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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Christina Crook

For This World is Not Our Home and Yet It Is (Guest Post by Christina Crook)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for On Third Avenue in New Westminster, British Columbia - the Royal City - I remember berry brambles in the back alley. Smears of homemade blackberry jam on toast laced with butter. I remember gathering chestnuts across the street in enormous Queens Park, methodically prying the prickly shells from the smooth interior, sitting crosslegged under a canopy of leafy green oaks with my big brothers.

I remember the Hyack Parade which happened right outside our doorstep. Shuffling two blocks down to park ourselves on the cement curb to watch the floats and cheer the marching bands. I remember the wooden frame my father constructed around our enormous trampoline, complete with stairs. I remember the hose and the sensation of half dozen kids bouncing in a pool of ice cold water in the sunshine. Us and the water dropping in perfect rhythm. Ker-plunk. Ker-plunk. Ker-plunk. This was my first home and the memories of this place lay deeper than the rest.

Home.

At Buntzen Lake, British Columbia, a frigid lake up in the mountains, I remember my little sister Kristen and I wandering the beach during the church picnic - my sister shadow. At two years younger she was custom-built for shadow life when I was around.

The New Westminster Christian Reformed picnic was a yearly highlight. I remember Dairyland vanilla ice cream cups with wooden paddle spoons. Soapy slip and slides. Adults acting like kids, throwing off the Dutch work ethic and letting loose. Barbecues chalk full of burgers and wieners. Ketchup faces. Sandy, dirty feet and damp bathing suits.

The day was growing late: adults collapsed on metal frame flower-print fabric beach chairs, children running in packs. Life at its grandest. A sweet interlude for hurried parents and children destined for the Monday morning rush.

It’s Sunday. I can smell the air: smoky, with a cold cut off Buntzen’s deep waters.

I’m barefoot. Kristen in over worn spongy sandals. My hand-me-downs, probably.

Buckets have been filled and dumped. Swims have been swam. We’ve eaten our fill. Our friends have packed up into station wagons and our parents are lingering.

We are eying new adventure, and then we spot it! A sandbox. How could we not have seen this before? I see it first and plunge right in with six-year-old brava. Sister-shadow only a step behind.

Just as our hands are about to dig into the silty treasure, the pads of our feet, the paper-thin skin separating toes - those tiny pieces of flesh register the burn.

There are signs everywhere reminding lakeside visitors to pour water over their coals before departing for the day. These fire pits litter the property. Our small bodies found the lone lit pit of the day.

The screams.

I do not remember screaming. Though, as I write this, my body still registers the panic.

It is unclear who found us, but found we were and - by some genius - tossed into the lake where, over a few minutes time, our screams lessened to a whimper.

I recall the stillness of the lake and the calm of dusk closing in around us as I sat in the lake on a fold-up chair eating a popsicle while my dad and stepmom presumably cobbled together a plan.

The seven of us kids were probably there. I only remember Kristen and me. Maybe I don’t remember Kristen. Maybe it’s because I’ve been told the story so many times that I’ve written her in.

I later remember her at the hospital with our feet soaking in bedpans, using our plastic syringes to suck water up and aim it back between our toes, nestled in our father’s thick tanned arms.

Home.

"For this world is not our home" and yet it is. This place. This blood and bramble world.

Home is in the thick of peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding. And home is also in the throes of pain and discomfort as sojourners cheerfully share their homes and gifts with those who need a meal or a place to stay. Home is sitting around the summer campfire with in-laws and siblings, telling hard truths one moment and rolling over with laughter the next. Home is in the midst of my husband's current hospital stay, reading pages of Scripture in the unlikely evening quiet, as he recovers from surgery. Home is seeing life as a gift.

None of us is promised a perfect home: an unchanging physical place with well-worn features and well-adjusted cast of characters.

What we are promised is Him. God. Our refuge, home, dwelling place, rock of habitation. "He makes us lie down in green pastures." He makes us.   

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I have been memorizing Psalm 23 and transfixed by that line. It is not an invitation, nor a command. He simply does it. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He makes me home.


