This post is part of the “Our Stories” project, where readers submit their testimony or coming out story. It’s important to engage in meaningful and life-giving discussions about a topic that is too often silenced. When you tell your truth, you help someone else accept theirs.
All of these lines across my face, tell you the story of who I am…
(Brandi Carlile, The Story)
I was born and raised in central Iowa in a stable, loving, Christian home. I remember praying and “asking Jesus into my heart” when I was about 5 years old. My family attended an Evangelical Free Church and I was actively involved in Sunday school, a small group Bible study, and youth group activities. I took my faith seriously, often reading my Bible and praying. I was baptized at a Sunday church service when I was 13 years old.
Looking back, I recognized that I was different in high school. I became kind of a loner. My main motivation for dating was to gain social acceptance. At the time, I believed my lack of interest in boys was due to the fact that I was serious about my faith and saving myself for marriage, but looking back, it maybe had more to do with the fact that I simply wasn’t interested in boys.
When I was a senior in high school, I decided to go to Northwestern College, a private Christian liberal arts college in Orange City, Iowa. I liked the idea of attending a college where faith played a central role on the campus – the integration of faith in learning, daily chapel services, weekend praise and worship, no drinking on campus, etc. The school and small town were very conservative, safe.
This is how the story went, I met someone by accident. It blew me away. It blew me away… (Brandi Carlile, Hiding My Heart Away)
During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college (2000) I met the love of my life. As a requirement for my Biology-Environmental Science major, I was required to attend summer courses at the AuSable Environmental Science Institute in Michigan. Katie, another student in the Biology program at NWC, called me up and asked if I wanted to carpool out to Michigan with her. Our lives would never be the same. In Michigan we discovered that we had a lot in common. We spent lots of time together: studying, hiking, laughing, exploring. We were inseparable by the end of the summer. I could tell her anything. Katie’s friendship was an answer to prayer…I’d been praying for a true friend and here she was. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had fallen in love.
During Christmas break our sophomore year, Katie attended Urbana, a big conference in Illinois for college students interested in becoming missionaries. Out of curiosity, she attended a session on Exodus International. If you’ve never heard of Exodus International, their main objective is to “heal” homosexuals. Shortly after that, Katie confessed that she was attracted to me and I admitted that I felt the same way. There we were: twenty years old, devoted Christians, and madly in love. We had both been raised in churches that preached that homosexuality was clearly a sin. In our minds, the only option was to end our relationship. We were so ashamed and terrified that if anyone found out about us we would be kicked out of school or our parents would pull us out of school to keep us apart. In the years that followed we cried together, prayed together, read the Bible together. We tried in vain to restore our friendship to how we thought God intended it to be, but there was no going back to the way things were before. Over time, it became second nature to simply lie about our relationship. We lived double lives. I believed that after college, we would eventually move on, meet good, Christian men, and live normal lives. God had other plans.
After graduation, we attempted to go our separate ways. Katie moved back to her home state, Minnesota, while I made plans to go to veterinary technician school. Life couldn’t keep us apart for long though. Eventually, Katie moved back to Iowa to be with me while I went to school. After a few years in Iowa, Katie accepted a job in Louisiana. She was trying to be independent and give us both a chance to move on with our lives. That didn’t last long either. By the summer of 2006, we had both moved to Montana. Montana isn’t exactly the most progressive place in the country, but it was the perfect escape for us. Our relationship continued to grow as we spent our free time hiking and camping in the mountains. However, we were still walking a thin line, unable to reconcile our faith with our relationship.
In August 2008, Katie and I attended a Brandi Carlile concert in Boulder, Colorado. At this concert, for the first time in our lives, we felt like we fit in…no one was judging us. It was amazing. I began to consider the possibility of an actual future with Katie. We’d struggled for years to move on and “fix” ourselves. I suddenly realized that it no longer made sense to keep fighting against our relationship. I was no longer convicted that homosexuality was a sin. However, I was convicted that I needed to be honest and open with others regarding my relationship with Katie. On the eight hour car ride from Boulder back to Billings, I decided it was time to tell my family. Katie and I had been together for seven years by this point and had never spoken to anyone about it. When I told my mom, she cried but said she loved me no matter what. I think my family was most heartbroken by the fact that I’d been keeping this secret for so many years. My parents struggled to be supportive and made it clear that they strongly believed that homosexuality was a sin. My brothers and Katie’s sisters seemed to take the news well. A few family members seriously questioned our salvation. They believed we were living a lie and putting each other before God.
All your mountains turn to rocks, all your oceans turn to drops, they are nothing like you thought, you can’t be something you are not… (Brandi Carlile, Pride and Joy)
I began searching for resources for gay Christians and was amazed that there were so many other people out there, just like me. I began to understand and accept that God made me and loved me just as I was. Slowly, Katie and I began the process of coming out to our friends and co-workers. Much to my surprise, most people have been extremely supportive and accepting. I can’t believe we spent so many years fearing that people would reject us if they really knew who we were. I was so wrong. While they still struggle to understand our relationship and still believe the Bible indicates that homosexuality is a sin, our families have both made huge strides in supporting us as a couple. The truth really will set you free.
A few years ago, I never could have even imagined where we would be today. This past September, Katie and I drove to Iowa and Minnesota to visit our families. While we were in Iowa, we got married. It was a simple civil ceremony at the city hall in my hometown. My parents and brothers and Katie’s sisters were there. We have been overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received from family and friends. Of course, there are still “friends” who remind us about what the Bible says about our “lifestyle” but that just comes with the territory. We found a church in Billings that is open and affirming. I am excited to see what the future holds. I look forward to the day when our marriage will be recognized and celebrated by others for what it truly is…a beautiful gift from God.
-J. L. (Montana)