It was the day of my brothers wedding. I respectfully joined the rest of the wedding party by facing away from the congregation, lifting my hands and eyes, and singing to a God I wasn’t even sure I believed in.

This was the moment before God of the universe met me in my chaos. I didn’t know it, but He was preparing to crash in and change all of me forever.

The painful years leading up to my breakthrough were many.

From childhood religion and church were a part of my routine, but not my heart. My family members expressed love, but I felt insecurity and abandonment from a lack of affection from my older brother and father. Even my understanding of who I was became buried at an early age beneath a façade.

I often felt out of control of my own body. I was confused by thoughts of same-sex attraction, and dealing with instability at home. Impersonal sexual encounters became my way of regaining control of my body and simulating connection. Eventually, these vices became the only identity I had.

After one year of college, I decided to go looking for myself: 60 miles away in surreal Los Angeles. The city’s darkness was masked by the beautiful sunsets bouncing from palm tree to palm tree, and the ever-elusive promise of fame, fortune, and belonging. I chased these empty promises with everything I had. I believed that making friends, going to bars, and living a promiscuous lifestyle was somehow going to develop a person, but it only tore me apart.

Most residents in my neighborhood lived a gay lifestyle. I began to believe that I was gay. I felt like I had found myself, and my sexuality became my identity. My comfort came in the arms of other men.  I didn’t know what I looked like on my own, or what to believe in, act like, even prefer or not prefer. I was a master chameleon, taking on the beliefs and opinions of whomever I was around. Many nights I was so horrified of being alone with my empty and depressing thought that I would visit hook-up sites or go to clubs to find someone with whom I could have a sexual encounter.

Eventually I began a relationship, and it became serious within weeks. We moved in together, and I felt that I had become a part of him. There was no Nader, only Nader and his partner.

I came home one night to find him waiting for me in the living room of our tiny apartment. He was sitting on the couch, with the sunlight illuminating our maroon carpet all around him. He confronted me about the previous sexual encounters that I had hidden from him. Fear welled up inside of me; I had wanted to keep this secret forever. I felt sick as I learned that my darkest secrets had been exposed to the one person in whom I found happiness and purpose. Nothing I said could calm him. He insisted that I be tested, and told me that if I did not it would be obvious that I had something to hide.

There were only two answers to the test I would take: HIV negative or HIV positive. I knew I hadn’t been safe with my encounters with other men. I begged and assured him that I was clean, but deep down I was terrified of the possibility that my mistakes could be catching up to me.

I couldn’t tell him no. I couldn’t lose him. I had to belong to someone.

When I got to the testing truck I was greeted with smiles and hugs, and the pity made me sick. I signed forms, swabbed my mouth with cotton, and waited for what seemed like days. I could feel my heart beat in my neck, and could hardly keep myself from breaking down into tears. Then, the man assured me, “Don’t be afraid. You’re clear.” He casually smiled down at me in one of the darkest moments of my life.

That relationship lasted for two years until I realized that it was unhealthy and manipulative. I ended it, and vowed that I would never trust anyone as I had trusted my partner, nor would I be vulnerable again. When I moved home, no less confused and undeveloped than I had been before L.A., I broke into an identity crisis. Who am I apart from this relationship? Who am I apart from Los Angeles? I was wrapped up in this identity I had created for myself, but I had no idea who I really was. The uncertainty overwhelmed and depressed me.

Seeking purpose, I decided to go back to school to pursue nursing, and I was very successful. Obsessive studying and shallow friendships kept me distracted, but I still didn’t know my life’s purpose. I would try to picture my future as a nurse and I would see darkness and confusion. I remember being at breakfast with a friend, desiring a real connection, a conversation about something other than partying… And within minutes, we were talking about the next time we’d get wasted. I felt like there was nothing for me. I often thought to myself: Can I just die? Can I just get it done with?

Hopelessness and depression reigned in my life.

In 2012, my brother proposed to his girlfriend and asked me to be his groomsman.

At the time, he was living in Nashville, attending seminary. He would send me “I’m praying for you” texts that I hated. I hadn’t asked for his pity, or his prayers.

To me, Christianity involved protests, signs, and proposition 8. All I saw was the hate, and that wasn’t me. I believed that whatever god existed had made me gay.

This warped view on Christianity caused me to resent my family because they were devout believers, but I couldn’t say no to my only brother. So, I traveled to Nashville, overwhelmed with anxiety about even going into a church. I had tried so hard in Orange County to perfect myself, and being around Christians brought back the idea that I could never be acceptable. Before I met one person in Nashville, I was ready to fight anyone who dared to judge or ridicule me for my life choices.

My defenses were shattered the second I arrived; my brother, who I had never been close to, welcomed me with incredible love. I doubted that he knew that I was living a gay lifestyle, because I had cut him off from my social life, and I knew he didn’t talk to any of my friends. Then, the first night, I was checking my Facebook and discovered an unread message that I had missed.

The message was from my brother. He said that he loved me, wanted to check on me, and that he knew. He knew, and didn’t care. He knew, and wanted to be there for me anyway.

The message was over a year old.

I couldn’t believe it. I had seen him plenty of times since then, and he hid the fact that he knew. How many times had we sat at the table with our parents while my dad asked me about girls I had a crush on, and he knew the entire time? I was terrified to even look at him.

