Part 8. Phoenix, AZ

Arizona. How many times have I mentioned I hate deserts on this blog? And yet, I keep ending up in them. I will say this, there is something actually magical about a desert (can’t believe I said that). It strips you of any self-resilience. Strength doesn’t matter. Money can’t buy you anything. You’re stripped to nothing but you. Laid bare.

Maybe that’s why I keep ending up in deserts in spite of my complete disdain for them.

I think Jesus knew how apprehensive I was about this leg of the trip (I mean, He is God and all that) because the week I picked to come out to Phoenix, Dura had to work a lot. And that isn’t a stab a Dura. You’ll see where this ends up. It’s a stab at me. I think Jesus knew I was in a delicate space. Shit. I’m still in a delicate space. But needless to say, I think God created some space for me to just exist in Phoenix, to calm my nerves. And that calm came from a man I had yet to meet.

Because Dura was working three 24-hour shifts, her husband Josh picked me up. I had never met the guy. But we would be spending a large amount of time together, and I’m really thankful for it.

Josh is like the Yin to Dura’s Yang (or vice versa, I’m not going to pretend to be a master of Taoism; I’m having a hard enough time with my own faith at the moment). While Dura is this ball of bright fiery passion, Josh is like water. He’s soothing and calm. He can still be passionate, but it manifests differently. Like a powerful river. But he moves and bends with the people he’s with. He’s definitely a peacemaker at heart, and I was really grateful for it.

Since I barely knew the guy, and he’s now married to one of my good friends, I asked all the questions.

How did you guys meet? What are your passions? Where do you see yourself and Dura in five years? You know, all the superficial, easygoing questions you ask when you first meet someone. Didn’t want to overwhelm the guy…

But it literally didn’t phase him. He answered every question with such an assured calmness.

“We met through mutual friends.” “We both did the World Race.” “We want to help people in crisis, so we’re both becoming EMT’s.”

There is an ease that Josh produces to those around him. The result was calm mornings over coffee, relaxed evenings watching fireworks, and easygoing afternoons climbing rock walls.

Through the fury of questions, I can’t help but see God in Josh and Dura’s love story. They truly are perfect for each other. Like a dynamic duo. They have shared passion and vision, but go about it in such different ways because of their personalities. They yield to each other because they’re yielded to God and have purpose in everything they do. And it’s not just in their marriage, but how they live that you can see God active and moving.

Dura and Josh shared stories where God told them to do something, and they just went for it. You know those people that talk of their dreams and what they want to do and it stops there? That’s not Josh and Dura. They dream and go. It’s so inspiring.

One time Dura felt like God was saying to go to Jordan. She didn’t have money or contacts, but she trusted. Once there, she met people and started hitchhiking into Israel. Why? Because, again, she felt like that was what God was calling her to do. She simply trusted a voice within.

This inner voice has led them around the world three times between the two them, a nine-month Europe backpacking trip on their honeymoon, management of an island resort, and back to the desert to become EMT’s. There’s so much adventure and purpose in this trust.

While being with them, I was reminded of my past. A past where I did the same thing, and I missed it.

When I lived in Berlin, I would walk the streets, asking God, “Where next?” With a calm trust, I would end up in the coolest cafés. Like, hidden-in-a-canal-surrounded-by-water-gardens cool cafés. I’d talk to strangers on the streets, asking God what to say. Next thing I know, the stranger is crying, asking how I knew those secret places of their heart. Or when a girl was dying of leukemia, I heard a scripture reference. Turns out it’s about bones. I read it to the girl, prayed, and she was miraculously healed.

There was this faith and reckless trust I had with Jesus that led me to crazy places, meeting amazing people.

But something happened. Well, actually a lot happened.

  • My head pastor caught in adultery
  • A Bible school closed down due to embezzlement
  • A mission school wringing me dry for ego
  • The mission leader having an affair with a student

And this is the part where all the Christians say, “But Brandon, those are people. They’re not perfect. God didn’t do those things.” True. But I got beef with Jesus too.

