Strong in the Broken: When Extroverts and Introverts Get Married

Today’s Strong in the Broken post is by Janneke Huisman, an essay about negotiating marriage and international living with one extrovert and one introvert.

16 years of marriage asks for a little bit of reflection. Here is something I read online:

“Some of the sweetest connections I have ever seen have been extreme innies and extreme outies. They’re perfect at parties together. The introvert can hide behind the extrovert. EX works the crowd just like she likes it and one by one brings her new friends over to the corner and introduces them to IN (just like he likes it). IN doesn’t compete for attention, and EX shields him from the crowds. IN becomes a sounding board for EX, and EX protects IN from disengaging completely. It works. Not automatically and not without intentionality, but it works, and sometimes it works brilliantly well.” Read the whole thing here.

This quote describes us so well. One of us is the 95% EX, and the other is the 95% IN. It’s up to you to guess who is who. That interesting mix of character is also a confluence of brokenness.

In these sixteen years, we moved through two continents and four countries. A lot of transition and stress came with it. Our kids changed school systems three times and switched languages along with it. All that has had some impact on our family and also our marriage. You might not see it on the outside. We do not fight in public and love each other, that is true. We have decided to stick together. We avoid using bad words and we keep searching for the other’s heart, but it is a lifelong search.

A couple of weeks ago, at a certain moment, we were a bit tense and sad. (At least we were in tune, although it was pretty much in a minor key.) At that very moment, Jelle found this article, and it came to us at the right time. The author compares a marriage with two rivers who confluence and find each other, although not without conflict and two different backgrounds.

“But what we almost never take into consideration is that the biggest thing my partner will contribute to our relationship is her brokenness. Just as the biggest thing I contribute to our life together is my brokenness. This can be masked, can be hidden, it can be denied, it can be compensated for. But eventually our true colors are up the pole, flapping in the wind.  What I choose to do with my wife’s brokenness, what she chooses to do with mine, this is the true test of our hearts; it’s the anvil on which our commitment will be either shaped or shattered.” Read the whole thing here.

The author, Bill Black, includes a lot of pictures of confluencing rivers, ending with the Drava and Danube, around the corner from us. I felt overwhelmed by God’s loving kindness and care in sending this to us at the right time. The strength of our lives lies in our weakness and finding the other in the brokenness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

May God be always at the center so we remain the chord of three strands what is not easily broken, because God, the author of marriages, confluenced us together.

You can find Janneke at her blog

and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janneke.huisman.98

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Strong in the Broken: Thriving through Chronic Illness by Singing and Dancing

Today’s Strong in the Broken essay is by Amy Oestreicher: Thriving with a Chronic Illness By Singing and Dancing About It: How Writing a Musical About My Life Helped Me to Reclaim It. She got me by line 3 because my husband would love it if life were a musical and sometimes he pretends it is. This is a story of turning weakness into strength, using the detour of brokenness to accomplish a creative dream. I love how Amy figured out how to not give in to her sickness but how to be the boss of it and find hope.

It all started with a dream.

I grew up doing musical theatre.

Let me rephrase that. I grew up thinking my life was a musical. Call it the “theatre bug”, call me a “drama queen” or a great big ham – I lived for the world of the stage. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. I read scripts like they were novels. I would play with my playbills from various shows I had seen like they were my Barbie dolls. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality.

I was the kid who got sent to the principal’s office because when the teacher left the room, I would jump on her desk and start tap-dancing. I was the girl who forced every unwilling classmate to join me in a Les Miserables medley, assigning them their designated parts to pass the 30-minute school bus ride.

Even all the way up to high school, I was the theatre-girl. It was my identity, my passion, my livelihood. I sacrificed my social life and gave up many opportunities to immerse myself in what I loved.

