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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

The Unmaking and Making of Home (Guest Post by Sharon Mugg)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for “Plant sequoias./ Say that your main crop is the forest/ that you did not plant,/that you will not live to harvest.” - Wendell Berry

It’s funny perhaps, but I love how our house smells in the summer heat. It has the old-house smell of plaster and floorboards soaked in living. I loved the smell from the moment I set foot inside and knew it could be home. It reminds me of an old house I lived in as a child. It is everything that house could have been.

~

I woke this morning to commence the next decade of my life. My love lay warm beside me. He kissed me, held me for a moment and went to brew coffee. The children clattered after him. I lay back and smiled in the momentary stillness left behind. So much has happened in a decade – so much received and so much lost. I entered the decade still childishly innocent. I leave it grown. Joys and losses are the foods that nourish adulthood. The joy is sharpened, intensified, known more completely through its antithesis of grief. Perhaps this has been the lesson of my twenties.

~

These days I carry two homes always in my heart. One is the home we have painstakingly built together, Josh and I. This is where the beautiful mess of life happens daily. We brew beer and garden; we laugh and cry; we fight and forgive. Our children tear around like hurricanes until we snuggle and read stories together at the end of each day. When we feel discouraged, the brewing and gardening remind us that just as comforting brews and beautiful gardens emerge from grubby toil, commitment to the process, and a whole lot of waiting and hoping, so too with a beautiful marriage and home. We hold each other and vow never to cease in our toil, and never to stop looking for the beauty that emerges, sometimes in unexpected colours and flavours.

The other home I carry in my heart is one that crumbled. It is the home of my childhood. I find myself returning again and again to weep amidst the rubble. Sometimes as I shuffle through the memories, I rescue a small remnant of this or that: the song my mother sang when she rocked me, that now I sing to my children; the beloved stories we read as a family over and over again (Narnia, Little House in the Big Woods, We Never Meant to Go to Sea… the list goes on and on); the tradition of an advent meal in early December; and that of unkempt, real-life hospitality.

But even these pieces that I love and have saved do not satisfy the longing for the home that is no more. I never dreamed that I would not bring my children back to Granny and Grandad’s house, that it would not be a place of safety and love (or really a place at all). I never dreamed that the people I relied on most would hurt each other so badly that they would give up and walk out on the messy work of being a family, that other things would become more important. I never dreamed, yet here we are.

~

Here I am at thirty with two beautiful children and a husband whose love for me is written everywhere upon our life. We will surely make messes and hurt each other. Pain will surely be woven into our story as it is in all marriages – these dim reflections of Christ’s healing and forgiving love for his broken bride. In one way or another all husbands and all wives must hang on a cross for sins that are not theirs. In some mysterious way, this profound act of repentance and forgiveness is how God makes us whole: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” we pray.

Thus, I take my beloved’s hand and we look together into the next decade. We are not afraid. In this decade we will brew and garden and forgive more fiercely than ever. It will be our liberation front. It will remind us that the greatest maker and forgiver of all is already at work making our true home – one that can never fall apart – from the broken wreckage of this world. We will rejoice because we are called to be his ambassadors of hope. By the grace of God, and by his grace alone, our home, our marriage, our garden, and our beer will boldly proclaim: “The Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”


Sharon Mugg is a Canadian transplant living in Indiana. She is the wife of a philosopher (dinner conversations are never dull), and the mom of two crazies. Sharon is in the process of launching into graduate studies in English literature.

 

 

 


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

When a Church Values Art (And a peek at our church's magazine)

jenmichel@me.com

This is the cover of the most recent Imprint published by Grace Centre for the Arts, a ministry of Grace Toronto Church. After we began attending Grace Toronto in 2011, they released an issue of Imprint, and I remember being incredibly impressed. It was legit: the content, the photography, the design. I didn't know that churches could produce real magazines. In my experience of church publishing, they were only good at lightweight evangelistic tracts, and even these were ordered by the case, not produced in-house. But I was to learn something about this new church we were attending, something that would prove invaluable to my own writing life. They valued art of all kinds. They even believed God valued it.

For a number of reasons, however, Imprint has not been published in recent years. I'm not sure of the exact timeline, although I know that people attending the church for less than four years have no memory of it. "Our church publishes a magazine?" has been a common response. Yes, we do. At least, yes, we have. The cover that you're looking at is the cover to a special commemorative edition of Imprint for which I've had the privilege of serving as lead editor. As our church makes our new home in a recently renovated historic church in Toronto, we decided that it was time to do another edition of Imprint. I wanted to show you some of the content here because it's gorgeous. I only wish that you could hold it in your hands because these pictures simply don't do it justice.

I hope this might insire you to think about the artistic endeavors you could do in your church - to bless your congregation as well as your larger community. Because that really is the intent of Imprint: it's a publication intended to be read by a much broader audience than the one that fills our pews on Sunday mornings. (If you attend Grace Toronto Church, Imprint will be available for purchase this Sunday before and after the service, as well as at our November 16th community event.)

This commemorative edition, called "Neighbours," celebrates the new neighbourhood into which we moved and the people who live and work there. This beautifully illustrated map here was done by an artist who worships in our congregation, Julie Kraulis. As you'll note, our new church (at the corner of Jarvis and Carlton streets) is at the intersection of a lot of different neighbourhoods. We included this map to situate our congregation to the actual place in which we're rooting ourselves, especially as many of us don't live in these neighbourhoods. These seem to be especially important questions for churches to ask: where are we? who lives here? how can we be a part of helping this neighbourhood flourish?

This essay features the story of one of our congregants receiving hospitality from a family in St. James Town. It very consciously opens the magazine by situating someone else in the position of hero: not the church, not a church member, but a neighbour. Elita concludes, "I was a recipient of generous hospitality. And I needed that welcome, if I every hope to be a neighbour myself."

Another congregant, Wendy, interviewed an unsung hero of the neighbourhood, a dapper 76 year old whose life was changed by Jesus. Without Murray, the local Salvation Army would certainly struggle to minister to the people they do. "God has given me a lot of strength to get over a lot of rough roads. Some of them I made myself, some of them other people made, some of them, just life. I'd still be out in the gutter somewhere without God."

Another feature in the magazine are three full-page neighbour portraits. This gives a small taste of a larger event we're hosting On November 16th, when our church will open its doors to the community, and the entire main hall will feature portraits of local neighbours. As the director for Grace Centre for the Arts, Ian Cusson, writes, "The photo exhibit is a response to the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' Displayed throughout the gallery are images of people from the communities surrounding Old St Andrew’s. In our hyper, quick-paced city, we rarely take the time to see the people around us. The use of larger-than-life format in this display challenges us to stop and look, even to confront our unwillingness to find the beauty and diversity in the people we meet every day."

Another congregant conducted interviews in order to feature the work of a local non-profit called The Children's Book Bank, where young patrons can take home a free book after every visit. Sarah observes, "It is a small haven in which the modern world's economy—where quality goods require payment of money—is replaced with the currency of grace."

We had gracious permission from Christ and Pop Culture to republish a reflective piece by Martyn Wendell Jones on the furniture in God's house. "The CEO and the homeless man alike may share a pew with a whole middle-class family in between. Like the Lord, pews do not play favourites."

I've written a long feature piece on the history of the church building at the corner of Jarvis and Carlton streets, whose cornerstone was laid in 1876 and in which five congregations have now worshipped. It was a privilege to do this research and gift what I learned to others. (And after multiple trips to various archival centres and libraries, I finally tracked down the original 1876 architectural drawings for our building, which are included with the piece.)

The magazine ends with a reflective piece on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and Season's words are the last we read before closing the magazine. "In our longing for human connection, perhaps the greatest gift we can offer is one we all have—the gift of woundedness. Each of us takes our turn as the Samaritan and the wounded man on the side of the road, and we become neihbours as we allow ourselves to carry, and be carried, to safety."

Our team of photographers, writers, designers, and editors gathered last week to hold Imprint in our hands for the first time and celebrate what God had done. As I told them then, I found such joy in this collaborative effort and perhaps even greater pride in it than my own two books. I think that's because I experienced the pleasure of working in community, which is something that images the triune God of community. And truthfully, I love to see others using their gifts.

A New Release from The Gospel Coalition

jenmichel@me.com

Do you remember me telling you about my hard thing for this past year? If you don't, you can catch up here. Essentially, my husband, Ryan, read the book Grit and challenged everyone in our family to choose to do a hard thing "with passion and perseverance." The kids have, to varying degrees of success, met their goals. Ryan has, as he determined, improved his French dramatically. And I succeeded in reading the 800+ pages of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age.

Taylor's work has been showing up in my writing for the last many months, attesting to how important and relevant I've personally found his thought to be. And I'm happy to say that I have a chapter in an exciting new collection of essays published by The Gospel Coalition: Our Secular Age, edited by Collin Hansen. Our Secular Age releases today, and you can purchase your copy here.

If you find yourself daunted by 800+ pages, this essay collection is a perfect way to familiarize yourself with Taylor's thought, all the while seeing how it might immediately be applied to church life, cultural engagement, and personal discipleship.

