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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Commitment

Prayers for the Readers of "Teach Us to Want"

jenmichel@me.com

Every prayer is an act of desire. I suppose one reason I've become so convinced that we need desire for our lives of faith is because desire is entrance into prayer. In fact, I've begun to see holy desire and prayer as nearly synonymous in the life of a Christian. What holy desire wouldn't make its eventual way into the throne room of grace? And wouldn't something cease to be holy about desire apart from this courageous risk on God's goodness and wisdom and power? Isn't enduring trust made solid and substantial as we confide prayerfully to God this one holy desire: teach me to want? We want and pray, and this practice forms us. We grow less to expect everything as we've asked for it. We simply begin believing that God's no's and not yet's are a means towards our greater good.

Teach Us to Want_Cover #4312I've written a book on desire, and in many ways, it's a book about prayer. By this it will be assumed that I'm a good pray-er, and let me confess: I am not. I, too, am as easily herded as a cat. I don't always know what I want, and even when I do, there is nothing automatic about making those desires into something resembling prayers.

But I'm learning to let Jesus ask me, as he so often did in the gospels, "What do you want?" And I let that become my invitation to begin praying. Sometimes those prayers lead to confession and to a renunciation of certain desires. Sometimes those prayers begin to grant new courage: my desires becomes my petitions becomes my plans (see Psalm 20).

I've wanted to write and publish a book. God heard those desires, granted those prayers, and gave wisdom for those plans. It astonishes me. (And makes me feel great joy.) The book that I've wanted, for which I've prayed, and that I've written is beginning to trickle out. I wonder if it is even in your hands?

So what do I want now? Or better yet, how must I pray?

I spent the morning thinking of how to pray for you, reader. And these are the desires - prayers - I will begin confiding to God on our behalf as you read, Teach Us to Want.

1. Father, fix our hope fully in the gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ. Your good news inspires our desires. "If God is for us, who can be against us. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him gracious give us all things?" Rom. 8:31, 32 You know how difficult we find it to grasp the extravagant dimensions of your love. But if this book does one good, let it be that we begin believing more soundly that you have desired us.

2. Father, reveal our profound capacities for betrayal. It is our fallenness that cautions our desires. "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Isaiah 6:5 Father, you understand our tragic blindnesses: we would love our death and hate our good. Deliver us from ourselves.

3. Father, let us see the vanity of our idolatries and help us to treasure Christ. "I count everything as loss for the sake of Christ because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." Phil. 3:8 If we are rich, let it mean nothing. If we are educated, let it not be our hope. Help us know the desolation of every worldly good and the enduring treasure that is life in and with and through Jesus Christ.

4. Father, let us learn that obedient surrender to your will is our ultimate good. Teach us to want.

"Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it! Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me live in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness, give me life!"

Psalm 119:35-40

5. Father, by your surprising mercy, grant us courage and commitment for our holy desires. Move us, your people, into joyful and bold participation for the kingdom. Inspire in us greater self-sacrificing love for your broken world that we become a purified people for your possession, "zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).

Ultimately, Father, whatever good you do, may it be for the hallowing of your name (Matt. 6:9). "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, of the sake of your steadfast love and faithfulness." Psalm 115:1

The Risks and Responsibilities of Desire

jenmichel@me.com

Risk for your desires. And then, carry their responsibilities.

These are the two words that seem to resonate with me when I think about desire in the context of faith.

Risk. Responsibility.

In the past two years, I risked on my desire to write a book. And God has been so good to me and what has been, in all reality, my great cowardice. He nourished my small mustard seed and grew it into something like 60,000 words. In every way, he has proven worthy of the risk—and faithful to the desire I didn’t fully know was from him and felt deeply afraid to own.

“With the mighty deeds of the LORD God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.” Psalm 71:16

I am past the risk of writing the book (although fully poised on the fear of people reading it). But this seems exactly right to me: for now it’s time to move into the responsibilities of desire.

So many people tell us to dream big for Jesus. They are eager for the thrill of the risk.

But how many are calling us, not simply into the risks of desire, but its responsibilities?

Because if you are risking for God, truly risking on the desire to love him and love your neighbor, you will find that desire moves you into obligations.

Those obligations will upset your convenient life, the one you protect and safeguard.

Those obligations will move you, inconveniently, beyond the measure of your self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

They will even arrive in the form of people.

