I finally put it in God’s hands.
I wrestled and prayed and cried and struggled. I was attracted to women. I wanted it to be okay. I understood both sides of the Christian arguments about homosexuality—those who say committed, homosexual relationships are okay and those who don’t—and I wasn’t sure what to think. Both sides have valid arguments. Whatever science had to say on the topic, I wasn’t convinced homosexuality was inborn in some people. However, neither was I convinced it was simply a choice. After all, I had made no choice to feel attracted to women. It was just “there,” and now I had to deal with it. Neither was it sudden. The need to face it felt sudden, but not the attraction itself. I had felt attraction to women since my teens, only I had shut down my sexuality so completely I was unable to acknowledge it.
Whatever the truth about homosexuality was, I knew my general concepts of sexuality were confused and unhealthy. While the forum “Empty Closets” encouraged figuring out your sexuality by noticing who you are attracted to, I knew it wasn’t that simple for me. I knew sexual abuse had destroyed my concept of healthy relationships and sexual intimacy. I knew my perception of sexuality was “screwed up.” The devil had used sexual abuse to turn my sexuality—something God created for the ultimate expression of intimacy, vulnerability, and love—into something dark and evil. How did I know that my attraction to women didn’t come from all that pain?
However, trying to force myself to stop feeling attraction for women or to not ache to love and hold my friend, was impossible. The thoughts and feelings were there; I couldn’t just will them to change. I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t know how to change myself, how to let go of the fear of men and romantic relationships. I felt like one big mess, and I didn’t know where to start.
Finally, I told God, “You do it. I’m feeling this, and You know it. I don’t think it’s truth, but I don’t know how to change it. I know my perception of healthy sexuality is all mixed up. I’m coming awake sexually and relationally, but I’m still terrified. I don’t know where to begin to learn and believe Your truth about what sexuality and romance are supposed to be. I want to honor You. I don’t think living as a lesbian does that. I need You and want You. I want to believe truth. Will You simply work in me?”
With that prayer, a lot of the panic and struggle left. The question of “Am I gay or not?” was not a constant, frantic thought running through everything else I did. I simply told God about it honestly and asked Him for His truth, trusting that He is big enough to sort out His will and His truth in my heart. I no longer obsessed over my possible homosexuality or the rightness or wrongness of it. Periodically, God and I would talk about it again, or I’d journal about it as things came up. However, the intensity left. Though I still noticed when I felt attracted to a woman, I simply focused on living God’s life for me in the present, still trusting Him to help me through all my questions.
For the most part, I quit reading and posting on the “Empty Closets” forum. I did check in occasionally as I had made connections with other Christians struggling with many of the same questions I was. I didn’t read gay or lesbian books or watch gay or lesbian films. Though I really wanted a lesbian relationship, I did not pursue one. In my close girl friendships, I put up a quiet border of reserve, though I never actually told them that’s what I was doing. When with my friends, I was mindful of not acting like I was dating: watching my tone of voice, my smiles, my glances, etc. I was already too confused; I didn’t want to add to it. I simply wanted to give God the chance to speak His will and His truth into my heart.
A year went by.
That is where I left the question “Am I gay?” for most of a year. I still felt attracted to women sometimes, though the intensity of the feelings gradually decreased. Over that year, I started praying that God would bring safe, godly men into my life who could show me what healthy relationships looked like. I didn’t want a romantic relationship. I simply wanted “friend-level” or “father-level” relationships. I simply wanted to observe godly men who gave love, respect, and affirmation to women simply because it’s who they were: safe, godly, caring men. I didn’t have any concept of healthy relationships with men, so I knew I needed someone to demonstrate those for me.
