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One of the albums I’ve been wearing out lately is Sara Bareilles’s Kaleidescope Heart. Every songs speaks to me somehow and her style is my favorite. I also happen to think she’s just plain cool. Her personality on Twitter and during live shows is funny and dry and I love it.
I fell in love with “Gravity” almost as soon as I heard it. I mean how much emotion can you fit in one song? I then really discovered how much I liked Sara’s music a year and a half ago when she gave away a few live tracks for free as a “Christmas gift” to her fans. Listening to it always made a stressful day better and I began to look forward to her second album release.
As I listened to the new album last fall, one song specifically spoke to me right where I was at that point in my life. I was still fresh from my first Exodus conference and learning how to be more authentic with myself and the people around me. I was uncertain about a lot but confident in God and where He was leading me.
There are 2 lines that still stir something inside of me. One of those “are you in my head” moments.
If I were fearless, I’d speak my truth and the world would hear this, that’s what I wish I’d do
If my hands could hold them, you see, I’d take all these secrets in my and I’d move and mold them to be something I’d set free
The music and beat of this song is great too. Last time I saw her play live, it had been raining literally all day. The outdoor concert had been postponed almost 3 hours due to the weather. It kind of gave this song a new meaning too. A literal image of how God can rain down on us and “make a brand new ground” in our lives.
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We sing this Hillsong chorus at my church and it’s always been very powerful to me. It’s so simple, yet so huge.
in my life, be lifted high
in my world, be lifted high
in my love, be lifted high
It’s only 3 lines but the last one became my prayer to God – that the way I loved people, the way I loved myself and the way I chose to give my love to others would glorify the Lord. It impacted me so much, it became my third tattoo.
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I’ve been wearing out the same albums over and over lately and it made me think about the songs that have been influential in my journey over the past 3 years.
The first and most important is Brooke Fraser’s “Shadowfeet.” I’ve mentioned before how peace-giving Brooke’s music has been and this song has always been my favorite and I found it at the beginning of this journey I’m on. Here are a few lines that stick out to me the most:
I am changing, less and less asleep, made of different stuff than when I began.
When the world is falling out from under me, I’ll be found in you, still standing.
This song was full of hope when I was hopeless. I can’t even count the number of times I drove with the windows down, blaring this song and singing as loud as I could with all the energy I could muster.
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Lisa Ling’s episode of Our America asked the question, “can you pray away the gay?” I finally got to watch this episode last week and I had mixed reactions. I had a few general opinions on it and now I’m rewatching it to give more specific comments. I’ve never recapped a show before but I may have read enough to sort of have the hang of it. We’ll see. 🙂
Initially, I want to give my answer to the question posed. No, I don’t believe that you can “pray the gay away” and, contrary to most of the comments I’ve seen about the show, I don’t believe at all that if your feelings don’t go away, you aren’t praying hard enough. I personally prayed for God to change me and He hasn’t. I don’t believe I haven’t change because I wasn’t a good enough Christian. My faith isn’t based on what hoops I must jump through to get to a certain level. My faith is about a God who loves me and wants the best for me and has a perfect plan for me and I believe that He will and is with me every step of the way as I work through this struggle. Maybe I will change over time like Alan Chambers did or maybe I will still be like Ethan in 20 years but it won’t be contingent on whether or not I’m “praying hard enough.”
Overall, the episode (and the comments about it on the OWN website and Twitter) left me feeling frustrated and more misunderstood than ever. I felt like I was on the wrong end of a moral battle – that Exodus was blanketed in mystery and shame and The Naming Project was all about bright happy people wearing tie dye. I did not find shame at Exodus. It’s actually one of the few places I’ve found freedom to be me – a Christian who struggles with same sex attraction.
The majority of the comments I saw did not differ from the same ones I see here. People saying that we are denying who God made us and that we are fighting against what is natural. In his interview with Lisa Ling, Alan Chambers said something that I’ve been trying to express (less eloquently for sure) for the past few months.
I’m denying the power those feelings once had over me…I’m not defined by those fleeting temptations. I have chosen to live my life through the filter of my faith and not through the filter of my sexuality.
