Let me begin by saying that this is quite possibly the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.
The World Race taught me how to be vulnerable with others, how to admit failures, and how to celebrate growth, but doing those things on a public platform is way different than doing it in front of one or two teammates.
So here it goes… This is my story.
Growing up, I was pretty weird for a little boy. The three most influential people in my life were my older sister, my mom, and my grandmother, so I picked up a lot of their mannerisms from an early age. I never really got into sports and my favorite hobbies included gardening with Grandmama and catching butterflies (if that tells you anything). I didn’t have many friends, and I suffered a great deal of bullying at school. My small stature and my squeaky voice earned me the label of “gay” since I was about 10 years old. In my Mississippi culture, being called “gay” was probably the most demeaning and offensive thing anyone could say to a little boy, and I grew up hating the people around me because of the way I was treated.
In middle school, my parents divorced, we stopped going to church, and my home life went to chaos. My identity had already been ravaged at school, but I felt completely lost and alone in the midst of the turmoil at home as well. The bullying got worse and more aggressive as we got older and everyone started finding their niches in different friend groups. I quickly discovered that I did not fit into any of the cliques that rapidly formed around me, and I was grasping for anything that resembled stability. Around that time I was introduced to pornography, and it quickly rotted my brain and took control of me. Since I felt so alienated, I began to believe the lies that I had been hearing for years…
“Maybe I am gay,” I thought.
“Maybe that’s why I don’t fit in.”
I managed to make friends with another angsty teen in my 9th grade year (whom I’ll call Jordan). She, too, was questioning her sexuality and her identity in the world. Together we contemplated life and deliberated the existence of God among other things. Having another person with similar experiences made me feel free to open up to her, so she then became the only other human being who knew my struggle to find out my own sexuality. One day, Jordan came to me with great news; her gay step-brother would be coming into town soon, and this would be the perfect time to “test the waters” and see what I really liked! What a plan. Only a few more weeks, and I’d know for sure if I was gay or not.
By this point, I was certain that God had abandoned me. I had been fed garbage like “God hates fags” from a young age, and I came to accept my identity as an “abomination” to the church. My dad was a Southern Baptist preacher and my whole family is strongly conservative, so I feared that if anyone found out about my struggle with homosexuality I would be disowned and kicked out of the house. [Granted I don’t think they would have, but the enemy is LOUD and really good at isolating people.]
Just a few days after Jordan shared the news about her step-brother coming to town soon, we started a new semester at school and coincidentally Jordan and I did not share the same lunch period. A few girls that I had class with invited me to sit with them, and I was dumbfounded. These girls were beautiful and popular and were known to be super “churchy.” I skeptically accepted their invitation and sat with them at lunch. Every day, these girls loved on me and included me in their group even though I had literally nothing in common with them. When they invited me to church, I got super nervous but eventually obliged.
“I’ll just go once,” I thought.
“They won’t want me there once I actually show up.”
The people at their church brought me in (even with my weird cargo shorts/studded belt/flip flop combo) and loved me with a kind of love that I had never experienced before. These people didn’t care what I looked like or who I thought I was, they saw me as a person and I will never ever forget that feeling of being truly seen.
I fell head-over-heels for a girl in the youth group, gave my life to Christ, and started going to this church every time the doors were open. My friendship with Jordan sadly fell apart, but I never had to hear from her step-brother when he came to town a few weeks later. My youth pastor took me under his wing and began pouring into me like nobody in my life had ever done. He taught me how to pray, fight for others, have integrity, study the Bible, build stuff, organize things, cook, fish, drive a boat, back up a trailer, and all kinds of other skills. Above all, he taught me how to be a man of God.
I wish my story was just cut-and-dry. “I was gay, I found Jesus, and I was fixed.” No, that’s not exactly it.
I struggled with my thoughts and my addiction to pornography for YEARS. I fought in silence and in solitude because I refused to tell anyone about the depths of my sin. Keeping those things in the darkness brought shame upon shame until I was controlled by the shame itself. There was (and still is, actually) a running joke in my circle of friends that “everyone thought I was gay when I started coming to church.” Out of pure shame, I swore to them repeatedly that I wasn’t and that I never even struggled in that way. [Well guys, you weren’t that far off the mark I guess.]
I hated myself. No, I loathed myself. I couldn’t stand to look in the mirror. I hated when people complimented me. I didn’t feel worthy to have anyone be kind to me. I felt like a disgrace to my family. I was a mess. I had to clean myself up and do all kinds of good works in order to make God love me. I felt like I had to earn His approval. I felt dirty, ugly, and unlovable.
