Category : Men

Paula, now Paul—A Man After God’s Own Heart

Paula, now Paul—A Man After God’s Own Heart By Paul Pickering, Kokomo

I had a life that was far from God, drowning in homosexuality and transgenderism, trying to live as a woman in a man’s body.
But God had another plan. He invited me into a relationship with Him, and has since changed my life, forever! 
In Ephesians 4:22-24, it says: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
My past in homosexuality and transgenderism was a heart issue, and had very little to do with sex. 
I can now see the many life-dominating influences that contributed to who and what I became. I now realize that only God can give us accurate guidelines to measure ourselves by. And His guidelines are in His Word.
Growing up, I lived three different lives, which led to a great deal of confusion and personal turmoil. 
The first I will call my home life. My mother, myself and two brothers, plus a female friend of my mother’s, lived a quiet life in the country. My mother was a quiet and easy-going woman, it took a lot to make her angry. 
Mary, my mother’s friend was more outgoing, and I bonded more with her than my own mother. Mary and Mother worked at a nearby factory. They had us in bed early each day, because they had to leave early for work each morning. 
From the age of seven until I graduated high school, I had the responsibility of getting myself and my two brothers ready for school each day. It was my chore to clean the house and keep everything tidy. 
Mary was bold and assertive; she controlled much of what went on in our home. Finally, at sixteen years old, I discovered that Mary and my mother were in a lesbian relationship. 
Mary was a very big influence on my mother. She became jealous of our relationship because of the time it took away from their being together. When I was seventeen Mary told me that my mother wanted me to move out of the house and get my own apartment. I believed her and moved out. I later found that this was from Mary, not my mother. 
When I turned 21, Mary and my mother took me to a gay bar in Indianapolis where I saw my first drag show and male strip show. This was my first introduction to the transgender life. 
Up until this time I had no meaningful father influence in my life. My father never spoke to me or did anything with me. He never showed any interest in me and never contributed financially to my life. 
I did have two sets of grandparents, though. On weekends, summer vacations, and holidays we went back and forth between both sets. These two homes were as different as night and day. 
My maternal side of the family was fun, and a little scary, due to the drinking, card playing, cussing, and generally wilder life. After my maternal grandparents were divorced, my grandmother took a boy-friend into her home. He molested me over the next five years. I had no one to go to, no one who would help me escape this hell I was in.
My paternal grandparents were my only stability. They were much more conservative and proper. Each time we would visit, they would take us to church. Their home always felt safe and secure. My paternal grandmother was my rock. She was kind and was someone I could always lean on. When things were hard, she was always there for me. Unfortunately, I did not get enough time to spend with her.
My grandfather was really more like my dad, who was not very good at communicating with us.
So, I lived in three different worlds. My dysfunctional home that was often quiet, with no real bonding. My grandparents: one noisy, exciting, and scary; and one home safe and fun, but sad because my Dad didn’t care. 
As the years went by a secret life began to grow in my heart. I felt different. Very different. I was attracted to boys and men. And, I felt more like a girl than a boy. I really didn’t understand boys or men. I just wanted to be loved. 
I was born into this world not having the love of a father that every child needs. I only had a mother, who did everything to make my life as good as she could. She was a good provider, working hard each day. But my mother didn’t know how to express love to me more than this. I had no real affection in my life. 
I had no healthy male influence in my life, no father to lean on. Being raised by my mother and other women, I learned only how women felt, acted, and expressed themselves. 
I grew up lonely and confused. I hungered for a man’s attention and to show me affection. I didn’t know what it was like to feel or act like a boy. I knew what it was to be female, or at least I thought I knew what it was like. It felt natural. It seemed to fit me. 
With all the teasing, and people  calling me “Paula,” I finally decided that that’s who I was supposed to be and would become.
For the next 20 years, I acted on my feelings, living as a woman—Paula. I even had my doctor sign the form to change my name and gender on my driver’s license. I had all my paperwork signed and the date set for my sexual reassignment. Fortunately, my partner and I at the time, took that money to make a down payment on a home we bought together. 
Doing drag shows and living as a woman now gave me the attention I craved. I could finally get the attention from men that I had longed for my entire life. But, I was still lonely, and not truly fulfilled. Their attention came at a price.
On December 10, 2010, my life started to crumble. I lost the job I had for nearly 17 years. My life became darker and darker. I became fearful for my life and future. 
One night after this, I went out to perform in a drag show. This was typically a highlight for me, something I really enjoyed. Tonight would be very different, though. It was my birthday—February 13, 2011. That night felt like a living hell. I was being personally tormented. I started to feel that my life was over, that I was going to hell. It was Good Friday, of all days. 
I heard in my heart Satan telling me that he was going to drag me to hell! I was in a tug of war between God and Satan. I now realized that God was drawing me towards Himself, and Satan was doing all he could to keep me to himself and torment me. 
I wanted out, but I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know the truth of God’s love and plan for my life, or what having a relationship with Jesus meant. 
I needed help. I needed to talk to someone who knew the truth and might understand what was going on with me. 
Every day for the past two weeks, to that night, I couldn’t eat or sleep. My partner was so concerned for me that he actually reached out to a godly married couple to counsel with me. I was able to meet with them that next morning. They confirmed my fears about Satan and the lies he was telling me. They opened the Bible with me, and showed me the truth about my life. They shared that Jesus could give me the love that I longed for and desperately needed. 
On April 23, 2011, Easter Sunday, I invited Jesus to enter my life. I went up to the altar, crying and literally screaming. I felt so unworthy of His love for me and this new and incredible gift of salvation and forgiveness. I confessed my sin, and received His love and forgiveness for me. I wanted to be baptized right away. I wanted to be rid of any demonic oppression that could be left. 
Shortly afterwards on Mothers’ Day, I was baptized at the couple’s house who had helped me—in their hot-tub, of all things! They prayed for me and prayed blessings over my heart and life. I was free! And I felt free! I had a new lease on life!
Five years later, I have good days and I have some bad—especially when I take my focus off of God and His provision and love for me. Regardless, through Jesus, I am a man of God. His truth has set me free. 
I love Him with all that I am, because He first loved me. Thankfully, I’m involved in an amazing church body that loves me for who I am, not focused on who I was. Each and every day, they pray for me and encourage me. They lift me up when I am down. My Creator, who knows every hair on my head, turns out to have just the right person there to help me through my day-to-day trials I’m facing. Their friendship brings life to me. I’ve learned to lean into my church family and friends in my struggles and times of temptation, and Satan’s feeble attempts to try to make me fall.
Through God’s provision, I have my own home, a new vehicle—at least new to me. I have not just one good job, but two! It keeps me busy and I’m now able meet my needs and even more. 
I have changed the music I listen to. Songs that praise the Lord are now my desire. They renew and lift my spirit. This is a way of renewing my mind. 
Revelation 22:14-15 and 17 says: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”
I’m incredibly thankful for Hope for Wholeness. The conferences and ministry of Hope for Wholeness and their online Facebook community have met such a deep felt need in my life. I no longer feel like a freak. I am now a man on a mission, and I’m part of a team. A team where I feel supported, encouraged, and cheered for. 
I am Paul Pickering, a man after God’s own Heart.
I hope to see you at the conference. If not, please give towards the conference scholarship fund, so that others like me may attend.

