We Exist.  I Belong.

In childhood, I was teased violently for being gay. The words of those who taunted me left me feeling completely disgusting. Surely there was something wrong with me. But my ultimate fear was that I did not belong to anyone or anywhere.

Sadly, this perception of myself did not wane. Reaching into my adulthood, anxiety continued to sour my self-understanding. To God, I was valueless if I made a massive mistake. To men, I was worthless if my feminine hand gestures were shown in public. My anxiety prevented me from being able to love wholeheartedly. Some told me that my love was dirty because I was attracted to the same gender.

This sensation that I was disposable, rooted in my anxieties, was so pervasive that it altered my role in relationships. In many moments I was incredibly critical of my significant other. I needed him to prove his love and, subsequently, my value, by satisfying the ‘lover’s to-do list’ I had manufactured out of persistent rejection. 

And other times I would hide. Shame told me I would be tossed away if I presented my authentic, femininity to the world. 

I was a certain, at the time, that I had to earn my value: if I performed well--as a boy, as a Christian, and as a son--my value would rise. I thought that God only loved me because I could meet all of His expectations. But when my performance couldn't convince God to ‘heal me’ of my same-gender attractions, I again felt disposable. 

Desperate to be belong, I began studying God’s character. I entered seminary so that I might learn about my creator and my role on this planet. What I found after a two-year spiritual journey was a life-changing message, not only about God, but about myself: I belong.

The Apostle Paul described exactly what I had re-membered—that I had both a unique purpose and position in God’s Kingdom. Although years of rejection, loss, and feelings of failure had painted my soul in dark hues, the power of belonging showed through.

Learning that I belong within the human collective may sound like a simple, cognitive task. But to be honest, it was a painful transformation from the inside out. Earning this lesson, as I like to call it, provoked the most debilitating fear, desperation, and anxiety that I have ever experienced in my lifetime.

With the help of a therapist, I looked my anxiety directly in the eyes. Cleaning up the residue of rejection, failed attempts to belong, and a performance-based value requires an identity change. I had to be intentionally curious in discovering what God had originally intended for my personhood before the false lessons of life began to color my identity. 

In other words, I had to stand authentically in front of fear of complete and utter rejection. I had to experience painstaking vulnerability. I had to be stripped of every protective layer before I could experience the safety of belonging.

One of my mentors once told me that I needed to “re-member” who I was at the very beginning. Highlighting the various, disconnected parts of my identity, she described that I needed to pull together each fragment of my self into one cohesive member: one integrated person set in motion by God. It was a fantastic ‘re-membering,' if you will. 

Ephesians 4:15-16 (NASB) reads, “…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

Needless to say, the Apostle Paul, the author of Ephesians, described exactly what I had re-membered—that I had both a unique purpose and position in God’s Kingdom. Although years of rejection, loss, and feelings of failure had painted my soul in dark hues, the power of belonging showed through. I had come to realize that I did contribute to the collective “building up of itself in love” because I was a significant “individual part.” Essentially, I had discovered my inherent value. 

This lesson of belonging is rather important among many within our community. 

Recently, we asked for you to fill out a survey regarding GCN's upcoming name change. The nearly 1,300 responses we received highlighted the fact that many of you want GCN to “foster self acceptance,” and “advocate for the marginalized and oppressed.” In fact, these were the top two answers! It seems many of you are primed to re-member not only your original position of belonging, but also your individuality--the unique personhood that craves to be known, cherished, and purposeful. It is in this light that the staff, volunteers, and I have planned for Annual Conference 2018. Our theme for this upcoming Conference is “We exist. I belong.”

Conference will be a bit different this year. It will not be as large and will be missing some bells and whistles, but I can say with certainty that it will be a life-changing time of internal growth, deep spiritual exploration, and rich connectedness. 

We have adjusted the normal conference schedule to give us more time together as a community, learning about our inherent value, and the power we harness as a collective. We will spend time exploring our worth, learning that such worth can neither be earned by a grand performance nor depleted by a miserable mistake.

Most of all, we will get back to the basics of healthy relationships and self-acceptance. The GCN transition has caused a lot of pain, but when we reconvene to function as one body “for the building up of itself in love," will we re-member, once and for all, that GCN exists for a profound reason and that all of us belong, undoubtedly (Ephesians 4:16).

In the 13 weeks leading up to conference, we’ll spend time breaking down this year’s theme in 12 devotionals to get you spiritually and relationally prepared for Conference. Our goal is that you will walk away from Conference equipped to fortify your relationships--with God, your other, and your self--with greater capability and deeper intimacy.

Many blessings to you,