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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Gratitude

A Life of Longing (Guest Post by Kristen Leigh Kludt)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for I don’t belong in California. Sunshine is overrated. There are few thunderstorms, no fireflies. The pace is too fast—there are no months of bad weather to slow us down.

I may not belong in California, but California is my home.

During a recent visit to Wisconsin, I flew through the crystal blue skies above my hometown in a tiny airplane. My three-year-old son sat next to me; my dad sat up front with the pilot. Three generations curved above the sparkling lakes, peered down at the capitol dome, watched the houses grow small like a Mr. Rogers episode. "There it is!" I caught a glimpse of a brown roof tucked into the trees behind the elementary school: my house, the land I grew up on, my home. As we circled back over the city, I remembered— this will always be my hometown, but it isn’t home.

I love Wisconsin fiercely. Some might consider the summer humidity oppressive, but the wet air is easy on my lungs. Everything is green. I grew up next to a lake; sunsets were glorious. Winter brought welcome months of hibernation: fires in the hearth, family game nights and hot cocoa. We spent our afternoons sledding in the schoolyard, walking home in the pinkish glow of a snowy night. Each year brought a competition—who could be the first family member to clock another with a snowball? Once my sister and I made a batch of snowballs on a cookie sheet and bombarded my dad from the upstairs window. I picture those days, and I long for similar memories for my children.

When we married, my husband and I moved to California “for three years.” That was ten years ago. Every year we agreed to one more, because of jobs, friends and a church we loved. Two years ago, we decided to stay in California for the long haul. Today it’s home, with its golden hills and palm trees. And so, I live with unmet longing in my gut. I waited ten years for a call to leave, and I was called instead to stay. This is my reality. How do I live it well? If I do not find contentment here, I will never find it anywhere.

Living well with unmet longing is a dance of gratitude and grief.

Some days I give into the grief. I make lists of loss. I long for weekly runs with my mom and mochas with my dad, for my boys to play in the quiet beauty of the Midwestern woods. My sons do not live close enough to raise caterpillars with their Papa, from egg to butterfly. The distinctive squeak of fresh snow underfoot will be more memory than reality. I mourn the loss of everyday memories with our extended family built over years, especially for my children. Tears come. Living my grief is harder than ignoring it, but better. I am softened by my tears.

Living well also means cultivating gratitude. My life here holds much joy! There is nothing like a California strawberry. In my decade here, I have become blind to the flowers lining the freeways, but I remember them in spring when the scent of jasmine permeates the air. We have deep soul-friends in California, friends who are starting to look a lot like family. I make joy-lists, reminding myself of all I love about this place.

On hard days, I give in to grief. On good days, I live in gratitude. On my best days, I hold both in tension, acknowledging my sadness while running toward joy.

Today I bought a “California Love” cap, because I do—I love it more every day. That love is complex, holding both joy and unmet longing, like most of my deep loves. My love for my children is colored by the knowledge that to raise them well means to teach them how to leave me. My love for my husband is richer for the reality that one of us is destined to outlive the other.

There is no love without loss, no gratitude without grief. We live better when we live both.


Kristen Leigh Kludt is a contemplative Christian writer and spiritual guide. Her first book, A Good Way Through: My Journey with God from Disappointment into Hope, will be available February 21, 2017. Mother to two boys, she lives, works, and plays in San Francisco's East Bay, where her husband is a pastor. She is growing daily toward a life of integrity and love. Read more or say hello at www.KristenLeighKludt.com.

 

Sometimes It's Good to Be Wrong (Guest Post by Lindsey Smallwood)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 4025 Freesome Street #82, Boulder, CO

I never wanted to live here. Colorado? Yes. Boulder? Absolutely! In the family dorms on campus behind the football field? Definitely not the dream.

We had a deal. My husband received a sweet fellowship to follow his dream of working in Physics research. I was supposed to get a cute little house on a tree-lined street in the suburbs where I would stay home with my babies.

Except the boss moved the research lab to Michigan. So the house fell through. And suddenly we found ourselves thousands of miles from anything we knew with no place to call our own and an uncertain professional future.

Well, not no place. The university housing office offered us a spot, 840 square feet of linoleum floors and concrete walls with neighbors on every side. I knew I should be thankful. There was the nagging voice in my head, reminding me that our new home on campus was more than enough to meet our needs, more than many have the world over.

