Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.
In the fall of 2003, my father dropped me off at Roberts Wesleyan College. After a brief stop at the bookstore to ensure that I had my textbooks and every form of Roberts clothing item the store offered, Dad took his leave and I blinked a few times, trying to comprehend what was happening. Somehow, in a way that didn’t quite make sense to me, I’d found myself here, and I couldn’t quite make the pieces work.
As a senior, I knew that college was the next step. As a Christian teenager, I thought that I was expected to attend a Christian school. My older brother had attended Houghton, several of my friends were already at Christian schools, and several of my peers were considering Christian universities. I didn’t really want to go to a Christian school, because I had a big secret: I was a fraud.
Yep, I didn’t really believe it. I grew up in the church and I knew how to say all the right things to evoke all the right responses, but I wasn’t sold on any of it. One of the biggest reasons why was because at the age of 14 (roughly) I found myself becoming sexually active with the boy next door, and that had confused me. My parents and Christian community had shielded me fairly well, and I wasn’t even really sure what was going on. I had a theoretical understanding of “gay” from attending a public school, but really I was clueless. And the little I did think I understood had to do with one thing: doing that meant going there. Yeah, you know what I mean. Hell.
So after some months my parents caught on to what was happening, and they put a definite stop to it. We prayed, and everything was supposed to be fine. It wasn’t, and I knew it, and so I believe (honestly) that I hitched the veracity of my faith to the status of my sexuality. Christians aren’t gay, gays go to hell, and so if I was earnest or a real believer then God would… I don’t know… fix it. Right?
Nights turned to weeks, months, and years and many of them found me exactly the same: sobbing into my pillow or staring blankly out the window, deep into the night, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. The Left Behind series was in its prime, and I became obsessed with being a genuine believer. I did not want to wake up one morning and realize that I’d missed the Rapture, and I knew that if it happened I would miss it, because I still found Justin Timberlake extremely attractive and couldn’t even bring myself to entertain the idea of thinking about girls. Also, I had watched (like, a thousand times) that scene in “Dude, Where’s My Car” where Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott make out and just couldn’t get it out of my head. Because I liked it.
But I wasn’t, you know, gay.
There was just a problem that Jesus would fix as soon as I really, truly, honestly believed. When my faith was sufficient. You know.
As the years went on the guilt and shame became obsessive, and the deadening sorrow carved out more and more of me. I didn’t realize it, but I fully believe that I was in an extremely deep state of depression. My drive to become a true believer and shake all this off had carried me to a Christian school, and now there I was. Except one problem: I had fully imagined Jesus fixing me by the time college actually arrived.
I wasn’t fixed, I couldn’t possibly be a believer, and I was at college.
Things were a mess.
They only snowballed from there, and a bad habit of lying (gee, I wonder where that could have started?) became an addiction; a way of life. Instead of merely lying to cover up my sexuality, I now lied about practically everything – even if it didn’t matter. It’s no wonder that I don’t really have many friends left from my college years… I was a monster. Seriously.
I lied to myself (convincingly) and had myself fooled into thinking that God and I were fine, and that I wasn’t gay, not at all! It was just a phase thing, and soon enough I would grow into women, and into my faith, and boy howdy life was going to be great when that happened!
Except it never did. What did happen was that my lies were exposed as such, and I lost nearly all my friends. At the same time, my sexuality was exposed, and let me tell you… at a Christian college, that’s a big deal. I don’t care how liberal and accepting it’s supposed to be; LGBTs at a Christian school are still outside the norm, and that really rocks the boat.
Life was wretched, and I knew that a great deal of it was my fault, and I couldn’t deal anymore. And then, to top it all off, Death swept in like a gypsy and stole away two friends of mine within 18 months of one another.
I quite literally couldn’t function any longer. I stopped practically everything – including my studies – and became a hollow shell of the person I once was. And he wasn’t all that great to begin with.
It was at the wake of my friend Jilian that something happened. A young, wonderful couple named Ryan and Carrie pulled me aside and said, “We don’t care if you’re gay. We don’t. We want you to come over, and we want to get to know you.” I couldn’t understand why, but they were reaching out to me. And they spent a good solid year loving on me when I didn’t deserve it. They poured into me all that they had, and they paid some very dear prices for it. It was through this couple, and examining the last year of Jilian’s life with them, that I began to realize that something was amiss, and it was God-centered.
