February 27, 2009

pull up a chair

This is probably going to be a rather long post. Okay, okay. Stop jumping up and down, Pete. You're going to spill your drink on your keyboard.

I really don't know how to begin this. I could just listen to Fraulein Maria and sing, "Let's just start from the very beginning; a very good place to start." Unfortunately, there is more than one thread to this story, so there I'm not sure which line to follow first.

As most of you (all five of you, anyway), I have been looking struggling for quite some time with depression and anxiety attacks. I forget the fancy words the doctor typed into the computer at this point, but that's the gist of it.

I came to the conclusion, or rather, finally admitted to myself that I knew I would not and could not make any progress towards a healthy life until I started working on my relationship with God.

I know some of you may be groaning, but bear with me here.

I wish I was able to link to some of my old posts in order to explain some of this without having to type it all out. Chalk that one up to another one of my downhill slides. I usually don't regret taking down all those posts, but sometimes it would be so handy to have them available.

At any rate, as some of you may recall, I've posted about my struggle with all these issues. They're still very much a part of my life, and still affecting me and those around me. Cody has brought up counseling pretty much once a month since I stopped last year. He's not really pushing meds, but he really wants me to start seeing someone. I apparently scare the crap out of him when I'm on the downswing. Go figure.

So I've slowly been starting to realize that there is more to the story than I've been admitting to myself. Some of you know that I was raised in a Christian home, and I myself am a Christian. I grew up loving God and thought there were several years I didn't attend church at all, by the time I had graduated high school I was attending at least Sunday evening services regularly.

Oh good grief, if I go through this like an autobiographical time line, I'll never get to the point.

For about the past seven years, I haven't attended church more than a handful of times. As you can imagine, growing up gay in a Southern Baptist Church was no picnic. I went through a lot of internal warfare growing up trying to reconcile what I was taught with what I felt in my heart.

God hates boys who like boys "that" way.

I'm surely going to hell.

Those are just a couple of thoughts I struggled with. I assure you; there are plenty more.

I don't want to give anyone the impression that I hold my parents or the church at fault for my depression. I won't lie and say that they hasn't contributed vast amounts of fuel to the fire over the years either. We can discuss all that more in depth at more appropriate times.

The point I want to get to is to basically say this: I grew up with a close relationship to God. I struggled for years with what we now call my homosexuality because I was taught that it was wrong. I had actually started to come out of the closet an inch at a time when I was 21. Then I re-dedicated my life to Christ (it's church lingo for turning your back on your wickedness and seeking the path of righteousness you were previously on, and it's very real) and I ran back in the closet and buried everything. I severed ties with a few people at the time, and actually did some lasting damage it took a lot of years to repair.

Then, shortly after I turned 23, I hit probably one of my deepest "episodes" yet. At that point, my relationship with my parents became very strained, and I started pulling away from the church as well. It was a pretty rough patch, and I'm confident that nothing short of the grace of God could have pulled me through that.

I eventually ended up on better footing with my parents, and the other relationships that were being affected at the time were also beginning to mend. I never really got back a good, solid footing at church though. I felt like a fraud and a failure. Here I was, going to church 2-3 times a week, doing everything I could to fight off my demons, and they just wouldn't go away. I still knew I was gay. I was checking out guys at church, for cryin' out loud! And I was still depressed.

So I started skipping services more and more. Unfortunately I also stopped seeking God's face. The only one who mattered and could have helped the whole time, and I was ashamed to go to His feet.

Several months later, I met Cody. Little known fact: Cody and I have been together every weekend except two since we met almost seven years ago. Considering we lived 90 miles apart for the first three years, that's something I'm proud of. We've had some rough spots, but we did what couldn't be done. Provided I don't kill him or vice versa, we'll be going strong till were old and wrinkly.

Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to reconnect with God in a quality way. Until now.

See, I've been looking for a new church "home" for the past 6-7 years. I've found some that were friendly, to be sure. They just weren't right where it really mattered though. I so don't want to get into a theological debate or anything, so let me throw in a disclaimer here:

These are my beliefs, and I take ownership of them. I'm not trying to shove anything down your throat, and I hope you don't feel that way. But these are my beliefs and convictions, so I won't apologize for them.

I'm what's called an "Evangelical Christian". At least that's what the term du jour was last time I checked. (I so can't spell in French...) I believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, and therefore born free from sin, which enabled Him to take the sin of the world, be punished for it by death, go to hell, and then rise again victorious over sin and death. I believe He did that for me and for you. He did that for everyone for all time.

