Part 7. – San Jose, CA

Before I started this trip, I made a promise to myself that if anyone invited me into their home, I’d go, as long as I had the time and money. Little did I know that this promise would carry me to the least likely of places.

“Come visit me.” It was a simple Instagram comment, and it was from one of my old friends from Bible school.

My heart skipped and my chest tightened.

One–because not a ton of people from Bible school kept in touch with me. I mean, one of my roommates was kicked out for having attractions to guys. I had dated one.

Two–because this friend is a bit intimidating.

Her name is Dura. Dura is one of those people that you never have to guess what’s on her mind. She’s super prophetic and strong in her convictions. If you’ve been in charismatic circles, you have an idea of who she is.

Back at Bible school, Dura and I quickly became good friends. She was this fiery personality with black and red hair and challenged authority. We’d go on adventures into Dallas, taking cheesy band photos at any piece of street art we could find. We’d have fun and we were both zealous for Jesus. We created fantastic memories.

All that said, the invitation was scary. What would happen if I went? What would she say? What would she see?

Truth be told, I’m a pro at avoiding being seen. I pivot and show aspects of myself that I know the person will like. Or better yet, I present the version of me that allows me a semblance of control. If I can present myself in such a way that I know what reaction will be created, I can prepare myself. So yes, it’s me, but not all of me. But to bear parts of me that I’m unsure how the person will react? That’s terrifying.

I learned this at a really early age. Like fourth grade. I was at a new school. I didn’t fit it. So I picked the elements that would fit and hid the elements that would ostracize me. Eventually, I won friendships with the popular kids. The pattern continued when an addiction to gay porn emerged in sixth grade. There was no way people could see this. I’d be ostracized. So I’d pivot and show a piece of me that was acceptable. A piece of me that had predictable reactions from others.

All that to be said, to this day, there’s always a piece of me in the shadows, and I don’t know how to turn it off. It’s such a part of how I function that my therapist says I’m the only person that she can’t really see who I truly am.

You and me both, Mrs. Therapist lady.

The very weapon that defended me was not being used against me.

How does this tie into Dura? Because prophetic types scare me. What if they see that shadow me? What if they see those parts I’m terrified to share?

But I made a promise.

I anxiously scrambled to find last minute tickets to Phoenix (I guess I was headed back to the desert. My favorite…). When I finally found a cheap ticket, it was out of San Jose–a good four-hour drive from Redding. Who would I stay with?

“Brandon! I heard you’re looking for a place to stay near San Jose. My husband and I would love to have you.” The text was from a long time family friend–Emily Lopez.

Little bio of Brandon’s name genealogy–I have two middle names: Darrell Lane. My parents were a little indecisive. And people wonder why it’s so hard for me to land on something. My very name didn’t land!

The two names come from two important men in my parent’s lives at the time of my birth–my grandfather, Darrel, and my godfather, Lane Manuel, Emily’s father. Emily and I go so far back I’ve got pictures of her and I in diapers eating ice cream. But I hadn’t seen her in over a decade. Guess it was time for an overdue reunion.

Although this trip was not planned at all, I am so glad that my travels turned out this way. Emily and her husband Christopher renewed me.

We didn’t do a ton. We ate food, drank cocktails and talk a lot. We had a lot to catch up on!

But what renewed me was not the trendy restaurants or family history. It was who they are.

In spite of not seeing each other for a decade, Emily and her husband poured out hospitality. They made me feel so welcomed and cherished–buying me food, opening up their house, quietly tiptoeing around their apartment so I could sleep, and mailing me my phone charger since I’m a dingus and forgot it.

But they could have done none of this, and I would still be bewildered by them becuase they had something that truly inspired me. Before being spouses or lovers, Emily and Christopher are best friends.

You see it in their shared excitement for food and drinks. You see it in their complete candor and comfort with the other. You see it in how they laugh so easily with the other. You see it in their copious amounts of shared Disney paraphernalia scattered about their house.

There is an ease that they conjure out of you because they are so comfortable with each other. They trust their whole self with the other person. Not just the pretty part. Not just the cool part. Not just the part that they can anticipate reactions to retain control. But they trust the other with the dark part and the silly part. It’s all celebrated and cherished.

And it inspired me.

Being around the two of them made me long for what they had. Friendship before marriage. Acceptance before tolerance. A fun and spirited life that keeps a youthful excitement found in every moment. A genuine joy.

Joy.

I missed that.

Being around these two had put a burning in my belly, a yearning.

I truly want a marriage with a best friend. One I could be completely myself. One I could laugh with for hours. One I could go to Disney with and laugh like a little kid. One I can trust with my shadow self. It’s always felt elusive, but here it was, displayed before me in reality. I didn’t need to go to Disneyland to experience all those warm fuzzies. I could experience it in these two.

Part. 6 – Redding, CA

Redding is special to me… and the why doesn’t really make sense.

When I lived there a few years back, people would ask me, “How do you like Redding?” My answer would always be a dodge. “Bethel is great!” (the church I was attending at the time). But somehow, this place that I had no affection for and continually visit when it’s triple digit heat, seems to recenter me. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s as if the skies clear, and I’m able to find my North Star after long years of fog.

When Janell and I got back, we crashed into bed as quickly as possible. The trip wrecked us. We had been in the car for well over 24 hours, and Janell had just made a drive from the East Coast.

In the morning, some old friends texted me, asking if I wanted to go with them to church. The service was in 20 minutes and I had just woken up (Like I said, I was tired!), and I had no car. The wife raced out of her way to pick me up so we could meet her husband at church.

Becca and Jordan have a literal going-out-of-the-way hospitality, and their friendship means a whole lot more than I give them credit for.

Becca is one of the few people that has remained in my life from my youth pastoring days. In fact, she was one of my volunteers. Whether due to fear or simply not knowing how to interact with me, most of the people from my church days faded away after I came out. But not Becca. Which is weird, because she probably has the most reason to. She lives in another state.

But right around the time I came out, she made a trek home. She just had a baby and wanted to be with family. In spite of the busy-ness, she asked me out for coffee.

Let’s pump the breaks here a second. For all you non-gay christians out there, you’re like, “Oh yay! Coffee! I love coffee! It’s the best just talking over coffee about Jesus and books and church and coffee! Yay coffee!”

When a gay-Christian hears, “Let’s get coffee”, we panic.

What are they gonna say? What questions are they gonna ask? Is this a surprise attack? Are they going to ask about my life and then, without transition, abruptly segue into talking about how God doesn’t approve of me? Or are they going to act like nothing has changed? Are they going to dodge the topic like the plague? Or worse yet, are they going to passive-aggressively talking about it, asking “Haven’t seen you at church in a while”?

We are always skeptical when someone asks us to coffee. It’s like there’s something in that black liquid that’s going to jump out at us. Instead, ask us out for rosé. We’ll think you wanna talk wedding plans. Plus, rosé is transparent. You can’t hide something in it.

All that said, I was a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t seen any of my volunteers or kids since coming out. Although the slow fade (as I mentioned in a previous post) was hard, it was also a relief–I didn’t have to deal with what those people thought. But not Becca. She reached out, and I’m so glad she did.

Right after sitting down, she went straight for the jugular. “How are you? How’s your boyfriend? How are you guys? How are people responding? How are you and Jesus?”

Note to reader: she did it good. She didn’t pretend I wasn’t in a relationship with a man. She honored it. She made space for it and treated it like a straight relationship. And she also wanted to genuinely know how I was doing. Not trying to fix me. Not hoping to point at pain as if to prove a point. She genuinely cared for my heart, and it meant the world.

Over the next hour (like I said, her schedule was full, so we packed in as much as we could), I gave up everything, crossing my fingers that she wouldn’t blow up on me. I shared how amazing my boyfriend’s love felt. I shared how scared I was about what God thought. I shared that a lot of people left me.

I. Spewed. It. All.

It’s like I needed to share with someone everything–not just the pretty side. Not just the ugly side. Both. And it felt so good, but also terrifying.

I put it all out there, and instead of redirecting with questions like I normally do to not wait in awkward and painful anticipation, I decided to sit in it. I let the anxiety of how she would respond sit in the air.

And then she spoke.

“Brandon, when you wrestle with someone, it’s an intimate act. It’s body on body. Sweat on sweat. Yes, it’s a struggle, and yes there is conflict. But you come away from the wrestling closer to the person than when you started. It just happens. You can’t be in that proximity and not become closer. Yes, you and God are wrestling, but it’s an intimate act, and He’s not leaving you. You’ll be closer after all this.”

To this day, I cherish those words. When life got shitty, and I had no clue what was up or down, I remembered Becca’s words. It gave me hope. And it was with those words in mind, that I went to church that morning. I could trust these people.

When we arrived at the Stirring, Jason Upton was leading. That was a mixture of emotions.

One–Jason Upton was one of the first worship leaders I ever listened to after I chose to trust Jesus back when I was 17. His lyrics were part of the birthing process of a new life.

Two–Jason Upton’s words are hella intense. Church can be hard enough, but he’s super prophetic, which is scary for a homo. Everything in me was saying, “Please don’t see me. Please don’t call me out. Please don’t hurt me.”

Three–Please see me, but please don’t hurt me.

To be honest, I don’t remember a ton of that sermon, but I do remember what happened in me.

A desperation was born. Apprehensions were thrown to the side. I wanted to be seen by God. I wanted to be heard by God. I didn’t want to be alone.

The one song I do remember that Jason sung was Not Alone. It’s about Martin Luther King Jr. while in his cell. In this dark and lonely place, God saw him, and God was with him. He never left him, in the midst of pain and struggle and heartbreak, God called out his name.

I felt a whisper to my heart.

“I never left. I’m right here. I’ll never leave you.”

Another thing about Jason is his heart of a father. He sees the heart of God for him in relationship to his kids. If his heart is overwhelmed by his kids, God’s must be bursting. If Jason would do anything for his kids, God would too.

