Her One Entry

So, the journal on the dining room table.

August 14, 2012 I arrive home after dark (which takes commitment on an Idaho summer night) to my quiet house after a come-to-Jesus-about-obedience-and-writing dinner discussion with Julie. It’s a rare night two months and two days into living with G Mel that I come home to just a light on and a mostly closed door to her room; she is almost always up before me in the morning and waiting up for me in the evenings. She does not like being alone, but can’t stop encouraging me to scoot out the door to spend time with friends and enjoy life. By now, I have also been coached by my mother that if I thought G Mel was a doting grandmother my previous 42 years, I ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Living with me, she’ll want to do everything for me, including brush my teeth if I let her. Mom tells me to go outside and play with my friends. And, at this point, I am still running under my own lifelong impression of my treasured, inspiring G Mel being a go-getter, an easy friend-maker, and a brave so-and-so. My views are going to get a revision soon, but mid-August of 2012, though I inherited an emotionally fragile version of G Mel from a painful marriage, I am still hopeful that she will “get out there” soon and maybe hanging with my friends and not being home distracting her all the time will help her remember who she is.

On the drive home, I am mulling Julie’s words, rolling around in my head how much might have actually been inspired by Jesus and how much is just motivated by a nice friend who likes me and thinks a challenge is good for ya. By now, though, I know Julie well enough to know where that inspiration was initiated, but if I can somehow shift it to the “nice friend” camp, maybe I can scooch myself off the hook.

I enter through the laundry area into the kitchen. The light is on over the dining room table.

IMG_3305

I don’t recognize this book, but it’s something that in my early twenties I would have thought looked sophisticated. My quick thought now is, “Huh. Kinda pretty, but isn’t me. That’s not mine. Is it? It’s not Grandma’s. I didn’t see it in her stuff …” I had helped her pack in a big ol’ hurry an hour after she called me to come get her, as she moved out of the guest room of her own home. I had toted to my car bags of everything from shampoo, tissue boxes, and a handful of clothing (her packing) to more clothes, medicine, and photo albums (my packing). I hadn’t seen this.

I open the cover to see Grandma’s name, in my handwriting, on the first page opposite the inside cover. I quickly close it, realizing it must be a journal I had given her, or maybe, based on the cover image, this is some plant identification book I gave her so long ago I just don’t recall. Trouble it, G Mel’s never been an enthusiastic plant identifier. Maybe I was a poor gift giver …

Not wanting to pry further, I head to bed. Her room is dark, and her quiet snores are coming through the slightly open door. I also know that I can now be as loud getting ready for bed as I want; hearing aids are out and I am in no jeopardy of disturbing the woman who, hearing aid-equipped, can’t hear me half the time I am right in front of her but has supersonic abilities when she is in her room and I am moving about anywhere in the house, drawing her to seek me out and be reassured that all is well.

We talk the next morning as I ready for work, but I make no mention of the book and neither does she. I come home that evening, book still on the table and G Mel in the kitchen ready to cook food the moment she hears the garage door open. We sit down for our meal, the book inches away from our plates and glasses. We talk of other things and I don’t ask about it, but since the journal is still there as we finish, I finally ask if it’s hers and if she is was writing.

“Ohhhh, no. I just put this here for you.”

“Grandma, didn’t I give it to? At least I think I did. Isn’t it a journal?”

“Well, yeah, Honey. But you know your old granny. I think you should have it.”

“Grandma, it was a gift. Don’t you want it? Didn’t you write in it?”

“Just a note to you.”

I reach out and take the book, opening the cover and flipping to the first cream-colored, lined page.

I cringe when I see it’s a poem. One of mine. I am not embarrassed for what it was when I gave it to her, which clearly must have been years ago, but my current poetry snootiness always winces a bit when I see my old stuff. Especially if I made it rhyme. Eeesh.

It’s cute, sweetly enumerating memory after memory of things unique to our grandmother / granddaughter / family stories and escapades. My loopy handwriting also professes the joy and love I have for her, that she is “my gift the whole year ’round”. It’s signed,

I love you,

Katherine

12/25/90

It was a Christmas gift to her. I was 20 and she was traveling full-time. She and her then-husband (another story) had been on the road in a fifth-wheel for about two years and we saw them rarely. This was a strange thing after living just on the other side of the lake from them, only five minutes away, since I was eight years old. I missed her all the time.