“Maybe I’m just too far gone,” I thought.
“Maybe my brain is poisoned and I’m broken beyond repair.”
As you know, when I graduated college, I decided to go on the World Race. I found myself surrounded by people who loved Jesus and who had all kinds of different backgrounds. I walked into the Race thinking I had everything figured out and I was going to teach those people how to respect God and have sound doctrine. Turns out, I had a lot of learning and growing to do myself.
Since those early elementary days, I have had trouble related to guys. I still don’t really like sports or cars or whatever, so that leaves a really small list of things to engage in small talk about with dudes. When I got placed on a team with just one other guy I was really freaked out. I just knew he would see right through my sham and see that I am just an insecure little boy with nothing to talk about. I thought he would just make fun of me and call me gay just like everyone else had.
Thank God I was dead wrong about that one, too. He supported me, challenged me, confided in me, and trusted me. We quickly became close friends in our first month, but he changed my life in month four.
A lot of my insecurities began manifesting in weird and annoying ways that were driving me away from my team that month. I began isolating myself again and feeling misunderstood. My whole life I have struggled with social cues and things like identifying what is “manly” behavior and what is not, but they didn’t really show up on the race until month four.
“Can I wear these neon green shorts? Would that seem too gay? Am I allowed to cross my legs? How short do I need to keep my hair? Maybe I should flirt with some girls on my team so nobody gets the wrong idea about me.”
…this shame ruled my every thought and action.
One day while I was taking my anxieties to God, I heard Him say loud and clear, “Tell Kyle your testimony. All of it.”
WHAT?! NO. I swore I would go to my grave with that story. Nobody would ever have to know. I would someday be married with three kids and white picket fence, and I would never even have to tell my wife I ever had a homosexual thought. I mean no girl would ever look at me (much less date me) if I came clean about all this!
After a few days and some pretty hearty resistance, I gave in and decided to tell Kyle the truth. I sat down at a table across from him and spilled my guts. I was terrified. I went on and on about all of the things I’ve told you here, and I kept waiting for some look of disgust to appear on his face. But it never did. After I finished my story, he thanked me for sharing, smiled, and said, “Wow, I feel like I know you so much better now.”
I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I shared the parts of my story that brought me so much shame and pain —the parts that ruled my life, the parts that I feared could have me kicked out of my family— with a guy I had only known for 4 months AND HE THANKED ME?!
Jesus began breaking down some crazy walls that day. He let light shine on those dirty, dark corners of my soul and made them beautiful again. He took shame and turned it into grace. He took my self-loathing and turned it into self-acceptance. He took my broken pieces, and He put me back together.
Am I perfect? No.
Have I sinned since I came clean about all those things that day? Yes, for sure.
But am I ruled by shame? Nah, not anymore!
Since then God gave me boldness to share my story with all the men on my squad, some friends from the World Race, and even my mentor back home (thank you, Brother Troy, for everything).
I thought I would die carrying the secrets of my depravity, but instead I have found Life sharing the promise of redemption.
To my family and friends: I am sorry that I did not have the boldness to share the entirety of this story with you face-to-face. I hope you forgive me, and I hope you can see the redemptive love of Jesus through these written words.
To my LGBT friends: Please know that it is not my intention to condemn you or belittle you in any way. This story is one of brokenness and restoration, and I truly pray that you can experience the love of Jesus for yourself in new and beautiful ways. Know this, my friend, you are so, so loved.
I don’t know who this written testimony is for, but maybe it’s for you. Or honestly, maybe it’s just for me. Who knows? I do know this though:
There is freedom from homosexuality. There is freedom from shame.
Your words have power. Your story can break chains. Your obedience can set people free.
You don’t have to let sin or shame control you any more, dear friend. There is freedom in Jesus.
I’m a 26 year old travel nurse and dog dad. I’m originally from Mississippi and that’s still where I consider “home.” I graduated college in 2017 and left for an 11-month missions trip around the world where I met incredible people and rediscovered the heart of Jesus. While abroad, I was inspired to share my testimony (the real thing) for the first time. After coming home, I felt like God was asking me for even greater vulnerability by sharing it on a public platform. Long story short, I’ve experienced so much life and freedom from sharing this story, and I’ve met and encouraged dozens of young men and women who have struggles similar to mine. I am obviously no longer overseas as a missionary, but I’ve learned that the Lord has joy and life tucked away in little mundane experiences every day. The fun part is seeking them out and learning more about myself and my Father!