A Blog by Jennifer Aulthouse


A heart for those who want more of God. A desperate plea for those who don't.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Every Thorn Has its Fruit


I've been thinking a lot about fruit and thorns lately; in my unrelenting restlessness they've been topics of internal and external conversations.  But even though "fruit and thorns" sounds like a masochist's notion of an ideal breakfast cereal, I'm referring to the spiritual kinds of fruit and thorns.

In pondering thorns, I Googled why roses have them.  From what I've been able to find, it turns out Bret Michaels isn't exactly right.  They don't all have thorns, but they all have at least some sort of prickly thing, and the prickly things serve as protection for the rose.  So what we find to be a nuisance when handling a rose, or a clever metaphor for love and life when philosophizing, are there for a purpose grander than our own designs and intentions.  Isn't that the way it always is?

The spiritual thorn.  Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 12.  The dictionary holds at least two definitions of a "thorn", one being the rose thing, and the other being as something that causes distress or irritation.  I've always interpreted this last definition into the biblical passage, as it is something I wish was not there; it gets in my way, it envelopes me at times, I can't see past it, can't see any good reason for its existence...yes!  Distress and irritation!  But I started to think about how a spiritual thorn in my life may take on the role of the rose's thorn.  I had never considered this stubborn, enigmatic chancre of an issue I'm dogged with could be for my own protection.

I'm almost totally committed to the belief that I have one.  Over the past couple of years I've analyzed its purpose in my life.  It's much more complex than just a source of temptation.  Its presence blocks me from fully submitting to God's plans, entirely abandoning control in many facets of life, staying focused on Him; it consumes more than its fair share of my available mental and emotional vacancy, it causes me to react in ways that my maturing self has grown past in almost every other way.  In short, it drives me up the wall and I have no control over how it affects me.  I've pleaded more than three times for it to be taken from me.  It never has been.  In fact, I have prayed (just as recently as yesterday) that either I can finally see some fruit and purpose come out of it or it be removed entirely.  Its sluggard presence, refusing to move in either direction, brings abrasion to no end.  And yet, the ways in which I have seen God's presence within this thing has blown my mind.  I don't see the fruit, but I see the watering.  His grace is enough.  It's meant to be there.

Fruit.  I've never been much of a fruit person, and that's because it's messy and inconvenient.  I have to cut my fruit into slices; I never just grab and take a bite.  Another area in my life where I've been alarmed in discovering control-freak tendencies.  I thought about it...I don't want to be surprised by what may be in the fruit.  When I slice it beforehand, I get to see all of it first.  I can remove any parts that aren't appetizing to me.  I know entirely ahead of time what I'm getting into, and how long it's going to take me to complete the task.  Plus, I just hate getting my hands dirty and this way I stay cleaner.

And also, as always, the events of the physical parallel the spiritual.  I also want to be in control of my spiritual fruit.  Or at least the event coordinator for how the fruit will come about, since the fruit is really character growth, reflecting how the presence of Jesus has changed us into something just a little more resembling His likeness.  I am unable to control that, but I'd like to be in charge of how it comes about.  And I sense that my struggle right now is in believing that the back-and-forth maddening cycle of being totally overwhelmed and utterly consumed by monotony is any sort of fertile field in which fruit can grow.  A big waste of potential...my looming legacy, in my mind.  I see a vast plain of nothing coming out of whatever gifts I've been given.  The notion itself is preposterous and yet feels as real as the crumbs on my kitchen floor.

Well, I've got some activities coming up on my calendar that appear to be scheduled spiritual growth.  I tend to look to this stuff so I can point to something that says I'm doing something meaningful.  I just don't want to feel left behind, and while I know that seeds sown both today and long ago will sprout at some point, this waiting period seems to infinitely go on.  The thorn rubs this in.

Perceiving my thorn and all that I'm struggling with as protection, though, brings me to a new level of awe when I consider the Lord's hand on me.  The need to feel control is so pervasive, and it really is about how we define success, fear, and failure and how our worth in our own eyes is shaped by these things.  Someday I know I will see the greater purposes in my thorn, but also the fruit I never had a glimpse of while residing on this earth that came about because of the thorn.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Forgiveness

I heard someone say recently the words "I'll forgive her but I'm not going to have dinner with her or anything".

In actuality, we define forgiveness as the choice to repress the passionate feelings of pain and anger that have emerged due to what has happened to us at the hands of another.  It's the emotional response of agreeing to calmly co-exist with another only in ways that are necessary as life functions; to bury pain so it will stop interfering with what we're trying to do.  But if you transfer this definition to what happened for you at the Cross...

No wonder we're not chasing God with hearts aflame.

