Redding is special to me… and the why doesn’t really make sense.
When I lived there a few years back, people would ask me, “How do you like Redding?” My answer would always be a dodge. “Bethel is great!” (the church I was attending at the time). But somehow, this place that I had no affection for and continually visit when it’s triple digit heat, seems to recenter me. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s as if the skies clear, and I’m able to find my North Star after long years of fog.
When Janell and I got back, we crashed into bed as quickly as possible. The trip wrecked us. We had been in the car for well over 24 hours, and Janell had just made a drive from the East Coast.
In the morning, some old friends texted me, asking if I wanted to go with them to church. The service was in 20 minutes and I had just woken up (Like I said, I was tired!), and I had no car. The wife raced out of her way to pick me up so we could meet her husband at church.
Becca and Jordan have a literal going-out-of-the-way hospitality, and their friendship means a whole lot more than I give them credit for.
Becca is one of the few people that has remained in my life from my youth pastoring days. In fact, she was one of my volunteers. Whether due to fear or simply not knowing how to interact with me, most of the people from my church days faded away after I came out. But not Becca. Which is weird, because she probably has the most reason to. She lives in another state.
But right around the time I came out, she made a trek home. She just had a baby and wanted to be with family. In spite of the busy-ness, she asked me out for coffee.
Let’s pump the breaks here a second. For all you non-gay christians out there, you’re like, “Oh yay! Coffee! I love coffee! It’s the best just talking over coffee about Jesus and books and church and coffee! Yay coffee!”
When a gay-Christian hears, “Let’s get coffee”, we panic.
What are they gonna say? What questions are they gonna ask? Is this a surprise attack? Are they going to ask about my life and then, without transition, abruptly segue into talking about how God doesn’t approve of me? Or are they going to act like nothing has changed? Are they going to dodge the topic like the plague? Or worse yet, are they going to passive-aggressively talking about it, asking “Haven’t seen you at church in a while”?
We are always skeptical when someone asks us to coffee. It’s like there’s something in that black liquid that’s going to jump out at us. Instead, ask us out for rosé. We’ll think you wanna talk wedding plans. Plus, rosé is transparent. You can’t hide something in it.
All that said, I was a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t seen any of my volunteers or kids since coming out. Although the slow fade (as I mentioned in a previous post) was hard, it was also a relief–I didn’t have to deal with what those people thought. But not Becca. She reached out, and I’m so glad she did.
Right after sitting down, she went straight for the jugular. “How are you? How’s your boyfriend? How are you guys? How are people responding? How are you and Jesus?”
Note to reader: she did it good. She didn’t pretend I wasn’t in a relationship with a man. She honored it. She made space for it and treated it like a straight relationship. And she also wanted to genuinely know how I was doing. Not trying to fix me. Not hoping to point at pain as if to prove a point. She genuinely cared for my heart, and it meant the world.
Over the next hour (like I said, her schedule was full, so we packed in as much as we could), I gave up everything, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t blow up on me. I shared how amazing my boyfriend’s love felt. I shared how scared I was about what God thought. I shared that a lot of people left me.
I. Spewed. It. All.
It’s like I needed to share with someone everything–not just the pretty side. Not just the ugly side. Both. And it felt so good, but also terrifying.
I put it all out there, and instead of redirecting with questions like I normally do to not wait in awkward and painful anticipation, I decided to sit in it. I let the anxiety of how she would respond sit in the air.
And then she spoke.
“Brandon, when you wrestle with someone, it’s an intimate act. It’s body on body. Sweat on sweat. Yes, it’s a struggle, and yes there is conflict. But you come away from the wrestling closer to the person than when you started. It just happens. You can’t be in that proximity and not become closer. Yes, you and God are wrestling, but it’s an intimate act, and He’s not leaving you. You’ll be closer after all this.”
To this day, I cherish those words. When life got shitty, and I had no clue what was up or down, I remembered Becca’s words. It gave me hope. And it was with those words in mind, that I went to church that morning. I could trust these people.
When we arrived at the Stirring, Jason Upton was leading. That was a mixture of emotions.
One–Jason Upton was one of the first worship leaders I ever listened to after I chose to trust Jesus back when I was 17. His lyrics were part of the birthing process of a new life.
