Saturday, March 23, 2013


I cried today.

Okay...not an all-out cry. Perhaps "I teared up today" would be better, but even that is noteworthy. I'm not a crier, at least not normally. I don't know why. On one hand, I'm deeply emotional, but those emotions just usually don't leak out my eyeballs. I didn't even cry watching Les Mis...which apparently makes me more machine than man.

There have only been a handful of times I've wept openly--if you can even call crying in your bed at night weeping "openly." Maybe it was fear of the future...or frustration over a broken relationship. Even those times, it felt, "I should be crying right now. I need to cry."

So what turned on the water works today? It wasn't anything devastating. It wasn't anything frustrating. It was actually something quite beautiful.

I was catching up with a friend over coffee. It had been a while since we had talked, and I wanted to hear how things were going with him and his girlfriend. He gave me the run-down of their relationship over the past couple months. It was going very well. It was a relationship centered on Christ. By "centered on Christ," I mean more than just reading the Bible together, going to church together, and not sleeping together. I mean they were daily demonstrating the love and mercy of Christ in each other's lives. Both had made mistakes, and both were experiencing the love and forgiveness of Christ more fully because of their love and forgiveness for each other. They saw Jesus more clearly because of one another.

I finally had to ask the question, "So...what are you thinking about the future?"

He didn't miss a beat as he looked me straight in the eye. "I love her. I'm going to marry her."

That's when I lost it. I don't know what happened. My eyes welled up, and I instantly tried to disguise it by coughing. But no, I thought, this is okay. This is beautiful.


I got another save-the-date in the mail last week. I've stopped putting them on my fridge, partly because I'm running out of room, but also because, well...engagement pictures have started making me ill. I don't want to be that guy. I don't want to be the guy that gripes about how he's always the groomsman and never the groom...the guy who gets all cynical about love and matrimony. But it's hard.

It's hard enough when you're still actively looking, hoping that around the next corner you just might meet your future bride. Sure it can get lonely, but there's always hope. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next year. But what about when your prospects are a little bleaker--when you're dealing with the fact that marriage might not be in the cards for you? What about when you so desperately want to start a family, but due to circumstances out of your control, that's highly unlikely (if not impossible)?

Call me bitter. Call me cynical, but smiling couples gazing into each other's eyes aren't what I need to see when pulling out another frozen entree that I'm about to scarf down over the kitchen sink.

Whenever I hear about another friend who's started dating, or another college acquaintance pops up engaged on Facebook, I'm normally fighting cynicism or mild depression. So why today-- when faced with another friend thinking about a ring--why did I have the opposite reaction? Why was I so overcome with such uncharacteristic happiness that I shed such uncharacteristic tears?

To be honest...I really don't know.

For a very long time, like the Avett Brothers' song, it's been "winter in my heart." There's nothing warm in there at all. The air in there is frigid cold. I think that's mostly been a defense mechanism. I've kept my heart frozen, afraid to let it feel anything. If I have to go through life alone, better to keep my heart frozen solid than to risk the pain of disappointment.


Last year, I tried dating another girl, thinking this time it would be different. It wasn't. After a few dates, once again, there was nothing. I was so bitterly disappointed. This was definitely a low point for me, and it was the first time I'd ever given up on the idea of marriage--the first time I'd ever let go of the idol of wedded bliss. On one hand, this was a very healthy step. I needed to get to the place where I was no longer demanding things from God, where I was content to follow Jesus, even that meant following him down the road of singleness. But on the other hand, as I let go of this marriage idol, I think I was also pushing my heart back into deep freeze. I was resigned to a life of singleness, so I wouldn't be needing this heart anymore, now would I?

When I take inventory of my heart, it's definitely still winter. It's still coated with a thick layer of frost. But these tears today...they are a sign of something happening. I don't know what it is yet, but it's different. Is it a thaw? Dare I hope? 

Today, when those tears leapt to my eyes, I felt. I felt deeply, and it felt good. I was warmed by the idea of love, not my own love, but someone else's love--not my relationship, but someone else's relationship. I normally have to fake that kind of feeling.

Now, I don't want to confuse metaphors. I'm not saying I feel my attractions or my orientations changing. No, not at this point...not on a broad scale. But when I felt today, when my heart felt something like that, it made me rethink retiring my heart to the back of the freezer just yet. For the first time in a while, marriage (and it's picture of Christ's love for the Church) was more beautiful to me than repressive or exclusive. I wanted it. I wanted it the way God intended it to be...the way He designed it.

I'm fully aware this may not be God's plan for me...and that's okay. The only fundamental ingredient to my happiness is Christ, and anything I try to add to that equation is idolatry. But I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet, and I don't think God wants me to. I'm not actively seeking a wife right now, but I don't want to close myself off to the possibility. If I go ahead and put my heart into deep freeze (at least the part of my heart that longs for this kind of intimacy), it won't go bad, but it'll never experience what I got the smallest taste of today. Am I risking pain, hurt, sorrow, frustration? Sure...but that's life. And right now, I think life is well worth the risk. 

I'm not declaring victory. Shoot, I don't know if I'm even declaring war. There's still an awful lot of snow on the ground. But when I cried today, I saw a flower poking its head up through the frost. It told me, hold on...spring is coming. It may not look exactly how you've always imagined. It may not be what you're expecting. It may not even be just what you want. But it's coming. Spring is coming. Don't lose hope.

Spring is coming.

Your Brother Behind the Mask

"I was hoping winter was over." -- Lars

"No, it's just a thaw -- winter isn't over until Easter." -- Margo

--Lars and the Real Girl

Monday, March 18, 2013


I was talking to my counselor the other day about the trickiness of deciding who to tell about my same-sex attraction...and when. He smiled warmly and leaned back in his chair. He wisely didn't offer advice or direction, but rather mused, "There are so many complexities at work here, aren't there?"


I've already discussed the inner-turmoil that can come from being a same-sex attracted Christian and the need for space to struggle. Forget other people trying to fit me into their categories, I've been spending my whole life trying to fit myself into a box...a box that I can understand.

The inward wrestling match is difficult enough, but I'm starting to get a taste of the bumps and twists and turns waiting for me on this road ahead called the "Christian life." Sometimes it feels like I'm speaking from two different angles. I'm trying to convince these people over here that yes, I believe the Bible says homosexual practice is a sin and that my homosexual orientation is a result of a fallen world. But then I'm also trying to tell these other people that I don't hate gay people and, maybe even more, that I don't hate myself.

On one hand, I stand in solidarity with the LGBT community. I stand against hatred and ignorance and discrimination...especially in the Church. I stand for the dignity and inherent worth of all people, regardless of belief or practice.

On the other hand, I stand with those who believe God intended covenant marriage to be between one man and one woman, that sexual intimacy is reserved for covenant marriage, and thus, that any sexual intimacy outside of that is off-limits for followers of Christ.

But on the third hand, I don't think it's the government's place to regulate or administer covenant marriage. That's the Church's job. So why does it really matter how the government defines marriage? If we disagree with the definition...okay. We also don't agree with sex outside of marriage, but it's still legal, so...what are you going to do?

"Mr. Mask, is that your official endorsement of gay marriage?" I have no idea.

If you put a ballot in front of me right now, I have no idea how I'd vote on marriage equality. To be honest, at this point, I probably wouldn't feel comfortable voting either way. And you know what, that's going to frustrate a lot of people--a lot of people that normally wouldn't get frustrated about the same things.

I've said before that unless God allows me to marry a woman, I am committed to a life of singleness and celibacy. But I'm not actively seeking orientation-change through therapy or any other methods. I believe this cross will be something I carry for my whole life. I don't think I'll ever not be attracted to men at all, or that I'll ever be sexually attracted to women (in general). But I do think it's possible for partial change to take place. I think it's possible for me to be sexually attracted to one woman in particular. Yes, I do continue to pray that God allows me to get have a wife and kids.

And then it begins:

"Okay, well that's great that you've made that commitment. But certainly you're not implying that everyone should reach the same conclusion..."

"What do you mean you'll always be attracted to men? This is not God's will for your life! Why wouldn't you try everything possible to change?"

"So you're at peace with being celibate. Cool, fine, but won't others just use your story to bully those who aren't at peace with that?"

"You should be more public with your story! God could really use you to show how you can live faithfully as a same-sex attracted Christian!"

"You should be more public with your story! God could really use you to show people how bigoted and ignorant their views of homosexuality are."

"Are you sure you're being called to ministry? Isn't that just a recipe for trouble?"

"This is how you've been created. Holding out any hope of change will just leave you depressed and angry at God!"

"Why are you so afraid to call yourself gay? It doesn't speak to your behaviors or choices...only your orientation."

"No! Don't say you're gay! People might get the wrong idea!"

"You would get married even if you're still have a same-sex attraction? Is that really wise?"

"Why are you doing this to yourself?"

"Why are you doing this to us?"

"You need to love other people more."

"You need to deny yourself."

"You need to love yourself."

"What would Jesus do?"

"What would Jesus do?"