Brady Cone’s Story

Brady Cone’s Story

Brady Done Director

Brady Cone
Director

Just eight short years ago I was a college student at Chadron State, and I was living a homosexual lifestyle. I had struggled with these issues since a young age and thought I was trapped in that lifestyle. Coming to know Christ changed everything! However, Jesus gave me another choice: a life of holiness through Him. Leaving behind a world of homosexuality was the most difficult thing that I have ever done, but through it, God has given me new life and freedom in ways I never dreamed.

Did God magically take away my struggle with same sex attraction (SSA)? No. But, He did two huge things in my life that helped me away from my gay life:

First, He gave me a new identity. He showed me that I am not defined by my struggle, my feelings, or by the labels that society gives me. I am defined only by the fact that I am His child!

Next, He gave me power. He showed me that through the power of the Holy Spirit, I have the ability to wake up every day and choose to live a life that is pure, holy, and honoring to Him, no matter what feelings and attractions I have.

It has been 8 years since I have walked away from my former life. It has been an up and down journey, but God has shown me that through my obedience in denying myself, He gives me life in ways that the world never could.

I still have SSA, but through the hope I have in Jesus, God has given me the ability to deny myself on a daily basis. I know am able to minister to others who struggle with SSA, and also to friends and family members of those who do.

God has given me a story. It is a story that begins with heartache, pain, and brokenness. And it ends with hope and redemption. He has called me to share my story with anyone who will listen, and He keeps giving me opportunities to do so. Through sharing my story, I hope to give people a glimpse of what it is like to deal with SSA, which call them to show love and compassion to the gay community and anyone with SSA. I also want them to see the Gospel in my story. I want them to see what denying ourselves looks like, and how Jesus changes the way that we live.

Usually after sharing my story, I have people who contact me wanting help. Most of my contact with them is through email, since they usually don’t live in the town or state that I do. But I try to encourage them and point them to resources that may help.

Chris Sherwood’s Story

Chris Sherwood Park Street MassChris Sherwood’s Story

I was born to an alcoholic mother and an emotionally absent and explosive father and was raised in a small and poor working class town in upstate NY. My mother was a non practicing Catholic. But we were all expected to participate in after school catechism instructions and to prepare for First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Later, in a desperate act to rescue me from my discipline problems in school, I was sent to Notre Dame High School. The experiment was an abysmal failure. I dropped one course and failed 5 others. The atmosphere at home was cold and tense for all six children. I dealt with the anxiety by spending all of my time on the streets making as many friends as I could. (I ended up being best man in several weddings). The summer I graduated from grammar school I met an older girl (15) who invited me to go for a walk into the woods. From that point on I focused most of my energies toward romantic and sexual relationships. At age 14 my friends and I were able to create fake identification cards in our printing shop class and found that mom and pop stores were happy to sell us beer. The drinking added another significant component to my life. When I was 16 my best friend went off to the State University of New York at Oswego. He became one of the ring leaders of what was known as “Seneca 6 -the “drug floor” of the campus. He invited me to visit and gave me my first taste of hashish. From there I led a typical hippie life of the 1970s – sex, drugs rock and roll, campus protests, etc.

Out of a high school class of 410 students I graduated at number 395. I attended a local community college and was coming very close to flunking out. During the summer after my freshman year I was with a girlfriend at the Chemung County Fair where a local church had sponsored a booth off the midway. I saw their sign (I have no idea today what it said) and walked over to ask what they were all about. A man my age explained that God saw me naked in my sin and was ready to forgive me through the cross of Christ. He explained the sinner’s prayer and invited me to come inside and accept the Lord as my savior. I declined his offer thinking that I had no interest in a religion that threatened to interfere with the party life that I loved. But what he told me rang true – it just sounded universally right. So, when I was in my bed on that August night I said, “Ok, Jesus if you are really there, come into my heart and forgive my sins.” Today I have no doubt that he answered that prayer. But it was almost two years before there were any changes in me. I moved into a large apartment house with my friends – including my best friend who flunked out of Oswego State. My parents didn’t ask where I was going when I packed his car with all of my possessions. We became a center for partying and drug dealing. Most of us had jobs, but our lives centered on that season of fun. I was dating six women, I managed to get a good job in a State Psychiatric Hospital and we never had any problems finding the hashish, mescaline or LSD that we wanted. All was right with the world.

A friend of mine told me that my parents were wondering where I was since they hadn’t seen me in six months. So on occasion I would visit them. One evening I was in their kitchen when my mother came running in and said, “There are some Jesus freaks at the front door, Chris, go get rid of them!” A week later I was on their bus going to church. The sermons were a bit dull, but the hymns really had an impact on me.  I found myself taking the truths of the Gospel more to heart. There was a Pentecostal Church located a block from where I grew up. We used to ride our bicycles by and shout at them through their front door. I decided to pay them a visit and was quickly adopted by a family who had four children near my age. It turned out that they lived a block from our hippie house and soon I was well connected there. But my hypocritical lifestyle was starting to bother me. So one morning as we were invited to pray at the altar, I felt I just had to confess everything to the assistant pastor (who turned out to be the one who witnessed to me at the county fair). I told him that I was partying every weekend, doing drugs, sleeping with my girlfriend and basically living a life of sin. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Brother, God understands. Jesus was temped the same way you are. He knows what you’re going through.” I was stunned. This was a very legalistic church that preached a lot of condemnation. Yet, this pastor explained God’s mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love. I never made a resolution to change. I never told myself that from this day forward I will behave, but very gradually over time my desires were transformed, not by my determination, but by the grace of God and the unconscious transforming power of the Holy Spirit. That pastor’s brief description of God’s mercy gave me the confidence I needed to not give up, no matter how guilty I felt. During those years of very progressive sanctification I just kept repeating, “His mercy endures forever.”

