A Blog by Jennifer Aulthouse


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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Letter to Those Waiting with Tense Hands


 
“Job’s comforters are reasonable, upright, pious men, and there is much of truth  and wisdom in what they offer their suffering friend. Where they fall short is in their need to believe in the comprehensibility of Job’s suffering, in the smugness of their conceit that they can explain the ways of God to him and to themselves, and in their complacent sense that human efforts can suffice to end such suffering. In seeking comfort and security in a reasonable God and a tidy creation that can be comprehended, they must defend themselves against the glaring truth of Job’s condition. It is Job alone, in the depths of his utterly disproportionate misery, who sees God truly: God stripped of all that human sense can make of him.” – Tim Farrington, “A Hell of Mercy”

 “’Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’” – Matthew 7:9-11 (NIV)

 
A couple of years ago at about this time, I felt stirrings – painful, intense stirrings of the heart. They led me through the process of losing something Very Dear to me. In truth, the Very Dear Thing had already left me probably far earlier than I’ll ever realize, but I stayed mourning at the cemetery, I guess, out of a sense of not understanding what it was I was supposed to be doing, but also perhaps not really grasping that I was, in fact, in a cemetery. As I reflect now, I suppose I felt as if my Very Dear Thing was in hibernation, which would make it so that I was merely standing outside of its cave for a long time, faithfully and patiently waiting its renewal and rebirth, and I would someday glory in its restored beauty. So in reality it wasn’t so much the process of loss that these stirrings brought on but rather they led me through the process of realizing and grieving that this was no cave, and my Very Dear Thing wasn’t coming back.

Over time as I stood there, gazing at the cave – realizing in actuality it was a headstone – of what had long ago run its purpose, these painful stirrings began growing, and growing in intensity; the pain of awareness that there was nothing right about my staying there, waiting for a resurrection that was never promised to me personally; an awareness that this Very Dear Thing had been taken from me for purposes greater than I could comprehend. An awareness that this pain would not stop until I was willing to not live with it.

Over the course of several months, in many quiet moments that seemed to come to me with far more frequency than what life typically allowed, these stirrings would usher me into a place where I was willing to consider a world where I was not in control. In what I can only describe as a gentle hand holding mine, I was invited to consider what it would mean for me to not simply lose this Very Dear Thing, but willingly offer it up to God in faith that He had something in store for me in its place that was beyond what I could imagine. This Very Dear Thing had certain good, noble, and pure components to it that were among the most precious in my life. So with God’s gentle hand, knowing that it would be too overwhelming for me to consider all of them at once, over these months, He led me through each component one-by-one, in a process of gathering them all up in my heart, lifting the bundle of them with trembling hands onto the altar that lies within, taking a deep breath, and then waiting for the next moment of stirring.

And the time came when all these precious components – the entirety of the Very Dear Thing – had been lifted up. There was nothing else I was trying to keep. And as if in a final moment of confirmation, the awareness that this Very Dear Thing had already left me long ago plunged another dagger, and this time I knew I felt the full truth of being unwilling to live with it. It was over and I was ready to walk out of the cemetery. So I tried to brace myself both for a walloping emptiness to come upon me and for a landslide of gifts, as I knew the God with the gentle hands and I trusted in His goodness. And for what felt like forever, but in actuality was not, nothing happened. And through this, I was reminded, that the world doesn’t revolve around my being ready for it. There were other matters involved, and it was simply not my work to declare them ready just because I finally was. His work in me, at this point, was to walk me to the cemetery’s exit and have me stand ready to leave, with my hands now open, with all I had been clinging tightly to lifted onto the altar in the months prior, which I now see is all that God desires from me anyway. Finally, the other matters involved arrived precisely onto the same moment, and I left the cemetery, with my hands open.

 
You know what I mean by the stirrings…..they are directly tied to an ever-growing passion inside your new heart that is pounding at you to be unleashed; that knows for it to come to life, most likely a big, scary step of release and commitment to mystery will be required of you, and perhaps a Very Dear Thing of your own will need to be lifted, left, buried. That passion inside, though, isn’t going to quit pounding, even though you may have become very skilled at pretending either it isn’t real, it isn’t worth how it will flip your world around, or maybe even that it isn’t there at all. Until your dying day, it will pound at you, even if all you can hear of it is a faint echo from how it reverberates off of the many layers of walls you’ve built it around it to keep it from ever threatening to wreak the terrifying havoc you suspect it would.

