In 1997 I went with a group of Christians to Moscow, Russia. It was late January, and we were going to minister to ministers. They were translators and hosts, who hadn’t had a day off for five years. We insisted on going, not to do any outreach program, but to clean toilets, cook meals, and otherwise give these hosts ten days off. When one of them, feeling out of place being ministered to instead of ministering, asked me why we were there, I replied,
“A sheep can only be shorn so many times before it bleeds to death. Go grow wool.”
One of these amazing people was a woman named Olga. Heck, a dozen of these amazing people were women named Olga. In any case, this Olga became, over the years, via email and phone calls, a very close friend of mine. Two years later, she came to the US to attend Bible College, and we were able to finagle a time for her to come visit me over the summer. She was to stay for five weeks.
Now Olga and I had shared a lot over those years, discussing prayers, answers to prayer, concerns, struggles, and so forth. But I had never told her my story, about who I was or how I came to be where I was at the time. Of course, the only story I was prepared to tell was that I was an “ex gay,” but she didn’t even know that. I had learned a little about discretion, and I wasn’t about to tell my story in any way but face to face.
The day came to tell her. It was, I think, a Saturday night. She’d been at my house for maybe a week, and I felt it was a good time to give her the gist. I told her pretty much the first half of my April first story. In the tradition Olga and I participated, one’s testimony is huge, important, and precious. It’s your connection to the gospel, your own personalization of how God still moves in the world. We would even practice telling our testimonies. But when I told her, I kept it simple, undetailed, and with the emphasis on April 1.
Her reaction wasn’t good.
I recall her eyes growing huge, and her fleeing to the bathroom. She took a shower. Then she avoided me the rest of the evening, which was hard, since my apartment at the time was rather small. I had been practicing examen and contemplative prayer that summer. The repeated cry of my heart was “God, show me your love.” I was open to whatever would be shown, but I have to admit I didn’t expect what I got.
The next day, we went to morning service, and Olga loudly and publically excoriated me. I fell apart completely. I remember standing outside sobbing uncontrollably, and a couple good friends intervening to take Olga to stay with them, and to shuffle me away to gather myself in some less public place. The fact that I cried touched her, I guess, reminding her I was still human for all that. Late that night, after spending the day with friends she had ministered with in Moscow on other occasions, she determined that she was supposed to be at my home, and this was a test set up by God to prove her faith. So around 10:00, I found her at my door.
I’m a coffee junkie. I make my own lattes at home. And I had been making one every morning for her, too. That next morning, having only exchanged a couple muttered words, I went into the kitchen to make my morning coffee, and thought to myself how she could figure out how to make her own bloody latte. But then, as only God can, God spoke to me.
When the world hated me, I died.
I stopped. I had told Olga the night before that in fact, nothing had changed. The world was, essentially, the same as it was before she learned my story. It was just that she now knew something about me that she didn’t know before. I was still the same old me. And God was saying basically the same thing to me that morning. She was still the same old her. Only I now knew something about her I didn’t know before. Nothing had really changed.
I made her latte, and I made it as good as I can make a latte. I continued to do my best to bless her, even though for the next four weeks, she hardly spoke to me except to hurt me. We’d go on long bike rides around town, me showing her my favorite places. I’d make gourmet dinners. A close friend of mine and I took her to Seattle, showed her the view of the city from Alki Beach. We pampered her to bits. And she hunkered down in her Bible Studies and did her best to avoid any interaction with me. Whatever we did, she was physically in my presence, but listening to some Bible teaching on her ear phones.
But the amazing thing was, I wasn’t mad at her. I wasn’t offended. I wasn’t judging her. It was like God had removed from me the very capacity to judge her. All I had was love, and I pampered her like I would any guest in my home. I wasn’t blind to the treatment, and I didn’t mince words when she demanded me to answer an accusation. But I never could not love her, never could not act graciously on that love. And I began to understand a part of God’s love for me. I was acting out the heart of God, and not at all from my own power. It was like I was outside me watching these four weeks pass.
On the last day, a few hours before I was to take her to the airport, Olga sat me down on my couch and began to cry. She said that she’d been slowly realizing how she served a much smaller God than I did. And that she was ashamed of how she’d been treating me, that she wasn’t being Christian at all that past month, while all the time I had been.
Well, our friendship went through a rough time, years later grew stronger, and now, as time often has it, has faded into practical nonexistence. And I’m back to praying for God to show me God’s love. I think of this situation. She was able eventually to accept me and even love me under the notion of my being “ex gay.” But, of course, I’m not. What if I were today to tell Olga that I’m not “ex gay,” but still as gay as the day is long, yet serving the God who is love?
I won’t ever tell her; I see no need, especially as we hardly communicate any more, and I’m not exactly sure where in the world she is. But what of all those others who will reject me? I think of the fact that the religious rejected Jesus. I think of the abuse heaped on Jesus. And I think of his reaction. And I get another glimpse, a reminder, of God’s love.
On one side, I am loved even when I act in unlovable ways. On the other side, I am empowered by this love to love others even as they act out hatred towards me. After all, Jesus did say that his disciples will be known by their love.