60!

This month, I will turn sixty. I have been pondering where I thought I would be at age sixty when I was twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty. It’s quite revelatory. Have you pondered the same for yourself? Did your ideas and plans pan out, or are yours radically different?

Mine sure are. Here they are.

IMG_20170402_091952753.jpg
Before I left my teen years, I had one huge goal.  My cousin, Peggy, was born one day after me, but was taller than me until I finally sprouted during my junior year of high school.  This picture of us was snapped during my graduation open house.

Age twenty

I wanted to get married and have kids. My desire was to live and work in my hometown of Montague, Michigan, the rest of my life. My American Dream was tremendously simple, yet sounded wonderful to me.

At age sixty, I would nearing retirement in the job that I would have found, hopefully when still in my twenties. I loved the idea of being a lifer at a company. Loyalty was important to me. So was stability. I wanted to put in forty years at the same place.

At age sixty, I would still be married to my wife, and would never think that I would have to add “first” to “wife,” unless I had been widowed. She would be a Roman Catholic because that’s what I was and, after my first girlfriend was not—she was a Lutheran!—I was intent on only dating Catholics.

Age thirty

I was married at age twenty-two. Kim wasn’t Catholic. She was Nazarene. We found the Lutheran faith together.

IMG_20170402_091341155.jpg
This is probably 1980, soon after getting married.  I would have been 22 or 23.

Four children arrived during my twenties, when I was twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-six, and twenty-nine (with one more at thirty-one).  We lost our first, Johnathan, when he was a day old, certainly a twist we never envisioned.

IMG_20170402_091743105.jpg
Enjoying the first one we got to take home, our newborn Erin.

After renting in Montague for five years, we bought an old house in town and completely restored it.

At age twenty-five, I got a job at MasterTag, located on the outskirts of Montague. By the time I was thirty, I was in the position where I thought I could be for a long time, and continue to grow from there. I loved MasterTag. I was positive that I was set for life.

At age thirty, all of my goals were fulfilled. I was as content and happy as a person could be.

IMG_20170402_095243756.jpg
Kim and I with our gang: Jackie and Alex in front, Erin and Addison in the middle.

Age forty

So much for keeping my goals intact!

At age thirty-two, I found myself discontent with my job. I was aching for more, bigger, and new challenges. That would be the ministry. At thirty-three, I was back in college. At thirty-five, I was in seminary. At thirty-nine, I was graduated and in my first parish, two small congregations in Iowa.

Uprooting my family, three of my huge goals tumbled in one move; I left my job, we sold our house, and Montague appeared in our rear view mirror.

And life was grand! I had found THE job, the one from which I was sure I would retire at a ripe old age. Having graduated seminary at age thirty-nine, I decided that I wanted to put in at least thirty years of full time ministry, which would take me to sixty-nine.

IMG_20170402_092516611.jpg
The new pastor in the office at the Guttenberg church.

My family flourished. Kim formed new bonds and got active with both congregations. She was a stay-at-home mom who took great care of all of us.

The kids took to each move—from seminary in Fort Wayne, to vicarage at Osage, Iowa, back to seminary for one more year, then onto Guttenberg, Iowa—and gained skills which I could have used when young. They adapted to new places. They grew as individuals.

IMG_20170402_093208640.jpg
In my natural habitat.  If you can’t read the glass, Homer Simpson is saying, “You’ll have to speak up.  I’m wearing a towel.”  The glass was a birthday gift from son, Alex.  I wore that thing out.

Age forty was a reset. With this shift of jobs and location, NOW I was set for life. I was coasting toward sixty. Right?

Coasting didn’t last even halfway into my forties. At age forty-three, my marriage was ending. Before the year was out, my divorce was final, I found a new love in Julie, and we were married with one day to spare in 2001.

IMG_20170402_093531894.jpg
Circa 2004.  From left: Julie, Jackie, Addison, Alex, Erin, me.  We are on the porch of the Port Hope parsonage.  The church can be seen behind me.

