Feeling accepted and accepting forgiveness are two of the hardest things that I think we all struggle with. Each day, God gives us a new chance to start fresh. His forgiveness is a free gift. So why is it so hard for us just to accept that he has forgiven us and just move on? I, just as you probably have, have struggled with these two issues for way too long. Everyone’s path to the acceptance of being forgiven by God is different. This is the story of how God worked His truth, His word, His grace and His love to me.
This last weekend with much trepidation, I took part in a Men’s Retreat with 15 men from church. I was afraid that as a Gay man, as many times in the past, I would be or would feel left out. Nothing could have been 100% further from the truth. Real men cry, cry out to each other for help, show their vulnerability, ask for help from their brothers, and aren’t afraid of embracing another man who is truly hurting. This is what each of us received from the other this weekend. It was genuine. I have never felt love like this before. So real and so not expected that I have found myself breaking down in tears now and then for the last 24 hours. From Joy, from relief. Set free from all my shame and all my fears of being around, and not accepted by heterosexual men.
My first and foremost reason for going all in and joining the group, was of course to reconnect in some fashion with God the Father. To take all the anger, angst and non joy I have with God these last few months and to find forgiveness. To be set free. Secondly, was to show the men in the group that I was just like them. Just a guy. I was very much afraid that I would somehow come off as effeminate to them, which I am not, so not sure why that was such an issue with me.. I had a bunch of stupid issues about going in. What I learned as well, was that all the men in the group had effeminate qualities as well.. we are all one in the same.
Our theme, activities & discussions centered around Luke 15:11-32 The Parable of the Prodigal Son. I have heard this story & discussed it many times, and thought to myself, this parable is getting old & tired. But we were taken into a wonderful new direction that words just can’t wholly explain.
I intentionally arose early on Saturday morning at the crack of dawn. Before any of the guys woke up and I headed to both crosses at the camp. One at the top of the hill near our cabin and later one at the bottom. I spent a good 45 minutes at the top and 20 at the bottom. Crying tears of sadness, and also of joy, to God, that I am truly sorry for my mistakes and thankful to him for paying that debt in full for us. I told Him I wanted to surrender and give my will up to Him. I asked, could He please make this weekend count for something. To speak clearly to me and let me know that I truly am his son, and as a gay man that I am just as forgiven as everyone else. That He does truly forgive and save those of us who are Gay. This has been hard for me to accept as my whole life I have heard from Christians and still do from some, that you can’t be Gay and Christian. You can’t be saved. Ludicrous Bullshit if you ask me.
After breakfast this same morning, we all headed up the hill, and our first activity of the day began. We were asked to focus on those things that we need forgiveness for. Not only from God, but from others. To take in the beauty of our surroundings, and if anything caught our eye or meant something, to pick it up. We each headed up the hill, giving and keeping a very large space between each of us, as this was supposed to be a silent hike for each of us, yet all walking the same path.
As I started my walk, before I focused on the questions given to us to ponder, I thought of my neighbor who had just recently passed away. I was feeling a lot of regret that I didn’t visit her while she was in the hospital for two months. She didn’t want visitors, but I had intentions to visit her anyway. I really thought she would be back. Stupid life just got in the way of me following through. Anyhow, she was really into rocks and butterflies. So I picked up a rock that I thought she would like and said I was sorry. As I kept walking, I found rocks that I thought she would like better, so I laid the old rock on the path. Along the way I also found a piece of wood that had been eaten way with holes thru it. (pictured on far right just below) To me this represented the holes and sorrow I felt with all the stupid choices I made that not only hurt me, but my relationship with God, and most of all, how I had hurt others.
I continued on the hike and started thinking about the question, and the rocks started to take on a whole new meaning. I found myself starting to take longer rocks and twisting them into the ground standing upright. As I did that, I knelt down, laid my hand on each one, and prayed to God, “Dear Father, I take this blank blank sin (mentioning a specific sin that I needed forgiveness for from God as well as a person) and I ask for your forgiveness. I am laying it here at your feet, giving it up to you and putting it in my past”. Then I stepped over the rock and left it all behind me. I did this about 15 times along the path. I then came around a bend and found a bunch of large sized rocks.
