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#notwithoutmychild #familiesbelongtogether

Jen Michel

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He puts the kaleidoscope to his face. At first, he squints with both eyes and puts the kaleidoscope to his forehead. I try showing him to squint with one eye and put the other eye to the hole. He smiles like he’s getting it, but I think he’s most interested in the music that plays when I wind the internal music box. When the music stops, he hands me the kaleidoscope with a grunt.

Fix it.

I am visiting my friend, Faith, this morning with her three beautiful boys: D., who is four; the little twin B.’s, who are two. When Faith arrived from West Africa six-months pregnant and a toddler in tow, she came ahead of the husband, who had promised to follow quickly behind. The real truth was that he was deserting her. He had hired someone to meet her at the airport, take her cellphone, and hand her bogus papers.

A month later, she found out that she was delivering twins.

By God’s sheer providence (and if I were to detail the whole of Faith’s story, you’d not find it believable), Faith has had her needs provided since her arrival in Canada. Soon after her arrival in Canada, Faith met a Christian woman who paid to fly her and D. to Toronto where they would be better able to sort out their immigration disaster. In Toronto, Faith found a capable, pro-bono lawyer to take her immigration case. Quickly settled into temporary shelter with a Christian refugee agency, Faith discovered their partnership with Safe Families Canada, a network of Christian families offering to take provisional care of children whose families are in crisis. When Faith went into labor with the twin B.’s, a Safe Family stepped in to watch D.—and then took him back, several more times, when Faith needed the help. A kind acquaintance paid her $700 fee for a humanitarian application after her refugee claim was denied. More Christians paid other incidental fees in the now two-year process of trying to establish residence in Canada. Another woman, related by degrees to the Safe Families network, showed up once a week to watch all three boys so that Faith could run errands. When this woman left the apartment every week, she took dirty laundry with her to wash. My own small part in this miracle network was driving Faith, month after month, to the border control office; while they processed paperwork to have her deported, Faith's lawyers fought simultaneously to keep her in Canada.

The good news is that Faith is just months away from gaining permanent residence in Canada; we both know this is only by the goodness of God. I remind her of this on our most recent visit. “Think of all that God’s done these past two years!” I say to her. She nods shyly. “Did you ever think you were this strong?” I ask.

“No,” she answers.

In the recent news about parents being separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border—and our President sadly expressing willingness to pursue this as policy—I can’t help but think about Faith., D., and the twin B’s. (Though I live in Canada, I’m an American citizen, which makes this an issue of interest to me personally.) I’ll be honest: I wondered how Faith would make it in Canada. Not only was she quite literally penniless, she came without education, without personal connection, without any of the resources that most of us would rely on to establish ourselves in another country. 

I, too, am the mother of twin boys—and I know firsthand the long, difficult days of those first several years. But while Ryan and I did those long difficult days together in our spacious suburban house, friends and family making meals and delivering groceries, Faith has been doing it alone in a tiny, fifth-floor government apartment where it takes considerable pluck to persuade the maintenance people to change a light bulb. When I’ve arrived at that apartment, often I've found Faith smiling and cooing over one of the B.’s in the bathtub. 

Her boys always smell of soap.

Faith is a person of resilience and joy, and I have come to so deeply admire her. Truth be told, I lack her equilibrium. I can let a day derail by one child’s negligence: a forgotten lunchbox and the imposed inconvenience of having to run it to school. I lament the injustice of twenty stolen minutes. But never once have I heard Faith complain. The closest I’ve come was on this most recent visit. After I’ve asked her if she knew she was this strong and she said no, she added this:

“It’s been hard.”

I’m writing today to lend my support to a campaign we’re calling #notwithoutmychild and #familiesbelongtogether. With a host of other evangelical women, together we vehemently oppose the legally sanctioned separation of children from their families who seek entrance into the United States. We call for the immediate reversal of this decision. Though Christians will disagree on immigration policy, let’s not disagree on this: forcibly separating children from their parents, except in cases of abuse or neglect, is inhumane and intolerable.

I'm writing to keep families like Faith, D., and the twin B.’s together. 



If you're interested in expressing your own support for this campaign, you can sign a letter to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Find it here:   https://goo.gl/forms/1hBGv1nk3OEndlhz2. You can also post pictures of yourself and your children with the social media hashtags #familiesbelongtogether and #notwithoutmychild.


If you're interested about learning more about the ministry of Safe Families, find their U.S. website here and their Canadian website here. I encourage you to lend your support to this important ministry, either by financial contribution or by becoming a Safe Family.

 

 

 

Uprooted and Planted

Jen Michel

In 2011, when we moved to Toronto from Chicago, we pawned off the grill, the piano, and the daybed to friends, promising to retrieve them when we returned. We kept our house, thinking we’d reclaim it in three years from the friends who rented it and have raised their young family on the quiet street in our absence. As it turns out, it’s their children who got big in our house. At the beginning of the month, this family moved out, and this week, we’re listing the house to sell it.

