Two souls languish in disappointment. One prays desperately that his child’s heart will somehow match his form. The other prays that somehow finally that her form will at last match her heart. Both will find out that it’s not about what, but about who we are.
Rachael sat down and hugged Jordan quickly, as if a lingering embrace would hurt the girl sitting on the couch beside her. Too much worry and not enough faith, she felt, but the girl was fragile and struggling to keep from crying as it was. You know the feeling that you can hold it together until someone puts a hand on a shoulder; the shrug that says, if you keep it up, I’ll have no choice but to feel safe enough to fall apart. Rachael was mostly right in her assessment; the girl was very fragile, but she broke off the embrace too slow to keep the girl from sobbing anyway.
“Jordan? Honey? Please….let me…” She went to pull the girl closer, but was met with another shrug and hands that extended to hers, shaking and pushing her away.
“No…leave me….you can’t help…no one can.” The girl cried, leaving Rachael feeling helpless but still undaunted. She pushed the girl’s arms apart and pulled her close. Jordan flailed a bit before giving in entirely as she wept into her big sister’s shoulder. Rachael stroked Jordan’s hair and kissed her cheek.
“I’m so, so sorry, honey. We’ll find a way…really.” Rachael really wanted to believe that, but even she felt discouraged, and rightfully so. Some things can take more time than we like. And some things can take more time than we can afford. But in this case, it was going to take more time than Jordan had, since every test and exam and estimation and reluctant assessment said that Jordan would remain sadly unfulfilled in her quest to gain that final aspect of her transition before she succumbed to the disease that ravaged her body.
Open Door Fellowship, Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Daniel tossed his Bible on the desk in his study and flopped on the worn leather couch that was jammed into a corner of the small room. He kicked his shoes off and turned to the back of the couch and laid his head on the armrest. He had just started to drift off when a knock came at the open doorway.
“Pastor Dan? Your wife is on the phone.” Marnie said as she leaned in and slightly around the tall bookshelf.
“Oh…ohkkay…” He said groggily. After twenty hours at the hospital, he was completely spent. He and several church folk had been praying all night for a kid from their youth group who had strayed enough to drink and drive; the boy succumbed to his injuries along with his two best friends. Daniel swung his legs off the couch and practically staggered to the desk where he noticed all four lights blinking on the phone. He looked up and widened his eyes in question.
“Oh…sorry. Line three.” Marnie shrugged and laughed softly. Daniel picked up the receiver and hit the button.
“Hi hon….no….I’m sorry. No…He didn’t …. No…his family was there, so we prayed and talked. I’m supposed…yeah … Friday… no, it doesn’t make sense, but God….yeah…I’m going to grab a quick nap and then I’ll be home…yes… I love you too.” He hung up the phone and shook his head. So much pain inflicted in one moment. The family had already lost their older son to a roadside bomb in Falujah several years before and had held out so much hope for their remaining child. Funny, but it was so hard for Daniel to even think the word ‘son,’ without feeling angry and disappointed at God.
“Dad…Can you…you got some time?” The boy leaned into his father’s office doorway and waved; almost an apology for disturbing him on a ‘study day,’ but it couldn’t have been too intrusive since Daniel did have his door open.
“Sure, sport. Come in.” His son stepped inside the office and it seemed to surprise Daniel when the boy pulled the door closed behind him. He sat down on the couch instead of the chair at the desk across from where Daniel sat. Daniel pointed to his own head and then Jordan's; he'd been after him to cut his hair. The boy sighed and nodded before speaking.
“Mom said you’d probably be takin’ a break right now so I took a chance.” The boy picked up the crocheted pillow off the couch and cradled it in front of him like a teddy bear. Daniel nodded at the boy and got up and walked around and sat in the other chair facing his son. The boy clutched the pillow tighter; not the actions of a fifteen year old teen, but Daniel was already used to the boy’s different behavior; at least from his perspective. By now he had expected him to take a more ‘up-front’ role in the church youth group, but the boy preferred playing his violin on the youth worship team; a support role to be sure, but valued by most of the folks in the church….most.
“Something bothering you?” Daniel tried hard; he really did, but several years of frustration over what he perceived to be an increasingly difficult challenge as a parent. His fears were almost well placed other than that he had nothing to fear, and what did concern him was really all about him than about about his son. His brusqueness served only to cause the boy to become more guarded, which in turn evoked an impatience that no one other than his son seemed to experience.
“Come on. You know you can tell me anything, right?” He smiled, but his eyes gave away his disappointment.
“I can tell you anything,” the boy thought. “But will you hear me?” He turned slightly away and faced one of the two bookshelves that framed the couch. Taking a deep breath, he plunged into the icy cold waters of his father’s impatience and disappointment.
“I’ve….I’ve got to talk to you Dad,” He sighed and breathed in a deep breath as if he was about to sink under the weight of his own self.
