A Blog by Jennifer Aulthouse

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Writing

I went to a writers conference in February and one thing that was insisted upon by the very experienced and successful writing faculty is that there is no such thing as writer’s block. You just make yourself sit there and sit there until something comes forth.

And this is why today I am writing about how hard it is to write, because, frankly, that’s all that’s coming forth. Sometimes I don’t think my well of ideas has been dug very deeply.

I think this is one reason why I had questioned for so long whether this writing thing really is what I am made for. I always envisioned a real writer as one in whom there is a great element of internal control over the vibrancy of the writing process. When it is time to write, he simply sits down, and the ideas and language flow forth as if he merely turned on the faucet of verbal brilliance. Words spill over, filling the blank pages as if a dam had burst, bathing the dry land. When it’s time to stop, just as quickly, a good ending point is found and the faucet is turned off, words filed carefully away in the highly organized recesses of the mind until he has time to write again.

My mental filing system is a mess and my faucets are clogged or something.

But it has got me thinking about my writing habits, and perhaps all of this is pointing to something that God is trying to get my attention in regards to, and it’s not necessarily that I “should be writing more often”. What I’ve noticed is that I seem to work at a much more slower pace than other writers I know. That isn’t to say that the process isn’t as frustrating to them, or that the reason behind my comparative slowness is that others are far more seasoned in their writing experience than I am......I’m sure there’s at least some truth to both.......but it’s hit me lately that the mental processing needed on my part in order to bring the sense of clarity in my words requires a length of time that seems agonizingly slow to me when compared to the amount of writing I feel like I’m supposed to be doing and need to be doing. Somehow you can develop an equation which takes the available time for writing measured by what my output should be and I know I would come up extremely short of whatever number the equation would spit out. And here’s where I think God’s talking to me......

I consistently miss the point. I’m so often running around attacking life like an over-caffeinated drill sergeant, feeling the fire-breathing tyranny of the calendar breathing down my neck, as I cross items off a never-ending to-do list of whatever monstrously important tasks must be taken care of this week and then quickly perish from any memory of existence, most of which don’t feel like they hold any significance to the grand scheme of things and yet will cause countless things to fall apart if they aren’t completed. I tend to measure my sense of productivity each day by how many things I can get crossed off that list (sometimes I add things on that I’ve already done, just so I can see more things crossed off.......neuroses, anyone?), and I carry around the burdensome pressure when I’m far behind on said tasks. I approach writing as one of those tasks. I’m doing it right now. It’s not fun, and it’s coming slowly. And I’m thinking of all the other things I could be doing with the hour and a half it’s taken me to put this together and it’s not even anything deep or brilliant (another mark of writing productivity, in my subjectively deceptive estimation of determining success).

So now I begin to clearly see the purpose of SLOW. It is refinement, training me to measure myself in the economics of eternity, where time, value, and productivity are altogether different creatures than we experience them to be in worldly systems. He is not counting my words (though He knows every one). He is not primarily concerned with me building my resume or my platform (though that may be a small part of His plan). It’s not supposed to be about writing, writing is merely one mechanism through which He’s given to me to grow in Him......and to share that growth.

And if it takes all week.....imagine it only taking a week!......for one simple impurity to be burned off of me through the Refiner’s fire, and that happens through what is revealed to me during the process of writing one sentence and one sentence only, it’s been a most successful writing week, indeed.

The words will come forth when they are meant to, if I am faithful to take up the pen when called. This hovering urgent pressure to “complete” is not the abundant life promised.

"Psalm 23 Antithesis" - Marcia Hornok

The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest;

it makes me lie down only when exhausted;

it leads me to deep depression and hounds my soul.

It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity's sake.

Even though I run frantically from task to task,

I will never get done, for my "ideal" is with me,

deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.

They demand performance from me,

beyond the limits of my schedule.

They anoint my head with migraines.

My in-box overflows.

Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me,

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever.

Monday, April 18, 2011

When the Child Holds a Mirror to the Face of the Parent

My son has been created with a tender heart towards suffering. He cannot turn away from it. The reality grips him and he is driven with a need to help. It is a clear mark of his formation bearing God’s image, and his sensitivity – and His sensitivity – blows me away when I am chosen to observe it in action.

He is only 7.

I can already envision the ways God may use him as an agent of healing in this world. And I can also envision ways in which this tender heart of his may be immersed in pain as he’s continually confronted with such sorrow. But I have to want it for him, if it is indeed what his life is created for, as much as that may bring a differing sorrow to me.

He also must confront the sinful, selfish nature equally driving him (and all of us) in order to live in God’s purposes. His failure to do this, I know, will create a measure of sorrow far more devastating than whatever pain his obedience may bring.

My sweet boy. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit right around his birthday. He had been saving up his money - $67 thus far – to buy a Nintendo DS. One evening, my husband showed him some pictures of the devastation......homes, vehicles being overtaken in the waves......people crying out in terror......and explained to him what had happened. After the kids were in bed, my husband came down and told me that our son was so overcome by what he saw that he said “I think they need my help more than I need a DS”.

