“Prepare yourself for take off.”
Seat belts clicked throughout the airplane. An older man kept reviewing the airport instruction booklet while the younger passenger next to him put her headphones in. I turned to stare out the window as the airplane began to move us forward and upwards toward the sky. The unsteady takeoff matched my excited, yet nervous spirit.
I whispered a silent prayer, “Let me be confident in my story. This is what You are doing, not me. I did not ask for You to do any of this in me. I only want to follow you.”
This is what You are doing, not me.
The Relevant Magazine article stirred up a lot of emotions in people, especially where I went to college. Over the past six months, I received affirming emails telling me to live out a gay lifestyle and be all God had originally created me to be. At the same time, I read emails from other close friends stating how I led folks away from the true Gospel and His original plan for men and women. I was even spoken to by college friends who stated how much I hurt people, particularly Caroline, and how they could not forgive me for using her.
Within all of this, I thought about Jonas’ vision of me worshipping in the light with a woman standing next to me. I thought about the precious pearls I gave up. I knew I felt a shift within my own spirit, even if it made others uncomfortable. I now sought to pursue Caroline once again.
I closed my eyes where the Great Plains met the Rockies, and I woke up to the plane landing in Seattle. The time came to see the college community I had left while on schizophrenic pills.
Cliff and another friend, Shanna, greeted me at the airport. The moment I saw them I felt joy overflow in my soul. Cliff embraced me with the same affirming hug I remembered from three years prior. He offered unconditional love and a welcome home, no matter if I felt suicidal or we had not seen each other in years. Cliff welcomed me in. His large hands held my shoulders, so he could push me back and look straight into my eyes.
“Welcome back, Mr. Nate! Canada has missed you.”
“Thanks, Mr. Cliff. I’ve missed Canada too.”
The two hour plus journey felt like minutes as we talked and joked about anything and everything. As we crossed the Canadian border, I felt peace come over me. Canada may have been a turbulent time in my college years, but the change started here.
Cliff pulled into the short driveway in the Sikh neighborhood. The scent of recently made Indian food lingered around the nearby mansions. The fragrance of cumin, cardamom, and coriander spices hit my nose triggering memories of driving to a nearby store to purchase a greasy brown bag of samosas. I looked up the road to see snow-capped Mount Baker peeking through the night sky from across the international border. I had missed those mountains.
The limited number of memories I did have, I latched onto.
Cliff opened the large wooden door for us. Due to the late hour, we tiptoed inside, careful not to wake the housemates. More memories flooded me, like the late night hours I melodramatically prayed at the the kitchen island by candlelight and later, our Indian neighbor cautiously asking if our house was a cult because she saw me each night next to a candle. I heard distant murmurs of conversations, which took place on the living room couches with bouts of laughter from the kitchen table where board games were played, and of course, the children’s feet running across the hardwood floor as adults playfully chased them around the house. I could not remember a lot from those years. The medication seemed to subdue not only my emotions, but my memories too. The limited number of memories I did have, I latched onto.
Cliff and Shanna showed me where I would stay in the basement. We all said goodnight to each other, so I could rest and get over the jet lag. I had come to be a groomsman in a wedding. Internally, I knew I needed to save the energy for the many conversations ahead.
The conversations I did have over the next several days lasted for at least two hours or more. I gave a firsthand account of visions and dreams mixed with pain and victory. Dear friends noted the changes they saw and rejoiced with me for all that God had done.
I did not come to prove anyone wrong nor gloat in what Jesus had done.
Sadly, others I deemed close friends appeared apprehensive to engage or even meet at all. I did not come to prove anyone wrong nor gloat in what Jesus had done. It may have been the topics of discussion - mental health, spiritual warfare and sexuality - that made others feel so uncomfortable.
