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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

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When a Church Values Art (And a peek at our church's magazine)

jenmichel@me.com

This is the cover of the most recent Imprint published by Grace Centre for the Arts, a ministry of Grace Toronto Church. After we began attending Grace Toronto in 2011, they released an issue of Imprint, and I remember being incredibly impressed. It was legit: the content, the photography, the design. I didn't know that churches could produce real magazines. In my experience of church publishing, they were only good at lightweight evangelistic tracts, and even these were ordered by the case, not produced in-house. But I was to learn something about this new church we were attending, something that would prove invaluable to my own writing life. They valued art of all kinds. They even believed God valued it.

For a number of reasons, however, Imprint has not been published in recent years. I'm not sure of the exact timeline, although I know that people attending the church for less than four years have no memory of it. "Our church publishes a magazine?" has been a common response. Yes, we do. At least, yes, we have. The cover that you're looking at is the cover to a special commemorative edition of Imprint for which I've had the privilege of serving as lead editor. As our church makes our new home in a recently renovated historic church in Toronto, we decided that it was time to do another edition of Imprint. I wanted to show you some of the content here because it's gorgeous. I only wish that you could hold it in your hands because these pictures simply don't do it justice.

I hope this might insire you to think about the artistic endeavors you could do in your church - to bless your congregation as well as your larger community. Because that really is the intent of Imprint: it's a publication intended to be read by a much broader audience than the one that fills our pews on Sunday mornings. (If you attend Grace Toronto Church, Imprint will be available for purchase this Sunday before and after the service, as well as at our November 16th community event.)

This commemorative edition, called "Neighbours," celebrates the new neighbourhood into which we moved and the people who live and work there. This beautifully illustrated map here was done by an artist who worships in our congregation, Julie Kraulis. As you'll note, our new church (at the corner of Jarvis and Carlton streets) is at the intersection of a lot of different neighbourhoods. We included this map to situate our congregation to the actual place in which we're rooting ourselves, especially as many of us don't live in these neighbourhoods. These seem to be especially important questions for churches to ask: where are we? who lives here? how can we be a part of helping this neighbourhood flourish?

This essay features the story of one of our congregants receiving hospitality from a family in St. James Town. It very consciously opens the magazine by situating someone else in the position of hero: not the church, not a church member, but a neighbour. Elita concludes, "I was a recipient of generous hospitality. And I needed that welcome, if I every hope to be a neighbour myself."

Another congregant, Wendy, interviewed an unsung hero of the neighbourhood, a dapper 76 year old whose life was changed by Jesus. Without Murray, the local Salvation Army would certainly struggle to minister to the people they do. "God has given me a lot of strength to get over a lot of rough roads. Some of them I made myself, some of them other people made, some of them, just life. I'd still be out in the gutter somewhere without God."

Another feature in the magazine are three full-page neighbour portraits. This gives a small taste of a larger event we're hosting On November 16th, when our church will open its doors to the community, and the entire main hall will feature portraits of local neighbours. As the director for Grace Centre for the Arts, Ian Cusson, writes, "The photo exhibit is a response to the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' Displayed throughout the gallery are images of people from the communities surrounding Old St Andrew’s. In our hyper, quick-paced city, we rarely take the time to see the people around us. The use of larger-than-life format in this display challenges us to stop and look, even to confront our unwillingness to find the beauty and diversity in the people we meet every day."

Another congregant conducted interviews in order to feature the work of a local non-profit called The Children's Book Bank, where young patrons can take home a free book after every visit. Sarah observes, "It is a small haven in which the modern world's economy—where quality goods require payment of money—is replaced with the currency of grace."

We had gracious permission from Christ and Pop Culture to republish a reflective piece by Martyn Wendell Jones on the furniture in God's house. "The CEO and the homeless man alike may share a pew with a whole middle-class family in between. Like the Lord, pews do not play favourites."

I've written a long feature piece on the history of the church building at the corner of Jarvis and Carlton streets, whose cornerstone was laid in 1876 and in which five congregations have now worshipped. It was a privilege to do this research and gift what I learned to others. (And after multiple trips to various archival centres and libraries, I finally tracked down the original 1876 architectural drawings for our building, which are included with the piece.)

The magazine ends with a reflective piece on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and Season's words are the last we read before closing the magazine. "In our longing for human connection, perhaps the greatest gift we can offer is one we all have—the gift of woundedness. Each of us takes our turn as the Samaritan and the wounded man on the side of the road, and we become neihbours as we allow ourselves to carry, and be carried, to safety."

Our team of photographers, writers, designers, and editors gathered last week to hold Imprint in our hands for the first time and celebrate what God had done. As I told them then, I found such joy in this collaborative effort and perhaps even greater pride in it than my own two books. I think that's because I experienced the pleasure of working in community, which is something that images the triune God of community. And truthfully, I love to see others using their gifts.

Longing for Home (Guest Post by Leah Everson)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for140 S Morgan St Denver, CO

“What’s wrong with it?” My husband and I look around the sunlit living room and at one another incredulous.

I can’t help question whether this house is listed at the right price. 8 weeks pregnant and perpetually nauseous, I had spent hours in the cab of our realtor’s truck visiting foreclosed and short-sale homes. We visited house after house, looking, we soon realized, not for the home of our dreams, but for one we could merely afford. Afford and not have to renovate beyond our budget.

There was the house that smelled like wet dog, urine, and mildew.

The house with the convex living room floor.

The long skinny house with no hallways, but one room leading to another to another to another. Bedroom, dining room, kitchen, living room, bedroom.

The house we backed out of, because the hole in the basement floor was the smallest problem as the foundation surrounding it cracked and crumbled.

With each house we visited, I became more discouraged. The truth was, I didn’t want to live in Denver anymore. I felt that God had called me to serve Him there and I willingly said, yes. But I couldn’t help feeling that He had sent me far from my Minnesota home and forgotten about me.

I did not know if He even cared enough about me to provide a house beyond just a livable space. He may not give me a snake when I ask for a fish, but maybe He would give me a catfish. Ugly. Tough. Edible, yet unappetizing. To strengthen me in character and further my reliance, lest I become too comfortable.

The measly options we had seen leading up to this house only served to confirm my suspicions – God would call and I would jump, but there was no pleasure in the jumping. No guarantee of safety in the landing.

Except, this house. This house had been loved. Cared for. This house had been a home. Sunlight filtered through the large front picture window. Wood floors and intricate white trim provided the base for the main living spaces, while accent vines climbed the corners of the dining room walls. One bedroom, perfect for our boys, was adorned with a mural of trees and multicolored dragonflies. The kitchen could have used some work, but the finished basement, the large family space complete with built-in shelves and the character only a home from 1939 can possess delighted us.

My husband and I stood in the living room, jaded from weeks of disappointment, but just daring to hope that maybe – maybe this place could be ours. Tears stung my eyes as the pain of disappointment and the ache for hope filled my heart. Could you really be giving this to us?

He did.

Forty days later we closed and celebrated as a dozen friends moved us from our apartment to our first house – our home. My girlfriends protested my pregnancy if I lifted a picture frame or bulletin board as we made the trip up and down those two flights of apartment stairs. Packing the old to be brought to the new.

That first night, tired and happy, as we got our 2-year-old ready for bed the aged floorboards creaked under our feet. I cringed, concerned about bothering our neighbors downstairs before I remembered – there was no one downstairs to hear us!

At once, relief filled my body. I grabbed my son’s hands and began jumping up and down, “There’s no one downstairs!” My husband joined as we laughed, jumped, danced, and rejoiced in the generosity and gracious provision of our Heavenly Father.

He gave us more than just a roof over our heads. He gave us a home.


Leah D Everson is a Minnesota girl, a darts rookie, a book addict, and a messy mama. She divides her time between encouraging new mothers in their walk with God, empowering women out of poverty through her work with Trades of Hope, and taking care of her own busy boys. Loved by Jesus, Leah is learning to rest in Him. Leah received her MDiv from Denver Seminary and was the founding director/teacher of The Scum Study Center at Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, CO. Leah is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and a Compassionate Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope.

