Strong in the Broken: In This Tent We Groan

Today’s Strong in the Broken post moves from Tolkein to Lewis, from being a missionary kid to homosexuality to suicide. This essay is brave and it is one man’s story, told with complexity and honesty. It is published without a name, if you wish to contact the author, either please leave a comment or email me and I will put you in touch.

Disclaimer: I understand that this is a sensitive topic, and I cannot claim to have all, or really any of the answers. My hope is to tell my story in an honest way, not as a prescription for anyone going through similar struggles. I do not want to cause dissent or arguments over this issue. This is an uncomfortable topic to be sure, but comfort is no good reason for silence. This topic needs to be talked about until the suicide rate declines among this demographic. It needs to be talked about until this demographic falls in love with Jesus.

Falling in love is a terrible thing. Especially when you are the son of missionaries, and the person you fall in love with is another boy.

I never really had a concept of homosexuality growing up on the mission field. And maybe it wasn’t necessary. I was busy roaming the city streets, climbing on fortress walls, learning languages, running away from security guards. But even at the MK(missionary kid) conferences I think I felt a bit out of place, as if there was something different between me and my peers. I didn’t quite fit in even among my fellow TCKs (third culture kids). I couldn’t put my finger on it then. I just tried to love Jesus and obey him.

The subconscious prayer I tearfully prayed throughout high school and into college was, “God, fix me!”, because even though I didn’t know what needed fixing, I was aware of something broken within me. I noticed other guys instead of girls, but I thought it would pass, that it was nothing, that I was just sinful, that if I prayed hard enough, obeyed God enough, studied the Bible enough, I would become the right person. Somewhere in my head I was searching for a magical concoction that would fix me. I dove into theology and philosophy, trying to be the best Christian I could. I ceased to see God as my loving Father who longs to embrace me, and saw him as a genie with the power to grant my wish that I thought would please him, if only I would follow certain steps. I did all of this for at least seven years without the slightest idea that I was gay.

During my junior year at university, my inner world of acting perfect and believing all the right things finally collapsed on itself from sheer burnout and I admitted to myself that I was gay. They don’t prepare you for being this in the transition seminars. No TCK talk could have prepared me for this sort of identity crisis. This sort of world-shattering reality. Because just as I was trying to get accustomed to being in America, and thoroughly enjoying aspects of this culture, I admitted that I was not who I always told myself I was.

Depression pounded against my skull as my heart beat to the rhythm of my pleas, “God, let me be straight!” Shame told me to isolate myself, and my mind went into shock. I didn’t know how to find my Comforter in the Scriptures, because I had spent years treating it as a how-to manual. So I stopped reading this how-to manual that spoke nothing but condemnation into my predicament. I tried to shut my emotions down to give myself time to think, to pray. But then my eyes would catch that guy in the halls and I would break down.

Terror drove me away from my family, friends, people, and God. I was alone with myself and hated myself. My vending machine of a god was not accepting any currency I had to offer, and I became hopeless. My thoughts vacillated between believing I was an accident and that God could not possibly have meant to create someone like me, and blaming God for doing this to me. My God had failed me, or I had failed God. It didn’t really matter, did it? I hated God and wanted to die.

On my darkest nights my feet took me to the train tracks near campus and there I would stand, waiting for a train to come and take my life away. Exhaustion drove me back to my apartment with a fresh anger against a god I was convinced hated me. “Why can’t you let me die?!”

How can I blame God for this mess? I have been told that He is all-good and loving. I must therefore do what comes most naturally to me and imagine myself to be the leviathan beneath the surface of my heart, writhing my scaly body beneath the waves, hunting frigates. It does something to a man when he believes himself to be a monster. I debated whether my heart was more like Hyde or Frankenstein, because in public I could pull off a fair impression of Jekyll, but alone in my room, Hyde was the unwelcome companion who tried to convince me that Frankenstein was a better monster than I because he embraced his monstrosity and accepted it as who he was and called that identity good instead of hiding behind the false form of a doctor.

