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

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