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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: calling

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

jenmichel@me.com

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

 

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

(0:00-5:50)

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

(5:50 - 10:30)

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

(10:30 - 12:20)

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

(12:20 - 15:00 )

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

(15:00- 18:32)

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

(18:32 - 22:07 )

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

(22:07 - 27:33)

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

(27:33 - 31:18)

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

(31:18 - 32:52)

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

(32:52 - 37:37)

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

(37:37 - 42:55)

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

(42:55 - 49:15)

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

(49:15 - 57:22)

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

Thank you, Katelyn!

Meet Photographer, Joe Dudeck

jenmichel@me.com

Joe Joe Dudeck has been a friend for a near decade now, but only in more recent years have I come to know Joe's passion as a photographer. (I have him to thank for the lush landscape of green I have as my header image.)

I think both Joe and I have traveled artistic calling like a windy, country road - he as a photographer, I as a writer. With a will to see, we headed somewhere: without landmarks, without a clear sense of destination, only knowing the deep desire to follow the curves where they led.

Perhaps that is always how calling feels: unplanned, unscripted, serendipitous even. But the goading, the persistent goading, it is behind you. The lens. The pen. You pick it up - you must - because you cannot lay down the desire to make sense of something, even of yourself.

I have wanted to collaborate with Joe here on the blog for sometime, and of course my ambitions and plans for this have outpaced my real capacity. But I do intend, in the days ahead, to use more of Joe's images in some words that I've been wanting to write.

First, however, I want to introduce you to Joe.

Joe, tell us about the journey into your artistic calling.

I think there are some people who know their calling from birth. I wasn't one of those people. God either took awhile to give me this call or it took me a long time to hear it. I wasn't exceptional in art class. I didn't wear uber creative clothes growing up. I didn't walk around with a lens in my pocket, constantly framing out shots.

I think my first true photo session took place when I was 25. I had a Kodak Advantix camera, and I went to a graveyard near my apartment to catch the sunrise. The session was ok. I didn't walk away from it proclaiming, with fist in air, "I must do this the rest of my life!" In fact, it took another five years before I really started capturing and selling my photographs. But I'm sure some internal switch was flipped that day and over time it naturally developed into the passion it is today.

When you are pointing your lens, what are you looking to find and capture?

I'm looking to start a story for someone. In much of my work you'll see just a small piece or one element of a bigger scene. So you may see a flower, but not the whole flower bed. And you'll see a door, but not the entire house. A tree trunk but not a forest.

And what's so interesting to me is that the story that I may compose by capturing an image may be vastly different than the story you compose by seeing that same image. So I may look at a door and create an entire storyline about the type of building that door's attached to, what's inside the building, what people reside inside, etc. And your story may be nothing like that. And that's awesome.

As an artist, what do you most hope to achieve with your work?

I hope to inspire people to notice the beauty all around them, and particularly the beauty in the "unbeautiful." There's obvious awe-inspiring beauty in a sunset or a rainbow. But, to me, there's equal beauty in the way paint chips and fades over time. Or the well-chiseled laugh lines on a well-worn face. Or the way short shadows grow long throughout the day. There's beauty all around...we just have to look. I loved what John Muir said: "The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark."

Fire

From what do you draw inspiration? In other words, what helps you, as a photographer, to see?

My religious upbringing tells me to "insert God answer here." But really, I've found no other answer. I've come to personally believe that God created me, the world around me, and any gifts I may have to catch and capture what I see. He's also given me a strong interest to share those moments with others. To tell a story through pictures...my story and the stories I see around me. And hopefully my photographs do justice to the things I see.

Check out Joe's work at his website. And if you're in the Midwest, Joe would be just the person to hire to shoot your new family portrait, professional headshot, or wedding pictures.

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

jenmichel@me.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The family of God. They keep you humble.

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

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

And that sounds like sane advice to me.

(Anyone interested?)

 

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

jenmichel@me.com

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

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

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

I do now.

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

And then there is a collision.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

An insight from the Book of Numbers (Numbers?)

jenmichel@me.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three reasons:

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

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

No more. No less.