Two–Jason Upton’s words are hella intense. Church can be hard enough, but he’s super prophetic, which is scary for a homo. Everything in me was saying, “Please don’t see me. Please don’t call me out. Please don’t hurt me.”
Three–Please see me, but please don’t hurt me.
To be honest, I don’t remember a ton of that sermon, but I do remember what happened in me.
A desperation was born. Apprehensions were thrown to the side. I wanted to be seen by God. I wanted to be heard by God. I didn’t want to be alone.
The one song I do remember that Jason sung was Not Alone. It’s about Martin Luther King Jr. while in his cell. In this dark and lonely place, God saw him, and God was with him. He never left him, in the midst of pain and struggle and heartbreak, God called out his name.
I felt a whisper to my heart.
“I never left. I’m right here. I’ll never leave you.”
Another thing about Jason is his heart of a father. He sees the heart of God for him in relationship to his kids. If his heart is overwhelmed by his kids, God’s must be bursting. If Jason would do anything for his kids, God would too.
Feeling that so deeply, I cried, “God, father me. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked for this. Humans keep fucking this up, but I’m asking you to father me again.” (Yes, I curse with God in my prayers. He hears it in my head anyway. Might as well put it out there.)
Leaving the service, I felt vulnerable, but renewed, like getting out of a hot tub in nothing but your birthday suit. You breathe cold air. It feels refreshing on your skin. You’re relaxed, but you’re also naked, and that can be scary. But I chose to stay present and still, sitting in the refreshing vulnerability.
I wanted to soak up as much Jesus juice as I could while in Redding, so I was planning on going to Bethel’s evening service. But something in my chest told me I’d miss the service.
“Wanna go out on Lake Shasta with us on our boat?” Becca asked.
I smiled. I guess I was gonna miss church.
There is something about Lake Shasta. Every time I go to Redding, Jordan and Becca take me out on their boat, and I miss church, and every time, it’s better than any worship song or sermon.
The last time I was on the lake, a peace just came over me in the water. God held me. It was so clear and so evident. But this time, he’d be like an arrow, shooting straight at my heart.
Jordan. Jordan is everything that Becca is not. Becca is this calming, gentle breeze that says, “I hear you. I’m hear. No pressure to be anything. I’ll just refresh you.” Jordan is like a fire. Or a rock. Or something not air.
While on the boat, Jordan asked some questions about where I was at. He said he was restraining, and I could feel it. He was seeking to understand and listen when his normal MO is to talk with passion (I’m thinking fire).
After listening and sitting with each other, he spoke with a zeal for my life that I hadn’t seen in a while, and to be frank, zeal scares me. The last time I saw zeal, two missionary friends spoke of the fires of hell for my soul. But Jordan didn’t speak of hell. He didn’t speak of “get back after Jesus”. He spoke of a living death. Instantly I was reminded of that sermon on the road from Arizona.
Jesus was after something.
“If I’m dead, I don’t have rights to demand things from my wife. I’m not looking for her to complete me. I’m dead. Jesus is alive, and Jesus doesn’t need anything from anyone. Dead people don’t get offended, either. As weird as it sounds, being dead insulates me from getting hurt. And there’s life there. Cause after all, if you lose you’re life, you find it. Right?”
Being really frank here, I still didn’t get it. It was as though God was knocking on a door, but I couldn’t find the handle. I had heard of life and death before, but it had become trite–words one says when they want you to stop behaving a certain way or guilt trip you for being bad. But I knew something was there for me, I just didn’t know what. It was scary and confusing. But my heart was in a different space now.
Before this conversation, I would have shut down. Something had happened over the past few weeks where I was now open. I wanted to hope again, wanted to trust again, wanted to live again, regardless of what that took. For so long, I had been living life as if I were trying to survive it, treading water in a raging sea. I was exhausted. But it hadn’t always been this way. I used to thrive in life. I used to carry a peace. Not this anxiety.
What happened? Was the key to stepping back into this life death? What did that even mean?
Something told me I would need to wait. It would come to me in time, and I didn’t need to force this. If God was truly after this for me, He would open up my heart when the time was right. Eventually I would find the handle. For now, I needed to trust, especially when a message came from an old Bible school friend.