Not much changed after I told my college friend, Jon, my whole story. But I did discover accountability — a mix of frustration and healthy growing pains.
Additionally, I found myself wanting to share my story with others I also respected.
So, in January of 2007 I set up a time to share with Jacob, the collegiate pastor at my church. His response to me was similar to Jon’s, expressing a sense of honor I didn’t understand at the time. Jacob also encouraged me with continued conversation as I journeyed with my faith and sexuality.
One way that Jacob challenged me to grow in faith and community was through the annual spring break trip for college students. I didn’t know the group well because I’d bounced between several churches my first year of college.
Just imagining myself joining this group on this trip brought up several anxieties. I told Jacob them: the fear of sharing, sleeping, and showering among so many other guys. I also had masculine insecurities about cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina along with the ability to share my faith.
But God is bigger than my anxieties. And as I’d eventually learn, jumping into the unknown with God tends to be the best option.
So, I traveled with the college group down to New Orleans. We spent time getting to know each other the first few days, learning what had been happening in the community and cleaning up around the church, tearing down ruined remnants of buildings.
After work one day, one of our leaders said I had a phone call. My mom called to let me know that my grandpa had died.
Stunned. Everything went into slow motion.
I remember chatting and crying with her briefly. The group leaders let me know that I could have time alone or process with them. They would help me get back home to Kansas.
I took their offer to be left alone. I went outside, looked up, and asked questions to God. I got down into the grass and stared at the clouds, waiting to hear what God would say into this confusing space.
There was no audible answer.
But as the clouds rolled and the sun began to set, a breeze of peace blew over me. Peace covered me, covered the confusion, covered the trip. Somehow, I knew my grandpa was okay, my family was okay, and God still had plans for me in New Orleans.
The next morning, a girl from our group shared how this word “exposed” had summarized our trip thus far. The days of demolition and cleaning were hard work. The work exposed even more dirt and work to be done and eventually left us with only the bare frames.
She said this to the group:
Isn’t this how we are? Just like the house, there is dirt and work to be done in our lives. It is hard work and may feel like we are being exposed, but it needs to be done for real, healthy change.
A strange set of events then unfolded. Somebody shared the mess of his life that he had been working through. And then I got up and shared part of my story — my insecurities and loneliness. Our leader followed me and encouraged us to get into groups of two or three to share and pray authentically.
The shift was tangible. People cried and prayed — for each other, over our pasts and regrets, over the possibilities of the community, and the rest of the week.
Our last day in New Orleans, we joined a community festival. Some handed out groceries, others played in the kids’ area. Somehow, I ended up in the prayer tent. I stumbled over prayers, feeling awkward as a young outsider, praying for these couples and families coming to get food.
But then came Rory and Sheila. They shared their hurricane story, their struggles to find grounding afterward, and their health issues. We prayed, and they assured me that God had been taking care of them.
Then they prayed for me — that God would continue to use me and show his glory in and around me.
Going into that week, I was anxious. What I experienced was what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians:
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Something I don’t understand but continue to find beauty in is how Christ works in my life. Something about vulnerability and engaging with others brings me closer to God.
When did you first experience vulnerability in community? How was it difficult, and how was it incredible?