I have to be honest: when the invitation to read this e-galley popped up in my inbox, my very first reaction was that I wasn’t interested. Why? For the boring reason that I don’t know anyone who has transitioned gender, so I didn’t think it was something I needed to read.
My next thoughts countered my initial reaction: I needed to become a more diverse reader. I needed to read more books that were completely outside of my personal experience and outside of my comfort zone. I needed books that challenged my pre-conceived ideas, my natural aversions to certain subjects, my tendency to read about subjects I felt familiar with. So I accepted the invitation to read She’s My Dad: A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption by Jonathan Williams with Paula Stone Williams.
Right away, I realized I did have something in common with the author and his father. They came from an Evangelical, non-denominational church culture that took the Bible as objective truth and considered it the Word of God. This was the culture I was steeped in my whole life until just a few years ago.
This culture said they loved the LGBTQIA community, but because of a handful of Biblical passages, considered the queer lifestyle sinful and wouldn’t allow anyone in the LGBTQIA community to join the church, serve in the church, be baptized, etc. Does that sound like love to you? Nope, I didn’t think so.
This story is centered around an Evangelical thirty-something pastor, Jonathan, and his dad, Paul (also a pastor). Paul comes out to his family and tells them he’s a woman. He changes his name to Paula, begins hormone therapy, and begins to act and dress as a woman: hair, makeup, clothing, etc. He loses his job as a pastor and has to start his life over.
Although the book is interspersed with a few chapters from Paula’s perspective, it is mainly about how Jonathan, as a son, deals with his father’s gender transition, both internally and externally.
He has to grapple with the grief, anger, denial, and the decision whether or not to accept his father as woman. He has to deal with the effects of the rejection his father experiences once his transition becomes public. He has to decide what to do about the church network he’s a part of that does not welcome gay or transgender people. He has to look at the Bible in new ways and think long and hard about theology that he has always believed to be true.
As so often happens when I read or listen to the story of the “other”, someone who seems so different from me, I discovered common ground. In addition to growing up in a similar church culture, I also experienced rejection from the church as a result of my decision to divorce. Whether it was letters and “return to God” messages or the “Great Silence” that accompanied disapproval, disappointment, and an ineptitude for dealing with someone who stepped out of the box, I experienced rejection as well, although on a much less dramatic level than Paula and Jonathan.
I am glad my better nature won the day I was deciding whether to read this book. It has been helpful for me to learn about gender transition and to think about how much of the Christian church has failed to show love, humility, and grace to those it doesn’t have a doctrinal box for. And how parts of the church are showing up and just loving people no matter what. I’m grateful that Jonathan shared the journey of how he dealt with his dad’s transition. If you are interested in transgender issues in the Evangelical church, I recommend She’s My Dad by Jonathan Williams.
How has this October been treating you? Have you stayed well, enjoyed the colors of the leaves turning and adjusted to the temperature dropping? Do you tend to get blue this time of year or do you come into your own, reading, working on projects, and loving to snuggle under cozy blankets, making plenty of hot tea or coffee and nourishing soups, and focusing inward a bit more?
I am probably a mix of both of these–I really enjoy cooler weather and being a bookworm at heart, it’s easy to settle into an indoor kind of life. At the same time, the transition of losing a little more sunlight each day challenges me to be proactive about staying positive and looking for natural solutions to heightened anxiety and bouts of insomnia.
The title of this post comes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church. I’m following in the steps of other bloggers who like to pause during each month and ask themselves the question, “What is saving my life right now?”
My Fab Four Smoothie. This smoothie comes from nutritionist Kelly Leveque’s book Body Love: Live in Balance, Weigh What You Want, and Free Yourself from Food Drama Forever. (Thanks to my friend Ellie for the recommendation!) Kelly advises her readers and clients to start the day with a smoothie that contains the Fab Four: protein, fat, fiber, and greens. The reason for this is so that your blood sugar won’t spike, your energy levels won’t crash, and you won’t find yourself so hungry/hangry again so soon after a meal. Since I’ve been a smoothie-for-breakfast fan for years, just some small adjustments to my recipe, such as just half a banana rather than a whole, a handful of spinach, and a tablespoon of coconut oil or almond butter are making a difference in my appetite. I definitely stay full longer and don’t want to reach for a carby snack by mid-afternoon.
