The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 English Standard Version (ESV)
For everyone who has spent most of their life struggling with sexual orientation concerns and resulting feelings of unacceptance by the church community, I pray the above verse over you now. God is for you. Jesus loves you. This is true, despite what you have heard from the church. This is true despite what you have heard from Christian people. Jesus knows how you feel. And He gave His life so that you can know love from the Father, God. He will quiet you by His love! He will exult over you with loud singing! I pray that you will know this type of relationship with Him. And, I hope and pray that my personal story will be helpful to you in your quest to know the Father’s love.
My now deceased wife Nancy and I married on May 15, 1983. The decision to marry Nancy was a conscious choice I made. It was driven by two things: the fact that she had become my best friend; and my faith conviction at that time, that I was to be in a heterosexual relationship.
I loved Nancy. Today, I can honestly say that I am not sure if we were ever “in love” in a romantic sense. But, I loved her. She was my best friend for most of our life journey together. When we got engaged and later married, I made a promise and commitment to her, that I would be there for her, no matter what, until the end. And, I kept both my promise and commitment to her until the very end. I also promised her daddy that I would protect her and take care of her. And, I did this as well, though not perfectly. In the beginning of our relationship, I would never have been able to know how very difficult it would be to honor those commitments.
At this point in my life, there are a few things I am sure of. One is that God is for us. Another is that Jesus died so that we can live. And, the Holy Spirit will empower and help us. We are not perfect and will make mistakes. And, we will not be perfect in this life. We simply learn and grow while doing the best we can. Hopefully, along the way, we also learn just how very much God loves us and wants to help us. It doesn’t matter who we are, what we’ve done, or how we feel about ourselves. It doesn’t matter what others have spoken to us concerning what God has said about us. What matters is that we, each of us ourselves, discover God’s love for us and the atoning work that Jesus did on the cross of Calvary that makes a relationship with our loving God possible for each of us. In my opinion, these are the most important theological things. Much of the other stuff that Christian people seem determined to debate seems secondary to me.
The beginnings of my life with Nancy
Nancy and I were both members of the single’s Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Columbiana, Alabama. Our Sunday School teacher, Jessie Mae Jones, turned her focus towards Nancy and I. She desired for us to experiment with a dating relationship. And we did.
I was still in college when we started dating. College was a very difficult time for me. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be or do in life. My father was a gifted mechanic. He understood and could repair anything mechanical. He thought I should also be able to do mechanical things. So I spent most of my growing up days in his repair shop where he worked on automobiles and trucks for companies like Kraft Foods, Wells Fargo armoured trucks, United American Van Lines, and such. He always dreamed that I would grow up and take over his business. Unfortunately, I didn’t – and still don’t – have a single mechanical minded neuron in my brain. Today, the idea of me trying to be a mechanic is almost laughable!
One thing I did learn was how to work hard. That was a gift, I think. It is probably why First Baptist Church in Woodstock has a professional counseling center today. It is also probably why The HopeQuest Ministry Group, Inc. exists today. When I am determined, I just work hard until whatever I am working towards comes about. That’s what my father Leroy taught me to do.
Growing up though, I never gained any insights about other professions that I might be successful in. As a result, in college, I was lost. I knew that I needed some type of career and vocation.. I knew that I had to earn a living somehow. I just had no idea how to go about finding out what the potential options for me were. The automotive and truck repair industry was all that I knew anything about.
At the time, I was experiencing great difficulty with internal conflict resulting from my awareness of same-sex attraction and sexual desire. These awarenesses had been somewhat latent until my senior year in High School where they began to forcefully emerge. Even so, as my relationship with Nancy grew, I began to love her and enjoy being with her. Looking back, as I said earlier, I don’t know if I was ever in love with her. But I did develop a great love for her.
After graduating from college at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) in 1980, I had been working as a credit analyst at a new branch of an industrial credit and leasing company in the Birmingham area. I had earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with a major in Finance. I spent my days analyzing mostly ridiculous business proposals where people were trying to obtain financing. What spare time I had was spent trying to collect money on a ten million dollar loan portfolio that was 70% delinquent. The highlight of that short career was when I got angry at one of the clients who had borrowed one million dollars to finance a shrimp trawler vessel and then disappeared. I found the vessel in Gloucester, Massachusetts and repossessed it. That’s a story in and of itself for another time though.
After the repossession, I was ready to move on. I knew that the credit and financing industry was not the career for me. I didn’t think I could have ever picked a type of job that I would hate more than the one where my dad made me work in Mr. Bobbit’s machine shop in a steel alloy plant one summer. But the credit analyst job came close. However, when the company announced their decision to close the Birmingham, Alabama branch where I worked, they asked me if I would interview in their New Orleans, Louisiana office. And, I did.
It was one day in 1982, when I spent the evening in a gay bar after the job interview. At the time, I so desperately needed close relationships with other men. And, as a result of many factors in my developmental years, I had no idea how to establish and maintain relationships with other males. And, over the years, I have come to realize that at puberty, my needs for emotional bonding with other males because sexualized.
That night in New Orleans, I was on my way to a hotel room with a hookup partner that I met and danced with in the gay bar. Nancy and I had been dating and at that particular time that evening, I came to realize that I loved Nancy and wanted a relationship with her more than I wanted to experience a sexual encounter with a guy. Somehow, even that early in my life, I knew that relationship was more important than sex. After I returned home from New Orleans, Nancy and I spent the next year dating, ending in the exchange of wedding vows on May 15, 1983. We were married for 35 years. I was able to remain faithful and honor my promise of commitment and care to her during all of those days.
Let me pause here and offer a disclaimer. This writing is my story. It is my recounting of my life experience and how I have come to understand myself and the world around me. There are many who will disagree with me, most likely because their life experiences have been different than mine. Others will find that their religious and faith convictions don’t allow for the way I have made sense of my own personal life experiences. It is important for me to disclose that I do not need nor am I soliciting for anyone’s agreement. I am not sharing my life story in order to tell others how they are supposed to understand and make sense of their own life experience. Rather, My prayer is that my authenticity and transparency will help others have the courage to begin the discovery of – or possibly move forward with – their own life journey of understanding themselves and the world in which they live..
