Where Oh Where Did My Little Blog Go?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Be Not Afraid...

I am sitting here tonight with a burdened heart and the delicate quandary of how to face my fears. How do I change a world that doesn't understand an issue as complex as those presented by Cammie's circumstance? How do I guide others to the knowledge that evaded, even me, for ten years? Sometimes the "yoke" feels heavy and I wonder where I will find the strength to take another step.... then I realize that the load is only heavy when I insist on carrying it alone.

Matthew 11:28 "Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest".

Why is it difficult to share the "load"? Why is it... when faced with a crisis, my faith suddenly becomes evasive?

Recently, while engaged in a discussion session with other parents of transgendered youth... a distraught mother shared an experience that deeply troubled my heart. She had received anonymous threats from an individual/individuals in her community who vowed to harm her child. Her devastation was palpable and since reading the post, my anguish has paralleled her grief... Suddenly, fear "barged through the front door" and faith quietly "slipped out the back".

I believe in the good of humanity. My dad always says that it's important to function under the auspice that people are honest, decent, and reasonable - until they prove otherwise... Sometimes, however, considering the "otherwise" is unbearable. I felt horrified as I read her words, her devastation, and her pain. Why would anybody want to hurt an innocent child?

Fear is one of the most powerful forces affecting humanity.... both a survival mechanism and an instrument of evil. It divides and unites, mobilises and paralyses. Fear can manifest as a rational response to danger, or stir hate in the presence of the unknown. In this unfortunate woman's circumstance, she was victimized by a perverse fear of the "unknown".

How do I handle my own fears? Do I mobilize or paralize? Should I press on or give in to adversity? Should I hide in fear, allowing the "unknown" to divide... or provide answers with the intent to unify? Should I tuck Cameron away and shield her from ignorance and hate, or open the "doors" of understanding to those who have sincere questions? These are the issues that every parent of a gender variant child must face.

There are many people who have no knowledge about the issues that challenge my child. Many of them have children and can relate to the unconditional love that a parent feels for their child and the heartache associated with helplessness. Many of these people have legitimate concerns. If I do not provide the answers... who will? Recently, I received the following blog post:

Lyn in AL has left a new comment on your post "In the Eyes of the Beholder...":

I am sympathetic to all that Cameron will have to endure. I am however concerned about the deception of Cameron's classmates. Do they believe he is biologically a girl? What happens when one of the boys decides he wants to have Cameron as his girlfriend. I understand that your child needs to be protected but so do the others in the school. It could scar a child who liked Cammie thinking he was a girl only to find out that Cameron is a boy. That to me is unfair to the other children.

The antithesis of "fear of the unknown" is knowledge... I appreciate Lyn for taking the time to address her concerns. We have not been stealth about this issue. The reason that Lyn is aware of this blog, and others who have visited us here, is because we are not afraid to discuss Cammie's condition. We have not approached this issue with the intent to deceive. I would encourage anyone with similar questions or concerns to read the blog posts here, to visit the face page of this blog, and to e-mail me. I am happy to directly discuss any issues or concerns that families and parents might have. This blog, however, is not a place for heated discussions or attacks on anybodies views or character. I appreciate Lyn for taking the time to come here, to voice her concerns, and give me the opportunity to address them.

Cammie went to the same school last year dressed as a boy. Many children have had questions. These questions have provided a valuable opportunity for education. The school faculty and counsellors are well educated, with a clear understanding of these issues. They are available to provide education to the students as needs arise.

There is no shame in a medical condition and we are not ashamed to discuss Cammie's condition. Growing up, I never saw another child's penis or vagina... neither did I have any interest in doing so. Cammie is ten and fears pertaining to this issue are unnecessary. Cammie uses a gender neutral, private bathroom at school. Beyond that... her genitals are private and she has a right to that privacy.

Issues pertaining to complete disclosure will become more prevalent as Cammie approaches dating age. Cammie and I have discussed this issue in detail. It's an issue that creates a great deal of heartache for both of us. She understands that it will be necessary to be open about her medical circumstance. She understands that dating will introduce some extremely difficult challenges for her. I have explained that many young men may turn their tail and "run for the hills", but I believe that God has a plan for every child. I continually reassure Cammie that he has a plan for her life as well. I am teaching her to have faith in that plan. She may have to go "stag" to her high school prom... she may never get her chance to "dance".

I believe the Lord will "pave" the path that lies ahead. I believe he will continue to guide us in our journey. I have assured Cammie that her Heavenly Father knows her well, He loves her very much, and He is aware of her needs. I believe that one day there will be "one" who will not be afraid... he will be the right young man for her because he will have the character, and strength of spirit, to look beyond her physical challenges to love her for WHO she is. He will give her the chance to "dance".

Just as people who have children with Diabetes, Chron's Disease, asthma, or food allergies must educate those around them... I feel that I have a responsibility to educate others as well. I would rather be given the opportunity to share the truth with those who have questions and concerns, than keep silent and allow people to feel deceived or dwindle in their fears and misconceptions. I am willing to discuss these issues with those who sincerely ask.

