Tears were flowing off my face as I knelt at the altar. I was thankful to be the only one at the church that day, because I desperately needed to let everything out. With my face to the floor, I sobbed and prayed and anguished over what I had done; where I had let myself stumble to. There are certain moments in life that remain as clear in the mind as they were when they happened. This day holds many such moments for me and has become a turning point in my story.

This story of mine begins in a small Midwestern town with a loving, Christian family. Growing up, I knew the love of both a father and a mother, experienced the joys and irritations of having siblings, and learned firsthand the encouragement and support of being part of the family of God. After moving to our town when I was two years old, my family quickly connected with the church that would become my home church. I was raised by parents who read Bible stories to us, led family prayers, and were part of a “Growing Kids God’s Way” parenting group. Then at the age of six, standing in my grandma’s kitchen, I prayed the prayer to ask God into my heart. I am sure I had very little idea of what I was actually doing, but I knew that I did not want to go to hell. In the following years, I wrote many worship songs, was involved with Bible quizzing, and joined the youth group, excited to be part of the core group that I had looked up to for so long. I even had a crush on a boy from my Sunday school class. Life was great. I was doing all the right things, but something felt off.

I remember the first time I heard the word “gay” outside of a Christmas song. My brother and I were outside playing with our neighbors and one of their cousins. Though the cousin was no more than a year or two older than us, he seemed to know so much more than we did. At one point during the day, he commented that some game we suggested playing was “so gay.” I did not know what that meant, so I avoided it, and filed the word away in my mind. When I later asked my mom what “gay” meant, she must have given me a clear enough answer to content my mind about it, because I don’t remember ever being confused about its meaning after that. I also had a clear understanding that being gay was not how God wanted us to have relationships.

It wasn’t until I was thirteen and in the eighth grade that the term “gay” was even on my radar again. Thirteen was the year I started becoming more aware of sexuality, both in myself and others. It was then that I met DJ. She moved around the corner from me a few months into the school year and we became fast friends. Up until this point, I had not met someone my age with so much charisma and sexual awareness as she seemed to have. Girls liked being her friend, and guys liked being with her. Nothing ever happened between us, but I mention her because it was on the way home from school one day that my “aha” moment happened. I was chatting with DJ and a couple of other friends, when one particularly obscene high school guy yelled across the bus for DJ and another girl to make out. They flipped him off and continued talking, but my mind froze. Immediately, I began to wonder why that comment didn’t bother me.

This is where I look back and wish I had shared my confusion with someone, asked questions, and really wrestled with it. But I didn’t. It was better if I would just keep it inside and process it myself. By doing this, I was influenced not by my parents, my church, or even God in how I thought about sexuality. Instead, I allowed my sexuality to become my identity. After all, that’s the message I was receiving from the culture. Be you. Don’t change for anyone.

I was convinced of two things: “I am gay and it is just who I am,” and, “God does not accept who I am, because I am gay.” These two concepts shaped my life for many years. Because I was convinced that God did not accept who I was, I began pulling away from God and people who worshipped and followed Him. If God doesn’t want me, then they won’t want me either. I distanced myself emotionally from my family, became less and less involved in youth group, and turned inward to create this protective world within myself. There was really no logical reason for it, but I became very scared of what might happen if anyone ever found out about my “true” self, so I did everything I could to keep all relationships at the surface level.

By the end of my junior year, I discovered that my father was cheating and my parents divorced. At the time, I was convinced that it did not affect me; that I was only upset at how it hurt my family. I would later realize that it impacted me more than I could ever know. My life began spinning out of control. I went through the chapter of my life that I now call the “Black Hole.” I started dating long-distance because I still wasn’t ready for the people around me to know about who I was. Between the bad relationships, excessive drinking, and heavy depression, I was lost. My life felt jumbled and meaningless. Because it was.

One memory that stuck with me through the Black Hole is the night I came out to my mom. It was late at night on my eighteenth birthday. I waited until that day, because I wanted to be old enough to get my own place if I were to be kicked out. Looking back, I cannot believe I worried about such a thing, knowing my mom. I see it as another way the enemy attacked me. As we sat on the edge of her bed, tears started streaming down my face as I told her I was gay. Her reaction has played back in my mind countless times. A picture of pure love and grace. She paused for a few moments to let it sink in, and then said the words that would ring in my heart and mind for years to come: “I don’t agree with you, but I love you.” Simple, right? But to someone who had been pushing away a “hating” God, they were some of the most powerful words. Another seed was planted, but the Black Hole continued to suck me in.