There’s an injustice, a particular poverty, a wrong somewhere in the world that you know you were created to die for in fighting against (even if maybe you’re not sure yet precisely what it is). This is what is pounding at you to get out. It is pounding against your fear of humiliation, your fear of inadequacy, your fear of loss, and even your fear of success. Because you know that once it’s out, you can’t go back. The Very Dear, Very Good, Very Pure, Very Noble Thing, for some inexplicable divine reason, and this passion can’t co-exist. Some then dedicate their whole beings to convincing the Lord that they can co-exist……but in doing so they never receive what He’s longing to give because their hands are holding their Very Dear Thing.

 
In the time it has been since I left the cemetery, I have grown in ways I’ve never experienced before but prayed for fervently in the past. Some days – and they are becoming more and more frequent – I can’t imagine anything, anything greater than witnessing the glory of God revealed in my life and the lives of others, and I dedicate myself over and over again to living for this sole purpose, forgiven and free to revel in it, casting aside all earthly treasure. But still, there are also days where I feel all of these things about a cookie…….that I can’t imagine having anything better. The sin nature does not go willingly. The things we’ve buried still try and haunt us. But in His infinite mercy He has not given up on me and I know He has a vision for me that is greater than anything I could ever imagine for myself. I have experienced healing. Confirmation. Revelation. Clarity. Presence. Presence, Presence, Presence that has brought me to my knees in thanksgiving. It is worth so much more than this Very Dear Thing, as beautiful and pure and good and noble as it was, could ever account for.

But there is not a formula to this process, which is entirely the point of making a commitment to mystery. The only common denominator I can assure you of is that God is the same, and His goodness never fails. My Very Dear Thing and yours could actually be precisely the same, and yet because God never created two people with identical journeys, the timing of the relationship with our Very Dear Thing can be completely different. We can’t make the misguided mistake of thinking that the call to keep our hands open is ever about the worth or weight or veracity of the Very Dear Thing that lies in our hands; when we do so we get caught up in arguing with ourselves and others over whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, instead of examining ourselves to see the real question at stake here, which is is it my thing or His? (Oftentimes, the truth about whether something is good or bad will not fully be revealed until we’ve conceded its ownership.) It is about following the God who loves us and has plans for us in ways that we can’t understand most of the time, and so therefore it is about lifting up and throwing down the things given to us as we’re called to.

And so to clear out some of the clouds, I will share that the passion pounding in me was that I knew I was created to give myself in service to others in a particular form of ministry, although much of it was quite raw and hazy at the time. There was just a sense that I knew I was being called to go somewhere with the gifts and talents and interests and passions that had grown and amassed. I couldn’t put solid words to it then, but I just knew there was something to all of this longing for depth and searching and passion to come upon the Church and for others to truly get to know the God who fashioned them and created them with infinite love and gifting and purpose. I knew that the Very Dear Thing that had served as a starting foundation wasn’t intended to take me any further than it already had, no matter how long I determined to stand there and wait. And so I knew that I had to let it go, even though it had stopped working in me long before. And I have learned that none of this was about the worth of the Very Dear Thing; it was about the truth that it had always just meant to be a part of my journey……not the destination itself.

 
I wanted more, and the stirrings of awareness served to show me that I would never have the more I longed for until I agreed to risk losing what I already had lost. Standing on the other side of this now, I can’t even begin to tell you of the more that has been showered on me. And I know now that if I hadn’t turned and walked out of the cemetery, I would still be waiting. Jesus has come to life in me in ways I could never have anticipated. He has made my paths straight.

So if you’re standing there, and the pain of awareness keeps growing and growing and sending you into fits of agony, consider that it is stemming from His mercy for you. He can’t let you be comfortable where you are because you are ready for a narrowing of the road, and the Very Dear Thing you’re insisting on keeping with you - that you know He’s calling you to put down - won’t fit on this stretch of path.

When you become a child of God, you are asking Him for good things. You ask Him for salvation and forgiveness, but you also, perhaps not knowing so, ask Him for identity and purpose and His presence with you always. I have come to believe that these are things He longs to give and offers to His children……but they don’t always come in what we would describe as beautiful packages. I define the redemption process as the act of making something new out of that which has been lost, stolen, or destroyed. And it requires a cosmically difficult brand of diligence on the part of the one waiting for it: a diligence to press on with hands open, ready to release what you cling to and receive what is unknown, even if every stark human instinct tells you there’s no point, that you’re inviting more pain, you’re leaving yourself open for ridicule, and that it wouldn’t matter…..whatever you may end up receiving could never make up for what was lost. Living in redemption then, perhaps, is the art of keeping your hands open, even though you may lose what you cherish, even though you have no idea what may fall into your hands, because you trust that the Redeemer is good. Release your Very Dear Thing if you know that the gentle hands of Jesus are pointing you to, and receive what is good, what He desires and promises to give you, in His way, in His timing, according to His will and His purposes.

No matter the packaging, it won’t be a snake.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vision


I asked God for vision this year. I asked for vision for myself, my children individually, for my husband and I together, and for all of us as a family. Not the kind of vision where we see Elvis Presley’s profile in our Cheerios, and not the kind of vision that many biblical figures experienced when visited by an angel and were given a message. The vision I refer to is something else, something driving within that I expected would lead me into a different place. Well, I’ve been given one and it has driven me somewhere, but not as I imagined.

Slowly, over the course of the year, pieces of this vision have come together that has helped me see what these visions are comprised of. Vision is sort of a scary word or at least a heavily marketed word, even in Christian circles. So on some level, perhaps it has just entered into my lexicon and felt like something I was supposed to have.

But no. As I thought deeper, there was a purpose behind my desire for vision. It’s just been very recently, however, that I’ve set my mind to the task of really thinking this concept of vision through, and why – really why – it feels like something I need to have, something that has lead me to a sort of cliff over the past several months since I asked for it, just waiting breathlessly for it to appear and set me afire……..to do what?

 
“’And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.’

 And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.”   ~  Zechariah’s words to his son, John

Luke 1:76-80 (NIV)

“Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.”  Luke 5:10-11 (NIV)

 
I knew in a very practical sense why I desired vision. These past nine or so months have shown me two things about myself: I do not do well when overwhelmed with a lot of impending deadlines and external craziness going on in my schedule, even if they are deadlines for creative projects in which I am designed for. The other? I do not do well when there is nothing looming, no expectations placed on me, nothing on the horizon pushing me to create. I’ve experienced both extremes during these months, and I’m surprised. I already knew that I detested a harried life with no margin to exhale and observe and reflect. But I didn’t know how much I would struggle with a blank canvas, either. I need that margin for sure, but tailored, in smaller doses. If there is nothing external holding me accountable to create, I will create very little. I need something driving me.

The desire for vision came before these dichotomies of everyday existence played out, though. Something more intuitive drove me to ask for it, and over the past several weeks as pieces have come together and clarity arrives, I am beginning to see where this is all heading.

I thought of vision as an antidote for aimlessness, something that would define purpose and explain meaning. I think it does both, but it is shortsighted to believe that this is all vision is intended for. I equated vision with direction; that is, having a vision for who I was meant to be or what I was meant to do would help me to know what to do with myself, in both the major life decisions and the everyday, routine things that maybe need a shift or tweaking. And in a deeper way, I thought it meant I had landed on some other level of Christian maturity if I could identify this deeper thing driving me, as if cobwebs of doubt and stubborn questions about my worth would be swept away if I had this focused vision to align myself with. I also assumed having a vision would have both a magnetic and a vacuum effect on me, in that the things in life that weren’t part of this vision I would naturally feel desire to have sucked away and disposed of, easily of course, because I would be so magnetized to this sense of vision dawning in me that I would be blessed with the strength and determination to cut out anything that stood in contrast to living out of it.

It’s amazing how introspective people can be so amusingly naïve, too, isn’t it?

(I have a raving idealistic streak in me. At times I have been painfully sliced in pieces or humiliated by it, but I’ve learned to guard it as something precious, because it is often in the fluffy pink pillows and cookie-sweet idealistic dreaming of mine that the courage to aim for nothing but God’s best is forged. I dare not trifle with that in the temptation to move towards a safer feeling of dreary realism. He’s shown me…….it is the furnace room where my passion is stoked.)

So what is this all about? Well, I’m tired of feeling so aimless. And my longing for vision I suppose is my way of trying to get rid of the aimless feeling. I operate better when I have something concise to focus on, which brings in all the scattered scraps of myself and my life together into one unit, with a purpose guiding every move. The difference between Focused Jen and Aimless Jen is from the earth to the moon. And I can’t stand being Aimless Jen, although it’s frighteningly alarming how quickly she shows up, even in the middle of Focused Jen’s best work sometimes. I wanted Vision to kick Aimless Jen to the curb. Because when Aimless Jen is in the driver’s seat (and she always puts the car in park, of course), the feelings of unworthiness and unloveableness are exquisitely palpable. Too often I live to avoid them. And so for the past several months of not really feeling needed or used for much of anything that makes me me, maybe I’ve been hoping that this vision thing would end up being a new weapon in my arsenal in the battle against bad feelings.  

But, as He always does, in ways that are Real but can never be fully described, when my eyes are opened, grace and love are poured out, and then I see. Vision is never about leading us to the land of feeling worthy.

 
Yet, as with most everything, in the middle of what gets skewed there lies something beautiful and true, as is the case with vision. The desire for vision was Spirit-led and intentional. There is a burden placed in the heart of His disciples, a burden for the world to be what it is was meant to be, to see others freed and transformed and alive in the love and grace of Jesus, and to be used as a tool somehow in bringing this divine renewal to the here and now. Vision, maybe then, is about bringing clarity to this burden. Vision fleshes out the longing to be spent.