Feeling that so deeply, I cried, “God, father me. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked for this. Humans keep fucking this up, but I’m asking you to father me again.” (Yes, I curse with God in my prayers. He hears it in my head anyway. Might as well put it out there.)

Leaving the service, I felt vulnerable, but renewed, like getting out of a hot tub in nothing but your birthday suit. You breathe cold air. It feels refreshing on your skin. You’re relaxed, but you’re also naked, and that can be scary. But I chose to stay present and still, sitting in the refreshing vulnerability.

I wanted to soak up as much Jesus juice as I could while in Redding, so I was planning on going to Bethel’s evening service. But something in my chest told me I’d miss the service.

“Wanna go out on Lake Shasta with us on our boat?” Becca asked.

I smiled. I guess I was gonna miss church.

There is something about Lake Shasta. Every time I go to Redding, Jordan and Becca take me out on their boat, and I miss church, and every time, it’s better than any worship song or sermon.

The last time I was on the lake, a peace just came over me in the water. God held me. It was so clear and so evident. But this time, he’d be like an arrow, shooting straight at my heart.

Jordan. Jordan is everything that Becca is not. Becca is this calming, gentle breeze that says, “I hear you. I’m hear. No pressure to be anything. I’ll just refresh you.” Jordan is like a fire. Or a rock. Or something not air.

While on the boat, Jordan asked some questions about where I was at. He said he was restraining, and I could feel it. He was seeking to understand and listen when his normal MO is to talk with passion (I’m thinking fire).

After listening and sitting with each other, he spoke with a zeal for my life that I hadn’t seen in a while, and to be frank, zeal scares me. The last time I saw zeal, two missionary friends spoke of the fires of hell for my soul. But Jordan didn’t speak of hell. He didn’t speak of “get back after Jesus”. He spoke of a living death. Instantly I was reminded of that sermon on the road from Arizona.

Jesus was after something.

“If I’m dead, I don’t have rights to demand things from my wife. I’m not looking for her to complete me. I’m dead. Jesus is alive, and Jesus doesn’t need anything from anyone. Dead people don’t get offended, either. As weird as it sounds, being dead insulates me from getting hurt. And there’s life there. Cause after all, if you lose you’re life, you find it. Right?”

Being really frank here, I still didn’t get it. It was as though God was knocking on a door, but I couldn’t find the handle. I had heard of life and death before, but it had become trite–words one says when they want you to stop behaving a certain way or guilt trip you for being bad. But I knew something was there for me, I just didn’t know what. It was scary and confusing. But my heart was in a different space now.

Before this conversation, I would have shut down. Something had happened over the past few weeks where I was now open. I wanted to hope again, wanted to trust again, wanted to live again, regardless of what that took. For so long, I had been living life as if I were trying to survive it, treading water in a raging sea. I was exhausted. But it hadn’t always been this way. I used to thrive in life. I used to carry a peace. Not this anxiety.

What happened? Was the key to stepping back into this life death? What did that even mean?

Something told me I would need to wait. It would come to me in time, and I didn’t need to force this. If God was truly after this for me, He would open up my heart when the time was right. Eventually I would find the handle. For now, I needed to trust, especially when a message came from an old Bible school friend.

Part. 5 – Portland, OR

“How do you feel about driving up the coast from San Francisco to Portland this week?”

You can’t ask that question to a lot of people. But I can ask it of Janell.

Janell and I met when I was a part of a community house–a special season of life that brought hope and life to my very cynical heart.

We’d read Narnia together. Janell would squeal in discomfort as I texted boys on her behalf. I’d obnoxiously barge into her room, flop on her bed, and beg for details from work. She and I worked at a detention center for youth. The stories were always full of blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. Every. Time. It’s pretty horrible and lovely all at once. But it’s not surprising that Janell took this job. It’s what she does.

To this day, Janell steps out into the world the way I long to–with joy, abandon, faith, and love. She’s always in the midst of chaos. Burning Man. The Syrian Refuge Crisis. The Carr Fire. She’s been at them all, hoping to be an agent of hope, a calm in the storm.

It is this person I can ask to drive up the coast on a bohemian adventure with a yellow lab, all the blankets, and no money. And it was worth it! The trip was so gorgeous! Red woods towering above us. Jagged sea cliffs foaming to our left. Cute fishing towns scattered up the coast. It was just simple beauty, and it was so refreshing.

The other thing I love about Janell is that she’s a feeler like me. We can literally say, “Let’s turn left because my heart wants to. Let’s go into that fresh fish market by the bay because something speaks to me about it. Let’s not go all the way up to Astoria. Let’s cut over to Portland. There’s some uneasiness in my stomach.”

And yet, every adventure has it’s moments of discomfort or pain or risk. Otherwise, it’s not an adventure. It’s vacation.

One such moment was a lack of housing in Portland. I had messaged a ton of people, some of which I barely knew. Nothing. And did I mention we didn’t have money? Oh, and did I mention Janell had just spent days traveling in her car from the East Coast?

The culmination of all those factors led Janell and I to a Home Depot. We were searching for campsites, but Janell needed to use the bathroom.

“Brandon. I’m not going into Home Depot to use the bathroom.”

“Why not? They have one, and we’re here. No one will care.”

“Are you kidding me right now? No. It’s Home Depot. They’re not public bathrooms. Brandon, go find us a gas station.”

While I found us a gas station, Janell searched the internet for “safe rest stop Portland Oregon”. We had finally given up due to pure exhaustion and lack of options.

In the end, Janell, her puppy named Gypsy (very applicable), and I sprawled out in the back of Janell’s Jeep Compass, parked next to a few homeless. And here’s the weird part–I felt… at home… and a cramp, but that’s besides the point. The point was that something from my past was reaching out to me.

My life is filled with many moments trying to “prove” something for Jesus. Do something hard for Jesus. Something you don’t like for Jesus. That though process always led me to do things that I believed were uncomfortable or straight up hated.

Sleeping on a tile floor for two months in Mumbai, India. Spooning with roommates in a school bus across country to keep warm. Inching as close to the fire in the Colorado mountains with nothing but a jogging outfit.

All of these moments were some of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever had, and yet I felt the most alive. Not because of the pain, although pain does have a way of saying, “Hey, you’re awake!” But because of the beauty surrounding you in those moments.

You’re going after something that’s worth more than what you lose. Cause what you’re giving up is cheap. You’re living for something beyond yourself. Whether that’s loving people or living an adventure or hopefully both, it’s worth the lack of comfort. And as weird as it sounds, I was missing the discomfort. I was nostalgia for purpose and adventure, but I had insulated myself from experiencing both.

Comfort has a way of robbing us of the very thing we actually want, and yet we cling to it so fiercely. I don’t understand why we do it, and yet understand it completely, as I do it every day. It’s as though fear causes us to cling to cheap and easy things. But that night sleeping with Gypsy, Janell, and all the other vagrants I was reminded that there’s more to life than a house, a bed, a decent job… security. I wanted more.

But all those thoughts and feelings will have to wait. I had a friend to meet.

The following morning, Janell and I were pleasantly surprised. An old friend named Sophie met us up for coffee. And let me just tell you, Sophie embodies some of the most beautiful things this world has to offer.

Hours passed as we laughed with complete authenticity. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but the years we missed poured forth with abandon. I could be fully me, nothing hidden. It was like my soul was drinking fresh mountain water. I couldn’t get enough, and apparently, neither could she, because we spent the entire day together. Which is huge. Normally, after an hour or two, I’m thinking about how many more fake poops I have to take to make it through the rest of the time with someone. It’s not that I hate people. In fact, I really deeply care. But that care exhausts me and I get tired of presenting to meet someone where they’re at.

But not Sophie. It was so naturally easy, and I loved it.

We talked about sex. We talked about church. We talked about exes.

We went not thrift shopping. Why? Because we all love grungy, trendy, cheap clothing. But the thrift stores in Portland aren’t cheap. So we bought nothing. We went to Powell’s to not purchase books. Instead, we walked around just looking at books. Maybe it’s the smell. But again, we bought nothing. We just gave ourselves points for being in a bookstore. But then again, maybe we didn’t buy books or thrift clothing because we were just straight up broke. But trendy vegan food. You always have money for trendy vegan food. So we got some.

By the time our time was up, I didn’t want to leave. We had crammed Oregon cliffs, California redwoods, and Portland coffee all into a 36-hour trip. It wasn’t enough time. Too much good stuff! Especially the good people, because ultimately, that was the highlight of this trip, and that has always been the case for me. I can be in the middle of the desert and be as happy as a clam (Why do we say that, and why are clams happy?). I know for sure, because I did it. But regardless of feeling like I didn’t get enough time, time was up. We had to get to Redding.

Part 3. – San Luis Obispo, California

The next leg of my journey was California. It was hard and beautiful and confusing and healing. But before I get ahead of myself, I have to back it up a few months.

While dating a guy, I wrestled a lot. Hell, I still do. Questions would assault my mind. They came and came and came, circling and entrenching me. I couldn’t escape them.

Is this okay? Is this the best for me? What about sex? What about sex before marriage? Where is God in all of this? What do I truly want? Am I okay with gay sex? Am I okay not producing my own children? Will my heart become hard? Will I become a different person? Will I lose my God? Is there anyone out there that is in a successful, monogamous, same-sex relationship while still loving Jesus? 

That final question led me to Queer Christian Fellowship–an annual gathering of Christian LGBTQ individuals from across the world. Some had found answers. Others were still looking. And still others were “straight up” husband hunting. Although I’m not sure if there’s anything “straight up about husband hunting.

The conference held two types of people–Side A and Side B.

Side A: God is approving of your attractions and feelings and you should act on them.

Side B: Your attractions and feelings cannot change. You’re not going to hell for having them, but you should not act on them. Instead, you should live a celibate life or have a mixed orientation marriage.

And in case you were wondering, there is a third side. However, it’s not what you’d expect. Whoever came up with these arbitrary sides and letters did not create a “Side C”. They decided to jump all the way down to X. Maybe it’s because it represents the “ex-gay” narrative.

