Archive for the ‘Testimonies’ Category
Friday, September 30th, 2011
I have been passionate about the Christian celebration of The Lord’s Supper for many years. During our recent trip to England we attended a retreat where a minister from Scotland taught a message about communion before we celebrated the elements together.
His message got me thinking again about how many people wrestle with their hearts during a communion time at church. Originally meant to be a reminder of the Passover, and in Christ, a message of the gospel of freedom, far to many people feel uninvited to partake even though they may “eat” anyway.
A retreat where there were many gay men and women who are Christians were attending, the minister shared his heart and invited them to partake. He passed around a large loaf of bread and encouraged us to take a piece that would compare to our understanding of God’s love for us. He talked about how often people will take a tiny crumb while Jesus promises He will provide enough for all to take.
Tears began to flow from both the wounds of rejection, and the gratitude of inclusion while the elements were taken. My heart was grieved when I pondered how many people are hurting and how much Jesus wants them to be embraced.
Communion is an element that is commonly shared throughout the world as a symbol of our faith. Sadly, it is also something that can keep us separated in disunity as well.
Please read my thoughts on Communion, The Lord’s Supper, and ponder for yourself – who’s invitation is it?
The Bread and The Cup – Fear or Celebration
When I was a young boy I remember sitting on the aisle of the long pew at church while people walked forward for communion. In order to maintain my composure of remaining quiet I watched all of the shoes. High heels of many colors, shapes and sizes mixed in with large black men’s shoes, kept my mind busy while I reverently looked down as though I was praying. Well, that’s what I was told to do.
One of the most central sacraments to our Christian faith is Communion. What is it, where does it fit within our Christian experience, doctrine, and belief? What do we know about it, how have our experiences with this sacrament, shared by those all around the globe, shaped our Christian walk? There are numerous teachings about how to take communion, where to take communion, and who should take communion. What have we learned about ourselves, others, and the church through this symbolic expression?
As I got to the right age as a young Catholic, I was taught about the miraculous transaction of the “host” and the “cup” mysteriously into the body and blood of Christ. It was kind of like other mysteries in life like Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy! I just accepted it as something I would never truly understand but the nuns and priests prepared us for the amazing day where we would walk through a rite of passage to our “First Communion”.
At the right age, as we practiced our walk many times, we were now ready for the real thing. We got all dressed up in our suits and ties, the girls in their frilly lace dresses, white gloves, and shiny paten leather shoes All together in our pews lined up as we had planned, we could now walk up the aisle like all of those ladies and men had done every Sunday as I watched their shoes go by my pew. It was an exciting time, and we all perceived we had accomplished a great new phase in life.
A Wafer Dipped in Wine?
At that very young age communion was not much more than part of the church service but I’ll never forget the taste of the wafer thin “host” as it entered my mouth. It was kind of like the breath fresheners today as they melt in between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. They called it bread but it resembled something quite different than bread to me. It was far too thin to call it bread. I was told that the nuns made it and couldn’t imagine how they could possibly make these little dime sized paper thin wafers by the hundreds in preparation for each Sunday.
I can’t say that taking communion was a spiritual experience for me throughout my childhood, but I faithfully partook each Sunday, since my dad made sure we were there every week. One thing I did think about was that it seemed to be a privilege since it seemed we had to “qualify” in order to take it. There was the initial series of teachings and what seemed to be a graduation for our First Communion.
Then, there were ongoing qualifiers like we had to go to confession to make sure our sins were forgiven. We also couldn’t eat before church because there had to be an hour of fasting before taking communion. It seemed that Jesus needed a clean stomach before his body and blood entered into it. At the time I think I clearly understood Him not wanting to mush around in my breakfast remnants.
For Common Man?
How did this play a role in my foundation of understanding communion? Well, I can say that it led me to believe that communion was not for the common man, but rather only certain people could walk up that aisle. They had to pass a test, be reverent, clear their consciences, and clean their stomachs, and beat their fists against their chests three times when the bells rung before they could follow the plan to “Take, eat, this is My body.” There were so many rituals surrounding this mysterious event during the Sunday Mass.
A Ritual, A Rite?
I grew to think of communion as nothing more than a ritual, a rite and something that seemed to be an integral part of the Christian life. But later on as my church associations changed, my thoughts of communion also changed. When I went to a new “kind” of church it seemed they had different kind of communion. The shape changed! The “cup” changed. Now they had you stay in your pew and the ushers passed the plates around for each person. We now had a little “chiclet” shaped piece of bread and a thimble sized cup. It just wasn’t the same as being personally served and the wafer melting in my mouth that the Catholic experience held for me. The little cup was different too. As a Catholic I never tasted the cup. The Priest dunked the wafer into the wine when I was little.
The Pastor would stand up front before the ushers passed around the plates. He would typically charge us with clearing our consciences. During some church services I had experienced it also seemed that some people who may have been sitting with us were told they might consider not eating with us if they were in trouble with God, or others. There was often beautiful music playing during the passing of the plates and as I looked around it seemed everyone was in deep prayer, or pretending to be, while they waited for the entire congregation to be “served”.
What? He Didn’t Take it Today
There were times when I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t take communion. I mean, there were many times when I didn’t feel as though I was in a great spiritual place, or that something had been going wrong in my life. But, oh, my gosh, what would someone around me think if they noticed I hadn’t taken communion? They would know that I was in a bad space and think awful thoughts about my life. I know because one time I noticed someone next to me didn’t “partake” and I wondered what was wrong with them. What could be so awful that you wouldn’t take communion? Then I had another thought, they must have been “spiritual giants” in order to go against the flow and actually do like the pastor said, and not eat if we had something wrong in our lives. At least they were honest enough to evaluate their lives deeply. So, I tried to stop judging them and think of them in a better light.
So, the ritual of communion continued throughout my many years of Christian experience and my walk of faith. I really never thought of the fear and intimidation that often went alongside the “Communion Table” until I evaluated communion all together. This was until I had my first “Passover Seder” experience.
You might say, what is a “Passover”?
I have found that many Christians don’t know what a Passover Seder is. I didn’t know until I went to my first one. It was at this special event that I learned where communion came from. I learned that when Jesus spoke of eating His body, and drinking His blood, He was speaking at a Passover meal with His disciples. This sheds a whole new light on the bread and the cup! I now saw that it was actually a full meal where He talked about bread and wine.
My Pastor Says!
Later on, I was involved in hosting a Passover Seder. I invited an older woman to the special event. I explained that the Passover Seder had now become one of my favorite holidays each year. She looked at me and said, “What is a Passover Seder?” Much to my surprise since this lady had been a Christian for fifty years. I explained that it was a “glorified” communion service. She thought for a minute and responded to my invitation. “Oh, John, I’ll have to ask my pastor if I can come. He says we aren’t supposed to take communion at any other church than our own.” She then asked if I was ordained as a minister since she was also taught that only ordained men are to serve communion.
I was shocked at what she had said because it sounded so strange to me. She had been taught that there was something so religious about communion that she actually felt fearful about coming to the Seder without her pastor’s permission! Much to her relief, her pastor gave her permission to attend the Seder.
Where Did All of the Rules Come From?
Wow, this led me to do further thinking about this whole communion thing. I realized that for many Christians, fear was tightly woven into the communion experience. The very symbol of the death and resurrection of Christ and the freedom He bought for us had turned into bondage for so many followers of Christ.
Fear of disapproval, fear of failure, fear of breaking a “Christian rule” or just fear of a disapproving God! From my Catholic roots to protestant teaching, it seemed most often Christians were taught that taking communion had all kinds of rules surrounding it. Where did this come from?
In chapter 12 of Exodus, there are many regulations regarding celebrating the Passover during the Old Testament times. Everything from a perfect lamb to expunging the household of leavened bread, Moses and Aaron received their instruction from the Lord about the celebration festivities. I am certain fear of taking communion irreverently is not new to us who live after Christ’s resurrection.
When Jesus was leading the Passover Seder with His disciples the following gives a recounting of the experience.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.(Matthew 26: 26)
Certainly many of the historical rules were rooted in the Old Testament experience. The Law has continued to impact many of our lives and our Christian experiences. But when Jesus came, EVERYTHING changed! He brought radical challenges to the Pharisees and the culture of the day in which he lived.
I wonder what it was like for the new disciples of Jesus to take part in the bread and wind this time? At the time I am certain they worked through all of the rituals that were in place for the Jews at the time. But I wonder how the conversation went around the table with Jesus present? Was it stuffy and filled with ritual, or did Jesus bring a flavor of His love and grace even before His New Covenant took place? Oh, yes, He brought forth the reality of the betrayer sitting there which I am sure brought a somber reflection to the table, but certainly the disciples saw something different from the usual Seder.
Now, today, 2000 years later, after instruction is given, we read a selection of passages from First Corinthians chapter 11.
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:24-26)
Often the pastor will lead his congregation to an evaluation that seems to be somewhat ambiguous but none the less, we are to dig into our heart and souls prior to taking the bread. As I read through the chapter where this practice of evaluation comes from I see this preface from Paul:
“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat?” (1 Cor. 11:17-19)
It seems the major problem Paul is calling us to evaluate is that as a Church, we struggle greatly with division, fighting amongst ourselves. He even points out that many of our times together do more harm than they do good! He says that the divisions are often rooted in pride about who has God’s approval and who doesn’t.
This is VERY important to consider!
What are we called to evaluate before taking communion? It looks like Paul is calling our attention to the arrogance of judging whether or not someone is “good” enough to eat with us. I want to point out right here that it is called “The Lord’s” supper. It is at His invitation that we are partaking. It is His dining table, not ours. Who should be the judge for the invitation? If we think we can be that judge than we ourselves are crossing over the very directive that Paul is laying out for us.
As I look back at many of my experiences with preparation for communion it seems there is a lot inferred about who should, or who should not partake. My older friend experienced an extreme example of her pastor leading her to believe that permission must be granted from him for eating the bread and taking the cup at the Seder celebration. I feel grieved that this godly woman had been so misled so as to believe she had to fear sharing in something like a Seder. The fears that often underlie communion experiences are attached to a man’s approval of God’s invitation. It can seem as though God invites, but man approves.
One time when I was visiting my dad in Las Vegas I decided I wanted to go to church with him to show him how much I respected his commitment to his faith. I had not been to church with him since I last regularly attended a Catholic mass which was when I was a teenager and I was digging deep into my heart to attend with him. As the service proceeded towards communion my dad handed me a folded open booklet turned to the page on communion. It read:
“While we are praying for the unity of the Body of Christ to be revealed, at this time if you are not fulfilling the requirements of a faithful Catholic we respectfully ask yo to abstain from taking communion with us.”
I was very upset by what I read. While I understood the intent due to my experience with Catholicism, I also knew the desire of Christ to see his Body come together and to quit separating on denominational lines. When my dad and I got home and I was standing in the kitchen I opened my my heart to him. “Dad, I am very upset by what I read today. While I deeply respect your commitment to the leadership of your church, I want to say that my attending church today was an answer to the prayers that were mentioned in that booklet. I had put aside my flavor of church to attend with you for your flavor of church. I feel very frustrated by the rejection of my heart based on rules that are not based on the gospel. I am a follower of Christ, and you are a follower of Christ. We should be able to share communion together based on our common faith even though there are differences in the way we practice it.”
My dad responded, “John, I know what you are saying but that is the way my church is and I felt I needed to honor the wishes of our leadership.” I felt comforted that my dad understood what I was saying and yet, I still felt frustrated by the separation of Christians bringing disunity to the heart of Jesus to see his “kids” all together.