I had taken my second call, to St. John, Port Hope, Michigan, the other side of the state from Montague. Three of my four children had graduated high school, and one both completed college and got married. The boys still lived at home.

Age fifty

Four weeks after I turned fifty, I experienced the first serious health situation of my life. I had to receive two heart stents.

IMG_20170402_095129331.jpg
Of all the changes, one never has. Tim Todd has always been there.  Thank you, tt.

In the weeks that followed, our youngest graduated high school and the oldest got married. That autumn, we welcomed our first grandchild. The next year, the boys moved to West Michigan. Julie and I now were empty-nesters.

IMG_20170402_095206972.jpg
Not only did Moses love a parade, he introduced glasses to the world and invented the peace sign.  Sheesh, was there nothing I would not do for a laugh?

We were relishing our years in Port Hope. Julie found a good job. I loved being a pastor and there were lots of challenges at St. John. The people of the congregation and the village treated us wonderfully and we loved them back. Port Hope became home.

IMG_20170402_095321441.jpg
I loved playing game show host during the fall festival.  With me is Shirley Dorland.  Every community and congregation should have a whole passel of Shirley Dorlands.  She pitched in everywhere.  We had a blast together.

As I settled into my fifties, I figured I was past the age to receive any more calls to move to another congregation. That was fine by me. I came to joke that I hoped that my friends at Ramsey Funeral Home would have to come and peel my old, dead fingers from St. John’s pulpit.

Just as I had no idea what would happen in me when I was in my early thirties, so I did not have a clue as to how my fifties would unfold. At age fifty-five, I crashed in crushing gender dysphoria. At age fifty-six, I retired from the ministry and we moved to Indianapolis. I started and stopped transitioning four times when fifty-six and fifty-seven. At fifty-eight, I finally settled into living as a female. While fifty-nine, I began transitional surgeries.

13418837_10153702059078494_6548395612505510985_n
The new lass retains the old sass!

All of my kids got married and had kids pretty quickly—seven grandchildren so far, all while I was in my fifties—but two have been divorced.

Last week, I finished writing the first draft of my autobiography. Its working title is, “I’m Still Me.”

Age sixty

Looking back over forty years of adulthood, there is no possible way I could have guessed even one of the turns my life took. If these things had been revealed to the twenty-year-old me, I would have shaken my head in disbelief. And, if I could have been convinced that all of it were true, I likely would have sought a way to avoid them.

Looking forward is an impossible task. Looking back is all we can do as we live in today. Sure, we will continue to plan our futures but, as we do, we will be wise to scribble in pencil.

And keep a big eraser nearby.

Advertisements

Meet my dad

1923930_23008784670_8331_n
My dad.  That’s me, next to him.

As my father would have turned ninety this St. Patrick’s Day—typical German, trampling on another country’s pride!—he’s on my mind. Here are some of the things I hold most precious about him.

Reminiscing is an activity of affirmation. Sure, I could recount some of Dad’s weaknesses, but those are easily overcome by his strengths, the things which made him a person who was of value to many. I gladly ignore the lesser things to promote the greater.

Besides, my father gave me so much. In many ways, he gave me exactly what my mother gave—a good work ethic, faithfulness to family and friends and work and community and to the Lord, to value money and things and take care of them, and a friendly spirit which shows respect to all. My folks were people you both wanted to be around and were glad to have around.

Dad taught me both directly—“When you hoe around potatoes, heap the dirt toward the plant to keep the spuds from the sunlight”—and indirectly—listening to him on the phone with Montague citizens (Dad was city manager), his patience and respect were always present.

He was, in a word, practical. He saved scrap metal. When he had enough to trade in for a few bucks, he took it in. His smile shined as he proclaimed, “There. I have some pocket money.” He gardened—usually having more than one, utilizing space at either of his brothers’ farms, and at my brother’s in-laws’—and canned and froze bushel upon bushel. He composted, turning vegetable scraps into soil-enriching material.