Maybe it's better defined as the willful decision to be expectantly open towards, with great hope and joy, the possibility of one day being in full trusting relationship again, because that other person is worth it to God.

I read "The Shack" recently.  I've been wanting to read it for awhile but just never got around to finding a copy of it until I happened to notice it sitting on a shelf in my church's library.  And one thing I've had a very hard time dealing with is entirely releasing the lives of my children into God's hands; and that means that He can use their lives for however He wants.  However.  That's a terrifying notion.  So when I saw the book there I knew it was time for me to read it.  I was being drawn into becoming part of this story, just for a little while, as if it were happening to me, because it deals with one of my greatest nightmares in regards to my kids.

I'm not here to give a book review...theological inconsistencies, questionable inferences, etc.  But the message of the story on the true meaning of forgiveness and relationship was absolutely penetrating to me, and I'm a step closer to making that leap because I've come to understand what He's asking of me in releasing my children:  He's not asking me to be "okay" with my worst nightmare happening...He's asking me to believe that no matter what happens - no matter what - that He is good, and He is worthy of my trust.  Everything, everything hinges on this, and I am to release everything that matters to me unto Him, resting solely on this paradigm.  It is enough.

Forgiveness is God's willful decision to be expectantly open towards, with great hope and joy, the possibility of one day being in full trusting relationship with me again, because I'm worth it to Him. Forgiveness has nothing to do with being "okay" with what that person did to you.  That is so, so the opposite message being given through the Cross.  It also has nothing to do with burying pain...the passion of the hurt and anger He felt was met full on.  When Jesus reappeared after His resurrection, He showed Thomas the marks in His wrists.  It didn't happen so He could calmly co-exist with me being in His world and then distantly move on...we're invited to dinner.  Read Revelation.

Here are some paraphrased quotes from "The Shack".  They've rocked my thinking in regards to relationship:

"Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved." 
"A child is protected because she is loved, not because she has a right to be protected."
"Rights are where survivors go, so that they won't have to work out relationships."
"Without wisdom, imagination is a cruel taskmaster."
"Walking on the water with Jesus seemed like the most natural way to cross a lake."
"Filling roles is the opposite of relationship."
"Love does not grow.  It is the knowing that grows, and love simply expands to contain it.  Love is just the skin of knowing."
"No one reaches their potential in this world.  It is only preparation for what God had in mind all along."
"The people who know Jesus are the ones who are free to live and love without an agenda."
"This world is not a playground where I keep all my children free from evil."
"Forgiveness...is the choice to limit the interference sin has in a relationship."
"Forgiveness does not establish relationship."
"If anything matters, then everything matters."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Desire for Outcomes

I've known for the past few years that I've been called to a certain level of transparency regarding my walk...it's absolutely necessary for the created person I am and how my life is to be spent. And so, I aim to live in authenticity, which is kind of a paradox in and of itself. I mean, if authenticity is my goal, I really shouldn't have to try. Right? It should be as automatic as breathing. But things like fear of judgment get in the way, and soon, because I've tried to be something I'm not, I have no idea what "authentic" means for me anymore. Of course, here's where it can get paradoxical because living authentically in that moment is then being the altered person I've become by trying to be someone I'm not, and so on. It is at once both simple and complicated. But my aim regardless it to be authentic in how I relate to others and how I present myself.

A couple of weeks ago I was slapped in the head with the words of someone who belongs to a study group I attend. After some time pondering what I should do with a few free mornings each week that will be opening up in the fall (a rare, precious commodity for a mom with small children), this person's three or four sentences spoke to me as if time had momentarily paused and a perfect-pitched choir "ahhh-ed" in the background.

Of course, the answer I received was of nothing profound. There is not some wonderful ministry to tirelessly serve in, no great cause to dedicate myself to, no abandoned bunnies to save. I was initially thinking of dedicating that time to the gym in an effort to save the world from the very-soonly-to-be-reached dreadful reality of my being larger than a size 8, but if you're read my previous posts you'd know that I've been called to let go of this struggle (though I hear the universe insist that it has no additional space available for me). Plus, it felt selfish. I am also not to spend this extra time trying to squeeze out a few more work hours by saving the world from misused punctuation and incorrect APA formatting. I'm not even to spend this time writing or housecleaning, which is good, because with the amount of procrastination I typically expend avoiding these endeavors I'd never get to any of it anyway. I really don't enjoy writing; to paraphrase Donald Miller, some writers only enjoy having had written.