I also believe that knowing that isn't enough. Even satan knows all that. The salvation Jesus brought about on the cross is a gift. A gift can be given freely, but it does no good without receiving it. I believe you actually have to consciously accept the gift Christ has given in order to be free from sin and go to heaven. I'm so blowing through this faster than I should, but that's the gist of it.

So here's the problem. Some of you may be aware that in recent times, more and more churches have become what's called "Open and Affirming" congregations. I won't try to drop a percentage on you as though I'm an authority on this matter, but from my own personal experience, the churches I have found in my search that are open and affirming have thus far fallen short of that basic requirement of mine. I don't want to settle for a church that doesn't believe you must be "born again" (it's written in red, folks) just so I can participate in a congregation and feel welcome. Don't get me wrong, I've been to a couple of nice churches that are very welcoming and show a lot of love. But that's not enough for me, and I don't apologize for it.

So, as I said (typed, if you wanna' get technical on me), I've been looking for a church I can call home off and on for many years without much luck. I've been disappointed so many times that it gets harder and harder to even try any more. I think there's another post there, but I'm not going to chase that rabbit right now.

Let me take a moment to say something else. If you work for a company with a web presence, and there is an e-mail link for people to contact you, it damn well better work. And you need to check it and respond.

Where was I? Oh, right.

So I've talked about some of this before. I actually wrote Bethany a big ole' letter once explaining a lot of this and some more as well. She's been so super supportive that it never ceases to amaze me. Considering the roots of our relationship, I'm astonished at how healthy it is! Sorry, I love her to pieces and I gotta brag on her now and then.

Well, since Bethany and I started to reconnect a couple of years ago, we've both been blogging. She's much more faithful about it than I am, and she's so gifted... I think God has already been using her in big ways (not just in my life), I can't wait to see what He's got in store...

So Bethany's blog has a link to another "little" blog called "Stuff Christians Like." This site rocks. Seriously. This post is already huge, so if you want to know what it's all about, go here first.

I've been reading SCL (as it's affectionately called by it's faithful readers) for quite some time. I've gotten through the majority of the archives, though not all, and I've been reading it daily for the past few months.

The wicked awesome author of this blog, Jon Acuff, writes a couple of other blogs that I'm rather fond of as well. I highly recommend 97 Seconds with God. Talk about a gifted writer! And he knows where his gift comes from, and isn't afraid to admit it.

Being a busy man with a lot on his plate and a family as well, Jon occasionally has guest authors post on his site. I've read some pretty awesome posts, as he's not willing to let just anyone post. Stacy, one of his first guests, gained her notoriety through some awesome sarcasm that I find can only be responded to with "OH SNAP!" Sarcasm is a love language on SCL, so it's all in fun.

No more rabbit holes, I swear! (Yeah. As if.)

So another guest on SCL, who also gained this honor through some incredibly insightful yet hilarious comments, is Nick the Geek. I'm not calling him names. That's what he named himself. Nick is a youth pastor, and man did God call the right guy. He's insightful, hilarious, and just as high energy as any of his "kids". That's a nice way of saying I think he might have a touch of ADHD. Not really, but he's definitely intentse, though in a good way.

As you may have guessed, Nick has a blog (or four) of his own. The site is My Experience as Youth Pastor, and it is listed in my "dailies" in Google reader. Yeah, it's that good.

Yes, for those of you following along, my addiction to blogs is severe enough that I have a seperate category for the blogs I read every day so I can filter out all the other stuff and just get to what matters until I get more time.

At any rate (Is it just me, or do I say that a lot?), I bookmarked Nick's blog a few months ago when he wrote a guest post for SCL. I like the post well enough to check out his blog, and loved the few that I read there. Nick is always very gracious about responding to everyone's comments, too - which is just awesome.

So, now I'm up to the point where I'm looking for a church home off and on, building a closer-than-I-could-have-imagined friendship with Ms. Bethany, reading SCL and 97Seconds every day, and I have Nick bookmarked.

Hey, I told you it would be a long post. Go to the bathroom and stretch your legs a bit. I'll wait.

Better? Good.

A few months ago, I also stumbled upon another site, called Straight-Friendly. It's tagline is "A daily devotional for GLBT and other alienated Christians -- with occasional personal observations." I read a couple of posts and thought it was pretty awesome, so I bookmarked it to come back to later (thus defeating the purpose of the "daily" part, I know).

As an aside, the author of this site, Tim, is also a very gracious host and, much like Nick, tends to respond to every comment personally. I love that.

Believe it or not, I think you're all up to speed enough that I can get on with the damn story already...

