I was wondering when the appropriate time to write this blog would come, and with the recent death of Jadin Bell, I’ve decided it is time enough.
For several years I have kept a journal, and that practice eventually gave birth to this blog. From the start, it has been my desire to openly discuss the trials and joys of my life, finding beauty in the ashes, strength in the fear, and clarity in the confusion. My purpose in doing so is to encourage you who also live with ashes, fear, and confusion. It has been a process of exposing, healing, and ultimately seeing God redeem the irredeemable. I pray frequently that through sharing my story, others—all one hundred of you who will read this—will also be emboldened to open up and feel the freedom I have experienced and the grace I have been shown by my friends, family, and God.
I am gay. I do not “struggle” with homosexuality, but that has not always been the case.
the life story
For a general framework of my life, see this post, written before I went to college my freshman year.
I was born in Manchester, New Hampshire. My mum is a pastor and my dad is an editor of theology books used in higher Christian academics—early Christianity, mainly. I have an older sister, two years and a half my senior. She began ballet dancing at five or six and has never stopped. That same year my parents put a violin in my hands and I have never stopped playing.
My father is one of the kindest and brightest people I know. He is also very steady—slow to anger and whatnot. Mom is a pastor to the bone: she is empathetic and tenacious, a good teacher, mother, and friend. My parents are people of integrity, and as loving as any parents I have met. When I think of my childhood, I remember being hoisted up on my father’s feet to become a little airplane soaring through the living room, “helping” my mom bake Christmas cookies, and falling asleep to their harmonized renditions of hymns, spirituals, and other assorted songs.
b. middle school
In 2003 we moved to Caledonia, Michigan, a rural suburb of Grand Rapids. I entered fifth grade. It is around this time that I remember feeling different from others in my class. But this feeling of difference didn’t manifest itself as loneliness until middle school. While I was pretty popular (not one of the ‘popular kids’ but someone who gets along with everyone), loneliness entered me. I turned to the Internet and found a lot of fantastic online games that absorbed me.
And then in eighth grade, I found porn. At first it was straight porn, but it quickly turned into gay porn. The loneliness compounded and I hated myself. Sam became two Sams. The visible Sam excelled at school and violin and was loud, happy, and kind. The invisible Sam was alone, sad, self-hating, and chained to the keyboard on which I typed myself further and further into my cave. This continued into
c. high school
In retrospect, high school was an amazing time. I did tennis freshman year, Odyssey of the Mind sophomore year, played in my high school’s Honors Orchestra, got some cool parts in various theater productions, and was class president junior and senior years. My youth group went on mission trips to Washington D.C. and the Dominican Republic.
It was in Wednesday night youth group that I first sang a worship song and meant it. It was Matt Redman’s “You Never Let Go.” Even during the times I felt most detached from friends, family, God, and myself, I kept praying. God, please forgive me. God, please let this only be a phase. Make me straight. I want a wife and kids, God. This is how I prayed up through freshman year of college. (Spoiler: God never answered those middle two prayers. As it turns out, that isn’t how sexuality works.)
Homosexuality was never spoken about in my school, home, or church. The first time I heard the word “gay” was when we lived in New Hampshire. An older teenaged neighbor used it as an insult, so although I didn’t know what it meant, I assumed it was a bad thing. The first time I heard the word “straight” in the context of sexuality was after the move to Michigan. In fifth grade, one of my classmates asked me “Are you squiggly or straight?” What a vague and inane question, thought fifth grade Samuel. I thought about a straight line, thought about a squiggly line, decided that the latter sounded more interesting, and said, “Squiggly.” Minor teasing ensued.
At that point, I didn’t know what the question meant, and I wouldn’t have chosen that answer had I known, because a.) I didn’t identify as gay, and b.) even if I did, I knew it was a bad thing to be. I had crushes on girls up through middle school, but they never involved sexual attraction—besides one. Maaaaaaybe two. At any rate, since puberty ended I can’t think of one time I have been sexually attracted to a woman.