 

Vandalia Drive, Adelphi, Iowa (Guest Post by Karen Beattie)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long forI haven’t lived in Iowa for over 20 years, but I have always considered it home. My family roots run deep there, laid down by Scottish farmers and sunk into the dark fertile soil through the decades by their ancestors in a small town called Adelphi.

I now live in Chicago, but when I visit my family in Iowa, I cross the Mississippi River from Illinois into Iowa on Interstate 80 and I sigh and drink in the scenery along the stretch of highway that takes me toward Adelphi. The neatly trimmed ditches and the red-tailed hawks sitting on the fence posts next to the road, the deep green corn fields, the silky white clouds against the blue sky—these details wrap around me like my mother’s arms, and I remember all of the hundreds of times I’ve made this trip, the rhythmic thumping of the tires hitting the seams in the highway ticking off the miles until I reached home.

There is one stretch of rural highway within a half-mile of the “old home place”—the original 80 acres where my ancestors first settled—where you will find a row of houses set a few acres apart each. These houses hold my childhood memories.

On one corner is the house where my great aunt and uncle lived. Then up the hill is the brick bungalow where my grandfather lived when I was growing up—a widower after my grandmother died of cancer a few months before I was born. Next to that house is a white four-square farmhouse where I lived until I was 12.

All of these houses have now been sold and no longer remain in the family.

I drove down this strip of road a few weeks ago when I was visiting my father. I’ve often dreamed of going back there to live. To buy back either the white farmhouse or my grandfather’s bungalow—which has an awesome slant-ceilinged attic that would make a perfect writing studio.

But I could barely see the houses through the thick oak trees that were obscuring the view. They were like a fortress that had grown around my memories to shut me out—telling me that too much time has passed. “Move on, there’s nothing to see here.”

**********

My husband, David, and I talk about moving back. We always talk.

“Do you think we could live here?” I ask him.

“You’d get bored,” he replies.

“No, I think it would be an easier life.”

“Maybe. But we’d miss our friends. And Lake Michigan.”

“But we’d be closer to family.”

“True…..”

I don’t know if it will ever happen. But even if I moved home now, it wouldn’t be the same. I’m not sure if I would find what I’m looking for—community, comfort, peace.

Home isn’t as much a place as a period of time. A time before we all moved away. A time before my mother died, when all of my siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles lived within one square mile. When neighbors or relatives would show up at our house, open the front door without knocking, and yell, “Anybody home?” When we’d sit around the table and talk and laugh and eat pie. When my dad would take us for a drive down the road on hot evenings to visit his cousin and get a bottle of pop.

We are the first generation to leave that land, to become unmoored from that place and family and community, and a part of me feels like we are betrayers. Or pioneers.

********

Shortly after our daughter, Desta, came to us as a foster child when she was two and a half, she was eating pasta at the table when out of the blue, she put down her fork, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “Where is my home?”

I pointed to her bedroom and her bed with all of her toys, and said, “Your home is here. You are home.”

“Oh,” she said simply, and went back to eating. After that, every chance I got I told her that she was home.  That she belonged with us. That we were her family.

But even as I reassured her, I was wondering the same thing. Where is my home?

At the time, we lived in a small condo on the north side of Chicago. We had lived there for 11 years—a speck of time compared to the 150 years my family lived on the same land in Iowa. When I first moved to Chicago, I never thought I would stay. But I have lived here for 20 years. In that amount of time, roots are bound to grow, even if it’s through the cracks in the concrete city sidewalks.

As David and Desta and I drive back to Chicago after a long weekend in Iowa, we hear the thumping of the tires on the seams in the road that tick off the miles until we get back to the city. And with each passing mile the thoughts of moving back to my childhood home grow dimmer.

Maybe the trees in front of my childhood home weren’t saying “Move on, there’s nothing to see here.” Maybe they were really saying, “Move on. You have grown beyond this place. It’s up to you to build a new home. Put down roots elsewhere, and you will thrive.”

I think of this as I take Desta to the beach, and to the farmer’s market, and drive the city streets and put her to bed at night. We are sinking into it. Into this place, but also into these memories and community and our combined histories. Where is our home? It is here. Right now. With each other.


Karen Beattie is the author of Rock-Bottom Blessings (Loyola Press, 2013), which won an Excellence in Publishing Award from the Association of Catholic Publishers, and A Book of Grace-Filled Days (Loyola Press, forthcoming in the fall of 2017). She has an MA in Journalism from Drake University, and has been published in America Magazine, Patheos.com, Aleteia’s For Her, and Christianity Today. She lives on the West side of Chicago with her husband and 7-year-old daughter. Connect with Karen on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Riding Home (Guest Post by Catherine McNiel)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for N Franklin Street Stanley, Wisconsin

I close my eyes and, effortlessly, I’m a child again, sitting in my parents’ blue Plymouth Reliant, riding in the dark along WI-29.

Heading home.

Everything is perfectly still, except for the rhythmic thunk…thunk as our wheels speed over the seams in the road. My eyes are closed — I’m thinking as always — but I open them every now and then to see the trees, the yellow lines racing by, the moon holding her steady course; and my father, whose reflection I can make out in my window pane. I take it all in with the trusting passivity of a child who has not yet learned to fear.

As my father guides our car to the exit, I close my eyes and keep them closed. This is the game I play: holding in my mind the things we pass, testing to see if I arrive home in my imagination at the same time our car pulls into the drive. There’s the stop sign at the end of the ramp. Over there’s the greenhouse where we get our Christmas trees. We’re turning now and there’s the IGA, the Tasty Freeze, the Hotel, the taverns, the park, the bank — everything silent and still in the night. We turn again and there’s the library, the hospital. Now we’re on our street and I can imagine the houses and the trees — I know each one. We slow, turn, and I hear the slow crunch of tires on our driveway. There’s the slam of my parents’ car doors, their voices in hushed tones, their feet on the pebbles and cement of the garage.

If I’m very young, my parents carry me into the house by way of the front door. This is the best feeling in the world: asleep enough to be carried, awake enough to be conscious of being cared for. There’s the key in the lock; here’s the lights flickering on. We’re home.

If I’m older I open my eyes and walk with my family, stopping in the driveway to gaze at the starry sky. The North Star is just above my window, which leads us to the Big and Little Dippers, and Orion and his belt over the garage. There’s the tree I planted with my dad, now grown higher than our house. We enter through the back door, going through the pantry with its cacophony of smells. There’s the lights flickering on. We’re home.

Almost 30 years have passed since I last drove this road, since I saw, touched, or smelled any of this. But since I traveled it so frequently with my eyes closed, so intentionally drawing it to mind, I have no difficulty calling it back from my memory still today. I would have no trouble getting myself back home.

And yet, I don’t. The doors of space and time slammed hard and locked when I left; I was not offered a key. The path I still travel so easily in memory no longer exists anywhere else. Steps can be retraced but there is no turning back the clock. As surely as the houses, trees, and businesses have changed, so too have I. There is no more dozing trustingly in the backseat. There is no way to really go back.

I know my home as only a child can, learning the world for the first time, taking everything at face value. I close my eyes and feel the carpet weave. I hear my mother in the kitchen, find the torn corners of wallpaper, trace the textured wood fixtures. Do you ever know so deeply as you do the things you know first?

In the present, my own children hover just on the brink of memory. What will they see years from now, when they close their eyes? I pray they will grow in faith and wisdom, yet I know too that suffering and loss are essential ingredients for both. What I bring to their lives is only a portion of all that life itself will offer them, yet for my part I long with all my soul to bring as much joy and safety and trusting as their little hearts can hold.

And to give them Home.


Catherine McNiel is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017). She writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Connect with Catherine on Twitter, Facebook, or at catherinemcniel.com.

