Tim's Testimony: My Journey from Being Gay to Finding God's Grace
The following is a testimony referenced in Pastor Ryan's recent message on Sunday June 19, 2016 titled "A Biblical Response to The Orlando Massacre"
Pastor Ryan knows Tim personally and has seen the fruit of his life and ministry. Tim's testimony can also be found in the Celebrate Recovery Bible. A Christ-centered, 12 step program for anyone with hurts, habits, or hang ups.
Howdy, forever family. I’m a constantly growing, perpetually changing follower of the never changing, eternally consistent Jesus Christ, The LORD my God who is with me…Who has mightily saved me…Who has proclaimed in His Word that He takes great delight in me…Who quiets me with His love…Who rejoices over me with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17) My name is Tim.
I was born in Dallas, TX, the son of a preacher for, what was at that time, an extremely fundamental, graceless church denomination, and my mom, the always “on guard” sentry of her self-made domain where everything was yes or no, right or wrong, black or white. We were, in the eyes of the people entrusted to my father’s ministerial care, the perfect family. No one in the church family was aware of how many times I stood in front of my bathroom mirror to make sure no whelp marks from my father's belt were visible on my arms or hand prints on my face. In this perfect family, beatings were regular, and not regulated by duration or severity. The beatings were rarely subdued, but born of parents who were both rage-aholics, and would, therefore, employ anything close at hand as a weapon…belts, dishes, face slapping. There were no time outs, no grounding, just beatings. In one of her rages, my mother threw me to the ground, reached down, took off her high heeled shoe and proceeded to beat me mercilessly. Afterward, I went back to our bedroom and my little brother watched as I raised my pant leg to see blood dripping from the cuts on my legs. This was the most prominent memory of my childhood years. Simply trying to stay out of their way to avoid saying anything that would set them off. The beatings were constant as were the almost daily reminders from my father that I was stupid, worthless and ugly. To this day, my father has never told me that he is proud of me. As I grew older, the innuendos of my father's infidelity became less and less hushed until mom would verbally annihilate him in front of all of us, warning him that she would tell us the truth. I tried as hard as I could to not believe the allegations about him, but she drove the point home constantly through her rage. She was relentless, never letting up, and never looking at her own responsibility in the situation. I watched dad slowly wither under mom's constant barrage of bitterness and resentment until I knew he could expect no forgiveness from her and so he began to retreat further and further into his sexual addiction, with many women, in an attempt to isolate himself away from the pain of constantly failing. She would never let him forget. Christmas Eve of my senior year in high school, during one of her verbal assaults, she screamed at him to tell me the truth. It was the last arrow she had, she had waited years to use it, and she knew it had hit the center of its target. For me, the final wisps of hope and trust were blown away by a hostile, agonizingly and bitterly cold silence that engulfed our house and my heart from that moment on. I didn't realize it at that moment, but I had begun my journey into isolation. This frozen quiet would continue until, finally, after years of verbally, very rarely physically destroying each other, my parents finally divorced. I mentally made the decision that I would never become my father.
Backing up for just a moment, when I was 8 years old, I told my parents I wanted to be baptized. The denomination I was raised in believed that salvation doesn't happen until the point of baptism. After a few questions, they decided I wasn't ready and I needed to wait. So the next two years, from 8 years old to 11 years old, I spent every day believing that if I died, I would spend all of eternity in hell. Every church service, during the invitation song, I would grab hold of the pew in front of me and literally watch my knuckles turn white, longing to go forward for baptism, but believing I wasn't good enough.
