I was 12 years old when I first stopped believing in God. Only 12 years old when I crumpled up the idea and threw it out the window. I was 12 years old and I’d been thrown to the ground, beat, destroyed and killed, metaphorically, by the world. I would always think to myself, my kind of God wouldn’t hurt me like this. My kind of God wouldn’t make me feel as insignificant as I felt. My kind of God would never allow people to hurt me like they did. Would never allow me to hurt MYSELF like I did.

Going to church every Sunday made me feel as if I was doing something wrong. Like I didn’t belong there. Then, in the summer of 2015, I went to Stockton. Stockton California is not a beautiful place. It’s run down and unstable and simply not an incredible place to be. But I loved it. I loved that I could be in a completely unfamiliar place with people I was most familiar with. You see, I’d been on plenty of mission trips before, but nothing compared. Although this trip, as I found out recently, would bring a person into my life that should have stayed far… far away, I found the God I knew. While working with people I grew to love, I found God.

By telling people in a community about a God I didn’t believe in, I grew to believe. People I love and people I know best taught me how to believe. I found God in my best friends. And my friends at this church always look at me funny when I bring people here. But look around. Look at the people sitting next to you. A gay man leads our choir and his husband directs it. Two women are free to hold hands in this place. This place makes me feel more loved, welcome, and accepted than any pride club ever could. This place makes me feel like it’s okay to love someone, even if they’re a little bit different.

Even if they’re a girl. Or transgender. Or gender fluid or non binary. When you think about church you think that people like me would get shunned. You think that me coming in to church holding hands with someone I’m in love with would get dirty looks and scoffs. But no. In this place I am loved for who I am and what I am. I am free to be who I want. Love who I want. Why not share that with the world? Why not spread a message I had so much disbelief in as a kid to people who might be feeling the same thing? I bring my best friends to this place because it is something I believe in. I tell people at my school about this place because I believe in it. I post about this place because I have never been so passionate about something before. I want to be a pastor because I want to create a change in the way people see us. I want people to look at my church and feel welcome inside.

I know that God loves me. I know I am accepted. I know everyone in this place is accepted. Whether straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, genderqueer, questioning, black, white, pink purple or blue, we are loved. And if that is the only message I ever successfully spread, I will be nothing but satisfied.