Thoughts on LGBT + faith.
This project is a long time coming (out).
I love working in the animation industry, and I hope I continue to for many more years. But lately these words from Mary Oliver keep ringing in my ears:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do /
With your one wild and precious life?”
What messages do I want to leave behind? What messages would I want my kids to be proud of me for? I believe we all have talents, and I think it’s important to think about how we can use those talents for something bigger than paying the mortgage.
I want to tell people’s stories with my art. I want to tell of their triumphs, their struggles, and the priceless lessons they learned. And I think this time in history – maybe now more than ever – we need to listen to each other.
But if I am going to tell other people’s stories, I think I need to tell my own story first.
I have shared my story before of growing up in the church, and finding peace about being gay, and a Christian. For years now, I have wondered if I would have the courage to put some of my own triumphs, struggles and lessons into an illustrated book. For years I have been thinking about it. But lately, I have felt a need to do it. Maybe it’s just that now I feel ready to do it.
I really struggle with this, as I can’t stand the spotlight. Like all of us I wonder – does my story matter? I’m sure it will rock the boat in some of my circles. Putting my deepest and darkest struggle out there for everyone to read (in illustrated-form yet!) is… terrifying. But years ago, after God gave me peace about who I am, I felt Him asking me to be authentic about how I got there. I struggled so much for so many years, and if my story can help someone else, then I will tell it every chance I get.
We have come a long way with LGBT inclusion. But there’s still a lot of work to do, especially in our churches. There’s still (LGBT) voices to hear. I want to do this for that teen sitting in their non-affirming church, not sure if they can continue. I want to do this for that person struggling with rejection from family or friends because they just want to be honest about who they are. You are not alone.
So here it is.
This is my work-in-progress cover for the book I am writing & illustrating, entitled “Dear Younger (gay) Me”. The story will follow a present-day version of myself, going back to visit a younger version of myself, following the journey where I was struggling the most, and trying to leave encouraging messages in place of the hurtful or difficult ones I received at the time.
I will be posting updates, I need to figure out how to get it published, I am in the midst of storyboarding…. it’s all a messy work-in-progress – sort of like all of us. 🙂 I’m not sure how this is going to go, but I keep hearing a small voice inside saying, “Just draw it, and see what happens.”
So, one illustration at a time, I’m doing this.
Thanks to everyone who supports me near and far – most of all Tams, for giving me the (daily) courage to do this. Life is too short not to do hard things.
If you know someone who might benefit from this when it comes out, please share. I just really want all of us to feel less alone.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for updates. 🙂
It took me into November – BUT I DID THEM ALL YOU GUYS! With two kids and lotsa work, this was a flippin’ feat.
All sketches done on a Moleskine sketchbook, using a mix of pentel brush pen, pigma liners, colerase pencils, pencil crayons and markers. Click to enlarge any of them to see larger.
Thanks for following along! 🙂
Instructions for a life:
I grew up in a large Pentecostal church, baptized days after being born. God and Jesus were always a huge part of my life.
My youth was full of Christian conventions, church summer camps and Friday night youth groups. I always believed the church was my family, and they would love me no matter what, because that’s what I was taught. I loved every aspect of growing up in the church…
Until I realized in my late teens that I may be gay.
From the age of 17 to 29, I encountered hurt, neglect, shame, loneliness and guilt from my church family. Sadly not an uncommon story, what had been my refuge since birth, became a dark place that made me question everything.
I began to hate myself and my futile prayers. Without ever having to say it, they made me believe I had to choose: embrace God, or be damned, and embrace this capital Sin.
I clearly remember sitting in my room at 18 years old, writing in my prayer journal and sobbing. After dodging this struggle as long as I could, I finally turned my head to look it square in the face.
Everyone was right. I was the worst of sinners. And no amount of prayer was changing that.
How could I be attracted to women? I grew up around all the right people, in the perfect Christian environment, with a loving mother and father to guide me. I was so involved at church and I loved it. I loved Jesus genuinely, and my family fiercely – and now I felt as though they couldn’t love me if I embraced being gay.
