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Postmarked: Dear Shawn (15)


These are just a few of my musings about faith, formation, culture, and life.


Postmarked: Dear Shawn (15)

Jen Michel


Dear Shawn,

Hopefully you’ve recovered from what must have been an exhausting weekend of travel. After reading your last letter, I pictured you at 4am at the airport, watching the world wake up and scurry toward the day. I thought, truthfully, of how little I envied you. I like being home.

I’ve been mostly home this fall, which I’m so grateful for. My spring speaking calendar, on the other hand, is perhaps fuller than I might like. Among other places I’m heading to Alabama and Indiana, Chicago and Iowa City. I’m speaking at high schools and colleges, churches and conferences. As an extrovert, I’m glad for the invitation to leave behind the solitude and join the noise. I enjoy meeting people, many of whom I grow to admire, people who love well and suffer long with others. Truthfully, I always end up feeling like my own contribution is the measly one. There’s something easy about showing up for the splash of an event and leaving the Mondays to somebody else. 

But for as much I enjoy the time away, there’s something really terrible about leaving home. It’s not just the housekeeping that’s required for leaving my family (and then recovering from my absence.) It’s the whole interruption of it. I wonder if you feel like I do, that travel makes something fitful of writing and relationships, even if I am getting better at minimizing the impact to my family. I know what time I can book a flight that will allow me the leisure of dropping my kids off at school in the morning first. I try making sure that I’m home by Saturday night, even if it means landing after midnight to make sure I can make Sunday morning pancakes and show up to supervise the church nursery. I work to make travel feel as weightless to our lives as possible, although it’s mostly illusion, like a magician’s hat trick. The truth is: it always costs. Like you, peeling yourself out of bed at 2:30am and watching the passing reflection of the world at 4am from the window of an airport terminal. You’ve got to be tired after a weekend like that.

You mentioned in your last letter that you’ve been asked by your publisher to think of your broader writing goals. It’s a wonderful question, isn’t it? It seems to mean that they think there’s some wide open space in front of you and that you’ll need to be the one to figure out what path you’re intentionally following. I feel like I’m always asking similar questions about goals and desires, even if no one is pressing me to. Recently, I’ve begun to think more intentionally about the role that travel is going to play for me professionally. Which invitations will I accept? Which invitations will I decline?  

I’d love to get your thoughts on something that I recently saw on social media. A husband of someone who had recently published a book posted this: “My wife is far too classy and has more important things to say than to use her platform to constantly try and sell her books. I however, have no class and nothing better to say. I apologize in advance for the next few months (year?). ORDER HER BOOK HERE.” The insinuation was so familiar, so awful. It’s this idea that there’s something suspicious, if not sleazy, about working hard to sell your books. It’s this assumption that the angels among us don’t have to. These tight-lipped saints choose the moral high road—in this case, silence about the books they publish—and their books grow wings and fly into the hands of paying customers. 

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as annoyed as anyone else by those authors that think their books are God’s gift to the world’s readership, authors who are disappointed when their first book doesn’t win a major prize or make a bestseller list. I have no patience for self-importance. We as writers have to learn something about the modesty of faithfulness. We might do what God calls us to do, and our impact might be the slightest ripple on the smallest pond.  

But here’s the truth we both know: you and I can’t keep writing books if we can’t sell the books we’ve already written. This is the cold reality of publishing. We can’t simply do this for fun or even for our own formation. If we want to write for readers, than we’re going to need them to know about our books. We’re going to need them to buy them. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you and I have to hawk copies from the trunk of our cars in the church parking lot, but it does mean we can’t keep this work a secret. 

We can’t pretend as if we’re not writing.

I suppose that (well-meaning) husband’s tweet was a gut punch because I’ve recently decided to align my travel with my writing goals. In other words, I’m rarely going to accept an invitation that doesn’t somehow either allow me to speak about the subjects I’ve already written on or allow me the opportunity to sell books. Does that make me a greasy-haired, slick-palmed car salesman? Does that mean I lack “class” (though I hate that word and would despise anyone calling me “classy”)? Or does it mean that I’m stewarding this work a little more seriously? 

Maybe I’ve finally decided that God never lights a candle that he then hides under a bushel.

Again, I’m not pushing for the kind of gross self-promotion we sell all over our social media feeds, nor am I advocating that we defend greed (though we both know that books sales will probably not make either of us rich). I just want to be faithful. If God is calling me to write books, then I’m going to be diligent in trying to sell them. And if God is calling me to travel and leave my circles of immediate responsibility, then it’s going to have to make sense—and by this I mean, work meaningfully with my writing life. As I’ve been coming to see in so many areas of life, it’s not a neat either-or, but a messy and complicated both-and. (Aren’t those the most fertile places of faith?)

Well, this is getting long. I’ll wrap it up here to ask if you’re reading any good books lately. I recently finished Tara Conklin’s The Last Romantics. Ryan was already asleep next to me, and I sobbed through the last page, especially these last lines. “We believe in love because we want to believe in it. Because really what else is there, amid all our glorious follies and urges and weaknesses and stumbles? The magic, the hope, the gorgeous idea of it. Because when the lights go out and we sit waiting in the dark, what do our fingers seek? Who do we reach for?” 

I could hear Ryan’s breath, see his chest rising and falling beside me. And of course, I reached for him. It was so good to be home.




What began as a Twitter conversation between two writers on creative work and family life has become a series of letters. Here’s where Postmarked began.

Dear Shawn (1)