I never struggled with homosexuality. My struggle was heterosexuality.
So there I sat…this is it. “Dear life, I have had enough. I’m tired.” Looking out over the New York City skyline, I could see for miles. I gazed as the wind blew softly, then harder, then softer again. I was hoping that it would blow me right over. I was hoping that it would knock me right off of the edge. I was so tired…
I grew up in church—the Seventh-day Adventist church. My brother and I were the perfect portrait of Adventist kids—super vegan, bible quiz winners, Pathfinders, non-television-having, only-Christian-radio-listening, no-shorts-wearing, Bible-board-game-playing, special-music-singing church kids. But I was different…and I knew it…even then.
As I grew older, the battle waged on. The fight within me was not for racial equality. I didn’t mind being mocked for my skin color, because I was clearly black. The fight within me wasn’t to not be gay—the fight was to try and be straight. But “fight” is a bit of an understatement. A “battle” is perhaps more accurate.
And on my behalf…
My brother battled…
My mother battled….
My father battled…
My friends battled.
Kids would pick on me, and I would battle some more. I wasn’t straight enough, and it was killing me. I didn’t even know how to be straight. What did that even mean? I couldn’t play football right. I couldn’t sit right. I didn’t walk right. I definitely didn’t talk right. The “straight” character that I was trying to cast as myself in the stage play of life was simply not believable. I was failing to portray “myself” and people didn’t believe the character I was pretending to be. Trying to be straight was simply not working. I was different…and I knew it…even then.
So there I was…standing on the edge of my life. It had come to this. Was I really here? Is this really happening? I began to think of so many things. My mom. What would she say? My Dad. He would be crushed. My brother. He’d be shattered. All of these feelings; but what about me? “But I’m so tired!”
Freedom had let me down. I thought that, after all my struggles with identity, when I finally made up my mind to live the life that I was “supposed” to live, everything would be great. I thought that once I said, “I’m not pretending to be straight anymore! I’m gay and that’s that,” everything would be bells and whistles, ice cream and candy. I thought….but I thought wrong.
I knew that God had called me to be or do something for Him, but I thought that I was disqualified because of who I was. The church always said, “You are who God says you are,” but that was no help to me. People didn’t understand. I didn’t understand.
You don’t have to pretend. I do!
You don’t have to walk around and know that you can’t date who you are attracted to. I do!
You don’t have to live with the knowledge that you may never get married. I do!
And even if you do get married, you don’t have to live with the fact that you will not be 100% attracted to your wife. I do!
You don’t have to hear people share their simplistic platitudes, such as “Just pray to God. He will ‘heal’ you.” I do!
You don’t have to live your life while people treat your sheer existence as a sin, and your personage as a handicap because of who you are attracted to. I do!
You don’t have to live with the weight of feeling that, no matter how much you preach, no matter how much you minister, no matter how many people you bring to the kingdom, you are disqualified from heaven, by default, because of who you are. I do!
Where was I supposed to go? What was I supposed to do? So there I sat. I was so tired.
In my life the battle to become heterosexual was brutal. It was just as intense and cinematic as Lord of the Rings Battle for Middle Earth or some other blockbuster. But this was a battle that I was not equipped to fight. I had given up trying to listen to what God was trying to do in my life because I thought that my usefulness to Him had ended. As a result, I slowly started searching for my identity in people, places, and things that seemed fun—and for a season they were.
Soon, my social drinking became a necessity. I had to do it. When I did, I forgot that there was a war going on inside of me. I could become whoever I wanted—someone who didn’t care what people thought, someone who didn’t care what people had to say, someone who went places that didn’t make me feel odd, alone, confused, or different. Alcohol tricked me into believing that the war was over. Little did I know that I was imbibing a weapon that the enemy shot straight into my life.