What to do when you're anxious

jenmichel@me.com

I’ve collected all the miscellaneous blankets in the house to wash and fold them. I’m on my third load now. Every time I take a load from the dryer, the world is fragrant. Every time I fold another blanket, taking great care that the ends meet, the world is well-ordered. That small tower of blankets gives me a sense of control in the world. And it’s the illusion of control that stays the anxiety. The blankets are a shore for my spilling ocean of responsibility.

School started just a couple of weeks ago, which means I started back, in earnest, to meeting my deadlines. I knew that the fall would be busy. I’m leading a large project at church, which is lots of fun if also lots of work. The mid-week meetings and phone calls are a welcome break from the reclusive work of writing, and the challenge of leading others, rather than simply leading myself, is an important point of personal growth. (As I’m learning, doing the work is hardly the same thing as leading others to get it done.) The project, which involves both the publication of a magazine as well as the coordination of a large event, taps into all the things I really love to do: connect people to each other and to a larger contribution they can make; think creatively about the work of witness; write and research; vision and execute. The project, inspired by the book, Slow Church (C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison), is meant as a community outreach and marks an important event in the life of our church: the renovation of the 1878 historic Old St. Andrew’s, which will be our church’s new home. I’m excited about everything I’m doing, convinced that the vision truly was God-given—and simultaneously unraveled by the amount of work. On the outside, I may seem unflappable. On the inside, I am crushed under the weight of to-dos and timelines.

In addition to this church project, I’m trying to make headway on Book #3. It hardly seems possible that I’ve just launched Keeping Place in May and have already begun work on another book, but that is the joy (grief?) of signing a two-book deal. Quite honestly, book writing is getting harder for me in many ways, at least in terms of the discipline required. When I landed my first book contract for Teach Us to Want, my professional life was leaner. I wasn’t traveling to speak (and having to deal with the administrative aspects of travel). I wasn’t writing as widely as I do now on the web (and having to field emails from readers). Writing the first book was like being pregnant the first time: I had all the capacity for doting. But now that I’m the mother of two, Baby #3 isn’t getting all the attention she needs. (Which reminds me of a comment my friend made about my real baby #3, Camille. “Do you even feel like you know her?” she asked when Camille turned one. In one sense, the question was entirely fair. I had three children, three and under. How much real attention could I pay to any of them individually? And in another sense, Camille was the one I carried the most, whose weight and frame were most familiar. She was nearer than the other two had ever been.) I’m carrying book #3 close, writing in the margins of days. But even though I’m saying no to additional assignments, I worry the attention won’t be enough.

Then there are the matters of everyday family life. I walked into the house this morning after dropping the kids off at school and realized that Andrew had left his swimming bag at home. I got back into the car, headed to school for a second time, and circled home. The new year has brought new routines, and none of us is familiar with them yet. Additionally, Ryan has been traveling this month for work, leaving me to manage the chauffeuring alone. (Tonight, I’ll rely on my older son, Nathan, to walk his brothers to and from their piano lessons so that I can get to school for the parents’ meeting.) With the school year underway, there are forms to fill out, checks to write, permission slips to sign. And have I mentioned that we’ve moving? Settling a long-term anxiety about permanence, we’ve bought a house in Toronto—approximately one-third the size of our current rental house. This has meant a feverish sorting of our house and trips to the Salvation Army with the back of the minivan full of things we’ll no longer have room for. It’s a wonderful practice: we can live with far less than we do. But it’s all work: pressing, urgent, heavy.

Which is why I’m washing the blankets. It’s the one job I can start and finish today, one discrete task that convinces me of my agency. Washing the blankets is probably the least urgent task of the day, but I do it urgently nonetheless because inwardly I am restless, fearful that I’ve set the plates in motion only to let them shatter at my feet.

This morning, it’s anxiety that takes me back to Matthew 6, a well-worn passage about the worries we bear for the tomorrows we cannot control. I go there because I feel I need the reprimand of Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life.” I read and re-read the words, as if by their power, I can extinguish the smoldering wick of fear in my chest. I will myself to put out the fire of worry. I will myself to think only of today.

But impossibly, I’m still under it: under tomorrow, under the emails to send and the chapter to write and the calls to make and the appointments to schedule. What to do when anxiety, like a rabid dog, just won’t be called off?

I begin noticing that there is more here, in Matthew 6, then the reprimand of Jesus—the don’t of worry. There’s also this glorious do: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Perhaps, I begin to think, I don’t simply need to try and tamp out worry and anxiety. Instead, I need to light a better fire: the urgent fire for doing all that pleases God (cf. John 8:29). And what do I know about God’s kingdom? It’s going to be built, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it. God doesn’t need my efficiency, my strategic planning, my time management. In fact, he wants so much more for me than this cramped sense of responsibility, which lays the world’s spinning at my feet.

I do what pleases him. I seek his kingdom. And I only do this when I lay down the anxiety, which ultimately betrays how central I feel to every task I’m given, how little I depend on God for the provisions of the everyday. Look at the birds, Jesus says. Take notice of their inactivity: “They neither sow nor reap nor father into barns.” Look at the flowers, Jesus says. Observe their effortless beauty: “They neither toil, nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” This isn’t to say that we don’t work. Surely God’s kingdom involves emails and appointments, meetings and deadlines. But we work differently than as if we assumed it were entirely up to us.

I’ll pull the final load of blankets from the dryer soon. And because it’s Monday (one of two laundry days at my house), I’ll continue on with the clothes. The hampers will empty, filling me temporarily with a sense of relief. But I’ve got to do more today than get things done: I’ve got to find my way toward a life of greater surrender, the life of the birds and the lilies, the abundant life in the way of Jesus.

Whose yoke is easy and burden light.

#2 Hilltop Lane, Peoria, IL (Guest Post by Ann Swindell)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

The summer the roof blew off my house also happened to be the summer I was away, studying abroad in England during college. All of it was an enormous surprise; there was no plan for a microburst to heave the roof off in July. When I left in June there was no warning about what was coming.

That house—the one that lost its roof—has been in my family for four generations. My great-grandfather was an architect; he designed the home. My grandfather laid the bricks, my father moved in at the age of four in 1954, and I was brought home thirty years later. The maple trees, just saplings when my father moved into the house, now tower twenty feet high.

I always knew those trees as tall. I slept in the bedroom that my father slept in as a boy, ate in the same kitchen, played basketball in the same backyard. Every story that belonged to the house also belonged to my family; the people and the place, wedded.

Into the house itself, my great-grandfather cemented a reminder of the family sentiment. He set odd-colored stones in the brick fireplace, uneven and small, jutting out in unlikely places.  Their colors do not match. These stones are from his travels to the Pyramids, the Coliseum, the Acropolis. He brought them back from those places to mortar them into the hearth, a reminder that though you travel far, you always, always circle back to where you started.

We are homebodies, embodied in a home that helps us know ourselves. Generations stay, or they come back.

*

I heard about the roof blowing off my house when I was in Oxford. My mother called from across the Atlantic with the news.

“Sweetie, three days ago a storm came through and ripped the roof off.”

“Of our house?” I was unbelieving.

Her voice was apologetic. “Yes, but…but not the whole roof. Just the third over your room and the attic. It was a wild storm, and we think a microburst—sort of a mini-tornado—exploded over the roof.”

“So my room is wide open to the sky?” I imagined it like a fairy-tale, as if a giant had opened the roof to look inside and had forgotten to put the lid back on.“No; the ceiling is still there, but the roof and all of the protective layers are gone.” My mother paused. “And honey?”

“Yes?”

“Your room was flooded. It was pouring, just sheets of rain inside. Everything is water-damaged.”

“Everything?”

“Almost. We were able to get the bed up on bricks and salvage it. But all of your photos, most your books, the carpet; it’s all ruined.” She paused for a few seconds. When I didn’t say anything, she worked to fill the silence. “I’m so sorry, honey. I know how much you loved your room.”

I nodded into the phone and hung up shortly after, startled by the symbolism. In every poem we read, in every play we saw in England, our professors stressed that the symbolism was important. Take note of what the author is getting at, what the words point to. Now, here in my own life, the symbolism from the ultimate Author felt unmistakable. Home was not exactly home anymore. I had already been feeling that shift during my freshman year away at college; everything was changing internally, and now, it seemed the externals were changing, too. The home that had sheltered me for so many years, that had sheltered my family, was not something I could protect or keep safe.

A microburst, I later learned, is an extremely violent draft of wind that can occur during thunderstorms. They are small, and short-lived, and the winds can speed up to 100 miles per hour. The insurance company was not sure what caused the roof to unhinge so completely and violently from the house; the assumption is that it might have been a microburst, but nothing is certain.