And yet, if I had to be a monster, at least I might try to be a useful one. If I were a dragon, at least I could feign an impression of Eustace and help to build a mast instead of razing a dwarven city to the ground in order to become king under the mountain. Of course I would be alone, unable to make the voyage to the edge of the world, but at least I might do a little bit of good instead of wreaking destruction before the eremitic storm clouds reigned over my island.

But the truth has a way of shining a light into the darkness. The first time I was honest about this struggle, my body physically revolted, and my throat tightened as I choked on the words. But a weight was gone. In being vulnerable with people I trusted, I allowed them the opportunity to love the unlovable parts of me, and to see light in a place where I could see only darkness; to see hope where all I comprehended was despair. In that moment, a thought flickered in my mind of a God who might be bigger than my small darkness allowed Him to be. I saw a human reflection of Divine love. No expectations. No if…then statements. No “at least…”. Just “I love you.”

A few months later, J. R. R. Tolkien convinced me to begin reading the Bible again by his words, “…I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy story; the greatest. Man the storyteller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story.” (Letter to Michael Tolkien).

I prayed that God would let me perceive the Bible as a fairy story, which is probably the strangest and best thing I have ever prayed. I lived and breathed the second and third chapters of Genesis for an entire month. I hadn’t planned to stay that long in the Garden, but the magic and beauty of the love of God kept me anchored there, beginning to break the spell which had bound me for most of my life. Where before I had seen a vindictive God who is bound by natural laws, I now began to see a God whose every action was done out of a deep and passionate love for Adam and Eve. This God seemed foreign to me, and I dared to hope that His love extended to this scared son of Adam. I began to faintly hear the call of a God in pursuit of me “Where are you?” and I was tired of hiding my shame from him.

I hate that what I fight against every day is becoming normalized and accepted (at least in America), for now I have to fight myself internally and the world externally, both vying for my acceptance as they tell me that they are advocating for my happiness. Sometimes they tell me that God would want me to live into this identity, that He made me good and wants my happiness. There are days when the fighting is exhausting, the desire seems inexorable, and I wish I could allow myself to accept it, grasp for it, lean into it. If I am honest, there are days when I want to embrace a lifestyle in which I could love a man and my God with a clear conscience, convinced that I am obeying God. But then I ask myself: Is my God the sort of God who would ask us to surrender all aspects of ourselves to Him? To say ‘no’ to our most deeply felt desires and longings in order to say ‘yes’ to Him?

C. S. Lewis in “Perelandra” makes a profound statement. In the book, the law is referring to one regarding the Fixed Islands, but it is fitting in describing the Biblical prohibitions against acting on homosexuality, “I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?” There are many times when I don’t understand why this particular law was prohibited by God. I understand that homosexuality does not accurately reflect His love for his Church–that is mirrored in the marriage of a man and woman. I can see that as beautiful, but I often wonder where that leaves me in the context of the corporate Church.

The brokenness I am walking through is twofold: a broken sexuality and a broken perception of God. But as Tolkien said “The hands of the King are the hands of a healer.” (Ioreth, “The Return of the King”) My thoughts and feelings are painful. Some days I just want the strong hug of another man, emotional intimacy and trust, knowing that my imagination is capable of taking me further, and so I fight to stop there, and long for honest touch and true speech. Other days, the old dream of being a father surfaces, and I think of the names for my offspring that my desires steel from me. I romanticize the closeness of a Godly marriage. It hurts, and so I sit alone in my room and weep and pray to God. Not to be made straight, but to be with him.

The Psalms are a magnanimous comfort on the nights that feel especially long and cold and dark. I don’t understand why I have these desires. I don’t understand why God loves me. But maybe that is alright, as I trust that he loves me in bigger, better, and brighter ways than the darkness inside of me can fathom. And I would rather the darkness not be able to comprehend the light than for the light to stop it’s shining. I want to be okay with pressing into the Love of Christ that a part of me does not find comfortable and cannot understand as good and true. I want with my whole heart to leap into His Love, so that maybe His love could brighten the darkness within me.