And for the purpose of pleasing Him.

 

Love: The real measure of a life

jenmichel@me.com

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

Hard work.

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

And what we celebrated most was her love.

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

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

If you have loved well, you have lived well.

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

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

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

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

And as we love, we accomplish the invisible much.

 

 

.

It's not always that far, this mission of God

jenmichel@me.com

I believe in keeping our stories. I believe in the great good of inspiration that comes when we sweep over the broad landscape of our lives and mine the divine artifacts that confirm Who’s been along for the ride The present sometimes offers no more than faint, dim impressions of God with us. But the past has a way of clarifying that picture, of bringing it into better focus.

Sometimes God’s goodness is most clear in the rearview mirror.

Yes, keep your story. Please. Don’t forget.

And blogging is good for this. I regularly tell people to blog. It forces your attentiveness towards life. It makes you do the work of reflective living, which is more than just living and more than mere reflection. I like that both-and proposition of blogging.

But then, of course, there can be real fatigue you begin to feel when all you hear is the sound of your own voice ringing inside your head. Can someone, SOMEONE please interrupt this monologue -because I’ve already said a lot, TOO MUCH, and I’m all worn out on these words, bored straight through by my own wooden thoughts.

I wonder when it is I’ll meet Joan Didion’s fate, which Caitlin Flanagan illumined in her Atlantic piece, “The Autumn of Joan Didion.”

“Ultimately, Joan Didion’s crime –artistic and personal – is the one of which all of us will eventually be convicted: she got old. Her writing got old, her perspective got old, her bag of tricks didn’t work anymore.”

I’m ecstatic to say that today, I get to tell a story that’s not my own.

I’ve written a piece that runs today at Christianity Today’s “This is Our City” blog. At TIOC, they feature stories of “the new generation of Christians [who] believes God calls them to seek shalom in their cities. These Christians are using their gifts and energies in all sectors of public life – commerce, government, technology, the arts, media, and education – to bring systematic renewal to the cultural “upstream” and to bless their neighbors in the process. No longer on the sidelines of influence, emboldened by the belief that Jesus loves cities, they model a distinctly evangelical civic engagement for the 21st century. . . They all have stories worth telling. [And] wherever we live, we can learn something from these cities about faithfulness to our own place.”

I love the premise of “This is Our City.” I love that it prompts us to think about our place and what it means to be faithful to Christ in that place. Because can’t we overthink what it means to be people who love Jesus and are committed to the gospel? Can’t we get all tied up into knots of uncertainty, finding ourselves paralyzed by inaction because the WORLD IS SO BIG AND WOUNDED? Just where are we supposed to find our place in all that global hurting? Maybe we fail to see that so often, what God has for us to do and be is just beyond the front door. It’s not always that far, this mission of God.

It might even be local.

“This is Our City” captures those local stories – big and small – of people who are being faithful to their place. And these stories remind us that when the gospel came to Abraham, it was the grand and surprising announcement that he would be blessed and become a blessing.

What would happen if all of us took that proclamation into our place? If we could discover the confidence that God wants to bless us? If we could receive our blessings as the means by which to bless others?

I’ve written the story of Ins Choi who, as an artist, in partnership with his church, has blessed the city of Toronto. You can read it here. And it’s without reluctance that I ask you to share this story from the TIOC site because I think it’s a story meant to inspire the re-envisioning of the gospel for the city. It’s a story of particular interest to artists, who aren’t often discipled in what the gospel can mean for their vocation.  And it’s a story that can be important for pastors as they think about how to help the artists in their congregations move forward with confidence into their calling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Atonement. The End.

jenmichel@me.com

I traveled to Delaware this past weekend to speak at the church where my college friend’s husband serves as pastor. And it was this weekend that I had my first awkward moments as a blogger.

On the night I arrived, after our conversation had stretched close to midnight around their long kitchen table, my friend began giving me instructions for using her Keurig the next morning.

“No, no, hun,” her husband quickly interrupted. “Don’t you remember she likes the French press?”