Over the years, people have often asked me, “What makes someone gay?”. I have often been very frustrated with the inquirer’s expectation of a simple couple of sentences response. There is no simple response. It is a very complex question starting with a need to clarify exactly what the inquirer means by the word gay. For now, let me speak in terms of two things: sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Sexual orientation is not within the scope of things that are within a person’s ability to control. Sexual behavior – the expression of one’s sexual orientation – is within a person’s ability to control, to some degree.
Think about it. When going through puberty – if you can think back that far – do you remember making a conscious decision to like the way a particular food tastes? Or, do you remember making a conscious decision to have athletic capabilities and find sports interesting? Or, if you are a heterosexual guy, do you remember one particular day making a conscious decision to be attracted to girls and find them sexually interesting? No. No of these were choices. They were all outcomes of your personal developmental process of growing up in life. On the other hand, you did learn to make choices concerning your behavior towards food, athletics, and the expression of your sexual interests. So when people asks “What makes someone gay?”, I tend to think in terms of one’s sexual orientation.
First of all, there is likely a biological influence resulting from critical period hormone levels while the fetus is developing in utero. In addition, there is most likely a genetic predisposition that underlies one’s sexual orientation. This genetic predisposition is likely highly influenced by life experiences in developmental years. At puberty, we all begin to experience sexual arousal when we encounter certain stimuli. Once this attraction/arousal pattern is set, it doesn’t change.
At this point, it’s important to note that there is no way to reconcile a same-sex orientation with a conservative theology and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. However, it is my personal belief that one can be a Christian and have a same-sex sexual orientation. It has been my personal life experience to be a Christian man and also have a same-sex sexual orientation. As I did, many, if not most, same-sex orientated Christian persons will have deep internal conflicts between their faith convictions/teachings and their sexual orientation. And, people can – and must – make choices about how they choose to deal with these conflicts. Finally, it is important to remember that we live in a country where people have a constitutional right to have a differing opinion concerning sexual orientation and how they do or don’t express their sexual orientation in their way of life choices.
For those who encountered me in a professional capacity, I hope and pray that you never experienced pressure to change as a result of your encounter with me as a pastor or as a therapist. Over the years, I have promoted that people learn to be self-disciplined in their sexual behavior. We all have to do that whether we have a heterosexual orientation, a homosexual orientation, or somewhere in between (what is today called sexual fluidity). For those who have a strong conservative and fundamental faith conviction, yet are also understanding of the concept of “Sexual Orientation”, such self-discipline includes celibacy.
Another thing I have done over the years, is to help people figure out how to remain faithful and committed to their marriage vows, in spite of their same-sex attractions and desires. In my personal belief system, commitments and promises such as marriage vows should be honored and kept. And I believe this can be done because I was able to do it. However, I do still believe my own personal ability to be sexually fluid (in the bisexual sense) helped me be able to accomplish such.
Work in a professional counseling and therapy context often includes trying to make sense of how one turned out to be in the emotional dilemma they are experiencing. People need to make sense of their inner compulsions and their life experiences. And sometimes, education and the development of understanding helps people to make better choices about how they want to live their life. In my opinion, this includes attempts to understand how life experiences throughout the developmental years helped to influence us.
Over the years however, I have never promoted the idea of changing one’s sexual orientation. In the early years, I was taught that one could change their orientation. Yet, as I tried to experience such change, it never happened. In my later years, and in my ministry work, I came to believe that such change is not possible.
Neither have I ever promoted the idea that one should discard their faith convictions. Today, many professionals see the personal value system as the only variable available for change. While the personal value system may be adapted to some degree, for Christian persons, there is the need to reconcile the following: their sexual behavior, their view of the Holy Scriptures, their faith conviction; their personal worldview; and their sexual orientation. For some, this is a lifelong and seemingly impossible endeavor.
By the way, everyone has a sexual orientation. It is just that in the American culture, the homosexual or bisexual orientation is only just beginning to be accepted as being the way some people experience life.
In my professional work, I have been honored and privileged in that many have invited me into the sacred place of their inner self as we worked to gain understandings and develop ways to make sense of their personal life experience. In this writing, I am inviting you into my sacred place where you might gain some insights regarding the life experiences that helped shape my own sexual orientation.
At age 7, I remember walking up 21st street in North Birmingham, Alabama, with one of dad’s shop rags wrapped around my penis. I distinctly remember desiring to be noticed in that way. It still baffles me as I reflect on just how it was that by seven years old I had come into the awareness that a large penis is what defines a man. Yet, that is what was in my young mind. It must have been a result of being around the men my dad hired to work in his automotive and truck repair facility. It was most definitely a sexually charged environment.(By the way, I didn’t get noticed. Instead, I experienced a week long raw penis.)
At age 10, I remember being in my bedroom at our home in Arkadelphia, Alabama. I was naked, in the floor, on my knees and elbows. I will let your imagination fill in the blank for you as to what I was thinking about. My dad walked in and asked me, “What the hell are you doing?” I responded with, “I am praying!”. He responded back with, “Oh, OK”, and closed the door. (I wasn’t really praying. That was just my quick wit.)
Over the years, I often wondered where I came to the awareness that such a sexual encounter was even a possibility. My parents had attempted to begin educating me on human sexuality. And upon reflection, I remember that education being age appropriate for a 10 year old boy. However, somewhere, I had encountered the idea that a boy could experience the passive role in a sexual encounter. And the desire to experience this intensified as my emotional bonding needs with other males became sexualized as I went through puberty.
It must have been my age 10 experience of finding a hard-core pornogrpahic magazine at a relatives home. You guessed it. I was a curious boy and enjoyed snooping and discovering things. Children will do that you know! My advice to parents today is that if you don’t want your children to discover it, then either lock it up or don’t have it in your home or vehicle!
This hard-core pornography discovery left nothing to the imagination concerning coitus. If you don’t know that word, I trust you will look it up on google or in a dictionary. For a young boy just beginning to go through puberty, the coitus imagery captured my mind. I have often wondered whether or not the lack of male attention from and emotional bonding with my dad intensified this experience. I think that it did. I may try to write more about this one day.
At age 10, I went to Corner Elementary School in Cullman, Alabama. It was near our home in Arkadelphia. I remember it being a hard time for me. I was always the last one to be picked for teams when we were in recess preparing to play kickball. I was also what was then called “husky” – not in the best physical condition. Complicating this was that prior to my 7th grade year, we moved so much growing up that I never had a chance to develop friendships or athletic skills.
I remember walking along the side of the recess area one day and there was a group of boys sitting under a shade tree. There was a much older student, probably around 16, leading the group. I will never forget when he called my name. “Hey Roy, why don’t you come join us?” It was the first time in my life I had ever been called to join a peer group. I cannot even begin to describe the way feeling included made me feel. So I joined them. He was teaching the boys about masturbation.
That day, my young mind associated sexual behavior – masturbating – with male bonding. It was the first time I had been called to join a male peer group. It was the first time I remember feeling accepted and affirmed by another male that was older than me. The experience touched my wound of deprivation concerning male bonding. It is almost as if my young mind concluded: “So, this is how one connects with other guys.”. As a result, I had several guy friends growing up where masturbating together was a normal experience.
At age 13, we went to Atlanta to visit my maternal uncle and enjoy a trip to six flags over Georgia. My Uncle Paul was gay. He was also promiscuous and undisciplined in his sexual behavior. Late one evening during our visit, my Uncle Paul’s partner showed me what it was like to experience the coitus imagery that I had seen in the hard-core pornography magazine. He gave me his attention. He showed an interest in me. He was affirming and kind. He sat and talked with me. I was never confused by the encounter. I think this is because earlier in life, I had concluded that this was how men experienced intimate connection. Remember, at the time, I had no experience with the mature and healthy male bonding that a boy should receive from a father.
Needless to say that as time went on, there was great consternation that arose from these conclusions and my continuing to develop faith convictions.
My senior year in high school, I had an accident on Halloween night. As a result of the accident, I had a basilar skull fracture with bleeding occurring out my nose, ears, and mouth. I spent almost 8 weeks in the hospital at Birmingham, Alabama. In the end, just as the doctors were beginning to think about exploratory surgery to try and find the origin of the bleeding, Charles Sessions – the pastor at the church of the Nazarene in Columbiana, Alabama – came to see me. I had come to know him through my visits at the church with my friend Danny Foster. He prayed for me that day. The bleeding stopped, instantly. And, it never bleed again.
At age 17, I developed a unique relationship with another High School friend. He had discovered a pornographic adult movie theater in Roebuck, Alabama and asked if I was interested in going. It was about an hour drive from where we lived. I remember sitting in that theatre, literally mesmerized. I experienced a complete infatuation with the male in copulation. It was the first time I remember being aware that I didn’t have any interest in the female anatomy. Looking back on my life history, I can see now where my age 10 hard-core pornography exposure, followed by my age 13 encounter with my Uncle Paul’s partner, both had an impact on how I was experiencing the adult film.
So, by age 10, my sexual arousal template was formed. And, by age 17, it was was set in stone.
During my age 17 hospital experience, I met another patient named Brandon. He was maybe a year older than me. I had developed a smoking habit by this time. And of course, I was experiencing nicotine withdrawals as I lay in the hospital bed. I had not disclosed this to my parents. Brandon was supportive of me and helped me get the courage to tell my parents about my overwhelming felt need for a cigarette. Moreso, Brandon was kind and attentive to me. He may have been the first non-sexual emotional bonding experience I ever had.
It is important to note that in my early adolescent years, I did experience bisexual attractions. The nature of bisexual attractions is that a person finds both the same-sex and the opposite sex form attractive and sexually arousing. However, when the latent same-sex orientation fully emerged in me, which was not until my early 30’s, I lost all capacity for any sexual interest in females. Nancy and I survived this because of our close friend relationship. And while it was not emotionally fulfilling nor satisfying, I was able to be sexual with Nancy even after my interest in the female form was gone.
Maybe it is time for another disclaimer. I am an advocate for all of the people represented in the LGBTQIA acrostic. And I have worked with all of them in my professional and clinical work. However, in this writing, I am speaking of only the”L”, “G” and “B” in that list of letters. Lesbian, gay and bisexual. Gaining insights about the other groups of people are equally difficult and complex. In addition, again, I am talking about sexual orientation – not sexual behavior. Sexual behavior, in the Christian worldview, must be disciplined whether one is addressing the heterosexual or the homosexual. And the reality seems to be that in gay and bisexual males in American culture, sexual behavior is largely undisciplined.Even so, I am going to believe that for the person who’s sexual orientation is toward the same-sex, and for the person that wants it, there is hope for a same-sex loving, committed, monogamous relationship between two people that is fueled by emotional bonding. I understand that there are others who want a different type of relationship. And I support that if it’s what they want.
In case you are wondering, yes, Nancy knew about my internal conflicts with sexual orientation. If you knew Nancy very well, you know that she was accepting of people. Everyone. No exceptions. She was particularly accepting of many same-sex oriented females that she met and formed a friend relationship with during her college years. She was not, however, very understanding of males who are same-sex oriented. Therefore, I never experienced the complete freedom to talk with her about my own internal conflicts, either past or present. This is such an important thing for couples who are living with questions or difficulties related to their spouses sexual orientation or interests. The ability to work through these things together strengthens the emotional bond. The stronger emotional bond results in feelings of intimacy and relationship satisfaction. The ability to talk often helps both spouses sort things out. And dialog, in the context of a strong emotional bond, will often relieve the sexual tensions that build up as a result of trying to suppress one’s sexual thoughts, feelings, and interests.
(Yes, I am always encouraging of couples to try and find a way to remain in their mixed orientation marriage, if that is possible, and if that is what they both want to achieve after they have spent time carefully working through the process of making such a decision).
The last ten or so years of our life together were the most difficult. Although I deal with such things every day in my work, I never realized just how important it was to Nancy to be a part of the Senior Staff wives community at First Baptist Church of Woodstock. Her identity became defined by it. And my role as a Senior Staff member became that which bolstered her self-esteem and self-confidence and compensated for many of her insecurities. Regretfully, I didn’t see it until after her death.
About a year prior to opening the new worship center, Pastor Johnny had asked me to help with administrative leadership of all the technology and media related areas of the churches ministry. I struggled with this for some time. However, I accepted this new role with the condition that I could remain as the church’s Senior counseling pastor with the remainder of the Pastoral Care duties transitioned to someone else. Also, Pastor Johnny gave his blessing for me to continue as the leader of the HopeQuest organization while I also remained employed by the church. So, I was serving as a Senior Staff executive leader at the church and simultaneously, I was also leading the HopeQuest organization which, as I wrote about earlier, Pastor Johnny Hunt and I had decided to separate from the church in 2004.