Have You Ever Seen Anyone Overeat at Communion?
Several years ago I asked a second question. If the scriptures said “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment”. (1 Cor. 11:33-34)
Than how are we defining communion? If it is possible to over eat at communion then how does a “chiclet and a thimble full of grape juice” relate to communion? There is something here that really needs to be considered.
If a traditional communion is symbolic I understand the small elements. But in its symbolism, what does it stand for? Well, first of all, it certainly is a symbol of that first historic Passover. I get that part. The symbol of the real night of the Passover is significant and God has called us to remember this special event in our history.
But, the elements are also symbolic. They are symbolic of the entire meal of the Passover Seder. The original Seder is a time of sharing history, our faith, and certainly friends and family. It symbolizes the entire picture of God’s heart for relationship.
Certainly we cannot overeat the elements unless we raid the back store of chiclet bread pieces and gallons of grape juice. But if the warning is about not being a pig when we go to a fellow’s home for dinner than we need to take a look at our gluttonous practices as we partake of the symbol of communion.
But, it is also symbolic of sharing meals together with other Christ Followers. As I think of my Christian walk, some of the fondest memories I have is eating, drinking, laughing and learning together over a meal. I also recognize that to eat with other Christians with whom I experience unsettled relationships is certainly making light of the unity called for in the Body of Christ. To sit at the vulnerable place of sharing a meal together and put on a facade of unity is a breach of the kind of relationship that God is calling us to celebrate through communion.
Who’s Invitation Is It?
But there is something very important to consider here as well. Who is God inviting to the table? Not, who do we want at the table, but who does God want at the table.
Is anyone unworthy to be at the table? Are there those we can say, “Go away until you get your act together!” Maybe we are talking to ourselves. Paul seems to warn us of our divisive ways. Can a Pastor or other spiritual leader tell us where, when, and with whom we can celebrate God’s Passover elements?
I was recently with a group of gay men and women who were celebrating God’s presence. We were led to a time of communion where the leader bought to our minds that any are welcome to the table who desire to draw near to Christ to share in His blood sacrifice bringing us hope, renewal, and eternity.
Behind me was a middle aged man who broke out and wept loudly. His heart was filled with a sense of loss, and yet a sense of inclusion. He later described that due to being gay he had always taken communion with a deep sense of guilt and shame and at times even avoiding it. He perceived that he was not welcome to the Table of the Lord due to what he had heard others preach about who was worthy to partake and who wasn’t.
My heart broke for his experience. I looked back over all of the years of my own experience with communion and I can see why this man felt “uninvited” to the Lord’s table. It may have been because he wasn’t reading the invitation correctly. It was sent by Jesus! It didn’t have man’s return address on it.
Jesus invites us to His table, anyone who wants to come, can come. Are we passing on the Lord’s invitation, or are we making it our invitation? The point I am attempting to make here is that there are Christians who think they can edit the guest list for those invited to the Lord’s Supper when it isn’t their guest list!
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
It is the cup of forgiveness for all mankind. Man, woman; black or white; and yes, lesbian, gay transsexual -or straight.
At the close of the service, the man who led us through communion said something profound:
“When you make homosexuality a “fundamental” of our faith and it divides us into disunity, you are adding to the gospel.”
Much like other social issues, homosexuality has seemed to divide our family into segments. There is certainly different schools of thought, practice, and biblical interpretation within the Body of Christ. Sadly, those that suffer from the disagreement are those whom are cast aside, those who perceive they are second class Christians because they are gay. Does the gospel discriminate based on sexual attractions? I believe Jesus in the Bible says all are welcome.
Might we ponder this question? What other things in our Christian communities and personal walk that we make “fundamental” that keep us or others from The Lord’s Table that He has invited us to?
Might I say… If we cannot RUN to the communion table with no fears, no hesitation, with full confidence – - – - – then where can we run to?
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Gal. 3:1-3)
For more articles on homosexuality – Click Here
Friday, August 5th, 2011
At the center of this story, I am riding in a vintage 1982 Corvette Collector Edition on the freeway in Southern California. My very first time to ride in a ‘vette.
Loud, stiff, low to the ground, there is nothing like the “All American Sports Car!” the creaking of the fiberglass shell is part of the whole experience of riding in this rare classic.
With all of the cars I have owned, ridden in, and admired through the years, I had never ridden in a Corvette until this moment in time. How incredible to have my first ride in Southern California with a great friend. He loves his very own piece of American History and I felt privileged to have been able to share in it with him.
The ride didn’t stifle the anxiousness I was feeling as we flew by the others along the way. Staring at the rocker panels of most cars, the low slung position was indicative of what I was feeling inside as I moved towards something that I was about to experience.
As I continue to transition away from having worked with ex-gay miniisty for many years, an editor from a well read blog called the “Ex-Gay Watch” contacted me about my resignation from Love In Action. He began to ask me questions about why I had chosen to leave and what was going on in my life at the time. As we talked, I shared with him about how my heart had become more open to building relationships within the gay community. He recommend that I come up with an authentic apology first. He talked with me about how many people within the gay community didn’t trust the ex-gay community and that if I could find it in my heart to apologize for things I had done to wound them through my involvement with Love In Action it might help me to build a trust in order to be heard.
I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I didn’t know what an apology would consist of and how my life had wounded others. But, my mind was open because I wanted to badly to develop this outreach to bring the gospel into the lives of those that were gay. The request for an apology became deeply lodged into my heart and I began to pray about what that may entail. God brought some things into my life to help me see what that might look like. Before I could think more about this some other opportunities came along.
About a week or two after Todd Ferrell and I talked for the first time (see Part Two of “God Surprise Me”), I got a call from a ministry in Washington state. It seemed they wanted me to facilitate a conference for their area that would include mostly ministry to the parents of gay children. I wanted to do it so I said I would put it down on the calendar. As soon as I looked, I found that Todd’s conference was just one weekend after I had scheduled to be in Washington.
How interesting? I talked with my wife and realized I could easily arrange a “circle trip” to accommodate a flight from Washington to Southern California that would only slightly change my airfare. I called Todd and said I could now come to the conference he was holding. I was extremely nervous about attending this conference with Christians that are gay. Years ago I learned not to criticize something that I was unfamiliar with so for no other reason than to look and see for myself, I felt I needed to attend the event.
As time came closer I asked Todd about a referral for a hotel roommate. I just didn’t have the money to front the entire cost and was looking for someone to share that with me. Of course, I was trusting Todd to find some appropriate and knew he would understand my situation. So as the weeks went by, Todd contacted me with the name of a good friend of his that he said would have a lot in common with me. His name was Gary.
So, I completed the conference in Washington and flew to Los Angeles. I had arranged to stay with some good friends there for a couple of days just prior to Todd’s conference. I spent a lot of time talking with them about my plans and running this decision through our friendship filter.
The Low, Stealthy Corvette Ride, and an Anxious Arrival
On the morning of the event my friend drove me to the front door of the hotel and dropped me off. I felt extremely self conscious going into the hotel. My mind was racing with questions and fears. Once I was inside, I got registered and went to my room. Gary, my roommate was already there so I introduced myself to him. He was very gracious and we decided to have a meal together that evening and get to know each other. I found him to be a wonderful guy. He was about my age.
He had previously been married and had a daughter. His marriage had ended in divorce but they had done a lot of work to become amicable and had become good friends as they raised their daughter. He was kind, and honest as he shared his story. And, he was gracious with my story as well.
The next morning I went to the first workshop and walked inside and saw someone that looked very familiar to me. As the morning went by, I knew for certain it was the man I remembered. I really wanted to talk with him. As we walked out the door I turned to him and said, “Hello, do you know where we know each other from?” He looked puzzled and then I told him. “You were in the Love In Action program in the mid eighties. I was there as a House Leader and remember you very well.” He laughed and embraced me and then seemed really glad to see me. He was using a walker which at his age told me he was going through something difficult. I was so glad to see him. His smile was so joyous and he seemed to be so in love with Jesus which showed through every pore in his body.
He began to tell me about the last 20 years of his life. He was HIV +, he had just had surgery for cancer and was in recovery, hence, the walker. He said he had lost many friends through his recent illness and he said that today his family was all he had. And yet through all of the pain and suffering, he said, “But I love Jesus. He has been so good to me.” He went on to say that he was really glad he had been in Love In Action because it was where he learned how much he needed the Lord. He talked very easily about how messed up his life was when he went there and that the experience at LiA helped him to begin his own journey of healing and growing in Christ. “John, I’m gay and I’m OK with that. Jesus loves me and I’ve never been so complete and satisfied in Him.” There were several people that I met that weekend that really challenged me to listen to them without judgment.
I was so surprised! I never expected the first person I would see, other than my friendly roommate, to be one of the first people I met when I began working with LiA so many years ago. He and I talked often over the next several days of the conference and every time I saw him, he was encouraging someone, laughing with someone or showing evidence of a wonderful connection to the Lord. There is nowhere else he would have gotten that kind of joy.
A Silent Observer
So, I began to listen to others and closely evaluate what I was seeing and hearing. On the evening of that first day I decided to go to the common area to relax. When I got there I saw two younger guys who were talking with each other. I introduced myself to them. They asked if I was part of the conference. I hesitated to affirm their question but said, “yes”. They said “Oh, that’s wonderful, so are we.” Just a few short surface questions later they asked if they could share their story with me. I obliged their seeming hunger to tell me more about their life experiences.
Once again, I was shocked at what I heard. “John, we were huge druggies. We have known each other from the drug culture for over 15 years. We’ve been together since we were teenagers.” They went on to talk about how their pastor pursued them for over four years. “John, his kindness and his faithfulness finally won out. We accepted Christ a year ago. It has been an amazing journey for us. We have seen a real change for the better in our lives and in our relationship with each other.” It was apparent to me they were talking about their same sex partnership for 15 years or more now.
I’m sure if someone had looked at me they might have seen my head spinning in disbelief of what I was experiencing. I had such a deep hunger to see people come to know Jesus in a real, solid, life changing way. Right here before my eyes was the answer to my prayers. But it didn’t look like I thought it would. These young men were obviously very excited about Jesus and truly understood the gospel. Yet they were seemingly very comfortable in their relationship and with being gay.
From their relationship with Jesus, their lives were changing for sure, but not in ways I would have expected. I had always assumed that an acceptance of Christ would have brought a increasing discomfort of a gay relationship in two guys who were seeking Him like these two guys were. They told me how much of a mess it has been for their pastor to walk alongside of them and yet he had continued to love them. One of the guys said, “My parents didn’t used to like my partner when we were drugging. But now, they say they are thrilled because of the positive influence he has had on me in my growth in God and how he has encouraged my faith.”
Then, they talked about how they wanted to go to the beach while they were in Southern California, but decided not to. I asked why not? And their answer was another example of their walk with Christ. I saw the fruit in their next statement, “Oh, we don’t think it would be a good idea, we’re trying to keep our minds pure and seeing all the guys on the beach might not be helpful.”
As I spun around in my head from what I had just experienced, I got up and said goodbye. I went up to my room and just felt such a sense of joy for God allowing me to hear the real life story of these two guys. But at the same time, their story challenged so much of my own “doctrine” that I was unsettled and questioning so many things.
