I want to thank you for your response to last week’s post. My readership was about twice its normal size, and a number of you wrote personally to say if I ever happen to see you in an airport, I should introduce myself. My heart was warmed. I also appreciated the comments made on Facebook (Paula Stone Williams) and in the comment section of my blog. If you’ve not read the blog comments, I’d encourage you to do so.
Since several of you have asked, I have not heard from the individual I saw at LaGuardia Airport. I do not expect to. I imagine it is a bridge too far. It is all right.
Your encouragement has meant so much because I am tired. Last week’s post was painful. We are made for life-long community. Our lives are knit together by the continuity of lifetime friendships. They, along with family, are the thread that runs through our days. For me, that thread was severed. It is one of my greatest losses. I knew it was likely to happen, but I did not realize how complete it would be. Thousands of my old friends are gone, and it does not look like many will return. Few remain who can testify of my previous life.
A quick Internet search of the ministries for which I once worked finds, with one notable exception, no acknowledgement I ever existed. I hesitate to list my previous employers on my curriculum vitae because I know if they are contacted, they will probably not respond. The same is true of the institutions that granted my degrees. Sermons I preached that were once on video have been pulled from libraries. I have been removed from public consciousness. While not unexpected, it erases my past.
My new friends are wonderful, but they know little of my previous life. Just today I was talking with one of my new friends who had no idea I was once the CEO of a religious non-profit, or the host of a national television show, or an editor and columnist for a magazine, or an adoption caseworker for 25 years. That part of my life is not accessible to this new friend. He only knows Paula, the woman who preaches at his church regularly and prays for people during weekly communion. In some ways that is wonderful. I no longer have to contend with people who come alongside because of what I can do for them. The people who are drawn to me nowadays are not drawn to my accomplishments. They just like hanging with Paula.
Many new friends expressed shock at seeing a picture of Paul in last week’s post. Most found it difficult to find Paula in Paul. Friends from my earlier life find it difficult to find Paul in Paula. Only a handful see the same person in both photos.
This blog is one place that brings both halves of my life together. Before I transitioned I decided to chronicle my journey, hoping it might bring understanding and insight to my evangelical friends. I expected a few dozen might follow along. I did not know it would be hundreds, then thousands. For the most part, however, the people from my old life do not offer to come by for a visit. Early on I would not have been able to receive them. There were too many open wounds. Today I would welcome their arrival, particularly if they brought their memories along for the ride.
Mine is a pioneering journey. They are no well-worn ruts from previous processions of wagon trains. I know of no other evangelical leader who has followed this particular call. And I have done it very publicly. I should not be surprised when mean-spirited correspondence still arrives, or that most remain silent because they do not know what to do. It goes with the territory. It is also the reason I am tired.
Which is why your encouragement has been so life-giving. Nothing feeds a parched soul like a kind word. Thank you, my friends, for trusting my character enough to walk through your discomfort to remain by my side. I know it has not been easy, but you have allowed love to prevail, and that is how the light gets through to the dark places.
I am grateful for your love and acceptance. Truly grateful.
And so it goes.