But I’d been telling myself a story. After living in dorms and apartments for nearly 15 years, I wanted a home. I wanted paint chips and flooring samples. I wanted space for a piano and room to entertain. I’d convinced myself I deserved those things.

It’s a spiritually dangerous place, living as though you’re owed something.

As I settled into our little spot on campus, I began to see how not getting what I wanted was turning into a sweet mercy. Sure, we couldn’t invite more than 3 people over at a time without taking turns standing. And there was no space for the cushy L-shaped sectional sofa of my dreams. But there were new neighbors from around the world who understood what it’s like to start over in a new place with tiny children. We found a church a few blocks away where I connected deeply and ultimately was asked to come on staff. Evenings weren’t spent commuting to the suburbs or completing home improvement projects, instead we ended each day with walks by the creek, dinners together around our fits-just-right card table, time for cuddles and stories.

God, in His grace, turned my bitterness and disappointment into gratitude and joy as I learned to love these concrete walls and linoleum floors and all they represented.

It’s been nearly two years since we hung our first picture in this little dorm apartment. Somehow it’s become home in ways I didn’t think possible when we were bringing in our suitcases that first day. My family has grown here, literally – adding a new baby last month, and physically, relationally, spiritually, each of us and all together. More than anything, I’ve seen how surrendering my dream in order to embrace God’s unexpected provision has been delightful, surprising, and, I can see now, better than the things I thought I needed to be happy.

This time next month, we’ll be gone.

Seeing the truth written there, that sentence in black and white brings tears to my eyes. Our family’s headed north to Michigan, as my husband continues his Physics research. Even though I didn’t think I wanted this campus apartment behind the football field, now it’s hard to imagine giving it up, saying goodbye to what’s become a beloved home to us.

I couldn’t have imagined how much I’d come to love this place that’s held us as we launched fully into our years of raising young children. I’m a big boo-hooey mess when I think about closing that big metal door, hearing it echo for the last time, and turning in the keys. I think that sadness tells me that this place mattered.

I never wanted to live here.

I’m so glad I was wrong.


lindsey-headshot-new-copyLindsey Smallwood works and writes in Boulder, Colorado where she hopes to leave a legacy of good relationships and bad dance moves. After careers in campus ministry, special education, and circus arts, she’s currently chasing her little boys and serving on staff at her local church. Read more by Lindsey at http://songbirdandanerd.com, including a sample chapter from her latest book, Ecclesiastes: Life in Full Color, an eight-week study for small groups.

Reflections on a #real October

jenmichel@me.com

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

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

Jen and twins

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

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

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

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

I want eyes for seeing that.

* * * * *

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

- Annie Dillard, The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

 

Found Wanting: Jennifer Tatum, "I've wanted to be a woman of faith, but . . ."

jenmichel@me.com

I am curating stories for a blog project called, “Found Wanting.” (If you’d like to submit a guest post, learn more here.) During Jesus’ earthly ministry, it was not uncommon for him to approach the sick and sin-sick with this question: “What do you want?” In John 5, he speaks with a man lying next to the healing waters of Bethesda, a man who has been an invalid for 38 years.

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’”

The man seizes an excuse. “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.”

Was it too much for this man to hope for healing?

What is too great a risk to invite the responsibility for walking again?

There can be fear in desire: fear that we will want what God will always refuse to give; fear that we will not want whatever God, in his sovereignty, chooses to give.

Ultimately, we are profoundly afraid of ceding into the hands of God our trust.

I’m grateful for those willing to share their stories of desire here. I'm neither applauding nor condemning their stories: rather, I am amplifying their desires - and reminding each of us that to be human is to want. In my book, Teach Us to Want, I claim that:

“Desire takes shape in the particularities of our lives. We cannot excerpt desire from the anthology of our stories. Our desires say something about us – who we have been, who we are and who we are becoming. They tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.”

To catch up on the series, read these featured stories: Amy Chaney, "I didn't want to be a coach's wife." Beth Bruno, "I've wanted beauty." Wendy Stringer, "I didn't want to move to suburbia." Steve Burks, "I've wanted to produce entertainment." Faydra Stratton, "I didn't want a child with Fragile X." Brook Seekins, "I never wanted to be a missionary in Africa." Sarah Van Beveren, "I have always wanted to be strong." Holly Pennington, "I didn't want to find out what I wanted." Larry Shallenberger, "I wanted to know what I wanted." Hannah Anderson, "I didn't want - because I couldn't afford to." Megan Hill, "I want your blessing." Bronwyn Lea, "I wanted a boyfriend, college scholarships, permission to sleep over at the popular kid's house."

