According to the dictates of my evangelical creed, the one thing I wasn't permitted to think about was sex, but sex was all I could think about.
Christianity teaches a very simple, black and white, doctrine. We are all fallen from grace and therefore destined to be born as sinners. Sin, as I understood it during my days as a devout follower of Christ, was something such as a morally reprehensible action or thought which (unfortunately) had dire spiritual consequences.
Basically, according to the underlying tenets of Christian faith--if you sin once--your soul is forfeit. Christianity has a place for sinners--it is called Hell. Hell is not to be desired--for in its nightmarish depths it holds unfathomable suffering, anguish, and despair. All of which are specifically reserved to be inflicted on the faithless infidels, nonbelievers, and Godless gentiles by the unforgiving adversary of almighty God, the fiendishly deceitful and duplicitous Devil himself.
Luckily, there is a remedy for such an ailment--and that remedy is Jesus Christ! Like most Christians, I too viewed Christ as my personal Savior--for it is said, "Christ Saves." As a Christian, I knew in my heart, that the very fate of my everlasting soul depended on whether or not I accepted Jesus Christ into my life--and gave myslef over to him completely. He couldn't save me if I didn't want his "saving." I had to relinquish my ego--and give myself over to the Lord.
So at age fourteen, I became a born again Christian--born again in the body of Christ!
Phallic Prophet Larry the Cucumber
My entire teenage life revolved around my desire to be a vessel of Christ--but my lofty devotional goals kept getting interrupted by worldly temptation. Things with the potential to turn me away from my Christian calling and threatened to take my mind off of Christ and veer dangerously away toward the path of sin and corruption.
I viewed sex as the supreme vice, and indeed, the very idea of sex is detested by Evangelical Christians. It represents that perpetual temptation which always lures the devout away from Christ. But sex, I would later discover, is not a metaphysical temptation the devil uses to trick you into betraying your faith based convictions, as I once thought. Instead sex is a biological condition of being human. Even so, I was completely unaware of this at the time. All I knew was that I should be disgusted by the very notion of sex.
It was time for a retreat. A revival of sorts. Along with my fellow youth group and my church Pastor, the seven of us packed into a van and headed back out to Seattle. We were going to Jesus Northwest. For those that don't remember, Jesus Northwest (now defunct) was exactly like Creation Northwest--showcasing popular Christian singers and bands and inviting numerous popular Christian speakers.
It was 1994 and we were there to ignite our spirits with the Holy Spirit and rekindle our flame for Jesus Christ. I had just read Josh McDowell's apologetics work A Ready Defense, collecting his best essays defending the Christian faith. I distinctly remember my excitement at hearing that Josh McDowell would be the special guest speaker at Jesus Northwest. I had highlighted the bajebus out of his book and I was really looking forward to hearing his lecture.
While we waited in the stands to see McDowell appear on stage--the large video screen lit up and the adorable Veggie Tales character Larry the Cucumber came onto the screen and did a "Silly Songs with Larry" segment. Singing and dancing vegetables are certainly the opposite of controversy. What's more, Larry the Cucumber was genuinely funny. It was priceless.
After the video McDowell ran out, then proceeded to lecture the attending audience on the "sin" of masturbation for a half hour. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed. But at the same time I grew terribly frightened. For at that age, I had begun to discover my body--and what hormone amped-up teenager hasn't tried it just once? Here we were--wanting to grow closer to God--and to Jesus--and after a giant talking cucumber we were told not to wank off.
Our very thoughts about sex were deemed "sinful" and we were chastised for it. But I admired Josh McDowell for wanting us to walk the road of righteousness and be honorable young men.
In retrospect, however, it was quite humorous when you stop to think about it--if not downright ironic--dare I say prophetic (?) that a giant singing cucumber should segue into an anti-masturbation diatribe. I remember thinking to myself, "There might be a silly song in here somewhere."
On our return trip home, I vowed to myself that I would never masturbate again. It only threatened to take my mind off of Jesus. Little did I know that this vow would ruin any potential I had to get a date, find a girlfriend, or just have a normal relationship with a girl. In my mind, distorted by a sexophobic creed, women were all relegated to temptresses. However, because I was a hormone raging teenager--I couldn't avoid having sensual thoughts about women. Every single day--the thoughts just appeared in my mind's eye--and the more I was convinced the Devil was using lust and the temptation of flesh to distract me from my mission.
Falling in Love with Summer
A year later, two churches out of Seattle came to my small town in Montana to share a Interfaith-exchange. One church was Lutheran and the other was Assemblies of God like my own denomination.
Since I was one of the youth leaders, my mother volunteered to house four of the kids from Seattle. To my astonishment they were all girls! Lovely young women, most of whom I am still in contact with on Facebook--believe it or not.
