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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Motherhood

My video interview with Katelyn Beaty, author of A Woman's Place

jenmichel@me.com

A Woman's PlaceThis post is a FIRST. With the help of my technologically-inclined son, Nathan, I'm uploading my first video: an author interview. Last week, I interviewed Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today's managing editor, about her new book, A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the WorldWe talked specifically about a Christian vision of work, the mommy wars, and the process of book writing. ( I apologize in advance for extraneous "likes" or "you knows." Additionally, there are points in the video where our internet connection gets a little wonky.) Katelyn's book releases on July 19, but you can pre-order now at Amazon.com.

 

[embed]https://youtu.be/HDUfmh5FXso[/embed]

(0:00-5:50)

Introduction: I start off with the most awkwardly constructed sentence: "Katelyn Beaty is the currently managing editor at Christianity Today." Then I gush a little bit about Katelyn's foreword for Teach Us to Want and her important role in my publishing journey. We talk about the writer/editor relationship - and our fragile moments as writers. (Even Katelyn has had some!)

(5:50 - 10:30)

"Go vulnerable, or go home." Katelyn explains why she begins her book with a very personal story: how her broken engagement interrupted the plans she had for her life and provided the occasion for discovering a more robust Christian theology of work.

(10:30 - 12:20)

I ask Katelyn whether or not her singleness gave her a unique angle in the conversation about women and work. "I don't want to say that only single women have the opportunity to invest in their professional work."

(12:20 - 15:00 )

I ask Katelyn about the book's commitment to telling the stories of many different women. "Let's not just make pronouncements about how the world should be," Katelyn explains. "Let's flesh it out."

(15:00- 18:32)

Does "femaleness" inform the way that women understand work? Katelyn explains that one common factor in her research was the community emphasis often evident in women's professional ambitions and choices.

(18:32 - 22:07 )

Katelyn discusses the origin and evolution of Christianity Today's popular women's blog, Her.meneutics, which has amplified women's voices and worked to correct the gender imbalance at CT. Shout out to Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Kate Shelnutt, and Andrea Palpant Dilley.

(22:07 - 27:33)

Is the church playing catch-up to culture in regards to validating women's professional ambitions? Katelyn explains that churches have, in general, neglected to develop a robust theology of professional work for both men and women.

(27:33 - 31:18)

We dig a bit more deeply into the desire question: what caution should we exercise in looking for cultural validation of our desires? Are there contexts where desires for home and family need to be reinforced? (Most importantly, we joke about finding a date for Katelyn: "Act now: this offer is going fast!)

(31:18 - 32:52)

"It is okay to disappoint Andy Crouch." We gush mutual respect and admiration for Andy.

(32:52 - 37:37)

"You can't write a book geared toward women without discussing motherhood in some capacity." Katelyn identifies that wide variety of choices available to modern women seem to promote greater self-doubt, even suspicion and judgment. "My hope is that this book will give us better language [for these conversations]."

(37:37 - 42:55)

Why are women's professional desires considered "selfish" or "careerist" while men's professional desires and ambitions are validated? Katelyn takes us back to the Industrial Revolution for a little history lesson. (And I unabashedly plug my next book, Keeping Place.)

(42:55 - 49:15)

Has professional ambition stalled for Christian women? Katelyn reminds us of our fear, as Christian women, in asking, "What do I really want?" She also reminds us that we can begin by simply naming our desires before God—even our professional desires. "Maybe God wants to use those unnamed desires to accomplish his work in the world and to invite us to partner with him in kingdom restoration work."

(49:15 - 57:22)

Katelyn discusses her process of writing, A Woman's Place. (No, neither of us has the creative genius of Ann Voskamp!)  And she also talks about the immense help she received from her editor, who pushed her beyond her "very safe" first draft.

Thank you, Katelyn!

Dear Audrey

jenmichel@me.com

DSC_0293 Dear Audrey,

We leave for Rwanda in three days, and I am thrilled to be taking this trip with you. There are so many reasons for gratitude to God as I reflect in preparation. You are fourteen, and it seems so suddenly that you have become a young woman. Where is the wispy blond-haired girl who sang the alphabet song, twirled in princess dresses, and curled in my lap, begging for another book?  I regret the blur of the years and wish now I could have slowed the frames of your childhood. Given another chance, I would keep a firmer grip on time. Because for all the early maturity that was, by necessity, handed to you as the oldest of five, now that you are fourteen, the irony is that I want you young.

I know the years ahead - the process of you becoming you - will put inevitable distance to us. Individuation, I think they call it, assuring parents it is natural and normal. But that doesn't prevent the intense longing to hold on tighter. And as you've mentioned a time (or three hundred), there are only four more years at home with us before you leave for college. I can't help but hope that in the four years ahead, I will be a better mother to you that I have been in the fourteen years past. Forgive, won't you, all that wrong I have done to you? Someday you might also know that pain of parental regret, of knowing the terrible grief your own brokenness has caused your child. For that regret, for those griefs, I trust the tender, perpetually renewing mercies of God. I believe that by his grace, he is accomplishing a good work in you - despite all the wrong we have done as your parents.

Audrey, I want you to know how proud we are of you. It's not about your academic accomplishments, although we are thankful that you have worked hard. It's not about your musical achievements, although we marvel at the gifts God has given you. Rather, we simply delight in the person you are becoming - most of all, that you are a young woman longing to follow Jesus. When I find you in the basement, seated at your desk, hunched over your Bible, I thank God. When you share with me how you stayed up late explaining the gospel to a friend, I give him praise. When you hug your little brothers, taking such evident delight in them, I marvel at God's plan for our family. (I'll keep praying that you'll develop, over the years, an equal measure of love for your sister and other brother!) Even at the young age of fourteen, I see that you are becoming a woman of noble character: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised," (Prov. 31:30). Certainly there will be mistakes ahead - because that is a part of growing up! I trust that as you make those mistakes, you'll sense the sure and steady hand of grace beneath you.

What gifts I am learning to cherish from God, not least that I simply enjoy being with you, Audrey. And to think that your heart is like a plowed field in springtime, ready to receive whatever God has to give. My prayers for you on this trip are many. May you see, with the eyes of Christ, the people of Rwanda, growing in your capacity for loving the world God loves. Maybe you begin to discover some of the good works God has prepared in advance for your life. May you grow in generosity and simplicity, remembering that you have been given much and much will be required of you. Most of all, may you encounter the living Christ, as Peter did (cf. Matt. 15:13-20). And as you declare your faith in him - "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God," may you hear him call you out: You are Audrey.

May our relationship deepen - as you confide (and I learn to listen better).

And may we each be formed into the image of Christ, growing in obedience, in willing self-sacrifice, in compassion and courage. Let us learn to love the things he loves and hate what he despises.