As both ministries grew, it became overwhelming. Pastor Johnny helped me and we began to lessen my load at FBCW as HopeQuest demanded more and more of my attention. Along the way, I became less and less involved with the church’s Senior Staff team and this had a tremendous impact on Nancy. I see clearly now, the foundation of her identity and self-esteem began to crumble. Her response was to find comfort in spending and collecting.
Collecting dolls, victorian things, antiques, and porcelain (among many other things) had long been an interest for Nancy. The first 25 years of our marriage, our home was just cluttered and our bank account was always stressed. Part of the financial stress we experienced during this time was caused by a home equity loan that provided cash for me to consolidate credit card debt that she had been built up over the years. I had discovered that not only was our bank account strapped, but that she had been using credit cards to subsidize her collectible and antique purchases. We talked about this and agreed that we would use the home equity line of credit and a strict budget to catch things up and become financially sound. With our plan in place, I was hopeful and therefore relaxed and trusted that we would both remain committed to our plan and goal to become financially sound.
The last 10 years of our marriage though, our home filled up – from wall to wall, and from floor to ceiling, in every room. And our stressed bank account turned into a mountain of debt. Maybe I was too busy at work. Maybe I just didn’t want to let myself see it. For whatever reason, I didn’t discover this until Nancy was in the Bone Marrow and Cancer Unit at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. I went home one day to find the bills that needed to be paid. I picked up a shopping bag of stuff that I assumed was the collection of our financial things (our mobile bill paying office) we used in the management of our household expenses and personal finances. Instead, it was a shopping bag full of unpaid credit card statements.
Looking back, I can only say that I abdicated my responsibility by letting Nancy handle our personal finances without my critical review. Why didn’t I know that we had this problem? Why did I allow it to progress for ten years only to be discovered while Nancy was on her deathbed? Maybe I will discuss this more later. For now, I will continue with sharing how the emotional turmoil in my life triggered many sexual desires and feelings that caused me much inner conflict.
Dealing with repressed/compartmentalized sexual realities
Just after Nancy’s passing on March 31, 2017, I realized I needed to attend the IITAP, Inc. conference in Phoenix, Arizona in order to get the continuing education hours I needed to renew my certification as a sex addiction therapist. So, in early May of that year, I went.
This was also the time I had arranged to have an estate sale to try and sell all the things Nancy had collected. The sale started the last day of my trip to Phoenix. My brother Brandon came to my home and was in charge of things until I could get back. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed away and let him deal with all of it. Being involved in the estate sale was another overwhelming experience.
It was during the IITAP, Inc. conference that the reality of my denial of our financial situation and my compartmentalized sexual orientation came forth from it’s repressed state, in full force. I will forever be grateful to Debra Kaplan, one of my fellow certified sex addiction therapy professional peers, who helped me during that time. Deb was also at the IITAP conference, teaching our group about the role of finances in sex addiction.
The relationship between financial stress and my own personal sexual arousal template came forward into my conscious mind with overwhelming emotional experience. I am also thankful for Tammy, our conference coordinator and IITAP, Inc. officer in charge of training, who noticed that I was in trouble and came to my aid. Tammy was instrumental in asking Debra Kaplan to spend some time with me. I spent the next three and a half hours talking through things with Deb.
For the first time, I began to understand my dreams and fantasies. Over the course of the last eight to ten years of our married life together, I experienced stress and anxiety at extreme levels. There was stress related to being the senior counseling pastor in a large Southern Baptist megachurch. There was stress related to leading a growing non-profit residential treatment center for addictions and their co-occurring disorders. There was stress related to funding this organization. There was stress related to concerns about clients who I feared would make poor choices with life-threatening consequences (often the results of addictive behavior). There was stress related to our home life. There was just stress. And while I managed this stress well, I did not have an awareness of the effect it was having on me.
It was during that time that I began to have dreams about strong males coming to my aid. Rescuing me. Helping me. Taking care of me (the antithesis of my life focus which was taking care of others). In my dreams, these strong males would love me. They would desire me. They would make me the object of their attention and affection. They would protect me. They would provide for me. These dreams were always highly sexually charged.
After my breakdown at the IITAP conference in 2017, I came to realize that these dreams were about my felt loss of power and my own assumed helplessness concerning my own life situation. These dreams were about my childhood and developmental years of learning that I could not express masculine strength, I could only be responsive to it. This is all that my father, Leroy, would allow. But Leroy was harsh and unpredictable. In my dreams, I would yearn for the strong male that was kind, affectionate and predictable.
These dreams were about the desire to be rescued, protected, and cared for by a strong male. In my early years, when my father didn’t do these things, I learned to look for it in other males. In my later years, I learned that I could do these things for myself in peer relationships and in my work contexts. It was only after Nancy died that I finally came to terms with the fact that I had never realized that I wasn’t rescuing, protecting, and caring for myself in my intimate life with her. Nor was I taking care of myself by setting boundaries and limits with myself concerning my work engagements. So, at the IITAP 2017 conference, for the first time, I began to understand my deep sexual yearnings and compulsions.
One might ask, “Why didn’t you take more control of your situation in your home and marriage? Why did you let these things occur?”. Although these are fair questions, I am not sure that it matters much now. I will say though that living with someone who hoards and spends compulsively is difficult. And if that person is not willing to work towards change, then there’s not much one can do but leave. Divorcing Nancy was never an option for me. Love doesn’t quit.
Concerning our financial status, I had no reason to doubt that things were going contrary to our agreed upon plan. I had no reason to distrust Nancy’s responses to my inquiries about our financial status. Over the years, we had many disagreements over the collection of things and the way things were stored in our home, the style of decorating, and such. However, I never forced my way with her because I wanted her to be happy. I didn’t want to be dominate and authoritarian like my father was. Too, I didn’t want Nancy to end up in a mental institution like her mother did. Her mom died in a mental hospital the third year of our marriage.