Two Men, Different Paths, Similar Experiences
As I got back to my room Gary was still up. We talked late into the night. He shared a lot of his own life with me and I told him most of mine. We really connected. I loved his sensitivity to my life and his own humility was amazing for me to experience. He was genuine in his faith and yet was comfortable in being gay. He seemed to have found a place where both resided in his life with peace. All of this challenged my former philosophies. I had always said that God would not allow anyone who is His to find peace if they had embraced being gay. I just assumed that God would certainly cause them to be unsettled, convicted, or at odds with Him and themselves at a deep level.
This process for me has been interesting, threatening, and life shaking. This was just the first day of this conference. The next two days weren’t any less earth shattering for me. I remained on the periphery of the groups and just kept a low profile.
Tomorrow is another day.
This is Part Three in a series called, “God Surprise Me!” Click Here to read more.
Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Talks with Two Men in One Week
I have found over the last several months that each week or so God seems to bring someone to my mind to pursue, or someone to my life that is searching, or in pain. Often these are people I have known. Sometimes I may have not seen or talked to them for many years. This week there were two people that deeply touched my life.
“Hello Charles! Wow, it’s so good to see you!” After I gave him a great big hug I stood back and saw someone with the “deer in the headlights” look on his face. Oh, he knew me and it hadn’t been all that long since we’d seen each other but it was clear he was surprised.
After exchanging some catch-up information, Charles began to release some deep thoughts from a very challenging place in his heart. He said “John, I’ve let it all go. Everything! I’ve let it go.” My mind went into hyper processing mode.
I didn’t know exactly what he meant. Since I had known him through ex-gay ministry connections I thought maybe he meant that he had let his process regarding homosexuality go. I asked him what he meant and he kind of stumbled for words. He was very unclear about what he had removed from his life but reading between the lines I think I understood that it involved his relationship with God. That much larger issue seemed to be more of the situation then his gay issues which were on his mind as well.
Earlier that week I saw a note on FaceBook written by a friend I hadn’t seen for 10 to 15 years. This was a man who had also been involved in ex-gay ministry, gotten married, divorced and had really been through the wringer emotionally. Due to these and some other pretty traumatic events he described, I replied with a short acknowledgement that I had read what he had written and how grieved I felt about what he had been through. He responded giving me much more of the painful detail. In it he expressed how life had challenged him emotionally and physically. He had been going though a really tough season due to the deep things he had been processing. At the end of his message, he said:
“My faith is really challenged and I’m not even sure if Jesus is Jesus. I do believe in “God” , but I’m not sure what I believe is beyond that. To be honest, I find myself getting angry when I see or hear things related to Christianity. I guess I’ll figure it out, somehow.”
I wrote him back with this:
I feel privileged to hear your story. I am sorry for all you have gone through and yet, as you have said, it is a new beginning for you. You know, questioning all of the things you mentioned about your faith isn’t a bad thing. It is wonderful to find the freedom to go to the deepest things with God and find out that you may find the answers you are looking for in the deepest parts of your heart.
I went on to apologize for some things that were a part of our friendship years ago that I knew I could own. I recognized that some of my interaction with him at that time may have brought this man some challenges he had experienced.
His reply was so amazing.
“I don’t know exactly what to say except than I’m so thankful for your honesty! As I type this message, there are tears rolling down my face. I always thought that you and other Christian leaders were unshakable. Everything was black & white & there was no gray. I’m still in bit of a shock from reading your e-mail John! I completely respected you when I knew you years ago. I just wanted you and other leaders in my life to be proud of me. I respect you even more today!!!! Thanks again for your honesty.”
This correspondence was on my mind when I saw Charles on the street. As he talked it was very evident he had a lot on his heart and I just happened to walk along and touch the wound and the pain came flooding out. I tried my hardest to share with him that I really understood the things that he was saying but each time I tried to respond, he just put his hand up and said “no” and continued talking. This went on for about 20 minutes. I didn’t try to respond again until it seemed he had run out of steam. He was very hurt and it was obvious when he said “I have separated myself from that church completely and everyone there. I tried to stay connected but then I realized that they really didn’t give a “F*#$%” about me.”
Oh man, this is one hurting man. What could I possibly say that would help. I put up my hand this time. I said, “”Charles, I have something I’d like to say.” He quickly said “no” again. Then I put up my hand again and said, “No, Charles, I want to apologize.” His face reflected some surprise at my request. I took advantage of the pause and quickly said:
“Charles, I am so sorry for the role that I have played in your pain.” I went on to specifically apologize to him for things that were honest and appropriate to apologize for. I went to great lengths to be sure it was specific to our history as friends.
He listened to me and seemed to calm down some. Then he said, “John, I hadn’t planned on getting into all of this tonight. I just want to move past it all.” We shook hands and he reluctantly moved away from our conversation, walking down the street. I stayed and talked with others and saw him walk by again, this time he looked over and smiled and waved.
I feel so grieved at the pain that is out there in the lives of those who have felt so wounded by Christians. I remember in my own history proclaiming, “Oh if they would only repent, then maybe they wouldn’t be in so much pain.” I often put all of the blame for their pain on their choices. I didn’t know how to take any responsibility for my role to help. Years ago, I didn’t really want to think about it much and realized it just felt too challenging to face.
I realize that a lot of my reluctance stemmed from a deep feeling that somehow I would have to figure out how to “fix” the problem. I am a “fixer” by nature anyway and find I can get overwhelmed easily when I start to take the problems that seem to present themselves onto my own shoulders. But now that I have somehow become more able to just listen and trust that God will do what He needs to do, it is so much easier.
At the end of my conversation with Charles I begged him to consider taking the time to talk with me at a more appropriate time and place. A busy street corner certainly wasn’t the best. I handed him a card so he’d have my contact information on it. It said “Grace Rivers” on it. He looked down and said, oh, of course; “Grace” and shook his head. I pray he will get in touch with me.
I am thrilled at the opportunities God has graciously given me to be in a position to hear the pain and disappointment that some people feel. I am privileged to be able to dig into my own heart taking responsibility for what I can own with others. It seems to make a difference in their lives and hopefully in their relationship with God.
Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Meeting Two Strangers I Didn’t Want to Know
Three years ago I had time to evaluate, to think, to reestablish a new layer to my life. In the process I had many discussions along the way.
I was in a passionate conversation with a friend of mine about how each of us processed the issue of homosexuality. She began to talk about friends she had that were Christians and yet were involved in same sex partnerships. I felt frustrated because she just didn’t want to tell me what she thought about being for – or against homosexual relationships. As we talked that day, seemingly for hours, I began to speak strongly about someone I had heard of for many years that was gay and claimed to be a Christian. Michael Bussee was one of the men who arranged the very first Exodus International conference.
Many years ago I watched a video where Michael shared some of his life story and I felt challenged by the things he was sharing. As I talked about Michael I had a disdain in my heart towards him. This led me to profile him with many others I judged to be rebellious and compromising of God’s standards. I had never really wanted to know anyone who claimed to be a Christian but was living in an overt gay relationship. If they wanted help, they should say so, otherwise, I figured they would have to deal with God on things and I kept my distance.
As I talked with Lisa, she got quiet. When I was done, she said, “John, don’t you think it is unfair to form such strong opinions about someone you have never met? Don’t you think you owe it to him and talk with him personally before you form an opinion about his character?”
Phew, that was humbling.
Lisa was absolutely correct. I was unfair in basing my opinions about what I had “heard” rather than from my own experience with someone like Michael. I had a lot of “Michaels” in my life. I was smug in my heart regarding people like Michael. But for some reason I thought it was enough to gauge my opinions on what I had heard from others and didn’t feel I needed to spend any time with them.
So, Lisa asked again, “John, would you be willing to talk with Michael? I can arrange a phone call if you are willing to hear his heart.” What could I say? I had already crossed the line in what I had said about him. I at least owed him the respect to talk with him. Now , I wondered if he was even willing to talk with me? After all, I am sure Michael had heard things about me through the years as well. I have no doubt that Michael was familiar with my involvement in ex-gay ministries and was sure he didn’t think so favorably about me either. It was interesting to see how I went from “I don’t want to talk with him” to hum, I wonder if he’ll talk with me?
So, Lisa called me back and said Michael was willing to talk with me. We arranged a phone call and I remember sitting in my office in a comfortable chair in preparation for the call. I was feeling nervous about the call. I wasn’t sure what to expect in our conversation. So, when the phone rang, I answered and after a little introductory conversation I was surprised at what transpired. We talked comfortably about our lives and experiences. Michael and I had a lot in common having both been previously married and then got divorced. Michael went into a gay relationship and I went on to get married to Vileen but we had many shared experiences to talk about.
Michael Bussee Became A Person
I left the conversation feeling a sense of peace. I found Michael to be endearing, humble, honest, and very respectful of my life and experiences. He talked about some of the painful things he had experienced in his life as well as the joys. We related to having children and grandchildren as well. I felt a desire to talk with him again largely because he was a genuinely nice guy. He and I have formed a friendship that I respect as person whose life matters and has value not only to God, but to others as well.
A New Land – People Who Are Significant to the Kingdom of God
So, wow, I’ve now gone into more uncharted territory. I wondered what would come next. So, I called Lisa and gave her my report, “Lisa, actually, I enjoyed talking with Michael.” She said she had another friend she wanted me to talk with. She told me of a man named Todd Ferrell. She said he was someone she admired a lot and wanted me meet him. She connected us and we set a time to talk. I figured since Michael was a great guy maybe Todd would be someone that was nice too.
Todd and I decided to use Skype to talk. After setting up my first Skype connection we had a great time talking about our lives. Once again, I felt surprised at what I heard. Todd, like Michael, was sincere and willing to share pieces of his life that were filled with humility and honesty. Since I had never been in a friendship with someone that was “gay affirming” like Todd, I guess I expected to hear something different.
I was looking for excuses, rationalizing Scripture to their own tastes. I was sure I would hear things that would offend me but I found none of that. I am not sure what it was I expected but I surely didn’t expect to hear this.
“John, our church saw the pain in the gay community in San Francisco. As an outreach to bring Jesus to the streets we decided to serve communion on Castro Street in San Francisco on Good Friday. There were requests for prayer, shared tears, hunger for God that left us speechless. Yes, there were those who were on drugs, those who were angry, and other distractions. But in the end, we knew we had touched the hearts of many who were hungry to connect with God.”
I was left in tears myself after hearing this story, “Todd, your heart beats the same as mine for the gay community. Of course you know there are many “evangelicals” in our country that would think what your church did was blasphemous. But, I am right there with you, my new friend. I love what you are doing.”
I realized that many outreach attempts in urban areas like San Francisco are based on singing on street corners and handing out tracts. But in this case, Todd and his church were really going for it to touch these people in a very real and physical way.
Wow, how unexpected? Another surprise! Actually, I began to see the surprises as “gifts”. It was like God had prepared many gifts for me and put them underneath a Christmas tree to be opened one at a time. I knew they were all good since they were coming from Him but I had not opened all of them yet.
I’ll never forget the conversations with these two men. Both of which are friends today but not that long ago, I don’t think I would have walked across the street to talk with either one of them. It would have been my loss for sure.
Through my former ministry involvement I certainly knew hundreds of Christians who would say they wrestled with being gay. For some reason I separated these men and women into two camps. There were those who were “seeking to change” and those who had accepted being gay. Until just recently I didn’t realize how I had compartmentalized my view of people who are gay. Those who had accepted being gay were somehow not worth knowing or maybe I was just afraid of crossing into the other side of all of this.
In my conversation with Todd, he invited me to attend a conference his ministry was hosting in April of 2010. I said, “Todd, I would like to come to that but I am very low on funds and couldn’t see having the money to come.” He was talking about “The Evangelical Network” which is an organization that has a heart to connect Christians who are gay and to support their faith and ministry efforts. Not having enough money was a great excuse to know have to think about going. I really felt quite hesitant to the thought of being at a gay-affirming conference. I had no idea what I would see there or experience.
A Significant Meeting With a Friend
I went to Mike’s house to ask him to consider being a board member for Grace Rivers. In our conversation he was very direct with me. He was asking me to describe the focus of the ministry. I struggled to find the words that would effectively tell him what we were. It was obviously a struggle for me to begin with. I did everything I could do to avoid “homosexual” or “gay community”. I wasn’t willing to step out onto that limb and admit what was really in my heart.
Mike said something that really challenged me, “John, what is your strength? What is at the core of your heart for people and for ministry?” He went on to tell me what he saw. He emphasized my history and what he had seen in my life for many years. “John, isn’t your real burden for the gay community?”
Well, I had tried to stuff that away for almost two years. But, I couldn’t deny my heart. When I had only been a Christian for a year or so I wept for those in the gay community who needed a purpose for life, a hope for the future. I asked the Lord to give me the calling to help, to share the hope that was in my own life. My heart’s desire is truly for the gay community to know how much God loves them.
I couldn’t deny what Mike was trying to point out. I still wanted to push it away. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back into the battle zone that often centers around homosexuality and the church. I had lived in that battle for so long I kind of liked the more generic form of ministry. It seemed to be easier to talk about and was more comfortable for many people to accept.
But, Mike clarified for me that it is hard to share such a generic vision for ministry and to get people on board to walk alongside me if I didn’t have a focus to tell them about. Oh, yes, generic ministry will always be a part of our lives as Christians, but it is important for me to know what my special calling really is.
Ok, Mike, I Have to Admit…..
Mike was right. I still had a deep burden and it was definitely focused on people within the gay community. Meeting Michael Bussee and Todd Ferrell challenged me to a very deep place. I realized that there is an entirely different side to homosexuality that I had never explored before. I never wanted to admit that there were gay people who had a sincere heart for God who truly wanted Him to fill their lives and to follow Him to their best ability. Todd told me about how their church members go into the gay bars and make themselves available just to talk, to listen, and to pray for those they come into contact with.
“What? Do you mean they want to reach the gay community with Christ just like I do?”
Again, I was surprised and at the same time challenged. I recognized that I had not met many Christians who would go to those lengths to share the Love of Christ with people in the gay community. Here they were, people I had judged to be rebellious and compromising, doing the very things that God called us all to do.
God had a plan for me that I had never expected. A large gift was waiting for me to open it. The surprise inside was unsettling, but at the same time touched my heart deeply and brought my faith to a new place. The conflict in my own heart was about ready to begin.
A New Car, A New Life Part 1 (Click Here)
Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Through the Windshield of My Life – Stepping forward to a more recent history.
2007 Toyota Sienna
In 2007, I bought a new Toyota Sienna minivan. I had no idea that this car would be a new symbol of a dramatic change in my life and would play out in amazingly surprising ways in the near future.
I bought the car just because of its practicality, size, good gas mileage, and to carry people around. I love to travel in groups so this would fit the bill.
I felt like I was driving a limousine! It was huge, comfortable, and rode nicely. And to add to that, the gas mileage was much better than my previous Nissan Exterra. That was a great plus.
Shortly after that, we had some concerns that Vileen’s car would have some major repairs so we made the decision to get a newer car for her as well. I had in my mind that I wanted an older, low mileage, Toyota or Nissan. I wanted something that had a lot of bells and whistles but one that had a practical price on it. I began to look on Ebay and at first search, I found exactly the car I had been looking for and the right color as well.
It was a 2002 Toyota Camry XLE. It was red with tan leather interior and it had everything on it. The mileage was incredibly low at only 35,000 miles for a car that was six years old. So, I bid and surprisingly, I won the bid. We drove to Missouri to pick it up and found it was in amazing condition and literally was a “little old lady’s” car.
Now, we were both set for a new life that was just months ahead of us but we had no idea what that was going to look like.
As I walked out the door of Love In Action in 2008, for the last time, I breathed a prayer;
God, I don’t know what you want to do with me now. I want to make the next 20 years of my life count. I know you have brought me through a lot and I have learned and grown so much in the last 20 years, maybe you can use my experience to help someone else. I have no agenda, and do not feel entitled to anything. I don’t have a degree or a career track. I am not sure who would want to hire someone who has led an “ex-gay” ministry for most of my adult life but I’m certain there is something in there that can be used. So, I guess my greatest desire is for something radical but I haven’t a clue what that might be. So God, SURPRISE ME!
My wife and I were on a Caribbean cruise in 2007. Our trip took us to a group of small islands called “Turks and Caicos”. When we got off the boat we met a lady who had just opened a horse and carriage ride to tour the island. As she spoke, she told us a little of the recent history of the island. She said that the island had been supported financially from a military base that was there. It appears it had recently been closed and it left the island financially broken. As I saw her business and the newly constructed Carnival pier I could see some life coming back.
As we rode around the island on the carriage, the young man told us that the island was dependent on all outside resources for everything including even the basic need of water. Their water had to be shipped in! This started my mind dreaming of all of the “what ifs” as I looked to my future.
What if God were to surprise me with a long term trip to Turks and Caicos to begin a gospel outreach on the island? I cannot seem to get that thought out of my mind even up to today. What if God wanted to move us across the United States? I began to send out applications for pastoral positions around the country. I thought maybe someone could use my experience some way for the general populace of the church. I attempted to come up with a resume that would capitalize on my experiences.
I didn’t get any call backs but still prayed for God’s movement in finding a new career. I began a dialogue with the pastor of the church we attended. He immediately tried to encourage me and said that he may have a place in our church and we began to pray about that. He encouraged me to write a book and offered me a slot to teach something that was on my heart. He felt an urgency to keep me in the loop and to keep talking about what God was doing to prepare me for my future.
The teaching series I came up with I called “Tributaries of Grace” based on a sermon that my pastor gave. I liked the thought of reaching into people lives with a message of God’s abundant love for them. Even though that was on my mind in the summer of 2008, I had no idea of what this would mean later on. The series was a success. I had asked God for ten people and he brought ten to the group. We were together for 8 weeks.
I continued to pray about how I was going to make a living. I felt confident that God would provide and a little arrogant at the same time that I didn’t have anything to worry about.
Meetings with Men
A friend of mine and I talked of how we could minister to others through personal meetings designed to read the bible together, listen to each other and encourage each other towards a mission oriented life. So I reached out to a group of men to see if they might want to meet with me one on one. So I set a goal of inviting six men into this arrangement. Within a week, not only six responded, but I filled my schedule with 10 men that I began to meet with regularly.
I loved the meetings and began to discover a new found heart within me as I sought to be a source of encouragement for them. I spent time discovering what I saw that was good in each of their lives. As we met I prayed for God to show me how I could encourage them.
Those who know me, would say that this was not exactly what I was doing in the previous years of ministry. I was used to looking for the shortcomings, the loose ends of someone’s life. I had a sense of pride in my ability to challenge people with those things that needed to be corrected. So, this ministry approach was significantly new for me.
A New Jesus In My Heart
As the first year of my departure from Love In Action came along, I was feeling satisfied, I was challenged in areas of my heart that were brand new for me to look at. I was also finding a much needed rest in my soul and Jesus was coming into these new areas that had opened up.
I was gaining a new understanding of an old word, “Grace”. What is grace and how does this apply to our Christian walk? I wasn’t sure I truly understood it from a personal experience. I had always heard, “Grace is the unmerited favor of God upon our lives.”
One day when I was sitting in my office alone I wandered into something I had never experienced before. I thought to myself, “Hum, I don’t work for Love In Action any more. I’ve never chosen to look at anything pornographic on the internet. I wonder what is actually out there?”
So, within a few clicks of the mouse I found some pictures that drew my interest. I looked a little more than all of a sudden my heart SANK! “Oh, my God, what have I done? I just crossed over the bridge into forbidden land. I have broken a place in my life that I have never strayed into before – NEVER!”
My mind began to rush into all of the years of instruction, of challenges for others, and into fears of “What do I do now?” My mind was scrambling and anxiety filled my heart. Then all of a sudden, something came to me that would become a life changing, life transforming experience with Jesus.
“John, what is the first thing you know about Me?” Jesus spoke through my anxious heart. I replied, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He said, “Apply that right now.” I began a whole new process of prayer with Jesus. I began to unravel the last few minutes like I have never done before. “Lord, You have not condemned me, so I will not receive any condemnation from You for what I have chosen to do.”
Then the Lord said, “John, why are you here, what has brought you to look at those pictures?” I began a dialogue with Him about all of that realizing that a lot of it was motivated by my own curiosity. After pondering the questions that brought me to search the internet I heard Jesus say: “John, do you have any more questions?” In my own amazement with this conversation I said, “No, no I don’t think so.” Then He said, “Well, then, I guess we are done with this for now aren’t we.”
Oh, my gosh, I just experienced something about grace that I have never experienced before in my life. At a point where I felt as though I had just committed the “unpardonable sin” Jesus came into my heart with such calmness. He didn’t yell, He didn’t shame me, He didn’t scold me or embarrass me. He just acknowledged where I was at, listened to my heart, and in many ways, brought me into a teaching moment with Him right there with me.
I realized; duh, that Jesus was beside me the whole time. This wasn’t a surprise to Him. But even more, He also put all of this into perspective. It wasn’t so much about the pictures I ventured into. It was more about my heart with Him. That was far more important to Him than the clicking of my mouse while I looked to satisfy my own curiosity.
God, became man, right inside my own heart and dwelt with me. He showed me a personal side of our relationship that was one of the most significant experiences with Him I have ever had! He revealed to me just how close He is and how much He loves me.
I Found Grace!
I found a new revelation of the life transforming power of Grace. I learned something about humankind that never crossed my mind before. All of the challenges, confrontations, “preaching the truth” I had done in the past didn’t hold a candle to meeting with Jesus and finding His love and incredible ability to show me the truth that there is no condemnation from His heart to mine, if I am in Him.
As I pondered His message of grace to my heart, something quite dramatic began to change in the way I handled every relationship I encountered.
The World According to a Blogger!
As I approached the fall of 2008 I saw that there was a ministry forming that was deep in my heart. I knew it had something to do with the series I had taught as well as the new revelation of grace that was growing inside of me. “Tributaries of Grace” was the theme but the name was hard to say quickly and so I did a search for something close. I came up with “Grace Rivers”.
In just a couple of months time I had an official ministry name, a website, and a non-profit organization. So, now we had to figure out what this was all about. I began blogging about my transition, the changes in my heart and decided to write articles on the series I had taught. I knew there was something significant to tell others and I had to figure out how to do it.
An old acquaintance, Todd Posey, called me to ask me some questions about a group model that I had used when I was at Love In Action. He said he was coming to town and so we decided to meet and discuss what was going on in our lives. When we met, he was shocked and amazed at what I was talking about and affirmed that there was a purpose and a plan in God’s heart for my new vocational interests.
This meeting turned into more, and a plan was laid out! We developed a plot for what is now called “A Journey of Grace”. I began to write a chapter each week to process through the nine core principles that could lead someone to the same grace I had found for myself. After many weeks I had compiled a lengthy collection of topics and Todd thought it might be a great conference format.
So, a couple of months later we had another series of meetings and came up with a plan for how this material could be brought to the general market of Christian gatherings. We started marketing the conference and building a framework to release it. A decision was made to premier “A Journey of Grace” at Todd’s church in Kentucky. We bought radio spots, Todd talked it up everywhere he could and I sent out mailings to those within driving distance that were on my mailing list.