Flipping to the back of that page I see a note from me, asking her to detail all she was seeing and experiencing, and admonishing, “don’t forget there is a family back home that’s missing you”.

The page across from this one is in her handwriting.

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On this night, my words in this journal are from nearly 22 years ago. Hers are from the night before; she has written 8/14/12 at the top of the one page on which she ever wrote words in this gift. She wrote them while I was at dinner with Julie, having no idea about the conversation happening 11 miles away.

She writes that the book is a precious memory, but she was not blessed with “artistic writing skills”. Fortunately, her offspring “picked up that DNA”, and “with your writing talent–you could fill this book with ‘pixalating’ instances with Granny”.

Between Julie, Granny, and Jesus all in one night, it was hard to ignore that I better be doing something with words. I can’t scooch off the hook because Julie wasn’t just being nice. So I will keep writing to Jesus and putting it here, because he asked me to. Yay and ack.

Here’s to flexing my DNA, and capturing pixalating instances. :)

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Colored, Sitcky Thoughts

This is my brain on blog posts:

Colored Paper

Liann asked me last week, “What’s up with the blog, Sluss?” What’s up is it looks like this in a stack next to my desk. At least it’s colorful. Backs of church bulletin inserts, fronts of church bulletins themselves, sticky notes lined, sticky notes unlined, pads of paper mailed from charities and received from companies, notebook paper, writing I can read, writing I can’t.

And what happens on those scribbled sheets invigorates, aggravates, soothes, sorts, unravels, re-ravels, and terrifies me. And they are all parts of a long, long, l-o-n-g ongoing conversation with God. There are many topics covered, but there is one at the center that we tussle about all the time.

Why is he after me to write? Why the desire in me at all? And why his consistent pursuit of me to do it? And why so thrilling and horrifying at the same time?

I am so brave in person about so many things, and am willing to be funny and transparent in my writing, but there are also topics I just don’t want to touch. When those topics show up, they tend to be the kind that feel like they are undoing me and are the ones I want to keep close to home. I leak enough crazy into the universe; I should try to maintain some semblance of propriety. But my brother Michael and I keep having these conversations about transparency being what people ache for and what the world needs. Then two things happen:

  1. I want to pound out the contents of my brain and heart through a keyboard.
  2. I don’t want to type a word.

Creativity and perfectionism, transparency and cards close to chest, courage and who do you think you are, all go to war in me. The result is usually me (choose one or combine a few):

  • flat out on the couch
  • head first into almond milk ice cream
  • knitting like the wind
  • enumerating chores and shopping lists
  • eyes glued to reruns of something inane and mind-numbing.

I can be honest, but not messy. Funny, but not poorly written. Thorough, but not quick. And never, ever edited enough.

So basically, my personality and desires create a civil war in me, and I do nothing.

I can’t do it anymore. Shouldn’t do it anymore, if I want to reduce regrets later.

Because, honestly, this venture is a matter of obedience to the Savior I love. And Liann’s question last Saturday was the most recent of two especially obvious years of God’s gentle but unflagging urging. It started with me literally throwing a temper tantrum about it in Sequim, Washington in January 2012. I was on a personal retreat and talking to God about lots of things, but the evening the topic of writing came up was a different story. The whole venture of adding sound and word to the cacophony of the world has been a wrestle since before my first blog, You Must Be Kidding, began. A friend, Chris, had written to ask me to start blogging. I promptly replied that there was enough noise in the world, I didn’t need to add to it, and I had nothing to say. He replied, asking if I had noticed that it took me three paragraphs to tell him I had nothing to say.

Six years later on a January night in Sequim, in a silent house, I journaled a bit and then opened the computer to start writing, to capture something other than journaling. Then the anger kicked in. In some ways, I value myself so little, and anything I could contribute would be so minuscule, why do it? I wrestle not to be a straight-up Christian pragmatist (more so then than now), and though I have a poet’s soul, if I was not / am not contributing something uber-useful, what good is that? And there is never just one audience in my brain. There is family, there are friends and strangers, people I love and people I fear. There is no way to write to keep them all happy or at least at bay.

I fumbled around on the keyboard, fumbled some more in my journal, then slammed the book and the laptop shut, literally shouting into the house, at God, “Why do YOU care about this so much? I don’t know what to DO about it! Why do you care?”

Then I put myself to bed because that’s what you do with fussy, pouty, tantrummy toddlers.