Lisa Ling comments in the introduction that there are only six verses in the Bible that condemn homosexuality. Even if those verses did not exist, I would still be making this journey. I personally can’t reconcile my faith and my sexuality…and faith wins. Faith wins every time (however ugly the process looks…and I make it look ugly a lot).
One other note about Exodus. I was never told that Exodus would “cure my gayness” or make me straight. In fact, I need to go back and listen, but I recall Alan Chambers actually promising that Exodus would not turn me straight or “cure” me.
Lisa Ling also visited and interviewed a lady name Janet who leads a ministry based on the idea that you can turn off being gay. While I admire Janet’s own journey, my heart breaks a little for anyone expecting their homosexuality to turn off. I believe that’s when depression and suicide attack. Basing your entire faith on whether or not God makes you straight will depress you. Believe me. I’ve been there.
If you are struggling with same sex attraction and looking for answers, please please hear me when I say that I believe with all of my heart that God is powerful enough to snap His fingers and remove any hint of homosexuality in someone’s life. He can do it, I know, and maybe Janet is proof of this. But I also know that if He chooses not to take it out of your life, it does not mean that you don’t matter to Him or that you aren’t good enough. Basing your entire faith on one act of God isn’t faith at all. Of all the things I’ve learned over the past few years, that’s the one thing I wish someone had told me – that He loves you even if He’s saying no.
Another reason I felt misunderstood after watching the episode is because there was a focus on turning from gay to straight. For me, it’s not about turning straight. Ultimately, it’s not even about being “not gay.” It’s about chasing after God and living the life He has called me to.
Later in the episode, Lisa visits a pro-gay Christian camp called The Naming Project. This segment left me very emotional. Jumping ahead a little, Alan Chambers says at the end of the episode that thinks he will see Christians living a gay lifestyle in heaven because life is about the relationship with God and gay Christians have that relationship. After watching The Naming Project’s segment, I honestly struggled with why it is that I can’t be one of those people that Alan talks about and at the camp who can fit their sexuality in the frame of their faith. It’s something I’m still working through – mostly because I’ve recognized this covetous attitude I have toward people living a gay lifestyle. I have to be honest to say that I wish I could have both. I wish that God would come down tomorrow and say that it was ok to give in to the desires of my flesh, but I believe that He has called me (and us) to a higher purpose than what our carnal selves tell us we want.
Something else that they focused on at The Naming Project was that God made them exactly as they were supposed to be. I don’t disagree with this. God says we are fearfully and wonderfully made. This message was loud and clear at Exodus, too. Each of us was knit in the womb by God and God does not make mistakes. None of us are defects.
I am who I am because God wanted me to be that way but we are sinful people in a fallen world and God is calling us to transformation through Him. Maybe your transformation looks like mine and you are on the journey to purity and holiness. Maybe your transformation is learning to be less judgmental and more loving toward people who are different than you or maybe it’s leaning on Him instead of yourself.
I’m grateful for this episode for two reasons. One: it got people talking about church and homosexuality which it seems that hardly anybody does. Two: it made me think things out. A lot of questions came up and I had to search my heart for the answers. I’m still working through some of these and can’t even pretend to have the answers. As much as I know that most of you will taking shots at the holes in my post, I do appreciate the conversation.
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Lisa Ling has a new show on Oprah’s new network (OWN) called Our America and tonight’s episode addresses the Christianity vs. Homosexuality issue. Lisa was at the Exodus Freedom Conference this summer as part of her research. As far as I can tell from the website, a segment of tonight’s episode features the conference and an interview with Exodus president Alan Chambers. You can watch a quick sneak peek here. I won’t be able to watch until later this week but I’m interested to hear what those of you who are able to watch think. If anything, I hope you get a glimpse of what my experience at Exodus was like and hear from a more eloquent and experienced speaker than myself. 🙂
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This is about what I learned at Exodus, too but I couldn’t quite break it down in bullet point form. If I had to choose 2, they’d be:
- God calls us to lean into Him for what we need.