Obligations are hard work. Desire is hard work. How often do we hear that?

I’m in the midst of a very busy month of desire’s hard work. Today, my husband is home for the morning from work so that I can finish one of a string of deadlines (this blog post NOT included).

I look at my calendar and wonder drearily when it will all be over, when life will resume something of its normalcy, when I won’t constantly have to puzzle over my week and wonder how to make time to call a friend. I lament the urgency of the deadlines, the bulk of words I’m required to put to a page.

But the busyness of this month, isn’t it due to the responsibilities for the desire that was given me by God: to understand desire and help it be better understood?

Risk for your desires.

And then, carry your responsibilities.

Be a neighbor: write.

jenmichel@me.com

Just yesterday, I received a letter in the mail from my lovely college friend, Amy. Amy and I traveled to Africa together in college with a team of three other students from Wheaton College, one of whom is now my husband. (The missionary we'd stayed with had warned about the amorous powers of the African moon. He was right.) I remember when Mali's first summer rain flooded our room - and destroyed our inventory of feminine hygiene products. If you are a woman, you will understand that panic that ensues when you realize the tampons you've brought from America are now useless, and there's an ocean between you and Walmart.

Amy and I shared that moment. I guess it's kind of an inseparable bond.

Amy and I are still in touch (yes, we're both graying by now), and she, having recently felt nudged by God to write, has shared a little bit of her journey with me. Like any writer who has spent significant time before a blank page, Amy's discovered the demons of self-doubt. They're a nasty bunch, I tell her, confessing how I've tried to tame a few and give them a loving home. I warn her not to try this.

I've given Amy whatever feeble advice I have to offer, but I find she's making her own extraordinary sense of this particular calling in her life. She doesn't need my help at all.

In fact, she's got a project now that she's begun, which she's calling "Heart to Hearten." Over the next year, each day Amy will be writing a handwritten letter of encouragement to a friend or acquaintance, and it will specifically include a passage of Scripture.

Why do I love this project so much and find it to be such a faithful expression of the calling to write?

1. Because she's writing as an act of love. Love God, love others - pen that on a page, and honor your calling in the most fundamental of ways.

2. Because she's seeking to communicate God's truth. I am sure that Amy feels as I feel: we have nothing to say. Split our skulls down the middle, and find them hollow. Writing isn't discovering truth: it's discovering new ways in which old things can be said. So get your nose in the Book, and start telling someone what you find.

3. Because she's writing everyday. God's calling you to do something? You feel inadequate? Ill-equipped? Practice, honey. It's no more glamorous that showing up, sitting down, and resisting the disappointment that it should feel different and you should feel more important.

4. Because it blesses. I got my note in the mail yesterday from Amy and opened it to find these words. "Jen, one of my favorite things about you is your constant willingness to be real. . . . I am certain this will be a reason your book will stand out . . . Your vulnerability and honesty will draw your readers in and have a lasting impact on them."

I'm writing the chapter on confession this week, and this note, written probably weeks ago and delivered at Canada Post's notoriously slack pace, arrived on the very day I needed it - as a reminder to write as honestly and authentically as I can. I am blessed.

(Although I confess: I like you knowing she things the book will " stand out.")

Write for your neighbor, says Calvin Seerveld. (He's someone famous and smart, so you should probably listen.)

Or said this way (by me, someone un-famous and obtuse), be a neighbor: and write.

 

 

 

 

 

(On the basis of good advice) Help Wanted: Pray-ers

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Lorna Dueck produces and hosts the Canadian television show “Context with Lorna Dueck,” a weekly broadcast which explores current events from a Christian perspective. She also writes for the Canadian national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, about the intersection of faith and public life. During her 20+ years in media, Lorna has accumulated some impressive awards: (From her website) “A winner of Canadian Church Press and Word Guild Awards, Lorna was presented with the Leading Women Award for her outstanding contributions to the fields of media and communications. And in 2009, she was awarded the “Distinguished Christian Leadership Award” from Providence College and Seminary in Manitoba. In 2012 Lorna was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her contribution to Canadian Society.”

Last night, our church hosted an event with professionals working in media, and Lorna hosted the conversation from her office in the CBC Broadcast Centre, and she spent time telling us the story of God’s leading in her own career and the development of Context. There was so much that was encouraging and inspiring, especially because everything began on the floor of her living room, as Lorna says, “when I was sitting with my children in my housecoat, reading the newspaper.”

