Yesterday I posted about the first major decision I made in the aftermath of what happened two years ago. You can read about it here. (and here). Today, I want to talk about the second key decision: finding mentors and listening to them.
In the immediate aftermath, I desperately needed friends, support and community. I found that in my family, by reaching back to some long time friends, online and in a great small group. these folks were great in terms of standing with me, loving me unconditionally and encouraging me. But what I also desperately needed were some people who could direct me, challenge me, walk with me and help me put together a plan for moving forward. I needed mentors who had wisdom, would be blatantly honest with me, and knew enough about the issues to help me navigate forward.
In an ideal situation, the church would have called together an outside restoration team to help facilitate the process of church discipline and restoration. For a variety of reasons, the church chose not to do that.
So my second key decision was essentially to build a restoration team for myself.
Here was the team: JR, Bart, Joe, Kit and Paul.
Each of these guys brought something different to the table — and were essential to the process. They also represent a varied and diverse life and theological perspective, that too was helpful. Some of the people I had a longterm previous relationship with, some I had met once or twice, others I sought out even though I had never met them.
- JR. I had met JR once before when he spoke at the church I was at for the national Starving Jesus tour. I had spoken to him a few times on the phone when we were part of the first National Porn Sunday a few years earlier. He is also the brainchild behind Hollywood Pastor. I sent JR a facebook message about what was happening and he called me back pretty quickly. His advice? Get in the car and drive to Cleveland. So I did. I knew at that point that I need someone to direct me, lead me, pastor me and guide me. I got in the car, drove to Cleveland, and spent time with JR and his family — Diane (his wife) and three adopted kids Mia, Angel and Zian. Those three days were the beginning of my healing, the start of my restoration, and the turning point for me from complete despair to moving forward… if very slowly. As much as my long conversations with JR (& Di) were helpful and challenging, it is as much the time hanging out with the three kids that started to heal me. They showed me love, grace and acceptance. Over the next several weeks and months, I pretty much talked to JR almost daily. He, more than anyone, has helped me navigate through the last two years. While I don’t talk to him nearly as often anymore, he is still one of the most important mentors and truth-tellers in my life, and will be a life-long friend.
- BART. I had also met Bart when he came and spoke at the church. I am not sure why I contacted him, but I believe it was a prompting by the Holy Spirit. I emailed Bart and he called me back almost immediately — as JR had done. His advice? Get in the car and drive to Cincinnati. So I did. Apparently Ohio was going to be central to my healing. I spent two days with Bart and his family in urban inner-city Cincinnati, where they live and minister. Bart is one of the busiest people I have ever met and a lot of our time was spent talking as we went from one place to another. Where JR focused on my own healing/recovery/health/relationship with God, Bart and I talked theology. Bart was able to help me think theologically about what had happened and also about sexuality, the Bible, sin, redemption, forgiveness, calling, restoration, etc. This was invaluable to me. Bart was also great two other key areas: first, in diagnosing the problem; and second, in helping me think through really practical and necessary next steps. In terms of diagnosis, while lots of other people were hypothesizing and explaining, he hit it on the head: hiddenness kills. In short, keeping my sexuality hidden and shameful for 17 years was a really bad idea. It caused me to be emotionally adolescent even as an adult, it taught me to hide and ignore my feelings and emotions, and ultimately it was inevitable that something like what happened would happen. So the answer moving forward could not include the same kind of shame or hiddenness. In terms of practical next steps, Bart put me in contact with people to just talk to — other pastors, gay Christians, etc. He told me not to worry about career — just get a job and be a normal person. He challenged me to find a strong church community, to not rush into any kind of ministry, to take time and space to grow and heal and become comfortable with who I was. Bart’s wisdom was invaluable — and it continues to be. We keep in contact by email and he has continued to give me great encouragement, advice and challenge.
- JOE. I knew Joe through his books and writings. He is a well-known and well-respected counselor and therapist who has done a lot of work with fallen pastors. So I contacted him and we started counseling together (via the phone… Joe is located in California). This was less a mentor relationship than a formal counselor-counselee relationship. Joe was great and very helpful for me. We worked together for almost a year — not cheap, but very helpful and effective. In addition to general counseling issues, Joe helped me integrate a lot of the input I was getting from other mentors, etc. He also helped me interact with the church, the Board, the congregant, etc. He helped me write letters, etc. His experience, compassion, personal story and wisdom were just as invaluable as Bart and JR. I worked through a 30-Day plan with him (daily homework, journaling, etc), processed a lot of the material I was working on in my small group, strategizing next steps, etc. He was also able to screen for things like depression. Working with a professional like Joe reminded me why professional counselors can be so helpful.
- KIT. Kit is a counselor and also focuses on spiritual direction. In fact, I had been seeing him for spiritual direction prior to everything blowing up. Kit has also become a good friend. Because Kit was (almost) local and knew me before — as well as knew many of the “players” at the church — he was able to offer some unique perspective and insight. He was also just really great when i would sit in his office and just cry. He is among the most compassionate and grace-filled people I know. He also has lots of experience working with pastors and understands the dynamics of ministry. Kit also has a heart for restoration and inner healing — and a heart of prayer. I am very thankful for Kit and his ministry to me.
- PAUL. Paul is a Jesuit priest whom I have known for over a decade. My focus with him was primarily pastoral. He heard my confession, prayed for me, sat with me, listened to me and simply affirmed theological truth for me: God’s holiness, God’s forgiven
ess, God’s unfailing and unwavering love. I now continue to see Paul regularly for spiritual direction. This has been a great blessing to me as I have continued to learn deeper ways of connecting with God, praying, listening and simply being in His presence. Because I knew him so long, he also had insights into the situation, also knew many of the “players”, and had an ability to get past the superficial answers (and questions).
So this was my team.
Without them, I would not have made it this far.
I learned so much from each of them — and am deeply thankful for them.
Pulling together this team was critical to my healing and restoration. While I think a process coordinated through — and including — the church would have been more effective and helpful (to me and the church), I knew that when the church decided to be part of no process, I still needed a restoration team.
Simply put, when in crisis, sometimes you need the big guns. I was blessed to have access to a great team of Godly men to help me navigate forward.
One last note… as the time progressed, my needs changed. I see Paul regularly and keep in touch with both JR and Bart (especially as I face major decisions). I consider Kit a good friend and pray for his ministry often (he is now church planting!) Joe and I formally ended our counseling, but I can call him if I need to. But now I have others who walk with me. Friends at my new church, for example. And I have new mentors… like my pastor Nancy and others.
I am a big believer in mentoring and that everyone should both have mentors and be mentors. One of the reasons I was able to connect with these folks was because I had relationships with some of them and deeply believed in the importance of mentoring — and was willing to listen to them when they spoke.