Side X: Not only is it not okay to act on your feelings, but it’s wrong to have them. You should do everything in your power to change these feelings, including therapy. This is where you get the infamous Exodus ministry.

The idea of the conference was to create a space where the tension of Side A and Side B could coexist to produce a conversation and maybe answers. But probably most importantly, the conference existed so we wouldn’t feel alone.

Being gay and Christian puts you in this very unique space. It’s too Christian for the gays and too gay for the Christians. The result is that you don’t really find family in either community.

But in downtown Denver, thousands of these fringe queers conglomerated to not be alone, to know they have people that support them, to begin the conversation, and to maybe find some peace.

I was the weird one. I wasn’t really looking for any of that.

The biggest thing for me was finding healthy Christian gays. I had read through a bit of curriculum and talked enough with people to excuse away the versus in the Bible using theology. But what about evidence? Where were the gay Christians that believed all of this, still loved Jesus and were healthy?

I wasn’t healthy, and the few gay Christians I knew weren’t shining examples of health either. I wanted to see that God could still move in a gay Christian couple. Screw all the other things. Probably not the best heart posture. But I’m being honest. I was here to find evidence. What I got was a bunch of Queens of the King.

If you were to hack my Facebook, you would find a Messenger conversation with the title Queens of the King. The group is composed of five people:

  1. The fiancés – David and Anthony (the ones that give me hope of a healthy gay Christian relationship)
  2. Side B – Nicholas (the one we tease but love)
  3. The best friend – Adam (the one I could literally do anything and he’d be the first to bail me out of jail or give me a kidney)
  4. Me

Scrolling through the messages of these “queens” you would find prayer, encouragement, and a shit-ton of feisty gifs. Since January, this group has been a place where I could be completely candid about hurts, pains, questions, triumphs, and defeats. I’m understood and loved. If I gained nothing from that conference except these men, it would have been enough.

And you’re probably wondering, “Brandon, we’re talking about San Louis Obispo. Can we get on with the story and stop talking about the homos.” Yes, we can move on from backstory, but it’s still gonna be about the homos. Because the reason I came to California was to celebrate Nick and Adam’s birthday.

The six of us (Yes, I can do math; Nick’s best friend Amber joined us) rented an AirBNB in San Luis Obispo and had one of the most stereotypically gay weekends of my entire life. We cooked brunch every morning, enjoyed Lush facials, tasted rosé, and gawked at the Madonna Inn (Yes, that’s a real thing, and it looks like a pink unicorn threw up gold on everything). But a gay weekend would not be complete, without watching the new season of Queer Eye.

If you have not watched episode one of season two of the Netflix Original’s Queer Eye, stop reading this blog right now, and go watch that episode. Be sure to grab tissues. You’ll need them. Well… if you have a heart you’ll need them.

Crammed in that California bungalow, five of us balled our eyes out. Side B didn’t. He doesn’t have a heart. We’re working on it. (Like I said, we like to tease him.)

But why? Why did it impact us so deeply? Yes, the six of us can all be a bit dramatic and emotional. But that’s besides the point. We cried because we were seeing the story we longed for and a love that most of us weren’t sure existed.

The episode is about a woman named Momma Tammy. Momma Tammy lives in Gay, Georgia (yes, that’s a real place), where the population is less than 100 and the gay population is one–Momma Tammy’s son.

When Momma Tammy’s son came out, it was rough. She was an active member of her church where she served as an usher. How could she love her son but be true to her God?

I’ve seen a lot of parents in the same predicament. For some reason they’re not sure how they can worship the God of love while loving their gay child. But Momma Tammy does it. And not only does that love spill all over her son, but it spills out onto each of the Fab Five. Instead of fear or anger towards these gay men, she treats them with dignity, respect, care, and above all love, refusing to see them as anything less than they truly are–beloved sons of God.

When the episode ended, no one spoke. We were all in shock. It was a holy space. Tears flowed freely down our faces as we took in the love of the Father. We were undone.

Is this the love we should have experienced growing up? Is this the love we’ve heard rumors about but haven’t seen in the churches we gave our lives for? Is this real?

The answer is yes, and the power of that love is more strong than any fear mongering anyone could conjure up. It’s the power of Christ, and you could feel it in that episode.

Most people don’t know this, but that episode wasn’t supposed to air. They had another man they were going to do a makeover for, but it fell through. In a last minute change, Netflix scrambled to find another “hero”. That’s when they found Momma Tammy.

I truly believe that there was an intervention of God for that episode. That might sound super cheesy, but I believe there is a God that was desperate to speak to His gay kids, and He knew we’d be watching Queer Eye.

The fact of the matter was everyone on that trip was “strugs to funk”. Driving those three hours to San Louis Obispo, we were anxious about coming out; we were depressed about the lack of ministry and purpose in our lives; we were stressed with law school; we were scared of dying alone, and we were reeling from failed relationships. But we received a breath of hope in Momma Tammy’s love. And on the drive back, there was a sense of peace for all of us. Well, most of us.

In spite of the love I had experienced in my friends and Momma Tammy, I was still rough. There were a lot of things I was feeling but refused to feel. I was standing in the rubble of my previous relationship, and I had no idea where to go both externally and internally. I felt aimless. Then Adam opened up his little pie hole.

“I have a song I wanna put on. Stop talking.” Who announces they have a song they want to put on and then demands we listen to it? Adam.

We all got quiet in anticipation for this song. It better be good if we was making us all shut up.

“When you try your best but you don’t succeed. When you get what you want but not what you need.”

I looked over at Adam. “I hate you.” Adam just patted me on the arm and said he loved me.

Every word was punching me right in the gut. It was as if the song was written for me. I had heard this song a thousand times before. And literally mean a thousand. It was the finale of a show I wrote back in Europe. So I literally heard it at least a thousand times with how much we rehearsed that show.

But driving up the 101 in that 2007 Honda CR-V nicknamed “Duchess”, every word dove deep within me. Christopher Martin sang of giving everything to a relationship you lose, of being too in love to let it go, of being stuck in reverse.

All of it. All of it was me.

As Duchess roared north, I wept. I started to collapse within myself, silently crying.

But then I felt Adam’s hand. I looked over and he smiled. Amber reached back from the passenger seat and put her hands on top of ours. Nick was driving. So we raised our three hands together and put them on his shoulder.

They were feeling with me. I wasn’t feeling this alone.

Then the chorus came, and I felt like God promised me something.

“Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones and I will try to fix you.”

I cried more, but now with a smile. God was after me. He had provided these amazing friends. He had redirected an entire television series to showcase Momma Tammy. He had spoken to the heart of my friend to play a song. And all of it said the same thing–I’m right here; I haven’t left; I’m for you; I’m not against you, and I will always love you.

Part 2. – Mack, Colorado

Yep. Mack, Colorado. Less than ten miles away from the Utah border and home of the famous Country Jam.

“Country Jam is like a burning man for red necks.” A drunk girl shared with me between gulps of beer. “Did you know that there are more underage-drinking arrests during Country Jam than the rest of the year? Some crazy stuff happens in those camps.”

But I didn’t come to Mack for Country Jam. I came for the closest thing I’ve ever found to that elusive word called “home”.

I rounded the two-lane road, passing fields of corn and alfalfa till it came into view—the Produce Peddler. Peace, joy, rest, and all those good things you feel when throwing off your backpack after a long hot day of school overwhelmed me.

In the last two years, this place had become sacred to me. That’s truly the only word for this place. Nothing holds such precious pieces of my heart like this farm, and it’s because I find home pulling weeds or collecting eggs or driving a tractor. This place had become sacred to me because of the people who owned it.

The Produce Peddler is owned by two of the most loving and gracious people I’ve ever known—Leah and Zay.

Leah and I met through this blog. She invited me to come to her farm. We had never met. But something inside me trusted her. So I packed up my car and drove six hours away to meet a complete stranger on the side of Highway 70. Good news! I didn’t become a drug mule! Even better news: a friendship was born that changed my life.

If you wanna hear their story in detail, read the blog post entitled “Little Miracles”. For the purpose of this post, suffice it to say, Leah identifies as lesbian and Christian and married a man. She didn’t marry him out of fear. She didn’t marry him because she’s now magically attracted to men. Over the course of her life, any time an opportunity to date a woman came up, she felt a gentle whisper say, “I have better.” No guilt. No shame. No strong-arming. Just “better”. That “better” was and is Zay.

Their story challenges and inspires me. But more than their story, their love creates safety for me. On this farm, two years ago, I could wrestle out my feelings without fear. I could bring my then boyfriend. I could live the same narrative or a different narrative. It didn’t matter. They loved me regardless and simply inspired me to trust God for myself and trust the journey God had for me.

That’s why I feel home every time I drive up “8 1/2 Road”. That’s why I get teary-eyed every time I see that dead oak in their driveway. It’s easier to breathe there, and I can be all of me. My gay me. My Christian me. My confused me. They’re all welcome and loved, and it transforms my heart every time.

But for the first time ever, the peace was interrupted. I turned the corner to the fifth-wheel I’d be staying in.

All the memories came back.

The last time I was in this trailer, I was with my ex. The last time I was in this trailer, I had sex for the first time. The last time I was in this trailer, I wept and cried and pleaded with God to be okay with me dating this man. The last time I was in this trailer, I made a deal with God—unless this relationship would send me to hell, I wanted it, and if God didn’t want me to have it, God was going to need to break it.

A lot had happened here, and I was completely caught off guard.

I opened the door and stepped inside. I was broken. This room was intrinsic to my previous relationship, and now here I was single; now here I was broken… but also hopeful… but also desperately alone… and above all scared. Scared I messed up. Scared I got it right. Scared I broke myself and others beyond repair. Scared I was lost.

The first night with my ex in that fifth-wheel played out in front of me, and a moment I had forgotten was relived.