At the beginning of this month, I went back and started reading through Nick the Geek's archives from the beginning. He really is a talented writer, and a gifted teacher as well.

I came across a post from August of last year in which was writing about his feelings concerning how Christians, and the church as a whole, tend to treat homosexuals. I felt inclined to leave a comment (Big surprise, right?) explaining my biggest bitch about the way Christians treat gays and lesbians.

True to form, Nick responded to my comment. I didn't get even a hint of condemnation from him, which I didn't really expect, but I just want to throw that out there before anyones hackles go up.

Nick's response to my comment ended up being so long, he felt it deserved to be a post in and of itself. In his own words, "I'm reposting my comment because it ended up being super long and it bears saying often."

Nick and I don't agree on some things. Unlike a lot of Christians, Nick is a standard bearer for the love of Christ. The man actually gets it.

He doesn't agree with me, but he doesn't care. He's not looking at me in judgement trying to keep my from anything. He's showing the love of Christ as Christ Himself taught we should.

Not only is that awesome, that takes balls! I don't know what denomination, if any, Nick works for. I do know that his viewpoint is considered radical by some though. But the more Nick's we have in this world the better off we will be.

Nick wrote a follow-up post to the original that I first mentioned. In it, he explained that the main reason he brought the subject up is because there are two teens he feels are likely wrestling with their sexual identity in his group. I have to say, I gotta' give credit to Nick and anyone else who voluntarily work with kids and young adults. That's a lot of responsibility (and a lot of noise!).

This is what's important to me, and why I thank God for men like Nick:

The kids in his class will grow into adulthood without a skewed and dangerous view of homosexuals. They will love them as Christ calls them to. None of that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" bullshit that so many people hide their hate behind (not so successfully).

More importantly, the young people that come through his doors who are questioning their sexuality don't have to grow up like I did.

That, to me, is so deep and important that I can't put it into words.

It brings tears to my eyes to know that even on child will be spared the anguish of growing up gay in church because Nick is obedient and loving enough to obey his Lord and love these kids.

Thanks, Nick. Not only for what you have written to me. But thanks for doing what you're doing. It matters. Thank you.

Crap. How do you follow that up?

Honestly I've been putting off responding to the last of Nick's comments and his post until I could say what was in my heart.

Oddly enough, in these short few weeks, Nick has been a big part of some changes that are happening in me.

As I mentioned, Nick isn't just funny; he's a good teacher too. So I've been reading a lot of his posts lately. I've also been reading a lot of Bethany's incredible insights and Jon's learn-through-humor as well as his more serious stuff.

In addition to that, I've also come to the realization that I really need to strive to rebuild my relationship with God. I know enough to know that I will not know real, lasting peace and peace of mind without Him.

So I've also been reading Tim's posts every morning, and using them as the daily devotional they're intended to be.

Oddly enough, I followed a couple of links from Tim's site this morning and stumbled upon something that rocked my world and brought tears to my weary eyes.

I think I have found a church, my friends.

I'm trying to temper my excitement for the time being, while I try to get more information and wait to attend an actual service. It's also hard to not be jaded as I've been burned so many times before.

Either way, I'm getting closer to Him, and He to me.


Mommyto3 said...

Excellent post my friend. Most excellent, well worth the wait.


and some chocolate chip cookies when you & cody come down again!

ellenjane said...

How could you spin the world off its access just as I'm getting ready to ride on a jet plane...by POSTING! :)
Glad you did Love, can't wait to read about what you think of the service.

Tim said...

Jake, I can't begin to express my gratitude for your kind words. But more than that, I'm grateful to know you better, to know God guides you, and to know you're finding answers and places you need to take your rightful place among His people. There's an old spiritual that says, "Plenty good room in my father's kingdom. Choose your seat and sit down." I'm so glad you know without a doubt as a gay believer, it's your privilege to pull up a chair!

It's good to remember after starting at the very beginning, Maria's story ends with "Climb every mountain, ford every stream." Finding a safe place and fighting false fears takes gay believers through some rough, rocky places. But God is faithful and we're never alone. There's nothing to fear or doubt with Him at our side. And though you struggle with depression and anxiety, know that you're constantly enfolded in the healing warmth of your Creator's love.

Finally, I want to thank you for tipping me off about other blogs worth reading. I'm bookmarking this post to lead me their way. And speaking of blogs, with your consent, I'd like to link this one at my place. Even though you write about more than your faith, you're someone I believe my readers would be glad--and proud--to know.

Stay strong and encouraged, my brother. Where God directs, He protects. You'll land where He needs you to be safe and sound.

You're in my thoughts and prayers always.