Nothing is certain on this earth, at least. Yes, my family has been built into that house, and our collective memories pool in the walls and floors like incense, like prayer. With the right attention, they come floating up from every corner of the place, smelling of years and soap and wooden-paneled rooms. But the house is as fragile as a butterfly wing. Underneath the wrong mix of air, it will disintegrate, unhinge, loosen. We cannot make sure that it will stand, or even that it will stay. It is brick and mortar, wood and stone. It is not eternal, not a “lasting city”; it will eventually collapse. And so, although we circle back to these brick walls and the stones in the hearth, the microbursts and the storms and the weathering of the years remind us to turn our eyes to the roofless heavens, where our savior is preparing “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). There, for once, we will finally be in a “building from God,” our unshakeable home.


Ann Swindell is the author of Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn't Give You What You Want (Tyndale, 2017). Her work has appeared at The Gospel Coalition, CT Women, RELEVANT, and Desiring God. She teaches online, Christian writing courses at www.writingwithgrace.com, and makes her home in the Midwest with her husband and daughter. You can connect with her online at www.annswindell.com.


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

The Commute (Guest Post by Collin Huber)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for

3600 Wheeler St., Dallas, TX

The train arrived at 5:10, like it did every day on my way home. I claimed my usual seat and watched as the car filled with familiar faces of the public transit’s frequent riders. I used the rail service during seminary as a way to save money. The trip took an hour each way and required two connecting bus routes, but it helped with the bills. I normally spent the commute lost to my headphones or focused on Hebrew flashcards, but today I opted for the window, gazing drowsily through the rain-streaked glass.

On the nearby freeway, traffic crept along. Office buildings and public parks raced past my view. About halfway through the route, the track crested a slight swell where a number of billboards were strategically placed. One in particular caught my eye. It was for a waxing salon.

…I know, stay with me.

The giant canvas showed a birds-eye shot of a woman boasting smooth skin, gleaming white teeth, and a carefree posture, her body draped across the front seat of a classic convertible. Outlining her figure were the words, “Fancy a free wax?” As I looked, a longing overtook me—not for the woman or the waxing service, but for her world. She seemed to dwell in a place so free and pure, void of fear, suffering, and the anxieties I had come to know so well.

Less than a year into our marriage, my wife and I moved from Austin to Dallas so I could begin my seminary training. Doing so meant uprooting from a community of deep friendships, a church we loved, and a city in which we had invested years of our lives. But we had taken all the right steps. Through prayer and godly counsel, we received consistent affirmation that Dallas was the Lord’s will for our lives—we still believe that—but we were unprepared for what would follow.

By the end of my first semester, I had a perfect GPA and the attention of my professors. Nonetheless, anxiety and depression crept into our marriage to the tune of repeated hospital visits and a weariness that nagged at our souls. My daily routine resembled that of the train, propelled back and forth lifelessly along its route. Rather than the vibrant joy I expected, my achievements seemed only to create a distance that geography could not relieve—distance from my friends, my wife, my Lord.

Fancy a free wax?

As Eve and her Edenic frame drifted out of sight, I was wrenched back to my own world—dirty sidewalks, garbage dancing in the breeze, highways filled with angry drivers, the smell and squeeze of humidity. A homeless man lounged two rows up, his head lilting in rhythm to the train’s movement. I wore the invisible weights of research papers, preaching examinations, and midterms. Each a reminder of that all-too-familiar distance.

One stop before my own, the homeless man pulled himself to his feet and stumbled off the train. Yet, another homeless man remained. He was sitting in my seat.

When I think of my home in Austin, I don’t see my accomplishments. I see the faces of those I loved. They appear in scenes—roasting marshmallows in a backyard on a winter night, laughing over a cup of coffee, worshiping in a cramped sanctuary, dancing at my wedding ceremony, always together. In a box on one of my bookshelves sits a pile of handwritten notes from those friends wishing us well in our move and rejoicing in the friendship we had built. At every turn, my wife and I shared our lives through hard-fought relationships. But I had set aside relationships for a resume in our new home.

It’s strange coming to terms with exile. Like the rest of humanity, I am seeking a homeland, longing for a home. But home for me is more than merely a place. It must be peopled that we might bear together our longing for a better country—that heavenly one where God is preparing a city for his people to dwell in his presence.

As the train rolled to its final stop, I stepped off the platform, walked to my car, and drove the short distance home. I found my wife sitting in our living room, resting from a long day of work. Assignments weighed heavily in my backpack, but I slipped it off and set it aside. It could wait. My wife looked up as I settled in next to her on the couch and asked, “How was your day?”


Collin Huber is a professional writer and associate editor for Fathom Magazine. His writing has appeared at The Gospel Coalition, Christ and Pop Culture, and For the Church. He and his wife, Brittany, live in Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter @JCollinHuber.

 


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

Keeping Home (Guest Post by Gina Butz)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Kentish Green, 20 Oxford Road Singapore

We arrived at the apartment we had rented, sight unseen, that our new co-workers had acquired for us. It was located on the 2nd floor of a 6 story condo in Singapore, a short distance from our ministry’s office.

We slept that first night on mattresses borrowed from our new friends. The next morning, sitting on the cold tile floor of the dining room, we wondered if our belongings had arrived from our last international location. We prayed, “God, please bring our stuff today!”

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang; it was the Sante Fe moving company (sometimes God answers quickly!) Five hours after that, thanks to full service movers, everything was in place. Aside from pictures on the wall, it looked like we lived in that new tropical home.

I wandered around it in a daze. It looked like home, but it didn’t feel like one. The air was heavy with humidity, the skies scattered with clouds (a novelty, after leaving a land of near constant pollution). I stared out the window at the condo swimming pool that felt indulgent compared to the developing country we had left. The squeals of our children’s laughter echoed through the rooms as they met new neighbors and began bonding.

And yet, my heart ached for our previous home. We had moved to Singapore to serve at our ministry headquarters for that part of the world. This new place, a home outside of the country where we were called to minister, felt like exile. My body, my family, and my belongings were there, but my heart was not.

And in leaving that former home, I had lost much of what I felt defined me; friends, my role in ministry outside the home, the places and people that were familiar to me. I felt untethered, unknown, and left grasping for a solid place.

We thought it might only be two years. “Two years,” I thought, “I can exist here for two years.”

But God didn’t want me to just exist there. He wanted me to be at home.

A new friend wisely observed my inclination to hold back in this regard, and encouraged me, “You need to count your losses, and your gains. Then, focus on your gains.”

So I tried. Though there was much to grieve in the loss of our old home, God had given us a new one. Kentish Green is the place of our daughter’s first memories. It is where we began our homeschool journey. Our children learned to swim in that pool. Those first friendships developed into lifelong ones. We too, developed friendships outside in the courtyard, watching our children play while we ate together.

It was also in that home that God taught me that I always do have a solid place. While I instinctively looked for home outside of myself, He called me back to rest in who He says I am. Through books like Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning, and Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen, He told me again and again, “You are my child. Stop looking somewhere else to find your true home.” When I felt insecurity creep in, I spent hours laying on the homemade Americana quilt on my bed, re-reading quotes about my identity in Christ, telling myself, “This is who you are, this is who you are, this is who you are.”

We spent five years in Singapore, so I’m thankful for my wise friend who encouraged me not to drift through that time. Instead, God gave us a home through an amazing community in that condo, in the context of a beautifully diverse culture that welcomed us.

While God provided an external home there as He always does, I am most grateful for what He taught me in those years about remembering where my truest home lies. No matter where He takes us, I learned there to claim my solid ground in every earthly home He gives.


Gina Butz has served in ministry for over 20 years. She planned to spend three or four of them overseas, but ended up staying 13 years. She and her husband are currently raising two third-culture kids and an imported dog in the exotic land of Orlando, Florida, where they serve in global leadership for Cru. She blogs about being wholehearted at www.ginabutz.com and loves to connect on Twitter @gina_butz.

 


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

A reader writes to ask, "Why want?"

jenmichel@me.com

Even though I’ve just recently released my second book, Keeping Place, I continue to travel and speak on the topic of my first book, Teach Us to Want. This is a question that was recently emailed to me, and I wanted to answer it at length here.


Dear Jen,

Can I run something up the flag pole with you on this subject?  After reading the beginning of Teach Us to Want, I had to put the book down and take two giant steps backward.  The book asks us about our wants and desires—our deep inside “ME ONLY” wants and desires. When I go the basement of my mind, lift up the rug and false floor, and pull out the old deteriorating suitcase labeled "Wants & Desires," I find a glaring new label affixed over the old one: "Disappointments.”

Man, it's heavy.

I had wants and desires from as long ago as when I was three years old. In the spirit of survival, those wants and desires were denied for me and on my behalf.  Fast forward to my adult life. Ten years ago, I made the hardest decision I've ever made, which demanded that I walk away from my very last lifelong dream and desire. And somewhere, sandwiched in the middle, is the painful drudgery of single parenting and challenge of "motherhood" that feels like a noose around my neck. Now, I am unexpectedly a grandmother—the result of my Dean’s List college-aged daughter’s teen pregnancy.

From my earliest memories, my life story is a continuous tale of crisis aversion, management and the desperate scramble to simply touch the fringe of "Wants & Desires"—but never actually own one.  In fact, after much review, I believe the last "want/desire" that I recognized and achieved was graduating High School in 1986.

