Book Review: Washed & Waiting, Updated Version

Washing & Waiting, Updated Edition” is book #23 of books read in 2020.

I listened to this book several years ago, as many of the guys in the ministry I lead recommend it. We just read it in one of our groups, and so I read the updated version.

I’ll start with the positive. Wesley Hill is extremely honest! If you’re looking for a book where your feelings of loneliness and intense struggle are validated, look no further! I think one of the reasons so many people like this book (David Bennett mentions it in his book) is the brutal honesty and vulnerability with which Hill writes.

By the way, Wesley if you read this review, 2 of my cousins and 1 of their husbands go to seminary where you teach 🙂

Each chapter reads like a long psalm of lament. Hill shares transparently about many of his struggles! He eventually comes around to the hope that Christ has to offer believers who seek to walk in obedience as it pertains to their same-sex attraction.

Hill is absolutely spot on concerning one thing: the life of those who are same-sex attracted can be very, very lonely. One of the things I appreciate the most about this book is his talk about community and how the church needs to rise up and surround those who are living celibate lives in the midst of their struggles with sexuality. I think the church likes to pat people like Hill on the back and say, “Good for you for walking in obedience” and leave it at that.

The antidote to this is to be part of intentional community, whatever that might look like for each individual. What the same-sex attracted or gay celibate Christian really needs is the church to surround them and invite them into their daily lives. I’m not talking about just having someone in your small group; I’m talking about having them over for Sunday dinner and maybe Monday dinner and Tuesday dinner as well. I have a friend who is same-sex attracted, and she lives with a family. I think that’s an awesome idea! I see from Wesley Hills’ Instagram that he is a godfather. Fantastic! This is exactly how the church should be being intentional about including all single people in everyday life.

All that said, I found the book to be rather depressing. OK, really depressing. I will say as someone who struggles with hopelessness, it was difficult for me to get past the depths of despair that Hill describes. He also (like many others his age) does not seem to believe that transformation is possible in his sexuality (which I expected). But I see a couple other reasons the book felt depressing to me:

The first thing I see is that Hill seems to buy into what Russell Willingham refers to as “romantic orthodoxy.” Willingham defines this as a belief that “romance or sex will meet my deepest needs.” Hill eventually comes around to the truth that only Jesus can meet these needs in all of us, but it seems clear to me in how he views marriage and romantic relationships and how often he comes back to this belief that this is truly a core belief he holds (you can read more about core beliefs in Willingham’s book or in my book Learning to Walk in Freedom).

The second thing I see is that Hill seems to believe same-sex attracted Christians are uniquely lonely. Loneliness is a core theme throughout the book. Hill seems to fail to recognize that many opposite-sex attracted Christians never find a spouse (I can think of many in my circle of friends), that some Christians are stuck in unhealthy marriages that (I believe) are likely far more lonely than singleness, and that many others are lonely for a whole host of reasons.

All that said, I can absolutely see why this book is a good starting point for many same-sex attracted and gay Christians. That said, I feel “The War of Loves” by David Bennett or “Born Again This Way” are better reads in this genre of books in the category of same-sex attraction being a fixed orientation/books that lean away from transformation being possible.

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“Born Again This Way” Book Review

“Born Again This Way” by Rachel Gilson is book #15 of 2020.

This was a fantastic book about Rachel’s journey of coming out as gay, coming to know Jesus Christ as her Savior, and how those two things impact her life today. I read a lot of books in this topic, and appreciated how many new and fresh ideas she brought to the conversation. She also brings a theological depth that other books lack, but she writes in a way that makes those concepts accessible to anyone.

A couple concerns brought up and several addressed:

Conversion Therapy

She speaks against conversion therapy without ever thoroughly defining it (to the best of my recollection, she only gives a general idea on pg. 83). Why is this concerning? When conversion therapy is not defined, many things are lumped into that term that don’t even resemble therapy or conversion. Many in the type of ministry I do are accused of doing “conversion therapy.” Recently, when Massachusetts proposed a ban on conversion therapy to minors, there was not a single Massachusetts resident testifying who actually had undergone conversion therapy (the ban passed). So I am VERY leary of this catch-all term, which feels like a red herring in the conversation for me.