“Let me impact the media for you,” Lorna prayed that day.

(And what God will do when seeds of desire are sown . . .)

I hope sometime to write about Lorna’s story in more depth, but for my purposes here, I’d rather focus on one answer she gave to a question she fielded from our group.

“What’s your secret to staying humble?” someone asked.

Lorna laughed. “I guess that’s kind of a funny question to answer. ‘Yes, I’m so humble, and here’s my secret,” she joked.

Lorna talked about staying grounded in spiritual disciplines. But she also commended connection within Christian community.

The family of God. They keep you humble.

Lorna specifically mentioned the team of people who have been praying for her now more than twenty years. In fact, anyone she hires comes to work for her on the condition that they also have a team of people who commit to consistently praying for them and their work with Context.

Have people pray regularly for you and your work, Lorna told our group.

And that sounds like sane advice to me.

(Anyone interested?)

 

I have a book contract

jenmichel@me.com

I have a book contract. And as I make phone calls and field facebook congratulations, I think of this: my father.

My father: the writer, the playwright and professor. The man who taught me to love word games and gave to me the beautiful and sacred heritage of loving language. Books.

My whole life, I have loved to read. It has been a stubborn consolation to lose myself in the pages of a book.

But writing a book?

No. This work belonged to others.

Only now, it doesn't.

One singular stroke of divine providence (yes, this, and only this), and the work of writing a book now belongs to me.

I am humbled.

Gideon-afraid.

Not at all sure how exactly the mechanics of writing a book and living a life actually work.

But I feel the steady pulse of faith. Drumming, thrumming, and I'll try to keep pace.

An insight from the Book of Numbers (Numbers?)

jenmichel@me.com

I’ve gotten behind on my Bible reading. I have a million reasons to justify my recent neglect (or at least eight). The most recent was a stomach bug, which confined me and two of my children to the couch all day yesterday. We were a pitiful sight.

But today, thankfully, I’ve felt better incrementally each hour. By 10 a.m., when I thought my stomach could tolerate Advil, I took it and blessed the Power above that brought us Ibuprofen.

And this afternoon, I opened the Scriptures although, I must admit, I was pessimistic about having to catch up on two chapters of Leviticus and five chapters of Numbers.

Immediately, I was surprised and chastened by my lack of faith. Why must I continue insisting that the Scriptures give me quick-fixes and sound-bytes, teaching that is easily tolerable and immediately relevant? And clearly this is what I seek if Leviticus and Numbers cause me such dread.

I wish I weren’t so self-seeking in my spiritual pursuits.

But gratefully, God grants us the insight we do not deserve - even when our hearts drag their feet and clamor for something more exciting.

Numbers 4:19. This is it. What God says today.

“Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them [the Kohathites] each to his task and to his burden.”

The book of Numbers details, in its early chapters, how the Israelite camp is to be arranged and to which tribes the tabernacle duties fall. It’s given to the Kohathites to carry the most holy things of the sanctuary: the ark of the covenant, the table of the bread of the Presence, the lampstand. But they cannot look on these sacred objects: before they carry them, it’s the job of Aaron and his sons to cover them with cloth and goatskin.

So why is Numbers 4:19 a thunderbolt of insight today?

Three reasons:

  1. The work we have to do is assigned to us. Let’s not mistake this. The New Testament also makes clear that God has foreordained our good works – planned them in advance. Lest you think that you’re particularly clever in thinking up the good you do (or intend to do), you’re not. I’m not. We’re all acting on orders. Our call is a response of obedience.
  2. We should be careful to do no more and no less that what God has assigned to us. Later in Numbers (chapter 16), Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, gets the grand idea that he’s just as holy as Moses and Aaron. “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them.” He wants Moses’ job description, not his own. And jealousy over another man or woman’s calling never ends well. For Korah, it costs him his life and the lives of those in his household.
  3. The tasks, which God gives us, can sometimes feel synonymous with “burden.” Doing good can initially feel good. We may be met with immediate gratitude. Maybe we’re told we’re special, gifted, even extraordinary. But eventually tasks assume rhythms of monotony, and those accolades no longer sustain.

And that brings me back to #1: we’re doing the work, which has been assigned to us.

No more. No less.

And for the purpose of pleasing Him.

