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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Cutting for Stone

Books I've read this year (and my top recommendation)

I began the year with an ambitious reading list. You can find it here and laugh at the foolish notions January can put into a woman's head. So far, I've read:

The Fruitful Life by Gerald Bridges (My most recent issue for Today in the Word was about the fruit of the Spirit. This book was a good resource for that particular topic. I'd recommend it as a resource for newer believers.)

Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller (This book is especially appropriate for me since the book I'm writing is on the subject of desire. Keller has terrific insights to help us explore what motivates some of our chronic sin patterns.)

Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith (I am now an official Smith groupie. This book is a more academic and theologically profound treatment of desire than mine will be, but you'll probably see lots of Smith in my book. And Jamie, if you're reading, will you write my foreword??)

Death of Adam by Marilynne Robinson (Ok, confession. I've only finished the introduction and half of the essay on Darwinism. She's brilliant. And I am not.)

Still by Lauren Winner (I blogged about this book here.)

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (I felt good for having read it, but this, unfortunately, was the biggest pleasure of the experience.)

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler (I blogged about it here.)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (I started out LOVING this book. I was listening to it on audio, but I got tired of it and didn't finish.)

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (I am reading this now. Can you believe I have a Master's in Literature and this is my first Wharton?)

And finally, the BEST book I've read so far and one that I suggest you IMMEDIATELY reserve at the library or buy on your Kindle:

Lit by Mary Karr

I love spiritual memoir, and I suppose this book fits into that genre, although it certainly wouldn't figure as "typical."

First prayer that Mary Karr ever prays?

"Higher power: where the f--- have you been?"

This is a book that is jarring and raw. Mary Karr has bled this book from her veins, and I cannot believe how stunningly powerful it is without the least hint of having been overwrought. I am in LOVE with this book. I want everyone to read this book. And if it didn't break every rule about writing, I would now end this sentence with a thousand and one exclamation points.


Later, I'll tell you more about the writing wisdom I took away from Karr's book. But for now, get the book and READ IT.


Toast Crumbs: Living and loving today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I begin cherishing our "normalcy."

Toast crumbs.

The sound of slippered feet.

His wet hair combed down.

Puckered lips.

Backpacks and boots.

A half-finished train set.

Family devotions (and no one still or quiet)

His warm half of the bed

The whir of the dishwasher

This, too, is holy ground.

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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




Find grace in unexpected places: Tell your story

In less than two weeks, we move. And as I’ve willed myself to finally admit this, I’ve begun to organize the house. Thankfully, we will have a crew of movers to pack and load our stuff, so there isn’t much else I need to do – at least for now. And because the house we are currently renting will be torn down in a matter of months, it’s not as if I actually need to clean it before we go. Nonetheless, even if it’s only the tedious task of sorting through closets and drawers, I figured an audiobook would make the work easier. Yesterday, I downloaded, Cutting For Stone. If you remember, I’ve set some ambitious reading goals for the year. And you’re wondering how I’m getting along? Um, let’s just say that I’m making slower progress than projected.

So far, I am loving this book. I am a sucker for great prose and great stories. And this book is both.

The narrator is an identical twin, born to a nun who died in childbirth. No one had even known she was pregnant, and certainly no one had ever suspected it.

In the prologue, the narrator declares why he is in search of his story, the one that died with his mom in operating theater 3.

“What I owe Shiva [my twin brother] most is this: to tell the story. It is one my mother, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, did not reveal and my fearless father, Thomas Stone, ran from, and which I had to piece together. Only the telling can heal the rift that separates my brother and me. Yes, I have infinite faith in the craft of surgery, but no surgeon can heal the kind of wound that divides two brothers. Where silk and steel fail, story must succeed. To begin at the beginning. . . . “

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

Stories heal.

To begin at the beginning. . . .

In the beginning. . .

I have to remind myself of the redemptive weave that a story spins. It takes so much courage to live wide-eyed in the midst of our own stories. There are things from which we would rather run and hide. There is pain and hurt that we’d rather bury.

Stories heal – but often, not before they wound.

I’ve told you this already. It’s been as a result of blogging that I’ve reconnected to my stories of profound loss. Those stories have been hard to tell, but in the process of telling them, of re-opening wounds I thought had long ago healed, a greater healing has come.

But there are other stories to tell. Some of them stories are of personal failure and profound regret. Tomorrow, I will be telling one of those stories more publicly than I ever have before.


Why tell stories that wound, that confess, that spill our guts and leave others standing over the mess?

Why not pretend and playact?

Because that is never possible, least of all from God. “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” Psalm 51:6

What's more, the world needs our stories. That may be the only way that they begin to connect to Jesus; maybe it’s through our stories that they start making sense of some of the abstractions we call faith.

Tell your story. To a friend or neighbor. To someone you bump into at school drop-off. To an acquaintance you’ve met at church.

Tell it, even to yourself.

Let yourself sit with your narrative, the novel of your life. Find God there, even in the chapters where you might have thought yourself alone and desolate. Find God in the scenes of your own sin, when you worked hard to reject His good for you.

Because that’s where we are always meant to find it: