Bubbling Anxieties

Heads up: this post is gonna be a ton of rambling about my anxieties and what I do with them as a Six. Yup. I said it. Six. I’ve begrudgingly identified as a Four in the infamous Enneagram for about a six months, but I’ve never felt settled on it. Then a friend who loves the Enneagram said, “If you’re still not settled, you’re probably a Six.”

I think he’s right.

A Six is identified by their anxieties. They are always scheming what could go wrong. They are literally creating and emotionally living out endless possible outcomes, so they can prepare for the worst. I one time created a map of my brain to a friend she felt anxiety just looking at it. Yeah! Try living it! But the absolute worst part about being a Six is that a Six believes their anxieties are necessary. They hold them closely, refusing to let go because they believe they keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Fear actually keeps them holding their fears.

The fear bubbles up as a result of not trusting their inner guidance. At some point, a Six began to believe that they don’t have the internal resources to make it in life. The result? They believe failure is around every corner. To compensate, they look for support outside of themselves. But here’s the punch line: fears keep them from fully trusting those they look to for support. They both long and are skeptical of support, creating a push-pull relationship with their close friends, mentors, and confidants.

Anxious yet? I am! But that’s typical, since I’m a Six.

This whole mindset has recently shown it’s flagrant colors, specifically in that lovely thing we call “higher education”.

I’ve been doing school since 2008. It’s been a decade, and I still don’t have my degree. Why? Because:

  1. Life. I’d end up doing ministry or living abroad and put school on the backburner. The fact that I’m this old and I still don’t have a degree, and the one I’m pursuing will take another two years weighs really heavy on me.
  2. Choice. I am terrified that I’ll choose the wrong major, and my life trajectory will be forever off course. This has caused me to switch majors like twelve times. I’m so unsure, lacking confidence in any choice I make, determined that if I choose wrong, I’ll ruin my life.

Choice. It’s not just in school that this concept overwhelms me. Choice has a way of paralyzing me in every arena.

What if it’s the wrong choice? What if this hurts people? What if it hurts me? What if I’m screwed? How can I know this is the best choice to make? What if I ruin my life? What if I waste away my life?

The overwhelming amount of question marks that assault me on a daily basis make me want to turn on Netflix and bing another season of The Originals. While watching television shows I don’t have to make choices. Choices are made for me. I just get to enjoy the ride.

Life would be a whole lot easier if choice was just removed and some magical board of wisdom gurus made those choices for me. Why can’t I just have a Gandalf that tells me exactly what to do? Sounds great! The idea of arranged marriages and work assignments based upon test results sounds pretty fantastic to me!

As a Christian, don’t I have Someone I can trust to help me decide? Isn’t there this thing called the Holy Spirit that is called “The Counselor”, “The Prince of Peace”? Sure. In theory. Until you try to listen to that “still small voice” and those anxieties we talked about earlier whisper louder (and by whisper louder, I mean scream), “Are you sure that’s the Holy Spirit? What if that’s you? Could it be mmmm Satan!?”

To be very frank, my still-small-voice confidence has taken a beating over the years.

I used to trust that voice even in the clothing I’d wear (like I said, I hate choice). What happened?

Life.

I hitchhiked through Europe and felt so lost when all I did was pray for God to lead me.

I came home to a wrecked family and had no idea what to do or where God was amidst the chaos.

I dated a man and shut off anything I was hearing because I was scared God was going to ruin the one thing that I felt like I loved in life.

I don’t know how to trust that still small voice anymore because sometimes, it feels like it’s out to destroy me. And I would love to trust my own inner guidance, but I haven’t worked with that muscle in a hot second. From 2006 to 2013, I’ve disregarded my own will and obeyed this tug in my chest. I have no clue what I actually want, or I’m too afraid of what I want, or I believe what I want is wrong.

Why would I believe what I want is wrong? It’s kinda hard not to when a core longing inside of you has been told to be depraved since you were little. At a young age, I remember hearing my dad blow up at a movie for having two men kiss each other, yelling, “Why did they have to put that shit in there? It’s a mockery to God!” I’d agree when inside I think, “I feel the same way. Don’t let them see. Hide it. Kill your desires.”

If you can’t even trust your attractions, believing they’re broken and cursed, how are you supposed to trust anything else you want?

Distrust has crept into everything I love. I wander between desires or sabotage the very thing I want.

I can’t go for a degree in writing or performing arts! It’s called “starving artist” for a reason.

I can’t write a novel! I don’t have enough information or experience to write anything of value.

I can’t produce my own show! I have no clue how to go about doing it, school is too expensive, and I’m too old.

I can’t date this man! I will lose everyone; I won’t know how to raise a girl since we’ll both be guys; I’ll have a panic attack every time we move towards sexual intimacy, and I’ll live in terror of going to Hell every day.

Every desire is a bad choice.

In response, I get jobs I don’t care about; I have hookups instead of relationships; I get a degree that I believe is safe; dreaming becomes impossible; authoring my own life becomes so taxing that I just end up doing what I don’t want to do. Why not? If God doesn’t want me to date a man, and that’s a core longing in my being, He must want me to do the very thing I hate.

This thought process has actually led me to move away from the very thing I want on multiple occasions. It’s even defined key elements of my life and has caused me to resent God.

Leaving a community house.

Not going on tour with Aquire the Fire.

Abandoning an enrollment at UNC in theatre.

It all was loaded with a belief that I shouldn’t go after that which I love, and now I’m left unsure what I actually want.

Does what I want even matter? If the things I desperately want are corrupt, where is the line to trust what I want? We say go after what you love, but where is that in the Bible? In fact, I see the opposite. I see God demanding we take what we love and burn it. Abraham. Hannah. David. Jesus. Paul. While Jesus promised to give us life and life abundant, they’re lives just seem impossibly hard, and then we’re told to “Follow me.”

How do we rectify this with our cliche maxim of “follow your heart”? Is it truly Biblical?

I feel desperately torn, torn between obligation and want, between wanting to want and wanting to be obliged. Drawn and quartered.

Being a Six sucks. Being gay also sucks. Being a Christian sucks the most.

And yet I can’t shake any of them. I’ve tried. For years of my life, I’ve tried. And yet here I am, panicking about my future and completely unsure what to do about it. I feel completely lacking in support or support I can trust. Everyone seems to want me to be gay or Christian, and very few honor both, making trust incredibly hard.

But deep down I want to trust. I want to breathe the fresh air of comradery and belief. Belief in myself. Belief in my support. Belief in humanity. Belief in God. But it all feels like sand in my hands—I can old grab hold of it for a fleeting moment, but never forever.

I normally get all Psalmy, like David, and say something like, “But I will trust blah, blah, blah…” I don’t want to today. I just want what I say to exist and be out there. Not pretty. Not fixed. Just exist. So there you go, my bubbling Six mess. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading.

Epilogue – Colorado Springs, CO

And now is the part where I say, “I returned home! My journies enlightened me. I’ve been changed.”

If only…

Life has been rough since coming back. I would love to say that all the travels and people transformed me. In the moment, it did. Hope was birthed. Love re-kindled. It was as though life was emerging from the ashes. But then I came back to Colorado to stare at the charred mess I made. A mess of lives, mine and those I love. It choked the hope out of me like the weeds in Jesus’s parable.

Upon returning home, it took me less than two hours to find a bathhouse. It took less than a week to find a man on Grindr. It took less than a month to forget I even traveled.

It’s true that traveling gave me hope. It’s true that my heart softened. But now that soft heart could feel. And it was feeling a lot.

Loneliness. Hopelessness. Aimlessness. All the nesses covered in remorse. Where was God in all this?

My life revolved around my ex for so long, it’s like my life is now revolving around a black hole. The absence of him carries an immeasurable weight that makes it unbearable most days.

The only way of explaining how I felt was like treading water. I’m not sure where to go. Where’s land? But this feeling wasn’t new. I felt like this before my ex.

In 2012, I left for Berlin to join a missions organization. I was eager to be discipled. I had been in leadership since the age of fourteen. I was ready to have someone teach me, to see God move, to be a part of something important. Instead, I was asked to produce a show while suffering emotional abuse at the hands of a leader committing an affair with one of the students. And on top of that, I was paying to be there. It’s like I’m a masochist!

If that wasn’t enough, I felt so alone. Not only was I not being led by someone, I had a peer completely abandon me for no reason whatsoever. But the abandonment was greater than people. I felt abandoned by God.

One day, while in Mumbai, I prayed for a woman missing a led. I helplessly watched as the woman wept. “Why won’t God give me my leg back?” I didn’t have answers. Maybe God wasn’t there. But I needed him, and so did my family. My brother was hospitalized from a major car accident. We all needed God. Where was He? Was He even there? Was He ever there?

As a kid, I prayed that someone would find me when I was molested for five straight years by an older boy. I was never discovered.

As a teenager, I prayed that God would make me straight. That he would change me. I’m still attracted to men.

As an adult man, I prayed I would have other men show me the way. I have yet to find a mentor, though I’ve joined two discipleship schools.

Disappointment after disappointment overshadowed me, communicating one message: I was on my own. I needed to figure out life for myself. No one was coming to save me.

And on that plane home, I began the treading.

Find a career. Figure out a future. Find love. Don’t be alone.

I downloaded Grindr; I met a man who came to my rescue, and I began the first relationship I ever had with a man… and I was petrified.

It was a late night in March. We had reconnected after three months. I had broken up with him due to fear of hell, but we had eventually navigated friendship. He had started dating another guy, and I really wanted him to see that someone was going to stick around no matter what, even if he would never date me. I wanted him to see he was worth it.

But then we’re sitting in the car and he kisses me. I pull back. “I can’t do this. I don’t know where I’ve landed on sexuality and God. I don’t want to hurt you again.”

But then a promise was given. “If you were to tell me tomorrow we need to be friends, I’m okay with that. I love how you wrestle things out with God. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m attracted to you. I just want to be as close to you as I can.”

My heart soared. The invitation for someone to walk this journey out with me was everything. For so long, I had been walking this road alone. Now someone wanted to walk with me? Take a risk on me? How could I say no?

But I should have.

The result was a relationship that hurt people, and a fallout that wrecked us both.

If I could go back in time and yell at my younger self to say, “No! Stay friends. Don’t date. Stay strong. It’ll cost you everything and you’ll lose the person you love,” I would. At least then I would still have this person I care about in my life. Instead, my friends get to keep him. They get to benefit from my investment. And that hurts. I sacrificed so much but came up empty.

Moving out of my parents. Coming out to the world. Losing friends and ministry opportunities. Getting into a house I couldn’t afford. Changing my behavior to match my partners.

It was all for nothing.

That feeling of bankruptcy rings fiercely most days. I feel like a stepping stool. Everyone else benefited from this relationship but me. Everyone else got a meal while I got the bill. And that’s really hard to live with at times.

And the treading continues. I know I should trust God, but it’s hard.

The truth is, I tried to invite God back into my life. To trust Him again. I wanted Him to be a part of my life, especially the part that mattered the most–my romantic life.

So I invited God into my relationship. I analyzed verses, went to conferences, emailed all the experts. I was realizing that maybe a gay relationship was okay. That God could be at the center. The result was wanting to set boundaries around sex.

My boyfriend and I met on Grindr. Grindr isn’t really a good platform to set expectations of showing restraint regarding sex. And why show restraint? When you believe you’ve crossed the worst line, what were the lines before? What’s a small line like pre-marital sex in comparison to being a damned abomination?

You no longer have boundaries. They’ve all been broken already.

But here I was learning that maybe I can have a relationship with a man and have God at the center. And if I wanted to invite God into my relationship, it means He gets to speak into my sex life. It means He gets to say, “Wait.”

In hopes of ending this struggle between God and my relationship, I invited Him in, and I believe God told me to stop having sex. After all, we weren’t married. We weren’t even engaged. We had no commitment to one another. But our bodies were binding to each other. Don’t believe me? Try sleeping without the person you love for a few nights. Your body literally aches.

So with terror, I dared to trust. I held my breath and told my boyfriend that we couldn’t have sex. I held my breath, hoping everything would be okay. But it wasn’t.

He said wondered if our relationship was worth it. That I had hurt him too much. That this was too much. In the end, he wanted to break up. He wanted to salvage a friendship.

I was broken. I was hurt. Here I was trying to trust, and I was hurting the person that I loved. The last thing I wanted was to hurt this man. In that moment of pain, I was reminded of that premonition. “You will hurt this man.” I couldn’t afford to hurt him more.

