Understanding My “Call”


At the YMCA, I am on the third mile. It’s a Thursday night and way too cold outside, not that I ever run outdoors. I much prefer it in here- I can read and the hum of thumping feet provides it’s own kind of quiet. Typically, I pick a treadmill that is isolated, away from any neighboring runners, because it makes me feel more comfortable and relaxed, less cramped by others’ breathing and odor, their occasional spray of sweat.


I’m on the final mile when out of the corner of my left eye, I see him, stepping onto the treadmill, carrying the same hefty weight and cheap glasses. And it’s not like I can pretend I don’t see him.


He’s the dad of a close friend from high school. He was the parent other parents resented. He was, plain and simple, the worst.


In high school, he bought us all beer, fed us cigarettes, and made sure to look away whenever someone pulled out a joint. Most nights, he just sat around the bonfire spitting slurs at each of us, boozing himself into oblivion. Dad of the YEAR. 


When we first trade glances, we both let out overly loud laughs and begin the how are ya?, and then small talk, chatting and chatting, until he gets to the Standard Operating Question:


So what have YOU been DOING these past few years?


Wandering, I say. Randomly, I think.


I vaguely explain my months in Kosovo where I chased a dream and became a cynic. How I came home, took a job as a paraprofessional at a local high school and then grew restless. In defiance of mediocrity, I packed my bags and sped across the country to DC, boomeranging back three months later.


He nods absentmindedly and starts telling me about my friend, his son, who was just promoted at work and is now taking in six digits- a corner office as a perk! He adds without eye contact, you’ll figure it out soon enough. I smile not even surprised.


It’s a quintessential question of life, Calling. Where are you going? Where have you gone? What are you building with your degree, with your intellect, with your hunger for life. How are you becoming the man you were always meant to be?


It’s a loaded question pointed with high expectations. And I feel incapable of answering it these days. Unsure of where to start.

 ~ ~ ~

When I was kindergarten, I have a colorful memory of telling Mrs. Robertson that when I grew up, I wanted to be an Owl. A year later, it was a Vet. And then a Journalist. A Scientist. A Pediatrician. A Sports Agent. And just about every other card in the Game of Life, until I turned twelve and my world shifted beneath me. Aware of my brokenness, my unloveliness, my sole purpose in life centered on my own healing. On becoming Straight. Being Changed.


I saw the Happy Ever After being told as a great redemption story. A boy is broken, but then fixed, made whole, and then, at long last, Loved, by God and by everyone.


My identity wrapped tightly around being changed, so much so that when that didn’t happen, I went ahead with the call anyway. I let myself fall and shatter that I might put myself back together again. A bizarre sort of psychology that I’m sure has no name.


I took up smoking in high school so that I could quit. I drank and drank and drank, shoplifted, rolled joints, as a way of writing my own story. Sketching a before I could speak about, an after I could feel. A way I could fit in with all the other believers turning away from themselves and up to the Lord.


In college, I declared Political Science my major and making Public Policy my dream. I wanted to take down and fix the broken things of our world: Starvation, Poverty, Prison Reform and, my greatest love, “The Energy Crisis.” I wanted to be a fixer, a doer, a world changer. I wanted to be significant.


Or at least, that’s what I thought that was.


I actually needed to change the world because I could not change myself. I could not pray away the gay. I was so wired for change that I took up smoking so I could stop and I took up politics so I could win. And then I grew defensive and distant. I became a lightening rod. I stared out at everyone in judgment while I quietly built my case, throwing out a hundred prickly opinions that burst like claymores should anyone try to get close. That they might look only at my anger or not look at me at all.


It was a platinum-made, perfectly constructed closet.


But then, in October 2011, I came out to my family and it was like the world unwrapped new. I felt a lifted weight and the world seemed foreign, and in the following months, nothing made much sense anymore.


I tried throwing myself back into the change passions, but they felt wrong somehow. I traveled to Kosovo to fix the nation’s electric grid, only to find out I hated research, and Energy Policy. I then fled to DC, my haven, only to find out I actually wanted no part in the political games. Both times, when I came home, I sunk deep into a fog of uncertainty.


The old dreams of significance, of making up for, of being enough, no longer fit this Out man who now knows he was loved all along. He was wholly enough. His value was set by nails on a cross. Inside a promise of never leaving nor forsaking.


Today, I work in a job that drains me, and I live with my parents. I am unsure of my calling and I am constantly feeling inadequate to my bankrolling peers. But grace is abounding and a balm to my journey. My start was complicated, perhaps unfair, sure, but I am learning about the God of do-overs. The God that doesn’t always point out the direction, but says go anyway. Jump. Fall. Crash. Climb. Walk, and I’ll make a way.


At church, Pastor Pagitt asks us all, in the spirit of Lent, to grab our own wrists in each hand, like their shackles. He says, “Quietly, to yourself, give up what you need to be free from. And then let go.”


Down to my dog-tired heart, I whisper, you are free of this. I unbind you from expectation, from financial success, from the life you’ve always thought you were supposed to live. You are free, go.


And so I go.

  • Jacob Brandenburg

    I read so much of myself in this. The inability to change myself to what I thought the world expected of me, wanted to change the world. Yet for me fear stopped me from doing anything. Now life is starting over, but the fear is gone and maybe I can change the world. Or at least maybe one or two people within it for the better.

    • Yes, Jacob! You hit on the key thing- bringing yourself of total honesty, where changing-the-world is no longer a compensation for changing yourself, doing it simply to make the world better and bring heaven a little closer

  • Wow, thanks for sharing. I was a fellow teen/college student who wanted to be a fixer and a changer (maybe still do?), and though my story is different from yours, something about this is really convicting to me as a perfectionist: “I actually needed to change the world because I could not change myself.”