I was helping to organize a protest at our local private college. And of course the first thing on the agendas for our planning meetings was to pass around a couple of joints. At one of our meetings I noticed that someone had thrown a Bible on my lap and it hit me that I had been talking to our committee about Christ. I apologized, and we went on with our business. A couple of months later I was in a bar with three of our hippie house crew and I noticed that everyone was giving an odd stare. Again, it hit me that I had just given them a little lecture on salvation. I immediately apologized, told them to give me another beer and we forgot the incident. I found the whole thing to be strange, but almost against my will, my mind and heart were being transformed. It wasn’t long before I let the hash pipe pass by. I decided I needed to break up with my beautiful blonde girlfriend and say goodbye to her brand new Corvette convertible.

The state of New York decided to build public housing on the site of our hippie house and gave each of us checks for a few thousand dollars to help us resettle. My first thought was to buy myself a really nice car. But, as a Christian I decided that I should pray about it. “Lord, what should I do with this money?” The next week someone gave me a copy of Young Life magazine that featured an article on Christian colleges with a survey of the best ones to attend. And I thought, “That’s what I’ll do. I’ll go back to school!” But my academic record made me nervous. All of the evidence said that I would fail. That January, my pastor pulled some strings and at age 24 I packed my 1969 Mustang and moved to East Providence Rhode Island. Two years before this I was a completely autonomous and determined party animal. And now I found myself in a Fundamentalist Pentecostal Bible College where the lights had to be out at 10:30, no one was allowed to leave campus without permission, men and women were required to wear uniforms and had to sit on opposite sides in classes. It was a bit of an adjustment, but Christ had a plan. It was here that I learned that the core of Christian spirituality is faith. At that time Zion Bible Institute charged no tuition and no room and board. It in essence was able to offer a three year college education for free because they trusted God to meet their needs. And it turns out that God knew that I could handle college classes. I ended up graduating with honors with a BA, MA and D.Min. And for the last 17 years the guy who graduated in the bottom 10 percentile in high school and almost flunked out of college is ministering to students, graduates and faculty from Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, MIT and many of the 100 other colleges and universities that surround Park Street Church in downtown Boston.

  • Forgetting Former things by Shawn Harrison

Forgetting Former things by Shawn Harrison

Shawn HarrisonForgetting Former things by Shawn Harrison

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

Stepping Stones

I remember watching a news segment that showed two guys kissing each other. I don’t remember what the news report was about, but I do remember saying to myself, “That’s what I am … gay.” Ever since I could remember, I have liked guys. Sure, I tried dating girls and I even tried having sex with girls; but for the most part, those physical things never went to the heart, as my attractions for guys did.

I remember acting more “feminine” while growing up than “being a man.” I did not hunt, play football, or work on cars. I did not follow sports religiously. I hated gym class. I had more girls that were friends than I did boys. I loved art class, theatre, music, writing poetry, shopping, and talking on the phone (though now I hate to shop and talk on the phone, which I think is a good thing).

I moved a lot when I was kid, and my parents were divorced, so while I had two homes I never really felt at home anywhere. Growing up I always felt that I was living two lives: one at my mom’s house and one at my dad’s house. It is not that it was a bad thing, to have two homes; I am just saying it was hard to connect with those around my house – so naturally I kept to myself a lot.

My parents tried their best to give me a good life. Looking back, I know they loved me and wanted the best for me. At the time, though, I thought that my parents were against me and did not care much what I did as long as I did not embarrass them. (It is amazing the perspectives on life a child has compared to an adult!)

I grew up in an Irish Catholic family, though we mostly only went to church for two reasons: holidays and whenever I served as an altar boy (though during those times, it was mostly my step-dad and I who would go). He would sit in the back on the church when I was “doing Mass” and try to make me laugh during the service. Laughing – distracting the congregation – was forbidden when serving as an altar boy. I used to laugh a lot when I did Mass, so my altar boy days were short-lived.

Even with going to Catholic school for 8 years, I never really had a relationship with God, let alone knowledge of Him wanting to be “personal” with me. I was always under the impression – which was never really disputed by my teachers – that unless I was perfect then God would not interact with me. After all, in Catholic history, only the “Saints of Old” had one-on-one connections with God; everyone else had no such luck. After moving to a new Catholic school, and failing through it, my parents thought it would be good for me to attend public school.

In light of this move, I had no problem leaving behind my so-called-shallow-faith in order to embrace a world of agnosticism. Besides, I was determined to make a difference within myself in this new school. As the school year drew on, I tried to define myself in many ways, but nothing seemed to work. In the summer before ninth grade, a friend from school and I started to become closer. I finally had what I considered a best-friend relationship. It was sweet. At first, our friendship was normal; but then we started to “play card games” and my world would never be the same again.

This was not my first “experience” with a guy. The summer before, a neighborhood boy and I did some things. Although this new encounter I had with my friend more or less closed the deal on my sexuality: I was definitely gay. My attractions for guys had always been a pondering question in my mind; but when my friend and I “hooked up”, it was like everything became clear and I “knew” this was who I was. I cannot explain it, other than I just knew what I felt to be true. I remember we both came out to each other at the same time. It was a causal conversation, nothing big and dramatic (I was doing dishes at the time). We determined, though, to keep our gayness a secret; we were not sure how people would take our new found identity, especially our parents.

