Sunday, August 17, 2014

Act Two, Scene Five - “Staring At My Shoes”

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you.  Please feel free to comment or contact me at the e-mail address below.  Thanks!

Timeframe: Fall, 1996

When the day arrived for my meeting with Pastor Rob, I awoke early.  I usually do when I have something big going on that day.  My nervousness forces my eyes open, and I fight it trying to go back to sleep, only to realize that it’s a futile battle.  I don’t remember the exact time of the appointment, but I believe it was in the early afternoon.  I began running through excuses.  I could call the office later and say that I overslept.  I could say that I got called into work or something came up that I needed to do for school.  Pastor Rob was still a very terrifying presence for me.  The idea of canceling on him terrified me almost as much as the idea of telling him that I was gay, or used to be gay.  I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t that person anymore.  Reluctantly, I got out of bed and got ready.  I was ready hours before I needed to be there, leaving me plenty of time to sit and think and stress.

When I did finally arrive at the church, he met me at the front door and led me into his office.  The office was a long narrow room with his desk at one end.  The building that housed the church had originally been built for another purpose and converted.  The room that was used for his office at that time was probably used for storage during it’s prior life.  If felt awkward as an office with me and him sitting all the way at one end of the narrow space with all the emptiness of the large room behind me.  Of course, to be honest, I could have been sitting in any room that day, and I would have felt uncomfortable.

He asked me what I wanted to talk to him about.  I talked to him about the evangelist that had some to sing and how that had given me the confidence to step forward to ask for God’s assistance with something in my life.  I talked to him about Angela and my lunch with her.  I shared with him what a tremendous help she had been to me in figuring things out.  I did this for a bit, hinting that there was some tremendous thing in my life that I was ready to talk about and turn over to God, but I held back from actually saying it.  Finally, I reached a point where I just needed to say it, but I couldn’t get the words out.

Air Jordans
We met for about an hour.  About half of that was spent in silence or with me stammering.  I spent most of the meeting with my legs crossed, my left foot resting atop my right knee, alternating my right foot to the other knee, or just planting both feet on the floor in front of me.  While I never played basketball, I always had to buy ridiculously expensive basketball shoes because that was just the thing to do.  So, there we were.  Him sitting across the desk waiting patiently for me to get the words out and me, staring at my Air Jordans and wishing I could just evaporate and not have to do this.  My mind began running through options again.  I could tell him that it was about alcohol or smoking or anything else.  The problem with the drinking and smoking though was that those topics would certainly lead to a discussion of me doing those things with Max, and the last thing I wanted to do was incriminate my friend to his dad, especially since we had both stopped that stuff.  Plus, that wasn’t big enough.  I wouldn’t be that nervous to say those things.  He’d see right through me.

John Starnes
Finally, I managed to get it out.  I told him that I had been gay before I started attending New Promise.  After I pushed the word ‘gay’ through my lips, I still couldn’t look at him.  I sat there silently.  Thankfully, he began speaking to fill the silence.  He told me that he had suspected that it might be that.  He said that, from my nervousness during the meeting, he figured I was either gay or that there was some type of drug-related issue.  He called my attention to the music playing softly in the background.  It was a CD that he’d bought of John Starnes, the evangelist who had visited the church.  He told me to focus on the lyrics.  Starnes was singing about God making “all things new.”  Pastor Rob told me that the song was talking about what God was doing in me.  He told me that he would be concerned if I was coming to him after years of being a Christian.  He explained that this was simply the Holy Spirit calling to my attention things that needed to change in my life.  

Pastor Rob told me that it was okay.  He compared my thoughts and feelings for other men to “fiery darts” that the devil was throwing at the door of my mind.  He explained that I couldn’t stop the darts, the thoughts, from coming, but he said that I could decided whether or not to open the door and invite the thoughts in to entertain them.  I felt a huge weight lift off of me.  In retrospect, I realize that my conversations with Pastor Rob and with Angela were really my first “coming out” conversations.  This was the first time in my life that I’d been able to talk openly with people that I wasn’t sexually involved with about this part of my life.  I could finally stop hiding this part of me.  As I was leaving his office, he gave me a hug.  This meant a great deal to me.  If he wasn’t uncomfortable with hugging me, I took that to mean that he really was okay with me.