 

 christina-authorthumbnail joy of missing out Christina Crook is a TEDx speaker, essayist and author of The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. She Fights the #FOMO, raises three children and makes her bread and butter speaking about technology, relationships and joy with digital leaders, Jesuit priests, university students, and major media. She, author Julie Kraulis and Jen Pollock Michel have followed in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien's footsteps, forming the modern-day Inklings, a community fostering curiosity, spiritual discernment, literary excellence, and sheer good fun. 

 
Subscribe to learn about Christina's Daily JOMO emails launching this fall, book her for your next conference, or simply say hello.

 

Reflections on a #real October

jenmichel@me.com

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

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

Jen and twins

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

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

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

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

I want eyes for seeing that.

* * * * *

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

- Annie Dillard, The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

 

#thisisreal

jenmichel@me.com

For the next couple of months, I have a pretty demanding schedule with a variety of writing deadlines and speaking engagements. And though the calendar and to-do list look pretty harried, I have also been choosing to say a series of strong no's. The first no was pretty unsettling (I will be missing out! I won't be needed!), but it is getting easier to live into my limitations. (Um, a little.) One yes that I've said, however, is to lead a women's retreat in October on the subject of holy desire. I've been preparing, and I'm really excited about it. I recently had an email from the women's ministry director at this church, who wanted to share with me a short review they had done of Teach Us to Want for their women. After a brief introduction of the book's subject, the review continues, "Jen Michel shares her own journey with this kind of disappointment in a very relatable and candid way. (Read the first two paragraphs of p. 108). She doesn't hold back, does she?"

I, of course, couldn't remember what was on p. 108, so I pulled the book from my shelf and flipped to see. It is the story of my first and only miscarriage.

"I am pregnant. And I don't discover this until the immunizations [I'd received in advance of a missions' trip to Africa] have done the damage I am now powerless to undo. I suspect the pregnancy for a week. But if I don't take the test and fail to confirm the pregnancy, it cannot be true. Eventually this wildly ridiculous reasoning gives way. I buy a test. I take it. The line colors red.

It's the blood draining from my face."

If there is one consistent comment I hear from readers of Teach Us to Want, it is often gratitude for my honesty. But I'm going to confess that my honesty at the time of writing the book was pretty easy to come by: when you aren't even sure that anyone will be reading, you can afford to do a little public soul-dissection. And while the book hasn't hit the NYTimes Bestseller List (I know, right?), my readership has grown. It is NOT as easy now to take the scapel and cut a public incision, pinning back my skin for everyone to peer inside, especially when awards make you feel like a complete fraud.

A private book, thrust into public hands, is a fearful thing.

So I understand when my friend, Christina Crook, author of The Joy of Missing Out, says that her book launch made her feel tired, timid, pulled back, and even afraid. However, though she was struggling, her emotional thud wasn't audible to her readers - because she kept posting smiley-happy pictures on all of her social media feeds.

#thisisreal

Christina, another friend from Toronto, and I have recently committed to getting together regularly to share collegial, honest conversation about the private struggles of public art and faith. And from that conversation, Christina has written an incredibly brave blog post (which you should definitely read!) as well as launched a 31-day campaign she is calling #thisisreal.

I'd love for you to join her and me in for a more honest snapshot of life in the month of October. Here's the skinny.

 

  1. You don't have to be a writer with a blog (but if you are, feel free to use the above image to launch the campaign with your readers).
  2. You don't have to be a photographer - but you will need a camera.
  3. The challenge is: for the month of October, post pictures and captions of life as it really is: in its glory and in its muck. #thisisreal. This isn't about authenticity for authenticity's sake. It's about an invitation to be something other than the gussied-up versions of ourselves - because to be human is a beautiful thing.

I'll be mostly on Twitter so follow me there: @jenpmichel.

#thisisreal: It is about honesty, but it is also about compassion - because the pictures are pretty, but the struggle is real.

_DSC8308

My kids hated almost every moment of this photo shoot. Colin ended up crying halfway through, messing up his hair I had gelled. I promised them ice cream for behaving.

#thisisreal

 

 

 

 

 

When Lent is over, will penitence persist?

jenmichel@me.com

At the entrance to the school, my friend's husband holds the door open for the twins. Colin and Andrew play London Bridge and slide under his arm. From my car window, I see the tremors of his right hand, watch his fingers open and close involuntarily. It's the Parkinson’s that puppeteers, a disease for which this forty-something is far too young. I follow him out of the parking lot, and we stop at the red light. I feel tremors of my own.