I got out of bed. I couldn’t sleep. I walked to the couch and cried. I was so scared and confused. I wasn’t sure the relationship was right. I had this anxiousness in my chest. It was a feeling of being unsure, and that I would hurt myself and more importantly this man. A man I loved.

Wait. I know this feeling. It’s the same feeling I felt about moving to Utah, and as soon as I decided to not go to Utah, the anxiousness went away. The feeling I felt two years ago in the trailer was the same feeling that motivated me to not take the job, and then it clicked—that relationship wasn’t the best for me.

I fell on my knees, praying to God, saying I’m sorry. Sorry for not listening to that feeling, and in doing so, hurting someone I loved. I was broken.

The scene played out further.

My ex was now getting out of bed, coming to comfort me on the couch. But there was a third person in the room that I hadn’t seen before—God.

He was standing where I stood now, looking with tears in His eyes at his two sons. Two sons desperate to be loved. Two sons trying to find that love in each other and unable to give it. Two sons broken and hurting and clinging together in the dark, hoping for salvation in the other’s arms.

Seeing that scene play out, I saw our hearts and then I felt God’s heart. It wasn’t anger or rage. It was love and compassion. He never left us.

Throughout my relationship with my ex, any time I prayed, I always heard, “I’m right here. I haven’t left.” And in that fifth-wheel, I saw it, I saw God’s heart, and I was filled with nothing but compassion for my younger self and my boyfriend. I could breathe. I was okay. I wasn’t forgotten.

I wiped my eyes, thanked God for His love, then went to meet up with Leah and Zay. We were headed to dinner.

In celebration of reconnecting for the first time in two years, we went to a fancy restaurant in “Junction”, what the locals call Grand Junction. I always messed it up and called it “Grand”. I was trying so hard to sound like a local. Instead, I sounded like a dingus.

The restaurant was exactly what we were not—fresh and fancy. We had just spent the day in the fields, pulling weeds. Zay sported a baseball cap, and I had on shorts and flip flops. Leah at least tried with a plaid button up. But then again, maybe we were EXACTLY like the restaurant! Farm to table. They just made it look prettier. Oh! And all three of us were mildly high. It was the best!

With a new found confidence and security, I took a bite of raw meat (apparently that’s what “tartar” is) and blurted out, “Alright, I know you guys were nervous about saying any criticism regarding my relationship. Everyone is. Now that it’s over, what are things you wish you said that you didn’t.

Zay didn’t miss a beat. He started talking almost before I finished. “You guys were not right for each other. He’s not a bad guy. He’s actually pretty great. But not great for you. You guys would keep missing each other even though you were trying so hard.” He took a bite of his cheese and meat plate with contentment. “This is really good!” He had the better meal.

I took another fork full of cold, raw, ground up elk. “Anything you’d like to add, Leah?” Leah was across the table just smiling and nodding, agreeing with her husband. There was such an ease to our conversation as we decompressed my relationship. The lack of health and incompatibility. Although hard truths, it all was accepted with such grace. We could trust each other because of the love we had with each other… and maybe the mints were helping a little too.

Never once did they say, “Well he was a dude. So obviously it was wrong.” “You gonna finally follow our story and marry a woman?” None of those things. They normalized me, my ex, and the relationship. They honored and gave space to my reality that includes being gay and Christian. They gave me unconditional love and safety. They gave me home.

And just like the melons in their field, with a confidence in the new soil I found myself in, shit fertilizing the soil, roots pushed further down, creating a sense of stability. God hadn’t left me. He was with me in the relationship, just like these two people, and hope was blooming. In spite of it all, I just needed to trust Him, and He spoke in that feeling. My story could look like Leah and Zay, or it could look like my gay Christian friends in the Bah Area. But He would lead me. And the good news was that I would get to compare them back to back, because now I was headed to California.

Part 1. – Sierra Vista, Arizona

Dallas and Ariel are enlisted vegans, living on Sierra Vista’s Army base. In spite of Dallas’s wonderful squash-frying skills, I was starving… ALL THE TIME!!! Whether the lack of meat or the desert heat, I made more McDonald’s runs in those ten days than I had in a year, devouring with unadulterated delight multiple Big Macs and McFlurries.

Little fact about Arizona… it’s BOILING HOT in June! Also, in case you didn’t know, there’s a lot of desert. I HATE THE DESERT! You can ask my friend Rachel. One time, while we were driving through West Texas, I stared out the window with a melancholy slouch. Rachel inquired what was wrong. She was always concerned about the people she loved.

“I’m in a desert.” I sighed.

Rachel then went into a long monologue about how everyone experiences seasons of “dryness” in their relationship with God and how she had been in a “desert season” for some time.

I turned to her with hopeless eyes. “No! I’m literally in a desert. And I hate it!”

“Oh.” Rachel’s faced flushed with blood, her face now matching her red hair.

Like I said, I hate the desert. So why would I start this trip in the desert? Why go somewhere I hate.

Well first off, I had a free ticket. But second off, I knew I needed to be trapped to deal with some things. I had been running, and it’s pretty hard to run when you’ll melt just by stepping outside. And finally, more than free tickets, more than trapping myself, I knew there was life for me in the desert, and it didn’t come in the form of Oreo McFlurries, though that definitely made the desert more pleasant. It came in the form of faces.

My time in Arizona was so restful and refreshing. Having attractions to guys and being a Christian can be extremely exhausting. Nearly everyone wants you to be one or the other. But not the faces in these photos. They love me deeply and don’t pretend one piece of me exists while ignoring the other. The result was a deep sense of rest. I didn’t have to be something while restraining another. I was free to be all of me.

I was able worship then poke a lesbian couple about the nuances of same-gender dating. I was able to speak of Jesus and the long journey of dating my ex. I was able to laugh with my YWAM friend, Tyané, recounting our days abroad, followed by answering her questions related to my stress with gay sex.

Both were given space and honor. And the result was finally breathing unhindered.

Dallas joked they weren’t much of hosts. His favorite thing to do after work is to sit at his computer and study. But I think it was perfect. I had a lot of time just staring at myself, or running from myself in books and Netflix. But either way, I was allowed to just be. All of me. In wonderful air conditioning! And I’m eternally grateful for it. I felt so recharged.

Then came the drive back to Colorado…

Dallas and I had been laughing and talking, scheming about community, when a lull in the conversation occurred. Dallas asked if he could put on a preacher named Dan Mohler on.

I began to squirm internally, but put on a happy face and agreed.

Preachers scare me. I’m always nervous that at some point I’m gonna get sideswiped with some tirade about the abomination of homosexuality. The result is a anxiousness any time a sermon comes on.

I prepared my heart by raising defenses. I didn’t wanna get sideswiped by anger or some comment that would make me feel like crap. But that’s not what happened.

When Dan came to the stage, there was such life and love in his voice. My defenses slowly came down. I began to open myself up. Maybe I could trust this man.

After talking about the joys of Jesus, he continued on about life and death. If you’ve been around the church long enough, when you hear “life and death”, you can normally expect the preacher to roll into “Now choose! Life or death! Whom will you serve this day?!” As he slams his hand down on a King James Bible. And yes, it is a he. And yes it is a King James Bible. But that’s not what Dan spoke of. He spoke of life IN DEATH. How a death in him produced the greatest amount of life, a new life.

Something shook in me. He’d gotten through. I wanted that life, and can remember when I had it. Joy and freedom and expectation with Jesus. A question I had been scared to face floated to the surface—am I born again?

Before we could reach the Colorado border, I threw myself in the back seat and asked Dallas to put in headphones. I knew this wasn’t gonna be pretty and I didn’t want him to hear it.

I shoved my face into the floor to try and muffle my crying and praying. I was humbling myself for the first time in a long time. My back had become too rigid for kneeling or lying face first into a car’s carpet. I didn’t mean to become rigid. The last thing I wanted was to become hardened to God. But when Christians surprise attack you with fear for years on end, you get stiff. Like carrying too much weight for too long. It just happens. It’s a defense mechanism. How are you supposed to stay humble when everyone around you keeps telling you you’re wrong? It’s like lying down for a curb stomp.

But there in the back seat, I lied on the floor praying and crying. “God, I know there are areas of my heart that are hard. I raised defenses against everyone, including you, out of fear. But soften my heart. I’m open. If I’m not truly born again, tell me. I’ll get baptized again. I’ll do whatever. Just tell me.”

And there in matted, soggy, car carpet, I felt such peace, and it wasn’t a peace that was screaming “Get saved! Get born again!” Instead, it whispered “You are saved. You are born again. You’ve simply forgotten who you are.”

Something started that day. It was a tilling, a softening, and now my heart was ready for what came next.

Incongruents (yes, plural)

Warning: Pretty language not utilized

It’s been an odd few months. The nail in the coffin of my last relationship was hammered in four to five times. I’ve hooked up with about eight strangers. I’ve lied awake in someone else’s bed, wishing I was in my bed, trying to remember what the guys name was, asking, “Why the fuck I’m here again? I was in pajamas an hour ago!”

I hate hooking up. I do it any way.

I hate gay sex. I do it any way.

People will say it’s because of my internalized homophobia. That I would enjoy it if I’d let go of my socially constructed morality. If I’d just relax.

But as I lie in bed next to this chiseled military body (because, honestly, it’s just a body to me), I think of a woman.

I think of holding a woman. I think of kissing a woman. I think of listening to steady breathing as I play with her hair. I think of pulling her in close, and both of us holding so tight our lungs begin to collapse, but we love the breathlessness that is each other, and then we laugh because we’re ridiculous.

I think of kids.

I think of them running around with cute curly hair bobbing up and down as they belly laugh past me. Why they have curly hair? I have no clue. I don’t have curly hair. Maybe that’s what I think is cute. Or maybe I subconsciously wanna marry a woman with luscious wavy hair that our kids will get.

All the curls. All the laughs. We’ll chase them in over size sweaters and cozy up on a big couch with our obnoxiously large mugs cause that’s what the cute Instagram couples do, and that’s reality.

I think of marriage.

I think of family.

