The Testimony — Oct 20, 2009

I would like to share with you a story of God’s grace. His deep, mysterious grace, mercy and compassion. I would like to share a story of how His grace collided with my world.

I grew up on a farm in rural North Dakota. I was the only child in a family of nine, meaning most of my siblings were out of the nest when I was growing up. Dad and Mom were a loving couple. Not in the blatant expression of romance, but loving in the Norwegian stoic sense of love. They didn’t “show” their love, you just saw their love for each other, for their children, for life.

Life on the small-grains farm was a simple time. I didn’t get in to the agriculture life. I did help Dad on rare occasions with odd tasks, and I helped Mom with house stuff. We were five miles from where I went to school, so I never had many “outside” friends. Our family was considered “country” and “holy roller” by the townsfolk. Outside influences were rare with only NBC and CBS on that old black and white television. Family consisted of Dad’s family as well since our farm was but half a mile from his home farm, and barely a couple miles separated all the cousins. We all went to the same Lutheran church and the same school. Mom lived a firm faith in Christ, Dad’s faith would grow later in life. We were a normal, farm family and all was good.

For everyone else that is. For myself, I struggled against these feelings I had inside for boys and not for girls. I watched everyone around me dating the opposite gender, getting married, and raising families. I hadn’t any interest in any of that. School was tough watching the boys ogling the girls which meant nothing to me. I’d stare at the boys with longing, and wonder what was wrong with me. The extent of my dating experiences in high school was the prom out of expected traditions. I had fooled around with a couple boys my age, but who probably thought of it as just goofing around. Definitely one topic rarely, if ever, discussed was anything to do with sex. For my thirteenth birthday, Dad and Mom gave me a book by Focus on the Family about sexuality. It described all the beautiful wonders of sex between a man and a woman. It left me even more confused.

After high school, I went to a college 45 miles away. Away from the prying eyes and ears of family. Freedom. I made sure to keep connected with an E. Free church, and faith groups on campus. But I loved to party. And I found an adult bookstore with videos of action I had only fantasized about. I began to discover what it was all about. But, for all I knew, I figured I was the only boy attracted to other boys. I did not know there could be others like me. All I knew was that I was disgusting because that’s what I always heard about homosexuality. One night, the fact that I was disgusting was confirmed blatantly. After fooling around with a guy, he quickly dashed off to shower because he said he felt dirty. I had thought it was enjoyable, but his words left me to cry myself to sleep alone. What was wrong with me?

I quit college to join the US Navy. Finally a chance to see the world. And a lot of good looking guys. But I was forced to suppress any of that for fear of being kicked out. Until I was home on leave in 1988 and returned to that adult bookstore where I ended up with another guy. This guy sexually assaulted me and I ended up in the ER. The doctor convinced me to file a report as this unknown man had been doing this to other guys. The police assured me that the Navy would never find out.

The pastor of the church I had attended while in college spent hours with me that weekend. He convinced me that I needed to tell my family, and drove with me out to the Farmstead. I don’t remember what words spilled out, but Dad did an amazing thing. He turned off the radios by his chair and turned and listened. To me, that spoken volumes. Dad and Mom both reassured me repeatedly the next few days that no matter what, I am their son, and they would always love me — which they did. I returned to my ship in California determined to put this all behind me. However, the Navy had been contacted by the police department. Less than two weeks later, after multiple sessions in a psych ward, I was given a DD214, JFX, RE-4 — an honorable discharge via administrative separation due to personality disorder for the convenience of the government with no chance of re-enlistment.

I returned to North Dakota desperate to live my own life without any regards to family or God. After many lonely drunken nights, I ended up with another man. Afterwards, this time I chose to fix myself by suicide. I don’t remember much, but the pastor said that I had called him, and I ended up in the ER and a week court-ordered stay at the State Hospital. They discharged me with a diagnosis of an ego-dystonic behavior pattern, reporting, “Kevin is unaccepting of his homosexual desires and his family members do not approve of such, nor does the church he attends. Outpatient counseling will be needed, as Kevin becomes more accepting of his sexual identity.”

Soon the pastor came along side and just did a lot of listening. Towards the end of that summer, I came to the full realization that I had been living my life for every one else and not for God alone. I asked God to help me understand His plan for my life, and twenty some years later I am still on that quest. An unknown journey began.

September of 1988 I moved to Maryland to start a new job, maybe a new life. I began attending a Southern Baptist church with the great assurance that the past was behind me. Some close friends introduced me to a Love In Action sponsored Bible study. I also met a woman from it who was actually interested in me. Finally, I can get fixed! Things were going great, until she started talking about her biological clock. I bolted. I was only 24 and had life to live yet.

In a suburban metro setting, I realized that there were other gays and lesbians with social opportunities all over. Why not I wondered? Why can’t I go to a gay bar, and still live a religious life? I was a wreck trying to lead this double-life. I tried the bar scene a couple times until one night I picked up a hitchhiker on my way home. This hitchhiker just had a fight with his boyfriend in their car who then dropped him off in the middle of nowhere. He listened to my story, and when I dropped him off at his place in D.C., he said “I’ll be praying for you to find your way.”

How can I find my way, I was so confused. I struggled with suppressing my desires, hiding who I was. It was a difficult time, and the only way I knew how to escape was suicide. One Friday evening after work, I downed a bottle of sleeping pills with a bottle of Nyquil. I woke up Monday morning with the worst hangover possible. Fine God, keep me here. I continued my path of self-loathing, internalized homophobia, trying to ignore that which was in me. What was my purpose with God? I wasn’t allowed to help with the youth group at church because the pastor there didn’t trust my history of homosexuality around the young people. I did help with a couple different State-side mission trips. The Great Commission, foreign missions, could that be my calling? I wondered, I pondered, I prayed.