There's a lot of people who love Jesus who wind up believing different things about what exactly Jesus would do. That can make this business of following Jesus pretty messy. I realize my story may upset people all along the spectrum of belief on this issue, but at the end of the day, all I can do is tell my story.

And as you read my story, wherever you're coming from or whatever your beliefs, I pray you will see more of Christ and less of me. Where we agree, I pray you will see encouragement. Where we disagree, I pray you will see humility and grace. In all things, I pray we find unity in our diversity, a unity that can only exist when centered on Christ. It's our job as the Church, the Body of Christ, to show a broken world how the gospel can unite people who would only be enemies apart from Jesus.

My story is complex. Your story is complex. Let us continue to love each other in the midst of complexity and look forward to the day of redemption. That day, all of our stories will finally make sense as we see their threads coming together to form one story...the Story. Praise Jesus.

Grace, peace, & even more grace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jesus Picture.

"Excuse me, young man, I'd like to give you something..."

I looked up from my computer to see an older gentleman standing there...awkwardly. I was in a different coffee shop than usual...where I go when I need to mix things up. I was trying to get some writing done and decided a change of scenery would get the creative juices flowing.

I smiled politely as I pulled out my earphones. He continued with his spiel, which I'll admit I don't really remember. He spoke fast. He and his wife were traveling, they were involved in a ministry, they had gone to some college, he had been asked to draw a picture of Jesus for the college's yearbook, here was a copy of the picture, it conveniently had the plan of salvation printed on the back, I could use it as a bookmark...or something.

Without waiting for a response, he handed me the homemade tract and returned to his seat. Another young guy had just entered the coffee shop, wearing skinny jeans, a beanie, and a sweet handlebar mustache. He took the seat right next to the older gentleman...but strangely enough, he didn't get offered a Jesus picture. Maybe my T-shirt, jeans, and clean-shaven lip looked more ripe for the harvest.

I don't really mind getting evangelized in public places. I could definitely use more boldness for Christ myself, and I respect those with the courage to engage strangers. However, I do like when people start off with a question. Something relevant like, I don't you know Jesus? First of all, it saves them some breath. But also, it shows that they care enough to get some basic info before telling me how to change my life.

So there I sat, holding Jesus. He had been thrust upon me. I didn't really know what to do with him. The older gentleman was still sitting right there. I couldn't just put Jesus in my pocket. I couldn't stuff Jesus in my backpack. The gentleman had suggested I use Jesus as a bookmark, but I didn't have any books with me (although I wish I could have pulled out my ostentatiously large ESV Study Bible to put Jesus in for safe keeping.)

I finally set Jesus down on the arm of my chair. At least we weren't making eye contact. It actually felt like Jesus was avoiding eye contact...come to think of it, he actually looked a little pissed.

But the older gentleman was not finished "engaging" his fellow coffee shop patrons. He pulled out his cell phone and started making calls to friends and family--all just to catch up. Roughly half of these calls were on speaker phone. (I never figured out how he decided which ones were on speaker and which weren't.)

It became clear that we were all supposed to hear these conversations. He was passive-aggressively evangelizing us. He was telling us his story by making us eavesdrop. He was sharing the gospel to a captive audience who couldn't respond, who couldn't say "no." I put my earphones back in and turned up the volume.

"Whaddaya think about the pope?" I heard him ask one woman, identified as "Viv." Viv was not on speaker phone, so I couldn't hear her take on the papacy. "The pope!" he said again, "The new pope! You know, the Catholic church? In Rome? Rome! Yes, there's a new pope! The old pope retired. No, I don't know why..."

Apparently, Viv wasn't Catholic...or even paying attention in the slightest.

"Yeah, well, you know the Catholics all wanted someone more liberal. Someone who'd make women priests, say abortion is okay, and then all that homosexual stuff. But it sounds like that's not who they got!"

The hair on my neck stood up. I was not listening in on some private conversation. He was speaking to be heard. The dude with the mustache looked uncomfortable. Heck, I was uncomfortable. I looked down at Jesus for some affirmation, but he still wouldn't look at me.

I finally had enough. I was just getting mad. I couldn't focus on my writing anyhow. I packed up my things (perhaps a little more demonstratively than necessary) and left the shop. Jesus came along too. I couldn't just leave Jesus behind, even if he wouldn't look at me. He might get thrown away.

Even now, as I sit here typing this, Jesus is sitting on the bed next to me. I can't throw him away, but I want to. Something about this picture really bothers me. Why won't he look at me? Why is he looking up and away like that, with his arms crossed? Is he waiting for me to get my act together? To say I'm sorry? Is he waiting for me to "pray the prayer printed below"? Haven't I already prayed that prayer? Yes. Many, many times.