I was left only momentarily wondering how they knew this little factoid.

And it was the next morning that a tall, pretty young woman introduced herself to me before the tea. She’s shaking my hand and smiling, telling me that she’d been reading my blog and enjoying it.

There are facts she cites to establish the intimacy she has with the mechanics of my life.

I feel awkward. My life is no paragon of virtue.

In fact, in the week leading up to the event, I am conscious of how irritable I’m acting. Hustled by deadlines, I am quick to snap at the kids, quick to wish away my responsibilities as wife and mother, quick to hope for some quiet, permanent corner of the world into which I can withdraw and work without interruption.

And all week long, I sit down with the Bible in the morning. And I feel nothing. And I hear nothing. And sooner rather than later, I bring to an end what feels to be nothing more than a rote exercise – one I’d hardly constitute as faith.

Do you go speak for God when you fail to hear Him speaking?

Do you go claiming to serve God when it’s your family’s needs you’ve been willfully ignoring?

All this incongruence – between the life of my words and the life of my skin – it heaps up like one big heap of accusation.

And that’s why I wake with the pit in my stomach on Saturday morning. It’s early and dark. I lie there sleepily and feel the familiar knot of anxiety tug, churn, and settle deeper.

Isaiah 6.

Somehow, this passage rises to conscious thought, and I’m out of bed, slipping noiselessly into the kitchen to make the coffee. (Yes, French press.)

And I begin reading Isaiah 6, and it’s as if finally, I can hear more than the leaden silence of the past week.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne.”

Where am I, Jen?

Seated on a throne. And what would you do or fail to do, what you say or fail to say, that would change my sovereign position of power and authority?

If that were the only reassurance I had had, it would have been enough to calm all the jitters. But I found more, even more.

“Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”

And so, Isaiah had his own mirror? And in it, all his own incongruence stared back at him?

Of course.

And what was it that stood between the agony of that reflection and the answer to the call? What makes sinners so daring to believe that they could be commissioned for service?

ATONEMENT.

“One of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for.’”

Here was the consoling reminder that God never uses perfect people – or perfectly confident people. It’s not our capacities or confidence that qualify us for ministry.

It’s the blood of Jesus.

I took that with me into the tea. I beat back the torrent of self-doubt with two words.

Jesus’ blood.

And the weekend was so NOT about me coming to share some pithy word with that crowded gymnasium full of women. As is typical with God, there was more goodness to be had than I could ever have imagined, goodness that I’ve since been mulling over, goodness that made me cry all the way from the moment I landed in Toronto, walked down the jetbridge, through the airport terminal, and out to meet a silver van packed with eager kids.

But that story, that goodness, will have to kept for another day.

 

 

Feeling jittery

jenmichel@me.com

I order my tall vanilla soy latté and begin wondering where my wallet is. I fumble through the pockets of the bag that hangs from my right shoulder and start feeling the panic rise to my cheeks. Where's my wallet? And passport and money? All the worst-case scenarios play out in fast forward speed. I am dizzied and feeling slightly faint.

Fumbling furiously now, I rummage through the books and computer chargers. I find my lipstick bag (one small sigh of relief - the lipstick is here) as the customers in front of me pay, then peal off the ever-shrinking line to get their drinks. They are not dummy-heads like me. They manage, like grown-ups do, to keep their wallet in sight.

The line is the only thing shrinking now. The panic has now fully seized my body. And I'm up next.

And it's then I realize - suddenly - that my wallet is tucked under my left arm. Safe. Right there in my arm pit. I try sidling up to the cash register to play the cucumber cool part of seasoned business traveler, but it's fairly obvious to anyone who has watched this extemporaneous scene that I am NOT.

I'm feeling jittery, the kind of jittery that makes you all clumsy.

I tried to figure out how to drape my winter coat over - around? - my carry-on. Unsuccesfully.

I tried to maneuver my one tall latte, one cup of ice water, and one yogurt parfait (with the carry-on and shoulder bag and winter coat) back to my gate. Unsuccessfully. (Ok, no spills but visible awkwardness.)

I am feeling the part of old woman whose husband has just died and can't complete the simplest of tasks without the help on which she'd learned all her life to depend.

I'm alone. In an airport. Flying off to Wilmington, Delaware, to speak on the subject of joy.

And I'm feeling all turned inside out, wondering why did I agree to this?

It may have been years ago that I saw myself doing exactly this. But there's something beautiful and right and yet hard about time as it marches forward - and erodes all those smug confidences of youth.

You know your own phoniness better when you're older. You're a fake, a fraud. The accumulated years: exhibit A.

So, yeah, I'm feeling jittery because it's been a busy week and I've tried to pray and failed and wondered why God feels beyond the next closed door.

They're boarding now.

I'm boarding now.

And that means a quick, hurried goodbye.

And the only thought with which to leave is this: "Conscious of all that I am not, confident of all that He is: and maybe that's where real ministry begins."

 

 

For Rent: And when God says no

jenmichel@me.com

Yesterday, we had the disappointing news from our realtor. The owner of the property we had liked was refusing to negotiate the terms of our lease offer. Apparently, five children was – for him - too much risk exposure. The irony is not lost on us of course: Ryan’s title here with Allstate Canada is Chief Risk Officer.

There’s no changing a man’s mind, though, who stubbornly refuses to call your arguably IMPECCABLE references.

And as disappointing as this may be, we must trust that this answer is from the Lord.

Probably one of the most difficult things for me in our current season is the nagging impermanence of it all. We can never answer the question, “How long are you planning to be here?” We simply don’t know, and there are far too many factors controlling that decision that are beyond our control.

But I want so much to settle in, to call some brick and mortar house a home. And I think of all the possibilities of that home – how I’d decorate and entertain and thrive with an windowed office and a bigger kitchen and a bedroom for guests and a bathroom I didn’t have to share with my children. All that imagining of my better life later tempts me toward a sagging resignation that my life is somehow less full now, that I’m on hold, that l lack.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you might remember that the book I’m writing is about the subject of desire. Are we allowed to want if it’s God will that we are meant to find and follow? If we’re supposed to lose our lives in order to gain them, what good is it to allow ourselves to want, to ask, to lay bare before God the desires of our hearts? Is that an exercise in selfishness? Is desire the antithesis of the cross?

Of course I don’t think so.

There is much good inherent to our desires – the greatest good perhaps being the intimacy we gain with our Father, who invites us as His children to know Him and be known. He loves to be asked by those who implicitly trust Him.

When the Psalmist says, I shall not want, I don’t believe he means that we should numb all of heart’s desires. I think that instead, he means to say:

Trust that as you follow God, there is NEVER any good that you will lack.

The rub is of course that my definition of good and God’s aren’t always congruent, but the invitation of desire is to accept that when God says no, He’s got something better planned.

I’ll soon be over this silly old house, although maybe for today I might still wish that God had said yes, had cleared the obstacles, and that He’d given us what we’d asked.

But this is faith: that I orient myself to what is true about God and His ways with me. I write today, as always, as a sermon to self: Jen, He’s got it covered. If He keeps accurate count of the strands of my hair, then surely our next address is secured in His sovereign and loving care.

Today is good. Tomorrow, too.

 

 

Raccoon-phobia: And what I'm learning from Jeremiah

jenmichel@me.com

I am terrified of raccoons. I suppose it began the day when one greeted me from inside my garbage can. I lifted the lid to find a masked bandit burrowing in the trash. And as is true with Toronto raccoons, they scare us far worse than we scare them. Ryan recently relayed a story typical of their nonchalance: several weeks ago, he was outside in the late afternoon when one casually sauntered down the driveway toward the backyard. Had the raccoon been able to speak, Ryan imagined he would have announced, "Honey, I'm home!"

What has any of this to do with what I've been reading in the Bible recently?

Nothing except that I'd left my One Year Bible in the car several days in a row, and in order to retrieve it in the dark hours of early morning, I would have to chance an encounter with a racoon.

So I didn't.

Clearly I'm no candidate for martyrdom.