I’ve always been warned not to put all of my eggs in one basket, but theatre ran through my veins – it was all I thought about, lived and dreamed. I’d write songs in my assignment notebook as I waited for the school bell to ring, then hop on the train to the next open call I’d read about in Backstage. When I fought with my brothers, I could only debate with them if we could do it in the spirit of a musical theatre duet. They weren’t so keen on that.

So what do you do when you’ve invested everything into your passion and you can’t follow it anymore? I’ve always thought about what would a world-concert pianist would do if he injured his hand, or a dancer breaking a leg…

…but sprains heal and wounds can eventually mend. Dire circumstances felt much more long lasting; when at 18 I awoke from a coma. Although the medical staff—that suddenly became everyday faces—was more concerned about keeping my organs and me alive, I was still trying to grapple with one frightening new concern:

Would I ever be able to sing and dance on stage again?

With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t even talk. From months of bed-rest, the first time I was able to stand up, I was alarmed at how they trembled, as if my legs were Jell-O. I lost the energy to even think about what I loved, and being unable to eat or drink in these new medical circumstances turned my once-steady focus to mush and irritability.

I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic “I don’t knows”, sighs, shrugs, and awkward changing of the topic. However, I remember one occupational therapist gave me words that to her, felt like words of encouragement. She looked at me compassionately, and said, “You never know – the human body is amazing. I had one patient who showed no signs of hope, and a year later, when he was discharged, he only needed a wheelchair!”

(These were not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.)

With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. What I’m glossing over are the multitudes of surgeries, setbacks and frustrations, because what was the most important was my passion – I never forgot how I missed the stage. Even not being able to talk or stand up on my own, I still visualized me singing and dancing. Without theatre, I felt disconnected, purposeless, a has-been. I missed the vibrant girl I remembered being the first to sign up for auditions, now condemned to a realm of medical isolation.

I had always had a dream of combining song and dialogue in a show of my own design. I love the idea of storytelling through theatre, but as a teen, I didn’t really have much of a story to tell. But sometimes, a setback is an opportunity in disguise. Suddenly, I had a tale of hurdles, triumph, and heart.

Eight years after my coma, I was finally headed towards a life of medical stability. I learned through experience that things can heal with time, and that’s not always the prettiest or easiest way. It was an extremely difficult journey, yet when I started to put together a musical of my life, things felt like they had happened for a reason.Now I had a story to tell, a message to share.

My one-woman musical autobiography, Gutless & Grateful, started out as stapled pages of my journal – a few pages from the thousands of journal entries I had completed when unable to eat or drink for years. I selected 16 songs—some of which I had written – that had always resonated with my journey and me, and loosely strung them together to sing for my own therapy. I’d perform Gutless & Grateful for my parents, my dogs, but mostly for myself. Through the songs, I could allow myself a safe place to feel the charged emotions I was still trying to process from years of medical trauma.

I called it my “world in a binder”.   My parents called it “Amy’s little play.” It was no surprise when I had many looks of concern and gentle warnings when I decided to book a theatre in New York for my world premiere!

I performed Gutless & Grateful for the first time in NYC in October 2012. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything – the pain, the medical, the joy, the infuriating – with music, drama, and humor, most importantly. I had played “roles” before, but for the first time, I was honestly revealing my own medical and emotional struggles for hundreds of strangers every night. It was a risk to lay my soul bare, but the reward was in how my own vulnerability caused others to become vulnerable and moved by my own struggles.

Since then, I’ve been performing it in theatres, hospitals, and groups in need of any kind of inspiration and encouragement. When I realized how combining powerful firsthand experience could transform lives, I developed my little-show-that-could into a mental health advocacy and sexual assault prevention program for students. Nearly losing my life at 18 years old, I’m now reaching out to students at that same pivotal point in their own lives.

Medically, my life is far from perfect, but now when a surgery goes wrong, I use it as more material for my show – if we can’t learn to laugh from hardship, we can’t learn anything. And for me, when I learn, I feel alive – that just as trees grow, change and evolve with every season, I can too.

