Reneging on My Six… Maybe

A while back, I wrote I was a counter-phobic, sexual six. If you’re not an enneagram nerd like myself, no, I’m not having sex with six people.

In short, a sexual six is scared and presents courageous to prove to themself and others they’re able to beat anything.

I promise I’m getting to sappy, personal stuff like I normally do in a moment. But first I need a witty lead-in to reveal myself.

When I first heard of the enneagram, it was in passing by my friend, Taylor, like five years ago, before it was actually cool. He shared how a friend told him about it, and how it’s all about your deepest fears and wounds.

That got my attention, for reasons that’ll make more sense if you’re ARE an enneagram nerd like myself.

He shared how he was a two and how he loved to get love in return. He then shared how the test was a big deal for his friend because it revealed a deep secret: he believed he was inherently flawed and wanted to be rescued.

I was halfway paying attention, mainly because I can be selfish, and I didn’t really see how this was about me (sorry, Taylor). But when he talked about his friend, I remember thinking, “Other people feel like that too?”

His friend is a four.

Ever since I could remember, I’ve wanted to be rescued.

I’d run away to the end of the street when I was spanked, wishing someone would drive by and take me away. I’d walk the fence at school, hoping someone would see me and come to me. In middle school, we’d craft foam swords and fight each other. I was always the captured prince needing to be rescued. One time my friends even put me in a dog kennel as my prison. It felt oddly safe and right, as fucked up as that sounds.

By high school, I learned that wanting to be rescued as a guy wasn’t cool or manly, at least, that’s what Eldridge said. “Every man desires a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

… uh… question: what if we want to be rescued? Never mind. I’m gonna sit back down.

Over the years, I stuffed down my desire to be rescued. I acted strong and independent. I’d sit on the side of the school, looking out at the other boys, hoping one would come talk to me and rescue me from my pain and loneliness. But if anyone asked if I was okay, I’d get angry and say I was fine. After all, boys don’t need to be rescued. I’m supposed to be doing the teaching. I’m supposed to be tough and strong, not needing anyone or caring about anything. An emotionless rock.

Or so I thought.

I’m not sure when I made the promise to myself or at what point I decided to go about this all differently, but somewhere along the way, I started moving towards things I feared to look like I could do more than handle myself. I could take on anything.

I signed up to do a missionary training program where you get kidnapped and have to kill a goat and get fake murdered. But that school got shut down (I wonder why), so I went to the next best thing: a Christian leadership academy built around the methodology of the military, equipped with its own hell week. We prided ourselves in “beating our body and making it our slave,” (yes, that’s a Bible verse) and “doing all things through Christ who strengthens me” (especially the hard stuff). After that, I ran a ministry by myself for three years, not having any clue what I was doing, but I was capable and the Lord would provide. Right? I flew across the world to Haiti and Germany and India with no friends or family, to show I could do the hard things. When that was done, I hitchhiked through Europe just because the idea terrified me.

Anything I could do to prove to myself that I didn’t need anyone to rescue me, I could save myself, I did.

But lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling helpless, that yearning to be rescued crawls to the surface.

In spite of all my endeavors to look strong and independent and prove I didn’t need anyone, this thing in my chest, this thing latched to my bones, this thing to be saved by someone else screams to be heard.

Through all the years, the thing I wanted more than anything in the world was for someone to not be fooled by all the bullshit I hide behind, all the fake courage, and to see the scared little boy that just wanted to be rescued. The boy who believes he’s irreparably broken and unworthy of anything except standing in the mud as it rains, alone. And yet, in spite of the belief that they’re not good enough, a yearning for someone to see me, take me in, and keep me warm.

I know this doesn’t sound manly. I know this looks weak. And that’s what probably scares me the most: I don’t want to show this piece of me because it feels so scary, so vulnerable. So much so that even as I’m typing these words, I’m thinking of people reaching out to me or calling me on it, and me pretending like it was just some emotional, midnight blog post. They shouldn’t think anything of it. Because if they do, I’ll feel infinitely exposed, and in the past, when I’ve been exposed, I’ve been hurt. I’ve been called too much or too sensitive, and eventually pushed away.

Lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling my helplessness and wanting someone to rescue me, I feel guilty. Guilty that I don’t turn to God and say, “You know what? You’ve saved me! You’ve rescued me from all my fears! Hallelujah!” (Insert hand wave and stopping foot.)

But lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling my helplessness and wanting someone to rescue me, I hear God prompting me when I push down these truths. “Nope. Don’t hide that. Not from me. I see it. Say it. Say all of it. Every word that you’d rather me not know, every emotion that feels like betrayal, g it to me. Let me hear it.”

The fact is: He did save me. But that doesn’t change how I feel. That doesn’t change how much I’d rather a human rescue me, than Him. It doesn’t change the fact that it meant the world when I walked outside to “be alone” and a man came outside looking for me. It felt like a long-withheld inhale. It doesn’t change the fact that when I was in pain and reeling last week and yelling at a friend in a bar, trying to defend myself and stand my ground, that what I really wanted was someone to step between us and defend me.

That means so much. That matters so much.

When my friends know something was likely hard or they call me on my bullshit, I feel seen and known and like I matter. When my family says, “Oh! That makes sense!” in relation to my sexuality and the struggle I have as a gay Christian man, I feel known.

And that’s what I ultimately want: to be known, past my façade.

I try to be authentic, but I put it out there with this, “Yeah that’s me! Deal with it!” (as most fours do). I don’t present myself with a naked heart, laid bare and exposed to the world because that is risky. That’s scary as hell. Because what if someone attacks you and your vulnerability? Or worse, they don’t even see it and acknowledge it?

But how is someone supposed to be rescued if no one knows they need help?

I think what I’m learning, again and again, is that, in spite of me not feeling it, it’s in my vulnerability that God can prove Himself rescuer, and in doing so, make me genuinely strong.

That doesn’t change the fact that I desperately want a partner that can see past my bullshit, who can actually see me, who can be strong for me when I desperately yearn to be weak.

But even writing that here is vulnerability, and I’ve learned that that’s where God can work.

Final thing, and then I’ll shut up. I am CONVINCED that things would have been different if Adam and Eve would have stepped forward from their hiding when God called for them. But they hid. They covered their nakedness, their vulnerability.

God is the “I Am.” How is He supposed to step into communion, to show up as the “I Am” when we’re hiding.

He yearns for us to say, “Here I Am,” when He asks, “Where are you?”

Right here. In the wake of the consequences of my decisions. In the wake of me not trusting Your word. In the place where I believed a lie over Truth. This is where I am. Right here. Here I am.

It’s a millennia later, and He’s still asking the same question, and He’s looking for people who will remember we are made in His likeness.

The Great I Am asks us to align with who He is and say, “Here I Am.”

Here I am, God. All of me. Especially the icky, fucked up parts. The scared parts. The irreparably broken parts. The parts begging to be rescued.

Here I am. Save me.

Purpose and the Politician

I spent a few days in Texas. For those of you who don’t know, I went to a Christian leadership school called Teen Mania’s Honor Academy. Acquire the Fire and all that Jazz. In spite of the trauma that was our education, or rather because of it, I came out of there with some amazing friends and memories—one of whom was getting married. Thus the trip to Dallas, Texas.

But as I’m sitting there, watching my beautiful friend get married, surrounded by our old friends from school, I wonder, “Who will be at my wedding? Would any of these people come?”

The thought sent me to the car where I pounded back two hard ciders where a crazy man was walking the center of the street yelling at passerby’s, and I pretended to be talking to someone on my phone because the anxiety of friendless weddings was overshadowed the the anxiety of the stranger man coming at me for not giving him a cider. **Reads back over previous sentence, wondering if that’s actually a complete sentence, and pats back for one long-ass sentence.**

No one really talks about the cost of being gay these days. Which is great! Because there are happier things. There’s gay prom and lesbian marriages and trans-visibility day and surrogate mothers and adopted children.