 

When words dry up - and when the rains come

jenmichel@me.com

There are days - weeks - where my words dry up, and I have nothing worth saying. My brain is the Arizona desert, and a tumbleweed thought won’t do for a blog post. I wish it were easier to pretend to be clever.

A friend sent me a hilarious blog post today. It’s in the form of a cover letter, and it’s entitled, “I Would Like to be Pope.”

“I’m writing to apply for the position of Pope. I recently received my Bachelor of Arts, or ‘artrium baccalaureus,’ from Dartmouth College, with a major concentration in Theatre Studies and a minor concentration in Computer Science. . . . I became aware of the availability of the position of Pope through the Dartmouth listserve.”

I wish I could be funny like that.

But the truth about writing is that you can only write who you are.

Sadly, it doesn’t count, for example, if your husband is funny - although mine is. Soon enough, people will see how pathetically un-funny you really are.

And if un-funny is bad enough, what about when you feel numb or angry, disappointed or just too busy to think?

What do you write about on those days? And what do you say about God?

We don’t ever summon God. He’s like the weather. Unpredictable. And completely out of our control.

Words bear these traits, too. I, the writer, don’t ever know when to predict their arrival. I only know they’re a capricious bunch.

(Don’t they know I’ve been expecting them? That I have work for them to do?)

Words hide.

Just like God.

And there’s anger and fear in that, too.

Today day begins as most days do. Coffee. Bible. Desk.

I rummage the drawers for a pen, having lost my favorite one in the move.

I am surprised when I actually hear something. My pen stands on rubbery legs, regains some feeling – it writes.

This is unexpected. This is good.

And I remember the reason for persisting when life, words, God dries up.

The rain is coming.

New Year's Resolutions (and my piece today at her.meneutics)

jenmichel@me.com

I had resolved to write this post weeks ago, and it's now January 23. Does this give you any indication as to the success I'm experiencing so far in my New Year's resolutions? I think I've finally realized why we meet each New Year with so much renewed energy about personal change. It's because we're on VACATION when we think about the New Year. We're swimming in more time, we're getting a little more sleep, and life generally feels a bit more manageable when we're not schlepping the kids off to school or ourselves off to work. Heck yeah, I'll exercise when I'm not required to be out of my pajamas before 10 a.m.

Three weeks into January, when life's normally relentless pace has resumed, we're back to our old habits and flagging faith, feeling less like the world is ours for the conquering.

I have had a little of that experience so far this year with my own New Year's resolutions. THIS was going to be the year I was going to be more organized. I would work harder to put things away (and keep the kids accountable, too). I would keep a less messy desk. I would empty out my purse and wallet every night. I would write outlines. I would prioritize my to-dos.

And I am mostly failing every one of those resolutions, with the exception that yesterday I wrote a detailed outline for chapter three of my book and sailed through an afternoon of writing, finishing, if you can believe it, a first draft of the entire chapter! (Oh, have I forgotten to mention that a friend and I have tucked ourselves away in a cabin in Ontario's cottage country for a three-day writing retreat? The outline may not deserve all the credit for this accomplishment.)

Resolutions can be unsuccessful, often because we don't think realistically about the ways we'll have to shift other parts of our lives to accommodate the new activities/ideas we want to pursue.

Resolutions are also unsuccessful because we are pursuing goals that we're not totally committed to. Maybe intellectually we think the proposed change would be good for us, but deep in our gut, we still have a lot of inner reluctance toward making the change. If we were to poll our inner self, we'd have to admit: we really don't want to change.

Desire is a KEY part of personal change, and I've been reading a lot on the subject considering that my book manuscript tackles questions of our wanting and praying.

I think there's a lot of momentum behind desire, and I think intentionality can be born of desire.

Ask yourself this: when was the last time I had trouble committing to something I REALLY wanted to do?

I, for example, have very little trouble making sure I find an hour every week to watch Downton Abbey. Actually no trouble whatsoever.

But exercise? Eeek.

It's been months, maybe years, that I've not exercised regularly, and that neglect has been a source of spiritual uneasiness. But this year, I'm back at it although for different reasons.

I've written about this at Christianity Today's blog for women, her.meneutics, and you can find that article here: Being Skinny is Not a Christian Virtue

(P.S. There's almost no better way to stick to your resolutions than to announce PUBLICLY what you've committed to. FYI.)

 

 

The Business of Calling (A Look Back: Days 9-15)

jenmichel@me.com

Yesterday, I posted highlights from the first eight days of this series on calling. Today, we'll look at days 9 - 15, and tomorrow, I hope to have a new post on calling. (Some disappointments of the last week have made me feel particularly snarky. If I don't settle down, you're in for an earful.) I'm wondering if there are questions you find yourself asking on calling? I certainly wouldn't pitch myself as an expert, but feel free to ask questions in the comments. I could attempt some kind of a response in the days to come.

 Day 9: Yin and Yang

Responsibility and shame, the yin and yang of calling. Responsibilities are the weight God gives us to bear, but we are not meant to bear this weight alone. Indeed, they are always too impossibly heavy for our skeletons of human bone, and they are mean to draw us towards deeper dependence on Christ. But if you’re like me, you add to your pack extra stones of worry, which weigh heavy with the fear of failing. If you’re like me, your responsibilities are too heavily tied to your identity. Meeting them – or failing them – will be the exacting measure of who you are and how much you’re worth.

 

Day 10: Hesitating Steps

Fear and uncertainty can be evidence of calling. We often begin with hesitating steps forward; we feel our way in the proverbial dark, unclear about the direction we’re taking, uncertain about the purpose behind the imperative. But what we follow at first is the smallest, faintest perception of a little something toward which God is nudging us. We heed an imperative, that small God movement which leads from behind. We move towards a relationship, a vocational decision, a spiritual practice, a ministry venture.

And it requires enormous risk. We don’t get architectural blueprints or project timelines. We get lamplight for our feet. No more, no less.

 

Day 11: Looms and Laptops

Calling must never become ceaseless rhythms of work, subconscious reflexes of self-protection. Hours at a loom – or laptop -, having only mechanical relation to the objects – and people – of my life. Calling is no excuse to lone-ranger it: if anything, calling makes it all the more necessary to find companions for our journey.

 

Day 12: Downhill Glides, Uphill Climbs

One dimension of calling is the easy, downhill glide where effortlessly, you cruise. The wind is at your back. You’re not even pedaling! But there’s another part of calling, which is far more grueling and difficult. They are the hills we have to climb towards whatever height of purpose God is calling us. At the bottom of the hills, we survey the impossibilities. Our body, the hills, the sun beating overhead. There is simply NO way we’re getting to the top.

Thank God for downhill glides because sometimes, that’s the only reason I get on the bike at all. Thank God for uphill climbs because there’s where I’m meant to learn my dependence.

 

Day 13: The Uphill Climb of Visibility and Responsibility

Shouldering all those lives on my little frame had become impossibly heavy, and I needed someone to help me process the exhaustion, the self-doubt, the fear, the anxiety. I was fighting the sin of self-importance, and as a result, laid down the greater portion of my ministry responsibilities.

I want to begin again and begin differently.

I realize now that the work of God continues while I sleep: this is to me, immense relief. Tomorrow, were I to wake up debilitated – or not wake up at all – the world would keep on humming and spinning, whirring and whirling. It's just that big. And I am just that small.

 

Day 14: Purposed Participation with God

Attending to our heart’s desires isn’t always recommended to us, whether for life or calling. It may also be that our evangelical emphasis on serving and doing simply keeps us too busy for the practices of self-reflection.Whatever the cause, the false heart-mind dichotomies prevail. It’s the continental divide of the modern soul.

But look at the Psalmist’s integration of desire, plans, and petitions. We often do and become what we’ve hoped and planned and prayed. Life – and calling – may well be this three-strand cord of divine will and purposed human participation.

 

Day 15: Write for Your Neighbor

It’s some of the best advice I’ve had. Write for your neighbor, said Calvin Seerveld, when he lectured to artists and writers at our church recently. By this, I think he meant to say: Get over yourself. Get over all that grandstanding and grand planning. Write for your neighbor.

In other words, do something small and do it for love. Neighborliness is the most fundamental of our callings.

 

 

The Face of Poverty: Sponsor a child today through Compassion

jenmichel@me.com

Jana lives in Sri Lanka and speaks Tamil. A little boy only six months younger than our twin boys, he lives in a house with a clay floor and tin roof. His father may earn as little as $109 this month. Kabilan also lives in Sri Lanka. His daily chores are carrying water, gathering firewood and washing clothes. Today he’ll eat three meals of rice and rotti (a thick pancake made out of flour.)

