"I was so soiled and tainted; but they accepted me with such merciful grace and loved me unconditionally no matter what I did wrong."
(San Diego, California)—While still in high school, she closed her heart to the opposite sex and embraced a lesbian identity with open arms. Years later, she and her live-in lesbian partner attended church together, which started them on a path of surprising spiritual discovery.
"As young as 13 I was already confused about my sexuality," says Melissa Fryrear, now a senior analyst for gender issues at Focus on the Family. She recalls sitting in church with her parents and casually opening the Bible to Leviticus 18:22, which reads "A man should not lie with another man as one lies with a woman: that is detestable."
When she read the verse, she misunderstood the meaning and thought it meant: 'Melissa is detestable.' She closed the Bible and shut her heart to God. "I was already questioning whether I might be gay," she says. "A seed was beginning to take root in the soul of my heart."
As her early teenage years unfolded, she was tormented as she developed crushes on girls. "I hate being a girl," she told herself. "Why couldn't I have been born a boy instead?"
Fryrear's freshman year of high school was the last time she dated a young man. One day between classes he handed her a note asking if she would be his girlfriend. The note asked her to check a box: Yes or No. "I checked the 'No' box," she says, refolded the note and slipped it into his locker later that afternoon. Then she erected a wall toward men. "I tried to look like a man as a suit of armor," she says.
At 16 she got involved in her first homosexual relationship, and estimates she was intimate with 40 other women during the next ten years. "I immersed myself in the gay and lesbian community. Everything in my world revolved around being gay," she says.
After college, Fryrear worked at an advertising agency owned by three men. One of the owners, Bill Martinez, happened to be a Christian. "I worked more closely with Bill than I did with the other two owners," she says. "I assumed he knew I was living homosexually. Because I presumed to know what Christians thought of gays and lesbians, I fully expected Bill to treat me poorly.
"I expected him to judge me and to act rudely and unkindly, but he never did. Instead, without exception, he treated me with kindness and always showed me respect, both professionally and personally," she notes.
Over time, her conversations with Bill gravitated to spiritual issues. When Martinez discussed his relationship with Jesus it was always with incredible enthusiasm and contagious zeal, yet he never forced his faith on her.
Martinez never confronted Fryrear about her homosexuality. "Although I had grown up attending church I had not accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior," she says. "Bill understood this was my first and greatest need." After dozens of conversations with Martinez, something began to stir in her soul.
Out of the blue on a Saturday night, Fryrear asked her live-in lesbian partner if she wanted to go to church the next morning. Amazingly, she agreed to go. Fryrear's partner had grown up in the Catholic church and as a young girl had even wanted to be a nun. Both women's hearts seemed to be in a state of spiritual ferment.
They grabbed the yellow pages, and began to look at the listings under "Churches." Because Fryrear had grown up in the Presbyterian Church, they headed there the next morning dressed in their Sunday best.
They nervously walked through the entry doors and slid into a pew near the back. After a few moments they realized it was a small congregation of predominantly older couples. "My lesbian partner and I stood out in stark contrast to the other church goers that Sunday morning, particularly the 'blue hairs' as we endearingly refer to them below the Mason-Dixon line."
Fryrear was shocked when the members of this small town church in the center of Bible-belt America treated her with unexpected kindness and warmth. "Overwhelmed by their friendliness, we decided to go back the next Sunday, and then the Sunday after that," she says. "Before too long I was accepting invitations to everything the church offered—Wednesday night potluck dinners, an adult Sunday morning Bible study and much to the chagrin of the pastor's wife, I joined the adult hand bell choir."
An older couple in their 70's, L.J. and Doris Crain, took Fryrear into their spiritual care. "L.J. was an intelligent and gentle man and Doris, his wife, was red haired and had a spirited personality to match; and oh my how they both loved the Lord Jesus. It was infectious."
During this period, Fryrear appeared to fit many people's stereotype of a lesbian. "I was very masculine and mannish in my appearance. I was cussing, 50 pounds overweight, and smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day."
Although Bill, L.J. and Doris knew about Fryrear's involvement in homosexuality they accepted her with grace, loved her unconditionally and prayed for her fervently. "I was so soiled and tainted; but they accepted me with such merciful grace and loved me unconditionally no matter what I did wrong."
Partly due to these loving Christian relationships, Fryrear was led to make the most important decision of her life. One afternoon, sitting alone in the bedroom on the edge of her bed, she said quietly, "Jesus, would You please come and be the Savior of my soul and the Lord of my life?" And He did. A new seed was planted in her heart that day.