I wanted to share a great post this week by my long-time friend Brandon Beene. Brandon is one of the most talented vocalists, artists and men I now. He is also a very humble man. Brandon has been part of ministry and serving churches across the nation for decades. This week Brandon shared a very personal part of his life's story. I wanted to share that with you here.
My passion in life is to open up real, raw and honest conversations that matter. So many people are wrestling with identity, depression, sexuality, anxiety and more. The church has lost it's place a refuge for those people. Brandon shares his heart here, and offer a great challenge for us to return to grace.
If it is not founded in love, if we do not speak love, it is nothing but noise! That's what the Bible teaches us. We can disagree, we can struggle through issues together and confront sin. But, we must find our common place together in love!
WHY I CAN RELATE TO CAITLYN JENNER.
YES. I said it. I can relate to Caitlyn Jenner.
NO, I do NOT have gender identity issues. NO, I have never felt like a girl, or wanted to be a girl.
YES, I can relate though to feeling "lost" in my life. YES, I can relate to be bullied, being called horrible names, and being hated. And, YES, I can relate to how it feels to have Christians judge you because of their perception of you.
I have shared over the last few years my personal struggle with a lifetime of depression. But I have only in close personal circles shared the root of that depression. Mainly, because the hurt and rejection that can be associated with honesty.
Maybe, just maybe, we need to start having more honest conversations? Maybe we need to start being real, so others don't feel so isolated? Perhaps we need to take off our "Perfectly Holy" masks and let our scars and wounds show, for the purpose of being more approachable.
Here is some honestly for you. I'm not a "Man's Man". Big surprise right? I don't like sports. I don't play sports. I can't tell you the rules between football and basketball. I never fit in with the "guys". I am artsy. I am creative. I would rather go see a Broadway Musical or go shopping then watch ESPN. When I was a little boy, I played imaginary "circus" and preferred to play with stuffed animals and dolls. I was a loner. I never learned how to throw a ball. I never had interest in it. I wanted to be a dancer. But, we were Baptists, and didn't believe in dancing. My dream was to be a Broadway Star!
I was not a very masculine boy. In fact, I was pretty feminine with my mannerisms. My voice was slow to change during puberty. In fact, when I reached Jr. High School I was a little behind in the whole puberty thing altogether. I realized it, and so did the other boys. And the bullying and name calling began. If I had a dollar today for every time I was called "Fag" or "Faggot" in my younger years, or accused of being gay, I would be able to buy myself a new car. I was harassed and beat up repeatedly by a group of guys in Jr. High School, because I was "different".
Drama class was my outlet to be ME. I loved that time! But in every other class, I was quiet and withdrawn. It affected my ability to learn. I avoided dressing out for P.E. Class as much as possible, because it literally gave me anxiety and panic attacks. The guys in the P.E. Class were the worst because I sucked at sports. I couldn't keep up. I was the fat kid, with the girl voice, who couldn't catch a softball. And was perceived to be a "Faggot".
Here's the deal. At that point in my life, I hadn't even begin to think sexually. I was a little slower in that department. And, all I knew was that in Church it was preached that it was a sin to be gay. A abomination. Gay people would not inherit the Kingdom of God. But, because I had yet to began to think sexually, and everyone called me gay... Maybe it was true? Maybe I was gay? Maybe there was no hope for me? What I DID know, was that I felt alone. I felt isolated. I was afraid. I began to shut down even more.
In High School, my parents made a change and sent me to the private Christian School . You would think that in such a "godly" environment, I wouldn't have to deal with the same type of bullying. You would think that Christian parents would teach their children to treat other people with love right? I guess not, because that wasn't the case. Far from it. In fact, the treatment from some of the kids at the "Christian" School was worse for me then it was in the Public School. With the exception of being beat up... It was worse. Finally, I couldn't take the public humiliation. I begged my parents to put me in homeschool. There I continued to just become more isolated and withdrawn. I became extremely depressed. I began to give up on my Broadway Aspirations because of "perception". Maybe, if I wasn't in the theater, it wouldn't be perceived that I must be gay.