Lyn raises some legitimate concerns... they reflect my own concerns. My child's life could be at risk if she is not completely "up front" in prospective dating and/or relationship situations. At that time she will have to be extremely courageous in addressing and divulging her medical condition. We are teaching her to love and accept herself so that she will be able to walk through life with the strength and courage to help others understand "who" she is. It's my prayer that Cammie will discover her divine purpose, then fulfill those "callings" in her life with poise and dignity.

Cammie is a girl and her diagnoses is physiological and biological in nature. She is being treated medically. This is not a choice for her and it is not a sexual issue - it's a developmental issue. Identity is not a sin... and it is not a disorder. However, the reality is that transgender conditions have been - and often continue to be - sexualized by society.

Cammie has a right to privacy... a right to have a normal childhood. She has the right to make friends without being required to say, "Hello, my name is Cammie - I was born with a penis". There is a time and a place for these delicate issues to be addressed... by those with the maturity and knowledge to responsibly do so.

We don't expect our diabetic children to walk around the school with a sign on their back that says... "I AM DIABETIC". However, when birthday cupcakes show up in a classroom and the child can't have one... questions abound... These situations present invaluable opportunities for education, for growth, and for learning. We have had many opportunities to teach those around us, to share our testimony of this experience, and to convey the truth. We have been blessed with the courage, strength, and wisdom to meet these challenges.

Cammie wears girls clothes because they reflect her gender identity, not as a means of manipulation or deceit. Cammie knows who she is and we are allowing her to be herself. My goal is to teach her not to be ashamed of her identity OR her physiological challenges. We are proud of our child... ALL OF HER. When she doesn't feel judged or threatened, she - too - courageously opens up about her experience... she freely discusses her challenges with those who sincerely ask.

Our family focus is on education. We have had multiple conversations with neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers, and school administrators... as well as Cammie's playmates and their parents. We have approached this situation with a desire to dispel the "FEAR" of the unknown, with the hope of making the world a better place for her, and other children like her. I know that there will be many bumps along the way, but we take one day at a time... despite the difficulties introduced by Cammie's circumstance... we have been greatly blessed.

Cammie is a normal girl. She has sleep overs and she sleeps over at other children's houses. Her friends play at our home and she plays at theirs. We have received a great deal of love and support - more than I imagined possible. Those individuals (both children and adults) who play a fundamental role in Cammie's life have been receptive to learning... they have opened their hearts with a willingness to overcome the "fear of the unknown"... fears that - I too - shared at one point in my life. My husband put it best, "Courage is not defined by a lack of fear... rather, it's the ability to act in spite of it." It takes courage for parents, educators, neighbors, family members, and friends to open their hearts to understanding these delicate issues. It has taken courage, built on a foundation of faith, to open up about our experience. We hope that our comfort in discussing these matters will open the door to compassion and understanding for our child, and make the world a better place for others.

Joshua 1:9 Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

Monday, August 24, 2009

In the Eyes of the Beholder...

The kids are off to school and I should be getting ready for work. This weekend has left me physically and emotionally drained... exhausted. There are days when I feel like I can't keep up... days when it seems I'm chasing a runaway train. On Saturday, the children's biological father picked them up to take them to their grandmother's house for the weekend. He shares a house with several roommates so when he spends any significant time with them, it's typically at his mother's place. She is not sympathetic to Cammie's plight, so when the children go to her house, Cammie stays home. It seems the woman would rather bury her head in the sand and pretend that she only has three grandchildren, than grow in understanding.

My heart breaks for Cammie. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be a child with the challenges that she faces each day. The boys typically come back from their grandmother's house with toys, clothes, and trinkets... gloating about "good times had by all"... so I find myself trying to compete... trying to give Cammie some palatable sweet memories that will wash away the bitterness and pain of isolation and rejection. What's most difficult, is that I desperately need some "me" time... time to myself that's not dominated by work demands, parenthood, transgender issues, or household responsibilities. I used to look forward to those rare occasions when the "X" would take the children so that I could have a moment of respite... time for introspection, rejuvination, and recovery. Embracing Cammie's gender identity has brought peace to her heart and mine... while simultaneously robbing me of some much needed simple pleasures.

This morning... I don't have the strength to do anything but sit alone with my thoughts... soaking up the silence of a deserted house like an aged sponge in the rain. At this very moment, a battle rages on inside my heart. I struggle to work through the helplessness that has become my constant companion. I have fought through frequent restless nights, accompanied by complete mental and physical exhaustion. There are days when I desperately wish the world were BLIND...

A few weeks ago while crossing the street in a crowd of people, I passed a blind man. As soon as we had reached the other side of the road, I heard a couple of ladies begin to discuss the tragedy of blindness. My thoughts were different. While their minds rushed to the devastating challenges presented by the absence of sight, I was thinking of all the amazing things this man could actually "see"... things that we often cannot, and for a moment... I envied him.

A blind man doesn't know if he's standing in the foyer of a mansion or on the floorboard of a rundown shack... all he "sees" is someone who cared enough to open the door...

A blind man doesn't know if he's riding in a Jaguar or a Pinto... all he "sees" is the generosity of the man who offered him a ride...

A blind man doesn't know if the person he's conversing with is transgender. He doesn't know if an individual is slender or obese, homely or attractive, gay or straight... all he "sees" is someone who took the time to speak.

