Hope Flowing Through Words
This week, while purging my computer of unneeded files, I came across a “making of” documentary about a television show of which I was an executive producer back in 2003. I had not seen the show in over a decade. It unearthed emotions.
As I have chronicled my journey from Paul to Paula, I have promised to be honest and authentic. I have not talked much about my family, and I have edited a few nasty messages from the comments section, but outside of that I have written about the story as it has unfolded. Lately the posts have been tough to write. You might be tired of the hard ones. I am.
This past week one of the human beings with whom I am closest said while they enjoy hanging with Paula, this whole thing has been brutal. That word, brutal, is etched on my soul. People who love me still suffer.
These people understand the life I was living was not sustainable. As one of them reminded me recently, “Trust me. I was there. You were not going to make it.”
For a long time, only three people knew what I faced. They also know how close I came to losing my life. All three have to remind me every now and again just how bad it was. I used every ounce of energy I had keeping it together in my work and with my friends and acquaintances. They had no idea anything was wrong. That is because I saved my despair for when I got home, or for my therapist’s office, or phone calls with my close friend. Those three knew that to save my own life, I would have to bring pain to others. When it comes to gender dysphoria, there are no good choices.
Which brings me back to the television show. As I watched Paul talk with the producers about making the show, and watched Paul explain to the crew how the show came to be, I missed the guy I saw on screen. Like so many of you, I missed his sense of humor and calm confidence. I missed his ease in front of a crowd. I missed his voice.
Please understand, I do not miss living as Paul. What had been a nuisance in my twenties and thirties became horribly difficult in my late forties and unbearable after that. The pain accumulates. But I miss what Paul was able to accomplish in the world, and who he was to his family and friends.
My family and friends lost so much, especially my family. They lost friends and co-workers and even other family members. In some ways, their losses were worse than mine. And they never had a chance to memorialize Paul. We often use the word “passing” when we refer to someone who has died. In my case, passing is the word that best describes the loss of Paul. Paul passed on and no one had a chance to publicly grieve. Not my family, not my friends, not even me.
Early on I would have dismissed the idea of needing a memorial service for Paul. “I’m still the same person!” I protested. But watching that documentary, it is obvious I am not the same person, as most of my family and friends continually remind me. Is it too late to publicly grieve? I don’t know. Nothing about this is easy, not for anybody.
So, how do we move forward? Without grace, not well. So I write in the hope grace will increase. I write to light the fires of hope within. I write to give voice to the pain felt by others. I write so evangelicals will stop pretending life is not complicated and moral choices are easy. I write so transgender souls a step or two behind me can navigate through this minefield with caution. I write because I refuse to live in silence and fear. I write to honor those who have dared to travel this rocky road with me. I write because hope flows through words.
I write because I agree with the words of Emily Dickinson. A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.
And so it goes.
6 thoughts on “Hope Flowing Through Words”
I remember those dark and delicate days, and how authentic you remained even when your pain was splintering your lost-at-sea heart. I believe your spiritual integrity and ongoing desire to love beyond conditions played a role in your ultimate decision to be here, go forth, and give back.
I am forever grateful to and for you.
Where do you come from, Lynn? You are a saint. Seriously. That back and forth time was awful, and you were always so graciously there.
I’m sure that feedback from many readers will also make it clear that your “words” also open literally unimaginable vistas for others of us.
I find myself wondering how much I’ve been missing about the centrality of suffering in a life of faithfulness, and the quality of that suffering. Following the God who is self-giving love and surrendering to the way of love seems to imply more suffering than I’ve preached and taught and lived, for the most part. But it begins to seem a given; integrally related to following Jesus.
But the quality of the suffering and loving seems richer with a more hopeful, redemptive thread.
Thanks for allowing us to wander a bit in this with you.
W Michael Smith
1 Faulkner Ave.
Asheville, NC 28805
Pain and torment, often easy to identify but nearly impossible to resolve. Your story, my story, and the story of so many others I love and know well reveals the stubbornness, nastiness, and destructiveness of pain and torment.
I am one of those people that came to a church the Orchard Group started. I was baptized in 2003 after a very long absence from my catholic roots. My fresh out of the water faith seemed to mirror the fresh non traditional church I am still attending. You came and spoke often and I greatly valued your faith, your insight into the Bible and your pragmatism toward Christianity. I still do, but I am still adjusting to the new you.
This post (and many before) have been influential in the renewing of my mind. I often read your blog with a sense of unauthorized surveillance. You have written about intimate details of your journey that have been heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. I felt a sense of unfairness that I and so many others got to see parts of you soul laid bare by your own words. I too, should have to pay a toll to be your witness.
I know many of the people have been unctuous toward you. I was one of those people in the beginning. For that I’m sorry and can only ask for forgiveness. I had an opinion about your transition. After some time and mentally letting Paul go I’m able to listen to the new you. I have no position now about you or the community you have come to voice. I have no context nor understanding of your metamorphosis and the immense struggle you face. I just know that Christ is the radical unifier that we both follow. His grace is sufficient.
Thank you for sharing your journey.
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Thank you so much Sean. Your words are so thoughtful.