We stand in a circle, hold hands and slide into prayer. Diane prays, giving me time to shift out of my head and into my heart, down to my raw emotions in this moment. For a thinker, that takes work.Two in our circle are on a sex-change journey. Devin, a man becoming a woman; Bobbi, a woman becoming a man. Here, on Christmas Eve, we gather in the shared warmth of a circle to pray with and for them. I feel first and most an immense, heart-aching sadness, sad for what we already know of the deep pain of their lives. Bobbi is bi-polar and an alcoholic; Devin works as an escort and seems perpetually despondent. Their lives seem agonizingly difficult. Their current sexual confusion is heart-wrenching for me to see; so too is an awareness of what lies ahead. The combination of hormones and operation they face to change sexes is both brutal and frightening.

Even more, I am sad for hopes they have that I expect will not be satisfied. We hear deep yearning in their voices. Devin’s great fear is that she will die alone and no-one will show up at her funeral, sure proof of being unloved. Her hope is that post-change, one of those she escorts will love her enough to marry her and make her world whole. Bobbi once stroked her soft and girlish cheek and talked excitedly about the fact that in a year, with hormones and surgery, she would be able to shave; a hope for happiness that will come when she becomes he .I expect both will be disappointed; what they seek is not found in sex-change and their path, far from God’s design, will likely lead to more pain. 

Research paints an ugly picture; people often end up depressed and suicidal post-change, opposite the meaning they hope for.I feel into the sadness, longing desperately for them to find healing in Jesus, and offer my sadness in prayer.Hard on sadness’ heels comes helplessness; their path seems destructive, yet I am powerless to stop that train. I feel crippled by my inability to make a difference, but find even there a gift; Jesus’ whisper reminds me that He is not helpless. I embrace that, turning helplessness into prayer for a miracle.Another feeling emerges, this one considerably less spiritual; I feel some of the humor of the moment. Some of it is the irony of the situation. Devin, headed towards woman-hood, is about my height, 6’4″ and broader than I am. Bobbi, becoming a man, is this petite and pretty thing. Seems backwards! I chuckle at that.Something else also makes me laugh. It has to do with pronouns in prayer. Until we started praying for people on this journey I never noticed how often we use pronouns when praying for someone–he/she, him/her. But what pronoun do you use when someone is on this journey? Do you refer to a man becoming a woman as him or her and vice-versa? Diane always asks what they want, but even when you know it is torturously hard to keep it straight. Just now, I am glad she is praying out loud and not me.

Breathing, praying, paying attention to my heart, I find one more emotion, maybe the most important. I feel awash in gratitude, thankful to be here, on the far side of nowhere with our friends. What better thing than to imitate the love of Jesus for those the world ignores? And, to do it on Christmas Eve? And, to share it with Diane and two of our daughters, Spenser and Shadia? From sadness to helplessness, from helplessness to laughter, from laughter to gratitude, standing this night in this circle, the journey is beautiful. Diane navigates a couple more pronouns and wraps up. Both Devin and Bobbi want to pray; they pray thanksgiving for our love for them and presence with them. We head to the next motel, full of the joy only Jesus can bring.