Hope began to dwindle.
Hope continued to dwindle for 13 years, where I had some of the most severe lows, and intoxicating highs, as I trudged along the messy path of my faith and sexuality. My faith was truly tested in every possible way. I was forced to ask myself – and God – questions that I never would have, if I was straight.
What a gift, actually, that turned out to be.
My relationships with family and friends went through some extreme ups and downs, and I made some bad choices motivated by hurt and loneliness.
Yet through it all, I felt God softly standing beside me, gently pursuing me, and not allowing despair to take a full hold. Deep down I always knew He created me for more than this chaos I was feeling.
A few weeks before my 30th birthday, I was coming very close to the end of my rope, and I knew I had to make a choice.
I had been dating this amazing woman named Tammy for seven years, yet so much of my life was in the closet, and up in the air. I lived with constant chaos rolling around in my soul, and I didn’t see how I could ever be okay with being both gay and a Christian — never mind be gay-married. It wasn’t fair to her any longer, and I had to make a decision to either end things or move forward.
A friend asked me to housesit, and I knew this was my chance to spend a week alone with God.
As I peeled back the layers of hurt, chaos and confusion of the last 13 years, I wept, and I asked God the impossible one last time.
Can You truly still love me if I love the gay part of myself?
Will you turn Your back, or will You be in the middle of our relationship, if I take the hand of the one I love, and walk forward in this life with her?
Will I ever possibly feel peace?
The answers were not was I was expecting — and they were not what everyone was telling me they would be. It was in that moment that I realized something vital. I had been listening to God’s people for 13 years – but what did God Himself have to say to me?
I waited, and I listened… and I sat there in the stillness.
I felt inside my soul, bubbling to the surface, a deep, resounding YES.
YES, I LOVE ALL THAT I MADE YOU TO BE.
YES, a thousand times over, YES.
And more than that – none of your struggle will be wasted.
A peace that began to wash over me like waves, consuming the shores of chaos and washing them away, layer by layer.
I didn’t get written answers, or theological clarity — but I got peace. A peace that has not wavered since that day.
One year later, Tams and I got married. Our wedding day was not at all as I imagined it as a young girl. For one, I wasn’t marrying a shaggy-haired youth pastor, I was marrying a woman.
Secondly – my parents chose not to be there. I never thought I could look back on my wedding day with the profound void of my parents absence, and be truly happy.
But let me tell you my friends, God was there. And He filled that void so completely. I remember turning the corner to walk down the aisle, and I saw Tams waiting there for me – my heart burst, because I truly felt God saying to me – this is who I have made for you. I never believed that could have been possible. I am astonished. When I think back on that day, I just feel love.
I stand before you now, seven years later, at 37 years old, married to my beautiful Tams since 2011. We have a 19 month old daughter named Robson, who is our consistent beam of light, and we are pregnant with our second – a boy, due in just a few short days.
Profound gratefulness fuels my life.
I can say today that I am wholly myself, in true contentment, and embracing this life God has given me.
It hasn’t been easy since that peace flooded my soul – but it is a continual well in which I draw from, to make it through the tough times.
There are still people close to me, including my parents, who do not agree, and that is hard… but it is okay. We can disagree. I know some people see my gift of peace as the moment when I gave into my sin. But this moment when people believe I walked away from God, is in fact the moment that I ran towards Him.
This is God’s story, and I am just trying to live it out. I believe that He will redeem it all one day; and I just need to leave that up to Him.
This poem by Mary Oliver resonates deeply as I reflect on my life journey so far.
Pay attention. Because of the turmoil that God has brought me through, I am forced to pay attention to the gifts in my life that I will no longer take for granted. My daughter’s embrace is that much sweeter. Holding my wife’s hand in public is that much more profound.
