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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Reflections on a #real October

#thisisreal Today ends my #thisisreal October campaign, which author Christina Crook's post, "The Pictures are Pretty but the Struggle is Real" inspired. Truthfully, I haven't been posting much in the last several days, either on Facebook or Twitter, because I'm finding it hard to angle my lens and capture the really #real of life. 

How can a picture capture the immediate dread to which I wake many mornings, responsibilities rushing at me like a high-speed train? The more I write and speak (in my already domestically-full life), the more expectation weighs and the less capable I feel of carrying it. ("I rise before dawn and cry for help," Psalm 119:147.) What's #real is my life, on many days is self-doubt, anxiety, fears of failing and weariness.

Jen and twins

And how does a selfie say that I am not okay with the creases around my mouth and the bulge around my waist? A selfie is distinctly the thing I want to avoid, which is why it's always easier to hide behind my children. If I have never had to hate my body, at forty, I'm watching the pounds inch on. And it's not just my body that is changing as I age. My face is changing, too. Its asymmetry is getting more noticeable as everything is becoming more angular. My nose has always been big, but I'm not hating it any less now, at forty, than I did at fourteen when a friend's big brother used to mock, "Gonzo!" What's #real about my self-perception, on many days, is shame. Who will tell me how to do this gracefully—surrender my body to the inevitable sag of time?

And furthermore, what does a picture do but remove us from our bodies and the really #real? Perhaps it can glimpse at what is #real, but it can never capture the beauty, the boredom, and the banality of life. The digital can never replicate what it feels like to be inside one's body. What's #real is found around the table and in the marriage bed. What's #real is the wine and bread we drink and eat, proclaiming the Lord's death till he comes. What's #real is the weather, and even Christina's video of falling snow in Toronto in the middle of October (which I watched from a hotel room in San Diego) was, by its very nature, so #unreal. I want to live more embodied moments with my family and my local community (and my 700 Facebook friends don't count). To live them always means I will have to put my phone down.

And maybe this is what I learned most from a #real October: I need more practice at seeing the beautiful than in finding the broken. I am best at seeing the mess of life: give me a glass, and I can tell you the thousands of ways it is half empty. But how can I become the kind of person who finds the copper pennies strewn about the world, as Annie Dillard has put it? How can my angle of vision become more redemptive? What are the habits I can cultivate for becoming a grateful person who sees the glory of God enflame the world? That's what I'd like to be practicing.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork, Psalm 19:1.

I want eyes for seeing that.

* * * * *

"It is still the first week in January and I've got great plans. I've been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But -- and this is the point -- who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded with the site of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get."

- Annie Dillard, The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek