I was raised in a small town outside of Portland, Oregon. Although our family was religious, I had no personal knowledge of God.
Dad was always working to support our family of five children. Unfortunately, his constant worries about money left him short-tempered and critical. He had little time to spend with us and as I grew older, I began to resent him. My mother, on the other hand, was loving and supportive. Because I rejected my father, she became my role model. I enjoyed the same things she did: art, music and cooking.
When I was seven, my brother's friend spent the night. He introduced me to sexual experimentation, and we kissed and hugged for hours. Because of my own need for love and acceptance, it felt good to be close and share this kind of intimacy.
Years went on. I didn't like the competition of sports, and always felt different from the other boys. Music became an escape, a way of proving myself. I enjoyed learning the piano and guitar.
Junior high school brought on a whole new set of pressures. I switched from a private to a public school. I didn't know anybody. My body began to change and I was viewed by the other students as a sissy.
I was very frightened and thoughts of suicide became more frequent. I had it all planned: a bottle of pills, the easy way out. But one day my science teacher made the remark, "Anyone who kills himself is a sissy." Oh no, not that, I thought. That would be the worst thing people could think of me. My only way of escape wasn't an option after all.
In my town, there were two types of students: the jocks and stoners. Not being sports-minded, I wasn't much of a jock. So being a stoner was my option, which meant being part of the drug scene.
There was no limit to what I'd try. I became totally rebellious. Inside I resented my mother, blaming her for the way I was. And I hated my Dad for his neglect. Drugs became my escape from the pain inside.
My first sexual encounter occurred with my best friend in high school. We were drunk and I took advantage of him. Although he allowed it, there was little reciprocation on his part. He wasn't homosexual and there was no mention of the incident afterwards.
This began a pattern for me with other guys. I would make sexual advances to them; later, they would say nothing. Fantasy and masturbation were also a frequent release for my sexual tension, but it was all very unfulfilling. To others I appeared to be a normal kid. I played in the local rock band and was senior class president. Outwardly I was friendly and happy, but inwardly I was wasting away.
As far as I knew, I was the only one around dealing with homosexuality. I had no one to talk to about it. I didn't want to be gay but there seemed to be no other choice.
After graduation, I moved out of my parents' home. The rock group kept me involved in wild parties and drugs. But I was careful not to "come out of the closet" as a homosexual. I was so dependent on what others thought of me that I couldn't risk their rejection. While my friends were having heterosexual experiences, I was abstaining. Inside I was consumed with homosexual lust. The tension was tearing me apart, and I began to wonder how long I could keep my sanity.
I finally broke down in tears and told my parents the dark secret that had plagued my life for so many years. It came as no surprise. They had suspected for some time, but didn't know what to do about it.
"Why don't you become a priest?" was my dad's response. I realized that was no answer, merely another escape. My parents agreed to pay for counseling, but I only went twice. The psychiatrist wanted me to accept my situation, and recommended group therapy. That wasn't the solution I needed.
My personal search for other answers began. But the more psychology books I read, the more confused I got. I knew that I was too undisciplined and insecure to change myself, so I began to study other possibilities, such as Eastern religions and hypnosis. Still no answers. Maybe there's no way out, I thought. I'll just have to accept it.
About this time I started a new job, and one of the guys at work became my friend. There was something different about Jim; he had a peace in his life that I wanted. He always talked about Jesus. Because I also had a religious background, we'd talk about God. But it soon became apparent that I didn't know Him the way Jim did. To me, God was distant and harsh, not a loving Father.
At the same time, the pull to dive headlong into the gay lifestyle was getting intense. A homosexual man I'd met through work was coming on to me. I had to make a choice: to follow my feelings, or to try this "Jesus" about whom I was hearing so many good things.
One night in October, 1978, I prayed desperately: "God, if You're real, please reveal yourself to me." As I slept, He spoke to me in a vivid dream, letting me know that He had a place for me to eat at His table [Rev. 3:20]. The next day I woke up with such a peace and joy that I wept. Somehow, I knew God was real, that He was the answer for which I'd been searching so long.
