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

 

An Interview with Liz Ditty, Author of God's Many Voices

Jen Michel

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It was a real privilege to read Liz Ditty's new book, God's Many Voices. I enjoyed it so much that I suggested to my oldest daughter that we read it together as she enters her last year of high school and the college decision-making process. I wanted to talk to Liz a little bit more about her book, which I hope you'll get a copy of at Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Liz, the title of your book is God’s Many Voices. Can you talk a little about what that means?

In my work as a Spiritual Director and jail chaplain, I had many conversations with people who wanted God’s voice to be a part of their lives but didn’t think He spoke to them. They said things like “God is so silent” or “God doesn’t speak to me like He speaks to…”. 

When I asked them what God’s voice sounded like, some said they didn’t know. Others talked about hearing God speak clearly in an audible voice, or getting goosebumps, or knowing a clear answer to something. Sure, God can speak in sudden clarity- but that isn’t the only voice He has. 

When we have learned to listen for God’s voice and expect Him to speak in many different ways we won’t miss all of the important things He has to say to us. If the Holy Spirit is in us as believers, then God is with us and He is not silent. The Bible, Prayer, Community, Beauty, Coincidences, Desire, even Silence can be ways that His Spirit draws us closer to Him- if we are paying attention. God uses many voices, and if we know what to expect we can hear Him as much in His speaking as in His silence.

As you know, many people struggle to hear God’s voice in their daily lives. What would you most like to tell people about learning to hear God’s voice, especially in times of hardship or frustration?

One of the most famous stories of hearing God’s verse is the story of Elijah in a cave, when God’s voice came to him as a whisper. There are a couple important things we often rush past in this interaction.

First, Elijah was frustrated. Even though he had heard God’s voice clearly, the events in his life were not lining up with what he expected the plan of God to look like. By the time he wakes up in this cave, he is utterly confused and a little disappointed and feeling very alone and abandoned (1 Kings 19:10). If that is where you are, God’s invitation to Elijah is for you too.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (I Kings 19:11)

No matter how we are feeling, we live our lives in the presence of the Lord- in a world that is saturated with spiritual realities and the fingerprints of God. Our lowest moments can be the best times to stand in the presence of God and pay attention to see if we can watch Him pass by.

See what happens next. There are flashes of wind and fire and earthquake- all the ways God has spoken in the past and the ways Elijah would expect Him to speak. But those aren’t the voices God is using with him now, instead God speaks in an unexpected whisper.

There are times I have been utterly heartbroken and turned to places I expected to hear God’s voice but came up empty. Not because He never speaks in those ways, but because He had something different to say. 

For example, the Bible is the starting point for God’s voice- like the fire of the Old Testament. But there have been times I tried to read my way out of fear or hopelessness and came up dry. That didn’t mean that God wasn’t speaking to me. Just because God wasn’t in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake that night doesn’t mean God isn’t speaking. We might have to wait for the whisper- or the unexpected call from a friend, the unbothered sunrise, or other reminders that God is still near. We can trust that one of His unexpected voices will find us when we are standing in His presence waiting for His words.

A point you make in your book is that people may not recognize God’s voice, even if He is speaking to them. What’s your advice on learning to recognize what we may already be hearing?

Our minds are cluttered with voices! Learning God’s voice and becoming familiar with who He is and the kinds of things He says is important in discerning His words. The Bible is an anchor of truth for us, especially the stories and words of Jesus in the Gospels. John 1 says that Jesus Himself is the Word of God that will point us to who God truly is, He teaches us to recognize the wild and gentle voice of God. We also get better at listening the more we listen, and our communities become an important aspect of our discernment.

With that foundation we can begin to recognize the three markers Dallas Willard attributes to God’s voice: “What we discern when we learn to recognize God’s voice in our heart is a certain weight or force, a certain spirit, and a certain content in the thoughts that come in God’s communications to us.” 

In your book, you talk about the everyday distractions that make it difficult to hear God speaking to us. What is your advice on how we can better develop our discernment in a world that values a loud, busy, stressful life?