We bought the house on Church Street in 2005 from my brother-in-law who was doing contracting work at the time. The market was white hot, and when we were looking to move back to Illinois after three years in Ohio, there weren’t a lot of options for our growing family. This development project was as good as any. I was 37 weeks pregnant with our third child, and we moved in with my in-laws, then two months later into a rental house while we waited for renovations on the Church Street house to be completed. We moved into the house just as Audrey was turning 4—and celebrated her birthday and our housewarming with a princess party, tiaras and all.

I am thinking of the house on Church Street with fondness this week. It feels especially apropos since we are celebrating an official seven years in Toronto, May 22, 2011 having been our recorded “date of entry” into Canada. (For immigrants, this date is a bit like your birthday. You’re meant to remember it for official paperwork.) For all the gratitude I feel that home is now Toronto, I also feel grief at severing this final tie to our home in the States. Our home stories are inevitably this kind of narrative paradox. Unless we’ve stayed in the same place from birth, we must be uprooted in order to be planted, and there is something traumatic about being jerked up from soil. 

I remember watching with the kids from the front porch while the driveway was being poured in our new home on Church Street. I remember painting all the bedrooms with my in-laws when we moved in, then covertly repainting Audrey’s bedroom for her 7th birthday—purple and yellow, of course. I’d shuffled her off to school that morning then worked all day to try finishing, nursing my twin babies, then 2 months, in between. It’s no wonder that later that evening, when we sat around a table of giggly girls at the American Girl Doll Cafe, I came down with feverish chills. I had mastitis, despite that I had carried my breast pump with me and had expressed milk from the bathroom of the restaurant. It took all the strength in the world to get those girls home and crawl into bed that evening.

I remember the initial shock (disappointment) of learning that I was pregnant, then learning that it was twins. That initial disappointment gave way to the certainty that God, indeed, had a terrific sense of humor. I loved putting together the twins’ room, which had formerly been an office: two cribs, a changing table, the blue denim glider I’d used for the other three children. I splurged on bedding from Land of Nod, figuring that these two were sure to be the last. At a shower thrown by friends, someone gave me two dinosaur name plates, and I hung them up when they were home from the hospital, adding their names: Colin and Andrew.

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I remember the hours spent with neighbors, our kids running through the front yards on ordinary afternoons and Halloween. I remember the hours spent circled up in the family room for small group discussion, all our children penned with two babysitters in the basement. After we ended the discussion, we let the kids loose and set up more tables and chairs in the dining room for our weekly potluck. I don’t know how I did all that hosting when the kids were young, but I do know that it was a good rhythm, a sharing of our space and lives with friends.

I remember the wedding reception we hosted for friends at church, how the backyard baked that hot summer day and the kids ran wild through the house, leaving the floors to crunch beneath our feet after all the guests left. A couple of friends stayed to put everything back in order, which included sweeping up the spilled sugar in the kitchen and finding half-eaten sandwiches behind the furniture.

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I was mother of three small children in this house, then mother of five small children. My most harried days were lived within the walls of this house to which I’m now saying goodbye. Maybe the catch in my throat as I write is less about leaving those walls behind and more the growing sense that my children are growing up to leave me behind. Maybe I'm grieving that home will again change in a year when Audrey dons a cap and gown and twirls off to her next adventure, Nathan following just a year behind. I never wished to slow the days when the children were younger. I always wanted the kids bigger and more capable. How strange then that I could wish for just a few more days in the brown house as we came to call it, days when I could crawl with my big pregnant belly into the lower bunk in the girls’ room, pulling the three littles close to me for our nightly ritual of “bunches.” I’d look at them longer, harder. I’d memorize the wisp of their hair, the curve of their cheeks. I hold them tight to me, wish myself more patient and gentle.

I’m saying goodbye this week to a house, a very good house with lots of good memories. And maybe that’s reason for the tears: because I’m being uprooted—and planted—at the very same time. 


My book, Keeping Place, is a personal and biblical reflection on the meaning of home. Maybe it could be helpful to you if you're in the middle of being uprooted and planted, too? 

 

The best kind of parenting book

Jen Michel

I have been an avid reader of parenting books. When Audrey, our first child, was a baby, I wore out my copies of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and The Baby Whisperer. Who knew that the simple task of helping your child fall asleep could be so difficult?

I've enjoyed others along the way, and I'm especially happy to tell you about Shelly Wildman's next book, First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship. Here's the blurb I wrote for the back of her book: "Shelly Wildman doesn’t offer burdensome to-dos or simplistic 1-2-3 formulas; rather, she calls parents to prayerful intentionality with their children. Warmly, wryly opening her own life to readers, Wildman allows us a window into godly parenting that happens in the thick of soccer season, basketball tryouts, homework, and Sunday morning worship. Despite her many exemplary qualities, Wildman never claims to be a perfect mom—which must be why I love this book so much."

Shelly has generously agreed to an interview here on the blog, so here we go!

Writing about parenting can be a powder keg—people have pretty strong opinions about raising kids. Why did you choose to write a parenting book?

