Prom to pulpit in < 48 hours

A few weeks ago, GForce’s priest asked her if she’d be willing to preach at Youth Sunday on June 1. He even made it easy on her by suggesting that she could simply read her college application essay. PW and I both said we thought she should put a few sermony touches on the essay.

On Thursday, GForce sent me an email with the subject line: Preachy McPreach-Pants in need of some editing help!

We talked about a couple of tweaks she could make at the end. I said I thought she should say something about her experience growing up in the parish. PW told her, “Every sermon should invite the listeners to do something great. Even if it’s just to continue the great things they’re already doing.”

Then everything went on hold for the prom, which was Friday night. In a couple of hours, GForce went from a curly-haired gangly teen in t-shirts and athletic shorts to straight-haired glam queen in a strapless, floor-length dress. If the Internet weren’t so skeevy, I’d share a photo of her more broadly. In one of the photos, her leg is peeking out of the slit in her dress. A bandaid punctuates her knee. Her face is beaming. Classic.

After sleeping for most of the day Saturday, she finished up the sermon and showed it to us. PW and I both cried. When she rehearsed, PW gave her some tips on how to open up her chest so that her voice would be bigger and fuller, more grounded. The transformation was so huge, GForce jumped back and exclaimed, “Whoa! How does that work??” I won’t get into the specifics, but here’s a clue. At the top and bottom of each of the three pages of her sermon, GForce wrote in big red letters “Dinosaur tail!” Suzanne E., thank you!

Sunday morning was full of “Wow!” It’s so fun to watch children find and share their own senses of authority and wisdom. It’s infinitely more fun, and mind-boggling, when you get to see this in your own children. GForce commanded the pulpit, delivering the sermon beautifully, with confidence and humor. Even more impressively, she handled the long standing ovation at the end with complete grace and humility. If there were any dry eyes in the house, I didn’t see them.

First of all, I’d like to thank Jeff for inviting me to speak today.

When I was a baby, if my moms dressed me in bold colors instead of the traditional “girl” colors of pinks and pastels, people frequently mistook me for a boy.

Once, in the checkout line at Target, a woman behind us was looking at me in my little car seat carrier. I was dressed in a red and black onesie. First she smiled, then she gasped and grabbed my mom’s arm and said, “Honey, now why would you go and put lipstick on that baby boy?” We have always laughed about how baffled my mom felt by the stranger’s question. First, I am not a boy, and secondly, my lips are naturally that color!

That woman looked at me, but she didn’t see me. I guess when she couldn’t immediately decipher my gender by glancing at my clothing, and since I wasn’t wearing one of those elastic bow headbands, she assumed I must be a boy.

As you can see, I still don’t look like most of the girls around me. I’m six feet tall. I have this poof of wild curly hair. I prefer my clothes loose, comfortable, and boldly colored. Most of the time this is not an issue, except when I use public bathrooms.

The first time someone told me I was in the wrong bathroom, I was seven years old. I walked into the bathroom at a mall, and the only open stall was near two teenage girls who were standing around looking at their phones. As I walked toward the open stall I asked the girls “Are you going to use that stall?” They stared at me, disgust radiating from their faces. One of them blurted, “What are YOU doing in here? This is the GIRL’S bathroom!” Struck with fear and confusion, I ran out.

This doesn’t just happen in bathrooms though. At the beginning of a math class during my sophomore year, a substitute teacher we’d never had before was taking attendance. When she called my name, I replied, “Here.” To my surprise, she stared at me with confusion. Then she angrily insisted I couldn’t possibly be named Grace, and demanded to know my real name. She thought I was a knuckleheaded boy messing with her. My face burning with embarrassment, I left the class and went immediately to the guidance office to ask for help. They let me stay in the guidance office until my next class.

The term “gender confusion” usually refers to a person’s internal wrestling with their own gender identity. In my experience, gender confusion is something other people frequently experience when they look at me. Even though it’s easy to feel singled out and humiliated by others’ confusion about my gender, I’ve learned from an early age that given the choice between being looked at or seen, I think most people prefer to be seen as the unique individuals they are. To really know a person, you have to see, not merely look.

