I moved to Indiana six days after I graduated college to work for a non-denominational megachurch. I was totally closeted and coming off of an emotional few months, but despite years of self-loathing and internal struggle over my same-sex attraction, I was excited to start a career in ministry. It was what I loved the most, and I thought it could be enough.
I thought I could stay quiet.
I was excited to get to learn, work, serve, and build community along the way. I had a lot of expectations, but something I didn’t expect was how fast my feet were moving, and why. I moved quickly and without pause as to avoid what I had been desperately trying to ignore my whole life: The truth that I am gay.
My first summer on staff was packed full of navigating my new position, working lots of over-time hours, and adjusting to my new life. But when things started to wind down that August, my feet stopped moving so fast and I had, for the first time, no choice but to sit with myself and with Jesus and address the things I thought I could outrun. I began the hard work of looking all of it in the face.
Over time, I felt Jesus softly affirm what I had always thought of as an ugly thing, something to hate and to hide. Shame that followed me most of my life. A reason to be in the dark.
I began to realize that the Lord never calls us to darkness–only light.
Eventually, that time of reflection and honest seeking led me to a new set of convictions. I no longer believed I needed to change in order for God to love me or use me. I no longer believed that my sexual orientation was a curse or a result of anything broken in me. Instead, I could see for the first time how God could use me just the way He created me, how living a “gay lifestyle” did not mean I would be frequenting back alleys, addicted to sex and drugs, or an overall danger to society, that it could be life-giving and blessed by God. Suddenly, the picture that the church had painted for me of this abhorrent lifestyle seemed an elaborate ruse, a good scare tactic, but not true.
These convictions brought a new-found sense of freedom, but also a new-found sense of uncertainty. I knew that if I agreed to not “act” upon my convictions, if I agreed to “work on it” or seek counseling for it, I would be fervently embraced and welcomed to stay in my church and my community. My “good fight” would be congratulated. The thorn in my side would be an excellent illustration for some pastor on a pulpit. People might have even called it inspiring.
But I couldn’t do that.
And so, over the next year and a half, I came out to my close friends and family. It was difficult and there were lots of long, hard conversations, but there was also a lot of love–friends who told me that they loved me, that they were proud of me. True, unconditional love.
This last March, I came out to my church leadership. I was met with a distant love from a community I’d spent almost two years in. A love that wanted me to change, and that wouldn’t keep me if I didn’t. I sat with co-workers and pastors and we wrung our hands. I knew I couldn’t change, and I knew that they wouldn’t. It was decided that my last day would be Easter Sunday. It ended up being so fitting, on that day, to leave one thing behind in order for something new to spring to life.
I’m now fully out and in a relationship with my incredible girlfriend. I get to love her and be loved by her. We get to love and be loved by Jesus, all things I never thought possible. Last week, we had dinner with people from our church who loved and affirmed us as individuals and as a couple. There is no more darkness. No more shame. No more fear.
There is so much hope in embracing and being embraced. I now know that I don’t need to pray harder, believe better, march further, sing louder, or hide who I am. I never believed it when I was told that I was fearfully and wonderfully made, but now I feel it. I believe that I am called good. When I realized what was waiting for me outside of those oppressive spaces–what true freedom felt like–I understood so much better what it means to love and be loved, exactly as I am.