay men around wasn’t in any way a problem for him.
John and I began a regular relationship. In my mind, I had found that man who I could be with maybe even long term. But John kept telling me he wanted to be able to have other guys to be with. He said that meant he didn’t like me, actually the word “love” came up often. I figured that I just needed to roll with this in order to keep John by my side.
Ben introduced me to a couple of gay clubs in town. It seemed that this was the place to meet people and have a good time around others who were like me. Since I had never really gotten out much when I was younger, I was like a kid in a candy store! I wanted to go back more often but I was still a “family man” and continued to attempt to fulfill my responsibilities there even though I was deceived into thinking of myself that way.
My new life story began to circulate. Kristy began to make phone calls to my family about what was going on. In the middle of the night, around 2:00 AM I got a call that woke me up. It was my step dad. “John, I heard what you are doing and I just want you to know that if you don’t get this worked out I am going to kick you so hard that you are going to be wearing your asshole as a necklace.” He followed cussing me out even more. A deeply seated fear rose up in my heart.
The other side of my brain woke up and I wanted my own children to NEVER have to experience the rage that I had from my step-dad years earlier in my life. I called my mother the next day and with great passion I said, “Mom, I left your home 10 years ago to get away from what I experienced last night on the phone. I will never allow that to come into my home again!!!!” Wow, I had never stood up to my mom before. This was coming from my own pain and a desire to protect my kids. I didn’t speak to my mom again for four years. She didn’t call me, and I certainly didn’t call her.
Kristy had arranged a meeting with her mom and the two of us. As we sat at the kitchen table, with love in her heart, her mom said, “John, I’ll never believe you are gay.” I knew she loved me but I wasn’t about to accept her assessment of who I was. It just felt like she didn’t understand and somehow wanted life to be different. She wasn’t the only one to try to talk with me.
I was at my dad’s one afternoon and we were talking about my situation. I was coming very close to separating from Kristy at this point. My dad, with tears in his eyes, said, “John, I know how hard you are struggling, but my greatest concern is the loss of your family and a divorce.” “I don’t want you to go through a divorce like I did.” My dad’s heart, care for me, and his perspective shocked me into my other brain for a moment. I went home to Kristy that day and for the first time in years my heart was open to her’s. I told her that I wanted to try to work this out and that I wasn’t leaving.
I knew that this was a mess and that I was causing many people a lot of pain.
I began to research people we could talk to. As I did, the other side of my brain came to life and my heart went cold to her again. I was going to go my own way. My friend Ben, told me about someone he and his wife had talked to. He said that “Pastor Laura-Gross Thamert” would help us. She was gay sensitive and understood the issues.
So, without talking to Kristy about this pastor’s perspective, I told her we were going to talk to a pastor about our situation. When we met her, she basically said that Kristy had to just accept that fact that I was gay and that our marriage would likely end. I am sure Kristy was devastated, I just checked off another box that said, “I tried.” Then I found some counselors that would help us “divorce amicably.”
All of these meetings seemed like a sham to me but I just wanted to find the easiest way to let Kristy down to the reality that I wanted to move on to my own life and the freedom to discover more of my gay life. Nothing was going to stop me now.
I had been working on finishing our basement into a play room for the kids, so I began to set a timeline that included the finishing of that project before I would leave. As I look back certainly I can see the strange set of priorities, but with the double mind that I had developed it isn’t that much of a stretch to understand what I was going through.
I had made arrangements to leave that included an invitation for me to stay with Tom and Ben for a season. So, one Sunday when Kristy and the kids were out, I packed all of my things up and put them into my ‘67 Oldsmobile “escape car.” Yes, I bought the car with the intention of using it for my new life. I had given Kristy another rationale for purchasing the car, but I had it in my mind all along what I wanted it for. As I finished, and got ready to leave, Kristy came home. I was full of anxiety as she came in and decided to unpack the car and stay. I knew that deciding to stay was not what was in my heart, I just lost the courage to leave.
A week later, Sunday afternoon again and Kristy and the kids were gone. I called my new friend, John, to talk with him about leaving. He said, “John, how will you feel tomorrow if you don’t leave?” That was the answer I needed. John invited me to come to his house when I left. I hurriedly packed my things and got them into the car one more time. As I went out to the car to leave, Kristy came home again. I had made my mind up. I was leaving today. While I was packing, Kristy’s sister called, “Hi, John, how are you?” “Oh, just fine, Kristy and the kids are gone.” A little chit-chat later I hung up the phone. Little did she know I was next to the bed with all of my things on it and I was about to leave in a few minutes. But I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that.
Kristy came home again as I finished loading the car but that wasn’t going to stop me this time. So, closing my heart up even further, I got into the car and began to back out of the garage. Kristy and my beautiful blonde little girls stood in the garage. I will never forget that picture in my mind, the three of them just staring at me as I left.
