California: home of great actors, great food, great beaches and Brandon Flanery from the years of infancy to well into elementary. Mom—doing a variety of jobs, but always having a hand in the lives of her children and others. Dad—trying his best to love his family through provision and security. Both lavish their love, but one was around far more than the other. As dad jumped from job to job, pursuing financial means for those he loved, he missed out on many moments he could have shared with his family, specifically his children, a fact that he continues to regret. Despite his ambition to show his family he cared through his monetary provision, his son neglected to see his heart due to the lack of quality time shared between the two of them. Mom, on the other hand, was involved in every miniscule area, permeating all aspects of little Brandon’s life.
My name is Brandon Flanery. This is my story.
Like many American children, I spent every Sunday in church. Both of my parents were heavily involved. Dad was the drummer; mom was the children’s pastor, and both of my brothers, as well as myself, were cherished by everyone in the church. In some cases, we were cherished too much.
After services my family and I would linger around, socializing with friends. Parents would talk over coffee, while the kids ran around playing endless games. But every so often we, kids, would play in an area we were prohibited to go—the upstairs storage room, but the thrill of the forbidden fruit was all too tempting. Soon it became home to all of our adventures. Tag, hide-and-go-seek, cops and robbers and, every so often, moments of molesting.
To this day it is all very fuzzy, but what I do remember is that sporadically an older boy in the church and I would sneak away and he would molest me. Thankfully, I was never raped… but rape is not the only thing that produces scars of the heart. Over the course of many years we would rendezvous in our forbidden playground, while never being discovered nor ever speaking of it. For over a decade, the things done in the dark remained there for the sake of shame. Over the years that followed, I would blame myself for our encounters. I did not realize how untrue that was, until one day, while sitting in a counseling session, I decided to take the brave leap, revealing my dark deeds. But that moment was years into the future, in a completely different state. My life went by as if nothing was wrong. I was happy, continuing through life, unaware of the wounds inflicted upon me.
In the years following, I became “Mr. Popular” in school, in church and even in the neighborhood. I was on the local baseball and soccer team, while continuing on through those sweet elementary years. I had my first crush Margarita, a Russian girl, who my best friend Daniel from Angola also liked. The competition between us was fierce, but eventually I was the one she kissed. At home my brothers and I would tear up the streets, launching rockets and swinging from zip lines. On special weekends, my family and I would drive to the gorgeous city of San Francisco, to watch the sun set over the Pacific, while munching on mud pie. The Flanery’s were creating great memories together, and I genuinely loved God with a pure childlike faith.
My first encounter with this Uncreated One, dubbed the title “God,” occurred while I lay out on the lawn looking up the stars. No “sinners’ prayer.” No church service. Just me lying there on my back talking with my Jesus, genuinely believing these orbs of light could not exist from happenstance. To this day, there is something sacred and mystical about being underneath those burning balls of gas millions of miles away. I did not know what it meant, but I asked that Author of Beauty to come into my heart. As a result, I began reading the Bible, and in those early years, I had the audacity to believe what the Bible said—if we pray, God will respond.
Through the prayers of a pipsqueak runt, three women, who were incapable of having children, gave birth, and a girl, who was dying from leukemia, was miraculously healed. But it moved past prayer. With uninhibited love, that little Brandon Flanery would openly speak about his Jesus. On one such occasion, after a heated discussion about the “real reason for the season,” fellow students, who had no relationship with that “baby in a manger,” came to a makeshift altar at the dry erase board in a third grade classroom. Who would have thought?
I was witnessing some incredible things, a lot of which I wish I could conjure up once more. It was all as a result of a child who simply prayed an impromptu prayer, believing every little thing he read in that big book entitled “The Bible.” God was moving in my life. Yes, I had dormant secrets and hidden scars, but God was still using the little child of my past for big things.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.”
But what happens when the little children become big children? Does the kingdom still belong to them?
* * * * *
Christian school. For the first time in my life, during my fourth grade year, I walked the halls of a Christian school. You would think this would be the perfect place for a kid who was in love with the God he found in the stars…
I hated it.
Profanity and pride, selfishness and cynicisms, cliques and complacency… the stench of religion. From the second I walked through the doors of a Christian school to the second the doors closed behind me, a bitter taste for Christians and Christianity permeated my mouth. It was like wormwood, and the God I loved became distant, due to reputation of the people who carried His name. But hope kindled with news of a change in setting.