This experience with my child has magnified the unfortunate truth... the realization that the eyes are the deceptors of the soul. Years ago, someone very special taught me this fundamental moral principle...

I had a beautiful experience while working as a home health nurse that refined my perspective of love, humanity, and something that I have internalized as the purpose of life. I was treating patients in North Birmingham. The census was down in my territory so I was cross-covering to meet productivity. Most of the nurses working for the agency refused assignments in the area because it was considered dangerous – heavily populated with inadequate economic resources. Unfortunately, where there’s poverty, there’s crime and where there’s crime, nurses are scarce – so when the census drops… guess where you land?

When I first began to cover the territory, I was paranoid! The best analogy would be the game, “which one of these things is not like the others” that they repeatedly played on Sesame Street when I was a kid. There I was, a na├»ve little white girl in a predominantly black neighborhood, wearing name brand clothes and driving an SUV. As I continued to work my new territory, I grew to love my assignments. Each patient that I had the opportunity to treat enriched my nursing experience and reminded me of the Savior’s love for all of us. The people in those communities lived humble lives and were desperately in need of medical treatment and education. The continuous expression of gratitude was overwhelming. They didn’t have much to share but were eager to share all they had. They would willingly open their homes and their hearts when they saw me coming and it wasn’t long before I realized the privileged opportunity in each assignment.

My favorite patient, and the one who always stands out in my mind, is Otis… I call him Odie. I don’t know why, but he changed my life. Otis is in his eighties. He’s a black man who was left paralyzed by a stroke. He can’t walk and has difficulty transferring so he sits in the same chair day in and day out watching Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Court TV, etc – you know… the visual garbage. He lives alone in a rundown little house with bare white walls and filthy tile flooring and his television sits on an egg crate by the window. He has an old couch and a “new” recliner that his family bought for him a couple of years ago (he’s so proud of it that he refuses to remove the tags, so they still hang from the side – in better condition than the chair itself). He has a couple of faded tattoos that seem to illustrate his adventurous spirit and a lazy eye that wanders the room during conversation. He keeps a urinal and a bucket by the chair that he uses during the day. He sits there every day, wearing nothing but boxer shorts, and smokes his cigarettes.

He and I had the funniest banter. He had a necrotic wound on his foot that I was treating that resulted from peripheral vascular disease and a consequential amputation so I’d hide his cigarettes and fuss at him about keeping his feet elevated. He’d spat right back about how I needed to learn to mind my own business. I’d insist that, as his nurse, it was my business. He’d holler at me about closing the door and I’d gripe about the crap he watched on TV. He was quick to point out when I was late and fuss if I didn’t stay long enough and I’d remind him that I had other patients. On one visit when I was about to leave, he said, “No wonder why that man of yours left!”

I finished his statement, “because he’s a fool… and I left him, remember?”

He argued, “No, I believe he must’ve left you – because you’re bossy… bossy!” Then he hollered at me to bring him a Pepsi from the fridge and I jumped at the opportunity to spin it around…

“Now who’s being bossy? I’m not your maid!”

Suddenly, he was quiet and in that moment everything seemed to change… the mood in the room took a marvelous shift from playful to sincere and he replied, “No… You’re my friend.” He was right… I gladly fetched the drink.

I have a great deal of love and respect for Otis. He’s genuine and sincere with a pure heart. I learned something profound that afternoon when I went to see a patient in Mountain Brook. From rags to riches, I made my way through the projects of North Birmingham to the neighborhood on the other side of the city that seemed a world away from where I had just been, where the houses that line the streets look like castles in comparison. I couldn’t help but reflect on the experiences of my day. I thought about the judgments of society and wondered how many people would take the time to get to know Otis if they met him on the street. Would I have taken the time? I thought about how much we miss in life when we forfeit the opportunity to seek out the worth of others.

I wonder what the Savior "sees" when he looks on us? How will he judge? What impresses him the most? I can't help but think… what if the world were blind? What if success in society was determined by the content of one’s heart, rather than one’s checking account? The world would be a very different place… Instead of aspiring for bigger and better “things”, people would have an aspiration to be just like Otis. It brings me peace at times like this to put life in perspective. It helps when I'm feeling overwhelmed by the challenges in my life to be able to reflect on my experience with Odie and remember what it’s all about. Otis has told me that I am a blessing in his life and, of course, I had to argue... “It’s the other way around”... Otis taught me how to sincerely "see". We are blessed with opportunities to "see" every day... the tough part is recognizing them.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Curses & Blessings..."

Cammie and I spent the weekend alone together. We went to the video store and just happened to select this movie. I didn't know what the movie was about... I based my decision on the cover. It looked like a movie that any ten year old girl would love. I didn't realize that the story would reflect Cammie's dilemma with judgement, criticism, and self-acceptance. It exemplifies our experience and illustrates the optimism and hope inspired by the courage to rise above the challenges in life, with the capability of "inspiring the world". The final line of the movie said it best... "It's not the curse... It's the power you give the curse". It's one o'clock AM... and as I lie here awake with her asleep beside me, I wonder... Was it a coincidence that we picked this up tonight??? Absolutely! As one friend frequently reminds me...

"Coincidence is God's way of acting anonymously"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Walk Tall... You're a Daughter of God.

