Brenna Kate Simonds
Alive in Christ Director Brenna Kate Simonds has been learning to walk in freedom from same-sex attraction, disordered eating, and self-injury since January of 1999. Brenna has had the opportunity to be in The Boston Globe, award-winning documentaries Such Were Some of You and Just As I Am, and the TV show, Pure Passion. She is the author of the book entitled Learning to Walk in Freedom. Brenna holds ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God and attends Brockton Assembly of God. Brenna’s favorite pastimes are singing, gluten-free cooking, and enjoying the company of her husband and their three children at their home in the greater Boston area.
This is an excerpt from a much larger story - of how I came to be who I am today. Since Psalm 139 says that God created my inmost being, and He knit me together in my mother's womb, His unrelenting pursuit of me began before I even saw daylight. Here is my story. I pray that it encourages you, and rings true in your heart.
I was born prematurely in May of 1975 and spent two months isolated in an incubator, out of the warmth of my mother's womb but also out of her warm embrace. In those days, preemies were not touched or held. How this initial isolation affected me, I do not know exactly. What I do know is the tone of the rest of my life. I have distinct memories of songs and stories that scared me as a child. I'd zero in on themes of abandonment, and I carried those feelings of fear with me into adulthood. For as long as I can remember, I've struggled with a lack of self worth. I've had a hard time believing that I could accomplish anything or be someone other people could like.
During my youth, my family faithfully attended liberal churches, serving on various committees and singing in choirs. I'd always believed in God, but in those early years it had little effect on my daily life. I did cry out to God in times of trouble, wondering why He didn't rescue me from the difficult life I was living. By high school, I lacked many necessary life skills. I was not one of the "popular" kids. I never wore the right clothes, I never said the right things, and I didn't have the right friends. I had no understanding of how to properly deal with my emotions, which were growing increasingly disoriented. So I became self-destructive. I "self-injured" by cutting myself with sharp objects and banged my head and fists against walls and floors. I had started having eating problems at age 14, and by the end of high school I had a full blown eating disorder.
I began experimenting sexually with girls at a young age. This continued until, as a high school freshman, I found myself physically attracted to my best friend. Before our relationship became physical, it was already emotionally unhealthy. When we began to act out our attraction physically, I became totally dependent on her for my self-worth.
About a week into our relationship, I secretly looked up "homosexuality" in a health book. The book said that if you had attractions for someone of the same gender, then you were gay. I remember thinking, "There it is, in black and white. I am a homosexual." The summer after my high school graduation, I was in a coffee shop having a conversation about a novel I was reading. A character in the novel would quote Bible verses as a justification for abusing his wife. A man passing by our table heard the word "Bible" and asked if I was interested in going to church with him. I had attended many different types of churches throughout my life, so I accepted his invitation. I began meeting regularly with this man's girlfriend, who was quick to tell me that homosexuality was a sin that would condemn me to hell. She would pray with me every day. And every night I would cry myself to sleep, praying, "God, change me! Why did you make me gay if that means I have to go to hell?" In my heart I wondered, "Is it true that God wants me to be forever separated from Him?" The church I was attending did not share the hope for change that the gospel offers. Their stance was change first ... then God will accept you. I eventually got away from this woman and this church. I had asked God to change me, and He didn't. And so I embraced my lesbian identity. After three and a half years together, my first girlfriend and I broke up. I then met an older married woman, dropped out of college and moved across the country to live with her and her husband. Her husband said it didn't bother him to discover his wife was bisexual. He also claimed it didn't bother him to have me move in because by doing so, I was satisfying some need in his wife that he couldn't meet. She and I had a mock wedding ceremony and from then on, she introduced me as her "wife." I lived with this couple for close to two and a half years. During this time, I became even more involved with the gay community. I spoke out for gay rights, frequented gay bars, and embraced my identity as a lesbian. I even became engaged to a gay man. We decided we would marry to be companions as soon as I finished college, but I would continue to be in a relationship with my "wife." It made perfect sense to me at the time because I knew my "wife" would never leave her husband, but I certainly didn't want to be alone. My "wife" and I eventually decided it would best for me to continue my schooling, so I moved to Boston to attend a prestigious music school, the same school from which my "wife" had graduated.
Though I was in an environment where my sexuality was affirmed, my life was far from happy. My relationship with my "wife" continued to crumble until she ended our relationship about 10 months after I moved. My eating disorder spiraled out of control. I descended into fear and loneliness.
