One thing I really enjoy about my life in Street Hope is the unpredictability. I cannot say “No two days are the same.” but there is always the potential lurking for something surprising. Not all surprises seem good, but time and reflection reveal the lessons and the blessing in even the most difficult of surprises. Not all surprises come disguised as difficulties some arrive as welcome and pleasant gifts.
Such a gift came into our community in the person of Shelbee (I asked Shelbee’s permission to use her name). My first distinct memory of Shelbee was meeting at a memorial service for John. John had killed himself. He saw no way out of the sad circumstances that engulfed him. Shelbee and I had a talk there and had weekly chats after that. Then we started seeing each other at our Study and Prayer times. It was obvious that Shelbee didn’t know much about the Bible or the Good News, but slowly changes began to happen. Shelbee became a kinder and less selfish person. Later we spent time at another memorial for Larry, another suicide victim. I think Shelbee determined that no matter how tough things got this was not an option for her.
What I haven’t said yet is that when I first met Shelbee she was Sheldon. She would describe to me the hormones she was taking and their effects. I learned a lot! I never pictured myself with a “trans” friend but surprisingly here I was. I could have judged him in those early days and lost all chance of sharing the love of God. I chose not to do that. I felt like God was more interested in transforming Shelbee from the inside, and much less concerned about what was happening in bodily transformation.
That inner transformation is happening. Shelbee has a ministry of kindness. She has a whole new circle of positive friends. God has used Shelbee in breaking through to a reclusive woman who had closed herself off from the world. She is the most faithful waterer of our garden though she doesn’t care for flowers. While most people might bring food to a barbecue (and she has done this) Shelbee brought a barbecue and a lawn table, as gifts! She regularly brings a car load of friends to our Drop In where she has discovered a positive and accepting community.
Don’t get the idea she is a saint! She can still swear like a trooper. But it has been surprising in the best of ways to see the positive changes, the transformation happening in her life.
We have, together, experienced some firsts. I helped with paperwork to change her name. I never saw myself doing anything like that. Just before our memorial service for our dear friend Donnie, Shelbee asked if it was okay to wear a dress to the service. Without thinking I said “Of course!” This was not a question my theological training had ever equipped me for but in the context of our growing friendship it was the most natural of replies.
I don’t have a firm theological idea of how this kind of ‘gender mix up’ occurs in our fallen and broken world, but I do have a theology that understands that temporal things are temporary. My advice to others is “When in doubt, love! You may be delightfully surprised at the results.”