Am I Worth Being Loved?
by Chris Ramsey
Karen Bentley, a friend of mine, invited me over one day to listen to
her brother Joe's life story. As I entered Karen and her husband's
simple one-room apartment I had the feeling I was about to hear
something special. I sat down on a hardwood couch, facing this
brother and sister. Joe was seated in a rocking chair, and he moved
back and forth slowly as he began to talk about his childhood.
"I think the Devil used things that happened to me as a little kid to
fool me all my life" recalled Joe. "I remember one Fourth of July
when I was ten, my relatives had gotten together at my grandma's
house. One of my uncles had his daughter, who was four years younger
than me, drag me down on the ground and beat me up. The rest of the
family sat around laughing, calling me a sissy."
Any boy would have been humiliated if a little girl beat him up, but
for Joe it was devastating. When he was four he had been stricken
with polio and left paralyzed. As he grew up he gained the strength
to walk, but his legs were always weak.
Joe limped when he walked, and he was extremely embarrassed because of
it. His father periodically told his mother he was taking his son
fishing, but would actually end up in the bars. As the men started
drinking they would put money in the jukebox, and force Joe to dance
while everyone laughed. "When everybody else made fun of me, that was
one thing" said Joe. "But when my own dad did it, it really hurt."
Joe's older brother, Jack, was very active and into weight lifting and
sports. This pleased his father, who would shower Jack with
attention, while ignoring Joe. "All I ever wanted was to hear
somebody say, 'I love you! Even though you're the way you are, I love
you.'" In this kind of atmosphere, it was no surprise that the young
boy felt rejected. "I became convinced I could never live up to being
As a child, Joe couldn't understand that his father was being chased
by demons of his own. The head of this Memphis, Tennessee family was
a violent alcoholic. "I can remember running down the street in my
pajamas with my mother in the middle of the night," explained Karen.
"Dad had started another big fight, and we had to go to our neighbor's
Joe's parents divorced when he was fifteen, and his mother took the
family to upper Michigan to live with their grandmother. Getting away
from his father was a relief for Joe. He tried to fill the gap his
father left by working three part-time jobs while he went to high
In 1970, at the age of twenty-one, Joe married his high school
sweetheart . "I thought this would really prove I was a man." The
young couple's first year of marriage was very rocky and Joe started
drinking and hanging out in bars. It was then that Joe had his first
gay encounter. "I got involved because I was drinking," Joe told
himself, "Otherwise I wouldn't have done it. So I'll just stop
drinking and it won't happen again." Yet he couldn't stop, and his
marriage ended in divorce two and a half years later.
Joe's failure at marriage only re-emphasized his sense of
worthlessness. In the midst of depression he moved back to Memphis to
get a fresh start. Two weeks later Joe got word that his father had
been shot by a fourth wife.
"I stood over him in the hospital room," Joe recounted. "I knew Dad
was dying, but I had all these feelings of hatred toward him. I asked
myself, 'What kind of person am I? I hate my own dad.'"
After his dad's death, Joe started going to church. He was looking
for something to pull his life together, and it was there he met his
second wife, Ellen.
The first two years of that marriage were reasonably smooth. Joe
didn't drink, and he stayed involved in the church. But then he
started having health problems related to his polio, and was forced to
take pain pills and muscle relaxers. Joe began abusing his medication
and soon he was doing street drugs as well. His lifestyle quickly
returned to its former pattern.
"Ellen didn't even know what was going on. I was selling accounting
systems on commission for two or three days a week, and on the other
days I was sitting in gay bars, waiting to get picked up. I really
had a lot of people fooled, 'cause during the week I'd be in the gay
bars, and on Sunday I'd be in church.
"One night I was high and I told Ellen's sister everything I had been
doing. Ellen freaked out when she heard. I said I would go for
counseling, or do anything she asked me to do. We had two boys by
that time and I wanted our family to stay together. But Ellen didn't
want any part of me. We were divorced in 1980."
The next seven years are represented by glimpses and memories of two
more marriages and various attempts at repentance: the scene of being
dragged off his third wife as he tried to strangle her; the picture of
a pastor telling Joe he should have no more problems with
homosexuality since he was baptized; wife number four treating him
like a Ken doll, dressing him up to show him off; the look in his
wife's eyes as she returned to their empty apartment after he had sold
everything for drugs, even the dishes and silverware.