Moving to take off the glove from my right hand, I suddenly remember that I am fasting from this: fasting from filling all of life's inanimate seconds and empty spaces with virtual connection.

I think of his hand. The way it shakes. Without Facebook, with Twitter, without a quick scan of email, my restless mind settles into prayer.

"God, can you be with these friends in all of their tremulous uncertainties? God, can you grant them the stability of your grace? Can you be present to them in all of their fears?"

Yesterday, I asked God, "Does it do anything, Lord? Do these prayers every really help anyone?" I'd been feeling the impotence of my life and fearing the impotence of my prayers. Nevertheless, this one moment at the stoplight is real. I am present. In my body. Attentive to the close-at-hand brokenness, to the ever-closer Spirit.

The light changes, and as I turn east, the sun blazes a hello that fingers through the trees. I remember how yesterday's sky had hung dense and grey and thick like a shroud and feel gratitude for the change. I take too little notice of these things, I think. And remember Paul's hand.

I'm not used to seeing beyond the screen of my iPhone.

* * * * *

Divided heart 1 I wrote this journal entry during the first week of Lent after having decided to give up 24/7 connectivity and restrict myself to very limited Internet access (or rather, having the Lenten fast decided for me by the Spirit). I wrote more about my intention for her.meneutics in an essay entitled, "Patience is an Offline Virtue":

"For Lent, I decided to fast as remedy for distractibility. I wanted to practice real presence with God and with others, the kind that didn't suffer hurry or disinterest. If it felt urgent to recover unmediated centeredness, the truth is, when home went "dark," I panicked. All my technological tics surfaced. At stoplights, in the grocery checkout line, or halfway through a book chapter, I reached for my smartphone like an amputee trying to move a phantom limb. Without it, I suddenly discovered all the crevices in the day I filled with digital retreat. Without it, I was left to my boredom, to my self-doubt, to a thousand voices of inner restlessness."

As Lent draws to a close, I wanted to reflect on the impact this has had on me. It's probably best to say I haven't learned as much as I've experienced.

Without constant access to the Internet, I've lingered at the dinner table and listened better to my children. I've prayed at stoplights and woken up more slowly, thanking God for my husband's warm breath on my face. (I've slept later, too.) I've scooped kids into my lap, read more stories, and more patiently answered questions like, "Are sharks and dolphins on the same team?" I've read books, not blogs, and called friends rather than emailed. I've hosted dinner parties and cleaned out the crawlspace. I've noticed cashiers' nametags, drummed my fingers to music playing at the butcher, even left my phone at the piano teacher's house, not missing it until Ryan picked it up for me the following afternoon. I've spent undistracted hours in study and writing - and missed big announcements. (Teach Us to Want was nominated as a finalist for the EPCA book awards - woohoo!)

I've also missed texts and voicemails. (Sorry about that.)

But if this sounds too Pollyanna for you, let me also say that I've broken my fast three times - twice to download books at home, once to try and find Phyllis Schlafly on YouTube, giving her 1972 "American women have never had it so good" speech. (Huh?) I've wondered if practically disappearing from social media has insured I've been forgotten. I've discovered new strategies for postponing serious Bible reading in the morning. (What used to be The New York Times has now become whatever book I'm reading: this morning, Kathy Keller's short book, Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles.) The tics are still there: I still swipe to unlock my phone and hope for some activity that will insure my life is notable and noticed. I want to matter and wish for notifications, my heart still surging when there are, plummeting when there aren't.

Forty days is a boon, but it isn't a cure. I know I will continue to struggle to use my time (and technology) wisely. I know the disordered desires that drive me toward overuse and overinvestment aren't reformed yet. But here are some thoughts of what I might do differently as more permanent practices of penitence and presence.

1. Honor the sacred hours.

This is Christina Crook's phrase, and I love it. There is something sacred for me about the morning hours of every day. (When you're up at 5 am, there are more of them to enjoy.) Without having to obligatorily check email or social media or even the news, I've begun the day with so much less static in my head. I pray. I read. I plan the day (and then feet pitter-patter down the stairs). Priorities are so much clearer when the voices are fewer. What if I continued this and didn't allow myself to check in online until after breakfast and the kids were off to school? I've certainly learned the delay won't kill me. There are far fewer urgent tasks that I used to believe.