Ashwagandha Root. Kelly recommended a few supplements in her book and this was one. Ashwagandha Root, or Indian Ginseng, is an adaptogen. What’s an adaptogen, you ask? Oxford Dictionaries defines an adaptogen as: “a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily processes.” Since I’ve been struggling to keep anxiety from getting the better of me, when I heard about Ashagandha, I decided to get the powder form and add it to my smoothie. I’ve only been using it for a few weeks, so I need to keep using it before I can report more accurately on its effects, but it seems to help calm me down. (Obviously, check with your doctor before including this in your supplement regimen.)
Listening to positive, you-can-do-this podcasts. I’ve been immersing myself in the wisdom of women entrepreneurs this month. Particularly, I am tuning into the words of Jenna Kutcher and Rachel Hollis (again, thanks to my friend, Ellie). Feelings are so fickle! Somedays I wake up feeling like I am enough and other days I need to hear someone else’s story, to hear how they built their business, what obstacles they faced, the hard work they put in to become successful, and their encouraging words to those of us who are still on the journey. Jenna’s podcast is calledThe Goal Digger Podcast and Rachel Hollis calls hers Rise. Check them both out! I’m pretty sure your spirit will be lifted from the abundance of positive content that they provide.
Pachinko . I am about halfway through and I love it! It is beautifully written and the characters are so engaging, the plot so captivating, that I know I’ll be sad when I reach the end. Honestly, I feel like I’ve read a lot of unspectacular fiction this year, but this is a unique and delightful book that stands out all on its own.
Friends. I’m an introvert and often think I can go for weeks at a time without contact from anyone other than my family and partner. My independent nature is slowly beginning to believe that I actually need people, that I need other women to connect with, to share life with, to give to them and to receive the gifts of listening and conversation, the benefits of their life stories and experiences, the wisdom, healing, and nurturing that comes from healthy relationships. I’m so thankful for the friends I’ve known for years, as well as the ones I’ve met more recently.
Digestive Enzymes. Yeah, what a change of topic! Like Julia Michaels, I’ve got issues, or at least my digestive tract does. I’m constantly working on fine-tuning my diet so that I can eat a meal without pain. This month I bought Garden of Life – Omega Zyme Ultra Digestive Enzyme Blend, and, for now, at least, they are really doing the job. As long as I remember to take the enzymes with my meal, I am distress-free–no cramping, no pain, no bloating, etc! This is really good news! Here’s to hoping they keep on being effective.
Yoga. One of my goals this year was to move closer toward a daily yoga practice. Whether it’s a 10 minute power yoga video, a 20 minute Hiit video with Sadie Nardini, a 30 minute before-bedtime relaxing sequence, or (my favorite) a 75 minute Hot Power Yoga class in Ithaca, it all helps to reduce my overall tension and anxiety levels and provide a sense of calm, strengthen my core and entire body, and increase flexibility. I’ve managed to fit in yoga more this month than any other this year, and it feels so good.
So what’s saving your life this October?
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The highlight of today was that my kids came over. I saw their faces, heard their voices–what they said or didn’t say. They ate dinner at our table, jumped in surprise at the Halloween bowls that snatched at their hands and laughed at the red-eyed Dracula rising from his coffin, screaming and cackling while scary music blared in the background. After dinner, Ella did homework and Judah and I played Canasta with Alan. Judah won! Then he and I went in the library where he took up residence in my hammock swing while I played “In the Bleak Midwinter” on the ukulele. Then I gave him one ukulele, I picked up the other and we played together. Judah’s so musical I knew he’d pick it up right away and he did. We played “House of Gold” by Twenty-one Pilots and the Brother Iz version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. So much fun!
Do you ever evaluate your day and look for a common theme? Here is a rambling poem-ish for today.
If I held up my hours like precious beads
clear, opaque, shining, rough
unique, ordinary, startling, dull
and wondered what held them together
my heartbeat and breath, here as long as I am
my emotion, hot and quick like lava or cool and dark as a cave
and all the nondescript in betweens, what would it be?