Anyway, I like to think of myself as a spiritual archaeologist because I love nothing more than to dig and discover truth about God and how He's working in my life and others. Analyzing life (and other people) is by far my favorite way to spend time, and I've been blessed with a few friends who share my little obsession; one in particular also shares my obsession to talk about such things with anyone who is interested, so we email ad infinitum on this part of our makeup. Well, a few weeks ago in her abundant wisdom she pointed out to me my attraction to outcomes - that is, I perceive my sense of value and worth as being tied to things that have a definitive outcome I can contribute to (having a book published as opposed to "just writing", for example). And when I don't have "outcomes" to work towards, I wind up feeling pressured, driven towards finding a new project of some sort, because I am suddenly aimless and useless, not having a way to accomplish something. Which then makes me feel as if I'm not of any value to the universe. I think it's really about needing visual confirmation that I'm not wasting my life.

I've been greatly embattled over the last several months; dreams are budding before my eyes, yet the punches I've felt to my spirit have been quite powerful. I've seen startling glimpses of how weak I really am, and have been tormented by the sense of failure I feel just in the every-day stuff; and if I can't handle this stuff, how can I ever move forward into deeper waters? Thus the draw to outcomes...even if just momentarily, I've been successful somewhere...and though I do really know better, I don't think I actually believe that the every-day stuff IS the deeper waters.

The last several months, especially the last few weeks, have been filled with a jam-packed schedule - "jam-packed" being a relative term - extreme physical fatigue, headaches almost every day, and the weight of meeting the expectations I feel over me. I've whined to God about this daily, and then felt the guilt of not being more appreciative and grateful for the waterfall of abundance that spills over my life. It's a cast and tug between resentment and guilt, and I know it is not meant to be this way.

So I decided last week that instead of constant prayer asking for help, I was going to spend one week not asking for anything and just praising God. I've "forgotten" a few times and then caught myself, never feeling an ounce of condemnation for it. And the simplicity of the answers I've gotten when I haven't even been asking has overwhelmed me. So often I'm off snorkeling in the deep, looking for the hidden truths, when they've actually been bobbing along the shoreline for weeks.

The person's words that spoke so clearly to me were simply that I'm to spend that free time I have coming doing absolutely nothing but quietly soaking in the Lord. This came with both a tremendous amount of relief, as I could feel my spirit screaming in joy over this notion, but also with a torrent of "what ifs" whipping around me, telling me in a myriad of ways that there is so much more I could be/should be doing with this time and that people will not accept this when there are programs that need legitimate help. But I am choosing to ignore them because I know this is where I need to be. However, I have wondered why, specifically, it was time for this - I wondered what God was planning, and it was during my week of "just praise" that the shoreline truth became obvious to me: He wants to release me from the tyranny of the outcome. There will be no accompanying "study" to make me feel better for plowing through another book; there will be no agenda in how I want to be "improved upon." And there is no sense of preparation I will feel in regards to "something bigger" coming down the road. No tangible outcome will come of this. But I know that doesn't mean the most pleasing of fruit won't blossom...how could it not?

I've been Martha many, many times. I've been Mary many, many times, too, but lately, I've been too tired and overwhelmed to stop and rest. I felt waves and waves of peace gush over me as I made the decision to literally place "God" on my calendar and fiercely guard the time as if it were a committee meeting or an ark-building session - you know, something important that could save the world, to borrow from Phil Vischer. I had a vision of Jesus stepping in front of the Mary-me, telling the Martha-me and all that she represents in who and what will be clamoring for this time, that "she has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken from her."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Motherhood Paradox

Introversion + straightforwardness + a slight bent towards the comedic = a lot of misunderstandings.

There's a strange paradox I live in, and even though by this point I am clear as to the importance of a particular calling I have and equally clear as to my strengths, weaknesses, and internal wiring, I still don't know how else to exist within these two poles other than to call the whole thing a paradox.

I've had some very vivid dreams recently; the kind that have made me take a few minutes upon waking to realize that they were just dreams, and then start to wonder what in the world my subconscious is trying to tell me about my world right now. They've been filled with fears and desires I'm harboring; things I thought I had released in regards to their hold on me. Maybe I have, but from somewhere within they're still trying to haunt me. A sampling: something I wanted to hear long ago from a blast from the past, a particular form of comforting I thought I didn't need anymore, and an argument between other people which I wasn't even part of, yet the repercussions greatly affected me. And then one other; a nightmare I've had twice in the past two months . . . being pregnant again. Yes, this is a scary notion for me, not only having another baby but just being pregnant again. I did not enjoy pregnancy. I always felt sick and awkward, and I'm a big weenie when it comes to pain. I am truly terrified of pregnancy.

But beyond this, the notion itself of having more children is equally terrifying, and it is here where I find myself in the middle of a paradox. The dictionary describes a paradox a few ways - here are a couple: "one (as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases" and "contrary to expectation". This is where I find myself: completely committed in love towards a calling I've been given, yet totally un-inclined naturally to pursue this one on my own. That would be motherhood.