Maybe it bothers me because this image was just forced upon me. I didn't have the opportunity to reject it. I didn't ask for it. He just handed it to me and left. What am I supposed to do now?

I can't help but project the older gentleman's characteristics on this Jesus. He didn't really care about me. He never asked me any questions. He didn't ask if he could talk to me. He didn't even ask my name. He knew nothing about me. I was just an easy target...and apparently an easier target than the guy sitting next to him.

No, he didn't want to listen to me. He didn't even want to talk TO me. He wanted to talk AT me. He wanted me to get his message without having to engage with me. Who knows? I could be messy. I might ask questions. My response might not fit into the clear-cut 7-step plan of salvation printed on the back of Jesus. There might be parts of my story that didn't fit his categories. 

In his conversations, I heard intolerance and disdain. I heard ignorance and misunderstanding. I heard plenty of all that, but still I didn't hear a monster. I also heard a lot of faith. I heard a lot of prayer. I was moved as I heard him discuss his wife's battle with cancer. I wanted to put this guy in a box and dismiss him, but I couldn't. He was more complex than that. I just wished he could see my complexity. I wished the Jesus he gave me could see my complexity, but the Jesus he gave me wouldn't even look.

The reason I haven't thrown this picture away probably goes back to a silly Sunday-school superstition...but I need to do it. I need to throw it away. This Jesus is aloof and distant. I imagine him tapping his foot, waiting for me to finally get it through my thick skull how ridiculous I've been. The corners of his mouth betray the slightest of if he's almost even enjoying the distress he's causing me.

This is not Jesus of Nazareth. This is not Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. This is a jesus we've created after our own image. This is a jesus on whom we can project all our insecurities and self-absorption. This is a jesus who affirms nothing but our deepest fears.

This jesus is going in the trash. 

I will instead turn my eyes to Jesus, my friend and my Savior. Jesus, full of life. Jesus, who didn't wait for me to come to him, but who ran to meet me, embracing me, wiping away my tears.

'Tis that look that melted Peter | 'Tis that face that Stephen saw | 'Tis that heart that wept with Mary | Can alone from idols draw.
Captivated by His beauty | Worthy tribute haste to bring | Let His peerless worth constrain thee | Crown Him now Unrivaled King.

This is the picture of Jesus we need to see. This is the picture that changes hearts and changes lives. When I see Jesus not just looking at me, but looking into my very soul, and still loving me...that leads to transformation. That leads me to love Jesus even more, and it leads me to reflect his love to those around me.

I don't want to hand people a jesus picture that looks like me. I want them to see the real thing.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cozy Closet.

My closet is cozy. It's safe, it's's familiar

Yeah, dude, looks like you're having a great time out there, but no thanks, I'm perfectly happy right my closet. I like it in here. I do. I promise. Really.

If you've ever seen my bedroom, you of course realize I'm referring to my proverbial "closet." My real closet smells funny...and there may be animals in there. I don't know. Ignorance is bliss.

But cozy closet is the one I've lived in my entire life; the doors that hide my sexual orientation from the world. For years, these doors have convinced all my loved ones that I'm straight--straighter than an arrow, in fact. I'm always a little proud of myself when a friend tells me, "wow...I had no idea" after I come out to them. You're darn right you had no idea. I got this closet business down to an art form.

The closet doors cracked open for the first time in college--late college. I told my pastor that I was attracted to guys. I was terrified, but he responded with grace and compassion. It was the first time I'd ever shared this burden with anyone, and it was incredibly liberating. I thought I was done. Okay, I told someone! Glad that's over with...

I had cracked the door. I let a sliver of light pierce the darkness. I had let someone peek inside, someone I trusted deeply. Now I could close the door back and go on with my life, right? I told my pastor over and over that I was a heterosexual guy who just so happened to struggle with same-sex I had struggled with acne. This was just a little bump in the road--something to overcome on my quest to find my hot Christian wife and make adorable Christian babies.

As I finished college and moved on, I told a handful of other people...mostly other pastors or mentors. I was looking for accountability. Nothing else. I needed people who would ask me the hard questions, but I didn't want those people to get too close. If my family and closest friends knew, well...that could just change my life, couldn't it?

You see, as constricting as this mask can be at times, I love my life. Sometimes I forget I'm attracted to other guys. I forget how difficult the road ahead will be; I'm too busy playing my part. I love talking to friends about their relationships. I love talking to friends about my relationships--about the girls I've dated, the girls I want to date. I'm constantly referring to my future wife, my future kids. This is the future I've always dreamed of. It's comfortable. It's cozy. It makes everyone happy. It's not me.

