I learned of Living Hope just three short months ago when I decided I would change my life — once and for all. I was growing weary of my sin which tormented me daily. More so, I was tiring of the fight to keep my head up when my downtrodden soul so desperately wanted to sink into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. I never sought help in my home community because I was much too embarrassed someone might learn of my “sin” and then think less of me. In fact, I never even got the courage to tell anyone in my church — the church that I have wholeheartedly committed myself to and desperately enjoy serving weekly. This sin is not something guys share in Southern Baptist churches. We talk about alcohol addictions, chasing women, and even drug habits. But we do not dare to even mention homosexuality in the good Baptist church – that is the true abomination. Sure we are taught that no sin is greater than the other, but the brotherhood surely will not reach out its hands to pray for/over a man who struggles in this way. Therefore, I have consistently maintained my secrets of childhood abuse, sexual exposure and exploration, and emotional neglect. I hid my secret sin of homosexuality.
After completing yet another search for local ministries on Exodus international’s website I discovered and joined the LHM online forums and slowly began to participate in the online support forums. As my comfort level increased, so did my involvement. Eventually, I found a warm community of men who supported me understood the things I struggled with in my life. Best of all, I found out I am not alone in this struggle! I learned that there are men of all ages, locations, elasticities, professions, and socio-economic groups who are dealing with the same issues. Wow – I found a place where I could finally be totally honest with myself and others.
As the days grew into months and my curiosity for change increased, I determined I would step out and seek help in my own city. I heavily researched Living Hope’s face-to-face ministry and decided I needed something similar to it in my own city. I quickly realized I needed the accountability of seeing others and being seen. Unfortunately, I found only one SSA ministry in my city and ALL of my attempts to meet with the group failed. After the third failed attempt, I realized that it was not God’s will for me to participate in that group in this stage of my life. I then began to immerse myself in LHM online.
I shared more of myself and found the moderators of the forums were correct: others communicate more with me when I communicate with them. I soon realized I had filled all of my free time with participation in the online forums. I was posting at work, from my cell phone while driving to and from work, and even during grocery shopping excursions. I was hooked! Much like a true struggler, I had replaced my usual habits with something new and I mistakenly thought it was a good thing. I often told myself, “Hey, it is much better than some of the other things I could be doing with my free time and viewing on the internet.” That’s when I knew I needed to do something to curb my insatiable thirst for this community of Christian support and brotherly encouragement.
One day I decided I would venture to read everything on the forums during my free time. (I really did not have much free time but I sacrificed lots of usual commitments in order to feel like I had free time.) I quickly noticed all of the posts about registration and preparation for the LHM Adult Retreat 2009. After an adequate amount of inconsequential research, I decided to move in faith and attend the retreat. I had no idea what would happen, but I registered. I had no idea who I would see, but I registered. I had no idea where this odd little town was located, but I registered. However, I failed to pay and that was intentional. You see, I needed a reason to “botch” the process so I would not have to come face to face with the sin in my life. I knew, somewhere in the deep recesses of my heart, attending this event would cause me to deal with things I had buried deeply for many years.
My registration payment became a distant wish as I developed automobile problems three days before I was due to depart for the retreat. My car had literally died as I traveled for work. Frustrated, I called the repair shop and demanded they take their time in fixing it correctly. Aha, I had already resolved that God did not want me to attend the retreat. I posted my experiences later that evening on the forums and went to bed, comfortable keeping my sin to myself and dodging yet another opportunity for help and healing. I eagerly woke up the next morning and logged on to the forums in hopes of seeing everyone’s expressions of sympathy – I craved the attention. Oddly, I discovered just the opposite. Lots of men had posted comments about how I should continue to fast and pray, believing God would make a way for me to attend. One guy even offered to provide money for me, through Ricky, so I could get my car repaired in a timely fashion to attend the retreat. I was appalled and thought out loud, “Doesn’t he realize I have the money to get my car fixed? It just will not be ready in time for me to make the drive. I’m not meant to attend this year. Maybe I’ll go next year.” That’s when it hit me, I was meant to attend the retreat after all!
Countless presenting obstacles were opportunities for me to follow through with my desire to avoid attending the retreat – to avoid a confrontation with the truth. But I decided to get in my care and head to Dallas nonetheless. I drove cautiously, talked with God, and released burdens through lots of repentant tears. The hours passed so quickly I missed my exit from the interstate. I stopped at a nearby gas station for fuel and decided to visit with the workers inside for help in reaching my destination. After I received three different options for reaching my destination, I spotted an ATM. I got the cash I needed and then followed the easiest of my napkin-written notes to the retreat facility.