In the beginning of my marriage, I really didn't want to have kids, for the simple fact that I didn't want to bring children in such a sad, broken world, where they would be certain to struggle in all they faced. Over time, my heart changed . . . for one, I grew in my faith and realized that if Christian couples kept deciding not to have children, there wouldn't be anyone there to tell the next generation about Jesus. But I also started feeling a literal ache in my arms to hold a baby. I looked forward greatly to pregnancy.

But I struggled physically during pregnancy, as well as never really feeling that emotional sense of connection with my unborn child that I had heard women talk about. I was joyful there was new life inside and looked forward to its birth into my tangible world, but there was no deeper bond happening. I lost my first baby early on in the pregnancy. I was sad, and quite disappointed. But I never felt the pain of the baby's death stinging me. I prayerfully released the child into the Lord's hands, knowing someday I'll see her. I say her, not because I knew the child's gender by any human method of discovery . . . just got an overwhelming sense of revelation pressing on me some time later that the baby was my daughter. But I'm not sure I ever really mournfully grieved over her because, well . . . I guess I never felt that I knew her.

I felt the same lack of connection with my other two children while pregnant - the same joy and anticipation, but also the same emotional distance. It's taken motherhood for me to realize that I'm just not a naturally-wired kid person. Their worlds are hard for me to exist in.

But the connection I have with my children from the moment of their birth and on through time runs at a spiritual level so deep that it staggers me in how strong I am driven with the desire to teach, protect, and saturate them with not only my own love, but with the love and presence of God.

However, it is here that the paradox presents itself, because I do not enjoy running around with kids or participating in the activities they like to. And it is also here that I find myself struggling in another layer of the paradox: being misunderstood by women who radiantly bask in their roles as mothers. What seems incomprehensible to them, frankly, is also to me.

I am bored out of my mind around kids. It is not that I don't appreciate them, don't value them, and certainly not that I don't want to take care of them when I'm charged with doing so. I work hard to understand what my children are going through so I can relate to them in a way that makes them feel that I really do care about their struggles and joys. I plan ways to bless them, and I feel a sickening ache when away from them for too long. But simply releasing my time and mental attention to be totally present with them is the hardest thing in the world for me. I feel as if I'm imprisoned, and the tyranny of my to-do list and our activity schedule constantly pulls at me. But it's more than having a house to keep up with and outside commitments to fill my responsibilities towards. I could have nothing else in the world hanging over me. I'd still be bored. I'm just not wired for this.

I feel most alive either when alone, with just a few close friends, or when serving in a role in which my passions and talents are utilized. When I am alone, my mind roams freely, and intellectual or spiritual ideas appear that I can follow to conclusion. I ponder life and what I've been observing and learning, and then I take those notions and eventually write them out. I think like this while getting chores done, running errands, or just sitting quietly and reflecting. When with others wired similarly, I can bounce off these ideas and hear of their own. I read volumes on the spirituality embedded in every fragment of life and how everything about us as people reflects this as truth. However, I can't freely mentally exist this way when with children. But I can observe the spirituality of life when surrounded with them, and I always do. In fact, I have learned more and been refined more by my children than any other way, and for this I am grateful beyond measure.

It still doesn't mean, though, that I find my greatest joy in immersing myself in a child's world. It doesn't change that I feel out of place in a play room. I am just not at home when with children. Yet my home is not home without MY children there.

This is my paradox: I am called to be me and yet also called to be a mother, and the two just don't naturally fit. If there is one thing I could change about myself, it would be this struggle. I wish and have prayed to the heavens that I would be fulfilled with domesticity and motherhood. I am envious to the core of women whose biggest dream is in serving their children, and I don't mean "serving" by preparing their food and caring for their basic needs. I mean "serving" - expending their entirety . . . their time and focus and energy, both mental and physical . . . in totally engaging their kids, on every level. Thinking nothing of personal ambitions. Totally filled by their roles as mothers because that's how God made them to be. This is a huge source of shame for me. I want to be this way so badly. I'm just not. And it has taken a long time to accept that God created me differently, and I am not called to apologize for that which He has done on purpose. But for what purpose?

I suppose there's a key point in this . . . God created them to be as such. But my calling is no less, even if my personal ambitions don't meet this calling. My calling is also to be engaged with my kids on every level. The only pursuits higher than engaging my children are the pursuits of engaging the Lord Himself and of my husband. I am attracted to serve in other ministries, and sometimes it is presented before me to do so, but never at the expense of these higher three pursuits. I wish I wasn't wired to want the others so much. I just am. But regardless of my wiring, my joy is to be in serving the Lord wherever He places me, however He wants me to. Whether these natural mom-types are just that - natural mom-types - or whether they are just more committed than I am at releasing their own desires and ambitions to the Him isn't my business. Perhaps one purpose in creating me as such is to challenge me in loving Him.