Amazingly sweet and gentle words and events followed in the next hours and days, the kind only my patient Heavenly Father could orchestrate. “Do it for me.” And this girl of never-ending great intentions and never-winning self-discipline said, “Okay,” in a Port Angeles coffee shop on a cold January day.

Within the next three weeks, my boss was struck by a car in a terrible accident, I started an intensive discipleship course that changed my world (in a great, but life-perspective-upending way), and God asked me (cornered me with my own newly-refreshed amazement at his forgiveness, is more like it) to reenter into relationship with my grandmother’s husband, a family member from whom I desperately wanted to hide. A few months later, my grandmother moved in with me. It felt like writing could not fit into this surprising year at all.

Fast forward to August 2012. Dinner with another friend, Julie. I am two months and two days into living with G Mel and getting a peek behind her emotional curtain, and my own. My Facebook page is a fount of G Mel hilarity and crazytown. My in-person conversations with friends are waves of a wee bit of humor and a whole lot of pain, fear, and confusion as G Mel’s marriage and emotional health dissolve before my eyes. People are telling me to write a book. I tell Julie, at a small table at Salt Tears in Boise, “Who the hello would read a book like that?” Julie’s response: “I would, lots of people would, and it doesn’t matter. If he’s asked you to write and you aren’t, doesn’t that kind of chalk up to disobedience?”

Phooey. Yes.

Got home that very night to find a journal left on the dining table. The floral pattern on the cover looked like something I would have liked at some point, years ago. I opened the cover to see a bookplate reading, “THIS BOOK BELONGS TO:” and beneath, in my own handwriting, my grandmother’s name. First, last, middle initial and all. It was a gift I had given her 22 years before, now making a sudden appearance on my dining room table.

I’ll share the contents and conversation from the following evening’s dinner with G Mel another time, but suffice to say Jesus got G Mel to write her one and only entry in 22 years in that journal and leave it out for me on the very night he prompted Julie to point me back to taking words to him.

Journaling rose and fell, writing exercises commenced and crashed, and a NaNoWriMo event began and ended, where I lived to see 9788 words hit paper until life with G Mel took over completely for me and the rest of my family.

A job change, ministry shift, computer platform, international travel, grandma move, new colleagues, emotional perimenopause, too few bike rides, and piles of life later, it’s May 2014. And I am still shirking my end of the deal. Because I still forget what the writing is about.

So, a Liann couch talk and a California mountain church visit later, I am on the reminded path once again. Here’s to messy, imperfect, transparent, risky, obedient writing. His vision of perfection and value is always different than mine, anyway. ;)

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A Thank You

It was dinner. With a cow outside the window. In downtown Meridian.

cow at ricks

Bessie is on a trailer and her ears are in the back of the truck; that’s another story in itself. That giant cow set the stage for encouragement from a friend to post a thank you letter that perhaps more than one person would like to see. My friend says the letter has a story beyond gratitude to a talented artist. Her reasoning:

“The letter deeply and intimately expresses who you are … while this is certainly a thank you to Chris Rice, it’s also a commentary on your spiritual growth over the last 17 years. In that sense, I think you should post it to your blog…. It may just start some wonderful conversations about how music is transformational and so often the only way we hear and accept God’s voice.”

So while it’s still today and in continuing pursuit of courage and watching God work in our hearts through transparency and story, and because saying thank you is a delight:

  • here is my thank you letter to Chris Rice
  • here is a picture of 17 years and more of trying to better know the Love Who Pursues Without Limit

Hi, Chris,

God’s invited me to write you a thank you note. I think he may not recall I haven’t written a letter to an artist I don’t know since Captain and Tennille, circa 1977. That was an opportunity to practice my cursive handwriting, share the important news that I had a Toni Tennille haircut, and gush over “Muskrat Love.”

Here’s praying this is less muskratty.

My gratitude is nearly 17 years in the making. The blessing of your words and music has been consistent through layers of God’s work in my life; the nuance and joy of them have evolved along with his reframing of my heart.

Buying Deep Enough to Dream made the CD player with the cassette tape adapter for my car the smartest purchase I’d ever made. “Clumsy” spoke more of my heart’s emotions and longing about him than I had ever put to words before, and I am a wordy girl. The songs on the album made me cry, laugh, reflect, and rejoice every time I listened or sang at the top of my lungs in my little Honda CRX.

