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.