We’ve come a long way… but it’s still hard.

It’s ended friendships; it’s parentless weddings; it’s no babies that you and your partner create; it’s reaching for your partner’s hand in public and wondering if people care, and it’s getting kicked out of churches and evangelical spaces, spaces you found a lot of purpose and belonging and passion…

I watched the Politician tonight. If you haven’t watched it, do it. It’s a stroke of genius. But as I’m watching, the main character, Payton Hobart, is depressed and hopeless while playing the piano in a local bar and it’s because he lost access to his passion. To deal with the loss, he killed any hope of returning to the very thing that gave him life: politics.

I’m not political. At least not like Payton. I’m not sure if anyone is as political as Payton. But to steal one of those annoying pages from those middle school grammar books: Payton is to politics as Brandon is to ministry.

Stressing to sell out an event. Staying up till four to set up a stadium. Kneeling in the snow as a fake Jesus in a skit you’ve done for the 200th time. Praying with a stranger. Holding a dying woman’s hand. Laughing and spooning friends you met three months ago, but you’d call them family. Talking with a kid over coffee about Jesus. Leading a congregation in worship.

All of it. I miss it.

When I came out, I felt as though I was disqualified from all of it. It was as though I was sacrificing all of these things related to ministry and family and friends for the sake of love, which is why I felt like my relationship needed to be perfect. If it wasn’t, why was I giving all of this up?

Watching Payton Hobart come alive while debating politics made me miss the things that make me come alive, the things I feel so disqualified from.

“My people perish for lack of vision.” It’s a verse… somewhere in the Bible. I could go look it up, but I’d rather keep writing.

I feel that. I feel a perishing or squandering in myself that yearns to wake up and feel and know it’s worth living, to know it’s doing something only it can do, a sense of purpose and destiny. I miss destiny. I miss believing every word and movement had intention, a kiss of the eternal, and not something passing and wasteful. I miss that.

I yearn for a kiss of destiny, to burn again.

How does one get fire back when life has thrown snow and rain on not only the embers but the wood and coal? How do we rekindle the flame?

I miss that Brandon. I want him back.

No Man’s Land

In Lady Montague’a “Turkish Embassy Letters” she describes a people group in South Eastern Europe, during the Ottoman Empire. They existed between Islamic nations and Christian nations. Out of fear, they kept both holy days, refusing to work on both Friday’s and Sunday’s.

I resonate with that—binding yourself to fear so intimately you live in two worlds instead of one, two realities instead of one, caught at a crossroad, committed to nothing, becoming a citizen to this space between countries: no man’s land.

———————

I’ve been depressed lately. About four weeks to be exact.

I’m not positive of the catalyst. What I do know is that I’ve been paralyzed by fear, watching as much Netflix as possible, so I can just not feel for the next x amount of episodes. (I’ve nearly watched all of Grace and Frankie, and finding a new show is really hard!)

The amount of nights committed to ice cream and television is abhorrent. I need to get homework done.

But it’s hard to live. If I’m being honest. It’s hard to live when it feels like an elephant is stepping on your chest. Makes it hard to breathe.

I came out 3.5 years ago, and if I’m honest, it hasn’t “gotten easier.” It’s gotten harder.

Being gay isn’t easy. There are some days I wish I never came out. Not because I want to hide the truth but because it doesn’t feel true most days.

Most days I deal with imposter syndrome, like someone gave me a script I’m not familiar with and I’m fumbling through the lines. I don’t get being gay. It doesn’t fit, like an oversized, hand-me-down sweater.

I can’t do the drag shows or the hyper sexuality or the open relationships or the club scene or the death after thirty or the gym-ing or the kinks or the sex on the first date or the need to be fashionable and interesting.

I don’t like any of it. It doesn’t fit.

But then I attend an old church and they feel like clothes that shrunk in the wash.

