My Heart's in the Highlands
I was born into a family of three older siblings; my mom was a homemaker and my dad a wheat and cattle farmer in Western Oklahoma. We were raised to be diligent in our work and to practice Christian values. I lived with the feeling that other people’s feelings were more important than my own.
Before I was school age, my father expressed the word “stupid” in disgust over something that failed to work to his benefit. Although this word wasn’t directed at me, seeing an opportunity, Satan caused it to pierce into my heart—I then took on an identity that was never meant to be. Any time my work with dad went poorly, I felt the sting of the words “you’re stupid!” ringing about in my mind. I became angry. This anger with my father grew to boiling in my inner-world … In fact, I hated him in my heart, and I became disrespectful of him.
"So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell." James 3:5-6 (ESV)
In those formative years, I had church friends who initiated playing doctor and “making love” which amounted to sneaking a peek and kisses on the lips. A cousin’s neighbor had centerfolds of ladies hanging on the garage walls. An early ritual in my life was to peruse through JC Penney and Sears catalogs for gifts I wanted for Christmas. At some point, my searches included looking at the men’s section and admiring what seemed to be their confidence, handsomeness and strength. Comparison hit hard as I wanted to be like these guys. Midway through grade school, I found a brother’s pornography stash. Rather than tattling, I chose to keep his secret because I wanted access to it as well.
As with most pubescent boys, the exposure to adult pornography didn’t help my confidence. I began to compare myself to other guys and all I could see in myself was weakness, failure and a body that I increasingly didn’t like.
I perceived others to be more confident, to be stronger, to be more likeable and secure. As an introvert, these growing insecurities put me at odds with my identity and with the world around me. During school, I already had trouble finding my place among the boys. While I was spared being bullied by my peers, the differences I perceived between them and me kept me from leaning too far into their world. I avoided sports involving locker-room experiences because I was afraid of how I would react to teasing.
Then there was my brother’s teasing for not being able to loosen or tighten bolts on farm machinery. I didn’t know why I didn’t have strength; I just knew I couldn’t physically do some things other guys could.
Insecure in my masculine identity, I needed affirmation from guys; in fact, I longed for it. I also needed my dad to guide me through puberty, but unfortunately, this never occurred. Because of these deficiencies, I turned toward the regular use of pornography, ongoing masturbation and unholy fantasies of connecting with males.
Just as Paul writes early in Romans 1 concerning the degradation of humanity, because of refusal to acknowledge God as God and be thankful for what He has given me (my family, body and mind), I was becoming more and more depraved in my thinking and in my deeds.
Because of this perception of myself and my environment, I began to slip into secret sinning. From wiling the hours away looking at images of men to a brief stint of initiating sexual play with a teenaged neighbor, I became more and more ensnared. While I was active in youth group, I was careful how I talked, what I talked about and how I acted because I feared being exposed. I wanted to trust my church peers, but when some told gay or sexual jokes, I knew I wasn’t safe in those relationships. Generally, I loved hanging out with church peers; it eased some of the loneliness I often felt.
At around the same time that I found the pornography that I had mentioned before, my family made a huge move from the Mennonite Church to the Pentecostal Holiness Church. This was a welcome change. While it was in the Mennonite church that God gave me a desire to serve; it was in the Pentecostal church where I grew in my personal relationship with Jesus as my Friend! Because of that transition, and during the darkest hours of my life, I cultivated a prayer life of talking to Jesus about everything. My fears, pain, dreams, and joys were all shared with Jesus!
I didn’t comprehend what all was happening to me until just after high school. My struggles had culminated into our culture’s one-word summary of my reality: "homosexual." I feared uttering that word as an identity to my inner turmoil.
Almost a year after graduating high school, in February 1989, I first opened-up to my youth pastor and senior pastor about my attraction to men. The disclosure was handled with love and prayer, but our short time together made little progress towards helping me understand how these struggles had developed. I wasn’t ignored, but later I wondered why specific discipleship didn’t occur.
Soon after, I became aware that I needed a change of heart. I wanted to be faithful to prayer and to reading the Bible, but my inconsistency led to more and more feelings of guilt, condemnation and deep self-hatred. Unknowingly, I was in agreement with demonic voices. My personal prayer concerns became labeled as self-centered and the little understanding of my value as being created in God’s image was diminishing. Additionally, I knew what the scriptures had to say about my sinful behavior. I also knew continuing in them meant I was unfit for the kingdom of God. I felt a curse upon my life and understood a growing need for Jesus to break in with His power to change me. Many sleepless nights filled with worry took a toll on my body causing me to develop pre-ulcers.
On February 21, 1990, I was browsing through a concordance looking for words that described my heart condition. God led me to Ezekiel 36:24-29. In this set of verses, I read how God promised the Israelites a change of heart from stone to one of flesh (malleability). As I understood it, this was a promise that God would do irrespective of any action on my part.
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you.
Ezekiel 36:24-29 (ESV)
I was being offered grace and the promise that He would break the power of my sin, but I was having a hard time trusting in this truth. How can He cause one’s obedience without their being His puppet? Over the years of struggling with my faith in God, He would assure me through promises in Isaiah 40:29 where it says that “He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength” (ESV). However, I had trouble seeing this truth as applying to me.
During this season, I decided to go to college. I wanted a better life for myself and I felt it would be a great place to build my confidence. I enjoyed those years but struggled with certain types of classes in which I would consistently make Cs and Ds. I felt that I lacked the energy and skills to improve in these scenarios. I felt these were evidences that something was wrong with me and they strengthened the lie that I was stupid. However, I successfully graduated with a degree in Marketing/Management!
Personal computers were becoming available at that time and, although I didn’t really need one, my desire for something new to play with and my lack of financial responsibility won out. Being a good addict, I lied to myself about the dangers of owning my own personal computer. The lie gave way to a hot pursuit of the newly-formed Internet. During that season, I even visited the local gay district and started spending money without restraint. All I really cared about was getting my next fix.
With the promise of God’s deliverance also came the witness of scripture as a hedge of thorns around me. The more I participated in my sin, the more I agonized my spiritual state.
Personalizing Matt 5:27-28 with my strain of temptation it reads:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman, (or in my case with a man) with lustful intent has already committed adultery (fornication) in his heart. (ESV)
Or Ephesians 5:5:
For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (ESV)
My lack of vocational direction and poor self-esteem put me in another hopeless mindset where I believed that I would be destined to live my life on the farm. I had zero confidence to move my life forward from that point.
In February of 1997, two amazing things happened: 1) I sought out help from First Stone Ministries and started attending their support group and receiving biblical discipleship and 2) God poured out His Spirit on our youth and college group. I have many stories of God’s outpouring of love from that time in my life—too many to share with you right now—but a couple stories about what He did in me cannot be left out.
It was during this outpouring that He showed me how He turns a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. The first thing He taught me was how to unplug from the idea that I was only a servant, so that I could learn to sit at His feet. It was a tough lesson. During that first night of the outpouring, I felt the need to prostrate myself before the Lord and after a while, I reasoned to myself that it was time to get up and start serving again. Quickly the Holy Spirit opposed that thought and urged me to stay in a position of receiving. At this point, I wasn’t aware of the presence of the Lord. All I considered was that I had a servant role to fill and this urging made no sense to me. After a bit of back and forth, I allowed myself to stay in that posture the rest of the service.
Each week came the same urging and each time I willed myself into a posture of receiving. One evening the Holy Spirit reminded me of the song The Joy of the Lord is my Strength. The song was passing through my head and when I stopped to ponder why I heard His voice. He asked me, “How do you get joy?” My answer came out of years of church culture rather than out of biblical truth, “It comes as a result of praising You with all of my heart.”. Then, He asked me to sing the song. As I got through the lyrics “joy of the Lord” He asked me whose joy? As I reflected on the words, a wave of revelation washed over me. The lessons of sitting before the Lord and seeing God’s joy became a foundational place on which the softening of my heart began to take place.
Still caught in addiction, I would go home from these times and look up porn. Rather than just brushing it aside in shame and condemnation, I used my newly-learned tool of revealing to Jesus exactly what I really wanted. I invited Him into my earthly desires and uttered my desire for Him to hold me. It was a bold and strange request—so bold that I thought it would be impossible for Him to fulfill.
Just a few days away and during a worship set in the youth group, two young guys felt called by the Lord to envelop each person in the room in a bear hug. They embraced me fully, one in front and one from behind. Aroused by their physical presence, I immediately felt shame. In desperation, I silently yet firmly cried out to God to make them stop. In an instant, I heard God say, “You asked me for this.” I crumbled right there. He cared for me enough to specifically answer my request! Using my brothers Jesus affirmed me, and He continued the affirmation by enabling me to even feel his affection without anyone having to embrace me.
At the end of that outpouring, God protected me from falling into Biblical error by moving me away from that group and moving me more deeply into First Stone Ministries groups where I could base my life on sound theology of complete surrender. The leaders of that core group unfortunately had fallen into a weak theology in which they communicate by example that grace allows for continuing in sin without eternal consequence.
Growth and Learning
This weakened theology has its roots in many people today. I too have been careless about my sin, but God has been opening my eyes to this error in thinking. Short-circuiting transformation, I opted for a mere confession of sin. I would admit my wrongdoing but would have no willingness to repent. On this matter, Isaiah 30:15 says:
For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
“In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.”
But you were not willing, (NASB)
In other words, God calls for the death of my participation in this activity of mind and deed. Half-heartedly, I would limit access to porn only to leave my heart open to the option.
In Genesis, the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, with the question; “Hath God really said?” I too have fallen prey to that question. I began realizing I had trouble believing certain elements of God’s Word. Being raised in a faith-church where positive faith was rewarded with praise and negative statements were disdained, I had trouble untangling this belief system from what true faith in God really means. I read a book that helped me see the Bible as being true and error-free. I saw how Jesus affirmed the entire Old Testament as being factual and I have been growing in my belief of the scriptures since. My repentance began to cultivate agreement with God’s Word. It is here that the Holy Spirit cast light on the hindrances in my life. He revealed my profound self-hatred, unforgiveness, and my agreement with lies.