But I did remember that I was in the book of Jeremiah and decided to continue reading there - from a Bible that was safely shelved in my family room.

God's Word has been speaking to me through the book of Jeremiah in ways that are timely and relevant. I marvel at how this happens: that I land at a certain passage, and its providential counsel speaks directly into a situation I'm facing.

Jeremiah is a prophet asked by God to preach hellfire and brimstone. Judah is soon to be exiled, and he's tolling the warning - except no one cares and there are a host of other prophets announcing peace and prosperity whom the people would much prefer to believe.

It isn't as if Jeremiah is always impervious to persecution and threats and hatred. He begs for his life. He pleads for God to intervene. He commiserates that such is his task.

Jeremiah is human, not bionic man: there is real sadness and despair and fear in the midst of doing what God has clearly called him to do. But what you sense is the open dialogue he shares with God - that it is to God he always returns and finds safety and further courage to keep advancing.

"If you have raced with men on foot, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?" Jeremiah 12:5

When God calls us to participation, we shouldn't imagine that it will be easy, that our movement forward will be unobstructed, that we will feel perpetual joy and peace as we work for the kingdom. No - that is the wide road.

And that's not the one that we travel.

Do something for God, and remember that it will always, always require of you COURAGE. And you don't get courage handed to you in a vat, as if all you needed was to ladle it out and drink it up when the situation demanded for it. You get courage in the form of a Person, who is the Holy Spirit. He walks with us, resides within us: He's closer than our breath.

He is always near, hemming us above and behind and around.

"I will make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls . . . they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you." Jeremiah 1:18

There are so many forms of courage that we need as God's people: relational courage: to forgive and be forgiven, to speak truth and to receive it back in kind; moral courage: to do what is right and defend what is right; spiritual courage: to offer to God and to others whatever breeds from our faith; vocational courage: to work as if we were working for the LORD, not for men and woman; emotional courage: to stick it out in the dark places of self-doubt.

I have no doubt that you need courage today. I do. And I have no doubt that we need it because God's calling is usually bigger than us. God invites us into jobs that only He can do.

And faith grows in that kind of partnership.

"And without faith it is impossible to please God." Hebrews 11:6

 

 

 

 

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

jenmichel@me.com

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

* * * * *

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

Participation in The Holy: Eugene Peterson on Calling

jenmichel@me.com

Eugene Peterson should be writing this blog. The first chance I have to meet him, I'll suggest it. But until then, you're stuck with me - or, on better days, me quoting Eugene Peterson. I found myself re-reading The Jesus Way this past weekend. It's probably my favorite of his spiritual theology series. He writes two chapters on the book of Isaiah, which is an unfamiliar book for most of us. The One Year Bible took me back to Isaiah recently, and I'm loving it. It's a book full of imagery and forces a confrontation with God's holiness.

I went back to The Jesus Way, wanting to revisit Peterson's reflections on this prophet and prophecy. And what do you know? I also found some really appropriate quotes on calling, especially as Peterson reflects on Isaiah 6, which pictures Isaiah transfixed in a vision of God. Isaiah encounters God seated on a throne. The angels' chorus overhead sounds, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" The foundations of the temple shake, and Isaiah is undone by a sense of guilt. "Woe is me! I am lost ; I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips!" The angel purifies his lips with a coal taken from the altar of burnt offering, and God then asks, "Whom shall we send? Who will go for us?" Immediately, Isaiah answers: "Here I am: send me."

There may be no better passage to examine the nature of calling.

First, Peterson notes the characteristic of God's calling: "God speaks vocationally; there is work to be done." I've tried to say many times here that we have to root our calling in the finished work of Christ. We add nothing to this. But certainly, it is also true that calling is an obedient response to God and an expressed willingness to be used by God. There is work involved in our calling. God does not need us, true. But God has chosen to use us, the church. We are the hands and feet of Christ. And I think that's what Peterson is saying here. We have a certainty that God speaks when we are moved into service.