Today, Jennifer Tatum writes her story of desire.

* * * * *

I’ve wanted to be a woman of faith, but I found myself whispering, I’m tired of having to live on faith. When is enough, enough? It felt like an ungrateful thing to say to Jehovah Jireh after everything he’d done. I’m sorry, Lord. I don’t mind. Faith is good. I’m learning to depend on you. … Without faith, I would have fallen apart years ago. In the economic crash of ’06, my husband lost his job and we learned all about faith and trusting in the One Who Owns Everything. God saw that we always had food and that the utility bills were paid - even our mortgage. In fact, he provided so perfectly, that on that year’s taxes we got a refund of exactly $1.

We used all our finances, even taking a short sale on our house. We lived with my crazy-generous parents and then added another member to our little family. Pregnant? And jobless? Yes, but God still provided. My husband was offered a great job within a few weeks of finding out and the insurance covered my pregnancy.

This year we moved across the country and after 9 months, found ourselves jobless again. And again, God is faithful. He met our needs and we were living by faith and enjoying his blessings on us.

But my heart whispered, Can I live on something other than faith for a while...please?

I’m not sure I can even articulate what I mean but I would like:

to buy AJ jeans that fit ... to take Ellie out for a smoothie reward ... to take Juli to the bakery for breakfast because it’s fun to watch her eat a cinnamon roll bigger than her head... ...and not have to check the bank account every time.

I am, in no way, ungrateful for how amazingly God has taken care of my family. But for me, living by faith is not easy and, while fulfilling, it can be an exhausting journey. (Like motherhood, come to think of it....) I've been living by faith for so long for day-to-day needs and while I know God is providing the things we need, I’d like to enjoy some things we simply want.

Sure, the widow had more faith than the rich in giving her mites but I'd settle for a mere half a mustard seed worth and the ability to affect greater change in the lives of others. It is exhausting.

I don’t want to spend foolishly and buy my kids every new electronic device on the market so they can be like their friends.

I want to look at the church's Christmas Giving Tree and pick the $500 card instead of trusting God to help us with the $5 gift. I want to be the one God uses to bless other people like he’s done for us. But honestly, I just want to not think about money for a while. I just want to relax…

...and not hear that whiner in my heart sighing, Enough faith, already.

* * * * *

Jennifer Tatum is a wife, mother, writer, and a dozen other things. She lives with her husband and 3 kids in the Pacific Northwest. You can find her telling stories at lexicaljen.wordpress.com.

Toast Crumbs: Living and loving today

jenmichel@me.com

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.

 

 

 

Dear God, It's Jen: Blog Assignment #2 for Compassion

jenmichel@me.com

September 11, 2012 Dear God,

I’ve tallied the shoes I own. Here’s what I found:

7 pairs of flats

7 pairs of summer sandals

1 pair of running shoes

3 pairs of flip flops

1 pair of Keens

2 pairs of casual tennis shoes

3 pairs of heels

1 pair of rain boots

Not to worry, Lord. I was as honest as I could be in performing this task and also inventoried the shoes stored in the bins of winter clothes.

2 pairs of snow boots

1 tall pair of dress boots

1 short pair of dress boots

For any remaining indiscretions, I hope you’ll understand that there wasn’t time to search the entire house last night. It was getting late.

I seem to remember a conversation I had with a friend several years back. No doubt you have record of it. I had insisted to her that I owned no more than 7 pairs of shoes. Clearly, this is not the case. I confess that one of three things must have happened:

  1. I severely underestimated the number of shoes I owned.
  2. I lied.
  3. I’ve accumulated more shoes since the time of the conversation.

I am not sure what to say in my defense. In fact, I’m quite sure I have none. And it puzzles me why I have begun in this way at all, with the shoe tally. Was the number supposed to make me feel bad? good?

I suppose there are any number of comparisons I might wish to draw. (Imelda Marcos comes to mind.) But I have a feeling you’re not as interested in those as I am.

In any case, the real point of this letter is to ask for your help in providing for all the bare feet in the world. I mean the kids who will contract tetanus this year because rusty nails have pierced through their paper-thin soles – the  kids who’ll suffer injury and infection because wounds on their feet simply won’t heal. Or maybe, Lord, if you could only help those children who’ll need a sturdy pair of shoes to attend school this year.