What I know now that I didn’t know then
I now know with certainty that it is possible for someone who is homosexual to fall in love with someone of a different gender. However, the same-sex oriented person – the gay or lesbian person – who falls in love heterosexualy, often cannot sustain a heterosexual lifestyle. In time, their defenses against their sexual identity, their efforts to repress their sexual orientation, begin to crumble and their true sexual orientation, which is now in conflict with their chosen love attachment, surfaces.
Because I was successful in compartmentalizing my sexuality for most of my life with Nancy, I thought of myself as bisexual. However, many people suffer depression as a result of suppressing their sexuality and this turned out to be the case for me as well. As my defenses against homosexuality began to collapse and my true sexuality tried to surface, I could no longer hide it or fight it. And, I lost sexual interest in Nancy as my opposite-gender partner. I finally realized that I am not bisexual. Rather, I am gay.
What I experienced during Nancy’s sickness, death, and the following year and a half
It was a difficult time. For almost two years, starting sometime in late 2014, Nancy had been fatigued. She stayed in touch with her primary care doctor. There was no evidence that anything was wrong. Yet, she had gotten to the point where some days, she just didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. I concluded that there were two things at play. One was that there was a level of depression she was experiencing, related to the changes of my role at FBCW – I had begun to see how this was affecting her. Also, I had concluded that her weight increase, along with her sedentary lifestyle, was a major contributor to how she was feeling.
In January of 2017, we were still pursuing remedies for her fatigue when Nancy had her annual physical with her primary care physician. Her blood work was normal, except for a slight anemia. Other than this, there were no evidences of anything being wrong with her body. Yet, her fatigue began to increase. In addition, she began to have a difficulty with shortness of breath. She literally couldn’t walk up the stairs at our home without stopping to rest. So we had begun to get pulmonary tests, cardiovascular tests, and other options to explore those potential medical conditions that might result in the symptoms she was experiencing.
Then, on Saturday February 25, 2017, Nancy began to show symptoms of cold or flue. I took her temperature and it was elevated. So, I gave her four tylenol. Two hours later, I took her temperature again, and it had elevated past the point from where it was earlier. At this point I was worried.
Those that knew Nancy really well know that she was a very stubborn person. She was not going to go to the hospital. So, I threatened her. I told her to get up and get dressed and let me take her, or I would call the ambulance and the emergency medical technicians would be dealing with her while she was undressed. That worked!
I took Nancy to the Northside Cherokee Hospital in Canton, Georgia because I knew that her primary care physician would be able to be involved in her case there. About an hour after we arrived, the doctor came into the Emergency Room location where we were and told us that Nancy’s condition was life threatening. Her white blood cell count was 260,000.
This was almost unbelievable. Only one month earlier, her white blood cell count was normal. During the course of the next two days, the doctors did a bone marrow biopsy and confirmed the diagnosis of Leukemia. We later learned that it was Acute Leukemia. The doctors recommended that we go to the bone marrow and cancer unit at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. So off we went. It was there that I began to read about Leukemia and learned that one of the criterion for a poor prognosis is having a white blood cell count greater than 100,000 at the time of the diagnosis of Leukemia.
The following are notes from my personal journal starting on March 2, 2017. It describes the kind of emotional intensity that I experienced for almost 30 straight days while Nancy was sick.
Last night, they moved my sweet Nancy to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) because of fluid buildup and difficulty breathing. She had some type of episode that caused her to lose mental coherence. I was sitting by her bedside, holding her hand. For two hours, that seemed to really comfort her. She was resting. All of a sudden, things changed. They had to restrain her and sedate her. I had to leave. I couldn’t tolerate watching her in that condition. So at 2 AM, I went and slept on the hard floor of the ICU waiting room. I used my backpack as a pillow.
I woke up at 5:45 AM and went to check on her. She’s much better. I decided that since she being monitored so closely in ICU, maybe it’s a good time to go and take Fluffy to boarding. He is at home by himself. We had not planned to be gone from home for an extended time. With my keys and drivers license in hand, I begin the journey to my car.
I go out the front door of the hospital main lobby entrance, I walk around to the left and pass by the emergency room entrance. From there, I diagonally cut across the driveway to the last outside asphalted parking area before you enter the parking garage. There’s my car, just on the other side of that sloping bank covered in pine straw. Hhmm, it looks like folks have made a shortcut across the pine straw bed down that slope.
I really want to get back to be with Nancy, so I will take the shortcut rather than walking all the way down this drive, entering the parking area and then walking back. I take one step onto the seeming shortcut through the pine straw bed and boom – it’s a deep hole. I am not sure what just happened. I am disoriented. I try to get up and tumble forward. My knees won’t hold me. I guess that’s what happened because now, I am tumbled out onto the asphalt beside the passenger door of my car.
What happened? I can’t think. It hurts! Breathe, breathe, I have to breathe. Someone help me, please! No one is there. Oh, it hurts so bad. Someone please help. No one. After a while, I can think more clearly. I have to get up. Just put on my “big-boy pants” – I have to take care of fluffy. I have to get back to be with Nancy. Just deal with it.
I finally get in the car. Oh, it hurts. The tears come. But I can’t cry. I will be 60 years old this June and I can still hear my dad say: “Boy, if you don’t stop that crying, I will give you something to cry about!” But I can’t stop the tears. Sobs. Wails. Tears rolling down my face. The reality of everything going on hits me. And I just cry, and cry.
Sometime later, I crank the car and head out to our home. I need to take care
of Fluffy. Then I need to get back so I can take care of Nancy. When I do finally get home, I realize that I am bleeding. I notice there’s trails of blood all through our home where I am trying to gather things we need. I can’t handle it. So I just throw everying thing in my left arm down. My right arm is useless. I need my left arm to get Fluffy.
I had called John and Anne Humphrey to come help me. I don’t need to be driving. John walks in to get me and off we go. Nothing about any of the things we might need from home. I can’t manage it with a bleeding useless right arm with a shattered elbow. But I have Fluffy. I guess that’s just okay. He and Nancy are the only things that really matter to me right now.
Everything else will work itself out – I suppose. On the way to John’s car, I notice my car. There’s pools of blood on the console and in the seat. Wow, it was bleeding all the way home. What a mess. I am thankful that it wasn’t a major bleed that would have caused me to lose consciousness.