“We’re moving to Colorado.” The words came out of my mom’s mouth with hesitation. She anticipated backlash from her three boys. However, she was thankfully disappointed.
“YES! Let’s get out of here!” My brothers and I were eager to start afresh! As we packed our bags, there was almost a skip in our step, onward to new horizons in “The Land of the Rockies.” Who would have thought that a smile could be on the faces of children as they drove through the endless deserts of Nevada and the vast salt flats of Utah? I most certainly would not have thought it possible.
But our smiles would not last. We were unaware of what awaited us in Colorado Springs, Colorado… another private Christian school full of what we dreaded most… religion.
However, despite my uncertainty of enrolling in yet another Christian school, I was hopeful. In fact, many of the things that I had thought were synonymous with Christianity were lacking. Unlike my last school, I made friends, and our times shared on the playground were full of laughs, adventure and make-believe. Life was great, full of Cowboys and Indians, Pirates and Aztecs, Zombies and Humans (all essentially alterations for the exact same game).
But as if to interrupt a great dream, it happened… middle school.
* * * * *
Pimples. Braces. Cracking voices. Raging hormones… more like a raging nightmare.
It was during this time that a hunger for acceptance from my male peers was painfully growing. My friends from elementary had dispersed, finding themselves new compadrés, new hobbies and altogether new lives, while I was left behind… alone. I was frantically trying to grab straws, desperately trying to cling to my two best friends from elementary—the one thing that I thought gave me belonging. But when push came to shove, I was always the odd man out, the third wheel, and through the hard years of middle school I was surrounded by more than solitude, but rejection.
One specifically painful memory comes to mind.
It was my birthday. These two best friends, who I longed to keep in my life, came over to stay the night. We played video games, ran around the house with Nerf guns, jumped on the trampoline. It was great, but quickly switched, when all of a sudden they sprinted for the house. I chased after them, wondering what was going on. Once I got inside, I was confronted with a locked door. My two “best friends” had locked me out of my own room, while they began to play my new birthday video game. I began pounding on the locked door, pounding to be let in, pounding to be included, pounding to be not left behind. But they simply laughed at my pleading, numb to my pain.
To this day, I still wrestle with being that boy. I can be surrounded by people, and yet it is easy to believe I have to bang on doors to be accepted. Yet despite my banging, I feel shut out, unwanted. Who knew one moment could be forever frozen in the pain of a child’s mind?
It was there, defeated at the door, I realized our entire friendship, even since elementary school, consisted of me being excluded in our “Three Musketeers” friendship. The rage suppressed for years of injustice boiled to the surface. Little Brandon could not take it any longer. I was through. I ran down-stairs crying and cursing. “I want those _______ (insert profanity of choice; every one of them was used that night) gone! I want them out of this house!”
Now the door unlocked, and they came downstairs claiming to not know what I was talking about, for me to stop cussing and treating them this way, trying to turn the tables on me. Even their parents tried to blame me, saying, “You made us come get them at this hour? Why didn’t you try to work through this? You need to stop your language right now young man.”
With the door slammed behind them, and tears in my eyes, I decided I would rather be alone than deal with this. After all, when you are alone, no one can reject you, right?
Walls were erected, and that night a vow was made—I will never let anyone get that close ever again.
From that moment on I was the lone ranger (although not nearly as rustic or badass as Clint Eastwood). The friends, I had clung to, were gone, and to make new friends was close to impossible. I was a sensitive soul with a love for singing, acting, writing—anything birthed from the imagination—while the boys of of my Christian private school loved sports and cheap crude humor. It seemed, as though, I was the only one given a heart of flesh, while those around me had ones of stone, equipped with sharp arrows, dripping with hostile harassment. “Fag!” “Gay!” and “Queer” came hissing out of the mouths from the boys around me. To them, it was their native tongue, as natural as breathing. But to me… to me, their words were poison, slowly killing me, making it hard to even breathe, let alone live. To this day, I would have taken sticks or stones over those words.
I did not belong, and I hated the boys around me for it. Rather, I hated myself for it, and I saw the world around me through those red lenses of hate. Feeling unwanted, I would hide on the side of the school, eating my lunch with two girls as equally hurt by the students we felt trapped with. We would fume together, heating our hate, blaming everyone else for our problems, all the while sinking further and further into our bitterness and farther and farther away from everyone else. Like mismatched socks, we were thrown aside, and to deal with the rejection, I turned to something that I never thought I would—homosexual pornography.
