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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: friendship

Home is (NOT) where the heart is

When Alison Hodgson wrote for my guest series, “Home: Musings and Memories”, she talked of the fateful night when an arsonist entered her garage and set her house on fire. “Who, when making a home, imagines it could ever be a ruins?” When Joe Dudeck wrote of home, he described the experience of several failed adoptions: “While standing at the doorway of parenthood, we discovered the welcome mat would again be pulled out from under us.” In another post, Aubrey Sampson wrote to remember her father’s job loss and their family’s move from a beloved house: “There was no willow tree, no roller-rink, not even one hot air balloon in the yard.”

For many of us, home represents loss. 

For many guest writers in this Friday series, home symbolizes wanderlust, leaving, and change. For Aleah Marsden, home “is the place I’m always leaving behind.” Karen Beattie recalls ambivalently that she is “the first generation to leave the land, to become unmoored from place and family and community, and part of me feels like we are betrayers. Or pioneers.” Or, as Kate James writes with a familiar surprise, “And [God] sent me here, to a big yard, and a white house and maple trees in the summer.”

For many of us, home represents the place where we unexpectedly arrive. 

In so many of these stories, home has offered more change than stability, more promise than fulfillment. As Christina Crook so eloquently names, it’s a “blood and bramble world,” and home is meant for reprieve, the “gift of welcome,” writes Ashley Hales, that “beckons: come and see, come and see.” “Nowhere I’ve lived has ever fully been my home,” writes Michelle Van Loon of growing up as Jewish girl in a Gentile neighborhood, living the millennia-long story of diaspora. Home is the invitation to make something of life as we have it, even if it’s not exactly life as we once had wanted it. “I expected to be married and own a home. The Lord, however, had other plans,” writes Bethany Jenkins.

Home is one small corner of the world we hope to tame and call our own. “Always we longed for one special place. Our own promised land. Our own little Zion,” describes Christie Purifoy. But sometimes it is its own place of weeping. In the house built by the “broad shoulders” of her husband, Meadow Rue Merrill lost her adopted daughter, Ruth.

What is HOME?

When I invited these gifted writers to contribute to my series, I asked them to write about home in the concrete, rather than the abstract. I wanted to hear about home as people and place and the lived presence of God—because that’s what we see of home in Genesis 1 and 2.

First, home is a place: in the beginning of time, home was a garden, and at the end of time, home will be a city. This means that God intends for us to be a rooted people, connected in real ways to the land. That’s why our geographical change is usually attended by sorrow. Although our culture tends to cherish mobility, selling change like a shiny bauble of promise, in reality, we wear instability like a wound that won’t heal. This is one reason that I open each chapter of Keeping Place with a physical address and a reflection of home “in place.” I want to rid ourselves of all the silly platitudes like, “Home is where the heart is.” No, home is where your feet are.

Second, home is a place with people. It’s not enough to say that home is a place. We have no vision of home that’s as solitary and secluded as Thoreau’s cabin on Walden pond. Rather, a biblical home is a place filled with the company of others. In the garden, God recognized that it wasn’t good for any of us to be alone. For Adam, he makes Eve as a companion and helper. But as we see in the new Jerusalem, we aren’t all paired off as husband and wife. Rather, the table of God’s feast is seated with a new family: the church. We can’t make home apart from deep communion and connection with others. Which is to say: forgiveness and feasting, worship and work—in the local church—helps us to practice home (if not yet fully have it). Finally, home is filled with the presence of God. Let’s not be fooled: we can have the loveliest of places, the warmest of friendships, but without God, no place is home. As Saint Augustine has said, we have restless hearts until they find their ultimate rest in God and God alone. The fullness, the welcome, the permanence, the peace of home we all long for: it’s not about marriage and minivans, houses and domestic happiness. It’s a promise so much greater, so much more lasting than that.

“Homelessness ends in the new Jerusalem, where God keeps place for his people. By the light of the Lamb, home is made luminous, and it is a light to banish gloom and darkness, death and despair.

Behold, God says. I am making all things new” (Keeping Place, 211).

