By Josh, 26
We often all have defining moments in our lives, instances or circumstances that often change us forever. I have had several of these moments in the last eight years. In 2011, I was a newly graduated high school student at a church camp with friends when God spoke to me clearly. He told me that I needed to confess what I was hiding, my struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA). I was overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, and stress to the point of being sick. Yet I listened and obeyed God, no matter how hard it was. Listening when God speaks and obeying Him may sometimes bring temporary pain, but that pain is always worth the amazing opportunities He places in front of us through obedience.
That night in 2011, as I laid praying for strength to do what God was leading me to do, was one of those defining moments. Even though I didn’t know for sure how the person I was going to tell would react, I trusted God. And God not only protected me, but through that wonderful, loving woman, God lead me to Living Hope Ministries.
Within a few months, I was connected on the Living Hope online forums and the next March I flew down to Texas for the Living Hope Retreat. I was a scared, shy 19-year-old who had never flown by myself, let alone traveled to a different state where I knew no one. Yet at the same time, I knew all of the people at the retreat in a deep way. We all knew each other’s deepest, darkest sin, SSA. For the first time in my life, I felt a freedom I had never experienced; I no longer had to hide.
Soon after the retreat, God called me to move to Texas. Once again, I knew I had to listen and obey, even if that meant moving to another state. I enrolled in Living Hope’s Hope House, an amazing year-long, live-in discipleship program. I learned and grew so much in that one year. But even with all the growth I had experienced, I still struggled to choose Jesus every day, grappling with a pornography addiction that I had been dealing with since fifth grade.
After my year in the Hope House, I continued to live in Texas close to Living Hope so that I could receive encouragement, discipleship, and most importantly hope. But after I moved out on my own, not everything went perfectly. My pornography addiction worsened, my depression deepened, and my hope waned. I isolated myself from Ricky and Living Hope. Eventually, I stopped struggling at all and in May of 2015I decided that my happiness was more important than my righteousness.
I quickly cut ties with everyone at Living Hope except Ricky and a few months later I was dating a man. This led to a two-and-a-half-year relationship living with my ex. Yet thru all of that time of disobedience, God still spoke to me. Sometimes He spoke to me directly, but more often He spoke thru a select few people, like my friends Joel and Jenny who often encouraged me and told me how God loved me. During this period in my life, Living Hope, in particular, Ricky never stopped encouraging me and telling me he was there whenever I wanted to return home. Yet I stubbornly continued to ignore God.
This stubbornness lasted until May of 2017 when my grandmother was diagnosed with stage four cancer. She was the person in my life and my family’s lives who prayed every day for us. Her faith was unmatched by anyone else I knew. God used her powerfully in this short window, taking her 19 days after her diagnosis. Thru this extremely traumatic and spiritual event in my life, God reminded me of his goodness and love. He reminded me of the importance of family and faith.
After I flew back to Texas, I dealt with extreme anxiety attacks and depression. I would go to sleep every night next to my boyfriend and awake to an anxiety attack because I heard God speaking to me and I was scared to obey. As I laid down to sleep, God would often put images in my mind of me preaching, of me helping others with my testimony. But I couldn’t imagine how I could come out of the lifestyle I had chosen. How could I break off the relationship with my best friend? How could I afford to live on my own again? I often laid in bed and pleaded with God. I would tell Him I couldn’t do this and that I needed Him. God listened to my cries and my pain. And in July of that year, I decided to listen and obey once again.
I immediately reached out to Ricky. He encouraged me, prayed for me, and told me how much he loved me and that God loved me. His response was how Jesus would respond, which is how Living Hope always had responded to me. It reminds me of the parable of the prodigal son when it says, “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20).
This is a beautiful representation of Jesus. And this was how Living Hope reacted to me. They loved me, encouraged me, and helped me with all the difficulties and pain that I went through in order to start following Jesus again. Whether I was in the “far country” or coming back, Living Hope exemplified their name. They continuously pointed me to the true living hope, Jesus Christ. Without the support, encouragement, and love of Living Hope, I never would be where I am today. Even though it’s a year later and I’m no longer in Texas, I still have continuous support from Ricky and the ministry. I continue to struggle with my addiction, and at times fall back into not resisting at all. But all I have to do is listen to God and obey and he will continue to change my heart, mind, and soul into the man that God has defined me to be.