Mr. Greene and I had met once a week during my last year of college and had continued to speak at least once a month during my first year in graduate school. Joy filled me at the thought of sharing with him all that the Lord had been doing. I had emailed him several times before coming to get a firm date and time to meet, but nothing had been scheduled. It felt quite odd considering how often we had previously communicated.
I decided to pop by his office without an appointment to see if he wanted to share a Jones soda and chai tea latte together. Mr. Greene smiled, gave me a big hug and briefly affirmed that I looked well. He pointed to my prayer card from my Costa Rican internship on his desk and stated he often prayed for me.
And as quickly as he said that, he placed his hand on my back to lead us out of his office because he had a meeting to go to.
“Email me again and we can set up a time to meet,” he commented, while walking away.
“Okay, sounds great!”
I smiled until he turned around to walk away with his leather shoulder bag. In confusion, I reviewed our interactions as if I missed something. The interaction seemed rushed and awkward. I wondered what rumors he had heard. I did not come to prove him wrong as if his advice to forget the dream of my wife and kids was unwise. I completely understood the protective wisdom he wanted to give. I now sought to dialogue about what had happened in my life because I valued his wisdom.
I only sought to share the freedom I held within me.
I emailed Mr. Greene several times over the course of the week and never received a response. The awkward, uncomfortable distance I felt with him continued with others. Old friends hesitated to interact with me as if I had become an intruder on their territory. I did not attempt to postulate a storyline of what mental health or sexuality should or should not be. I only sought to share the freedom I held within me. Still, with their arms crossed and lack of eye contact, I had been placed on a different team, too extreme for the Pacific Northwest.
Jeremy’s wedding marked the ending to a great trip. Caroline attended the wedding as my plus one. I watched her from the stage, while I stood in front of the church to support the groom on his wedding day. I missed her a lot. I missed our conversations and talks of an epic adventure together. I did not envy Jeremy’s wedding for I knew my wedding day would come.
At the wedding reception, Caroline and I maintained surface-level conversation, while in between the discussion each of us said hello to old classmates we had not seen in years. I did not mind much, knowing Caroline and I would have plenty of time to talk when she drove me back to Seattle the following day.
The surface-level conversation continued the following day. Caroline and I jumped from topic to topic as we each forcefully elbowed the elephant in the car to keep it in the backseat. Both of us had known our friendship would change after breaking up, but I had not realized how significant the shift would be.
Caroline slowly broke the ice to discuss her new boyfriend and how they met. I attempted to be a good listener, while simultaneously letting go of any thoughts of us getting back together again. The memories of us going to concerts together, praying together, and aspiring to be world changers together slowly disappeared like a far-off forgotten memory. Crazy enough, Caroline had fallen for another man with the same first name as mine. An uncomfortable stillness settled in the car as I realized those aspirations would not happen. I always wondered if it hit her, too.
“Is your boyfriend okay with you hanging out with me?” My question broke the awkward five minute silence between us.
“Um, he wasn’t happy about it, but I assured him that it would be okay” stated Caroline.
The world seemed to slow down that afternoon as I wrestled with the thought of what life would have been like if we had stayed together. Maybe my college friends were right. I had used Caroline to figure out my own sexuality. Strangely enough, they never extended grace like Caroline did.
I had used Caroline to figure out my own sexuality.
Caroline proceeded to ask what had been going on in my life. I hesitated to describe to her what had happened the summer before, but I knew she may have heard from someone else, so I slowly gave her a brief description of the dreams and visions I had. I spoke gently with the details I gave. I did not want to hurt her. What kind of man decides to date someone, flies her across the continent on her dime, and breaks up the following day? Why did I even think I stood a chance with her after that?
“Nate, our relationship has been pretty confusing for me.” Caroline’s voice shook as she attempted to vocalize the reality of what had happened between us. I did not need clarification because I knew what she was referring to. Caroline read the blog posts that followed the Relevant article. The dreams, the visions, and everything in between, and in my agony, I wished the change in my story had come sooner. I wondered if she did too or if we never should have tried at all.
I watched the evergreen trees pass by. I let out a deep sigh and stated, “I know. It was confusing for me, too.”
The low-lying grey clouds covering the snow-capped mountains matched the heaviness felt in the car. Caroline pulled into a parking space as we struggled to continue the conversation. She meekly asked how our relationship was confusing too, and with unfortunate timing, my ride pulled up and our conversation ended.
“We should probably talk later,” I sheepishly said.
“Yeah. That sounds good.” She cracked a small smile. We awkwardly said goodbye. I grabbed my beat-up red hiking bag and hopped into my friend’s vehicle to make the final leg to the airport.
The next week felt like years as it inched by while I waited for the planned appointment to talk with Caroline. I closed the basement bedroom door, so she and I could have privacy when we talked. Wade hung out in the living room and waited to hear what would happen.
I paced around the bedroom with anticipation as I opened up my laptop, waiting for Caroline to call me over Skype. Sweat dripped off of my brow and my hands shook, not knowing how this conversation would turn out. We both knew we had to rehash the mixed emotions of our prior relationship and future - whatever that would be.
“Hello! You there?” Caroline greeted me from her Washington duplex.
“Yeah, I’m here!”
“One second. I’ll be right back.” Caroline rush into her kitchen to plate the vegetarian meal she had cooked for herself. She came back with a large bowl of soup and homemade bread. We chatted about how our week went as she ate her meal. It humored me how awkward small talk felt between us. We never did small talk well because we always had deeper conversations waiting within us. This time, our small talk lasted a full thirty minutes as we tiptoed around the one topic we both knew we needed to discuss.
Caroline placed her bowl on the table next to her computer. I uncomfortably sat up and bluntly inquired, “Should we talk about this?”
"Yes,” she gently said. Our voices shook as the introverted parts of our personalities tried to deal with our non-vocalized thoughts from the previous year or two.
Caroline asked for me to begin. I started by vocalizing wanting to date again. Her eyebrows rose with both concern and surprise at my statement. I knew from her telling me on the car ride that she had been dating for a couple of months now and internally, I had been six months or more too late in my efforts to reconnect with Caroline.
I do not take what I did or didn’t do lightly.
“Maybe our relationship started too soon. I do not take what I did or didn’t do lightly. Our relationship started too soon. I did not fully process my time in Costa Rica. I had a lot of psychological wounds that needed to be healed. I had a lot of unprocessed thoughts and, unfortunately, dragged you into it."
I stopped, knowing I did not have much else to say.
And with grace and mercy, Caroline affirmed who I was in Christ and the man I was becoming. She assured me that my actions did not hurt our friendship and that she respected my relationship with Jesus too much to be mad at me.
The conversation felt like a fresh rain in the summer heat, reviving all of the vegetation man thought had died. I could not ask for more in a friend than her.
Caroline and I talked briefly about the distance between us. I, in a strange way, knew I could not leave Kentucky yet. She had zero interest in leaving Washington state. As our conversation started to close, I knew I had one more topic to discuss.
“Caroline, even if the other guy was not in the picture, we could not date again because you would probably always wonder...”
My confidence gave way to gentle tears from the unverbalized thoughts of all these years. I retraced my steps to get the final words out.
“If we ever dated, you would always wonder if I would leave you again... and maybe for a man.”
Caroline looked at me straight in the eyes. Both recognizing our unspoken pain.
“Yes, Nate. You’re right.” Tears streamed down both of our faces as she slowly explained how her roommate had gone through the same issue that she’d been through with me.
“I understand. I guess this is it then.” I took a deep breath as Caroline and I kept looking at each other. We said our final goodbyes and Caroline ended the call.
Tears trickled onto the keyboard as I stared into the blank computer screen. I got up and opened the bedroom door. Wade got up from the couch and asked what had happened.
“It’s officially over.”
I had to, and finally did, let go of Caroline.