* * * * *
The board had been set. Like a master chess player, that Enemy of Our Souls had destroyed my defenses, and his pieces were all in position. Check was called, and the pressure was on. All that was left was for me to make his move, trapping myself in checkmate… and I did.
* * * * *
As my heart cried for a place to be loved, I remembered the moments in the storage room at our old church in California. I had begun to believe a lie: it felt good, and it would make me feel better, especially when I felt alone. So I would touch myself, while looking at nude images of men on the internet. I imagined they were touching me, that the boy from my past was touching me. After all, he wanted me. He wanted me week upon week. It was false intimacy, partially satisfying the cravings of my loved deprived heart, parched for true masculine friendship.
It started in sixth grade as a very mild curiosity, a casual and sporadic hobby. But by the end of my sophomore year of high school, it had become a full-fledged daily addiction consisting of XXX gay porn videos and cyber-sex rendezvous. Nearly every night for five straight years I would “quench my thirst,” while no one knew. I had become a master actor, and my skills had passed from the stage to permanent residence in my daily life.
At school I simply put on a smile, in spite of the insults and mockery. I played sports, despite my hate of them, and joined the school’s volunteer ministry program. At the young age of 14, I was running a café and participating in endless outreach opportunities.
At home, I was the “good Christian kid,” never dealing with anything, the crown upon my parents’ head. In fact, every time I hid away to go online, perusing endless amounts of pornography, I would blame it on the mass amounts of homework I had. Not only was I morally perfect, but I was a good student.
At church, I joined the student leadership program and began volunteering everywhere. I served every Sunday in children’s ministry and would tear down chairs every Wednesday. I would jump from small group to small group, engaging in the discussions of the Bible and morality. I was at every retreat, and when I was old enough, I would go on mission trips.
School. Home. Church. On all fronts I was the perfect Christian kid. But on the inside, I was that boy pounding and screaming to be heard, to be included, to belong. I had no clue that those pleadings would carry over to the very door of God, the one I had loved since staring up at the stars. That little boy of yesteryear believed God was just as indifferent to his pounding fists as his friends were years ago. I believed I was locked out of Heaven, and no matter how hard my fists hit those gates, I believed he would never let me in. He was a Father refusing my entrance on account of me being muddy on a rainy day. The roads of gold might get dirty with my filth.
I was desperate. Though I was flawless on the outside, I was broken and bleeding on the inside. Every night I would cry out to God, asking Him to change my emotions, to change my attractions, to just change me. I knew the Bible verses all too well, and they continuously haunted me.
“And they exchanged natural lusts for lusts for each other.” “The immoral, homosexuals, liars and God haters will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.” “It is an abomination, and they received in themselves their due penalty.” “And He consumed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from Heaven.”
The echoes from thousands of years ago reverberated into the fibers of my heart, and they all said the same thing: “God hates you; you’re condemned, and you’re going to Hell.” God had apparently joined the chorus of my peers in their accusations.
So I tried to change. Every Sunday I would come to the altar. It did not matter if the sermon was about financial crisis or fornication; I would come down to the altar, vowing I would never look at a man lustfully again. I would pray for God to take these desires away, to lust after women, but the answer to those prayers seemed like they would never come.
I did not want to be gay; I did not want these emotions, but there they were regardless. No matter how hard I prayed, no matter how many times I came to the altar, no matter how many times I would vow to change, I could not do it. I was caught on an endless emotional rollercoaster.
On Sundays, I would promise to never look at gay porn ever again, pulling myself up by my “spiritual boot straps.” During the week, sometimes by Monday, I would be drawn back to the computer, as if it were heroine, injecting underneath the toenails or eyes in order to destroy any traces of my addiction. Condemnation would overwhelm me, until Sunday, where hope blossomed. I could do better; I could change, only to fall again on Monday… maybe holding out till Tuesday.
All vows failed, while the sadistic rollercoaster continued to ebb and flow, fall and climb. To top it all off, those around me made me feel even worse, as my emotional insides began to toss and turn.
Any time a gay couple would come on the screen, my dad would freak out and condemn them. One time, unable to keep the secret of my lusts to myself, I came to a small group leader and confessed what was going on. He proceeded to say, “That’s demonic. We need to pray that out of you,” upon which he began to explain I should vomit as he prayed, proving the demon was leaving. To top it all off, the pastor of my church was excommunicated because he received a “happy ending” from his male masseurs. Not only was he expelled from the church but the state, and the church began a witch-hunt, forcing every staff member to turn in their computers to be examined.
