Interview on Colorado Public Radio show, Colorado Matters

 

An extra post this week.  In the spring of 2017 and again later that summer, I was on the popular Colorado Public Radio show, Colorado Matters.  That summer appearance resulted in my TEDxMileHigh Talk.  Today I returned to Colorado Matters for an interview with Ryan Warner to talk about what has happened since.  The picture above was taken after the interview ended.  Here is a link to today’s interview:

http://www.cpr.org/news/story/paula-williams-has-lived-life-as-a-man-and-a-women-now-she-advocates-for-gender-equity

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Wrapped in The Fabric of Love

I preached a sermon this past weekend about Joseph, the husband of Mary.  I talked about unsung heroes.  I am grateful for the heroes who keep me grounded. A lot of accolades have come my way over the past couple of years, and there is not a day that I do not give thanks for the dear souls who keep me on track.

We are social creatures.  In spite of the American myth of the rugged individual, we were made for community. Even God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in community.  I’ve always had this image of them sitting on the shore of a mountain lake around a warm campfire, a full moon rising in the distance, and a couple of trout on the fire. (Hmm, I think I just described an imaginary Terry Redlin painting.)

The three are talking about life in the world of ordinary time, and the people whose lives they have observed.  The Spirit says, “You know, Paula Williams has had a lot of opportunities in the last year.  I’m glad she has Cathy and Jen and Christy and David and Aaron and that whole cloud of supportive heroes.  She’s been unusually blessed.  But then we have expected a lot of her, being transgender and all.”  Then Jesus says, “Yep.”  That’s all Jesus says.  Men use fewer words.

I sometimes feel a little embarrassed by the wealth of support I receive from so many.  I feel embarrassed because I still struggle.  With the kind of friends I have, you’d think I wouldn’t struggle so much.  I don’t think I’m stretching the truth to say that without my dear friends, I am not sure I would be alive.  Transitioning is not for the faint of heart.  And when you’re a church leader, it’s worse.  People vilify you.  You’re not a person; you’re a category.  They could care less about your humanity.

Then you get a modicum of fame, and even more conservative people start taking shots at you. They send you emails and Facebook messages and comments on your blog and you try to protect yourself from seeing them, but some sneak through and they always sting.

Which brings me back to the unsung heroes, the people who have decided I’m worth loving, even though I’m often so needy.  They see the toll it takes to be so visible in so many places, and they secure my grounding.  They hold me in their hearts.  They prop me up when I can barely stand, goad me when I just don’t want to stand, and stand back and smile when I am holding my own.

I look over every now and again to see if I’ve exhausted my unsung heroes.  Sometimes I have.  It pains me. I try to act like I’m stronger than I am, but they know me too well and you create this vicious cycle.  Me, wanting to give them a reprieve from glancing my way to gage the condition of my spirit.  Them, seeing that I suck at hiding much of anything.  And yet they keep loving me.  I am truly blessed.

Among my blessings is being included in a book by Daneen Akers, Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints.  Sarah Wilkins did the illustrations for the book, and her illustration of me is included above.  I’ve got to be honest.  I like it a lot.  Daneen told me the scarf is a symbol of my faith.  I also think the scarf is the fabric of love wrapped around me by all those heroes who keep me grounded and make me whole.

I Believe Hope Is Winning

I am having a hard time with the jumble of emotions bouncing around in my heart like a load of laundry.  I’m getting thrown every which way, struggling to keep any sense of equilibrium.

The TEDWomen2018 talk was exhilarating, but tiring.  To follow that up with the panel at TEDxMileHigh, followed by Jonathan’s book launch in Brooklyn on Thursday, followed by preaching at Forefront Church this past Sunday, was all a bit much.

I flew to New York last Wednesday, and on Thursday evening Jonathan and I headed to an event center in downtown Brooklyn for a photo shoot for an article that will be published this week in the New York Post.  Then we watched over 200 people stream in for the launch of She’s My Dad, Jonathan’s book about his response to my transition.

