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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: trust

Risking the Heights (and climbing blind)

jenmichel@me.com

COTW lake We came home last Saturday from family camp in the Adirondacks. This is the fourth year that we’ve spent a week of vacation there with two other families. Inevitably, it is one of the best weeks of the year. 

Beside the beautiful view of the lake, the nightly campfires, the fantastic chapel speakers, we have always enjoyed the many sporting activities and competitions the camp offers. If I can brag just briefly, after having been dethroned last year by a seventy-something couple, Ryan and I are once again reigning mixed doubles tennis champions. (More accurately, we are co-champions, having decided to split the ice cream sundae gift certificates with another couple rather than play the second match of a double-elimination round). Sporting competitions, especially those with prizes, suit the sensibility of being a Michel. As Audrey, our oldest daughter has jokingly asked, “How do you spell Michel?”

W-I-N-N-E-R.”

This year was the second year that our older kids participated in outdoor rock climbing, the first that Ryan and I joined them. After we hiked out to the isolated spot where we would spend the afternoon climbing and had listened dutifully to the instructions of our belayers, I volunteered to go first in my group. I wasn’t nervous—until, of course, I was five feet above the ground and convinced there was no higher hold for my hand.

“I think I’m going to come down now,” I announced to Tessa, my twenty-something belayer. Winner, I was not.

“Really?” she asked gently. “That’s fine if that’s what you decide to do. But what do you think about having me talk you through this a little?”

On the one hand, I had the comfortable reassurances of midlife pragmatism. What did I have to prove? On the other hand, I nurtured the smallest inkling to put myself into Tessa’s hands, to let her voice guide me just a little further on.

“OK, sure. Talk me through this.”

She began calling up instructions.

There’s a small place right be your knee to put your feet.

  Look a little to the right. See that small crevice? You could put your hand there.

 Hoist yourself up like you are getting out of a pool.

climbing

I listened. And what I had assumed to be sheer rock face actually betrayed cracks, crevices, small openings for fingers and toes that hadn’t, at first glance, been visible. I made it to the top and touched, with surprising exhilaration, the very top of the rock face. Enthusiastically, I volunteered to do another climb.

This experience of rock-climbing, as metaphor for faith, is rather obvious. How many of us, five feet from the ground, decide to come down? We aren’t going to risk falling. We aren’t going endure the strain of our muscles for an uncertain end. We refuse to listen to the voices at our back, calling up instruction.

We’d rather have certainty on the ground than risk at the heights.

We’d rather have sight than blindness, even if it means staying put and getting nowhere.

Several days after the afternoon of climbing (which turned out to be, for me, the best day of camp), I was reading the story of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9. I was immediately struck by the fact that upon meeting Jesus, what Saul got wasn’t sight but blindness; not clarity but confusion. Of course we have the advantage as readers to know that the blindness and clarity lasted a mere three days, but Saul did not have that knowledge. For all he knew, blindness was his now permanent condition.

As Saul learned, the journey of faith is lot like walking (and climbing) blind. This is, in fact, its most predictable condition. In reality, we shouldn’t really be surprised when God takes us up an unexpected rock face, which on the way up, seems to have no foothold. There would be no need to listen to his gentle, reassuring voice pointing out the cracks and crevices if we had a set of stairs in plain view. There would be no occasion for surrender and trust.

Faith begs the willingness to leave the certainty on the ground for the risk at the heights.

Faith begs us abide the seemingly permanent condition of temporary blindness for the wobbly promises of staying in motion.

Faith grows with strain and tension, even from the furnace of our own heart’s fear.

climbing 2


If you haven’t signed up for Miscellany, my monthly-ish newsletter, you can do so really easily. Just scroll up to the top of the post and enter your email in the right-hand column. It will be coming out on Monday, August 1st.

Next week, I’m beginning a weekly guest series calling, “Home: Musings and Memories.” I’ve invited writers from across the internet to share their stories of home, and I hope you’ll come back, every Friday, to find them here.

When anxiety throbs (and you need to remember God's faithfulness)

jenmichel@me.com

3:40 a.m. I am awake. It’s the dull and distant voice of anxiety rouses me. I can’t make out what it says – I have only the impression that I am being summoned to the mountain of worry. The trek begins early – if I’ll take it. * * * * *

This past summer, the owners of the current house we’re leasing contacted us to say that they were moving back from Asia. We’d need to find somewhere else to live.

This 1920’s center-hall colonial with its leaded glass was like a gift that had fallen from the sky when we’d come to Toronto two years ago. We’d dedicated an entire week to the process of looking for a house, not knowing of course that Toronto rental market was lean, and we’d have only three houses to see and consider. The housing crisis that had decimated the States, forcing so many owners into selling their homes (or worse, foreclosure), hadn’t crept north into Canada. Homes were selling here, and they were selling quickly, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars over the asking price. It was for this reason that so few family homes were available to rent when we first moved to Toronto.

Two years later, the market has cooled a little, and we’re grateful to have had, not only the time to look for a new house, but more options from which to choose. Months ago, we thought we’d found a house that would be perfect for us: it was close to several friends from school, the neighborhood was quiet (by city terms), and the space were generous, especially considering the limitations of our current house (read: galley kitchen and 1.5 bathrooms).

Consider our shock when our realtor informed us that the property owner would not even consider that offer. He would not negotiate the terms, and he would not call our references: he was flatly refusing on the basis that he did not want to rent to a family with five kids.

Enter a new variable of uncertainty into the equation.

So Saturday, imagine our real sense of relief when, after that rejection and months of persistent looking, we saw a home in the neighborhood we love, with even better space than the first we’d seen and tried to lease. Yes! And because the first property hadn’t yet been leased, we figured there weren’t many families looking in January to move.

Wrong! Again, yesterday, we had disappointing news from our realtor. Another family is also bidding to lease the property, the one where I’d already been imagining our life.

What do you do when you face uncertainty? Impossibility?

You wake up at 3:40 a.m. to a dull throb in your chest.

But you refuse to let it grab hold.

With all the faith you can muster, you pray, heaving against the mountains of your impossibilities the tiniest mustard seed of faith.

And it’s not as if we have to believe that God will grant what we’ve asked exactly as we’ve asked it. Indeed, I am not too foolish to forget that I am a child, selfish and spoiled.

No, the faith we need is that God is good and will do good. No matter what.

And here’s a beautiful song by Sara Groves to remind us of exactly this. I think I’ll be listening to it quite a bit today.

 

He’s Always Been Faithful

 

Morning by morning I wake up to find

The power and comfort of God’s hand in mine.

Season by season I watch Him amazed,

In awe of the mystery of His perfect ways.

 

All I have need of His hand will provide

He’s always been faithful to me.

 

I can’t remember a trial or a pain

He did not recycle to bring me gain.

I can’t remember one single regret

In serving God only and trusting His hand.

 

This is my anthem, this is my song,

The theme of the stories I’ve heard for so long.

God has been faithful, He will be again,

His loving compassion it knows no end.

 

 

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.