In my legalistic upbringing in a conservative church, there wasn’t room for imperfection. The love I received was in response to the perfect, compliant image I could convey. I felt great shame for my failings and imperfections, and I was afraid to be known for who I really was. It was easier to be loved for my image rather than for my reality. I became an excellent manipulator of love, but I never felt satisfied and always kept looking for more.
Deep in my heart, I struggled to hide the conflict of having same-sex attraction. That became harder as I entered a secular community college. Believing everyone else was deceived, I left home, image intact, and did my own thing. Suddenly the things I had hidden in shame were celebrated. I swam in a euphoric dream of affirmation in my sexuality that would ultimately become a nightmare. After two years of pursuing many loves, I awoke to the real-life consequences of my choices. I hit bottom with an HIV diagnosis. I was done fending for myself.
I confronted my parents with my reality: “I’m gay and I’m HIV positive.” I fully expected their rejection. Instead, I was met with their immense love. For the first time I knew the reality of their love, because for the first time I gave them my reality to love. Their love was not manipulated or based on an image. They knew exactly whom they were loving. They loved me anyway. They didn’t love the choices I had made, but their love for me propelled me into the love of my heavenly Father. That gave me the ability to believe that God had a greater purpose for me.
Rather than condemn me, His love compelled me to align my will with His. At the time I honestly didn’t believe I could become who He created me to be, but I chose to trust Him. I surrendered to His greater authority. At the cross, I began a daily death to my sin, which kicked off a long season of being known in my weakness.
I soon realized that my old self was in conflict with the new man of God’s design. At times I would worship created things rather than the Creator. Each time His mercy made a way for me to realign myself with His greater will. In spite of my flesh, God was continuing to reveal my identity in Him. The greater plans He had were being realized in my life and in my relationships.
It wasn’t long before I began to think I could manage on my own. “Pride cometh before a fall,” and my stumbling wasn’t far behind. When I saw the warning signs, I felt shame for experiencing them. “Shouldn’t I be beyond that by now?” In my hiddenness, the temptations increased and eventually I gave in. My experience with confession told me it was time to die once again. Confession would shatter the image I had reconstructed and, again, resurrect the true image of my dignity and identity in Him.
I am grateful for the rhythm of the cross I’ve immersed myself in through Living Waters. Each time I am willing to identify with Him in His death through confession I find new life rise through His resurrection. The same authority that brought Him out of the grave raises me into alignment with His greater will and purpose for me. I am strengthened to move forward, in spite of my own stubbornness.
My family is the greatest testament to His ability to fulfill His purposes. His will has been greater than my own imaginings! My wife and son are the fruit of my obedience. He shows me every day through them how His promises continue to be fulfilled.
However, my humanity continues to war against the greater life he has purposed for me. I still have to die daily; I do so through confession to the sin that so easily entangles me. He is always faithful to forgive, strengthen and resurrect His truth in me once more. This happens most powerfully through His body, my community. Those who hear my confessions are the hands, mouth, voice and arms of my heavenly Father; these priests are God’s agents imparting truth and mercy where I need it most. They speak His words of forgiveness and healing. They bless and call forth the truth that I cannot see. They remind me of whose I am and what I was created for. They keep me humble and in right posture before my Creator.
My wife has also been a partner in this for me. Of course it is no easy task for her to hear my confessions without taking them personally. Yet I believe that it is important to show her the real me so that together the Holy Spirit can clarify the true man God is resurrecting for her. Our first foray into this occurred years ago after a ministry trip. While on this trip I felt my heart “bending” toward a male colleague. Through God’s mercy I saw the warning signs early on and was able to choose well in the face of it. Still, I felt the need to bring it into the light of our marriage. Chrystal had a difficult time with my fallen reality and it hurt to see how it hurt her. Fortunately, God used the disclosure to make a way for us to be more closely united in our commitment to each other. Together, we became more aware of our humanity and of our need for Him.
Today we have an agreement as to what we need to know. For instance, Chrystal takes comfort in my accountability relationships. She knows that I have a place to confess and partners who walk with me in expressed areas of weakness. She’d rather avoid the daily details of my confession. Likewise, I know she has friends walking with her that she can lean on, and I am comforted in that. We are committed to sharing with each other anytime the boundaries of our marriage are threatened or breached.
Through His death and resurrection, our marriage is becoming what God intended when He united us together. Sixteen years later, as of this writing, I am so grateful that we didn’t settle for the marriage we could have created in our own strength. The cross has made the difference.