But, I wasn't safe being away from schools and bullying. The name calling and labeling continued in the church environment. Between church, church events and youth camps with other church groups... The "gay" accusations and name calling continued by my peers. I had also performed some Children's Concerts for some Christian Schools during this time. The music and presentation was geared towards children. I put my heart and soul into it! All of my passion, creativity, and God given talent. I had costumes, sets, choreography and a message that kids were important to God! I immediately got feedback from the teachers who said I wasn't a good "role model" for the kids. I was too feminine in the way that I handled myself onstage. I was too "gay". And then... I shut down. I nearly stopped singing altogether.
I didn't let a lot of people in during this time of my life; not even my parents. I was fighting a secret and painful war. I became withdrawn and isolated myself from relationships. I felt as though I wasn't good enough for church people; that I wasn't good enough for God. Obviously, He made a mistake with me. Because I didn't fit in with the church people. I didn't fit in with my peers. I didn't belong anywhere. Every night I prayed that God would take away my circumstances and just make me "normal". I wanted to be like other boys. As a teenager and young adult my depression led to thoughts of suicides. To this day, I remember writing this little poem...
"No one loves me, no one cares, so I should be dead".
I learned to change how I acted and talked, so that I could fit in with people better. I did it so I wouldn't be perceived as something that was so hated by so many people. I would lower my voice tone, so I wouldn't talk with such a high voice. I would try to make sure I wasn't overly feminine in how I acted. I was VERY self conscience of making sure I acted and spoke "masculine".
I carried my depression into adulthood. I continued to mask my hurt and my pain.
A turning point came six years ago when my depression hit an all time low. I had a beautiful family that loved me. But, when you struggle with depression that dark, it becomes a force that takes over. I was on a Alaskan Cruise. I was alone at night on the top deck of the Ship, because I couldn't sleep. And as we sailed through the cold dark waters, I came the closest in my life to ending it all. But, the grace of God intervened.
From that night on, I began a health change to battle the depression. And with that God began a healing process where He begin to reveal his amazing love for me and the truth that He does NOT make mistakes. My identity is in Jesus Christ. My value is NOT in who others perceive me to be, but in the fact God loves me. He gave me a personality, characteristics, talents and creativity that is specific to me! To Him I am a masterpiece. And, if other people don't get it, then it's there problem, not mine!
The church should be a safe place. A place where the love of Christ supersedes the instinct to judge someone because of "perception". We should be the group that opens up our arms to the wounded, the hurt, the rejected, the broken and the outcasts. That's the hope of the Gospel.
But, it's my opinion (based on what I have experienced, and what I witness) we are not that place. Generally speaking, I don't believe that we are that group of people. And, because of it, we are losing. Children who faced the battles that I did are ending their lives. Everyday, someone takes their own life because the depression of feeling like an outcast becomes too much to handle.
Don't think that it's just happening to "the lost". I was the furthest thing from not being a Child of God that night when I was standing looking into the dark Ocean. You would be shocked at the amount of Church leaders and Pastors who struggle with serious depression, and the amount that have taken their own lives because of it. This is a real problem. Hurt is a real problem.
Christian bullying is a real problem. Don't believe me? Then you have not been reading Facebook the last few days. Just so you know, there is a major difference in calling something sin, and calling someone a "sicko".
You have no right as a child of God to call anyone by anything else but their God-given potential. If Jesus died to save them then they are nothing less then a candidate for hope! And you never know... The words you speak to someone... That name you call them... The way you treat someone... May be the turning point in that persons life. It could turn a life around and point to hope, or it could be the last words... the last names... And the last interaction for that life. Words have power. But, so does love.
So yes. I can relate to Caitlyn Jenner. I can relate to feeling out of place. I can relate to feeling hated. To being called names. To being judged. And, I can relate to feeling like a target of all of these things, by those who are supposed to represent the love of CHRIST. It's the worst feeling. Whats the point of this honesty? Because someone is gonna read this that needs to hear it. Someone is struggling to make it to the end of the day and just needs a little hope. Someone is gonna read it that will say "I can relate to Brandon". I'm doing it to help THAT person.
I probably will never have the great opportunity of meeting Caitlyn Jenner. But, if I do, I'm gonna ask if she would like to go to dinner with my family. I'm gonna give her a hug, and tell her that she is loved. Not because she is on the cover of a magazine. Not because she is the center of so much attention right now. Not because I'm trying to be radical or controversial or prove a point. But because we have something in common. We could have a lot to talk about together. Because she is a life that Jesus died for, and because He does love her. And, so should we.