Alice will be 13 this September; she lives in Uganda. Her English is strong; academically, she shows great promise. The $8 extra dollars we send each month helps children like Alice living in countries ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic; $8 reminds us just how tenuous life can be.

Paola is 12 and lives in the Dominican Republic with her mother. Her parents were never married. She writes us recently to ask prayer for her mother who will be having a surgery so that she will “stop having children.”

Billy-Chee lives in Haiti; he is 13. When the earthquake hit his country on January 12, 2010, it was another six months before we had word that he and his family were safe. His parents are farmers, and as often as they can secure work, they earn $22/month.

These are some of the faces of global poverty who are helped each month by the smallest of financial gifts.

$38/a month pays for a child sponsored through Compassion International to attend programs at a local child development center. There, they receive Bible teaching, medical checkups, nutritious meals, and academic support.

For the price of eight Starbucks lattés, we can buy hope for one of the world’s poorest children.

This month, I’m blogging once a week on behalf of Compassion International, and today, I encourage you to visit Compassion’s Sponsor a Child page and consider sponsoring a child in need. This month's blogger push aims to have 3, 108 children sponsored by the end of September.

I imagine your heart, like mine, breaks for every child who does not have the resources our own children do.

For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are:

640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3)

400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5)

270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7)

With statistics as staggering as those, we might imagine a virtual global stampede of benevolence - yet inaction persists. Why? I have my own reasons. I am guilty of them all.

  1. For many middle-class Americans, poverty is faceless. We may read statistics like the ones I’ve cited, but we can’t connect emotionally with the numbers.
  2. We haven’t fully understood the mission of Jesus. We’ve misunderstood that praying, Your kingdom come, means we’re asking God not to save us for heaven, but to bring heaven to earth.
  3. We are intimidated by the size of the problem. What can one person do?
  4. We aren’t sure how to involve ourselves, especially because we have families of our own. We can’t simply fly across the globe when the next crisis strikes.
  5. We aren’t sure which organizations to trust. We may want to give money to help the poor but fear that our donations will be mishandled.
  6. Confusing needs and wants, we sink deeper into our habits of overconsumption. There may not simply be extra money to give.

Visit Compassion’s Sponsor a Child page today:

Put a face on poverty. Through Compassion, you can not only contribute financial gifts but build a relationship with a child to whom you can write letters and even plan to visit. Compassion, International, is monitored and audited regularly by outside agencies, which insure their financial integrity.

Bring heaven to earth for one child: it will cost you less than a pair of shoes to buy vaccinations and pay for school uniforms for a child who would otherwise go without. This is your small gesture, your cup of cold water.

“Do this, and do it with love. For this is your work that will ripple out into eternity.”

–Ann Voskamp, blogger for Compassion

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness. Isaiah 58:10, NIV

 

 

 

 

Calling, Day 14: Purposed Participation with God

jenmichel@me.com

May the Lord grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans. . . May the Lord fulfill all your petitions! Psalm 20:4

 

School has almost begun here. We have another two days to unpack from our recent trip to Ohio, do laundry, plan menus, shop for last-minute items, squeeze in a few play dates, and make our final library run of the summer. Thursday, the children have orientation, and Friday is the first full day of classes.

Because this will be my first year with all of the children in school full-time, many are asking the same question: What are you going to do with all of your time?

But I think a question that is more important to ask even before I plan the projects and schedule the days is a question of the heart, rather than the calendar.

Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, begins with a chapter entitled, “Longing for More: An Invitation to Spiritual Transformation.” That chapter opens with a quote from Elizabeth Dreyer: “One can being one’s [spiritual] quest by attending to the desires of the heart, both personal and communal. The Spirit is revealed in our genuine hopes for ourselves and for the world. How brightly burns the flame of desire for a love affair with God, other people, the world? Do we know that to desire and seek God is a choice that is always available to us?”

Attending to our heart’s desires isn’t always recommended to us, whether for life or calling. Maybe it’s that we fear our hearts to be a cauldron, simmering up a witch’s brew of treason. Maybe it’s because we’re retreated into our safer cognitive models that insist upon immersing ourselves in the grammar of God. It may also be that our evangelical emphasis on serving and doing simply keeps us too busy for the practices of self-reflection.