And yet I’m sleeping with some dude named Tyler I just met.

The two are not congruent, and it makes me crazy.

I think at some point I was using masculine sex to meet deep places in my heart. Young places. But now I think it’s just out of habit. It’s easier. Like eating fast food because it’s just easier. AAAAND not always having to buy the food is pretty great. And getting pursued. That’s way great! I love being chased and pursued. The fact that women get that is bullshit.

Women. Chase your men. Men. Don’t be too much of a tool to not like it. You know you do. You also like being the little spoon sometimes. Quit pretending.

Calm thy tits, Brandon, and get off the soapbox.

I guess what I’m getting at is that if we always give in to what we want now, it’s very possible that we’re robbing our future.

I’m not in denial of my attractions. I’m not gonna try and explain them away with some psycho babble that sounds smart. I’m sure there’s probably some reason why I’m attracted to men. But that doesn’t change my reality.

I think my reality changes when I trust God with the now with tomorrow in mind. With His promises in mind.

A dear friend shared a sermon on faith, and how it’s rooted in believing in a promise.

To be honest, I never got promised a man. In fact, when I think of younger Brandon, I never dreamed of having a husband.

I have friends who dreamed of marrying the same sex and they have embarked on that journey with God, believing Him to bring those dreams to fruition. I live that! It’s great!

But that’s not me. I didn’t dream of a future with a man. I never romanticized them. I sexualized them. There’s a big difference. I know, shocker. And that difference has created a massive conflict.

I’m attracted to men. But I hate engaging in gay sex. I don’t find pleasure in it.

I dream of a future with a woman, and sex with a woman actually sounds pretty damn great. But I’m so scared I’ll hurt someone.

And I know God has called me to be a dad. You don’t get babies with two daddies. You get them with a mommy and a daddy. Sex 101.

These dreams and realities are all over the place and are not compatible.

But maybe that’s the promise I hold onto. Maybe that’s the crazy Abraham promise I get. Not that I’m an old fart called to have sex with a barren woman. But that I’m attracted to men, that I’m by definition gay. But that there’s hope for me with a woman. That it’s possible, because I actually do want that. And that may sound absurd. But it happened with my friend Leah, and her story is one that awakens hope and faith and love. The eternal things. And she inspires me to trust God again. So maybe it’s not all that absurd after all. Maybe it’s miraculous.

So here’s to blabbering about nothing and everything, to not getting closer to an answer, but trusting God with the incongruents, and the obtuse and peculiar. He’s pretty great with them.

Ten Things Every Gay Man Wishes Straight People Knew…

Ten things every gay man wishes straight people knew…

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  1. There is no “gay agenda” meeting – We’re not trying to make your kids gay or your wife a lesbian. We do want our love to have a level of normalcy. We also know how hard it was to feel “othered” growing up and don’t want that for the next generation.
  2. Yes, I’ve heard of Rue Paul – Doesn’t mean I’ve watched the show. But if I figuratively had *cough*, I’d also say, “Those divas be so extra, I wanna punch them in their put-together face.” (What do you mean I’m being extra?)
  3. Not all of us are liberals – Some of us open carry, drive Harley’s, and want the government to mind its own business. There were actually some of us that were not “with her”.
  4. Gay people are not perverts – I promise your son is safe at camp. Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you’re gonna rape my figurative daughter.
  5. Being gay isn’t contagious – So stop acting like being around me or getting close to me or showing me physical affection will somehow make you gay. And just because you’re a guy, doesn’t mean I’m having sex with you in my mind. You may be ugly as hell. Attraction in the gay world is like attraction in the straight world. Also, no, if you’re my close friend, I think of you as my friend. I’m not attracted to you. Imagining having sex with you is like imagining I’m having sex with a sibling. Ya nasty! So don’t get weird after I come out to you. Treat me the same. I am the same. You now just know another part of me.
  6. Being gay JUST means I’m attracted to the same sex – It doesn’t mean I like theatre or Glee. It doesn’t mean I am feminine or have a lisp and talk with my hands a lot. It doesn’t mean I’m fashionable or super sensitive. I’m not wanting to get “mannies” and “paddies” (Although I did get a pedicure once and it was greaaaaat!) PS, a good chunk of us actually play sports and go to the gym. In fact, we go to the gym way more than any of you straight people.
  7. No, I will not be your GBF (I’m taken) or your “guncle” (I have a few nieces and nephews already) – We’re in high demand. That’s what happens when there’s one of us for every ten of you.
  8. Being gay doesn’t make me a lesser man – In fact, maybe we embody the other half of a caricatured masculinity.
  9. Just because I’m gay, does not make me more sexual – That said, if you’re gay,  you’re probably more sexual. There are a looooooot of gay men out there that are very sexually driven. But men, in general, are more sexually driven than women, and now you have two sexually charged humans in a relationship together. All that said, the gay community has done a disservice to put so much emphasis on sexuality when it comes to their identity. It creates a sexually charged sub-culture. But that’s also what you get when sexual desires have been put at bay for the majority of adolescence. It’s like we have to have a second puberty. That said, I know tons of gay men that actually don’t like sex. Did you know that over 25% of us don’t even have full-on intercourse, even in a committed relationship?
  10. Being gay is not a choice – Believe me, if we could choose to be straight, we would have, a long time ago. Anyone that “chooses to be gay” is a masochist. No one in their right mind would choose all that comes with being gay (queue for next blog post, stay tuned).

In short, we’re people. Just like you. Don’t try to pigeon-hole us. Get to know us. Like any human, chances are, we’re not going to fit your stereotype. We’re infinitely different, and yet the same in our “human-ness”, just like you.

Intro, Prelude, All That Jazz

Intro, Prelude and All that Jazz

“The gay gene has been found!”

“God hates fags!”

“God made me this way!”

“Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”

“Hate the sin, not the sinner!”

Media. Politics. Religion.

The topic of homosexuality has saturated our entire society, and it is charged with polarized perspectives, heated with contention. Everyone has an opinion, and more often than not, it is a very vocal one. Statements are made. Protests occur. Legislation is passed. The QUACKS! of ducks are broadcasted.

The lines have been drawn, and a conflict has ensued on our watch.

There is no neutral ground, and those in the middle are caught in a tug-a-war, all over anissue. Our sights have been aimed and focused on a point of contention, arguing who is right and who is wrong, while the lives of those trapped in the crosshairs fade out of focus. It is a war that has faded to black and white, while the color contained in the lives it regards has been drained from its members. The heated quagmire called homosexuality, has become about opinions and politics, and no longer about the people our contentions regard. Ultimately, a “homosexual” is a precious human life, deservering of respect and love. But in the wake of our decisions in legislation, or in our interpretations of religion or straight up personal opinions, lives will be eternally affected.

Have we forgotten what this really is about?

Regardless of how you vote or what you believe, we cannot forget what this topic ultimately entails–persons of priceless value. We can no longer set our sights solely on convictions of cause, because the result is massive causalities in this civil war.

On this blog I aim to do just the opposite. Forget the battle lines. It is time for a ceasefire in hopes to send in aid to the wounded, regardless of loyalties.

In the pages that follow, I want to take a journey with you, a journey void of propaganda. I refuse to give any ammunition to either camp involved in this horrific conflict. This journey is going to be about people, about invaluable souls.

And maybe, as we begin to see people, more than a ceasefire will ensure. Maybe neutrality can be attained for the sake of the lives in affect, lives hanging in the balance, of one such life is my own. For our sake, it is time we put away the guns, bring down the defenses and take a journey of discovery together. But in order to accomplish this, all of us, regardless of background or conviction, must embark with an open mind. Whether you visited this blog out of pure curiosity, whether you consider yourself or a loved one a homosexual, or whether you just saw “duck” and “gay” on the same blog and tensions rose, I invite you to join this journey.

With the first entry of this blog you will hear a story… my story, which I have striven to be open and honest to the best of my ability. In return, I ask you, the reader, to do the same–to continue through these posts open to new possibilities, while being honest with yourself.

In my second entry you will be confronted with observations, tested not in a classroom or labratory, but with my own life. As a twenty something test-tube, I do not have scholarly years, but of the years I do have, they have been weathered by more than experiments. They have been tested in the fray of this so called “issue” of homosexuality.

Finally, I will share what I believe can chang the tide of this conflict.

But it will not come by mere observation. It will take action.

Every day we are faced with causes. No matter where we turn, someone is fighting for our attention. We go on “Facebook,” and a friend asks us to join their cause. We go to university, and movements travel from campus to campus in search of partners. We turn on the television late at night and orphans in Africa ask for money.

Cause upon cause.

We are continually landblasted with them, and we have come to believe that we accomplish something by simply reading the description, by listening to the lecture or by not changing the channel. Although there are causes aiming to solely bring about awareness, that is not the aim of this blog. I truly believe change ensues when men and women of courage rise up and take action, beginning at a personal level, beginning with ourselves.

In the weeks that follow, you will be faced with paradigm shifts, challenging how you see yourself, those around you and ultimately the topic of homosexuality as a whole. But my heart would break if this blog was simply a “good read” with a “thought provoking perspective.”

Every week another segment of this journey will ensue. It is my hope and desire to cultivate a healthy and active dialogue after each entry, hosted in the comments below. All thoughts are welcome, and I hope that all hearts are open to hear more than their own paradigms reverberated. Let us truly take this journey together, and maybe, just mabye we will discover something as one.

There are lives in the balance. Together, as we embark on this journey, let us dare to hope change can occur, as we first dare to believe we, ourselves, can change.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without first changing our thinking.”     –Albert Einstein

Chapter 1 | My Story

California: home of great actors, great food, great beaches and Brandon Flanery from the years of infancy to well into elementary. Mom—doing a variety of jobs, but always having a hand in the lives of her children and others. Dad—trying his best to love his family through provision and security. Both lavish their love, but one was around far more than the other. As dad jumped from job to job, pursuing financial means for those he loved, he missed out on many moments he could have shared with his family, specifically his children, a fact that he continues to regret. Despite his ambition to show his family he cared through his monetary provision, his son neglected to see his heart due to the lack of quality time shared between the two of them. Mom, on the other hand, was involved in every miniscule area, permeating all aspects of little Brandon’s life.