The Problem of Virtual Words (and the Power of Rain boots)

I’ve managed to tick off not just a few people in the past week, most of them complete strangers who wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a liberal line-up. (Well, I suppose if they’ve bothered to stalk my politically criminal self all the way here, they’ve probably seen a picture.) The truth is, despite the pot that I’ve stirred with my recent piece at Her.meneutics ("How Canada Convinced Me Not to Vote") and my potentially explosive blog post ("When Gay Pride Comes to School"), today I’ll continue on in my very uninteresting life, acting the part of every other ordinary mom who arrives at school with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, kissing cheeks and doling out lunchboxes, shouting last minute reminders that, “You need to check with Mr. Price if there is still band rehearsal. Just call me later and let me know.”

That life – the one in the school pick-up line, the one at the soccer sidelines, the one I live in my neighborhood and church and city – that’s my embodied life, and it’s the one that matters most to me.

I’ve always believed that writing should be an extension of my life, not an escape from it. Words aren’t the act of whistling in the wind. Words should be have skin, should speak across a table. We have this example in Christ, the Word of God, who took on flesh and pitched his tent among us.

God didn’t write a blog post. He sent His Son.

This theological reality of the Incarnation makes me painfully aware of the limits of virtual words that arrive without skin or skeleton in your inbox.

Which is why relationship is the means I use to try and animate those words, pumping blood into their lifeless forms. Of course this isn’t always possible (distance, time), but when it is, I try and seek it.

I have many friendships that I certainly never want to jeopardize by the words I write. Although the risk remains of offending someone I love, that I love them and am loved by them is itself enormous insularity from the potential fracturing.

A friendship here in Canada is surviving our disagreements. I dare say it’s even thriving even as we hold differing views of morality and do not share the same faith perspective. I’ve asked if I can share their words as they say it far better than I. The following is excerpted from an email exchange:

* * * * *

“I have to say that the last few days have been eye-opening for me (in a good way), and a good chunk of what I presumed about people who don’t think like me is now out the window, and I’m feeling a little unmoored.

In the last few years I have been lazy about the way I consider people who do not agree with me. This is what happened…

First, because it’s so easy to do so, l was lazy and let myself lump everyone together into the same pile as the most prominent, most vocal, most visible and most idiotic Republican representatives: Sarah Palin, fox news, Rush Limbaugh, Trump, Akin, Ann Coulter, the gun people, quite possibly George W (although I’m not entirely sure what to make of him, yet) and worst of all… Grover Norquist.

Second, in the last two decades, I have become increasingly wary of strict adherence to religious laws, largely because I took some time to learn about the laws of Orthodox Judaism and their origins. I went and read up on the laws of keeping kosher and decided that they are ridiculous (and funny). I dabbled in reading the Torah and decided it was a bit odd also. And I have trouble with Creationism.

Third, I hold different opinions about homosexuality than you. The aforementioned laziness led me to lump anyone who views same sex marriage differently into the aforementioned lump.

Then along come you and Ryan -  smart, funny, kind people, worthy of all respect and who clearly defy lumping. I read your facebook post, your open letter to the school, some of your blog posts, and the post about not voting. And I also read the comments to that post, and a bunch of those thoughtful people also cannot be lumped. So my easy view that all conservatives and republicans are Ayn Rand loving, gun-totin’, climate-change denying nutballs is out the window, and now I have to reserve judgment, listen to people, consider their positions, be empathetic and considerate… all that nonsense. Smacks of effort.”

* * * * *

My friend is absolutely right. It is far easier to criticize than grant someone the benefit of the doubt. It is far easier to dismiss people as we dismiss their opinions. It is far easy to cling to our biases, stay hunkered down in our certainties, and label anything different or dissenting as stupid. That makes us feel safe.

But relationships are for more difficult that these easy and simplistic judgments: relationships demand time, effort, mutual listening. They introduce ambiguity, because we are complex creatures. They will not be hurried and will suffer no substitute.

My friend, though not a Christian, reminds me that this is of course the Jesus way: that the gospel of love, forgiveness, peace, grace, isn’t a set of spiritual abstractions or truths to which we mentally assent. They find their footing in a Person, Jesus Christ, and they find their credibility in us, even as we imperfectly and clumsily love others.

