I am a Child of God

“Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther 4:14b, NKJV

Over the past year, I’ve worked at trying to share my story as I can to help people to understand the process I’ve undertaken in coming to terms in my transition from Darryl to Ellie. It hasn’t been an easy process by any means, and there is still much I am learning and growing through today - and I’m sure it will be a lifelong process. As things come to light, I want to continue to share - not to glorify myself by any means. Not to wave a pride flag in someone’s face and say, “here I am, deal with it!” It is my prayer that by giving you the insight into the road I am walking, you will be able to see and understand that my experience, although in its own way unique to me, will put a face behind the label; a personal story that will encourage you to think beyond political and theological ideology - so that when you encounter someone in your own life that is going through their own identity crisis, you will be challenged to see the humanity in their eyes and heart.

It was a Friday night towards the end of summer when I, following the encouragement of a friend, decided to break my ten year separation from the Evangelical Christian world I had known for many years. Yes, I had been working for a Methodist church here in town, but this was a whole different league. This was the type of church that had rejected me in the past - even before my transition - and as Waze informed me that I was drawing closer to my destination, I felt my heart start beating faster in my chest. I turned up the radio in the car, tuned to the worship station on Spotify, and began to quietly pray as I waited for the light to turn green until I pulled into a spot in the parking lot.

I remember looking up at the church building, and all of the sudden the fear struck at my core, much like that fear that I would get as a kid in swim class, when we were told to jump off of the high diving board on the final day of classes. And while a good portion of me wanted to just say “screw it,” and drive off, I *was* supposed to be meeting my friend here. With I sigh, I pulled myself out of the car, turned off my headset, checked my lipstick for the thousandth time that night, and began walking up to the doors of the sanctuary where a small group had begun gathering.

I wish I could tell you all of the doubt and fears that crept in, even after my friend showed up. You see - this wasn’t just any worship service. It was a women’s Bible study; a first for me as Ellie.

“You don’t belong here,” the voice in my head whispered.

“What will they think of you? What if you need to use the *gasp* BATHROOM?”

“It’s been too long, God,” I prayed. “Meet me here.”

And show up He did. That night, the worship band played their opening set, and within the first moments, my heart was overwhelmed by these words:

“From my mothers womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again, into a family
Your blood flows through my veins
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God…”

The experience completely baffled me. I mean, the last time I was in church - the pastor probably said some great things, but out of my pain, I responded with cynicism. I remember criticizing every word. Criticizing the worship. The bass was too high. The lighting was too dark. You get the picture. I wasn’t having it. So for me, ten years later, and now identifying as what I would have called a sinner before, I never would have thought that this of all places would be where God would meet me. By the end of the night, I was trying hard not to cry, although I don’t know why. I had received the confirmation I had been looking for - that this is who I am.

I am, in fact, a child of God.

With that in mind, I began to wonder in the moments following the service - should I say something? Does anyone notice? Slowly, I felt the fear creeping back in. And so I took a bold step - I found the director of women’s ministry and shared my story. Shared of the pain I had felt - the struggle of being different. The past hurt I had suffered at the hands of the church. I shared of my fear that, in my identity as Ellie, I wouldn’t have a place to belong. I saw the sympathy in her eyes, and right before we prayed together, she told me these words that continue to haunt me - “Ellie, you are the first transgender person I have ever encountered.”

I suddenly flashed back to the moment I pulled into the parking lot that night. That fear? The worry? The doubt? If I had listened to that, I wouldn’t have had the week I’ve had. I wouldn’t have heard the assuring words from the guest speaker who told me that there is nothing to be afraid of. That it’s okay to lower our masks and just be who God has called us to be. And that being that is enough. More than that, though, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to share my story with a woman who had most likely spent her whole life in the church.

This, I believe is what we read about when the disciples were on the road to Emmaus.

It is in these moments, when life is shared and poured out - that we encounter and see the face of God.

I wanted to share this tonight not so much as a redemption story, though. I wanted to share this with you because for me - the fear was real. The pain is real. And for some of you - the question is not going to be if, but when someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ walks through the doors of your church, home, business, etc - and asks, “is there a place for me here?” And that, my friends, is the dialogue we need to be having. Because when we start turning people away from the table, we fail to get those moments where we get a glimpse of God in our midst. For those people who have overcome their fear to ask that question - it’s not a flippant one that you should take for granted.

As I was thinking about what to share with you, the story of the Prodigal Son came up. Oftentimes, we hear about the Father - about how running to the son was demeaning, and how he had been on the front watching for his son to come home. We talk about the brother, who gets frustrated over the celebration being thrown over his brother’s return, especially after what he had done. But yet, here’s what stood out to me this week: when things happen in a small town, people talk.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this was any different. I can just imagine the fear that the son felt as he turned down the road that was once so familiar to him. He knew that he had done wrong. He felt shame. He felt guilt. And more than that, he felt the eyes of the townsfolk on him as he walked through the town towards his father’s house. I’m pretty certain there was some finger pointing. Some name calling. Looks of disgust. The son endured that to reach the father - and the father knew it. He came out of the house, running to meet his son to help protect him from the ridicule and shame.

It was in realizing this that everything hit home for me. For many, the guilt and shame they have placed on themselves for identifying as LGBTQ+ is real. Many of us grew up in the church - we thought that identifying as such as wrong. That it was sinful. And now that we’re out? There’s an overwhelming sense that we could never “come back home” to the church, let alone God. I want you to think about that because when that time comes - when that person walks through the door, it’s not going to be something to take lightly. The journey just to get there has been difficult to endure.

That being said, there IS hope. And that hope begins because of people like you who are willing to read this far, talk about these issues, and understand the entire picture. God is moving. I can feel it, and I, for one, am excited about where He will lead.

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