The with-every-head-bowed-and-every-eye-closed faith that doesn’t amount to anything, the come-Lord-Jesus-come’s when He said He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, the mini-money sermon before the plate passes, the every-one-is-welcome-but-not-really, the bless-you’s and shake-the-hand-of-the-person-next-to-you. I can’t take any more of it.

It’s like when I came out of the closet I looked behind the curtain of church and all the churches feel fake, the Bible feels like a weapon, and Christians feel like vacuum salesmen who are selling a product they don’t believe in but they’re terrified of not making their quota.

But I get it.

I’m terrified of Hell. I’m terrified of wasting my life. I’m terrified of being gay. I’m terrified of marrying a woman. I’m terrified of marrying a man. I’m terrified of being a father. I’m terrified of doing anything or believing anything.

I’m paralyzed.

So what do I do? I honor both days. I don’t do anything on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

I’m exhausted. Like feel-it-in-my-bones exhausted. Like God-please-take-me-home exhausted.

In my cult school down in Texas, we did an activity where staff members pretended to be a hostile government while we students were persecuted Christians. The role-playing led to my friends being thrown in jail (a camp shower house). I was supposed to rush the door, but a man with an automatic paint-ball gun stood between me and the door. Instead of rushing him, smacking his gun away, and freeing my friends like some Christian McGiver, I slunk away.

That moment haunts me. It haunts me because it reminds me of what’s happening again and again: I’m to scared to throw myself at either country: gay or Christian, and you best believe people will tell you can’t have dual citizenship. Both countries are separated by a big Trump wall and missiles pointed at each other, just waiting for any excuse to jump on the other.

The two identities i carry within me are at war with each other, not just externally in the world around me, but inside me as well, and I don’t fit into either of them anymore, and I’m scared as hell in this no-man’s land.

I just want to be comfortable in my own skin, to know and believe who I am, who God is, and be unapologetic about it. But I can’t find a mirror or God, so I’m a bit fucked at the moment. So I’ll watch this really cool movie where a nerd falls in love with Arya with cancer, because I would rather feel that than feel this unresolved mess of confusion that is my life.

Netflix: your next episode starts in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Gluten and Genocide

Fact: gluten sensitivity has been on the rise in recent years.

Fact: scientists still are unsure of the cause of this.

Fact: bacterial DNA has been injected into the majority of our plants. This genetic modification creates pores, resulting in the stomach exploding.

Fact: one of the number one issues related to gluten sensitivity is “leaky gut” or porous intestines, allowing food to leave the digestive tract and enter the bloodstream.

Coincidence? I think not! But what do I know? I’m just a 28-year old who is incredibly paranoid. I don’t know science, but I can definitely create the worst case scenario. I’m that person who interprets the period in a text message as, “This person is angry with me!” I’m also the guy that gets a sore throat, pulls out their phone, checks WebMD and concludes I have some rare lymphatic cancer. It’s rare people. Not impossible. Meaning, I could have it!

So if your brain works even a little bit like mine, you’re probably thinking, “Huh! I should probably buy more organic food.” But it’s in organic vegetables too. So good luck not getting leaky gut! You’re better off with thinking like me and deciding you should just stop eating altogether. Better to starve until I move to another country where GMO’s are illegal.

The facts above came up in a conversation with a number of my hippy friends that grow their own vegetables, have their own chickens, and milk their own goats. They are phenomenal in every way and way better at being true to their values than I am.

They went on to talk about large corporations that sue smaller farms because their patented seed started growing in their field (because they also modify the seed to spread everywhere). As the seeds spread, they sue smaller farmers, knocking out competition.

Why am I talking about farms and GMO’s and massive corporations on a blog devoted to sexuality, spirituality, and the personal life of a guy who likes guys and this guy named Jesus? Well, one, because it’s my blog and I want to. But two, because a simple conversation of leaky gut led me to existential questions (typical of my brain).

How can large corporations get away with this? How could someone make a decision to make more money that is potentially affecting an entire nation? How could people like this sleep at night?