During that year, a major change came into my life. I made the choice to leave the conservative Mennonite conference I had grown up in. For years, I had felt trapped in the fellowship I was a part of. Relationships for me were superficial. “Being a good Christian” meant following the organization’s rules. Questioning what was said over the pulpit was met with silence. “Church leaders” only increased my family’s suffering. Another “church leader” held over me the whip of accountability. The Bible was revered as the final authority while the Holy Spirit was ignored. If you “do the right thing,” you will get to heaven. Admit “acceptable” struggles but never talk about depression, or suicidal thoughts, or addictions, or sexual abuse, or horror of horrors, being gay! For me, with the dysfunctional background I came from, it only enforced the unhealthy patterns I had learned.
God led me into another part of His family that values authenticity, faith, Spirit-leading, and Spirit power in the life of the believer. Slowly, God started to unwind my twisted perceptions of Him and His church. In the process, unexpectedly, He also started to unwind my twisted view of men. When I first prayed that God would bring safe men into my life, I envisioned a more “formal” relationship with perhaps one family or one couple that would sort of “take me in” and relate closely with me.
So far, that hasn’t happened. Instead, safe, godly men are popping up unexpectedly in various situations. There are so many examples. Two godly men took the time to pray with me and for me through deep hurts: breaking off generational iniquities, the devil’s strongholds, and soul ties. Those same men—along with their wives—invited me to worship with them in their home, and for the first time, I saw men worship God with beautiful adoration. I saw men demonstrate that a relationship with God was THE most important thing in their lives.
No, that doesn’t quite describe it. Their relationship with God IS their life. They could no more breathe than live without God. Seeing them worship, realizing that they drew their life and breath from God, opened my heart up to trust them in a way I never thought possible. I knew God was safe and, if they were listening to Him, then these men could be safe too.
Another brother in Christ felt strongly led to pray for healing for me. So, he did. We didn’t know each other, but he was vulnerable enough to come to me and say, “I don’t know why, but I feel the Spirit telling me to pray for you.” He prayed simply for total healing for my body. Other men of God have gathered around me, anointed me with oil, and prayed for my healing, in body and spirit. Sometimes, it’s been something as simple as a man stopping me in Wal-Mart to ask me why I’m on oxygen, and, right there and then, in the middle of the store, praying for healing for me.
Another godly man asked me to tell him my story in nearly its entirety, affirmed the goodness and glory of God in my life, and then shared it with the family of God during his sermon the next day. Sometimes it’s my brother, like when he noticed that a fan’s enthusiastic screaming at a concert was bothering my ears, so he quietly asked her to tone it down.
Each and every one, simply by their actions, have told me, “We see. We notice. We care. We hear. We respect you. You have value. You matter to us. You have a voice. You are heard.” Every time a godly man blesses me, it’s like oil to the hard, bitter cracks in a heart that shut men out for so long. When the men in the Sunday morning service stop to look me in the eye, smile, shake my hand, and ask how I am, even that mends this broken heart a little. Again and again, they shatter the old lie that all men are unsafe and are only out to use me because that’s all I’m good for. Every time, I am in awe of a creative God who can orchestrate such moments of healing in the most unexpected places.
Read Part 3 next week to find out what happens next.
I will reiterate here what I have said before: in no way am I trying to “bash” the Plain people. I have been reading blogs written by other Mennonites in the last few weeks, and I was struck at the difference between my experience with the Mennonites and the experiences many of them blog about. For many of them, they experienced the Plain people as a largely healthy place to grow up, marry (or not), raise children (or not), or hold a job or…the list could go on. While most of them are honest and admit that there is much to be improved among the Mennonites just like any other place on earth, their experiences were largely healthy: relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Mine weren’t. My family was very dysfunctional, and the conference I was a part of does not handle such situations well. The conference itself was dysfunctional in many ways. My experience was very different. So, my description of what the Mennonites were like for me is my description and my experience. It was true for the family, community, and congregations I was a part of. However, there are many different groups of Plain people, running the spectrum from unhealthy to healthy. Depending on circumstances, someone else may have had a very different experience than I did. When I describe the difficulties I experienced among the Mennonites, please don’t take that as an indictment of the Plain people as a whole. It’s not. It’s me being honest about what trapped me for so long, praying it brings hope to someone else.