And if I could ask a small thing for myself, I might wish to care more for the world's feet. And to buy fewer shoes.

It’s been good to write. I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely Your Servant,

Jen Pollock Michel

P.S. Doesn't it say somewhere in the Bible, “Blessed are the feet of those who bring good news?” If you could include that reference in your reply, I’d be ever so grateful. Many thanks.

This blog post is Assignment #2 for Compassion International's Blog Month. (See the first assignment I completed here.) Our goal as bloggers is to get more of YOU to sponsor a child. It's so easy. For $38/month, you can not only buy shoes for your sponsored child, but you can provide important things like school fees, vaccinations, academic support, and healthy meals. As well, Compassion is a Christian organization committed to the gospel of Jesus: your sponsored child will learn about Jesus' love and forgiveness.

Sponsor a child today.

 

 

One Year in Toronto: The random stuff

jenmichel@me.com

Every good and perfect gift comes from above. . . A rental home within walking distance of school, four bedrooms, a backyard, a garage, a basketball hoop for Nathan, a new washer, dryer and stove; the slim jim air conditioning that manages to cool the entire house, the neighbour's dog, Calypso and her fondness for Camille, room to entertain 21 people at Easter, the galley kitchen with its huge window facing the backyard, the tree swing Ryan hung last weekend.

A church with people willing to invite our family of 7 over, new friendships that feel easy and familiar, Wendy and our week together of writing, laughing and telling almost all of our stories to each other; worship that is quiet and the singing of the gathered chorus; preaching that is theologically rich, questions asked and answered publicly at the end of every sermon, a community of believers that is purposeful about loving their city and casting out the bread of Jesus Christ.

A husband settled into a job that he loves, working with and for people he admires, friends! opportunities to interact with people all over Canada, and the prayerfulness he has about the work he does. Work that is invigorating but not consuming, strategic not dull. Every opportunity he has to lead as a servant, every opportunity he has for flexibility to stay connected here at home. A salary that pays the bills, and the physical health to do the work he does.

The courage of the children to be new, to learn a new language, to begin finding out how different they just might be; their zeal for Christ at school, willingly telling others that you can, "pray everywhere," that a basic human need is "God," that "I'm going to live forever;" time to be a family in the afternoons and evenings; Toronto islands, hockey, the subway, the ravine; bikes, scooters, big wheels, piano, clarinet, the library.

For the the questions unanswered and for the faith to sustain the journey; for the growing sense we're not owed anything but grateful for what we have; for our 3 weeks in Montreal this summer, practicing our French; for the easy drive it is to the States and visit the friends and family we've left behind; for Skype and bad iPhone apps, for email and snail mail cards. For prayers that connect and remind.

For Toronto. For Chicago. For Abraham. For Jesus. For this space here and those who read. For the sense that You're everywhere and near.

pause. memory. wonder.

jenmichel@me.com

I've made an appointment with myself this afternoon to do nothing but sit here and tap at this computer. Except for the thump-thump of the towels in the spin cycle and the stop-start waterfall behind the dishwasher door, the house is still. The twins are tucked into bed upstairs, and I have an hour before it'll be time to pick the older children up from school. Quiet is one of the greatest gift of this new season of life I call my own. I could be tempted to feel guilty about it - it seems to often be my habit to resist the good gifts that God gives. But the writing I'm now do with the quiet I now have is becoming a way for me to root myself in practices of attention and gratitude. It is pause. It is memory. It is wonder.

And gratitude is kin to praise.

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;

I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

The past two weeks, our family was flung in all different directions: Illinois, Texas, Tennessee, Florida. We have spent a full two weeks of breathless fun. And when I closed the front door this morning, having waved final goodbyes to friends visiting for the weekend, I swallowed the tears I wanted then to cry. I knew I would need to give myself time to absorb all that has happened in the past two weeks.

Gratitude takes time.