Be astonished. When I have tough encounters with the ones I love, and they do not cheer my relationship or family on – I am grieved. But God gives me such a quiet and beautiful peace to be still, and trust Him. My heart remains soft. And that makes me truly astonished.
Tell someone. When God gave me this peace, I promised Him I would share His story. That is why I embrace it proudly. I believe I have been called to share my truth, to live authentically – and to leave the rest to Him.
What a true gift it is to be heard.
Thank you for listening.
This is exciting news for me! The book that my friend Peter Walker wrote, “Downside Up”, and I have illustrated for almost two years is for sale on Amazon NOW! It is also available in Barnes & Noble bookstores in the States! You can buy it Amazon.com or Amazon.ca 🙂 And if you like it, please feel free to leave a review!
This is the first project that I have worked on that I have fully been able to combine my art and my faith, and I am so excited it is available for purchase! It’s also the first published book I have illustrated 🙂
Feel free to like the Facebook page for more updates! Here is a synopsis of the book: “A picture book for grown-ups! Satire and humor in rhyme and verse about Jesus, the church, and what’s gone wrong! Is there any reason for hope?”
A couple teaser illustrations:
The front and back covers:
Hello my little one…. it’s me.
[We will teach you about Adele when you grow up a bit!]
I can’t even believe you are already 28 weeks along, and growing so strong inside of Mama’s belly. Wow, you are doing so great little bean!
First let me thank you for a precious gift you have already given me. [Truthfully I think you and God were in on it together.] A few weeks ago, your Mama and I were putting the Christmas tree up, and decorating it with all of our ornaments. Your Mama said she felt you moving around inside, and to come and see if I could feel anything on the outside. I hadn’t yet. I put my hand on her belly, and we waited there for a minute, in the silence of the twinkling lights from the Christmas tree.
All of a sudden we both felt a huge BOOM from inside – a direct hit to the palm of my hand, and my heart skipped a beat! I heard you, little one! Blinking back tears, I realized how real this journey is. This is happening – you are coming into our lives, a kicking, screaming, laughing, thoughtful little being. You, my little girl, are my miracle. I already thank God daily for your existence; for being allowed to witness this sort of love in my life. I am in awe.
Now, little bean, I have been thinking about something else I wanted to share with you.
As you will learn, there are many different types of families. Some families just have a Mommy. Some families just have a Daddy. Some have two Mommies or two Daddies. Some are raised by a grandparent or an aunt. Some – maybe most – will have a Mommy and a Daddy. The love is still the same, my sweet one.
I grew up with a Mommy and a Daddy. I was very lucky that they were [and are] both around for my whole life, spoiling me and loving me as I grew up. And if I am being honest, I was definitely a Daddy’s girl. My Daddy is very generous, very funny, and one of the true heroes in my life. I know I can always count on him to be there, fix anything, or make me laugh. I have always thought, even as I am now a grown-up, that I have the best Dad. (He will be the best Grandpa to you, I know it. 🙂
And as you get bigger and bigger in Mama’s belly, I realize that you will never say those words: I love you, Daddy.
My Evangelical Christian upbringing wants me to feel guilty about that. I want to say that I am sorry that I have chosen a “lifestyle” that omits a Daddy from your life. And I admit that it was one of the fears I had when I was struggling with becoming a Mama myself. How can I withhold anything from an innocent child?
But, my Sweetheart, I won’t apologize. Because I have chosen love, and love is something we never apologize for. My heart is too full of peace and gratefulness to be sorry, little one. No, you won’t have a Daddy in the traditional sense. You will have two Mommies instead. Two Mommies that already love you so entirely, it is hard to properly put it into words. So we will show you. We will show you with every hug, with every tear we wipe away, with every cuddle, with every crust we cut off your bread, and with every moment of sleep we lose when you cry or are sick. You will be so absolutely loved.
I believe to the depths of my soul, that this is the path God has chosen that has led you into this world. I believe that God knows what He is doing, and He isn’t scared that you will be coming into a family “without a Daddy” – but that was His plan. God does not make mistakes – He makes miracles.
