She’s just a wee thing, isn’t she?
Nope, I don’t mean my niece seated on that bench. I mean the little white-haired lady sitting next to her. For those who have not met her through my Facebook posts or the thrill of real life, that’s G Mel, my grandmother, Melba. She lived with me for part of 2012 and I had to give her a cool rap name and shorten up “Grandma Mel” so I could keep people up with her antics via Facebook. One of her great-grandchildren already called her GG Mel, so, yeah, I stole that and made it apply to me with just one G; I am her first grandchild after all, which means I can pretty much do as I please and she always thinks I am terrific and clever. Good grandma!
G Mel is me + 45 years. We have joked and laughed for decades about how similar we are; we wondered if I got cloned from G Mel and my mom just got the lucky job of raising me. G Mel is silly, sassy, fun, curious, loves easily, and is easy to love. Determined, independent, I-can-do-this, generous, and knows her mind.
What we want most in the world, at the core of our souls, is to love others well and have them know beyond a shadow of a doubt how we treasure them. Lovely qualities in us both (look at me bragging on me!).
Yes, beautiful, and subject to shatter. All of these gifts are also deeply broken qualities when they fall out of balance and aren’t submitted to the Father for him to keep tender and supple in his grace and love. Determination, independence, and tenaciousness become brittle, sharp, and stabbing, hurting the ones we love most and working like barbed wire to keep us from becoming the women we want to be, loving and living the way we truly desire.
There is a much longer story here, but for now, know that G Mel’s life, marriage, and identity became incredibly twisted and broken over the last 10 years. She was becoming what she never wanted to be, unhappy in ways she tried to hide, and determined to pretend to herself and those she loved most that all was well, no matter what evidence belied her. But these changes, and her inability to embrace new changes that would rescue her for the life she most desired, didn’t develop over just the last decade. No matter the most recent tragedies, her daily attitudes and patterns and coping mechanisms demonstrate every day that she is actually an accumulation of life perspectives, choices, how she was treated, what she heard, what she embraced, and what she discarded. She is the sum of all 89 years of influence and experience.
The set of events that led to her living with me and what came to light in my own home shifted the life picture of her I had created since childhood, rearranged who I had known her to be. And it broke me open, both for her and for me. Because I am, was, might be her. And though I type it with both tears of heartbreak and gratitude, the truth is that I still want to look like her in so many ways, but my life is undergoing excavation so I don’t look just like her.
Because our Audience of One is different. We both call him God, but who we each think he is and how we think he works in our lives is as different as sea and air.
I believe we answer to one place, one person. But who I think that One is and how I grow and change in relation to him does not create a solely back-and-forth communication and experience between just the two of us. The unusual thing about the Audience of One is the oneness of him and the community of him. It’s truth that God is the only one to whom I ultimately answer, and the only one with the completely clear, unhindered, holy perspective to tell me who I am and what I am worth. He sees me through a lens of truth and grace that even the humans who love me most can’t fully bring to bear. How gloriously rescuing and redeeming!
But it’s also truth that on my own, I don’t always see or hear him with the same clarity and surety with which he see me. And I think this is one of the many reasons that he didn’t invite us solely into a one-to-one relationship with him, but also into the Body, his Bride, the church of believers. To better know him, how he sees me, how he sees you, how he sees us, how he loves us, what life in him looks like, we need each other. Of course, we have Scripture, history, etc. But we also have each other. And he asked us to love one another well. It’s how we would be identified as belonging to him.
Those who are trusted and intimate in my life and share my desire to grow in Christ have to be safe to speak into my life. To be able to speak not just when it’s easy or happy or welcome. I have to be willing to ask myself, ask God, are there things they see that I simply don’t, no matter how well I think I know myself? No matter how well I think I understand my own motives and actions? If they know and love you, God, and I know and love you, how do we help each other as you weave your redemption story in us not just for heaven, but for now, for today?
When Grandma moved in with me, because it wasn’t a gentle set of choices but rather an out-of-her-house-in-a-matter-of-hours rescued woman scenario, life turned upside down. I was frazzled and fine. I was dazed that we were in a mess and thrilled that in my house she was safe. And I handled it well, people. God gave me the grace to do the most unexpectedly painful thing I had ever faced to date, standing in the gap for my grandmother’s crumbling life circumstances, and I got so much of it right. God kept the panic at bay enough to do what had to be done, from handling her unpredictable and volatile spouse to rearranging my guest bedroom furniture so fast I almost took out walls and stairs and my own arms and legs so that she would not feel like a guest in my home, but that she was home. It was all horrible and survivable and beautiful and special. It was love in action during a season we chalk up in the worst of moments category, where other “this is not how things should go” events live. And I got a lot of it right. Thanks to amazing support from family and friends walking much of it emotionally and practically with me, so much good happened.
