The annual Exodus Freedom Conference has definitely arrived. Over the past couple weeks staff have been rushing from office to office, tape guns have been spouting tape, boxes piled high on the ground floor, and pallets shipped out. I can’t tell you how excited we are to be heading to St. Paul this Sunday to hold the Made for More conference this year. Currently registrations show 40% of attendees this year are newcomers! The largest group of people coming this year is 22 to 34 years of age. As I’ve checked off all my to-dos under the many hats I wear here, I never lose sight of my first conference and how it impacted my life and restored hope.
I was 18 when I attended my first conference in 2004. I just completed my first year in college and had been pursuing the Lord for about a year. The spring semester of freshman year I made a friend and our friendship quickly turned into an emotionally dependent one. I spent a few days with him, before I flew out to Azusa with others from my ministry. As with all other emotionally dependent relationships I formed, this one ended in sex. He and I “fell” the day I left for the conference.
As you can imagine, I felt incredibly hopeless. For 12 months straight I had not “acted out” with anyone. My focus had been on the Lord. Then it all came crumbling down. I went to the conference feeling disgusted and like I had fallen back into the pit. Those first few days, my heart wasn’t in it. Clearly (based on my behavior) I was still gay. I was doomed to fail, and nothing these people said could help me.
Luckily that wasn’t true.
I’ve shared this story before on the Exodus blog, but I’ll briefly describe it again here. Throughout the week, the emcee encouraged everyone to take a hike on a mountain not too far from campus. When we had free time on Friday, I took that hike with some friends, and in the midst of that climb the Lord changed my heart and restored hope to my hopelessness. He assured me that He had a beautiful mountain top view waiting for me. It didn’t matter if I fell, it only mattered what I did afterwards. Yes, on this journey I would have slip-ups, and I would fall at times. But I had to get back up and keep going—keep pursuing the Lord and His purpose for my life. I knew in that moment that I could hope again. I did fall with my friend, but I didn’t fall from God’s grace and His perfect plan for my life.
I learned my identity didn’t revolve around my sobriety, nor did freedom mean life without struggle. My freedom came from living in God’s grace and pursuing Him no matter what happened. He had a story for me, and I wanted to keep climbing my mountain to one day experience that beautiful mountain top view. I cherish that memory, because it truly has paralleled my journey so clearly. I’ve gotten some amazing views because I’m still hiking my mountain. I will never turn back.
My first conference the Lord transformed my heart and gave me new vision. He lavished His love on me in those sweet times of worship and I no longer felt disgusted, but beloved. I no longer felt alone, as I stood in the presence of believers young and old, seasoned and not. I saw freedom come alive that week—not because people became straight, but because they no longer lived under any identity other than in Christ. Thinking of those moments now bring joy to my heart. I was a newbie on the journey, and quite honestly, I didn’t know the pain I’d experience later on, nor the joy.
I’m so excited to spend next week with newcomers and regulars. I’m so excited to see what the Lord will do and how He will bring vision to each and everyone on their journey. “Made for More” is what I’ve been learning on this 8 year journey with the Lord. My prayer is that we will all live under this banner and proclamation. Despite our circumstance, despite our pain, despite what others say—we were made for more. For those of you who are coming, I’m so excited to meet you and I’m so excited for what the Lord will do in you. For those who can’t come, I urge you to watch via live streaming or be sure to come next year. It’s an experience like no other.
As one who once was a newcomer—hopeless and ridden with shame from a sexual fall the day of the conference—to now being on staff at Exodus and helping bring this very conference together, I can tell you this. Rest assured in knowing that God has a beautiful mountaintop view waiting for you. The vistas I’ve seen were never imagined before. Thank God I started that climb.