It was August in Alaska and the leaves had already turned. The sky was dark and lifeless as the white clouds of summer had given way to the flat cover of winter. The leaves hung limp under the cold rain. As I walked from the car to the doors of the health clinic, I felt a damp chill in the air.
This was not an unfamiliar place for me. Over the years I had been checked a number of times for one "social" disease or another. One thing we understood very well in the homosexual sub-culture, sexually transmitted diseases were rampant. However, this particular visit was different. Two weeks earlier they had drawn blood to test for antibodies to HIV, the virus we now believe causes AIDS. As I waited in a small room for the results, I started to wonder if all the foolish choices I had made over the years would suddenly catch up with me. But as quickly as that thought came, I pushed it aside. After all, I thought, I'm in control here and I wanted to get on with my life. At that moment the door opened and a woman walked in. She sat in front of me and with a warm smile opened my file. My heart was beating a million miles an hour. It seemed the entire world had stopped and was waiting for her next breath. She looked up and I heard her say, "Michael, I'm sorry to tell you that your test has come back positive." I heard nothing else she had to say.
As I pulled up to the stop light just blocks from the clinic my vision became a blur. The cold August rain settled on the windshield, tears began to fill my eyes and I cried out, "God, how could you let this happen to me? How could you let this happen...." The circumstances leading up to that day actually began sixteen years earlier with an event that might surprise some. At the age of ten, I walked down the aisle of a small Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas, and asked Jesus Christ to be my Savior.
Our family had just moved to Texas to be close to my grandparents while my father served a tour of duty in Vietnam. Shortly after joining the local church, I began to hear clear presentations of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even at the age of ten I began to understand that I was a sinner, that my sin was separating me from God and that the price for my sin would be terrible. Jesus talked about a place for sinners called hell, a place of eternal torment and separation from God. It seemed pretty hopeless to me. Then I heard the "good news." God had made a way of escape. He sent His own son, Jesus, to take upon Himself the penalty for my sin. When He hung on that cross, He was offering me the gift of life. When my father returned from Vietnam, our family moved to Anchorage, Alaska. This was a great adventure for all of us. It was also a time of real change. My sister was starting high school and my mother went to work for the first time. Suddenly, life had changed gears and we just never found the time to join a local church. Although we all considered ourselves to be Christians, we never talked about our relationship with Christ and our Bibles sat on the shelves gathering dust.
Like many young people, I grew up with a nagging sense of inadequacy and a total fear of being rejected by others. Rather than making friends and getting involved in activities, my solution was to isolate myself. The more inwardly drawn I became, the more I was tormented by the feeling of being "different," not measuring up and not fitting in. By the seventh grade, the desire to be accepted by others in my peer group was central to almost every choice I made. Sounds like pretty normal adolescent stuff now, but the choices I made would prove to be disastrous. Finally, I found a sense of belonging in theater and music. Here everyone acted a little "different" and no one thought anything of it. It was at a cast party following a school theater production that I would come in contact with drugs. The acceptance of a single invitation to go out to a car and smoke marijuana was all it took to begin an involvement with drugs that lasted into my twenties. I was on a very slippery slope and could not begin to imagine what awaited me at the bottom. And the reason for that choice? I just wanted to "fit in," to be "cool," to be accepted.
Most young people were thinking about what they wanted to accomplish after high school and were building dreams for the future. To me, the world was one big party and I didn't want to miss any of it. Leaving home at sixteen, I thought I was ready to tackle the world. While working full-time I was barely making it through high school. I had a girlfriend here and there but never got to know them very well. My idea of what those relationships were supposed to be about had already been twisted by exposure to pornography. I thought it was all about sex and I wasn't ready for that.
After work I usually went to a bar next door to drink with the waitresses. One night a young man that I had admired from school stopped in and asked me if I wanted to go to a disco. He was a great dancer and always seemed to have lots of people around him. Even after he told me it was a "gay" bar, I didn't hesitate. After all, I wanted to be part of the "in crowd." That night he introduced me to my first homosexual experience. That started a dive into the homosexual sub-culture that would ultimately form the very core of my identity. As the years went by, even as God reached out to me over and over again, I was unwilling to walk away from the camaraderie, the sense of belonging and acceptance I thought could be found in homosexuality. Misery really does love company. Years of revolving-door relationships, drugs, money - none of it seemed to fill the ever increasing emptiness in my heart. The way I was living was pushing me further and further from God and I knew it. Many times I asked God to rescue me from the consequences of my own choices only to face the truth that I was unwilling to give up control of my life. Something began to happen after I left the clinic on that cold August day. God began to soften my heart. Little by little over the next two years, I gave up. It soon became clear that all the control I had managed to grab for myself was killing me and keeping me from the one relationship that would really satisfy and last for all eternity, the one that began with God in that little church sixteen years earlier.
I still bear the scars of those years, but I am finally free from the emotional and spiritual bondage that my own choices led me to. So many ask the question, "Can God change people involved in gangs, crime, homosexuality, and heterosexual immorality?" I'll never forget the last line of a letter from a young woman who had once been caught in the trap of lesbianism. The letter was offered as an introduction to a book I was reading while still in the depth of my own depravity. She wrote, "Can God change those trapped in homosexuality? Of course He can. I know He can because He changed me." And so He did. And so He does for all who will step out in faith, give up control, and place their trust in Christ.
Michael Johnston, 39, lives in Newport News, Virginia. He is the president of Kerusso Ministries and the host and producer of Truth Under Fire, a weekly radio broadcast monitoring the homosexual movement in America and providing ministry to individuals, and family and friends of those struggling with homosexuality.