My heart ached, though. Much as I wanted to trust and bask in the love, mystery, and longing depicted there and in so many other songs over the years to come, there was the seemingly immovable disappointment of being me; this had to be for others better at honesty with him and who knew something I didn’t about not blowing it as often (even if they said they kept stumbling after 30 years of practice). It was so disappointing to be me, how could I not be disappointing to him? I was incapable of not falling. Not failing. How in the world can I really fall a thousand times and he STILL wants to be near me? Rich emotion, depth of heart, and patient forgiveness were integral parts of my family life growing up, but I flavored everything I learned and studied over the years about God with the pervasive tone of “Don’t pursue or study God incorrectly … don’t let him down … you have to get this right, Kath.” Fear of not being smart enough in pursuit of him, of “getting it wrong,” always carried the day, always managed to steal the moments of reassurance that he cared about my heart, our hearts, as much or more so than he expected our obedience.

If the picture you have in your head is a hard-working, bring-more-good-to-the-world-in-his-name-out-of-gratitude-to-him functional Pharisee, that’s about right. A pretty exhausted Pharisee, who could quote applicable Scripture and get A’s in Old and New Testament Survey classes, but who couldn’t figure out what to do with the emotions brought on by grief, by poverty, by pain, by broken humanity. Except to tell my heart to be quiet and tell myself to get busy.

And in some of that busyness, in the moments when it was clear I was in way over my head and there was no way for Kathie to be smart and prepared enough to do the next thing he asked, your music was a comfort and a reminder; whether I was under a mosquito net in Africa, the gallery of a minaret in the Middle East, or colorful wiring dangling from an airplane ceiling in Central Asia, he was indeed not only mighty enough to see me through what he had brought me there to do, but loving enough. And it was likely going to be mysterious and feel strange and yet he was tickled about it and in reality I didn’t want to be anywhere else. You were a voice that traveled with me that said someone in the world both loved Jesus and was positing that the juxtaposition of all those things was okay.

Fresh layers of gratitude have come in recent years, seasons that brought completely unexpected stories (the central character in these life-spinning events being my 89-year-old grandmother). They have been the most emotionally wrenching years I have endured to date but also the most eye- and heart-opening to his love and why feeling it, not just quoting it, matters so very, very, very much. And I suddenly got why Chris Rice’s lyrics, music, and voice spoke to me deeply: truth and curiosity and wrestling and mystery and joy and longing and feeling were all there. The metaphors and imagery and honesty that fascinated and drew me previously were suddenly newly interwoven into experiences of God’s patient and delightful reassurance that he is indeed stunningly holy, unimaginably vast, incredibly personal, and poignantly tender.

I have joked for the past couple years that I am an either/or kind of girl and God is a both/and kind of guy. If we were going to go any further, one of us needed to come around in our thinking and relating. Thanks for being part of the story that helped me move closer to him and see the much richer shades of grown-up life than the black and white I had envisioned and expected for so many years.

Thank you, too, for sharing yourself and his reflection in you that helped me long for more of him before I had the words and emotions to express it. As Fred Gailey reminds us around Christmas each year, “… don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.” As God continues to reshape my heart and mind in his love, I have the joy of experiencing your lyrics and music even more sweetly, more thoroughly, in more wholehearted love and rescue. Now they ring of the place where I can live in the center of his extraordinary love, and where he scoops me back up into his arms after every fall and fail. And he is delighted in me every time.

And many thanks for quoting Coleridge in your August 29, 2013 blog for me to divinely discover all those months ago, the night before I leaped with intentionality into a writing effort God and I have been going around about for a while. Coleridge’s “Human Life: On the Denial of Immortality” is my favorite poem, so it was like a getting a nudge of “Go on … deep breath …” from an old friend.

Blessings and joy,

Kathie

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The Funny Thing About the Audience of One

She’s just a wee thing, isn’t she?

family 2011 cropped

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.

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I Need What I Don’t Want

I bought new pants a few months ago. I admit, I have a little crush on the purple pair. I’m pretty sure they are the first purple trousers I have owned since I was six, so I do feel a little Garanimalish when I wear them (I keep wanting to look for a shirt with a zebra or monkey tag to match) but it’s just fun to pretend I am a jitterbugging little grape when I dance into them in the morning. I can hear Clairee Belcher doing color commentary, asking me, “Such a vibrant purple. Kathie, would you call this color ‘grape’ or ‘aubergine’?”

The thing that surprises me, though, is what I keep forgetting about them.

