Wants and Wishes

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Most of us, whether we realize it or not, want to believe that God is good.  Being October, the month my oldest daughter was born, I find it impossible not to reflect on God’s goodness as a Father and Creator. The writing I have done here this month is part of that reflection.  So I was delighted to write today for Jen Pollock Michel’s series Found Wanting about my desire to believe that God was a good Father.

The series is a collection of stories that, to quote Jen, “…tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.”  Read through the different contributors that are part of this project and see God’s hand at work in many lives. So enjoy my post, and the posts of others, as well as Jen’s beautiful writing on her site.

 

**I recently wrote about Jen’s book Teach Us To Want in a post here.  It is a book you will not want to miss reading.

 

 

Want, Fear, & Grace -A Review of Teach Us To Want

 

Jen Pollock Michel. Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014. 221 pp

 

“But, I just love THINGS!” A beautiful woman married to a missionary pastor stood, laughing in our house, recounting a conversation she had had with her husband. She was describing the struggle between wanting and going without – leaving their comfortable life with a house and jobs and heading into a ministry, giving up luxuries and items that might be considered “extras.”

This quote often comes to my mind when I hear conversations about desire versus denial. Many of us struggle to reconcile our wants with what we believe God requires of us – death to self and therefore, to all that we want. Whether it is materialism, tangibles, ambition, self-gratification, or spiritual pride, each of us grapples with putting our loves and wants in order.

Jen Pollock Michel has plunged into the theology of desire and emerged with the masterfully written, Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith.

I started the book, intrigued by the title alone, given my own experiences of ambitious longing and wilderness exile. I was not disappointed as I delved into the beautifully crafted paragraphs.

With engaging narrative, Jen Pollock Michel weaves an incredible blend of personal experience, Scriptural lessons, and literary, philosophical, and theological concepts. With clear but enticing artistry, she unfurls for the reader a verbal image of the complex state of our human hearts and the lavish grace of God. Using the Lord’s Prayer as a frame, she sketches the natural human bent toward desires that pursue fleeting pleasure and push against trusting the goodness of God. She creates colorful narrations of conversion, temptations, loss, and gain. The images she builds are descriptions in which readers can find themselves mirrored, no matter how differently individual circumstances may have fallen.

Taking on our natural human desires, Pollock Michel shows Christ’s grace that pulls us from the fear and complacency found rooted in sin’s curse, transforming it to a brave pursuit of our God given desires. She writes,

And here is how desire becomes corrupt: wanting derails into selfishness, greed and demanding ingratitude when we’ve failed to recognize and receive the good that God has already given. Trust is at the center of holy desire: trust that God is good and wills good for His people…When we refuse God’s good, when we mistrust God’s intentions, when we clamor for self-rule, we exact the cruel price of suffering.” (pp 84-5)

 Just as Eve and Adam failed to trust God’s good plan and exacted a cruel price of suffering, so we wrestle with the same tension in our desires – we want and yet distrust the Giver. We want the wrong things – the fruit that looms ahead, looking lovely and shiny, rather than the intangible communion with a God whom we must trust. And only by God’s gentle goodness and grace, as our lives unfold, do we learn to trust that what He gives is enough for our desires.

The pages are rife with references and allusions to a diverse set of writers, theologians, and thinkers from St Augustine, NT Wright, and Tim Keller, to Madeleine L’Engle, CS Lewis, Edith Wharton, and Annie Dillard and many more. Rich with thought, the book is a synthesis of beauty, goodness, and truth; beautiful theological truths, stated in flowing and captivating phrases.

Jen Pollock Michel is able to diffuse our common thought about desire. She makes a compelling case against the fear of want and the negative connotations of desire and ambition. She writes, powerfully convincing her readers that God desires His children to want, but rather than wanting the temporary fruit, we must want Him, to desire His grace, His good will. She encourages her readers to want, to desire fully, the life of faith found in a lavishly generous Father.

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Reciting When the Winds Shift

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When the year shifts and the breezes come in from a different direction, the air swoops in from an unknown place. With new air comes restlessness, bringing with it questions about life and mulling about identity and wondering what the present tense will look like in the future. When questions and mulling come, doubt and demons sneak through the cracks in armor, riding on the breeze in through the chinks. Suddenly people seem judgmental. Life seems threatening. Retreat seems the most inviting option. Hiding looks like a palpable answer. But instead one breath at a time keeps life moving forward.