I bless you, Audrey, and speak over you the words spoken over your father and I when we married 19 years ago:

May God be gracious to you and bless you and make his face to shine upon you, that his way may be known on earth, his saving power among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for God judges the peoples with equity and guides the nations upon earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him! (Psalm 67)

I love you, Mom

She runs. (Guest Post by Ashley Dickens)

jenmichel@me.com

I'm excited to have Ashley writing about Mother’s Day from a different angle: through the eyes of an adult daughter. Additionally, it's great to have Ashley here to feature the incredible work of HOPE International. This summer, my oldest daughter and I are traveling to Rwanda with HOPE, and we're looking forward to learning more about this organization in order to support their work. As a gesture of your own commitment to HOPE, maybe you'd like to make a small donation today? You can easily do that here.

Ashley 1When I think about my mom, I think about the Marines.

It’s an unlikely pairing, given that the only uniform my mother has ever worn is a cringe-worthy little number from her high school cheerleading days. However, several years ago my husband’s dog-eared copy of It Happened on the Way to War by former Marine Rye Barcott radically altered the way I thought about motherhood. It’s a gripping read that made me forget to breathe more than once, arresting my attention with the repeated refrain, “Marines move toward the sound of guns.”

The fierce imagery of that captivated me. The defiant, almost irrational courage of unquestioningly running toward what others are running away from makes my heart beat wildly. I see that same unflinching courage in so many mothers across the globe—women who run toward danger simply because that’s where they’re needed. It’s a universal truth that transcends culture, race, and socioeconomic status—from suburbia to the Sahara, where you find a mother you will find a woman fighting fiercely for her children.

My mom isn’t a Marine. She’s a world traveler, an unapologetic risk taker, a passionate activist, and a killer chocolate-cake baker. Pint-sized and with an unflappable conviction that both zebra stripes and sequins are neutrals, she imparted the delicate art of sarcasm to me like it was a precious family heirloom and taught me that walking with Jesus is about infinitely more than being a “nice girl.” You’re far more likely to find her in a pair of feisty red heels than combat boots and fatigues—and she is the single bravest woman I’ve ever known.

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, Hallmark tells me to buy her a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive—something the Ingalls sisters might have given to Ma. The absurdity of it puzzles me—something about a generic pink card has never quite seemed right for my mom. Or, I think, a lot of moms.

My mama is a force to be reckoned with. I remember standing wide-eyed and nauseated in our kitchen as a little girl when, without warning, I began to projectile vomit all over the white-tiled floor. The whole scene looked like something from The Exorcist—minus a Catholic priest or two. Indelibly etched into my mind is the memory of my mom running toward me, her hands irrationally cupped open.

She’s been running toward me my entire life.

My mother’s unflinching bravery carried her from the comfortable little town she grew up in to a doll-sized apartment in the post-communist city of Kiev, Ukraine. She packed up three children under the age of six and as much Jiffy peanut butter as she could stuff into her carry-on and moved our lives to a place where the only thing she knew how to say was a hopeful, “Do you speak English?” In a city with no workable educational options, where those who had come before her had thrown up their hands in surrender and left, she opted to start a brand-new school for her children to attend—one that still exists today. Her bravery has carried her into crumbling refugee camps and crumbling marriages—to the places that looked irreparably dark and broken. Very hardest of all, two years ago it carried her into a dark ICU where she held her 21-year-old baby’s hand as he died of cancer.

It’s what mamas do, isn’t it? They run toward the hard, the ugly—they run toward the sound of guns. Our mothers bravely dive into dark and splintering brokenness with us and show us who Jesus is over and over again. They’re the first on the scene when our bones and hearts are shattered, when savage insecurities rear their ugly heads and our dreams feel worn out and hollowed. They hold the midnight watch beside cribs and cancer beds, speaking life over our dead places and believing on our behalves when nobody else will. Our mamas love wildly and fiercely, mirroring the God who runs toward us as they teach us to be like Him—second-chance-givers, hope-bringers, restorers.

My belief in the power of motherhood is an enormous part of why I love HOPE International so much. Through the power of the gospel and a small loan, HOPE empowers mothers around the world to keep running toward hard and holy things, to keep bravely fighting for their children, their communities, and the broken world around them. At HOPE, we have the breathtaking privilege of watching mothers trapped in poverty harness the power of a small loan and a safe place to save their money, and run toward the most broken places in their communities. Day after day, they courageously step into the hard work of building stronger families, neighborhoods, and churches, one person at a time.

Mamas and marines—they have more in common than I ever imagined. This Mother’s day, if a generic pink card doesn’t quite reflect the valor of your mom, consider joining me in framing this for her instead. “There is no fear in love”—moms across the globe put flesh and bone on it every day. If you’d like to join me in giving this digital print to your mom, you can snag a free download here.

Wholehearted: Jennifer Grant's new book of daily reflections

jenmichel@me.com

BlogTour_Wholehearted_560 It's the plain-speak that I notice—and admire—immediately in Jennifer Grant's new book, Wholehearted: Five-Minute Reflections for Modern Moms. Grant, a writing colleague and friend, has written a collection of 365 meditations, and they succeed in being thoughtful and wise without being overly ponderous. I like Grant's sentences in the way I like crisp, freshly ironed sheets. Of course I don't iron my sheets, and neither does Grant, if the introduction, entitled "Good Enough and Perfectly Okay" says anything. But perhaps I mean to say there's simple beauty and hospitality in her words, without all the pretension. "[We] are wrought with contradiction," Grant affirms on January 2, and that seems like a surprisingly simply but most assuredly graceful way to begin a year. Let's tell the truth about who we are.

"We often don't notice how self-absorbed we are," Grant writes on June 5. "At least I don’t. I feel entitled to resentment if someone has truly hurt me. If my thoughts generally center on my own well-being, I chalk it up to having healthy self-esteem. And when my conscience is snagged by the fact that so many people in the world live in poverty, I look away and remind myself that I’ve worked hard for what I’ve got. (And, as you know, my dad left when I was young. It’s not a picnic being me.”) There's wit in here, too, keeping company with the sober self-reflection. I like how Grant can celebrate the transformative work that is ongoing and yet unfinished in her, reminding herself and us that this being-made-new thing isn't a process to be hurried. We have to be patient with the days, with ourselves, with the Spirit alive in us.

Each day's meditation features a pithy quote, a short story, and then a question for reflection. The entire collection is divided into three main parts: Reflect, Risk, and Rest. Each month has its own theme: January—Patience, August—Trust, October—Playfulness. If you're looking for a devotional that is robustly biblical, guiding you deeply into Scriptural meditation each day, this probably isn't the one. But if you're looking to buy for yourself—or give to a friend—a book that eases you into the practice of mindfulness, cultivates a holy awareness in the everyday, and nudges you toward habits like forgiveness and gratitude, then Wholehearted is exactly what you're looking for.

"One of my favorite hymns is "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light," Grant writes on December 26th. "I like the hymn's simplicity and unabashed focus on the 'I' of the believer, who, singing it, admits to just taking reticent, hopeful steps toward Christ. Singing this hymn gives me permission to be a child of faith, excuses me from complex and controversial theological arguments, and lets me express what-at the very core of me-I desire."