When I served as a missionary, I prayed for a woman with a missing leg. I was believing for a miracle. I asked her to stand up out of her chair, thinking of the stories of Jesus. Instead of a miracle, I got a sobbing woman, begging God for her leg. “Why won’t He give me my leg back?”

I didn’t know.

The questions came, “Does God care or hear me? Hear her? Why didn’t that work? Jesus said it would work. Did I do something wrong? Is He even there?”

Remember those cool walks I went on? Well, there was this one time I listened to that small voice and ended up in the middle of nowhere.

The questions came, “Is this made up in my head? Does God really speak? Is He even real? Or is this just my imagination?”

At the end of my mission school, I hitchhiked, hoping to see God provide for me. The result was sleeping on the streets of Geneva. My friend and I had asked a church to take us in for the event. They said they couldn’t do that. I got drunk that night, screaming to my friend, “Some hands and feet of Jesus they are!”

I was not in a good place. But wait! There’s more!

“Brandon, we didn’t want to tell you because we didn’t want to ruin your trip. But you’ll eventually see it on social media. Nathan (my brother) had a seizure and crashed into a car. It was bad. A piece of his bone was in the street. But we’re praying and believing God for a miracle. We don’t want you to worry. Everything is going to be okay.”

But everything wasn’t okay, and I was worried. Nathan didn’t get a miracle. And to top it off, the next leg of my journey was to Lyon, where a friend from Bible college awaited me. She had de-converted, becoming an agnostic. The time was spent drinking and talking about how my faith was all in my head and most “healings” are just due to the power of belief.

Maybe this was all in my head. Maybe this is all fake.

By the time I boarded a plane to help my family with my brother, I was having an existential crisis. I didn’t know what I believed, what was true, who I could trust, and what I was supposed to do. I was breaking inside. But my family was falling apart too.

So what did I do? I buried my fears, hurts, and pain, taking on the responsibility of saving my family. I thought it was a burden I was putting on myself when my mom pulled me aside with tears in her eyes and said, “Brandon, save this family. You’re the only one that can.”

Since that moment, I haven’t been the same. I’ve felt like I was completely alone, fighting to make it through life. I wanted to believe I wasn’t alone, that God was for me, but everything said the contrary.

There’s a moment that describes my internal world perfectly.

We were standing in Nathan’s hospital room. People from the church had come to anoint him with oil and pray over him. As they began to pray, I stepped out of the room. Not because I thought it was garbage, but because all the verses on unbelief inhibiting healing blared in my head. I was believing and unbelieving all at once.

“Most cynics are really crushed romantics: they’ve been hurt, they’re sensitive, and their cynicism is a shell that’s protecting this tiny, dear part in them that’s still alive.” – Jeff Bridges.

Who I am today is incredibly cynical. I criticize worship songs, showing how they don’t exhibit true theology. I revolt flashy churches, calling them hypocritical, money-making business. I hide from prophets, fearing to be seen.

But underneath it all is a hopeless romantic wanting to believe again, to tear down the walls of cynicism to trust again.

And here I was, trapped in a desert, once again, with two people who were daring to trust God, to take a risk with that quiet voice, and I missed it. I missed the adventure, the life, the love, and destiny these two people displayed with such humility and grace. They weren’t pompous. They weren’t assuming. They were living the life they felt led to live, and it stained everything they touched with divinity.

The yearning was so fierce, I was at risk of burning. Shit, I was burning. Burning with a desire to see what was lost be found, to recover the broken and missing places in my shattered heart.

But how? How do I relinquish my cynicism when I’m so scared those tiny pieces of me could be swept away? Like doubting to protect what little belief I had left.

By the time Dura and I got time together, the apprehension had given way to desperation. I couldn’t keep living the way I was.

But instead of coming in like a passionate flame, Dura showed me patience. She asked questions. We rode bikes together in the late cool hours (cool meaning 90 degrees instead of 115). She invited me into her life and shared intimate secrets, as you would with a dear friend.

When the strike came, I was open and vulnerable. She’d jumped over my walls. Or maybe, I opened the gate, hoping someone would sneak in.