276. safety

277. reconnecting with friends

278. grandparents who love and invest in our children

279. eleven years with Audrey and a beautiful sunny day to celebrate together

280. cousins

281. great books and additional time to read

282. writing: doing it less, treasuring it more

283. gospel grace: the with-God life even when I don't "feel" it

284. spring shopping

285. the Church: local and universal, people gathered everywhere as Jesus' body

286. traveling alone with Nathan -and the sense that he missed me our first day apart

287. adventures with kids: riding the glass elevator up the CN Tower

288. being quiet

289. prayer and poetry

290. calling: faith not sight

291. mended relationships

292. the ways our wounds gentle us

293. vocabulary and story: new words for new ideas

294. familiar routines: rooted in our place

295. learning to live quietly from the inside out

296. a new babysitter from church

297. Skype calls to Romania

298. prayers for wholeness and holiness

299. house and home: we make our home in You.

300. return of spring

Counting

jenmichel@me.com

261. long-range parenting: everyday instruction, prayer without ceasing.

262. a start - a very little start - to ideas on the page. A hope that they can become something, gratitude for the week ahead to do only this.

263. a finish - turning in Leviticus. Grace granted for the everyday discipline of getting it done.

264. a daughter's courage to play clarinet in front of her classmates. For the way she's really growing to love it - and music.

source

265. A duet to practice - and the years of lessons!

266. A timely arrangement for renting the house to old friends - great grace and provision.

267. an email, a phone call, prayers and hope

268. being sent into the week ahead with the love of friends and family

269. his confidence and capacity for taking over - a wonderful husband and father

270. sleep - an extra hour

271. choreography of grace - the extraordinary ways in which the writer's retreat was providentially planned

272. self-doubt leading back to the gospel

273. words of instruction from the Scriptures: ministry, stewardship, proclamation

274. a new friendship - the slow awkwardness of its beginnings, the tentativeness, the desire

275. reminders of what is impermanent

Counting

jenmichel@me.com

"Numberless marks does man bear in his soul, that he is fallen and estranged from God; but nothing gives a greater proof thereof, than that backwardness, which everyone finds within himself, to the duty of praise and thanksgiving." - George Whitefield, 18th century evangelist and preacher

The gifts I've been counting over the last month . . .  (Photo Credit)

233. new friends and piecing together their stories

234. spiritual curiosity - musing together about the soul, about God, about what it all means

235. worshipping together as a community: the gifts of Your people used for our good and Your glory

236. a clarinet choir: beautiful and festive Christmas music and Audrey's special joy

237. reading great writing: the marvel of exquisite prose

238. Tim Tebow's win in overtime: let the world BELIEVE!

239. a husband resting and feeling better

240. Christmas ahead: days to celebrate and marvel at the mystery of the Incarnation

241. safety traveling over the holidays, kids contented in the backseat (most of the time!)

242. Colin's ENT appointment and now scheduled surgery

243. extended family's investment in and love for our children

244. awkward family relationships and still knowing we're loved

245. a crisp, clear, warm Christmas day and a walk by the river, twins on the shoulders of strong men

246. a friend's generosity, giving us use of their home while we were in Chicago

247. reconnecting with soul friends on New Year's Eve: their year of blessing with their newly adopted son

248. seeing lots of old friends during our visit

249. kids enjoying their cousins

250. time with Ryan over the holidays: some great car conversations, relaxed time away from work's demands

251. quiet days at home, preparing to re-engage in life's busyness

252. a daughter enjoying a new devotional book

253. a son's delighted eyes once he's home from a basketball game with Dad

254. little ones still looking for Mom's lap

255. twins playing hockey in the front entry and insisting on gloves and helmets

256. memorizing Colossians together this year as a family

257. praying a send-off for her year away serving Christ: joy at the visible work of His Spirit in her life

258. radiator heat, warm slippers, down comforters

259. a new year beginning and renewed commitment

260. 7:42 a.m., and it's still quiet around here

 

 

Reflections on 2011

jenmichel@me.com

It's not always pain that leaves us puzzling out the ways of God. 2011 closes, a year of sweet goodness and mystery.

We'd been providentially prepared for the leaving behind of 2011.

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Fall of 2009. A family tragedy. After the funeral, we drive the back country roads of Virginia and West Virginia, the sky darkening. The children fall asleep, and Ryan and I wonder aloud if we're missing it. What was it that God really had for us? We commit to praying intentionally for 30 days about mission.

A month and a half later, we've pulled our kids out of school, set up a homeschool classroom in the basement. Ryan and I both have strongest sense that our greatest mission is the five children God had given us.

Homeschooling made each of us courageous in new ways. We would need that courage this year to leave our home, our families, our familiar.