“You said that.” The boy had observed his father talking with members of the church; a word here or a prayer there seemed to be reserved for them, but the impatience seemed to almost grow exponentially with each passing day as the boy careened down a hill toward a future not of his own making. Neither he nor his father realized that the future had already been crafted by someone with both of their best interests at heart.
“I…” He looked into his father’s face; an expression that shouted, “come on, I haven’t got all day.” He arose suddenly, tossing the pillow toward the couch; it bounced off and landed at his father’s feet.
“Ne….never mind….It’s not that important…we can talk at home.” If that wasn’t enough, his father followed him to the door and spoke to him as he exited quickly; completely missing the boy’s frustration and sadness.
“Then why did you interrupt me? Son?” By now he was pretty much talking to the boy’s back as he hurried out of the outer office, pausing only long enough to wave weakly and say, “Love you!” A moment later he was gone, leaving his father to wonder what had just happened. In truth, his father kept looking at moments with his son almost as events rather than choices the two of them continued to make.
Nothing ‘happened’ except his inability to treat his son as kindly as anyone else. They say you can never be disappointed unless you have expectations. Daniel had many expectations of his son; many of them reasonable and normal from a parent’s standpoint. But one huge expectation was going to be thwarted as Daniel would find out that evening.
She stood in front of the bathroom mirror; naked and ashamed. Her hair had grown down to almost collar length, but even if it had fallen down past her shoulders, it still would have done nothing to help her feel good about herself.
“You’re…evil!” She frowned as her image seemed to agree all too readily to her self-assessment. She pulled on a plain terry robe and walked into the bedroom. Her Bible lay open on the bed, face down. She glanced at her reflection in yet another mirror. This one was hung over her dresser; twice as large as the bathroom mirror but the condemnation seemed to be exponentially painful. She pulled out some sweatpants and a tee shirt. Putting them on, she took one last look at herself before falling onto the bed in tears.
“Would you go talk with our son?” Paula said as Daniel sat down in the living room and turned on the news.
“I just got home, Babe….can’t it wait?” He snapped. She walked into the living room and stood with her arms folded in front of him. She shook her head with a slight frown, but she remained calm. It was her fervent daily prayer that Daniel would somehow make a connection with the younger of their two children. He had already pretty much driven away their daughter; not in the physical sense. Rachael was still living at home while attending the local community college, but her relationships had seemed to gravitate more to her friends at school. She stopped going to the college and career group at church when her father pushed her to assume more responsibility, and the father/daughter connection seemed to be slowly slipping away.
“He and I had a talk, and he needs to tell you something, but it can’t be between innings of the Cubs or sandwiched between counseling sessions or your sermon prep!” Her voice remained calm, but she shook her head. He sighed a self-pitying sigh, causing her to lose a bit of her serenity, as she called it.
“It’s important, Daniel! Not that it should have to be. He’s your son, for Christ’s sake!” She snapped at him. His frown drew her further away from her desired demeanor. She glared at him.
“Don’t you even go there! And yes, Daniel, it is for Christ’s sake. Fathers…don’t exasperate your own damn kids!!!!” She turned and went back into the kitchen, speaking in some Sicilian dialect under her breath. Daniel sat up and leaned forward, but no further. Paula walked slowly back into the living room.
“Not that it should matter, but he’s been crying since he got home. If that doesn’t warrant your attention, just pretend he’s someone else’s kid. The way you’ve treated him the past three weeks, he might as well be anyway. I’m going for a walk, and when I get back I expect the two of you to be talking like old friends down at Finnegan’s on a Saturday night, capiche?” She stood by the front door with her hand on the doorknob; she said nothing more, but the look on her fact spoke volumes as she pivoted and walked out.
“Hey sport.” Daniel smiled meekly. The boy looked up from the book in his hands; a Manga book with a very colorful cover. His face was puffy and his eyes were red.
“I’m sorry I didn’t make time for you this afternoon. I was wrong.” Daniel did make room for apologies in his daily routine, but his son and his daughter rarely heard them even if they were due more frequently than anyone was willing to admit.
“I ….I have to tell you something.” The boy looked down at the book; more out of shame and embarrassment than interest.
“Go ahead.” Daniel nodded. For once, the expression on his face seemed to indicate a willingness to listen, which only served to provide an even deeper disappointment once the boy finished talking. The boy took a deep breath; that plunge into icy waters again.
“I…Mom and I talked about it.” He hoped that the mention of his mother might serve as some sort of endorsement for what he was about to say. She had offered to be with him when he spoke with his father, but allowed his need to please his father one last time to talk her out of being there. It was a mistake that all four family members would grow to regret.
“I…went to see Dr. Elias today.” Daniel had never needed to visit anyone other than the family physician, and his son’s words puzzled him. Dr. Elias was an immunologist who practiced in the same office as his wife; Paula had been dealing with chronic fatigue and other issues for the past few years.