“Brandon,” Dura was sitting across the breakfast table from me. “While you were cooking in the kitchen, I saw a vision of you standing with your wife. She was petite and had dark brown hair. She was laughing at all your jokes. She understood you completely and cherished you.”

If I had not spent time with Dallas and Ariel, experiencing an unconditional love, if I had not spent time with Leah and Zay, witnessing a miracle, if I had not ridden on a boat with Becca and Jordan, exposed by direct questions, if I had not crashed on Emily and Christopher’s couch, delighting in their love, if I had not written this run-on sentence, I think I would have lashed out at Dura. I would have asked, “Why not a husband?! Why not a dear friend?! Why does it have to be a wife?!”

But something had happened to me. Something had changed by the time I came back to the desert.

A hopeful desperation.

And when Dura said those words, I didn’t get angry. I yearned for what she saw.

When you tune an instrument to other instruments, you play the notes together, adjusting till a wobble in the notes subsides. When the instruments are in tune, there’s a reverberation that lets you know, “this is right.”

I felt that when Dura shared her vision, and I was reminded of another time someone’s words rang true. It came from the least likely of places–my last boyfriend.

“Brandon,” We were lying next to each other. It was one of our final nights before he moved to Arizona. We decided from the beginning that we would break up once he left. Feeling a lot, neither of us talked much. We both knew what was ahead and knew how much this would hurt us. But he broke the silence. “We’re going to be okay. We both need this. I need to figure some things with Jesus, and you need to figure out if you’re gay or not convinced.”

Of all the people in the world to say those words, it was him. And when he did, my heart reverberated.

Now am I saying I’m straight. Yeah, no. I’m attracted to guys and dating a man offered a lot of things I’ve never experienced with a woman. I don’t think a straight person would say that.

But am I gay? If my own boyfriend was doubting, maybe there was something there. And maybe there was something in what Dura was seeing. Maybe there was something in me that had been clawing in desperation to survive on its own when there was something more beautiful on the other side of cynicism. Something that required trust.

I’m not saying that my story is right. I’m not saying that others are wrong. And I’m not saying that another narrative doesn’t require trust.

I think each of us with the burden of belonging to the LGBTQ rainbow all have our own journey to walk, navigating these queer questions, finding personal answers. But regardless of answers, I think all of our journies start with trust. Trust that God sees you and has a unique story for you. But I think mine looks a bit like Abraham.

The guy was old. His wife was old. They shouldn’t be producing kids. But they had a promise that they would. But when Abraham took things into his own hands, when he believed he was alone and had to figure this out on his own, he knocked up a slave girl.

Maybe this was the promise God spoke about! Maybe he messed up! It wasn’t meant to be Sarah! It was meant to be Hagar!

But God sent off Hagar and the child into the desert. He would not share the glory with Abraham. This was His miracle to conjure up. He didn’t want it to be manmade.

I think for a long time now, I’ve been trying to survive with things manmade of my own making. And in the process, I’ve hurt a lot of people, specifically those I love most. I wish I trusted. I wish I didn’t hide behind my walls of cynicism to preserve a broken faith. And for all the pain I’ve caused you, I’m so sorry. I wish I could take it back. I wish I could have loved you better. I’m sorry.

For my sake and those my life touches, I desperately hope I will learn to trust again, to invite God back into my life, to obey what He says. Not because I’m a slave like Hagar. God called Abraham a friend. Not a servant. And in Christ, I’m called a son who He cares about infinitely. I don’t know what the future holds. But I can’t keep treading water, drowning in my own strength. If only for pure desperation, something needs to change, something needs to give, and I think that something is faith.

To all those I who opened their house and hearts to me over the last few weeks, thank you. The little faith I have is due to you, due to your trust, and I’m eternally thankful.

One thought on “Part 8. Phoenix, AZ

  1. Oh Brandon. What a journey, that in some ways has just begun! Thank you so much for sharing a lot of the intimate places in your heart here. You are very loved, and prayed for, and I know God is working. Don’t give up, friend! He is right there with you!

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