Going into this year’s YOBBERS retreat, I had a feeling which tribe (small group) I’d be placed on. Both years, we’ve held a random draw for all attendees — splitting into five tribes, named for our five values.

Tribe placement at the YOBBERS retreat may be a trivial detail to some or most, but not to me.

With me, everything has meaning. What I eat for breakfast has meaning, and which tribe I call home for the next 48 hours certainly has meaning.

Of our five values, I felt a lot of vibes for “courage” going into the YOBBERS retreat this year. I just had a feeling I’d be on the Courage Tribe, because boy have I needed courage this year. Boy, do I need courage still.

Sure enough, I did wind up on Courage this year. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with courageous inclinations.

“Courage is my one-word theme for the year,” another tribemate told us that first night. “I knew I’d be on Courage.”

Our tribe talked about what courage means to us, and we listed some courageous characters from film and literature. I brought up Frodo’s name.

“Why is Frodo courageous to you?” someone asked me.

I thought about it for a couple seconds. “Because he keeps going forward,” I responded. “No matter what.”

In recent years, I’ve encountered folks who have stopped going forward. Changed their beliefs or abandoned them altogether.

I have, at times, stopped going forward. I’ve returned to unhealthy habits, destructive habits, forsaking my first Love, only to have enough, time and time again.

It takes courage to believe something and move forward, living it out despite a culture that beckons you to choose another path. More courage than I often give our community credit.

We’re a courageous bunch. Those guys at the YOBBERS retreat, these guys in our community — they’re becoming some of my heroes. Frodos of this faith.

We here at YOB courageously move forward with the belief that God designed marriage and sex for one man and one woman. It’s becoming a less popular belief, outside the Church and in, and I’ve felt the sting of shifting realities more than ever in the last year.

Looking to the future, I need continued courage to walk this path set before me. And that includes courage for a road beyond sexuality.

I guess I’m blessed in this regard: choosing a single, celibate life isn’t really a hard one for me. I don’t feel much inclination to partner myself with someone, male or female. I like my singleness. I like my independence. I like being more available than most — for friends, for traveling, for this work with YOB.

My struggle falls more on masculinity than sexuality, and this is the road where I need to take courage upon courage. I need to step out with other men and keep stepping out with other men, because otherwise I slide backward.

Backward toward isolation.

At last year’s YOBBERS retreat, I got placed on the Brotherhood Tribe, a tribe for which I felt no “vibes” at the time. Truthfully, I’d set up a wall with most of our YOBBERS because, well, I can’t be friends with 150 people. Boundaries. Right?

And then one of my Brotherhood tribemates hugged me during a lull in our group discussion, and that moment broke the wall. Changed the rest of the retreat for me. Changed the rest of my year, honestly.

I started stepping out in brotherhood with this particular friend-in-the-making, along with several others in our community. I traveled to see them over the last year. I kept in touch between YOBBERS retreats.

Returning to our YOBBERS retreat this year, yes, I was still Tom the Leader who needs boundaries. But I’m also Tom the Friend. Tom the Brother.

Tom the Courageous?

This may sound stupid to a lot of people, and I feel self-conscious admitting this, but keeping in touch exhausts me. I feel limited with my social energy, and I often feel like such a bother. One or two texts here and there is generally fine. Anything more, though, is a self-imposed burden.

To admit something even more personal, I feel prone to idolization with certain male friendships. If I text someone too often, if I think about him too much, if I invest too much energy into the friendship, he may become an idol who needs eventual chopping down.

It makes me wonder: why even invest with another man to begin with?

I feel this idolization factor most heavily with my straight friends, actually. Tremors of anxiety over every text, second-guessing each word and wondering if it’s worth expecting a timely response, if any response at all.

It’s the worst. Why do I feel this shame so inherently? How did I acquire this low sense of masculine self-worth?

And so, growing in courage means stepping out with my straight friends. Texting, meeting, praying, encouraging, confessing, laughing, crying, and being. Simply being.

Moving forward. Because if I’m not moving forward, I’m sliding back.