It's not all doom and gloom. Sometimes life settles down, and I'm learning to find contentment in living the day to day.

The last decade? No desires. No wants.

Am I supposed to???  My greatest desire is to get back and forth from the grocery store without traffic.  That's good, right?

So, I picked up the book again, this time at Chapter 3. "Delight yourself in the Lord and HE will give you the desires of your heart.” I'm not sure I want to "want" or "desire.” In fact, I'm sure that I don't want to. I hear that He wants me to trust Him with reckless abandon and to "delight" myself in Him (how do you EVEN do that??) and He will give ME desires.

But why?? Why desire? Why want? Do I NEED to desire or want??

Confused in California


Dear Confused in California,

Thank you so much for reading Teach Us to Want and for posing these very important questions. I’m so glad that you’ve written, and I’m also glad that you’ve given me the permission to share our conversation publicly.

I suppose the first important thing to say is this: we don’t want simply so that we can get things from God. That would be to do what James condemns in his epistle, chapter 4: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions” (v. 3). Many of us have our life of desire turned upside down and inside out.

Life with God isn’t ultimately about getting things from him: it’s about getting him in us.

You’ve referenced Psalm 37:4, and I’m so glad. It’s an often-misunderstood verse. People use it to defend their gospel of, “God loves me; I love him; therefore, it’s only right that he gives me what I want.” But as you say, that verse isn’t about us telling God what we want and getting it. It’s about him giving us HIS desires. It’s as we delight ourselves in the LORD that the whole nature of our desiring life changes. As we delight ourselves, more and more, in the LORD, we delight ourselves, less and less, in the shallow pleasures of comfort and convenience. As we delight ourselves, more and more, in the LORD, we delight ourselves, less and less, in material security, reputation, even temporal happiness.

To delight ourselves in the LORD is to love what God loves. And the Lord’s Prayer teaches us what God loves: God loves for his name to be made holy, for his kingdom to come, for his will to be done. It’s not, of course, that we should stop wanting for the simple sustenance of this life. The Lord’s Prayer also invites us to pray for bread, for restored relationship with others and with God, for protection. But as the late Kenneth Bailey wrote in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, there’s an important architecture of priority in this prayer. The “thee” petitions come before the “me” petitions, which provides a lesson for life.

We must become the kind of people who think of God and his kingdom priorities first.

I know I still haven’t answered your most pressing question: why want? If I’m only supposed to want what God wants, why even bother with the complicated business of desire? And doesn’t that just lead me to a lot of disappointments and unmet expectations?

Here’s the first reason to want in your life of faith: because it’s one way to risk on God’s goodness. Or maybe I could put it this way: how often is our failure to want really about our failure to trust God’s goodness? The Psalmist says that God is good and does good (Ps. 119:68). Whatever he chooses to do, whatever he chooses to give, whatever his timing: it’s good. We see this all throughout Scripture, that God’s impulse is to give and to bless. This doesn’t mean of course that we get to say “This is good, therefore you must give it to me, God.” But it is to say, “God, I trust you have my best interest at heart.”

To illustrate what I mean, let me share a story from my friend’s book, Praying Together. Megan Hill tells the story about arriving with her husband at the Ethiopian orphanage to take their son home. All the children, having learned just a few words of English, were crying out, “Mommy!” “Daddy!” She writes, “Those little ones knew the language of family and the gestures of asking, but twenty-four of the children had no right to use them. And though we gave candy and balloons to every child, there was only on little boy whose cries to us of ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’ were absolutely compelling. This was the child with whom we have a relationship—having just appeared before a judge in a courtroom to secure his adoption—and this child alone could reach into our pockets with every assurance that he’d be granted whatever treat he could find there.” As Jesus said, if this inclination to generosity is true of flawed human parents, how much more must our heavenly Father want to be generous with us! God is good and does good. That’s a reason to bring him your desires—because he can be trusted to receive them and respond to them out of his lavish love.

A second reason to want—a reason connected to this first point—is that it will grow your intimacy with God. There is a vulnerability to admitting our desires to anyone, whether that’s a friend or God himself. It’s vulnerable in one sense because our desires say something about us. Maybe they say that we’re selfish! Maybe they say that we’re apathetic! To bring our desires before God is a vulnerable act—and prayer, if we want to pray like Abraham and Hannah and Jesus and Paul prayed—is supposed to be vulnerable. Bold. Self-disclosing. The Psalmist says, “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Ps. 38:9). I believe that God wants to know all of us. I believe that a life of walking with Christ is a life of walking in the light, of disclosing ourselves to God, not concealing ourselves. Maybe we could even just think about the impulse of Adam and Eve in the garden, after they had eaten the fruit. They hid themselves from the presence of God, rather than walking before him naked and unashamed. One way of seizing this marvelous invitation to “draw near to the throne of grace with confidence” (Heb. 4:16) is to come to God without concealment: to tell him what we really think, really want, really despair of, really fear. Only then do those things have a chance of being repaired, reformed, transformed! Only then do we deepen our friendship with God, which is what he is ultimately after and which is the only thing to satisfy our deepest longings and desires.

Maybe it’s in coming to God with our desires that we begin to see how much anything pales compared to the great worth of knowing him.

And here’s a final point that I’ll make here. (So much more to say, but I guess you’ll have to finish the book!) There is no real lasting transformation in our lives apart from a transformation of our desires. Philippians 2:13 talks about the ambitious scope of the gospel. When the Spirit of Jesus indwells us, he’s not content simply that we believe differently or behave differently. We must want differently. And when we want differently, we sustain real change in our lives. I suppose we’d only have to consider New Year’s Resolutions to consider how insufficient duty and obligation are for sustaining change. That’s not to say that we shirk duty and obligation, but it is say that when we do something dutifully, we have our eye on desire. God, let my heart change—alongside my behavior.

As I’ve risked to disclose my desires to God, to wait on him, to surrender to him, I’ve learned in much deeper and personal way that he is good, that he can be trusted. I’ve also learned that this world, so deeply broken and in need of repair, will always leave me wanting for a better one. And maybe that’s one of the most important lessons of desire. As C.S. Lewis has famously written, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We’re living in the middle act. We’re not at the end of the story yet. When you open that box labeled “Disappointments,” you can remember that Jesus is coming again, that he’s promised to deliver the world from its groaning. You can remember “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

With you, I am longing for that home. Jen

Basement Apartment, Wheaton, IL (Guest Post by Anna Moseley Gissing)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long forIn some sense, I am currently homeless. I don’t have an address. I don’t have a permanent residence. Most of my belongings are in storage.

I live in a basement apartment, but I’m moving again soon to another temporary location. To be clear--I have shelter and food and a place to sleep. I just don’t have anywhere that’s mine.

This wandering, homeless lifestyle is not my norm. It’s not intentional, not my preference. It’s a matter of circumstance.

I left my family in Pennsylvania a few months ago and drove my chock-full Smart car across several states and through many toll booths to Chicagoland. I started my new work as an editor and my new life in the basement apartment. My family stayed behind in order to sell our house, two mortgages being out of the question.

For a time, we were a family divided and I wasn’t sure where to call home. Is home where my family is? Is it where I have a permanent residence? Is it where my stuff is? Is it something else? My family and my stuff and my house were all somewhere else. And yet, I wasn’t just visiting.

Now my family has arrived but not our stuff, and we still don’t have a home. We sold our other house, but finding a new one has been harder than expected. When people ask us for an address we are in a quandary.

And yet, this new place is quickly beginning to feel like home, even in a basement apartment without our stuff and without an address. I don’t think it’s just the presence of my husband and kids. We aren’t near relatives. We have never lived in the Midwest.

But we have community here. New colleagues have offered to unload the stuff when it arrives. Another has offered us temporary housing. My landlady has welcomed us into the neighborhood, even presenting my kids with ice cream gift cards upon their arrival. A neighbor invited us for dinner last night.

In this place we aren’t starting from scratch--we have relationships here with a few friends we’ve known for over a decade. Instead of seeds, freshly dropped into the soil, we are more like seedlings with the tentative roots.

It’s never easy to switch homes, to move to another state, to start again. But the welcome we have received here is a gift. God is welcoming us here, to this home, through the open arms of both deep friends and mere acquaintances. My son, an anxious soul who struggles with transition, can’t stop smiling. When asked how he feels about the change, he quipped: “I don’t like it more than Bethlehem yet, but it’s off to a good start.”

We believe God called us to this journey, this upheaval, this new home. That doesn’t mean that we are promised ease or comfort. But in this case, we receive the basement apartment and all of the people around it as his provision for home.


Anna Moseley Gissing is a writer, speaker, and editor. Her writing appears in Let us Keep the Feast: Keeping the Church Year at Home and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. She loves talking about the Bible and the practice of faith with groups large and small. Married to Jeff, a Presbyterian pastor, and mama to two elementary-aged kids, Anna loves big words, British TV, and any kind of chocolate.


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

 

What We Leave Behind (Guest Post by Hannah Anderson)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for “Home is where your family and your stuff is.”