I would hardly say that I’m doing this perfectly, only that I’m trying to live an authentic and embodied life: it’s a writing life, no doubt, and words without skin and skeleton will show up in your inbox today.

But it’s also a life of skin that shows up, on drizzly days like today, in rain boots.



What blooms in the desert

Several days before the twins turned one, I started making phone calls, having decided on an impromptu whopper of a birthday party. My mother was in town, and together we made large crock pots full of barbecued beef to accommodate the growing guest list. When I saw people at church the morning of the party, I continued my inviting, and that afternoon, our house would bustle and burst with the friends and friendships that had bloomed over the past year. When it finally came time to set those beautiful twin boys in their high chairs, sing, and cut the cake, I would blow out candles and heave a sigh of relief, having the strongest sense that together we'd made a difficult journey. Yes, beautiful things grow in the desert. That year was probably one of the longest and hardest of my life. Audrey was six when the twins were born, Nathan four, Camille three. I can remember the crowd we made in the neonatal unit of the hospital where the twins made a short, routine stay since they had been born just slightly premature. In many respects, the older three had grown into some of their own capabilities by then, but that did not make it ever make it easy in the next year to leave the house. That winter was one of the coldest in recent memory, and for many months, the front door would open to another friend, blowing in a gust of wind, sometimes groceries, and most every night, dinner prepared by friends recent and old. I'd often shout to them from some remote part of the house, tethered as I was to a couch nursing two babies. People came and went; I rarely did.

Jeni was a regular visitor in that year of confinement: our friendship first began in the months before I gave birth to the twins. She reminded me recently of the sad picture I was towards the end of that pregnancy when, before it was finally diagnosed that my asthma was flaring up, I coughed violently day and night, sleeping in a chair and spending many a small group meeting with my face buried in a vaporizer. Jeni's friendship was, best of all, easy, when most of life was not, me heaving around my belly swollen with two babies, nursing an aching back, and coughing frequently enough to cause serious issues of incontinence. Our friendship grew in the slowing I would learn to get used to: I remember how good it felt to sink my pregnant body into the corner of her leather couch and sit motionless for hours.

Yes, beautiful things grow in the desert.

And I can remember the first time Melissa came to my house, she and I still practical strangers as we stood staring over the two burrito babies, swaddled tightly and lying side by side in the same crib. She'd come to bring us dinner, a dinner that would last long in the memory of my children, ending as it did with hot fudge sundaes, sprinkles and M&Ms. When you want to win a child's heart, bring a dinner that ends like that. And she did win all of our hearts, she and her newly adopted Beka, spending mornings with us and making it her regular tradition over the next year to bring lunch once a week. And in high Melissa style, it always ended with some forbidden treat to which we all looked forward. Melissa and I made our hard adjustments together in those months and years to follow: she to motherhood, me to my responsibility for five children. Our conversations, always interrupted, often tearful, would remind me how often friends are not made, but born.

I owe to Melissa many of the lessons of grace that would be mine in the years to come. All my hard driving of past years had come to a sudden halt, and Melissa would know a different Jen, a Jen tethered to the couch, having no movement of her hands and legs. She loved and treasured me and served me when I did nothing more spectacular that shout a hearty, "Come in! and watch her set a table for nine. Hers has been the Jesus love we all, I think, long for, love that feels so unbelievably steadfast and rock-solid, never depending on our ability to win it.

I owe to Jeni the four months of meals that blew in with the winter wind, she having taken charge to corral willing volunteers to serve our families as we adjusted to live as a family of seven. I owe to her the normalcy she gave our family as she chauffeured our children to and from school, to and from playdates, to and from music class when feeding, diapering, buckling and loading two babies in addition to three other children in order to drive anywhere felt like ascending Mt. Everest with a cartload of bricks tied around my waist. How many days do I remember her presence, easy and familiar (as new friends feel when they're just right), she with her hands busy burping a baby, stirring the macaroni, setting the table?

Yes, beautiful things grow in deserts.

I remember all this, knowing that is next weekend Nathan and I will spend extended time with Jeni and her family (who have since moved to Austin) and Melissa, who will be joining us from Chicago. I am grateful for the gifts of their friendship, believing rightly that the God who is rich in mercy and lavish in love, never abandons us to our deserts but grows beautiful things there.