Before reading this post, I recommend you take the opportunity to read my second memoir entry.
So as I left off in the last post, I had just started having a crush on my youth pastor’s daughter, Cody. Yes, Cody is a girl and it I didn’t even know that Cody was normally a boys name until later.
After having Simber reject me so fast, I was cautious. That is until a couple of the other boys that also had crushes on Cody, found out. After the guy who I thought had the running lead for her affection moved away, I tried to gain her trust but she sort of still had no interest in me. Putting crushes aside, I continued to have some difficulty relating with other boys and the girls were finally starting to open back up to me but were more interested in boyfriend and girlfriend relationships. I can even remember a couple girls having crushes on me but nothing ever came of them, typically it was because they were not my type (If I ever knew what that type was) or because I had a crush on Cody, so I sort of ignored them. (Sorry, whoever you are.)
One heavily involved family at church, had a couple boys who were about my age. And from time to time, we got opportunities to spend time together. One such time, was Sunday after church when their family had invited other prominent church families over for a cookout. I was always much more innocent and younger looking, so many boys quickly rocketed past me in height and build. Heck, I can even remember a few girls being taller than me for a while. That afternoon, myself, the two boys, and a couple of their friends were chatting in the bedroom and for reasons unknown to me, the four of them decided to take the opportunity and torment me, by locking the bedroom door and shouting insults my way, all while I curled up in a ball in the corner. While I was fortunate to not have been physically harmed, it was a defacto scaring experience in my life to have other boys take advantage of my demeanor. For many years during my youth, I encountered time after time, boys my age or slightly older, be cruel and bully me. It was a huge betrayal of trust and I can remember have very little trust in many guys after that, I always got much more along with adults or girls who would give me the time of day.
There however one boy that I became friends with, Ryan. His family started coming to our church after God called his dad into our small town revival and made a total renovation on his family. I could write a whole section on this but I’ll spare you the details. We had a fairly close friendship and Ryan for a while was a positive encouragement to pursue God more. I hung out with his family and stayed over for a week once while my parents went on a Cruise.
I’m going to break this mundane story for a moment and tell about a funny time with his family. So I was working at Walt’s Food Center at the time and it was common for me to work late, so this one week when my parent went out of town. I came back late and Ryan’s mom made sloppy joes for dinner. She served me up a couple sandwiches and I began to eat, one my very first bite, I look down and right at the edge of my teeth marks was a dead fly mixed with the meat. I didn’t usually react to such things but I leaned over to Ryan’s dad and showed him the fly saying “Don’t tell her but I found a fly.” Suddenly he fly up from his chair ripping the sandwich from my hand yelling “HONEY! Joel found the fly!” I was confused but after things calmed down, turns out the family just played fly roulette. Apparently while cooking, a fly was buzzing around and she smack it with a fly swatter, only for it to get lost in the sloppy joes. The whole time the family was suspecting someone ate it and never expected for it show up in my sandwich.
One afternoon, while driving around going to the mall to meet friends, getting lunch, and finally going to the local park to play a game of volleyball with friends. We were sitting in the car and after feeling more comfortable with Ryan, I can remember saying something in the regards of what if I was girl. I don’t remember the context and I’m sure part of it was coming from my gender identity struggle. And now that I think about it, I was probably joking that if I was a girl, Ryan would have been the type of guy I would be into, but do know I was never gay and it was purely a what if thought. But while he was getting out of the car, he remarked “While, if you were a girl, I’m sure we wouldn’t know each other.” And that boggled me for sometime, as I didn’t know what he meant by it. It would have come out years later after he turned away from God, that it would have come out that he was now openly gay and apparently he dealt with this issue prior to us even knowing each other.