Transformation

A concern I heard from others is that Rachel does not believe in transformation (i.e that God is able to change one’s sexual attractions if He so chooses). Because I heard this concern prior to reading the book, I kept my eyes open to what she did – and didn’t – say. On this point, the overarching theme of the book is 0n obedience, not sexual orientation change. I actually commend her for this. I have seen WAY too many people give up this fight because God did not take away their struggle. As I state in my book #learningtowalkinfreedom, same-sex attraction (SSA) is a form of temptation. If we expect to live a life free of temptation, then we expect to be more free than Jesus. So I actually appreciate very much her focus on obedience rather than sexual attraction change. She does share a story from a woman who was same-sex attracted and is now opposite-sex attracted. I also do not recall her speaking against transformation. I actually write in my book that if we focus only on sexual attraction change, we are missing the point (freedom step one).

On-Going Same-Sex Attraction

Another concern was that Rachel wears her on-going SSA as a “badge of honor.” I did not give this one much weight, and here’s why. I speak openly about my on-going SSA. I share about the presence of on-going temptation in my life because I feel it’s important. Church leaders need to know that someone who experiences SSA is just as free and healed and changed as the person who know claims a heterosexual identity. I state that I “experience” SSA rather than I “struggle” with it – because it’s no longer a struggle. Rachel and I also agree that calling oneself a “gay Christian” is problematic. Here is my post explaining why.

I highly, highly recommend this book, despite a few concerns. It’s one of the best I’ve read in a while.

Buy “Born Again This Way” here.

Two Decades of Imperfect Surrender: Coffee with Brenna

In March of 2000, I reached a pivotal moment in my walk with Jesus.

I make it sound as if we had a long history! I had only been a Christian for 14 short months. Jesus, however, had a long history with me. Almost two thousand years before I was born, He saw my sin, my shame, and my struggles and set a rescue plan in motion that would change everything.

Despite surrendering to His call of salvation in January of 1999, some things took a lot longer to work their way out of my life. My identity was firmly set in that of a lesbian-identified bisexual – what did the gospel have to offer someone like me?

In the fall of that first year following Jesus, I met a young woman I call Annie. Annie had been raised in a Christian home but due to a horrific tragedy, she and her family members walked away from God. Well, I was positive I could help Annie to find Jesus again!!

As you can imagine, this did not end well.

I had no reason to think there would be any issues in our friendship because Annie did not have a history of being attracted to women. But she was needy and so was I. Our mutual neediness led to a physical attraction which eventually turned into a sexual relationship.

I feel stuck. Overwhelmed. In love. Desperate – for Annie AND for God. I had built so much of my life and my identity around being gay. Could Jesus really be enough for me? If I left behind everything I’d ever known, would God keep His promise to never leave me? Because almost everyone I loved, all those I clung to and felt I desperately needed – they had left me. How could I trust that God wouldn’t do what they had done? I didn’t know who to pick, which direction to go, or even how to go about deciding. But God knew. He saw my struggling heart – and He decided for me.

At the beginning of March, right before Spring Break, Annie dumped me 🙂

A few days later, I stood at the bus stop, waiting for my ride to arrive. I remember specifically throwing my hands in the air and saying, “Fine, God! I give this all to You!” Thus began my journey of walking in imperfect obedience as it pertains to my same-sex attraction and so many other things.

This month marks two decades since that day at the bus stop. God has been faithful in ALL things. I have come to Him, over and over, surrendering all that I am to all that He is. 20 years ago, I never would have dreamed I’d be where I am today, and I don’t mean married with a family, the director of an organization serving people just like me. Am I amazingly blessed? YES. There is no question. But it’s about so much more than that. It’s about the peace that comes with surrender. It’s about the hope that comes from trusting in Christ. It’s about the joy that is deposited into a surrendered heart.

