Sharing God’s Story At My Home Church

I had the privilege of sharing the story of God’s work in my life at our now home church yesterday. “New” is relative – we’ve been attending this church since January 🙂 I still get a little nervous when sharing, despite having done it for so long. I get even more nervous sharing at my home church! But God is gracious and able and only good, and He sustained me. Lots of folks shared their own struggles or their experiences having children who are gay-identified.

Some folks who couldn’t be there expressed interest in reading it. So here it is 🙂

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I was born in May of 1975. With an alcoholic mother and a father who worked long hours, I spent much of my childhood alone with few close friends. I began experimenting sexually with girls at a young age. As a high school freshman, I began a physical relationship with my female best friend. Trying to make sense of what I was experiencing, I looked up “homosexuality” in a health book. The book said that if you had attractions for someone of the same gender, then you were gay. I remember thinking, “There it is, in black and white. I am a homosexual.”

This was not good news. I was living in a small NH town. This was 1990. That’s 7 years before Ellen DeGeneres came out and 12 years before Rosie O-Donnell. By age 16, I had a full-blown eating disorder and was also using self-injury as a coping mechanism.

Over the next 10 years, I had a series of lesbian relationships, including a long-term year relationship with a married woman. She and I had a mock wedding ceremony and from then on, she introduced me as her “wife.” I lived with this couple for close to two and a half years. When my wife suggested I have sex with her husband, I did what she asked. I had never been with a man before. This began a cycle of abuse from her husband. I never said no. I was a guest in their home and if I said something, I would have to leave. Proverbs 27:7 states, “One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” The moments of love and acceptance I experienced with this woman somehow made the pain of the abuse tolerable. I didn’t know if I could live without her love.

My life spiraled out of control in many areas, not only in the area of my sexual identity, but also my eating disorder. Christians seemed to start coming out of nowhere to share about Jesus’ love. They never took it upon themselves to say that I should not be a lesbian. Like everyone else, I was a sinner in need of Jesus in my life. That was my primary need. My sexual behavior was only one of many indicators of my broken, sinful state.

One of these friends gave me a CD by a passionate Christian artist. His voice sang of a friend who was always there, a friend who would give everything for him. That friend is Jesus. And this was good news. In the midst of that song, I cried out to God saying, “I want what he has!” God, in His great mercy, honored my prayer on that day in January of 1999.

I asked hard questions, of myself and of God. Was it really even possible to break free of the chains that still held my life in so many ways, and give myself fully to my relationship with Jesus Christ? I knew homosexual behavior was a sin. I knew Jesus was more real than anything I had ever experienced. I was faced with a choice: continue to embrace the familiar, which was the gay identity I had lived for so long, or take a major risk and trust that Jesus would be and could be enough. I did what I knew I shouldn’t do: I entered into another lesbian relationship. After 3 months, the girl I was dating said, “Listen – you can’t be a Christian and be gay. The Bible says you must either be hot or cold – one or the other, but not lukewarm.” While quoting Scripture, she ended our relationship.

Soon after, I said, “Fine, God! I don’t want this. Please – take these desires away from me.” And in some ways, He did. While my desires for women lessened, the events and circumstances of my life that led me in the direction of lesbianism, an eating disorder and self-injury had not changed. I knew I needed more help and healing than just my prayer of surrender. Romans 12:2 says, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” I went to a Christian counselor who helped me transform the way I lived and the way I thought.

Still, besides my closest friends, I didn’t want anyone to know about my past. I mean, I had seen how Christians treated gay people on Oprah! They basically tarred and feathered them! I remember being at a campus ministry conference soon after I laid my sexuality at the cross. There was a couple there – the husband had come out of a gay past. I talked to his wife, giving me my first glimmer of hope that maybe there was another way. Maybe I didn’t have to be gay.

Fast forward through a lot of pain and hopelessness and wrestling with God, and God continually pursuing me and teaching me He is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. It was the summer of 2002. I had just gotten engaged to my now husband Roy. I kept in touch with that couple I had met at that conference. I wrote to them, wondering if there was a way I could give back. They connected me with a ministry in Boston, Alive in Christ. Alive in Christ reaches out to Christians impacted by SSA, and they needed a women’s leader.