I had no safe place. Even the God I loved, who I had asked to invade my heart as a child, apparently hated me, but I did not know how to change. I tried to please Him; I tried to change, but I could not do it. I would pray, but I never stopped fantasizing about men.
So what did I do? I hid, dancing in this masquerade called religion, keeping my porcelain façade intact. My concealer was far more impressive than any beauty product. The scars and bruises beneath the surface would never show… until one most unfortunate night.
* * * * *
In the summer of my tenth grade year I went on a mission trip to Los Angeles. My team and I worked with a ministry called the Dream Center, where we worked with the homeless, drug addicts, poverty stricken and prostitutes. My heart was breaking for these people and God was gripping my heart. I returned home with some friends from the team, but mainly girls. By this time, I did not let men get close, because if they got too close, they might see the cracks in my porcelain mask of heterosexuality. I figured I would just chase them away, and I refused to be hurt again.
The vow proved strong. The walls stood tall.
A few days after my team returned from L.A., my youth group put on a conference. Full of “zeal and power,” I renewed my will, deciding I would finally change. Another vow was formed, but it proved far less strong, lasting barely a day. Like a dog returning to its vomit, as the phrase goes, I returned to my accursed sin. I turned on the computer and intoxicated myself with my faithful narcotic. The world around me melted; my heart raced, and I was enthralled in the moment. But something happened that night that changed everything.
“What are you doing, Brandon?” My dad had sneaked upstairs where I was “doing research” on my computer. They had tried to figure out what I was doing with my vast amount of sessions on the internet on multiple occasions, but I was a pro at covering my tracks. I had other screens up; I lied; I erased the history. No one ever found out… except for now because the screen froze. All I could do was turn off the monitor.
“I was trying to do homework, but this stupid computer froze; so I’m rebooting it.”
He leaned over my shoulder and pointed out the monitor was off. With the push of a button, every secret I had been keeping for years was exposed. As the electricity surged through the monitor, igniting the bulb behind the glass and colors combusted in the pixels, a gay porn clip, frozen in action, came into focus. “Brandon, what is this? What is this crap? What the Hell is going on! Turn off the computer right now and come downstairs. NOW!”
My secret was out. Panic and fear seized my chest. I could not breathe. Horrifying hypotheticals swam around in my mind, and I was drowning. I could not think. But past all the thoughts of dread, past the inability to breathe, there was a subtle and reassuring feeling beginning to grow—sweet relief. For the first time since the dawn of my addiction, I felt like hope was on the horizon. Someone finally knew; it was no longer a secret. But those feelings of fear and dread soon recovered, now accompanied by fear, shame, humiliation and condemnation, swallowing any hope.
After going downstairs, my dad proceeded to announce to my whole family my “activities” as of late. My mom was horrified; my brothers were in shock; Dad was fuming, and I was crying, hiding my face in my hands (as if that could somehow make this all disappear). Immediately after my father’s announcement, he proceeded to take me to the local prayer house, pulling me in a utility closet to “pray the gay away” and pummel me with endless inquiry.
“Why would you do this? How long have you been looking at that crap? Where did this come from? Did I do something to cause this? I understand porn, but homosexual porn? How could you let this happen?”
After the inquiries came the lecture.
“You know God didn’t make you this way. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. This is wicked in God’s sight. The Bible is very clear on this. It’s a mockery and abomination. God destroyed two cities because of this.”
Echoes of the self-condemnation I had already inflicted upon myself over the course of 5 years.
After his ravings, I eventually went and prayed by myself, crying out to a God who I believed would not listen, asking Him to make this alright, asking Him to make this all go away, to wake up. But this was not a dream. It was a living nightmare, and now I was getting into a car to return to the family I had devastated.
On the way home my dad prepped me. Apparently, due to the pain of my actions, my mom did not want to see me or talk to me. She had been texting him and mentioned it might be good to make me move out.
For years I refused to bring my hidden life to the surface for fear that I would be rejected, and in that moment, every fear was being confirmed.
Upon arriving at the house, the only thing my mom said was, “Call your ministry leader at school. You’re telling him what is going on, and you’re stepping down as a leader,” upon which she proceeded to shove the phone into my chest. Those would be the last words I would hear from her for many days. I had been given the silent treatment.