This is the point in time that professionals tell their clients to think positively, to rehearse their dreams, to visualize their goals.

It is at this intersection of life that rehearsing the goodness of God drives a person farther to real success than any visualization of dreams ever could.

It’s June. Exactly a year ago, I had a brand new baby and a few brand new ideas. I was emotionally and mentally finished with working in an office doing mindless work all day. But I had no idea where to turn. I had a small bit of teaching experience, a masters in Teaching, a blog, too many years of administrative work on my resume, a toddler, and a new born.

It’s been a year. The prayer I prayed for months leading up to last June was for employment where I could spend more time with my children, forge into a more fulfilling career,  and for provision of our tangible needs. Terrified, I made choices where no clear path was cut in the jungle.

Running through the warm summery, morning air, I thought about the choices I made. No matter what we do, dragons and demons blow fire across our paths and serpents try to convince us, as they swirl around overhanging tree branches, that our failures equal God’s failure to us. That our doubts exist because God is not good and does not really want our happiness.

But just as the nation of Israel shouted with a loud noise, crashing down the walls of Jericho, so the noise of our voices, both aloud and silently, speaking the goodness and care of God annihilates the vassals of the Destroyer.

I spoke to myself and to God, remembering my prayer. More time with my children, in order to be their mother. A more fulfilling career path. Provision of tangible needs. And as I spoke, I recognized that all of these items were specifically answered in the past 12 months, in ways I would never have planned or initiated without God’s loving care and brilliant sovereignty.  Obviously, I would like to kick back and rest, knowing my career is set, my parenting skills are perfected, my financial investments well managed.  I would like to think that every choice I make will have fabulous consequences that will play out for the rest my life and my children’s lives. But God gives manna, not lottery winnings. The “happily ever after” is reserved for Heaven, not Earth.

And so we rehearse prayers answered, promises found, and goodness felt, over and over, telling ourselves, telling our children, that all things work together for good for those who are called of God, whether it’s sunshine for our picnics or rain on our parades.

The words from Be Still My Soul wander through the breezy air.  “Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain.” And as I leave the ordering and providing, I keep reminding myself of His faithful remaining.

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being exceptional in an (amy) glass world

DSC_0187Last week’s post was precipitated by the fact that I was feeling a little overwhelmed, grappling with the expectations of working for myself, that I had created for myself. 
That is, specifically, the expectations of being a self-employed business owner -musician, artist, and teacher who must constantly find new business leads, new creative ideas, and new ways of explaining musical concepts to people ages 4-72, in addition to keeping business records, returning phone calls, maintaining a cost effective web/social media presence, and staying organized sane.

This week I have the opposite thoughts going on in my head. The thoughts about the expectations I had about being a stay at home mom and a stay at home mom who worked. Then there’s this insecure female out there blowing up the internet with her bombastic, banal rant against women who only want to stay home.

“You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.” Amy Glass

I worked for one of her kind, not that long ago. The kind of woman who hated men, hated being held back by anything, and had the ambition of an elephant stampede across the Sahara. She loved me until I came back from maternity leave with my first child. Then the dynamics changed. When I finally had to tell her I was having a second child, she asked me if “this one was planned?” and then when I had a minor complication at 33 weeks, her question was, “are you going to have your tubes tied after this one?” I kept a post-it note at my desk with a number on it and every week the number got lower. It was the number of weeks until my maternity leave began and I could be free forever of the hateful environment known as my office.

The day came when I finally got to stay home. And I got to start my own business and open a piano studio, which some would still refuse to call a real job, but I can let you know it is. My expectations as a mom were that I would always be organized. I would never be late or rushed again. The laundry would always be clean and folded. Groceries would float into the house and place themselves on the shelf. Dinner would always be ready at a perfect time and temperature. I would write prolifically. I would increase my daughter’s vocabulary 600% from all the reading and literacy games we would do together. There would beautifully crafted toddler structures gleaned from Pinterest created daily. My daughter would be regularly well behaved perfect. I would finally have the ability to balance what I HAD to do with what I WANTED to do.