Through Gutless & Grateful, I’m sharing my story and helping others find the gifts and the gratitude in the hardships. And in healing other people, I heal my own self a bit more every day.  I’m not there yet, but just like my show – I’m on the road.

As a performer, all I want to do is give back to the world. Being up on stage and singing is one part of the joy, but what brings the process full circle is knowing that somewhere in the audience, I am affecting someone and making them think in a different way. That is the power of theatre – stirring you to see things differently. Doing what I love, my passion once again can freely flow through my veins, and I’m a person now, not just a patient or a medical miracle. Passion may not heal 27 surgeries, but passion has healed my heart. My passion has re-anchored me in who I am. And for that, I am Gutlessly Grateful.

Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness  and Broadway Theatre for college campuses.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others thrive through difficulties.

As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she’s contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others. 

She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide,  and is this year’s keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability.  Learn more at amyoes.com and sign up for updates on My Beautiful Detour, her upcoming book.

Strong in the Broken: When Cancer and Life Collide

I’m a couple days late with this post. I blame it all on doing multi-state college tours with twin 17-year olds. It was awesome.

Today’s Strong in the Broken post is by Nicole Baldonado, a story of cancer and weakness and learning to rest.

“God, we can’t do it anymore.”

That was me, whispering in the shower, hoping the steaming water would burn away the headache that comes with crying all day.

My husband, Josh, had just told me he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Shock. God, how can this be happening? He’s thirty years old. We have a three-year old and a baby boy. Fears paraded endlessly through my mind.

People told us, “This is the cancer to get.” It’s one of the easiest to treat. They caught it early on, and the doctors are hopeful that Josh will be fine after treatment.

It still scared me to death. In the past few years, we’ve learned by experience that things don’t always “turn out ok” in the end. Or rather, “ok in the end” doesn’t always mean that someone is healed. Bad things do happen. And they happen to all of us. 

This post is an act of transparency. I’m not complaining or venting, and I can think of so many people who have it way harder than me. I’m telling you I understand life can be awful, painful, maddening. I’m honestly admitting that I get angry, become fearful, wallow in grief…but my God is gracious. And I’ll tell you how I know it…

We moved to Ukraine two and a half years ago. Within two months, we lost a baby to miscarriage. In addition to the grieving that comes with losing a baby, taking care of the medical needs was confusing, embarrassing, and fairly matter of fact. It made healing all the more difficult.

That same week, a dear friend in the States passed away unexpectedly. It was heartbreaking not to be with loved ones to grieve alongside them.

For the next six months, I was treated for chronic health problems and told that we should not try to get pregnant yet. Nothing seemed to work. The due date of our baby came and went, and we were still waiting. Any mom who has lost a baby knows that Baby’s due date is a sort of monument in your mind. That day was sad and full of questions without answers.

Eventually, we were overjoyed to get pregnant again!

At five weeks, I started bleeding. I will never forget laying on my living room floor, tears streaming and everything in me crying out, “Why, God?!” My doctor said it was a hemorrhage and gently informed us that the chance of Baby surviving was extremely small.

I was on complete bed rest for a week in the hospital and then for another month at home. No one knew if Baby was alive or not. We tried to make sense of conflicting recommendations from Ukrainian and American doctors. At the end of that month, the doctors told us it was a miracle Baby had made it, that only God had kept him alive. Medically, he should have died.

The pregnancy was stressful and painful, due to complications, but about eight months later, our precious Titus came along. I can’t express the joy and thankfulness we feel, looking at our little miracle.

When Titus was a week old, I woke up in the middle of the night with a high fever and violent chills. I was diagnosed with mastitis, a severe breast infection and told that I may have to quit nursing and have surgery. For the next month and a half, I battled mastitis three times, was misdiagnosed with thrush (another nursing-related infection), and had severe dermatitis.

