I have been in my current job for the last 4 1/2 years. In those years my job description has changed quite a bit, with different responsibilities, bosses, schedules and titles… but one that has remained the same is that of “Front Desk Receptionist.” I’m the first person that people see when they come into the church office, I answer the phone, and I determine who the best person is to serve whatever need is before me. As the assistant to both pastors, I also arrange their appointments, assist in their correspondence, and vet any requests that come their way. I wear many hats in this job of mine. One that I also wear, being the front desk person, is that of transient assistance. Our church is located right off the interstate and directly up from a railway station – being in a beach town, we get a lot of transient traffic, and I’ve often commented that I could write a book on some of the experiences I’ve had – you just can’t make this stuff up.
Last week was one of those times. I was on the phone when I heard the door open and a deep voice say “Um, EXCUSE me?!” As I looked up I saw a tall woman with a lot of makeup, large sunglasses, huge blonde hair, a tight top that accentuated a large chest, and a short skirt. A very short skirt. That didn’t quite hide the VERY hairy masculine thighs. This was quite obviously a man dressed as a woman. When I completed my phone call I asked politely, “Hi! How can I help you?” to which they* asked to see the pastor because they were in the middle of a family crisis and needed to talk to someone. We have two pastors on staff – one was off site at an appointment and the other had just stepped into a meeting. I haven’t been in this job this long to not know that “I need to speak to a pastor” is usually code for “I need money and I think if my request goes to a pastor, or comes from a pastor, then my chances are better at getting what I want.”
*I do not know if this individual was transgender or was a transvestite, so just to keep it simple, I will refer to he/she/him/her as “they”
I explained that both pastors were unavailable, but I would be happy to help them with anything they need, to which they looked down their nose at me and said in a haughty voice “Oh no, because my issue is spiritual and you couldn’t possibly help me because YOU are only a secretary.” I honestly was speechless (and if you know me at all, you know that’s unusual!) I have been cussed at, I’ve been threatened, I’ve heard the voice of demons from a possessed person ( oh yes… ), but I’ve not been so blatantly insulted and dismissed. I crossed my arms in front of my chest and said “Alrighty then…”
They sat down in the office armchair and said “I’ll just wait until the pastor is available for me” I could tell that they wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say, so I told them to wait. About 15 minutes later one of our pastors came in and I explained that their attention was needed for this individual. He asked me “Do they want money?” to which I responded, “No, they said it was spiritual.” He took them into his office, came out 5 minutes later and said “Their name is Alex, and they need money.” I’ll admit, I looked at him and said “Would you please explain that I couldn’t POSSIBLY help them since I’m ONLY a secretary?” Yep, I was feeling snarky. The pastors and I have a pretty good relationship, we know each other’s personalities and respect each other greatly, and they know that I don’t normally get this defensive or resistant to offering help. But I was! I was offended! I could have helped them – but no, I was cast to the side. I held on to my righteous indignation as fuel for why I shouldn’t be asked to help them. If he wanted to help them? Be my guest buddy, just don’t ask me to help this insulting individual!
I won’t go into the details, but my pastor and I did help Alex. But I’ll admit, I bristled over this for quite a while. I turned the attention back on myself in every retelling, saying “It’s not every day that you get insulted by a transvestite in a church office!” Which is definitely true… and makes for a fantastic intro to a story… Just think, I could write a book called “Tales from the Front Desk” and that would be the first sentence. Talk about an attention-getter! New York Times Best Seller list for sure!
But then a few days later I read a post on Facebook from a lady whose son performed in a drag show in Denver. And she, her mother, and her other children went to see him perform. “He was fantastic,” she wrote, “but what shocked me more than anything was the bartender that called me “mom”, and called my mother “Grandma”. Throughout the night, none of these young people could believe that we were there to support my son. They hugged me, they cried, telling me how their own parents wouldn’t talk to them because they are gay, in some instances told them that they should die and weren’t wanted anymore. I gave out more hugs than I have in the past year on that night. These kids need their mom.” And my heart broke. I sat on my couch silently crying… as a mom, crying for any child who yearns for their mom and is turned away, for the broken relationships and judgement.
And then it hit me. As I sat there in my cozy air conditioned office in a beach town, with my white heterosexual marriage and 3 kids picket fence life… did I really SEE Alex in front of me, or was I too consumed with feeling insulted? What was their story? Did I even stop to ask? Where was their mom? Did I turn them away like so much of the world has? Yes, I did. I grabbed onto the insult and hurt feelings and, like a dog with a bone, gnawed on it over and over and wouldn’t let go.
Not that it makes the insulting words ok… it doesn’t. But that’s not the point. The point is, as I told this story to others, I started off with the joke. Because it was easy. The way they treated me didn’t have anything to do with how they dressed or what gender they identified with… and yet I included it in the punchline. Because it was easy to do. It was an easy joke. It got the reaction I was looking for, the laugh, the disbelief.
I most definitely wasn’t Christ at that moment. In my position I have the opportunities to be a blessing… and on that day I didn’t look at Alex and see a hurting child, I saw an insulting person who didn’t treat me in a respectful manner. I didn’t set my own agenda aside and take the opportunity to witness, to be gracious, to extend mercy instead of judgement. It felt good to be the insulted one, to carry my cross of “look at me! can you believe what happened to me”
And I’m ashamed.
You can bet that from now on every person who walk into my office will be Alex to me. I’ll set my own stupid pride aside and ask Christ who He wants me to be in that instance. To try and see them as He sees them, no matter what they may say or do. After all, I’m not “only” a secretary… I’m doing His work, being His hands and feet, to every person no matter how they act.