I thought, God, this can’t be Your will! I just wanted to lick envelopes! Did God really want me to build a ministry around this part of myself I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak openly about? I prayed and once again, like I still try and do every day, surrendered myself and my agenda at the cross. 8 months later, I became the women’s leader, and 1 year and a half after that, in August of 2004, I became the director of Alive in Christ.

Since then – well, I no longer have any issues talking about my same-sex attraction. It was a slow progression over the past 12 years, but in those years, I’ve been in the Boston Globe, on TV news, in 2 award-winning documentaries, on the TV show Pure Passion, and now speak at conferences around the US.

By the grace of God, I am married and have 2 amazing sons and a sweet baby girl. Still, I want to be really clear about something. I minister in this way despite the fact that I still experience same-sex attraction. It’s to a much lesser degree. Whereas once my same-sex attraction was like a swarm of killer bees, now it’s more like the occasional fruit fly. Experiencing temptation is not sin – but acting on it would be. Jesus was tempted – but did not sin. If we expect ourselves to never experience temptation, then we expect to be more free than Jesus.

I can serve and give, even out of my weakness, because God is God, I am not, and He never asked me to be! 2 Corinthians 12:9 says His power is actually made perfect in our weakness, in those places where I still struggle and have to admit that truly, apart from Him, I can do nothing. Gal. 5 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Freedom is not defined by how I feel; it’s defined by what He did. Freedom is not even defined by the mistakes I still make or how good my behavior is or how free I’m feeling on a particular day; it’s defined by the new identity God has given to me, and the freedom I’m learning to walk in. I am freed to serve, even out of my weakness, simply because of what Jesus did on the cross.

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Sharing my life with new folks reminds me of how very blessed I am – a husband I never thought I’d have, kids I never imagined I could be blessed with.

Truly grateful.

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Empty Shelf Challenge Book #20: “What Happens When Women Say Yes to God” by Lysa TerKeurst

I finished my 20th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


What Happens When Women Say Yes to God: Experiencing Life in Extraordinary Ways by Lysa TerKeurst

This New Year’s morning, I have been frantically trying to finish listening to the Lysa TerKeurst book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. I really wanted to reach 20 books in 2014! I figured since I listened to most of it in 2014, I could count it. But as my husband asked me if I had read any other Lysa TerKeurst books, I realized I had listened to “What Happens When Women Say Yes to God,” but I never recorded it here.

The main speaker at a recent conference I attended is a missionary to India. She works in the Red Light District with the girls and women who are trapped in prostitution. Something she shared at the conference has stuck with me: every time we say “yes” to Jesus, it lays the foundation for the next “yes.”

Since I listened to this book about 8 months ago, I’ll just share a short review. Lysa had me in tears as she shared various stories of God’s faithfulness. It is amazing what can happen when we respond “yes” to God’s call. Not only does it give us the opportunity to bless someone else with our obedience, every “yes” declares that we will follow God wherever He leads.

An enjoyable and challenging book.

I plan to aim for 12 books in 2015. It’s a bit more challenging with a baby to get reading in, but I think this is a reasonable goal.

The books I read in 2014 as part of the #EmptyShelf challenge:

           

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #19: “Run to Overcome” by Meb Keflezghi

I finished my 19th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion’s Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream

Everyone reading this knows I’m a runner. I talk about it quite often.

But what you might not know is I’m a running fan girl 🙂

I’m one of those people who thinks the Boston Marathon is the biggest sports event of the year. I had to work in the afternoon of Marathon Monday in 2013, but I was home long enough to see the elite athletes come in. Once at work, I was receiving text messages and Tweets from my friends as they crossed the finish line. My friends Robin & Colleen had already finished when my friend Dani started tweeting about a possible explosion shortly after crossing the finish line.

You likely know the rest of the story.

Thankfully, Dani and her family, as well as all my other friends, were safe. Many others were wounded and killed on that day. So on Marathon Monday in 2014, I knew where I would be: parked in front of my computer, watching the Boston Marathon.

As the elite men neared the finish line, my 6 year-old and I were jumping up and down, yelling, “Go Meb! Go Meb!!! Ggooooooo MMMMEEEEBBBB!!!!!”

Meb Keflezghi, a man who would turn 39 in just a few days (that’s “old” in the running world), became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in over 30 years.

