The Life You Are Saving
In my 40s, I agonized over whether or not to take the lead pastor position at an influential megachurch. I told them no, yes, and no again. They were not pleased. A few years later I did the same with another megachurch. Though everyone said these were wonderful ministries for which I was well suited, I could not find the courage to answer the call. For years I doubted myself. I thought I was a coward, lacking any real measure of courage. Over time, however, I came to understand courage was not the issue. I was not pulling the trigger because I had not been called to pull the trigger.
When we think we lack courage we should look more deeply. What we see as a failure of courage might actually be wisdom, masquerading as fear. We refuse the call that is not ours. Others might believe it is our call. Even our own mind might believe it is our call. But the soul knows better. The soul knows a true call, and informs the heart and mind when the call is our own. When you realize the call is yours, you discover you have all the courage you need. Indeed, you are braver than you think.
Over the past few years my life has been turned upside down and inside out. When I answered the call to transition from Paul to Paula, I was thrown into a massive storm of great intensity. That call was not received as a gift. I screamed and railed at God, who seemed to reply with a dismissive, “Deal with it.” I was furious. But I knew I had been called.
Last summer I was called again. I attended church for the first time in years. I experienced post-traumatic stress as I dragged myself across the threshold. Once I entered the sanctuary, however, I realized it was my sanctuary. I wanted to scream at God again, “Seriously, you want me to return to the church? Do you have a short memory? The church rejected me.” But the tears would not stop and I knew God had called again. Through bread and wine received from the hands of a dear friend, she (God, not my friend) said, “Come home Paula; there is work to be done.”
So I came home and accepted the responsibilities embedded within my journey.
Since transitioning I have spoken in many different venues, from the national conventions of the Gay Christian Network and PFLAG, to lecturing at colleges and universities, to completing a video lesson on trans issues for Lifetree Cafe. I have had articles published in the New York Times and the Huffington Post, and have told my story at Bespoken Live events. The most satisfying work has been my return to the pulpit, where the good folks at Highlands Church have allowed me to preach and offer all of my gifts with great joy.
The call has also been to more challenging venues. Last week I spoke to an appreciative and responsive audience. But even as I spoke, some were registering their displeasure that I had been invited. I was not surprised. It was not the first time people had risen in protest. Two years ago I was informed I should not attend my own high school reunion. (Other high school friends have been wonderfully supportive.)
Nasty letters, emails and comments still arrive on a regular basis. My inclusion in last week’s Huffington Post article on Christian feminism brought lots of positive comments, but it also brought mean-spirited replies from angry feminists and cocky fundamentalists.
When you are in the sweet spot of your calling, it does not matter whether the moment is difficult or delightful. What is important is fidelity to the call. When you are faithfully within your call, on most days you can actually repeat the words of Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.”
If you believe you are not a person of courage, give yourself some grace. You do not lack courage. Your apparent lack of courage is simply a sign that what you have been asked to do is not your calling. It is someone else’s calling. With an open heart and a trembling hand, take a walk and listen to your soul. It will give you permission to wait. For the day will come when the world’s great hunger finds your deep joy.
When that moment arrives, courage will well up from the depths of your being, scattering butterflies in its wake. The soul’s courier will announce herself at the door of your open heart, “The wait is over; the time has come.” You will look around and see there is no one to answer but you. You alone must decide. And you will find the courage to step across the threshold. And you will realize the life you are saving is your own.