So maybe one day you will be with your friends and they will be talking about their Daddies, and it will hit you: I don’t have one. And maybe you will wonder why. And I hope you will come to us with all of these questions, and more. And above all, I hope that your heart and soul is just so surrounded with love that you won’t feel like you are missing anything – but have everything you need. That is my prayer for you, little one.
We are counting down the days until we can stare into your beautiful little face. 🙂
My dear sweet little bean,
You don’t know it yet, but you are so entirely loved.
These past few weeks, the word miracle has taken shape inside of your Mama, and I have had the honor of having a front row seat to the unfolding of it all.
Let me tell you a little bit about how you got here. After all, your Mommies are a bit older and bound to forget some of the details one day.
My sweet little one, this road to bring you into our lives has not been the easiest, nor the most traditional. But as you will find in life, some of the most incredible things in life require the roughest road to getting there.
Your Mama and I went to a fertility clinic and tried six times to bring you into our lives. Each time, we were hopeful and our hearts filled with visions and dreams of what could be… until we heard “Sorry, not this time.” Little one, we shed many tears wondering why we had to wait, and what we were doing wrong. I have to be honest that my heart started to wonder if you would ever come into our lives.
We decided to try a very complicated process called Invitro Fertilization, or IVF, for our seventh – and final – try. [Maybe I will draw a story to explain how it works for you one day!] Your Mama gave herself many needles of medicine for many days, had two procedures, and then we waited and we prayed.
Photo of two fertilized embryos implanted on July 26, 2015: [the day after my birthday :D]
The day we were to find out if you were going to begin your journey to us, your Mama and I met over lunch time when we were both at work. We pulled over to the side of the road, and in the car we called the clinic and held our breath. When we heard those words: “You are pregnant!” – well my sweet child… that was the moment that our hearts burst with a joy I cannot properly put into words. Those tears were oh, so very sweet. And without the lows of the six no’s, the high of this seventh yes would be so much less sweet. And for that, little one, we are so grateful.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, we reflect on this season of waiting. It has brought your Mama and I closer together, and forced us to trust that the God we believe in, has it all under control, despite what we can see or feel. He has been so faithful to us through each step of this process. So in the end, we are thankful for this season of waiting, and for the tough lessons our hearts have learned. What a gift it has turned out to be – the slow and hard waiting, in this world of rushing from point A to point B. We are so thankful, knowing that the waiting will allow us to cherish your arrival that much more. For how can we enjoy the mountaintops without the valleys?
Your Mama and I have been together for many years, and we love each other so much. You will soon find out how incredible she is – she gives the best warm hugs, she cooks the most yummy meals, she will laugh at silly things with you, and she will have a calm wisdom for you when you don’t know if things will be okay. You will be so proud to share some of her genes, and I can’t wait to see how your little face bears an adorable resemblance to hers.
Your Mama, not me, is the one who is carrying you in her tummy right now. But my child, I am carrying you just as gently in my heart until we get to hold you in our arms. We just can’t wait to hold you, dance with you, stay up nights with you, pray for you, wipe the tears away and laugh alongside you.
My precious little bean, you should know that some people have their own opinion about the love your two mommies share. But my sweetheart, the world is sometimes scared of things that are different. I believe that the God who is knitting you together in Mama’s womb right now, is the same God who holds us together, and has blessed the life we have led together so far. We have made mistakes, but we have tried to love, and love well – and we believe that is the most important thing. The love we share is so ready and waiting for you. And through the years of loving each other, maybe we can all show the world that love is love, and family is family, no matter what it looks like.
Maybe you won’t remember, but I have been dancing with you already. I put my hand on Mama’s belly and then I may or may not listen to the latest Justin Bieber song and dance. I am sure one day you will put music on that I don’t understand, but I promise to dance with you anyway.
I pray that you will know what true compassion is, that you would see someone and not question whether or not to help. I hope that you will lead the sort of life who idolizes the Malalas, and not the Kardashians. I hope that you awake each day with a sense of hope and wonder, and embrace beauty in all things. I pray that we can share with you how love can heal, how forgiveness is powerful, how grace should always be the goal, and how to live a life that puts love first.
I know the label Christian is a scary one sometimes, but believe it or not, your Mommies still hold onto that label. Yes, we have been hurt and misunderstood by a lot of people who bear that label, but please keep in mind my little bean, that where the Kim Davis’ of the world exist, there are also the Mother Teresa’s. We have been hurt my little one, but we have also been loved so very well. We can’t wait to share with you why our faith is so important to us, and to see where your journey of life and discovery takes you.
We are trying to be patient these last few months… but we just can’t wait to meet you, Baby Chomiak.
Until then, my little one, keep growing strong.
6 week ultrasound:
8 week ultrasound:
13 week ultrasound: [Oct 2015, already sucking his/her thumb]
I have said it before and I will say it again:
Attending the Gay Christian Network Conference continues to be the most “Christian” experience I have had in my entire 34-year church-going existence.
This was my wife and I’s fourth consecutive conference – and not only does it feel like an ever-growing family reunion – but it is the place where God’s presence is undeniably felt.
About a week before the conference, I had someone very close to me tell me that GCN is not a real ministry. That GCN is the place “we” go to make ourselves feel better about sinning. There is no way God could bless a group of people who openly give into their sin.
But walking into that first general session at the Oregon Convention Center, my heart could not accept those words. It was like walking into a wall of love & authenticity. The place was packed with people from all over the world – over 1300 people from 14 countries – almost doubling last year’s 700 attendee total.
Why is GCN growing so quickly? Are we all just so happy to find a place where we can sin and not feel guilty? No. It’s because God’s presence is here, and He wholly accepts us – gay, straight, ally, questioning, pastor, transgender… it does not matter. We are ALL beautifully and wonderfully made – and GCN is one of the only places where I think we all get that. We don’t all agree [or need to], but we are all tied to the One who made us, and that is enough to set differences [and denominations] aside and celebrate. My heart is sad for those people who won’t ever experience this, for fear of that 3 letter word.
As usual, the three keynotes speakers – Jeff Chu, Danny Cortez & Vicky Beeching – delivered amazing and challenging messages, with Justin‘s keynote on Sunday ending the conference perfectly. For the first year, they were live streamed – and I believe the videos are still available here: http://new.livestream.com/GCNconf
Jeff Chu asked what do we, as gay Christians, bring to the table – the place where we all meet and break bread together? He reminded us that all our stories, our voices, are what we can bring to the table. Stories matter, and to learn from each other, we must have real conversations. Conversations made up of listening as well as talking. I experienced this in a real and deep way in between all the sessions and workshops, as I found myself meeting new beautiful souls one after another. Not just other gay Christians, but parents of gay children, and straight allies wanting to know how to love better. So beautiful and so genuine. My heart was humbled with each new story I heard.
Danny Cortez, [straight] pastor from New Heart Community Church, challenged us to love better. After realizing that his own views, as a straight pastor, had changed in regards to homosexuality – his own son came out as gay. This started a huge and challenging journey for his church as he then came out to them as affirming. If you haven’t seen his sermon explaining how his views changed, please take time to watch it here.
He reminded us that wherever we land on this issue, the goal of our faith is not marriage equality – but LOVE. Jesus asks us to “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who persecute you.” Have a posture of love. We have the choice to end the cycle and learn to love like Christ did, and does. What a huge privilege, to participate in that! That is exactly why I got “Be the change” tattooed around my wrist. I want to give grace and love to those I perhaps have not gotten it from. I want to respond differently; to love radically. I will fail, but I will continue to try over and over again.
During his keynote, Danny gave the gay Christian community an invaluable gift. He apologized. On behalf of the church that tried to “change” us, or convince us that we could not be loved by God until we are fixed – he said he was sorry. He said that was not true. There were tears in his eyes, and his voice wavered as he looked out into the packed audience and said, “I am so sorry.” So much healing in those little words. Thank you, Danny.
