Hello there! It’s Charles, “the hot mess express” here. I spend too much time talking to men about how to heal their traumas while also wading through my own. I am a “Dad” teacher for my students. I’m passionate about men’s ministry, healing the hurt, swing dancing, and anime. My current goal is to keep generating a safe space for my friends and others around me.

Now, what do I do after introducing myself? I ask the question: “What is one memory that you’re thankful for?”

To give a bit of context, I joined Your Other Brothers back in 2017. I experienced the first and second camp retreats in good ole North Carolina, but then I took a break from YOB the next two years.

Why? Because I was tired of it. I was tired of feeling like I had to fight for vulnerability rather than transparency. I was tired of hearing the woes of other LGBTQ men who treated my sacred space as their dumping ground with no progress ever made in their lives. I felt tired of never seeing growth — feeling like everything was beginning to blur together and stagnate and become vanity.

The drama, the emotional dumping ground, the frustrations, the pain, the fights, the gossip. Who would think any of this would happen in a group of gay men? Gasp.

I made my YOB exodus in April 2020, just as so many other people were making radical decisions because of the you-know-what-19. Leaving YOB, I figured I was escaping what seemed like a hell to me at the time (see list above).

However, I suffered in those two years. I traded my community for silence, neglect, rejection, and sometimes hookups (sorry, quarantine rules). During this time, I did some reading and reflecting why my first gay friend went “Side A” (someone with an affirming theology) nearly a decade prior, and I felt it was time for me to do the same.

I believed the Lord blessed same-sex relationships and gay marriage. I couldn’t see what was wrong with it or why He would let me have these desires or make me this way while I got penalized for it.

What I learned amidst my journey was that I craved attention — the type of attention I felt I couldn’t receive from YOB at the time because we all needed attention, help, and community.

Not all that long after I left YOB, I saw a video of two folks whom I looked up to from my then-church’s leadership team. They sang a song from their Worship Wednesday (I know, alliteration is cute) called “No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus” by Steffany Gretzinger.

Despite seemingly everyone else being a big fan of hers, I didn’t care for her music at the time. That changed after hearing this song.

Hearing my church people sing this song, I fully believed their words. During my time away from YOB, the song’s chorus came back almost hauntingly and so frequently:

No one ever cared for me like Jesus

His faithful hand has held me all this way

And when I’m old and grey

And all my days are numbered on the earth

Let it be known in you alone

My joy was found

Now, who would have thought this sort of song would be as powerful as it was to me back then? I certainly didn’t. However, this particular song sung by those particular people imprinted a special seal upon my heart regarding Jesus’ love for me.

Also, why couldn’t I be comfortable remaining Side A while also believing those words? I have no clue, but I just knew I wasn’t at peace.

Some time later, I was living quietly and keeping to myself in a year that was not kind to me. I received a message from a YOBBER involved with retreat preparation: “Hey Charles! Are you going to the retreat this year?”

I told him no, and he said he’d miss me there. That retreat got rescheduled, and he asked me again if I’d be coming.

“How is the group even going on a retreat?” I responded. He answered that it would be a virtual retreat that year because of the pandemic. I quickly said no because I was virtual’d out.

The following year’s first camp retreat after the pandemic would be in Georgia, and of course, you know what was coming: “Charles! Are you — “

“No,” I answered, “I’m not even in YOB anymore, and I haven’t been for over a year now. But you know what? You’re the only person from the community who has actively contacted me and seemed to sincerely want me there.”

I felt so rude cutting him off; he was only being his usual, kind self. I just wanted him to leave me alone, because I wanted to be done with not knowing how to move forward anymore.

I wanted to be done with relationships. I wanted to go past the superficial. I’d made a few monumental YOB friendships, but rarely did anyone ever initiate anything with me.

This YOBBER was so kind to respond: “Oh! I didn’t know you were even gone, but I’d love for you to be back with us when you can. I’ll send you a picture of the name-tags I’m making this year! They glow in the dark!” Later, he showed me the pictures; he didn’t forget.