I no longer presume to know exactly what God is doing when He is doing it. The steps we take lead in directions we don't yet know. The only confidence we have at all is in believing that His guiding is good.

This fall, the older three children have settled happily in their new school, each with bright confidence for meeting the challenge of learning French.

The twins attend preschool three mornings a week. Jennifer and Alana, their teachers, have stolen their hearts. In Colin's words, "I stare at Alana."

Ryan loves the job that led us to Toronto. He has strategic responsibilities he's never before had. The challenges invigorate him.

We feel deeply grateful for our new church home. The sermons are profound, and the worship is purposeful and reflective. Our new friendships there are a source of joy.

And finally, I can't help but marvel at what this new season has brought for me. It's in Toronto that I've begun unearthing what it is that I want, what it is I feel made to do. Maybe I feel a little like Zechariah. I've believed God in some deeper ways, and I've found words, a voice.

I trust that my words have echoed those that Zechariah first spoke after the birth of John.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel.

 

Counting

jenmichel@me.com

Paying attention is the movement of my soul from gratitude to worship. Paying attention means finding Him near and good in the incidentals of today.

Paying attention is unhurried.

Paying attention is a discipline.

"Projects of personal transformation rarely, if ever, succeed by accident, drift or imposition."

-Dallas Willard

Counting the gifts. . .

201. her confidence - and though there are tears and self-doubt, a warm meal around our table is comfort and welcome

202. admitting

203. the book I can't wait to give her

204. "And God spoke" - how three simple words of Scripture reveal the mystery and joy

205. him up early, sleepy-eyed, dressed for basketball tryouts

206. renewed courage for parenting

207. a book in her hands, an invitation to consider, and the power of pryaer

208. breakfast smoothies

209. sadness as we drive into town - more trust, another invitation to surrender

210. listening

211. work and rest

212. planning a Thanksgiving menu

213. being missed

214. clean refrigerator shelves

215. blankets and down comforters

216. lacing up skates and watching her growing, smiling confidence

217. their answered prayers, lessons in knowing that You are near

218. desire, courage, commitment - and Your steadying hand

219. local and imperfect: the Church

220. Jesus is the Way - I'm never lost in Him

Counting

jenmichel@me.com

Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. Thankful for. . . 181. Safety - always grateful to travel hundreds of miles without incident

182. pumpkin spice lattes

183. friendships - the comfortable, well-worn kind

184. great books

185. children losing track of the hours in a warm pool on a cold November day

186. that it was only a fever, and my birthday boy will meet his special day next week with customary fervor

187. smooth transitions

188. provision and impermanence - reminders that it's not about me, not fully decided by me

189. the surprising joy of this blog

190. breakthroughs - newfound freedoms found in Him

191. winter's thaw

192. decisions that feel too big . . . and the waiting and the trusting

193. authenticity

194. moments of stillness and quiet

195. the promise of candy and the boundless energy of little legs carrying them from door to door

196. caring teachers invested in the lives of my children

197. learning French!

198. baguettes and butter

199. warm soup shared with new friends

200. all together, unhurried

Counting

jenmichel@me.com

"Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. And when I'm always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter. And time slows. Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time's river slows, slows, slows. . . And blind eyes see: It's this sleuthing for the glory that slows a life gloriously. It's plain, bubble straight through: Giving thanks for one thousand things is ultimately an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention. In this space of time and sphere, I am attentive, aware, accepting the whole of the moment, weighing it down with me all here."

--Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Counting my own gifts this quiet morning:

161. mentors whose acquaintance I might never make, authors who've given of their words and shaped me

162. pockets of quiet in my day for writing

163. loud and boisterous giggles as two small boys wrestle

164. a daughter asking night after night, "Can we talk?"

165. a husband listening, really listening

166. friends across years and maps

167. Your unbelievably MARVELOUS timing

168. warm radiators, down comforters, cozy slippers

169. more freedom, less fear

170. an invitation for dinner, all SEVEN of us!

171. the hard work of committing: and Your Spirit to gently encourage and prod

172. a writers' retreat in the future and a friend to make the long drive with

173. crispy bacon

174. fevers gone, and a little girl with color back in her cheeks

175. Big Love: for my messes and failures and greatest hypocrisies

176. writing: to find and be found

177. the perfect fall beauty - leaves still clinging to trees and bright sun to warm the afternoon hours

178. encouragement

179. provision and impermanence

180. a quiet Saturday morning - everyone still tucked in