Weaving a Home (Guest Post by Michelle Radford)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 127 Belle Avenue Greenville, SC

I never planned to chafe against domesticity. I subscribed to interior design and architecture magazines throughout high school and college and planned gourmet meals to cook for my family on the weekends. I helped with chores around the house and loved the idea of making a home of my own some day for the husband and children I prayed I would have.

I married Paul while I was attending grad school and became pregnant with our daughter the year after I graduated. Almost two years after she was born, I gave birth to twin boys. Gone were the days of rearranging the objects on my mantle and trying new and exciting recipes. In addition to my job as a college professor, my days were an endless treadmill of baby care along with dishes, laundry, scrubbing body fluids out of carpets, and putting away items my two-year-old had unearthed from closets, cabinets, shelves, and baskets.

I was exhausted and frazzled, not only from the lack of sleep, but also from the constant repetition of domestic tasks that would only be un-done in a moment. In addition to this, I wasn’t making any art, a source of guilt for me as I taught college students how to paint and encouraged them to throw themselves into their artwork.

When my twins were six months old, I re-entered the studio, unsure of what I would make. My former work, landscape paintings in oil, was out of the question due to the scarcity of large blocks of time. I told a friend, “I don’t know what I’ll make, but it will have to be something I know.” All I felt I knew now were stacks of dishes in the sink, piles of towels in the hallway linen closet, and baskets of toys. Without much thought to their meaning I began gluing antique hand-made linens to wooden panels, using their decorative designs as a starting place for my new mixed media paintings. I liked the idea of salvaging the work of women who had come before me, and the softness of the textiles was comforting to me. I had accumulated boxes and bags full of crocheted doilies, hand-embroidered hankies, table linens, hand-woven table runners, and a christening gown.

The epiphany happened when a friend pointed out to me that the linens I was using in my work were a result of repetition. Crocheting is a series of knots, repeated to make a pattern. Weaving is the repetition of over-under, over-under, over-under. Sewing pulls a thread up-down, up-down through the fabric. For millennia, after women have retreated from their domestic repetitions of cooking, cleaning, laundering, they have taken up needles and yarns and threads and applied their tired hands to other kinds of repetition to unwind from pressures of the day.

These repetitions of sewing, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, and weaving reflected in a visible way the invisible repetitions of making a home. It had been hard for me to see the repetitions of cooking, scrubbing, and laundry as beautiful; the processes had become strictly utilitarian. I was struggling, seeing my efforts to straighten up and beautify my home swiftly negated by the people I loved the most. My domestic work didn’t seem to matter as no progress was visible. I was feeling split in half as I tried to be an artist and homemaker at the same time.

Seeing both my art and my household duties as life-giving repetitions began to tie these two parts of my life together. While I was doing the dishes, I was thinking of new ideas for my artwork about domesticity, and while I was in my studio I was sorting through my thoughts and feelings about home and family, praying over them, surrendering to God the parts I feared were impossible.

I now have a visible reminder that though my efforts around my house sometimes have little originality, though they seem to move forwards and backwards, though they loop around endlessly, they are creating life-giving patterns that will one day be visible. They are leading to an end, and meanwhile these repetitions bring comfort and beauty to my home and the lives of those I love most.


Michelle lives in Greenville, SC where she is an artist, college professor, wife, and mother to three rambunctious kids. For the last several years she has organized her studio practice around the concepts of home, repetition, care, and motherhood, and she’s passionate about helping other women find their creative voices alongside their other vocations of care. You can find her work at www.michellebergradford.com and follow her on Instagram: @michelle.radford.

Helping People Become Aware of Their Desires, Part 2

Stephanie Amores

These interviews originally appeared at Careleader. I'm sharing them with you in the hopes that they can be helpful. Part 1 was featured in the previous blog post.

What about contentment? What is it, and what would indicate to an individual that he or she is not content?

I think we operate under the assumption that contentment is the absence of desire. For instance, that if I were a content woman, I really wouldn’t want anything else. I don’t think we see first of all that God is a desiring being. So the ultimate goal of transformation isn’t to abandon all desires, but to make us more like Him, to form in us holy desires that mirror His desires. So contentment isn’t the opposite of desire, it’s the absolute submission of desire to God, and the joy and the peace that come from receiving the sense that our lives are lived completely in His hands.

Why is contentment so difficult? Why do people struggle with it so much?

It’s easy to look at others and assume contentment. Either that they don’t have desires, or they aren’t bringing their desires up. But in some ways, we all have desires, every day, small and large, consequential and inconsequential. But there’s also a risk in desires, in bringing them to God. What if God doesn’t come through for me? What if I start to pray about these things? What if God doesn’t show up? What if God is silent?

Sometimes contentment is masking cowardice. Sometimes people say “I’m content” when what they really mean is “I’m not willing to risk.” Just take the biblical example of Hannah. What would contentment have looked like in Hannah’s story? Would it have looked like not wanting a son anymore or being content with Peninnah making fun of her?

I think contentment when we conceive of it that way actually looks like indifference. And what I don’t think we have in the Scripture is that sort of apathetic indifference. We have people going to God and believing that He has sovereign power and that He is good and that He can make a difference. Not everyone gets Hannah’s end of the story. Hannah gets a son, but Paul, who prayed three times to get the thorn removed from his flesh, doesn’t get that thorn removed. Instead, he gets sufficient grace. But what would have happened had Paul not prayed? Had Paul decided to just be content with the thorn, or Hannah decided she didn’t want a son after all. How would those stories have been different?

To make it more personal, we should ask ourselves how our life with God could deepen by actually entering into conversation with Him about desire. But that puts so many things on the line. It leads us to ask if we can really begin to trust that God is good when He doesn’t give us the things that we want. Or, if we can begin to enter into this process of wanting to learn the things that He wants for us so that we can grow to want them too.

What can people do to become aware of or awaken holy desires and find contentment?

Going back to James K. A. Smith, he would say habits are the hinge of desire. So if you want to grow in your desires, you actually have to establish holy habits. Which might seem a little bit backward, but we don’t just want behavioral change, we want deep change at the level of desire. But once you establish a habit, what you start to see is that habit actually forms in you a good desire. Using the example of exercise, we make it a consistent habit to exercise because we know it is good for us. So the habit came first, and the desire came later. In the same way we need to intentionally pursue and cultivate habits of time, habits of treasure, habits of energy, that move us in the direction of Jesus Christ and His kingdom coming.

How does becoming aware of one’s role in the advancement of the kingdom help people become more content?

We become more content when we are focused on God’s kingdom. Even though we see God’s kingdom in the here and now, we also see God’s kingdom in the future. Contentment can derive from this longing for home that we have, recognizing where we are in this story. So even though I am going to die, that’s not going to be the end of the story; more is coming. God is going to set things right. He is going to set the enemies of sin and death under the feet of Jesus. I can find a lot of contentment in my life when my day doesn’t go well, when I’m suffering even from a health diagnosis or a broken relationship. I can know that there’s a day that’s coming where the world is going to be put to right and I’m going to be reconciled to God. And I’m going to see Him face-to-face and I’m going to see this world healed. I think there is a lot of contentment in that story of the kingdom coming.

What are a couple of thought-provoking questions a pastor could ask someone who says he or she struggles with a lack of contentment?

First, are you willing to trust God’s goodness? Are you willing to trust God’s wisdom? On this journey of our desires, we will flourish when there is trust, trust in God and who He is. Alternatively, what would make you unwilling to trust and surrender to His goodness and His wisdom? Further, another area that I’d explore is, would you rather have your way or God Himself? C. S. Lewis says, “There are two kinds of people: the people who say to God, ‘your will be done,’ and the people to whom God says, ‘your will be done.’” That’s what I think we have to ask people when they are struggling with lack of contentment or wrestling with desire: do you really want your will to be done? Where is that going to lead?

