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I dug the spade into the dry summer earth and turned over another clod of the wild overgrown backyard. It was the only way I could stay sane. I thought about Adam hiding in the Garden of Eden and plunged the spade back into the hard ground.
A few short days ago I had just graduated from a Bible College and now I was home at my parent’s house. There was no way that I could talk to anyone about what happened on my graduation night. I couldn’t explain even to myself.
Already, though still young, I had broken my heart over more than one man and was aware that forming a good relationship with a male seemed to be difficult for me. When I found myself falling for a woman, I knew it was in conflict with my faith, but as I thought it was simply my own fantasy, I entertained the thoughts, never believing they could actualize.
On my graduation night the connection was electric and threw both of us into a confused frenzy of guilt and giddy obsession. As Christians we knew this should never have started and the fear of God along with the despondency was torment in itself, but to be apart was worse.
For a year I stayed in my hometown, Auckland and she stayed in the South Island. We hoped to turn back the clock and get our lives back on track. Well, that is, I did. She in the meantime, without my knowledge, had gone straight into another relationship with another woman. During this year it had seemed that my prayers were hitting a concrete ceiling.
To cope, I had started to drink and went back to smoking, justifying myself as a free and liberal believer. I hung around with people on the fringe of the church and was judgmental toward those I considered too ‘straight’. I blamed my conflict on legalism and narrow church thinking.
When my friend came to my city at the end of the year and wanted to be with me, I was tired of fighting my heart and I was back in some form of heaven. Now I knew that God must have made me the way I was. Surely there had been some kind of mistake and I was a man trapped in a woman’s body? I was well aware that I was walking away from God and over the next few months I can distinctly remember losing my joy as my laughter became hollow.
Once I had put my foot solidly to my chosen path, my lover left me for someone else. I was more broken than I had ever been. This time I had sold my soul and given up my very faith for this woman. However, by now I was convinced that I was born homosexual and that nothing could, or would ever change me. The only hope I had was to find another soul mate.
I found myself drifting into the ‘scene’, first to the bars, then to the ‘girl’s club’. I ended up helping run this rough, rowdy, brawling, city rat-hole. Then I went to Sydney, Australia with my current lover. I was fast becoming alcoholic and in Sydney there was rarely a day that I wasn’t ‘out of it’ on some sort of smoking material. My partner and I fell in with a group of bi-sexual prostitutes who were dealing heroin. Here the girls were less possessive and less likely to get into physical fights. But the nightlife was more sinister and faster.
When my relationship broke up after two years, I found I had so little ability left to trust and love that I decided to enjoy as many casual relationships as I could conquer. I didn’t really understand the bi-sexual girls, preferring total female pursuit myself. The thought of a relationship with a man was repulsive to me.
I had to come back to New Zealand to shift some of my property. Then I landed a job that I had desired and was stuck. I tried to settle back into my old scene. Now living with my new philosophies, I was also happy to go from one person to the next or several at the same time if I could manage it.
At this point I believed I had finally beaten the devil at his own game. I’d found that if I merely muttered that I was going to try to get back to the God, I would have the person I desired. I had tried this deliberately without any belief that I could get back to God, and had immediately won a girl I had been pursuing for years. But it was an empty victory because by now I couldn’t trust my heart to her.
My life was becoming so empty that when I did meet someone who really cared for me, I was unable to return that favour. I was a dead woman walking. I decided I might as well complete the picture and finish off the empty shell of a body. I wasn’t depressed, just clinically thinking of ending a pointless existence. After all, I was getting into my late twenties and could see an aging lonely future ahead.
I’d prayed numerous times, but the concrete ceiling was always there. I tried again. I prayed "God, I’m not sure now if you are even out there, but if you are, and if I can get back to you, please show me. I’m not expecting a neon sign, but just show me.”
That night I had a visitor. I lived alone in my inner city flat. There on my doorstep was a long tall, lean guy called Geoff that I had known in my earlier Christian days. I was a bit perplexed as to why he had come to visit, as it was now long since I had seen any Christians other than my praying sister.
He explained that my mother and sister had, after eight and a half years, phoned a city church to ask them to send someone to see me. The church was a large one with around 2,000 people and the call might have been ignored, except that the pastor who took it had become a Christian through my sister. He delegated the request and it happened to fall to someone else who knew me, Geoff.
Geoff knew what my life was about and prayed about coming to see me. It was three weeks before he felt confident to come. It was right on the day I had prayed for my sign. I knew that if God was reaching out to me then I could make it. I decided that night I had an eleventh hour chance to come back to Jesus and I took it with a firm grip.
That Friday I went to the gay pub I always drank at, which was closing that night. I never had to know where all my friends went to after this and therefore be tempted to drink with them. I shouted some rounds of beer and went to several parties to say goodbye to everyone.
"Where are you going?” They all wanted to know.
"Back to God.” Was all I could say.
"You’ll be back. No one ever leaves just like that.” They scorned.
Sunday I went to church with Geoff and his family. I learned so much in the coming days but never looked back from that day. It was hard in the extreme, but not impossible.
For a time God let me think that I was a celibate lesbian. I didn’t think I could ever see myself as straight. One day while driving I whistled at a gorgeous young girl. Immediately I realized there was another presence in the car. I had Jesus in the passenger seat. There was no condemnation, just a strong revelation of my absurdity. The celibate homosexual label dropped from me like a stone. I was as God had made me, a woman. And Jesus was becoming the intimate love I had looked for all my life. God convinced me that "My beloved is mine and I am his.” No one had loved me as he had done.
When I found my peace with God and returned to following Him with my whole heart, I had no illusions that I could continue with my old lifestyle. My experience with Jesus was such that there was no doubt that the two lifestyles were as incompatible as jam and garlic, or pickled onions and ice cream.
God brought me through even to the point of marriage to a wonderful man. He made it very obvious that Pete was to be my partner for life. In my Bible readings I had realized that love was more about yielding our rights and dying to selfishness, whether in marriage, friendship or family. I have been married now for twenty six years. Our marriage has strengthened and matured, and our love has grown into a firm union.
God also called me to work as an itinerant preacher and as an ordained pastor. I had a long way to go, to get from where I had been living in disobedience, ignorance and pride, to where God wanted me to be.
Maybe you have had so many failures that you don’t dare to think that you can walk free. If I can be a forerunner and you want to run with me, following Jesus no matter the price, you can join an army of over comers.
Shirley’s story is written in the book The Woman Who Outran The Devil.