Denise Grace Gitsham
AN AUDIENCE OF ONE
An Audience of One
My friend Laura recently asked me to speak at her church’s women’s group, comprised entirely of mothers living in the DC metro region. Given my lack of personal experience with motherhood, I wondered what I could possibly offer these women. They juggle hectic schedules, raising children, nursing, sleeping maybe 4 hours a night, and working. My life, on the other hand, is a
relative breeze. The only thing I have in common with these superwomen, I thought, is being female. In the week leading up to the talk, I prayed earnestly for direction. Drawing blanks left and right, I finally settled on a subject that came out of left field. Since I was fresh out of backup ideas, I emailed the topic to Laura, wincing as I pressed send. Ever the encourager, Laura responded with an enthusiastic “awesome!” and said she’d pray for my time in preparation.
She had no idea how badly I’d need it.
The week leading up to my talk was far busier than I’d expected it to be. The time I’d set aside to organize my thoughts got chipped away by things I couldn’t have anticipated happening. Even when I was able to concentrate, my creative juices were squelched by a low level sickness that plagued me all week. Over time, I was able to pull a workable outline together, but nothing about it “wowed” me. Literally no amount of practice or preparation could make up for how uninspired I felt walking into that room of mothers, babies, and toddlers.
On the morning of my talk, I arrived early enough give my notes a final once-over. The night before, I’d scrapped half of my outline, and rewritten a new one by hand. Looking over it that morning, I could barely read my own chicken scratch. I half laughed as it dawned on me that this was one of those talks I’d have to give up control over. No amount of preparation could make up for my lack of inspiration – divine, or otherwise.
Rather than my usual pre-game chat with God – please, Lord, help me blow this audience away! – I decided to pray for something new. Lord, help me to be less concerned with eloquence, entertaining, and impressing, and more concerned with being a mouthpiece for you. Use me to speak into the heart of anyone who needs to hear what you’ve given me to say.
As I stepped into the room, I realized just how out of my league I was. The beautifully decorated room teemed with babies and toddlers, smelled like homemade quiches and muffins, and the women themselves were educated, confident, and well-dressed. This would not be an easy crowd to impress. Thank God I’d already scrapped that goal.
Still, I desperately wanted these women to get what they deserved. This was all about them, not me. I was simply there to serve; a realization that freed me to take the focus and pressure off of my own performance.
I whispered one last prayer as I walked up to the podium. With only 60-ish women in the audience, I could see every face in the room. Lord, I’ll know this was worth making a fool of myself for, if you use me to touch just one woman.
With that, I launched into my least impressive talk ever. I didn’t tank, but at no point did I “pop.” I scanned the room for reactions – everyone seemed to be waiting for a big revelation that never arrived. I went way off script, and struggled with “landing the plane,” going 5 minutes over my allotted time.
But I didn’t care. Mid-way through, I noticed one woman sitting at a table in the back left corner of the room. This woman didn’t look like the others, who were White or Asian. This woman was African, and tears streamed down her face. God was clearly doing something through my jumbled mess of words.
After I finished speaking, a few moms politely made their way over to thank me. It was nothing like the reception I usually get, because this wasn’t on par with any of my past performances. Still, I didn’t care; all I wanted was to hear from the woman God had brought me there to speak to.
When she finally made her way to my table, I gave her a big hug. She thanked me profusely, tears flowing anew. This is my first time here, and I felt like you were speaking directly to my heart, she said in beautiful Eritrean accent. I asked her why, and she said that she’d felt imprisoned all her life, by religion and its rules. My talk was titled “Rule Breakers,” and I’d spoken about the necessity of breaking every man-made rule that contradicts God’s only commandments: to love Him, and to love our neighbor. What He’d given me to say couldn’t have been a better provision of what she needed to hear.
Now that it’s over, I’ll admit that it crossed my mind to cancel the night before. If not for my love and respect for Laura, I would have seriously considered doing so. Being Chinese, the performance pressure I feel is real, every time I'm on stage. But God reminded me that everything I do serves only one purpose: His. If I look like a fool, then so be it. All that matters to Him is my willingness to be used. And increasingly, that’s all that matters to me, too.
Where there’s humility, there is majesty; where there’s weakness, there is might; where there's death, there is life. If you want to get these things, don’t disdain those. – St. Augustine