I was as cold as ice, and so shut down, that I just drove away. I put it behind me as I looked forward to being at John’s house.
Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
A Vision from God
In 2005, a huge transition occurred in my life. As I prayed, I saw a picture of a church building. This church was a square block style building with a foyer outside of its double entrance doors that was simple and more of a breezeway than a formal foyer.
As the doors opened up I saw people inside that were very busy. They were sitting in a variety of places. There were traditional church pews in the room but they weren’t connected to the floor. They seemed to be arranged for unique purposes.
There were people praying alone, in groups, walking or sitting. There were people laughing in joyous celebration. It was clear that the image I saw was that the pews were flexible and this room was set up for multipurpose use.
On the walls were stunning abstract sculptures. They were made of hand blown glass in ultra luminescent colors and so beautiful to look at. There was a cross hanging on the front wall that was made of the same hand blown glass. The blues, greens, oranges, reds, and whites were incredible and glistening with swirling brightness.
A man stood up front on a short stool. He was chanting out loud as if he were practicing for something. He had a black cleric’s robe on and there was a tailor that was hemming his sleeves while he stood there.
Interpretation of the Vision
When I prayed about what I had seen, the Lord seemed to give me its meaning. He said that he wanted the pews loosened so that we would be free from a habitual existence within our gatherings. He wanted us to be free in our worship, our prayer, and our fellowship with each other. He made it clear that these people in their various activities were a pleasure to Him.
He said that the sculptures hanging on the walls of this room were works of art that exemplified the talents He had given to each of us. These were callings, gifts, natural talents, spiritual gifts that were so special to Him that He wanted them displayed. It was to Him like a parent hanging a picture their children painted on the front of the refrigerator for everyone to see. It seemed that He was revealing to me that too many of His children had their talents hidden away and that we were not celebrating each other the way He would like us to.
The Cross up front was the gift of His Son to all of us and that it was similar to the others in that all of the gifts were given from the Father to be displayed, that was His gift to us.
Now to the chanting robe bearing man, God said he was representative of the history of the Church. There are traditions that we had lost and needed to try them on again and to be refit. He wanted us to reconnect to some of the traditions that represent our history and our family. He didn’t want us to forget them. This represented the stories, the lives and the accomplishments of others that brought us to where we are today.
After pondering that vision for many years now, I have become more excited about being a Christian than I have been for some time. I finally see that God was freeing me to be myself, to experience Him uniquely. I breathed a sigh of joy thinking that my Father in heaven was really excited about my gifts and others as well. I’ve wondered if the dream was more for me than anything! God wants me to be free from the shackles of my own fears that were certainly present when the protestors arrived.
I spent many years of my Christian life sitting in pews and church buildings. I was relieved to think that there were many ways for us to celebrate our God with each other and it didn’t all have to be in straight rows facing the front or in buildings organized to facilitate church programs.
But there was an even deeper transformation. For the first time in many years God inspired me to a renewed desire to reach out to others sharing His love with them.
What’s the Plan?
I began to pray seeking Him for a plan. What did He want me to do with what He had shown me? So, for four years, I prayed. I sorted through my varied responses, some not so pretty to talk about. I began to wrestle with my vocational life. I had been in the same ministry for over 20 years. I was really satisfied in what I had done but something began to shift causing me to reevaluate my daily investments in my work.
I’ve read through some books on “missional” churches, “organic churches” and “house churches” and found some great inspiration through them but there seemed to be something still missing. Some of these books were tremendous and liberating in my heart but at times they left me feeling frustrated and critical. I had to continue working through that too. It seemed they were just another kind of church program that didn’t look that much different from where I had been.
The Storms before the Calm
God began to rock my world through adversity and relational challenges. I began to experience shifting in every area of my life. I had no idea how tough things were going to get for me and thankful that God took me through it all gradually.
The First Storm in the Church
In 2006 I was a part of an organized church that had been a tremendous blessing for thousands who attended services there. After a horrible internal breakdown where two thirds of the congregation, including my wife and I, left along with the majority of the staff including the Senior Pastor literally thousands were deeply wounded. I began to visit other churches sporadically almost feeling relieved that I didn’t attend an organized church every Sunday morning. I remember one Sunday sitting on my cool breezy front porch wondering if this pleased the Lord for me to just be quiet with Him instead of going out to a church that day. I thought this surely was liberation from being bound to a pattern of church attendance that had raised me to more maturity but also brought me a lot of pain.
