Courtesy: Stephen Bradford Long – Blog
It’s been a long, painful and perilous journey from a life of suffocating fear and self-loathing toward a life of fearlessness and love. I spent most of my teenage and adult years trapped in the impenetrable coffin of my self-loathing, absolutely convinced that I was unlovable to God. As a young boy growing up in the evangelical world, I somehow absorbed the message that being gay makes a person loathsome and subhuman. When I started to discover that I was gay myself, I became the victim of my own undying disgust and hatred. Like a supernova, my being collapsed upon itself, the object of its own unquenchable disgust.
I was trapped in that deadly pattern for years, and it was a pattern of immense self-destruction, volatile relationships, and crushing loneliness. What I want to talk about now is how that started to change, how letting go of self-loathing began a pilgrimage from shame toward learning to accept God’s love for me.
The year it all started to shift – my 22nd year – was a dark one. Not only were the demands of my music degree beginning to crush my spirit, I had also just gone through a bloody breakup with my girlfriend of nine months.
I had tried desperately to make our relationship work. I had convinced myself that my sexuality was, at best, an unpleasant memory from my past and at worst an annoyance that needed occasional maintenance. I was in deep denial about how much I looked at guys, how much I fantasized about them, and how much I was emotionally and physically attracted to them. Even when I almost cheated on my girlfriend with another guy from my college, I was still in denial about my sexuality.
By the time our relationship fell apart, I couldn’t live in denial anymore. I had to confront that I found men painfully beautiful and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with a man. And, in my attempts to deny that part of myself, I had very profoundly hurt an incredible young woman who had been my best friend. Despite how much I loved her, I didn’t want to touch her, hug her, kiss her. I didn’t want to hold her hand or be physically close to her. While I enjoyed her friendship and conversation, I couldn’t celebrate her beauty or femininity the way a man should, and she was left feeling broken, insufficient, wondering what she had done wrong.
I walked away from that relationship having realized two horribly painful things about myself: first, that my orientation was not going to go away, and that I had exhausted all attempts at knowing how to fix it. Second, I could never, ever put another woman through that experience ever again. It would take God writing it in fire in the sky for me to ever enter a relationship with a woman again.
I entered a very dark place. I again contemplated killing myself because, in my mind, anything was better than being gay. Every treatment had failed. I felt like I had completely exhausted all my options and there was nothing left for me to do but die. Even though I had left the ex-gay world 3 years before, I didn’t want to be gay – I was terrified of being gay. I was terrified of what that meant for me as a Christian, terrified that I was going to hell. Most of all, I didn’t want to hate myself anymore.
And then I met someone I’ll call Drew. Drew was another music student – handsome, intelligent, kind – and I dropped into the free fall of a very intense crush. For two months I was under the influence of intoxicating romance. We went on a few dates and enjoyed each other’s company.
Internally, I was ripped to pieces. Everything I wish I had felt for my girlfriend I was now feeling for another man. For the first time in my life I was experiencing my orientation in relation to another gay man, but I felt like I had to sacrifice my soul, faith and belief in God to do so. I didn’t know if it was right or wrong, but I was afraid of even allowing myself to admit that, for fear of being expelled from the presence of God.
In my desperate search for answers, I found a little Catholic parish hidden away in a mountain valley. I started going to the parish because no one there knew me and no one would talk to me. No one would have to know about my relationship with Drew, my sexuality, or my questions. If someone started to ask questions, I could leave, because I feared that it was only a matter of time before someone would find me out and ask me to leave.
One Sunday morning, when I was at the end of my rope, I was on my knees during mass crying out to God for an answer. And then something happened.
I don’t know how, but I suddenly knew that God was there with me. I knew that His holiness was wrapped all around me, gathering about me like heavy smoke. In the midst of that holiness, I didn’t feel judged, I didn’t feel cast away – I felt safe. Safe for the first time in years.