To cover my pain and fear and guilt over not knowing how to help restore and rescue their marriage, I became the class clown. During Junior and Senior High, popularity became my drug. Because I was not raised in a church where grace abounded, I was working as hard as I could to earn my way into heaven. I pleaded and tried to negotiate with God for my sexuality. But nothing worked. The desires would not go away. I knew that because of these yearnings, there was little chance of my making it into heaven, no matter how much I begged, bargained, and bartered with God. In order to not think about how depraved I must be, I was in every singing group and theater production I could squeeze into my life. It was a great way to cover my feelings. I found acceptance and self-esteem in all this good "work." I remained celibate, which most of my friends could NOT understand. Just as I tried to hide from the pain of my parent’s failure, I ran from overwhelming guilt and staggering shame due to my sexual attraction to men. But, the sexual desires were getting stronger and my resolve weaker. I began to slowly retreat into myself. As soon as productions were over I would leave out the side door, totally avoiding anyone that might tell me that I was good. I couldn't go to cast parties. I would not allow myself to be in places where I might start feeling any emotion on any level for men. At this point, my emotions were so convoluted that if I ever felt any feelings for a man, on any level, even friendship, I would pull away out of fear that what I was feeling was evil, or would certainly lead to evil thoughts or desires. This kept me from forming friendships with men...EVER! I knew that if they ever found out that I was gay, they would turn their backs on me and have nothing to do with me. And so I began a concerted flight from connecting with any people, particularly men.
In the early 90’s, I moved to Burbank, CA. I had two female roommates, friends from Nashville. We decided one weekend to go on a little retreat. We stayed in a bed and breakfast close to the ocean. After supper, we went down to the beach to watch the sun set into the water. There on the beach was a huge rock, about 10 feet tall. As the sun sank lower toward the horizon, we climbed atop the rock to enjoy the sunset, and I began to notice more and more people beginning to walk by, mostly men. We had, apparently, stumbled onto a late night hang out for gay men. As I watched these men walking back and forth on the beach, something began to stir inside me. It was an adrenaline rush, as though I had stumbled onto a secret pleasure, some sort of forbidden thrill I never experienced before. I didn't realize that I was beginning to believe in an immediate, although counterfeit sense of identity. Until then, I had been able to keep my life in a quasi-celibate mode, mostly successful, very rarely not so successful. I ran from my sexuality to the point of isolation. But something happened that night that can only be explained as a beginning. Not a journey that leads to life and victory, but to a death of a pursuit toward holiness and relationship with Jesus into a conscious descent into my own personal hell. I watched for several hours the dark dance of human desire and need as it paraded by my "safe" place high atop the rock. I began to think I'd been too hard on myself, all my life, by denying myself the chance to seek out a long term relationship with another man. The need to "know and be known" was my deepest, most overpowering desire. I knew at that moment I wanted, needed and longed for the companionship of another man in a close and intimate way. I talked to God and told Him I knew it wasn't His best way, not His true way for intimacy, but I wanted it. I longed for another human being to take away my aloneness and my miserable loneliness. I prayed He would have enough grace to forgive me. But it was time for me to take the risk and move to a different place in my life by finding someone to have a relationship with. I had, in short, artificially manufactured my own "spiritual awakening. Obadiah 1:3 reads, "The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the cleft of the rocks and make your home on the heights." Soon after this, I got my first computer, and discovered the devious, deceitful and ultimately deadly way the enemy could use this tool toward my destruction. I went into gay chat rooms, and for the first time, felt accepted and significant…that I had finally found the right place for me in the world. Before long, I began to engage in anonymous sexual encounters. At first there was excruciating shame and determination to never go there again. But, in time it got easier. The shame began to subside and was replaced with a new sense of belonging and acceptance. For a few hours, I could escape into a world where I was the focal point of someone’s need…even though they were strangers. For a few hours, I was important to someone. During those hours, the need for affection was stronger than the fear of death. And during those hours, it was worth the risk. I was longing for my most basic need…to be known.