That was one of many reasons I was excited to get this book from the library.* I knew Meb was a man with a strong Christian faith. I also knew he overcame much hardship in his life (from Amazon.com):

Meb is the living embodiment of the American dream. His family came to the U.S. to escape poverty and a violent war; 12-year-old Meb spoke no English at the time and had never raced a mile.

This book takes the reader through Meb’s life with its victories and defeats. While the book does not have the captivating writing style of Unbroken, the simple way Meb describes the ups and downs of his life draws the reader in. His gratitude at the sacrifices of his parents challenged me. And the perseverance that brought him back from major injuries to win the Boston Marathon the year after such tragedy inspires me.

This book is definitely worth reading.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:

           

*I read the original edition of this book because that’s what the library had. It was updated this year to include his Boston win.

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #18: “The Red Sea Rules” by Robert J Morgan

I finished my 18th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times by Robert J Morgan

I actually finished this just before my daughter was born. Trying to finish up these reviews before the New Year 🙂 It was recommended by my mentor Mike Olejarz in one of his newsletters.

From the book’s description: “Using the Israelites’ story in Exodus 14 as an example, Robert Morgan offers ten sound strategies for moving from fear to faith. Life is hard, especially for Christians.”

I can’t say that from the beginning I was super enthusiastic to receive the wisdom that this book has to offer. Red Sea Rule #1 is “Realize that God means for you to be where you are.” When I’m going through a trial, I’d rather blame Satan, the world, or even myself before I point the finger at God. But I appreciated the author’s perspective that God is sovereign over all things, and if we are in the palm of His hand, then we can trust He has a plan in the messiness.

As I read more and more of this book, I saw the story of the Israelites’ struggle and victory with fresh eyes. Morgan lays out 10 principles of how we can make sense of Exodus 14 and apply those principles to our lives.

I loved this book, and it’s difficult to put into words why. But it’s one I will be lending out a lot and revisiting myself.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #13: “Hope Runs” by Claire Diaz-Ortiz & Samuel Ikua Gachagua

I finished my 13th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption by Claire Diaz-Ortiz & Samuel Ikua Gachagua

I don’t remember who recommended this book to me; I think it was my husband. This is another book I got through PaperbackSwap, a resource that I love!

The story follows the life of the author, Claire, as she takes several “find yourself”-type trips with her friend Lara. The last trip has them ending in Kenya, where they board at an orphanage there. The children steal their hearts. They end up returning for a longer period to establish a running program for the orphans, who are in desperate need of extracurricular activities. The book alternates with Claire and a young man named Sammy, who lives at the orphanage, writing chapters. The kids eventually run a marathon, and Claire & Lara sponsor Sammy, so that he can come finish high school in America.

While the main author, Claire, is a Christian and this comes up several times, faith was not the main focus of the book. In fact, Claire’s traveling partner, Lara, was not a Christian. There is a funny story in the book where the kids ask Lara to pray for them before they run the marathon, not realizing that she might not believe in God. Rather than explain and possibly shatter their little worlds, she goes ahead and prays 🙂 In the orphans’ eyes, Lara will always be a Christian.

I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read, and I devoured it in a couple of days. I’m like that with well-written, biography-style stories (books #15 & #16, if I ever catch up on writing these posts, were also biographies/autobiographies). It is eye-opening, hearing about all the trials Sammy had to go through before he & his brother ended up in the orphanage. To some, landing in an orphanage might seem like a bad thing, but Sammy describes his emotions as “happy beyond control.” There, he is guaranteed food and a bed and a stable environment. That’s a lot for a boy whose father died unexpectedly and whose mother abandoned him and his siblings.

It’s eye-opening to read Claire’s story as well – to see what God can do when you are willing to open yourself to the needs around you.

Definitely recommend this book.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

 

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #12: “Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective” by William W. Menzies & Stanley M. Horton

I finished my 12th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective by William W. Menzies & Stanley M. Horton

I actually read a slightly older version, since that’s the edition I was told to read. I mentioned before I’m working on finishing up my ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God, and this book helps in studying for the written test.

The book basically walks the reader through the 16 Fundamental Truths of the Assemblies of God, including the corresponding Scriptures. While none of this was new for me, it went further in explaining concepts I was already familiar with.

This book would certainly be enlightening to anyone with an interest in the theology of the Pentecostal movement.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

 

Freedom Friday: The God of the 4 Cent Monkey

If you struggle with believing that God cares about the little things, I have a story for you.