And after years of sliding back, I just refuse to do it anymore. I refuse to be a coward. I refuse to be known for my retreating and isolating. Isolation sucks.

I want to be known as a man who steps out with other men. A man who leads with other men. A man who sits side-by-side with other men, an equal, a man worthy of his seat because the man next to me says I am and God does, too.

I really enjoyed my Courage Tribe at this year’s YOBBERS retreat. We had a great mix of younger and older men, new and returning attendees. We shared our stories the second night, and I learned a lot from our diversity.

Gratitude was expressed for our older members, for the stepping out they’ve done after years — decades — of being culturally forced to live in secrecy. I treasure our older members’ stories and perspectives more and more with every passing year.

The last day of our YOBBERS retreat, the attendees — my faithful supporters — surprised me with a “most outstanding leader” award and some personal letters. I wept in front of them as I accepted their award.

They blessed me with affirmations all weekend long, just as they’ve blessed me with affirmations all year long.

My fellow men looked me in the eyes that weekend and told me I have courage. An older version of me may have resisted their affirmations, if not rejecting them entirely.

Now? Well, it’s still hard. I still feel a “natural” inclination to say, “I’m not a man. I’m not courageous. I’m not worthy of your love.”

But I’m learning to accept those affirmations. And believe them. Actually believe them.

I am courageous. I am a man.

And I am moving forward with my fellow Frodos.

What does “courage” mean to you in your faith journey? Do you struggle more with sexuality or masculinity?

  • What struck me about your post, Tom, is that courage has been my word for the year. At church, as a whole our word in JOY, but I’ve been thinking about a word for me that I could make my own, and COURAGE is what I came up with. Courage has been one thing that I’ve needed this year more than ever before in order to finally deal with everything and make sense of it all. I’ve also seen a shift within the church in how they approach the idea of marriage and sex and it makes me sad. It seems like sex outside of marriage and how God created it to be is becoming less ideal in some churches. As far as isolation goes, I’m sick of being in that place. So courage has been needed in order to step out and no longer be afraid. I recently told a friend from church about all that has been going on, and that was the first time I’ve told anyone outside of my inner circle about everything. I think I’ve struggled more with masculinity than sexuality because I’ve never had that male influence in my life so I’ve had to make it up as I go along.

  • Courage for me is willingness to embrace the struggle, of caring enough to look honestly at myself – my doubts, my apathy, my desires, my fantasies, my choosing which realities I want to face, & then to be willing to step into the whirlwind of growth & change. I have faith I won’t go thru this alone or that I’m somehow misguided for doing this. Sexuality is more of a struggle because it’s such a part of who I am and a target for others.

    • Stepping into the whirlwind…what a powerful image. It’s terrifying to feel the wind whipping up around you. And yet it’s what we need. Over and over and over.
      May I never stop taking those steps.

  • Thank you, Tom, for this transparent post! I’m new to YOB and am grateful to have found this community of likeminded Christ-followers!
    I can relate to a lot of what you say here. In many ways, I feel like an 11-year-old boy trapped in a man’s body. I continually feel the need to connect to the masculinity and manhood I feel is lacking in me. For whatever reason, I feel quite young, immature, and undeveloped on the inside, regardless of what the mirror says. That insecurity has kept me in a straight jacket of sorts my entire life. Sometimes even the most basic human interactions (especially if they involve other men who I perceive as confident in their skin) are huge mountains for me to climb. It’s almost like I mentally walk alongside myself at times, not quite in my body, observing, critiquing my every move and attempting to adjust accordingly. It’s rather paralyzing.
    For me, courage means doing the hard things. It means having the guts to confess my porn usage, masturbation, and sexuality with my wife. It means stepping into the unknown and the intimidating with confident assurance that I am not alone – my Dad is with me. I know that might sound a bit cheesy to some; however, when I can’t find the strength to do what is needed – and even when I CAN – It’s been a real strength to me to understand that I can do ALL things through Christ. I may not be able to see or find the manly strength inside myself to be what is needed for a particular situation, but if I can look past that into the eyes of the ONE who loved me enough to die for me, I can realize – if only for that moment – that it has never been about what I have to give anyway. It’s about what He can give through me. Then I’m not afraid and I don’t feel insecure or insufficient for the task at hand – even if it’s just talking with someone. Let Jesus love others through you!