Down the Road

My four years of high school were hell. Though I have some good experiences from it, for the most part I hated every day of those four years. I came out to my friends in the middle of ninth grade. Although my friends accepted me for me, I faced hate, ignorance, death threats, name calling, and the like from peers. Some things came from the jocks of the school, but most of the things came from Christians. In fact, more than anyone else, the Christians referred to me as “faggot” or damned me to hell. Their hate towards me only fueled my response to flaunt my sexuality even more. If their God hated me, which is how they put it, then I hated Him too … the more they yelled at me and condemned me, the more I built a wall of resistance against anything dealing with God and His followers.

I learned to disregard my pain and rejection, and focus on helping other people. Sure, it was a defense mechanism, but it got me through the turmoil of school, and besides, I was not strong enough to deal with everything that lay underneath – waiting to erupt forth. So, I helped raise awareness for AIDS education and helped many other gay teens accept their sexuality as being normal. I was vocal about the discrimination I faced, and I made sure my “oppressors” knew I was not going to go away quietly. My thought was if I could help someone not go through what I went through, then my battle scars were not in vain. For the most part, it worked.

However, there was a big difference between my being out and open at school, then at home. I had waited about a year from coming out before I told my parents anything about my sexuality. I was sure they would have confronted me by then, but they had not, so I finally told them. By this point, my mom and step-dad were divorced, and so I was living with my mom and younger brother.

gay_flagI remember the day I came out, as if it was yesterday. I had stayed home “sick” from school. I knew I had to tell my parents about what I was going through, especially since it was eating me up inside every day I did not say anything. I phoned my step-mom and through stutters and stammers told her, I am gay. I asked her to tell my dad – I had no clue what to even say to him. Then I wrote a letter, to my mom, which I would place in her car the next morning – so she could read it while at work (I know, nice, huh?!). I could not tell my step-dad … which to this day I still do not know why. In fact, he would not find out about my “gay life” until years later.

My parents reacted differently about me coming out, but they all had one reaction in common: no one talked to me about it. My dad (from what I have heard) called people and said that if anyone had a problem with me being gay they can just talk to him about it. My step-mom really did not express approval or disapproval over the fact. My mom took it the hardest, from what I saw anyways. She came into my room that night, kissed me, and said that she loved me regardless. That was really the last time we ever talked about me being gay.

While I was glad to not be rejected “physically” by my parents, their silence about the issue was deafening, and in that silence, I felt rejected “emotionally.” My best friends mom, who by now was my boyfriend, took him and I to a support group for gay teens. Finally, I saw that I was not alone; others had experiences like my best friend and I. It was a great feeling. Looking back, I wished my parents had also taken the time to find me help and support – I think that would have helped both of us through everything.

Being “out and about,” I was happy. However, inwardly, I struggled to find true peace with my life and myself. I spent many days depressed, struggling to even get out of bed. I tried to kill myself a few times, I tried pot, I flung myself into relationship after relationship (all being sexual), and I even tried running away from home. Except for the relationships, I did not follow through on anything, because I knew that was not the answer for me either. I was confused, because in one sense I knew who I was, and yet, I felt extremely lost. Except for a few friends knowing everything, I struggled internally alone and afraid.

While in eleventh grade, I met a Christian named Yvonne, who wanted to befriend me. She was already in the “in-crowd” with other friends of mine, but to me I wanted proof that she was not going to bash me like the other Christians. To my surprise, she was not like that at all. Yvonne was not perfect by any means (she was a normal teenage girl with problem) but what she possessed was something I was highly interested in, I just did not know what that “something” was exactly.

I remember Yvonne coming up to me and saying such healing words: “I don’t agree with what you do, Shawn. But I like you. I want to be your friend.” She did not force Christianity on me, she did not force the Bible down my throat, and she did not damn me to hell. Instead, she loved on my and my friends, which meant the world to me. In eleventh grade, my friends meant a lot to me, especially since my home life felt unstable. My best friend, Yvonne, and I would become very close that year and the next. Looking back, I could see God’s hand in it all.

A couple of months before graduation, I really thought that my life was starting to come together. My friendships were secure, and I was in a “loving” relationship with a guy. My depression started to ease up. Things with my mom were getting better. High School was ending, and I was thinking about going to school to teach art. Things seemed good. Graduation quickly came and went; another chapter of my life had closed, and the summer was shaping up to offer a promising new chapter.

Then Jesus came into my life and wrecked everything!

A New Direction

July 14, 1996. I had just moved up to a motel room with my boyfriend. No one knew where I was (including my family and friends). I had all my graduation money in my pocket, and a trash bag full of clothes. We were supposed to move into an apartment together, but things suddenly (and mysteriously) fell through. So, down the street from my boyfriend’s job, we found a cheap motel to stay in until we figured out what we were going to do.

As I lay in bed, watching T.V., I suddenly became ill. I was sweating and yet cold all at once. I could not move anything. I started to feel scared. What was happening to me? I was alone in the room with no way to reach out for help. After a few minutes of feeling paralyzed, I managed to get up and walk towards the door. I remember looking around the room and wondering, What am I doing here? I opened the door and stepped out into the rain. I remember looking up and feeling the rain beat against my skin – it felt good. I faced heaven and spoke up: God, if you are real then I need You to help me out of this.

I stepped back inside, took a bath, wrote my boyfriend a “Dear John” letter, packed my things, and phoned a friend to come pick me up. I walked out of the room an hour later, without thinking twice about my decision. For the first time in my life, I had honestly felt true happiness, deep within, starting to push through the uncertainty.

After spending some time down at the Shore with some friends, I returned home and phoned Yvonne and my best friend. I excitedly told them what happened and that I had become a “Christian” but I was not sure. Yvonne assured me that I had in fact accepted God into my life; in which she was happy to hear, but my best friend was not. I could not explain my “change” to my friend other than I was happy with whatever I decided to change about myself.

I did not accept Jesus the week before because I was scared of going to hell. I did not accept Him because I wanted to be a Christian. I certainly did not accept Him so that I could be straight. Rather, I accepted Jesus because of His love and peace. I was at a desperate point in my life where I needed something real to hold on to, because although things looked at peace, they were not. Simply put, I took a gamble on God and His love.

bible-frontI had no clue what I was doing, much less even how to start being a Christian. I did not even have a Bible to read! Although, through some weird “religious experiences,” some mentoring-relationships, and Bible study, I began to understand the point of Christianity. What I lagged in was a deep understanding of God’s love, especially in regards to His views about me.