On the day I’m completing this blog post, the daily topic of My Utmost for His Highest is “Total Surrender.” Ha! Oswald Chambers states, “Genuine total surrender is a personal sovereign preference for Jesus Christ Himself.” He ends the entry with these thoughts: “Beware of stopping anywhere short of total surrender to God. Most of us have only a vision of what this really means, but have never truly experienced it.”

Watch today’s “Coffee with Brenna” video to explore this concept more!

Why I Don’t Identify as a Gay Christian – And Why Perhaps You Shouldn’t Either

In the spring of 2000, I was about to graduate from college at New England Conservatory. After becoming a Christian just a year earlier, I became involved with a Christian group on our campus. I was seriously considering applying to do an internship with the larger national organization.

Until I looked at the application.

As part of the application, the applicant was asked to identify his or her sexual orientation. I remember there being at least 2 choices, if not more:

– Heterosexual

– Homosexual

I remember sitting there, just staring at the application. If I applied, which one would I choose? I was only 2 months out of what would be my last lesbian relationship. I certainly didn’t feel heterosexual. I knew I didn’t want to be homosexual, but that’s how most of the world would describe me.

I put down the paper and walked away.*

I entered into my 1st lesbian relationship at age 15 in 1990. For reference, that’s 7 years before Ellen DeGeneres came out. The small NH town in which I explored my sexuality was not a friendly or safe one. I was horribly bullied, routinely threatened and called derogatory names.

I fought hard to become comfortable with my sexuality, which I believed was as fixed and innate as my heterosexual peers.

Today, 18 1/2 years into my walk with Jesus, my perspective has changed a bit. The only thing that I know for sure is innate in me is my propensity to sin and to wander from God’s best for me. One of the only fixed things about me is that longing in my heart to know God and be known by Him, as well as the need to connect deeply with other humans.

People ask me how I identify myself, in terms of my sexuality. I do not identify as gay (or as straight, for that matter). I still experience same-sex attraction. I sometimes experience opposite-sex attraction.

I mostly just identify as Brenna 🙂

The reason I believe the “gay Christian” label, while permissible, is not beneficial (2 Corinthians 10:23) is because words matter. The labels we use and the words we choose to describe ourselves can be a container for power – in one direction or another.

More than ever before in my life and my ministry work, I have recently seen how careless words or even well-thought-out labels can become strongholds. “Speculations” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) that make sense to our line of reasoning can actually end up enslaving us to faulty logic. While I can understand the reasons some believers have in using the gay Christian label, I don’t believe it to be wise or necessary.

We live in a society that loves labels. Why? Because we all want somewhere to belong. As believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, we belong to the body of Christ. We are adopted children of the Most High God. The Creator of the Universe called us by name and said, “You are Mine.” This is where our identity must rest.

What are your thoughts on the gay Christian label? 

Another helpful post on this topic

*I am not at all faulting the campus ministry for asking the question about sexuality. It’s an important question. I’m using this example to refer to my state of mind and my own struggles with identity.

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 #17: “Please Don’t Say You Need Me” by Jan Silvious

I finished my 17th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


Please Don’t Say You Need Me: Biblical Answers for Codependency by Jan Silvious

Please Don’t Say You Need Me was mentioned in the back of a little booklet entitled Emotional Dependency, another resource I was reviewing for the ministry. Since emotional dependency and codependency are common struggle in the people I work with, I figured this book would be worth reviewing.

I’m so glad I read it! This was another book that I dog-eared like crazy. It’s truly a powerhouse of wisdom. It covers the roots and symptoms of codependency, as well as how codependency manifests itself in different types of relationships, including friendship, marriage, parent-child, and even in the workplace. It also has a chapter on how to maintain healthy relationships once you have recognized these patterns in yourself. The author does a wonderful job of weaving biblical truth into this struggle and healing from it.

If you have struggled with codependency or work with people who do, this book is for you.
My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #15: “Destiny Bridge” by Frank Worthen

I finished my 15th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

Destiny Bridge by Frank Worthen

This book is the story of Frank Worthen, written in his own words. Frank Worthen is considered one of the founders of the “ex-gay” movement, after living as a gay man for 25 years. This was another book that I read over the course of a weekend.