While the world watches me talk of future wedded bliss, I'm silently coming to grips with the fact that wedding bells might never ring for me. I get pissed when friends assume I'm actively seeking a mate, and I forget that I've given them no reason to believe otherwise.

So what's the big deal? There's plenty of people who get married later in life. Some people never do. Why can't I just continue with the act? I've done it this long. Why can't I just tell a few people, a small inner-circle of trusted mentors, and go about my business? Why tell people this secret? Why share this burden? This closet is cozy. It's comfortable. People like me in here.

Someone shared this quote with me not too long ago. It's from Timothy Keller, a pastor in Manhattan.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.”

I think he's talking about marriage in this particular context, but what about those of us who are unmarried--those of us who might remain so for a very long time? Possibly forever? I identify deeply with his first statement. I'm loved by many, but known by so few. So many don't know this huge part of my story.

Their love is comforting, and they really do love me. But locked away in my closet, their love bounces right off the closed doors of my heart.

Recently, one of my best guy friends was asking me repeatedly if I was still pursuing a certain lady, the one I had seemed so sure about. I said no. He asked why not. I didn't know what to say. Did something go wrong? Was I not attracted to her? I tried to change the subject. I either had to clam up and act like a middle-school boy afraid to talk about his crush...or lie to one of my best friends. I hated it. I certainly didn't blame him. He was asking very valid questions to his friend...his friend who had very convincingly led him to believe they were valid questions. 

Now you're thinking: "Wait, you could still answer those questions honestly. Just tell him no, you weren't attracted to her. That's honest, right?" Yeah. Technically. But there's so much more to the story. So much more at play. Do you know how hard it is not to talk about something like this with your best friend? To have to choose your words so carefully and not actually share the enormous burden weighing on your heart? Could I so simply say, "Yeah, I guess she's just not the one" and leave it there? I wouldn't let my friends get away with nonsense like that...would you

This guy had been an incredible friend to me, but his love felt superficial. Not because it actually was superficial, but because I wouldn't let him in. Way deep down, I was afraid that if he really knew me, he wouldn't love me. Story of my life.

So yes. I finally told him. And it was very good. He is a very good friend.

This was just one conversation of a growing number. Over the last few months, I've been sharing my full story with more and more people. I have a list of "those who know," and that list currently has 13 names. The list of "those to tell" is quite a bit longer, and yes, my family is at the top of that list.

It's scary to open those doors. Once you tell someone, you can never un-tell him. You can't say "never mind" and run back inside. But that's friendship. Friendship isn't's vulnerability. It's honesty. It's openness. It's loving someone in the middle of his brokenness. It's bringing all your shit to the table and letting him love you.

I've been blessed way beyond what I deserve. God has given me wonderful, supportive friends. That list of 13 names includes many dear brothers and sisters who have each listened to my story, sometimes in tears, always in love. Despite all their many words of encouragement, it's been their actions that have spoken the loudest, that have most pointed me to Jesus. They have continued to treat me as a friend, as a brother, They have embraced me. They have told me they loved me. They have wept with me, laughed with me, and walked with me.

I've been taught my whole life that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I've been taught that Jesus sees me to my core. He knows my deepest, darkest places, and he loves me...delights in me! All this I've been taught, and I've believed it. But what takes this knowledge from theological abstraction to tangible experience?

After my conversation with this good friend, as I rose to leave, he hugged me. He told me he loved me, and in that moment, I knew Jesus loved me too. The love of Christ was made tangible for me through the love of my brother in Christ. This has happened now time and again...from all these brothers and sisters who know my story...through embraces, conversations, emails, and even text messages.

My closet is very cozy, but every time I leave it, no matter how briefly, it's a little less comfortable when I return. It seems smaller, more cluttered, more...artificial. It smells a little worse (a little more like my real bedroom closet?) I curl back up on the floor, go back to my same patterns, my same lines. It feels so familiar, but yet so fake.

But right now, it's where I live...and for now, that's okay. It's a whole lot more bearable now that friends know where to find me.

When the closet door is open, my sin has nowhere to hide. Satan's lie (that no one really loves me, least of all Jesus) stops holding water. As I tell my story, I can also tell God's Story...the Story of Redemption.

It's scary. It really is. I don't know just how far these doors are going to open. Will I someday be locked out of my cozy little closet, unable to return? I have no idea, but I know Who does:

"I may not know the way I go, but oh, I know my Guide."

I'll trust my Guide with the future. Right now, I'll just keep inching that door open. The Light is hitting my face, and it feels glorious.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask