Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Faith Journey


That was pretty much what my wife said that Sunday morning. But that's closer to the end of the story. How did I wind up in a church?

My coming out did not set well with my parents. We'd been close until that day. Then near silence for well over a year. The distance that developed was so great that when we knew we were going to be moving from Portland (my hometown in Oregon) to Kansas City, I seriously considered not even telling them. Then when I did tell them....the silence continued. I was astonished then when my mother called about two weeks before our departure and asked if I would come visit her. She was 80, recovering from a double mastectomy, was "up" to 72 pounds and she knew the physical distance - more than the emotional one - would mean this could be our last chance to see each other. I went, we had a nice chat. And I went two more times before heading on down the highway. Still, I had to visit early in the morning....before my father arose. He still didn't want to see me.

We arrived in Kansas City on July 15th of 2005. It was a busy time trying to locate a home and the usual resources one needs. On August 14th, I was able to attend the local PFLAG meeting to thank the group's president who was very helpful in guiding our search for those resources. The topic of their meeting that day was about LGBT friendly churches in this area. I tuned out. I hadn't been in a church for my own personal needs since I was 12. Those resources I was going to locate in Kansas City did not include a church. It just wasn't on the list.

As the meeting started to break up, two gentlemen approached me. Paul and Jerry...the Moderator and the Music Director of Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ (I heard Country..weraopdfansfansnznaweowefeweosdnrewau...of Christ. Fortunately they gave me their cards!) offered, "We have this lovely little church. We're really good on the G and the L, but we know nothing about the T. Would you come talk to our church?". Now I'd been a teacher and coach, so helping educate or instruct others was something which I did with fair ease. But do a transgender a church???? I agreed! "Just two things...this' will have to wait until at least October...and DON'T recruit me, I'll simply walk out.". And that was fine by them.

I went back to our motel room, looked up their church on the internet (thank goodness for those cards!)....cute white, steepled building in a lovely neighborhood. And then I called my Mom. She was to undergo surgery the next morning to clear an arterial blockage to her lower abdomen - the suspected reason that she had not regained weight following her mastectomies. Mom wasn't particularly religious - we never attended church as a family - so I didn't mention the invitation I'd received.

Mom never made it to her scheduled surgery. She was hustled via ambulance a few hours ahead of the plan. And the blockages were too numerous to repair, the damage too extensive to remedy. She died that Tuesday afternoon. My aunt mentioned Mom had been given Last Rites. I was surprised. I didn't realize Mom was Catholic. Her mother, my Grandma, was Catholic, but her father, my Grandpa, was Methodist (I think!). I guess it made sense, but it was still a surprise nonetheless. Two days after Mom's passing, my brothers called me to say that her funeral would be that Saturday....."Dad says you can't come".

I'd been greatly hurt by several things my parents had said to me when I finally burst loose with my struggles. I'd been greatly hurt by the silence that ensued. I'd been greatly hurt when my Mother declared to all that I was not to know about her breast cancer and mastectomies. I'd been greatly hurt when my Dad still refused to see me before I left for a home 1900 miles away. But "Dad says you can't come" topped all of them.

That Saturday, I found a quiet place to stage my own thoughts for my Mom. There is a memorial site dedicated to World War One veterans called the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. At the base of the tower is a reflecting pool. It is made of black granite with water cascading down grooves cut into the stair-stepped terrace that feeds the pond below. Had I been in Oregon, I would have escaped to any one of a dozen places along a stream or river. This was the only peaceful water I could locate. There is also a lovely park along the Missouri River just south of our home, English Landing, which also served as a refuge in the days in between.

Sunday morning dawned and just why I don't know, but I felt I needed to be in a House of the Lord to ask for God's care for my Mom. My wife asked if it was okay with me if she "took the day off", our code for just being lazy for the day. I said, "Fine by me, as long as you don't mind if I go to church this morning." Stunned, stupefied, astonished (add any more of a dozen other synonyms here if you'd like), she said "Go ahead, I understand."

Since I had no intention of looking for a church when I arrived and that I really didn't have any real connection to any particular denomination, I opted to attend the one church to which I had been invited - Country Club Congregational. At least I might be accepted there. I arrived just minutes before the service began, but as I entered the Sanctuary, both Paul and Jerry saw me and cheerfully said "Donna! Glad you came!". And I sat with them, not disclosing why I'd come. I enjoyed the service, listened as the minister, Rev. Sue Thorne, gave a sermon on "Paying Attention to the Signs God Puts Before You" (can you see this coming??), cried during the silent personal prayers and then stayed for some coffee and cookies. I met several warm people who, as I was introduced to them, seemed quite genuine in their welcome. I then met Rev. Thorne, finally explaining why I had come. She was most compassionate, but that is afterall her job isn't it? And then I went back to the motel.

All that week, I kept thinking of the warmth and the welcome extended to this poor stranger. I'd been in churches before. Be the stranger, the is often the coldest of experiences. I saw smiles. So the next Sunday, I went again. This time for me...maybe curiosity, too...not for my Mom. And the welcome was warmly extended again. There is a part early in the service whereby people are asked to stand and "greet one another". (I've since called this our "Community of Chaos" as everyone tries to meet everyone else!). I'd sat in the left side of the church this time, about two-thirds to the back from the pulpit which is also on that side. I no sooner had turned around to say Hi to the person behind me when I got a tap on the shoulder from behind. I turned around. It was Rev. Sue. "Donna, I'm so glad you came back!". Such a simple gesture, such a profound result. I'd never had a minister say that to me...and be sincere in her acceptance. Now if this isn't one of those Signs she was talking about the week earlier....

And on the way "home", it would be our last day in the motel, all I heard was "Welcome Home, Donna....Welcome Home." I had spent 50 years of my life in Portland, all but one as a man. In one month, now as a woman, in Kansas City...THIS is when I heard God's voice calling me Home????? And so it was. And I do pay attention to those Signs placed before me.

May each one of us find our Faith home.

The Prelude to Finding My Faith

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