And right now, I'm not called so much to understand why He made me differently, just to acknowledge that I am different and trust God with my wiring. Children are amazing . . . they are packages of mysterious potential, and as a mother my charge is to gently unwrap everything that's in there and nurture those precious seedlings of possibility in every way: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

My latest oops came because of my "honesty" wiring (or maybe "blunt" is a better word), as my oopses usually do. In my straightforward way of communicating, I've spoken about this struggle of mothering I have and how unnatural it all feels for me, and it always leaves someone with the idea that I just don't appreciate children, or worse, my own children. It is something I need to be careful of, yes . . . but also an accepted price to pay of being true to the person God made me. I am alive when communicating the reality of my walk with Him, and this motherhood struggle is a big part of it - the communicating is another calling He has for me. Someone out there needs to know it's okay that she isn't a natural mom, either.

It doesn't mean you don't love your kids. It doesn't mean I don't love my kids.

Sometimes I'll just stare at them in complete wonder. The Lord purposely planned the placement of the freckles on my son's face. He gave him a wildly competitive heart, a spirit towards his friends so generous it has brought tears to my eyes, and a desire to design and engineer great projects. He made him this way, with every last fiber of his being having a great purpose; for me, none greater than revealing Himself to me in my life even more, through my son. My daughter is the very spirit of freed femininity in how she thinks, feels, communicates, and plays in her world. For all of these He has purposes; for me, none greater than revealing Himself to me in my life even more, through my daughter.

Whether I like playing Candy Land has nothing to do with measuring the love I have for my children. It's whether I play it anyway.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Redefining Beauty

I believe I've been led to make peace with something that has held an element of psychological and emotional torture over me off and on for years, and has literally followed behind me everywhere I've went:

My rear end.

Well, not just my rear end, but I'll let it represent any and all other anatomical members (as well as my weight and clothing size) whose performance in proclaiming beauty has been questionable, in my estimate. I'm not "making peace" in the sense that I'm accepting this conceding as a defeat, though. Because that still nurtures the mindset that my physique isn't good enough, and that is so, so not where God wants me to go with this. This is about changing the standard of physical beauty I believe for some reason I need to attain or otherwise be considered visually deficient. I had it for awhile, kind of...or at least I felt like the majority of me had met the standard and it was enough to cover what maybe wasn't quite meeting the bar. But over the last year the relationship between my pants and my waist has become exclusive...they're just so close.

This isn't to say that I don't technically need to lose a few pounds, because I do, and how much really is "a few" is debatable depending on which doctor I see or what BMI chart is being read. But the pursuit of physical beauty is not meant to be taking up the mental space and energy it has been over the last year since I've gained this extra weight. Next fall will bring me a couple of free hours three days a week, and I had been planning to dedicate that time to the gym, just hoping I won't get any larger from now until then. But a few weeks ago when in a moment of mental stillness I was actually listening for the Lord, the words spoken to my heart were for me to release that planned gym time to Him. I am to stop chasing the beauty I think I need like it's some wild, intoxicating potion that will affirm my value as a woman, and start considering just what I am now as God's amazing standard of beauty for me, His created woman.

I need to shift my focus from "losing weight" to "being healthy". When the goal was losing weight, I counted calories, even to my detriment by doing things like avoiding milk and nuts. But now I will chuck the calorie counter and simply eat what I know is good for me. And accept that having an ice cream cone with my family on a warm summer evening is good for me. This is weird thinking for me because my problem with food has always been that I like it, and I like lots of what I like. I've never really had to convince myself to eat ice cream before. But I also haven't done so without having a scoop of guilt, too.

So instead of seeing areas of visual failure when looking in the mirror lately, I've made the decision to focus on the very real beauty of my shape. The world is against me in this...even our Wii calls me fat. Verbally. But the voice of the Lord has before spoken words affirming the incredible beauty - all kinds of beauty - He's made me with, and as with all things, it is simply a matter of faith to claim it in every moment. If I can honor Him with the temple He created by making healthy choices in eating, and exercising when He opens up the time, simply for this purpose, the beauty I will carry from His presence gracing my being will far surpass any display of visual splendor I could aspire to of my own.



Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Passions, Missions, and Fears

Here's why I am afraid of failure: so much of it is out of my hands.
Here's why I am afraid of success: so much of it is out of my hands.