What I’m understanding about vision is that it’s a lot more about growing in godly character than anything else. While vision isn’t about directing me to worthiness, it does offer with it the power to surmount the obstacles the flesh uses to try and thwart my path. Aimlessness is very real for me. It eats everything away in my life: time, energy, opportunity, and then leads me to profound sorrow over my lack of feeling like I’m accomplishing anything, anything fruitful for God’s kingdom. And so I do one of two things: determine to overcome my aimlessness and find something constructive to do. Or I slip into a vegetative state and watch Seinfeld reruns and play pyramid solitaire on my kindle, all the while browbeating myself for not having my act together. (This is different than resting after focused work…..)

So I decide something must change; there must be a compass to look to. Something that will give me direction, because I don’t know where to go, and I have an overwhelming sense that I’m supposed to be going somewhere. And then the next struggle starts: either I can sense no place I am meant to head towards, or I am overwhelmed with so many potential good, godly ideas and I just can’t fathom which one I should claim because they all, in this case, are things I want to choose.

When we desire vision, we expect the vision to be all-encompassing in that it gathers all of everything into it. If you look at the vision the angel gave to Zechariah for his son, John (the Baptist), it is pretty specific. This is why he is here and this is what he will do. Everything else gets in line accordingly. All of life is then adjusted to circle the vision because there is a purpose assigned within the vision. I wanted a vision like that. I wanted to know precisely what I am here to do and to be and how it should come about. It feels to me as if aimlessness would no longer play into my life and the possibilities around me would clearly fall into place as necessities, options, or waste, and then in a nice and tidy fashion, a beautifully clean and powerful story would emerge from my life. She heard this and so she followed. She was given the game plan. All she had to do was put herself in the best possible position to execute. So why is it so hard to do this without being given the game plan?

I have no doubt whatsoever that there are (and were) specific people God gives specific instruction to at specific times and with specific purpose. I’ve been one before. I felt clearly I was to attend a specific writing conference, go to a specific church, pray for a specific person. But in the grand experience of vision, I don’t believe that’s the norm. I think for many of us, He drops breadcrumbs. He whispers. He plants an idea. He shines a small light. He does enough to beckon our curiosity or expose a wound or prick a joy. He reveals something that isn’t as it should be and lets our questioning grow into discomfort into unsettledness into agitation into dogged determination to give everything to remedy it. And then perhaps He stays silent for awhile as we struggle to draw near and hear more. He makes it impossible for us to create a formula, which without even realizing it, we desire so that we can simply turn on autopilot and not really need to desperately depend on drawing near to Him quite so much, since we’ve got a game plan and whatnot. When Jesus approached the disciples, they were invited to follow Him, and He would make them fishers of men. That was the vision they were given. That was what they had to go on. And that was enough that they pulled their boats ashore and left it all, without having a clue of what lay before them except for the fact that they would be with Him. That was enough.

So what is vision? I used to think vision acted as the red arrow on the compass, telling me where I needed to go (ultimately, I discovered, to feel worthy) and which step was next. Not anymore. I think vision might actually be more in line with preparing one’s hands to hold the compass, preparing one’s mind to read it, preparing one’s body to follow it, and preparing one’s heart to bear it. I’ve already found Worthiness. Maybe the compass is the love of God, which I am invited to cling to with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Maybe the arrow is Jesus Himself, guiding us through the burden, showing us how to be spent.

 
So my vision. It came together for me a couple of months ago, after getting  a word here and there, a realization of a greater longing in me, a deeper observation of  my gifting and inclinations, and a whole lot of waiting and refinement and worship and prayer. It is simply this: to be present to those who are searching for God’s hand in their lives. It is completely non-specific (as really, it is my belief this includes everyone, although I know many would disagree), yet I know there are specific people it is meant to be spent for, all the while it perfectly encompasses who I am and the burden I feel.

So what am I to do with this? Prayer, worship, refinement, and waiting, as the author of my soul uses everything in creation to point me towards clinging to the compass of His love that He has offered to me, and fix myself on the Arrow inside, who at the right time will show me when there’s a step to take, a person to be present to, and empower me with creative devotion.