The Conference Was Delivered – But……
The date came, my wife and I traveled to northern Kentucky with great expectations of how this material would be received. We got ready for the Friday night event, assembled conference manuals and waited patiently for the start time to come.
Two hours later, our seats were empty and literally, NO ONE, came to register. We looked at each other and said, well, we are going to present a conference so here we go. I delivered each message passionately to two people, my wife, and Todd. Well, to be honest, Todd’s pastor came to some of the sessions so there were three people at times. But the material was presented, and recorded, without a hitch.
I certainly had to process the reality of hosting a conference out of town and no one showing up. The way I got through it was to realize, it had to be God’s plan because if one person would have come, it would have been worse. We figured God wanted to give us a practice run and I really was ok with what happened and wasn’t devastated. Well, I was disappointed and a little embarrassed when my friends asked me how it went. But I somehow had the confidence that God was with me through the experience. Just like in my office that day, God wasn’t surprised and would work this into something good.
The Next Writing Series
I came home and just kept moving forward with what was in front of me. I continued meeting with the 10 men weekly. I pondered what I might do next and pondered what else I could write about. So, Todd had encouraged me to write a devotional series on the pictures that show up on the Grace Rivers website. I began with one picture and wrote what came to my heart when I originally saw them and picked them to represent my heart for Grace Rivers Ministry. I felt my own heart encouraged as I wrote. These articles were from my heart and were written with real people in mind who were facing real life situations. I laid them out with the hope that someday they will be published in a book.
Another Piece of “A Journey of Grace”
I watched the lives of some friends of mine very closely. They had gone through such adversity and came out with a deep restoration in their family. I knew that the principles I had written about in A Journey of Grace were the same concepts that they had lived in their own family restoration. So, I contacted Sue DeRaad and asked her to write some of the ways that these none core principles had worked in their family to bring their family to reconciliation. So, Sue began to write and we came up with the additional material that will be in the upcoming book, “A Journey of Grace” with “From the Heart of a Woman”.
During this first year away from over 20 years of “ex-gay” ministry I kept pushing ministry to the subject of homosexuality out of my way. I kept thinking, “God, I want something radical, I don’t want to contrive any ministry focus out of my past, but want to be open to Your future.”
I kept looking for surprises and they came regularly. Watch for the next chapter in the adjustments to a brand new life, vocation, and career!
If you have the courage, this series will lead us into some uncharted waters and awesome opportunities. There will be challenges too. Stay tuned.
A New Car, A New Life – Part Two (Click Here)
To read more from “Through the Windshield of My Life”:
If you want to read articles from the Website Picture devotionals:
Wednesday, June 15th, 2011
New Book by John Smid is coming out soon!
Ex’d Out – How I Fired the Shame committee is currently being designed and will be available soon.
The protest in Memphis on June 2005 brought a challenge to John Smid’s heart and to his belief system. Since that day, there has been a dramatic transition of thought. John has created a manuscript of the major challenges and his reactions to those challenges that is now in the process of becoming a book.
After twenty-three years of faithful service to hundreds, if not thousands of men and women through a formal ministry called “Love In Action,” John resigned in May of 2008.
John has been known worldwide as one of the stable men who fought fearlessly for the truth of God that he believed condemned the practice of homosexuality. His ministry included one of the largest ministries that also included a residential program unparalleled other models of ministry that proclaimed “Freedom from Homosexuality through Jesus Christ.”
His ministry included speaking and leading conferences on three continents and travelling throughout the United States to release thousands of pages of personally written material into the hands of those hurting and desiring to hear that God could and would dramatically change someone’s sexuality so that homosexuality would no longer be a burden.
It was at the time of his resignation after several years of painful stress and personal challenges, that he chose not to make any plans for his future and prayed, “God, I don’t want to contrive my future plans, so surprise me!”
During the next four years, John began to evaluate his years of ministry and realized that there was something new coming directly from God that changed his entire baseline of thought. He also realized that he had made many mistakes. So, John took a deep personal inventory and has chosen to write an extensive weekly web-blog which would later also include a formal acknowledgement of the ways he feels he has been wrong.
Through these pages you will find not only vulnerable and extensive personal process, but also a serious apology unlike any that has been written before by anyone who was in leadership within the culture of what has been known as “Ex-gay” ministry.
John will also share with you the dramatic transition he has gone through that has brought waves of questions and shock to those involved in the communities he served for over two decades.
Morgan Jon Fox
June 6th, 2005 a major protest occurred at a ministry that John was leading called “Love In Action”. The protests were organized by Morgan Jon Fox, a local Memphis film producer. The protests created an international stir which would have naturally created a field of animosity to sort out. Morgan developed a documentary called “This is What Love In Action Looks Like” that chronicles the two week protest event. Due to their conflicting positions that drove a wedge between John and Morgan, it was clear that these two were virtual enemies. Amazingly, John and Morgan developed a respectful friendship stemming from honesty, and being open with each other.
John asked Morgan to write his thoughts on the book. This excerpt from what Morgan wrote gives some insights as to how Morgan saw these tools work in his relationship with John.
“Over time as me and John began to meet more and more we had long conversations about what was going on in our lives. We both shared deeply personal things about our families and friends. We didn’t debate, or argue about our differences. What this allowed was a chance for two people to find out they had plenty in common without dwelling on what made them opposites. It created a mutual respect that would lay the foundation for growth and trust. It opened the door for something I never could have seen coming…a friendship.”
Morgan Jon Fox, Love In Action Protestor; Filmmaker – Sawed Off Productions
Tuesday, May 31st, 2011
1963 Chevrolet Corvette
When I was about 10 years old my dad and I began going to the car dealerships to see the newly revealed models each fall.
We also went to the local car shows each year that were held in our local coliseum. We would walk and walk just looking at all of the shiny steel and chrome.
I remember one year sitting in a really sporty pure white Corvette coupe. It must have been 1963 because this lovely specimen of American sports cars had a split rear window.
Inside I saw a red ball that slid sideways to open the door. I thought that was so unique and yet strange and uncomfortable to manage for my little hands.
None the less, cars followed me with my dad all through the years. When I was older, in 1982, my dad asked me to go with him to buy a car. He wanted to trade to a new car and it was so cool that he asked me to go with him to pick it out.
We decided on a Chevrolet Celebrity. This car was somewhat of a new design and name for Chevrolet. It was a mid-sized sedan. As I looked at the options available I picked out a car that was a beautiful mix of two shades of copper. The interior was a new ribbed fabric and darker, almost like a rust color. So, off we went with dad’s new car.
My dad retired when he was just 52 years old. He had some problems with his feet that limited his ability to walk and stand. This was a challenge since he was a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service. He looked forward to retirement because in his mind he could spend more time with his kids and grandkids.
This became difficult because my sisters and I were in the throes of building our own lives and we were all busy with so many things. I remember my sisters telling me that dad would stop by their houses as odd times of the day and how this had become kind of a challenge. They were in the middle of things that had to get done and dad would stop by and want their attention which was awkward for them to manage.
Retirement Didn’t Set Well
A few months into his retirement we could see dad getting depressed and frustrated with his life. We didn’t know what to do other than to suggest that he get involved in volunteering to take up some of his time. He kept trying to build his life around us and got more and more bitter because it wasn’t working to satisfy his many hours of open time.
One day he came to us and said, “Well I did what you wanted me to do.” He found a home for developmentally disabled children that was led by a nun, Sister Evangeline. The kids went swimming several times a week and dad decided to go swim with the kids. In time he found odd jobs that needed to be done at the home and began to spend time there regularly helping in any way he could.
On his birthday that first year Sister Evangeline sent him a plant. He commented sarcastically, “Oh, they just want more work out of me so they sent me this plant.” He was truly not into this volunteer job and seemed to be doing it out of an attitude of spite since he wasn’t with us kids he had picked a second option. This was hard for me to hear but at least he was doing something.
My dad’s church began a helping ministry called “Stephen’s Ministry” which offered training for people to learn how to help people who were going through difficult things in their lives. Dad decided to go through the training. It involved bible study and small group interaction.
I had just become a Christian at this point and was excited that he was in a bible study. So, I bought him a new bible to take for his bible study. I knew he only had a larger “coffee table” sized bible so this surely would come in handy. I had stopped by his house one day and he sat down with me and told me about something he was learning in his training about servanthood. His eyes had been opened to what it meant to listen to others and serve them from his heart.
Dad Began To Change
I began to see a turnaround in his attitude about many things in life. He showed a sign of the resentments leaving that he had been carrying around with him. He began to show true joy in spending time with the kids at the school and a real thankfulness for his connection with Sister Evangeline.
After several years of seeing a great change in my dad I was getting ready to move to California to work with Love In Action. I came home to visit several times.
When I stayed with dad we had several late night conversations. This was very new for us to talk that much and I really enjoyed hearing his heart. One night I asked my dad why he never dated after he and my mom got divorced. It had been over 25 years since they separated.
His response was, “John, I didn’t want to be tempted. I am afraid I might find someone I am attracted to”. My dad whole hearted followed his church’s teaching that unless your marriage was “annulled” by the church then you were not able to remarry. I found something deep in my dad’s heart that amazed me. He was so convicted to submit his life to what he believed in, that he sacrificed his own personal desires for many years.
As I thought about my dad and women, I couldn’t forget all through the years that he had often talked about a lady named “Monica”. He had a green army trunk that had all of his life memorabilia. In it were pictures of many people from his past and he always pointed out the pictures of her. When he was nineteen years old he was engaged to her. He went into the Army Air Corp during World War II. He told us that when he returned home she didn’t want to marry him. I think his heart was crushed and he moved on to never talk with her again.
Teenage Love Rekindled
My dad’s cousin, Merc, maintained a relationship with Monica through the years so he heard a couple of things about Monica but never pursued knowing more because again, he was guarding his heart and I actually think it was too painful to know more.
I never heard my dad talk about any other women. He married my mom just a few years later and that was it for 16 years until they divorced. My mom as a very complicated woman to be married to and their relationship was very painful for my dad. So, I think he also didn’t want to go through that again. So, my dad was a confirmed single adult. I think this is why he had so much focus on his kids. We were all he had in life to put his time into until God began to work something new into his heart.
Dad called me one day and said he was going to go to International Falls Minnesota. “Really? What are you going there for?” ” I called my cousin to see what had happened to Monica and I found out she is a widow, and that she is there visiting family.” I hadn’t seen dad so strangely excited in my entire life. Dad went on this trip and came home like a teenager in his heart.
He had learned that Monica had also lived in Denver for a season when he lived there. She had married and had several children and then after many years of illness her husband had died just a few years previously. He said they also talked about the last conversation they had had, Monica straightened him out on one thing. She had not said she didn’t want to marry him, she said she “didn’t want to marry him at this time.” She told him she just didn’t feel ready for marriage at that point.
All of a sudden, dad was consumed with trips to Las Vegas, where Monica lived and letter writing back and forth. He had found his childhood love had been stirred again. I knew that he wasn’t compromising his morals in the least bit but it sure was interesting when he said he was going to Las Vegas to stay for a month!
As I reviewed the ten years prior to his reunion with Monica I saw that the affirmation from Sister Evangeline, the unconditional love from the kids there and his Stephen’s ministry and bible study all worked to soften dad’s heart and allow him to once again search for love. His call to his cousin came from this internal desire.