As usual, the fear of something is actually about the fear of something else entirely. I've been making lots of lists about myself lately, as I'm in a new phase of life here and I want to be aware of my motives. So here are a few of my fears:

1. Some monster getting a hold of my kids.
2. The kids being lost and my not knowing where they are or how to get to them.
3. The kids having to deal with the death of either myself, my husband, or worse, both of us.
4. The death of my husband.
5. Something coming into my marriage which drives a wedge between my husband and myself.
6. Not having the money to maintain our home.
7. Losing my sight, speech, hearing, or the ability to walk and get around as I have now.
8. Having more children. (Yes. This is a real fear for me.)
9. Being attacked by a man.
10. Relational disconnection from the people I love.

Looking at this list, I'm sure some of these are duplicates for you, some you can at least relate to, and some may seem very off the wall and perhaps even shallow. Of course, no one wants their kids to be harmed, and for obvious reasons: the thought of them being hurt and terrorized would bring monumental strife to the heart of most parents, I would hope. That's completely legitimate to our parental makeup. But I recognized a deeper theme running through all these fears and the many others I have. It's really about dealing with a loss of control. Even a fear of great physical pain . . . somewhere in the midst of it being about pain it's also about losing control over biological peace and functionality. The fear of invasion (home, bodily, symbolically in terms of marriage) is about losing control not just of my sense of safety, but of the freedom to relax. Of having more children? Having to abandon even more of myself . . . losing control of my independence.

Another element of this spiritual archaeology of late is why I really want a writing career. I attended a writing conference about a month ago, and came back with a lot of stuff to sort through in regards to getting started and what direction to take. I know the kind of writing I will most likely end up doing and I know my strengths, but I don't think I had really uncovered why I was doing this, besides believing that this is what God made me for, and that Penn State University gave me a piece of paper that says I know how to do it. I do believe all of this. God's shown this to me in many ways. But I needed to get as specific as I could with myself regarding my motives and what was driving me to head in the directions I desired to take.

One of the speakers at the conference was author James Watkins. He gave a message on the story of Joseph and chasing a dream. One point he made that stood out to me was "don't confuse your dream with your coat". The dream is the vision God gives me of the mission He desires to use me for. The coat includes the elements of status and whatnot that may accompany the dream. I saw that I needed to go back even further and define to whatever degree I could the dream that I have, which honestly, I still wasn't quite sure of. But I did know what I told people it was, so I figured I'd start my digging there. But even this needed dividing.

I want to write. Why? I know I'm meant to.
A. Practically speaking:
1. I've been acing spelling tests and English assignments since elementary school.
2. I have a degree in English, specializing in writing, and I know I've got some talent therein.
3. I have a way with words. Sometimes a destructive and hurtful way, but a way nonetheless.
4. Sometimes I actually even enjoy writing.

B. Spiritually speaking:
1. God brings great clarity to my life when I write. I don't usually even understand what I'm going through myself until I get it down on paper and reflect on what has just come out. It is then that I feel closest to Him as I can feel my spirit being ministered to.
2. I've been witness to how words He's put in my mind and heart have ministered to someone else right where they are struggling, oftentimes without my knowing it beforehand at all.
3. I have a tremendous drive within me to communicate.
4. I have a tremendous drive within me to share myself.

I want to have a writing career and/or write a book. Why? Yikes, this is a bit mortifying . . .
1. I want to have some tangible piece of confirmation that I've done something important.
2. I want to have some tangible piece of confirmation that this indeed is God's plan for me.
3. I want to have some tangible piece of confirmation that I have something special and of value in me.
4. I want to have some tangible piece of confirmation that I am useful to God and others.
5. I want to have some tangible piece of confirmation that someone found worth in getting to know me.
6. I want to have my intelligence and talent validated.
7. I want to feel like my life measures up with my many highly-successful friends' lives.
8. Yes, basically . . . I just want something to point to that says I'm important.


So my dream as it is amounts to finding a way to use my talent to feel better about myself. Somehow I don't think this is what God has in mind when He gives us a vision. It's using Him, really. Here's what I'm good at: now give me a life where I'm filled by basking in my greatness. The needs I'm feeling aren't wrong, but I'm really not trusting in God's love for me if I'm attempting to manipulate Him and the world with my gifts in order to feel loved.

I knew I needed to revise this and strip everything that isn't pure away from the dream. One thing the speakers at the writing conference kept repeating was this need for a "mission statement"; that is, a purpose that anchors my writing. What is my ultimate goal when I write?

I've been stuck on this one. Most Christian writers pick a verse of scripture that is meaningful to them and tweak the words a little to reflect it in a writerly way, and I thought about doing this, too, but nothing was coming to me. I guess I don't really feel the excitement of a mission surrounding me when I'm writing. So I thought and thought and thought about this, and came to the simple conclusion of why we are here at all. Why are we even created? Why does God want to have a relationship with us at all?