When I got married, I immediately put in a garden and started a compost pile. Every stop I’ve made—from Michigan, to Indiana, to Iowa, to Michigan, and back to Indiana—I have put in a garden—in every place, needing to begin from scratch, and knowing how to do it because Dad had taught me—and started a compost pile. I have canned and froze countless pints and quarts of produce.

IMG_20170316_095810470_HDR.jpg
My latest mound of compost, which I will till into the garden any day now.  Note how dark it is, compared with the dirt.  It’s wonderfully nutritious!

I am about as bad with a knife as any human, but by watching and helping Dad carve up many deer (I never knew you could take them to a meat processor), I found myself doing that when I got the only one that I bagged when in Iowa, with him not around to take the lead, plopping that buck onto our dining room table and methodically carving out steaks and roasts as I envisioned how he had showed me the way to slice up the venison, and taking the rest and canning it, turning once-chewy portions into the tenderest meat treats.

There seemed to be no project which Dad, whom I loved to call Pop, could not tackle. Depression Era farm boys grew into men whose first thought was, “How will I do this,” not, “Who can I hire to do it?”  With that attitude, we tore a house down to the studs and rebuilt it for my brother and his family, who has now lived in it for four decades, and then did it for my family and me.

The one thing that brings Pop to mind the most is when I am doing a chore which I might not be able to complete that day. We used to cut firewood together—another lesson: use wood that you can get for free, cut and split it yourself, and save loads of cash heating your house—and as we stacked it, he said, “When you think you are done, you’re pooped, say to yourself, ‘I can do one more load.’” (This earned him our playfully mocking him as we would say, “Just peckin’ away.”) A few weeks ago, as I raked my front yard, my arms wearing out from a job they are not used to, I found myself saying, “I can do one more section. Just keep peckin’ away.” Thanks, Pop.

For all of the important, similar traits my folks had, they were starkly different, too. Mom was easily flustered; Dad was unflappable. Mom’s frustration came out verbally; Dad never gave away if he were feeling any angst. Mom suffered more physical maladies than a person ever should; Dad made it to his final month nearly ailment-free.

As many things which form us are learned, just as many come from how we are built. For example, my older brother, Tom, resembles Mom in suffering many physical ills, and he is, um, shall we say, just a bit impetuous when he feels foiled.

I find myself having inherited Dad’s nature. I love telling anyone who will listen that at his funeral many remarked how, of all of us kids, I was most like Dad. And, if you are wondering, now that I am transgender, do I feel differently about this? Nope. Not a bit. Transitioning aside, I remain John Eilers’ son, and most gratefully so.

One thing that all of us kids got from both of our parents is the gift for gab. I suspect this, too, is both a thing of nature and nurture, how one is built and is influenced.

My sister, Sue, got married when I was eighteen. At the reception—Montague folks can picture the VFW hall jam-packed—as folks finished eating, I observed my parents, with Mom going one way and Dad the other, visiting each table.

2016-03-17-16-12-39
Dad and Mom enjoying a celebratory drink at Sue’s wedding reception.  That’s my younger brother, Dave, looking on—and perhaps hoping they leave an unfinished portion behind!

 

The next day, I asked Mom about it. She said, “They were kind enough to come. It was important that we thank them.” As my years rolled on, I saw in myself the need to honor and respect folks in the same manner.

It’s even more than this. The ability to make conversation with anyone, anywhere, about anything, is such a gift. I have so valued it that I have deliberately cultivated it, using it to my advantage in every sphere of my life. With it, I hope that I glorified my Lord Jesus when I was a minister, as I was comfortable in every situation, with people of all ages, in all of life’s stages. Nowadays, wherever I go, this capacity to chat, to make a joke, to put people at ease, is as important an attribute as I possess, and is doubly important for my new situation in life.  Thank you, Mom and Dad, for this cherished gift.

Another lesson both my parents taught was to appreciate what you have. Thankfulness is a powerfully important attitude. It shapes so many aspects of our everyday life, from the smallest things to the biggest, the easiest to the hardest, the most common to the unusual.