Several paragraphs later, Peterson continues:

"Participation in The Holy is complex business; but these elements in various orders and proportions, seem to be normative (and here, he excerpts from Isaiah's vision in chapter 6):

The abolition of self-sufficiency ("Woe to me, for I am lost")

The experience of merciful forgiveness (The live coal: "Your guilt is taken away")

God's invitation to servant work ("Whom shall I send?")

The human response of becoming present to God in faith and obedience ("Here am I, send me!").

I can think of no exceptions in Scripture or church in which these elements are not present, whether explicitly or implicitly."

Peterson is formulating the typical architecture of God's call. And while I (and he, I'm sure) would grant that God uniquely speaks to each individual person, the stories of divine encounter share common materials. And you notice how the whole house would topple if one element were eliminated.

If, for example, we were volunteering for service to God without the abolition of self-sufficiency,  we would learn soon enough that every job God gives is too big and we are too inadequate. When that happens later rather than sooner in calling, it can be a source of despair. When it happens at the outset, it casts us upon God's grace to work in and through us.

If, for example, we did not continually live mindful of God's mercies granted to us, we would suffer from the perpetual shame and self-recrimination that our inadequacies force upon us. But if, however, we remember that in Christ, sin is forgiven and guilt abolished, we have new courage for calling. It does not root itself in our performance but in Christ's.

If we never hear God's invitation to servant work, we can easily be lulled into believing that God means to give us the good life. There's certainly no reason then for shouldering any responsibility for the brokenness of the present world.

And if we have a sense of inadequacy, if we have received forgiveness, even if we have heard God calling for volunteers but have never signed up for service, we are sitting on the sidelines when we should be in the game.

As always, I'm grateful for Eugene Peterson's faithfulness to Scripture and clear thinking. And here are four questions we might ask ourselves in reflecting on the four dimensions of calling:

1. Have I confronted the reality of my own personal sinfulness and inadequacy?

2. Do I continually receive the forgiveness of God offered to me freely through Christ?

3. Am I aware of God's invitation to join Him in His work?

4. Have I expressed willingness to participate in the kingdom?

Gliding, Climbing and Calling: Find me at Fullfill magazine's blog

jenmichel@me.com

If you've kept up with the calling series, you'll recognize this post that I did for the weekly blog of Fullfill magazine. I did tweak it a bit from its original content here on Finding My Pulse. If you didn't read it the first time around or you simply want courage for your uphill climbs, you'll find me over here today. Blessings for a great start to your week!

You Suck: "Tell me something I didn't know."

jenmichel@me.com

“Jen, were you up late last night with a sick child?” Arthur asks me this two days ago after ten minutes of our tennis warm-up. It’s my most miserable performance yet of my (very short) tennis career. Ball after ball either smashed into the net or sent sailing out of bounds.

I explain, as I chase (and miss) yet another ball that I am tired. I tell a story too long for his initial question, that two nights ago, I had stayed up too late. And apparently, making up for lost ground this morning, I slept through my alarm, waking to the terror of 7:10 a.m.

I want excuses for this morning’s spectacle of sluggishness, and I find myself giving them. The warm-up ends, and Arthur announces that we’re doing a more competitive drill.

The points stack up against me.

I am a big zero.

And not just at tennis apparently, but at writing. Last week, I spent an inordinate amount of time on one particular essay. Back and forth, I rallied with an editor. She generously tried to nudge me into clarifying the argument that I couldn’t seem to get right. “In one or two sentences, give me your thesis statement, and then write the essay with the intent that every sentence will illustrate some aspect of your thesis.”

Duh.

The trouble certainly wasn’t that I didn’t know what to do. The trouble was that I was incapable of doing it.

I sent the essay back a third time, sure that I’d repaired its fatal flaws.

Since which time I have had no response, which I can only interpret to mean that the essay has not been resurrected. It still sucks.

And so do I.

I imagine you wanting to email me right now and reassure me that this isn’t the case. (You’re good like that.) And truthfully, I know it’s not the real truth of the matter. I do suck – but probably not as miserably as I might want, if only for today, to believe.