I can still picture what I know his little face must’ve looked like. I’ve seen that look before, like last year, when he gave what he had to help the people in Haiti after the earthquake hit there.

There’s so much beauty to behold in his example.......the selflessness of giving up his dream to help another.......his belief that what he had – whether little or much – in God’s hands, could stretch in ways that we could never fathom. I forcibly resisted the protective parental urge to tell him only to give some money and keep the rest for himself, as I also longed to see him reach his goal and be happy. How dare I even consider quenching the gift of giving that has been planted inside him!

Immediately, though, I felt an even greater longing inside to find some special way to bless him for what he wanted to do, and I began sharing with nearly everyone about the wonderful way my son wanted to help. A friend was touched; she felt the desire to give her daughter’s DS that she no longer used to my son as a way of encouraging his giving spirit, and I started seeing how the domino effect of freely giving was taking shape because of his spark. I decided not to tell him of this.....that he should feel the pain of loss for a couple of days in order to truly absorb the overwhelming magnificence of timely blessing when he was given the DS. My husband and I then decided that we would let him pick out two games he wanted and we would pay for them, as our own way of blessing him for his incredible selflessness. I couldn’t wait for all of this to unfold.

And then something very awkward happened.

My son changed his mind. He said he only wanted to give $15 now. He really wanted a DS.

But it wasn’t the awkwardness now of potentially having to retell the story when asked that saddened me. It was the realization that his initial inclination to give was an act of obedience. He felt a call in his heart towards giving all he could to alleviate the suffering he saw before him, and the serpent’s voice had spoken to him in the two days that had passed, reminding him of what he would be missing out on if he actually, really gave all. And that is the voice he chose to listen to. As we all do. Every so often we have to stop seeing our young children as our children and look at them as fellow believers, struggling on their own journeys.

We thought deeply on how we should handle this. I was determined to not at all attempt to make him feel guilty. If there’s no joy in giving, it really doesn’t mean much to God, and I did not want him to feel compelled to give anything. This had been entirely his idea from the get-go. And his still wanting to give some of his money was very generous and something that not all people would be willing to do, but this wasn’t about the specifics of what he wanted to give. It was about following through on a calling. I knew he needed to understand what had happened inside of him.

Delicately, I asked him to go back to the moment when he felt the desire to give......to remember the images he saw and the feeling inside he had that prompted him to want to help. I told him whatever he felt he should do in that moment is what he should do now. And then I told him that no matter what he decided to do, I would love him and I was proud of him. I did not tell him about my friend’s DS that was on its way into his life. I didn’t want his decision to be based on what he might potentially receive for his actions.

After a little while, he came out of his room and told me he still was only going to give $15. He really wanted a DS. And then he backpedaled and said that he never really meant that he was going to give it all. But we knew better. We knew what he said. We knew the sadness that struck his face when confronted with the horror of loss. I told him that if that was his decision than that was fine, and that it was a great thing that he wanted to help. It was then that I told him about my friend and her DS and how she wanted to bless him for giving. The light inside him illuminated the room. I told him then, though, that he had to be honest about how he changed his mind if he was asked. He said he would throw in another $10 now, since he didn’t have to save up for one anymore. How much easier it is to give when we already know what our benefit will be if we do so.

So Sunday came, we went to church, and my friend told me that she brought the DS. I told her what had happened and that our son was to be honest with her if he was asked. She still wanted to bless him, though, for his wanting to give. Her daughter approached him with the DS, told her how proud she was of him for giving, and he smiled a hero’s smile the rest of the day.

And later, we took him to a store and he used his leftover money to buy a charger and a game, and that wiped out his savings.

We never told him of our intent to purchase two games for him. He’ll never know how he would’ve been blessed for his full obedience.

That was my lesson.

Our duty as parents is not to work for and place our hope and happiness into our children’s dreams being fulfilled in their lives. It is to do what we can to encourage and prepare them to joyfully abandon their own dreams, and wholeheartedly choose God’s dreams for them in their place.

That I would have the strength to leave my son abandoned on the altar, moving however far away God calls me to in order to allow Him to use my boy as He would so choose and not interfere. That my son one day will willingly climb upon it himself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We're Not Called to be the Cayenne Pepper of the Earth

There’s a room I try to avoid. Its content scares me because I’m not quite sure what to do with what’s in there, and I can’t always make heads or tails of its purpose.

Within resides a creature. From what I can observe, she appears slightly different to each person who sees her. There’s life-breathing beauty in the creature. She has the capability to create something pure and simple and present it in a way that beckons others to come near and experience the warmth and promise of what has come forth from within.

But if the creature becomes impassioned by what presents itself as a threat, something else within unleashes a fire that can ferociously burn, even devour, whatever it is that appears as a threat - whether it’s really a threat or not. A roar thunders and the flame ignites, and before I can get a handle on what’s happening, damage has usually been done, even if it’s just that the creature has hurt herself by allowing the ignition. It’s beyond my control to even presume to know how to rein in the creature’s passion. It’s beyond my understanding whether that passion even should be tamed.