And this takes me to one final way to appreciate being John and Floye Eilers’ child. They brought up us kids in the Christian faith. More than in the faith, faithfulness was key. We were in worship every Sunday. We were taught to pray. This faithfulness to the Lord spilled over to family and friends and community. I observed it in my folks. It profoundly impacted me as I matured.

In his later years, after Mom had died and I had moved away and became a pastor, Dad and I would talk about what we were reading. Often, he commented about where he was in the Bible. Faithfulness. There’s always more to learn.

Often in our conversation, Dad commented about the bounty he had just picked from his garden. Thankfulness.

Often, Dad spoke of his post-retirement charity work at the food bank. Hard-working. Giving spirit.  Community.

Often, Dad remarked about one of my siblings or a grandchild, reveling in the latest neat thing. Family. Unity. Joy.

Always, Dad closed with “Love you guys.” Love. A father’s love. MY dad’s love for ME.

Precious.  Priceless.  Imperishable.

 

Meet Aunt Mabel

photo_20170108_wm0085555_0_20170108

When I was in high school, she was the lunch lady. And she was my great aunt. And I am sure that the small talk we made as she dipped mashed potatoes onto my tray were a diversion so that the other kids didn’t see that she was giving me more than them.

That was my Aunt Mabel.

On Saturday past, the last of the generation on my dad’s mother’s side of the family left this earthly pilgrimage. Mabel (nee Schultz) Parker was the youngest of her two sisters, Ethel (my grandmother) and Martha, and two brothers, Les and Walt. She was younger than the rest by enough that the children she had with Uncle Gene—David, Joy Ann, Nick, and Dan—comprised a half-generation tucked neatly between their cousins (for example, my dad), and their cousin’s children (like me).

I cannot say that I knew Aunt Mabel tremendously well, but the impression which she and Uncle Gene made on me will not allow me to let her passing go without my penning my memories. Mabel Parker was, in a word, a gentle woman, and Uncle Gene a gentle man.

Aunt Mabel epitomized the Schultz spirit. She, my grandmother and their siblings were hardworking, easy-going, kind, generous, fun, and full of life. They were unflappable. And they made great use of their gift for gab.

I loved hot lunch in school, and I loved seeing Aunt Mabel. She was always upbeat, had a big smile, and made me feel special. As the head cook, she provided us with a quality of meals that public school students of today do not enjoy. Though she was small of stature she stood tall in my eyes, the kind of person you look forward to running into. Whom you know you should emulate.

Before I departed my home town, whenever I saw Aunt Mabel, perhaps at a wedding reception or in one of the aisles at Montague Foods, I knew what to expect. She would draw me down to her level, place both hands upon my cheeks, and plant on me an auntly kiss.

The Parkers lived north of Montague on Whitbeck Road, on the far side of Eilers Road. (Yes, Virginia, there really is an Eilers Road.) When I was young, I thought they lived way out in the country. Then, as a high-schooler, I would ride my bike up Whitbeck, turning west on Eilers, to pick asparagus at Benny Scholl’s. I could see their farm from the corner. Hmm, the Parkers weren’t so far out in the country, after all.

They had this distinctive concrete block building on the other side of the driveway. I am thinking it was the milking house, though I cannot tell you that they were dairy farmers. The building’s blocks were a creamy color, a shade that I don’t believe I have ever seen on another building. Even now, when I am visiting Montague and I purposely take Whitbeck Road north out of town, I have to gawk as I drive by. And I am a kid again.

After high school, my best bud Tim Todd and I joined the Thursday night bowling league. Uncle Gene bowled in that league. Now, I really got to know the man. He was good-natured and kind, always quick with a story and a laugh. That smile! Surely, when young Gene and Mabel first laid eyes on each other it was their smiles that drew their hearts together. They enjoyed true wedded bliss all of their sixty-three years, until Uncle Gene was laid to rest in 2000.