(A tangential note: I don’t usually use the word sucks, but today, it’s the only word to suit what I’m really feeling.)

So why is failure such a threat to me? I think that’s the kind of question my dear friends, Wendy and Kiernan, would ask. It’s a great discipleship question – it carries me beyond my simple, superficial conclusions about behavior; it prompts self-reflection and forces the whys. This is what any of us must ask if we really want to make any headway with recurrent patterns of sin.

Why? Why do I continually fall into this chronic pattern? What is it that drives this reflexive response? What comfort must I somehow find in doing this that feeds the action? Because the truth is, we wouldn’t keep doing it if it somehow didn’t either feel good or feel worthwhile.

I suck. This is immediately where I want to go today (and many days besides). And from here, I want to say: I give up.

I don’t like failing at the things I choose to do. And why? Is it an identity thing? I’m sure that’s part of it. Yes, I want you and every other audience member to think me spectacular and impressive. But I don’t think that’s the whole of it.

I also think (foolishly) that if God is going to call me to do something, the very least He owes me is the ability to do it well. The least He could do is make the time I spend doing it worthwhile. Is it so unreasonable to think He owes me success?

I have five children. I can't afford to be wasting time. And failure, as I have apparently concluded, is a waste of time.

Or is it? Why can’t I see that the essay I wrote last week, even if it never meets the light of public readership, helped me – if only me? Why can’t I believe that failure is meant for growing what I might need most of all for calling, not the least of which is humility? Why can’t I believe that failure is meant to nourish the critical, stubborn resolve to work hard and learn and practice? Failure can make me a better writer.

And failure can drive me deep into the grace of God, revealing just how subtly and stupidly I believe “success” credits me, rather than God. Failure is meant to remind me that calling is NOT ABOUT ME and my little silly reputation – but about God and the greater cause of His fame and renown.

Failure reminds me of how small I am in this big world – and how the God of the universe declares that, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purposes.” My failure does not impede the progress of God; neither does my success improve it.

I want to move beyond these myths of performance.

I want to believe deeply that I can freely fail and succeed at calling – and that both may be a part of God’s beautiful purposes for my life and for the world.

I want to remember that “the righteous fall seven times and rise again” (Prov. 24:16).

I want to remember that there are many, many things to which God has called me today, and though writing is a part of that, it is not the whole of it.

One essay sucked. Get over it. Get up. Life goes on, and the laundry is waiting for me. So too is the steadfast love of my Father, who never turns away His child, even those who’ve wandered so far from home and eaten pig slop rather than princely fare.

Oh, God, how is it that You are so good? That You require so little of me? Even nothing? That the gospel is such good news for those who wake up to the pressing needs of the world and whose resolve and abilities will fail them?

I suck.

Yeah - Tell me something I didn’t know.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

 

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

jenmichel@me.com

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

 Day 9: Yin and Yang

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

 

Day 10: Hesitating Steps

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

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

 

Day 11: Looms and Laptops

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

 

Day 12: Downhill Glides, Uphill Climbs

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

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

 

Day 13: The Uphill Climb of Visibility and Responsibility

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

I want to begin again and begin differently.

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

 

Day 14: Purposed Participation with God

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

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

 

Day 15: Write for Your Neighbor

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

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

 

 

The Business of Calling (A Look Back: Days 1-8)

jenmichel@me.com

This "series" has been struggling to harness its continuity - of course I have only myself to blame and the whirl of summer's end. So rather than jumping right back and finishing up the remaining five days, I thought we'd take a couple of days to look back and remember where we've been. You'll find links here to the individual posts as well as some of the main thoughts for each day. Day 1: An Introduction

Christians use the word, “calling,” to describe their life’s aspirations. It’s a word that dignifies our work. It’s a word that imbues our life with eternal importance. It’s a word that signifies our relationship to God and our obedience to Him.

 

Day 2: An Appetite for Performance.

We’re going to have to settle what it is we owe God. Our work [and calling] can be the way we fight and struggle for our materiality and significance. It can be our dogged chase to secure something (or someone) to prove just how much we are worth. But we don’t owe God and can’t repay God. Performance would do away with the need for grace. Instead, calling is a response to His love.