When I feel like God isn’t speaking to me, if I’m honest, I’m not spending a whole lot of time listening. Maybe a quick little 15 minutes of reading and prayer? It’s not always awe inspiring if I’m honest, but then I realize that intimacy and connection is never built by us showing up for each other in short periods of time with unrealistic expectations. 

That’s not how human relationships work, and it’s not how we can expect our relationship with God to work either.

I hope as we journey together through God’s Many Voices that we aren’t just moving towards God’s voice, we are moving towards God Himself. The real invitation of listening is relationship, and slowly with many mistakes we can all learn together how to live life with God- the abundant, beautiful life of freedom and ongoing conversation that we are all invited to.

What does a healthy life online look like?

Jen Michel

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I finally read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Deaththis summer. Published in 1985, the book argues the adverse effects of television. Postman, of course, was not alive to witness the advent of the smartphone, but I imagine he’d have even graver warnings for us today than in 30 years ago if he had been.

Truthfully, I read Postman’s book at the cottage this summer, which means I didn’t take copious notes and copy them into Evernote, which tends to be my routine with books I am reading seriously. (Having borrowed the book from the library, neither did I do any underlining.) But that’s ok, because the book principally confirmed for me one of the most dangerous effects of our new media, which is this: as we increase our exposure to things beyond our sphere of influence, we increase our sense of impotence. Or let me say it this way: our capacity to know more comes with the ability to do less. 

In Postman’s day, we could watch the horror of the latest environmental disaster on the nightly news and apart from the check we’d write to the Red Cross, do little to substantially alleviate the suffering. In our day, we can browse Facebook and learn, as I did yesterday, that a young mother of three, diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, lost her husband to a tragic hit and run accident. But apart from praying for this friend-of-a-friend (and I don’t mean to make that an insignificant means of participation), what can I really do to lighten the burden she must now carry? She is a faceless stranger, and my compassion for her, however sincere, cannot reach through the Ethernet and deliver the presencemost needed at times like these.

Media gives me a greater glimpse of this groaning world. But as the world grows more and more broken, I feel less and less able to fix it. 

This is one danger of overexposure to media: it allows this sense of impotence to seep into the areas of my life where I can and should exercise personal responsibility. I may not be able to fix global poverty; I may not be able to physical comfort the woman suffering the sudden loss of her husband; but I can deliver a meal to the neighbor across the street who has just had triple bypass surgery. But will I? Will I think it significant enough? 

I have responsibilities to carry, and media is no reliable guide to what those responsibilities are.

I am, of course, touching on only one of the many liabilities of too much digital engagement. There are certainly others, especially when we speak of social media: that it’s a distraction from deep work; that it’s a breeding ground for comparison and envy; that it’s hostile to charitable conversation. These are dangers, too, and I’m just as vulnerable as anyone else to the kind of addictive social media checking that makes me a passive participant in a world other than my real one.

And yet,as a friend reminded me: good things happen on the internet, too. Interesting, even life-changing ideas are shared; real friendships are formed; awareness beyond our insular worlds is increased. No, I’m not suggesting we abandon all things digital and return to a safer, better world of the past (although I do remember my first summers as a high school teacher and the long stretch of days, without internet, that could be spent quietly reading books without interruption).  What I am suggesting is a mindful approach to media, one that reflects intentionality and the wisdom of God, which seeks the “beneficial” and the “helpful,” not just the “lawful” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12). 

So, I need your help. Yes, you out there in this big digital world of ours. What are the “rules” or “principles” you follow to cultivate a healthy life online? What digital “restrictions” help you to be present to your embodied, emplaced life? What do you choose to engage online, and what do you choose to avoid? Get practical for me: tell me how you use your smartphone, your desktop, how you create space for the work God’s calling you to do while also engaging online. Tell me what books and articles you’re reading that are helping you think through these important questions. Share online, or share in the comments below.

I’m the student; you’re the teacher. Thanks for your input. I'll be curating responses, praying, and hopefully in the weeks to come, posting a guide to how I intend to more meaningfully engage online.

#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.