A friend gave me a gift card to Babies R Us, so I wanted to buy a couple of things I’m concerned about not having at this point (a month away from my due date), as well as possibly update the baby registry.

We went to the registry desk at Babies R Us to get our free gift for registering since we registered online and had not been in the store yet. While we were sitting there, having the sales woman explain things to us, JJ (my younger son at 4 1/2) spied the stuffed animals. He couldn’t resist picking one out for his baby sister on the way, so we added a monkey to the baby registry (one of his nicknames is Monkey).

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We only registered for 4-5 things because I had trouble finding stuff, and they didn’t have the shirts in stock that we had traveled to the store to buy. So we were planning on leaving without buying anything.

JJ was very sad we weren’t buying the monkey, so I figured I would look at the registry list to see what the cost for the monkey was. It said 0.04. I thought that couldn’t be right, so we went to grab the monkey to price check it at one of those scanners they have around the store.

4 cents.

We brought it up to the register to check one more time. Yep, 4 cents! We paid 4 cents for JJ’s gift to his baby sister.

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JJ, setting up his sister’s bed with the 4 Cent Monkey

Sometimes it’s easy to believe in the God who can hurl mountains into the sea, but not so easy to believe in the God who cares about the small stuff, too.

Sometimes it’s easy to believe that God will provide for your most basic needs (food, shelter, clothing), but it’s more difficult to grasp the abundance of His rich blessings to those who call Him Father.

Maybe there’s an area of your life in which you need to be reminded that God lavishes His love on His children. He is quick to rescue, quick to open His arms, and even quick to give a 4 year old a glimpse of His provision – not because we really needed another stuffed animal, but simply because it was important to JJ.

God gave us a 4 cent monkey so that JJ could give his sister a 4 cent monkey.

Just because He loves us.

Is there something you have been hesitated to ask God for, because it doesn’t seem important enough?

It’s important to God.

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35 weeks pregnant

Monday Morning Meditation: It Takes Practice

I’ve been asked a few times by people, “How do you have peace/joy/hope in trials? How do you pray with faith with there’s no evidence to put your hope in? How do you keep smiling when things are difficult?”

The answer is simple but not easy.

Practice.

God, in His sovereign purpose, has given me plenty of opportunities to practice learning these truths. Or perhaps it’s just that I was crushed by my choices and my circumstances when I came to Christ that I couldn’t NOT practice these things.

It was do or die, literally. I had to cling to these promises of God as if my life depended on it – because it did.

After being asked about this again last week, this Scripture was read in church yesterday:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

I do not often hear these 2 verses quoted together. I don’t usually quote them together, but I should, because so often when I reference them, I’m sharing on our thought life. What I hear Paul saying is this: This isn’t easy and it won’t come naturally. It takes practice and hard work to fight against our old patterns of thinking and living.

Paul goes on to talk about how he has learned the secret to being content. God promises to teach us these things as we choose to walk in the truth of His Word, who He says He is, and what He has said He will do.

Why is this so hard for us? If we want to become skilled at something, we know it requires practice, whether it be cooking, knitting or running. If I want to run a race at a faster time than I previously have, I practice running at a certain pace, I do track work, and I cross-train. Why does it surprise us that this is also true for the Christian walk?

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From WikiMedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stopwatch2.jpg

God has given me even more opportunities to practice these things with our recent move back to Massachusetts from Virginia. Moving all our stuff, my dad’s stuff, my children’s stuff, and our bodies (including my 6+ month pregnant self) is a major chore, and wow. So many things have gone wrong. It could make me question whether or not we made the right choice – but I’ve chosen not to do that. Given that I’m reading through the Old Testament right now, I can see parallels in the Israelites’ journey into the Promised Land. It wasn’t easy to begin with, and they made it much more difficult by complaining their way through. So I am trying to choose to pray and praise rather than complain and grumble. This is something I’ve practiced, and that practice is now coming in quite handy!

In today’s My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers discusses the Christian life being “gloriously difficult.”

God saves people by His sovereign grace through the atonement of Jesus, and “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). But we have to “work out” that salvation in our everyday, practical living (Philippians 2:12). If we will only start on the basis of His redemption to do what He commands, then we will find that we can do it. If we fail, it is because we have not yet put into practice what God has placed within us. But a crisis will reveal whether or not we have been putting it into practice. If we will obey the Spirit of God and practice in our physical life what God has placed within us by His Spirit, then when a crisis does come we will find that our own nature, as well as the grace of God, will stand by us.