Oddly enough, it was during that time that I started learning more about Jesus. Christians seemed to pop into my life to share with and pray for me. They never took it upon themselves to point out my sinfulness or say that I should not be a lesbian. They just pointed me to Jesus. Like everyone else, I was a sinner in need of Jesus in my life. My sexual choices were only one of many indications of this need. It's pretty amazing to look back and see how God was cultivating a heart for Himself in me, and I was completely unaware of it at the time. I wrote to a friend during this time:
I may finally have the strength to turn to God for help. I've been turning away from God because I want to stay sick so I don't have to deal with the real issues. Well, it's strange because there have been some very influential Christians in my life. I think their prayers have really touched me somehow. Though I haven't been able to pray for myself, the fact that I consider it to be an option is a big step from where I've been.
Things continued to get worse until I eventually came to the end of my rope. I knew that I needed help with my eating disorder, or I was going to die, but I felt I had tried everything and nothing worked. I called a friend who was a recovering alcoholic and bulimic to get advice, and she asked if I had ever tried praying for help to overcome my eating disorder. I thought, "That's the one thing I haven't tried!"—so I started praying.
Around this time, a friend gave me a music CD by a passionate Christian artist. One night while listening, the words of a song gripped my heart. I felt all alone, and my heart was so hard. The voice sang of a friend who was always there, with every tear cried, a friend who would give everything for him. That friend was Jesus ? the son of God, who died on the cross to take away my sin, my pain, and to give me worth. He died so that I wouldn't have to carry the burden of my shame anymore. The words of the song cut me to the heart; I knew it was the truth. I couldn't believe that such a love was possible, that someone could love me so much as to make that great of a sacrifice. All my life, I never felt loved, no matter what I did. As a singer, even when I was praised for a performance, I still felt empty. Even when I was loved by a friend or lover, I was still empty. No one could have possibly loved me enough. I had a bottomless well - a never-ending ache inside of me that I tried to fill with love, people, things, goals, thinness - but nothing dulled the pain for long. I remember falling forward, sobbing uncontrollably because the pain in my heart was so great. It wasn't a typical kind of pain; I was being filled with love, and it hurt. It tore me apart to release all of my "self-control", everything that I gripped so tightly, that I held on to for dear life, to Jesus. In the midst of that song, I cried out to God saying, "I want what he has!" God, in His great mercy, met me on that day in January of 1999.
Though I was not in a relationship at that time, I was immediately convicted that being in a lesbian relationship was not compatible with being a follower of Christ. I asked a Christian woman to show me Scriptures on the topic. What I read in the Bible only strengthened my resolve.
This was easy at first; I was so in love with God that I didn't want anything else. However, about nine months after becoming a Christian, I met a girl who had been raised in a Christian home but whose family had walked away from God. I couldn't fathom how anyone could do that, and I desperately wanted to help her. My intentions were pure; however, my resolve for purity quickly faded, and we entered into a physical relationship.
During the 3 months we were together, I knew I shouldn?t be doing what we were doing. In fact, every time we?d try to do something physical, my entire body would literally shake. I can now recognize that this was the Holy Spirit inside of me warring against my “flesh” – my sinful nature and desire to sin. I also started having severe stomach problems during this time – another sign of the anxious fight going on within me. But I didn’t feel that I could end it. It was my “last chance”, my last fling before I would begin what could very well be a celibate life. Even the girl I was with knew I shouldn’t be living this way. After 3 months, she said to me, “Listen – you can’t be a Christian and be gay. The Bible says you must either be hot or cold – one or the other, but not both.” She was quoting Scripture to me! And with that, she ended our relationship.
I threw up my arms saying, "Fine, God! I don't want to live like this. Please take this away from me." In many ways, He did. My attraction to women greatly lessened, but the circumstances of my life that led me in the direction of lesbianism had not changed. I was wise enough to know that although I had surrendered my desire to live as a lesbian to God, that didn't mean the road ahead would be paved with gold.