I quickly became attuned to the fact that I could not live a Christian life and be gay. There was too much guilt attached to what I wanted to do and how I wanted to grow in my relationship with Jesus. For me, there was too much to compromise if I choose to live both lives out fully. So, I choose to start suppressing my gay feelings in order to grow closer to Christ. In this light, I started dating a girl, and I even became somewhat sexual in my relationships with her; but I still was tempted to fool around with guys (which I did, unfortunately).

In March of 1998, my brother committed suicide, and once again, I told God to take a hike. With the pressures of my inward struggles (with being gay), my depression coming back, my brother’s death, and other things, I figured that this “God-thing” was not really worth the battle it was shaping up to be. Everything that I was trying to suppress and forget was coming to head. Through some events, I came crawling back to God … again, not knowing what I was doing or what I was after, but I knew this: I needed Him. This season of my life would prove to be the “beginning-of-the-end” for me. My faith was shattered at my brother’s death, and it would take another major turning point in my life to turn me back around.

Because of my inward struggles, I submersed myself in more bible studies, more prayer groups, more retreats, more events, and more times of spiritual cleansing. All the while dealing with two natures: a Christian one and a gay one. How could I join the two together? Could I really be gay and a Christian? What did God’s Word really say about being gay? These were all questions I faced inwardly, as I went about life, not allowing any of my friends in on my crippling struggles. During this time, I had befriended an old classmate, Pete, and we soon became very close. It was the first “safe-Godly” male friendship that I ever had. We did everything together. Pete really helped me grow in my relationship with Christ, and really helped to affirm in me what God was doing. Although, I could not bring myself to tell him who I really was or what I was dealing with, I did not want to ruin what we had: a pure friendship.

I knew having gay feelings was wrong, but I also knew that I could not help having them. I prayed to be straight. I prayed that these “wrong” feelings would pass away. I even tried looking at straight porn to “fix” myself, but nothing I tried seemed to work. I was in counseling and had a great support of friends (who struggled like me) in Philly, near where I lived, but even all of these things still didn’t help me overcome my struggles of sexual identity. I began to think that I was a hopeless cause and that I would be gay for the rest of my life. I determined I was not going to marry or have kids. My church friends thought I was just messing around, but truly I thought: who would want to marry a guy like me anyways? In my eyes, despite what scripture said and what people prayed over me (even what I sang during worship times), I believed I was unlovable and unwanted.

Finally, I secretly accepted my gayness and reconciled it to my faith. I would strive to believe what scripture taught, about living a life for God, but I would skip over the verses that talked about “homosexuals.” In May of 2000, I went to One Day and felt my relationship with God had taken a new level. I was on fire. That June I would work at a Christian camp, as a counselor to campers. Using the basis of Romans 12:1-2 (which was the Camp’s Theme verse), God challenged me through deep refinement in ridding myself of my past and drawing closer to Him.

I would go home during the weekends, head to the gay bars, hit church on Sunday, and be back at Camp for Sunday night’s gathering. I did this throughout the summer, thinking to myself, Yes, I can do this! I was growing in the Lord, and many considered me a “fearless leader for Jesus.” Little did I know that I was setting myself up to being exposed – completely!

At the time, I was living with a gay friend (who was a Pastor), and he helped me fully embrace who God truly made me to be – gay. I did not understand it all, but it made more sense to me than trying to deny something that seemed so “inborn.” About two weeks after camp ended, I remember sitting at the computer and seeing visions of myself.

I saw a huge hand holding me, and then dropping me. I saw myself falling down a deep pit, with no bottom. I could not reach out to stop myself; I just fell, as the Person who once held me watched. One can easily understand, I was falling away from God, who’s grip on my was being loosened because I needed to fall in order to rise up. I accepted my vision as truth, and continued to “fall” day after day, until I hit the bottom. I was finally broken.

I was ready to leave my gay identity. I was tired of living a life of compromise – between what I wanted to be true (I’m gay and can’t change) and what I knew was true (I’m gay and can change). I was tired of living in secret. I was tired of pretending. I was tired of the one-night stands. I was tired of drinking away my problems. I was tired of abusing my body (and allowing it to be abused by others). I was tired …

In the days that followed I would come clean about my situation and struggles with my friends and move in with my step-dad and his family. Once again, I did not know exactly what I was after, but I wanted whatever God had for me. I did not care if I ever stopped liking guys, or if I became straight; I did not care if I ever got married, or had kids. All I wanted in my life at this time was God. I wanted Him to wrap His arms around me, and hold me. I wanted Him to speak into my life and affirm me. I wanted Him to wash away my pain, scars, and insecurities. I wanted to be His and His alone.

This new focus, though sounding simple, was very freeing to me because I realized my focus before was so self-centered, instead of Christ-centered. I had asked God to change me, but I wanted Him to change me into what I wanted to be. I had asked Him to grow me, but I wanted Him to grow me in my timing and standards. When I began to let go of what I wanted and grasp hold of what He wanted for me, I began to feel the chains I had placed around my neck begin to fall off.

I stepped out in faith, and landed in His wholeness.

A Journey Without Chains

The strange thing about God’s Wholeness is that it is a two-part process. I believe it comes down upon us, to start our journey, but then it continues to fall on us and refine us through the days we choose to walk in it.

I was clearly in a new position with Christ. Not only did I feel free, I knew I was free. I quickly began reading Acts, and started to pray for God’s Spirit and healing to fall upon me just as it did back then. I wanted whatever God had for me, and I was ready for whatever He was calling me to. I began having dreams about Him and I – dreams that I believe He spoke to me through. I was content with where I was in life, and once again, I felt true happiness.

Then I met a girl and fell in love.

I had no clue what was going on. I had accepted the fact that I most likely was not going to get married. I had accepted the fact that I would never have affections for women. I was fine with all of that, really. I had met Emily through working at the Camp, and when I had visited some friends one day who were still working there, I saw her again … and my heart jumped.

I remember asking her out, thinking to myself, What are you doing! I remember telling my friends that we were going out, and them saying, What are you doing! (Pete was over in Africa in missions by this time, so he really did not give me his opinion, though I am sure he thought the same.) Still, I felt that my dating Emily was a good thing. I soon told her me entire story and at the end, she still expressed hstruggeer love and support for me. As three months passed, I proposed. She accepted.

