DAY 110: It was just another day. I woke up in Chicago and figured I’d take a slight detour en route to Iowa. It’s something I told myself I’d do before #RunningTo started: take the detours. Wander the winding ways around Points A to B. Don’t rush. Explore.
And so I drove an hour west to Wheaton, Illinois, parking in the shadow of a building named after Billy Graham. An academic building on the beautiful campus of Wheaton College.
It is a campus where once upon a time I attended a five-day conference for same-sex attracted Christians. A campus where so much of my story was born. The very campus where the Holy Spirit first implanted the vision for a book that would chronicle my deepest darkest secrets.
Little did I know then that this insane idea at Wheaton would one day emerge as Struggle Central.
DAY 110 started as just another day, but it quickly turned into something else altogether. Within minutes of parking my vehicle, I was walking paths I hadn’t trod in five years, remembering workshops here, meals there, and even conversations over there.
I started texting my friends. I sent them pictures of the exact places where we’d first met, hugged, and turned our online friendships into such blessed offline ones.
Reuniting with this setting was the epitome of bizarre and special and, at times, overwhelming. Tears percolated as I sat and journaled in the Wheaton building where once upon a time I’d stood in a long winding line and checked in for this conference.
I remembered the man I once was at Wheaton. The insecure 22-year-old who’d just graduated college and had no idea what to do with his life. He’d driven here fifteen hours through the night, scared out of his mind, the only people then aware of his homosexuality being his four immediate family members.
Now, a Wheaton campus of 1,000 would be inevitably made aware as well.
That Exodus Conference freaked me out at first. But only at first.
As those first fearful moments turned into hours and days, a sweet calm swept over me. Everywhere I looked, I started seeing Paradise emerge among the pristine greens of Wheaton.
It’s amazing when the veils of Christianity are torn. Like actually torn.
Jesus tore the veils. He said it was finished. I believe He meant what He said. I think He wanted us to come before God and each other just as we are.
No more facades. No more shows. No more guilt, no more shame.
Before Wheaton, my life was a living facade. I feigned a squeaky clean life. I was the star student. I was the witty friend. I was the aspiring novelist.
But beneath the veil, I was broken to near shambles. I was lonely. I was hopeless. I watched gay porn. I wanted, desperately needed brothers in my life.
After Wheaton, I found those brothers. They remain among my dearest friends to this day, and I don’t know what I’d do without them.
To reunite with the place where those brotherly bonds first formed five years ago was an eerie thing indeed.
The final night of that 2009 Wheaton Exodus Conference, I thought a thought I’d never once thought: what if instead of writing that novel, writing fiction, I pursued an altogether different sort of project?
What if I wrote a book about … my struggles? Struggles with homosexuality, struggles with shame, struggles with everything else inside my weary frame.
Could I really do such an absurd thing? Tell my messy story like that for all to see?
I don’t claim to “hear the voice of God” like some lost mental patient. And yet I can point to a handful of moments where I clearly heard something.
It made no sense to think that thought in Wheaton five years ago. That thought did not come from me.
Five years returned to Wheaton, that thought now makes all the sense in the world. In a post-Struggle Central world, I think I’m finally starting to find my purpose.
God loves telling us stuff we don’t comprehend at the time. Of Abrahams told to wander to new worlds and Moseses told to set millions free. It only further points to Him when the impossible proves real.
Five years removed from thinking that insane thought, I walked that Wheaton campus amazed. I could have never conceived Struggle Central‘s eventual birth. Could’ve never fathomed the support for my messy redemptive still-in-progress story.
It’s amazing what God can do in five short years.
As I left Wheaton for perhaps the last time, I wondered what might occur in the next five years. What other writings will come to life or how big this blog might grow or where else I might wander.
What other “impossible” things could happen in the next five years?
What a thing to return to a place so very pivotal to your story. To reunite with your past and bask in the glow of a future yet to be.