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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Towards heaven . . . and earth

There was a hard work we did in our growing up years, and Lisa reminds me of this when I find excuses to stand in her kitchen a little longer and talk. “We’re the only family in Toronto staying here for March break,” she says, giving a knowing look to her husband, who, I might assume, is supposed to be feeling bad about this injustice. “But it’s good. They’ll have the time we had in our childhood. I think it was months I must have spent sitting on my bed, staring up at the ceiling, and just thinking. Our kids are so busy now. There’s no time to reflect.

I remember how often as a child, growing up in rural Tennessee, our family would be forced to do a fair amount of driving to get just about anywhere. I’d stare out of the car window and scan the passing landscape looking for the perfect tree. I was looking for the tree that stood alone in a field with a canopy of leaves generous in shade, and I imagined myself curled up underneath it with a good book in hand. That’s how Alice in Wonderland begins, doesn’t it? What little girl has trouble imagining what it would be like to follow a rabbit and his pocket watch to whatever adventures he might lead?

That hard work of childhood, of imagining and thinking, was frequently spawned, no doubt, with a perfunctory and whiny, “I’m bored.” Our mothers probably sent us to our rooms or out in the backyard to make our fun, and as it turns out, half the fun we made was inside the four walls of our mind.

It was first in childhood that I dreamed of being a writer. Not an unimaginable dream for a little girl who spent most days with her nose in a book and whose father was a college professor. I was young when I learned to love the library, and I can remember discovering Charlotte’s Web and A Wrinkle in Time and handling those books as if there were treasure between the covers. But it wasn’t only classics I read. No, there were the Sweet Valley High Years, when I followed avidly the dramatic lives of twin sisters, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, in the paperback series that mimics literature (and does so badly). Elizabeth was the nice girl you knew you were supposed to admire and aspire to be. Jessica was more popular, and I think I liked her best.

My childhood friend, Jennifer and I, tried our hand in the third and fourth grades at penning a series in the genre of Sweet Valley High, and though I don’t remember the details of our story, I do remember the red folders we would bring to school, sharing the chapters we had written, offering feedback to each other, and imagining where the storyline would go next.

Writing (and reading) has always, for me, been the world of possibilities. And sometimes it’s been a way of staying at arms length with real life: in fifth grade, when we had just moved into a new town, keeping company with a book while waiting for the bus meant shrugging off the alienating sense of being new. In college, in the months that followed the unexpected death of my father, I could be found in the library basement, keeping dry eyes with my books.

What’s new in this last six months of writing is that I no longer feel detached from life as I’m living it, and writing (and reading) is not the escape it has too often been. Writing is actually becoming a means of moving toward my life: toward God, toward the story He’s narrating here, toward my own inner self. I sense that is the authentic movement of Jesus, He always nudging us, not just toward heaven, but earth, as He teaches us what it means to pray and live with our feet planted here: your kingdom come, your will be done.

Like it or not, writing now feels necessary.

“I do not know whence it came, but I have a passion for truth. I do not want to lie to others or myself. I want to know the truth about the way things are. I hope I am a Christian because what we believe as Christians forces an unrelenting engagement with reality.”

- Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child