Whatever the cause, the false heart-mind dichotomies prevail. It’s the continental divide of the modern soul.

But look at the Psalmist’s integration of desire, plans, and petitions. Although it’s never fair to use one verse as the basis for a theological principle, I think this verse says something universally true that could be defended by other Scriptures.

We often do and become what we’ve hoped and planned and prayed. Life – and calling – may well be this three-strand cord of divine will and purposed human participation.

To say that wanting and planning and praying are important is not the same thing as saying that are ultimate, as if everything depends upon you and I getting up in the morning and braving our days with spiritual and moral heroism. Our heart’s desires and plans, our soul’s petitions, act like mere seeds of faith: we can plant and water, and yet it is God who gives the growth.

It may also be true that there are things God wants to transform in us and accomplish through us that He yet patiently waits to perform until we have the necessary inner will. Desire – longing for more of God and more of His redemptive activity; Plans – the commitment to partner with God and step into the responsibilities He gives; Petitions – the active looking to God as the One who authors and perfects all things good: we will need all of these for life and calling.

Because we aren’t spineless jellyfish, but humans, made in the image of God. And there is something true and beautiful about meeting life on our feet, and by this, I mean accepting from God the part of spiritual transformation and calling that are ours.

Let’s not ask God to do what He has required of us.

May the Lord grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans. . .

May the Lord fulfill all your petitions! Psalm 20:4

 

 

 

Fingers and thumbs, Talent and hard work

jenmichel@me.com

She is bent over her math homework, her face buried in the impossibilities of multiplication. She sobs and insists how she can't do it, and I'm left looking at her and having to decide what to do. Is this the moment I meet with sympathy and reassurance, proposing we work on it together? Or do I assume my unflinching Tiger Mother stance, resisting what may be carefully calculated hysterics of avoidance? One choice will inevitably be right, and the other, wrong and damaging, insures this will become a scene she relives years into her future on a therapist's couch. I wish there were a playbook for moments like these. I choose B, wear my Tiger Mother face, and tell her that she'll have to finish her math. I'm certain she can do it. And the sobbing turns to whimpering and by golly, she finishes and discovers that she DID know how to do those problems and it WASN'T as difficult as it had initially seemed.

I feel a lesson brewing.

"Look at your fingers," I tell her after the curtains have closed on the sobbing scene, and she's later snuggled into my lap. "Do you know which of your fingers is strongest?"

She shakes her head no.

"It's your thumb, actually. Do you know that when you play the piano, you have to make sure that your thumb isn't playing louder than the rest of your fingers? That's one reason why you practice scales, so that you can pay attention to how each of your fingers is playing and so that you can build strength in the fingers that are weakest. And did you know that your life is like a song? It's going to take all of your fingers to play that song and be good at it."

The rest of the lecture lesson goes something like this:

Your entire life, you're going to do things that are difficult for you. And when you first begin them, you'll want to give up. I do, too! That's normal. But what do you do when you feel like giving up? 

1. First, you put on your, "I can" attitude. You can't imagine what a difference an I can attitude makes when you're working on things you find difficult and challenging.

2. Next, you commit yourself to practicing whatever skill it is you're trying to learn. No one, absolutely no one, succeeds without practice.

3. Third, you commit to working HARD and to your fullest potential.

These are the fingers with which you are playing your song of life: Your "I can" attitude, your willingness to practice, your hard work. (This lesson would have been better had I found a parallel for the pinky finger, but I didn't.)  And guess what your thumb is? Talent. Talent is the gift God gives certain people to do certain skills really well. But just like in a song, a thumb can't play alone and a thumb can be clumsy and too loud. Even for the people who might find at first that they're good at something, they, too, have to practice, work hard, and continue believing that they can.

I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength. 

* * * *

We interrupt today's violins for the brilliance of fingers and thumbs that can, talent and hard work that will.

(Watch the movie Soul Surfer with your children as a brilliant, shining example of this kind of determined faith, but beware of a scary shark scene that might frighten little ones!  It's a terrific movie for school-age children.)