Found Wanting: Courtney Reissig, "I wanted a baby."

jenmichel@me.com

I am curating stories for a blog project called, “Found Wanting.” (If you’d like to submit a guest post, learn more here.) During Jesus’ earthly ministry, it was not uncommon for him to approach the sick and sin-sick with this question: “What do you want?” In John 5, he speaks with a man lying next to the healing waters of Bethesda, a man who has been an invalid for 38 years.

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’"

The man seizes an excuse. “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.”

Was it too much for this man to hope for healing?

What is too great a risk to invite the responsibility for walking again?

There can be fear in desire: fear that we will want what God will always refuse to give; fear that we will not want whatever God, in his sovereignty, chooses to give.

Ultimately, we are profoundly afraid of ceding into the hands of God our trust.

I’m grateful for those willing to share their stories of desire here. I'm neither applauding nor condemning their stories: rather, I am amplifying their desires - and reminding each of us that to be human is to want. In my book, Teach Us to Want, I claim that:

“Desire takes shape in the particularities of our lives. We cannot excerpt desire from the anthology of our stories. Our desires say something about us – who we have been, who we are and who we are becoming. They tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.”

To catch up on the series, read these featured stories: Amy Chaney, "I didn't want to be a coach's wife." Beth Bruno, "I've wanted beauty." Wendy Stringer, "I didn't want to move to suburbia." Steve Burks, "I've wanted to produce entertainment." Faydra Stratton, "I didn't want a child with Fragile X." Brook Seekins, "I never wanted to be a missionary in Africa." Sarah Van Beveren, "I have always wanted to be strong." Holly Pennington, "I didn't want to find out what I wanted." Larry Shallenberger, "I wanted to know what I wanted." Hannah Anderson, "I didn't want - because I couldn't afford to." Megan Hill, "I want your blessing." Bronwyn Lea, "I wanted a boyfriend, college scholarships, permission to sleep over at the popular kid's house." Jennifer Tatum, "I've wanted to be a woman of faith, but . . ." Sarah Torna Roberts, "I didn't want to be broken." Suanne Camfield, "I want a bigger house."

Today, Courtney Reissig shares her story on the blog.

* * * * *

I wanted a baby. And like so many, I haven’t gotten everything I have ever wanted. I’m finally starting to appreciate that. Like the old Garth Brooks’ song croons, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” I have been the recipient of said gifts.

The Bible says it is good to desire children. Children are a blessing (Ps. 127:3). Jesus went so far as to make children part of his ministry (Matt. 19:13-14, Mark 10:14). Yet so many women must daily reconcile this strong, God-given desire with the sad reality of a negative pregnancy test. If children are so good, why is it so dang hard to have them sometimes? And many times, those who have them with relative ease don’t want the brood of children that comes to them so naturally.

I remember so clearly sitting in the office of a reproductive specialist as he looked at my husband and me and said with sarcastic clarity, “If you were 16 and on drugs, you would have 10 babies by now.” But we weren’t 16 or on drugs. We were in our late twenties and seemingly infertile. It was a case of devastating irony.

Those words stung. So did the words, “There is no heartbeat” that I have heard twice now. My road to motherhood has been marked with pain and confusion. But it has also been the source of my greatest blessing.

After Joseph spent years in captivity in a land not his own, he finally saw the realization of what God revealed to him as a teenager. But it was not without great cost. Surely, in the midst of false accusations, prison time, and general loneliness over his complete abandonment from his family it was hard to see that God was still there, let alone working in his seemingly cursed life. But he was. And while we aren’t given any insight to know if Joseph knew that in the midst of it all (though we know he remained faithful to God), we do know what he believed at the end of it. What Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20). The very suffering that threatened to undo him was the means for God to not only bless Joseph, but bless his entire family as well.

I can relate. For me, the very thing that caused me the greatest pain to date was what God used to bring me the greatest joy in him. By not giving me the desires of my heart he was changing my heart to treasure him more than anything this world (or my body) had to offer me. He filled the void left by an empty womb with fruitfulness and contentment I never could have conjured up on my own.

Failing to receive what I thought would give me the greatest earthly happiness was a blessing in disguise. God has brought me through a journey of shifting my desires to align with him. For however well-intentioned they may have started, they ultimately must fall in line with his good purposes for me.

I’ve heard it said that there are a million details happening behind the curtain of our lives, details that show us that every missed desire, every broken dream, every dashed hope really are working for our good. There are a myriad of things that keep us from seeing this reality, but that does not change that those details still exist.

So how did my story of desire end?

I didn’t get one baby. I got two. One miscarriage, two years of uncertainty, one surgery, and a lot of treatment, led to two unexpected little baby boys. But it was more than that. In those years of waiting I saw another desire emerge, one that was met with fulfillment and blessing. I wanted a baby and I got God instead.

In the wake of a delayed desire, God was giving me a better portion.

* * * * *

Courtney Reissig is a wife, freelance writer, blogger, and teacher. She was born in California, grew up in Texas, and did a couple of stints in Michigan before finally graduating from Northwestern College (MN). After doing some graduate study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, she met her husband and fell in love, and they now make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can read more of her writing on her blog or follow her on Twitter @courtneyreissig.

A Tribute to My Mother: Essay at Today's Christian Woman

jenmichel@me.com

IMG_9302 "Clumps of hair fell to the floor. I was razoring my mother's head, making her bald and vulnerable. This was not an act I had prepared for, but neither was cancer, and we met my mother's diagnosis six years ago with as much equanimity as possible. I took the phone call—the news—from the couch, one week before I delivered my twins, conspicuously lacking energy for tears and rage. In her year-long treatment to follow—chemotherapy, surgery—there is little I remember. When I comb through memory and look for the file marked "Cancer," the only one I find and retrieve is "Children."

We were separated by two states at the time, my mother and I, and I couldn't—didn't—care for her. The babies, the distance—they removed me from the everyday of her suffering and what should have been my diligent concern and phone calls. Between treatments, she visited us and rallied. She held the babies and it felt like business as usual. She also took naps in the afternoon, and that signaled change."

Read the rest of my essay, "Learning (and Relearning) to Forgive My Mother at Today's Christian Woman.

Writing on the Mommy Wars

Ben Goshow

Have you given me up for dead? I hope not. It's called Christmas, and it's now come and gone like a wind gust. It was beautiful and hard, and if I have the courage to write about the disappointments and losses of this last Advent season, I will. But I reckon I won't - and will choose to tend to them more privately and prayerfully. But if you, too, met Christmas with a bleeding heart, I hope you'll find courage from this simple promise from the Psalms that granted me some comfort. "The Lord hears when I call to him." Ps. 4:3. This. When Christmas is hard.