I knew God could change my sexual orientation, but little did I know the pain and upheaval still ahead. Satan wasn't letting go of me that easy.
Jim and his friends gave me much-needed love and attention. At first, they knew nothing of my homosexual struggles. I wanted so much to be accepted that I wouldn't risk being vulnerable with them. Jim suggested that I try out a church he'd heard about, which had many young people out of the same hippie background from which I had come. I was afraid, but went and sat at the back of the church by myself. When the service was over, I quickly left.
The people were very friendly, and gradually I began hanging around after church a little longer. The leadership eventually asked me to be an usher, and I became active in different aspects of the church life. This kept me busy and helped me avoid too much focus on my homosexual feelings.
I destroyed anything in my house related to homosexuality, and devoted myself to prayer and reading God's Word. I didn't hang around with my old friends. To them, I had become a "Jesus freak." I prayed for new friends and as I became more involved in church life, I began to establish lasting friendships. The key was being willing to be vulnerable, to feel awkward at times, but still persevere.
Within months of my conversion, my father developed a problem that required a serious operation. We were told he had a 50/50 chance of living. For the first time I began to experience feelings of love toward my dad and I wept at the thought of losing him. I forgave him for all he had done to me. The healing process had begun.
After about a year, I knew I needed the support of my church to gain more victory over my past. Then came an anonymous phone call one night from someone threatening to beat me up because I was a "queer." I went and told my pastor about my background. He was very supportive, and asked me to share my testimony the next Sunday in church!
I was scared to death, but God gave me the courage to get it out. If I'm really going to be a part of this church, I thought, they need to know me for who I am. The church responded very positively; their acceptance helped me to forgive myself. God's healing was continuing.
The Lord did many other things in the years to come. He helped me to overcome fantasy and masturbation problems. The habit of masturbation was difficult. Although it provided momentary pleasure, afterward I'd fall into depression, with Satan telling me what a rotten Christian I was. I remember many nights of weeping in defeat.
James 4:7 was helpful: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." I would acknowledge my weakness to God and tell Him of my love and deep desire to please Him. As I resisted in God's strength, I got increasing victory.
The Lord also helped me to forgive men and women who had hurt me in my life. I was being changed emotionally and spiritually. Freedom from homosexuality was becoming a reality.
But two years into my Christian walk, I fell into homosexuality again. I'd secretly been holding onto desires for some homosexual activities I'd never experienced. I began to isolate myself and then a gay neighbor invited me over for dinner. After some wine, my pent-up desires came rushing to the surface. But the experience was totally unfulfilling; I had a sense of God's presence that could not be denied.
I ended up repenting on the spot. I apologized to the guy and left. I was able to confess to a dear friend and he helped in restoring me. I knew I had opened the door to much spiritual attack, but I also learned more about the grace and mercy of the Lord. I have never fallen since that day.
About five years after coming out of homosexuality, I joined an ex-gay support group here in Portland. Since the beginning of my journey, I had been in touch with Love In Action and they let me know of the group. I found out at the first meeting how valuable my testimony was. I could encourage others because of what God had taken me through. It felt good to help them take a stand in their lives and experience God's love and healing.
God was also faithful to provide a lovely woman to be my wife, and we now have four children. I first met Patty when we were both working on a Christian musical. Our relationship began as friends with a common goal. We soon grew close and it became evident to everyone that God was bringing us together in marriage. Our courtship was one of the happiest times of my life.
The restoration of the years of despair have been great and I feel I've received far more than I deserve. But that's just how God is. He's loving and kind, a Father to model your life after. He's shown me real love.
For years, I looked for an escape from my unhappiness and sexual struggles. But I've found the way out. His Name is Jesus.
Phil Hobizal is director of "The Portland Fellowship," in Portland, Oregon. Distributed by Love In Action, PO Box 753307, Memphis, TN 38175-3307; 901/542-0250