 

Day 3: Pray. Love. Eat.

What God calls each of us to do is nurture, not only our relationship with Him but our relationship with others. Honoring our relational commitments is a primary part of our calling. We are each daughters, friends, some of us wives and mothers. The temptation today is to forget that these relationships, not our possessions or accomplishment or career, constitute the whole of our life. Calling can be as simple as loving the people you call family.

The unsung heroes today are the lovers.

 

Day 4: When Life Bleeds

If life is permeable, if there is to be no plugging up the holes of the unexpected worst, it is well time to give it into the hands of Another. It is time to catch a glimpse of a future city, a future home, and I need this vision for calling. Is loss the only suitable lens for seeing it, the only real way to grab hold of immaterial hope? Is bleeding required for loving?

 

Day 5: Ruby Slippers of Courage

The way of calling starts as interior travel. It is God inside of you, willing and working. Then, and only then, do you wear it like ruby slippers that you’ve awoken to, surprised at the sparkle at your feet. You figure out just what it means along the way with the help of your Tin Man and Lion and Scarecrow, those fellow travelers God has granted for your journey. Sometimes you are seized by terror but move with the steady reassurance that your yellow brick road is meant for travel and your slippers made for wear.

 

Day 6: Marriage and Calling

I have at times harbored resentment about the weight of Ryan’s calling that I’ve been forced to carry on my shoulders. But the resentment, while it might be natural, is misguided. Why should this responsibility surprise me? We always bear the weight of our partner’s calling on our shoulders, and this is exactly how it MUST work.

 

Day 7: Whir and Whirl, Silence and Solitude

Calling isn’t always need-based. The world is a gaping wound, a parched beast; pour your drink offering down its throat, and it will never be sufficient for the healing you long and pray for, which is why it is necessary to be sober and level-headed when considering your calling in response to needs. Needs can overwhelm, inspire a god-complex, exhaust you so fully as to make you of little use to anyone, not the least of whom is God. Ultimately, calling is a matter of response. We are responding not first to needs but to the One by whom we are owned, which is why all questions of calling are decided by patient listening. Hear God. And isn’t this almost always the most difficult thing about spiritual life?

 

Day 8: Losing My Religion

Calling is an everyday matter, as most of our life is. Daily, listening and watching for God, daily surrendering to Him the below-the-surface motoring, daily remembering to linger and laugh. And daily-ness shreds the self-importance, reminds me of my poverty.

Lining up for daily bread is the only way to lose your religion. Our Father in heaven, the One with the aerial view. . .

 

 

 

 

Day 15: Write for your Neighbor.

jenmichel@me.com

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

In other words, do something small and do it for love.

In the simplest of terms, I am a neighbor. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus insists we not busy ourselves with religious commitment, not hurry down our self-important roads of responsibility but that we do unremarkable work. Stop, Jesus said. Find someone parched and bleeding. And when you do, open your tin of water. By this practice of love, which is likely more material than sentimental, everyone is meant to catch a glimpse of Jesus and our allegiance to Him.

Neighborliness is the most fundamental of our callings.

Could we be anything for God without growing patiently and persistently into all of our neighborly obligations, into all of our relationships that require interruption, inconvenience, sometimes even irritation? That require we be small, unapplauded, responsible not for crowds but for one dying man?

Calling can easily wear the mask of importance. I will do and be something. (And should we wish to do and be something for God, our calling rings with the sound of legitimacy.) But the temptation towards notoriety, the willing ourselves for applause: these draw us farther from our neighborhood roads and from our small gestures of love and faithfulness, which I think may ultimately please God most.

I might wonder: what would we find in our tin today for the thirst of our neighbor?

I might wonder, should we search our pockets: what would we find that could be of use to someone over whom many others have stepped and hurried away?

Faithfulness to our neighbor is the point of origin for our calling.

Write for your neighbor, Jesus said.

To which I hope to one day hear: “Well done, my good servant. Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take care of ten cities.”