Finally, what Scriptures do you think are important for people to appreciate and to submit to ultimately?

Isaiah 26:8 is one that immediately comes to mind. Here, Isaiah says, “Your name and your renown are the desires of our hearts.” Your name and your renown is certainly an orientation toward holy desire. So many things fall away when God’s name is the desire of my heart, His name and reputation. I don’t have to be so defensive or so concerned with the way that I am perceived.

Romans 6:4 says that we are buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life. That is the gospel promise that says our desires will be transformed. That if we are put to death with Christ and raised to walk in newness of life, with Him, being united with Him, not only are we going to think differently or behave differently, we’re going to want differently.

Finally, Matthew 16:26, which is relevant to the last question that we just talked about. Here, Jesus asks, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul?”

Helping People Become Aware of Their Desires, Part 1

Stephanie Amores

These interviews originally appeared at Careleader. I'm sharing them with you in the hopes that they can be helpful. Part 2 to follow tomorrow.

How would you define desire?

There are important distinctions between things like desire, longing, ambition, etc. So there are lots of different nuances to the word, even when you think about types of desire. I think of desire as the get-up-and-go of our lives. Desire is sort of like the gas we put in our engines. It’s like the oxygen that we put into our lungs. Desire moves us toward and away from things, toward and away from people, toward and away from God. Desire is very much that unconscious part of ourselves, a little bit instinctive, coming from the gut. And I think that’s really powerful for us. It comes from that unconscious, unreflective part of ourselves. And if we really want to see people transformed to the image of Christ, we have to get into desire and not just belief.

Why is it important for pastors to talk to their people about desire?

In James K. A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom, he talks about human beings not being primarily thinking creatures, but desiring creatures. That bears out in Scripture, but it also bears out in my own personal experience. And if that’s true, that our primary mode of being is desire, then of course we have to talk about it. I think we also have to reckon with the fact that the gospel is promising such a deep work of transformation in us—that God wants to not just change the way we think, and not just change the way we behave, but actually change the way we want. Because that want, that desire, is really the driving force behind action. Smith talks about the idea that so many churches, so many pastors, have a sort of rationalist approach to discipleship and preaching. Because we are operating under the assumption that people are thinking creatures, we seek to change their beliefs. Instead, because we are feeling creatures, we should also be seeking to change their desires.

How does a person go about becoming more aware of his or her desires?

Some people are very aware of their desires, while others are less aware. Much of the way that we live our lives is based on desire. It’s almost as basic as what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. How we spend our time, how we spend our money, what our thoughts are preoccupied by, these things are going to reveal to us the things we really want, really love, and really cherish.

So for instance, when you make a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym and then you fail because you hate going to the gym. If we were to inventory how we spent our time, how we spent our money, the company that we kept, it would tell us a lot about our desires. If you spend the majority of your waking hours after work watching television, you just have the desire to be entertained, to check out, to just be comfortable or not be bothered. Alternatively, if you serve at your church regularly, and you love and serve the poor, it could be said that you have a desire to love people who are on the margin. But, if you open up your credit card statement and you are spending the majority of your money on vacations and fancy dinners and beautiful clothes, that will tell you the things that you value.

How can people discern when their desires are pleasing to God or distractions from God’s kingdom agenda?

There is no way to do this apart from the Word of God, apart from the Scriptures, so pastors must start there. Because right desires are not instinctive to us as humans, as fallen human beings. This is what Jeremiah references in Jeremiah 17:9 when he says that the heart is deceitful above all things. Human beings are masters at convincing themselves that wrong things are right, so if we want to know what desires please God, what desires further His kingdom, those have to be revealed to us. To do that, we need to be in the Scriptures.

Further, when we are talking about the desires that honor God, it’s not just about what we desire, it can also be about how we desire. So for instance, a church leader can have a good desire to grow their church, to increase the influence of their church, but that desire has the potential to be corrupted, though, when it starts to get mixed up with their own personal vanity and ego. To avoid this, we need to be in Christian community, so people are reflecting back to us the kinds of things they see in our lives. They need to help us do the analysis of our desires. Not just what I want, but how do I want them and why do I want them?

Although people know God is wise and all-knowing, what is the difficulty people have with surrendering to what He says is best? Or with His not giving us what we want?

There is a sense that sometimes belief doesn’t really transform those deep, visceral instinctive places in us. So we can believe that God is wise and good, but until our desires are shaped around that, there is still more work to be done. Why do we not believe in God’s goodness and wisdom? God’s way with us so often is waiting. So it’s hard to acknowledge God’s goodness and wisdom when you are in the midst of waiting. We can think of Abraham, or Hannah, or a multitude of others in the Scriptures who seem to be waiting. Sometimes it’s hard to tangibly know God’s goodness when you are in a season of waiting.

Further, we are bombarded with this idea in our culture that we should do what we love. That what we desire, that whatever is most instinctive to us in terms of our wants, we should have. And the good life really has to be about having a comfortable, convenient life, it’s about having a materially prosperous life, and it’s about having the fulfillment of your sexual desires. If we’re going to say that we are desiring beings, and then again, this is a James K. A. Smith idea, that we’re pulled by our desires, we are not pushed by our beliefs, we are going to go most instinctively toward what we believe the good life is. If we aren’t reading our Bibles, in Christian community, having a regimen of spiritual practices, we can’t combat the messages of culture which shape and inform this idea of the good life.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll explore with Jen the nature of contentment as well as some practical strategies for pastors as they seek to help others change. There, you’ll also find some helpful questions to ask as well as some pertinent Scripture passages.

Muckily-Dirtily Things (Guest Post by Aubrey Sampson)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for I moved around a lot as a kid: Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles. Then, at last, to a redbrick Georgian Colonial—230 Aldenshire Place in Atlanta—the house I assumed would always be home.

A few days after we unpacked, a hot air balloon landed in the front yard. Our picture was in the newspaper and I took that as a good omen; surely no one leaves a newsworthy address.

I spent many afternoons in the backyard of Aldenshire Place playing under the willow tree. My little sister and I would take turns pretending to be brides, walking through the long graceful branches to our imaginary grooms. When we weren’t planning fairytale weddings, we were roller-skating in the basement amongst mom’s pickled cucumbers.

My favorite memories, though, are of course from the kitchen. One December my grandmother came to visit from Texas. We were making frosting for Christmas cookies but I made a mess of the task, transforming pretty reds and greens into a stale and sludgy brown. I cried and cried until Memaw said, “My stars, honey! You’ve invented a new color! It’s ‘muckily-dirtily’. That’s my favorite of all!” She always knew how to turn loss into wonder.

I loved that street. When choosing soap opera names, mine has, and will always remain, Gayel Aldenshire.

When dad turned forty, the neighbors put a flashing neon sign in the yard: “Lordy, Lordy, Larry’s 40!” But as the sign was taken away, so was dad’s job. We were forced to move once again, this time to a two bedroom apartment in another part of the country — One Memorial Rd, Unit 305, Oklahoma City. There was no willow tree, no roller-rink basement, not even one hot air balloon in the yard.

On the long drive to Oklahoma, mom cried all the way to Birmingham. My sister and I were silent, not mature enough to understand mom’s grief, but sensitive enough to know her tears needed space to unfurl. She cried even more during our first winter in that rundown apartment when a pile of snow crept under the sliding glass backdoor, covering part of the living room.

My best friend sent me a Mean Girl letter declaring that she could never be associated with someone who lived outside of Georgia. I held her hurtful words and the returned, halfhearted Be-Fri necklace in my hand. It was my turn to cry.

Eventually Mom rolled up her tears and sleeves. She made curtains, hung paintings, found a favorite grocery store. My parents bought us a puppy. Mom rented my favorite movie - License to Drive - over and over again. For the first time ever, we were allowed to hang posters in our room. My sister and I made the most of our shared space, drawing an invisible boundary line down the middle. It’s still a family joke, “M-o-m, she’s touching my side with her toe!”

