Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
Forget the Past? Really?
I was sparked by a FaceBook post this week. Someone was feeling a need to reconcile with someone they were sexually involved with. They had forgotten their name and therefore couldn’t locate them. In the post they talked about having been taught by their religious leaders to forget the past and move on to the future. This included an instruction to put past actions and people out of their minds that had any association with sin. So, they got rid of all of the evidence of this relationship including correspondence, pictures, and removing their name from their address book. Not only the physical evidence was removed, but attention was also given to erasing them from memory.
But, lo and behold, the situation came to their mind recently with the conviction remaining. Try as they might, without some helpful aids, they just didn’t know how to find them.
I can relate to their situation a lot! I had lots of reconciling to do regarding my past. Not only relationships of a personal and sexual nature, but also from the ministry I led for many years that brought damage to the hearts and lives of many people. I’ve always had a desire to have good relationships. I’ve felt convicted to clear up relationships that seemed to be lingering in a negative spirit. I have poured a lot of energy to reconcile as I have been able, and it was prudent and timely to do so.
Something I’ve found that is no less than amazing, is that in my recent experiences with the gay Christian movement I’ve seen more reconciliation than I believe I’ve ever seen among people. Right and left, I’m hearing people talk about forgiveness, letting go of bitterness and healing past relationships. At a recent conference, I heard several stories of people who laid down their agendas for the sake of rebuilding connections with people with whom they had experienced something that had hurt them. Personally, I’ve been able to enter into more reconciliation than I ever dreamed would be possible. Frankly, with my history in church experiences, I saw more splitting and separation than reconciliation. It is so refreshing to see a community of people that are trying to heal, reconnect, and renew relationships that had been damaged.
Three years ago, I was thinking about a man I had a gay relationship with. Our relationship ended in a lot of pain. I carried a burden for the relationship all through the years. I’d never forgotten his name and often tried to find him. His name is Paul and is fairly common. I thought he lived in Southern California and I was not able to locate him. But one day, a guy called me that I had never met. He wanted to talk about his past involvement in Love In Action before I was ever there. as he did, he shared about his past. He said he ran across a man that told him he had known me. Yes, it was Paul. He told me that Paul was a member of Evangelicals Concerned Western Region many years ago. Having this new piece of information gave me hope that I might find him one day.
I was at a national gathering and met a new friend. As we talked, he told me he was a part of Evangelicals Concerned during the time Paul had been there. I asked him if he’d known him. He didn’t but he said he had connections to some of the leaders and began to do some research for me. I received good news! He had found not only where Paul was today. He discovered a church newsletter on line with Paul’s name in it and his contact information. Paul was volunteering for a special project at his church. Glory! I could now locate him and tell him what had been on my heart for almost 25 years.
I looked up the newsletter on line for myself. I found prayer requests for Paul’s ailing parents. I had often wondered what had happened to them. I spent a wonderful Christmas in Florida with Paul and his family. I hadn’t forgotten them either! But I also found he was connected to others in his faith. Good news!
I sent him and email, and gently reminded him who I was and asked if he might be willing to hear from me. He responded with, “Yes, John, I’d be happy to hear from you.” So I compiled a letter affirming how much I had gained from him and how he had encouraged my life when we were together. I then went into the amends for how I believed I had wounded the relationship. All of this took place in 1983, thirty years ago.
I got a wonderful letter back from him.:
I do not know what to say right now, other than I am completely overwhelmed and so incredibly blessed by your words to me.
Let me digest this…I will say I look forward to talking with you via phone in the near future and catching up.
God is GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Two days later I received this message:
My mind has been a flurry of memories since receiving your wonderful epistle yesterday afternoon….
Another man I had known way back in 1979. He was my first gay partner. His name was John and I had also searched for him, but once again, not able to find him due to the common name. Why couldn’t I have known people named Bertrand, or Horace? I had known him in Omaha and often passed by where he had lived wondering where he might be today.
During a recent trip to Omaha I happened to be on the internet looking around in social networks, and a man his age, name, and a picture popped up. So, I contacted him asking if he might be the John I was looking for. He replied with what seemed to be a hesitant “yes”.
I explained that I had some significant things I wanted to tell him from our common past together. I told him I had a limited time schedule. He said he was booked up and that it may not work for us to meet. I was really disappointed to hear he was busy, but decided to allow God’s timing to be the guiding factor here. An hour later he contacted me and said he had a cancellation. He said he could have lunch with me the following day and that he was very interested in meeting with me. I was so thankful.