Once the health problems were resolved, we were relieved to “get on with life as normal.” But as the weeks passed, “normal” didn’t seem quite right. I struggled with exhaustion and insomnia, woke up feeling like I was in a deep, dark hole, cried at stupid things throughout the day, battled with impatience and irritability. It wasn’t a bad day or even a bad week. I looked at my life – wonderful husband, healthy children, all our needs provided for – there was nothing to say I should be feeling the way I did. When Titus was ten months old, I was diagnosed with post-partum depression.

Around that time, we found out that my husband’s remote job, which had been our primary income, was being moved back to the States.

And then Josh went in for a routine physical. And they found cancer.

Thirty years old. A three-year old and almost one-year old. Married for six years. Cancer.

“God, we can’t do it anymore.”

Throughout all this craziness, my responses have not always been…well…ideal. I’ve gotten angry and questioned why God would allow things to happen. I’ve whined and complained and had little pity parties. I’ve given in to crippling fear and wanted to do nothing but lay in bed and hide from the world. I’ve wanted to quit…whatever that means.

On the other hand, I’ve also tried to do all the right things. Read my Bible, pray, go to church, have faith in God. Exercise, try to rest, eat well.

I grew up hearing about God’s grace, how we can’t do anything to deserve His love. But, still, throughout all these challenges, I’ve often thought, “God, You must be trying to teach me something. I’ll get it. I’ll read my Bible more. I’ll pray. I’ll have a good attitude…Then things will be ok.”

And then Josh said to me, “It’s cancer.”

And after a long day of impossible fears, I laid my head against the shower wall and whispered, “God, there’s not an ounce of strength left in me to believe. I can no longer “be strong and of good courage.” I’m tapped.

The next morning, I sat down with my Bible and devotional and actually thought: “Let the bartering begin.” “God, if I read my Bible enough, will you heal Josh? If I have enough faith, will everything be ok?”

And I began to read:

FAINT NOT!

How great is the temptation at this point! How the soul sinks, the heart grows sick, and the faith staggers under the keen trials and testings which come into our lives in times of special bereavement and suffering.

“I cannot bear up any longer, I am fainting under this providence. What shall I do? God tells me not to faint. But what can one do when he is fainting?”

What do you do when you are about to faint physically? You cannot do anything. You cease from your own doings. In your faintness, you fall upon the shoulder of some strong loved one. You lean hard. You rest. You lie still and trust.

It is so when we are tempted to faint under affliction. God’s message to us is not, “Be strong and of good courage,” for He knows our strength and courage have fled away. But it is that sweet word, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Selection, Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings– May 10

Speechless.

Nothing had changed. Every circumstance was the same. Josh still had cancer. We still had no idea what would happen. But, it was like a tangible sense of sweet relief passed over me – in all my fear, all my exhaustion, all my anger, I didn’t have to be strong. God says, “Just rest.”

I’m not going to lie and say from that moment I stopped being fearful or sad or even angry at times. I’ve had my rants and freak-outs and burst into tears in the most public, embarrassing places.

But that’s the point. It’s not about us being strong or being a “good Christian” (whatever that is!). It’s not even that we don’t have to do those things…we literally can’t. There’s a blessing in that, because we know the One who can be strong – who is strength personified. The One who gave His very life so that we – in these moments of desperation – could hear Him say, “Be still. Know that I am God. Just rest.”

Nicole Baldonado is a social worker in L’viv, Ukraine with her husband and two kids. They’re part of a church plant and serve in pastoral support, community building, and discipleship. Nicole also has experience in human trafficking response work. She loves travel and is always on the hunt for a new cultural experience. Having grown up abroad, she’s now fulfilling a lifelong dream of raising her own kids inter-culturally. Nicole writes weekly about life at jnbmission.com and can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/jnbaldonado.

Strong in the Broken: Revisiting the Kidnapping, Reclaiming the Story

Today’s Strong in the Broken post is by Trish and recounts an incredible story of trauma, fear, and healing.