I settled into a small Bible study group of about 16 people that were fast becoming really close friends. I started to ask the question about whether this would replace the larger organized church for me and others. Most of the time this weekly Saturday night gathering meant more to me than a majority of formal organized church services I had been to in the recent years. We met together every week, ate a meal and studied the Bible together, supported and encouraged each other with prayer and counsel. We surrounded each other at weddings, funerals, and hospitals. We ate other meals together sometimes; I had spontaneous lunches with the men. I affectionately called it my church of 16 members and 12 regular attenders. What is the church anyway? I began to ask a question that I never felt the liberty to ask. I found it challenging to answer the question often asked, “Where do you go to church”. I would squeamishly say, “Oh, my main fellowship is with our small group that meets on Saturday nights.” I was still feeling a little exposed and fearful that I might be judged for not keeping a traditional pattern of Sunday church attendance.
As I looked around my city I found that my former organized church wasn’t the only one going through splitting and internal breakdowns. God reminded me of a huge storm that occurred in Memphis where within twenty minutes trees had fallen all around town, telephone poles lay in the streets and electricity was out for weeks for some. The word I received from our locals was that the majority of the trees that fell were rotten inside but we just didn’t see it. I began to ponder what had happened.
God spoke to me in response to this event. “I had to clean the garden from the rottenness that was inside the trees. I am sorry it was inconvenient for you all – but it had to be done”.
I saw how this event was similar to what I saw was happening within our local organized churches. In a very personal way, it became apparent that through the adversity of internal battles for control and some overall dysfunction, God was cleaning my heart, challenging me to new growth and direction. He was also challenging others in the same say. Yes, it is inconvenient, but it has to be done. I also had to get honest about the fact that I had not really experienced true relationship with the majority of those sitting around me on Sunday mornings. I had however, experienced the habit of going to church and smiling with a hole in my heart longing for connection that was meaningful.
But there was still something aching in me. I found another local church that seemed to have something special and I knew some friends who had been going there and said they enjoyed it. So, I happened to meet a couple at a home cookout who went there and they invited us to attend so we went the next day.
I resigned myself that maybe this might become what we needed and would enjoy. The new church gathering of Christians very quickly embraced us. I was invited to speak and share my gifts with the body there. The pastor was very supportive of me personally and spoke into my life with renewed encouragement. So we joined this church with the hope in our hearts that we would find a special ministry there and relationships that were fulfilling.
The Storm at Love In Action
During this season another very deeply invested part of my life became a huge challenge. The internal workings of the ministry I had led for over 20 years became broken, confusing and wounding. I tried every way I knew how to correct the problems. I prayed, sought intercession and counsel but things continued to worsen. The conflicts and distractions increased and I felt trapped in a place I had celebrated for so many years. I hated leaving my home every day to go to a place that was such a personal and corporate challenge for everyone. What was God doing? How could it be like this? It seemed no matter which way I turned I couldn’t find a solution.
God, What is Your Heart in All of This?
I began to search God’s heart for some answers. This time I began to ask different questions than before. I pondered questions that would take me deeper than just asking what organized church to attend. God, what is Your church? Where is Your church? What does it mean to serve You? How do I fit into Your church? Who is Your church? God, where do You want me to be?
After a couple of years of tremendous heartache, in 2008 I left my position with Love In Action in faith that God had something He was leading me to. I realized that one of the first answers He gave me was to free me from the ministry I led. It became very clear that God was allowing me to close the door on that season of my life and begin anew. I felt strongly that he wanted me to take all I had learned and experienced there and use it in a new way.
Upon my departure from that ministry my pastor invited me to share a teaching series with a small group at church. I called it “The Tributaries of Grace”. I started out the series inviting the participants to focus this series on a person that they wanted to reach with the grace of God. This could have been a friend, a family member or someone they were having a difficult time with. As I challenged this small group to reach out, I could only think about Morgan. After all, he had upset my whole world and caused endless problems.
Something new came alive in my heart. I realized that through the years of ministry experience I mostly responded to those desiring healing and recovery. This had changed to looking outwardly into the lives of those who haven’t begun their own journey yet or were stuck along the road. So, there was a glimpse of a major change in my perspective at that point.
The Second Storm in the Church
Just when I finally let my guarded heart open to some extent, I began to feel released to step into further commitment with the people at the new church. But as I got further involved I heard rumblings of discontent and elder / pastor problems that seemed to have been developing over a period of months.
One Sunday morning, we went through a painful confusing combustion of problems within the organizational leadership that occurred during the morning service. That day, there was a split, and the elders and staff resigned, leaving the pastor and about one half of the original congregation in the wake.
I left on that overwhelming Sunday morning, feeling lost and hurt, realizing that many of my new friends were going different directions. Many of the departing members quickly organized another church and held a meeting within a couple of days announcing the beginning of a brand new church. What about the broken hearts from two days ago? How would they heal? Is anyone paying attention to the wounds that need mending? It had happened again, now what. How many more times will we see this happen? I continued to wonder if there was any solution to these kinds of conflicts.
