by Christena, 23
Three years ago I was sitting in a Living Hope banquet, flipping through one of these magazines, trying to stay focused on getting home to my girlfriend so we could go out to the bar. She did my hair that night. I remember how ironic all of it felt.
I sat there so desperately wanting Christ, but also desperately convinced that every testimony I heard and read was quite obviously a lie. I had been trying since I was a teenager to break these chains–to find true and real healing for this festering heart I dragged around everywhere and dumped on everyone. If I couldn’t do it, with all the praying, begging, and bargaining I had done with God, what made these people think they could really be free?
It’s something of a pure miracle I even attended that night, but a combination of a very dedicated, loving mentor and the incredible power of the Holy Spirit led me to a seat on the front row.
My past is much like anyone else’s who comes through this group. It’s filled with broken, manipulative and misguided needs, pain evasion, anger, hurt, and sadness; all manifesting itself in lethal sexual relationships with women; all in the pursuit of someone finally paying attention to how bad I was hurting; all in trying to fill this overbearing longing to be accepted, loved and understood by someone.
It still took me several months after that night to officially join. I convinced myself that I would try this whole “God-thing” again, but I was going to do it alone. When that left me even more broken than before, I reached out to Living Hope.
After six months of regularly attending in-house meetings and going to the Exodus International conference, God moved me to the other side of Texas for work. For two years I was isolated from basically everything and everyone, both the good and bad. It was an incredibly challenging and gut-wrenching period to walk through. I still struggled and fell several times back into my old patterns. But it was also during this time that God absolutely broke me. Over and over He called me back to Himself. I continually found myself being faced with blatant life or death. Even when I chose death, He still chose me.
He wooed me like a tender lover. He started to take the form of everything I wanted and desired in women. He became love to me.
Another breaking point and further development of this journey for me happened during our Living Hope Youth Retreat this year (2012). Two major shifts formed in my thinking:
1. I realized I had to be much more diligent about reading the word. The word is life. No matter how hard I wanted to fight, I had nothing to stand on. I wasn’t putting truth back into my heart. I wasn’t training myself to be ready for those really hard days.
2. It became extremely obvious there was still some major unforgiveness going on in my heart. I still blamed countless people for my problems, for not being the person I needed them to be, for not loving me the way they should have. And in return was not allowing myself to receive God’s forgiveness. I was still trying to be the perfectionist that didn’t need forgiveness.
Working through these two concepts has completely transformed my life. I can finally say that I am “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” This is not to claim that there is some formula for our relationship to Christ, but instead to show that He is in the business of continually scraping away those parts of our old lives we so dearly want to cling to.
Two days after the retreat I moved to Africa; isolated and alone is my daily life once again. But the Lord has been training me for this and has blessed me incredibly through the online forums. Yes, I could walk away right now and no one would know. I could create a new life for myself away from God and my community in the States. But God has become more vital to me than any human, man or woman, could ever be. So I choose to submit myself to God and the leadership at Living Hope. The forums allow me to continue to be held accountable and check my actions and thoughts against truth.
I would be lying if I said I don’t struggle anymore. And if Living Hope promised to take away the struggle, they would be lying too. But what they have promised is to walk alongside us, through the really crappy days when it doesn’t seem worth it anymore, and through the days when God’s glory radiates so clearly to us. What they do provide is a safe community without condemnation. They provide a training ground for healthy, appropriate relationships. If I have ever seen a clear representation of the body of Christ in community, living daily life together in a holy way, it’s here.
This isn’t a one-stop shop for fixing all our problems, no matter how hard I tried to make that happen. What we strive toward is shifting the end goal from “not being gay anymore” to having a correct and real understanding of God, his love, and our relationship with him. When I stopped trying to be straight and started pursuing God, the struggle was put back into its proper place of sin instead of claiming my whole identity.
Living Hope didn’t save me. God did that. Living Hope just helps me to keep growing and learning so that even on the hard days, Christ holds firm in his position as my only hope. Without Christ, there is no hope for any of us.