From there my brain spiraled out into blood diamonds, battery harvesting, child starvation, and the Holocaust. GMO’s to genocide. Yay brain! But the real reason I ended up at human depravity is because I always ask the question “why?”

Why genocide? Why starving children? Why exploding guts?

That then leads to the biggest question: Why would God let this happen?

Pain and destruction have a way of pulling out the most potent question that every human will eventually come into contact with: where is God in all of this?

I’m going to expose my theology here a bit. I don’t think God allows it. I’m not a believer in the divine orchestration of everything. I don’t understand how people can believe in that and believe that God is loving. If God orchestrates horrific things like children in Africa dying of AIDS, then God is cruel and not worthy of any type of worship.

And here’s the part where all the evangelical Christians pumped the breaks, thinking they should stop reading. But I think my thoughts actually have more than logic, but biblical evidence.

In truth, I see God releasing control to man way more often than not in the Bible.

God yielding to Israel and giving them a king.

God yielding to Moses and not massacring all of Israel.

God yielding to Abraham and saving Lot.

The Bible is full of stories of God bending a knee to man, not because He’s weak. Not because He’s a people pleaser and needs our favor. But because love yields.

The Trinity is this gorgeous depiction of God yielding to God in a cyclical union that He invites us into.

God literally gave dominion of the earth to us. It’s like He created this gorgeous car and gave us the keys. Then we get mad when we drive recklessly and crash the thing. And I’m not talking about just man on man violence. Yes, our reckless decisions directly affect those around us. But the act of raising our own will above other’s literally curses the planet. It caused plants and animals to riot against us and each other. It commissioned death and pain into the world. Sickness, pain, disease. It all bleeds from the same wound that we inflicted.

When we look around the world at all the destruction, it’s not God orchestrating it. It’s a world that is in the hands of an adrenaline-junky, hormonal teenager.

So as I sat in my car with a mind that spun out from leaky guts to the depravity of man, my heart broke. I literally started crying in my car because of GMO’s. And as I cried, there was a prayer that rose above it all: “Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Come reign. Come make the wrong things right. Come redeem the pain and the suffering. Come. Come, Lord Jesus, come… and start with me.”

It’s really easy to look at the world on a macro level and say, “God, please come rule. We screwed this up. Time after time we mess this up. Your hands are stronger. Your hands are wiser. Come reign. Bring Your peace. Bring Your life.”

And yet, when we bring it to a micro level, we squirm. Especially me. It’s like I can trust Him with the world but I can’t trust Him with myself.

If I let God rule in my life, will He look out for me? Will He satisfy the yearnings of my heart? Will He hold me close like a lover when I feel desperately alone and lost? Will He show up? Is He actually good? Does He even care? Does He truly love me?”

When we choose to say, “I’ve got this,” in our hearts, we are calling God a liar. We are like our ancestors in that garden millennia ago, and we believe the same lie of the serpent.

“Did God really say that? He’s holding out on you. He doesn’t have your best interest in mind. You decide what’s right. You decide what’s wrong. You don’t need Him. You decide what’s right. You decide what’s wrong. Eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

We eat the fruit. Every day. And we wonder why the world is spinning out of control.

We expect God to “come on the clouds with fire”. We expect Him to smite the faithless, establish dominion, and “rule with a mighty hand”. We expect him to “put all His enemies under His feet.”

So did the Jews.

They expected the Messiah to ride in on a white horse and free Israel from the might of Rome with a mighty hand. But He came in on a donkey and His hands were pierced to a tree. He physically couldn’t lift a finger to help anyone as His body was wrenched from Him.

The more and more I look at Jesus, the more and more I think we may have it all wrong.

Jesus doesn’t establish dominion on land or sea. His kingdom is in hearts. Jesus doesn’t win by rising up and destroying the oppressor. He rules through dying by their hands.

He yields… to man… to His Father. And by yielding, He brings about life for the world.

In one garden, the first Adam said, “I don’t trust you.” In another garden, the second Adam wept, praying, “Not my will but yours.” By yielding, Jesus brought about life for us all, and that promise is extended to us.