To know Him. He just wants us to know Him, to hear Him, and to love Him. The rest of His work for us just stems from these things.

There are three passions that burn within me, of things I just feel like I was made to do and have an irresistible draw towards, even if the processes themselves are hard and loathesome: writing, speaking, and singing. The reasons for the joy I receive when participating in any of these activities are vast and complex, holy, pure, and yet at times diluted and deluded. The draw towards using writing to fill my own gaping emotional holes can also be found in speaking, singing, and doing anything else, too. Your baggage is your baggage, and it travels with you; even if you end up in Phoenix and the bags are in Miami, they are still your bags. The only way to travel lightly is to check the bags with the Lord.

So, while I haven't gotten to the point yet of dissecting the whys and whats behind speaking and singing, I can assume that the patterns will be pretty much the same. But there lies beneath all of this junk a greater goal, a greater passion that supersedes the others, even if some days it takes a strength beyond my own to believe in it. But I do. And that passion is for the Lord. My flesh is stronger than I am, but not stronger than the One who is in me, and I know that because He made me and He deposited a dream within me, whatever vision I have will ultimately be conformed identically to His vision.

I've come up with my mission statement and I've defined my dream. Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, was another speaker at the writing conference. He spoke on the death of his dream. He learned in the process that if he truly is surrendered entirely to God's dream for him, than "where I am in five years is none of my business".

So my mission statement is simply this: in writing, to know God more; in speaking, to hear God more; in singing, to love God more. And my new dream is to be totally abandoned to His control for all things in my life. If I can stay focused on these, then I am already an amazing success.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bible Grouch

My daughter is almost 4. She, my son, and I attend a Bible study on Wednesdays, and last week the children learned about Jesus helping some fishermen catch fish (and how they would become fishers of men). However, here is her interpretation of the lesson:

Daughter: We talked about when Jesus went fishing with that boy from The Brady Bunch.
Me (slightly puzzled): Who?
Daughter: Peter!

And I knew that the whole morning she was envisioning Jesus hanging out with Peter Brady, probably also enrobed in egregiously-colored/patterned bell-bottoms, because Jesus would want Peter to feel like he was with a friend. Then I got to wondering how the episodes would've gone with Jesus actually as a character. Of course, there wouldn't be any squares left to include him in the opening song. Anyway, this really isn't the point of my message here. But speaking of Jesus . . .

A notion has thrust itself upon my brain this week, and it is not at all one I'm comfortable in acknowledging either to myself or anyone else . . . and that is that I'm a better mother than I think I am. And no, I'm not going to provide the evidence either for or against this conclusion, as that will only bring forth a spirit of comparison. More, it's just this total discomfort in accepting myself when I'm less than perfect. I'm not talking about burned pork chops or forgetting to put my son's library books into his backpack on library day. I mean perfection in character, in service, in motive, even. The stuff that really matters.

I fall into the trap of being a Bible Grouch sometimes. I define a Bible Grouch as one who is burdened to point out all the reasons why we don't deserve the grace offered us, in whatever situation in which the Bible is expositing on, and in whatever situation in life we find ourselves. Bible Grouches are usually very correct in their declarations. We do, absolutely, need to remember the depths to which we have all fallen. But some people, like myself - and like all Bible Grouches, I dare say - have such a hard time ever looking away from the length of that fall. Somewhere there is a place of perfect balance in which a person is always aware of this and yet is no longer a prisoner of negative perception; a place beautifully perched on the strong arms of knowing there is no limit to the depth of truth that we are not worthy, yet so exponentially worth it, at all costs to the God of the universe. I know for myself I rarely find that place to mentally reside in as I function, just as I'm sure the Bible Grouch as a template figure hasn't either. I get so worried I'll forget my fallenness that I don't ever forget my fallenness. I think it's just a self-avowed attempt to avoid arrogance. But what is arrogance and what really causes arrogance? Isn't it just the "spirit of me-ness" and believing I have the ability within myself to rise above my "spirit of me-ness"? It's paradoxical. There's a way of knowing I don't deserve to be in heaven, and yet still moving past the gates, into the city itself, making my home there, believing that I've been invited in to stay. My name is written in the book . . . I don't have to keep checking to make sure it hasn't been erased. Sometimes faith is just choosing to believe in faith.