 

Discipline of the Undone

jenmichel@me.com

At a drop-off recently for a birthday party, a woman looked at me with sheer amazement when I happened to mention that I had five kids. "I've never met a woman with FIVE kids," she gasped as her eyes widened. (I'm wondering if it's ever been her opportunity to ever leave the our square mile of Toronto.) But nonetheless, there are people who croon and gawk and say all kinds of silly things when they stare in utter disbelief at our noisy gaggle of kids. (My personal favorite was being asked whether or not our religion permitted birth control. No doubt it is entirely reasonable to assume this as a possible explanation for having so many children. But let me add that I'm not sure it's a question one should be asking of an almost complete stranger.) People I don't know figure I'm superwoman, having the capacity for doing it all. Strangers tell me I must have the patience of a saint. (Notice I don't EVER hear these comments from people who actually know me.) And for the record (as if it actually needed setting straight), neither are true. Superwomen and saints aren't so easily overwhelmed by strands of Easter grass whimsically scattered through their house, as I feel today.

As if Easter grass weren't already too big a chore for this Tuesday, I have piano to practice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've agreed to accompany Audrey for her clarinet recital coming up in less than two weeks. A little background: I played the piano rather seriously for thirteen years. And since about college (eh-hem, 15+ years ago), I have only touched the piano to occasionally pluck something out so that the kids and I can sing together. Now I have less than two weeks to whip into shape the second movement of Gerald Finzi's Five Bagatelles.

It may actually require me to practice at least an hour every day over the next ten days to meet the simple (and low) standard of not embarrassing her on stage. I find I'm being schooled once again in another lesson in the discipline of the undone. There is no doing it all. Having a call (to be a wife, a mother, a teacher, an acrobat, a writer) forces each of us into the necessity of defining our priorities, and the confines of our time and the demands of those priorities will force us into difficult decisions ever day. What does and doesn't get done is a choice that is yours, mine: we are free to make those choices and free to live fully into our priorities.

Every week, it's my goal to put family before my writing. I don't always meet that goal - remember the John Piper post? My kids may have fended for themselves that night for dinner. But this week, because I have these three pages of music begging some of my attention, I've committed to not sitting here with this blog until I've put some time on the ivories, especially since her teacher has requested to HEAR US PLAY TOGETHER this Thursday. Yikes.

Here's to you and your priorities. Here's to Finzi.

A Year of Knees

jenmichel@me.com

Is your reflexive action, like mine, to get to work? I am compulsive, I admit. A few days before we leave Toronto for the holidays, I am not doing laundry for our trip. I am not packing suitcases. I am not wrapping presents.

Instead, I am organizing my desk. Dumping out drawers, thumbing through papers, sorting rubber bands and paper clips. I hang a new $20 painting by my desk that I've bought at a local thrift store (when I should have been Christmas shopping). I swap spring-patterned file folders for folders of winter browns and muted golds.

In the overwhelming pant of Christmas, I frantically seize a small, wild corner of my world (this time, my desk) and tame it. I need mastery of something. I want control.

Some people eat when they're worried or fearful.

I vacuum. (Photo Credit)

What is it about motion that soothes me?

The beginning of a new year is raw meat for do-ers like me. We are adept at the list-making, enthralled by our own powers of resolve. We get things done, and you like us for it.

And it's true that not much happens accidentally in life, does it? Who of us falls into change, waking up to newness by surprise? I believe in resolve. I believe that bringing our best efforts and our deliberate intentions to life is necessary and good.

But I know it's never enough.

I want my reflexive action, my first impulse, not to be for work but for prayer.

The getting things done is getting it wrong without that.

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.

I want 2012 to be a year of knees, not hands.

I admit I've already done a bit of list-making. I've written out the books I want to read this year. I've dreamed about building into my marriage and my children. I'm re-committing to the spiritual practices of accountability, confession and scripture memorization.

And I'm also committing to my writing this year: to reading great writers and sitting at the feet of their prose, to sketching out ideas for a book and plunging myself into that. To keep writing here regularly.

But I've set some deliberate limits to the work I'll be doing. I want more margin for relationships and reflection. I've made the new lists with my Bible open, with a willingness to begin by asking, "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. See where there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in your way everlasting."

Have you gotten alone with Jesus yet to reflect on last year and plan for the coming year?

Here are some tools I've been using and would gladly recommend (from Tsh, at simplemom.net).

Reflection Questions for 2011

Goal Setting for 2012

Here's to 2012, to reflexive prayer and relationship, to giving ourselves to what matters most, to authentic living with Jesus and with others.

Here's to 2012, a year for our desires made holy, our courage made real, our commitment made new.