By the time I was twenty, I was living in another city with friends and was finding myself in bed accompanied by depression more days than not. My relationship at the time was one of my better ones, but I could not shake this nagging feeling that something was still off. God was softening my heart, and after years of ignoring all thoughts and conversations about Him, I was becoming more open to having those thoughts and conversations. And so, after many late nights of praying, crying, and reading Scripture over the phone with my mom, I ended my relationship and moved home, ready to rebuild family relationships and ready to follow Jesus.

I started a passionate pursuit of purity. If Joshua Harris or Elisabeth Elliot wrote it, I read it. Anything the young Christian ex-lesbian could ever need for sexual purity, I had it: accountability partner—check; purity ring—check; purity contract—check. I was even on my way to ministry, by way of Bible college. I was careful as I began to work through how to believe one thing and still love people who believed differently. Looking back on this chapter of my life, I truly believe that I really did love God, and that I was seeking after Him wholeheartedly. I also see that I had a lot to learn about the human condition in a fallen world and how there is a force pulling us in the opposite direction of God.

I got a couple of years into Bible college before I started taking note of the proverbial red flags in my life. My mind and priorities began to shift away from my relationship with God, the ministry He was using me for, and school. I was finding myself spending more and more time drinking, smoking, and hanging out with people who probably weren’t the best influences. While I know that I have full responsibility for my choices and actions, I also learned that who your friends are can have a huge impact on you. And we were not doing each other any favors when it came to our respective walks with Christ. I somehow found a group of lesbians on campus, and they seemed so convinced that God was okay with their own open acceptance of their sexuality. I began to be confused. Had I been wrong again? Maybe those words in the New Testament don’t really mean what I thought they did. Maybe we are in God’s will. Maybe we will never know.

I got caught up in embracing the uncertainty and found myself in another black hole, but this time, instead of slowly growing and guiding me out, God used one of my darkest moments to show me His light. It was late, I was drunk, and a friend’s girlfriend and I were pushing boundaries. I remember, in that moment, that I kept thinking about my friend, and honestly, the story of Joseph with Potiphar’s wife kept creeping into my mind. But my selfishness was pushing its way in too. As I stumbled my way to another friend’s room to sleep it off, I knew I had crossed a line. Cue the turning point.

I got up the next morning and sobered up as I made my way to the church to work on my Bible lesson for the youth group. But as I sat there staring at the computer screen, my mind would not focus. I knew I had screwed up, but I didn’t want to think about it. It was easier to just move on and forget about it, or so I thought. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore and began running. I rushed my way through the church to the gym, where I just ran laps for a while. For those who do not know me, I do not run. Not even for food. I may jog sometimes, but the only times I have ever flat-out ran were: the one time I saw my sister fall off a tall porch into a parking lot, that one year of middle school basketball, and this day.

I don’t know how many laps I made before running into the sanctuary and collapsing at the altar, sobbing. Kneeling there, nose to the floor, I cried and began to recite Psalm 51, the one that had weighed on my heart for a few years. Through the tears and the verses, I began to confess what I had done and where I had gotten to in my life. I asked that God would forgive the choices that I had been making. It may have been minutes or hours, I really can’t tell now, but after crying and praying until my throat and chest ached, I repented. Literally. I turned around, sat with my back against the altar and just breathed. Three things were distinctly clear to me in that moment: that Abba forgave me, regardless of how much I would fail to fully accept it in the coming days; that I needed to confess and apologize to my friend; and that I needed to confess to my pastor.

That day began a new part of my journey. While I did have some moments of doubting the magnitude of God’s grace for me, my life shifted and I was a new person. For as real as my so-called self felt, I began to recognize the true self I could find in Christ. No longer was there a cloud of confusion around the way I understood my sexuality, or really any other sin. Instead of assuming pressure from the Christian community to suppress the bad “choice” of homosexuality through all of the appropriate purity methods, I felt released to understand homosexuality as part of my fallen human nature, and therefore something God could, and would, redeem. His stipulations are that I deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him.

I decided that I was going to follow Jesus, no matter what. If that meant losing certain friendships, I would do it. If that meant choosing not to follow my natural sexual tendency, I would do it. If that meant forsaking all else, I would do it. This has become less of a daily battle and more of a daily reminder as I place my homosexuality, along with some other things that seem natural, under the lens of God’s truth about His plan for my life. They came up lacking in God’s sight, and are therefore not worth getting tangled up in again. God has a better life for me, and I intend to explore it. This decision to “deny, take up, and follow” has granted me the experience of a freedom greater than I ever imagined. The straight and narrow is not always an easy road to follow, and I still stumble, but it is entirely worth it when I remember my traveling Buddy knows and loves me completely.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” —Matthew 16:24-25, NASB

Written by Anonymous as part of the Anonymous Issue (November-December 2017).