If I had to name the god of my Second Attempt, I would name it Faith & Folly.
A Prime Spot
My route as a Wine Salesman gave me a lot of windshield time. I called my coworkers a lot and shot the shit with them. Other times I tried to plan my exit strategy while I stressed out about meeting my sales goals. Lots of other moments were spent daydreaming about the future. I specifically kept circling back to my in-law’s offer to let us build on their farm. I thought about how awesome it would be for my boys to grow up around animals, like I did. I thought about how awesome it would be for them to explore an untamed piece of land, of which there were quite a few on the farm.
I called Carrie and asked her if she wanted to take her parents up on the offer and she said “yes.” I hung up with her and called our Realtor, asking her to list our house. (Carrie’s parents had given her an early inheritance, which she invested in a house. We never would have been able to afford anything other than apartments without that gift.) We sold our home within a couple of months and moved our possessions into a mobile home on the farm and, not long after, construction began on our home.
I had my eye on a prime spot on the farm, overlooking the Coteau Ridge– the only elevation change in South Louisiana. It ran right through the farm. The spot I wanted was a diamond in the rough. It just needed a little work and imagination. Once we had the blessing of Carrie’s parents to build on the spot, I trimmed some branches on some trees, cut a few dead ones down, and we suddenly had one of the most gorgeous lot for a home in all of Acadiana.
I also got the best office in the world out of the deal. My mother-in-law was a counselor and she offered her cabin to me to use in my work with men, which was just getting off of the ground.
The decision to work with men was an easy one for me. The one time I let myself get emotionally close to a female coworker, I found myself attracted to her. I called a friend who had gone through something similar and he helped me stay true to Carrie. As a result of that near-miss, I realized I needed to focus my energies on men. Also, there were a lot of women leading Formational Prayer groups in Lafayette. There were no men doing this kind of work. I always liked being on the frontier and this gave me that opportunity.
Out of My Weaknesses
I sat down with a former lawyer that was on staff with my church and she walked me through the mountain of paperwork I had to file with the IRS in order to even be considered for Non-Profit status. She informed me that the previous seven organizations she advised all had their initial filings rejected. I was extremely intimidated.
I needed a Board of Directors, so I asked one of my good friends -a woman- to be the President of the Board. (I loved the subtle joke of a woman overseeing a ministry dedicated to men.) My boss from Great Harvest, J.P., was another Board Member, and a man that ran a decent-sized company who had been in one of my groups rounded out my Board. The woman in charge moved away so I replaced her with my former counselor. One of the changes I made to the template for the by-laws of my organization was that my Board could vote me out of my own organization. I felt like I needed checks and balances that were lacking in the original template.
Looking back, I would have gladly paid someone $1,000 to do all of the paperwork for me. This was soul-draining, tedious work for me. However, I was too invested by the point I realized I should have hired someone to handle the filing.
I mailed off my application to the IRS in August of 2012, filed with the State of Louisiana on the same day, and launched a coming soon page for my domain name. A few months later I got back a letter from the IRS. I had been accepted on my first try! I felt a sense of accomplishment in that moment that ran down to my core. I had worked out of my weaknesses on that filing and still succeeded. I took it as a sign of good things to come.
I wanted the name The Inner Journey but that was taken, I kept going down the list of other options until I landed on The Inner Kingdom. My initial logo was half of a cross. It reflected the idea that our spirituality has an internal component that fuels our living. The stated goal of The Inner Kingdom was to cultivate holistic Christianity in men.
Go Around the Gate
I started cold-calling Pastors to tell them about the “Spiritual Guidance” service that I offered men. I was met with quite a few thanks-but-no-thanks responses. I was also stood up for coffee more than once and I encountered secretaries that were better guards than the dudes with the fuzzy hats in Britain.
J.P. encouraged me to blog in order to draw attention to The Inner Kingdom. (TIK from here on… remember what I said about evangelicals and acronyms.) I had blogged for he and his wife while I worked for them and I had kept a personal blog for years before that, so blogging was in my wheelhouse.
“You’re going to the gatekeepers, asking them to let you in,” J.P. said with a smile.
“Go around the gate. Let your blog reach people directly. Once that happens, then those people will go to the gatekeepers and tell them they have to let you in!”
It made perfect sense, so I started a blog that put out a weekly chicken-soup-for-the-soul story from my life and/or experiences with men. I discovered that the more honest I was, the better my writing was received. I jumped into that sweet spot where self-promotion met vulnerability and started broadcasting my life to the world. My blog was well received by men who read it while they took their morning shits, sat at red lights in traffic, and/or as they scrolled through Facebook during evening commercial breaks on TV.
Back in Tie Dyed Shirts
I had recently watched a Non-Profit shoot up like a rocket and fall just as fast because it wasn’t responsible with its finances… it spent like donations were going to keep coming in at the initial rate of giving, even though it didn’t have any data to support that premise. I learned from their mistake and didn’t pay myself for the first few months of TIK’s existence. I just let the money sit in the checking account until I could forecast a realistic model for what I could pay myself.
As a result of that decision, I had to keep a “Side Hustle” in the Food/Service Industry. I spent about a year with a catering company called Cena, working as a Prep Cook/Dishwasher/Sommelier/Waiter. After my time with Cena, the opportunity opened up at Great Harvest to be a barista. When one of my friends found out that I was going back to the bakery I had hated a couple of years before, he celebrated with me over a pint. “You’re doing it right!” he told me.
It felt good to be back in tie dyed shirts, sweating into a bandana, learning how to make latte art, and freaking out customers because I hadn’t forgotten their names. It felt even better knowing I had an exit strategy. As soon as TIK got off of the ground, I could hang up my aprons and bandanas forever.
No Tool in My Toolbelt
While I was launching a ministry and working in food to pay the bills. I was still living in fear of the darkness inside of myself. No tool in my toolbelt had worked in overcoming my sexual fetish. As a matter of fact, it was getting worse. And it felt like that wasn’t the right wording for what was going on inside of me.
The only tool that came close to working was alcohol. A drink could calm my anxiety. A drink could help me sit in my own skin and not hate what I saw when I looked down. A drink could wash the shame away. A drink had the power to take the tape off of the loop in my head, telling me that everyone would reject me if they knew the truth.
So, I drank. Not enough for people to call me on it. Just enough to dilute my pain.
This Small Hill
We built our dream home “backwards.” People drove up to the back door. The “front” of the house was a massive porch that spanned the entire length of the house and was about eight feet deep. It looked out over the Coteau Ridge dropoff and the cow pastures below that. We put in a wood burning stove so that we could light fires on cold winter mornings and evenings. We used stained concrete as the flooring. Amazingly, we both even agreed on the color for the exterior: bright red, like a barn.
My parents bought a flat of stone that we formed into a firepit. You could easily fit ten people around it with room for even more. It was our dream home. After years of moving, it felt fantastic to be rooted in one place. This home was the place Carrie and I would grow old together. This small hill would be where we would watch the future unfold.
The Shittiest Role in Any Church
Around the same time that our house was going up, my pastor was talking about David and Goliath. He talked about how, when you read the Ancient Hebrew of the text, it said that David ran down the hill the Israelites were on and up the opposite hill to face Goliath. David had that kind of eagerness and rush to action when he saw that it was his time to be on the stage.
I felt the Holy Spirit whisper two words to me: Men’s Ministry.
I didn’t want to do Men’s Ministry. It was the shittiest role in any church in America. Men by and large disliked the church and what we offered them through it. Shit, I hated what we offered them through it… that’s why I had started my ministry outside of any church. We could say four letter words without getting into trouble at The Inner Kingdom. We could watch a movie that showed boobies without anybody getting their panties into a wad. We could sit around fires and talk about deep things without having to use a fucking sports metaphor every goddamn time.
I sighed as God whispered to me again: Men’s Ministry.
Fine, I replied to God.
