"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T. S. Eliot
I have always believed in God, but I didn't become a Christian until I was 19 (I am now 39). I was brought up going to my local high Anglican church and, although I knew a lot of facts about God, I didn't know God personally.
I thought that being a Christian just meant going to church once a week and that was it. It had nothing to do with real life. I then started to have problems when I realised that I was attracted to a girl at school. For many years I struggled with my feelings and I felt very guilty which led me to be depressed when I was in sixth form. I did stupid things to try and attract attention because I was very insecure and, although I occasionally prayed to God asking him if it was ok to be gay, I couldn't hear him answering me. I saw university as a chance to make a new life for myself and I didn't intend to go to church any more. I used my new found 'freedom' to act just how I wanted to, but found that doing all the things I'd wanted didn't give me the security and happiness I had hoped for.
I joined the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Society (LBG) and, even though I enjoyed the meetings, I still wasn't happy because I felt there was something missing from my life.
Meanwhile, my Mum had been asking me on the phone if I had found a church yet so, in January 1996, I decided to go along to church with another girl from my hall. It was very different from my church at home and they talked about applying the Bible to your life every single day.
We both decided to go along to Christian Union and at first I hated it. They sang lots of modern songs and prayed freely out loud and I was worried because I'd always thought that sort of thing was dodgy. We signed up to go on the houseparty the next week and I remember being so scared because I didn't know what to expect. When we got on the coach a girl opposite us whipped out some knitting and I wondered what I'd let myself in for! However, I had a really good time, although at this point I still hadn't made a commitment to God.
I was still doing things that deep inside I knew I shouldn't be, but one day when I was walking back from an LGB meeting I was praying that God would help me know what to do about everything I'd learnt. When I got back I shut myself in my room and read the passage of the Bible that had been preached about one Sunday at church (Romans 8: 1-4) It was then that I became a Christian. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes and I realised for the first time how bad I was. I realised that I couldn't ever be good enough and that I did not deserve to go to heaven on my own merit, but Jesus had taken the punishment for my sin on the cross. All those years I thought God wasn't answering my prayers, but I realised that he'd been speaking to me all along and I just wasn't prepared to listen to him.
I realised that living a gay lifestyle wasn't what God wanted for me and that he was offering me something even better - an unconditional love that will last forever, and freedom from death. And so I prayed to accept Jesus into my life. Just after that at a CU meeting, I felt that God was prompting me to tell everyone how I became a Christian. Even though I was very nervous and worried about what people would think, God seemed to put words into my mouth and I was very encouraged by the response to what I said.
Since then, many things have changed. I'm no longer afraid of dying, and my life has a new purpose and direction. God has also given me some really good friendships. In 1997 I went to Spring Harvest with a group of friends, which was a mixed experience for me. On the one hand I felt intimidated by being surrounded by so many Christians, because I felt I didn't want to share 'My' God with them, and it brought out a rebellious streak in me, so that I spent most of the time playing on the arcades and smoking. On the other hand, when I got home, I suddenly missed the worship times and decided that I had to find a local church to go to. At first I felt overwhelmed and despondent as I looked in the phone book and saw how many churches there were near me. I also didn't have a clue whether to go for Anglican, Methodist, URC, Baptist, Pentecostal etc. It would take forever to try them all and select a suitable one! Then it dawned on me that I could pray about it, and as a result of this, the third church I tried (Hazel Grove Baptist church) was clearly the one that God was leading me to. There have been many times when I have been uncertain and frightened about the future, but God gave me a picture of the way I should trust him. Imagine you are a child in a field of really tall grass which you can't see over. You have no idea which way to go. However, you hold on to your father's hand (God) and because you know he loves you, you can trust him to lead you in the right direction. He can see clearly even though you can't.
It is often very difficult to be a Christian in this world and I would not be truthful if I didn't acknowledge that it has been
hard at times. I still have bad days and good days, but the overall focus of my life is what's changed. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder and this is sometimes really difficult to live with, but I know that God is always with me and he gives me strength to carry on even in the really hard times.
I am still often tempted to do wrong, especially in relationships with women, and indeed sometimes I have given in to that temptation. But God is forgiving and thanks to his love for me I continue to get stronger in my faith. He is the one that I love more than anything or anyone else and I need to hold onto that.
There have been other challenges to my faith too. My sister was taken seriously ill shortly after I had become a Christian and it was very worrying for the whole family. But I prayed every day that God would heal her and I knew that he loves her even more than I do. She is now doing well and I am very thankful to God for that. She has a kind husband and a lovely daughter, Hazel, who is a delight to the whole family. This is just one example of the many times God has answered my prayers.
It is often hard when people insult you for being a Christian or make life harder for you because of your faith. Sometimes I think to myself "Is it worth it?" but the answer is always an emphatic "Yes!". As it says in Romans 8: 17 "We are heirs...of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."