Then I decide that it’s just not worth it to let the creature ever be seen, and the door closes on the room, and I peacefully tend to the rest of the house, until I begin to long for the beauty, truth, and warmth that the creature can so wonderfully provide and has been designed to give. So I am perplexed as to how to let the creature be free to offer all that she can and yet restrict the destructive fire......and even more greatly perplexed as I realize that I’m not even sure the fire is meant to be restricted.

For me, two of the scariest scripture passages are Matt 7:1-2 (“Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”) and Matt 28:19-20 (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”). I absolutely freeze in my tracks when I read the first passage. And I can’t stop moving forward with urgency when I read the second, grasping that, yes, if we are to tell of His love and forgiveness and teach obedience and the things we’ve been commanded of, more than likely that means something at least appearing as judgment will emerge when we live out in word and deed what we believe those things are. It feels like an infinite gulf exists between the two, and as one who desperately wants to find that perfect way of relating with others as Jesus did, this gulf seems as if it threatens to swallow me into either apathetic irrelevance or misguided devastation in regards to relating.

Sometimes the call to love people without judgment feels like performing surgery with mouse-sized instruments. We sense a pressure that the procedure must be carried out so delicately in order for the diseased organ to be capable of receiving the healing and restoration it desperately needs to survive, and it seems impossible to figure out how to correctly use the tools we’ve been given because they feel so clumsy in our hands. And then maybe we step back and wonder if we’re really supposed to be even trying to perform surgery – clearly, we’re not qualified for all of this. Or perhaps we assume we are called to be the surgeon because we’ve studied spiritual “medicine” in the Book and we instead make the patient even sicker because underneath the head knowledge we have no clue what we’re doing. Who’s in charge of this hospital anyway? What is our role? Are we like the paramedics, going out only when called that there’s a spiritual emergency, and then keeping the sick and injured alive enough until we get them into the OR and can pass them off as The Surgeon’s problem? That doesn’t sound right either. Are we desk clerks, answering questions and telling people to sit down and wait and then pointing them to the right room at the appropriate time? Maybe we’re just contractors, merely tasked with building the hospital, maybe a little advertising to announce its presence. People will know it’s there if they want to come in and get better. But what if they don’t even realize that they’re sick?

We’re told many times in scripture to mind our own business, tend to our own affairs, and not to judge the lives of others. We’re told many times in scripture to passionately contend for the faith, call out the sin that needs removed – always in our own lives first – and to shine light into the darkness. I have a headache.

There’s a pure, holy creature of passion inside that burns for the truth of God’s Word in this world. I don’t know how to own her. When this creature senses something is undermining that truth – in the name of truth – she is flooded with an overwhelming burden to purify. Sometimes that means with fire. And I really believe that sometimes that is absolutely as it should be, except.....it’s usually a person standing there before the creature. Being burned.

So I would rather keep that door shut, let the creature lie dormant, unable to consume anyone with her flames. Fall down into the gulf of apathetic irrelevance.

But I feel the sweet sorrow of conviction and I know it is not meant to be closed. The creature was made for a purpose and I’ve witnessed many times over the life-giving beauty and wholeness that emerges when the One who has created her is given all authority over her passion.

That I would learn how to own the fire. That I would find the bridge over the gulf.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Broken Bottle

I walk into the small room where He’s sitting and my eyes fall upon Him. He meets my gaze, and in His eyes I see the brightness of His joy as sun leaps off the purest of snow, pleased to see another who loves Him in His presence.

The work that my very existence depends on has already been done, but still I come, out of an ever-growing longing to carry out the fresh desires of my heart He has placed there.

I come and kneel before Him, every fiber of my being swelling with awe, saturated with gratitude, drowning in devotion. In my hands I clasp a small crystal bottle. In it contains the essence of my most adored treasures: my marriage, my family, my friendships, my dreams, and the gifts of word and of song that I’ve been entrusted to live out in His honor. I come ready, having already passed through the moment of choice in deciding which was of greater worth to me, the treasures or The Treasure.

His victorious feet before me, I open the bottle, and pour out my precious riches and drink in the splendorous aroma that their spilling has freed. So that I cannot leave this place with one drop left in my possession, I break the delicate crystal, the entirety presented to Him.

One foot, then the other, grasped in my hands, my hair wipes them dry, and my heart leaps in the rapturous privilege surrounding me. But the flesh screams from within of the wastefulness, the uselessness, as the images of all that I’ve hungered for would be lay dashed to pieces, irrecoverable....never to be again all I had hoped.

I look on His face again, messiness abounding in all that I am and all that I bring before Him, but wholly knowing that it is heart-sweeping beauty to His eyes. Just as I am, chosen to abandon all, choosing to abandon what I thought was all, receiving what truly is All.

Dear Lord, in brokenness, that this would not just be a vision but my everlasting reality....