 “Follow Me.”  This, I am confident, is His vision for you, too.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Forest and the Trees



 “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’” - Gen 2:16,17 NIV

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”
 - Gen 3:6 NIV


“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” - 2 Cor 12:7-9 NIV

 “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.” – Ruth 1:22 NIV

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”
-  Is 55:8 NIV


 
I’ve been watching trees a lot lately. I mean this literally and figuratively. I take a long walk in my neighborhood nearly every morning and I’ve become captivated with the transition and beauty of the trees as they transform from the lifelessness of winter into the hope and newness that spring brings. Every day, there’s a little more growth to be seen as leaves, color, and fragrance emerge in small, subtle bursts. There are times I get lost in my mind, analyzing all the little things in my life for meaning and then I chide myself for paying such close attention to the particulars when there’s a ginormous world with ginormous problems breaking God’s heart. But then I look more closely at a flowering tree, and I see the intricacies in each petal, the subtle sway of a leaf in the breeze, and I realize that there is no way to notice such things unless you are being slow and particular and focused. And so I search for the balance.

The trees that have claimed my attention in a larger way, though, are of a different sort.

There are tree people and there are forest people. Both are important, and desperately need each other. Forest people gravitate towards the big picture; there’s an expansive sense of vision for the greater community. Sometimes I am a forest person; that is in situations such as world events or politics I tend to view the big picture in sort of interpreting God’s movement in the world. Forest vision reminds me that it just isn’t about me, and life is not fragmented into little tiny individual boxes where one person’s choices do not spill over into another’s compartment. What I may personally lose might be for the better gain of society as a whole.

For most things, though, I am a tree person. I observe the particularities of the people and circumstances around me, and zero in to search for meaning. This is important because when viewing things through the lens of forest only, beauty and pain, among other things, can be missed altogether or abruptly ignored, sadly, maddeningly, heart-wrenchingly so. There, alone and hidden in the middle of a million brazen, healthy trees can be one dying tree, but that dying tree can bear the marks of perhaps what once was or could be a beautiful fruit-filled, community-nourishing life. If there are no tree people to observe this, the forest will groan with mourning when death comes and the beauty of that tree is never cried for.

My own trees, though, have been consuming me lately, and I’m not sure whether I should stay and soak in this tree-staring season for awhile or if I need to snap out of it. It’s one thing to turn on my forest vision because it is imperative to remember there’s a bigger story going on. It is quite another to try and avoid having to deal with the immediate trees in front of me that in whatever way are causing me grief, just because I don’t feel like it.

 
If my life of late were to be measured by the hours in a day, I think I’m hovering in those moments where night makes its last gasp as streaks of brightness and clarity breathlessly announce the arrival of the sun. There was a dark night; one that probably would be small potatoes for many people who can internally juggle the complexities of life in ways that I can’t, but to the moderately intense and overly contemplative (aka me), it was a long, dark, mysterious thing. I’m not there anymore. I finally handed the bag of breadcrumbs over to God, full well knowing He is the only One who knows the path. He had good things planned in this dark night; I never doubted that, just ached that it seemed so long. Still I await the full presence of sunshine, warming and illuminating my path in clearer ways. It is nothing I am entitled to. Yet I look for it because God promises it will come.

How tempted I am to manage the trees. There are some here that I lament the presence of, such as the Tree of My Own Awkwardness. Just as its name, it juts and bends in ways that make it stand out and not seem to fit. It blocks the path through the forest, forcing extra steps to deal with its intrusiveness. Its fruit is misshapen. The color seems off. It tastes as perfectly sweet inside compared to the beautiful-looking fruit, yet I fear it dilutes the grandeur and majesty the forest, in my belief, is meant to exclaim. I despise this tree at times. I envision all that it keeps the forest from producing.

There are other trees I don’t get. I don’t get why they are there or their particular placement within the forest. Some of the trees I love and cherish, at times to the point of worship because of how much I enjoy their fruit and beauty. Sometimes, though, I’ve heard the pain-stricken call that they must be removed for the sake of the forest. I’ve wailed as they’ve come down, all the while knowing they had to, for a bazillion holy reasons, all culminating into the only reason that matters, which is Because He Said They Must.

And some trees I hate. Some have toxic roots that threaten to poison all the other trees around them and I wait in desperate anxiety for them to be removed. But the work is too big for me. I hack away over and over, and the bark chips and splinters. Progress is made. But the stranglehold of the roots underneath the soil into my heart is no match for me and my little ax of determination, pure as my endeavor may be. All I can do is trust and listen for Someone Stronger to do the work of excavation, even as He tells me to keep swinging. I stand helplessly by, humbled, as He sets the pace. If I am out of sync with Him, I labor in vain.

So yes, I’ve been staring at a lot of bark lately. I’ve been going from tree to tree, feeling, smelling, staring. Trying to figure out why some of them are there. Wondering when others will finally start to bear fruit. Hoping some will be removed. Desperately fearful that others will be removed. I continually resist the temptations to compare and to strategize. And I’m tired from all of it. Perhaps it’s time to just sit in the forest and worship the Someone Stronger, that He would even care about me and my trees.