My friend—with her long black hair, olive skin, and eyes so dark that the pupil and iris merge—she would know.  She’d moved enough: the Middle East, the United States, Canada. She offered it as a comfort, a way to reassure me that my own constant moving couldn’t keep me from being at home.  Because when you move eight times in eleven years, you begin to worry. Will we ever be settled? Will we ever be “home”?

“Home is where your family and your stuff is.”

I decided to believe her because really what option did I have. But there was one problem: every time we moved, we left stuff behind. A moving truck can only fit so much, but you never know exactly how much until it’s nearly full and you’re standing there, hands on your hips, looking from the truck to the pile in the front yard and back to your husband. You don’t say it, but you wonder why he chose to rent the 20 foot truck instead of the 26 foot truck.  He doesn’t say it, but he wonders why too.

If home is where your stuff is, what about the stuff you leave behind?

Once we took the kitchen table and left the chairs. Once it was the gas grill.  Another time a piano. But not the books, never the books. They always went on the truck first.

My friend was right in her own way. Moving has a way of making you take stock, of deciding what’s really worth carrying with you, what stuff is really necessary to make a home. Do you take the extra dishes? Do you really need that pile of magazines? What about the tent that you haven’t used in 5 years?

In all my years and in all my moves, I’ve never missed a single thing I left behind. If anything, home became better because of what we abandoned. Moving forced us to sort through our baggage.

I wonder if God intends the movements of this life to do the same thing, to force us to decide what’s necessary to our final home. Every shift, every uprooting has a way of stripping us of things we don’t need, making us to decide whether it’s worth packing cynicism and resentment along with us. Because if home is where your family and your stuff is, you better learn the difference between the stuff you really need and the stuff that’s best left in a pile in the front yard.

“Home is where your family and your stuff is.”

We’ve finally stopped moving, at least for now. For the past five years, we’ve been in the same house, the same church, the same schools. And we have the stuff to prove it. In the absence of the moving truck, we’ve simply accumulated stuff—a lot that doesn’t help us make a home. So last week, my husband and I decided to have a Not Moving Sale. We cleared out the closets and the attic and the basement. We made piles in the front yard and kept only what we should.

When home is where your family and your stuff is, you better know what to keep and what to leave behind.


Hannah Anderson lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She is the author of Made for More and the recently released Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul (Moody). You can find more of her writing at sometimesalight.com, hear her on the weekly podcast Persuasion, or follow her on Twitter @sometimesalight.

 


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

Signposts (Guest Post by Laura Fabrycky)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Grunewaldstraße 39 Berlin 11756

We lived in temporary quarters for one month, within walking distance of the Brandenburg Gate, before moving to our permanent residence, a curious bureaucratic misnomer because we will live here, at most, for three years. There’s a built-in temporariness to life in the diplomatic corps, and the roots one tries to grow in a new place never feel deep enough at first, but then painfully deep when they get pulled up again.

I am ever looking for signposts that connect the far countries of my life.

***

My father’s father owned a sizeable amount of undeveloped land in upstate New York, a four-hour drive from the Levittown, New York, house that I called home for the first eight years of my life. As a child, I loved visiting my grandfather in his strange little cabin in the woods. We called him Papa, and his land, Thornwood. I wasn’t close to him, but as his descendant, I still felt connected to his land.

On visits north, our family would take hikes there in the spring, snowmobile through the trees when the ground was white, and drink from a freshwater spring that my dad knew how to find, hidden in the mossy ground. I wouldn’t have called it home, but I still thought of it as mine. In my adolescence I dreamed of mapping the land with paper and pen and making it a creative spiritual refuge. I made plans for it as if it were my inheritance.

Large stretches of Thornwood held tidy rows of red pines, their ruddy-brown branchless trunks stood like uniformed soldiers at attention, with a crowning green canopy of needles far, far above our heads. My dad helped to plant thousands of those pines with his family when he was a young boy. Their organic architecture formed a natural Gothic enclosure, drawing us up, dwarfing us by their stature.

My grandfather died when I was a young adult, married and still childless. The family agreed to sell the land, a wise decision that also brought an end to my imagined dreams for and fragile connections I had to it. On a flight to Albany for his funeral, I wrote about that loss, part of which reads:

I have some land in upstate New York too. Wooded—yes, very.    Much more than I ever knew. And now the lights are out.  . . .

. . . She in seat 8C says, ‘I think when you turn thirty, you become aware of dying.’ No, I think.   Earlier than that.

***

After tours in various parts of the Middle East, we now make our residence here, in Berlin, within walking distance of the Grunewald, a sprawling, 11,000-acre forest on the western reaches of the city. Berliners come here to walk themselves and their well-behaved dogs. There’s a sixteenth century hunting lodge, Berlin’s oldest surviving palace, in the forest by a small lake. The descendants of the wild boar prized for hunting then still inhabit the forest, no longer hunted but no less fearful or wary.

When my parents visited over the Christmas holiday, I took them into the Grunewald to walk. On our return home, I led them through a huge grove of red pines. Without any prompt from me, looking up in recognition, my father said, “These are red pines. Just like the ones we planted in Thornwood.” We stood silently for a time in that inherited memory, in this far country.

Denise Levertov, a poet, once wrote:

An absolute patience. Trees stand up to their knees in fog.

. . .  So absolute, it is no other than happiness itself, a breathing too quiet to hear.

I knew long before our family joined the Foreign Service that there is a built-in temporariness to life. Who among us does not feel the shifts of seasons, or reach out a searching hand in the fog of time? Who does not dream of an elusive home? Our roots, no matter how deep they dive, feel fragile in the soil of this world.

But there are signposts. A forest of red pine conjures memories of a home that was never really ours in the first place. They all point to something beyond themselves. The shifts of time unearth our longing for a permanent residence, unshakeable, immovable, wholly given and wholly ours. Scattered across this great globe, now and then, we stumble across gifts of happiness from a God who, kindly, with an absolute patience that the trees themselves were taught to imitate, guides us up into the security of his own life. In a grove of patient red pines, we breathe in his life-giving breath that is, for all the world’s noise, never too quiet to hear, never too far away.


Laura Merzig Fabrycky is a writer and poet. Her first collection of poetry, Give Me the Word, was published in 2015. Her writing has been published in Books & Culture, Review of Faith & International Affairs, Foreign Service Journal, and elsewhere. She blogs at Hobbes and a Hausfrau, on political theory and theology.

 


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

Marriage as Partnership: and the debts we owe one another

jenmichel@me.com

Nothing says Sabbath like whipped cream.

Hot breakfast has been a long-standing Sunday tradition in our house. When I am most feeling most ambitious, most generous, I produce a leaning tower of homemade waffles, standing over the waffle iron for almost two hours before church. My kids eat them as quickly as I can make them. What’s left of the batch that I’ve sextupled (!) is wrapped and frozen for the week ahead. They might last us through Tuesday.

On my least ambitious Sundays, I make muffins. (Borrowing a word from Mary Berry, I’ve recently discovered an especially “scrummy” recipe here.) Because Sunday morning always promises something as delicious as waffles or crepes, pancakes or muffins, on Saturday night, it’s not unusual for one of the twins to ask as he’s crawling into bed, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow?”

Nothing says Sabbath like whipped cream.

Last weekend, however,  I crawled into bed at 1:30am on Sunday morning, finally home after leading a women’s conference in Northern California. I had asked Ryan to let me sleep late, and to my complete astonishment, I rolled over to glance at the clock at 8:30 a.m. It was going to be a no-waffle, no muffin morning.

Except that when I came downstairs, I noticed the griddle on the stove, the syrup on the table. Ryan, only VERY occasionally the cook in our house, had made French toast. It was not the soft cinnamon bread I usually by from the neighborhood bakery—but it WAS French toast!

This wasn’t the only happy surprise of the morning. When I reached into the refrigerator for cream for my coffee, I noticed the shelves had been wiped clean and STOCKED. My husband had gone to the grocery store in my absence, replenishing the staples of milk and yogurt and bread, even thinking ahead to what we’d have for dinner that night. “Pasta and broccoli?”

I understand that my astonishment betrays our traditional domestic arrangement, and it’s true that our marriage has worked according to a very typical gendered division of labor. Ryan’s career has been and continues to be especially demanding, which means that I have been the primary parent and housekeeper. Truthfully, I don’t usually mind it because I enjoy domestic tasks—that is, apart from the dreaded task of packing lunches (see page 111 of Keeping Place).

Nevertheless, one thing has changed in our marriage in the twenty years we’ve been at this: I no longer believe the home is entirely my responsibility. In fact, I think our marriage is growing as we both look for ways to help each other become and do all that God has called us to, even apart from our roles as spouses and parents. To put it even more strongly, when I didn’t look to Ryan to help support me in my calling to write and speak, trying instead to do it all (at home) seamlessly and independently, our marriage did not reflect the biblical vision of two becoming one. I was stealing from him opportunities to be Christ to me: to lay something down for the sake of love. On this particular Sunday morning I’ve written about here, he laid down sleeping in. He laid down his morning run. He laid down waffles. (Or at least muffins.) He served me, but he also served the 110 women who attended the conference I led. In essence, he served the greater church by taking up a little bit of the housekeeping.