We greeted each other in the lobby of the restaurant. It was really strange seeing him all these many years later. But, I began with affirming his impact on my life during a very difficult time. Then I told him the things I was sorry about. We then had a wonderful conversation spanning the 30 years since we had last seen each other. I breathed a sigh of relief, and joy. GRACE once again. He sent me an email the next day thanking me for the meeting and a request that I not wait another 30 years before catching up with him the next time.
During the last five years I have spent a pretty significant amount of time looking for people I hadn’t connected with for some time. I’ve done this as they crossed my mind. I have address books, lists of names, pictures, and many other files to help me remember. I value people. I deeply appreciate the impact that relationships have on one another. Even if there may be a negative factor, there’s always something good to find if we are looking for it.
I attended the annual Gay Christian Network conference a couple of months back. A friend told me that Matthew was going to be at the conference. There had been a lot of pressure and emotional conflict in our communication, so we separated from one another way back in 1992. In 1994 I contacted him and asked for a lunch meeting. I just wanted see if we could find a more amicable closure than we’d had before. We were cordial and friendly, but it just didn’t seem to be a time for anything further so I put it rest.
As I was heading for this conference, I was hopeful that I might find further opportunity for reconciliation if there was need for that. The first morning of the conference I saw Matthew. It was good to see him from a distance but I didn’t approach him. I remained physically distant giving space for him to approach me if he desired to do that. As the third day of the conference came around, there hadn’t been any connection between us. I looked deep within my heart and found no angst, no discomfort or conviction as I thought of Matt. I actually felt pretty neutral. I decided there was no need for further reconciliation, at least at this time. I felt relieved and released from further burden. The opportunity presented itself, but I guess it was just not the right time, or maybe not necessary at all. I felt okay about that.
I don’t want to forget anyone I have known. I don’t want to erase my relationship history. I value each and every person I have known, loved, touched, yes; and even those I’ve had sex with. It is my belief that no matter the context, our Creator made us for relationship with one another and our Reconciler God wants to see us relate well. When there’s damage, I believe He wants us to do our very best to heal it, when to do so would not harm, and when it appears to be the right time to do it.
Thankfully, the internet now offers many opportunities for me to see people that I’ve known through social media and on websites. I’m sure there are many who see my name or face as well. There are always those people that I question whether or not I should contact them if I’ve not been in contact with them for a while. Over these past several years honestly I don’t think one week goes by that I am not contacted by someone from the past. Some are seeking re connection with me that are seeking answers, validation, healing, and reconciliation. It’s an amazing privilege to get these opportunities.
This week I got a message: “John, I was part of Love In Action when you left in 2008. I am trying to face my own reality about faith, and homosexuality. I’d like to connect. I’d like to ask you some questions and to seek some answers. Are you willing to talk with me?”
Sure! I’d love to talk with him. I’d love to make room in my heart for his heart, his struggle and his questions. Absolutely! I’m on it! I’ll be writing him back in just a day or so.
Is there someone you’ve thought about that you haven’t seen or talked with for a long time? Do you feel a need to touch back into the relationship to see if there is something to deal with? Have you tried to find them? It may be difficult, challenging, and almost impossible. But as in my case with John, he popped up! I had been watching for him for many years, not forgetting him, but hopeful that the right time would come.
John, Paul Matthew.
Ross, Kevin, Marcus.
Will, Anthony, Phillip, Doug.
Jeremy, Craig, John, Tim.
Ben, Wade, Doug, Darlene.
Brooke, David, Janay, John.
Will, Anthony, Philip, Doug.
Nathan, Darren, Robert, Jeff.
These are just a small sampling of names of men and women that I’ve reconnected with just within the last couple of years. There are many others that I haven’t written here. There are a lot more that I think of and I’d like to talk with.
I’m finding that God is really into second chances in life. A second time around the block can be the best one of all! My renewal with John and Paul have been amazing experiences with Grace, kindness, humility, and reconciliation. They are new forms of the relationship we had in the past that are full of joy, hope, and peace.
Ah, I think I’ve read in the Bible that our Creator has given us the ministry of reconciliation. I also recognize that to reconcile we have to be brutally honest with ourselves first. Change the way we look upon our own shortcomings, then forgive those of others. It has surprised me to see people through this new lens of life. He’s given us the command to love all people well. Let’s do some work!