While I was truly in love – for the first time in my entire life – I was hesitant about getting married, not on her part but on mine. Could I really do this? Could I really be a faithful husband? Could I trust God in all of this? Could I trust myself? I was torn between what my “flesh” wanted and what my “spirit” wanted.

All my old feelings and “temptations” of what I had walked away from started rushing back. While it was very tempting at times to just give up and go back to the way I used to live, I was determined to stay the course. After a long battle with myself, a break-up with Emily, and lots of affirming counseling from friends and the Spirit of God, I married my true love on May 27, 2001.

I had (foolishly) hoped my temptations would disappear after that day, but they did not. I learned (through mistakes and triumphs) that it is a daily process to not give in to what your body “longs for” at times. I had to refocus my desires … renew my mind (Romans 12:1-2) … rely on God’s grace to get me through the days and nights (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, which by the way is my life verse). It has not been easy, and it has taken many years to comprehend and put into daily practice these truths from God, but the journey has been worth every step.

Shawns familyDo I still struggle? Yes. Do my struggles get easier, over time? Yes! However, just as I do not allow my past to define me, I also do not allow my struggles to define me. As I will talk about in later chapters*, I see myself as God’s child … I seek His identity, over my own. In this (His identity), I find my reason and strength to press on towards the goal, forgetting what is behind me, and striving for what lies ahead (Philippians 3:7-14).

God has used my wife in amazing ways in my journey of healing and restoration. I stand amazed by her love and grace for me; knowing full well, that it is God’s love and grace working through her. She is my best friend. She is the mother of my two kids. She is my companion in this journey of life. She is my biggest cheerleader in all of this.

Do I think that this same outcome can be true for others? Absolutely! I believe in the power of God’s Word, the saving work of Christ’s cross, and the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. Though I believe that we each have a different calling in life, I believe that our focus in life is the same: God’s Identity and Wholeness. It is through this lens that I write the following posts of encouragement and challenge.

Mystified By His Glory By Jacob Morgan

JacobJacob Morgan’s Story

I was raised in a Christian home, believing that all I needed to do was be baptized; and at age 12 I did just that. I was involved in everything going on at church. Church had become a ritual, a habit. All of these activities were right, but something was not right in my heart. I had not surrendered my whole life and will to the Lord.

In the ninth grade I was dating a girl. Having a girlfriend seemed to give me the confidence that I craved. Her ex-boyfriend found me an easy target and started calling me gay nearly every day. The words went deep into my heart and mind. I daily struggled with strong attractions to guys, but I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t know how to stop the name calling without a confrontation. My mom told me to turn the other cheek. This was the most difficult thing for me, and I could never shrug it off. By then, my struggle with homosexuality became a reality. My mind became a battlefield. I didn’t understand why God was allowing me to be hurt so deeply. Nothing I did helped.

I never could get along with guys or feel a part of their circle. I always felt different. Instead, I always hung out with girls.

While in twelfth grade, I strayed from the Lord. I was tired of fighting the battle, and I gave in. I decided to be gay and embrace the lifestyle. I started to see a secular psychologist, which only helped fuel my confusion. One day he explained sexuality to me and talked about people “riding the fence.” I felt pushed to make a commitment as to where I was going to be with my sexual orientation.

One day, while working at a gay-friendly job I had taken, a man who seemed interested in me approached me. I helped him and before I knew it, the cashier was bringing me his phone number. I remember looking at the number and seeing it as my ticket into homosexuality. I was hesitant to call, but I did. I met him that night at a hotel. I was terrified. Afterwards, I felt dirty. I felt as if I had gone too far. I thought that I was now officially gay and there was no turning back.

When I turned eighteen, I went to a gay bar for the first time. There was something about it that made me feel wanted. I craved the attention. From there I went into a series of relationships. Each one ended in some type of frustration or fight. One of the men ended up calling my parents and telling them I was gay. My world was turned upside down. I told my parents it was a lie, and they settled down. But, I kept meeting men while hoping that my parents wouldn’t find out.

I decided to attend Charleston Southern University (in the Fall of 2003), wanting to go to a more liberal part of the state. College became a life of drugs, parties, going to gay bars, and meeting guys on the Internet. I got heavily involved with internet pornography and became consumed with masturbation. Out of fear, having not practiced “safe-sex”, I was constantly getting tested for HIV. My college life was being thrown away through risky sexual behavior, alcohol, drugs, parties, bars, cigarettes, and HIV scares. I was making A’s and seemed happy, but I wasn’t at all.

I surrounded myself with people that would accept me. Hatred, rage, and anger were building in my heart, and I didn’t even know it. My heart was becoming harder and darker, and my thinking was becoming less clear.

In my second semester (Spring of 2004) at Charleston Southern University, I was hospitalized on several occasions for four to five days at a time. I was trying to accept my lifestyle, but I was in complete misery. After this, I dropped out of school and came home.

In the Fall of 2004, I enrolled at Spartanburg Technical College and started working. I knew I was getting into trouble when I applied for the job. My manager was gay, and very quickly that relationship became sexual.

The battle inside me was dark and raging. Once, I picked up a lighter and held the flame to my skin, burning myself badly. I can’t tell you why I did this, but it felt good. It was euphoric, and as if I wasn’t doing it.

After pursuing the relationship with my manager (in 2004), I was in the hospital again, this time for depression, suicidal thoughts, and abusing prescription drugs. I was addicted to sex and everything else I was involved in. I was gratifying myself, stuck in self-pity and self-hatred, and wanted others to constantly build me up. I got deeper into drugs, now using cocaine. I started getting piercings, ending up with 26 in all, as well as 14 tattoos. The pain was an escape for me.

After the summer of ‘05, I started back to Spartanburg Tech. I got through the semester and at the end I decided to apply to Clemson University, to get away from home. I knew I wasn’t ready for such a big school. I was moving into a room with three guys and I was terrified. One day I heard them laughing and thought they were making fun of me. I was upset and left Clemson early that morning. That same day my dad helped me move everything out, and I came home.