My name is Brandon Flanery. This is my story.

Like many American children, I spent every Sunday in church. Both of my parents were heavily involved. Dad was the drummer; mom was the children’s pastor, and both of my brothers, as well as myself, were cherished by everyone in the church. In some cases, we were cherished too much.

After services my family and I would linger around, socializing with friends. Parents would talk over coffee, while the kids ran around playing endless games. But every so often we, kids, would play in an area we were prohibited to go—the upstairs storage room, but the thrill of the forbidden fruit was all too tempting. Soon it became home to all of our adventures. Tag, hide-and-go-seek, cops and robbers and, every so often, moments of molesting.

To this day it is all very fuzzy, but what I do remember is that sporadically an older boy in the church and I would sneak away and he would molest me. Thankfully, I was never raped… but rape is not the only thing that produces scars of the heart. Over the course of many years we would rendezvous in our forbidden playground, while never being discovered nor ever speaking of it. For over a decade, the things done in the dark remained there for the sake of shame. Over the years that followed, I would blame myself for our encounters. I did not realize how untrue that was, until one day, while sitting in a counseling session, I decided to take the brave leap, revealing my dark deeds. But that moment was years into the future, in a completely different state. My life went by as if nothing was wrong. I was happy, continuing through life, unaware of the wounds inflicted upon me.

In the years following, I became “Mr. Popular” in school, in church and even in the neighborhood. I was on the local baseball and soccer team, while continuing on through those sweet elementary years. I had my first crush Margarita, a Russian girl, who my best friend Daniel from Angola also liked. The competition between us was fierce, but eventually I was the one she kissed. At home my brothers and I would tear up the streets, launching rockets and swinging from zip lines. On special weekends, my family and I would drive to the gorgeous city of San Francisco, to watch the sun set over the Pacific, while munching on mud pie. The Flanery’s were creating great memories together, and I genuinely loved God with a pure childlike faith.

My first encounter with this Uncreated One, dubbed the title “God,” occurred while I lay out on the lawn looking up the stars. No “sinners’ prayer.” No church service. Just me lying there on my back talking with my Jesus, genuinely believing these orbs of light could not exist from happenstance. To this day, there is something sacred and mystical about being underneath those burning balls of gas millions of miles away. I did not know what it meant, but I asked that Author of Beauty to come into my heart. As a result, I began reading the Bible, and in those early years, I had the audacity to believe what the Bible said—if we pray, God will respond.

Through the prayers of a pipsqueak runt, three women, who were incapable of having children, gave birth, and a girl, who was dying from leukemia, was miraculously healed. But it moved past prayer. With uninhibited love, that little Brandon Flanery would openly speak about his Jesus. On one such occasion, after a heated discussion about the “real reason for the season,” fellow students, who had no relationship with that “baby in a manger,” came to a makeshift altar at the dry erase board in a third grade classroom. Who would have thought?

I was witnessing some incredible things, a lot of which I wish I could conjure up once more. It was all as a result of a child who simply prayed an impromptu prayer, believing every little thing he read in that big book entitled “The Bible.” God was moving in my life. Yes, I had dormant secrets and hidden scars, but God was still using the little child of my past for big things.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.”

But what happens when the little children become big children? Does the kingdom still belong to them?

*                                *                                *                                *                                *

Christian school. For the first time in my life, during my fourth grade year, I walked the halls of a Christian school. You would think this would be the perfect place for a kid who was in love with the God he found in the stars…

I hated it.

Profanity and pride, selfishness and cynicisms, cliques and complacency… the stench of religion. From the second I walked through the doors of a Christian school to the second the doors closed behind me, a bitter taste for Christians and Christianity permeated my mouth. It was like wormwood, and the God I loved became distant, due to reputation of the people who carried His name. But hope kindled with news of a change in setting.

“We’re moving to Colorado.” The words came out of my mom’s mouth with hesitation. She anticipated backlash from her three boys. However, she was thankfully disappointed.

“YES! Let’s get out of here!” My brothers and I were eager to start afresh! As we packed our bags, there was almost a skip in our step, onward to new horizons in “The Land of the Rockies.” Who would have thought that a smile could be on the faces of children as they drove through the endless deserts of Nevada and the vast salt flats of Utah? I most certainly would not have thought it possible.

But our smiles would not last. We were unaware of what awaited us in Colorado Springs, Colorado… another private Christian school full of what we dreaded most… religion.

However, despite my uncertainty of enrolling in yet another Christian school, I was hopeful. In fact, many of the things that I had thought were synonymous with Christianity were lacking. Unlike my last school, I made friends, and our times shared on the playground were full of laughs, adventure and make-believe. Life was great, full of Cowboys and Indians, Pirates and Aztecs, Zombies and Humans (all essentially alterations for the exact same game).

But as if to interrupt a great dream, it happened… middle school.

*                                *                                *                                *                                *

Pimples. Braces. Cracking voices. Raging hormones… more like a raging nightmare.

It was during this time that a hunger for acceptance from my male peers was painfully growing. My friends from elementary had dispersed, finding themselves new compadrés, new hobbies and altogether new lives, while I was left behind… alone. I was frantically trying to grab straws, desperately trying to cling to my two best friends from elementary—the one thing that I thought gave me belonging. But when push came to shove, I was always the odd man out, the third wheel, and through the hard years of middle school I was surrounded by more than solitude, but rejection.

One specifically painful memory comes to mind.

It was my birthday. These two best friends, who I longed to keep in my life, came over to stay the night. We played video games, ran around the house with Nerf guns, jumped on the trampoline. It was great, but quickly switched, when all of a sudden they sprinted for the house. I chased after them, wondering what was going on. Once I got inside, I was confronted with a locked door. My two “best friends” had locked me out of my own room, while they began to play my new birthday video game. I began pounding on the locked door, pounding to be let in, pounding to be included, pounding to be not left behind. But they simply laughed at my pleading, numb to my pain.

To this day, I still wrestle with being that boy. I can be surrounded by people, and yet it is easy to believe I have to bang on doors to be accepted. Yet despite my banging, I feel shut out, unwanted. Who knew one moment could be forever frozen in the pain of a child’s mind?

It was there, defeated at the door, I realized our entire friendship, even since elementary school, consisted of me being excluded in our “Three Musketeers” friendship. The rage suppressed for years of injustice boiled to the surface. Little Brandon could not take it any longer. I was through. I ran down-stairs crying and cursing. “I want those _______ (insert profanity of choice; every one of them was used that night) gone! I want them out of this house!”

Now the door unlocked, and they came downstairs claiming to not know what I was talking about, for me to stop cussing and treating them this way, trying to turn the tables on me. Even their parents tried to blame me, saying, “You made us come get them at this hour? Why didn’t you try to work through this? You need to stop your language right now young man.”

With the door slammed behind them, and tears in my eyes, I decided I would rather be alone than deal with this. After all, when you are alone, no one can reject you, right?

Walls were erected, and that night a vow was made—I will never let anyone get that close ever again.

From that moment on I was the lone ranger (although not nearly as rustic or badass as Clint Eastwood). The friends, I had clung to, were gone, and to make new friends was close to impossible. I was a sensitive soul with a love for singing, acting, writing—anything birthed from the imagination—while the boys of of my Christian private school loved sports and cheap crude humor. It seemed, as though, I was the only one given a heart of flesh, while those around me had ones of stone, equipped with sharp arrows, dripping with hostile harassment. “Fag!” “Gay!” and “Queer” came hissing out of the mouths from the boys around me. To them, it was their native tongue, as natural as breathing. But to me… to me, their words were poison, slowly killing me, making it hard to even breathe, let alone live. To this day, I would have taken sticks or stones over those words.

I did not belong, and I hated the boys around me for it. Rather, I hated myself for it, and I saw the world around me through those red lenses of hate. Feeling unwanted, I would hide on the side of the school, eating my lunch with two girls as equally hurt by the students we felt trapped with. We would fume together, heating our hate, blaming everyone else for our problems, all the while sinking further and further into our bitterness and farther and farther away from everyone else. Like mismatched socks, we were thrown aside, and to deal with the rejection, I turned to something that I never thought I would—homosexual pornography.

*                                *                                *                                *                                *

The board had been set. Like a master chess player, that Enemy of Our Souls had destroyed my defenses, and his pieces were all in position. Check was called, and the pressure was on. All that was left was for me to make his move, trapping myself in checkmate… and I did.

*                                *                                *                                *                                *

As my heart cried for a place to be loved, I remembered the moments in the storage room at our old church in California. I had begun to believe a lie: it felt good, and it would make me feel better, especially when I felt alone. So I would touch myself, while looking at nude images of men on the internet. I imagined they were touching me, that the boy from my past was touching me. After all, he wanted me. He wanted me week upon week. It was false intimacy, partially satisfying the cravings of my loved deprived heart, parched for true masculine friendship.

It started in sixth grade as a very mild curiosity, a casual and sporadic hobby. But by the end of my sophomore year of high school, it had become a full-fledged daily addiction consisting of XXX gay porn videos and cyber-sex rendezvous. Nearly every night for five straight years I would “quench my thirst,” while no one knew. I had become a master actor, and my skills had passed from the stage to permanent residence in my daily life.

At school I simply put on a smile, in spite of the insults and mockery. I played sports, despite my hate of them, and joined the school’s volunteer ministry program. At the young age of 14, I was running a café and participating in endless outreach opportunities.

At home, I was the “good Christian kid,” never dealing with anything, the crown upon my parents’ head. In fact, every time I hid away to go online, perusing endless amounts of pornography, I would blame it on the mass amounts of homework I had. Not only was I morally perfect, but I was a good student.