We take Fluffy to boarding. Then John and Ann take me back to the hospital. I go to check on Nancy. My arm is wrapped in a bath towel. I am not aware that it is saturated in blood, and that I am leaving a trail of blood behind me. The ICU nurses gently and compassionately escort me out of ICU and instruct John to take me to the Emergency Room.
From there it was a series of intense emotional ups and downs. I lived with a shattered elbow for 14 days. Finally, on March 16, 2017, I was able to have it surgically repaired. During that 14 days, Nancy had a heart attack, two strokes, and as described above, multiple respiratory complications. The most devastating of the whole journey was the day Nancy decided she would stop any further treatments for the leukemia.
On Monday March 20, 2017, I woke up with plans to work some that day. Nancy had stabilized, was seemingly tolerating her chemotherapy treatments for the leukemia, and I felt I needed to start figuring out how to start working some while still caring for her. In other words, I had realized that her healing journey was going to be very long-term and I would not be able to sit by her side day and night throughout the entire ordeal. So, after sharing my plan with Nancy, I asked people I trust to come sit with her for me for several hours each day. This seemed plausible since she had survived all of the major complications and now, we were just waiting for the chemotherapy to complete its job and then see if her bone-marrow would regenerate.
That morning though, when I woke up, I knew instantly that my plans would have to change. Just one look at her and I knew that something significant had happened in her mental state. She had given up. I think it was probably the exercise we did the evening before, when we tried to do physical therapy, that pushed her over the edge. The doctor really pushed her to try and get up and be ambulatory. Up until this time, because of the heart attack, strokes, and respiratory failures, she had been bedridden. The doctor was worried that she would lose strength and her muscles would atrophy, so I pushed her. I felt so sorry for her. Just getting on her feet and taking four steps out and back was overwhelming to her. I know the exercise was of medical necessity, but I have often felt guilty for pushing her to do it.
It was the next morning, after her exercise attempt, that Nancy looked at me and said so clearly, “Don’t leave me.” It was the only intelligible words she had said since her stroke. From that point forward, to my utter dismay, she refused anything and everything the nurses and doctors tried to do. “[Let me] be at peace,” she said. Then, she said, “[I just] want [to] go home.” The brackets in those sentences were my insertions based on interpretation of her communication. She could not utter more than three syllable communications. I was confused. So, I said, “Baby, does that mean you want to go to our house?” “No,” she said. “Does that mean you want to go and be with Jesus?”, I responded. “Yes.” “You mean, you are ready to die and be with Jesus?” “Yes.” My cry then goes forth, “But I am not ready for you to go!” And she responds, “You [will] be okay.” I was devastated.
So I finally had to come to terms with the realization that Nancy’s illness was terminal. Up until that point, although it had been an emotional roller coaster type of journey, there had always been glimmers of hope that she would improve. There was always small signs of improvement that helped me hang on to the hope that she would recover. Now, all hope was gone. She wouldn’t receive any treatments. She wouldn’t drink water. She wouldn’t eat food. She had decided to just lay there and die. She had decided to let the leukemia take its course without the long drawn out, arduous, and painful path of trying to overcome it.
I knew that Nancy knew what she was doing. The stroke had affected her ability to express communication. However, her reasoning and thinking processes were fine. And way prior to her getting sick, she and I had talked about what she wanted for herself in the eventuality that she ever found herself in the condition she was now experiencing. When her friend Karen was sick and struggled for so long, Nancy made me promise that I would never make her go through that kind of suffering. So, when she announced to me that she was ready to go, I had to honor the promise that I had made to her.
The hospice experience was quite different than the hospital. Here is another excerpt from my journal.
I am not ready for her to die. She just started wheezing. I am wondering, what does this mean? It is so “alone” here in this dreadful place. How can one go from managing through life on 2/25/2017 to finding out your soulmate has Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) on 2/27/2017? On 1/27/2017 when we went to the doctor, she was a little anemic and her white blood cell count was 7,000 (normal). Less than 4 weeks later, she has no red blood cells and her white blood cell count is 260,000. Then on the first day of intervention, she has a heart attack. Five days after that, she has a stroke. Another five days and she has another stroke. Too, all of this is compounded with fluid buildup, struggling to breathe, and multiple respiratory failures.
I am trying to fix her pillow. “Damn this broken elbow!” Then I try to hug and hold her with one arm. It all seems so sudden, so overwhelming, and so unfair. From 3/2/17 when I shattered my elbow, until 3/16/17 when I am finally able to get it fixed, I am trying to fix Nancy’s hair, brush her teeth, manage pillows, wash my baby’s face with a damp cloth, clean up her bowel movements, all with one arm. All because there’s damn hole in the hospital parking lot. I know that word isn’t pastorly, but I don’t feel pastorly right now. Now, although it doesn’t hurt because it’s repaired and in a sling, my ability to take care of Nancy is impaired. It makes me so angry.
By Wednesday on March 28, 2017, I had almost finalized Nancy’s funeral plans. I had decided that it would be better to do this before she died. One of the most sobering moments of the journey was ordering a tombstone with both our names on it. I remember just sitting and looking at the picture of it that the company sent me for proofing.
Then on March 31, 2017, as I sat across from Nancy’s bed, I watched her take her last breath.
She died. She was gone.
There are many things I had to come to terms with after Nancy’s death. A major realization was that there was a sense of financial betrayal in our relationship and that even in her sickness and death, I found myself still trapped in financial stress. This was difficult for me to accept because I had been working my entire life trying to get beyond the financial stress that I always sensed was a part of life during my growing up years. Discovering that I had failed to be responsible in knowing the true state of our financial situation was difficult.
Then, there was not only Nancy’s compulsive spending, but also her hoarding. Every square inch of our home, because of all her collections and decorating style, screamed “Nancy was here!”. It was all I could do to walk into our home, much less sit down in it and try to get in touch with my inner self and feelings.
How I endured and am now surviving Nancy’s death
I knew, from my professional education and work that people need to grieve. The goal of grieving is a reorganization of the mind where all of the memories involving the lost loved one have to be reframed. One has to be able to conceive of their life without their now deceased loved one. People can get stuck in this process, not being able to successfully reorganize their mind. One way this can happen is by leaving everything in their life related to their lost loved one unchanged where there are constant reminders of the missing loved one. I have often seen bereaved people keep the environment such that it seems they are unconsciously awaiting for their loved one to return. And so, they become stuck in the grieving process, never moving forward to the place of finding a way to accept that their loved one is gone and isn’t going to return in this life.