    • Welcome, Andrew to YOB – and thanks for sharing here! We can all learn from each other and grow together. I trust your time spent here will do just that for you.

      • Thanks, WaveDave! Super glad to have stumbled upon this website a couple of weeks ago. Actually, I think it had more to do with the kindness of God than an actual stumbling. I do enjoy learning and listening.

    • Thanks for stepping out, Andrew! Glad to have you here.
      I really resonate with that “undeveloped inside” imagery you described. Seeing muscles and facial hair (including a gray hair or two) on the outside…and yet still feeling so broken and weak inside. Particularly in the realm of masculinity. So grateful for the men around me who affirm my manliness, inside and out.

      • Amen to that, Tom. I hope to find that affirmation in my life as I move forward, while also being careful not to allow it to remain an idol that takes the place of Christ. Right now, that’s a bit of a struggle for me. I also want to be that voice of affirmation to my own son as he matures. I see it as an opportunity to give what I was missing growing up.
        I agree with what others have written on this site, in that this particular struggle/weakness can actually be a blessing. Not that I necessarily think God “wanted” me to struggle in this way, but that He can make something good of what was intended to harm me. One benefit is that, as Paul said, Christ’s strength in [and working through] me is made perfect in my weakness. When I do things in my own strength because I feel I can handle it on my own, I will fail – even if that failure is that I don’t accomplish everything God intended. My persistent feeling of insufficiency can be a good thing IF I can turn my eyes upon Jesus in those moments and not surrender to self pity and fear.
        Sorry to babble on and on, but I’m excited to be here and looking forward to conversation and learning!

  • “Tom the Courageous” is awesome. It’s like the knights at Camelot. Maybe next year, you can all meet around one huge round table, everyone having a place and name. With all you’ve faced the past year that you posted about, I’d go with “Braveheart” for you.
    This journey for sure is a lonely one. The questions that never have answers and those nights that get really dark try you real deep, and you come to that place where your thoughts fail or betray you. When ya got nothing, I think you’re right, the point is to keep going anyway. To “take heart” as Jesus said, and find the courage that comes from love, the courage that comes from faith in God, from a heart that believes and loves God’s truth and acts on it. I need that courage to deal with the isolation you wrote about and fighting the lie that it’s better or safe.
    You so deserve the outstanding leader award. Tbh, all you YOB guys that risk posting your stories deserve some kind of award.

    • Amen. I especially relate to your statement, “I need that courage to deal with the isolation you wrote about and fighting the lie that it’s better or safe.” How often i am guilty of this…especially at this chapter in life when I am quite isolated from others being a caregiver.

      • Hey WD, I don’t know your circumstances but being a caregiver and giving yourself to care for someone else makes you awesome. This may be the most sublime chapter in the story of your life.

        • Thank you. It’s been a challenge in every way. The hardest part for me is that it has depleted my immune system, and I have been fighting numerous illnesses. Now, when I go out to the store, I wear surgical type gloves and then come home and scrub my hands. But…being a caregiver to my mom is what the Lord wants and He has promised to never leave us in the midst of our struggles. Thanks again. God bless and keep you.

  • Thomas Mark Zuniga

    I'm a storyteller and story-liver in Asheville, North Carolina – the Jewel of the Blue Ridge. I'm YOB's cofounder and editor, and I also host our bimonthly podcast. I've written a couple books, including a memoir in 2013 where I first came out to the world. Once upon another universe I anonymously blogged about my faith and sexuality under the Xanga username, "twoBeckonings." I'm an INFJ, an Enneagram 4w5, and my spirit animal is the buffalo. My favorite place in the world is the one where coffee and vulnerability meet.

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