 
When Eve walked through the garden, the serpent told her that managing the trees herself would be worth her while; more so, she could manage things better than God could. He told her that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil had a different purpose altogether that God was preventing her from experiencing. But she was never the author of the tree or the garden or of herself. She was merely placed there.

Trace a path through the verses at the start of this post. Eve, Paul, Naomi, Jen……we all struggle(d) with our trees. Things could be so much different if, well, the trees were different. But the trees aren’t different. They are the trees they are, in the places they are, and anguished or not, our walk is in believing that God knows full well how to manage them, maneuver us around the ones we cannot move past on our own, and provide us all we need to exist among them if it is not in His will that they are immediately disposed of. The barley harvest had already started for Naomi before her dawn broke, though she could see no evidence of light approaching. Paul pleaded for God to remove the thorn that he believed hindered him from serving God more successfully. God said His grace was enough. He left the thorn where it was. He didn’t remove that tree. Eve believed God was withholding the best from her, and so she took the tree into her own hands……

Observing bark is probably what I do best. It is in stopping and being still and noticing the intricacies of life that are right in front of me that the rest of the forest begins to make sense. I can’t escape the blazing truth that everything has intentionality to it, and the razory small pattern of the bark on one small tree is absolutely connected to a gigantic oak in another forest on the other side of creation, even if I never in this lifetime figure out how. It is that way because God says it is so. And so therein lies the tension within my identity…….bark or forest, I search for God’s leading and definition in my life and in the world around me, never quite feeling like, ridiculously, I’ve gotten Him figured out for long. But long enough to trust Him with the trees and the forest.

 
I need to thank my friend deAnn for letting me use her tree/forest analogy. Of course, it is now mine forevermore. Wink, wink.

 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Writing V

OK. It’s been about 6 weeks since I last wrote anything besides excuse notes for school. I had such momentum going. It went.


I can’t blame the Board for this one (which will only make sense if you read the last post in January). They were given time off on purpose, and to their credit, returned at once when their sabbaticals were over. No, it’s not writer’s block. In fact, it’s been more like writer’s-sink-is over-flowing-because-there’s-so-many-ideas-pouring-out-and-no-place-for-them-to-go. The last week or so, then, has been like “writer’s mop and bucket” as I now have some time to gather together and clean up all of these ideas. But I digress.

I always anticipate the new year coming as a time to evaluate and start afresh with new ideas of how I can approach life. I don’t do “resolutions” anymore; I now instead consider new ways I can approach life in the character of Christ, and then pray for the strength to stay focused on Him so He can bring about that character. This year, it was simply to love well. That’s more than enough of a challenge for me, and frankly, whatever practical goals I have I just know will fall into place if I can love well. Remember that I said this.

Besides this, I asked for vision - vision for my children, vision for me as a writer, as a person, as a wife. I assumed, of course, all of this would take me to glorious heights of insight and idea and purpose, coupled with days, weeks, months of inspired writing and opportunities and discussions with people and just all around jolly golly goodness as wondrous advancements are made for the Kingdom of Heaven. Oh, the thought life of a naïve idealist!


Yeah. That whole character and vision thing hasn’t happened in quite the happy Hello Kitty world I had imagined it would.

“Privileged Suburban Mom Horror Story, The Sequel” has been showing at our house this winter. If you read a few posts ago, you’re already filled in on the plot from the first installment. The cast of characters is all the same, minus the exterminator. Praise the Good Lord Almighty for that! This time, instead of fleas and dying refrigerators and other unwelcome situations, it’s been a continuum of illness which descended upon my children one after the other (illnesses, I mean, not children.....there’s only 2 of them). Fevers; flu; a weird hand, foot, and mouth thing; croup; a trip to the er; and an epilepsy diagnosis with scary-potential-side effect-ish new medication twice daily thrown in.

I’ve been, of course, my calm, cool, pleasant-to-be-around, never-rattled, collected self through all of this. Well, okay. Let’s just say the sequel was better than the first one, character-wise. Sort of. Externally, anyway. Kind of. At least for a few of those days. Sigh......

Truly, though, God’s been working through things in me during this time in amazing, paradigm-shifting ways. There’s a new found peace and expectancy in me that the journey He has planned is so vastly beyond what I can imagine and I find myself embracing that sense of mystery – slowly, slowly, but embracing. Smiling over it, not trying to figure out the ending ahead of time. He has put a vision in me, and it’s being pieced together and revealed from things I really didn’t expect beforehand to have that significant of an impact on me. And He’s removing some rotten, decaying roots that I really had no idea were in me at all, but I see that it is absolutely paramount that they be gotten rid of before I can take this vision to whom He has purposed to experience it**. That takes my breath away........I’m whining about having so many dishes to catch up with while He’s doing radical change on my heart. That’s pretty efficient on His part.