He must have had really bad knees. He was as bow-legged as I ever saw a man. Making the approach to throw his bowling ball, he looked like he was held together with some of the baling wire from his farm. Yet I still could not find a way to beat him.

Returning to the bench after a nifty strike, he was fond of finding me. “See, Greg,” he would smile. “That’s how you do it.” The stinker.

I never got to know their sons, David and Nick, but I crossed paths with Joy Ann and Dan plenty of times over the years and, in them, I saw their parents. Last February, I attended my first family funeral as Gina. Before the Sunday afternoon gathering, I went to worship at primo pal Tim’s congregation, Montague United Methodist.

During worship, they have a moment for sharing good news and prayer needs. Tim took the microphone to rejoice in the marking of the fortieth anniversary of his baptism. When Tim handed the mic back to the pastor, I stood and requested it. I thanked the congregation for the warm welcome they gave me before worship, noting that the last time I had been in that church was to be Tim’s best man in 1981. I spoke for a second about the challenges of being a transgender Christian, then asked for their prayers for all people who are easily cast off by family and society.

It never dawned on me that this was Aunt Mabel’s congregation. No, she was not in attendance as she had been confined to the local care center for some years, but Joy Ann was there. After worship, she sought me out. Seeing her, I felt like a punk for the shock she must have experienced when I spoke and she realized who it was. Finding me after worship, she greeted me with the familiar Parker smile. We threw our arms around each other and made quick catch-up talk.  All was well!

Later, at the funeral, I saw Dan. He also graced me with a big Parker smile. I said, “I ran into Joy Ann at church.” “I know,” he replied. “She called right after church.” Of course, she did.

In Joy Ann and Dan, I continue to know Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene. And isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? We pass on ourselves through our children. Hopefully, what we hand down shows that it was good that we had children. It was very good that Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene had children.

Our Lord Jesus, recorded in Matthew 5:16, said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Aunt Mabel and Uncle Gene did just that, and by their good deeds God the Father was glorified and we, their family and community, received the benefit.

And so concludes an all-too-brief snapshot of my Great Aunt Mabel.

And so she was. She was great.

One Christmas . . .

One Christmas . . .

 

Six sometimes sentimental, sometimes silly scenes from Christmases in my life, in chronological order.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One Christmas, the chicken pox visited

It might have been 1966, making me nine years old. It was the first day of Christmas vacation and I came down with chicken pox. And so did my younger brother, Dave, who was eight. And so did our youngest brother, Mark, who was four.

Mark and I had the usual pox. Dave was cursed with a bad dose; he was covered in blisters. The blisters were very itchy. Painful.

We had a lousy Christmas vacation but, from the viewpoint of a parent, Mom surely had it the worst, already having to suffer a houseful of five kids for the week, most thankful that we were once again healthy just in time for school to restart in the new year.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One Christmas, I received exactly what I wanted

skittlebowl1

It’s not that my mom and Santa didn’t do a good job of Christmas shopping for me, but this one year I was so convinced that I would love Skittle Bowl—believing that it was, ahem, right up my alley—that I would have walked to the North Pole and grabbed it fresh from the elves’ assembly line if I had to.

I was spared the trek because Santa threw a strike. Waiting under the tree on Christmas morning was a Skittle Bowl, and it was for me!

I am pleased to report that my notion, that I would love the game, had not been in the gutter. I played that thing with the kind of devotion that believers should with their worship habits.

I was perhaps fifteen when I got Skittle Bowl. I lived at home until I was twenty-two. I am sad to report that I have no idea where it went. If I had it, today, I would play it. I’ve checked online. It’s not in production. Prices for old ones are out of my bowling league.

Sigh.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One Christmas, Santa left his mark

img_large_watermarked

I’ll get right to it. There were sleigh tracks on our roof.

Clear as can be.

On Christmas morning.

I kid you not.

It was somewhere in the early ‘70s, perhaps the nifty Year of Skittle Bowl. We had fresh snow in Montague. One of my siblings was outside and came running into the house, “There are sleigh tracks on the roof!” We all ran outside. There they were, two clean tracks, about eight feet apart, diagonal on the roof, next to the chimney.