- Idolatry happens when you look to get what only God can give you from something else and when you make what is “good” the “ultimate” in your life.
One concern I had in preparing for Exodus was the abundant amount of possible temptation I could possibly run into. It was a conference full of people who struggle with the same thing I do and I’d be spending a lot of time talking, eating, learning and even rooming with other women who struggled with SSA (same-sex attraction). I addressed the rooming situation with them before I went and it turned out completely fine. A lot of prayer goes into the rooming situations, in case you were wondering…because I was. 🙂
I don’t think I realized how green I was to living with SSA until I met so many women at Exodus who were so much further ahead in their journey than I was. I was pretty young compared to most of the people I met, it seemed. So when I made a new friend, M, I was excited to get to know someone closer to my age who I felt like had a similar story to mine. I immediately recognized that this was a situation that I might possibly be tempted, so I tried very hard to stay self-aware and let my SGL know. Still, however, I started having feelings for M.
That made me really frustrated and mad because I didn’t want to be “that girl” who falls for a girl at gay camp or the predatorial girl who was looking for someone to pounce on. I struggled with it intensely and did my best to put some distance between us but, at the same time, I was really upset that I’ve finally met a well-balanced person who identifies with me and who I clicked with and it was getting all screwed up.
During worship the 3rd morning, I ended up sitting by M and was really trying to focus on what God wanted to teach me in this but I kept getting distracted. I turned into a 6th grader who wonders if the person sitting next to me meant to accidentally brush my hand with theirs to send some sort of sign that she, too, was thinking what I was (was I the only 6th grader who did that? maybe i was…). As we stood for the final worship song that morning, I could physically feel myself leaning toward M with some sort of desperate hope that she’d be leaning toward me too. At the same time, I could feel and hear God saying “Why are you leaning toward what you know can’t fulfill you? I can fulfill you. I am steady. I am with you always. Lean on me. Press into me.”
Don’t we all do this to some aspect? We lean on our finances or relationships or social status to give us what we think will fulfill us. All the while, knowing that God is the only one who can satisfy. My pastor recently defined an idol as “something you look to give you what only God can.” At that moment, I was making a relationship with M my idol instead of worshiping God, literally.
Ultimately, I felt myself get weaker and weaker in my attempt to leave M alone in my thoughts and I confided in one of the the women both of us had spent some time with. Before I told her, I was literally shaking and super-emotional. Looking back now, I don’t think I was so upset because of what was tempting me. I was upset because I didn’t want to let it go. I was fighting the confession because what I didn’t confess, I could keep in my mind and live there when I wanted to. The woman, who was one of those who was much much further along in her journey, pretty much recognized how I was feeling before I ever told her and she gave me some very encouraging words and prayed with me.
I ended up talking to one other woman who gave more encouraging words and I am so thankful I had those people near me when I felt so weak and confused and frustrated. I’m also extremely thankful that I can still keep in touch with them and get advice when I need it. Since Exodus, M and I have kept in touch a little bit but ultimately she’s distanced herself quite a bit and I’ve had to deal with that on my own. Being the codependent people-pleaser that I am, I’ve wanted to reach out and apologize for something. I’m not even sure what I’d apologize for. I never put her in a compromising position or told her how I felt (apparently, that’s kind of like the golden rule at Exodus…don’t tell another struggler that you struggle with them…makes sense). I think any attempt at an apology would just be an excuse to bring up a bunch of stuff that doesn’t need to be brought up with her.
After taking some time to really think about M and how I felt about her, etc., I came to the conclusion that my feelings for her were the devil’s way of getting me unfocused at Exodus. My pastor uses another phrase when talking about idols, saying that “idolatry happens when we make what is good, ultimate.” That’s what I did with M. She and I had some really great conversations about my journey and she wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions and be painfully honest with me. I think there was a lot of room there for a really genuine, honest, accountable friendship with M, but I feel like I pretty much ruined that opportunity when I made her “ultimate” because I thought she was cute or whatever. I made other friendships at Exodus that were very similar and they were and are just fine and healthy. They are good things that I don’t place above my relationship with God.