As I drove onto the large plot of land, my heart became very heavy. I was finally coming face-to-face with all of my lifelong fears and secret sins. I drove to the designated building and found no one — lots of cars but no people. Instead, I spotted name tags of all the latecomers. Oh no, there was mine…and it had both my first name and my screen name from the forums. I knew right away there would be no hope of masking my true self this weekend. Everyone would immediately know me, my struggle, my story and my problems once they saw my name tag. Additionally, I wondered what I would be “called to” as that was the title on the name tag reflecting the theme for the retreat. Just then, I heard music above my head. I ventured upstairs and followed the sounds of worship. I met the worship leaders who informed me that everyone was at the dining hall and then graciously pointed me to the location. I replayed that encounter in my head as I exited the beautifully-appointed building. I immediately recalled one of the guys offering me his handshake and calling me “brother.” I’m sure he said many more words, but that is the only one that stuck out in my head. He didn’t know anything about me, but called me such a familiar term of endearment. I was floored. I jumped into my car, drove to the dining hall and was quickly met by the onslaught of people walking in my direction. I slowed my car and wondered, “What will these people do to me? What will they want from me? Why are they looking at me? Oh gosh, they’re going to judge me. I should just go on back home.” Despite my gut emotions, I decided to give it a shot for the night. I drove back to the lodge, parked my car and waited for the crowd to approach. Instead, I was met by one little lady walking alone. She happily waved to me (this guy she did not know in any way) as she entered the doorway and then disappeared inside. Tightly clutching my corporate envelope filled with registration documents and cash, I entered this large room of people. I didn’t know there would be women here too. Oh, but there was so much more than men and women. There were people of all ages, all hues and colors; tall and short, happy and skeptical, fearful and delightful. Eventually, Ricky approached the table and began to call out the names on the name tags.
I really enjoy the opportunity to meet people. However, I didn’t feel that way on this fateful night. I was frozen in fear. Clad in his thick coat and cowboy boots, an unknown man approached me, called out my name and hugged the fear out of me. (This was the man who welcomed me to the online forums and was the first person to connect with me at the retreat.) My body went limp and I nearly lost my footing. Then he said, “Relax big guy. You’re here among family and friends. We just want to love on you. It’s so good to see you. I knew you the minute you walked in.” The rest of the evening was filled with great anticipation and enjoyment. The worship leaders challenged me through their raw openness and sincerity through praise to our great God. Ricky opened my scaled eyes during his first sermon. I found my weekend roommate to be a really neat guy who mirrored many of my aspirations yet has a very different background from my own. He really helped me own my struggle. During our introductory greetings he plainly asked about my life and what brought me to the retreat. He regularly attended the LHM in person support group meetings and I could quickly see the value of the weekly support group at LHM. My small group cemented my commitment to this awesome ministry. God placed four guys with whom I had already become extremely familiar with online. Three were men from the online forums and one man whose story I previously read on the front cover of a LHM newsletter.
I learned and experienced things on Saturday that made every single penny of my registration payment worthwhile. I do not believe any monetary value could ever be ascribed to that day in my life. I was greatly challenged on Saturday night and I poured out my heart. For so long I refused to surrender to God. I spent time with others in the lobby until early Sunday morning. (This free time for fellowship was one of the best components of the retreat.)
As Sunday came it was a day of freedom and release. I felt pangs in my heart as I realized I would have to leave this awesome experience and these really blessed people. My emotions swelled at the conclusion of breakfast as tears filled my eyes. I was thankful for each person and the opportunity to connect with many of them at very personal moments. Best of all, I had gleaned helpful information and hope! I was graced with comfort in my heart, peace in my spirit, and lots of encouragement cards to read.
As I traveled home that day, I took the time to write down the things I felt compelled to do or change in my life. Many of these things have already come to fruition. The last will occur soon enough- I’m moving to be near the ministry! I returned to my city and discovered that God had prepared a new victorious life for me. My days have not been the same since the Adult Retreat. I have more joy, more hope, and more inspiration. I eagerly anticipate every day – even though the one before may have had some rough moments. I am so optimistic for my future in this journey toward healing and wholeness. Although I know it will not happen immediately, I am very thankful and faithful that everything will happen in God’s timing. I thank Him for this peace! I thank God for Living Hope Ministries!