I write this to say that it wasn’t a choice for me. I was unable to choose to be attracted to women. Five years of praying to change did nothing but increase the frustration I felt and the hatred I had for myself. It made me think that God wasn’t listening. Sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers because God wants something else for us. That has been a hard lesson for me to learn.
d. the beginning to the end of a silence and the start of a college search
A Sunday in January of my junior year in high school: Mum was guest preaching at our church. I had this bizarre sense that I couldn’t go to church, but I had to because I did want to hear Mom preach. I don’t claim to have encounters with angels or demons, but something was trying to stop me from getting the help I found that morning.
I wept through all of the worship songs that Sunday. After the service ended, a man in the row behind me asked, “How are you doing?” I responded, “Uhhhh…” I didn’t know him that well, but it was obvious that I wasn’t feeling great so he invited me to a prayer room. I went. With pounding heart I told him of my porn addiction. (I didn’t mention the gay part because at this point I wasn’t even honest with myself about that.) He sent me to Romans 8, prayed for me, and told me that I’m not alone. I’m forever grateful to him.
I prayed to find someone my age to talk to about my porn addiction and God sent someone. We prayed for each other and encouraged each other for a year.
The college search made senior year hellish. I applied to eleven schools. January and February of that year, during which I was finishing applications and auditioning at different schools, were especially tough. A couple of panic attacks graced those nights I couldn’t do homework or fall asleep because my mind only cycled through college search stress, sexuality stress, self-hatred, college search self-hatred Lord make mestraightselfhatredcollegeauditionsGodpleasedoubtsselfhate-paperduetomorrowandIcantfocusIcantbegayGodIwantafamilypoundingheart-hyperventilatingcollegeanxietyGodpleasemakethisSTOP.
Thank God for Hillsong and chamomile tea.
e. freshman year
I committed to attending SPU. The beauty of Seattle + the beauty of the people I met during my visits = a Sam sold on SPU. Thanks to a last minute revision of their financial aid offer, going to SPU became affordable. I talk about the process of choosing SPU here. I see it quite literally as divine intervention.
My sister danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for two years. The end of those two years was the summer before my freshman year of college. Mum, Dad, and I flew out to Seattle to help her pack up. Miriam, my sister, and I were packing by ourselves one night when the air began to feel heavy to me. I shared with her everything I could think to share—including my sexual uncertainty. She said that she loves me no matter what. Miriam has been one of my best friends throughout this process. I’m blessed to have her as a sister.
After an amazing this-is-now-home, porn-free first quarter at SPU, it was time to return to Michigan for Christmas break. It was great to be back with my family, and I had a wonderful conversation with my best friend from high school, but living at home was rough. I wanted to tell my parents but I was afraid of altering our relationship. For years I paid attention to any story on the radio, TV, or newspaper about gay youth coming out to their Christian parents. The vast majority of stories that surface on the topic do nothing to ease the anxiety of someone like me. They end with a weeping mother, an angry father, and a disowned child.
Despite that fear, I decided to tell my parents, without whom my life would be sad and incomplete. The day before I flew back to Seattle—I know, brilliant timing—I walked upstairs, clapped my hands together and said, “Family meeting. Family meeting,” with my heart pounding, drowning out the noise of my doubts. We sat around the dinner table as I told them what I just told you. No weeping, no anger, only justifiable concern and unconditional love.
The first night back at SPU I told this story to one of my closest friends. No rejection, just love. I began counseling, free, courtesy of SPU’s Student Counseling Center (do it). I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and got prescriptions for both, including pills that allow me to play violin in performances without shaking violently, panting like a chipmunk doing wind sprints, or being overcome by the frozen terror of a deer about to be hit by a semi. It’s nice. I also spoke with an English professor of mine who allowed me to write about my own pain, as well as Leonard Cohen, in papers about Homer and Plato. That professor is part of the reason I am now a Lit major who blogs about his feelings.
By the time I left Seattle after my first year of college I had five or six close friends that “knew everything” and cared for me deeply, as well as innumerable members of my newly formed SPU family. Through counseling I learned to stop obsessing over trying to understand what made me gay. I changed my prayers from the fruitless God, make me straight to God, show me who I am, Reveal yourself to me, and Help me share my story so that I can help others. Not only did I journey far in my personal life that year, my father and I traversed the coast from Seattle to Los Angeles and back for spring break. It was an amazing and terrifying year. I returned home exhausted.
f. the summer
I returned home to an internship with an ESL program, a remodeled room, and the sense of a new beginning. My parents and I had many long conversations about my sexuality. It hasn’t been easy, but I am blessed to have parents that are willing to be open with me as we figure things out together.