Over the weekend Cammie had arranged a sleep over with her best friend. Her best friend has been her confidant for years and understands Cammie completely. Cammie has confided in Bailey when she didn't feel anyone else would understand. This child has been a huge blessing in my daughter's life. Of course, Cammie and Bailey have had numerous sleepovers, but this time Cammie was going to Bailey's house... in our old neighborhood... with all of Cammie's old friends... friends who knew her as a "boy". Needless to say, I was concerned about her safety - both from ridicule and physical harm. I told Cammie she could go and began to probe the thought process, "what are you going to wear? Are you going to..." She knew what I was about to ask and immediately interrupted with the assertion, "I'M GOING AS ME." I stood there... both shocked and amazed by her courage and conviction.

Thinking back, I had always known that Cammie would need strength. I knew that she would need to be firm in her sense of self. From the outset, I had acknowledged that she was different. In a house full of testosterone and three brothers, I had identified her interests early-on as mere eccentricities. I remember dropping the kids off at my mother's house when Cammie was 18 months old. My mom had a toy box full of diverse "gender-specific" toys for her grandsons and granddaughters to play with when they came to visit. Needless to say, Cammie loved to go to grandma's house because she had the "best" toys. She had "girl's" toys. Cammie could find things to play with that we didn't have at our house... toys that expressed her interest. I remember that this is when Cammie's sense of self started to notably emerge. It was so obvious that my family began to express concern over her consistent gender-variant expression. When I picked the kids up, Cammie wanted to take the toys with her so she could play with them at home. I remember getting home and finding that she had stashed a My Little Pony in my diaper bag. Cammie packed that toy around everywhere we went. Initially, I was distressed by the concerns expressed by those around me but finally made the determination that if the toys made "him" happy, then I didn't care what people thought. After all, Cameron was just a baby and didn't understand gender bias or expectation. I figured the "phase" would pass... there was nothing perverse about a child playing with any kind of toy.

Over time, Cammie began to identify as female - consistently asserting the "error" in her physical gender. I continued to dress her as a boy and use male pronouns when addressing her or referring to her. I tried to redirect her preferences to the things considered "gender appropriate". When these efforts were unsuccessful, I'd purchase toys that were considered gender neutral. As she grew older, there were fewer "gender-neutral" toys to choose from and even fewer that satisfied her interests. Eventually, I decided that it was important to nurture her self-esteem. I relented, and agreed to buy her the "girl's" toys that she loved. As she matured and developed friendships, I noticed that all of her friends were girls. When they would play house, she was always the mommy, the princess, the little girl, etc. I frequently noticed her wearing frilly shoes, girl's clothes, and jewelry around the house that had "inexplicably" migrated from her playmates' houses to her bedroom. When she was with her friends and able to express herself... she always had a smile on her face.

Although I had no idea what it meant to be transgender, I knew that she would eventually face an identity crisis. I knew that she would eventually have to reconcile her sense of self with the expectations of society. I knew that she would need to be strong, and that she would be faced with some significant pressure from those around her... so I always told her that I loved her just the way that she was, that she was beautiful, talented, and that it didn't matter what others thought. I figured that if she had a strong sense of SELF, she would be able to succeed in spite of the adversity that she was bound to encounter.

Finally, three years ago, school had just let out for the summer and she showed up in my room with an adamant request. She had decided that she was going to get her ears pierced. She had been pressing for permission for a while and I had been reluctant to grant the request because I knew that it would draw negative attention from friends, neighbors, family members, etc. She continued to persist so I finally relented with a condition. I told her that she could get her ears pierced if she could write me a letter with a compelling argument as to why she wanted to get it done and how she would address any negative attention, attitudes, or opinions directed at her as a result. She spun around, went downstairs, and began to diligently work on her letter. Moments later she returned with the argument in hand. It said...

"I want to get my ears pierced because when I am with my friends and we are playing dress-up, I am the only one who can't wear earrings. All of my friends have their ears pierced and I want mine pierced too. If people don't like that I get my ears pierced then that's their problem. They shouldn't judge someone all because they have a little hole in their ears. Besides, brown boys do it all the time and nobody says anything to them."

I was amazed at her clarity of mind and the perspective that she had at the age of six. I agreed to allow her to get her ears pierced and we went to the local boutique to get it done. What I remember about that evening is the unexpected emotions that I felt. I felt so uncomfortable... it bordered on embarrassment. I felt compelled to offer an explanation to the shop attendant, sure that she would say something derogatory or give Cameron an unwelcome look. A million scenarios played out in my mind. My heart was racing and my hands were shaking. The shop clerk told me to relax, and continued to alleviate my apparent anxiety by letting me know that lots of boys get their ears pierced. What stands out most in my mind when I reflect on this experience isn't my cowardly approach... but Cammie's courage. She sat in that chair with her chin up, holding a teddy bear, smiling and proud. She was SO excited. She was crossing bold gender lines... she was allowed to publicly express herself, and nothing else mattered... NOTHING. I felt emotionally conflicted... I was so proud of her courage and, consequently, ashamed of my lack of it. It was a time when I should have been reassuring her, holding her hand, and aleviating her fears... instead, I was selfishly consumed by my own. I remember thinking, "My God... I've created the proverbial monster."