In an effort to avoid this trap, immediately after Nancy’s funeral I decided that I was going to empty my home. This decision was also motivated by my inner need to get rid of all the stuff Nancy collected that I never wanted, the stuff that I had grown to hate. It is somewhat surreal now as I look back on the process that I went through at that time.
My brother Brandon and I were thinking about how I could recover some of the investment in Nancy’s things that she collected. Our first idea was to rent a 20’ by 20’ storage unit and use it for storage so that i could make some room inside the house. All of the collected things needed to be organized and categorized in such a way that I could work on a strategy to market them and later sell them. However, In trying to get the garage emptied into the storage unit, it became clear that the storage unit itself was very inadequate for the volume of stuff in the house. I wasn’t sure at the time what other options I might come up with for storage, but at least the garage was somewhat empty and could be used as a workspace.
So, one morning, Brandon was up early at around 4 AM. I sensed he was awake so I joined him downstairs. The kitchen table and countertops were wall to wall and floor to ceiling. We evaluated that area and decided that we would work on trying to clean off the countertop space in the kitchen so that the countertops themselves could become more workspace. Brandon would box things up and place them in the garage, neatly packed, with the boxes labeled. As he did this, I would take things from the breakfast nook area and place them on the countertop he had just cleared. Six hours later at 10 AM, Brandon looked at me in astonishment and commented, “Do you realize that we have been doing this for six hours and we haven’t made a dent in it? There still isn’t an empty space on the countertop?”.
And so it was throughout my home. Magazines (the kind ladies like to look at). Newspapers that we were behind on reading. Porcelain tea cups and saucers. Antique dolls. Antique doll buggies. Victorian purses. Antique victorian clothes. Antique dress stands. Porcelain figurines. Collectible glassware. Stuff from previous garage sales that we saved for the next garage sale. And the list could go on and on.
In addition to all of these collected things, we also had every box and it’s packing material that every item came in. Some of my dear friends helped me and we hauled long-bed pickup trucks with an attached trailer and carried loads of broken down boxes and bubble wrap to the local dump. It wasn’t too far into the attempt at cleaning up things that I realized that I was faced with an impossible task. To touch every item in an attempt to market and sell it would likely consume the rest of my life.
Over the years, I remember justifying some of Nancy’s collecting habits by thinking of them as an investment in retirement. We often talked about her having an antique and collectible business in her later years. Although that was our plan, looking back on things, I don’t think she would ever have sold any of it.
About this time, I had begun to discover that most of Nancy’s collection had lost its value. Here one example why. In the early days of our life together, you would only find Dresden Porcelain figurines and such in antique stores or antique auctions. The supply of them was more limited because one had to actually be in the store where it was located in order to find it. Today however, go and type “dresden figurine” in ebay’s search field and see how many thousand come up. As electronic and online auctions and antique venue’s made the supply of these things greater than the demand, the result was a much lower market value.
Another factor was that collectors of these types of once valued items are aging. Aging people downsize. Downsizing floods the market with stuff people are trying to sell. The demand for such collectible items also decreased. The younger generations today do not want that kind of clutter in their lives. The result of all this is my discovery that there was no market for Nancy’s once expensive collection of things. The only idea that I could come up with was to try and have an estate sale to see if it could be marketed and garner some interest in the types of things I needed to sell and get rid of.
In getting ready for the estate sale, I filled up four 30 yard dumpster canisters with stuff that I believed would not sell and would stand in the way of people being able to see the things that were potentially valuable. So after three solid months of cleaning, selling, and discarding, in early July of 2017, my home was finally empty. I could see the floors and walls. I could walk in the house. There was now space in the house for me to remodel. I needed the home to no longer be what I remembered as “our home”. Rather, I needed it to now become “my home”. So, for the next six months, the house remained empty while I sat and slept on the floor and I started envisioning what remodeling would look like.
I am sure some will see this as somewhat cold and insensitive. However, it was my way of coming to terms with Nancy’s death and making it so that I could try to move on in life. Staying in her constant memory was too difficult.
That is also the primary reason that I cannot attend First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia right now. For twenty years, Nancy and I spent our every waking moment there. We worked there. We worshiped there. We fellowshipped with other friends there. We were involved in the construction of the balcony in the “A” Building, the entire “B” Building; the “Big House” Building; the conversion of the “Big House” Building into the Student Ministry Center. The new “W” (worship) Building. So, at home I could change things. But I church, I still see her in every corner and in every room and in every hallway.
And in the later half of 2017, there was too much inner conflict in my related to nancy. There was my love for her and my feeling unloved by her. There was my sense of betrayal concerning her spending (the part I did not know about). I discovered a built up resentment in me concerning her hoarding habits. There was a remembrance of my felt sense of utter powerlessness to help her and take care of her when she got sick. There were the constant memories of the horrendous way in which she died. It was all personally overwhelming.
In late December of 2017, 9 months after nancy had died, I came to the stark realization that both my finances and my home were now in order, but I was not in order. Rather, after all the cleaning out and remodeling distractions were over, necessary distractions by the way, I came to the realization that I am alone and that being alone is intolerable.
It was also during this time that I came to realize how I had compartmentalized my sexual orientation. I can see clearly now that this compartmentalization was motivated by my faith conviction to remain committed to Nancy and fulfill my wedding vows along with the awareness that in Southern Baptist life, one cannot love God, one cannot be a Christian, and have a same-sex sexual orientation. It was during this time that I also came to the realization that no one in my circle of Christian friends was able to be a listening ear as I tried to sort out sexual orientation questions that flooded me to the point of being overwhelmed after Nancy died.For the first time in my life, I felt what many have felt, utter rejection by well meaning Christian people who have no idea what it is like for another Christian person who has a same-sex sexual orientation.
I felt desperately misunderstood, rejected, and alone.
God Gave Me Michael
In December of 2017, after returning home from visiting with my family at Christmas time, I had concluded that it didn’t make any sense to try and move forward in life. Up to this point, life had been purposeful and full of accomplishments. However, the deep sense of aloneness was so overwhelming at times that it would override any motivations I might gain in attempts to build a new life as a single man.
