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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

No. I mean yes.

I've had my own wrestle with these two words. No. Yes. And the fantastic thing about moving is that your life effectively becomes a white board, the goodbyes wiping clean your commitments (many, not all). You begin again, and the chance is yours to reorder your life and straighten out your priorities, all the wrangling guilt of obligation potentially disappearing in the wake behind you.

Unless of course you rush to pick it up again. Because, over the course of the years, you're grown accustomed to its weight on your shoulders. For so long you've kept company with the self-doubt. It's awkward to walk without it, to know anything other than the doing for the sake of approval. How has it become so important for you to be liked?

It can be a nasty business, the yes. You say it, wanting less to do what's right, caring more for managing the opinions of others. It's the means for you to bolster the identity you didn't really even know you were piecing together. You're now the person to call, to count on. And you do not and cannot imagine it otherwise.

The yes is your tortured resolve to never disappoint. Anyone.

False identity. False gods. False hope.

Friends we'd had for dinner last weekend asked how we were settling into Toronto.

I fumbled. I needed to marvel aloud at what God was doing, to say what I'm trying to say here. Toronto is my new season of courage. I had left some things behind, weights I probably wasn't even aware I carried. The act of having the Hands of the sky forcibly pick our entire family up and replant us had been so good and gracious. I knew that I was grateful and would be grateful in years to come when I'd look back and remember this. Toronto.

I'm doing things here that people probably misunderstand. I'm seizing freedoms I haven't always had and leaning into my desire to write. Annie Dillard says that a writer's life has the effect of evoking "not curiosity but profound indifference." I find that to be true. Rare are the people who stand to their feet applauding because you've dared to face your computer screen again. Even my own husband had talked me out of blogging this past summer when I'd considered trying again. It's not easy to explain even to him why it feels I want and need to do this.

He talked sense into me for a period of months, until the idea of blogging returned, this time, much more insistent. And I said yes. Not the nasty yes of obligation - and not the corresponding no of fear. This yes, it was completely disentangled and free. It was yes to the Sky and yes to the Story. It was yes to trying, yes to failing, yes to learning and figuring out what it was that I was even agreeing to.

I should have recognized that yes. Faith yeses always feel uncertain at first. But you're prodded forward by just enough substantial belief that He's ahead and leading somewhere good. Those yeses aren't always the ones that are easily explained, nor are they the ones that immediately garner approval.

Who knew the sheer, uncontained joy of that yes?

And now it's simply a matter of sustaining courage and commitment for the yes. I read a blogpost yesterday that describes how difficult the yes to writing can be, especially in the midst of family. Andi Ashworth is mother and grandmother, a writer who knows these tensions well:

"Rearranging time, habits, and expectations is easier said than done. People’s needs and requests can speak louder than the quiet beckoning of an unfinished page. What’s more, people-care sparks my imagination in a unique way. I love creating in this arena and I don’t want to give up responding to need or imagining for the good of those I’m meant to love. But there is a dilemma: how to live as a responsible and imaginative caregiver and also get other creative work done.

. . .

Whatever kind of life we have, whether thick with children or friends in the house or with other work that pays the bills, the writer herself is the only one who can lay claim to the quiet practices that make for a writing life. "

It seems to me that every yes of faith requires that kind of individual courage. It doesn't matter much what you're saying yes to. But whatever your calling, whatever your vocation, it is I, it is you, who must pronounce the no and the yes. We alone can mouth the words. And the grand script of yes ahead will demand a certain bravery. To say no. Daring to disappoint.

The yes of relentless following. Into joy and freedom that are His and His alone to give.