I wanted her to be courageous and strong in her convictions and identity... It was obvious that she had exceeded my expectations. Meanwhile, I had failed to address my own convictions. I had neglected to consider weather I had the courage to support her - not just within the confines of our home - but publicly. Little did I know, at that time in our journey, the defining moments that lie ahead and the courage that I would discover with each step along the path to understanding.

I turned into the subdivision where we used to live. I dropped Cammie off in front of Bailey's house... in a familiar neighborhood... full of old friends... full of the past. She was so excited... wearing her hair piece, a breast cancer awareness T-shirt with the words "FIGHT LIKE A GIRL" boldly printed across the front in hot pink lettering, and a cute denim skirt with pink leggings underneath. She looked precious, there was no mistake - she was resolute in asserting her female self. It took every ounce of courage to pull away from the curb. I had to fight the overwhelming urge to turn around and "rescue" her from potential harassment. I waited all night with my cell phone close-by, expecting her to call, sobbing and devastated, over a verbal or physical attack... That call never came. When I picked her up, she said that she had a ton of fun. Her friends had questions, but she took the opportunity to explain "who" she is. They listened, accepted the explanation, and moved onto more important things... PLAY.

I realized something profound about how people react to "difference". If someone is different because they are searching for their identity, they often fall short of acceptance. If someone is different because they irrefutably know who they are, acceptance abounds. We are drawn to the qualities that we hope to develop in ourselves... courage and self-confidence are charismatic traits that seem to solicit admiration, regardless of the circumstance. I have been amazed at how quickly people are able to "see" beyond Cammie's physical challenges when she demonstrates these qualities.

When I look at my child, I am extremely proud of her courage. She gives me strength every day. I wish that she could consistently demonstrate and maintain the optimism that she expressed this weekend, but she often feels overwhelmed by the heavy challenges in her life. Most of us have the ability to separate ourselves from our fears. We've all heard of the "fight or flight" response. It's human nature to distance ourselves from the things that terrify us. If we fear the dark, we sleep with a night-light. If we're afraid of spiders, we arm ourselves with raid, bug bombs, and moth balls. What do you do when your most profound fears in life exist within the confines of your own body? There is no escape... there is no "flight". There are days when Cammie's fears produce anxiety, become extremely overwhelming, and challenge her ability to "fight".

When I reflect on "the parable of the box"... I recognize that there will be many days when Cammie's "box" will feel extremely heavy and she'll struggle with the challenge introduced by each step. There have been times that she has felt so exhausted with the burden of that box that she has "lost her footing". These days of self-doubt... the days when she "drops the box" have become my darkest hours... Nothing hurts more than helplessly watching your child struggle, without the ability to relieve their pain. During these challenging times - I sit down beside her, hold her close, offer encouragement, nurture her spirit, and - together - we pray for renewed strength. What impresses me the most about my child is her resiliency and the amazing determination that she demonstrates each time she picks herself up... with the resolution to take another step.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The "Fan Club"

So... a few months ago I overslept. It wasn't an isolated incident by any means, but I had some classes to teach at one of my hosptials and (evidently)I was running late. Caleb had already left for the school bus by the time I made my way out the door. As I reached the end of the drive where the children wait for the bus, he attempted to flag me down... big smile on his face... and SO excited to see me. I knew what he wanted... to simply kiss me and tell me goodbye. I was in such a rush that I mouthed, "I don't have time right now!" and frantically pulled away. I proceeded down the road. In the rearview mirror I could see him... standing there... completely still... watching me drive away. Then the thought crossed my mind... What if this is the last time I see him? Do I want his last memory of me to be the fact that I didn't care enough to take the time' to slow down for a moment and kiss him goodbye? Do I want my last memory of him to be the hurt and disappointed look on his face as he disappeared in my rearview mirror?

I made it another minute or two up the road, until I could find a safe place to turn around. I went back to the bus stop, rolled my window down, and called him over to the car. I held his face in my hands, looked him straight in the eye and said, "Nothing is as important as you." I gave him a big hug and a kiss, and told him to have a great day at school before I said goodbye and drove away. As I pulled off, I looked - once again - in my rearview mirror... by the look on his face, I knew that I had gotten it right.

We all feel so invincible... immune from the tragedies of life. The reality is that everything can change in an instant. I have no control over the Lord's plan for the lives of those that I love, but I do have control over my relationship with them while we're blessed with time together here. I never want to live with the regret of a missed opportunity.

The thing is that we're human and we make mistakes. Sometimes we lose focus... but the beauty of life is that often we are blessed with a "side road" that will provide an opportunity to "turn the car around" and rectify the wrong.

As I have come to truly understand Cammie, I have had to face the pain created by ten long years of blindness. I have asked myself - on numerous occasions - how I could have failed to see what has been obvious from the beginning? Once again... I find myself hoping that my child will have the strength to forgive my imperfection as I "turn the car around".

I have found comfort in a journal entry that I wrote in 2006 following my divorce from Cammie's father. Cammie's unconditional love and ability to look past my imperfection has inspired me through some of the most difficult challenges of my life. I am doing all I can to offer her the same blessing...

