I’m Michael, and this is part 2 of my story; check out Part 1, “Imprisoned for Being Gay.” I’d like to believe that 60 is the new 26 though my body tells me otherwise. Over the years two things have remained a constant for me: enjoying nature and Batman (don’t hate). In all my years as a Christian, at least four decades of that has involved doing my own thing. I have so many stories to tell; most of which, you won’t believe are true. I still have trouble believing them myself, but all have been part of God’s plan for me.
Every morning in prison felt like I was still in the Army with routines and structure, but my surroundings quickly snapped me back into reality. Some nights I had nightmares of someone staring at and touching me. Multiple days I’d be propositioned by other prisoners just like the movies show.
How would I go through this every day for ten years just because I was gay?!
It turns out I didn’t have to. Even though I wasn’t aware of it, God was looking out for me. Instead of serving the full ten years of my sentence, I ended up doing only three-and-a-half for good behavior. I can’t tell you how relieved I was, especially because the Army didn’t even entertain my three requests for appeal.
The Army processed me and flew me back to Florida and my home of record. Once I got home, I could feel the shame and embarrassment from my mom and stepfather.
After just a couple months back home, I couldn’t take it anymore. I moved across the country to Seattle because it was the only other place I knew outside my Floridian hometown. I found a new church there with a singles group. They held a retreat one weekend, and I decided to go.
Once there, we broke into groups. One of them said, “Anything said in this circle stays in the group.” I believed them.
I shared my story, including my time in prison and why. The group thanked me for sharing and didn’t treat me any differently during the retreat. It felt great.
We returned home that Sunday. When I showed up Wednesday night for church, someone stopped me at the door. Apparently, someone from the retreat had shared my story with the church staff and I was asked not to return. A little over a decade later, I found out it was the youth pastor; he had found me on Facebook and asked for forgiveness, which I gave him.
But at the time that was the third church to turn me away for being gay, even though I’d never done anything inappropriate with anyone in the church.
At that point, I was done! Done with God, done with Christians, done with church, done with praying, and done with the Bible. I threw every Bible I owned into a dumpster and decided to embrace a gay life even more than I had done previously.
For four years, I had sex with as many guys as I could and didn’t care. In my mind, since God and the church didn’t care about me, why should I?
I was determined to die. We were in the AIDS epidemic, and I was certain I’d get AIDS and die. If that didn’t happen, I’d just try other ways to die. All I wanted to do was get rid of the pain, rejection, shame, depression, anxiety, and loneliness I felt daily.
After those four years in Seattle, I moved to San Diego and decided to go back to church — I really wasn’t happy. Since I never did contract AIDS and none of my suicide attempts followed through, I figured God still wanted me around.
I started attending church regularly while also continuing to have sex with men. After all, I was in a new city; that meant new men.
Years later, I had my first heart attack. I thought it was God’s way of telling me to stop having sex with men. But I didn’t stop. A few months later I had two more heart attacks, but I still refused to stop. Because I was being stubborn and wouldn’t listen to God, He always did what He always does:
He forced me to listen.
One day while watching television I felt some chest pain, certain it was a fourth heart attack. I went to the ER and collapsed in the waiting room. I was taken back for x-rays and other tests. They found blood clots in my lungs and left leg, and I needed surgery. I then got an infection which required another surgery.
After yet another infection I was homebound and hooked up to a machine that collected the drainage from my leg. After a full year of that, I realized God was telling me to stop doing what I doing because He had other plans for me.
Eventually I found myself back in Florida, where I currently reside, but this time around I’ve accepted the things in my past and have actually ended up wearing it all as a badge — not necessarily of honor, but one of survival. Of showing others that with all I’ve been through (believe me, there’s way more to tell), God was with me the entire time.
For decades, I blamed God for every negative thing that happened to me. Only recently have I accepted responsibility for the choices I’ve made. I recently heard someone use this quote:
“All the decisions we made in the past inevitably lead us into the future.”
That’s so true. God gives us free will, and every single minute of every day we make decisions. Last month marked my 42nd year of being a Christian. But as you’ve read, the majority of that was spent doing my own thing.
Though I’m at a better place now in my walk with God, I can’t wonder how it would’ve been had I not strayed like I did. Would I have been another Paul, Martin Luther, Billy Graham, or someone altogether different? I don’t know. Whatever the case, He brought me to this point to be His instrument.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”
1 Peter 5:10 (ESV)
Have you also been cast out of a church community for being gay/SSA? How has God spoken to you or used you despite your straying?