Mom and Dad took us to something called “Sunday School” for the first time. “We used to go to church when we were growing up,” they explained. “And with this move, we’ve started to wonder if God wants us to come home.”

Over time I fell in love with the starry Oklahoma night sky, the local church, and with this Jesus-guy I was hearing so much about. I was baptized in my parents’ church and eventually walked down its aisle to my non-imaginary groom. And I moved once more, with my husband to his hometown of Chicago.

Our three children have lived in only one community. We’ve planted a church in our neighborhood and we intend to dig deep roots here. But I’m well aware that this might not always be possible. At the end of the day, houses are like hot air balloons, lifting and landing when you least expect them.

If I’ve learned any lesson from my changing addresses, it’s this: Lost is not necessarily when you don’t know where you are; it’s when you can’t find your way back home. As many houses as life ripped away, God faithfully poured home back in. He gave my parents a map and guided us back to himself in the process.

And so for me, the concept of home will always be a “muckily-dirtily” thing – a wonder-filled surprise in the midst of life’s losses.


blogphoto1book-coverAubrey Sampson is the author of Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul (Zondervan, 2015), a blogger for MOPS International, an event speaker, and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Aubrey and her husband Kevin live and minister in the Chicago area with their three crazy sons. In her spare time, Aubrey is likely to be found at home in her pajamas drinking entirely too much coffee.

2355 N. Higgins Road, Morris, IL 60450 (Guest Post by Shelly Wildman)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Tiny pink tulips arranged in rows, wound through with green ribbon. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

This was the pattern of the wallpaper in my bedroom of our hundred-year-old farmhouse. I memorized the pattern of that wallpaper, stared at it for countless hours as I tried to fall asleep to the sounds of crickets chirping and the breeze rustling through the tall tassels on the cornstalks just outside my window.

Growing up on a farm was a lonely experience for me. Even though I was an introverted bookworm, I always wanted neighbors. People whom I could greet on the street and who would keep watch over my house at night. I wanted to know what life was like beyond those cornfields for people who were different from me.

Besides the wallpaper, I often stared at the back of my bedroom door, which I had plastered with the names of places I had cut from the headlines of the Travel section in each Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. There, in bold letters, I read and re-read the names of places I longed to see.

“ROME!”

“LONDON”

“The Swiss Alps”

“L.A.”

“Copenhagen is for Lovers!”

“BAVARIA”

The back of my door was covered with place names, dreams that would carry me through turbulent high school years.

I remember the deep sadness I felt the day I removed those words just before I left home for college. Peeling tape from the door and crumpling up the paper pieces, I wondered, would those dreams die? Would I ever be the traveler I wanted to be? I so admired my grandfather who had a wanderlust that would only be squelched by illness in his eighties; he had traveled the world many times over, and I wanted to emulate him one day.

During the summer between my junior and senior years of college I had the opportunity to study in England with a group from my school. This was my first time overseas, and suddenly I felt a freedom like never before—riding the Tube, biking through the cobblestone streets of Oxford, hiking the fells of the Lake District. I finally got to see people and have experiences much different from those I had known on the farm.

I felt, for the first time, fully me.

What I also noticed in England, however, was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on—was it sadness? a longing? a lack of passion?—in the eyes of people I’d pass on the street. Here were the void and vapid faces of world-weary folks who just needed to rest. After several weeks of this, I began to realize that here were people who just needed Jesus. Simple as that.

And I realized something else. Just as I had been a lonely child, here were other lonely people. Just as I had longed for another place, here were people with longings as well. Our deepest desires, our dreams, our hope for a better place—these are not as uncommon as I might have once thought. We all have them. We all feel a longing for home.

But ultimately, home is not here. Ultimately, I cannot fill the longings I carry. C.S. Lewis once famously said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Every time I come home from a trip, I drop my bags near the front door and breathe in rest, for that’s what coming home means. Coming home means reflecting on what I’ve seen and experienced. Coming home means appreciating what I’ve got, yet longing for something else. It’s a longing for heaven when all things will be made right, loneliness will be no more, and grief will not have a name.


web_shelly-2Shelly Wildman is a former writing professor who grew up among the cornfields of Illinois. She holds degrees in English from Wheaton College (B.A.) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (M.A.), but her most important life’s work has been raising her three adult daughters: Kate, Caroline, and Julia. Shelly is married to her college sweetheart, Brian, and she loves to cook and travel in her spare time. Connect with Shelly online at www.shellywildman.net where she writes about the adventure of parenting and a life of following Jesus.

All are Welcome Here (Guest Post by Jamie Calloway-Hanauer)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for As a diehard introvert and perfectionist, sharing my daily space with someone who really, really likes to know what I’m writing, what I’m reading, where I’m going is a drag. Especially when that person is not the neatnik I hoped for. And marriage usually leads to kids, who are some of my favorite people, but more work than you’ll ever know until you have them and by then it’s too late. 

Sharing space also means sharing decisions. Decisions about daily tasks, future careers, about how that space is used, or not used, and if the latter, what space will replace it.

To wit, someday you might just give up your $250,000 law degree from one of the nation’s top law schools to stay home and clean someone else’s pee off the toilet. And on yet another day, you might move your household of six + one dog 3000 miles away, single-handedly no less, so your spouse can pursue what he or she wants to do, even though it’s pretty much dead last on your list of desires and it means you can probably never practice law again, or eat a monthly meal at your favorite restaurant, and even causes you to lose all your editing clients and go without publishing an article for five months while you recover from the agony of a solo parent move while your husband—I mean spouse—stays at a friend’s place across the country, watching late night TV and reading Grantland. You know. For example.

After two years of sharing that 3000-miles-away space, you may realize that your two years of anger and resentment have melted into the realization that the new home, the home you were forced to have, is something that you’ve come to love. Because in this home, this giant monstrosity of a home, your new community has been built.

Parties have been thrown, pizza eaten, baseball watched, cake sliced, and children loved more times than you can count.

No doubt: our homes are our own. They are our places of privacy and pajamas and make-up free days with coffee dribbled down our shirts.

Home is sanctuary.

But home is also an invitation to community. A place to which you can open the doors and say, “Come on in. I will make my safe space vulnerable for you, because you are someone I want to know, and because I love you already, even without knowing you.” It’s an invitation to have monthly dinners, at the first of which you try to channel Jesus, serving what you know is too-little soup, but just knowing God will make it stretch. But then God won’t and everyone will leave hungry, but come back the next month anyway, by which time you’ll have realized no one can channel Jesus and so you’d better plan for contingencies.

And then later, maybe even while retelling the soup-shortage-story, you’ll realize that it was in the repeat customers to the monthly meal that God’s provision came. You should have known.

But let’s face it: home is nothing more than a material object. A treasure to cling to too tightly when it should be held loosely. An opportunity to show off airs, obsess over throw pillows, spend money that really should have gone to charity. But how we use our homes … that makes all the difference.

Home is a ministry.

A place for teaching babies, both yours and those of others, to grow into adults. To cry over coffee with a friend who just “stopped by,” but ended up staying for two hours when her heart broke wide over something you must have said but you can’t even imagine what. A place where material objects can be used to set a beautiful table that brings joy into guests’ heart because someone cared enough to make things special. A place where it’s okay to serve friends on paper plates and out of bags and Tupperware.

How ridiculous I was, those two long years ago, when I thought home was based on location and decoration and remodeling efforts. My broken heart and lingering resentment were nothing more than a hard but necessary lesson learned: home is not where our hearts are. Instead it is a place where the heart of community first learns to beat.


jamie-calloway-hanauer-photo Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a mother, wife, writer,  recovering attorney, and M.Div. student. You can visit her at her at her blog, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

In search of the solid things: “The solid things aren’t things at all.”