At church, I joined the student leadership program and began volunteering everywhere. I served every Sunday in children’s ministry and would tear down chairs every Wednesday. I would jump from small group to small group, engaging in the discussions of the Bible and morality. I was at every retreat, and when I was old enough, I would go on mission trips.

School. Home. Church. On all fronts I was the perfect Christian kid. But on the inside, I was that boy pounding and screaming to be heard, to be included, to belong. I had no clue that those pleadings would carry over to the very door of God, the one I had loved since staring up at the stars. That little boy of yesteryear believed God was just as indifferent to his pounding fists as his friends were years ago. I believed I was locked out of Heaven, and no matter how hard my fists hit those gates, I believed he would never let me in. He was a Father refusing my entrance on account of me being muddy on a rainy day. The roads of gold might get dirty with my filth.

I was desperate. Though I was flawless on the outside, I was broken and bleeding on the inside. Every night I would cry out to God, asking Him to change my emotions, to change my attractions, to just change me. I knew the Bible verses all too well, and they continuously haunted me.

“And they exchanged natural lusts for lusts for each other.” “The immoral, homosexuals, liars and God haters will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” “It is an abomination, and they received in themselves their due penalty.” “And He consumed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from Heaven.”

The echoes from thousands of years ago reverberated into the fibers of my heart, and they all said the same thing: “God hates you; you’re condemned, and you’re going to Hell.” God had apparently joined the chorus of my peers in their accusations.

So I tried to change. Every Sunday I would come to the altar. It did not matter if the sermon was about financial crisis or fornication; I would come down to the altar, vowing I would never look at a man lustfully again. I would pray for God to take these desires away, to lust after women, but the answer to those prayers seemed like they would never come.

I did not want to be gay; I did not want these emotions, but there they were regardless. No matter how hard I prayed, no matter how many times I came to the altar, no matter how many times I would vow to change, I could not do it. I was caught on an endless emotional rollercoaster.

On Sundays, I would promise to never look at gay porn ever again, pulling myself up by my “spiritual boot straps.” During the week, sometimes by Monday, I would be drawn back to the computer, as if it were heroine, injecting underneath the toenails or eyes in order to destroy any traces of my addiction. Condemnation would overwhelm me, until Sunday, where hope blossomed. I could do better; I could change, only to fall again on Monday… maybe holding out till Tuesday.

All vows failed, while the sadistic rollercoaster continued to ebb and flow, fall and climb. To top it all off, those around me made me feel even worse, as my emotional insides began to toss and turn.

Any time a gay couple would come on the screen, my dad would freak out and condemn them. One time, unable to keep the secret of my lusts to myself, I came to a small group leader and confessed what was going on. He proceeded to say, “That’s demonic. We need to pray that out of you,” upon which he began to explain I should vomit as he prayed, proving the demon was leaving. To top it all off, the pastor of my church was excommunicated because he received a “happy ending” from his male masseurs. Not only was he expelled from the church but the state, and the church began a witch-hunt, forcing every staff member to turn in their computers to be examined.

I had no safe place. Even the God I loved, who I had asked to invade my heart as a child, apparently hated me, but I did not know how to change. I tried to please Him; I tried to change, but I could not do it. I would pray, but I never stopped fantasizing about men.

So what did I do? I hid, dancing in this masquerade called religion, keeping my porcelain façade intact. My concealer was far more impressive than any beauty product. The scars and bruises beneath the surface would never show… until one most unfortunate night.

*                                *                                *                                *                                *
In the summer of my tenth grade year I went on a mission trip to Los Angeles. My team and I worked with a ministry called the Dream Center, where we worked with the homeless, drug addicts, poverty stricken and prostitutes. My heart was breaking for these people and God was gripping my heart. I returned home with some friends from the team, but mainly girls. By this time, I did not let men get close, because if they got too close, they might see the cracks in my porcelain mask of heterosexuality. I figured I would just chase them away, and I refused to be hurt again.

The vow proved strong. The walls stood tall.

A few days after my team returned from L.A., my youth group put on a conference. Full of “zeal and power,” I renewed my will, deciding I would finally change. Another vow was formed, but it proved far less strong, lasting barely a day. Like a dog returning to its vomit, as the phrase goes, I returned to my accursed sin. I turned on the computer and intoxicated myself with my faithful narcotic. The world around me melted; my heart raced, and I was enthralled in the moment. But something happened that night that changed everything.

“What are you doing, Brandon?” My dad had sneaked upstairs where I was “doing research” on my computer. They had tried to figure out what I was doing with my vast amount of sessions on the internet on multiple occasions, but I was a pro at covering my tracks. I had other screens up; I lied; I erased the history. No one ever found out… except for now because the screen froze. All I could do was turn off the monitor.

“I was trying to do homework, but this stupid computer froze; so I’m rebooting it.”

He leaned over my shoulder and pointed out the monitor was off. With the push of a button, every secret I had been keeping for years was exposed. As the electricity surged through the monitor, igniting the bulb behind the glass and colors combusted in the pixels, a gay porn clip, frozen in action, came into focus. “Brandon, what is this? What is this crap? What the Hell is going on! Turn off the computer right now and come downstairs. NOW!”

My secret was out. Panic and fear seized my chest. I could not breathe. Horrifying hypotheticals swam around in my mind, and I was drowning. I could not think. But past all the thoughts of dread, past the inability to breathe, there was a subtle and reassuring feeling beginning to grow—sweet relief. For the first time since the dawn of my addiction, I felt like hope was on the horizon. Someone finally knew; it was no longer a secret. But those feelings of fear and dread soon recovered, now accompanied by fear, shame, humiliation and condemnation, swallowing any hope.

After going downstairs, my dad proceeded to announce to my whole family my “activities” as of late. My mom was horrified; my brothers were in shock; Dad was fuming, and I was crying, hiding my face in my hands (as if that could somehow make this all disappear). Immediately after my father’s announcement, he proceeded to take me to the local prayer house, pulling me in a utility closet to “pray the gay away” and pummel me with endless inquiry.

“Why would you do this? How long have you been looking at that crap? Where did this come from? Did I do something to cause this? I understand porn, but homosexual porn? How could you let this happen?”

After the inquiries came the lecture.

“You know God didn’t make you this way. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. This is wicked in God’s sight. The Bible is very clear on this. It’s a mockery and abomination. God destroyed two cities because of this.”

Echoes of the self-condemnation I had already inflicted upon myself over the course of 5 years.

After his ravings, I eventually went and prayed by myself, crying out to a God who I believed would not listen, asking Him to make this alright, asking Him to make this all go away, to wake up. But this was not a dream. It was a living nightmare, and now I was getting into a car to return to the family I had devastated.

On the way home my dad prepped me. Apparently, due to the pain of my actions, my mom did not want to see me or talk to me. She had been texting him and mentioned it might be good to make me move out.

For years I refused to bring my hidden life to the surface for fear that I would be rejected, and in that moment, every fear was being confirmed.

Upon arriving at the house, the only thing my mom said was, “Call your ministry leader at school. You’re telling him what is going on, and you’re stepping down as a leader,” upon which she proceeded to shove the phone into my chest. Those would be the last words I would hear from her for many days. I had been given the silent treatment.

I sat on the stairs with a phone in my hand, contemplating how I would tell my leader what had been going on and why I had to step down. I could not even talk to my parents who were aware of the situation, let alone my uninformed leader. How was I going to do this?

My mom glared down at me.

Ring! Ring! Ring!

Please go to voice mail. Please!

Ring! Ring!

“Hello?”

With overwhelming anxiety, I told him I had to step down as a student ministry leader.

“Why?”

Well, you see Mr. Ministry-Leader-Man, for the past five years I have been addictively looking at hardcore gay pornography, while hiding it form the world, and my parents found out tonight, forcing me to make this call. That’s why I have to step down.

…I did not say any of that. I figured it was sufficient to say…

“I’ve been looking at porn.”

“I’m picking you up so we can talk about this.”

Within a few minutes he was at my house, and he took me to Village Inn. I was terrified. But as the night progressed the emotions slowly subsided. He simply wanted to know what was going on in my life, showing genuine care. I again explained I was involved with pornography, but again the word “gay” never came out of my mouth. I would die before I would confess the “unspeakable.” We talked until closing, when Village Inn finally kicked us out, and through the comfort and conversation, my heart slowly began to grasp a parcel of peace. We got in the car, shut the doors and simply sat there in silence for a few minutes.

Then came the question.

“Brandon, have you been watching guy and girl porn, guy and guy porn, or girl and girl porn.” No one had ever asked me that before. My heart began to quiver as my leader patiently expected a response. I had to answer him. Moment of truth… literally.

“Um… guy and guy.” The words fell flat, stealing my breath like a death sentence. I braced myself for the expected condemnation. But instead, the only thing that followed was love. Following those fatal words he encouraged me, reminding me of Jesus and speaking about how sin is sin, regardless of its nature. After his affirmation, he asked if I would not step down, but work through this as a leader—a theme that would reoccur throughout my life.

Thank God for that man.

I do not know what would have happened if it were not for that man believing in me, if he had not spoken life over me, and ultimately loved me with Christ’s love. My family was refusing to talk to me. They were completely shocked, and as a result, I felt utterly alone. Unlike the loneliness of years prior, at least then I had my family to count on, but now I had no one. No one except a listening leader. Prior to calling Boucher, I was contemplating suicide. The incredible weight of be utterly alone was too heavy to bear. But I was not alone. There in Village Inn, God was showing me I had not been abandoned. I was not locked out by indifference. The door had been opened. Once my leader dropped me off, I could face the situation back home with hope. Sure, I was still terrified and fearful of the future, but for the first time in years I was not alone, and it meant the world.

*                                *                                *                                *                                *
Over the weeks that followed, I was heavily isolated. I was only allowed to go from school to home, and while home, the isolation expounded, since I was given the silent treatment and under continuous scrutiny. The computers were all relocated to the living room, and blockers were installed. Like the years prior, now with new sorrow, I spent most of those nights crying out to God. Would He finally hear?