The fear almost overwhelmed me – almost, but not quite. As I slowly made my way down the long gravel driveway, I envisioned dangerous men carrying ropes and blindfolds, plotting schemes against our family, lurking behind every rock and tree. This day, however, I was determined to force the issue. I would stand where the kidnapper had stood – the spot where my son and I had, inexplicably, gone from carefree to captive in a moment’s time. I would stand there and face it alone; not assuming the fear would cease, only knowing that I could not continue to live the life I loved in Honduras, unless I found a way to move forward in spite of the continuing emotional after-effects of the trauma.

Perhaps it would have been advisable to take a furlough, and remove myself, for a time, from the constant reminders of the kidnapping, and from the ever-present concern of additional criminal activities against our family – and I did go, for about a month, and visited with a trauma counselor – but long-term that wasn’t an option. My foster son, Ben, (my son, in non-legal terms, since I’ve raised him since he was a year old), who’d been kidnapped with me, couldn’t legally leave the country, and I wouldn’t abandon him.

My life is here, in Honduras. Continuing to live and work at our farm home requires me to regularly drive through the very spot where the abduction occurred. Conquering the feelings which had become attached to this spot was a necessary step toward taking back my life. I was determined not to let the kidnapper steal this, and the ministry work we love, from me. I wouldn’t let him win!

With music from my ipod accompanying my pounding heart, I slid and stumbled down the steep, rocky drive. When I reached the intersection of the driveway and the road, I just stood and cried, while the memories and the emotions washed over me.

-This is where he waited, gun in hand and face covered, listening for our approaching vehicle and prepared to confront us as we slowly rounded the curve in the rough dirt road.

-This is where I made the determination to stop the vehicle, believing that my son and I would be shot if I tried to accelerate and drive away (I know people who have lost loved ones in this exact manner), but also knowing that this decision put our lives into the gunman’s hands.

-This is where he pointed the gun at us, and forced us to climb into the back of the vehicle – shattering my naively optimistic thought that this was simply a robbery, with the abrupt realization that it was something much worse, something we hadn’t previously recognized as a potential threat in our relatively tranquil part of the country.

-This is where I thought, “We are at least as likely to die, as we are to live through this situation.”

– This is where it happened. A dangerous place – a public but isolated stretch of road, with no reason for anyone to be within earshot. No one would hear calls for help.

The song that had been playing on the ipod while I walked broke through my conscious thoughts, and I heard these words, and it was as though they’d been written for me, and for that very moment:

“No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand”

There wasn’t anything in those words I didn’t already know, of course, but the power of the music, and the intensity of my emotions in the moment when I first heard them caused them to mean so much more to me! I clung to this song, and it became my post-kidnapping anthem, even though I couldn’t hear it without weeping.

Even now, though almost four years have passed since the kidnapping, this song, and the way it came to me at exactly the moment I needed to hear it, brings me to tears – no longer because of a battle with fear, but because of the hard and certain knowledge I gained from this experience. Though I’ve come to know that I am a strong woman who can handle a lot of adversity, it is not my own strength that allows me to continue to live and work – and even thrive – in the exact place where I suffered this trauma.

It was, and is, through the power of Christ that I stand.

In Christ Alone: Stuart Townend & Keith GettyCopyright © 2001 Thankyou Music (Adm. by CapitolCMGPublishing.com excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family, songs@integritymusic.com)

The story of the kidnapping was blogged immediately after it happened in 2013: Ben’s Kidnapping, Part 1

Living in Honduras with my husband, Allen, for sixteen years now, we run a ministry which empowers Honduran missionaries and pastors, and feeds 14,000 children in 150 feeding centers in mountain villages throughout rural western Honduras. I blog at www.sowers4pastors.blogspot.com
FB: Trish Sowers
FB Ministry Page: Sowers4pastors
trish@sowers4pastors.com

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.