I sat on the stairs with a phone in my hand, contemplating how I would tell my leader what had been going on and why I had to step down. I could not even talk to my parents who were aware of the situation, let alone my uninformed leader. How was I going to do this?
My mom glared down at me.
Ring! Ring! Ring!
Please go to voice mail. Please!
With overwhelming anxiety, I told him I had to step down as a student ministry leader.
Well, you see Mr. Ministry-Leader-Man, for the past five years I have been addictively looking at hardcore gay pornography, while hiding it form the world, and my parents found out tonight, forcing me to make this call. That’s why I have to step down.
…I did not say any of that. I figured it was sufficient to say…
“I’ve been looking at porn.”
“I’m picking you up so we can talk about this.”
Within a few minutes he was at my house, and he took me to Village Inn. I was terrified. But as the night progressed the emotions slowly subsided. He simply wanted to know what was going on in my life, showing genuine care. I again explained I was involved with pornography, but again the word “gay” never came out of my mouth. I would die before I would confess the “unspeakable.” We talked until closing, when Village Inn finally kicked us out, and through the comfort and conversation, my heart slowly began to grasp a parcel of peace. We got in the car, shut the doors and simply sat there in silence for a few minutes.
Then came the question.
“Brandon, have you been watching guy and girl porn, guy and guy porn, or girl and girl porn.” No one had ever asked me that before. My heart began to quiver as my leader patiently expected a response. I had to answer him. Moment of truth… literally.
“Um… guy and guy.” The words fell flat, stealing my breath like a death sentence. I braced myself for the expected condemnation. But instead, the only thing that followed was love. Following those fatal words he encouraged me, reminding me of Jesus and speaking about how sin is sin, regardless of its nature. After his affirmation, he asked if I would not step down, but work through this as a leader—a theme that would reoccur throughout my life.
Thank God for that man.
I do not know what would have happened if it were not for that man believing in me, if he had not spoken life over me, and ultimately loved me with Christ’s love. My family was refusing to talk to me. They were completely shocked, and as a result, I felt utterly alone. Unlike the loneliness of years prior, at least then I had my family to count on, but now I had no one. No one except a listening leader. Prior to calling Boucher, I was contemplating suicide. The incredible weight of be utterly alone was too heavy to bear. But I was not alone. There in Village Inn, God was showing me I had not been abandoned. I was not locked out by indifference. The door had been opened. Once my leader dropped me off, I could face the situation back home with hope. Sure, I was still terrified and fearful of the future, but for the first time in years I was not alone, and it meant the world.
* * * * *
Over the weeks that followed, I was heavily isolated. I was only allowed to go from school to home, and while home, the isolation expounded, since I was given the silent treatment and under continuous scrutiny. The computers were all relocated to the living room, and blockers were installed. Like the years prior, now with new sorrow, I spent most of those nights crying out to God. Would He finally hear?
After a week, my mom pulled me into her room. This had happened on numerous occasions prior with the announcement of my dark past. My parents wanted to know everything, and due to shame and fear, I had no idea how to communicate the past five years. Summoned, yet again, to the room of my parents, I was not surprised to see my mother sobbing. I was the cause of this, and for that reason I hated myself. I braced for what she was about to say next, but she caught me off guard.
“I’m so sorry.”
I did not know what to say, so I said nothing.
She continued. “I have been treating you as if you have committed the ultimate sin. But sin is sin, and I should be treating it as such.” She told me she loved me no matter what and continued to apologize for how she had been reacting over the past week. She just wanted to help in any way she could. She offered to get me in counseling; I refused at the time, but the fact that she promised she was there for me made more of an impact than any counseling session. Every night, while trapped in my years of sin, torment and confusion, I had said to myself, “Don’t tell anyone; no one will understand; you’ll break their hearts; they’ll reject you.” With the initial reaction of my family, my fears had been solidified, but when my mom uttered those words, she broke every lie that had been keeping me in isolation.
That year, although very good, was one of the hardest years of my life. My parents limited me a lot, and were keeping an ever watchful eye. However, I still managed to feed my addiction through hidden avenues, but every time it came to light. God was answering my “unheard” prayers, and He refused to let this affliction of the heart sink into darkness. He was so concerned to see me succeed; He would not even let me get away with looking at pornography at an employer’s house. I lost my job when I failed to clear the history one day after work.
Life was rough. But it was through this tough time that God was working. For months I was battling, going back and forth from “sinless” to “sinful,” from “condemned” to “saved.” Finally, in May of that year, after messing up yet again and crying out in shame to God, He spoke very clearly to me in love and absolute seriousness. I heard my Father say, “Brandon, it is time to choose—this or me. You will not serve both of us. Either you can choose this, which will eventually kill you and leave you unsatisfied, or you can choose me, and I will give you an abundant life. But it’s time to choose.” It was like The Matrix, and God was Morpheus, offering me the choice between the blue pill or the red pill. I wrestled for a couple of hours, but deep in my heart I knew.
The flaming balls of gas millions of miles away beckoned me to jump down the rabbit hole.
I had one objection: “God, I don’t know how to ‘pick’ you.”
His response: “Brandon, I don’t want you to worry about any of that. I don’t want you to worry about the sin, or the pressure to evangelize, what you should or should not do, or how this thing works. I have one command for you—know me. I’ll take care of the rest.”
That night, I chose Jesus, and it is interesting… He has kept both those promises. As I chose to come to Him, despite my fear, despite feeling dirty, He changed me, He transformed me, and He gave me what I He promised—an abundant life, not a perfect one, but an abundant one.
I have heard countless testimonies where this is where the story ends, where the individual sharing says, “And that’s my testimony,” as if our lives conclude with “I gave my life to Jesus.” It is where the tattooed guy on stage vamps and vamps about how wicked his sin was. “Oh, I wrestled for years and years; I did this drug and that drug; I slept with this girl and that girl; I went to this prison and that prison,” as if there is a secret competition for who struggled the hardest and longest. Once a sufficiently massive monster of sin is glaring down upon us “good Christians,” the “man with a past” then says, “And then I got saved. Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!” The tattooed man then leaves; the pastor comes up on stage, and those terrifying words are uttered, “Now with every head bowed and every eye closed…” Hopefully you were not too moved by the tattooed man; otherwise, you are getting saved for the umpteenth time. But the “I gave my life to Jesus” moment was just the beginning for me. I guess I do not have that “stereotypical” testimony.
After those fateful words, my life did completely change, but it was not the end. That moment launched me on a journey of learning to embrace His love, trusting His will above my own. He really had been for me and not against me all those years I felt abandoned. The door was open, and He was fulfilling His promise. But He promised an abundant life, not a perfect one. After all, a life of adventure is not without risk or failure or mistakes. But it is the love of God that uses all things for a redemptive purpose. Regardless of circumstances, He was faithful to His word, and faithful to that word I began to live an abundant life.
That year, I switched out of my private Christian school and began attending the local public school in my neighborhood. Besides putting my trust in Jesus, it was the best decision I had ever made. I was no longer surrounded by hypocritical bigots, telling me how I should or should not look or how I should or should not act. I was allowed to embrace my faith, and I was no longer scared of people. In fact, I spoke to my friends all the time about how this Love had changed me. Whether through a skit in the parking lot, or a sign on a corner or simply talking over a cup of coffee in a café, I loved talking about the love I found in Jesus.
I became a camp counselor, and had my heart ignited for youth. I was a part of a men’s discipleship program, imparting masculinity on other men (which is completely ironic in retrospect of my story). I have gone on multiple mission trips all over the world. I toured through Germany, expressing God’s love through dance, music and acting.
But more than anything I was doing, more than the “adventures” I was encountering, I discovered the life of abundance promised me was found in one simple fact: I was now doing life with my Jesus. Whether I was making a non-fat, triple, decaf, stirred, sugar-free vanilla latté at Starbucks or talking to strangers on a street corner in Cork, Ireland, it all had meaning and purpose, because my Jesus was in the midst of it. The desire of my heart was to be welcomed, was to belong and to be cherished. I had found it, and it was hosted in the heart I had opened up long ago while under those blazing infernos light years away.
Life and the moments composing it are the lines and shadows in a coloring book. But the trust I had put in Jesus had become the spectrum of crayons, breathing life onto the page. He was my orange and magenta, my aqua and salmon. Sometimes He stayed in the lines, creating structure and uniformity. Other times He broke past barriers, creating something entirely new. Either way, it was beauty.