I have always liked stacking rocks, so I stacked just two rocks on top of a large mound of rock (picture on far left) and again to God, “Dear Father. Forgive me of all my sins not mentioned to you today. I lay them all here at your feet. I am walking away, and leaving them all in my past”. And as I did with all the other rocks. I stepped over them and left them in my past. As I turned the next corner, much to my surprise, I found a groups of rocks that I had not seen on the entire hike (pictured next to wood on far right). They were sparkling white. I really felt that I was being to pick it up and was told that just as this rock is sparkling white. I have been cleansed and made clean and white as snow.
There is no better song that sums up my feeling then, “Moving Forward”
Isaiah 1:18 (The Living Bible) Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!
To take any doubt away from me that God was speaking to me thru these rocks, I turned another corner, and there standing in front of me was the tree pictured here, with reddish branches and limbs as if it was fire reaching to the heavens yet being blown by the wind. A tree that I hadn’t seen on the entire hike and didn’t see beyond that point. The instant I looked at it, the image of the burning bush came to mind, which God chose to use to speak thru to Moses. I knew then, that God had chosen this path, these rocks and this tree as a way to speak clearly to me. Life Defining moment!!!!
We had quite a few other activities on Saturday. A ropes course 40 feet in the air with a zip line at the end as well as discussions and bonding activties. The day was full force from 5:30AM to 11PM
I again, intentionally got up early to spend time alone with God. I decided to take the hike again. I forgot to mention that on our Saturday hike, half of the men accidentally took the wrong turn at the fork in the trail and ended up in a different place.
At the beginning of the hike were two trees that had been cut down on each side of the path. And I kept thinking that this looked like an invitation to enter the Kingdom of God. Would I be accepted?
On my hike this morning, I came to that fork in the trail. I really started contemplating which road do I take? (Funny how the Bible just really came into play and ran thru my head this weekend). I had to keep in mind that I only had an hour before meeting all the men for breakfast. Do I finish the walk that I took yesterday or take the unknown path and possibly not make my goal of reaching the top of the hill to see the view. I stood there for quite a while. I was really unsure of what to do and for some reason it was really a battle in my mind which way to go.
I was really pulled not to take the same walk that I took yesterday. I hadn’t reached any of my rocks at this point, and thought to myself. You already laid those down in your past, so why would you want to re-visit them? So I decided to take the unknown path. The new road. A road to freedom. I was going to try and make it to the top, which had a view all the way to the coast of San Diego. I didn’t make it to the end before I had to turn around, but I was fine with that. I ended up at the meadow under the trees that is pictured at the very top of this blog entry, and found a walking stick which reminded me of my earthly father, Dave Wassom. Who when hiking with him as a child. He always had a walking stick and would usually have me on his shoulders.
It was so beautiful and crisp, and the light from the morning sun was shining down thru these trees. I knelt down and prayed to God, sobbing. “Thank you for seeking me out. For bringing me back to you and not giving up on me. Thank you for speaking so clearly to me.” I don’t think that our family can see us from up above, but I asked God, “If there’s a possibility, I would like my earthly father and Grandma Clair to know that I have come back. That although I was lost when you passed away, I have been found. That Christ and God have made me new and are turning me into the man of God that you hoped I would become.” I blew them and God a kiss and ended my prayer, when I heard the rustling of leaves behind me, but nothing was there. Yes, it could have been a squirrel, a bird or other animal, or was it?
I had so much joy, that I thought I would leave a bit for others, so I stacked more rocks on my way back down, as pictured above.
These two hikes turned out to be the beginning of freedom for me. Just as our life can be with our happiness and our struggles. These two paths took many turns. They went up, and they went down. There were points of happiness and sadness. The path was shaded as in days of sorrow and also lit with light as in days of joy. Points of beauty and points of just dirt and ugliness. Forks in the road leading to a right path to the end, or a wrong path leading us in circles.
I hike myself back down to meet up with the guys for breakfast and to my amazement, what was sitting on our table?
Step out of your comfort zone. You never know what God has in store for you around that corner. Take a chance on something new and difficult… God is Good and will meet you in the most unexpected ways and places.
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Psalm 62:6 Yes, he alone is my Rock, my rescuer, defense, and fortress—why then should I be tense with fear when troubles come?