    • I think I should’ve touched on what you just said more in my post. I think A LOT of us Fixers, gay straight whoever, felt a need to compensate for ourselves in some way. And I still believe , and am still passionate about, “changing the world” but it definitely looks different now, feels different. I fight my tendency to be perfectionist daily, so I completely resonate with your thought there. It’s sort of hard-wired in us, I think, a constant battle

      • Sheila Warner

        Well, Benjamin, all I can say is that you probably don’t realize the number of lives you have “fixed” by reminding wounded souls of the love of God and the fact that healing is a process, and can be accomplished. Your words of love reverberate well beyond the pages of your blog, into the waiting, hurting souls of so many who have suffered, too. Your words are like a light in the middle of darkness. You have accomplished so much good!

  • So beautiful, Ben. You are much more than what you do (or don’t do). I love that visual of you unshackling yourself. We should grab coffee again soon…

    • Steph I’d be hard pressed to think of people who have unshackled me more than you have. Remember the last time we got together and you straight up freed me from my stress over calling? And, I’ll never forget your advice on planning for the next year, not the next five, and then telling me your own story. You area huge catalyst behind this post Steph, and yes, we need to grab coffee soon!

  • Bill

    Ben, thank you for your heart & wisdom. It touches me!!!

  • mark phoenix

    Your words are beautiful and they bring tears to my eyes. I have spent my life trying to fix things as well, because I could not fix myself. I am 55 and gay. I have only been able to say that in the last three years, yet while I am out to myself a few friends, I have a whole family and church family that does not know. And a marriage built on fear, and false hope of being cured. I am not sure the next step, fear and uncertainty about the future twists around my heart every day.
    Your insight resonates with me so much. I am grateful for your words this morning.
    Peace to you.

    • Comments like yours are why I write, Mark. Thank you for sharing here. It is indeed a journey, and one you should know you are not alone on. If you get a chance, check out the Gay Christian Network, the online community there is so unbelievably graceful and brimming with wisdom. Many men and women there have walked similar paths as you.

  • Guest

    “…this Out man who now knows he was loved all along. He was wholly enough. His value was set by nails on a cross. Inside a promise of never leaving nor forsaking.”

  • Sheila Warner

    “…this Out man who now knows he was loved all along. He was wholly enough. His value was set by nails on a cross. Inside a promise of never leaving nor forsaking.”

    Beautiful words, and so true! We don’t have to do anything to obtain the love of Jesus. It’s always there, because Jesus promised his own unconditional love. All we need to do is accept this love.

    • So true, Sheila! And the real beauty of it, is that it allows us to accept ourselves. The process of doing that is in itself an act of glory.

      • Sheila Warner

        Off topic a bit: You’re using wordpress.org, and I used wordpress.com. So, in order to reblog that post I want to share so badly, I think I’ll have to cut and paste.

  • “…this Out man who now knows he was loved all along. He was wholly enough. His value was set by nails on a cross. Inside a promise of never leaving nor forsaking.”

    This sums up everything. Now to be able to accept that I am and always have been wholly enough and wholly loved.

    Thanks for your beautiful words…I needed them today.

    • Oh Carol, though our stories are different, I have been in that place, that need to believe I am accepted, and if I am perfectly honest, it is still a struggle. Here are words that help me. From Paul Tillich:

      Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.

      You are incredible, Carol. One of my favorite writers in the blogosphere. And I am so thankful for our friendship!

      • You have no idea how I needed these words. I feel like I am drowning in an ocean of self-doubt as well as doubt about whether or not God can be found where I am. Thank you!

        I was just talking to my husband last night about not feeling heard or recognized for what I write. That I’m not part of the cool crowd of kids because I’m not a kid anymore. Your last three thoughts here are balm for my aching soul. Thank YOU for your friendship and your words!

  • Thanks so much for this, Benjamin. We have so many voices screaming in our minds and hearts that stifle God’s still, small voice. But He’s there. He’s not great at giving answers, but He does open and close doors. I’m right there with you–unsure of what God is calling me to do. But as long as I’m building meaningful relationships, God can interweave redemption and shalom to mend our broken souls. That’s our ultimate calling at every stage of life.

    • It is our ultimate calling, and I like the communal nature of it. Instead of completely isolating ourselves, trying to be Faithful to some vague call, we all know that the deepest one is the one we set our eyes to. Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly. We run after it in different ways, but we chase it nonetheless. Thank you for your comment!

  • Kate

    As a fellow wanderer who has spent her entire adult life bouncing back and forth from coast to coast, I have spent a lot of time wondering when (or if) I’m going to settle down. I have this list of things I thought I would do, like build a relationship, have kids, own a house…or at least a couch. Often as I’m unpacking my little Subaru, again, and rebuilding a social network (which gets harder and harder to do), I question every decision I’ve ever made. Why didn’t I stay at home, marry my high school boyfriend, become a teacher and just live a normal life?!?! It would have been sooo much easier. But, always, there is that still small voice, that tells me to keep seeking, to keep following, to keep trusting.
    I don’t know when, or if, I will ever settle down. But I do know that when I listen to that still small voice, I end up where I’m meant to be. Whether that’s living in my parents’ house after grad school, or frantically moving to New Hampshire to start a new job. Keep wandering…there’s good stuff out there.

  • Roo James Wilson

    Your words have to be inspired, there is love and tenderness and honesty in plentiful supply and I’m thankful that you know the source of your inspiration. Keep wandering my friend, because those who wander are never truly lost. 🙂