24

 I used to joke that I wasn’t going to live past thirty-five, and I know the word is still out on that one, but I can’t recall the last time I was excited about my birthday. I thought my life was over at twenty-one (dramatic I know). Today, October Seventeenth, Two Thousand Sixteen, I turned 24 years old. I’m happy and I’m alive. Two adjectives that didn’t describe who I was for a very long time. 

Everything changed during my early twenties and it all revolved around my faith and sexuality. In my teenage years, I became a conservative american evangelical christian and went all in. I did everything a good church boy should do: I attended multiple times each week, did countless bible studies, sang in the worship band, got baptized, led my own small groups, worked for a church in various avenues, read my bible/prayed everyday, abstained from sex/drugs/drinking, etc. That lifestyle probably would have kept working if I was straight, but I’m not. I'm gay.

 The church became my home back then, it filled a big void that a shallow family life had cratered in my heart. At church I found love, acceptance, community; a place to belong and be myself. Some of my most meaningful and life giving relationships came through the church. But there was a large part of me that wasn't allowed expression, and if I did, I wouldn't be a part of the family anymore. I knew I had to tell them. I wanted to be seen, and known completely as I was; I didn't want to be something I'm not. I was treated differently after coming out, and it was one of the biggest pains of my life. It led me down a road to depression that sucked away at my humanity until I became lifeless.

The conservative evangelical church has a very firm stance on homosexuality. There are two options if you are gay: “struggle with same-sex attraction” and live a life of celibacy or “indulge in a unrepentant sinful lifestyle” and go to hell. I wasn't a fan of either, but I knew if I wanted to be a part of my faith community, there was only one option. Remain celibate for the entirety of my life… Alone. So that’s the route I chose for a few years, which can be read about in my previous post.

After I came out to my church leaders, I was no longer treated as a brother. I felt like I was seen as an animal that needed to be kept outside, and the hardest part about being kept outside, was knowing the warmth of what living inside felt like. It felt like I lost my once loving family and to be left out in the cold; hoping that one day they’d let me back in. I spent years waiting, hoping, and praying for that, but it never happened. Each year I lost a little bit of myself and my health. It got to the point where breathing felt like a chore, and each breath I took became heavier and heavier. Eventually, I didn’t want to breathe anymore, and that terrified me. So I left the place I called home, and got help.

 Many of the great changes in life don't come from gritting our teeth and trying harder, but from discovering new perspectives on our lives and developing fresh patterns of thought and behavior, one step at a time. I spent a year repenting - learning to think again, learning to ditch seeing myself as an animal, learning to stop thinking God hated me, learning to be kind to myself instead of hurting myself, learning to enlarge my mind to accommodate a new identity. Call it therapy, call it repentance - it’s a change of mind, the beginning of a new and liberated experience of life, which I believe is always inspired and energized by God’s Spirit. It’s been a little over a year since I reached the end of my rope and encountered salvation - a will to go on when there is nothing left that is not my own. I have been saved from the depths and brought back to life as a new creation. Stronger, healthier, happier, full of wonder, aware and alive.

I'm not here to argue about theology, but, from what I know about God is that he sent Jesus to show us what love is. He went to the homes of the broken hearted, downtrodden, the lost, the outcast, the abandoned, and was present with them.  Jesus permanently invited them into his family regardless of their social status, color, sexuality, or behavior. He left every person he interacted with a chance to be more human, and not by following rules or regulation, but by accepting his love, being transformed by it, and spreading it to the world. If Jesus was here today, he would care that I'm gay and treat me the same. He would want me to be loved, be alive, and share that life with the world.

I tell my story because this conversation is worth having. Regardless of wherever you land on the issue, I hope you can pause and see the humanity of it all. We're dealing with real people, real stories, real experiences, real hopes, real dreams, and real lives. My hope is that this could bring peace and understanding. If you've had a similar experience, I hope you can find comfort in knowing that it gets better and that you are so loved. Most importantly, I hope that we open our hearts and learn to see and love our neighbors as humans.