Reflecting on all of this has made me realize that the devil attacks when God is up to something in my life. When I feel weak or tempted or doubtful about this whole journey, I have to step back and wonder what good work God is trying to do in my life that’s grabbed the devil’s attention. I don’t know if this is theologically accurate and I’m not claiming that this is the cure for all of my struggles, but it does give a little hope – which I need as much as I can get these days. Learning to focus on what God has in store for my life takes so much effort. But the good and great things that came out of Exodus have proven to me that it’s worth the effort.
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Finally! An update on my time at Exodus.
“…a paradoxical time warp of two months that have flown by in slow motion.”
That’s the best way I can describe how the time has gone by since I returned from Exodus about two months ago. There was so much information to take in that I feel like I’ve only begun to genuinely digest. And, at the same time, so much I feel like I’ve learned and achieved since I got back. Writing this post has almost been overwhelming because I didn’t know how to fit in everything I wanted to say without making it too long.
I met with my small group leader a few days after I got back and, by that time, I had come up with a bulleted list of the things I had gotten out of Exodus (it’s easier to fit all of that into a lunch hour if you prepare a bulleted list!) So I figure I’ll start there and, hopefully, expand on the things I feel like expanding in the future. Before I start, I do want to say that, while I was incredibly anxious and uncertain about going at all, the conference ended up being a very comforting, positive and assuring place to be and I would recommend it to anyone in my situation or a situation close to it.
• “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality…it’s holiness.”
Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, spoke the first night and this is the point that really stuck out to me. My first exposure to Exodus was actually not in the most positive light. When I was seriously questioning pretty much everything, I found a girl on MySpace who talked a lot about going to church with her partner and I asked her how she fit the two in her life. She responded that she had tried everything to make her feelings “go away” including being sent to Exodus programs among other things. Immediately, that put Exodus in “they’re going to try and turn you straight” category and it stayed there. One of the main focuses of Alan Chambers’ message that night was that they were not here to turn anybody straight. This was a good start for me because it switched the focus for me. I started to think about what God wanted to teach me regarding the bigger picture rather than this specific piece of my life. Homosexuality is a specific piece (bigger and more dense sometimes). Holiness is the bigger picture.
• God shows up more than I think He does because I’m so focused on the time that He didn’t.
One thing that happens organically at Exodus is that you end up telling your “story” a lot. I told different pieces of my stories throughout the conference, but it always included a point in my life when God didn’t show up like I expected Him to. I realized over the week that I’m so focused on that one time He didn’t show up, that I take for granted the times that He did. It’s almost as if He made it blatantly obvious that He shows up and it happened in some cool ways.
Before I left for the conference, I asked my small group leader if she would be one of my accountability partners through the week and we scheduled a few times for me to check in and updated her on how it was going. Once I got there, it suddenly hit me that I was alone. I had been so focused on the actual conference and preparing for the content, that I failed to prepare myself for being completely on my own. I had a great roommate but she was also a volunteer so I had some down time by myself before the first dinner. I got on the phone with SGL (all about assigning letters to people – in this case..Small Group Leader) and updated her on my feeling alone and she offered some words of encouragement.
As soon as I hung up with her, I went and sat on a bench near a group of people who obviously knew each other trying to talk myself into jumping into their group. I’m not the most outgoing person in the world this would have been hard without the added anxiety that hadn’t dissipated at that point. Not a minute later, a nice lady sat near me and asked where I was from. Turns out, the two of us actually live less than 15 minutes from each other here in Nashville. It was her first conference too so we chatted a minute, then her roommate (a conference veteran) came up and all of the sudden, I had a full table of people to sit with at dinner. I wasn’t alone anymore. A few other things like this happened over the next few days and I began to realize that after I voiced my need or struggle with SGL, I found an answer to it not long after. I really feel like it was God saying “If you’ll open your eyes and soften your heart, you’ll see me showing up. I show up for you when you need it.”
Since it’s taken me over 2 weeks to write this post, I’ve decided to do my bullets in installments. So there are the first two, look for more soon.