They Get Married
So, after a few months, dad and Monica decided to get married but they had a hurdle. Dad’s marriage to my mom wasn’t annulled by the church. So, they pursued an annulment through his church in Omaha. Through a lot of paper work and interviews with family members who knew my mom and dad when they got married, the annulment was not approved. So, again, my dad wasn’t satisfied with the process and chose to try again through Monica’s church in Las Vegas. More paperwork and interviews occurred and during the process the priest at her church told them to go ahead and get married by the Justice of the Peace. He said they would continue to pursue the annulment and could get their marriage sanctioned by the church in time but for now his advice was to go ahead.
Well, my dad got some approval from someone he trusted and took advantage of the opportunity. Dad and Monica got married in 1989, the year after Vileen and I got married.
Everyone was ecstatic for them. They really loved each other. It was all positive! After a few months had gone by they got the word that dad’s marriage to my mom had been annulled. Now they could get their marriage fully sanctioned by the church and it was all good.
Vileen and I took a trip to Las Vegas to see them. I could hardly believe my eyes! I had never known my dad as a happily married man. They were so devoted to each other, sacrificed for one another, and were very affectionate with each other. I saw them pray together each night on their knees. They held hands every time they could.
My dad was now not only a model of faith for me to see, but he was modeling a godly marriage for everyone to see. They were both so happy. It wasn’t all a fairy tale, however.
They went through many very challenging circumstances together. Monica had cancer and two knee replacements. Her daughter had severe illnesses and passed away. Her son’s life was a challenge for my dad to experience and found he had to lay down some boundaries to keep their home peaceful. But through it all, their love grew and they had a wonderful marriage and life together.
My dad’s health was a challenge as well. He had a lung disease that he had suffered with from being in India during the war. He had a debilitating chronic cough that had caused emphysema and several bouts with pneumonia. Monica was by his side and always seemed to manage his life, her life, and that of her kids with such grace.
Dad Passed Away
In 1997 we got the call that he was once again in the hospital with pneumonia. It was really severe this time. My sisters and I went out to Las Vegas to see him. He was on a respirator which was very troublesome for him. He got so frustrated that he couldn’t talk with us and writing notes was a real challenge due to having to lay on his back.
The doctor came in to give some tests and we asked him if my dad’s lungs would heal. He said that the disease had caused a hardening in his lungs that would never get any better. He told my dad that he would have to live with a respirator.
After the doctor left dad said he would not live this way and that he was going to have the doctors remove the respirator. We all knew that this would cause his death but my dad’s desires came first. Shortly he communicated his desires to the doctors and they did as he wanted. Dad passed away in about 24 hours.
His plans were to donate his body to the University of Nevada for science. So, there would be no traditional funeral. They had planned to have two memorial services to remember his life. One was in Las Vegas for their friends and Monica’s family there. The other would be in Omaha for all of the other family and long time friends.
As I thought about my dad, I wanted the privilege to eulogize his life. So, when my wife and I arrived we went with Monica to talk to the priest about what I wanted to do. I was honest with him about what I wanted to say. I wanted to reveal my dad’s character through the way he handled life challenges. I said I wanted to talk about how he handled my homosexuality with such grace.
The priest sat there with a pondering look on his face and finally said that he would give his blessing to my plans. Then I took it a little further and also asked if I could take communion at the memorial service. I had not been a practicing Catholic for many years which could make this a challenge. But, once again, the Priest said he would definitely allow me to do that. It seemed that God was in the plan and Monica thought it was all a very good idea. So, I drafted an outline of what I wanted to say.
While my sisters and I were in Las Vegas following the memorial service Monica asked us if we wanted to go through dad’s things to sort out what we wanted. As we searched through his papers and personal things we discovered more of his character. We looked through his cancelled checks and saw our names written on many of them. We discovered that he had helped us out when we needed it. We learned that we had no jealousy or comparisons that caused any problems. We even joked about how we were each his favorite child. We found that dad had the gift of loving each of us as though we were his only child.
We Saw His Character Through His History
When we sorted through things that were his we were able to completely defer to each other and compromise for one another. If I wanted something specific, my sisters would agree to me having it and the same was done for each of us. We were amazed at how much we were able to do this without any difficulty and attributed this to what we had gained from being children of our father. He had raised us to know this kind of integrity because that is the way he lived.
The second memorial service took place in Omaha and I asked for the same permission and the local priest gave his approval. So I was allowed to share my heart once more before my own family and long time friends. As people entered the church I wanted to greet them personally. When my female cousins came in one by one some would stop by me and show me a special “angel” pin they wearing and said, “Your dad gave me this pin.” It became kind of funny because three cousins did this in a whisper almost to hide that they felt as though he had only given them a pin like that. Again, I saw the say my dad could unconditionally love people a though they were the only one he loved like that.
As I spoke for this second time, I knew that my dad was in his eternal place with God giving whole hearted approval for what I was sharing. This gave me the courage to speak. I just knew it was ok with him because he was in a place where he would know the whole truth of his life, and mine.
It was amazing that God had opened up such a door to talk about His grace through my own dad finding it for himself. After I returned I wrote my notes into a Tribute to my Dad which has been publicized in many periodicals and remains on my own website today.
Through the following years I often grieved but also recognized Monica’s loss. She had a very tumultuous marriage with her first husband much like my dad had. He struggled with many things as well as severe health issues and she had come to find such joy with my dad. They only had seven years together and it would have been so wonderful if they had more time to enjoy their love for each other.
Since my dad’s passing, Monica lost another daughter to cancer and her son died far too young. Her sister in law from her only brother passed from a severe disease as well. She has one daughter left that fortunately lives near her.
It has been humbling to know her. She has faithfully acknowledged all of the special holidays each year for all three of us kids as well as many of our children. No matter what was going on, we knew we would receive a card every year for birthdays, Christmas and often our anniversaries. Monica was just like my dad. They were both cut out of the same cloth. Her faith in God has never wavered and her love for people has revealed that all through the years I have known her.
She is now living in an assisted living community home because she has struggled with TIA’s, or mini strokes. She still is able to talk and remember but physically she isn’t able to live alone any longer. Her fortitude remains strong!
It seems that serving others and learning how to sacrifice was the turning point in my dad’s life. Giving to the developmentally disabled kids even when he did it out of spite began to change his life, it seemed to do something in his heart. Sister Evangeline’s gifts to my dad, even when he received them with a blocked heart, changed his life.
Every time my sisters and I get together or talk, my dad comes into our conversation. We remember how challenged his life was and how he ended it with such grace and joy.
One of my cherished possessions happens to be a rib that was removed from my dad’s chest during a lung surgery when my dad was in the Army. It was kept in the green trunk with all of his other life memorabilia. When I was a boy I used to ask him to see his “rib” and we would open the trunk and go through all the stuff there. When he passed I asked my sisters if I could have the rib and they let me have it.
Although it may seem strange to some of you, I have continued the practice of showing the rib to my grandson, Devin. He has now begun to ask to see the rib from Grandpa Norm. Oh, I have other things like a pocket watch that was my grandpa’s that my dad had restored to give to me. I also have his army jacket and the American flag from his funeral. And his green army trunk sits in our guest room.
He (John the Baptist) will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17
Friday, May 20th, 2011
1988 Mustang Convertible
The third generation mustang in its later years. This car was similar in size to the original mustang from the mid sixties.
This car was a rental we drove on our honeymoon trip in Hawaii. We knew a convertible would be the way to go for seeing such a strikingly beautiful place.
It was great fun to cruise around the island with the top down!
Our wedding story unfolds.
Our First Kiss!
Standing in our church fellowship hall with all of our friends and family around the wedding shower was almost over and everyone energetically shouted “kiss, kiss” over and over. Vileen and I had been in different cities for a year and a half with only short visits in between. We had not kissed each other so this moment seemed like a strange one to engage in our first kiss, but here we go.
Later, Vileen told me that she appreciated that we had not engaged in kissing prior to that time. She said that if we had begun physical affection before that, the long distance and time between would have been much harder. So, our relationship was now being cemented by the invitations, the shower, and – the kiss.
I had found an apartment that seemed suitable for us to begin our life together. There was a lady who was coming into the Love In Action program in January of 1989 and needed a temporary place to live until that time. It seemed to be an answer to prayer to provide Vileen a roommate and some help with the rent so she moved in when Vileen did, in September 1988. Their relationship went well and it proved to be a good thing for them both.
During the last months before our wedding we did a lot of talking. Our relationship was very comfortable and we discovered more about ourselves and each other. December came fast and it was time to go to Omaha for our wedding which would take place on the tenth.
Since we understood the slim finances of all of our wedding party and our pastor, we decided it would be best to provide the dresses and tuxedos rather than to burden them with the cost. Our maid of honor was Debbie Smith, which happened to be one of the first girls I met in our singles ministry. She later became good friends with Vileen. My best man was Clark Peterson, who was a great friend of mine that spent many hours with me talking through my life and his.
We asked Dennis Franck to marry us. It seemed only right since he was our pastor when each of us came through our previous lives into the singles ministry in Omaha. Dennis knew us through and through, down to the nitty gritty details of our lives.
Travel to Omaha
Several men from our ministry in California had planned on coming to the wedding which was a tremendous blessing for me to have their support and encouragement. As we all got to the airport, my mind was certainly not on the details. All of our luggage was unloaded onto the curb. We were all trying to get into the ticket lines and Vileen turned around and said, “where is my dress?” I had left it on the curb! Thankfully, it was still there when I ran outside to get it. We have joked about that moment many times through the years.
When we reached Omaha, I took all of our friends on a tour of our home town. We saw all of the highlights including where I was raised and went to school. I love to tour people around things I am familiar with, so they got the whole story.
Our wedding was really spectacular. I didn’t want to wait in some room away from the people so I was in the foyer to greet all of our guests and put corsages on the special people in our lives. After everyone was seated, I remember standing there waiting for it all to unfold with tears in my eyes. I could hardly believe I was there and that all of our family and friends had gathered to celebrate with us.
It was December so we utilized the decorations that were already in place for the church Christmas program. The sanctuary was filled with poinsettias and red and white all through the place. We arranged for a simple cake and punch reception to keep our costs down.
But the simplicity didn’t hamper the joy, laughter, and meaningful comments from our guests. Jill Frank, our pastor’s wife, donned the infamous “nose and glasses” to read a comical poem that symbolized her memories of our budding relationship. She wrote it on the “barf” bags she found in the seatback pockets. It was hilarious and memorable. We still have the bags she wrote on. I am amazed to this day that Jill knew us both and our relationship so well.
This is the story of John and Vileen
‘Tis found to be a wacky if you know what I mean.
They met on a trip with some folks out of FOCAS,
when John prayed over a car – this was no hocus pocus.
The car belonged to a girl named Dawna
When urged to keep going the car said “I’m not gonna”.
When John’s prayer flowed like water from a cup
Lo and behold the car started up!
With mouth wide open Vileen almost lost her lunch
And said to herself “how’d I get with this bunch?”
As time quickly passed and the Lord had His way,
John and Vi discovered Cupid’s arrow had hit them both that day.
In ‘86 on Memorial Day they had their first date planned in John’s special way.
They rode “Ollie the Trolley” in Omaha town
From that day forth they went round and round.
Alysha and Amanda were always there too
They wanted to see what their dad would do.
Their romance began on that glorious day
John showed Vi what he thought by moving away.
A typical FOCAS man showed what he intends
By saying to Vi, I just want to be friends.
But alas and alak, he began to miss her;
And wished that he could hug and kiss her.