I went through a process of great stripping-away a couple of years ago. This was a stripping of the heart, stuff that God was clearly asking me to concede to Him. Things no one could see or understand . . . things I had believed were promises He made to me, things I believed were necessary for me to feel alive in my world, and the kicker was that they were all things He showed me were good. Good things He was asking me to willingly abandon. It put me into a real funk because it felt like God was doing this for no other reason than to either punish me for my priorities being off (which they were), or just to be mean, or at worst, that He just was not interested enough in any of it to care anymore. It was a time when I was forced to sort through my emotions and beliefs about God, to get to the pit where motive is formed, and after months of seeing layer after layer of filth and negativity and self-centeredness, and feeling extreme loathing for myself, I received a priceless gift: I got to see a reflection. My gift was getting to see that a mirror has been installed in my heart, a mirror that is pointed towards the Lord, so that when He looks at me He sees His own, and He sees Himself. It doesn't mean that things don't exist between He and the mirror, things that bring dirt and darkness, and cloud the reflection so much that nothing underneath all of that can be seen, but it doesn't negate the existence of the mirror. I saw the purity in my heart that lay beneath all these layers of pride and selfish ambition, the purity that confirms I really do love Jesus, and I really do believe in Him and in the best about Him. And the greatest desire living within me is that I would be like Him in character and deed. That desire is what He sees when He looks at me, though the layers of worldly living become caked on. But He gently holds the mirror in His hands, and wipes it clean with His blood so He can see what He knows is already there. I believe this is a fundamental step in the journey to living in grace - letting Jesus show you that your heart has indeed been made new. It is what I stake my claim to when I can't find anything worthwhile about myself as a person that would make Him want me around, when the Bible Grouch inside keeps reminding me of how I've failed to earn my spiritual keep again. Conviction comes from God. But I don't really think it's conviction if it makes you feel like you've got to work harder to be lovable.

See, a mirror doesn't have to understand the "why" of anything, it just reflects the truth of what is there.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Grumpy Troll

I can't wait until Saturday.

My son is about to turn six, and Saturday is the family birthday party. His grandparents, who live in "a galaxy far, far way" (aka Indiana), mailed his gift early, which I then intercepted before he could see it. It happens to be a "Cars" race track with a remote-controlled Lightning McQueen, and he is a huge "Cars" fan. This will go over so monumentally well.

Here's the fun part: A few days ago, my son happened to see this item featured in a toy catalog, and he has been as gloomy about not having a substantial regular income as I've ever seen in a person. He's been staring at the picture in the catalog with such longing, intermittently smiling, as no doubt he is imagining playing with such an awesome toy, and frowning with frustration. If only he knew what I knew . . .

Saturday, when he gets to open the massive package to find his dream-come-true waiting for him to partake in all its delights, my eyes will be fixed on his face, just so I can visually memorialize his sheer joy. There is nothing sweeter than witnessing joy saturate my children.

It was this past summer that I really began to deeply ponder the strong desire I feel to bless my children. My husband and I went to Disney World for a few days alone, and as we walked through the gift shops I found myself imagining the kids playing with the toys, inhaling the character-shaped treats, proudly sporting the t-shirts, etc., and I just wanted to buy everything I knew they would love. I didn't, of course. Besides the obvious of not having the luggage space and Disney already claiming enough of our money simply in eating every day, we just can't give our kids everything they want. It's not good for us to have everything we want. It's in our nature to take it for granted. As it is, the one toy we picked out for each of them were -- after about three days, and still are, many months later -- rarely played with. We forget our blessings, and bask instead in the spirit of entitlement until the next exciting one comes along.

This must be what God feels . . . so desperately longing to bless us with the good things that we pine for in our hearts . . . but knowing we just can't handle most of them, at least not in the timing or quantity we long for. I know it's true of me. And I know it's true of my kids.

I know they think I'm a grumpy troll living under the "Bridge-to-All-Things-Fun-and-Yummy". When they approach the bridge, out I come with my pointy "stick of rules" and snarly "voice of practicality" and keep them from crossing into a land that holds their every fulfilled longing. Their only hope is to tip-toe across while I'm asleep or intoxicated with some spirit of holiday festiveness. But they don't understand what I'm protecting them from when I don't let them cross - from things as simple as tooth decay and extreme clutter, to the invisible, spiritual things like disillusionment and idolatry. They don't see. In their minds they only see what they cannot have, and look at me - the trollish gate-keeper - as the one not providing what they can't fathom wouldn't be good for them to have. And they overreact, of course, but this is precisely the point . . . they don't remember the many times I've let them cross the bridge and shown them personally delights of the land they would never find on their own. They don't remember.

Of course, I am not a troll. I am, to a small degree, in charge of the bridge, but am most certainly their physical representation of who's in charge of the bridge. And I have to accept that in their eyes, they will look upon me as one who claims to love them more than anyone in the whole world, yet doesn't seem to give them access to what they would define as displays of that so-called love. Hopefully, one day they will understand. But that hope is in the land on the other side of my bridge.

But on Saturday, I will get to witness my son cross the bridge. The moment will surely fade away for him as life goes on, but it won't ever for me.

That must be how God feels...