After a week, my mom pulled me into her room. This had happened on numerous occasions prior with the announcement of my dark past. My parents wanted to know everything, and due to shame and fear, I had no idea how to communicate the past five years. Summoned, yet again, to the room of my parents, I was not surprised to see my mother sobbing. I was the cause of this, and for that reason I hated myself. I braced for what she was about to say next, but she caught me off guard.

“I’m so sorry.”

I did not know what to say, so I said nothing.

She continued. “I have been treating you as if you have committed the ultimate sin. But sin is sin, and I should be treating it as such.” She told me she loved me no matter what and continued to apologize for how she had been reacting over the past week. She just wanted to help in any way she could. She offered to get me in counseling; I refused at the time, but the fact that she promised she was there for me made more of an impact than any counseling session. Every night, while trapped in my years of sin, torment and confusion, I had said to myself, “Don’t tell anyone; no one will understand; you’ll break their hearts; they’ll reject you.” With the initial reaction of my family, my fears had been solidified, but when my mom uttered those words, she broke every lie that had been keeping me in isolation.

That year, although very good, was one of the hardest years of my life. My parents limited me a lot, and were keeping an ever watchful eye. However, I still managed to feed my addiction through hidden avenues, but every time it came to light. God was answering my “unheard” prayers, and He refused to let this affliction of the heart sink into darkness. He was so concerned to see me succeed; He would not even let me get away with looking at pornography at an employer’s house. I lost my job when I failed to clear the history one day after work.

Life was rough. But it was through this tough time that God was working. For months I was battling, going back and forth from “sinless” to “sinful,” from “condemned” to “saved.” Finally, in May of that year, after messing up yet again and crying out in shame to God, He spoke very clearly to me in love and absolute seriousness. I heard my Father say, “Brandon, it is time to choose—this or me. You will not serve both of us. Either you can choose this, which will eventually kill you and leave you unsatisfied, or you can choose me, and I will give you an abundant life. But it’s time to choose.” It was like The Matrix, and God was Morpheus, offering me the choice between the blue pill or the red pill. I wrestled for a couple of hours, but deep in my heart I knew.

The flaming balls of gas millions of miles away beckoned me to jump down the rabbit hole.

I had one objection: “God, I don’t know how to ‘pick’ you.”

His response: “Brandon, I don’t want you to worry about any of that.  I don’t want you to worry about the sin, or the pressure to evangelize, what you should or should not do, or how this thing works. I have one command for you—know me. I’ll take care of the rest.”

That night, I chose Jesus, and it is interesting… He has kept both those promises. As I chose to come to Him, despite my fear, despite feeling dirty, He changed me, He transformed me, and He gave me what I He promised—an abundant life, not a perfect one, but an abundant one.

I have heard countless testimonies where this is where the story ends, where the individual sharing says, “And that’s my testimony,” as if our lives conclude with “I gave my life to Jesus.” It is where the tattooed guy on stage vamps and vamps about how wicked his sin was. “Oh, I wrestled for years and years; I did this drug and that drug; I slept with this girl and that girl; I went to this prison and that prison,” as if there is a secret competition for who struggled the hardest and longest. Once a sufficiently massive monster of sin is glaring down upon us “good Christians,” the “man with a past” then says, “And then I got saved. Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!” The tattooed man then leaves; the pastor comes up on stage, and those terrifying words are uttered, “Now with every head bowed and every eye closed…” Hopefully you were not too moved by the tattooed man; otherwise, you are getting saved for the umpteenth time. But the “I gave my life to Jesus” moment was just the beginning for me. I guess I do not have that “stereotypical” testimony.

After those fateful words, my life did completely change, but it was not the end. That moment launched me on a journey of learning to embrace His love, trusting His will above my own. He really had been for me and not against me all those years I felt abandoned. The door was open, and He was fulfilling His promise. But He promised an abundant life, not a perfect one. After all, a life of adventure is not without risk or failure or mistakes. But it is the love of God that uses all things for a redemptive purpose. Regardless of circumstances, He was faithful to His word, and faithful to that word I began to live an abundant life.

That year, I switched out of my private Christian school and began attending the local public school in my neighborhood. Besides putting my trust in Jesus, it was the best decision I had ever made. I was no longer surrounded by hypocritical bigots, telling me how I should or should not look or how I should or should not act. I was allowed to embrace my faith, and I was no longer scared of people. In fact, I spoke to my friends all the time about how this Love had changed me. Whether through a skit in the parking lot, or a sign on a corner or simply talking over a cup of coffee in a café, I loved talking about the love I found in Jesus.

I became a camp counselor, and had my heart ignited for youth. I was a part of a men’s discipleship program, imparting masculinity on other men (which is completely ironic in retrospect of my story). I have gone on multiple mission trips all over the world. I toured through Germany, expressing God’s love through dance, music and acting.

But more than anything I was doing, more than the “adventures” I was encountering, I discovered the life of abundance promised me was found in one simple fact: I was now doing life with my Jesus. Whether I was making a non-fat, triple, decaf, stirred, sugar-free vanilla latté at Starbucks or talking to strangers on a street corner in Cork, Ireland, it all had meaning and purpose, because my Jesus was in the midst of it. The desire of my heart was to be welcomed, was to belong and to be cherished. I had found it, and it was hosted in the heart I had opened up long ago while under those blazing infernos light years away.

Life and the moments composing it are the lines and shadows in a coloring book. But the trust I had put in Jesus had become the spectrum of crayons, breathing life onto the page. He was my orange and magenta, my aqua and salmon. Sometimes He stayed in the lines, creating structure and uniformity. Other times He broke past barriers, creating something entirely new. Either way, it was beauty.

After high school, I went off to a Christian leadership academy, which launched me into a youth pastor position. It is here where my story breaks yet again from the stereotypical pattern in the cliché Christian testimony.

If the tattooed man continued past, “And then I got saved,” the next anticipated line is, “And I’ve never struggled since,” as if our entire story with Jesus is all about conquering sin. Unfortunately, and yet, fortunately, trusting Jesus is not all about sin, and it is not always, “I never struggled again,” because I definitely did.

Six months into my first year as a youth pastor, I began to look at homosexual pornography again, after a 21-day fast to top it off. I did not know what to do. I had not had these feelings or desires for years.

Does this mean I was born gay? Does this mean I am running from who I am? Maybe I should just give up and give in. But that is not true.

That fact of the matter is I have never wanted to be homosexual. It has never been fulfilling. No matter how many images I looked at porn, no matter how many times I “indulged” in homosexuality, it never satisfied. However, a life swallowed in the furious love of God, trusting Him in my decisions, has always been fulfilling. But that does not mean it is easy.

Resolved that the life of abundance God promised me was worth it, I went to speak to the youth director at the church. I had been hiding this newly resurrected porn addiction for a few months, and when I went to my employer, I fully expected to be fired. People got thrown out of church leadership positions for this kind of stuff, just like my previous pastor. This was not something you struggle with in a Christian leadership role. Pride? Maybe. Lying? Tolerable. But homosexuality? Never

But yet again, something happened I was not suspecting.

“Brandon,” the youth director said to me, after I confessed my secret dealings on the internet, “on your best day or on your worst day, you are still equally worthy of Hell. It is only the blood of Jesus that has qualified you for Heaven, qualified you for God’s love.”

When I look back on the moments that have meant the most to me, none of them were sermons, none of them were a pep talk, none of them were some “hard love.” In fact, of the moments that have transformed my life, I can barely remember a single word that was said. It was what was done that impacted me so immensely; it was someone stepping into my pain and hurt that awakened something transformation.

My mom apologizing.

A mentor hugging me and crying with me as I confessed my thoughts of homosexuality.

A pastor refusing to fire me.

A friend saying he loves me and believes in me regardless.

You want to change someone’s life? Give them love, and prove it with action.

In the years following that conversation, I have been on a journey to discover and embrace God’s love and truth, to “not worry about x,y or z,” but to simply get to know Him. He has taken care of the rest, as He has promised, long ago. I think I just complicated it for a while with the title of “Pastor” in front of my name.

Have I been attracted to men or looked at gay pornography since that conversation over the past three years? Yeah. Do I wrestle with who I am or want to be, specifically in sexuality? At times, yeah. But that does not change this one fact—I want what my Jesus promised nearly nine years ago—an abundant life, and I know it is not with homosexuality. I have tried it, and it never satisfied my heart. My arteries were pulsating for something so much deeper than getting naked with another guy. They longed for intimacy and vulnerability, to be accepted and cherished through thick and thin. I had simply found a coping mechanism.

A few months back, I found myself sitting in the office of that pastor who was fired for his “happy ending.” He has since started a new church. While explaining my story to him, he asked me, “Brandon, what do you want to be? Do you want to be gay? Bi? Straight? What do you want?”

For years I believed the only answer was one that was picked for me—heterosexuality. After all, God made Adam and Eve, not… yadda, yadda, yadda, and we continue down that haunting strain of thought which plagued me for years.

Guess what? God loves me if I am gay or if I am “straight.” (Whatever that means.) I simply could not see He loved me regardless, because the people surrounding me did not love me regardless. In fact, many of them failed and abandoned me. I had lumped Jesus in with the rest of those who had rejected me over the years. But God did not say he died for me if I would stop being gay. He died for me. Period.

So in that office I allowed myself to ask that question for me, diffusing it of all the pressures of what I should do. And you know what I picked? You know what I want? I want to be straight, and despite my struggles, I know that is the best plan god has for me.

You may not agree with my decision. Cool. But you have to acknowledge my story. God was not angry with me all those years; He simply wanted the best for me. Regardless of what I chose in that office, His arms are always wide open. He embraces every person right where they are at. Does that mean He created some children straight, others bi and others gay? I do not believe so.

After years of research scientists have yet to find that rumored “gay gene.” There is no proof supporting people are born gay.  However, I do not believe homosexuality is a choice either. I did not choose to have attractions to men. It chose me. Why? That is what I hope to discuss in this next chapter.