In addition, I had become keenly aware that another heterosexual relationship was not going to work for me. Not only would it not be fair for the woman, but I couldn’t do it again. So, my heartfelt prayer to Jesus on December 27, 2017, when I got home, was to to be where Jesus is if he wasn’t going to come and get me. I went to bed that evening with resolve that the next morning I would get up and think of how I wanted to proceed with ending life. However, the next morning, I woke up with the idea that I would look on the dating app one last time.
I had tried several dating apps for gay men over the course of 2017. And, each time, I was get discouraged and disappointed by the experience and delete the app. All of the men I encountered were seemingly only interested in sexual hookups, not emotional connection and relationship. Not only that, but my theological mindset would get activated reminding me of what I had been taught concerning what the Bible says about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. So, as I thought then, as a Christian man, I cannot fall in love with and marry a man and, I cannot have sex with a man. Since the thought of a heterosexual relationship would cause me to experience feelings of anxiety and revulsion, I concluded that the only option available to me was to live alone. To be celibate. I had decided it would be better to go and be with Jesus than to be alone without any hope of ever having a romantic, loving, committed, relationship, ever again.
On the morning of December 28, I decided to reload the dating app once again and take a look before I followed through with my plan to go and be with Jesus. This time, I saw a picture of Michael. I felt a deep sense that I was supposed to reach out to him, something I rarely did on any of the dating apps. I asked him to go on a date with me. That next evening, I picked him up at his apartment in Canton, Georgia and we went on our first date to the Riverstone Corner Bistro. I will never forget that first encounter with Michael. It was as if my soul had buried within it a deep quest for meeting the love of my life and when I laid eyes on Michael, my soul woke up and said: “Oh, I been looking for you! And, there you are!”. I have been with Michael every day since New Years day of 2018. And, I have never been happier. I have never been more content. I have never felt more satisfied in a relationship. I have never felt more loved. I have never loved as much. And most of all, deep down in the very depths of my soul, I knew that Jesus sent Michael to rescue me, give me strength, love me, support me, and help me construct a new life.
2018 – The Year of Theological Quest
I knew when I was ten and eleven years old that I liked boys more than girls (I was an early pubescent child). I was also saved when I was ten years old. And while I was able to make the decision to repress my sexual orientation and choose to marry Nancy and live in a mixed orientation marriage, I was never the less a gay man all of those years. And, yes, I was also a Christian man all of those years. I still am. So, it was very important for me to discover if there was a way to interpret the Bible – without twisting the Holy Scriptures, and without compromising them – that would allow me to maintain my high view of the Holy Scriptures and still be in a loving, committed, covenantal relationship with Michael. This was no easy task. However, Jesus answered my heartfelt prayer once again. I discovered five resources that gave me what I needed. Finally, I could rest at peace. God really is okay with me.
Revisiting My Former Church
For twenty years, from 1996 until the end of 2016, I worked to help build the First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia. For all of those years, Nancy and I were there six days per week, and sometimes seven. In addition, in the various roles I had in service there, many of those days were very long. The result is that there is nowhere on the church campus that I can go and not be reminded of the life that Nancy and I lived together. Part of my grieving process was to walk away from everything that reminded me of shared life with Nancy. I know that many cannot understand why I did this, but I have been convinced that my professional training and experience led me to believe that this was necessary. Today, two years later, I can say with great clarity that it was the best thing for me to do.
In addition, I had to accept that I could not remain engaged with a community who’s theology and interpretations of the Bible left me with celibacy as an only option for life. This was just untenable. And most importantly, I could not remain engaged in a theological context that caused people with a same-sex orientation to conclude that God hates them.
The Village Church in Atlanta
Alejandro introduced me to Ray Waters, the Pastor at The Village Church in Hapeville, Georgia. It is an “all inclusive” church. I was intrigued when I found out that Ray was a former Southern Baptist pastor. And, I was intrigued when I experienced the church and discovered that they really were inclusive of all people – no matter their race, orientation, or socioeconomic status. I began to discover other churches who were making the decision to be “all inclusive”. One was Vinings Lake, a former First Baptist Church of Woodstock church plant, led by my friend Cody Deese. Another was Gracepointe in Nashville, led by a new acquaintance and friend, Stan Mitchell. I soon began to discern that the Holy Spirit was guiding me in new endeavors. It became more and more clear to me that God was calling me to use my professional education, training, experience, and skills to help marginalized people. And in particular persons who are LGBTQIA.
Experiencing the Great Divide
One evening in November of 2019, I innocently posted a picture of me with my new friend Stan Mitchell. Along with the post, I shared how excited I was to find leaders who understood the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. In that particular post, I did not go as far as to endorse a theology of sexuality that included same gender sexual behavior. I simply spoke of sexual orientation as something that one cannot help having, it’s not a choice. And, I spoke of sexual behavior as something someone can choose to manage. The reaction from my some of my friends was somewhat shocking to me. After reading their responses to that post, I came to realize that there was no way that I could advocate for people who have a same-sex orientation without causing a theological storm of protest. In addition, I realized that I could no longer tolerate hiding my conviction that I plan to marry Michael and that I have concluded that Jesus is okay with that.
I save this for last, not because I think it is least important. In fact, it may be the most important. However, it is impossible, in today’s Christian context, for the person who is LGBTQIA to have the freedom to sort things out without undue pressure from well-meaning Christian people who speak out of ignorance as they instruct people on what the Bible says they should be and do.
Here’s how I had to work through that.
- I had to get in touch with my inner self, being honest with myself concerning what it is that I am drawn towards, attracted to, and aroused by sexually – what I will call my sexual orientation;
- I had to come to accept myself in that regard;
- I had to decide what part of my current faith conviction I could maintain in this new stage of life – Celibacy, or covenantal relationship with a male life partner (i.e., marriage, with commitment, faithfulness, monogamy, covenant, and etc.); and then
- Daily, I would pray Psalms 139 – “Search me O God, …” and wait on the Holy Spirit to convict, lead, and guide me.
Today, I am at peace with myself and I am at peace with God. I do not expect that I will be a peace when many of my conservative and evangelical acquaintances begin to share their convictions with me. However, that is okay. I will simply remind everyone that I am still a Christian man. I still love Jesus. I still love others. And I remain skillful in my professional abilities as a counselor and therapist.