As we stepped out of his office and I was approaching the front door, he stopped me.  He asked me who else knew about this.  I told him that only he and Angela knew.  I told him that I planned to tell Max next.  He asked me to not do that.  He said that, while all sin is equal in God’s eyes, people wouldn’t always see it that way.  He told me that, to protect myself, I should keep it to myself.  Immediately, I felt the weight of all of those secrets and lies descending back down to rest on my shoulders.  I had stepped out of the closet only to be told that it was best if I stepped back inside…for my own safety.  In my mind, I knew at the time that he was right.  People did see homosexuality differently from other sins.  

I know that Pastor Rob said what he said to me that day because he cared about me and wanted to protect me, but, in retrospect, I can see how damaging the message was that I received that day.  Being where I am today as an out gay man, I can see the power and liberation that comes from coming out of the closet and being able to be open about who I am.  Being told that I needed to continue to keep that a secret just intensified the shame and guilt that I already felt about being gay.  The weight that I carried from that shame probably contributed to me staying on the path of being an ex-gay as long as I did.

While I sometimes wish that I had been able to find my way to self-acceptance sooner, I am actually grateful that my journey took me the places that it did.  If I had not experienced those things, I may still have lingering questions about who I am and if it’s okay to be me.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to work through a lot of those questions, but that’s giving you a preview of things to come.  For now, at this point in the story, I was very committed to shedding myself of my same-sex sexual desires and thoughts.  

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

Act Two, Scene Four - “Lunch Confession”

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you.  Please feel free to comment or contact me at the e-mail address below.  Thanks!

Timeframe: Fall, 1996

Angela and I made plans to meet at her parents’ house for lunch one day.  I was too nervous to meet her on campus, and we knew that no one would be home at her house if we met in the middle of the day.  I picked up lunch for both of us from McDonald’s.  As we sat, unpacking our food across from each other at the kitchen table, Angela looked up at me and asked me what was going on.  She could tell that I was anxious.  

As I looked up at her, her face became even more concerned.  I was so nervous that I figured most of my lunch was just going to end up in the trash.  I didn’t see any way that I was going to be able to eat anything.  

I danced around the subject for a few minutes.  I had intentionally scheduled our conversation like this so that I couldn’t back out of it.  I needed to tell her that God had set me free from my homosexuality, but I was also terrified that it would change things.

When I finally got the words out, she began to cry.  One of the things that had convinced me that my being gay was indeed a spiritual attack was that I had engaged in same-sex sexual encounters with other children as I grew up.  What I now know to be normal childhood experimentation engaged in by many children, even the straight ones, was something that I had convinced myself was a foundational building block in me being gay.  Angela, an early childhood education major was visibly moved at the idea of a someone being sexualized so young.  

I’ve gone back and attempted to analyze my feelings and motives during this conversation.  I know that fear of rejection was in the mix.  There was also a bit of selfishness.  I craved her sympathy.  Angela seemed to see my confession and my revelation what I believed to be God’s healing as courageous and even heroic.  For the kid in the corner who had never know what it was like to score the winning point in a sporting competition or attend any of his high school Prom or Homecoming dances because he didn’t see himself as attractive or as having any chance at getting a date, it felt good to be seen as a hero.  This craving led me to portray this innocent experimental encounters as incidents of molestation and victimization.  I know that I didn’t have any conscious intent of being deceptive at the time, but I know, in retrospect, that I was.

As the end of our time was approaching and Angela was going to have to head to class, and I was going to have to head to work, she threw me a curve that I was not expecting.  She told me that I needed to tell Pastor Rob.  Any excitement that I was feeling quickly left me.  Dread filled my body from head to toe.  She couldn’t be serious.  It was terrifying enough for me to tell her.  How could I go and say these things to him?  He was such an intimidating presence.  He seemed to literally walk in a cloud of God’s judgement. 

I told Angela that I would think about it.  I told her that I didn’t even know how to get time with him.  I certainly didn’t want to tell him during a church service.  Angela told me to just call the office and tell the secretary that I needed to set up an appointment.  I protested, asking what I said if they asked me what it was about.  She assured me that they wouldn’t.

As we left Angela’s parents’ house that day, I was elated by my conversation with her, but I was even more terrified at the prospect of having a conversation with Pastor Rob.  As the day went on, I reminded myself that I had been terrified to tell Angela, and that had gone amazingly well.  I hoped that I would be surprised by Pastor Rob as well.  The next morning, I picked up the phone and made the call.

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014