(At the time, Cammie was living her life in compliance with social expectations, so I have left the pronouns in their former state to preserve the integrity of the journal)

January 3, 2006

I was prepared and expected most of the typical trials associated with divorce. Everyone talks about the struggles of managing emotions, finances, and legalities but very little could have prepared me for the inevitable sacrifice of time that immediately had an impact as I struggled to maintain and cultivate quality relationships with my children.

I resigned from my nursing position at the hospital and took a job in home health as a Case Manager in an effort to provide for a more consistent presence in the lives of my children. I had been promised a territory much closer to home and the position was self-directed which, on the surface, offered a great deal of flexibility which I had hoped would introduce a solution to my conflicted situation.

A new dilemma manifest itself when I discovered that the home health agency that I had contracted with couldn’t accept patients in the territory that I had been assigned because they didn’t have a physical therapist to back me. Since you can’t ask a physician to refer patients to home health with the contingency that they don’t require physical therapy, I was required to pick up the “scraps” in order to meet productivity. This meant driving to any and all territories where coverage was desperately needed. These territories frequently included remote locations and dangerous neighborhoods. My situation at home went from bad to worse. I would leave the house at six o’clock in the morning and get home at nine o’clock at night, cover anywhere from two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred miles each day and see as few as three to five patients. I had driven more than seven thousand miles in less than one month. I started working weekends to cover the excessive gas bill as well as the expenses associated with vehicle maintenance so that I could keep up with my finances. I seldom had time in the evening to devote to the needs of my children and they frequently complained because I was never there. When I did have extra time, I would confine myself to the bedroom and do paperwork in an attempt to stay “on top” of my cases.

I had always taken pride in being a good nurse and I loved my patients and co-workers dearly. I’d frequently bend over backwards to cover any staffing or patient care deficits, but it wasn’t long before my performance at work began to slip. I simply couldn’t meet the demands created by the circumstances in my life. I was falling short in my parenting and household responsibilities as well. I had “Mount Everest” in the form of laundry heaped on the kitchen floor and dirty dishes piled in the sink. I had no idea how the children were performing in school and they frequently vocalized their resentments regarding my lack of involvement in their lives. I was unable to execute well in any area of personal or professional responsibility and the demands on my time became overwhelming. I felt absolutely despondent as I struggled to find a solution. With four children under the age of eight to provide for without child support and without family nearby to turn to for help, the prospect of losing my job produced a great deal of anxiety so I devoted more energy to my duties at work.

It's difficult to explain the responsibilities of life to a child. There were times when I wondered if they would ever understand the love and sacrifice that constituted a lack of presence in our home and the frequent demands that seemed to take priority at work. At one point I experienced absolute burnout in the form of an emotional breakdown. I stood in my supervisor’s office and sobbed. I had been working twelve to fourteen hour days each week in an effort to make ends meet and was absolutely exhausted. I desperately longed to be with my children. In my devastation I confided in her, a divorced parent of three sons herself, "Do you think they'll ever get it? Will they ever really understand?" A serene smile spread across her face and her response gave me hope, "Oh yes, and someday... they'll be your biggest fans."

I discovered that she was right in the weeks that followed when I was blessed with a beautiful experience that answered my question and put my heart at ease. My son, Cameron, was always the first to complain when I couldn't afford to buy him something that he wanted, and was quick to fault me when I couldn't spend the kind of time with him that I had always hoped to devote to the lives of my children. He is a very creative child and his favorite activity, at that time, seemed to be wasting my card stock and printer paper with his many "quality pieces of artwork". I would frequently find mounds of paper that had been wasted on scrappy illustrations and doodles. I consistently hounded him about what constitutes waste and explained that although his drawings were very beautiful, I needed my paper for work. On this night, in particular, he and I engaged in a heated discussion about what he considered "appropriate and necessary paper usage". To make a long story short, I kicked him out of my office. There were times when Cam didn’t get his way that I was convinced he absolutely hated me and this was one of those moments.

The next day, I arrived home late from work. I had tension in my neck from the stressors of the day and a pile of paperwork to get done. My former husband was getting remarried and the boys had accompanied him out of town for the wedding. Needless to say, I was feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Although I was surrounded by silence, everything around me seemed to scream for attention from the unkempt house to the pile of paperwork waiting to be completed. I grabbed a bite to eat, set my emotions aside, and made my way to the office. I began to leaf through Cameron’s “portfolio” of doodles and drawings for a clean sheet of paper. As I did, a post-it note briskly fluttered to the ground. My hands gently froze in motion as my eyes dropped to the precious illustration at my feet. Banned from the printer paper, Cameron had resorted to drawing on a promotional pharmacology pad of post-it notes and his masterpiece had fallen from the pile. As I picked it up, my eyes flooded with tears. It was a rudimentary sketch of me that sweetly captured the moral of the story and offered the peace of mind that I so desperately needed.

It was an endearing portrait of a nurse with a big smile on her face. She had long, flowing hair and wore a large white hat with a cross boldly scratched on the front. In the background was a gurney. On top of the gurney lied a patient, his legs and arms pointed straight up in the air as if he had just keeled over. The desperate grimace sloped across his face indicated the need for immediate medical attention. The nurse looked heroic, larger than life in the forefront of the medical emergency. The word “mom” was affectionately written on the side.