I don’t have anything to show for myself tangibly over the past several weeks as a writer or really anything other than being a driver, an errand girl, and a fairly monotonous cook, which is vastly different from my vision plan. But serious, deep, laborious work has been done internally, and it has left me with a joy – joy for who God is, what He has done, and even joy that in the midst of this I’ve had a mostly cooperative spirit, because I felt my eyes being opened, and I sensed His working so strongly and these changes happening within. His ways are not our ways. What I assumed was a momentum towards writing did not carry me to where I had supposed I was heading. Instead it was part of a continual momentum of preparation and refinement of my character into Christ-likeness.

So it seems things have gotten back to “normal”, whatever that is. Everyone is healthy. March is always our busiest month as a family, and so finally now the schedule is showing signs of slowing down. I am enjoying my daytime solitude once again and am feeling now as if I’m basically caught up mentally from where the “Focused And On A Mission Creative Writer Jen” (here and forever known as FAOAMCWJ.......catchy, huh?) part of me had to check out for awhile so I could focus on who is supposed to get ibuprofen when and who is next up for acetaminophen and what time I need to start the crock pot so dinner will be ready when we get home from this latest doctor visit. Perhaps some of my struggle is the basic assumption that FAOAMCWJ is who I’m just meant to be at all times and a sign that everything in the world is as it’s supposed to be.......maybe “Organized, Self-sacrificing, Focused On Nothing But The Immediate Physical Wellness Of The Family, Non-writing Jen” (OSFONBTIPWOTFNJ......even catchier!) isn’t some anomaly alter-ego that has to come out when “bad” things descend on our home, giving her all to save the day and rescue FAOAMCWJ from the evil clutches of, well, life. Maybe God works through her as a tool in the momentum of sanctification, ushering me into godly character. Maybe FAOAMCWJ is just another tool to be worked through in this momentum, and not really the end picture of being perfected in Christ. (How about a side of incredibly misguided ego to go with that plate of naïve idealism?) Maybe it’s about wholeness, and how the momentum of sanctification is meant to saturate every single part of us in Christ-likeness.

Where to? I ask. Continued focus on writing, and trying to dive into some lengthier projects I’ve had in mind and heart for awhile now? Further study in the realm of spiritual direction and taking some more steps towards professional pursuit? Focusing on speaking and having some more opportunities? I’ve been wandering around for the past couple of weeks trying to get a sense of where I’m to be headed, now that what I thought was my momentum is gone. I await the answer.

I hear only this: “Draw near to Me”.






**I don’t want to distract from the post, but I also know that sometimes when writers are vague about what they’re experiencing, it can be frustrating because you want to relate fully to what they are experiencing, yet they are holding something back. So I will share what these rotten roots were that I didn’t even realize were there and wreaking havoc in how I go about life, and the truth I believe God revealed to me about them:

1 – I really do have a deep-seated belief that women are inferior to men. The truth: I am no less valuable because I am a woman. I don’t have to try and make up for it by feigning a strength that I don’t have. So I am working on not fearing what I perceive as weaknesses.

2 – I often don’t speak up about things out of an inherent fear that I will lose someone’s respect, or what I say will be misconstrued and then I will be prevented from serving in a way I desire to. The truth: Just because someone may strongly disagree with me doesn’t necessarily mean they will lose respect for me. I don’t need to be afraid that my imperfection is a disqualifier. So I am pushing past my fear of tension.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Committee

In this post, I thought I would introduce some people who are very close to me and who are an integral part of my writing process. Of course, none of them are actual real people, and with that said, you can thank (or blame) my friend Allison who told me that writing about this group would be a fun blog idea.


Awhile back, I read Anne Lamott’s book Grace (Eventually), and in one part, she talks about “the committee” who appear with her whenever something scary, confusing, etc. happens. These fictitious people drive her nuts with "helpful" thoughts, along the lines of an axe murderer may be waiting for her around the corner, it is certain the car she’s traveling in will crash so she should jump out now, etc. Helpful, helpful, helpful. (Note: I am neither recommending nor not recommending her book.)

I laughed through that chapter, but then it got me to thinking about my own “committees”, and since I was in the middle of a couple of writing projects with approaching deadlines—causing me some stress—all of a sudden a picture became crystal clear to me of why this process can be so exasperating to me. And why I need to find the joy in it.

I have a board of directors. Any time a writing opportunity is presented to me, the board convenes. I don’t know where these people go when I don’t have anything to write, but when there is a project in front of me, I can’t really get to work on it until the board has rendered a decision on what will be written and how. The universe apparently sends them a memo alerting them to the fact that an assignment has been issued to me, and so they come from their various locations and enter into a large conference room in my head where they meet and hash out what the message is to be given. I don’t know who set the rules for all of this, but I don’t think it was me. Anyway, this is a cantankerous group that doesn’t always get along so well, and there are times I find myself banging on the door to the conference room, pleading with them to please get to work so I can get to work!