The third keynote speaker – and perhaps the most controversial – was Vicky Beeching. So controversial was this newly “outed” gay Christian singer, speaker & religious commentator from the UK – that the folks from Westboro Baptist flew themselves all the way from their headquarters in Kansas, to Portland, to protest her and the rest of us at GCN.
But I want to thank the Westboro Baptist protesters. They gave me a gift.
It was an opportunity for me to love better – and to be loved better by total strangers. As a group of us GCN regulars gathered early to walk with new conference attendees so they wouldn’t feel scared walking by Westboro – we saw that a group from churches around Portland were already there waiting for us. Colourful signs in tow, they lined up smiling and cheering us on, and shouting that they love us.
At 7:30 in the morning. On a Saturday. In the rain.
What a tangibly raw and real experience, as I took the hand of the one I love, and walked by the church members into the crowd of Westboro protesters, yelling their hate and holding their loud signs up proudly. I have had many Christians gently tell me how sinful I am, or quietly remind me how my sin is the worst…. but I have never experienced such in your face, loud hate.
And yet, in that moment I felt such a rush of complete love and support that it overcame me and many of my friends standing with me. It felt like a holy moment. We looked at each other with tears in our eyes, and I know we were all thinking the same thing – this is what it looks like to be loved by Jesus; to be loved by the church.
Overcoming hate with love.
And as we joined the wall of love [it was more like a path] in front of the Westboro people, ensuring a safe path for conference attendees to get to the venue, I watched every person’s face as they walked by. Many people smiled so widely, not sure how to take in this experience. Some people looked down, blinking back tears, overcome by such a visible representation of love and support. Some walked fast, too embarrassed for the attention; some slowed down to high five people or say a few Thank-yous. I wondered, how many people walking by, were feeling that love and affirmation for the first time? How very refreshing for the soul, to be reminded that you are inherently a child of God, and nothing else can change that. So thank you, Westboro. Thank you for giving me that holy moment, so that I could be a part of that moment for so many others.
Once again, God uses what is meant for harm – for His good.
As if Hollywood had written this from the beginning, we all realized as we had been standing there, singing hymns to drown out the Westboro hate – a rainbow had formed above us for all to see. What more confirmation did we need, then for God to remind us of His promise, as vibrant and as clear as could be? My heart was full to overflowing.
I wondered that morning, looking around at these precious people around me – could this be the community that God will use to show us all how to love better? Could I be a small part of that? My wife and I, we will definitely try.
When you tack on “Gay” to “Christian” – that invokes a lot of fear, and anger for some people. I think many people even feel it is an oxymoron. But we do exist. I do exist. God made me this way, and I am so thankful for the lens through which I see Him, and the world. Without that 3-letter word as a part of my Christian journey, I believe I would not be nearly as compassionate, nearly as vulnerable, nearly as grateful for this faith I have had to hold onto – kicking and screaming.
John Pavlovitz [a straight pastor] wrote about his experience at the GCN conference in Portland – and many of his words brought tears to my eyes. But something in particular he said hit home for me –
For their entire lives, [LGBT Christians have] had to overcome Christians just to try to get to Jesus.
I realized that, since the age of 17, when I felt my attractions growing for girls rather than boys, and my only community was the Christian one – I became this salmon that turned 180 degrees and began to swim upstream. This was the start of a 13-year journey of swimming and swimming and swimming against the flow of the Christians around me.
“You have to choose.”
“Your sin is the worst.”
“God can’t love you if you are gay.”
I was just trying to get to Jesus, because somehow, in some way – I knew He felt differently about me than his followers did. And that kept me going.
In 2009 when Tams and I went to our first GCN conference, this salmon knew it had reached its’ destination and we were all facing the same way. My soul could finally find rest.
Thank you, GCN. We will keep trying to love better, and continue to swim until next year. 🙂