For two weeks, I just hung around the house trying to figure out what to do. My dad mentioned the University of South Carolina Upstate (Spring 2006). I didn’t want to go because I would have to live at home, but registered anyway. I wondered when I would have the chance to escape from home. I attended my first semester and made no friends. I was lonely and wanted someone to talk to. I got involved with a counselor at Upstate. She introduced me to some new books and to the Unitarian Church, where I attended a few times. I was involved in a number of relationships. I ended up meeting a guy I really cared for named “Michael.” I became more serious about him than any of the others. We were inseparable. We fought a lot, got drunk a lot, and used drugs together. All of my heart was for him.

We bought rings and got tattoos to show our love for each other. We planned on getting engaged, but ended up in a big fight and took off our rings. We soon got back together. I was very indecisive about committing to our relationship. In the back of my mind, I knew homosexuality was wrong.

One day I got a call saying that “Michael” was in the hospital in very bad condition. I thought he would be okay, get out, and we would get back together. Two friends went with me to the hospital where we found out that he had died. I fell apart. I left the room and cried. I remember standing in line to go back to see him and having no idea what to think. I gave him a kiss on his forehead and looked at the tattoo that we had gotten together. I wanted to die. I dropped out of school the next day. I sank into a deep depression and was completely lost without him. Alcohol abuse and depression landed me in the hospital again for five days. Soon afterwards, I started drinking again.

I got deeper into pornography, and wasn’t improving at all. I was lost in life and stayed drunk all summer. After “Michael’s” death, I lived with two friends before moving back home with my parents thinking, “What now?” I had no idea what to do with my life or with myself.

I went to my mom in late September of ‘07 and told her I needed help. She had been praying for me every day. She told me about Truth Ministry (now Hope for Wholeness) and Bill Creech. He had been helping my parents through counsel, prayer, and Truth’s family support group. Bill and I started meeting regularly and continued for seven months. I was also meeting with Scott Wolfe and Dr. Cox in order to get all the godly counsel I could.

One day, my mom told me about a place called Pure Life Ministries that Dr. Cox had told her about. I looked it up and decided to apply. Two weeks later I headed to Kentucky. Before I left, I felt led to read Jeremiah 29:11. God was assuring me of His direction for my life.

I got on campus and went to the service that morning. After the service I smoked my last cigarette. I was so anxious. I had no clue what to expect from the Live-In Program at Pure Life; and I had to live in a dorm room with men I didn’t even know.  I was scared and uncomfortable around the men.  The first few days I sat around the dorm, did homework, and didn’t talk to anyone.

Spiritual experiences became more real to me at Pure Life. I struggled with thoughts of my past, “Michael’s” death, and missing my friends. The spiritual battles never slacked off; they got worse the closer I got to God. My counselor initiated people praying for me. It helped a lot, but no matter what, I was always in a battle.

When I went to Pure Life, I thought I would be there until December and graduate. However, the spiritual warfare got so bad that I was placed in a local hospital. I called my dad, and they were on the way to pick me up. I ended up leaving early in September (2008). We got home that night, but I was still under spiritual attack. I was upset because I hadn’t finished the program. I started getting better, but encountered another spiritual attack in November. I never gave up on God, but I did wonder why he was letting me go through all of this. It was like the devil wanted to see if I would give up or deny Jesus.

After all of this took place, I began to finish Pure Life over the phone. I started in January of 09’ and finished in April. At the same time I went through another program entitled, Cleansing Streams.

I gave my testimony at Cleansing Streams and told them it could be one sentence, “I am free.” Jesus is now my best friend. He’s my Deliverer, Redeemer, Healer, Purifier, and much more. He’s absolutely all I need in this world.

I thank God today that he didn’t let me die. His grace and mercy followed me throughout the darkness and the pits I put myself into.  I am continuing to grow each day, but my story will never change.

Stepping Stones

Shawn HarrisonShawn Harrison

When I was about 14, I remember watching a PBS news segment on gays & lesbians. They showed two guys kissing, and something clicked within my head, “That’s who I am! I’m gay.”

Though I was a typical boy in grade school who chased the girls, I also knew I was different than my male peers. This feeling of difference carried into my middle school years. I had girls that were friends, I even tried dating some of these girls, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was still different. It didn’t help that others labeled me by my difference, openly declaring this to myself and others. It seemed that my peers knew I was gay before I did.

Knowing that I was gay, and being comfortable with myself, I wanted to express who I was, just as others expressed themselves. I knew being gay was seen as weird and confusing, but I didn’t see my sexuality as a threat to society. I wanted to embrace my sexuality, and all things gay, and I wanted others to see things my way – without question. The problem I faced, though, was that others didn’t want to see things my way; rather, they avoided the conversation and topic altogether, surmising that ignorance, jokes, and chastisement were better ways to deal with “my gayness.”

My high school years were hell. I hated every minute of those four years. Still, when I reflect upon my high school years, my stomach turns in knots and anger-pain begins to well up inside. I wasn’t too much into sports, though I played baseball, soccer, and swimming. I didn’t know a thing about trucks, cars, or any other mechanical thing, but I could tell you a lot about painters and musicians. I didn’t hang with the popular crowd, nor was I accepted by them, but my band of friends were trustworthy people who accepted me as I was. The majority of my high school wished my gay friends and I would leave and disappear. I wanted to leave and disappear – though my attempts failed.

With my headphones on blaring Queen, most days I would walk to school in a complete depressed daze. I would walk the halls as quick as I could, trying to avoid the names (faggot), the threats (“Gonna beat you, faggot”), guys mimicking someone gay, the stares, the rumors, etc. Besides my friends, I immersed myself into painting and writing. Though I rarely was honest with others about how I was, I could always express my true emotions inside the arts. This was my escape. However, I longed for a real escape – from everything and everyone.

I hated God and Christians. They seemed to be my biggest enemies during my school years. My Christian peers would offer grace and Jesus to everyone but my gay friends and I. We were the ones totally lost and damned to hell. We were the ones God didn’t love because we were the ultimate sinners. In 11th grade, however, I became friends with a Christian girl who was different. We all knew that Yvonne was a Christian, but she didn’t shove the Bible down our throats, nor did she sit there and condemn us to hell every minute. Yvonne befriended us and showed us who Jesus was by the way she lived and interacted with us. Sure, she messed up at times, but she was genuine in her faith and friendship.