And what if I continued spending evening hours as I've been spending them: with a book; with my husband, reading aloud paragraphs from Dorothy Sayers, Are Women Human?; with my children, playing "Things" or cuddling on the couch, learning that my son composes lines of poetry in his head? What does the quick scroll through my favorite home decorating blogs ever really achieve after the sun has dipped below the horizon line and I entitle myself to the "break"? Is my life better for the constant stream of distraction? What do I lose from my embodied life when I choose presence in my virtual one?

2. Keep the Sabbath.

I'm wondering if a weekly Sabbath from 24/7 connectivity may be an important practice for me. I don't have to wait until next Lent to re-orient myself more fully to the presence of Christ and the presence of people. I can regularly disconnect from my technologies to practice presence. And what better day to do it than the day I've consecrated for worship?

3. Plan (and limit) my Internet use.

Because I've only checked in online outside my home, it usually means that when I do get to the library or Starbucks, I have a limited amount of time to do the most pressing tasks. I've had to make a list of the emails to send and the research to do in order to make the most of my online time. This is something Christina suggests in her book. She reminds readers that the Internet is a tool. It should serve us, not we it. So rather than losing my way (and wasting my time) in the stickiness of the web, which preys on distractibility, I can think ahead to what is really needed. (My compulsive self made a little spreadsheet with three columns: email/social media/research. The only irony was: without wifi, I couldn't print it.)

I've found a little planning tends to allow the non-essentials to fall off the list. Just this morning, I started thinking of an email that I wanted to send to my editor. By the time I'd dropped the kids off from school, I realized I wasn't ready yet to propose the idea I had for her. I needed a few more weeks to consider it, and in fact, I'd likely be seeing her in person by then. If the idea persisted, I'd propose it then. If I realized it was a hair-brained scheme, I'd abandon it. Either way, we'd have a face-to-face conversation, which is always a better solution than a sterile email thread.

I have fears that I won't make these permanent changes. As John Owen, the Puritan writer has attested, we are fickle and frail in our fight against sin. “Men are galled with the guilt of a sin that has prevailed over them; they instantly promise to themselves and God that they will do so no more; they watch over themselves and pray for a season until this heat waxes cold and the sense of sin is worn off—and so mortifying goes also, and sin returns to its former dominion,” (Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, 60). But I am praying for the lasting transformation only God can effect in my heart: I want commitment to God's purposes more than I want convenience. I want my life to be mediated by communion with the Holy Spirit, not my iPhone. I want to recover a sense of my own humanness, I want to grow into greater humility, and I want to wear the mantle of ministry well. As Phil Ryken, President of Wheaton College, noted in my interview with him, ministry is about prayer and presence. These are burdens even as they are blessings. I carry them less faithfully when I'm tethered to technology. I carry them better when I'm not.

We are never as faithful as we intend to be. I know this. But I also know the Father finishes every good work he begins in and through Christ (Phil. 1:6).

JOMO: The book and exclusive interview with Christina Crook

jenmichel@me.com

Today marks three weeks of my Lenten fast from 24/7 connectivity. It has been really worthwhile, and one book (and author) I'm excited to introduce to readers is The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World by Christina Crook. "Through historical data, typewritten letters, chapter challenges and personal accounts, The Joy of Missing Out, leads us on a unique exploration of the modern world, revealing how presentness, intentionality and limited connections are the keys to our joy." I recently had the chance to ask Christina some questions about her book and her intentional digital connections:

1. Your book, which is meant for a broad audience, doesn’t explicitly explore the impact of technology on the life of faith. But as a Christian, how do you interpret that relationship?

God’s impassioned call for our lives is to love. To be real. In fact, the ancient Greeks called God the really real. I believe, as Christians, that’s what we are called to in our on and off-line pursuits. And the Internet can help us to love, it can give us opportunities to be candid, to confess, it can help us in our work, bridge relationships, give us chances to minister to others. But it can also become a crutch, a compulsion, an escape route.

