OPEN at OPEN
Shortly after I came out as transgender, when I was hearing from a lot of angry people, I received a letter from a friend whose book group I had been a part of for 25 years. His letter arrived in a plain manila envelope and included a picture of a Hindu god with both male and female features. My friend had seen the statue shortly after hearing about my transition. He acknowledged that he understood little about gender dysphoria, but that nothing would stop him from supporting me. I cried the cleansing tears that come from knowing we are never alone in our suffering.
I recognized that embedded in my identity were responsibilities. I could not go quietly into my new life. I had to transition in a public way, offering insight to those with eyes to see, while providing an easy target for those who needed one. I had no idea transgender issues would become the next cultural battleground, and I would spend a good bit of the next few years with a bullseye on my back. I just knew I could not remain silent.
I found the courage to write and speak, target or no, because people found the courage to love me. They were willing to be uncomfortable enough for long enough to get through their discomfort and sow in me the strength that comes from knowing you are not alone. These people included my family, my Deepen Group, the people at Highlands Church, old friends who stayed by my side, and new friends who rallied around me.
I am able to write and speak because of the love of these friends. They are my heroes. Their lives were not made easier when they chose to reach out to me. Their lives were not made easier because they chose to publicly support me. They chose to love me because their hearts told them it was the right thing to do.
These are people who are not strangers to suffering, often at the hands of the church. They have no interest in religious dogma that makes no sense in real life. They know, along with the quantum physicists, that the only ultimate reality is relationships. In the final analysis, it is love that makes the world go round, and they chose to love me. It is no exaggeration to say I live because of their love.
Last month at the OPEN Conference in Indianapolis, my son and I spoke about the affect of my transition on our family. A lot of people have watched the video on Facebook. (http://facebook.com/theopennetworkus – click on “videos” on the left side of the page.) The workshop is raw, open and honest. But what the video does not show is how many people rallied around Jonathan and me when the workshop was over. Those in the room were not about to stand idly by. These wounded healers quickly surrounded us, because they have known suffering. They knew it was not easy for us to bare our souls. One of my dearest friends sat with me as I cried, once again reminded of the pain my family faces every single day.
America’s “rugged individualism” is a tragic myth. Humans are made for communion. We experience the divine in the thin places that connect us, in the spaces between words, in the life sung between notes, in the sentiments that rest inside manila envelopes, and in two heads that touch when a friend holds another close as she drenches the ground with her tears.
A lot of people have been thanking me for my courage, saying, “You speak the words I would speak if I could find them.” Those words, that courage – they are born out of the love that has been shown to me – it’s overwhelming really. It is a love that bubbles up through the dark places and shouts from the mountaintops, “This, friends, is the Kingdom of God!”
I have been greatly loved, and I will never be the same.
For 35 years I worked with the Orchard Group, a church planting ministry in New York. For most of that time I was Chairman and CEO. For 12 years I served as a weekly columnist and Editor-At-Large for Christian Standard, a leadership magazine. I was also a teaching pastor for two megachurches. Those responsibilities ended when I transitioned to live as Paula.
I currently serve as a pastoral counselor, church and non-profit consultant, writer and speaker.
I am a runner, hiker, and avid mountain biker. The first two are relatively safe. The third, not so much. Still, I pedal. Cathy and I have been together for 42 years. She is a retired public school teacher and a practicing psychotherapist. We have three children and five grandchildren.
You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article source https://paulastonewilliams.com/2016/11/01/open-at-open/