Jonathan spontaneously asked if I wanted to do our TED talk for the crowd, so we hopped up on stools and without a hitch repeated the words we had spoken in Palm Springs seven days earlier.  It is probably the last time we will do the talk live, so it was wonderful to do it for such a responsive crowd.

As if the book launch itself wasn’t enough, over a dozen people from my former life were there.  Well, 15 people to be exact.  I notice these things.

Five years ago, almost overnight, I lost almost all of my work and church-related friends, as well as a lot of extended family members.  When any of those people show back up in my life (without judgment or an agenda) it is time for celebration.  It is difficult to have your life’s friendships split in two – to lose hundreds of friends overnight, and to have to build new friendships from scratch.  It’s doubly difficult to do it at my age.

Among the 15 were several of Jonathan’s lifelong friends, people I’ve known since they were in elementary school.  I also visited with a couple I worked closely with at the Orchard Group for over 20 years, and another friend who also served with us back in the day.

I saw two nieces I had not seen since transitioning, and five pastors of Orchard Group churches that were planted in the last 10 years.  It was exhilarating, and tiring.  Whenever I meet someone from my old life, my discernment skills go into overdrive as I try to determine whether or not they are comfortable in my presence.  For many, it is a difficult reunion, and I can almost always tell.  These people were instantly supportive, one and all.  Time and again I was moved to tears.

The party ended around 10, and continued at a bar in the neighborhood.  I didn’t go to the bar.  Exhausted, I headed back to the apartment to relieve the babysitter and head to bed.  I slept soundly.

Friday morning Jonathan and I took the train into Manhattan to do a podcast with a female executive who was at TEDWomen in Palm Springs.  She leads peptalkher, a company that works to bring about pay equity.  On the podcast, it was so satisfying to hear Jonathan’s words about the discoveries he is making about gender inequity.  He has not had the visceral experiences I have had.  His knowledge has come through hard work.

Saturday was spent finishing my sermon,  because on Sunday morning I preached at Forefront Church.  Before the first service I connected with two more friends I had not seen in over five years, a Long Island couple I dearly love.  They know what pain looks like, and they are full of wisdom and grace.

Then I preached for both services.  It might have been the most exhilarating part of the last two weeks, but it also might have been the most draining.  It felt like one of the better sermons I have preached.  I have preached different versions of this particular sermon before, but this time was special, at so many levels.

The title of the message was, “Lost Is A Place Too” and Forefront is a church full of people who know exactly what I was talking about.  They are people who have gravitated to a post-evangelical churches because they are honest and authentic and can no longer abide by doctrine that does not pass the common sense test, let alone a hermeneutical or exegetical test.  These are people who have suffered at the hands of the evangelical church, but still they are here, full of heart, working out their spiritual lives in community.  Time and again I was moved to tears.

Sunday morning also stood out because it was the first time I have preached in an Orchard Group church since I was let go after 35 years of service, exactly five years ago this month.  I am afraid I have not yet begun to process all the emotions related to that.  I am pretty sure a lot of tears need to be shed, but I’ll wait until I’m in a safe place before I let that happen.

After church on Sunday I met with Linda Kay Klein, a friend who wrote the best selling book, Pure, about growing up in the purity movement of the 90s.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch, talking about the joys and fears related to putting your story out there for the whole world to see.  I told her, “Never read the comments.  Whatever you do, never read the comments.”  The book is excellent.  (Gloria Steinem wrote an endorsement and Linda was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.)

Because I needed time alone, I walked all the way back to Jonathan and Jubi’s apartment, where I spent the evening with the girls putting together gingerbread houses that are now proudly displayed near their Christmas tree.  The evening was heavenly.

Yesterday morning I walked the girls to school and hugged them goodbye, grateful that they are not yet old enough to refuse a hug in front of their friends.  Then I made my usual stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and came back to the house to pack and leave for LaGuardia.  Jonathan and Jubi came back from the gym and we talked for about five minutes.  He expressed his thanks for my willingness to come, and I left pretty quickly, before I broke down in sobs.

This has been a hard journey, and it will continue to be.  But I believe hope is winning.