With our ever-increasing use of online technology, the idea of community is shifting profoundly - whether it be family, friends or relationship within a local church. The middle man - the mediation through the computer - allows us, for the most part, to remain at arms length. But there is a simple way to counter it. Whenever you have an opportunity to see people in person - a dinner, coffee date, street party - GO. While the Internet has enabled the recluse - the elderly, the sick, the disabled - to connect to the church online, it has created a hurdle for the rest of us.

In the scriptures, God implores his people to have no other gods before Him - no addictions separating us from Him and our ministry of love to others. We must ask ourselves if our technologies are helping or hindering that.

2. I love the idea in your book that we should more closely examine the burdens we ask technology to eliminate from our lives, burdens that “we should not want to be rid of.” Can you give an example or two from your own life, where you've chosen to keep a burden rather than off-loading it via technology?

I try to connect with my neighbours face-to-face. So, for example, the other evening, instead of texting my next door neighbor to ask a question, I bundled my two elder kids up and scurried across the front lawn in -15°C winds. Instead of firing a couple of short texts back and forth (which seemed like better judgment once we were outside, freezing) my neighbor and I stood on the front porch talking about the challenges of parenthood. And then I saw it: the crack in her demeanor, tears at the ready. My neighbor was needy, and my physical presence let it come out.

Our screen-based technologies enable us to connect with people anywhere on the Globe in realtime, and they are glossy and exciting and they are drawing our attention away from our local communities. We have only so much time and attention. I have taken up the good burden of walking whenever possible, moving more slowly to and from the schoolyard, the cafe, the grocery store, paying attention to who is along our path.

3. In the book, you ask readers to intentionally disconnect from technology as a means to “reclaim sacred spaces” and “honor the holy hours.” Where are these spaces and when are these hours for you?

I used to have a practice, before the smartphone, where I wouldn't let myself read the newspaper until I had sat with Scripture. It was the lens I wanted to see the world through, the space I needed to linger before entering the day. This is something that slipped away with my iPhone and which I have reclaimed. I try begin most days with some reading. Right now it is: "Finding God with your Children." Oftentimes, I have a child up with me first thing, so the reading is sidelined or delayed. We begin the day together, in conversation, cuddled close or setting our hands to work making breakfast. Purposely delaying my connection to the wider world, valuing the thoughts and presence of my family first, is a sacred place for me.

4. Tell us about your internet use these days: how often do you go online? When? Why? Are you connecting on your laptop, your smartphone? What practices keep you grounded?

The great irony for me is that I am on email way more than I want to right now, simply due to the release of my book and a crazy schedule. So it's not a normal snapshot, it's a season. But my normal practice, and something I continue even now, is keeping social media off of my phone. The more addicting apps and sites should be kept at bay if you want to reclaim space and time. Using the Internet as a tool is key. I write list of the things I need to get done online, get to work and get off as fast as possible.

5. If your book sounds a call to intentional media use, you never pretend to have it all figured out. I love when you admit, “We are all figuring this out, one blunder, one shining moment, one binge watch at a time.” Can we have any recent confessions from you in terms of your technology use?

Last Friday was National Day of Unplugging and I was promoting it as much as could on social media. When the sun went down and the fast was supposed to start, I found myself ho- and humming about it, making excuses for why I didn't need to participate or should start after watching one show online. And then I had the "wake up!" moment: "Hello! You are a slave to this thing called the iPhone again! This isn't optional. You NEED this." And so I shut off the screens with my family for a day and it was so life-giving. We made snow forts in the backyard, cooked, played, read. I needed that reminder again.

Denial for Desire's Sake: Why Lent?

jenmichel@me.com

computerLent begins tomorrow. I'll be meeting it in anticipation.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my fraudulence and quoted Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's book, The Wisdom of Stability: "Maybe demons kill, but we're often more comfortable with the frenetic forces that drive us here and there than we are with the radical new way of life that Jesus brings," (38, The Wisdom of Stability). I didn't get specific in that post with my confession, as the larger point was this: we must be ruthless when dealing with sin.

Today, I can tell you that I'm entering a Lenten fast to curb my access to the Internet. Let me say that I don't believe the World Wide Web is some devilish conspiracy. And I don't believe that living like a Luddite is a more holy and perfect way. But I do know that hurry, preoccupation, distractibility, desire for approval, and disengagement are becoming too reflexive for me.

Every reach for my iPhone is like a tic.

