I’m Wes. In my mind, nothing beats a good story. Tell me a tale of love, loss, redemption, belonging — I’ll eat it up faster than one of my famous homemade cheesecakes. I’m here to find a safe space to navigate my way through the grander story of being redeemed by Jesus. The catch is, I love men. Like, a lot. And I’m trying to learn how to love them better — the way that He would. Wanna jump into the story with me for a bit, brothers? The dozen antique clocks in my apartment say we have plenty of time.

I board my first plane with another YOBBER, North Carolina-bound from Houston. I know exactly where I’m going, yet it is a new adventure all the same. Perhaps I should say, “I know what to expect where I’m going.”

Memories of the previous year’s YOB camp retreat replay in my head — more static around the details than there used to be, though the feelings surrounding them remain unchanged. Chaotic. Flabbergasted. Humbled. Healed.

I have to pull myself back to the present and prepare my heart for what may be a whole new set of feelings this year. I have to prepare my heart for growth. After all, I won’t be meeting very many new brothers this year. Most of them I have already had the privilege of knowing and loving; we’re just picking up where we left off.

Transferring at the Atlanta airport, I get the first hug of the weekend from another YOBBER who has the same connecting flight: a relationship I had already forged the year prior, and even though we were connected face-to-face for the first time since, it’s as if we’d never left each other.

We pile into Michael’s well-loved airport caravan, reuniting with two more brothers. The mellow yellow and orange hues of the hills, I realize, match the tone of our conversations as the van lazily rolls toward camp. Just being in the same vicinity again, arm to arm, feels enough this time.

Let’s face it — we’re gay — we still had lots to talk about. But the entire ride could’ve transpired in silence, and I would have felt strangely content.

I notice our campsite vibe is remarkably similar. Yes, there is excitement in all the reunions. But the initial shock value quickly wears off, and suddenly the stable, calm hum of the rhythm of friendship takes over the camp. The drizzling rain even finds our company desirable, as it peers in and out of our candid conversations all weekend long, adding petrichor to our perspectives.

But wait. Worship time is too short. The bulk of Saturday’s activities, ruined by the downpour. No cuddles with anyone (that one’s not cool, yo). Disappointment invades what was supposed to be a perfect weekend. Yet this does not make our Saturday progress any slower; in fact, it turns out to be one of the fastest days of my life. Father Time is anything but a father to me.

The joy exuded by my “Golden Joy” tribe is suddenly the only thing anchoring me. During our tribe discussion time underneath the boat dock, a confession is made. Not just one of disappointment, but one of fear. I confess to doing some very “Side B plus” things with a former community member, along with the new struggles of navigating that relationship. As someone trying to be a leader in this community, I feel more like a viper’s offspring, poisoning the very ones I want to call family.

The lake beyond the moonlit dock is dark; the forest at my back, even darker; and the darkest, the five figures of my tribe sitting, listening, being.

Yet as I pour out my soul to these men, and they surround me, throwing their arms around me, I realize that inside those dark figures are hearts of radiant gold.

There is no judgment. There are no solutions offered. There is only shared burden. There is only freedom. There is only growth.

I grew in that moment, because I realized those brothers would hold me through anything, and that anchored presence was better than any virtual stud on the other side of a webcam. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye says it better than I can:

Sin City’s cold and empty

No one’s around to judge me

I can’t see clearly when you’re gone

I’m blinded by the lights

No, I can’t sleep until I feel your touch

I’m drowning in the night

When I’m like this, you’re the one I trust

Needless to say, as the soaring soprano, alluring alto, talented tenor, and balmy bass of the Doxology envelop my body and soul in the dining hall the next morning, neither of my eyes is dry.

As we prepare to return home to our respective communities, I present three handwoven friendship bracelets to three very special brothers. I tell them that whenever they miss me, just wear that bracelet, and I’ll be with them. Everyday I too wear a YOB bracelet, so that I may carry my brothers with me everywhere.

Since the retreat my self-control over sexual impulses has greatly improved. This is an area of personal growth that has always felt just out of reach, but has now been made real through the grace of God demonstrated through the love and support of this community.

I always wondered how I would be able to truly overcome the challenges this life has thrown at me, and now thanks to what this retreat and community have taught me about God and myself, I am able to dance and sing. This is how I overcome.

And even more than that, I have had indescribable joy since returning home, embodying the value of my precious Golden Joy tribe. I hope they know there are many stars in their crowns.

I confess, I missed the chaotic energy that made my first retreat the previous year so memorable: the cathartic relief of being face-to-face for the first time with other men who just get it. But this year, God knew I needed the healing calm of tried-and-true friends. That’s what made my second retreat so special.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

When have you experienced indescribable joy? When have you confessed something to someone and been fully welcomed, fully loved?

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