My real reason for popping in here briefly was to direct you over to Today's Christian Woman, where they have some fantastic content on "The Mommy Wars." Kate Harris is a speaker I heard at Q's Conference on Women and Calling, and she was fantastic. She's written an essay called, "The Complex Choices that Divide Us." Marian Liautaud writes about, "The Mommy War Raging Within Me," and Jean E. Jones about being childless. I've written a piece entitled, "When our Deepest Desires Collide," which I'll just briefly excerpt here.

"Like the majority of women today, I live at the intersection of work and family, even the work of family. I am a wife and mother, even now a writer—making the "rhetorical" questions of the Mommy Wars anything but rhetorical. They are not benign curiosities at which I play like a fascinated cat with her ball of string. The answers matter. What is my calling as a woman? Or better said, what does God require of me? The answers to these questions, theological in nature, beg to give meaningful shape to who I am and what I do. They are value-driven, even "teleological," if I may borrow an idea from James K.A. Smith. They mean to tell me what makes my life good. Is it children? Career? A complicated choreography of both?

I've spent the past 12 years of motherhood caught in the questions—and tangled by my desires. I have wanted to be a godly wife and mother. I have believed these to be God-valued callings. I have also wanted to write, a discipline begging something quieter than the spin cycle of home. The desires war. And I feel splintered."

* * * * (

The essay isn't free, but it's worth considering how you might begin paying for some of the content you get online - - because it isn't produced for free. For $10, you can get a iPad subscription to TCW for an entire year.

 

Rhythms: When life races . . and when it slows

Ben Goshow

We’ve having tacos for dinner tonight. It is the easiest of all meals to assemble, and my children will love me. Win, win.

And that I’ve made it to the butcher in the middle of the day to buy ground beef signals that I’ve emerged from the cocoon of book writing. Surprise, the sun is shining, and you can buy ground beef at 11 am. These are my newest discoveries, and they are good, serving to remind me of the unordinary beauty of the everyday. I do not have to write a book to feel alive. I can buy ground beef.

And another wonderful non-event of the morning: my trip to Target to buy a digital camera for Camille’s school project. I will confess: we have a knack around here for buying and promptly misplacing digital cameras. Perhaps I can defend what feels defenseless by saying that at the very least, our children are living into our invitation to create, rather than consume. (I find this a particularly helpful distinction with technology use, especially when children would wish the wasting of their lives in front of a screen.) And so we buy digital cameras. And then we lose them. But in between the buying and the losing is the creating, and I hope that makes it worth it – at least a little.

The email came last week that Camille would need a digital camera for a project in art on digital photography. But the buying and the losing had presently left us with only one large (and expensive) camera, which Ryan uses (and Audrey uses for her beautiful blog) and a many-years-old iPhone, which takes no manner of spectacular pictures. Camille wanted to take neither to school. I can’t blame her.

So I had emailed Ryan to ask him to buy one. He did not. And when the morning’s panic began (“I neeeed a digital camera,”) you can imagine I felt a little silly to say, Well, I emailed your father about it.

Camille took the iPhone – and the charger. She didn’t complain, and that made me proud. Then I got to thinking this morning, after having loaded up my car with the 84 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes our church had collected, that I might just run into Target, buy a digital camera and drop it by school as a surprise. She wouldn’t expect it. Me.

I got there ten minutes into art class. I caught Camille’s eyes, and she ran out of class. She was lit up. “You’re just in time!”

I hugged her tight. And then looked into that incandescence and said, “I got it just this morning. Because I needed you to know how much I love you.”

I grant that this is not a heroic act. Many of my friends do this kind of thing every day. But for me, it felt like an extraordinary gesture. Our kids are used to the constant reminders that they are one of five and can’t expect that Mom will run forgotten lunchboxes, gym bags and permission slips back to school. As one of five, they must each own for themselves a great deal of responsibility. For the most part, it’s one of the most beautiful and formative parts of their lives. They are one of five, and it’s good to grow up with the idea that others must never be expected to orbit around you.

But it is also good – really good – to see your mom show up at your classroom door and know she’d taken part of her morning to run to Target, to buy you a digital camera for your school project. Now you won’t be the only one without one. We all grow incandescent when we are loved like that.

I want to love like this.

And . . . I also want to write more books. Which means that I have to learn to live with the rhythms of my life and accept the limits they often force upon me. Sometimes I will race. Deadlines, unfortunately, don’t leave much time for puttering. They don't usually allow for ground beef and digital cameras before noon. But when they are behind, life can stretch its limbs and slow a little.

And slow means time to unpack the suitcases (I've been in Chicago and New York), rehang clothes according to color (because I like this kind of small indulgence), fight with your husband (because there's some accumulated debris from the last months of hurry), and read Brothers Grimm with your children (because this is one thing I took away from Q).

And, on Wednesdays, you'll find time to make tacos for dinner.

 

On Mother's Day: And why mothers aren't meant for indispensability

jenmichel@me.com

I am a mother. Five children in seven years: yes, I am a mother. I am also a wife, daughter, friend, neighbor, even an author now. There are so many parts of me that cannot be reduced to “mother.”

I am a mother nonetheless - although this year has been different than the eleven previous. This past fall, I sent my youngest two off to school (and the older three for that matter), and I did it in order to write a book, a book about desire. Although writing a book has required me to ship my kids off to school between the hours of 9 and 3 (notice, we only use the verb, “shipping,” in the context of children and school when we mean to indicate gross maternal selfishness and neglect), I wonder less now if it was a selfish thing to want and to do. I think I’m (finally?) over the guilt of this.

And I must admit that gaining a little bit of distance of motherhood has helped me appreciate its beauty. Motherhood in these last eleven years have been a little bit like drinking from a fire hose: fast and furious have been the torrent of responsibilities, and so much of the time, I was simply trying not to drown. Who had the time to notice whether the water tasted good?

I do now.

It’s Saturday, and I watching from the window of our bedroom as the twins ride up and down the sidewalk in front of our house. Who’s that? I wonder, staring at one of our twin boys. With his helmet on, I don’t recognize him. Red. Oh yeah, the red helmet, realizing it’s Colin - and of course he would be the one wearing his rain boots under this first sunny spring sky. Andrew is behind him. He’s losing grip on his pedals at every other rotation. They are laughing together, their two bikes a parade of childhood fun.

And then there is a collision.

Colin’s bike has turned over and dumped him sprawling on the sidewalk. He’s crying. I’m watching from the window, hesitating only for the moment of readying myself to spring into maternal action.

But before I have the time to turn, Nathan drops his basketball and rushes to Colin’s side. I can’t hear the loving words I see him murmuring in his ear, but Colin has stopped crying. Brushing his knees, he stands to his feet. Big brothers have a knack for inspiring that kind of confidence.

I am a mother. This is a good and beautiful and noble task - and one I want to do prayerfully.

Establish the work of my hands; yes, establish the work of my hands. (Psalm 90:17).

But thank God, mothers aren’t meant to be indispensable.