The truth is that there are no easy answers; my story is one of tension and living in the margins. But I fight to hope in a God who walks with us through this dark and broken valley. And sometimes that fighting looks more like losing, more like retreating. Fighting what Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings calls “the long defeat.” Paul has a poignant way of describing the way that I see my experiences in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be found unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 1:1-7)

The author carries an American passport and was raised on British fairy tales while receiving a post-Communist education in the former Byzantine Empire. Some of his favorite pastimes include climbing trees and castle ruins, hiking in the Rocky Mountains, and sipping chai with a good book. His Eastern heart currently explores and seeks God in the Western United States.

Redefining Success for the Faith-Based Expatriate

Quick link: You Are Not a Failure

Over at A Life Overseas today, writing about something that’s been bugging me a bit lately.

I’ve read lots of blog posts and essays about failure lately, about people who grew up wanting to change the world and end up discouraged. Jonathan Trotter wrote about this a year and a half ago. Sarita Hartz wrote about it just last week. Abby Alleman wrote about it in February. I guess its my turn.

To people who made youthful commitments they didn’t follow through on, to people who moved back ‘home’ earlier than planned, to people who don’t see what they dreamed of seeing, I want to say: You’re not a failure. And, you didn’t even fail.

You were on a date and you’d been trained to think this was a marriage. You got on a train and mistakenly believed you could never, ever get off. You’re lost in a new city and you think U-turns are not an option here. You fell in love and like most first loves, you fell out of it again. Or, it was in truth just a crush. Thankfully no one expects us or pressures us to marry our sixth grade ‘boyfriends’ and none of us feel guilty for abandoning them on the playground. But if, in our youthful naiveté and with the emotional high of a summer project, we make grand pronouncements of a lifetime commitment to service in the name of faith and turn our backs on that – we call it failure.

No one should be berated, by themselves or anyone else, for getting lost and making a U-turn. Even with Siri and GPS, we are not infallible. And when it comes to lifelong decisions, even with the Bible and the Holy Spirit, we’re allowed to change direction as we grow and evolve.

Click here to read the rest of You Are Not a Failure

Never Dead Enough

This is an essay I wrote for SheLoves Magazine a few years ago. I’m re-posting it because I needed to read it again. It was officially written for Good Friday and Easter. But we can have cold, dead hearts all year long. We need life and resurrection every day. So here it is again.

dead-wood

Never Dead Enough

In her Pulitzer Prize winning book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard describes a desert plant, Ibervillea sonorae. This member of the gourd family looks like dead wood, with no roots and no stems, like a lump of coal. Lifeless, beauty-less, connected to nothing, producing nothing. “If the rain arrives, it grows flowers and fruits; these soon whither away, and it reverts to a state as quiet as driftwood.” Hoping for rain. Waiting for water. Once, in the New York Botanical Gardens, the Ibervillea sonorae waited seven years, patient and still, alive but with no water. In the eighth dry year, the plant died.

How dead does something have to appear before it is dead? How dry and lifeless and alone and fruitless does something have to be before it is actually, and finally, beyond hope? Stories of desperation, need, hopelessness, and destructive sin are all over the word of God.

Caught between Pharaoh’s furious army and the raging Red Sea. The only son of a couple who battled infertility into their old age lies cold and still. A king mired in lust and murder. A widowed foreigner and her childless mother-in-law, gathering life from discarded grain. A man being slowly digested by the stomach juices of a giant fish. Four hundred years of God’s silence.

A virgin, pregnant out of wed-lock, and could face charges of adultery and the punishment of stoning. Five thousand hungry men, plus women and children, and nothing to feed them. A man dead and buried in a tomb for four days. People plagued by leprosy and shunned by the entire community. A man blind from birth. A woman isolated, drawing water from the well alone. A crown of thorns, a bloodied back, nail-pierced flesh, and a sword in the side. Three days in a tomb.

But these things aren’t the end of the story.

How dead does something have to be for God to give up on it? All around looks like Friday. Ibervillea sonorae in the desert. Children, lifeless and unmoving. Sin and danger. Accusations. Need and disease. The Word made flesh, emptied of breath.