It was dazzlingly amazing. Every kid, no matter his age, should experience such a magical thing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

christmas-scene-pictures

One Christmas, I croaked

I was serving a second church because their pastor had left for another congregation. Not only did I have to lead worship eight miles south in Harbor Beach at 5:00, I had to get back to Port Hope for the 7:00 children’s service, and then lead our candlelight worship at 11:00.

And I was sick.

And I could barely make a croak with my voice.

And on the way home from the service in Harbor Beach, a deer came flying onto the highway, then flying onto the hood and windshield of my car, and then flying off and onto the road’s shoulder.

I had to call 911 to report the dead deer. I must have sounded to the operator like a pervert making an obscene phone call. Thankfully, she took me seriously, told me it was okay to leave the scene, my car still ran, I could see through the cracked windshield, and I made it home without further incident.

I had only a tiny role in the children’s service, but the more I talked the less voice I had. By 11:00, I was barely speaking.

When we arrived at the time for the sermon and I began my raspy whisper of a preaching delivery, I received a lovely gift. Straining to hear me, the multitude of worshipers leaned in to listen. While I always found my members to be attentive to my sermons, this night they were especially starry and bright.

Grasping their gift, I emotionally wrapped them in swaddling clothes and cradled them in my arms, finding a particular persuasion of speech steeped in a sentiment worthy of the event.

The next morning’s Christmas Day worship found my voice no better. Even so, that Christmas Eve and Day, when I could not have had a harder time giving voice to the words I had composed, I had never given better voice to the Good News about Jesus Christ.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One Christmas, we finally got the entire family together

7263124_f520

After I pulled my family from Montague to attend seminary, no longer could we gather with our extended families for Christmas. We were confined to the six of us. Then, after the kids grew up and moved far away—to the other side of Michigan, Indiana, and Georgia—gatherings became almost impossible. So impossible, in fact, that one year, with no family at all on the visiting schedule, Julie and I didn’t even put up a tree.

I know: Bah, humbug.

In 2009, however, everyone was able to make it to Port Hope. And, because we would have all four kids and their families home, we invited their mom and her husband. Were we ever thankful for a large parsonage: There was room in the inn for all!

Erin, who lives in Georgia, had just given birth to her first child six weeks earlier, so it was the first we got to hold Helena. The only other grandchild was Oliver, who was two. The other newbie was Add’s now-wife, Tara. They had only been dating for a month, so we knew Tara had what was needed to take on Add, by taking on the entire family.

Both distance and schedules have kept us from another family Christmas. I admit, I now experience what many do, sadness clouding the joy of Christmas carols sung in church and all of the festiveness surrounding the birth of our Lord.

Maybe, next year.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One Christmas, we were greeted with white

187772-bigthumbnail

While pastor in Port Hope, most years we had white Christmases. Shoot, we had a lot of white Thanksgivings. And white Easters.

One year, it appeared we would be having a green Christmas. There was not a flake of white to be found upon the browning grass.

That year, as we had our children’s service in the early evening we were thankful for good weather and roads as we entered and left church to bare ground.

Three hours later, we returned to church for 11:00 p.m. worship. The ground was still bare. The only flake to be found was the as-usual goofy pastor.

After filling everyone’s spiritual stocking with my Christmas sermon, and the Lord’s Supper, and numerous favorite carols which concluded with Silent Night under the gleam and glimmer of handheld candles, we departed the church.

It was just after midnight.

And it was snowing.

Great, big, fluffy flakes, it was snowing.

And the ground was already covered.

White, white—everywhere white.

And even the oldest among us was a kid again.

218546-glory-to-god-in-the-highest-and-on-earth-peace-good-will-toward-men

 

My sister speaks

While my Julie has been my rock since my gender dysphoria knocked me to my knees, my only sister, Susan Eilers Poynter, has been my almost daily go-to gal for support. Three years older than me, I don’t know why she would want anything to do with me as I was quite the pesky younger brother. (Note to Mom: I’d rethink the money saved re-purposing Sue’s hand-me-downs for me.)