 

 

 

I'm at Her.meneutics today talking about MAKING BABIES

jenmichel@me.com

"It's not often that a company asks you to "go make babies," but Chicago's National Public Radio Station, WBEZ, is imploring listeners to "Do it. For Chicago." Their surprising marketing campaign, called the 2032 membership drive, also prompts their audience, saying "Hey Interesting People, get a room already. And then put a crib in it." But NPR may have failed to do their math. In her New York Times essay, "Opting out of Parenthood with Finances in Mind," Nadia Taha estimates the cost of raising a child at a whopping $1.7 million. At that amount, if WBEZ listeners follow the station's advice, they wouldn't have much left for philanthropic contributions.

Recognizing the potential economic disadvantages of starting a family, Taha and her husband decided "that the single decision that can best help us achieve [our financial goals] is one that many newly married, affluent young adults don't usually consider: Don't have children."

. . . Should economics decide the size of our families? I challenge that assumption in my post today at Christianity Today's blog for women. You can find the rest of the article by clicking here.

Toast Crumbs: Living and loving today

jenmichel@me.com

I haven’t given up blogging. At least not entirely. But life is headstrong and has a will of its own. The past week, it’s been nearly impossible to make time to even return email, much less do significant writing. I did manage to write a Her.meneutics piece, but this was accomplished only in fits and spurts. It was finally finished as I sat in the basement, ticking the inventory sheet the day our storage shipment arrived from Chicago and was unloaded into our basement. The truth about my writing is, I don’t like to think of myself as a blogger. That would seem to insist that I were more purposed about writing here. And I think I used to be, only now that I’m writing elsewhere, in more public spaces, I feel this instinctual urge to retreat, to pull together the curtains of my life and insist upon some privacy.

I don’t think it’s fear, really, that motivates this. Maybe I just have the sense to say: one has to do the work of living, too.

This last week, my body has been far more active than my fingers, my mouth, as I’ve hauled things in and up and down and away. On Sunday, the day after all of our things had been moved into the new house, Ryan made the ubiquitous pilgrimage to Ikea, returning with six heavy Expedit bookcases ready to be assembled. We carried the large and heavy boxes up and down stairs, and the next morning, I awoke with sore muscles in my arms and legs.

This physical exertion is good. I think it reminds me that I, too, am a body. Moving is like a force of gravity, reconnecting me to the stuff of earth. Which isn’t altogether a bad thing - or a rejection of the better life that is to come.

“Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.”

I read Psalm 37 this morning, and I heard it again. It’s like a recapitulating melody in my life: Put your feet down. Feel the earth under you. Live and breathe and love God in the ordinariness of today.

And on the theme of the “ordinary,” yesterday as I puttered about in the kitchen (enjoying, might I add, the expansive counter space of our new kitchen!), I listened to Cutting for Stone and found myself crying when the narrator discovers his father is dying of a rare blood disease. His father had been receiving treatment for the disease but hadn’t shared the diagnosis with his wife or his sons.

“Why won’t you let Ma know? Why didn’t you let me know?” one son asks when he finds out.

“You didn’t know about my diagnosis these last two years, did you? If you had known, it would’ve changed your relationship with me. Don’t you think? You know what’s given me the greatest pleasure in my life? It’s been our bungalow, the normalcy of it, the ordinariness of my waking, Almaz rattling in the kitchen, my work. My classes, my rounds with the senior students. Seeing you and Shiva at dinner, then going to sleep with my wife. I want my days to be that way. I don’t want everyone to stop being normal. To have all that ruined.”

And the everyday is beautiful, isn’t it? I’m reminded of this as we move, unpack boxes, and rediscover our life in all the material objects of the everyday.

I begin cherishing our "normalcy."

Toast crumbs.

The sound of slippered feet.

His wet hair combed down.

Puckered lips.

Backpacks and boots.

A half-finished train set.

Family devotions (and no one still or quiet)

His warm half of the bed

The whir of the dishwasher

This, too, is holy ground.

* * * * *

Father, for all the good of the everyday, I thank you.

I thank you for what is ordinary and for what I am likely to take for granted.

I thank you for waking to the breath of my husband and the sound of my children.

I thank you for this day, the unspectacular, the everyday. It holds a beauty and purpose that I can easily miss.

I thank you for Jesus, who reminds me that a small life, tucked into the most unsuspecting corner of time and place, is a beautiful life, a holy life.

And whatever good you have for me to receive and to do today, give me the eyes to apprehend and the willingness to embrace.

 

 

 

Love: The real measure of a life

jenmichel@me.com

There are all kinds of way to measure a life. There is the measure of our success in terms of achievement: degrees, job titles, and not least, wealth. We’d be forced to admit that achievement is so often the world’s gold standard for living life well. It’s not our usual impulse to celebrate those who’ve spent their days working in the shadows of obscurity to love others. Love demands the invisible efforts of self-giving. To love is to serve others, to listen to their stories, and to celebrate their scripts. To love is to overcome the habits of self-focus. And that is work.

Hard work.

I’m sitting in the Chicago airport now, musing on the weekend I’ve spent celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday. Friends and family from different seasons of her life gathered on Friday to throw her a surprise birthday and to celebrate her life.

And what we celebrated most was her love.

She may have wondered, in these last years that have evaporated with the exhaustion of raising little children, was has been accomplished in the days that have blurred together with dishes and laundry, puzzles and carpool.

But she had her answer as we toasted and made tributes to her life of love. She has taught us to love ourselves. She has inspired our deeper love for God. And through her example of patient forbearing love, we have each been made more capable for the loving that has been required of us in our own individual callings.

If you have loved well, you have lived well.

I take this into the months ahead that promise to hustle. I’ve got a book proposal to revise and resend. I’ve got a 31-day devotional to write for Moody. And we’re moving in less than three weeks into another house.

But lest I think this upcoming season is exceptional, I’m reminded that life will always have its bottomless demands.

We don’t get to wait to love until life slows down.

We have to learn to love, even when we’re running at breakneck speed.

And as we love, we accomplish the invisible much.

 

 

.

Faith: If this is the only thing we give our kids

jenmichel@me.com

Inevitably, whenever we return from a trip to Chicago, we pick up the question that’s already been worn threadbare. What are we doing next? We moved to Toronto almost two years ago on what was understood to be a short-term work visa. And though we like it here - and might even wish to stay, that’s a decision that is simply not up to us. To stay permanently, one of us, of course, will need a job. And even if we had work, we’d still have to figure out where, in this expensive city, to live. I won’t deny that I’d rather resolve all the mysteries ahead of us. I definitely crave a clearer picture of what our future looks like. Some days, I have to admit that I want less faith and more sight.

I don’t find it easy to live with these hanging threads of perplexity.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things about living in this kind of impermanence – never able to answer if we’re staying or for how long – is that we have five children whose lives trail in the wake of all our decisions. Both Ryan and I feel the heavy weight of this responsibility.

I moved often as a child. Every three years, we drove somewhere new and called it home. And it was never easy. I remember the terrifying experience it was to walk in to school as the new girl, wondering if I’d find someone to sit next to at lunch.

Whenever I didn’t, I buried my head in a good book.