One morning they came into my bedroom giggling. I was about to get up anyway, but as I slept in my boxers, and wasn't expecting anyone to burst into my room--they had caught me totally off-guard. Suddenly I found myself being pulled out of bed. Tumbling onto the floor, in nothing but my underwear, I heard the retreat of the girls--as they ran out into the hall laughing hysterically.
Not only was I horribly embarrassed, but I was furious at myself for not having worn pajamas or at least a T-shirt knowing that there was company staying under the same roof. At any rate, we had set up several events, workshops, Bible studies, and various activities to get the local Christian youth sharing and exchanging ideas with the new faces--hopefully making new friends--or brothers and sisters in Christ, as we called them.
One of the girls from Seattle was a gorgeous auburn haired girl named Summer. She was the leader of the other Seattle group--and she was angelic. One evening in the lobby of the school gymnasium, she shared her personal testimony. She had come from a family of scientists and she was the only Christian convert. Tears streaming down her face, she told us how much she feared that they would not share the eternal love of Christ with her in Heaven--because they didn't believe in God. Her testimony shook me to the core. I felt for this girl--and I wanted to support her anyway I could.
My new sisters in Christ intuitively picked up on the fact that I was crushing on Summer, and they began to tease me about it. Although, this seemed to work to my advantage, because they caught Summer's ear and she came over and talked to me. I was besides myself! The next three days went by without a hitch.
The final day was a camping trip at a nearby lake. I remember that evening well. Everyone was sitting around the campfire chatting, laughing, and amid the glow of orange embers and soft yellow flames, I watched Summer talk to the other girls. Time seemed to slow down and I had the distinct feeling that I was destined to be with this woman. It wasn't fate that had brought us together, it was the power of God, it was a miracle.
Finally, a girl of like mind--a godly woman--who I could feel comfortable asking out. Sure, I knew it would be a long distance relationship--but I wasn't concerned--I knew that if it was God's will then it would all work out somehow.
The day Summer left, we exchanged mailing addresses, and then we said goodbye. I would receive only one reply from her of the seven or eight hand written letters I wrote--after which I never heard from her again.
Little did I know, but that small seed of guilt began to grow into a massively paralyzing fear of intimate relationships. After Summer moved on, there were no other seasons for me, no other women. I decided to become a veritable monk--and ignore sex altogether. But that only made it worse--the more I tried not to think about it--the more I couldn't resist thinking about it.
Every night I was rubbing one out to the thought of pretty high school cheerleaders or girls I wanted to ask out but felt I would be straying from my path as a good Christian to do so. The fact that I couldn't even approach a girl meant I would fantasize about them even more. It became an addiction--I couldn't stop. Suddenly I was feeling darkness surround me, I was disgusted with myself, I felt weak and pathetic--like a loser. All my friends had girlfriends.
I kept telling myself that the Lord would provide. That if I stayed true to his cause--I would be blessed. The only problem was I didn't expect God to go out of his way--not for some masturbating sex crazed delinquent. I was conflicted--but I didn't see it as a response to the guilt my faith forced me to live with--but rather--the problem was that I was a sinner.
Now more than ever, I believed that I needed Jesus in my life.
At about that same time I started having vivid nightmares. Usually it involved a succubus who would seduce me, then as we were having sex, she would turn into a demonic monster and attempt to choke me to death. The dreams were so real though that I didn't know that I was dreaming. I would wake up gasping for air--my heart pounding.
Eventually girls from my school were appearing in my dreams--and they too would turn into demonic succubi and stab me, tear my flesh off, and devour me alive. One night I woke up screaming and woke my family up.
Silly thing for a teenage boy to be afraid of women--let alone have nightmares. Things only got worse, I'm afraid. Soon, everywhere I looked, I felt a dark presence out to get me. Every night before bed I would clutch my Bible to my chest and pray out loud to Jesus--asking him to send his guardian angels to watch over and protect me from the demonic attacks.
I felt I was being attacked because Satan wanted to derail my walk with God--and obviously I was succeeding--or he wouldn't be trying so hard. I knew the Devil was out to get me--so I armed myself with the sword of Holy Scripture. Memorizing entire verses--ready to fend off the snarling whispers of crazed demonic henchmen waiting to strike.
The final showdown was imminent. It was only a matter of time before I would have to face my worst nightmares--for real.
[In Part 3: Spiritual Warfare, I talk about my battle with the demonic forces and my struggle to maintain a personal relationship with God even as I was convinced I was failing--because I couldn't get a control on my sexual fantasies. Was I destined to be dragged down to Hell--or would I be guided by a Saving Grace toward forgiveness? The battle begins in part three!]