A Blog by Jennifer Aulthouse

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

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.