“Are you okay? What’s wrong?” For starters, Daniel’s question was wrong, since it immediately put the onus on the boy to explain himself rather than talk with his father. And it was also wrong because he mistakenly assumed it was Dr. Marcus Elias instead of his wife Sonia the endocrinologist. The boy shook his head, wondering if he could make it through without breaking down. So far, he was doing alright under some very challenging expectations. He continued.
“Nothing is wrong, Dad.” The boy hadn’t meant to snap at his father, but their communication was such that he felt frequently that his father was just interested in solving problems than hearing his son’s heart. Daniel shuddered a little at the boy’s words but leaned closer and put it down slightly.
“I’m sorry….what did you want to tell me?” It would be the last time either of them heard the words ‘I’m sorry’ escape Daniel’s mouth for a very long time.’
“Not…not Dr. Mark, Dad…Dr. Sonia.” The boy looked away. Diabetes didn’t run in the family and Jordan appeared to be very healthy, which led to the confused look on Daniel’s face. The boy swallowed hard, anticipating and answering the implied question, ‘Why Dr. Sonia?’
“I….I’ve been seeing Dr. Pine.” He paused, fully aware that his need to see his sister’s psychiatrist would evoke even more confusion and questions; questions that didn’t come as Daniel had a very dim view of ‘Godless psychiatry,’ as he and some of the church leadership had described his daughter’s help.
He hesitated, hoping that the next words, even if they didn’t convince his father of the truth about his son, would at least not evoke an angry storm of protest. He was right on one count and wrong on the other, which sadly needed just the opposite reactions.
“I’ve….Dr. Pine and I talked….” His face grew red and hot as his father’s expression grew more unwelcoming with each syllable, but he continued; bravely but futilely trying to help his father know who he was….what he was….. what ‘she’ was?
“I’ve ….Dr. Pine and Dr. Sonia have….. I’ve got a gender identity disorder, Dad.” He winced as his father frowned; expecting an angry outburst which never came. Daniel sighed deeply and smiled.
“It’s okay, Son. It’s okay.” The boy dropped his guard at his father’s conciliatory tone until the look on Daniel’s face changed. Welcome and comfort transformed in a heartbeat to a familiar look; the ‘let’s see what we need to do to fix this’ look. The boy needed understanding and what he was facing instead was repair for a problem that didn’t exist.
“You just need to pray harder, kiddo. I should have spotted this a long time ago. You’ve always been soft, and I took it for granted that you’d toughen up. I’m so sorry I let you down.”
“But Dad….there’s nothing wrong,” the boy began to protest, but his father cut him off.
“Oh yes there is. That disorder you’re talking about…it’s just another form of attack on this family. Gender disorder….You’re a young man. I know that whole thing about development and such, but it’s not Biblical at all, boy!” His words almost sounded like a rebuke to his son as much as to what the boy had just confessed. As if he was the problem.
“No.” The boy jumped off the bed and stood in front of his still-seated father; his fists were balled in frustration and his eyes had already begun to return to the crimson pall of only minutes before. Daniel put his hand up in caution.
“What? Oh, no. Don’t you take that tone with me.” Daniel took an utterly frightened boy’s sad and tragic tone entirely the wrong way.
“This is rebellion, plain and simple. Your books….your music… “ He might as well have said ‘you.’ Daniel stood up and the Manga book that the boy had been reading spilled off the bed and onto the floor. A book about a young man…some Asian-like character he assumed…that looked like a teenage girl, from what he could make out. He picked up the book and tore it down its worn spine and threw the pieces on the floor. The boy took a look at his father and whatever love might have been behind Daniel’s eyes had been replaced with anger and, even more so, fear.
It had finally reached a point of no return; not for the boy’s frustration or his father’s rage, but for the overwhelming flood of hopeless grief as he realized he would never be the same in his father’s eyes again. He burst into tears and ran down the hall and out the front door, passing his mother in the doorway. She went to speak but he had hopped onto his bike and was down the block and away before she had the wherewithal to utter a single word other than a weakly breathed, “Honey? Jordan?”
Daniel walked slowly down the hallway only to be met at the end of the hall by Paula; her arms were folded and she was looking away. As she turned, he could see her face was red and her eyes were filled with tears. She opened her mouth to speak but shook her head instead. The look on her face seemed to plead with Daniel,
"How could you? You..."
He went to reply to her stare and she shook her head once again before she headed for the front door.
"I'm going to go look for our son. Are you coming?" He stood and said nothing, his head turned slightly to avoid her gaze.
"Matthew Seven, Dan...look it up," she said bitterly before she walked out the door and was gone.
You parents–if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him
Daniel sighed; he needed no Bible to know his wife's meaning. He put his hand to his face and began to weep.
To be Continued...
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