When you can? I thought back to his message. Why would I ever return? Why would I want to go back to the trouble of shifting leadership? Why would I go back to a group of men whose line resounded in my ears as “woe-is-me”? Why would I go back to folks who smile to your face and yet criticize you so much behind your back? Why would God —

And that’s when it hit me. For those two years of trying to do life with God away from a community who loved me, someone kept coming back to me saying, “I want you with us.”

During those two years away from YOB, no one else ever said that to me. No one wanted me for anything unless I was a help, benefit, hookup, useful, or otherwise consumable to them.

After some prayer and humility, I sheepishly came back to YOB. When it was time to sign up for the 2023 retreat, you know what this one individual asked me. Dare I say it again? Nah, I think you get it by now.

But then I also got similar messages from other YOBBERS because they’d enjoyed talking to me on our community’s Discord server. I wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure I could afford it. I swallowed my pride and reached out to Tom about scholarship assistance.

I paid what I could, the rest was covered, and next thing I knew I was in a car with some guys driving down to Georgia for my first YOBBERS retreat in over four years.

This retreat was unlike my first two. Going into this weekend, I didn’t know what to expect; after all, I’d been gone for so long. I felt like the prodigal son expecting to be shamed for leaving, receiving at least a couple judgey glares. Yet, not a single time did I receive that sort of attention; in fact, it was the opposite.

The other YOBBERS at this retreat met me with immense amounts of love. I felt like it was my first retreat all over again but with men who seemed to have a better understanding of what a retreat could or should be.

This retreat, I met similar guys with various sexual experiences who were also in such places of healing, and trust me, if you know anything about attachment styles and the Enneagram, this disorganized Two was being healed — healed by the security of knowing that these other guys would see me for me, something I didn’t feel as much at my first retreat.

Love casts out fear, right?

Back at that first YOBBERS retreat in 2018, I was fearful of what to expect (along with many others in attendance) because none of us had ever experienced a retreat like that. No matter where those other attendees are today, I pray they are also healing or being healed from the fear that once took over our persons. I pray they are now thriving with whatever the Lord has for them.

I met many newer community members at this year’s retreat. All of them were kind and patient, and they helped me feel safe — something I’d not felt during my first stint with YOB.

I felt such a sense of comfort and security for the first time in a long time, and let me tell you this: after playing a song for worship on Saturday night, I went outside the meeting area and planted myself on the steps and cried.

And when I say cried, I mean Matt Damon with Robin Williams in that Good Will Hunting crying scene. It was a bit awkward when some camp staff walked right by me as if I weren’t there.

I cried and cried. Barely breathing, I yelled:

“ABBA! Father, I’m so sorry. I walked away from Your calling, and You’ve blessed me with these unimaginable people! You, God, are the everlasting God, and I can’t help but cry out to You because so much love and healing has been received in one weekend compared to what I’ve felt the past half-decade. What I felt I’d lost, You’ve returned multiple times over! Father, please forgive me. If this is what a portion of heaven will be like, I don’t deserve it, so take it from me!”

And you know what His response was?

“Go back inside and sit with your brothers whom I will continue to love you through.”

I obediently returned, and I enjoyed our communal time of worship.

The following morning, it was time to say goodbye. Before we did, we shared our takeaways from the weekend in a huge circle. All I could keep thinking was: How do I take this home? How do I avoid the suffering I’ll experience when I leave? The retreat high will only last so long . . .

There in that circle, one of the attendees mentioned how glad and thankful he was that I was there. Another one came up to me afterward, expressing his love and gratitude, sharing that what I brought to this community was something only I could bring.

I didn’t know what I even brought to this group; I rarely see my own value in many communities I’ve joined.

Before leaving that weekend, I made sure to speak up for myself and apologize to Tom and the others who were still part of YOB before I left in 2020. The love I received at this year’s YOBBERS retreat can’t be replaced.

If that weekend was anything like how the prodigal son felt upon coming home to his father’s love, I can’t imagine what heaven will truly be like. Because this retreat was heaven on earth, and those other people gave me a sense of worth once more.

I’d sought elsewhere what I thought was better, and when it wasn’t, I came back on faith the size of a mustard seed. And I will continue to believe that no one ever cared for me like Jesus.

Have you ever felt like a prodigal on this faith journey? If you feel like a prodigal now, what’s stopping you from returning home?

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