In April 1987, Joe was admitted to the hospital with Steven Johnson
syndrome, a rare allergic reaction to medication. While the doctors
were treating him, they decided to run an AIDS test. Joe tested
positive. "It totally freaked me out. I didn't know how to handle
"Your brother and I are very sad that you have AIDS. You can call and
talk to us on the phone, but for no reason should you come around.
And let's not tell the rest of our family."
"That was my mom's response to my having AIDS. This was the first
time I had no place to go. I didn't know what I was going to do. So
I decided suicide was the only answer. I couldn't even do that right.
After my second attempt I ended up in a recovery center where I was
finally able to get off drugs and alcohol."
On leaving the recovery center, Joe moved to Minneapolis to live in a
government sponsored house for AIDS victims. "Mom couldn't keep quiet
about my having AIDS, and she ended up telling Karen and my other
relatives." Before long Joe received a letter from Karen. "When I
read the letter I just went all to pieces. She told me that she loved
me and that God still loved me too. She also said she and her
husband, Bill, would like to come up and visit...if I wanted her to.
I couldn't wait to write, I called here on the phone and told her to
Although Joe was excited on the day of their visit he started having
second thoughts. "I'd hardly seen Karen over the past sixteen years,
but I'd heard she was a fanatic. I told my friends I might even have
to ask to leave if she started to push her religion on me. But when
they arrived everything went great. They were real friendly to me and
the other guys who lived in the house," smiled Joe as he glanced over
at his sister.
Karen laughed, "I was sweating the visit too. I wanted to be a
support to my brother, yet I had no idea of what to say. But I had
made up my mind ahead of time that the main thing I was going to do
was to love him."
"I must admit the first time Karen and I were left alone," Joe
continued, "I wondered if she was going to come on strong. But when
she didn't it totally disarmed me, so I finally decided to lay it all
on the line and said, 'I feel like I was born gay.'"
"Karen's response surprised me. She said, 'Joe, that's not true. I
don't think you even had a chance growing up, the way Dad treated you.
You just believed a lot of lies and got messed up in sin.'"
"I came back at her with the fact that I had a friend who was gay but
also born again. He said that Jesus accepted tax collectors and
sinners and so he accepts gay people too."
"I really had to pray," recalled Karen, "so that my answer would come
off honest but not judgmental. I just told Joe what I believed. 'Of
course God loves the sinner, but the problem is our sin separates us
from God. That's why Christ died on the cross, so we don't have to be
ruled by all the mess in our lives.'"
Joe hesitated for a minute and looked down at the floor. It seemed as
if he was reliving that moment in his mind. "Before Karen's visit, I
was really scared of dying, and I knew that I was going to go to hell.
I thought that I had done so much wrong there was no way God could
love me or forgive me," Joe remembered as he broke into tears. "But
then I realized through what Karen said that God always loved me. I
also knew that I desperately wanted to experience that love more than
anything else. When I prayed this time and asked God into my life, I
knew that what I'd done was past. It was forgiven and forgotten. The
peace and the love that I have in my heart now is great."
"My life changed drastically at this point, though I still had
struggles to work through. At first I held on to the old idea that
once you were saved, you weren't going to have any problems," Joe said
with a smile. "But that's not the way it works. God gave me the
strength to work through my problems, but they didn't just disappear
"Knowing I needed the strength that comes from being around other
believers, that past August I moved into Jesus People USA. I don't
know how long I'm going to live, but I want to live the rest of my
days for the Lord. One of my biggest desires is to encourage others
who have battled with rejection. I handled the thought of having AIDS
a lot easier than the rejection I received."
"I also long to be an example for others who are attempting to deal
with the AIDS tragedy. The Church must especially show love, because
God's love is the only thing that's going to reach people suffering
from AIDS. These people already have a lot of rejection in their
lives. They need to be told the truth, but first they need to know
they are loved. Anybody can tell them that they're wrong and this is
what the Bible says, and read a sermon to them. They'll just want to
defend themselves, and try to twist the truth."
"AIDS is going to touch a lot of families too, even Christian
families. And you can't turn that person away. You've got to deal
with it. AIDS is an illness, and you have to let that person know,
'Hey I love you, whether you've got AIDS, cancer, or heart trouble, I
"And then maybe through that love they will see God. Maybe they can
turn their life around before it's too late. But they're sure not
going to if you reject them. When Bill and Karen came to visit me,
they came to show love. And look what happened to me."
Aslan's Roar - "Radical Truth in Telecommunications"
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