Ben Goshow

When we moved to Toronto three years ago, we came thinking only of impermanence. Three years, and then a return to the house and the church and the people we knew. But soon after we came (or if not soon, at the end of our first year here), we began to wish to stay. We considered the idea of making Toronto home. I think a lot about the word. Home. I even wonder if it will be the subject of my next book. So many of my deepest longings and desires find their way here, to home, to the solid things, to permanence and its place. I could wonder why this pull is so strong in me. Or, I could agree that this desire is fundamental to what it means to be human.

On our way home from Washington, D.C. last week, our family was listening to an audio version of Gary Paulsen’s, Hatchet. It’s a wonderful story, and it opens with Brian Robeson staring out of the window of a small plane. Brian’s parents have recently divorced, and he is flying to see his father who works in the Canadian oil fields.

The thinking started.

Always it started with a single word.

Divorce.

It was an ugly word, he thought. A tearing, ugly word that meant fights and yelling, lawyers – God, he thought, how he hated lawyers who sat with their comfortable smiles and tried to explain to him in legal terms how all that he lived in was coming apart – and the breaking and shattering of all the solid things. His home, his life - all the solid things. Divorce. A breaking word, an ugly breaking word.”

Yes, that’s it. The solid things. That’s what I’m longing for, searching for. And the solid things have to do with home and marriage and family (dear God, help me to make good on the promises I’ve made), but the solid things are certainly more than that. If you are a Christ-follower with any kind sober appraisal of the world, with any kind of willingness to read the Scriptures and interpret your reality through that lens, you will be obligated to see how impermanent the world is, how un-solid today’s ground beneath our feet. Hope can’t be derived from thinking that solidity can be wrested from a world that, on many days, acts with caprice. Yes, we want the solid things. And we search for them. But they aren’t to be found in our place, in our families, in ministry even. And until we settle this, that the solid things aren’t things at all, we are restless and wandering, insatiable for security and stability.

The solid things aren’t things at all.

I’m reading like a Benedictine these days, starting my days in the Psalms and lingering long over words and phrases. This morning, I opened Psalm 69 and heard the Psalmist’s cry for the solid things.

Save me, O God!

For the waters have come up to my neck.

I sink in deep mire,

where there is no foothold;

I have come into deep waters,

and the flood sweeps over me.

I am weary with my crying out,

my throat is parched.

My eyes grow dim

with waiting for my God.

I remembered the discussion I listened to earlier this week from two of our pastors, one of whom has struggled with depression, the other with anxiety. Different though their experiences are, both, however, used the word, “sinking” to describe their darkness.

Sinking. Without foothold.

In search of the solid things.

And this is the Psalmist’s predicament as well, and in this psalm as in so many others, he vacillates wildly between hope and despair, between pain and petition. One moment, he’s decrying the pain. The next moment, he’s commending prayer and praise. Verse 29 shows that tension.

“I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high.” (v. 29).

And perhaps this could be said another way.

I’m sinking. Let me stand on the solid things.

If the Psalmist’s struggle is meant to teach us anything, we don’t find the solid things by accident. They are to be found by prayer, prayer which is tethered to the wildly stubborn hope that, “at an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, [you will] answer me in your saving faithfulness . . . For your steadfast love is good.” (vv. 13, 16).

The solid things aren’t things at all. And we learn this somehow by praying, by casting prayers like casting lines into the deep waters of our fear. We pray, we cast, and we hook something solid. Perhaps to our greatest surprise, we bring to the surface song and thanksgiving (v. 30).

“When the humble see it they will be glad, you who seek God, let your hearts rejoice.”

Pray, then learn: that the solid things aren’t things at all.

When you’re depressed and anxious

Ben Goshow

We drove ten hours back to Toronto on Saturday, and midday, Ryan asked me to drive. Imagine that. He actually needed a bit of a break. I took the wheel and felt it. The anxiety. I didn’t admit to Ryan how I felt, how I was scared to drive.

I realized then how anxious I’m becoming.

I’m becoming. Normally, I love the idea of becoming. To think that I am becoming something. To think that I’m becoming a better version of myself, the self God has created me to be. I’m becoming. It’s usually a thought carried up on grace, but on this day, I see myself shrinking, shriveling, made diminutive by the fears that tangle, twist, contort. I’m becoming – anxious. 

The worry rarely takes real shape. It’s usually an indistinct form, lurking and growling from the shadows. And there are even days I’m not anxious at all. Still, there are others that I wake early, 4 am, and reaching out of the pre-dawn darkness with prayer. It, the prayer, is nearly as shapeless as the fear itself.

On Saturday, when I take the wheel through the Pennsylvania, I see at every curvature of the road sudden death. I see how easily any of us can be ended, our children with us. For the better part of two hours, I imagine myself falling asleep, the car jerking, rolling, violently ending us.

Why are these the thoughts to keep my company? Why am I so anxious and afraid?

I don’t know. Now we’re home, and I’m recalibrated by the familiarity. It would be a memory I would and could forget – but I don’t. I’m becoming. But who?

I’ve been immensely consoled by a recording done at a student event at our church recently. Two of our pastors shared their experiences of depression and anxiety, and to simply to hear them bravely tell their stories was life. Yes, Jesus people can feel low, afraid, fearful. Yes, Jesus people can sink, feel the sinking and wonder where the rescue is going to come from. Yes, the gospel is a rescue – but we are waiting. We are the people, not nearly so much of Lent, as of Advent.

The Jesus people – yes, they, too, need a Savior.

You’ll find the conversation here.

Dear Me (A letter to my high school self)

jenmichel@me.com

 

 

 

 

 

Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky has recently released a book for high school girls called Graceful. I imagine this is a book I wish I had read when I was sixteen. No doubt it will be a book I ask my teenage daughters to read! In celebration of the book's release, Emily asked bloggers to write a "Dear Me" letter to their teenage selves. And seeing as I can't resist a good writing prompt . . .

September 14, 2012

Dear Me,

I’m writing you across the span of twenty years. You can’t imagine all that’s happened and who you’ve become, although I don’t intend here to spoil any surprises. You will need faith, not foreknowledge, for the days ahead, even darkness, rather than light. And while there is so much in me that wants to tell you exactly what to do and not do and what mistakes you’d be better off not making, I can only talk to you across this span. I have been given no power to return and re-inhabit the body that is yours.

But I might hope you could listen.

I’ve promised you no specifics, but for the purposes of this letter, you’ll need to know that you are cleaved in the middle of high school, halved and separated by an event that you cannot now anticipate or prepare for. I might call it even: your birth. Allow me then, to speak to those dual and dueling selves inhabiting your body and the years we call high school. We’ll call these selves the old and the new, and I have different advice for them. They are simultaneously the same and yet different. They are you, and they are not. I cannot explain much more than that.

But I might hope you could listen.

It’s been a longstanding Worthington tradition for our graduating seniors to write their “wills,” bequeathing to their friends the memories and advice that they hope will serve them well. In that spirit, I want to will to you the things I wish for you. It’s my clumsy attempt to bridge the span that separates us: you, the fresh face of youth, and me, a greying almost forty-something.

To the old self, the you and me of 14 and 15, I will:

  1. Sense. There are risks that simply aren’t worth taking.
  2. Consequences. These would serve you well, especially in light of #1.
  3. Curiosity. It’s a big world out there, and who cares if someone thinks you’re smart?
  4. Waiting. “’Cause when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them.”

To the new self, the you and me of 16 and 17, I will:

  1. Fire. Burn.
  2. Break-ups. “Cause when you’re sixteen and somebody tells you they love you, you’re gonna believe them.”
  3. Friendships. You’re not fooling anyone; you need them.
  4. Earth. Because the ground under your feet is holy.
  5. Grace. I can tell you: there is no falling from the Hands of rescue.

I have only one more thing to ask: please hug your dad and brother as soon as you have read this letter. Tell them you love them. And mean it.

I might add that there is nothing in the future to fear. I can’t promise the terrain ahead is easy, but I can assure you that everything that is rugged becomes beautiful.