It would be me–all of those facets found
at edges of tears and full blown smiles,
frayed, tense times as well as moments light and tranquil.
My thoughts, feelings and what I do with them
Giving or withholding grace, kindness, help, a listening ear.
Moving with another’s mood, finding where the pauses are and holding the silence
living the uncertainties and sadness, bringing encouragement to a downtrodden soul
being myself and loving out, loving deep, loving into and through
the things I’d rather not remember and what I’m most proud of
there is an art to being alive, to being. So I will keep being me.
So many people I know are in transition right now, including yours truly. What I’ve experienced and know is that while you’re in it, emotions are raw, negative thoughts can overwhelm, loneliness and fear live close by, and the questions about self-worth, purpose and future beg for your attention.
You might feel like you live in a dark place, as if you’re a seed in the ground, lying as if dead, solitary and useless. Nothing is happening! What’s the point of anything? Where are my people? Am I the only one?
If you’ve been through a transition or two in your life, you know the discomfort and misery associated with these seasons. The little glimmer of hope is: it’s just a season. There will be a close to this chapter and another one beginning. Here a couple things that are helping me through my own transition.
1. Dig Deep. While you’re here, you might as well quit ignoring the really important soul-searching you need to do. Explore the questions. Live the questions, as this poet said so eloquently on Goodreads.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Sit with those words and live the questions. Live the tears, the disappointment, the hurt when friends distance themselves from you because they don’t get it, Think about what really matters to you, who are the people you care about and who care about you. You are grieving what was, what is lost.
2. Reach out. Some days will feel like too much, which is why we all need people to help us through. Reach out to the people who love you: your spouse or partner, your parent, your friend. Let them listen, share their stories, walk with you through this.
3. Give of yourself. On the flip side, give through your hurt. Invite someone to your place for coffee or dinner, help them with a project–basically, do something for someone else. It feels so good to give to another. Your suffering will be alleviated when you do this and you will strengthen the relationship with a person you love.
4. Be creative. As often as you can, build creativity into your life. You might have some open spaces in your schedule to pick up an instrument you’ve been meaning to practice, dust off your bookshelf and read the books you’ve accumulated, return to a hobby or craft that used to bring you enjoyment or try something new. Plant a small herb or flower garden or an indoor window box garden. With Youtube, you can honestly find out how to do just about anything.
5. Dream and plan. Also, take time to dream and plan. Take the limits off as you write your dreams and make plans to move toward them. Transition may be extremely disorienting and difficult, but now is the time that you will find new inspiration, new ideas and bursts of creativity. Don’t miss these opportunities! Don’t settle!
6. Act on it. As the ideas come to you, find a real way to bring them to life. You might change your career trajectory, you might launch a business, you might make many new friends, you might write a book, get into visual art, start building things, develop a passion for cooking, or learn how to DIY just about anything.
You still have a life with the potential for growth in every way possible. You will make it through. Be kind to yourself. You are on a journey that is unique to you. Today is full of wonder and discovery, if you keep your eyes open.
Here are a few book titles that may assist you on your journey:
Today I spent time cooking, baking and being with my son. My goal-setting nature wanted me to put everything aside except my preparations for the craft show on Saturday. That part of me reminded me of the number of days until the show and how much I need to accomplish, but my heart told me otherwise.
I needed to spend time with my son. I needed to see his face, hear his voice, listen to how he’s been, watch him practice his bass, just catch up with him and what’s happening in his world. It’s been a while since I gave him a ride anywhere, but his own car needs brakes and he’s driving it as little as possible.
So I picked him up, drove him to my house and he helped me bake chocolate chip cookies–his favorite. Then we ate dinner together with Alan. They ate slow cooker chicken pot pie and I ate a vegetarian, gluten free version. After we cleaned up dinner, we picked up our Canasta game where we left it last week. We played for an hour, with Judah winding up in the lead. Hopefully, next week we can finish it.
On the way home, we talked about relationships in an honest, grown-up way and I was amazed and proud of this young man sharing his heart and being so full of understanding and love. After I said goodnight, I drove home without the sad emptiness that usually accompanies parting from my kids. It was the kind of day that held beauty and grace in it and I am thankful for the opportunity to live it.