Twice in the last week, I have made soft boiled eggs and buttered toast. And twice in the last week, I have eaten them stone cold, because promptly when I swiped the last ripple of salted butter over the warm toast, my eight month old managed to spread excrement throughout her diaper and onto her clothing, which requires she have a diaper change, a clothing change, bath, re-diapering, redressing, washing out of soiled clothing, all while said child is uncomfortable and fussing. My coffee is often left cold. I have to clean up 16 messes before I can put cream into the black coffee that helps my brain function (kids or no kids), I answer 42 questions and explain 26 things while I stir honey into the once hot substance. The organization skills and prioritizing ability that I prided myself on is somewhat subpar these days. The laundry is usually clean and yet unfolded. The house is clean, but as soon as I vacuum, there are crumbs on the floor. Buying groceries (after deciding which ingredients are needed for meals,with minimal help from caffeine), hauling them to the car, from the car to the house and then onto the shelves while pushing a 25+ pound infant carrier with a baby and wrangling a walking three year old is a feat that most (male) doctors I’ve come in contact with couldn’t attempt.

And those are just the silly everyday things that I did anyway while I worked in an office. The really interesting parts are when I have to remember how to imagine being a princess, a dragon, a monster, a pirate, a horse so that I can play along with a three year old who is always off on an adventure in my living room. It’s a new challenge to plan the Pinteresting crafts only to be met with three -year old whims of opposition and refusal to participate. Most challenging is probably the near insurmountable task of reading a mind to understand what is happening in a little developing brain, to keep from hurting her feelings, squelching her creativity, to know what will interest her, to keep her curiosity satisfied, while, most importantly, teaching her to obey for her own safety, to be polite, to be kind, to be generous…to be, oh, exceptional!

Playing with and taking hygienic care of and loving others WHILE you try to get something, anything, done is where true exceptionality comes in. It is not exceptional to just work. It is not exceptional to go on a hiking backpack trip through Asia. Virtually anyone can do those things. But putting your work and to do list and life plan on pause or hold until nap time, or bed time, or until later in life, to live for others, ultimately – that is exceptional.

I know stay at home moms who accomplish more than I can fathom, while being dressed, with their hair done. I know working moms who accomplish so little it is pitiable, and their hair is in serious need of help. I know stay at home moms who are pathetic and working moms who are superwomen. I know women who have never wiped a nose or backside other than their own, but who live for others in ways far superior to anything I’ve ever done. I know women who have cheerfully worked jobs and thrown themselves fully into others’ lives because they never conformed to Glass’s “societal conventions” and married or could never hold their own children in their arms for one reason or another.

Being a “stay at home” working mother is far more chaotic and less Pinteresty than I would like. Once, maybe twice, I’ve thought about that steaming cup of coffee that I consumed every morning at a quiet desk while organizing my thoughts and lists for the day. And then, I look over across the floor (where I am sitting with my laptop) and I know I have to teach piano lessons this evening and I would like another cup of coffee, and I have a project to finish for my piano studio and three more on the list, but a little thing with bright eyes comes rolling toward me and a three year old is telling me that the big bad wolf is going to get me and I laugh. Life is so interesting and entertaining and absolutely wonderful with two little people and a job I like doing, even without proper caffeination. And the bonus is that there are no elephant stampedes occurring in my house while the elephants prey on potentially weaker species.

BUT, if there is one thing I can say about the last few months, it is that I have never felt so free to be exceptional in the last eight years. I have never had the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be as exceptional as I wanted to be. I can finally follow my ambitions as aggressively as I care to expend energy. I have no insecure and angry feminist ranting over my head on a daily basis. I am surrounded with people who love and support me. I am free to treat others like HUMANS, not numbers, which is what mothers do. We help humanity survive. Just like doctors. Just like scientists who discover cures. Just like Steve Jobs. (Ok, that example might be subjective for some of you). Mothers, fathers, people, are all here to help others, to live for others. Without people who live for others, there would be no people. That is what Ms. Glass ultimately doesn’t understand. It does not matter if you choose to wipe a backside, or study saliva swabs to find disease cures, we all eventually have to devote some part of our lives to living for others. The real cliché of society’s convention is to give into a feminist’s self-absorbed world rather than to live for someone beyond me. We have lost our way, ignoring that Christ gave His life for others. God gave His son for others.  We are offered salvation because God’s redemption involved sacrifice.

The reality is that all humans are exceptional. Some are strong and some are weak. But we are all made in the image of God. Therefore, we are all exceptional. Only those who do not believe this have to find some skewed standard by which to measure exceptionality.

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