“The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I come to bring life, and life abundant.”

Do we believe Him? I know I don’t a lot. I know that I think, “God if I yield to you, you will steal from me, you will kill me, you will destroy me.”

What am I saying about God? I’m calling Jesus Satan and Satan my Messiah. That sounds strong, but can you see it any other way? I perpetuate the very pain I hate in the world. God isn’t going to win by smiting all in His path. He’s going to win the earth one heart at a time as each heart chooses to yield. It’s an invitation. Not a conquest. And it starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with the smallest and most precious world of all–our own. And as we choose to trust Him, one moment at a time, He will be faithful to fulfill His promise–”I will bring about abundant life. Not just to you, but to everyone around you.”

He wants to plant the tree of life in us all, producing a fruit that will rescue everyone that tastes its nectar.

Will we soften our hearts to Him to plant that seed? Will we yield? He yields to us every day. Can we till the soil of our hearts and open up to His faithfulness? Can we trust Him?

A quick aside before I depart. It’s easy to see that living in the knowledge of evil produces death. But it wasn’t called the tree of the knowledge of evil. It was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I have seen so many Christians focus on what is right and what is wrong, that they kill the hearts of everyone they meet. We all want to know we’re in the right so badly, we’ll go to any length to ensure we’re safe.

We’ll cross the road on the way to church as a bloodied man asks for help. After all, we have to be there on time and we don’t want to get our robes dirty.

But it’s not just the evangelical Christian that does this. Every single human is guilty.

“Well, at least I don’t kill people.” “It’s not like I go around raping children.” “I’m not that bad.”

We justify ourselves rather than Christ justifying us and in doing so eat of the fruit of our ancestors, perpetuating the pain.

Probably one of the biggest vindications I’ve seen lately is in the gay Christian community. And I get it. We’ve been told we’re wrong for so long; we’re desperate to prove that we’re right. We invest hours to studying scripture; we analyze the culture and the language; we exegesis the shit out of context and in doing so vindicate ourselves. We are right. They are wrong.

If you dig deep enough, anyone can find scripture to support their cause. Even slaveholders found justification in scripture prior to the Civil War.

Am I saying that having a same-sex marriage is wrong? I’m not, actually. What I am saying is that if we simply dig into the Bible, declaring this is right, we’re no better than the people that clobber us with the same passages. We cannot keep living in the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It’s time to turn to the tree of life.

Is there life in your life (yes I just wrote that…) as a result of the choices you make? Are you yielding to Jesus?

A while back, when trying to vindicate myself and give myself permission to have a gay relationship, I reached out to a married gay couple who write a blog called Modern Kinship. They inspire me with their trust and love of Jesus. Yes, believe it or not, there are homos out there that love Jesus and do a better job than a lot of straight people.

When I emailed them, sharing my story and asking questions about marrying a man or a woman, He gave me an answer I didn’t expect.

“I don’t believe there’s a single God-honoring path to take. Maybe God has a woman in mind for you; maybe He doesn’t.” He went on to say that the number one evidence that he knows that God has called him and his spouse to this marriage is the life they see as a result of it. “My marriage serves to strengthen my faith. We serve God together and help to deepen each other’s understanding of God. Our relationship has had outward benefits in the way it has prompted people to think about God and his love in a larger, more radical way. People ruined on the church are giving God a second look. All of that, for me, has been the best evidence.”

“You will judge a tree by their fruit.”

What fruit do you have that shows you’re producing life? Not right or wrong. This isn’t about vindication. The world has had plenty of that and we’re all still bleeding. Being right doesn’t heal. It still kills. Where is life blossoming? Not only yourself but for those around you? Is there healing in your open hands? Is there a simple childlike trust breathing hope into the people around you? Are we agreeing with our Messiah’s prayer, “Not my will, but Yours”?

I want to start praying that prayer again.

Thanks for reading.

Part 8. Phoenix, AZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But something happened. Well, actually a lot happened.

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

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

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

I didn’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hopeful desperation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.