So they wrote and they called and they visited too
And they prayed to their God “Oh, what should we do?”
Watching the sunset John proposed to his love
And Vi exclaimed loudly “Praise God from above!”
He gave her a diamond dear to her heart
And two weeks later the ring fell apart.
‘Twas two days before the wedding at dawn’s early light
No wait just a minute I believe it was still night.
From across the land in the area known as “Bay”
Came 10 crazy travelers, yes 10 in one day.
They brought with them luggage, both boxes and bags.
Now Vi, don’t you nag, just because your fiancé had abandoned your dress;
Left outside the terminal, come on John, confess.
Then came the rehearsal when arose such a clatter
In Amanda, Alysha, Dan, what’s the matter?
Michael, Debbie, Clark, Vileen, come walk this way.
John’s here and he’s waiting, it’s now the big day!
This poem you asked for so as you hear it please don’t gag;
But if you do, I brought you some continental barf bags!
A Famous Photographer
Jeremy Marks, a good friend of mine from London, came to our wedding and agreed to take our pictures. Jeremy was the official St. Paul’s Cathedral photographer for the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana. It was great fun to have him with us much less to have something to talk about later concerning the photographer!
Since both of my parents were there I wanted something that I didn’t have, a picture with both of them and myself. So, this is the only picture I have with them together with me.
Afterward, we spent our first night in a local hotel near the airport since we were leaving bright and early the next morning we didn’t want a fancy place. We were headed off to Hawaii! The hotel that came with the gifted package was the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a brand new hotel with the best of amenities.
When we arrived we could hardly believe how wonderful our honeymoon was going to be. The hotel had a boat channel that took us to our room. There were hammocks hanging around the property underneath the palm trees. The swimming pool was not only one, but several places of cool enjoyment.
We planned our days so we could see everything there was to see. Since our hotel was on the lava rock side of the island, there wasn’t a ocean beach right near us. This meant we would take one of our days to spend at the beach. The others were planned so we could see the black sand, island forests, rainy Hilo, and volcanoes.
We got up each morning, walked down the beach side path to breakfast and got ready for our daily tours. By the end of the week it seemed we hadn’t rested at all! Our last day was our beach day hoping for a little rest there but when we got up to go, it was raining and continued to rain all day. So much for the beach in Hawaii.
We loved being there, seeing the sights, driving all around in our little convertible and all of the luxury of Hawaii but, emotionally, our honeymoon felt like the ocean wave we seemed to miss on our beach tour.
I began to experience some depression in the reality that my life was going to change dramatically. I had spent two years in a community that was a wonderful experience. I loved the variety of people, the conversations and the camaraderie of friends. I realized that had come to and end and began to grieve the loss of what I had enjoyed so much.
Neither Vileen nor I were prepared for what we were going to experience. All of our conversations, prayer and counsel had not prepared us for the emotional roller coaster that rushed into our relationship. Our struggles began on our honeymoon and followed us back to San Rafael in our new married life.
Within one month after our wedding we had some serious things to conquer and it seemed no one had any answers for us to help us make it through.
Friday, May 6th, 2011
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Rom. 8:14-16
In March of 2010 our little Spencer doggie was killed after he strayed out of the yard and was hit by a car. It was Easter morning and we were devastated. I questioned all of the things that had preceded his accident wondering what I could have done differently……? If I had only seen him wandering off…… ? He was elderly and may have had some dementia and got lost, but that didn’t seem to calm my internal guilt.
I experienced a lot of internal pain from the grief of our loss. The ache was tremendous and surprised me. I thought, “he was a dog.” But that also didn’t make any difference, he was a significant part of our lives and we really missed him. For weeks the pain lingered and tears formed daily as we both processed through what had happened. No other dog could possibly replace Spencer. But our future was to include another lesson in life that would again, surprise us!
We weren’t sure what to do and questioned whether or not to get another dog. We talked about how it would be so much easier to not have to deal with a pet. We also became frustrated with each other over the decision that we weren’t ready to make and was still filled with the pain from our loss.
A New Doggie, A Teaching Moment
One day, we were both on the same page and decided to pursue another little doggie. We decided on a rescue poodle that had been raised in a cage in a puppy mill as “breeding stock” and had never been socialized with humans. We felt confident in adopting her but had no idea what this was going to be like.
After seeing how wounded she was I remember thinking, “we may never see her skip and run, but she is worth taking the time to love her anyway.” We loved her unconditionally without expectations of her actions changing. We knew it would be a sacrifice to work with her. Soon, we became quite attached to her and began to love her and uniquely our hearts were knit to her little life.
After months of trying everything we could think of to help her, we sought the help of a professional dog trainer. He gave us two pieces of advice. One was to put a “thunder wrap” on her. This was a tight sweater that would hold closely to her body. He said it may give her a sense of security that may help to calm her fears. Then he said to walk by her bed and each time let a treat roll off of our hand without any eye to eye contact. He said this may begin to symbolize for her that we aren’t so bad and she would see that each time she is in contact with us, a treat seems to come her way.
So, first came the sweater. In just moments she actually chose to come out of her bed! Mollie began to explore the house. She ran upstairs and checked out her full environment. We were shocked! The change was immediate.
Then, the treats. This didn’t seem to have the same effect. We dropped treats for weeks. The goal was to get her to finally take a treat out of our hand. After a lot of work, we finally saw her take a treat out of our hand but not every time. So, we continued to practice the treat routine with the hope that it would make a difference.
Progress Along the Journey
“Mollie” had finally gotten into a routine with us that was working to bring improvement, but she remained severely cautious around us, or any people for that matter. She seemed to find ways to stay her distance as she sought “safe” places to calm her own fears. The living room couch and chair seemed to be her favorite place to find some sense of security. When we would ask her to go to “her chair” and she would most often jump up there. This was the only way we could pick her up or have any physical contact with her. She would run from us whenever she wasn’t in her safe place.
In our continued process to work with her to eat out of our hands, I developed a little game with her that we practiced every night. I would sit in a chair and toss a kernel of her food out onto the floor and she would search for it and eat it. Night after night I would literally toss every bite of her evening meal out onto the floor. She got excited to play this “game”. After days of this little game, eventually she would come to my feet and I would hold my hand out to her with a handful of food and she would cautiously grab bigger bites. Progress was seen! This became a playful interaction with her that included a person.
One problem that persisted was that she would bark loudly every time I would enter the room or come into the house. No matter if I had just been there seconds before, it seemed she wanted me to know that she didn’t want me around. We learned that if I would get her onto the couch, while she was barking, then sit down next to her the barking would cease and I would hold her close and love her up. This seemed to work every time, so to keep her barking down, this was the practice.
In the morning, and evening, her personality would change. Mornings she would race around the table in a circle and then into another room and back again. My wife would begin to chase her and she would run even faster. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast inside the house! It was so much fun to watch her chase around and play. Her tail wagged as fast as she was running throughout her play time. We were thrilled because we finally saw her running and skipping more than we had hoped for.
In the evening, she would jump on our bed and for some reason she seemed to want to play with me! Even though I was the most feared, she wanted to run up to me and nip at my hands and jump around with me. At no other time of the day but this time, she seemed to find me to be her favorite play mate.
Vileen was overall, her “alpha dog” so to speak. She followed Vileen all over the place. When she would go to her office, Mollie would follow her and sit on her lap. That was a very safe place for her to stay for long lengths of time. She didn’t bark at me if she was there.
We continued to try everything we could to help her, but as we watched her grow day by day it seemed she had reached a point where the growth seemed to stop. She was stuck in a pattern that didn’t seem to be changing anymore. We had often wondered if maybe a second little dog would be helpful for her. At one point we went back to “Sunny Meadows, A Safe Haven for Pets” and took a look at several other dogs. Each one seemed to be as emotionally damaged as Mollie and we knew that would not be helpful for her. It seemed she would do better if we had a healthier dog for her to “learn” from. We didn’t find any there so, we left without another dog and forgot about it at the time.
Recently, we brought up the subject again concerning a second dog and I found two possible choices on the website. I ran through the criteria and found that each of them seemed to be socialized, one being a little 8 month old puppy and the other one was a stray that had been brought in. So, off we went to meet these two dogs.
We brought them home to our own back yard for a test run with Mollie. As soon as we put them on the ground, Mollie and the other two dogs began to run playfully around the yard. Mollie came to life with these dogs and there was no jealousy or fighting from any of them.
Bringing A Friend to Help
Our hearts went out to one in particular, the 8 month old puppy was so cute. He seemed amiable to everything and there were no problems between him and Mollie so we decided to adopt the puppy. After several options, we decided to name him “Buddy”. I call him Buddy Boy.
So now we began the process of adjusting to two dogs. Mollie stayed a little distant but not for long. As I played with Buddy Mollie came to join us. She ran up to me, to him, and pushed her paws towards us, ran away and ran back to us again. Mollie hasn’t run up to me in the entire 9 months we have had her! Then the two ran away and played with each other. When I called Buddy back to me, Mollie ran as quickly towards me as he did.
When it came time for bed, we put them both in Mollie’s bed and they each fell fast asleep curling around each other. My wife said, “I think we definitely made the right decision.” Mollie was at the right place in her growth process to take advantage of a new little brother. We have had Buddy for two days now and we have seen a significant growth in Mollie’s social development. She is out amongst us more. She is much friendlier towards us. At times she jumps on the couch since Buddy can’t quite get up there yet, to find some relief. It seems she has to stop and process what is happening in her life.
As I have thought back over what we have seen in Mollie and now in Buddy, I can only look at our own human experiences. Mollie had been so wounded by a lack of personal attention and human contact that her fears became the controlling factor of her life. She was living each moment with the question, “Do I feel safe?” and seemed to often come up with the answer, “No.”
While we have been kind to her and tried to love her deeply, she remained cautious around us. I could see in her actions that she wanted to be closer, but her internal fears kept her away. She seemed to know internally that we weren’t going to hurt her, but her past life was dictating to her to stay away.
On the other hand, Buddy, was a normal puppy. He immediately runs up to everyone energetically! He licks our faces, jumps to us when we enter a room or return from being gone. He has no fears of people to keep him away.
When Mollie sees Buddy’s playful response to me or my wife, she wants so badly to fully engage but for now, she can only come so close but still her face shows a little more joy and less fear around us. It is our hope that in time she will be able to move closer to us on her own and enjoy a fuller life and relationship with those around her. Buddy’s ease seems to help her and hopefully will continue to do so.
I am seeing some things about wounded people, fearful little ones, people who live by a daily struggle with fear. I am learning that maybe for some of them, they need mostly, a safe place to build confidence. Safe places may be places that aren’t necessarily the best places in our minds, but to them, it may feel safe. Going to them in their safe place may be one of the only ways we can begin to show them we love them.
Practicing kindness without any demands of a return may also be necessary. Looking for their love language of words of affirmation, gifts, acts of kindness, physical affirmation, or time; is very important as long as we don’t overwhelm them more than they are comfortable with.
Seeing that it may take a tremendous amount of patience to walk with them. It may take much longer than we would have imagined. Each one of us has a different time line with regards to our growth here on earth. I also have to learn that only God knows what each of us need and when we need it.
Everyone Needs A Friend
Something that has come to me in our recent experience with Mollie is how important is it to find camaraderie with others who understand.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:1-3
I also see such a tremendous lesson and value in the need for relationship with each other. Mollie now has a friend who can relate to her much more than any of us humans can. Buddy has given her the courage to face some of her fears.