The rest of the weekend was a battle. I felt afraid and confused, but the weekend was filled with strangers showing me real love and acceptance. Something about the people and their lives was attractive to me, but another part of me clung desperately to my life in California.

The morning of the wedding, my brother’s groomsmen gathered and spoke bible verses and words of encouragement over him. I was so uncomfortable. I had no idea what the verses meant, and I didn’t understand the level of love and brotherly affection they had for each other.  I didn’t know any man who would treat another man like that unless there was something in it for him. The concept of “brotherhood” was lost on me after years of only knowing physical love with other men, and I withdrew from everyone for the rest of the day of the wedding.

Then came the ceremony. The ceremony in the church, with the music, and the worship. I hadn’t been in a church in five years. I hadn’t sung a worship song in five years. I hadn’t heard a worship song in that long. When we all turned to face the screen, I found myself singing, and then praying.

Alright Lord, what is this all about? I don’t even believe in you.

And I heard Him speak.

Let go of everything in California, all of this life that you’ve been living, and just follow me.

My response? No, I’m good. The dialogue continued for three songs. I wasn’t focused or singing anymore. I was completely in my head fighting God, and He was relentless.

I thought back on my life, and the years of emptiness and hopelessness. Then, I thought about the past three days. I had felt more love, community, and comfort than I had experienced in my entire life. People told me they loved me before I knew their names. It hit me with a weight. This love, care, and meaningful friendship was available to me. God had never lost sight of me, and He had never forgotten me, no matter what dark and filthy corner I had run off to. In fact, He had pursued me to this place.

He called to me with a gentle yet authoritative voice, and I surrendered.

Okay. It’s up to you. I’m going to give my life up to you, God.

I started bawling in front of everyone, and there was an immediate change. I was full of incredible light. I had the sense that I was starting my entire life over, and no baggage from the past could follow me. I felt more liberated than I had in 21 years. The freedom came without any amount of time reading the bible, or mentally preparing myself to follow Christ. He didn’t come with any strings attached. All He needed was my heart, and my willingness to give him control. The second I surrendered I felt the Holy Spirit like a huge wave of the purest of waters wash me impeccably clean. There was no shame or fear in coming to Him, He accepted me just as I was.

I returned to California without telling a single person in Nashville about my encounter. The ball was in God’s court, and I watched as a stream of miraculous provision and guidance swept into my life.

While my brother was still on his honeymoon, I emailed him to share what I had happened (with the subject line “Sorry, don’t read on your honeymoon”). He emailed me back right away telling me he had experienced similar struggles, and was now married. The Lord heals everything. His story ignited my belief in full restoration for myself.  Through my brother, I made other friends who had similar stories of sexual sin, and they testified to me about God’s faithfulness in their lives.

As I began to read the bible again, I saw the scriptures in a new way. Falling in love with God and trusting Him with my whole heart illuminated the Word. Instead of reading it as a strict, harsh doctrine, I read it as God’s heart poured out, and the words gave me hope.

I didn’t immediately know my life’s purpose, but I did know where I stood. For the first time in years, I had my own ideas, my own life, and I could see a path into my future.

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Orange County was where I built the foundation for the secret place with the Lord. I would retreat to my parent’s backyard, or to the ocean, and I would spend time with Him. Daily, God laid hold of my heart, caught my sight, and inflated my lungs with his breath of life to capacities previously unknown.

I visited my brother again in August, and by September, Nashville was home. In this new city, people didn’t know me for any other person than who God made me to be.

Of course, not everything was easy.

After the move, an all out war was waged over my life. The enemy’s schemes came against me because I was making a bold move to follow the Lord.

I was frequently confused, and I struggled with temptation even more than I had in California. I was tempted all of the time. It was especially difficult to accept that a move to Nashville wouldn’t fix everything.  The change in my sexuality was gradual. In the beginning, I wanted the best of both worlds. I thought I could be celibate until I married a man. Maybe that would be Christianity? Hearing my brother’s testimony spurred me to hope. At first I didn’t believe it was possible because of how much I was struggling. I thought there was no way I could change; my sexuality had been my identity for so long. I could be praying one second, and then choose to think about someone naked the next. I had to learn to hold thoughts captive and pray them out. I had to learn to rely on the Lord. I purposed myself to focus on Him, and not worry. I knew God could make me straight –  He can do whatever He wants – but that couldn’t be the center of my relationship with God.

I chose to focus on the Healer, and not the healing.

Today, I have seen how sweet the victories are that you can experience through Christ.

I have seen my relationships with my family and my brother miraculously restored. Today, I have friendships and brotherhood with other male friends. Through God’s grace, I have realized that I always had a natural need for strong, guiding male friendship that is rooted in the Lord. He has restored that for me. Today, I have hope, and a plan for the future that involves medicine in a capacity I never could have dreamed. Every day I see promises fulfilled, battles won, and a relationship built between a creature and his humble, ever-sustaining creator.

I know who I am. I have hope. My life has meaning. Jesus has transformed me, mended me, and breathed purpose and victory over my life.

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This story is written in first person. It is a retelling, written by the author listed. Nader has approved this version of the story.

Photo credit: 535 Photo

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