Fall semester of my senior year of college started from the high of a summer at camp — difficult though that summer was, at times. Returning to school brought the familiarity of campus ministry and living life among friends in the dorms.
But being in the dorms also meant easier access to pornography once again. I felt the excitement for a new semester and new people in campus ministry, but also the new stresses of leaving leadership, doing a senior thesis, and student-teaching.
Our campus ministry leadership team took time to pray for one another and the entire school at our weekly meetings. We fasted for our friends, our campus, and our messages for the semester.
One evening, while preparing to speak on humility, “Center” came to mind: a song we’d sung at camp that summer.
Why did camp — a place that had been so personally difficult — keep drawing me back? My time at camp hadn’t even come to end. That fall my friend, JP, invited me to help with retreats in the kitchen (which, I learned, is where I thrive anyway).
At one of these camp retreats, JP gave me a copy of Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. He prefaced the gift with thoughts on how it had helped him grow in his own faith and understanding of Jesus.
Washed and Waiting meant so much to little College Me — to know other Christian men were walking this path before (and maybe even with) me. And yet the loneliness Hill described along this path, even among friends — would that ever change?
From camp, I wasn’t just connected with JP. I also followed one of the female cabin leaders as she did a year of traveling ministry all over the world. Another friend, Bart, checked in with me, and vice versa, every month — about church, friendships, and classes.
Great people, but all in different places.
Meanwhile, I felt a growing tension that this semester was unnoticeable, even to me most of the time. I felt unprepared to hand over my campus ministry to new leaders.
I wanted to be at camp more than campus many times. And I had this lingering feeling that I didn’t even enjoy my major courses.
Life finally crashed in my final semester. Having handed over ministry to the new team, I was fully engrossed with my classroom and seminars. Student-teaching took over almost all aspects of my life — removing time from the friends who kept me sane and focused.
And I had no weekend relief at camp until the coming spring retreats. Friendships became more of a side thought as lesson plans, fatigue, and apathy filled my life.
Then, within the span of a week, my future crumbled. My future as a teacher (or at least in schools) for which I thought I’d been planning was taken from me.
Was it my fault? Why was I so incapable? Did God ruin everything? Did my professors let me fail?
What do I even do with my life now?
Maybe the warning signs had long been there, but I didn’t pay close enough attention. Maybe I didn’t trust myself enough.
So much of my time and energy was invested in campus ministry. My joy and refreshment came from weekends at camp and working in a kitchen. Neither of those fully lined up with elementary school teaching.
Being taken out of student-teaching left me alone.
Alone with my thoughts. Alone with an uncertain future.
Alone with my failure.
Twice within the span of a year, my passion and my future was taken from me. The future I strove for changed without my permission. The ways I influenced and encouraged others — stolen.
Doubt. So much doubt. And so many lies.
Somehow my sexuality meant I couldn’t work at camp with youth. My attractions keep me at a distance, even when trying to live in community.
My desire to help children learn fell flat. I didn’t have what it took to teach, grow, and prepare children for their next steps.
Spring retreats at camp and time with college ministry friends were my lifeline. Chaotic prayers lined my journals during those days and weeks before summer:
It’s not fair, God. What do You have planned now that any thought I’ve had about my future, any identity I could pursue, no longer exists? Any ounce of confidence has been crushed, so where do I stand now?
Did any of the things I spoke on at campus ministry have an impact, or was that wasted too? I’m so thankful for the friends You’ve placed in my life, but what will I do when I leave college?
Do You still love me? Do You still have a plan for me? Can You let me know what it is? Would You use somebody as broken and un-useful as me?
Despite all these questions, God still moved.
After a trying spring semester, I returned for a second summer at camp. This time with JP as my boss, co-leading in the kitchen.
I spent that summer filling a behind-the-scenes need. Each week, 5-6 high school students helped me cook and clean dinners as we talked about life and faith.
Those students taught me just as much as I may have poured into them. Bart was back for the summer as well — which meant we could process life on the weekends.
That summer at camp wasn’t easy. Connecting with other male staff and trying to understand how I could be loved by a community proved difficult after all the questions from the previous semester.
But there were also campfires and late night talks and stupid teenage jokes and stargazing and listening to youth pour out their hearts in worship.
As it goes . . .
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
I didn’t get a lot of what was going on that year. I still don’t always get it.
But God is bigger. Jesus is faithful and with me (and with us) no matter what. God is in the habit of redeeming.
When my plans get disrupted, redemption can happen.
When have you experienced the crash of plans not working out? Did you see God work out a new plan for your life, or are you still waiting on new paths to form? When did you first realize you weren’t alone on this road with faith and homosexuality?