How about our connection with God? How comfortable are we to run to Him quickly? Do we remain distant and fearful? I have my own personal experience with feeling distrustful and somewhat fearful about relating to God. Maybe you do as well. I see two significant sources of courage to draw nearer to God personally.
Jesus came to us in humanity so that he would experience our humanity and die in our stead.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8
The other source of courage will come from being close to others.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
Mollie’s story continues to give me insights and things to contemplate regarding my own life. It helps me to think of others that I know and learn to be patient with. It gives me hope that all of us will grow and that our loving Father will bring to our lives just what we need when we need it.
Mollie consistently runs up to each of us now filled with such excitement, with her little button tail wagging as fast as it can, as if she is saying, “Thank you so much for bringing my Buddy home.”
It seems that God has led us to just the right friend at just the right time in Mollie’s life. But it isn’t only for Mollie, Buddy is now trying to adjust to his new home and Mollie is bringing Him alongside her as she runs and skips around the house. He is her “little brother” and she is doing a great job as the “big sister”.
Can we trust our Father to do that for us too? He knew the timing was right to save us. At the right time our Father brought to us our own Friend, Jesus. Are we ready to receive Him?
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:5-6
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Thursday, March 10th, 2011
California, Here I Come
A very strange limousine was seen in Beverly Hills California. I took this picture during a major life transition. This car symbolizes my first introduction to this new world that I had entered. Having never been there before, it all looked so strange to me. It was a brand new season of my life that began with a prayer and a pursuit of full time ministry. I had no idea how God was going to answer that prayer but it ended up in a place totally unexpected.
Dear Dave Reddout,
“I am writing to see if you have any need for help with “Stained Glass Ministries” in Amsterdam.” I sent a letter to him in May of 1986 testing the water to see if God may send me to help. Dave’s ministry was for singles in the Netherlands and I was praying desperately for God’s leading and for opportunities to leave the railroad job and work in full time ministry.
This letter and the following prayers for an answer brought me to ponder what it would take to put my life on hold for one year while I worked in Amsterdam. I was impatient as I waited for a response but I laid out plans that would work if the answer was “yes, c’mon.” These plans would come to fruition later in a way I was not expecting.
I got a response and it was a “not at this time.” I was so disappointed. But my prayers continued with the hope that God would bring them to fruition in His time, in His way.
So, through the summer I went through the man dying of AIDS, and a deep heart change that postured me for hearing the radio broadcast introducing me to Love In Action. Therefore, when Anita called me about the House Leader position she mentioned that the commitment was for one year. What? Did you say one year? Well, I had already set plans in place for how I could make a commitment to a one year ministry position.
The Union Pacific Railroad was offering buyouts for people who were willing to give up their jobs. After Anita’s call, I received the paperwork for the application to Love In Action. While I was filling out the information there, I was talking with the UP about applying for the buyout. I just knew that Love In Action would accept my application.
God’s Impeccable Timing
It dawned on me that the Lord and I had agreed on when I could leave the railroad. I had thought that when the clown ministry had become too busy for me to manage it and work at the railroad, then it would be time to quit. But the funny thing is that the day that Anita called me I had just started a new job at the railroad that was so busy that I couldn’t have kept up with clown ministry while I was at work. I did some phone calls and arranged dates while I was at work some times because the job I had was really easy and I could do it with time to spare. The new job was totally unmanageable in a day’s time. That day, I went home totally depressed because it was the kind of job that would never have been caught up. So, when Anita’s call came, it was my ticket out of this new overwhelming job that I hated. Gee, could it have been God’s special timing?
I was seeking accountability from the pastors that were at my church about the decision to go to Love In Action. One conversation stuck out to me. “John, I believe if you don’t say yes to this opportunity, you may never say yes again.” The encouragement aligned with a time of prayer earlier in the year. A man prayed over me with a prophetic word, “John, you will readily accept a challenge, and you will work in mission work, both foreign, and local.” This was certainly a challenge, and it was a mission work. And… it was called Love In Action International. I could see the writing on the wall all around me that I needed to pursue this opportunity.
Ok, so some practical details are turning quickly, but I had to consider facing the reality of the relationships that would be impacted by this move. I had just begun the process of integrating my daughters back into my life. We spent three to four days each week together. And, I had a girlfriend I was spending a lot of time with. Much less, I was building some awesome new friendships. The clown ministry was growing and becoming really active. What was God’s answer to all of this? How could I just pick up and leave Omaha for a one year ministry position 1500 miles away? There was no pay involved so I would have to figure out how to financially manage all of this.
I talked to my dad about this and his response was, “John, I am very concerned about you doing this. You have always struggled with keeping commitments.” I said, “Dad, you are right, that was the old me. But I am different now. I’ve grown up.” I was sad that my dad wasn’t supportive and it concerned me. But, I continued to move forward believing that this was God’s time, and God’s plan.
There was a pretty big bump in the road that aligned itself with this opportunity. Vileen and I had begun to struggle in our relationship. I was feeling challenged about my heart with hers. I had become scared to remain open with her and had begun to close off my heart. When I saw this opportunity, in my selfishness, I believed it was a way out of the relationship that was admirable. I talked with Vileen about my struggles so, she was aware that I was troubled. But I figured that when I left Omaha, that would be the end of our dating relationship. Little did I know that God was sending me to a place in life where I could get some much needed healing for myself.
A Doctrinal Challenge That Brought a God Answer
I filled out my life story, the applications, and had talked with Anita many times but one conversation I’ll never forget. “Anita, is Love In Action a “Spirit Filled” ministry?” What I was asking was, are they Holy Spirit filled, do they speak in tongues? I wanted to make sure they were in line with my doctrine. Her response was, “John, of course. We can’t do anything without the power of the Holy Spirit.”
She wisely answered that question! But her answer was the first of many that would challenge my pride of doctrine. God’s response to me was “John, would you have not gone if her answer would have been “no.” I was humbled and more ready to move to another part of the country with new people, a new church, and yes, my doctrinal boundaries would become expanded by the experience.
Waiting, Waiting, Waiting
I was on pins and needles every day waiting to hear back from Love In Action on my application. I finally got my answer. They accepted me! Now it’s time to get the ball in motion. The plan I set in place for a one year departure would have to now become a reality.
It was time to talk with my kids about the plan for my move. I don’t handle conflict well and changes in relationships are really hard too. So, when it came time for me to sit down with them, I told them I was leaving but I tried to paint it in a positive light. I talked about the way we could write each other and talk on the phone. They both cried and I didn’t know what to do with all of that. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for how to handle their feelings so I avoided dealing with it. Oh, if I could only go back to do it differently I would, but life just isn’t that way. I saw this as such a positive thing that I overlooked their feelings in the whirlwind of preparation.
It was no less than an a Miracle!
The Union Pacific Railroad accepted my “buy out” and the check was in the mail. I would receive $30,000 for quitting my job. I put the house up for sale and began telling people I needed to sell my furniture and household items. Literally within two weeks, my house sold. In just a few more weeks, everything else was sold without even placing an ad. I was ready to pack up the remaining keepsakes and a few things I just couldn’t replace. I put them in long term storage for a later date when I would settle in again to something more permanent. I only had this one year in mind.I only had two months to get everything ready to go. I was to leave on December 26th for California.
My Father’s Blessing
My dad sat down with me one day to talk about my decision. I was totally surprised at his response now that he’d thought more about it. “John, I want you to know that I think your decision to go to Love In Action is a good thing. I am supportive of your plans.” I can’t tell you how good it felt to know that I now had my father’s blessing to move forward.
In talking with Anita about what I would do once I arrived in San Rafael. We thought maybe I could clean houses, or work at a bank part time to bring in a little income to help. I put my buy-out money in a special savings account to pay the things I needed to pay such as child support and insurance expenses. The lack of surety in all of this was both exciting, and challenging at the same time. I really had never read anything on ministry to homosexuality, nor did I really know anything about Love In Action or other ministries like this.
So, I was really going blindly into this new opportunity. It was totally built on faith that God knew what He was doing and I was just following along. I am sure many found it uncertain. But they just didn’t say anything to me about it. It was an entirely new world that I had never explored.
My friend George told me he’d like to make the trip to California with me. We made plans to go through Southern California and see some things there along the way. I was really excited to see a part of the country that I never thought I’d be able to see.
Leaving the clowns and FOCAS was really hard. The clowns decided to keep the ministry going so we set those plans in motion. The FOCAS group had a big going away party for me. I felt really loved and appreciated there. There was no discussion with Vileen about our relationship other than that we’d stay in contact with each other regularly. She knew we were struggling but there wasn’t a decision to break up when I left.
Pastor Dennis, Vileen, myself and Diana
FOCAS Thursday evening group
Vileen and the cake “Look Out California! Here comes John!
I couldn’t wait for the future to unfold. I was leaving a job I absolutely hated and moving into a brand new challenge ahead.
Christmas day came and we all celebrated together. I was pumped and ready to go. Afterwards, I packed my car with all of my worldly belongings to take with me, other than the things that didn’t fit and were in storage. I left a space just big enough for George and his suitcase.
The next morning we started our journey across the land for California. I couldn’t help but think about the radical folks who had made this same journey years earlier in their covered wagons. In some ways, it was the same for me. Going westward with no idea what I was going into but it was a great adventure.
All during the drive questions kept going trough my mind about what this place would be like. How do they help homosexuals? What is this small “low-key, charismatic” church really like? What will I do with my time?
George and I loved the experience of driving out together. Seeing he mesas in New Mexico and Arizona were amazing. We finally got to California and all I wanted to do was to see Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and other well known sites. Of course, the beach was high on the list too.
After our whirlwind tour of Southern California we drove north along the California coast which was absolutely gorgeous. We finally arrived in San Rafael. Of course this was before GPS or Google Maps and we had no idea where we were going.
We stopped several people to ask for directions but none of them knew the street we were looking for. Anita had given me some ideas of where they were located but none of those descriptions helped so we finally called the office. “Hello, John! Welcome to Marin county. What, you need directions? Oh, here’s Frank, he can help you.”
Talking to Frank for the very first time was so weird. But Frank gave us directions to the office. It was all so surreal. To say “strange” wouldn’t describe what I was feeling at this point. But at the same time, it seemed I was right where God wanted me to be.
We got to the office of Love In Action. It was on the second floor so walking up the stairs a flood of questions went through my mind. As I entered the door I was greeted by a man named Roger. Then Anita came out, along with Frank. They talked a little then sent me and George on our way to the house I would be living in. Anita had described their house this way. It was an old house near a bus stop. The girls lived upstairs as she and Frank did as well. There were five other men who lived downstairs where I was going to stay.
Well, when I arrived at the house I realized it wasn’t that old, it was in a suburban area and there didn’t seem to be a bus stop near the house. But, I was happy to find the place to be what it was. It was previously a two bedroom, one bath home, that had been remodeled. This made it seven bedrooms and four bathrooms. It was pleasant and comfortable. They had planned a space for me. My bedroom was all set up and I felt so loved already just by the fact that they had gone through so much to prepare for my arrival. George stayed the first night and then I took him to the airport to send him home. He was such a good friend to have gone all this way with me. I really don’t know what I would have done if I had done this all by myself. God had prepared the way and I felt confident that I was in the center of His will each step of the way.
The first day in San Rafael was a blur to me. While I had only prepared for one year, little did I know God had other plans. I spent the next 22 years of my life giving myself exclusively to a ministry life that brought me into thousands of lives and changed me dramatically. An amazing mystery is about to unfold.
I am going to take a breath here, and get ready for chapter two in my life as a Christian. Life would never be the same again.