Peace, Jen.

Faith, hope and love abide, these three. But the greatest of these is love.

And I love you. And Him.

Me

 

 

 

The Aperture Effect by Joetography

jenmichel@me.com

Buy a beautiful print - and along with it, clean water for the world. That's Joetography's latest initiative. Joe Dudeck has been a friend for years, and his photography is stunning, capturing everything from landscapes to architecture to seemingly ordinary objects of the everyday. In the months of September and October, when you buy prints and book photography sessions (for those living in the Indy area), 25% of all of Joe's profits will be donated to Charity: Water, a non-profit group that sends 100% of public donations to fund clean water projects in developing nations.

I am in awe of those who, like Joe, have been given this gift of seeing. The lens is a powerful tool: we are stirred by what we see, drawn in by our senses to beauty. I might wish that I were a photographer, rather than a writer - and you might, too, seeing as this blog would have a lot more visual interest.

Shop soon at Joetography.

Hang from your wall a print that captures something beautiful from this big, spinning globe that God has made and sustains.

Fund clean water - and give a gift of love.

P.S. I'll be buying the print, Man of Sorrows, which was featured here on this blog.

 

 

How-to Friday: Meet Jesus when you're a busy mom

jenmichel@me.com

It wasn’t until the twins were born that I finally granted myself the grace to NOT have a daily quiet time with God. There was something about adding those two little swaddled babies to our family that allowed me to admit that I would simply not be able to do it all. And I understood that meant that there would be days I would have neither the time nor energy to isolate as large a portion of the day for Scripture reading and prayer as I was used to. Which isn’t to say that I bagged on Jesus till we were sleeping through the night again. It simply means I breathed in grace and believed something more firmly about the goodness of God. Whether or not I had the capacity for drawing near to Him in the ways I was used to, I began believing He stood steadfast.  I asked God to grant me the time I needed with Him to sustain spiritual strength, and I looked for new ways to commune with Him throughout the day. I’d tell anyone I know (if they asked) that I absolutely believe working towards establishing the spiritual discipline of regular prayer and Scripture reading is important, critical. But I’d also like to tell pregnant mothers and mothers of nursing babies and mothers chasing their toddlers around all day¾that you can meet Jesus in your day in new ways even if you can’t find a regular rhythm of a “quiet time” or hit what was once your spiritual stride.

And there is actually something that can heal in you as your days bulge thick with the busyness of children. Remember all those neat and tidy compartments your life used to have before children? Maybe you sipped steamy coffee, read your Bible, and went off to work in the mornings of your former life. And how easy was it then when, once you’d had your “quiet time,” to conveniently tuck Jesus in your pocket for the rest of the day, pulling Him out only as often as you needed a tissue?  Having children can heal those fissures, stitch up those seams that may have once been yours: between sacred and secular, quiet time and life. All of you can now belong more firmly to God.

The challenge of babies and toddlers and little ones underfoot is that you have so little time to yourself. And when you do, all you want to do is either find the bottom of your kitchen sink. Or, you want to sleep. (Which reminds me of a favorite verse from those exhausted years: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep,” Psalm 127:2.) And should you choose to do the dishes or to nap, can you do those with your heart still given fully to God?

Until life grants you a bit more breathing room, until those babies sleep, until the fog of motherhood lifts a little, here are ways I found to commune with Jesus all throughout the day.

  1. Listen to Scripture. Get the Bible Gateway app (free!). I’m stuck in Genesis, people. This is a book with so much to absorb!
  2. Listen to sermons. There are so many excellent podcasts out there. Of course I think the preaching done at our church (Grace Toronto) is some of the best out there!
  3. Listen to worship music. How many times have I let songs do the hard work of praying when I feel too exhausted for words? Thank you, Phil Wickham, Sandra McCracken, and the Seeds Family worship albums.
  4. Keep a small notebook of verses propped on display. When I didn’t have as much time for extended Scripture reading, I’d find one verse, copy it into my notebook and meditate on that verse as often as I was at the sink or nursing babies.
  5. Keep a prayer list in that same notebook. Assign Mondays to family, Tuesdays to your small group, etc. Pray as you fold and stir.
  6. Pray the offices. If you aren’t sure what this means, go to www.divinehours.org. You can also get their app (not free, though), and you can instantly log into 4 portions of Scripture readings and prayer to be prayed through at 4 set times during the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime). I LOVE THIS.
  7. Read and pray with your children. Don’t underestimate this. I’ve so often cried as I’ve been reading and praying with my children because God has spoken something directly to me.
  8. Grow in the discipline of thanksgiving. There’s no one better than Ann Voskamp to talk about this. Get her book, One Thousand Gifts, and learn to keep your eyes wide open for God’s good gifts of gift falling from your sky today.
  9. Commit a passage of Scripture to memory. Put this in your notebook on display. Better yet, memorize Scripture with your children. And let those words seed faith and praise all throughout your day.
  10. Take a nap. Sleep is sometimes the best way to admit that you depend on grace. As you lie down, thank God that He holds the world in its spinning. Take up His invitation to you to lead you beside still waters and green pastures. And believe the Shepherd keeps faithful, vigilant watch.

How-to Friday: 8 Rules for Parents

jenmichel@me.com

(Source)

What rules should parents follow? In no apparent order . . .

1. Be the first to apologize. Make no excuse when you’re been irritable and angry, even though you could summon 1,312 reasons why they’ve deserved the gale force of your fury. Get on your knees, look your child in the eye and name specifically what you did and why it was wrong. Say you’re sorry, and ask for forgiveness. The terrific news is, it will be granted to you easily. Children are merciful.

 2. Touch your children as often as you can, even your nine-year-old son who makes loud and wild protestations that you’re being “gross.” Daniel Keltner, the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, says, "in recent years, a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch. This research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health." Create a silly vocabulary for touch in your home, words like “snuggle” and “smooch,” and when you stand in the line at Costco, serenade your four-year-old with, “Who wants to smooch me?” in place of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” He might pump his arm in the air and answer, “Ooo, ooo, ooo!” You will get a wet, sloppy kiss.

 3. Put your phone down. Listen to your children when they talk, really listen, finding their eyes and refusing to give your blinking, beeping phone the attention it clamors for. The next time you take them to a park, leave your phone in the stroller or your purse, and despite your inclinations to quickly check email, answer a text, or google the restaurant you remember you’ve wanted to check out, push someone in the swing instead. When they call, “Mommy, watch!” and perform an acrobatic feat of expert skill, applaud and cheer, “YAY for Andrew!” This may also be an appropriate time to sing your version of, “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

4. Eat at the table with the television off. For as many meals as you can throughout the week, gather your family, and eat at the kitchen or dining room table. Use the opportunity to find out about their day (“What was your high today? What was your low?). Nourish yourself on good food and great stories. Tell them a story that relates to an experience they’ve recently had. Or tell them a story from your day that will humanize you and allow them to see you as someone who feels.  Whatever you do, find a way for conversation to become a habit of your home.

5. Institute a benevolent monarchy in your home, resisting your children's coups to make it a democracy. Assume the role of queen (king), and don’t poll your children about every decision that must be made. You will then be forced to negotiate between each child’s preferences and will find yourself feeling apologetic whenever anyone doesn’t like what you’ve chosen. Children have been given a command by God: Obey your parents. As a reminder, tell them that obedience isn’t only for situations where they understand, agree, or feel like it.

6. Preach the gospel. Every chance you get, use the vocabulary of sin and grace to point them to Jesus. Show them when they’ve sinned and why, according to God’s standards, what they’ve done is wrong. Remind them that Jesus died to forgive all of our sin and to make us the kind of people who love what is good. Your four-year-old will pray the sweetest prayers like, “Dear Jesus, forgive me that I wanted to do bad.”

