The Open Life


My grandmother’s hands belong to me now. I look at my thumb and I see hers, smoothing the Scotch tape onto the box with the cartoon wrapping paper. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m too old to be giddy, so I stay up late with my sister and we help her wrap gifts for our young cousin. So this is what you do every year?

I wear her thin gold wedding ring on my right hand. When she died, mine were the only hands it fit. We both wear a four, three and a half if it’s cold outside. Nobody believes me when I say it. Nobody wears a three and a half ring. Nobody, except for those who do.

When John bought my engagement ring he told the jeweler my ring size. They were sure he was wrong so they made the ring one size up. I hated having to give my engagement ring back to have it sized down.They should have believed him. Girls who just got engaged don’t like to part with their rings.

I think about the life knowledge my Grandma left behind for me — that long hair can be graceful on older women if you play your cards right, that kids don’t care about burning the cinnamon rolls if they know they are loved, that saving every scrap and coupon isn’t always worth it if it means you can’t see the kitchen table. Her house wasn’t the cleanest, but we loved staying there. She took the guest room and let us sleep in her bed, maybe because it had a TV in it and that was special for a kid. She set up a Glamour Gal shop in her basement and we didn’t even care that it was cold and messy down there, what with all the exotic parties and lavish dinners we had to attend.

Even though I’m grown now, I still see her through kid eyes with her white nursing-type shoes, straight-backed still in the front seat of Grandpa’s car (she never learned to drive), deep brown eyes that looked like mine. But since she came first, I guess mine look like hers.

She died when I was in middle school so my memories of her are frozen. But I try to think of her now from my grown up perspective and wonder about the tired way she carried herself, the TV that was always on loud in her house, the way she muttered at Grandpa under her breath, her weariness. What was happening deeper in her? Did she let anyone in? Where were all her friends? Why did she and Grandpa not share a bedroom? Was she happy? Was she seen?

The problem is that most of us aren’t willing to take the risk of being seen so completely. There is always something we’re hiding for fear that we will be rejected in the end. We may have gotten close to the possibility of this kind of love at one time or another, but we haven’t known how to let it penetrate our defenses so that we can receive it.”

Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

It’s risky, being open. When we open up to family, to community, to love, we simultaneously open up to hurt, to disappointment, to fear. But living a closed life doesn’t seem like living at all to me. I’ve done it, so I know.

I can only guess that she had been hurt and so went into hiding in some way. It makes me consider her life, to look at my own, and to think I don’t want my grandchildren to have to guess. I hope I can live a life of openness, not so that my children and their children have to know every hurt and rejection I’ve faced. Rather, so that they will know the healing and hope I have even in the midst of pain. So that they can see that brokenness is a doorway and fear doesn’t have the final say.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'” (Romans 8:15)

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Emily P. Freeman, author of Grace for the Good Girl, is a writer, speaker, and listener. She is the creator of the blog, Chatting at the Sky, where she combines photos and story to create space for souls to breathe. She is deeply curious about the mystery of Christ, the gracefulness of the everyday, and the sacredness of our inner lives. Everything she writes or speaks about comes from this curiosity and the deep conviction that every need, desire, and expectation is met in the person of Jesus Christ. She writes for DaySpring’s blog, (in)courage and has traveled as a writer with Compassion International to raise awareness for the needs of children living in poverty. She and her husband have been married for ten years, have three children, and live in North Carolina.

  • “But living a closed life doesn’t seem like living at all to me.”

    I totally agree with this, but have no idea how to open up half the time. Emily, it is good to have your voice here, and your heart. Thank you for encouraging us to open up our lives with you. It’s not so scary – or so hard – if we’re not doing it alone….

  • “Rather, so that they will know the healing and hope I have even in the midst of pain. So that they can see that brokenness is a doorway and fear doesn’t have the final say.”

    This is the prayer I have for myself as well. Thanks for sharing here today!

  • Jenn

    Emily, I am currently reading your book. I am nodding and underlining over and over as I read! Then I’m reading those underlinings to my husband which is basically like reading half the book! Your words of life are freeing, the gospel is so beautifully articulated!
    I specifically enjoyed your portion on the “double-sidedness” of the cross. This made communion come alive to me as I understood much more clearly the significance of His body broken for me to give me life “in Christ.” We do miss the power without understanding our new identity.
    So thank you! I’m so thankful you wrote this book!

  • I know no other way than to be raw. I hid it and I still hide it, but eventually it comes out of me. It hurts sometimes to be this way–so open–but it’s how I was created and it’s so freeing to worship this way.

  • JoAnne

    “It makes me consider her life, to look at my own, and to think I don’t want my grandchildren to have to guess…”
    What a wise statement. Thank you!
    As a newer (and younger I might add!) grandmother, I also look at my hands and recall the beauty of the women that went before me, often guessing, as you do. I am doing my best to live openly to my young grandchildren, and with God’s grace will continue to share my life with them – leaving God-given lifelong treasures behind. It will make us all wiser and stronger.
    Thank you!!

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The Open Life

by Emily P. Freeman time to read: 3 min