I get out of my car and look up at the quaint little house surrounded by flowers and trees. It’s quiet on this street, even though we’re so close to downtown Berkeley. I have just driven an hour on a Friday afternoon to meet Annie for the first time.

It’s May of 2016, and my life is in transition. I’ve been married for 23 years, I have four children. I’ve tried my whole life to be a good man, to do the right thing, but everything is falling apart. I’ve been a worship pastor for 16 years. I don’t really know any other life. But I know things have to change. And I don’t know if or how I can do it.

My Facebook friend Michael had told me I needed to meet Annie, and she had invited me to her house to talk, so here I am.

I knock on the door and dogs bark excitedly. The door opens and I’m face to face with a smiling, kind-faced, short, blonde, curly-haired woman in overalls and Birkenstocks. “Come in!” she says and gives me a big hug. “I made macaroni and cheese!”

We walk through her cluttery-but-warm living room, past the upright piano and the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, and sit at a big wooden dining room table. We are instant friends. I tell her my story. I’m gay. I’ve decided I have to come out. I don’t know what to expect or how I will do it. She tells me hers. She’s gay too, and fifteen years ago, she left her 23-year mixed-orientation marriage and Presbyterian associate pastor job and came out publicly. It was hard. She shows me the letter she and her husband wrote to their family, friends and church. She shows me her giant scrapbook of letters she got from people after it happened. She shows me pictures of her wife, Victoria, and the kids they have raised together. She tells me I can do it, although it will be so very hard. She calls me “Dear One.” She holds my hand. She gives me hope. She says I’m adorable and I won’t have any trouble finding someone to love me. We laugh and cry and become siblings, just like that. Because this woman, better than anyone I’ve ever met, understands me.

After three hours fly by, I’m standing in the living room ready to leave. I am wondering aloud whether after I come out, I will act “more gay.” She cackles and says, “Oh honey. You’re SO GAY.” I laugh and say, “Thank you.” I’m not offended. I’m affirmed. It’s good to be seen, to be known. I am so gay. I always have been.

In the doorway she tells me I’m welcome in her home anytime, that this little house in Berkeley can be a refuge, a sanctuary for me. She tells me that she is praying for me and that she will always be with me. I leave and drive home again, amazed and grateful for this glimpse of God at the beginning of my difficult journey.