You see, we were all Christians. But these people, and from what I could tell, Jilian too, at the end, they were… well, different. Crazy different. Stupid different. Paying-a-very-dear-price-to-do-things-that-just-didn’t-make-sense different. And I noticed. And it was attractive. It was fantastic. It was beautiful. So I developed a theory: either these types of Christians were just insane, or they were tapped into something that the vast majority of Christianity was missing.
So I put God to the test with my theory, and I literally prepared for a last-chance-test. I withdrew from school and enrolled in a semester-long discipleship course. If there really was something to this God that I’d grown up believing in, he’d show up. If Jilian and Ryan and Carrie weren’t crazy, then God was at work, and he’d show up.
I don’t know why I had faith in that, after he so clearly hadn’t un-gayed me, but I was going to give it a shot. I think I really was expecting to come out of the semester convinced that Christianity was a lovely thought, I guess, but like communism was just a joke. Looking back, I recognize that I was preparing for the moment when I justified dropping my faith to my parents by saying I literally tried everything. That’s really where I expected to end up, and, being there, I would finally have sorted out the mess of my sexuality: I’d be gay, and any problems with that would be chalked up to the mess of religion left in my mind, junk to be swept out of the way to make room for, I don’t know… whatever kind of life gay people lead, I guess. I’d find out soon enough, right?
But that wasn’t what happened at all. The Holy One showed up with more power and passion and life than I could ever have imagined. He radically reoriented my life, and infused my soul with the gospel. The Spirit of the Living God blasted open many doors, and junk came flooding out. I walked away from that semester -still gay – but a gay Christian. A man reconciled in his sexuality and his faith.
Now there was still a helluva lot of junk left in me – habits that break hard. I’m not proud to say that the worst of my sins came after the discipleship program. My deceit, my horrible lack of love, my abuse of people and trust… it all came to a head later. I’m still working through a lot of that, but thank God that he’s big enough to handle that. But unwavering from that time is the belief that I am gay, that I believe God made me that way, and for a very good reason.
Recently I was having a conversation with a friend who was amazed at the level of theological knowledge I had packed away inside of me. I’ve never been to seminary, and I’m not claiming to be anything extraordinary, but I do know that my story led me to pursue all I could find theologically about sexuality and faith. And my struggle with my sexuality and my faith was what fueled me to continue going, even when all other motivations were gone.
She was also amazed at the depth of emotional control I had. She couldn’t fathom comprehending “enemies” like I apparently do in her eyes. She is angry at Christians that I am not, upset that they could think and act towards myself and so many other LGBT people as they do. I explained that, having come from their camp myself, I have a unique ability – forged in the Lord’s fire of trials and mercy – to know where they’re coming from, and to love them even though they may not be able to love me. Not that I’m perfect or even impressive, I told her, but just that in this specific part of life, I was solid. Consistent. Purified through fire, and able to stand confidently and firmly in love through whatever was thrown my way.
It was in striving for an answer regarding my sexuality and the Holy One that false gospels like the fear of missing the Rapture peeled away. False gospels like treating human beings as anything less than the most treasured possession of the Most Holy, Everlasting God. These were unable to stand in the face of the real good news. It was through the search for an answer to my gayness that I learned about the Kingdom of Heaven, and the love of my Papa, the ability to listen to the Spirit and allow the Living God to transform me into a better agent of his Kingdom, and so much more.
And it hit me: I am grateful that everything happened this way. I didn’t think I would ever say that, but I am so very grateful. Because now, while my life still may not be what I imagined, I am secure in who I am, and who my Father is. Through the paths he walked with me, I have been forged into an articulate, informed, passionate believer in the Kingdom of Heaven. I stand firm at a witness to the gospel of the Living God, and living and loving well to bring that to earth today. All the prayer, articles, meetings, books, ridiculing, conferences, belittling, and manipulating that anyone has ever done in order to get me to “embrace Jesus and turn from homosexuality” had led to this: they have sharpened me and unwittingly delivered me into the Father’s hands as a confident, gay Christian man.
The exact opposite of their intent, but I think probably exactly what God intended.