In today’s post, Sue’s lovely combination of zeal, zest, and zaniness (>snork<) comes through. Not bad for a lady who, herself, has been beset by extreme health problems and known tremendously terrible pain since she was a young woman.

Thank you, Swis, for being there for me. I’ll now shut up and let you talk.

April Fools?

It was April Fools Day, 2014, when my brother, Greg, came over to talk to Cara and me. He was back home in Montague, talking to our brothers and said he was coming over. What on earth would he have to have a talk with us when we have phones, texts, email, etc? No, this was something he wanted to tell us in person.

Surely this is an April Fools joke, but Greg didn’t sound like he was kidding and, besides, it was quite the expensive joke and who has that kind of money? He slowly began to tell us about his gender dysphoria, I began crying almost immediately. To think my brother, my sibling, is in such turmoil and pain. He was at our apartment for about three hours, and yes, I cried almost the whole time. I had to let this absorb—make sure and take my time sorting my feelings and educate myself.

The next day, Greg and I chatted online and I asked him for various pieces of info and Googed the Quest (our family phrase for doing an Internet search) like there was no tomorrow. I Googed this and that and you name it; I so desired to know as much as I could so that I could be a loving Swis (Greg’s nickname for me) with patience and understanding. I asked for a pic of Gina if he had one and so he emailed me that. I cried every time I looked at it, but made myself keep looking so as I get used to the idea sooner. He told me about a book he was writing (“diabook,” as I call it, as it mostly is written in diary form)—ooo ooo, I said, can you email me what you have so far? I so enjoyed the chapters of his book that I read which lead to me Googin’ the Quest even more.

Greg did all he could to deny his dysphoria and did as society asked of him back in our day. The older he got, the worse it got. I wish I had known way back then so I could have eased some of the pain, but I understand why he had to go through this basically alone.

Here’s how I feel. Greg/Gina (I call GG) is my sibling no matter what the outer package is and my love is an unconditional love. It took me a while to sort out my feelings and go through the grieving process for the loss of a brother—trade-off, I have a younger sister to boss around. Ya, maybe this
could work. We are siblings forever. No matter what our outer packages are. It has been a very hard adjustment, but I’ll be beside GG’s side—no matter how we look.

What horrid pain GG has gone through and is going through. I wish and pray I could take it all away—take GG’s pain away.

One thing will always be for certain, I love GG forever (and still play a mean game of Canasta). >snork<

My daughter speaks

Today, I introduce you to my daughter, Jackie Lutzke. The day after I told her and her husband of my gender dysphoria, Jackie said something which I have since quoted often: “It’s hard being a person.” As you read her moving essay, I believe you will find that she has proven her point.

Thank you, Jackie, for allowing such private feelings to be made public for the benefit of others.

Introducing Technicolor

My father is a gardener. This is essential to know, to understand him. His father, my Grandpa Eilers, was also a gardener, and it was Grandpa who taught Dad. Taught him the tricks of the trade, like how if you want to keep cutworms from chomping through your vegetable seedlings you should wrap the stem at the dirt line in a scrap of newspaper. Planting my first garden as an adult, I did.

When we lived in Montague, Michigan, Dad had two huge vegetable gardens. Later, when we started moving around the Midwest so that Dad could go through seminary, each occupancy was marked in part by a garden—often, by the establishment of one where one had not previously been, or, in the unhappy case of our first residence in Fort Wayne, the complete lack of a garden.

There simply was no room in the tiny townhouse yard—we collectively disdained it as a paltry “grass patch” and eagerly awaited the days we’d move somewhere new and a garden would be part of life again.

When something about someone is certain, it becomes a joke. One of those happy jokes, based on an observed consistency, based on the comfort of knowing that we can count on that thing to be true, over and over again. So certain we don’t even have to think about it. The very essence of true: unchanging.