Discouraged and Hopeless
Needless to say, I was swimming in discouragement and hopelessness. What am I going to do now? What is God doing? I surely didn’t want to attend any organized church the next week and decided to attach to our home group even more.
I released myself from Sunday church attendance obligations. I soon felt freer than I had been in a long time. After a few months, I felt God answer my questions in another very unique way. He said,
“Watch for the springs of Living Water to come up out of the streets and sidewalks of the city. Get prepared! This water is the Living Water as unto salvation. I am inspiring my people to come to me and I want my Body to be prepared to receive them but they will not be coming to the front doors of the organized church buildings, they will need you to go to them, to listen for their voices, to know them and care about them. Go out into the streets.”
Whoa! These many years of confusion and pain has brutally moved me to go outside the walls of the organized churches! Building by building God has seemingly jack hammered me loose from my own traditions, religious practice and patterns of habit! He changed my entire world.
Where Two or More are Gathered
I began to see His “church” was everywhere I met or gathered with followers of Jesus Christ. I saw that I was having church every day! My new church didn’t have membership other than to believe in Jesus Christ. I enjoyed lunches, spontaneous meetings in the market places of my life which became encouraging connections with the Body of Christ. I found that when I took my eyes off of the Sunday ritual that had been a habit and somewhat of an idol, I saw the Body of Christ everywhere I went.
People are Missing!
I have seen a new thing develop in my life. I am, more than any time in my life, excited with the hope that I will see someone come to a relationship with Jesus Christ that is authentic, transforming and invigorating! I have felt my eyes perk up in a watchful manner to see if I can see what He sees. There are lost children out there, Lord? Where are they? Do you want me to go to them? Where will I find them?
I felt him saying, “You won’t find them inside the walls of the churches.” “Walk as Jesus did, in the highways and byways, in the world around you.” “You will find them there.”
Well, I have found myself in some really strange places. I have entered the world with weak knees, curiosity, and timidity. I didn’t feel prepared for this! I was uncomfortable in the world. It was too strange for me. I wanted to be comfortable, safe, and this wasn’t a safe place.
I was reminded that we don’t live in a “G” rated world. This world is not my home! But, I am asked to enter it with my whole heart so as to be in it, but carefully – so as not to become entrenched in it.
Wow, this is really exciting – and dangerous. I have been around people and involved in circumstances that were similar to my own broken past but I had forgotten my old life long ago. I have heard language, seen behavior and gone places that many told me in the organized church I should not be around. I have lived in a white washed world sanitized in such a way that was designed to keep us safe from the world. Is that what Jesus did? What about the real grit of this world? What about getting our hands really dirty – with the hope we will find the lost, the estranged and the orphaned?
The Journey of Grace
As I have gone through this journey of change, God has inspired me to write about what I had learned. I call it “The Journey of Grace.” I have lived out the principles that laid the foundation for this series for many years in a very different setting. Now they seem to have become alive in ways I am not sure I would have imagined at the time. I didn’t even see this as I began to write down my thoughts.
Now that I have written the last Journey of Grace session on Honor, I can say with excitement that it is my greatest hope that this will inspire the others to turn their eyes from inside the walls of their churches to see what God is doing out in the streets. It would be awesome if this material would prepare many for the harvest that God is preparing for His Church to receive.
I believe that one of the greatest tools to bring hope to our world today is our own story, our own life. Like myself, I know others around me hunger for connection and real relationship. So many are living lives of aloneness, fear and shame that for some, the only way they will come out of their prisons will be holding the hand of someone they trust. The trust will come from knowing that the person on the end of the hand can relate.
I have begun the collection of core values with honest self evaluation and along the way I hope the inspiring, grace filled, forgiving and restoring voice of the Living God will permeate our souls with desire for His children to come to know Him and to find maturity through authentic relationships with other followers of Jesus.
Along the journey, after God deepens our heart for Him, I hope we will have a well of His Living Water to share with the thirsty souls around us that He reveals to us.
Are there going to be Springs of Living Water as unto salvation coming up from your streets and sidewalks? Are you prepared to receive them? Are your eyes fixed forwardly in rows facing the front of your church experience? Or, are you beginning to feel the pews coming loose underneath your familiar places? Would you like your Father to celebrate your life on the walls of your gathering places? Do you want to connect to all the Saints who have gone before you with wonderful stories of life and traditions?
Get ready for a rocky challenging ride. Be prepared for some things along the way that may confuse you; but God has a plan to move you closer to Him and closer to His heart’s desire for people to come to Him.
I found an answer to one of my questions; “What does it mean to serve the Lord?” It was simple and straight forward. To serve Him is to serve His people with His message of new life, hope, and healing. He wants us to never tire of speaking of the hope that is within us. Will we walk the streets of our lives with our hands outstretched just like His were on the cross? Unafraid, unashamed, and ready to embrace, to hear, to value and honor, those we find in the fields.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11: 28-29