It's time for me to be more ruthless about my habits of virtual connection to create more space for people, for prayer, for boredom even. It's time for me to practice the ruthlessness of which Jesus speaks when he says: if your hand causes you to sin, cut if off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It does you no good to cling to your death.

The irony of course is this: to kill death is to gain life.

Lent is the season we enter into small deaths of denial. Having now written years on the subject of desire, I am the first to caution when the language of denial is abused. Obedience isn't only doing the undesirable. Holy people don't exempt themselves from pleasure and fun because desire is sinful.

No, when we deny ourselves, it's in order that we may desire Christ. Denial is never in and of itself the point. For that matter, desire is never in and of itself the point. The point is always and eternally Jesus - and learning to live the abiding, satisfied life in him.

Would anyone come after me? Jesus has asked. Does anyone wish to follow?

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Mark 9:34

The denials, the small deaths - a Lenten fast: these curb our appetite for the lesser goods upon which we feed that we might grow fonder and more faithful to the greater good, which is God himself.

"Who will enable me to find rest in you?" Augustine asks in The Confessions. "Who will grant that you come to my heart and intoxicate it, so that I forget my evils and embrace my one and only good, yourself?"

I think there is great worth, especially during Lent, to deny oneself in order to desire Christ. I've been honest that I haven't done this in years, so I certainly can't commend it to you by the steadfastness of my own example.

But whatever you might choose do this Lent as an intentional spiritual practice, may forty days form new habits - and new habits, new loves.

"How great a glory it is to cleave to God, so as to live for him, to gain wisdom from him, to rejoice in him, and to enjoy so great a Good without death, without distraction, without hindrance - this is beyond our power to imagine or describe." Augustine, City of God

- - -

If you're interested in examining your own relationship to technology, I would highly recommend you read my friend, Christina Crook's new book, The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. It is extremely well-researched as well as easily applicable. Christina doesn't recommend we all get off the grid. Instead, she argues for habits of virtually "missing out" so that we can practice presence in our everyday lives. Here's a great quote, which resonates with my life as a mother. “The longer I navigate the demands of the Internet, the more grateful I am for my children. They save me every day. At each juncture, their very tangible needs crash against my frailty, and I must reach out to meet them. Without the demands of these little people I would easily slip into spending days the way I spend my nights: glued to the screen. Netflix is my gateway to relaxation, Facebook my voyeuristic portal of delight. Left to my own devices, I’d drain the currency of my life down Alice’s rabbit hole. Instead, I am forced into the present. . .

Why talk (or write) in a noisy world? A rule for the virtual conversation

jenmichel@me.com

Parenting expert and international bestselling author Barbara Coloroso was a recent guest on Lorna Dueck’s Context TV program. My friend, Christina Crook, who works with Lorna at Context TV and spent time with Barbara, tweeted Coloroso’s personal rule for social media engagement:

It is true, necessary, kind?

Christina mused just what kind of internet world it would be were we all to follow this rule.

Yesterday, I saw another tweet for a link recommended by a fellow Redbud writer. The post is called, “Proverbs for Social Media,” and Rachel Marie Stone points to Proverbs 18:2 as a consideration for joining the virtual conversation:

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.

That one thudded squarely in my chest.

I’m blogging a little less these days. I think I’ve tired of my own voice and wondered whether I’m just adding more noise to a world where everyone is already begging to be heard. What have I to say that is functionally better or more worthwhile?

Probably not much. And if I do, it usually requires quite a bit of careful thought. Slapping up blog posts for the sake of having something published everyday is probably not helping anyone. It doesn’t help me with the real work of writing (which incidentally, I’m finding is often most grueling and most important in the revising rather than writing stage). And daily blog posts crow for your attention – along with a thousand other manic bird songs. I can’t help but ask: does it keep you from attending to the most important and beautiful of melodies?

I’m reminded: God spoke in a whisper. Let none of us forget that it’s the most important Voice that is usually the most quiet. God won’t beg for your attention today. He won’t yell above the din.

But He is present, inviting you to the journey of being intimately known and loved and transformed.

If there is anything I want to say, it’s this.

What’s then my own rule for social media engagement?

“Let no talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

I hope that’s what you’ll continue finding here: not simply more noise but small seeds of grace to grow your own faith and participation.

That’s my prayer at least.