I ended up agreeing with him. We should try and salvage a friendship. And when he changed his mind (as we had both done our two-year relationship), I said no. I refused to hurt him again. And since that day, I’ve worn this badge of martyrdom, as if I’d done something noble.

“Brandon,” my friend yelled at me. “Quit playing the victim card. You chose this.”

I chose this.

And when my day-to-day consists of hooking up with strangers, of weeping because of an HIV scare, of losing friends, of inflicting more pain, I think to myself, “Why the fuck did I do this? Why did I choose this?”

I doubt myself often and carry remorse and regret everywhere I go. I was selfish, and it hurt a lot of people. When I see their faces, I wish I could take back so much.

How did I become this selfish? I didn’t use to be. But if I didn’t have hope in a God taking care of me, who would? I had to take care of myself.

Pain gives birth to cynicism. Cynicism gives birth to loneliness. Loneliness gives birth to selfishness. Selfishness gives birth to pain.

And the cycle continues. A cycle every human has been trapped in since the dawn of time.

“Eye for an eye!” till the whole world is blind. That has been the truth for my world.

So what do we do with all of this? What do we do with selfishness and cynicism? Better question: what do I do with my selfishness and cynicism? I can’t fix the world. It’s not my job. But I can fix myself. And I knew that the root was my cynicism. But where did this root come from? The answer came at a place I never wanted to be–a men’s retreat. As a circle of middle-aged men stared at me, I was reminded of where this all began.

I was six. I was in the church attic. I was being molested by an older boy.

Where was God? Why didn’t He stop it? Why did this happen?

The men surrounding me dared me to answer that question for myself.

I stammered over words, trying to appease them.

“Why did Jesus have to die? He was always with me. He’ll redeem this.”

I stopped myself with a thought. How could You possibly redeem this?

“Because now you see people.”

I broke down. I wept in front of complete strangers. Male complete strangers! The worst kind! But I couldn’t help it. God really had redeemed my pain. They weren’t just trite words.

God does not cause pain. That’s the result of the world we’ve fucked up and the selfishness we carry out of pain. God doesn’t need our help with making the world blind. We’re capable of doing that all on our own. But we do need His help to believe that we can have an eye gouged out and “turn the other cheek”. Not because we’re weak, and we simply yield to adversity. But because we believe we have a God that will take care of us, break the cycle, and take horror and turn it into beauty. After all, isn’t that the cross? In the wounds that Jesus forever carries, he carries hope forever. Life came from his death. Maybe life could come from the pain I endured. Maybe God could redeem all the pain I caused.

So now I tell you, the reader, that since my travels and since that retreat I’m all better. All is well. I trust God, and I’m on a new path.

Nope! Still treading.

Just a few days after the retreat, I slept with complete strangers! The pain continues. The cynicism continues. The selfishness continues. And I continue to hurt people, perpetuating the cycle. How do I escape this?

I’m really scared God won’t look after the desires of my heart. Especially when my heart still desires a man’s strength, pursuit, and love. What if he doesn’t satisfy my heart? What if I’m fucked, destined to try and figure this out on my own? Destined to tread water forever? I panic. But then a calm voice speaks. The same calm voice that showed me I see people because of my pain.

“Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart?”

Honestly, that verse scares me. Will He? Will He actually? But then I’m reminded of years before being a missionary, years where I put God first, and He did satisfy my heart. And what I’m doing now sure isn’t working. What do I have to lose?

In spite of my pain, I’ve seen too much of His faithfulness, regardless of the pain. So as scary as it sounds, I dare to trust, as intrepid as it may be. That trust may break tomorrow. But so did all the cool people in the Bible.

Abraham ran to Egypt and knocked up a slave girl. David killed a man and took his wife. Israel made deals with the devil.

And yet God calls them all His.

I don’t think God is asking for perfection, just a little bit of trust. And it may break. But here in this moment, if only for a few minutes, can I trust?

“Again I will build you and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel! Again you will take up your tambourines and go forth in dancing.”

With everything that is in me, I desperately hope that God can make something of this rubble. That He’ll restore. That He’ll fix what I broke. That’ll He’ll heal myself and others.

Redeem this God. You redeemed so much already. Redeem this too.

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.