This semester we’re privileged to have Tyler Sparks, a graduate ministry student from Abilene Christian University, serving as our CenterPeace intern. Tyler moved to Dallas in August and has been working in our office at Highland Oaks, helping with CenterPeace events, such as the newly formed parent group, researching resources for campus ministry for LGBT students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and now, writing for the CenterPeace blog. Tyler has a heart for God and for helping people who are hurting, so he’s a most welcome addition.
While Tyler is with us, he’ll be a regular contributor to the CenterPeace blog. Here’s his first post….please “welcome” Tyler with your comments below.
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
Maya AngelouThere’s something to be said about finding a place to call home, somewhere you can belong….somewhere you feel safe to be yourself. (According to a sixteen year old in some rockin’ red slippers, there’s no place like it.) It’s that safety you find there, the ability to be completely vulnerable and to share your deepest sorrow, your greatest joy, and everything in-between that makes a place feel like home.
You don’t always realize how much you need something…how much you’re missing it, craving it even, until you’ve finally found it.
For the longest time, I never had that place. Yes, I had a family and a church home. In fact, because of the congregation where I grew up I had more mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles in my family than I knew what to do with. I would have even said I felt at home with the other theatre and orchestra kids in high school. But, I never had a place where I felt completely safe…safe enough to be vulnerable. I never felt close enough to anyone to really open up and talk about deep-rooted fears and insecurities. I never had a safe place where I could explore and figure out what to do with these growing feelings that I didn’t understand.
I didn’t find that safe place until my junior year of college. In the couple years prior, I did some things and made mistakes that I’m not proud of. I was trying to find myself and figure out what to do about being attracted to the same sex. I felt alone and confused and didn’t know where to turn. I was absolutely terrified that someone would find out about this and my life would completely fall apart. But at just the right time, God put a safe place into my life that I desperately needed.
A classmate I had just recently become acquainted with told me about someone named Sally and her ministry CenterPeace. I walked into Sally’s living room for the first time in February 2011 not really knowing much about her or what to expect. I sat down on the first red couch I had seen, played around with the cutest and most persistent dachshund ever, and began to pour my heart out. For the first time in my life, I was able to say aloud to someone that I was attracted to men and didn’t really know how to handle it. After lots of tears and conversation that afternoon, she invited me to be part of the student group that she hosted in her home.
So, for the next three years I showed up almost every Thursday night, drank strawberry lemonade and ate some cookies, and began to live life with an amazing group of people who became my first truly safe place. I knew that I had found people and a place where I could openly talk about my issues and be myself, no matter what that looked like. I found safety and a home where I could simply show up and not have to worry about saying, or doing, or being anything.
Week after week I listened to their stories, listened to Sally, and witnessed truth being spoken into the lives of everyone in the room…into my own life. In so doing, I found myself wanting to open up, making myself vulnerable, and discovering deep, meaningful connections that I was lacking. I found people who had walked the same path and could help me navigate, people who would be that calm in the midst of my storm. More than that, they reminded me that I have a voice, that I’m not alone, and that there are people in this world who will stand beside me no matter what. It was because of this safe place that I was able to start opening up to friends, my family, and even my elders and some people at my home congregation. It was because of this group and others I met on campus that I became comfortable enough to start sharing my own story. Finding that first safe place and subsequent safe places made writing this blog post possible.
It’s important to find those safe places and people in our lives where we can be vulnerable without fear of rejection or complete condemnation.
Even if we don’t realize it, we all have that longing for safety…community…deep connection with others. We have that powerful hunger to find a place where we can be vulnerable about our struggles. That need is at the very core of what it means to be human. Only by drawing ourselves out of the shadows and bringing things into the light by sharing with others can we begin to be comfortable with ourselves and learn how to deal with our junk in a healthy way.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Once we have found those safe places in our own lives, it’s just as important to become that safe place for others. But being a safe place can be just as scary as trying to find a safe place. You see, in being a safe place for someone else you have to be willing to be just as vulnerable as the person or people you want to help.
Is it easy?
Is it worth it?
Because, it is in that mutual vulnerability that we can both find and become safety.
As a gay man who did not come out as gay until I was 51 it is hard not to be envious of the comparative openness that is available for young gay men now at least in some progressive Churches of Christ. I’m sure it is still far from easy for them but being open and transparent at least is a possibility now. Forty years ago, when I came of age, it was not even in the realm of possibility in Churches of Christ. I am thankful for the advances for our young gay adults that are being made. But my heart goes out to the legions of older gay Christians who have felt they had to remain closeted and are still paying a terrible price psychologically in not being able to live openly and transparently. For closeted gay Christians who have become church leaders it is especially easy to feel trapped. They are faced with the awful choice of continuing to suffer in the closet or possibly cause a world of trouble in the congregations who love them. It’s a volatile situation that can blow up to the detriment of all concerned.
I am so proud of you Tyler. You know my struggle, and I am thrilled to know you found a safe place as a young man and have not had to grow old without one, as I have. You are well on your way to becoming the mighty oak from the little acorn I have known all these years. I love you, my “son,” my Brother, my friend.
Thanks for those sweet words Brian. Love you too!
“Once we have found those safe places in our own lives, it’s just as important to become that safe place for others. But being a safe place can be just as scary as trying to find a safe place.” — this is so true, Tyler. Thanks for sharing your experience, your wisdom, and your heart with us! I’m posting these words at my desk for courage to be vulnerable!
Good idea, Christi – think I’ll post that as a reminder, too!
Welcome. So proud of Center Peace, and you, and all the good that is fulfilling Jesus’ words, “whatever you would have men do to you, do you also to them”.
Yes, thanks for your encouragement.