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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Celebrate Advent: Make room for joy. (Matthew 2:1-12)

I pick up books to have conversations. And I reread those same books (the really good ones) when my questions are different and I'm in search of new insights.

Recently, I'm having a second conversation with Joan Didion, author of the The Year of Magical Thinking. This is perhaps one of the best books on grief out there. It's not linear or logical, but what woman is when her husband of forty years falls from his seat at the dinner table, dead?

She describes experience of grief as the "vortex." In the year that follows her husband's death, she imagines a thousand alterations to the script. The year of magical thinking. How could she have prevented his death? And logically, there was absolutely nothing different she could have done to prevent what the doctors called his "sudden cardiac event."

She describes herself as one of the people who "shared a habit of mind usually credited to the very successful. They believed absolutely in their own management skills. They believed absolutely in the power of the telephone numbers they had at their fingertips, the right doctor, the major donor, the person who could facilitate a favor at State or Justice. The management skills of these people were in fact prodigious. The power of their telephone numbers was in fact unmatched. I had myself for most of my life shared the same core belief in my ability to control events. . . Yet I had always at some level apprehended, because I was born fearful, that some events in life would remain beyond my ability to control or manage them. Some events would just happen. This was one of those events. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."

How is joy possible when life feels so fragile and unruly, refusing our every impulse to make it compliant?

Another book has been teaching me to answer that question.

This is a book to buy and to read and reread slowly. This is a conversation to have. One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

"The dare to write one thousand gifts becomes the dare to to celebrate innumberable, endless gifts! That initial discipline, the daily game to count, keeping counting to one thousand, it was God's necessary tool to reshape me, remake me, rename me. . .The discipline to count to one thousand gave way to the freedom of wonder and I can't imagine not staying awake to God in the moment, the joy in the now.

But awakening to joy awakens to pain.

Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumpes through all those who don't numb themselves to really living. Pages of the gratitude journal fill endlessly. Yet I know it in the vein and the visceral: life is loss. Every day, the gnawing. . ."

Advent, the only answer to this life of haunting uncertainties. Jesus, our only joy.