There were a few things I found to be invaluable as I struggled to sort out the various issues in my life. I didn't know that groups like Alive in Christ existed when I was struggling. I opened up to my Christian friends about my struggle and asked for accountability. I went through three years of counseling to deal with the roots of my same-sex attraction, as well as my eating disorder, depression and self-injury. Romans 12:2 (NLT) says, "Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." I truly needed my entire thought life to be transformed. It wasn’t that I had moments of feeling worthless and unlovable; In the core of my being, I was sure it was true. My counselor helped me to recognize these faulty thought patterns and showed me how to make them line up with what God's Word has to say about me (2 Corinthians 10:5). And most importantly, I wrestled with God. A lot. In all honesty, I suppose, it was more like I wrestled and He waited patiently for me to realize that He is who He says He is and He will do what He has said He will do. When all that we've relied on for so long is ripped out from under us, it's a natural reaction to question God — to question His goodness, His faithfulness, His reliability and trustworthiness — because we've been relying on our own faulty coping mechanisms and limited understanding for so long. Whether healthy or unhealthy, reliable or unreliable, the chaos becomes predictable, almost like an unhealthy friendship that you wish you could get rid of ... but are glad it's always there. There were times when I was so angry and bitter at God because He could have made my life — past and present — easier if He wanted to, but He didn't. He wasn't working according to my timing, and that wasn't easy for me. I'm reminded of something from John 6. Jesus had just given the disciples a particularly difficult command. Rather than trusting in God's goodness, His overall trustworthiness, as well as taking into account their limited understanding, quite a few of the disciples decided it was too tough a command and stopped following Christ. When Jesus turned to the Twelve to ask if they would leave too, Peter responded, "Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We've already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God." That's how I feel. In the midst of all the questions and doubts, I already knew that I had tasted and seen that the Lord is indeed good, and that I had no other choice but to take refuge in Him (Psalm 34:8), to take my questions and hurts, rest in the shadow of His wing, and trust that He's always been faithful. And that this time will be no exception. Homosexual behavior is one sin that seems especially hard to grapple with because on the surface, it appears that it's not hurting anyone. I often hear about how unfair it is for God to forbid the expression of "genuine love" between two people. The reality of it is that there are a lot of things that don't seem fair in God's economy, at least to us. To me, it wasn't fair to be labeled gay just because I had same-sex attractions. It wasn't fair that the only choice I felt I was given was to embrace homosexuality. I don't know where I would be today if I had believed those who told me that my only choice was to be gay.
A few months after surrendering my sexuality to God, I met a man named Roy through the campus ministry we both attended. One night on the phone, I let it slip that I used to be a lesbian. I was so mad at myself for not being more careful, sure that I had pushed Roy away. In reality, Roy didn’t seem fazed by it. That summer, I wrote this entry in my journal: “God, I look up at the dark night sky, and think I can actually see You to talk to You. I believe You’re there, and I feel You so close. I look up, and I want to share it with someone. I want to sit on my back porch and cry with my husband about how beautiful You are. I think I know who that person is. Maybe I’m way off-base, but I feel like I met him already.”
Roy & I continued to be friends for 5 months, at which time we began dating. It wasn’t always an easy relationship. Beside the fact that I had been a lesbian, I had never dated anyone I wasn't also having sex with. I didn't know how to have a healthy relationship, much less a non-physical one. Through those difficult times, I held on to what I believed I had heard from God: that I was meant to marry Roy**.
When we first became friends, I was instantly drawn to his strong faith, his spontaneity, his free spirit and love for life. I thought he was cute enough, but I had never had a strong attraction to a man before. As we grew to know each other, I became more and more aware of my physical attraction to him. I can see that my lack of physical attraction to men in general was due to a fear of men that I had. I was repeatedly sexually abused as an adult by a man, and I believe I was protecting myself from future abuse by suppressing any physical attraction I might have. As I learned more about Roy, as I grew to trust him, and as I recognized that he wouldn’t hurt me, my natural physical attraction was allowed to surface without fear.
On December 14th, 2002, Roy & I became man and wife. And what a glorious ride it’s been since then!
Marriage is not a cure for homosexuality, or even a guarantee of happiness, but simply another part of God's healing process in my life. That said, I never imagined that I'd have this much joy and feel so loved and fulfilled. I thank God that I came to a point where in my heart of hearts, I felt I had no choice but to embrace Christ and all that He required of me. But what I got in return for my obedience and hard work is an amazing godly man who loves me, unconditionally, like no woman ever did. What I have today is a solid relationship with a trustworthy God who constantly reminds me of His love and faithfulness, a God who I can now worship for who He is, rather than just for what He's done in my life. He's shown Himself to be true in my life. And in those times when I feel He hasn't, I remind myself that it has more to do with my limited viewpoint and short-sightedness than it has to do with the reality of who God is. God never changes, but I do, and my love for Him and understanding of all that He is grows each day. And for that, I'm grateful.
Copyright © 2010 Brenna Kate Simonds. All rights reserved.
**I always want to add a side note to this story. I did not tell Roy what I had heard from God until after we were married. “Thus saith the Lord” doesn’t always go over well in this case. :)