For the next couple of months, I have a pretty demanding schedule with a variety of writing deadlines and speaking engagements. And though the calendar and to-do list look pretty harried, I have also been choosing to say a series of strong no's. The first no was pretty unsettling (I will be missing out! I won't be needed!), but it is getting easier to live into my limitations. (Um, a little.) One yes that I've said, however, is to lead a women's retreat in October on the subject of holy desire. I've been preparing, and I'm really excited about it. I recently had an email from the women's ministry director at this church, who wanted to share with me a short review they had done of Teach Us to Want for their women. After a brief introduction of the book's subject, the review continues, "Jen Michel shares her own journey with this kind of disappointment in a very relatable and candid way. (Read the first two paragraphs of p. 108). She doesn't hold back, does she?"
I, of course, couldn't remember what was on p. 108, so I pulled the book from my shelf and flipped to see. It is the story of my first and only miscarriage.
"I am pregnant. And I don't discover this until the immunizations [I'd received in advance of a missions' trip to Africa] have done the damage I am now powerless to undo. I suspect the pregnancy for a week. But if I don't take the test and fail to confirm the pregnancy, it cannot be true. Eventually this wildly ridiculous reasoning gives way. I buy a test. I take it. The line colors red.
It's the blood draining from my face."
If there is one consistent comment I hear from readers of Teach Us to Want, it is often gratitude for my honesty. But I'm going to confess that my honesty at the time of writing the book was pretty easy to come by: when you aren't even sure that anyone will be reading, you can afford to do a little public soul-dissection. And while the book hasn't hit the NYTimes Bestseller List (I know, right?), my readership has grown. It is NOT as easy now to take the scapel and cut a public incision, pinning back my skin for everyone to peer inside, especially when awards make you feel like a complete fraud.
A private book, thrust into public hands, is a fearful thing.
So I understand when my friend, Christina Crook, author of The Joy of Missing Out, says that her book launch made her feel tired, timid, pulled back, and even afraid. However, though she was struggling, her emotional thud wasn't audible to her readers - because she kept posting smiley-happy pictures on all of her social media feeds.
Christina, another friend from Toronto, and I have recently committed to getting together regularly to share collegial, honest conversation about the private struggles of public art and faith. And from that conversation, Christina has written an incredibly brave blog post (which you should definitely read!) as well as launched a 31-day campaign she is calling #thisisreal.
I'd love for you to join her and me in for a more honest snapshot of life in the month of October. Here's the skinny.
- You don't have to be a writer with a blog (but if you are, feel free to use the above image to launch the campaign with your readers).
- You don't have to be a photographer - but you will need a camera.
- The challenge is: for the month of October, post pictures and captions of life as it really is: in its glory and in its muck. #thisisreal. This isn't about authenticity for authenticity's sake. It's about an invitation to be something other than the gussied-up versions of ourselves - because to be human is a beautiful thing.
I'll be mostly on Twitter so follow me there: @jenpmichel.
#thisisreal: It is about honesty, but it is also about compassion - because the pictures are pretty, but the struggle is real.
My kids hated almost every moment of this photo shoot. Colin ended up crying halfway through, messing up his hair I had gelled. I promised them ice cream for behaving.