My life has been a constant lesson in not allowing others’ narrow vision to tell me who I am. I would have preferred to learn this in an easier way, but that’s not a choice I get to make. My choice has been to either accept the girl I am or to become the kind of girl other people are looking for. With a lot of support from family and friends, I’ve chosen to stand tall and confident as the girl I am. Since I have so many opportunities to exercise this choice, I’m getting better at it every day.

One of the places where I have always felt seen and loved for who I am is right here at St. Paul’s. The relentless love and acceptance I have found in this community have never failed to put a smile on my face. More importantly, the sense of being safe at home that I feel at St. Paul’s is something I carry around inside me all the time.

When I see other people out there going through the same kinds of struggles with being looked at but not seen, I want them to know they’re not alone. And I want to continue to learn, and teach, new ways of truly seeing.

As I go off to college in the fall, I want you to know that I will be carrying St. Paul’s in my heart, and in the eyes I will use to see the new people I meet. My hope for this amazing community is that you will continue to provide a safe place, a home for people where they know they will be seen and loved for who they are.

Thank you.

Here’s a goofy video, but the lyrics are the first words that come to mind at times like this, with all my children.

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12 responses to “Prom to pulpit in < 48 hours

  1. Aw. What a great editing job on the college essay!

  2. Beautiful. What a wonderful writer. Kinda like her momma!!

  3. So amazingly wonderful!

  4. I deserve an award for not stopping people on the street and reading this to them. This amazing woman, Grace, makes me ashamed of the time I wasted wishing I had features I saw on others. Her wisdom at such a young age astonishes me. I am grateful to her mothers for their wisdom, to her for her independent spirit and amazing insights. Thank you, beautiful, wise, and wonderful granddaughter for who you are!

  5. Related to your daughter’s sermon so much. Growing up, always was tall and short-haired, and always was mistaken for male — and still am, depending on what I’m wearing when I go to public restrooms. I so loved GForce’s distinction between looking and seeing. Also, I was happy to view the gorgeous prom pix that you shared w/FB friends, and related to those, too. Yes, I’m also nearly 100% of the time most comfortable in loose, sporty clothing, and yes, for Pat’s and my wedding day in 2011, it only made sense to me to wear a royal-blue, no-sleeve, cowl-necked, cotton-silk, jersey, floor-length gown and sandals with a little heel…’cause I wanted to do so. How mature and fortunate your daughter is to be so self-possessed nearly 30 years sooner than I was! Wishing all of you all the best. Your family has enriched me, again (including GForce’s grandmother with her comment above).

  6. 1. I love this. 2. I love you. 3. I love your wife. 4. I haven’t met Grace, but I am pretty sure I would love her, too. This is fantastic, all the way around.

  7. Thanks, this does bring tears and memories. I had brown curly hair which my mother (with other children) always cut short. Mum didn’t want to take the time to braid it which, of course, I wanted because that’s what everyone else had. Soooooo, I was also often taken for a boy. My last and fifth sibling, however, did get to have her long blond hair braided every morning. Sigh . . . . ! I hope your Mum will send me the pic of you in your prom dress. The strapless style has come around again. Much love and luck in college.

  8. Marilyn Hakes

    Wow! Imagine what she’ll be writing after a year or two in college. Congratulations to all the family. May the years to come be brighter and more enlightening to all.

  9. I sadly admit that EYE am one of those people that asked that question when I first met Grace. EYE learned that day, that if EYE want to learn who someone is, EYE should not ask someone else, “Who’s son is that?” That. EYE should go ask that person. I was aghast at my error. I’m a slow learner, but I learn.

  10. I’m ready to sign up for the preaching course you and PW teach – with a guest spot from GForce. Just let me know when and where – how much doesn’t matter. Thank you for taking the infinite grace around me to a greater level.

  11. In my late teens I drove a 1950 Chevy, and every time I pulled into a gas station, with my super short hair, the attendant said, “Yes, sir, what’ll it be?” I have other attributes that soon disabused them of their assumption, but it made me laugh every time. I had, as Grace obviously has, no doubt about my gender, and like Grace, it was all owing to my parents that I was comfortable in my skin. What a gift you’ve given your daughter, and what a gift she’s giving back. No tears, just wide, wide smiles for an amazing family. XOX, JO

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