All the new pants have three buttons and a zipper. No kidding; I almost have to plan an extra minute or two for trips to the little girls’ room. I haven’t really seen evidence that the overkill of zipper/buttons/Fort Knox at my waist makes them stay up any better, but I try to be committed to doing things thoroughly, so button-button-button-zip I go.

At least I think I go button-button-button-zip. For someone who has been wearing pants for many a year now, I am truly surprised at (and increasingly concerned by) the number of times I have missed one of those steps since my new pants purchase. It catches me unaware every time. Back to the meeting room in my office I go and as I smooth my shirt I realize the zipper is wild and free. As I step into a restroom in a Beijing train station I discover only two buttons are through their holes. And it’s not always the same button that is unharnessed. They take turns. After several months of “undone” surprises, I finally conceded that I need to look in the mirror before I depart the house or restroom. I am [pick one] old, inept, distracted, fumble-fingered, tactile-challenged, button-averted, zipper-zombied enough that I clearly need a visual cue to make sure I am fully dressed.

I sighed last week as I tried to absorb the reality that this isn’t much different than the rest of my life. I live a life and do a job that my brain thinks it knows well enough to handle from memory. It tells me that I can be on autopilot; just show up, type in a password, open the fridge, open your Bible, start the car, start a conversation, grab the groceries, grab the passport, whatever, and I think I should be good to go. The truth is, I need reminders constantly. And it isn’t just reminders about my next trip, what to pack for which country, to put the mail on hold, to pick up a prescription, to take my Leatherman off my keychain or my Fitbit off my supportive undergarment before I get to the airport (both those things can get you more attention from TSA screeners than you want, especially the tiny computer that tracks your physical activity but looks like something far more sinister and havoc-inducing attached to your underwire, apparently).

I need reminders about what matters to me. What my priorities are and who I want to be and how I want to live. I need prompts. I need aphorisms and calendars and friends and quiet and light and pain. I want to be smarter than all those things. I want to not need them. It may not be everyone’s prideful hangup, but it’s certainly mine. I think I should remember by rote that I want to be intentional about:

  • what I put in my mouth because what I choose to eat will affect more than my passing emotions
  • choosing to exercise not be thinner but to be healthier, happier, and in ready shape for activities I love
  • managing the time I spend on social media because it influences my attitude and my heart
  • starting my day with prayer instead of television news because one sustains me and the other drains me
  • laying down my perfectionism to pick up thoroughness instead, which means a project (and maybe a blog post or two) can actually get completed and not just mulled and planned to death and non-existence

Potholes like these aren’t unique to my daily, monthly, yearly, lifely wanderings, but I  want to be smarter than these bumps and dips in the road. I want to efficiently choose to not need reminders, to remember because I ought to remember and that’s that. Reminders seem weak, and I want to be smarter than weakness. I want to out-logic everything, including need and weakness.

I want to not need. It’s bizarre and ridiculous and hard and true. I fight against the very sweetest bit of God’s design: to need, so I will know the richness of relationship instead of the stifling of self-sufficiency. I thrive in sure love and trust when I am in transparent relationship with him, bringing my inadequacies into the light of who he is; yet, I strain and try my hardest to anticipate and address everything myself, not need.  And without reminders, what I have so long labeled the crutch of inefficient thinking and performance, in a trice I find myself away from where I most want to be.

Without heart jolts and wake-ups and bread crumbs along the way, I stop remembering that it’s really about:

  • not relying on human approval to be valued and treasured and accepted
  • keeping close accounts with God because he delights in time with me, not because he is disappointed and I need to report in
  • not fearing and dreading silence and solitude with him, because he truly meets me there in ways that undo and revive me
  • breathing gratitude first, before I splutter my shatters and my brokens and my wants and my pleads, because the gratitude reshapes how the rest follows and it becomes beauty and surrender that rewrite me
  • closing my eyes not in exasperation with who I still am, but in peace with who he still is, who has always loved me more than myself and is showing me what the second greatest commandment can do in my heart after years of my mowing right past it in frustration and misconstrued humility
  • remembering that those who love me best speak truth and clarity and perspective into my life out of affection, not disdain for my shortcomings

Something in me responds as though it is failure in my character and faith when I need a reminder to live the way I desire. Like I haven’t been attentive enough, working hard enough, taking things seriously enough. I was somehow falling down on the job if any experience or word or music or sight moved my heart back to where I want it to be.

This girl needs to start getting giddy about jolts that waken me and prayers that speak to me and friends that email me and truth that grabs me and movies that move me and needs that needle me.

Those are really love letters in disguise.

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