 

Well, That Was Quite The Week!

How do you respond when you are asked to speak for one of the most prestigious speaking events on the planet?  You say yes. That’s what you do.  Then you start preparing for TEDWomen2018.  You write, rewrite, and write again until you have a script that says in 12 minutes what you and your son took 202 pages to say in a book.

You fact check, just to be sure, and edit one more time before starting to memorize. You spend every waking moment working on your script, because some things can’t be fixed in post-production.

You fret over what you are going to wear and over the rehearsal that went great this morning but really shitty this afternoon.  Then you look into the theater where you will speak.  And if you’re a seasoned speaker, your heart drops a little, because you are afraid it is not a speaker-friendly room.  Creating energy in the space will be a challenge.

But you forget about that pretty quickly as you start meeting people.  The first are your fellow speakers who have arrived early for rehearsals.  You have meals together and are a bit star-struck.  You get to know the TED staff a little better, and you’re thinking they were all Fulbright Scholars by the age of 12.  And now you are utterly and completely intimidated by all the brilliant women in the room.

You go to bed the first night thinking, “There must have been another Paula Stone Williams they intended to invite.  You know, the one who got a 1600 on her SATs and went to an Ivy League university before she discovered the cure for the common cold.  Surely they invited the wrong Paula.”

The next day you meet the rest of the speakers and now you are doubly sure there must have been some curious mistake that brought you here.  Because you are in a room with a person who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and with the theoretical physicist whose first ever observations of cesium atoms demonstrated a connection between chaos theory and quantum entanglement.  Then there is the civil rights activist who founded the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez.  And the woman who…well…you get the idea.  By noon of the second rehearsal day you’re quite sure you just need to pack up and go home.

But you realize these people are as interested in talking with you as you are in talking with them, and it starts to occur to you that maybe there is a reason you are here among these amazing people whose bios have some kind of “Top 100 in the World” honor on them.  You still don’t know exactly why you have been included, but you accept it as a reality, which gives you the ability to turn your attention away from your ego needs and toward the things that matter.

You realize the majority of these women are unique, in that they have great confidence coupled with great humility; a lot of ego strength without much ego need.  You remember you spent most of your life with powerful white men, who when they came together, started positioning themselves for power.  But that is not happening in Palm Springs.  Everyone is in this together.  The group is collaborative, not competitive.  These women work from a sense of abundance, not scarcity.

By the end of the second day you are thinking, “Oh my goodness, these people are going to change the world.  They are changing the world!  There is hope!  These women are holding it in their hands! And, oh wait, I’m one of them!”

As for the actual TED talk, I guess Jonathan and I did all right.  I can’t speak for Jonathan, but I was not at my best.  We both asked a lot of ourselves and I was a little disappointed with what I delivered, though the attendees were wonderfully responsive.

It is a complicated thing to do a TED talk with your son, and have the talk focused on the pain you brought into his life and the lives of the rest of your family. It is hard to practice, over and over, the words that express the pain, grief and loss everyone experienced.  It is hard to lay it all out there in front of the women in the theater and women from all over the world who are watching the simulcast.

I came home Friday night, spent Saturday speaking on a TEDxMileHigh panel in Denver, followed by evening services at Left Hand Church, and then went home to watch the raw speaker’s cut of the video.  (And before you ask, sorry, I can’t share that video, and no, I do not know when the edited version will be available.)

Saturday morning and again Sunday afternoon I kinda fell apart.  But I am the luckiest woman in the world because I have friends who hold space for me when I fall apart, and let me cry on their shoulder and speak the words only those who love well can speak.  And then it’s Monday and you are back at work again, and it all feels like a dream.

So that’s what I did since my last blog post.  I spoke for TED and I came home and fell apart and was loved by people who are not much bothered by me falling apart.

Come to think of it, being loved well by those friends might have been the most important thing that happened all week.  Thank you Briar and Jen and Mara and Nicole and Jason and Cathy and the other person who knows who she is who loved me so well in the midst of her own great pain.  You are all the reason this authentic journey is full of such joy.