by Thomas, 23
I grew up in a “Christian family” which, in my case, meant both my parents had church keys and we were there almost every time the doors were open. But that (and praying at meals) was about the extent of my dad’s spiritual involvement in our family. My mom on the other hand, was very involved and taught us kids Bible stories, prayed with us, and encouraged us to grow on our own.
From the outside I grew up the perfect kid with a normal family: dad with a solid job, mom at home homeschooling her kids, two older brothers and a little sister. We lived in the suburbs of Seattle, WA, with no end of rivers, lakes, and mountains to explore. I loved to play sports, build tree forts in the woods, and play computer games. I was the kid who always cared for people, always had a smile on my face, always had a kind word to say, and always excelled academically. I was a leader in everything possible: AWANA, youth group (service projects, worship, and small groups), math club, and several academic projects. I knew all the right church answers and pointed people to them. I didn’t do the things “bad kids” did like drinking, drugs, and sex. So I had it made, right?
No one knew that at the same time I was miserable, depressed, lonely, and uncomfortable in my own home! All growing up I felt like I didn’t belong and no one wanted me. I felt like I had no purpose, no place in the world and no reason to live. I think a good portion of this had to do with the things that went on in my family that no one else saw. My oldest brother picked on me mercilessly and loved nothing more than to get me in trouble for things that I didn’t do.
My dad and I never really hit it off and I didn’t know why. It seemed like he connected with my two older brothers and I just didn’t fit in. If I’m perfectly honest, as a sensitive young boy I was scared of his temper. Because of our lack of connection I thought he didn’t love me, even though now I see he really did. I still remember to this day the night he called me a sissy. The words pierced my heart like a dagger and stuck like glue in my mind. All through the teen years I wore the identity “sissy,” and every time I thought about it I was angry because I thought, “surely it is my fault He thinks I’m a sissy.”
My mom eventually stepped in and started meeting needs in my life, and I didn’t know any better than to let her. I didn’t know she was meeting needs through me that should have been met by my dad. She would force me to over connect and if I pulled away, she would punish me or make cutting remarks toward me. Later on she admitted to trying to “guard” me from my dad so he couldn’t hurt me and in doing so, made it impossible for me to connect with him.
My whole childhood I lived a double life. On the outside my life was perfect, while on the inside my life was falling apart. I eventually grew to hate my parents, my oldest brother, myself, and even God! I don’t remember how it started, but I soon found that self-injury quelled all the intense emotions swirling around in my brain; the pain seemed to wash it away. One of the reasons I self-injured was to somehow substantiate and put into physical terms a very overwhelming pain. I think the other was because I honestly felt like I deserved it because I saw myself as a failure.
When I entered my teen years I had no clue who I was. Was I a man? Was I not a man? I thought I was, but I sure didn’t feel like one. There was no one for me to ask, so I did the most sensible thing, I asked the internet. It said I was gay and I should celebrate my gayness. This started a self-deprecating cycle of porn, then self-injury, more porn, and back to self-injury. This cycle went on for years and seemed inescapable.
When I left for college I wanted to get as far away as possible and landed me studying engineering at a small Christian college in East Texas where I soon realized two things: 1) The only reason I wanted to be an engineer was because my dad didn’t approve of my dream to be a math teacher 2) My problems were going to follow me. Spring semester of my freshmen year I began to fall apart once again. I tried in vain to make myself happy, but life continued to get worse and worse. Then one day at a college retreat I met Jesus and everything changed! Anger was replaced with joy and hate with love. This began a very broken and rather short-lived attempt at a relationship with God and repairing my relationship with dad.
Unfortunately, life didn’t stay easy and 6 months later I met “the love of my life,” (James). We lived 1000 miles apart so we remained “just friends.” I did not know how to face the conflict of what God said about homosexuality and who I thought I was, so I just ignored the problem and kept pursuing a deeper friendship with James. By the time I graduated college in 2010, I could not ignore that I was blatantly headed in the wrong direction and frankly didn’t care. I was grasping for hope and ready to give up.
Sitting in the hospital with a staph infection after a knee surgery, I cried out to God and opened my Bible randomly to Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” This left me rather intrigued and a little confused. I knew God had begun a work in me, but I honestly didn’t want Him anymore and didn’t really understand why He hadn’t given up on me yet. A couple months later I moved to Houston to “find myself.” It is only by the miraculous grace of God that I never hooked up with any guys despite the ample opportunities that came my way.
In a desperate attempt for something to change, I opened up to the pastor at my church and he told me, “I love you and will walk through this with you, but if you screw up you’re kicked out of the church.”
Not exactly what I was hoping to hear and to me didn’t sound like love at all. Again I was searching for answers and remembered a speaker mentioned a ministry in Dallas called Living Hope. I found them online, joined the online forums and found out they had lots of answers. However, I quickly realized these answers were not at all what I wanted to hear. I was done with God doing things His way and did not want to hear anyone tell me I needed to get right with Him and pursue a relationship with Him. Around Christmas I decided I was going to ditch my church and everyone I knew to embrace a gay lifestyle. There was only one problem: God said NO!
With the help of my Living Hope family and several of the guys at my church, I learned what it meant to have a relationship with God and began to unpack who He made me to be. This meant a lot of wrestling with God, a lot of tears, releasing a lot of anger, frustration, and bitterness I’d kept locked up deep inside. It also meant cutting ties with things and people in my past who were dragging me in the wrong direction. Even though it was hard to say good-bye to my best friend and “love of my life,” I knew following Jesus was worth it!
My friends at Living Hope helped me see that change does not necessarily mean changing from gay attractions to straight attractions, but a change from following sin to following God. I attended a Living Hope Retreat where God repeatedly showed me He had been continually faithful in my life even though I was far from Him. God opened the door for me to process through my self-injury addiction. This was a time of intense pain and anger as I dug into my past and tried to understand how to turn those intense feelings over to God instead of defaulting to self-injury. Living Hope turned out to be a safe place where I could get Godly answers as I wrestled through deep issues that I didn’t yet have the ability to open up about with anyone at church.
Recently I was amazed when my dad wrote me a letter blessing me and telling me how proud he is of me. He ended the letter by saying “So, go forth our son, be a mighty warrior for God.” My dad gave me a new name: “Mighty Warrior.” Soon after I wrote my Dad a letter opening up to him about my struggle with same-gender-attraction, and by the grace of God my dad and I began to mend our broken relationship.
A year and a half after beginning this journey toward God it is still very messy, but I have seen God close the doors on my old life and open doors to a new one. This has been hard at times because it means permanently letting go of things and people (like James), but at the same time brings so much joy and freedom that I don’t doubt my new life is much better than my old life of sin.
In the past month, God miraculously opened the door to start dating a girl from church. Honestly, this is a completely new experience. I am learning how to lead and be the godly man in a relationship. I know dating or marriage is not the goal. My goal is following Jesus and seeking out intimacy with God. But I have to admit that God is doing things I never imagined possible!
Those dark days of despair and hopelessness seem so distant now. The intense cravings and lust for every guy have significantly diminished. God has graciously put many men in my life, both in person and at Living Hope, who show me how to relate to guys and share life as a friend and brother instead of an object to be fantasized about or manipulated. Yes, I still have same sex attractions, but they do not own me. I find myself turning less and less to old coping mechanisms like self-injury, porn, anger and depression. The words of Paul best fit where I am: “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus“ (Philippians 3:13-14). I am setting my eyes on God and falling more in love with Him, continuing to strive for purity while working through my issues. As I step into manhood I feel like God has been saying to me what he said to Gideon in Judges 6: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”