And then, in the midst of this sense of very profound holiness, a voice deep within me said, Stephen, do you remember that time when you were in high school, and your father came into your room? Do you remember how he wrapped his arms around you, held you to his chest and whispered in your ear, “Stephen, you are my son, and I will never kick you out of my house. My home will always be your home, because I am a good father, and a good father doesn’t kick out his son. You are my son, and I love you.” The voice deep within me continued, I am like your biological father in that way, Stephen. I’m not going to kick you out over this. My home will always be your home, because I am a good Father, and a good father doesn’t kick out his son.
That was the safest I had felt in years. I suddenly knew that, no matter how I failed or succeeded, no matter how right or wrong my theology, no matter how many mistakes I made in my pursuit after Him, it was ok. I was still His son. For the first time, I realized what it meant to trust God with my sexuality.
In that moment, I realized something for the first time in my life: God doesn’t ask us to be perfect. God doesn’t ask us to have perfect theology. All He asks of us is to love Him, and to try.
Try to find the answers. Try to live a holy life. Try because we are already accepted by Him through His son Jesus.
That might mean asking scary questions. That might mean falling in love. That might mean being theologically wrong. That might mean having to re-evaluate what you believe for the thousandth time. That might mean getting heart broken. That might mean struggling with loneliness. That might mean finding the love of your life. That might mean being called to celibacy. God’s love is big enough. And in that love, there is space to question, to journey, to be confused. Jesus isn’t threatened by questions, we are.
The only reason I am alive is because, three years ago in a tiny mountain Catholic parish, I started to learn how to trust, and to cling to the Cross. I learned to trust that God is bigger than my shortcomings, my questions, my capacity for rightness and wrongness. I started to trust that God has tempered justice with mercy, and that mercy covers me even when my best attempts fail in both action and understanding.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a hard journey since that day in Mass. There have been trials and struggles and despair and heartbreak, but I don’t think I would have survived any of that if I hadn’t first learned that God is perfect and that I am not.
For too many people, the struggle with sexuality take place in a claustrophobic and fearful place. I believe that, through His love, God offers us space. He offers us space to journey, to question, and to cling to Him. He offers us the space to experience struggle as refinement and questions as worship.
Because he is a good Father, and a good father doesn’t kick out his children.
This is my little Easter Bunny, isn’t she cute ???
When I got sober again in 2001, the thrust of crossing that bridge into sobriety, meant that I also decided to grow up and become a man.
A real man.
A man I would be proud to be.
For many years, I really did not know what that looked like, but the one man I learned from was Todd. He was a real man. A man I loved and wanted to be like, in every way possible, because, in him, he was love, compassion and strength personified.
He was GOD.
It is now almost sixteen years since I made that decision to cross that bridge. And I have not looked back since. I’ve learned a great many things in the past stretch of time.
What Todd gave me, was the education in knowing how to take care of another human being. I learned how to be present. I learned how to be courageous, to be bold, to be smart, and how to love unconditionally. I learned how to serve. I learned how to give from my heart at all times, to the most number of people, to the best of my abilities.
My father had fatal flaws. But like my father, I provide. I hear him in my mind speak to me, at least, the few phrases I use on a daily basis.
Once you speak words, you can Never take them back.
Sadly he did not listen to his own advice when it came to me.
- I don’t speak falsehoods
- I don’t speak negativity
- I don’t speak arrogantly
- I don’t speak from ego
When we get sober, not only do we put down the drugs and the drink, we put down all that we used to be, in order to become who we are meant to be.
That is a daunting process for both men and women.
In the beginning, we may not know just how far we can go, and/or/ how far we need to go. The sky is the limit. And I think that depends on just how much of life we take a bite out of as our lives progress.
How far can we go ? Well that depends on you.
How far do we need to go ? As far as is needed.
Relationships are always dicey in recovery. Because the recovery mixture may differ.
You might find someone in the rooms, and you might find someone outside the rooms. Getting that mixture right is the challenge. Both participants in relationship need to figure out what each of us needs to bring to the table to make a relationship work.
Marriage is a JOB. A FULL TIME JOB. Marriage is work.
For us, at least, marriage was not a cake walk by any means. But we succeeded.