This is quite similar to how I describe the freedom that is available in Christ. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but we need to learn to walk in that.

We need to put it into practice.

What discipline do you need to practice today? Is it joy? Contentment? Praying and praising no matter what?

Monday Morning Meditation: His Treasured Possession

What is your most treasured possession?

We are in the process of moving (again). In fact, shortly after this posts, the movers will be here. As we pack, we have been setting aside things that we will drive to our new home in Massachusetts. Fragile things, awkward but important items, expensive or irreplaceable keepsakes – they will travel in the cars, rather than risk them being damaged or broken in the moving truck.

Some of them won’t even look like much to others. Some boxes of Freedom Book will be in there. We have an airplane propeller that my dad gave to my oldest son (his first grandchild), a couple pieces of driftwood, a box of old cameras. These things have value simply because we decided they have value.

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The book of Deuteronomy is one long admonition from Moses to the Israelites. They will soon be entering the Promises Land, and, since he cannot go with them, there are some things he wants them to remember. In the midst of warnings not to intermarry, cautions not to bring detestable things into their new homes, reminders to not forget God, we find this gem:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” Deuteronomy 7:6

It would be easy for the reader to become overly focused on Moses’ numerous warnings of “Don’t do this, don’t do this, and don’t do this.” Sometimes I know I get overly focused to those things myself. But we must not lose sight of the why.

God had chosen the Israelites. He called them by name and set them apart. He absolutely treasured them and did not want to see them harmed.

As I put a piece of driftwood that my dad saved because it reminded him of a dancer in my car, I carefully wrap it in a blanket. I pad the sides to insure nothing bumps into it or damages it. If someone else were to move it, I would call out, “Be careful!”

Because it is just that important to me.

How much more so does God treasure us! He encourages us and admonishes us to grasp the “Life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19), an abundant life that will satisfy us so much more fully than anything else (John 10:10). Because He doesn’t want to see harm come to us (Jeremiah 29:11). Because His love is better than life (Psalm 63:3). Because He delights in us (Psalm 18:19).

Because we too are His treasured possession.

Worshipful Wednesday: Breathing the Breath

I’ve always found breathing a very spiritually-centering activity. Not in some sort of new age, emptying one’s self sense. But in a way that reminds me of who gave me breath in the first place.

When fear, doubt or anxiety threaten to overwhelm me, having a seat and taking a few deep breathes reminds me that the same God who breathed His very breath into me to give me life can handle whatever concerns I am facing today.

Several days ago, I read the following about prayer in Oswald Chambers’ devotional My Utmost for His Highest:

We think rightly or wrongly about prayer according to the conception we have in our minds about prayer. If we think of prayer as breath in our lungs and blood from our hearts, we think rightly. The blood flows ceaselessly, and breathing continues ceaselessly; we are not conscious of it, but it is always going on.

You can read the rest of the day’s devotional here.

That’s how I’ve begun to think about prayer. As a mom of young kids who works outside the home, I began to be frustrated concerning my prayer life. No matter what I did, I seemed to lack a set-aside chunk of time to devote to prayer. I needed to think outside the box and get creative. I’ve learned to make prayer more of an all-day activity.

Sometimes, I just say the name of Jesus as I go about my day. I’ve even been known to say, “Holy, holy, holy” under my breath – though I realized it wasn’t really “under my breath” when my then 5 year-old started to do the same one day in a store! I realized that prayer is simply a recognition of Who is in control, a day-long conversation with the God who is able.

Today, I’m sharing a song entitled “Breathing the Breath.” It’s a Matt Redman song.  This song has become especially meaningful to me since losing an uncle to complications related to COPD, a condition which makes breathing difficult and for which there is no cure. The song recognizes that much of life is a “giving back” to the God who gave us everything in the first place, even in the very breath we breathe.

Here are a few of the lyrics:

We have nothing to give that didn’t first come from Your hands
We have nothing to offer You which You did not provide
Every good, perfect gift comes from Your kind and gracious heart
And all we do is give back to You what always has been Yours

Lord, we’re breathing the breath that You gave us to breathe
To worship You, to worship You
And we’re singing these songs with the very same breath
To worship You, to worship You

You can listen to the whole song on YouTube.