Without my sexuality, I would have no faith.
Without my weaknesses, I would have had no conflict.
Without my struggles with faith and conflict, I’d have no story worth telling.
And I’m just one man!
Imagine the generation that is coming! Countless LGBT Christian youths being sharpened and delivered – much like Joseph – through trial and hardships, each level intended to break us, but each level being used by God to forge us into educated, confident members of the body of Christ.
My prayer is that, like Joseph, we can remember mercy and use our power and position for reconciliation and to save many lives, to the glory of the Holy One and his Kingdom.
There’s a family in my small town that I’ve known all my life. The two youngest kids were just about my age (one a few years older, one a year younger) and we went to school together. They live – literally – across the road from one of our corn fields. They’re wonderful.
Roughly nine months ago or so, I was picking corn for dinner. The corn wasn’t quiteready to sell at our produce stand yet, but there was enough for our family. I realized that if I gave it a good throw, I’d be able to land an ear of corn in their lawn. It suddenly dawned on me that I should probably take an armload across the road for the Andrews family. I did. Mrs. Andrews wasn’t there, but I got to talk to both Cat and Jess, the sisters I knew from childhood, and see Jess’s beautiful daughter. I walked back to the corn field with a heart bursting with happiness.
Cat called me up a few weeks later and asked me to apply for a job where she works as a pharmacist. I didn’t get the job, but it jolted me back into relationship with these wonderful people. My friends and neighbors.
I realized that it had literally been *years* since I’d talked to them. Sure, I always waved from across the road or as I drove by the house… but that was it.
It started slowly. Fall came, and I brought a few pumpkins over. Then some apple cider. We had a Family Fun Day at the farm, and rented a cotton candy machine. I grabbed a few bags and off to the Andrews’ I went.
Winter came, and Jess called to invite me to go sledding. It was phenominal fun. So was the next time, and the next.
Jess and I caught a movie last week, and had a blast. The other night we boiled maple syrup, and I brought a quart of it over.
And stood in their kitchen for an hour and talked and talked.
Tonight I spent a fantastic night with Jess, just talking and watching television. Our conversation went deep, and we started sharing life with one another. It was… excellent.
I was blessed. Really blessed. And I think Papa was smiling.
I know I was.
I broke through some sort of invisible barrier this morning, and drew in a deep breath of clear, crisp air that I once had in abundance. It happened out of the blue; I was flipping through the display on my Kindle Fire and happened to pause as I saw a book pass by. I tapped it, and it opened. I read, randomly, the following:
We may have no idea what road the person standing before us has walked. Your mother may have never had the luxury of a new couch. Or she might simply be unaccustomed to giving a compliment because she has rarely heard one. The cashier may work three jobs, take care of two kids, and have a splitting headache. Or he might simply be slow. Your boss may have stayed up all night working on sales figures for her boss. Or she might simply be disorganized.
Grace moves us to love people even when they disappoint us and sin against us. It moves us to love people even when circumstances are ugly and messy. Gracious love can feel hard and often unfair. Others may not deserve our love. Others may not earn our love. God could say the same about us.
There is no need to hoard God’s love or parcel it out with caution. Love, as the first fruit of the Spirit, transforms our affection so that, in the words of Frederick Buechner, “little by llttle compassionate love begins to change from a moral exercise, from a matter of gritting our teeth and doing our good deed for the day, into a joyous, spontaneous, self-forgetting response to the most real aspect of all reality, which is that the word is holy because God made it and so is every one of us as well.”
-LifeSpace: The practice of life with God by Joni Grace Powers and Robert Pyne
I didn’t read the passage in context. I just started reading the first place my eyes fixed on the screen. As I kept going, a familiar rush spread through me. I’d not felt the Spirit of the Living God like this in months. Literally. Ah! The beauty and wonder and power of the moment floored me. My haughty spirit crushed, my comfortable arrogance and routine demolished.
I whispered to Papa that I was sorry for hoarding his love. I put the Kindle down and went about my day as the air quickly thinned and my lungs once again kept gasping for breath.
But not even the thin air could shake the feeling in my chest that my Papa hasn’t forgotten me.
He’s got me. I’ll be so much more than fine.
I’ll thrive again when it’s time.