After high school, I went off to a Christian leadership academy, which launched me into a youth pastor position. It is here where my story breaks yet again from the stereotypical pattern in the cliché Christian testimony.
If the tattooed man continued past, “And then I got saved,” the next anticipated line is, “And I’ve never struggled since,” as if our entire story with Jesus is all about conquering sin. Unfortunately, and yet, fortunately, trusting Jesus is not all about sin, and it is not always, “I never struggled again,” because I definitely did.
Six months into my first year as a youth pastor, I began to look at homosexual pornography again, after a 21-day fast to top it off. I did not know what to do. I had not had these feelings or desires for years.
Does this mean I was born gay? Does this mean I am running from who I am? Maybe I should just give up and give in. But that is not true.
That fact of the matter is I have never wanted to be homosexual. It has never been fulfilling. No matter how many images I looked at porn, no matter how many times I “indulged” in homosexuality, it never satisfied. However, a life swallowed in the furious love of God, trusting Him in my decisions, has always been fulfilling. But that does not mean it is easy.
Resolved that the life of abundance God promised me was worth it, I went to speak to the youth director at the church. I had been hiding this newly resurrected porn addiction for a few months, and when I went to my employer, I fully expected to be fired. People got thrown out of church leadership positions for this kind of stuff, just like my previous pastor. This was not something you struggle with in a Christian leadership role. Pride? Maybe. Lying? Tolerable. But homosexuality? Never
But yet again, something happened I was not suspecting.
“Brandon,” the youth director said to me, after I confessed my secret dealings on the internet, “on your best day or on your worst day, you are still equally worthy of Hell. It is only the blood of Jesus that has qualified you for Heaven, qualified you for God’s love.”
When I look back on the moments that have meant the most to me, none of them were sermons, none of them were a pep talk, none of them were some “hard love.” In fact, of the moments that have transformed my life, I can barely remember a single word that was said. It was what was done that impacted me so immensely; it was someone stepping into my pain and hurt that awakened something transformation.
My mom apologizing.
A mentor hugging me and crying with me as I confessed my thoughts of homosexuality.
A pastor refusing to fire me.
A friend saying he loves me and believes in me regardless.
You want to change someone’s life? Give them love, and prove it with action.
In the years following that conversation, I have been on a journey to discover and embrace God’s love and truth, to “not worry about x,y or z,” but to simply get to know Him. He has taken care of the rest, as He has promised, long ago. I think I just complicated it for a while with the title of “Pastor” in front of my name.
Have I been attracted to men or looked at gay pornography since that conversation over the past three years? Yeah. Do I wrestle with who I am or want to be, specifically in sexuality? At times, yeah. But that does not change this one fact—I want what my Jesus promised nearly nine years ago—an abundant life, and I know it is not with homosexuality. I have tried it, and it never satisfied my heart. My arteries were pulsating for something so much deeper than getting naked with another guy. They longed for intimacy and vulnerability, to be accepted and cherished through thick and thin. I had simply found a coping mechanism.
A few months back, I found myself sitting in the office of that pastor who was fired for his “happy ending.” He has since started a new church. While explaining my story to him, he asked me, “Brandon, what do you want to be? Do you want to be gay? Bi? Straight? What do you want?”
For years I believed the only answer was one that was picked for me—heterosexuality. After all, God made Adam and Eve, not… yadda, yadda, yadda, and we continue down that haunting strain of thought which plagued me for years.
Guess what? God loves me if I am gay or if I am “straight.” (Whatever that means.) I simply could not see He loved me regardless, because the people surrounding me did not love me regardless. In fact, many of them failed and abandoned me. I had lumped Jesus in with the rest of those who had rejected me over the years. But God did not say he died for me if I would stop being gay. He died for me. Period.
So in that office I allowed myself to ask that question for me, diffusing it of all the pressures of what I should do. And you know what I picked? You know what I want? I want to be straight, and despite my struggles, I know that is the best plan god has for me.
You may not agree with my decision. Cool. But you have to acknowledge my story. God was not angry with me all those years; He simply wanted the best for me. Regardless of what I chose in that office, His arms are always wide open. He embraces every person right where they are at. Does that mean He created some children straight, others bi and others gay? I do not believe so.
After years of research scientists have yet to find that rumored “gay gene.” There is no proof supporting people are born gay. However, I do not believe homosexuality is a choice either. I did not choose to have attractions to men. It chose me. Why? That is what I hope to discuss in this next chapter.