But I was not good in all of it. And by good, I mean I was not always who I thought I was. For all my attentiveness, intentionality, servant heart, good-granddaughter-turned-provider, love poured out, not all of it was good for her or for me. I wasn’t hitting the healthy balance of immediate needs versus long-time living When asked how I was, the answer was honest: tired, scared, surprised, coping, fine, gonna be great. But try speaking a different perspective to me than the one I was seeing from my own vanatage point? It was my job to correct you, reassure you, and tell you how it really was. Everyone else, no matter how long you had known me or in what intimate or trustworthy capacity, could not know what it was really like. They couldn’t understand as thoroughly as I could that I might look a bit crazed or exhausted or too swift to act, but I knew just what I was doing, how much I loved her, and how we were going to make it better than anyone pictured because I was doing the best thing possible for G Mel and for me.
But something was happening in my house, too. I was receiving a slowly unwrapped painful and life-saving gift. Again, a big story is embedded in here, but the short is that I was seeing who Grandma really was, gorgeous and broken. And the broken included an utter inability to receive input and perspective from those who loved her best, knew her best, and wanted her wholeness more than she could imagine. And the inability to hear others was particularly stony when it came to news she didn’t want to hear, information that contradicted how she saw herself, whether strong or weak, well or ill. In one breath would come an expressed desire for truth and a desire to thrive; in the next she had to defend herself against whatever you shared, explain your perspective away, patiently lay out her case against your evidence, so that you were not shaking her world. There was not love and assurance enough in her soul that she could both be cherished and need to change. She had to have it all right, because if she needed to consider that one part of her might not be well, none of her was worthy of love. And that was too great a risk; being right was safer, cleaner, was all she needed, so all that she saw and knew about herself was the truth.
Before I knew her broken thinking and self-determined identity were going to be redeemed into a gift in my own life, all I knew was that it was killing me. The grandmother I adored and idolized was in some ways disintegrating before me, and there were perfectly rescuable challenges and pains that she refused to hear about from me. I was among the most trustworthy people in her life (something she would admit in a heartbeat) but she could not trust that I saw things about her situation and herself she did not. Her refusal to receive love and input when it did not come packaged to match what she already believed left her unable to truly grow and recover, to do anything more than continue on doggedly in the very actions and beliefs that were crumbling her to pieces, but that she believed were life-giving.
Then it was my turn.
My mom and aunt, G Mel’s daughters, on a visit about three months after Grandma moved in, had perspective for me. There had been phone calls and visits prior to this trip to my place, and they had been listening and watching. It started in the grocery store an hour after the plane landed, when my mom came to the cart I was pushing with G Mel and said, “Here, I’ll walk with her. Aunt Pam wants you to join her with her cart.” And I knew it wasn’t because she needed help pushing the apples and crackers; she wanted to talk to me. That evening, my mom and Pam came into my room, gentle but firm. “You aren’t you right now. We know you think you’re okay. And you are doing so well caring for Grandma and we are grateful and proud beyond words for all you have done and are doing. But you aren’t you. Can we talk about this?” The gist was that I was not seeing impatience, too-quick decision making, frustration, and exhaustion that was seeping out of me. Not toward G Mel; I was doing a great job keeping that from her. But it was touching everyone else, and making me into someone they knew I was not meant to be, and would never want to be. A set of circumstances was generating something unhealthy in me. And they loved me enough to tell me.
My inner G Mel kicked right in. Words, quiet and measured, of explanation, defense, justification, rationale poured forth. I knew what had been going on, who I was, how things needed to be. I was convinced all that I knew and felt was true.
And then the gift came.
She never listens and you love her so much it’s breaking your heart. How do these women sitting on your bed feel about you? Are they speaking because they want to be right, or because they love you like you love her? Like you have wanted G Mel to understand that I love her, Kathie? This is how I help rescue you in the everyday. Listen, through me, to those who love you and love me.
No matter how well I think I know myself. No matter how well I think I understand my own motives and actions. No matter how many Bible studies, counseling sessions, prayer times, moments of surrender, seasons of discipline, I will never see myself perfectly. I will think I am both uglier and more grand than I am. I will think I am failing and I have the world on a leash. I will belittle myself and overrate myself. I am one of the most self-reflective people I know, but I will never see my soul and self with 100% clarity. I need God and the way he moves people who love me to bring who I am to a purer reflection, from the beauty in my being to the rocks in my heart.
My Audience of One uses those who love me most to speak the words that can be hardest to hear. When I lean fully into his assurance that nothing I can do outweighs the grace of how he sees me (wholly loved) and what I am worth (his holy Son), I can make space to consider new information, seemingly dissonant information, and just ask him about it. I can look at new input bravely and wisely, in the light of a heart surrendered totally to the One who will always hold me together, never condemn me for needing to change or having gone astray, and who brings fresh air to the places in my soul where I didn’t even realize I wasn’t breathing.