blog entry reprinted with permission from author John Smid
first published May 23, 2017 | gracerivers.com
Serendipity: Unexpected surprise in finding one’s own Truth
Thirteen years ago a young 19-year-old man came into a program I was leading called “Love In Action.” He was bright, intelligent, and seemingly lost inside himself. He came with his mom as companion for our two-week “non-residential” program with the intention of finding a way out of homosexuality. He had been raised in a deeply religious home and had been taught that homosexuality was sinful.
Garrard Conley has written a memoir about his life and experience with Love In Action. Being a gay man who tried desperately to rid himself of what he had believed to be sinful and deadly, his experience with ExGay ministry and conservative religion had actually had a reverse effect. He has experienced deeply harmful emotional and spiritual trauma as a result. His book, “Boy Erased” has gained a lot of momentum around the country as people hear his tender and humorous heart describe his painful experiences. About two years ago we reconnected on FaceBook. We had a couple of conversations which included talking about his book project. We exchanged contact information but hadn’t really spoken much since then.
In May I was attending a vintage car club regional event in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Early Sunday morning on the last day of our event, I saw a message from him, “Hey John, I’m in Eureka Springs! I’m speaking at a book reading event here. I see you’re here too, can we meet up?”
He was scheduled to share his book(*) and read some excerpts from it at the Blooming Books festival at the Crescent Hotel. We agreed to meet one another and I was looking forward to seeing him in person after all those years.
While we both looked much the same, our circumstances had changed drastically. Garrard is now an out gay man who has found far more peace about his past experiences than the last time we had spoken. I’m now married to my husband Larry after my own 30-year journey through ExGay ministry and conservative evangelicalism.
What an amazing experience to sit and talk with this man. I could hear his heart and validate the pain he had gone through. I understood it. We walked down the road from the hotel he was staying in to a beautiful “Frank Lloyd Wright” styled home in the woods to a breakfast for the writers at the festival. As we sat on the balcony looking over the trees, the host and homeowner sat down beside us. We shared our stories with him as he attempted to process our own unique past.
As we stood up to get ready to leave, being cautious with his circumstances, I asked Garrard if I might attend his reading. With a little hesitation, he said “Sure, I’d like that.” He went on to think about what that might be like and asked me if he could introduce me as the ministry leader in his book. I said, “Of course, I’d be privileged to do that.”
I left to go eat a little lunch and then I went to the festival to find Garrard’s mother was there as well. She is actually the one who saw my FaceBook post and alerted Garrard about me being in Eureka Springs! She had once believed her son was destined to a ruined life if he continued as a gay man. After her own research and journey she came to the place where she could actually accept, love and celebrate her son’s life and support his book, and he is doing quite well!
As he spoke, Garrard talked about how he’d learned about compassion and how compassion had helped him to release much of his past pain. I was impressed with his maturity and how well received he was by his audience.He introduced me and I spoke about the courage it takes for a man like Garrard to face his pain and actually grow into compassion through it. I also addressed my own regret for things I had done through my position with ExGay ministry. It was a tearful experience and humbling to stand beside Garrard who had once been so wounded by my position and leadership.
This story is not over and there are so many others like it. I’m so thankful that on that Sunday morning, Garrard’s mom had seen a FaceBook post about me being in Eureka Springs. I’m learning more and more every day about serendipity and that there are no coincidences in this life, only opportunities for us to seize.
*Garrard Conley’s book, Boy Erased, will be produced as a feature film.