Teetering on the Edge
So there I sat… “How did I get here?” I wondered how my life had come to be so desperate; in shambles; hopeless. I was a smart guy. I could fix anything…but I couldn’t fix this. Why was I so miserable and depressed? I was successful…why did I feel all alone. I looked down on the streets of Manhattan from the top of the building and could hear the wind howling directly in front of me. I just needed one good breeze to set me free!
I thought that I would fit in. I thought that if I was “myself” then I would be accepted. I came to find that once I reached the destination of what I thought was “freedom” in a life of sin, I was just as alone and as confused as before. I was too gay for some gay people, and too straight for others; and at that point I felt that church was just useless because it can only tell you what not to be and what not to do, like it was a suit you could just throw on at any given time. And if I heard one more, “Just pray about it,” I was sure I was going to explode!
I was desperate and I began sinking into what became years of addiction and depression, with alcohol as my only medication. My identity was shattered. The character that I had created was falling apart, and this new character was even more tragic. I was broken, and it could no longer be hidden. I was publicly coming undone. Where I had once been successful, I now struggled keeping a job. Where I had once been charismatic, I now became isolated. Where I had once been hopeful, I now became complacent in despair. I needed help.
“Lord, I just need you to stop the world so I can get off for just a minute. Amen!”
So there I sat…looking out over what looked like the whole Earth. “I should be happy. I should be able to fix this. I should be better—but I’m not.” Confused and tired, I stood up and began stepping forward closer to the edge. Still praying for the gust of wind to just blow, I began looking down the building towards the street. A flood of thoughts came into my mind. Faces of family. Places that I had been. Fun times. Hurtful times. Celebrations. Tragedies. I breathed in and closed my eyes, and just as I was about to take my last step forward, I could heard a voice that stopped me with a whisper and said, “I know it’s hard, but I am here. This is not the plan for your life. You can do this. We can do this. Get down.”
In that moment, I knew that I was not alone; I knew that I was not forgotten; I knew that I was not a mistake; I knew that there was a purpose for my life. I didn’t know what that purpose was, but I did know that if I trusted and believed, God would show me.
Hope Rekindled, Hope Dashed
That day started my journey towards recovery—not just from addiction, but from hopelessness. Soon after, I enrolled in a program for people with life-controlling substances, such as drugs and alcohol, called Teen Challenge. I was ready. I was ready for the Scripture that I had been taught as a youth in Sabbath school class to come true. “He who is in Christ is a new creation!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I wanted that so desperately.
I wanted a new walk. Literally.
I wanted a new talk. Literally.
I wanted new desires. Literally.
I wanted complete freedom. Literally.
I tried so hard. I said the prayers. I raised my hands. I did the dance. Nothing. Phillip was still there. That guy across the room was still attractive. It didn’t work. I was frustrated, upset, confused. I felt betrayed! “God, you saved me from death just to bring me here for this? I’ve given you everything that I have and nothing has changed? I did all of this for nothing?” I couldn’t believe it! What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? Who was I supposed to be? Nothing fit. No place was home. I didn’t belong, not even to God it seemed. “So, I’m unfixable,” I asked. “You said you wanted to use me, but how?” Spiritually, I felt handicapped. Eternally, I felt damned. Mortally, I felt imprisoned. Emotionally, I felt empty.
“I hate me!”
I was at the altar one day during church, and was overwhelmed. This was the moment of truth between me and God. As I walked up to the altar, I felt the stares of those around me, as if to say, “I know what he is praying for.” I blocked them out. I was on a mission. I knelt down and cried out to God. “I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how else to be. I don’t know how to be someone else. I need your help.” Just then, a song came on as if God was speaking directly to me. The worship leader began singing Chris Tomlin’s God of the City. The words of the chorus were, “Greater things are yet to come. Greater things are still to be done in the city.”
In that moment, I sensed that God wanted to comfort me and tell me that I represented that city; he was not finished with me yet. Greater things were in store for me….yes, for me: the Phillip that I hated, the Phillip that I was trying to abandon, the Phillip that I wanted to destroy. “Greater things are still to be done here!”