Fast forward through ages 15-18, I was actively involved in our youth group, doing overheads and handling pre-service games from time to time. I had also started driving at the age of 16 and owned a 1993 Convertible Ford Mustang. I start referring to my youth pastors as a sort of mentor in my life and with the included three trips to the Brownsville youth rallies (Branded by Fire), I had won over the trust of Cody’s father. So I made it a point to hang out with him and his family more often, I think I was over a few time, most the time it was to fix computer issues. By this time, there was no denying that Cody had become aware of my liking for her, I tried frequently to hang out but I had difficulty since her friends were not my friends. But wanting to do the right thing I decided that getting the approval to pursue her from her father was the first step, something I felt none of the other guys were doing right. I don’t remember how it started but I invited her father out to dinner and a White Sox game. You know, dated her father, which I still stand by as a great way for a young man to start dating a girl he likes. The day went quite well and during dinner had a conversation about my future and aspirations. At the time I believe I had just started working at Radioshack and at the plans to possibly move up to a Store Manager. Everything was fine until it came time to drive over to Sox Park. While in the car I hinted at my interest in Cody and this is when things didn’t go so well, he basically told me that his daughter was not interested in having a boyfriend. He never gave me exactly an answer if he was okay with it but I felt like while he was sincere that Cody wasn’t interested in anything serious, (Which I respect) I felt like he was more so telling me to stay away, than she was.
By this time, things were getting better with other guys my age, probably because their hormones were finally balancing out. But sadly girls were like always only interested in relationships, I did find it a bit easier to talk with them but nothing like when I was a preteen. By late 18, I was well on my way working at Radioshack and Revival had come to a close shortly after our church moved to a new building in Matteson, Illinois, also renaming themselves to Believers Church. To this day, it’s incredibly sad that designed a new building with the intend on continuing Revival, as we had all the necessities anyone would want. To this day many people have a hard time believing why certain design decisions were made, but truly could only understand if they experienced that small town Revival years before.
A few years into our new building and out of nowhere my youth pastor just out stopped coming to church and I assumed he officially had quit. I was waiting for them to show up one Sunday to give them something and when I didn’t see them I called, only to confirm this fact. After learning that several other high-up families also just quit coming and many of them took the route of insulting our pastor via a letter. One longtime deacon did just that, calling our pastor terrible names and never confronted him personally. For reasons unknown, most of them left with bitterness in their hearts. Regardless, I felt somewhat betrayed and confused, I was never given details to his reasons but the weeks following, the pastor’s daughter was put in charge of the youth.
Since I didn’t take much of an active role in meeting people outside of church and many of the people my age range had left, my parents finally spoke up and suggested my sister and I started looking another church, preferably with young people to date. I can distinctly remember visiting two, one was a Japanese church far up north (I’ll save my passion for Japanese people for later.) and the other was Second Place church, where I learned many of the younger people from our church went, including my ex-youth pastors. My sister and I went one Sunday morning, and while the service was good, it was what came afterwards that shocked me and made me decide to part ways with many of these people.
I had not only the opportunity to speak with my ex-youth pastor for a bit, I also spoke with several other previous members of Believes, and generally I just felt like all their words were very unchristian and bitter as expected. My youth pastor in particular did not speak kindly of Believers Church and he even went as far to suggest my family should just quit because Believers Church was dead and not going anyplace. I do strongly disagree with that claim because when his family initially left and I asked if they had found another church, he claimed they felt like God told them to leave. I’m sorry, but that was in no way God. He even says in the Bible, to not neglect the gathering of believers, if he truly wanted you to leave, he would have proved a new church before telling you to leave. And this is when I ended nearly all connection with past members of Believers Church.
Not to get out of order here, but years later, 2015 to be exact I got married to my now wife and out of honor for what used to be, we invited my ex-youth pastors. Keep in mind for years I was never able to get phone calls through to him, he rarely answered but I wanted to do the right thing. A week later, I received a phone call and it was his wife replying to our invite. She didn’t take a moment to ask how things have been or ask questions about my fiance, she simply said flat out that they were unable to attend, no reason what so ever. I’ve had many people suggest that since we were having the wedding at Believers Church and that our pastor was our officiant, that our of a bruised ego, they didn’t want to have to deal with old church people. That was the end of it for me, it has given my a largely broken heart for a family that the Devil has blinded. I can only pray that God helps them once again in the near future.
By my early twenties, my issues had returned to all time highs. My abuse of food and my emotional stress was a hitting it’s breaking point. It was easier from the ages of 12 to 18 to conceal my gender identity struggle since God became more of a focal point in my life, but once Revival ended and church became a place of only Sunday morning feel good sermons, my issues resurfaced and grew even larger.