I’m sure much good was learned in my packed up childhood. I learned to make friends quickly. I learned to overcome fear. I learned that anonymity and aloneness weren’t as bad as you think. (And I read a lot of great books. . .)

But in truth, that’s not the life I want for my kids. Am I not revisiting my old ancestral curse of transience on them? What harm will be done to our children in whose future are sure to be some lonely school lunches? Wouldn’t they be better off with the stability of some permanence in their lives?

This is not how the American dream is scripted. Parents aren’t supposed to move when middle and high school loom, not when exclusion and loneliness are hunting for company.

Parents are supposed to stay.

And staying is safe.

These are my parental misgivings about how we’re betraying the common sense wisdom of raising kids.

Or, have we?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve had my nose in the final chapters of Hebrews.

By faith, Abel. . .

By faith, Noah. . .

By faith, Abraham. . .

By faith, Sarah. . .

It seems the only decisions that matter are the faith decisions. The only decisions that please God are the ones inspired by faith.

And faith involves mystery and provokes perplexity. Faith is future-oriented: it wills itself forward through the unknown toward certainties that lay ahead. If we demand answers and guarantees, we can only have them at the exclusion of faith.

Faith is hard, but faith is for our good.

Maybe the best thing any of us gives our kids is this journey of faith. Maybe permanence and belonging, though I would wish them for our family, stay out of reach because we were never meant to find these in a geographical place.

Home isn’t a zip code: home is God’s eternal city.

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

We can’t give our children solid answers as to where they’ll be in one year or two. We can’t promise that there isn’t loneliness in their future. And this may not be the safest and most predictable life we could have given them - but then again, how safe is God?

In the journey of faith, with its questions and complexities, we teach our kids to trust and pray, to listen and wait, to move only on the divine go.

And I think they’re soon to learn a truth, which I’m daily forced to reabsorb:

Wherever He leads is good.

 

 

 

 

On being double digits: Happy 10th birthday, Nathan!

jenmichel@me.com

It's been a good year. Between the ages of nine and ten, Nathan has returned to hugging and kissing me. He's not even wiping off the wet ones. I do not know to what I owe this this tectonic shift of affection, but I certainly won't complain. It's a beautiful thing to say that you enjoy your child's company - and mean it. And I can say that it's true that I am enjoying Nathan and the young man that he's becoming. It's become routine in the last several weeks that he come and find me before bed, appease my request for a kiss, and head upstairs. He disappears around the corner, only to peek his head back into view after a few seconds.

"Bonne nuit!" he says with a grin, then disappears again.

"Bonne nuit!" He has reappeared: an apparition with a grin. "Bonne nuit!"he says with emphasis, as if this time, it's for real.

And there may be five or ten more repetitions of this goodnight charade (which, most nights, I find amusing) before finally, I hear him obediently climb the stairs. Upstairs, his door creaks open, and I imagine him climbing high into his bunk bed, keeping watchful eye over his little brothers below.

Over the last year, Nathan has grown into the love and loyalty of that are characteristic of big brothers. With Andrew and Colin, he's especially helpful, kind, and patient. (I can't comment on his treatment of his sisters here. This is a birthday blessing, you know.)

Andrew and Colin mirror his every move. If Nathan takes a morning shower and combs his hair flat, Andrew must have his hair combed in exactly the same way. If Nathan wears soccer cleats, Colin wants soccer cleats. If Nathan forgets to kiss the twins at school drop-off, they run after him. He always obliges

Andrew and Colin desperately want Nathan's love and affirmation - they need to know how to do the big boy thing.

Nathan will continue to be the best kind of teacher.

If there is a memory I might cherish most from the past year, it's from earlier this fall when we went together as a family to a special prayer gathering for our church. Ryan was out of town; a sitter kept the twins. We were just four that night, but it was a critical mass for the smaller groups into which they split us for the evening.

Huddled together and hearing my children pray that night - especially Nathan - with Scripture as their guide and earnest requests as their supplications, I, like Moses, felt the need to remove my shoes.

This speaks to how mothering really feels. It is often this kind of holy work - only you stand aside, apart from the real event.

Something's ablaze; it's just not a fire that you ignited.

Father, continue your good work in our son, Nathan. He has been a gift, and we are grateful.

 

 

 

When Gay Pride Comes to School

jenmichel@me.com

Last week, I received an email from my oldest daughter’s school principal. Five paragraphs in, I stumbled on this announcement: “On Friday, October 19, our school will have its first Purple Day, where students are permitted to "accessorize" their uniform with purple items (ie. scarves, ties, socks, headbands etc) in order to raise awareness and promote a spirit of acceptance of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender) within our school. Our newly formed Pride Support Club sponsors this awareness day.”

To be clear, this is not Mix It Up at Lunch Day, where schoolchildren are encouraged to find someone new to sit with at lunchtime. Purple Day may be intended to promote civility among students, but clearly its agenda is more aggressive than this.

I felt Purple Day warranted a response but certainly wasn’t sure exactly what that should look like. The truth is, whenever you disagree with homosexual practice publicly, you are instantly perceived as bigoted and hateful. And this saddens me, because I think it fails to represent the wide reach of the gospel, which teaches that God loves and offers forgiveness to everyone, not on the basis of their moral credibility but on the basis of his Son’s.

I love Jesus, and Jesus loves gay and straight people.

At the same time, I cannot support Purple Day for a number of reasons, which I’ve outlined here in the letter I sent to the middle school and high school principals. I’ve thought to include it here on the blog for several purposes: first, because I hope it’s an example of respectful, yet firm disagreement; second, because you may in your future face a similar situation for which you’ll need words; third, because I want to highlight that I believe calling invites us into our local communities.

I understand we won’t all agree, and I’d welcome your comments, asking only that you express disagreement respectfully.

* * * * *

Dear ________,

I am writing in response to the October 11 communiqué that I received from  __________, informing parents that October 19 has been designated a day to “raise awareness and promote a spirit of acceptance of LGBT within our school.” I do not support this initiative for a number of reasons.

First, I think we might agree that promoting any kind of sexual ethics (whether homosexual or heterosexual) necessarily invokes moral convictions. I believe that moral convictions should be inspired by parents, not the school. I am not simply standing against the promotion of homosexual practice, which I do not, as a matter of faith principle, support. I would equally disagree with the school promoting any kind of heterosexual practice outside the bounds of committed marriage. As an example, were members of the TFS administration or students to stand at the doors and hand out condoms in the spirit of promoting “safe sex,” I would be equally as troubled. These may seem like antiquated values in our contemporary culture, but they are values that matter to me. They are values my husband and I want to teach our children because they are part of what inform and inspire our sense of Christian calling and identity.