7. Resist the permissiveness of the culture. When you’re at the salon and overhear a mother talking about her fifteen-year-old staying out till 1 a.m. with his friends, (a reasonable curfew, she tells her colorist), relaying that at 3 a.m., when she woke and checked his room for evidence that he was home (“He and his friends usually take pillows and blankets to the basement”), she found everything perfectly neat. “I worried, woke my husband, texted my son scores of times without any answer. Finally, we went to the basement to be sure they weren’t actually already home. And they were.” 1 a.m.? No one’s waiting up to see if Johnny is wasted when he walks through the front door? Oh, and did I forget to mention how said mother has been bugging her husband to finally get their son’s computer password and phone log? (“I think we should know what’s he’s doing, don’t you?”)

8. Pray. As often, as specifically, as regularly as you can. Re-read #7.

 

 

Monday's Menu: Pie Crust Debacle

jenmichel@me.com

After another attempt at pie crust baking this weekend (4 failures, 4 successes), I am benevolently passing along my lessons learned. (It's sweet of me, I know.) 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Pie Baking

  1. DO verify that you have all required ingredients/supplies before calling your neighbor twice and sending your husband to the store once. (And hypothetically speaking, let’s just say that, upon his return, you discover you’re short on flour?!)
  2. DON’T taste the pie dough as you work with it. After all the butter you consume, you will have to run tomorrow, and you know how much you hate to exercise.
  3. DO station above-mentioned husband at the second entrance of your galley kitchen (the first entrance having already been blocked by the bi-fold door you’ve closed): give him a rolling pin with the instructions to channel Teddy Roosevelt and keep the kids out of the kitchen. Speak softly and carry a big rolling pin.
  4. DON’T attempt your inexpert skills of pie baking the day of your 38th birthday, unless of course you enjoy standing six solid hours in the kitchen because the first four crusts you make are a complete flop.
  5. DO loudly exclaim, “Geez Louise!” when you realize that your first attempts are a complete failure and your eleven-year old is standing at your shoulder.
  6. DON’T button your four-year-old son’s pants, serve afternoon snacks, or fill water guns when you’re intently cutting in the butter for your 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th crusts. Ask above-mentioned 11-year-old to help her younger brothers.
  7. DO call your friend from whom you took a pie baking course. When she doesn’t answer either her home phone or her cell phone, consider terminating the friendship.
  8. DO NOT drink the vodka you’re borrowed from your neighbor: it’s for the pie crust, dummy.
  9. DO consult Google with search terms like, "Pie Crust Troubleshooting." For kicks, try, "I'm an idiot," just for fun.
  10. DO NOT give up: there’s rhubarb at stake.

 

Out to Lunch

jenmichel@me.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I've avoided telling you where I was spending the week - I couldn't have handled the nasty looks (or emails).

And I'm sure you can understand my hesitation about taking my MacBook Air down to the beach.

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming soon . . .

 

How-to Friday: Tell the Truth about Technology

jenmichel@me.com

I love my devices. This past week, I've skyped with a friend who, flung as far as the poorest country in Eastern Europe, shares her stories of fear and joy, and we pray together. Through Facebook, I've rekindled connections that would have long ago been lost, like the one with my friend from California with whom I traveled to France the fall semester of our third year of university. This week we message each other, determining to find an excuse soon to travel and introduce our children to one another. Texting keeps me in touch with my new friends here in Toronto: I get a coffee order. I make plans to run. I ask for prayer. I invite for dinner. Functioning in these ways, technology has enhanced the relationships I have, multiplying the possible connections I have with those I already call friends.

It's also true that some days, I dream of leaving my iPhone abandoned in the pocket of a coat hanging in our hall closet. I don't want to interrupt my macaroni and cheese lunch with the twins to answer the incoming text or Facebook message. I'm often overwhelmed to see the number of emails swelling in my inbox, and I wish it weren't my constant compulsion to scroll through status updates. (I'm reminded of the friend who's recently had a baby and to whom I've not breathed one word of congratulations.) I can't help but feel that the multiplication of my connections demands the multiplication of my time, my attention and my energy. And let's get real about the math: multiplication is really just a form of division. My technologies have made me perpetually distracted; I'm only half-present to my real-time interactions. The other half of me is virtually lost.

Two articles about technology have recently caught my attention. First, this past week, an opinion piece entitled, "The Flight from Conversation" appeared in the New York Times. Its author, Sherry Turkle, psychologist and professor at MIT and author of "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other", argues that in our technological era, we're traded conversation for connection, buying into the empty promises of our devices.

"We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship."

"Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don't experience them as they are. It is though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves."

These aren't mind-bending conclusions.

In the May issue of The Atlantic, Stephen Marche's piece"Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?" opens with the terrifying story of Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate who, at the age of 83, died in her apartment but was not found until almost a year later. Impoverished of any real relationships save her online connections with former fans, Vickers and her anonymous death have become symbols of our increased connections - and mounting loneliness.

"Vickers' web of connection had grown broader but shallower, as has happened for many of us."

Marche doesn't do the easy demonization of technology that we might expect: he settles responsibility on the shoulders of whom it belongs.

"Loneliness is certainly not something that Facebook and Twitter or any of the lesser forms of social media is doing to us. We are doing it to ourselves. Casting technology as some vague impersonal spirit of history forcing our actions is a weak excuse. We make decisions about how we use our machines, not the other way around."

I have absolutely NO idea what are the right decisions that we are supposed to be making in term of our use of technology. But I suppose the first step is admitting the problem many are seeing. Our screens run the risk of making us lonely, replacing the kind of conversation that feeds our humanity and nourishes our spirit with a diluted and weakened form of connection, the kind that exists solely in type and pixel.

 

 

 

How-to Friday: Teach Your Children to Listen to their Gut

jenmichel@me.com

It happened in a wealthy, North American community, where normalcy is defined by its elite private preparatory schools. It happened on a playground under a sky of sun and within reach of teachers making their watchful rounds. It happened to a nine-year-old boy, a third-grader. It happened when his classmate and supposed friend took advantage of their moment alone, asking to put his penis somewhere it didn't belong. That little boy, frightened by a question he hardly understood, ran away and told a teacher.

But how many haven't?

A friend tells me about this boy who asked that horrifying question, and it's the same little boy her son had resisted playing with late last fall. Her son hadn't liked the way the other little boy had followed him so persistently and tried to keep him from playing from other friends at recess. Initially, my friend felt an instinctive sympathy for the outcasted boy with whom, it seemed, no one wanted to play. And as a Christian, she felt it almost her obligation to nudge her son towards friendship with him. Jesus loves everybody, you know.

And as she told me this several months ago, including other troubling details about the little boy (none, however, as serious as the story with which I began), I advised her to teach her son to listen to his gut. Even very young children are given an often reliable inner instinct about situations that are potentially harmful and people that are potentially threatening. Yes, they can be wrong, especially if they are conditioned by the plot lines of primetime television or network news. But, assuming for a moment, that your child doesn't have specific, detailed knowledge of the horrible realities of our sin-sick world, and he comes home feeling "weird" about a teacher, a friend, someone's father or older brother, you should pay their feelings some close attention, rather than immediately advising them to "love" that person or remain friends with him or her.

As parents, I believe we should teach our children to heed their inner alarm, rather than override it. We can help them understand that God has given them a mechanism of self-protection, and this source of protection is very often that "weird" feeling that creeps up when they are around unsafe people.  The "weird" feeling should not be violated, although it's tempting to want to advise them they should be "friends" with everyone. I tell my own children that we do not have to be friends with everyone: friendship is a commitment we make to people, and we cannot, nor should we, make that commitment to everyone. Our God-given responsibility is to be friend-ly, to show kindness, which is not to be confused with friendship.

Last night, as we sat at the kitchen table after dinner, I told the same playground story to my children, shaping the story much more vaguely than I did here. I did it to remind them that when they feel "weird" in a situation or around a certain person, they should immediately trust their feelings and tell us.

Running away because an alarm sounds might be the best thing they ever do.