It was 1988, Mobile, Alabama. Lincoln was a good student. He was a nice guy. He was polite and obeyed his parents. But in middle school life had begun to go sour for him. His dad started being very mean to him for no reason. People at school teased and talked about him behind his back.
Lincoln didn’t have a whole lot of friends but the friends he did have, were mostly girls. He was mostly ok with that, but he was sad and didn’t know why none of the boys would even talk to him, not, at least, in a nice way.
Lincoln found he was good at singing and acting. He had a beautiful, tender voice and just felt like he shined when he acted on stage. He thought maybe these things would make his dad proud of him. They didn’t; they seemed to make it worse.
Lincoln kept some secrets in his head. Secrets that he couldn’t tell anyone. Secrets that made him cry at night. He couldn’t understand why God would put these things into his head, and into his body. Why did he feel the way he did? What had gone wrong with him? He had heard old, white haired pastors say it was wrong, and those were the voices that had influenced his world. Some days the secrets just felt too big to bear on his own. He started to get sick. He went to the doctor and they found he had stomach ulcers from stress.
His mom asked him if he was ok, if he was holding something inside of him. She said if there was anything he wanted to tell her, she would be there for him no matter what. He said, “No thanks, Mom.” He knew whatever he told her, would get back to his dad and there were certain things he couldn’t let his dad know.
Another boy in some of Lincoln's classes noticed that Lincoln was missing days of school. His name was Chad. Chad saw the way people treated Lincoln, and he didn’t like it. But he didn’t do anything about it either.
At church he heard his pastor say that gay people were sinners and he thought Lincoln was probably gay, just by the way he talked and stuff. But he also thought Lincoln wasn’t trying to be. Why would he when he just got teased about it all the time? It didn't make sense why being born a certain way would be a sin or why God would love any differently. It just didn't feel right to him. But, he thought, "Who am I to say an adult pastor was wrong?"
Chad thought of himself as a pretty good Christian. He did his best to be kind to people and he didn’t go to bad parties. He tried not to lie or cheat on tests. He did his homework. He caught himself looking at hot girls maybe a little too often but he felt like that was small, and he felt like people saw him as a good Christian. And he was pretty sure this made his parents proud.
One time during communion at his church, Chad was about to eat the bread when he heard the pastor say, “Is God calling you to show someone God's unconditional love this week?” At that moment Lincoln popped into his head so strongly that Chad was startled. He remembered how sad and sick Lincoln had looked and a compassion overtook him that was so strong that tears came to his eyes as he sat down. As he chewed the communion bread the pastor added, "This is Christ's body given up for you. What is God asking you to give up to show that sort of love for others?" That was a hard teaching, but it felt much more like something God would say.
Chad went to bed that night wondering if Lincoln would be there the next day. He wondered what he could do for him. He felt a little bit guilty for questioning his pastor, but the thing the pastor had said about gay people didn't seem right when he thought about how much Lincoln was hurting. "At least I can try to ask and understand Lincoln better." But he also thought how people knew Chad was a Christian and he thought, “If they see me talking to Lincoln, they might think i’m gay too. I don't want them to think i’m a bad Christian.” That's just the way the culture was back in 1988.
Lincoln was thinking and praying in his bed that night too. He had been out of school the whole week before because he had been so sick. But he felt maybe he was finally strong enough to go back to school tomorrow. Lincoln knelt at his bed and desperately prayed, “God, please! . . . I can’t carry this alone any more. I understand you have given me this burden, and I want to try to carry it, and live my life the way you want me to. I don’t ever have to get married. I can live without love and sex, I think I really could if that's really what you would want for me. . . but I just need a friend who I can talk to about it. That’s all I need, God.”
The next day Chad was at his locker when he saw Lincoln walk by. Lincoln looked sick with sunken eyes and hunched over back. Chad watched Lincoln as he put his books away. A boy next to Chad said, “Dude, that guy looks terrible today. I bet he has AIDS. Serves him right.” Then that strange compassion welled inside of him again as Chad watched Lincoln walk around the corner. He wanted to punch the kid next to him. Chad got his books and began to walk to class. He was almost late and the halls were clearing out. He turned the corner where Lincoln had walked.
Then he saw Lincoln at his locker putting his books away. He barely had enough strength to do that. As Chad got close, Lincoln saw him from the corner of his eye and looked up at him. But before they could exchange a smile some boys came out of the bathroom (which was right next to Lincoln’s locker) and one of them threw a candy wrapper at him and said, “that’s for you, fag.”
The boys were laughing. Chad wondered for a few moments if he should stop and go back. His heart was beating hard. The same compassion he had felt at communion pulled on him again. But he found himself thinking, "I don’t know what just talking to him would do. And plus I don’t want to make Christians look bad. And being late to class is probably worse anyway. I don't want to look like a bad Christian.”
Chad continued walking as the other boys laughed and walked away. Lincoln was left alone, crumpling to his knees at his locker. By the time Lincoln looked up again with desperate eyes, Chad was already gone. Chad continued on toward his class and sat, pretending to pay attention. But really he was asking himself if he should have done something. What would it look like. But then he remembered the words, "What is God asking you to give up to show God's unconditional love to someone." Eventually the thoughts faded and he got back to his normal routines.
As for Lincoln, that day was the last straw. He felt God had deserted him- he had never heard any pastors preach that God felt any differently. From that point on, he started going to chat rooms to meet gay boys and men. These other boys and men had also been rejected by their communities and families and found love here. In high school Lincoln started going to gay clubs and had many partners. There he found the love that friends in his school and his dad had not given him. The love he felt God had not given him. He stopped caring that his dad hated him. And eventually he admitted to his mom and his sister, that he was gay. He still grew into a kind and giving man, though he always carried these scars of rejection. He quietly tended a garden and loved his two cats, Bennie and Jean. Within 15 years Lincoln had contracted AIDS, and he died in a small apartment with only his partner, who was also dying from pneumonia that he had contracted by complications of having AIDS.