The administration has identified they want to promote not only awareness of LGBT but also acceptance. I can agree that it’s important to treat one another civilly, no matter what our sexual orientation, and I oppose bigoted and hateful behavior and speech of all kinds. I can also agree that we will as families, decide our code of sexual ethics differently, and as a matter of fairness, schools must also allow this freedom to parents. If the school aggressively seeks to promote acceptance of LGBT (or any other specific sexual practice), I argue that they are running roughshod over our parental rights, whereby we are granted to be the voice of moral conviction for our families, especially for our younger children. Moreover, if an equal invitation were not extended to children of different convictions (abstinence until marriage, as an example), the school and its administration would be favoring their own biases.

What troubles me most is not that the school is celebrating a certain kind of sexual practice, but advancing it with our middle school aged children. This does not align with the stated curricular objectives of TFS’s sexual education curriculum. I’ve discussed with __________ the content of that curriculum, and incidentally, I was pleased to have been offered the choice of whether to have our daughter participate. The curriculum, for both grades 6 and 7, does not promote any particular set of sexual ethics. Instead, it teaches children to identify and understand the mechanics of their own bodies and the changes they can expect during puberty. My question is: why must the school generate attention to an issue for which the younger students might not arguably have any kind of framework for deciding?

I would argue that Purple Day, whereby all students are asked to promote awareness and acceptance of LGBT, be abandoned. I hope you can understand my concerns, and I am happy to speak further in person on this issue.

From Welfare to Work: How to get your kids to do chores

jenmichel@me.com

There’s nothing like blogging to out all your ridiculousness. When school began this fall, I admitted to having created a spreadsheet in order to evaluate the time I would have for writing this year. I tallied the time it would take for laundry, grocery shopping, dinner prep – down to the quarter hour, no less. In my defense, that exercise was worthwhile for taming my expectations. Everyday life is always busier than I expect.

On the other hand, it may have caused you to wonder what medicine the doctor was prescribing for my condition.

One friend texted me after the post, asking if we could meet for coffee. Or, had I, she needed to ask, used up my 1.5 statistical friendship hours?

Yeah. Ridiculousness.

The fact remains, though: I want to spend my time wisely and purposefully.

Which is why I'm writing about the new Welfare-to-Work program we’re instituting around here. It's a program, which I’m hoping will not only keep our house cleaner, teach our kids greater responsibility, but also free up a bit more of my time to do this: write.

For years, we’ve been doling out allowance as a kind of proverbial share of the family’s resources. We didn’t necessarily equate the money the kids earned with the chores they were doing around the house, although pitching in has always been required. Our kids have been folding their own laundry and helping with meals for years now.

Ryan has technically always worked for the allowance bank, although since moving to Canada, allowance accounts have gone into arrears. The kids ask for allowance, and Ryan shrugs ambivalently. This scenario happens most Saturdays: same question, same noncommittal look. It’s become a more serious problem as Audrey (who is saving for a wooden clarinet) has expressed growing concern that Dad isn’t ever going to pay.

“Will you talk to him?”

In Ryan’s defense, I shared his growing ambivalence about allowance.

Was it really meeting our broader parenting goals, or were we just shelling out cash for more legos?

We wanted the kids to learn money management (giving, saving, spending), and we wanted them making real-life decisions.

We also wanted them to contribute in more meaningful ways towards household responsibilities.

I think the biggest challenge in whatever chore/allowance system is insuring accountability and making it a real-life exercise. It takes no little parental oversight to keep the whole thing humming. I’ll admit that’s where the proverbial wheels have always fallen off the cart for us.

If you’re like me, you need a chore/allowance system that requires less from you and more from your children. Or, in other words, you need another paper chore chart and sticker pack like you need another girl scout showing up at your door selling you three more boxes of thin mints.

I am happy to say I think we’ve found a solution, and I wanted to share it with you.

MyJobChart.com is worth a try: it’s an online chore system, and we’re finding it’s working here for us. You can input your children’s chores (according to day, a.m./p.m.), assign a point value to each chore (or no points, if you choose), and let them do all the work from there. They manage the list, checking off what’s done. When they finish their list, the computer sounds a chorus of applause and sends you an email indicating what’s been done. The site also allows you to divide earned points according to your spend/share/save goals. It keeps track of everything.

Can it be this easy?

Of course not. The task is still yours and mine to make sure that no points are awarded for shoddy jobs. Yes, we still need to enforce measures of quality assurance. But the other parts (keeping track of who’s done what and what they’ve earned) is managed by the computer.

I’m hoping we’ll stick to our new system, not simply because I would more time to write (which I would), but most importantly, because I want our children growing into responsible, capable adults.

* * * * *

If you find you’re ambivalent about allowance, read this essay by Elizabeth Kohlbert from The New Yorker. It’s entitled, “Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?” It will shock, even infuriate you, and light a fire in your parenting belly. Your kids will be doing chores today.

If you’re unsure about what jobs to assign your children, check out this great book by Christine Fields: Life Skills For Kids: Equipping Your Child for the Real World. It outlines what work even a young toddler and preschooler is capable of accomplishing around the house.

And if you simply want to talk about Biblical principles as a foundation for “welfare to work” programs as well as general attitudes/practices of money management, you can read and discuss these passages with your children:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

1 Timothy 6:17-19

Matthew 25:14-30

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moms on Trial: How Judgment Became Today's Parenting Advice

jenmichel@me.com

It’s not yet 6am, and I am ticking today’s to-dos off the list. I add mayonnaise to the mental grocery list and feel life breathe hot on my neck. These past 11 years, I’ve given birth to five babies. Most days, the responsibilities heap like laundry and sit heavy on my chest while the sun sleeps. Motherhood is hard work. It is a sacred calling as well. So I can appreciate Michelle Obama’s recent remarks at the Democratic Convention. “My most important title is still ‘mom-in-chief,” declared the First Lady. I can also be made to agree with the woman who tweeted post-Convention that she longed “for the day when powerful women don’t need to assure Americans that they’re moms above all else.”

* * * * *

Read more of my post about how Christian women can opt out of joining the public juries facing American moms today. I'm writing at Her.meneutics, Christianity Today's blog for women, and you can read the full-length article here.

Prayer (and the blinding beauty of an empty tomb)

jenmichel@me.com

Monday, I had an email from a friend describing a real spiritual battle of wills. She and her husband have poured their lifeblood into a particular ministry, and evil, with its heavy boots of death, threatened to crush the fragility of good that God and His people were building. “In the ten years that we’ve been here, I’ve never reached out with an email like this.” Things seemed to be unraveling. Fast. I cried as I read. And I immediately prayed - like I may not have prayed in years, engaging in my own invisible coup de résistance. I tapped exactly the words God gave in an email back to my friend. “Love is stronger than death. That’s why there is an empty tomb.”

As soon as the kids were down for breakfast and gathered around the table for prayer and Bible reading, I told them about the email, describing how some “bad” people (insert: people disposing of dirty needles in a public place where children play) were asserting their presence. We needed to pray: that they would go away and that God’s people would be armed.

We reviewed the spiritual armor: shield of faith, breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation, etc.

“And now,” I asked. “You picture ____________ and _________________ and you ask God to dress them in these pieces of armor. And you pray that God would surround this space and defend it.”

