Julie's writing is consistently beautiful, even when she is writing about painful things. I have enjoyed hearing her voice over the last few months, and getting to know her through her stories. I hope that you will enjoy getting to know her, too.
“Hey Tex, we’ll head to the Targets around 8 tonight. You coming?” I had just met Mal that morning, on the first day of my summer in the Swiss Alps at L’Abri.
“Yeah, sure, what do we do at the Targets? Do we, like, shoot stuff?” I asked.
“I don’t why we call them the Targets---it’s really just this bench. We’re not allowed to drink in Bellevue so we hide bottles behind all the bushes in the day then drink them at the Targets at night. Look behind any bush and you’ll find cheap wine, gin, whiskey, or rum. The rum is mine. It’s not just about getting drunk though; it’s a time to bond and tell stories about our gypsy ways!”
“Oh, right on,” I replied. “Yeah, see you there.”
I spent countless hours at the bench that summer. It was a quarter of a mile down the hill from L’Abri, and from the bench we could look out over the valley to the left and watch the sunset in the mountains to the right. A number of accents would gather there every evening---Dutch, Korean, German, Australian, Georgian, and Texan---with many of them slurred by the end of the night.
I didn’t go to the bench in the evening though; I went in the morning. I sat on the smooth log kicking the rocks under my feet when no one else was around. While the folks I met at L’Abri were some of the most gracious, fascinating, hilarious characters I’d ever encountered, they were voicing questions I wasn’t ready to speak out loud. They were coming to conclusions---or at least allowing themselves to consider ideas---that were too dangerous for me to admit I was asking. I was drawn to their courage and yearned to share in their honest quest for truth, but I was scared.
I was five years into my ex-gay journey when I booked my ticket for Switzerland. I told everyone at my Baptist University in the Bible Belt that I was going because I was itchin’ for an adventure, that I was yearning for a season with the Lord in the mountains. But I told myself (and only myself) the truth: After five years of attempting to change my orientation to become acceptable to God and my community, I still liked girls.
The ex-gay ministry I was involved in played a tremendous role in my spiritual growth. They taught me about the way of Christ and demonstrated unconditional love for me as a person in a process. It was in that community that I fell in love with Jesus and was swept away by His story of redemption. They offered me what I had spent my whole life looking for: a place to belong. But five years into my journey, five years into sharing my ex-gay testimony, five years into dating guys and offering lies in the break-up, I finally found the courage to be honest with myself.
Honesty with others wasn’t an option for me at the time. The potential for rejection was too great. I sat on the bench by myself in the day because the evening involved other people: it meant inviting them in to see me. I couldn’t be seen. I couldn’t risk being known. Looking over the valley to the snow-capped mountains in the distance, I would pray to God to keep my secret safe with Him. Years earlier my prayer had been that He would make me straight, but my prayer had shifted to “don’t let them find out”. That was, perhaps, the greatest tragedy of ex-gay ministry for me. It wasn’t the dashed hopes after my orientation didn’t change, but the isolation I entered into when I feared others would find out.
I skipped chores that afternoon to go sit on the bench by myself. I had hitchhiked up to the store after lunch, purchased 16 ounce cans of beer, and took the back way to the Targets in hopes that no one would see me. There it was safe to be honest, and I could explore the options before me without judgment. I had just entered into my safe zone when I suddenly heard a voice from behind.
“I wondered if I’d find you here, Jules.” It was my friend Nathan (why the hell wasn’t he doing his chores?)
“Whoa, hey brother, what’s happening?” I tried not to sound alarmed as he sat on the bench beside me. “Want a beer?”
“It’s 2:30 in the afternoon,” he said. “What else would we do at 2:30 in the afternoon?”
Nathan sat in silence with me as I took gulps of beer to massage the lump in my throat. I didn’t have to say I was hurting for him to know. After several minutes of sitting together in unspoken understanding, he softly asked: “What are you running from, Jules?”
“What do you mean what am I running from? I’m just enjoying the nice day.”
“No, I mean what are you running from back home? We come to L’Abri because we’re running from something, and most of us share that with one another because we know we’re finally safe to say the things here we can’t say back there. You won’t even say it here.”
Tears ran down my face and I crushed the empty can in my hand. Eventually I put my head in my hands, leaned forward on the bench, and sobbed. Nathan put his arm around me and pulled my head to his chest, and we sat like that for several minutes while I cried my doubts, confusion, anger, and frustration. I cried frustration with the process, with Christians, with myself, with God. When I finally pulled it together, I unloaded on him: when I realized I was gay, when I fell in love, when I had my heart broken, when I found hope in ex-gay ministry, when I spoke about the change I hoped for as if I was already experiencing it. Then I cried some more and we talked for several hours.
“You’re loved, Jules,” he said as the conversation came to a close. “You’re one of the coolest people I’ve met and this makes me love you even more. It’s honest and it’s you. I guess I just hope you’ll let others see it too someday.”
I don’t remember what I said in response, but I never forgot his words. It would be several more years before anyone else would hear the honesty he heard that day, but during the fear-driven years that followed I found comfort in the memory of that moment. On that bench that afternoon in Switzerland, Nathan saw me. He didn’t see the version of me I wished I was or the version I shared from the stage in good hope: he saw me.
Julie Rodgers shares life with urban youth through her role on staff at Mercy Street Ministries. As a speaker and writer about homosexuality and the Christian faith, she shares a hopeful vision for Christian communities moving forward. Julie received an MA in English from the University of Dallas, and she writes about celibacy and community both on her personal blog and alongside friends on the Spiritual Friendship blog.
Photo courtesy of John Doherty
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