You would have thought that the experience on the roof would have been enough for me. After coming out of rehab for the second time, I thought that I had it all figured out. “All I need to do is to start over.” I moved to Orlando, where my brother and his family lived, and began this new life. Slowly (and like clock work) the same thoughts, confusion, habits, and challenges crept in. I was participating in church. I was reading my Bible. I was leading worship, but something was wrong. It was “something” that I knew all too well. This wasn’t my life. These weren’t my friends. Even surrounded by all of this “fellowship,” I began to feel alone, as though no one could understand what I was going through.
One night after work, some co-workers invited me out to a bar for drinks. This was my chance. I’m making friends. So I accepted. Trying to find some clothes to wear, I got my keys and left the house. The next thing I remember were headlights behind me. I was getting pulled over by the police? After failing the breathalyzer test, I was taken into custody for driving under the influence. “What just happened?” I asked myself. “Where am I?” “Am I being arrested?” “What?”
The next morning, I awoke in jail. I had never been to jail before. What has happened to my life? Just then, the television comes on, and there was a news story that had consumed the networks. “There has been a terror attack at Pulse Night Club. We are praying for the families of the victims.” Just then I remembered. I did meet my friends that night, but I left them early so I could stop by Pulse Nightclub and visit a friend who was one of the managers there. I was supposed to be there! My getting lost and then arrested saved me from the horror that unfolded that night at Pulse.
It was then that there was no doubt in my mind that God had a specific and intentional plan for my life. If not for his grace—the grace of being apprehended by the police, I may not be alive today.
God has taken me places, shown me things, and intervened in my life in ways that I never would have imagined. Has my road been consistently smooth? No, I have stumbled. I have doubted. I have wanted to turn around, but I have always remembered, “Greater things are still to be done.” I was looking, searching desperately for identity. I found it in Him.
The freedom that I found in Christ (purity in celibacy) was not the freedom that I thought I was looking for (to be made straight). God didn’t set me free the way that I had intended and wanted him to. In spite of who I “think” that I need to be, God’s grace is sufficient. Different doesn’t mean ‘not’ made in his image, otherwise God would be a liar. The Bible says that I am “…fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm. 139:14). My existence was ordained. I have a purpose. I was intentional.
What I have come to find out is that, through the surrender of my life to God, He has taken the shattered pieces of doubt, purposelessness, and confusion, and has turned them around. For a while, I thought I wore a mask of being outgoing, of being social and joyous—all the while feeling very introverted. While leading worship at a conference, God revealed to me a profound secret about myself and about Him that has changed my life forever.
“Phillip,” he said. “You are indeed wearing a mask; but it is not the one that you think. I created you to be charismatic, a people-person, outgoing, and vibrant. The mask that you put on is not the one of being extroverted. That is not the mask. The mask that you put on is the one of silence, of retreat, of being an introvert (not that there is anything wrong with being naturally introverted) because you are ashamed of the person that I made, and you are scared and fearful of what man says and thinks about you. I didn’t create that person…but I created you. Take off your mask.”
Sexuality has been, by far, one of the biggest factors in my life. Trying to find my identity has taken me from depression to addiction, but by the grace of God, I have found freedom. I have learned that freedom comes in the ability to understand that God is for me and has never been against me. Freedom comes in my ability to choose this day whom I will serve. Freedom comes in my ability to walk confidently in the calling that He has uniquely proscribed for my life.
My brother Jason once told me—and I will never forget this, “Phillip, God didn’t call you to be straight. He called you to Himself.” As a man of God, I now stand tall and confident in my purpose; confident that He who started a good work in me will complete it, and that if I stumble along the way, He will be faithful to gently lift me up again to walk in purity and newness of life.
I’m not afraid of the storm or rain. I’ve been knocked down, but I’ll rise again. I’ll stand tall in a hurricane. I’m different! I am loved and unashamed. I was lost, now I’ve got a name. My Father told me I was made to be different.