To this day that memory stirs strong emotions when I reflect on the realization that somehow my young child was able to see beyond the circumstance that complicated our relationship. His admiration came in recognition of my efforts, regardless of my limited capabilities. At that time in my life, I was blessed with what I needed most… to catch a glimpse of myself through the eyes of my child. I needed to realize that regardless of my apparent inability to meet all of his expectations, somehow he understood. That night, for the first time following the divorce, I felt comforted and knew that everything would be okay. Cameron, who was often the most critical of my efforts was, in fact, a member of the “Mommy Fan Club”.

There is a profound moral to the story. I now realize that it’s not the quantity of time that you spend with your children, but rather the quality of time that matters the most. As I reflect on my own childhood, the memories that stand out in my mind are the seemingly insignificant events that have become sacred over time. Love was expressed through the little things like helping dad wash Old Red Eye, family trips in the country on Saturday afternoons, floating the river on inner tubes, Sunday dinners at grandma’s house, and my most favorite memory of all… sitting on the bathroom countertop while dad methodically scrubbed the grease from his hands after work. He would patiently and enthusiastically listen to every detail of my young life and as the dirty water drained from the sink, any feeling of discouragement, hurt, or disappointment would drain from my heart.

Multiple books, magazines, and newspaper articles discuss the relationship between wayward children and single parenthood, directly attributing one to the other. Of course it’s always best to have a solid family unit that consists of a mother and a father, unified in nurturing the children in a traditional family setting. However, these publications can offer little hope to parents whose circumstances fall outside of the social norm. What for them? Are they doomed to raise misguided children? I have come to realize that regardless of circumstance, quality parenting requires quality time. We need to utilize the time that we are blessed with to create the occasion to teach moral principles in a manner that will leave a lasting impression. We need to teach, both in word and deed, those principles that will strengthen our children and direct their paths toward greatness. Life will inevitably provide the opportunities, but it is a parental responsibility to identify and embrace them.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

I have learned a valuable lesson from my child... a child who had the capacity to look beyond the physical limitations on my time, energy, and body. I am following her example. By learning to do likewise - I have learned to love perfectly... I have learned to love with the heart of a child...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

If the Shoe Fits...

We have encountered persistent criticism and concern from a handful of people who have questioned our understanding of Cammie's condition and the decision we have made to support her gender expression. These concerns seem to reflect the underlying question, "What if you're wrong?"...

I walk each day by Cameron's side... when she faces the challenges imposed by the heartache and pain of emotional, physical, and spiritual rejection... I am there - holding her hand. I have watched, helplessly, as each obstacle has battered her beautiful spirit. I have come to realize through faith, love, and the mercy of my Heavenly Father that he doesn't expect me to ignore her suffering. I have been inspired with the impression that the time has come to find the answers... to take a stand... to listen to the whispering of her heart... and to advocate for her peace and happiness.

Cameron is a courageous, beautiful child. I am thankful for what she has taught me and the inspiration that she gives me each day. The Christ-like perseverance and enduring courage that she has demonstrated, illustrates her divine nature.

Gender is foreordained... This is why - regardless of the pronouns we used, what clothing we bought, or the social pressures that she has faced... Cammie has remained true to herself and consistently asserted her female gender identity.

Cameron is, and has always been, a girl. For ten long years, I naively jumped to the conclusion that her temporal, physical body would define her - spiritually. In reality, I should have listened to her and looked beyond those physical characteristics, with a focus on spiritual truth.

The majority of us are fortunate to experience mortal bodies that harmonize with our gender identity... but Cammie, and many children like her, face the challenge of waking up each day to a life shrouded in misunderstanding, based on the expectation of biological norms.

I have a testimony of my Heavenly Father. I know that we have been blessed by his companionship and we are being guided in the challenges that we face each day. To those standing on the outside of this experience who feel compelled to point a finger of scorn or preach "hell and damnation" from atop a soap-box, or pulpit - I pose this question...

What kind of joy would celestial glory be if I knew that I had attained it by sacrificing my child??? I would gladly surrender this "interpretation" of eternal salvation for Cammie's happiness. My celestial experience will come from the peace of knowing that I opened my heart and soul to the unconditional love and acceptance of my child which has provided her with an opportunity for peace.

My cconcept of hell is best defined by a popular idea of Heaven... the "heaven" that I would (supposedly) experience by embracing the personal benefits of blindly and willingly contributing to the inner-turmoil, pain, suffering, and spiritual devastation of my child??? Given the expectations and sacrifice required to achieve it... I consider it a privilege to fall short.

A testimony is defined as "an assertion offering first-hand authentication of a fact." I have been blessed with first-hand experience in this matter and have gained a testimony of my child's spiritual being. I cannot deny this truth... just as I will not deny that Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. I refuse to stand before my Heavenly Father and explain why I failed to acknowlege the answers in my life and the guidance that He has provided. I WILL NOT stand before Him and explain why I valued the opinions of others above the witness that He has given me. For those who don't understand - allow me to simplify it for you... I would much rather be "condemned" for loving my child too much... than be "condemned" for not loving her enough.

I don't have all the answers, but I faithfully cherish the ones I've been given. The unconditional love I feel for Cameron has led me to a place of enlightenment and understanding. By having the courage to listen to the promptings of the spirit and disregard the commonly accepted traditions of society, I have discovered a beautiful daughter of God - suffering alone in the dark. As her mother, I will do all I can to understand her, love and accept her unconditionally, ease her pain, and guide her path to peace.