Children have the simplest and strongest faith.

“God, give them your armor.”

“God, make the bad people go away.”

“God, bring ten hundred million police.” (This was one of the twins.)

We have been praying around our table at every gathered meal since the email.

And God did all of these things in the matter of three short days. He united His people around the purposes of good: police, community members, even the bad people themselves.

As a result, people proclaimed the name of Jesus over this space where good has been seeded: “In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, Satan will have to flee! Tell me who can stand before us when we call on His great name? Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus, we have the victory!” Community members flung their songs to the stars and its Maker, and I believe my friend and her family have a renewed vision that this is God’s work to advance and defend.

Hope grows.

Why is our God so gracious and merciful to hear and answer our prayers? I won’t understand that lavish generosity – but I want to participate it in more.

This one reason why I’m going to be here less often on finding my pulse.

I sense the call to talk less and pray more.

It is true that prayer doesn’t depend on our fancy eloquence. Sometimes the best prayers are the shortest: Help!

It is also true that praying is hard work requiring time and attention.

In this season in our lives  - of general health and well-being – we, as a family, are enjoying fullness. But this is not meant only for us. I told the kids three days ago, “If God has blessed us, we are meant to bless others. If for this season, we don’t face suffering or challenge, we can step into a call to pray for those who are.”

I hope to be more faithful to that. I hope you will be, too.

Maybe one less blog post competing for your attention can nudge you to your own work of calling: to pray, to shoulder work, to love, and to worship.

That’s my intent at least. And while there may be more reasons than this (laundry and book writing as examples), there is primarily this: that in order to speak, I most listen. In order to write, I must hear.

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my heart to hear as those who are taught.

The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious. I turned not backward.

Isaiah 50:4, 5

Blessings for you, dear readers.

May the light of hope guide you in your dark valleys.

May the wind of grace catch your sails.

May you live today – and every day – in the blinding beauty of an empty tomb.

 

 

"These are the best days of your life!" : and when that chapter ends

jenmichel@me.com

We have had some long and languid days around here after our recent trip to Ohio - the kind of days were girls and boys disappear behind doors and into their inventive worlds, the boys alternating between Legos and Avengers, the girls withdrawn into the voices and wardrobes of their dolls. It’s in the morning that I usually find Andrew and Colin opening the kitchen drawer, pulling out straws and sticking them between their knuckles as if to imitate the razor sharp claws of Wolverine. Yesterday, Andrew informs me: “I’m marrying the Hulk.” And looking puzzled, he asks his twin brother, Colin: “Who are you marrying again?” “Ironman,” Colin answers quickly, and Andrew throws his head back as if to say, of course.

The twin babies I thought might never grow up start kindergarten tomorrow. I’ll dress them in their coordinating polo shirts, their collars laying flat - for at least the first five minutes. Today, at orientation, they will find their lockers, meet their teachers, and see their classroom for the first time.

But tomorrow, I will leave them there, returning for the first time in eleven and a half years to a house yawning emptiness.

Audrey, our oldest, starts middle school today. This summer, she’s embraced lip gloss, mascara and brush, her womanly sensibilities developing right alongside her changing body. But if only for these past several days, it’s as if she’s a girl still, she and her younger sister having spent the better part of the week meticulously arranging their dollhouses and furniture, combing through catalogues, and chattering about the pieces they may want next.

I don’t tell Audrey that in another several months, she may not be playing dolls.

Grey-haired women tell you that these days of young children go quickly. When you’re home with nursing babies and toddlers, you want only to punch them in the face – especially when they quip, “They’re the best years of your life!” You could be made to agree with them – if only you could get a good night sleep first.

The best days, if they really are that, are the blurring days, when day blurs into night into morning, and you awake, as if reliving the monotonous sameness of the movie, Groundhog Day. Nothing new will be demanded of you. Only more breakfast dishes and rounds of play dough, nap schedules and diapers. The demands of the early years are heavy indeed, tethered as you are to home, exhausted as you are by lack of sleep, isolated as you are behind your windowpanes.

But blink, and they are over. Your kindergartener will wear a polo shirt and carry a backpack. Your sixth-grader will dash out of the door wearing lip gloss. And the quiet that will finally settle over your house – this is what you’ve been waiting for, you know – may feel nothing like you supposed it would.

Tomorrow, it may even be tearful.

Guest Post by Audrey Michel: "Gulp. . ."

jenmichel@me.com

Audrey posted this yesterday on her blog: I thought it needed public comment from me. . . "Those of you who have read my Mom's blogs, you probably know why I put that title. You're probably thinking,"Wow, Audrey, you FINALLY published a post. Your Mom does it practically every day." Exactly. It's not exactly easy having a mom who:

1. Never gets writer's block.

2. Always gets her writing done.

3. Stays focused.

4. Can write about her guilt and shame in two seconds.

5. Uses perfect metaphors.

6. Publishes every or every other day.

7. Can whip a story from the smaller things.

8. Has access to the juiciest news articles and reports.

9. Knows about a million pastors.

10. Follows God perfectly.

(End of blog post.)

So, my darling daughter, eleven and blooming with beauty. You are a treasure, a joy, but as I told you yesterday, it's not fair for you to compare yourself to me. I've lived twenty-seven years longer. That's more grey hair to my credit. . .as well as a bit more practice writing.

But you're said something we all think: we secretly worry that we're never to be as good as the person we admire (and sometimes hate).

Which brings me to the question of hard work and commitment. Can any of us ever have anything without working for it (Jesus' love excepted?)

The daily writing I've been doing here (well, almost daily) is commitment, plain and simple. Not talent, not magic, not steel-plated courage. Just yesterday, I drove through traffic and decided that I was fooling no one. I was not a writer and should give up this stupid game of pretending. Had we been back in Toronto, it would have been a day to fight the temptation to throw my laptop to the bottom of Lake Ontario. Here in Montreal, I suppose I'll have to settle for the Lachine Canal.

Audrey, listen to me. Your life is a garden: good things grow by the sweat of your brow and the rain that falls from heaven. Sweat, rain; work, rest. God's grace will prompt you to DO things (grace, grace, begin always there) and do them you must, with as much courage and commitment as you can. For me, that thing is writing. It's not always fun. It's not usually easy. And while sometimes there's magic spun, it's not usually so. That's OK, too.

And by the way, I've borrowed that garden metaphor from Ann Voskamp. It's this morning that I read this from her book: "I may have always known that change takes real intentionality, like a woman bent over her garden beds every day with a spade and the determined will to grow up something good to strengthen the hearts." 

So I'm not as clever as you think I'm am. I'm just reading, listening, trying to pay attention to my life and God who is present and near. Today, I have this word from the Scriptures: "But I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father" (John 14:31). There it is again: listen, do. Rain, sweat. Grace and effort growing like tall shade trees in your garden.

I love you. Keep writing, daughter.

(And P.S., does knowing a lot of pastors help someone write better?)