It’s compelling, disheartening, shocking, and encouraging. Don’t let the back cover of the book dissuade you. I didn’t find it a particularly inviting synopsis of what was going to be described in the book. In fact, if it weren’t for the recommendation of a friend, I might not have read it. But I’m so glad I did!

It’s certainly a compelling story of how a young man was led by his spiritual authority directly into sin. More importantly, it’s a story of a loving, persistent God who spared no expense in calling Frank Worthen back to Himself. It’s a story of a man who, out of his small steps of obedience, impacted thousands of lives in the name of Jesus Christ.

What a great book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic of same-sex attraction.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Here I am again, at Ridgecrest

This is my 4th time at Ridgecrest Christian Conference Center.

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Exodus International rotated the location for its annual Freedom conferences. Every 3rd year, it was held on the east coast, here at Ridgecrest.

In 2005, I came here to attend my 2nd Exodus conference (my 1st was in California in 2004 – I attended alone). This was my first conference as a leader, as I had been the director of Alive in Christ almost a year at this point. Roy and several others from the ministry attended. Because Jerry Falwell spoke that year, there was tons of media attention, and I spoke on television for the 1st time about my same-sex attraction.

I don’t remember much about the interview, except they showed a close-up of my wedding ring, and I was wearing a purple shirt.

We returned in 2008, this time with a 11-month old Bear in tow (my older son’s nickname). I had the privilege of sharing my testimony from the main stage and teaching a workshop entitled “Learning to Walk in Freedom” (sound familiar?). I think I also participated in the forums on youth ministry.

Back again in 2011, Bear was almost 4, and we now had JJ tagging along at 1 1/2. We stopped at my dad’s on the way. It was there I found out that apart from a miraculous touch from God’s own hand, my father would die from cancer.

I again had the opportunity to speak, telling the women this time about “Learning to Walk in Freedom.” It was an amazing conference. I felt as if Exodus had truly been refined by fire, and the gold was truly shining through (many others agreed).

In 2012, I flew out to Minnesota by myself, having been invited to participate in the conference on various ways. It was the best Exodus conference I had been a part of, even more so than 2011.

At the 2013 Exodus conference (which I did not attend), it was announced that Exodus would close.

Recently, Alive in Christ joined a new network, Hope for Wholeness. I spoke at their conference this past fall, and now here I am, at Ridgecrest once again, to speak and participate in the Hope Rising conference presented by Hope for Wholeness.

We arrived yesterday, a day early, because the drive was long, and I wanted to get everyone settled. I am 5 1/2 months pregnant, and didn’t want to be too tired for the events.

I’m used to arriving when the buzz of activity is already in full swing. I find myself here with mixed emotion.

So much history in these hills.

As I process all the emotions that are represented here at Ridgecrest, I choose to focus on the excitement I feel at what lies ahead. I’m thrilled with the connections I’ve made in the Hope for Wholeness network, and am humbled to be part of this new work.

God is still holy. His Word still reigns and is to be obeyed.

God is still loving and good and just and faithful.

God is still able.

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Brenna Kate Simonds on the Pure Passion TV Show

In April of 2012, I had the opportunity to share my story of same-sex attraction with the crew of the TV show, Pure Passion. It aired this past Saturday, July 6th, and you can watch it here*:

Brenna Simonds – Choosing Christ Over Homosexual Confusion from Pure Passion on Vimeo.

Perhaps you found my site through watching this show. If so, welcome!

I mention in the interview a book entitled Learning to Walk in Freedom that we studied at Alive in Christ. This book will be available by the end of summer. Check back for updates!

Here are some other articles that might be helpful to you:
Do I Still Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction? 
Living a Healthily Transparent Life 
Feelings: Dictator or Indicator? 
“Talitha koum!” Expelling the Laughers 

And my most popular blog post of all time:
You Have Not Because You Ask Not

*I just discovered the network aired the wrong episode Saturday. Well, welcome anyway! People are finding it somehow 🙂