My parents recommended a book called Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill, a young professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry. The book describes his struggle with confronting his homosexuality, accepting it, and deciding to live a celibate life, as he says all gay people are called to do. While it is not a sin to be homosexual, the book says, it is sinful to engage in homosexual behavior. While the idea of living alone for a lifetime is tragic, I can still have really close friends and a really close relationship with God. While the book is beautifully written, I think I missed the hope it was supposed to offer. I sat on my bed and imagined a lifetime of sitting alone on my bed in an empty house, and I wept. My parents walked into the room of their nineteen-year-old boy and held me until the sobbing ceased.
g. the end of a silence
As I entered my sophomore year of college, I entered the sixth year of wrestling with my sexual identity. I was starting to accept that I was attracted to men, but I still held onto the belief that I could become straight—or at least bi—despite having no physical attraction to women. I was on antidepressants, but I was still depressed. God, show me who I am. Show me who you made me to be.
I was having a conversation with a very dear friend over lunch at the dining hall a few weeks into the new school year. I told him that I wanted God to use me so that something good would come from my pain. He was quiet for a while and then gently said, “You want God to use you, but God isn’t going to use the person you think you should be or the person you want to be. God is going to use you as you are. So accept it.” We got up, scraped our plates, hugged, and headed to our respective dorms.
My resistance melted that day and I owned something that I had secretly known for years: I’m gay.
Joy and peace flooded into me in a way I had never experienced before. That joy and peace has stayed with me in place of the confusion and fear that once reigned over my heart. Depression left me and hasn’t returned since. I cut my dosage of antidepressants in half and may soon be able to get off them completely.
Shame and guilt disappeared with the confusion and depression. I became more willing to share my story with friends, and—after hearing how a gay friend of mine told his floor—I decided to tell my floor the entirety of my life story, something many floors do weekly at SPU. My brothers on the floor have been great to me. As has every single person I’ve confided in.
I called, God answered. God answered my prayers in a way that I didn’t expect or even want, really, but God did answer my prayers. In response I offer up prayers of thanksgiving. I am singing a new song.
Oh the difference a year can make.
My purpose in posting this:
By posting this on the Internet I am cracking open my life for anyone to see and criticize. But I’m not afraid. God has been so good and faithful to me; I have no reason to think that will stop now. And to be clear, like for anyone, my sexuality is not my identity. It is a part of me, but not all of me. First and foremost, I am a child of God.
I post this to offer hope to others struggling with addiction, sexuality, or anything else that keeps us from experiencing the joy in life. I also post this to add my story to the discussion on Christianity and homosexuality in hopes that it will help give understanding and perspective. I also post this because I think that God works through our lives. Thus, each story says something about the character of God.
To my family and friends:
I am sorry that some of you are reading this on the Internet instead of hearing it from me in person first. Logistically speaking, you are probably hundreds or thousands of miles away, which complicates things. But it is important to me that you know the whole story, so this seemed to be the most efficient thing to do.
To friends and family of someone struggling with their sexuality:
The best thing you can do for someone who is questioning their orientation is to love them as if nothing has changed, because they are the same person they always have been. If a blind person gains sight, the world they see upon opening their eyes is the same world they have always lived in. The difference is that they can now understand and appreciate it in a way they haven’t been able.
To people struggling with their sexuality:
Hold on. No matter where you end up, know that your life is important. You too were made in the image of God; you are beautiful and so deeply loved.
Thank you for reading.
To God be the glory.
Due to the sensitive nature of this subject, please be kind in your comments. If you write something mean-spirited or rude, it will not be posted.
As I read this I think back on when we first met, Youth Nexis in Chicago! It breaks my heart to think of your pain during that time. It was then that I fell in love with your uniqueness! God truly made you special, you have purpose and I am thankful you believe that now. I am also thankful I saw you at the 2014 SPU graduation. God has brought you back into my life because you have things to teach me! I am reading, I am listening, I am learning.
Praying all the best for you!
Love, Sherrin >
Pingback: in a year | these dated clouds
Pingback: “…to where I started.” | stories from a friend
Hi Sam! I am really late in reading this but your mom recommended it to me. I am Jacob. I ued to dance with Miriam in PGH and met your mom the last day Miriam was there. They both came to the Bible study I lead. It was divine intervention. Meeting your mom changed my life forever. And it still is today. My story is so much like yours. It is kinda freaky how all this is working out but God does work in mysterious ways right?? I work for CRU (Camous Crusade for Christ) in PGH and was also told to read Wes’s book and was put in touch with him. Then your mom told be about your dad working with him! Let’s just say it has been one mind-blowing day.
Thank you for your blog. It is truly inspring and fills me up with hope. I hope to connect with you someday. Your family is a huge blessing in my life and I pray will continue to be so in year to come.
Blessings to you my friend:)
Pingback: new life | these dated clouds
Reads like poetry, Samuel. You know I’ve loved you since you were a wee one! Love and hugs!
Pingback: khakis and a cell phone holster | Samuel Ernest
I don’t know you, but I graduated from SPU many years ago and came to this post via Facebook. I was an English major too, and I also found comfort and encouragement from an English professor in a particularly rough time–and I’m so glad you found the same. Thank you for sharing your story–I’m proud that there are people like you there. Keep speaking and loving. I believe that your voice will change lives.
This almost had me in tears. I don’t know how to say this the right way. But this is so… Up lifting. You overcoming an obstacle as big as this and turning out just fine. You are an inspiration to anyone struggling with addiction, identity, orientation, and depression. It also makes me so happy that most every one can accept you as who you are. I am glad I was awake at almost 5am to read this. Thank you for opening your heart to all of us, strangers and friends alike. You are not alone and neither are we.
Thanks, Sam. 🙂
Sam that is an amazing post: brave and articulate and touching. Praise God for his love! You are blessed to be learning early in life to love yourself as Christ loves you. And please know that many of us — even well into our adulthood (51) — continue to pray “Show me who I am. Show me who you made me to be.” That is a lifelong journey that encompasses all areas of our lives.
You stole my heart as Ty Rant and since that time I have never doubted that my belief in you as one of those rare quality people God places in our lives for a reason has never waivered. Your courage, strength, and faith are truly an inspiration and I feel blessed that my family has had the opportunity to know you. In short: always have loved you, always will!
Hugs, Mrs. Oster
I’ve always experienced you as a person of deep integrity. Your willingness to tell your story (the good, the not-so-good and the other) is an expression of that integrity. I’m glad that in your journey you are learning to find wholeness and healing; those are the things that should always point us along life’s path. May you continue to know and experience the peace of Christ in your journey.
Sam, it’s been an honor and privilege getting to know you over the last few months. You’ve become an important part of our family – I especially appreciate the impact you have had on Jake and how he has grown because of you. We love you.
Sam, I think you are a pretty cool guy:)
I am so proud of you Sam!! You have such a brave soul!!
Ahhhh! I miss my freshmen! But y’all are juniors now aren’t you? Almost seniors. Wow.
Well thank you, and thanks for reading.
I am proud of you Sam. I love you no matter what. Your heartfelt writings & beautiful music will comfort many now & in the years to come. I’m so thankful you have wonderful parents, sister, & friends. =D
So brave. So clear. So full of grace and truth. A standing ovation to you from NY. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Sam, this is a welcome post. I came to it through a FB posting. I’m a couple generations ahead of you an in our small group we’ve been discussing homosexuality and how to respond to it as Christians. Your post give me greater insight and sensitivity to the issue. Hats off to your parents and friends who have been so supportive.
Thank you, Terry. And thanks to your small group for taking the time to examine what you believe about homosexuality. That in itself takes courage. Blessings to you as you continue the conversation.
Throughout this post you said that you wanted to have a wife and kids. Are you sticking with being celibate? It wasn’t really clear to me what you meant. Did your meeting with your friend make realize that being celibate is what God wants for you? Wonderful post, by the way, well worth reading. Thanks, much love.
Thanks for reading, Todd. I was vague about celibacy (your first question) for several reasons. But first, your second question. No. The “God is going to use you where you are” talk helped me to accept my sexual orientation. It didn’t tell me what to do with it. Now, as to why I didn’t disclose my current views about celibacy: Firstly, I wanted to instill in the reader the sense of confusion and discomfort felt by a gay Christian who is unsure how he or she is supposed to live. It is a question that tears at you constantly. Secondly, had I given an opinion on celibacy (one way or the other), people with an opposing opinion might’ve stopped following my story to instead try to prove me wrong in the comment section. This would distract from what I see as the purpose of this post, which is to give hope to people wrestling with their sexuality and to increase empathy in the hearts of people who don’t know how to respond to homosexuality. Finally, I am not firmly enough cemented in what I believe on the matter to put it on the internet.
I’d recommend “Washed and Waiting” to you, as well as “Torn” by Justin Lee. Both are beautiful stories, intelligently written, in which the authors come to accept their orientation and wrestle with the question of celibacy. They come to different conclusions.
Sorry to leave you hanging! Peace.
Ahh, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for answering!
Sam, I didn’t know you, but this is wonderful. I’m glad Reinsma got hold of you, and that you have such courage. Plus, you’re an excellent writer.
Thank you Shane. I was a big fan of the opinion pieces you did for the Falcon last year.
I’m proud of you man! I’m glad that you’ve accepted it and you’ve accepted you. No matter what your sexuality people will love you for you because you really are an awesome person!
Thanks for sharing this, I know God will use you in ways you can’t even imagine.
Thank you so much for saying that your sexuality is not your identity–I think our world forgets that so much. You will always have a friend in me; I admire your honesty and bravery
Thank you Hannah. The thing that will be hardest for me moving forward with this published is potentially being only seen as my sexuality. But I think that the good things that could come from this will way overpower that.
I don’t think people will see you for your sexuality [I certainly don’t]. Rather, I think people will also see you as a gifted writer! [Not to suggest that this fact wasn’t obvious already] God has gifted you with a distinct, articulate and Christ-like voice that comes through in your writing, and it speaks to His character. And with this piece you’ve also shown that you have the bravery and faith to speak loudly and boldly with this God-gifted voice to tell people about their creator and father, as you have done for me. Thank you for posting this, and thank you for being exactly the man that God created you to be from the foundation of the earth, with all your splendor
The world needs more of this. Maybe you will be the one to write the book that you most needed to read when you were younger and struggling. I really hope this post reaches others who are struggling to find their place. Thanks for being brave enough to write this 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story. It was inspiring. And, to be honest, it helped me change my mind about how I feel about people being gay. I thought you should know that, and that you being brave enough to write this memoir made a difference in someones thoughts.
Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I pray that you find peace and rest in God’s love.
Thank you Sam. I think my brother would still be here if more Christians loved him instead of judged him. Your sharing is a good, good thing.
Thank you for your comment, Karon. I am so sorry. It is important for me to remember that being silent instead of showing love has consequences.
Sam, I love you more than you know. While reading this whole blog, I was thinking of when we stood outside Gwinn talking for an hour in the cold this last January. You’re a beautiful, wonderful person, and you should always remember that.
I’ve always adored you for exactly who you are. I’ve had a seat on the sidelines of your life since you were in sixth grade. God told my heart then, “watch this one, I’m particularly fond of him.” … I’ve been watching ever since. I’m 51 years old and still trying to find the one Jesus loves inside myself! Life is a beautiful, painful journey. At your young age, you’ve found in yourself, the one Jesus loves. “You”, exactly as he dreamed you, exactly as he formed you. Indeed, there’s a lifetime more to discover, but what a wonderful way to begin. Thank you for always sharing the many gifts God has given you.
This is beautiful Sam. So genuine and brave.. (and so well written 😉 Thank you for allowing God to work through you for the sake of His people.
Sam, you’re an inspiration. Thanks for sharing.
Crying. Hope you get so many hugs for doing this.
Sam, I commend you for your courage in writing this. Thank you for being a shining example of self-acceptance. We all can learn something from your story. I certainly know I have.
This is absolutely brilliant Sam. I am humbled by your strength, your courage, and your honesty. Thank you for refusing to be anyone but the man you know God created to be, and for boldly proclaiming God’s conviction in you. The spark of the divine shines so brightly through your life, and your story.
You da man, Chad 🙂 Love you brother
You are so wonderful, Sam. Thank you for sharing who you are.
Thank you for your blog post, Sam. We love you. You’re not alone.