I moved back home to Arkansas after the Northridge Quake in 1994. The addiction not only continued, but became worse. I would go online, sometimes as many as 3 times a night, find someone to spend a few hours with, numbing myself to the pain of my loneliness and medicating myself against the gentle whispers of a Father who flatly refused to let me go and continued to watch by the window for his son to come back home. I didn't want to feel him. And because I was in a constant state of denial, refusing to listen to Him, I was persistent in my prayers that He would forgive me. At some point, I began to recognize that I no longer felt shame or guilt about my actions. And in the back of my consciousness, there was a nagging awareness that though I was in physical contact with men all the time, I was more alone and friendless than ever. At first this bothered me. But, later my addiction became so gravely severe that I blocked out any outside or inside interference. But, God’s radical tenderness wouldn’t allow my disobedience and defiance. He knew I understood too much about Him. Romans 1 says, “But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. So God said, in effect, ‘If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.’ It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshipped the god they made instead of the God who made them – the God we bless, the God who blesses us.” In His immeasurable and ruthless love, God chose to step back just far enough from me so that I could experience my senseless, selfish separation from Him. It was at that point that I began to realize the absolute waste of what my life was. Although it manifested itself differently, I had become my father. The loneliness of my life on top of the rock that night was nothing compared to the fear of my life without God and the grief of being without Him. My anguish was palpable and my depression bitterly relentless. I could see no way out. The world I loved was a full-blown sham. The concentrated fortress I had built around myself seemed impenetrable. The ache of loneliness and isolation was tangible. I called a counseling center who told me about a church that was beginning a new program called Celebrate Recovery. I really didn’t want anything like that. But, I was tired of trying to walk through this alone. It just wasn’t working. So, I decided to give it a go. The first night I went, I literally forced myself to take one step after another through the front door. I prepared myself ahead of time for the inevitable rejection, which surprisingly, did not come.
The past 16 years, being involved with Celebrate Recovery and specifically working the 8 principles, have been a ferocious mix of discovery and rebuilding my legacy, firmly planted in an amazing relationship with Jesus Christ. I can’t say that the old feelings are gone, that there is no temptation…that the pull of the past isn’t still lurking in some corner of my less than perfect heart. All I can do is thank my Father for being so faithful to a fallen human like me, squeezing me in a viselike embrace, refusing to let me go when I desperately wanted Him too. For walking with me during my recovery process and gently whispering His encouragement and reminding me that I am His son, that He is the lover I have longed for all my life, the lover of my soul, and that He will never ever leave me. Sometimes my mind can’t grasp the reality, so my heart just has to believe that He knows me, with all my faults...knows the worst thing I’ve ever done or ever will do…and in spite of all that, He’s unabashedly, unashamedly, shamelessly crazy about me. And actually sings songs over me. He knows me. Working through the Celebrate Recovery 8 principles, even when it was extremely painful, and trusting the process, and trusting the heart of Jesus for my healing, has proven to be the greatest weapon I have against the darts of the enemy to undermine my feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. I have had the great honor and responsibility of walking hand in hand with the most courageous people I know, my forever family, who encourage me and hold me accountable. But most importantly, love me just where I am and the way I am, not the way I should be, because we all realize that none of us are where we should be. We just keep growing. Most of my life, I believed that in order for me to have a deep, meaningful relationship with a guy, it had to include sex. But, now, I find that all the things I needed…companionship, love, acceptance, validation, approval, sense of value, even a hug, I am given freely by my friends. I get to experience all those feelings and walk away without what used to be accompanying shame and guilt and fear. I am accepted as a man…not as a label.
A few summers ago, several of us went to the CR summit at Saddleback. One night, we decided to drive to Laguna to have a nice dinner, and perhaps wade in the Pacific Ocean. After dinner, we drove down the boulevard until we saw a side street that looked like it had access to the beach. We parked on the boulevard and walked down the street to steps that would lead us to the water. I walked to the railing of the steps and looked down on the beach. There it was. The same rock I sat on many years earlier. God never ceases to send me bolts of lightning out of the blue...signs of His mind-blowing love for me. I ran down the steps and ran to the rock, climbed it and sat down in the exact same spot I sat many years earlier. I looked around and again saw men walking the beach. This time I saw something entirely different. An endless procession of humanity, forever traveling a shadowy, gloomy path that will never lead anywhere other than the place it began...misery, always seeking but never satisfied, searching for the next "fix" to numb