But Jesus says, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living for to him, all are alive.” And Jesus says, “Come to me.” And God says, “Where, O death is your sting?”

Come to the God of the living. Come. Bring your dead and dying things. Bring them here, where there is no more sting.

Bring your losses and discouragements. Bring your betrayals and failures, your consistent sins. The gossip and the greed and the laziness and the pride. Bring the loneliness and barrenness. The bed with one side cold and unwrinkled. The no-longer-needed elementary school backpack. The wedding ring thrown into the corner of the underwear drawer. The chemotherapy. The what-ifs and the if-onlys. The disappointment and rejection and regret. The addiction and affliction. The cheating and the cheated and the cheater. Bring the emptiness and the need and the longing. Bring it and lay it down and wait and see.

Nothing is dead enough.

Today might feel like Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

Nothing is ever dead enough. Are you ready for a resurrection?

What is your Ibervillea sonorae that needs to be revived? What are the dead and dying things in your life that God wants to resurrect?

Save

By |December 5th, 2016|Faith|0 Comments|

Stepping Stone

Stepping Stone: Finding Life and Love in a Foreign Land by Stacy Dyck

Stacy Dyck spent two years as a young single woman in Hungary. Stepping Stone, based on her memories and journals kept from that time, is her story of learning more about herself, about God, and also finding love while living abroad. She went into the two years hoping for the first two lessons but was happily surprised by the third.

Stepping Stone is the story of a young woman filled with faith but not a lot of experience talking with people about that faith, or experience in living it out in a cross-cultural context. She grows in these areas while enjoying (most of the time!) life in Hungary. Dyck takes readers with her while she learns, through successes and failures, about a God who is bigger than any nation or culture or person. Through showing her kind and helpful neighbors and by describing her favorite Hungarian meals, Dyck demonstrates a lasting love and respect for her host nation.

At times the book veers into tropes of the American abroad, for example comparing Hungarian culture to American culture and struggling to see the value in the Hungarian way. However, the author’s honesty about this struggle makes her appealingly easy to relate to. Haven’t we all, as expats, been caught struggling to understand something so different from our own previous cultural experiences?

Dyck’s main purpose for living in Hungary was to talk about her faith and she shares the joy and challenges of doing so in the middle of loneliness, exhaustion, and language barriers. The two years abroad stretch her far outside her comfort zone and reveal unique talents that she continues to use today.

Some of her final words sum about the spirit behind this book, which will encourage many women in similar circumstances:

“God delights in using the weak, the ones who people think can’t make it, the ones who are still too often entrapped by their own sin. God exploits these for his glory, to make His strength and compassion known.”

Stepping Stone: Finding Life and Love in a Foreign Land is available at Amazon.

*I received a copy of this book for review.

Stacy Dyck Stepping StonesStacy Dyck grew up in Weatherford, Texas, and later graduated from Hardin-Simmons University. After graduation she moved to Hungary to fulfill her part of the Great Commission. During two years of service she met and fell in love with her now husband, Johann. Eleven years later, after living in Hungary, Czech Republic, and Austria, Stacy is returning to her Texas roots with her husband and two boisterous boys. They live in the Dallas area.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Something Bad?

Quick link: Is Something Bad Going to Happen Tomorrow?

This is a repost (I am on vacation) but sadly is still relevant. It is up at A Life Overseas, with some updated resources.

fire-1265718_1280

Is something bad going to happen tomorrow?

I mean, is something really bad going to happen tomorrow?

Yes.

I guarantee it.

Maybe not to you. Maybe not where you live. But yes, something really bad is going to happen tomorrow.

Sometimes I catch an undercurrent of fear among Christians, a sense that the world might be careening toward the ‘End Times’, an anxiety about the future, and a worry that something might go terribly wrong. If not today, then tomorrow, or next month. (I’m not the only one, Marilynne Robinson wrote about it here)

Guess what?

Something horribly wrong already happened today...

Click here to read the rest of Is Something Bad Going to Happen Tomorrow?

Save

Save