I chose to forgive my father and as a result, through godly relationships, I have learned to press through lies of “you’re stupid,” and toward the truth that I am capable of success. In the midst of personal fear, I asked for help and at the same time started learning to embrace my worth in God. I was beginning to find freedom from old burdens and was emerging into a new identity.
Having the witness of my own experiences and a growing belief in the truth of God’s word, I’ve learned that words carry a lot of weight. What we believe and speak about ourselves tells a lot about our direction in life. I once was a ravine dweller. Sometime after my brother was confronted about the pornography, he threw it away and by a demonic setup, I found it in nearby trash dump. Living out in the farm country of Western Oklahoma, I hid it in the nearby ravines for repeated use. Not only was I a ravine dweller but, without any evil intent on their part, my parents, family and friends all called me one. My given name was “Cory” and, as I later came to understand, Cory is an Irish place name meaning: "ravine dweller." Prophetically I was stuck, but God had different plans…
Building upon His promise in my life, God had people in His family prophesy over me that my life was like old-testament Joseph’s. This was randomly prophesied over my life over a period of about 9 years beginning in the early 90’s.
In yet another February, Jesus asked me to do something radical. In 2002, I had another of these prophecies in the presence of the original friend who was the first to witness this same word years ago. One night later, during the altar call in our support group, I laid down a false belief about myself and waited for Jesus to speak a Truth in its place. It was then I saw a vision of Him facing me and pulling the lapels of a coat more snuggly around my neck and saying, “I want you to wear the name I’ve given you.” After a series of arguments to clarify His seriousness, I conceded.
That night, I testified of His request and invited those present to start agreeing with God about my life by calling out Jehovah Increases every time they addressed me by my new name, Joseph. By November of that year, I had made the new identity legal; I became C. Joseph Thiessen with the blessing of my parents. And my journey from there on would be a testimony that God will accomplish His work in me, working with my weaknesses.
In January of 2010, God introduced a new reality in my life. With a new health insurance plan and a new doctor, I decided that at 40 I should have a complete medical checkup. At that first appointment, my doctor, confident in his observations, asked me if I had ever heard of Klinefelter’s Syndrome. After a long month between appointments, he had enough certainty to warrant my having a genetic test.
Generally speaking, sex chromosomes tell us that XY is male and XX is female. My sex chromosomes tell me that I am XXY and I have an intersex condition. While my physical body clearly reveals that I am male, I am among 1 out of 500 men who also have this condition. Men with this condition commonly produce little, if any, testosterone. Depending on differing genetic mutations, men with Klinefelter's Syndrome cannot father children and some are affected in their memory and cognitive abilities. In looking over my history now, it seems my difficulties with testing in school could be related to this condition, but it’s difficult to know for sure.
The low confidence and lack of physical strength are certainly tied to low testosterone. The teasing I’d received about my lack of strength now made sense. The self-hatred I had of my body was deeper than what I had learned in pornography and in comparison to other men.
Some men who have this condition experience confusion in who they are. While there is no doubt that I am a man, I have found that Satan uses this disorder as an arrow against my identity among men. Since I am genetically different, how am I supposed to view myself?
Knowing the struggle of folks like me, God makes a special promise in Isaiah 56:
And no eunuch should ever say, “I am all dried up, worthless and empty.”
For this is what the Eternal has to say: The eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, make good choices, and follow the terms of My covenant will blossom with My blessing. I will give them, within My house, an enduring memorial and a name better than if they had sons and daughters—A name that will never be forgotten and will continue to inspire and encourage forever. (Voice)
What is true about me is that I am created male by God. I am also a conduit of God’s tender, powerful and affirming grace for myself and for others in the body of Christ. I need His grace to walk out my male gender according to His ways while building up my emotions and abilities according to God’s will for my life. I need His grace to deny false idols of masculinity, confidence and strength.
In an act of solidarity with the soundness of God’s Word, I am choosing to delight in being fearfully and wonderfully made in His Image. While I still find myself attracted to my same sex, I am not a homosexual; I am made in God’s image and I was created for pure relationships with men and with women.
Fences are Good
God calls us to put to death the deeds of the flesh. As my temptations ebb and flow, I have been learning how important it is to lay an axe to the root of unfettered accessibility to the Internet. Historically, I have had little self-power to say “no” to temptation. My go-to method has been to permanently close open doors of access. Using secure accountability technologies, I continue to block access to sites where I could find objects of lust. I’m way better off doing so.
I continue to learn how to sit with God in my unmet needs, my suffering, my confusion and my struggles. God has used our times to help form my identity in Him—something far more secure than I ever thought possible. The story of my life gets more hopeful and interesting with each passing season. There is so much more I have yet to grasp for myself. While I have not sworn off marriage, I wonder if it’s in my future. I don’t have to think about it much as I am fairly content with my life at this time. What matters now is that I keep putting one foot in front of the other while holding onto God’s will for how I live my life. Jehovah increases! The ravines and valleys lie behind me for my heart’s in the highlands!
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
Colossians 3:1-6 (ESV)
Joseph Thiessen has been Office Administrator of First Stone Ministries since 1998. He enjoys bicycling and creating beauty.
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