When Mama walked into my life a little over three years ago, I had a few months to begin a friendship with her before she went back to New Foundland to have Lu.
After Lu was born, I took the step of solidifying our relationship. I made the decision that I was going to invest in Mama and the baby. That choice is one of the most important decisions I have ever made.
If Todd were to see me today, I am sure he would be proud of me.
The baby is a full-time job.
The day I arrived in St. John’s, Lu was at daycare, so I had a few hours alone with Mama to get oriented to the schedule and the routine. And we were both pleasantly surprised when she got home with grandma. She took to me immediately.
Our days usually began around 6:30 in the morning or 7:00 if we were lucky. We at least had time to drink a cup of coffee, before we were off to the races. The day usually began with crafts: like Play Doh on the kitchen floor at 7:00 a.m.
If it were a regular day, Lu went to day care with Grand ma around 8:00 a.m. for the day and come home around 4:00 p.m. Having grand ma living just up the road is key to this routine working, because when needed, we can hand Lu off to them for a few hours.
They have the TV with the TREE HOUSE channel.
READ: Crack for babies …
Since it was a holiday weekend, we had Lu 24/7. And let me tell you, that having a three-year old with a solid streak of attitude can be a challenge. Lu is determined to do her own thing, whether you like it or not. And her mood will turn on a dime, if you piss her off or say NO.
She knows the word NO, it is one of her favorites.
Mama does not have a tv, nor cable, nor a computer in the house. And she does not want either of them in the future. Which means that if you are home with Lu, you are interacting with her ALL DAY LONG !
I colored these Christmas pages out of one of Lu’s coloring books.
You don’t know how calming and wonderful it is to sit and color for an hour with a child. I loved every minute of it.
We read, we play, we color, we dance. If we are lucky, we get an afternoon nap.
If we don’t get that nap, dinner usually follows around 6:00 p.m. Bath time around 7:30 and bedtime, AH BLESSED BED TIME comes right around 8:00 p.m. on a good night.
I can’t tell you how good it felt to be disconnected from my computer and social media for five days. I really did not miss it. However, when I got home, I thought to myself that I was not sure I could live a disconnected life 24/7.
I had a book, SHANTARAM by Gregory David Roberts with me. I cannot tell you just how GOOD this book is. At 936 pages, it is a daunting read.
If you read any book this year, Shantaram is the one to read. Because there is an ample sequel to that book on the store shelves right now.
This weekend proved to me that I can be daddy, and do it well. On Easter Sunday, Lu had a meltdown in front of the family. It was not pretty. And in the end, I ended up fireman carrying her out of the house and tossing her into her car seat and bringing both Lu and Mama home.
They both passed out from emotional stress. Mama in her bed and Lu on the living room floor, because she passed out sitting at the table with me coloring. I laid out a blanket and some pillows and I let her sleep until she woke up.
Which meant I got a few hours to myself to lay on the sofa and baby sit while I read my book.
Having a child is not easy. Being a father/or/father figure is not easy either.
But I have learned just what kind of man I really am, because of the words I speak and the actions I take. I have virtue. I have faith. I have smarts.
All that I am, is an amalgamation of all the men I know. The good and the bad. Then I get to decide what I am going to do based on the decisions that need to be made.
Mama and Lu are full-time decisions to be ME.
In addition to my husband, Mama and Lu are the most important people in my life. Because I have been Lu’s father since the day she was born, because the man who participated in creating her, wanted us to abort her when Mama was pregnant.
Today, we are fighting in court for Lu’s child support.
And we know, right now, that we might not get anything close to what we want from him, however, I have stated my case to our lawyer. The hard, unvarnished truth of a man who is a Legend Liar and irresponsible and blind to his obligations as the biological father of our little girl.
In the end, she will be my daughter. But first he will pay his dues.
By the Law.
Which makes me the best man Lu has in her life besides grand pa.
I am the man I am because of that first decision to grow up and become a MAN.
I would not have changed anything.
St. John’s is a beautiful place to live.
Just saying ….