[callout]Offline over the past year, I have been a bit reclusive. It feels like I was shellshocked from all of what happened at Exodus and personally between 2011 and 2013 and in the aftermath of coming out in January of last year. As I was praying and meditating on how I went from an unabashed extrovert to almost a hermit, I believe the Lord used an earlier, very scary, experience I had as a metaphor. This post attempts to share a bit about that.[/callout]
During my second interview at LOI (LIFE Outreach International), I sat in front of a woman who was quite serious. She would eventually become a dear friend, my Texas Mom, and is one of the sweetest women a person could meet. That day, though, she was serious and looked like she could use a weeklong nap.
I love your zeal for the Lord Randy. You are new to the faith and like a tree sapling you are yearning and stretching toward the light. Gathering your strength and character. As you grow older in the faith, your trunk gets thicker, your roots deeper, more branches and leaves… You can get beaten by the elements and that may make you hard and your zeal seems to diminish. Don’t let that happen to you Randy. Welcome to LOI.
I was a five-month-old Christian and had never been given a personal spiritual analogy in an interview before, but I loved this one.
The LOI computer room, before we moved into a beautiful space a couple of years later, was horrible. It had weird old and threadbare carpet. The office decor had a definite garage sale vibe. A UNIX mainframe straight out of your worst 2001: A Space Odyssey “Hal” nightmares lorded over the area, behind a glorified shower curtain, to keep the air-conditioned coolness around it as best as we could in that rickety old building withering in the Texas sun. LOI Hal had a reel-to-reel magnetic tape backups that were a pain in this saplings ass! We had various PC’s set up everywhere and the other techs and I shared ours. I worked second shift and ran reports, made copies of reports, ran donor letters, donor letter reports, did those infernal backups, and a host of other system maintenance and report deliveries. I would go in about 3 pm and stay until 11 or so.
Within a few weeks, I was hiding under one of the tables praying I wouldn’t die. I loved the job but that night (I believe it was October) we had a “train” of severe thunderstorms. The LOI offices were housed in three buildings in Euless, Texas; a suburb of Forth Worth. These horrible storms came one after the other and marched straight from Fort Worth to Dallas. They did so much damage it was unbelievable.
The storms started as I was running reports. While an extensive report was generating and spooling to the biggest dot matrix printer ever build, I decided to use the restroom. As I was doing my business, the storm was getting louder and Louder and LOUDER. Then all of a sudden, KABLAM!!! The sound of a small sun exploding seemed to come from within the building. It scared me so badly I’m surprised I didn’t pee all over the wall. From that point forward, it sounded like all hell was breaking loose around me.
Did I mention there were 80 mph sideline winds with reports of softball sized hail pummeling the area? Yep.
With the mini-nova going off, the electricity had gone out. The emergency lighting (which wasn’t much) was all we had. ALL the alarms on EVERYTHING (tornado sirens, fire, battery back-ups, mainframe) were going off. As I ran out of the bathroom, I could hear water pouring in through the ceiling in the air-conditioning electrical backup room, and smoke was wafting out of the computer room. Lightning hit LOI Hal.
Back then we only had landlines and pagers. I called and paged my boss. He had me crawl underneath our computer overlord to turn the LOI Hal off by hand. Then he wanted me to go into the backup electrical room to figure out what was happening in there. It was pitch black, and I opened the door and stepped in. When I set my foot down it was into standing water. My autonomic nervous system set my body into the highest vertical jump backward out of the room I have ever achieved in my life.
An electrical room turned into Niagra Falls is NOT a healthy combination to walk around in without any light source at all. I called Chuck back and said that while I trusted Jesus, I wasn’t going to force meeting Him face to face that night. There was no way in hell I was going back in there or doing anything else to LOI Hal. The storms were bad, and first responders and my boss/coworkers couldn’t get there immediately. With alarms blaring, the storms railroading through, I crawled under the folding tables in the computer room (which was also the innermost room) with a battery powered radio. I was scared I might get hurt. I don’t think I was afraid for my life, but I was sure the building was going to catch on fire or would be knocked over in the storm. I spent the next few very long hours listening to talk radio, praying, freaking out, and wanting it all to just stop.
It turns out that the building I was in had taken a direct hit from lightning. It is very plausible that the whole property had taken a few lightning hits. There was copper wire running from building to building and the mainframe suffered having many of it’s components completely fried out. The lightning had fried the electrical system and backup system that was supposed to protect the mainframe straight through. Cut through it like a hot knife through butter. It was a terrible and expensive night for LOI.
The spiritual analogy of the tree sapling and the real world experience of severe storms pummeling a ministry and destroying resources would come to mind years later. It was an apt metaphor for my experience with the attacks from the ex-gay orthodoxy police (that I had been a part of but eventually renounced) and closing of Exodus. Everything from this October 1992 “moment” fits. From crawling under a smoking heavily damaged outdated mainframe to turn it off, avoiding life-threatening toxic combinations, retreating to health and safety against something I couldn’t stop, waiting out the storm to emerge into a new environment with an opportunity to evaluate, learn from mistakes, and rebuild even stronger … yes, it is a fitting analogy.
However, just as the literal storms eventually passed, so did these relational and organizational storms. They have moved on, and those of us who refuse to abide in the toxicity of legalism continue to live and thrive.
It’s been a long time since I was a “sapling.” On May 31st of 1992 I took my place as an heir of Christ, a reconciled son to our Heavenly Father, and one who was/is born again in His Spirit. Christ’s atonement is an eternally binding commitment on HIS part and one that I believe in and have received. Nothing has changed HIS commitment to me, and I have never stopped believing in and loving Him. He is beautiful, and He is everything.
23 years later, the Son still shines. I am no longer hiding under weakened and frail man-made structures. My roots continue to grow deeper, and trunk becomes thicker; my limbs reach higher, and I pray that the fruit produced will be Lifegiving.
As I get back into regular blogging I will share more about this analogy, and plenty of other topics, in the future.
[callout]For a variety of reasons, I have turned off the comments section on my blog. I *love* discussion, but I have found that those discussions work best on social networks. So please join me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I would enjoy connecting with you there.[/callout]