In July of 1996, after graduating high school, I ran away with my boyfriend. We checked into a hotel room until we could find a permanent place to live. That night I experienced a strange occurrence, which could only be explained as an encounter with God. I left the hotel room that night with a bag of clothes, my savings, and having asked Jesus to help me “get out of everything,” if He was real. Though I didn’t “pray the sinner’s prayer,” I mark this day as my spiritual birthday, for this was the day I began my journey from darkness to light.

For the next fours years, I struggled to connect and reconcile my faith and sexuality. I threw myself into ex-gay groups, prayer meetings, men’s retreats, books, revivals, worship, bible studies, etc; I wanted to be 100% straight; I wanted to be normal, just like every other man. At times I even prayed that God would give me straight lusts and temptations – anything, just to feel normal. But all my prayers went unanswered. The promises of my ex-gay groups proved to be lies, or at least promises I wasn’t allowed to receive. I determined in my mind that I had to live a double-life, and that if I tried hard enough, I could pull everything off.

I didn’t accept Jesus because I didn’t want to go to hell. I accepted Him because I wanted the love, hope, and life He offered. I also didn’t accept Him in order to be straight and accepted; however, if He was offering this to others like me, than I wanted it, too. Because I didn’t receive my straightness and acceptance, though, I concluded I had done too much evil and this was punishment. Therefore, I had to live with being attracted to men – forever. So I lived a double-life, in that I was a good Christian man by day, and I went to gay bars, hooked up with guys, and consumed gay porn by night.

My Christian accountability partners knew I “struggled with sexual things,” but I never offered more info than that – nor did they ask. I stayed away from dating, using the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” as a cover-up. I had some good friends that were girls, and two of them I tried to date, but I came back to homosexuality every time. I was gay, and there was nothing anyone or I could do; this is who I was. Naturally, then, I quickly started to embrace pro-gay Christian theology: God made me this way, because God doesn’t think being gay is wrong. In fact, God blesses those who are gay in unique ways.

At the end of August in 2000, after some amazing encounters with God and after a hard-pressed summer of personal battles, God sat me down to talk. As I sat at a computer, staring off into the corner of my room, I saw a hand extend from the wall and a person falling. God had told me that the arm was His and I was the one falling. He said I was going to continue to fall until I was ready to surrender everything. I saw the hand disappear and I saw myself falling deep into an unknown. I was left with the word “decide.” The next day, my three best friends “kidnapped” me, took me to a park, and told me to spill my guts on everything. And I did.

Afterwards, with the full support of my friends, I moved out of my apartment and back into my step-dads house. For the next few weeks, God and I began to talk in-depth. I had stopped going to church, praying, and reading my Bible. Picking up where I abruptly shut Him off, God began speaking loud and clear. One thing He said very clearly was this question, “Shawn, would you still worship and follow Me if I never take away your same-sex attractions?” A serious question which definitely needed an answer. With a heartfelt “yes,” God began restoring things in my life and moving me into uncomfortable directions.

For the first time I met a woman and fell in love with her. After telling Emily everything about me, we started dating seriously. In May 2001, we were married. And though these past 12.5 years have had huge ups and downs, God has kept us together on the path He laid before us. Our marriage is healthier now than when we were first married, and we deal with different issues now than we did before. Each step taken has been a blessing, though, because within each step we’ve grown as individuals, spouses, parents, and as children of God. I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything.

Though I still deal with same-sex attractions, I am ever committed to my family and my Savior. I still don’t like girls, accept for my wife, but I don’t have a desire to live as an openly gay man either. Over the years, I have discovered that Jesus is it – He is the fulfillment of all desires, and nothing can sustain me as He can. Together, my wife and I run Six:11 Ministries in order to help others who are walking a similar journey experience God’s identity and wholeness for them. Our heart is to tell God’s story and “be Jesus” to those who need to experience Jesus. As Christ and others met me where I was, so I want to meet others where they are, pointing them to a Savior who died for them out of sincere and unconditional love.

Shawn Harrison is the director of Six:11 Ministries in Saint Marys, OH.

Because of those years of my life I suffered from heavy porn addiction and became very confused about my sexual identity and believed I was bisexual during Middle and High School.

Steven Bjork

First, I was adopted at birth due to my biological father being a dangerous person. Since then I have met my biological Mom and brothers and sisters. I’ve been blest to know they are saved, and continue to have a great relationship with all of them.
At the age of eight, I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ at a Royal Ranger camp.

When I was about the same age, my grandpa, who was the only grandparent I knew, passed away from old age. He had been one of the most important people in my life up until that time. To my young mind this was huge. I needed to find someone like him. I began to look for a man around his age that could be my Surrogate Grandpa.

I really wanted to have that kind of caring person as a part of my life. One night my mom and dad took me to a Blackwood Brother’s quartet concert. An older man attended with us. He seemed to have a lot of the same traits as my grandpa did. With that on my mind, I asked him to be a grandpa to me. He said yes, I was overjoyed at the time.

A few weeks later he began to sexually molest me. That lasted for 8 plus more years in my life. During those years, I kept it all a secret because of threats.

Because of those years of my life I suffered from heavy porn addiction and became very confused about my sexual identity and believed I was bisexual during Middle and High School.

It was through the healing power from God that I’m in a better place today spiritually and mentally. I learned of the power of forgiveness. Through forgiveness and counseling I received healing from bitterness, manipulation, and more.

For quite some time now I’ve felt a growing call to help others who have suffered through the pains that come from sexual abuse.
As the Executive Director for Beyond Imagination, I’m grateful to be walking people through forgiveness and healing as they are suffering from sexual addictions, unwanted homosexual desires, sexual hardships, or sexual abuse.

I have been blessed with an awesome wife, Sunny. In fact she was the first one to ever hear my story. She is my best friend. We were married July of 1997. God has also blessed us with three children. His healing and redemptive power are still being lived out in my life. I am not the man I used to be and I am not yet the man I want to be. I continue to grow and change. God has healed, redeemed, restored and transformed my life.

I love that this ministry comes from Ephesians 3:20, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.

Steven Bjork is the Director of Beyond Imagination in Raliegh, North Carolina.

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