By nature, I’m a reluctant leader. I don’t enjoy the spotlight but if I see something on the ground, I won’t leave it there. In this situation, God was telling me that he saw something I needed to pick up. I walked up to my pastor as soon as the sermon ended and told him I would like to take over as leader for the Men’s Ministry. I knew I wasn’t the best for it. I knew I wasn’t the most qualified for it. But I was willing.
After a couple of fumbles on my part that the minister who oversaw me had to clean up, we finally got the Men’s Ministry moving. I gathered a team and we put twice-a-year men’s meetings/dinners on the calendar as well as once-a-year retreats. We rallied around a man who created a curriculum called K2 and he led a Bible Study for us that was well received.
And the whole time I felt like a fucking fraud.
Drew’s innocent statement about me not having a seat at the table haunted me. The only reason I had a seat at this table was because I was lying to them about who I was. I had plastered masculinity onto myself in order to belong.
Everything Away for Free
Every expert would have told me that TIK needed to charge people for its services. I had spent thousands on transportation, lodging, and class fees in order to become more competent in the soul care I did with men. The experts would have told me I needed to recoup that money in order to grow my ministry. One local counselor told me no one would respect me if I charged less than $50/session.
With my scars and bruises still healing from my time trying to do it my way, I did it the way I knew God wanted me to: I gave everything away for free. No one would ever be turned away because they couldn’t afford me. No one would ever feel like the only reason we were together was because I needed a paycheck.
I was determined that no one would see the story of The Inner Kingdom and say that Dallas was the hero of it. I wanted a story with God’s provision and his goodness at the center. I was willing to push all of my chips in on that gamble. My board of directors reluctantly went along.
Every man I sat with was told the same thing whether they were a millionaire or on disability:
“Someone has paid for you and me to both sit here. They did it because they experienced Jesus’ healing touch. They have been made more fully a man because of God and they want you to experience a more authentic manhood as well. As a result, you and I have a responsibility together- we both need to earn our seats. You have to do the work I give you and I have to do my work caring for you and walking alongside you.”
I fucking loved telling that story.
I wish I could tell you about the secrets I heard in that cabin. Men bared their souls to me. They shared their deepest fears and insecurities. The showed me the chains that bound them to their failures. They laid aside their “Sunday School Answers” and told me how they really felt about God.
One of my favorite movies is Almost Famous. In that movie, a writer tells the main character that “the only real currency in this world is what two people say to one another when they’re not cool.” By that standard, I was as rich as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Oprah.
That cabin was a cocoon that held men as they were transformed more into who they really were.
And I had the privilege of being the midwife.
A Joyful, Foolish Leap
Carrie told me one day, after listening to a woman tell her story about going back to school, “I think God wants me to go back to school to become a Nurse.”
We were living a life of Folly & Faith. We couldn’t afford to do anything that we were doing. I was working two part-time jobs just to put gas in our tanks and food on our table. The only way life was going to work was if God showed up.
Carrie enrolled at LSU-Eunice a few months later. She had held my hand as we had jumped off of the cliff with The Inner Kingdom. I smiled as I held her hand and we jumped off of another cliff together with Nursing School.
We laughed as we fell. It was a joyful, foolish leap. Terrifying and exhilarating. It would either end with a splat or a gasp of relief as a net appeared. Either way, we were going to get an amazing story to tell.
It Was Time
Every time I sat down with a man, I set aside my judgments, feelings, and preconceived notions. My goal was to simply be present. I made a commitment to them, God, and myself to approach whatever issue we were tackling with openness, acceptance, and curiosity.
I had never extended to myself that same level of grace. If anything I judged myself much more harshly than anyone else. I hated myself for the darkness that lurked in my shadows. I had cut off part of myself from the age of five onward and ignored its cries for mercy.
It was time to practice self-care.
I sat down at my computer and opened a browser. The word transgender had made its way into common American language a couple of years prior, replacing the word transsexual. I googled Transgender and started clicking.
As I sat in a place free from judgment, my idea of who I was crumbled apart.
Read the next part: A god named Truth.