Starting in 1993, God had me studying at a Bible college in South Carolina majoring in Biblical Languages and in Biblical Studies. That was a great time. Digging deep in to Scripture. Accountability partners. Learning at the feet of people of strong faith. Two semesters studying and living in Jerusalem, the original context, language and culture of Scripture. At this Bible college, I received so much respect and compassion even though teachers, advisors, and friends knew of my struggles.

I began applying with Wycliffe Bible Translators. The summer before my senior year, I attended their in-depth application session in California. Remember that DD214? Yes, it came in to consideration. Wycliffe informed me there were areas of my life that needed growth and change, before moving ahead with membership. I went back to college for my final year devastated. I knew that I was called by God, but to have a faith organization tell me that that was void because of my background, I was in a tailspin. I wanted to serve Him, but how? I graduated clueless but not defeated.

I returned to North Dakota briefly before moving to Washington. My Uncle who was a pastor, and his son, who was in seminary at that time, both separately counseled me that God was OK with me being gay. I ignored them as best as I could because I knew I was not gay. I’m a Bible college graduate, remember? I joined a Presbyterian church, and discovered Exodus International. I attended a men’s group, and then one-on-one counseling in hopes of conquering the past. “Help me God!,” I prayed. Simply put, the experience was more suppressing and denying.

After a year in Washington working in a print shop, this nomad moved home as Dad and Mom were getting to be “that age.” Later when I moved to Minot, I discovered internet surfing, which led to opportunities for contact with gay men. But this was wrong. It had ended my career with the Navy. It voided me from ministry with youth. It had nullified my efforts for foreign missions work. But I so longed for it. There just wasn’t anyone to talk with, so I wrestled on my own. I cried myself to sleep many nights. I kept it all securely hid from friends, from work, from family.

One weekend in 2002 when visiting at the Farmstead, Mom seemed to give the indication that she wanted to help pay off my student loans so that Wycliffe would be able to restart my application. That scared me. I had been lying to the family for so long. I had been lying to myself. I talked with a sister and said we had to stop Mom as Wycliffe only denied me because I was gay, not because of financial debt. I’m not sure if she told Mom, but Mom never again broached the subject of my student loans.

I did not know where to go, where to turn, what to do. Work was stressful, life was stressful, and this sexuality was just not going away no matter what I did or did not do. Once again, I tried to escape with another bottle of sleeping pills and a long drive. And once again, God spared my life. This time I began a path of self-discovery in accepting myself as gay.

Spring of 2003 I met a man from Mandan, and we began dating. Dating, it was more than just random sexual encounters, it was refreshing. There was an intimate connection. I soon moved to Bismarck to begin a new job with a print shop. Here in Bismarck I found a gay community of friends that socialized together in public. It was new to me.

I started attending the Lutheran church where my cousin was senior pastor. There I met a couple lesbian friends who had a deep faith walk. I met a friend who had been a Lutheran pastor but when he entered a long-term relationship with his boyfriend, the Bishop ushered him out of the ministry. Could it be? Could there be such a thing as gays with a practicing faith? They introduced me to various books which opened Scripture in a whole new light. With my studies in Biblical languages, I dug in and discovered there was a depth to Scripture beyond the black ink on paper. I have read the Bible and re-read the Bible and wrestled with the passages people use to condemn, judge, ostracize homosexuals. Yes, I even tried ignoring those passages. But after living in the Land Between where the Bible originated, I realized that there is far so much more to the Bible than just the Western conservative/evangelical/protestant traditions and interpretations. I prayed and wrestled, and God bathed me in His comfort reassuring me that His grace, His deep and mysterious grace is far sufficient. “You are my child,” I kept hearing.

Since Dad and Mom have died, and gone is their unrestrained love and compassion, connection amongst my siblings and their families has become minimal. Some have expressed their opposition in various ways. Others adhere to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Gratefully a few have given me true Christ-like friendship in their purposing to understand and keep me connected. Thankfully God has given me many wonderful people who live out the life of Christ completely with compassion and understanding. He has given me gracious friends in many social settings, and in the workplace.

Being an openly gay Christian, especially in North Dakota, is a delicate and often lonely path. For the gay community, I am too religious. For the faith community, I am too gay. For example, in response to an Easter message I had emailed, a gay friend replied, “…I feel that organized religion … has kicked gays in the teeth too many times for me to support it in good conscience and I would prefer that you not send me these type of emails in the future.” Or a reply from a family member after an attempt to engage in an open dialog, “I really don’t care how you live your life. Do what you want to do, but don’t ask us to give you the okay, because you won’t get it from us. God is our judge, and that’s who you should be worried about, not us. If you’re not worried, then stop sending us emails… I can tell we’ll be remaining at an impasse.”

Remember, this is not a “woe is me” saga. It is a story of how my world collided into God’s grace and mercy. I have enjoyed a good, normal life. I don’t live a perfect life. My life is not holy. Struggles, temptations, desires, lusts are with me. I often wonder what I am doing, wondering what God is about. Through it all, forever present is a good God, full of compassion and understanding. God challenges me to live my life with joy and integrity. Our sexual identity is just another human characteristic, another of our Creator’s gifts. I understand that faith does not consist of each thing one must do to “be” a Christian. I pray, “Lord Jesus, son of the living Triune God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I’ve re-read my written testimonies from past years, and I discover that I am on an evolving journey with God. I will not settle in a faith walk where I think I know all the answers. I am unable to grasp the depths of God’s grace. Once I stepped away from religious teachings of rejection and condemnation, my relationship with God has climbed to a new invigorating spiritual steppe. I continue along the journey in His grip of grace.