I’d like to pause here, a little out of fear that some of you reading will unsubscribe now, certain I need some sort of counseling. To this I say two things. 1) These are the things that go on in a writer’s mind. Really. 2) I probably do need some counseling, but not for this reason.


My board consists of the following. None of these people have actual names, which in my mind signifies that I have not crossed over the line that separates quirky creativity from paranoid delusion. I’m also sure that why they have the personalities and genders that they each do represents something else to be analyzed, but I’m too busy for that today. Anyhow...


The Theologian:

His job is to ensure that what is written is biblically sound and accurate. He’s a passionate guy, a little intense, because he knows that his reputation is riding on making sure he’s representing Truth. But much more importantly, he longs for people to know the God who loves them and that He knows each of them, and that understanding scripture is a key to opening the door to a life of freedom and grace and worship. However, at times, paradoxically, he’s so inspired and alive with the truth of scripture that he loses sight of the fact that there’s an actual broken and loved person right next to him.


The Editor:

She’s also intense; a driven woman. Her gift is to zero in on the errors so that a polished piece is presented. It’s not that she’s a perfectionist who desires to tear others down. She just lives in a pursuit for excellence, and so it makes her seem a little cold and detached. It kills her when she misses a mistake, though, so she remains driven to points of confusion at times. She hasn’t quite learned yet that external excellence isn’t necessarily the determining factor when it comes to internal treasure.


The Spiritual Director:

He is there, filled with both hope and joyful lament, speaking to the human experience and longings of the heart and soul. He reminds the board that whatever words may come forth should bring a healing touch to the soul that would receive it, through loving kindness, humor, exhortation, and maybe even a little preaching, but never out of a judgment that isn’t born out of the grace received from experiencing his own failure first. This, he can never forget.


The Diplomat:

She’s a sensitive sort, caring very much about keeping the peace between people, but also she admits she cares what others think of her, too, and that drives her probably a lot more than it should. So she labors to make sure that the words are respectful and laced with character and authenticity, realizing, though, that the board isn’t perfect and neither is anyone else, and misunderstandings are bound to occur. Yet she is passionate with the belief that the value of peace within a greater community is a surpassingly great blessing and a worthy goal to strive for.


The Comedian:

He’s there to cut the tension, because most of the other folks in the room can be way too high strung. He brings lightness and happiness, and indirectly reminds everyone that they aren’t the big deal that they think they are. But he’s also a bit awkward, as he’s learning when it may just not be the right timing to share his perceived comedic brilliance. He worries a bit that he won’t be understood and so holds himself back; other times, he’s convinced he’s got the perfect hysterical point to make, but gets “the look” from the others that he is, in fact, wrong.


The Personal Assistant:

She’s on the antsy side, her job always to remind everyone of the practical little details that need attended to and that there are deadlines approaching. The board would be lost without her sense of work ethic, and yet she sort of drives the others crazy by constantly demanding they stay on a set schedule and not go off onto what she believes are tangential discussions. She just wants the work done, because she feels an unidentified pressure not to disappoint. Yet, as an extreme idealist, sometimes she makes things worse by interrupting the creative flow.


The Random Lazy Guy:

I have yet to figure out what on earth he is doing in this group, as his only contribution seems to be to suggest to everyone that they should knock off early for lunch and let the work wait. There may be something interesting on TV or on a web site somewhere, and if they all search really hard, they just might find something more fun to do. I’m trying to get him thrown off the board.


The Free-Spirited Creative Worship Artist:

More than anyone, she’s the one who just wants to get lost in the joy of what they’re all doing. But her voice is often silenced by the noise from the others. She never shouts; just waits for the din to die down, and then she’ll softly remind everyone that they have been given the amazing opportunity to let God breathe His Life into a few words that a few people might read. And because of who He is, He could spark something in someone else that could change the world and bring endless good and healing into what is broken and hurting. Every now and again, the others will stop and reflect on this, and allow their own strengths and each other’s strengths to pour into each other and trust that something extraordinary is taking place. Every now and again.



And then there’s me, standing outside the conference room door, waiting for them to get their act together so I can start actually getting words to paper and go on with my life. It seems I can’t go any further until they’ve all come to a consensus on what should be said and how to say it. Then they come out of the room, hand me the idea, and I finally start writing. I’m slowly learning, though, not to loathe this exhaustive, trying process, and instead marvel that a community with such faults and differences can be used in ways that feel very small, but bring the impact of eternity.

And that’s how I write.