the fear, shame and guilt of a life never truly lived. I knew that by His grace, I never had to go back there again. I have finally begun to realize the truth that before recovery, I spent way too much time trying to be happy and comfortable. And the reality is that I was never made to be 100% comfortable here, only reasonably happy, because I don’t really belong here. I believe the Lord has left a space in my heart, a longing…a hankerin’ for something I’ll never find here on earth. It will only be fully filled when I finally see Him face to face. Then, and only then will I finally be totally fulfilled. The Lord never called me to seek total happiness in this life. He HAS called me to be obedient. There and there alone is where I ultimately find absolute peace. There will always be issues I have to give up to Him. But, the point is that these “things” always turn my gaze back to Him. It re-reminds me to remain, as much as is humanly possible, in a state of brokenness and surrender if I really desire to be healed and whole. I’ve learned that suffering isn’t ennobling, recovery is. So, now it is almost out of a sense of adventure that I embrace those moments when the Lord reveals previously uncharted areas of my heart where I need to give him jurisdiction. I have learned that every moment of every day, I’m creating my own history. And the choices I make today will be a great predictor of my future. If I can, in the moment, remember that, it will make a vast difference in how I react to any given situation. I can choose to react with a Christ-regenerated character, or I can revert back to the old knee-jerk, defensive posture that got me to the position I was in more than 16 years ago, filled with uncertainty, hurt, shame, guilt and fear. I don’t know about tomorrow…but today…I choose dependence. Whatever happens, I choose to allow it to turn my eyes upon Jesus. And I choose to continue my adventure with Him. Ten years from today, I want to look back at this historical moment and know that I chose the security of wiser actions, love instead of judgment, acceptance instead of condemnation of others OR myself…I choose those things instead of feeble, worn out patterns that led to frustration and powerless-ness, at best. So, that's about it...welcome to my mess. I hope you’ll stay here. I pray you find what I’ve found…a mysterious grace that endures forever…a deeply affecting meditation on the ways in which terrible pain and loss can be redeemed – slowly, grudgingly sometimes, and in fragments – through love and acceptance. I hope you’ll experience, as I have, how God is in the resurrection business, even dreams that have died…the infinity of possibilities that are available with Jesus. I pray that you’ll find humor and wisdom that a life lived in community can offer. I pray you learn the savage beauty of forgiving and being forgiven, especially yourself…that you will courageously risk holding on and letting go, as messy and imperfect and beautiful as the process can be. I pray that you will be delivered from the chains of loneliness, the prison of isolation and the dark dreary dread of an uncertain future into the arms of a ridiculously wild, fiercely passionate and outrageously unrestrained love affair with Jesus Christ. I pray that you will find what I have found...hope!
A quick update on my dad. Principle 6 says: Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I've done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others. I know I carry no responsibility for the abuse that was inflicted on me. But, I wanted to offer this man forgiveness for what he did to me, however the Lord might want that to look. About a month ago, he fell. The doctor said his legs still work, but because of his advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, his brain doesn't tell them to work. My brothers and my sister and I decided to go visit him in the memory care home where his wife put him and where he will spend his last days. I expected nothing from this trip other than to spend a few last moments with him and to make sure he knew he was forgiven. There were moments of possible recognition on his face. But they were so fleeting I was never quite sure. As we were preparing to leave, I bent down in front of him. He looked me right in the eyes. I said, "Dad, I love you." He gave a quick nod. I took his hand in mine and said, "Daddy, I really do love you." And for the first time in many years, I knew I meant it. He paused for a couple of seconds, struggling to recognize me and finally uttered, "Well...you're okay, too." In that quiet moment, I heard a soft whisper from my real, substantial, heavenly dad Who said, "I'm right here beside you. I will never leave you. I know you. And I'm so very proud of you." Dad's wife Dorothy asked if we would like to see his room. My brother wheeled Dad down the hall and I was struck by the fact that she told us earlier he never goes anywhere without his Bible in his lap. And I thought, someday he will meet me in heaven and we will enjoy the relationship God always intended us to have here on earth. I felt peace. As we walked into his room, Dorothy said she tried to set it up as much as she could, just like it was at home. She hoped it would help fire some last memories for him. She said, "You know, just a few things I know he loved." My eyes scanned the room, taking in the memory tokens of his life, until they landed on his bedside table. There were two framed photographs there, facing his bed, as though guarding him while he slept. Two sentries, who would stand beside him, protecting what were now mere shadows of his former dreams. One, a Blackhawk pilot, his grandson, Tad. The other, a once wounded soldier, who was lost, but now is found, his son, Tim.
Thank you for letting me share.