I’ve recently begun reading Fleming Rutledge’s much-acclaimed The Crucifixion, and of course, I started with the acknowledgments. (Because that’s where writers like to begin—with the network of family and friends and colleagues who make the work possible.) Like many writers, she customarily thanks her husband at the very end of the acknowledgments. But her gratitude was certainly not perfunctory. What I heard in her words was the sense of debt she owed to her husband’s partnership, the sense that her work on the book (comprising 18 years!) would have been impossible without him. She talked about his financial support, which paid for her theological education. And then, “on his own initiative...he went out and searched for an office where I would be protected from distractions. He found the perfect one, and paid the rent for nine more years after [my grant] ran out.”

Rutledge continues: “But his financial support was the least of it. Who can count the dinners prepared and eaten alone, especially during the last six months? . . . Who can calculate the management of problems like a broken refrigerator and a flooded garage, with no help from me, during those critical last months?” (Who can count the measure of the housekeeping?)

Finally, Rutledge concludes: “But none of that can compare with the precious gift of a lifelong companion who truly knows and loves the Lord, and who serves the Lord’s church with total devotion. I just don’t know how to even begin to say what his partnership has meant to this book and to our marriage.

May God be praised for all his bountiful gifts.”

I love that. No work of God is a solitary endeavor. In the kingdom, there is always partnership, even if one isn’t married.

Today, I’m thanking God: for whipped cream, for French toast, and for Ryan, my partner in making God’s good gifts of home and vocation possible.

Home is (NOT) where the heart is

jenmichel@me.com

When Alison Hodgson wrote for my guest series, “Home: Musings and Memories”, she talked of the fateful night when an arsonist entered her garage and set her house on fire. “Who, when making a home, imagines it could ever be a ruins?” When Joe Dudeck wrote of home, he described the experience of several failed adoptions: “While standing at the doorway of parenthood, we discovered the welcome mat would again be pulled out from under us.” In another post, Aubrey Sampson wrote to remember her father’s job loss and their family’s move from a beloved house: “There was no willow tree, no roller-rink, not even one hot air balloon in the yard.”

For many of us, home represents loss. 

For many guest writers in this Friday series, home symbolizes wanderlust, leaving, and change. For Aleah Marsden, home “is the place I’m always leaving behind.” Karen Beattie recalls ambivalently that she is “the first generation to leave the land, to become unmoored from place and family and community, and part of me feels like we are betrayers. Or pioneers.” Or, as Kate James writes with a familiar surprise, “And [God] sent me here, to a big yard, and a white house and maple trees in the summer.”

For many of us, home represents the place where we unexpectedly arrive. 

In so many of these stories, home has offered more change than stability, more promise than fulfillment. As Christina Crook so eloquently names, it’s a “blood and bramble world,” and home is meant for reprieve, the “gift of welcome,” writes Ashley Hales, that “beckons: come and see, come and see.” “Nowhere I’ve lived has ever fully been my home,” writes Michelle Van Loon of growing up as Jewish girl in a Gentile neighborhood, living the millennia-long story of diaspora. Home is the invitation to make something of life as we have it, even if it’s not exactly life as we once had wanted it. “I expected to be married and own a home. The Lord, however, had other plans,” writes Bethany Jenkins.

Home is one small corner of the world we hope to tame and call our own. “Always we longed for one special place. Our own promised land. Our own little Zion,” describes Christie Purifoy. But sometimes it is its own place of weeping. In the house built by the “broad shoulders” of her husband, Meadow Rue Merrill lost her adopted daughter, Ruth.

What is HOME?

When I invited these gifted writers to contribute to my series, I asked them to write about home in the concrete, rather than the abstract. I wanted to hear about home as people and place and the lived presence of God—because that’s what we see of home in Genesis 1 and 2.

First, home is a place: in the beginning of time, home was a garden, and at the end of time, home will be a city. This means that God intends for us to be a rooted people, connected in real ways to the land. That’s why our geographical change is usually attended by sorrow. Although our culture tends to cherish mobility, selling change like a shiny bauble of promise, in reality, we wear instability like a wound that won’t heal. This is one reason that I open each chapter of Keeping Place with a physical address and a reflection of home “in place.” I want to rid ourselves of all the silly platitudes like, “Home is where the heart is.” No, home is where your feet are.

Second, home is a place with people. It’s not enough to say that home is a place. We have no vision of home that’s as solitary and secluded as Thoreau’s cabin on Walden pond. Rather, a biblical home is a place filled with the company of others. In the garden, God recognized that it wasn’t good for any of us to be alone. For Adam, he makes Eve as a companion and helper. But as we see in the new Jerusalem, we aren’t all paired off as husband and wife. Rather, the table of God’s feast is seated with a new family: the church. We can’t make home apart from deep communion and connection with others. Which is to say: forgiveness and feasting, worship and work—in the local church—helps us to practice home (if not yet fully have it). Finally, home is filled with the presence of God. Let’s not be fooled: we can have the loveliest of places, the warmest of friendships, but without God, no place is home. As Saint Augustine has said, we have restless hearts until they find their ultimate rest in God and God alone. The fullness, the welcome, the permanence, the peace of home we all long for: it’s not about marriage and minivans, houses and domestic happiness. It’s a promise so much greater, so much more lasting than that.

“Homelessness ends in the new Jerusalem, where God keeps place for his people. By the light of the Lamb, home is made luminous, and it is a light to banish gloom and darkness, death and despair.

Behold, God says. I am making all things new” (Keeping Place, 211).

Holding Space for Home (Guest Post by Nicole T. Walters)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Flat 402 Wara Alkulliat Alharbia Masr Gadida, Egypt

The miniature plastic house hung limply between two pine branches, the words “Our First Home” engraved on the side. We had brought the Christmas ornament with us to the first home we rented after a year and a half of marriage in which we lived with a friend.

The tree looked like it came straight out of Charlie Brown’s Christmas and the only other signs of celebration in our fourth-floor flat was a bright red poinsettia. Nothing about the day felt like Christmas because even though the Coptic minority celebrated the holiday, the Orthodox Christmas occurred later in January.

After we opened a couple gifts to each other—an onyx encrusted hand drum purchased from the tourist market and a grey flowing robe that local men wore called a gallabaya—we caught a cab to a nearby café that felt a bit like home.

The ancient culture had called to us back when we were living in the Southern United States. We imagined living in the land of the Pharaohs as this thrilling adventure and weren’t disappointed as the melodic Arabic call to prayer became the first soundtrack of our new lives.

In country for three months, the newness had worn off. We learned to say “we aren’t tourists; we live here” in Arabic to street vendors who tried to charge us more than we knew items were worth. But the truth is the dusty landscape didn’t feel much like home yet. We huddled in the cafe, isolated from those around us as we sipped our lattes and nibbled tomato and mozzarella sandwiches that Christmas afternoon, longing for the comfort of something familiar.

We had packed our former lives up in four suitcases so we had only a few things there that tied us to our American roots: ornaments, trinkets, photos. The taste of home lingered in the Lipton iced tea brought from Georgia in place of the hibiscus tea we sipped with Egyptian friends.

Gradually our flat began to fill up with more than the dust that clung to our sandals, symbols of the new life that we were forming. Bangles, a gift from my first Egyptian friend, glistened on my dresser. The wooden cross from our visit to the ancient churches of Coptic Cairo sat next to my English-Arabic Bible. Seashells from the Mediterranean coast mingled with rocks from the base of Mount Sinai, little pieces of a land that was finding it’s way more into my heart each day.

Almost as soon as I felt roots starting to grapple for a place to hang onto, we were uprooted again back to the home of our birth.  In those last days we repeated the process of sorting our home into piles to take or leave behind. I found myself weeping for the feeling of home I wanted in that place and would never fully get to know.

Now there are few mementos of our home in the Middle East. Faded 10-year old photos a reminder of the place that feels like but a dream but I feel so attached to it now. When we watched the revolution rock the square where we had attended language school, our hearts ached for our far away home. Whenever a Coptic church is attacked, we weep for the people we still see as brothers and sisters.

As I sit before boxes yet again, I stare off into the past as if I can still see the gilded living room furniture that was more ornamental that comfortable. I turn the house ornament over in my hands, lost in thought. I wrap it gently and pack it with other precious items for our next international move. I pack it next to the Georgia ornament, a painting by my sister, an onyx box from Egypt, a scarf from South Asia, and shells from the Gulf Coast. Some of these trinkets remind me of places that I called home for a time; others point to people who will be home no matter where I go. I forgo taking more clothing and spices into suitcases so I can fit in another keepsake that reminds me of where I’ve been.

I hope I take the lessons Egypt taught me along to our next family home in a faraway land. I pray I have learned the balance between remembering and moving forward, between letting go and putting down roots. I tuck away pieces of home to take with me wherever I go but I now remember to hold space for the new home, too.