I kind of feel like I didn’t choose to write a parenting book, but that the book chose me. (Sounds like a scene from Harry Potter, doesn’t it?) I fought writing it for a long time because I knew I wasn’t a perfect parent—I had messed up so many times that I didn’t feel qualified to write this book. I still don’t. But the idea kept nagging at me for so long that I finally felt like God might have been pushing me to do it.

I believe with all my heart that stronger families will make for a stronger society, which is so important today. And I believe that the strongest families are those that have Christ at their center. But so many parents today have lost their focus or their sense of purpose. They spend their time on meaningless, temporal things, when, really, the most important mission field is right in front of them. I’m hoping to encourage parents to look at the bigger picture, to ask why they are doing what they’re doing, and to think critically about God’s purpose for their kids and for their families.

I have three adult daughters now, and my hope is, now that my husband and I have raised them, that they will go out into the world and make a difference. And should they have children someday, that they would also make disciples of their kids. Instilling a Christ-following legacy is important work—I believe it’s THE most important work parents can do—and we’ve got to be intentional about it.

What makes your book different from other parenting books?

So many parenting books are “how-to” books. They seem to say, “Just follow these ten steps and here’s what you’ll get in the end.” But I don’t believe we can parent by formula. I think we have to look at our unique family and ask why

Why are we doing what we’re doing as a family?

Why are we emphasizing these spiritual values? And are there others we should consider?

Why are we even here as a family? What’s our purpose for being put together in this unique combination of individuals?

Asking why gets to the heart of the matter; it exposes our motivations and desires for our family. Asking why leads to intentionality. And asking why helps give our children a sense of purpose as we lead them. 

Why do you think some kids, even though they had Christian parents, don’t grow up to follow God? Is there anything Christian parents can do to ensure that their kids will choose to follow Jesus?

This is such a difficult question for me to answer because I honestly don’t know why. I know that parents can do all the right things—have time in God’s word together every day, take their kids to church regularly, pray diligently for their kids—and still have kids who struggle. I don’t believe there are any guarantees in Scripture that our kids will choose to follow Jesus into adulthood.

But I do believe that Scripture commands us to parent with the end goal in mind: having children who know and love the Lord. We are to be diligent in our calling to present our children to God, and we have to trust Him with the outcome. We have to persevere every day to show our kids that following Jesus is the path to true life, even though some days can be downright hard. 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 has been such a guide and encouragement to me as a parent, especially where it says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life that you and your offspring may live.” We have a choice every day, and it’s our job to show our kids that choosing Christ is the only way to a fulfilling life.

What books influenced your husband and you as you raised your three daughters?

Honestly? Not very many. So many parenting books seemed to offer a formula—do this; don’t do that—and we weren’t looking for a formula. We knew that every kid is different and that every family has different needs, and most parenting books didn’t take that into account.

That said, there were a few that made an impact. Our pastor, Kent Hughes and his wife Barbara, wrote a book called Common Sense Parentingback in the ‘90s that, well, made sense to us. Some of the information is a little outdated today, but overall, it really helped us make good decisions about our parenting. And then there was James Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child, for the obvious reasons. I think the book that made the most impact, though, was probably Shepherding a Child’s Heartby Tedd Tripp. That book made me realize that my goal as a parent isn’t good behavior, but a changed heart. That, to me, was really impactful. If I were still parenting younger kids today, I’d also recommend Paul David Tripp’s Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Will Radically Change Your Family.

What was your lowest parenting moment? 

You mean besides that time I locked my one month old in the car? (True story!) 

I think my lowest moments were the times I let my daughters down. When I betrayed their trust by sharing too much with others. Or when I didn’t fulfill a promise I had made. Parents can feel their kids’ disappointment, which hurts so much. But more than that, too many disappointments lead to mistrust or a lack of respect, and I never wanted that to happen.

That said, parents are human. We do mess up. We do let our kids down. And those are the times we have to humble ourselves with our kids and apologize, sincerely. We need to let our kids know that we don’t always do things perfectly or say the right things or even parent correctly. But that we need grace and the help of God as much as they do.

Who do you hope will read this book and what do you hope they will gain?

I hope parents with kids of all ages will read this book, but especially parents of younger children. I hope grandparents will read this book. And I hope it sparks lots of discussion between husbands and wives, moms groups, or even small groups in churches. 

My hope is that parents will come away from reading this book with a stronger sense of their purpose as parents and that they might gain a couple of new ideas that they can implement in their own family. I also hope people will read the last chapter very carefully and prayerfully. The last chapter of the book is on letting go, and it’s a concept that I think is becoming lost a little bit today. It’s so hard, but it’s so important, even when your children are young, to start thinking about letting go. We’ve got to be parents who demonstrate faith in God’s sovereign work in the lives of our children.


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Shelly Wildman is a former writing instructor and author of the forthcoming book First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship (Kregel). Shelly holds degrees from Wheaton College (BA) and University of Illinois at Chicago (MA), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters. She and her husband, Brian have been married for 32 years and live in Wheaton, IL. Shelly speaks to women’s groups in the Chicago area and spends much of her free time mentoring young women. When she has time, she loves to cook, read, and travel.

Connect with Shelly at her website or on Instagram and Facebook

Order First Ask Why at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kregel.com.