+       +       +

In November, 2013, Dad and Julie sat on the couch in my living room to tell my husband and I the real and complete reason Dad was retiring from parish ministry. Prior to this meeting, I had tried to imagine what would necessitate the in-person conversation that Dad had insisted upon. I hoped it was simply because the matter would carry with it an exciting complexity—perhaps Dad felt called to serve as a missionary to some faraway location and the conversation would sort through the logistics, assuaging any fears of never seeing them again. Or maybe Dad really was going to become the traveling motivational speaker he’d sometimes joked of becoming, and during our chat he’d brightly but firmly debunk any belief that this would be an absolutely bonkers life change.

There is nothing that could have prepared either of us for the conversation that did take place. As much as you want to think you are ready for anything, until something actually happens to you, until it’s your life, you don’t know jack.

Are you familiar with the term ‘gender dysphoria’?

You sort of freeze as you let the words into your head. Put your expensive English MA to work for a second, sort of shrug at it, yeah, yeah, sure, as you place together a couple words you’re certainly familiar with but no, you’ve not really spent a lot of time thinking about them together, and no, not really so much in the same context as your father.

+       +       +

I have said to my husband, I have said to some friends that finding out that my dad is transgender makes me feel like my entire childhood is a lie. Some have wondered about this assertion—isn’t my childhood still what it was? Isn’t there some infallibility of fact, something enduring and unchangeable about the past?

Yes . . . and no. The past is unchanged in the same way that a black and white movie that’s been updated to color is unchanged—the sequence of events persists in the same way, the actors still do everything that they did before, but the experience, and our understanding of the movie, is slightly different. The 30 years that preceded that moment in my living room when I heard my dad describe a mind-body disharmony that had been eating away at him his entire life, that threatened to destroy his sanity, that left him at a complete loss for how to go on- – –

Imagine the shock of discovering a character in what was supposed to have been an inclusively idyllic story was miserable.

That what you thought was pure contentment of being, your happy family, was not.

+       +       +

I have felt every emotion since that night.

I have cried, feeling the sting of loss—the loss of simple truths, the loss of uncomplicated normalcy. (“Normalcy,” right? What is “normal,” anyway?) I have yelled and argued, hating the unfairness of the whole situation, hating that my dad has suffered, hating what this situation puts my family through, hating the confusion, hating the complexity. I have felt brave, thinking about the opportunity to use our experience to help others. I have been afraid, imagining the struggle ahead, imagining the gossip and hatred that would come my family’s way, and possibly even the danger—stories of attacks on transgender people don’t pass by me anymore. I have felt energized, swirling writing ideas through my brain, excited to bring perspective and nuance to a topic so few bother to think about, much less understand. I have felt exhausted, overcome with the not-wanting, not wanting any of this, already too busy, already stretched to the absolute limits of my own life.

I have mourned the malleability of what I thought was a fixed past. This has been perhaps my greatest loss: the upsetting of what I think I can know about my life. What I can count on. It makes life feel unsafe. It makes you wonder whose hands are grasping the edge of the rug you’re currently standing on—and when they’re going to pull.

+       +       +

I am trying to imagine each one of you out there reading this blog post, where you are, what you are thinking as you read Dad’s blog. I admit I stay away from the Facebook posts, the comments. It would be easy to let this matter overtake my life and there’s part of me that just can’t—I have a husband, two children, a job, a house, a million obligations, etc etc you get the point. So I give a bit of distance.

But Dad told me that others have wondered, “How are the kids?” Possibly, “WHERE are the kids?”

And I felt ready to say something.

I am not here to give you the definitive answer on How Children of Transgender Individuals Deal With All of This. But, I can tell you about me.

As my father is a gardener, I am a writer. It is my thing-you-can-always-count-on (that, and that I’m 100% guaranteed to get mad while playing a game of Monopoly). Writing has always helped me figure out what I know, not just express what I think I know. Figuring out what I know helps me figure out where I’m going. So, hey. Thanks for that.