True happiness comes from within... through inner peace, love of others, charity, self-realization, and a personal relationship with God... each, a prerequisite to spiritual harmony. I am thankful for the blessings in my life... realized through the opportunity that I have been given to truly "see" and understand my child.

For those individuals who prefer to cling to social "norms" and reject the unconditional love, support, and understanding that we have devoted to our daughter - I pose this question... "Would you like to take a walk in my shoes???"

We should never be so blinded by our personal convictions that we callously disregard the experience of others, formulate preconceived judgements about their lives and relationship with God, or fail to consider the potential for spiritual growth offered by their experience. I have gained a testimony about the nature of TRUTH... Sometimes it's discovered in unlikely places... and taught through unexpected experiences.

Cammie has found peace, she is finally happy...

Her happiness has become our TRUTH.

(Matthew 7:20 - By their fruits ye shall know them)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Parable of the Box...

Encouraging Cammie to trust her Heavenly Father has been extremely challenging. Once I made the decision to embrace her gender identity, I realized how strained her relationship with the Lord had become. I have always taught her that she was created by a Heavenly Father who loves her... Meanwhile, I neglected to understand her... sending her into the world dressed in boys clothes with a short haircut and the unspoken expectation that she conform to the gender roles of society. These innocent discrepancies between her gender identity and her body have caused a great deal of inner-conflict, heartache, and pain. She has struggled to understand why a "loving Heavenly Father" would intentionally create her with the extreme challenges that tormented her life.

Cammie and I have a wonderful relationship. She has opened up with me on numerous occasions about her feelings and the frustration and anger that she feels toward her Heavenly Father. Her hurt has come from feeling like a "cast away"... dejected and spiritually disposed by Him. I have worked diligently to help her understand that these impressions didn't come from the Lord... they are impressions that developed as the result of a conflicted social existence, plagued by misunderstanding. Recently, she and I had a conversation that provided a beautiful opportunity for healing...

I had been reading a newly released book about transgender children, paying particular attention to a chapter devoted to overcoming challenges in school. The book suggested that parents of transgender children prepare them for the potential ridicule they could encounter from peers in their academic environment. The author recommended role-playing, as well as discussing various responses to comments that might be made. The goal is to strengthen and prepare the child for the challenges that lie ahead. I called Cammie in to my bedroom and we began to discuss the potential for torment and ridicule. She acknowledged that it would be difficult and said that she was prepared to face those who were likely to bully and tease her. I continued to try and verbalize a variety of scenarios. Cammie's head dropped and her eyes filled with tears. She said, "I don't understand why I have to go through this. Nobody knows what it's like to be me. Why can't I just be a normal girl? I am so angry... why did Heavenly Father do this to me? Why would he make me this way?" The crying continued.

My dad has always said, "a parent is only as happy as their most miserable child." Given this truth, it's not surprising that my heart was breaking as I sat beside her and shared her pain. I have come to realize that during these humble moments of complete helplessness, the Lord lends his spirit to provide peace and guidance...

In that moment, I was blessed with the words to help her understand. I talk all the time... and those who know me would testify to the fact that I am seldom quiet, but I have never experienced anything like the conversation that followed. I told Cameron not to be angry with the Lord. I explained that although Heavenly Father doesn't make mistakes, he does assign the most difficult tasks in life to his strongest children. She looked perplexed and I could tell that she still didn't understand. As I continued to speak, the words began to roll off my tongue so quickly that I didn't have time to formulate thoughts... I continued to express the impressions that I received and as I spoke, I began to listen - becoming an audience to my own words...

"Let me explain... If I had a really heavy box and I needed someone to move it... would I ask John to lift it for me... or would I ask Caleb?" (John is Cammie's step-dad. He's six foot, four inches tall and weighs over two-hundred and fifty pounds. Caleb is her twelve year old brother).

She thought for a moment then said, "John"...

"Why?" I asked.

"Because he's strong."

"Why does that matter?" I continued.

"Because he could lift the box."


She sat there for a moment and I could see her putting the analogy together in her mind. I continued to explain, "I understand why you are so frustrated... Heavenly Father has given you an extremely heavy box, but it's important that you understand why he gave it to you. He gave you this box because He knows you are very strong... He believes in you... He loves you... and He knows that you have the strength and the courage to pick it up and carry it."

In that moment, I could see that Cammie was beginning to understand the privilege of adversity.

I am so thankful for the precious moments of inspired thought while teaching my child to grow beyond the unique challenges in her life. I have been greatly blessed by sacred moments of enlightenment. Those moments have defined this experience and guided our path.

By choosing to use a faith-based compass, trust the love of our Father in Heaven, and follow the promptings of the spirit... we have been greatly blessed. At times, it has been extremely overwhelming to consider the numerous obstacles that lie ahead, but I have come to realize - during the most difficult challenges in life - that we are NEVER alone. Somehow, this realization has made "the box" lighter to lift and easier to carry. I hope that in time Cammie will discover the privilege of opposition and understand the value of "The Box"...

"Opposition is the privileged price we must pay to become acquainted with God"