Nicole T. Walters loves to experience and write about the messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not her own and travels internationally as often as she gets the chance. But this writer and author from metro-Atlanta, GA spends most of her time with her husband and two little wild ones that keep her on her toes. She hopes to help others create space to hear God's voice in the noise as she writes about faith from a global perspective at A Voice in the Noise. Her writing has appeared in places like Relevant, CT Women, and Ready. She is an editor and regular contributor at SheLoves Magazine and The Mudroom and is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. You can read more of Nicole's story in her essay included in the newly released book Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. She would love to connect with you on Twitter and Facebook.


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

Ernie Johnson and the Art of "Housekeeping"

jenmichel@me.com

We've have recently bought a couple of devotionals for our family: One Year of Dinner Table Devotions by Nancie Guthrie (which is a great fit for the age-range of our kids, 9-16) and The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton. The first, we're trying to read and discuss together at dinner; the second, I'm trying to read with our twin boys whenever we can. (Ryan reads the Bible with them at bedtime.)

Although we've just begun The Radical Book for Kids, I'm finding it to be both thoughtful and accessible, and I especially love, in the first chapter, how Thornton distills the biblical story of creation-fall-redemption into one easy, memorable sentence: "God made it, we broke it, God fixes it." 

I never understood the arc of God's story as this kind of three-act drama as a young child growing up in the church. (We can quibble about the fourth act of "consummation" if you want, but let's not.) Yet I think there's a lot to be said for understanding the Bible as a cohesive story. It's not as if the New Testament is a dramatic departure from the Old, but rather a fulfillment and continuation of God's story begun in Adam, continued with Abraham, carried through Christ.

A Story of Place

As I began writing Keeping Place, my pastor gave me his copy of Craig Bartholomew's, Where Mortals Dwell, for my research. Bartholomew takes the creation-fall-redemption framework and retools it through the language of place. Creation is the act of "implacement." God gives humanity a place—a garden. Fall takes us into the middle act of exile and the judgement of "displacement." And finally, redemption anticipates God's act of "reimplacement" when God will, once again, make his dwelling place with humanity. In other words, God's story begins and ends at home, and we're living in the middle act, one characterized by homesickness.

This is the three-part structure that I originally had for Keeping Place: God made home, humanity lost home, and God is remaking home. But several months into the project, I realized the structure was NOT working. I needed more room for the middle act. I didn't just want stories of exile. I wanted some sort of framework for talking about what we're supposed to be doing in the in-between.

In the not yet.

Housekeeping

Hence, the housekeeping—a word for talking about the work of the middle act, this way we take up the work of our places in light of our home story. "Housekeeping points toward the thin places of daily life: where work, however monotonous and menial, becomes worship, witnessing to God's kingdom coming, and his will being done, on earth as it is in heaven." It's work that men and women do—in their homes and neighborhoods and cities–to love God by loving their neighbor. Or, as Marilynne Robinson says (much better than I ever could), housekeeping is "a regime of small kindnesses, which taken together, make the world salubrious, savory, and warm. I think of [these] acts of comfort . . . as precisely sacramental."

I recently came across an interview with a man whose story and faith embodies this idea of "housekeeping," and I wanted to share it with you. Ernie Johnson is a sports broadcaster and a man of deep faith. I was introduced to him by this video after the presidential election, which stunned and inspired our 14-year-old son.

[embed]https://youtu.be/ayU5kw7Kf5U[/embed]

Then just this week, I heard an interview with Ernie on Donald Miller's Building a Story Brand Podcast. Ernie talks about his love for his wife and his six children, four of whom he has adopted and one of whom has muscular dystrophy. But it's not just his family his loves. He sees his entire life as a call to service. "I want to serve. I want to be walking out the door, after having served [my son] Michael in the morning, and have my antenna up. So that I notice the people who need to have somebody to talk to.”

In other words, Ernie is a man committed to the housekeeping—committed to the humble, everyday acts of love that image the incarnate God who pitched his tent in the middle of the Roman Empire more than two thousand years ago.

I look forward to reading (and having my son read!) Unscripted, which Ernie talks about here in this Q&A.

And I would encourage you to listen to Donald's podcast interview with Ernie!

Formed by a story called home

jenmichel@me.com

My favorite book from childhood was a Little Golden Book. It begins like this: “This is my house and I am the mommy. My children are Annabelle, Betsy, and Bonny. They are good little children and do just as I say. I put on their coats and they go out to play.” The 1967 picture book, Little Mommy, is a celebration of 20th century domesticity—and its reigning monarch. The narrator, in her smocked brown dress, waves goodbye to Billy “who works in the city. He has a new car. Isn’t it pretty?”

She happily does the dishes and sweeps the floor, wiping “the fingerprints off the door.” To read it now, Little Mommy is both jarring and consoling. Because even if I might have different ideas about gender roles and responsibilities, I am not unlike the little girl in the smocked brown dress. I have my corporate Billy—even my Annabelle, Betsy, and Bonny. Every day there are floors to sweep and doors to wipe. In ways both predicted and surprising, besides being a writer and a speaker, I am also a little mommy, central to the drama of my home.

It’s curious to think about the books that we take into our bones, especially as children. What makes us choose them from any others, begging for them to be read again and again? Why was I, for one, lured by the illustrated scenes of domesticity in Little Mommy, tamed into reverie by its easy jingles about the housekeeping? “I wash the clothes in my washing machine. I scrub them with soap and rinse them clean.”

However it happens, we all choose books to love, and those books unwittingly form us—because stories exert power.

We are storytelling creatures. This is what it means to be human. We tell stories to chase the shadows of despair. We tell stories to birth hope, to remind us of all that remains true and good and beautiful in the world. Our stories teach us to recognize ourselves, even our shared humanity with strangers. But what seems elemental to every story is longing. Because stories let us imagine the world differently, ourselves different in it.

I suppose, then, that it is not at all strange that the first story I loved so well should have been a story about home, both its welcome and its work. Because home is central to the story of life with God, as the Scriptures tell it. At the very beginning of time, humanity had a warm, dry place play to lay its head. Unlike other ancient creation myths, which conceive of a world birthed by violence, the Genesis accounts tell us that the Triune God made the world out of generous hospitality. Six days he worked, preparing for the arrival of his children. Six days he labored to make the world habitable for his guests. The very first homemaker was God himself; he was the reigning monarch of the cosmos.

Sadly, however, only two short chapters at the beginning of Genesis are dedicated to life at home with God. Then the drama lurches toward exile when Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden and God’s presence, cast out to wander with their innumerable children. If to be human is to long for home, as Genesis 1 and 2 tell us, to be human is also to be terribly homesick. This is the aftermath of Genesis 3. Today, how many of us sense our terrifying dislocation from place? We have moved too many times to count, and there’s no lived history at the address where our bills arrive. But it’s not only dislocation from place that is our loss of home. Like Adam and Eve, we are alienated from one another. Our closest relationships are marked by disappointment; they are finally severed by death. Home, as represented by family and friendship, suffers the imperfection and impermanence of this fragile world. And finally, if home once represented the unrestricted access we had to God himself, the unbroken company we kept with him, what do we have now but episodic glimpses of this? God has generously invited us to commune with him through Christ and his indwelling Spirit—but this abiding, abundant life is fractured in the everyday by our own idolatrous pursuits and everyday distractedness.

What yellow brick road do I follow to find my way back home?

I suppose that’s the pressing question I’m trying to answer in my second book, Keeping Place. I want to say that the desire for home is real, that it is in fact central to what it means to be human. I even want to say that home is central to the promise of salvation as we have it in the Scriptures. Our salvation, through Christ, repairs home and its broken promises of place, of community, of communion. In Revelation 21, when the curtain closes on this world and opens on the next, we know that death and disease will be done away with. God will hush the groaning of creation and the aching of our own hearts, declaring, as his kingdom descends to earth, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

Home is the fundamental story that the Scriptures tell, and it has power to explain human despair and inspire longing for a better world. I wonder if this isn’t why Jesus situated some of his most important parables at home, including the story of a lost son, who, by his own foolishness, left for the far country, taking his inheritance with him. When he returned home—hungry and broke—he certainly didn’t presume to be received back into the family with all the rights and inheritance of sonship. But we know the story well, don’t we? He was met on the road by the embrace of his father.

Welcome home, his father whispers, his cheeks wet with relief.

I’m beginning to think there won’t be better words than these.

Stories of Home (Guest Post by Russ Ramsey)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 617 Crieve Lane Nashville, Tennessee

There is a photo my wife Lisa took that makes me think of home as a place where we grow and develop apart from the watching world. It is a secret place.

In the image I am sitting in the middle row on the passenger side of our minivan. I am holding a bottle of water and wearing a gray t-shirt. I look thin. I am on the verge of tears. A duffle of pill bottles and medical devices sits to my left, just out of the frame. The Vanderbilt Medical Center patient loading bay is in the background.

Earlier that week I had open-heart surgery. My sternum had not yet fused and was held together by five titanium wires. A six-inch scar ran down my chest, not yet healed. It took a few pain-filled minutes for me to get into that seat.

