My career trajectory over the last four years has my dad doing a lot of hand wringing. I've gone from working as an aide for James Dobson, to ministering to male prostitutes, to making café lattes at a Chicago coffee shop. But even that path seems normal considering that once, 12 years ago, I went from serving in media relations at the National Organization for Women, to serving in media relations at Focus on the Family. Translation: I swallowed the culture and spit out a feminist worldview; then, within a short period, I swallowed the culture and spit out a conservative Christian worldview. Needless to say, I've wrestled fiercely with worldview and faith.
My job as a barista puts me smack dab in the "real world"which to me, means not defending an abortion clinic, leading nonviolent civil-disobedience trainings, stalking an anti-abortion activist at 3 A.M., or writing a news release on "Banned Books Week" (or Lorena Bobbitt). Nor is it stepping into a college auditorium knowing that my story of coming to Christ and out of homosexuality could elicit tears, laughter, ridicule, and even protests.
With a history like this, pulling perfect shots of espresso and steaming pitchers of milk are middle-ground activities.
The Coffee-Shop Grind
Janet is a coffee-shop regular. She's a brilliant writer, and her warmth and dry humor remind me of my good friend Kathy in Colorado Springs. Janet is also a lesbian.
For weeks now, she has suggested that we exchange writing assignments (and spend time hanging out). From the moment she made the proposal, I've thought "bad idea"especially since one of my most recent projects was writing nine articles for Focus on the Family on being married to a gay spouse. My manager at the coffee shop is a lesbian, as is my district manager and assistant manager. Getting to know these women reminds me of the tremendous friendships I had in the gay and lesbian community. It's also a painful reminder of what I left behind when I made the decision to follow Christ.
In the past eleven years, I've had a proverbial foot in each world, which I've found to be both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because it helps me err on the side of grace when dealing with someone with a different worldview; the humanity of my ideological "opponent" is always part of the conversation, so there's an authentic avenue by which to evangelize; and because it helps me avoid demonizing my past.
The curse part is always present, too: Wanting to throttle gay and lesbian activists because I once used hypocritical rhetoric for political gain myself; the nagging feeling that I knew more community in the gay community than as a Christian; dealing with the reality of sexual temptation that may always be with me (I opened doors sexually that God never meant to be opened); and recalling what it felt like to be just out of college and filled with passion so explosive that I believed I alone could create lasting cultural change.
Now I'm in the daily grind, surrounded by lesbian women and asking, "Does God want me to risk $8.50 an hourand rock-solid health insuranceby sharing my story? Is the Devil testing my commitment?" I've shared my testimony countless times before, but now there are no co-workers at Focus gushing that I'm brave and loved. There's nothing to buffer me from harsh criticism, no comrades to swap war stories with, no sharp career to protect my egojust me and God taking a stand for truth. (Of course, when I was on stage in a lecture hall full of students, it was just me and God standing for truth!)
I'm ashamed to say that the most I've mentioned homosexuality in the last seven months was recounting an episode of The Office. I've steered clear of anything that might link me to my gay/ex-gay past.
While at Focus, I counseled often about earning the right to speak into someone's life before sharing what the Bible has to say about homosexual behavior (or any other sin). I also talked about the mandate to love individuals, whether or not they came to Christ or changed their behavior. In the past few years, I've tried to live out this principle. While working with prostitutes, I had the chance to help lead a young man to Christ just before he passed away from AIDS-related cancer. I likely wouldn't have experienced this divine moment had I beat him over the head with his sin. Instead, I spent time leading him closer to Jesus, meeting practical needs, and helping to shoulder his fear and suffering.
So why have I felt reluctant to share the "ex-gay" part of my testimony? Am I falling down on my job as a Christian? What happened to the girl who was once unafraid to share her heart publicly, both before and after her Christian conversionthe girl who once followed Senator Chuck Robb into an elevator shouting, "What about Anita Hill, Senator!" following the confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas?
Passing Through Darkness
As a new believer, I shared Christ door to door and passed out Jack Chick tracts on the streets of Seattle. I temped during this period and prayed faithfully for the people in whatever office I ended up in. I wanted others to share the joy of knowing Jesus. While I miss that infectious faith, I sometimes question the zeal that drove away all my friends from my old life. I was a certified freak for Jesus with no wisdom under my belt. Now I have the wisdom, and pray for the zeal.
Then I ended up at Focus on the Family, where I served in the pro-family trenches for seven years. At some point, I began to have a crisis of faith, which didn't fully hit until I left the ministry. Questions about Christianity and worldview, which had been swirling around for some time, came to the surface, creating spiritual confusion, darkness, cynicism, and distance from the One who had originally captured my heart. Blame could be placed on adjusting to a radically new worldview, serving in high-profile ministry, and negotiating the loneliness and loss of my old community.
I do not believe God made it easy for me to stay connected to him. Then again, I did not persevere in some necessary things that mark the life of a mature believer: praying daily, meditating on Scripture, and submitting my thoughts and fears to him. I did not put into practice the apostle Paul's admonition to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).
I felt consumed by spiritual darkness during my first year in Chicago. I sought help from a local church, but found indifference. My pastors in Colorado, Sallie and Ken Ross, encouraged me by way of e-mail; they suggested I put aside the questions and focus instead on Jesus. While I could not take their advice then, I'm confident that their prayers helped carry me through.
One major gift from God during this season was a redheaded, hairy, 40-pound wonder named Rosie. She's a shepherd/ chow/something mix. And she's near perfect. One of our joint activities is spending time with friends at the Montrose Harbor Dog Beach, a Disneyland for dog lovers. We get together at least five times a week with a regular crew (a professional magician, an actress, an artist, a psychologist, and a retired couple). Over time we've become friends, lounging in beach chairs and gossiping about the latest dog-beach news. None of the other members of this group are friendly toward Christianity, yet they are all curious about my faith. They ask questions regularly and feel safe enough to poke me about tougher issues.
A Changing Witness
Some time ago, I emerged from the darkness. In its wake, I found myself thankful for seven amazing years of ministry and professional growth in Colorado. I'm grateful for the talented, passionate people I worked with at Focus, and the many faithful friends I still count on.
Through the darkness, God confirmed my burden to reach out to those who are struggling in this world, and to use my gifts and experience to exhort other believers to do the same. He used this period to make me more discerning, more compassionate, and far more aware of the great spiritual need all around me.
To stave off future darkness, I have to continually beat back swirling questions, which are not only unanswerable, but also now laden with heavy emotion. I also regularly engage in the disciplines that I know lead to a stronger friendship with God.
While I'm not open about my "checkered past" at the coffee shop, I have learned to shut out the voices of condemnation that tell me I have some divine responsibility to speak out. As staff, we bond over our business principles, hard work, and the perfect cup of coffee.
My changing witness reminds me of something else Paul said: "To those not having the law I became like one not having the law so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (1 Cor. 9:2123).
I do not hide my faith in Christ from Janet, the coffee-shop staff, or my friends at the beach. It is my hope that they'll notice something different about me, continue to poke me with questions, and long to know the One who has given me life and hope.
Amy Tracy is a freelance writer living in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Copyright © 2008 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today profiled Amy Tracy after her conversion.
Tracy interviewed Charlene Cothran, who became a Christian last year, after 29 years as a gay activist.
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