The tears, which did come, were on account of the fact that I was going home.

Right after my wife took this picture, she pulled away and drove the twenty-five minutes to our house, where our kids met us in the drive and helped me inside.

Lisa had been beside me as much as she could during my hospital stay, balancing her time there with the ongoing needs of our four children. It was summer, so they were out of school and home most of the time, as was my wife, who worked for the school district. Since I was on medical leave, we ended up spending most of that summer together as a family in that house. And because I was recovering, we did not have a lot of guests during that time. Kind folks brought us meals and said hello, but I didn’t have the energy for long visits. It was just us.

Never before or since has our family known a season where we were all home together for that long. It was sacred—not only for the gift of time, but because there inside those walls at 617 Crieve Lane, the six of us were all learning about frailty and strength—each in our own way, but very much together. We were all being shaped and were witnesses to the growth happening in one another.

The youngest kids barely understood the weight of what had happened to me. They didn’t know in my nightstand were letters I had written to them in case something went wrong. They did know they couldn’t climb on me like they used to and they felt it as a loss. The older kids, however, had to grow up a little ahead of schedule that summer. My oldest, our son, had to do tasks I once performed but no longer could—like carrying heavy things, reaching for stuff up high, watching his sisters when Lisa took me for doctor appointments, and watching me when she ran for groceries.

I lamented how my family had to carry the weight of my season of affliction. But I also thanked God for them and for that season where it was just us. We came to love each other in ways we had not known before. My weakness and need revealed in each of them various fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In those walls that summer we all grew. We all changed. And we did it with each other. We shared experiences, pains, confusion, and hope that the outside world will never know. This is the nature of home.


Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


keeping-place-11Welcome to a guest series I’m calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from all over the Internet to share their stories from home—in part, because I’ve just released a book called, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, May 2017). I believe home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment.

The story of Jesus is a home story.

Thanks for joining me and these other fantastic writers in our search for home—and the God who makes its hope possible.

Jen

Summer Book Club

jenmichel@me.com

I was recently asked about the books I'm reading, which is not really the easiest question to answer.

Did I mention the books checked out from the library, even those I've just begun or haven't yet opened?

Did I mention the books I've been reading over the course of months, picking them up as the mood (infrequently) suits?

Did I tell the real truth, which is that I'm on a strict reading schedule to finish Charles Taylor's, A Secular Age, for a chapter that I'm contributing to another book, leaving me little time to read anything else?

You know you're a reader when your list of books to read only grows longer—because you add titles faster than you read them.

But in case you are a book lover like me—and even a member of a book club— I wanted to suggest a VERY LONG list of titles on themes loosely related to #home that might be great book club reads. I've linked to them in Amazon so that you can get a quick glance at what each book is about. And of course, I'd love for you to also consider reading Keeping Place!

FICTION

Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, Lila

Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow

Carlene Bauer’s Frances and Bernard

Paul Harding’s Tinkers

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

Shusaku Endo’s Silence

Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence

Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe

Margaret Philbrick’s A Minor

 

NON-FICTION

Isabelle Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns

Ta-Nehesi Coates’s Between the World and Me

Kathleen Norris’s The Quotidian Mysteries

Christina Crook’s The Joy of Missing Out

 

MEMOIR

Mary Karr’s Lit

Christie Purifoy’s Roots and Sky

Sheldon VanAuken’s A Severe Mercy

Corrie Ten Boom’s Hiding Place

Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness

Micha Boyett’s Found

Gillian Marchenko’s Still Life

Amy Julia Becker’s Good and Perfect Gift

Meadow Rue Merrill’s Redeeming Ruth

Kristen Kludt’s A Good Way Through

Alison Hodgson The Pug List

Lee Wolfe Blum Table in the Darkness

Russ Ramsey’s Struck

Marilyn Gardner’s Passages Through Pakistan

Suanne Camfield’s The Sound of a Million Dreams

Jennifer Grant’s When Did Everybody Get So Old?

Marlena Graves’s A Beautiful Disaster

Karen Swallow Prior’s Booked

Katherine Willis Pershey’s Any Day A Beautiful Change

Karen Beattie’s Rock-Bottom Blessings

 

CHRISTIAN

Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability

Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son

C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces

D.L. Mayfield’s Assimilate or Go Home

Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger’s The Year of Small Things

Amy Julia Becker’s Small Talk

Dorothy Greco’s Making Marriage Beautiful

Joshua Ryan Butler’s The Pursuing God

Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things

Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and The Broken Way

Ann Swindell’s Still Waiting

Aubrey Sampson’s Overcomer

Courtney Reissig’s Glory in the Ordinary

Hannan Anderson’s Made for More and Humble Roots

Kris Camealy’s Come, Lord Jesus (Advent)

Erin Straza’s Comfort Detox

Lina Abujamra’s Thrive

Beth Booram’s The Wide Open Spaces of God

Lara Krupicka’s Family Bucket Lists

Scott Saul’s Befriend

Trevin Wax’s This Is Our Time

Katelyn Beaty’s A Woman’s Place

Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him

Trillia Newbell’s Enjoy

Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming

Amy Simpson’s Troubled Minds

Michelle Van Loon’s Moments & Days

Carla Sunberg, Jamie Wright, and Suzanne Burden’s Reclaiming Eve

Everbloom (Essays by the Members of Redbud Writers Guild)

Keeping Place - in DVD

jenmichel@me.com

On Monday night, the arts ministry at my church hosted a wonderful launch event for friends and family. It was the very first time I actually held the real book in my hand!

People bought books (which was lovely!), but they were also asking about the companions DVDs, which I didn't have on hand. (Shhh, please don't tell my publisher.)

[video width="640" height="360" mp4="http://jenpollockmichel.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Keeping-Place-by-Jen-Pollock-Michel.mp4"][/video]

In case you didn't know, Keeping Place is also offered as a five-session DVD teaching series produced in partnership by RightNow Media and Intervarsity Press.

For the record, I did make a decided effort to improve upon the video teaching that I did for Teach Us to Want. (Because who gets class on this?) I made Ryan sit and watch all the teaching sessions with me. We decided what worked and what didn't. (You can only guess which list was longer.) Then we watched videos by other people, who are much better and more experienced than I am. In the Keeping Place DVDs, I have tried imitating them all.

Tried smiling more. Tried talking faster. Tried being more personable.

You can decide for yourself if I managed any of that.

In case you're interested in using the DVDs for a small group, there are discussion questions in the book, both for the book and video content.

And lastly, many thanks for the terrific team at RightNow Media with whom it's a real pleasure to work!

On following - and finding - Home

jenmichel@me.com

In 2011, God led our family to Toronto. We came, counting on two or three years of adventure. The kids would learn French. We’d live in the city. For a little while, we would more fully live into the vision of Psalm 67, which the pastor had read at our wedding: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” We left, not knowing what was ahead.  As I’ve come to understand, the life of faith is best understood by acts of memory. We can’t ever really know what God is doing when he moves us out. We don’t know what the future holds when he says, “go.” I think of the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness, following the pillar of cloud by day that stopped and settled at whim. They were not planning life, but following it. Following Him. I wonder how many days it felt that they had just gotten comfortable when the cloud began to move and they’d had to hurriedly pack it all up for another day’s journey of uncertainty.

Six years ago, the cloud moved, and the seven of us moved with it. We left the suburbs of Chicago for the city of Toronto. I can remember the first weekend in our first rental house. It was the hottest May on record, and we had no air conditioning. I cried when Ryan left for work on Monday.

Our first summer in Toronto, I started to think about writing more personally, even about starting a blog. The cloud was moving, we were moving with it, and I wanted to keep record of the journey. I wanted a story to tell the children, wanted to give the gift of memory that the Israelites had sorely neglected.

I began writing about that journey here.

Eventually, a blog became a book. And a book became another book.

What a surprise.

A gift and a joy.

Today is the release day of Keeping Place, this second book. In it, I’ve kept my own story: places I’ve lived, people I’ve lost. And most importantly, I’ve followed the longing for home to ask where it leads.

That cloud leads into the arms of Christ.

As I write at the conclusion of Keeping Place, “The ancient Israelites were commanded to recite a liturgy when they entered the land of promise and offered to God the gifts of their first harvest. I imagine taking it up in chorus as we enter the gates of the new Jerusalem—the moment homelessness and all of its attendant grief will be laid to rest:

A wandering Aramean was my father.

He went down into Egypt and sojourned there, and the Egyptians treated us harshly.

But the LORD brought us out of Eygpt with a mighty hand.

He brought us into this land, which flows with milk and honey.

 

This is a song to make sense of life’s lament and longing, peril and promise. And it’s the song we’ll be singing when we fall into the sojourning, suffering arms of Jesus.

 

I declare today that I am finally home.


Believe it or not, Amazon is sold out of Keeping Place. But you can order your copy at ivpress.com. Get 30% off the bookebook or DVD series when you use the code READKP. Offer expires on May 31st, 2017.