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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Category: Marriage

Marriage as Partnership: and the debts we owe one another

jenmichel@me.com

Nothing says Sabbath like whipped cream.

Hot breakfast has been a long-standing Sunday tradition in our house. When I am most feeling most ambitious, most generous, I produce a leaning tower of homemade waffles, standing over the waffle iron for almost two hours before church. My kids eat them as quickly as I can make them. What’s left of the batch that I’ve sextupled (!) is wrapped and frozen for the week ahead. They might last us through Tuesday.

On my least ambitious Sundays, I make muffins. (Borrowing a word from Mary Berry, I’ve recently discovered an especially “scrummy” recipe here.) Because Sunday morning always promises something as delicious as waffles or crepes, pancakes or muffins, on Saturday night, it’s not unusual for one of the twins to ask as he’s crawling into bed, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow?”

Nothing says Sabbath like whipped cream.

Last weekend, however,  I crawled into bed at 1:30am on Sunday morning, finally home after leading a women’s conference in Northern California. I had asked Ryan to let me sleep late, and to my complete astonishment, I rolled over to glance at the clock at 8:30 a.m. It was going to be a no-waffle, no muffin morning.

Except that when I came downstairs, I noticed the griddle on the stove, the syrup on the table. Ryan, only VERY occasionally the cook in our house, had made French toast. It was not the soft cinnamon bread I usually by from the neighborhood bakery—but it WAS French toast!

This wasn’t the only happy surprise of the morning. When I reached into the refrigerator for cream for my coffee, I noticed the shelves had been wiped clean and STOCKED. My husband had gone to the grocery store in my absence, replenishing the staples of milk and yogurt and bread, even thinking ahead to what we’d have for dinner that night. “Pasta and broccoli?”

I understand that my astonishment betrays our traditional domestic arrangement, and it’s true that our marriage has worked according to a very typical gendered division of labor. Ryan’s career has been and continues to be especially demanding, which means that I have been the primary parent and housekeeper. Truthfully, I don’t usually mind it because I enjoy domestic tasks—that is, apart from the dreaded task of packing lunches (see page 111 of Keeping Place).

Nevertheless, one thing has changed in our marriage in the twenty years we’ve been at this: I no longer believe the home is entirely my responsibility. In fact, I think our marriage is growing as we both look for ways to help each other become and do all that God has called us to, even apart from our roles as spouses and parents. To put it even more strongly, when I didn’t look to Ryan to help support me in my calling to write and speak, trying instead to do it all (at home) seamlessly and independently, our marriage did not reflect the biblical vision of two becoming one. I was stealing from him opportunities to be Christ to me: to lay something down for the sake of love. On this particular Sunday morning I’ve written about here, he laid down sleeping in. He laid down his morning run. He laid down waffles. (Or at least muffins.) He served me, but he also served the 110 women who attended the conference I led. In essence, he served the greater church by taking up a little bit of the housekeeping.

I’ve recently begun reading Fleming Rutledge’s much-acclaimed The Crucifixion, and of course, I started with the acknowledgments. (Because that’s where writers like to begin—with the network of family and friends and colleagues who make the work possible.) Like many writers, she customarily thanks her husband at the very end of the acknowledgments. But her gratitude was certainly not perfunctory. What I heard in her words was the sense of debt she owed to her husband’s partnership, the sense that her work on the book (comprising 18 years!) would have been impossible without him. She talked about his financial support, which paid for her theological education. And then, “on his own initiative...he went out and searched for an office where I would be protected from distractions. He found the perfect one, and paid the rent for nine more years after [my grant] ran out.”

Rutledge continues: “But his financial support was the least of it. Who can count the dinners prepared and eaten alone, especially during the last six months? . . . Who can calculate the management of problems like a broken refrigerator and a flooded garage, with no help from me, during those critical last months?” (Who can count the measure of the housekeeping?)

Finally, Rutledge concludes: “But none of that can compare with the precious gift of a lifelong companion who truly knows and loves the Lord, and who serves the Lord’s church with total devotion. I just don’t know how to even begin to say what his partnership has meant to this book and to our marriage.

May God be praised for all his bountiful gifts.”

I love that. No work of God is a solitary endeavor. In the kingdom, there is always partnership, even if one isn’t married.

Today, I’m thanking God: for whipped cream, for French toast, and for Ryan, my partner in making God’s good gifts of home and vocation possible.

Perennial: A poem for Ryan on his birthday

jenmichel@me.com

tulip "How long have you been a writer?" someone recently asked me.

If you count the Sweet Valley High knockoff series my friend and I wrote in the fifth grade, I guess you can say it's been awhile.

I've become a writer for many different reasons, not least routine trips to the library growing up and the good fortune of having a writer father. I am grateful for a childhood filled with books and words and wordplay.

Recalling my journey, I began telling this practical stranger last weekend how my father always wrote a poem for my mother on the occasion of her birthday or their anniversary. He wrote in blank verse. The poems were short. Often, verbs would cascade in participle form — "loving, giving, helping," and I remember thinking he was pretty sly to give a poem rather than buy a gift. I imagined him dashing off the lines in the bathroom just before breakfast when he realized he'd forgotten the special day.

As a child, I didn't cherish how beautiful and tender those poems were. I thought flowers would have made the more thoughtful gift. I may have even, at times, considered him thoughtless to give something so seemingly easy.

But of course I don't see it that way now. And so I've written my own poem this year on the occasion of my husband's 41st birthday. I, too, have wanted him to know how much I love him. Perhaps he'll have wished for a new tennis racket or button-down shirt. Perhaps he'll think this poem a sly substitution. Perhaps he'll be sure I've cobbled together these lines in lieu of the card I usually forget to buy.

But words are what I can give best. And so this year, I want to give them to him.

The poem is short. There are no lists of verbs in participle form. In truth, I don't really know how to write a poem.

But he seemed worth the effort.

* * * * *

perennial

i bring home tomato plants in may, fall prey to the naiveté of yellow bloom. i promise to water but it's inattention i will pay, breaking promises and forcing drought. they'll die before july with the creep of neglect, begging for one delicious drink.

but your seed have i carried. your seed have i cultivated and borne. together, despite winters, we have resurrected twenty springs, and what can be lovelier than all that is perennial?

oh, for the grace of green-thumbery— given to tend for you one flowering lifetime.

to ryan, from jen april 30, 2015

Found Wanting: Amy Chaney, "I didn't want to be a coach's wife."

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. 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.”

Today Amy Chaney writes her story of desire.

* * * * *

I didn’t want to be a coach’s wife.

I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines watching someone else’s dream all come to fruition and mine get stocked away in a sealed up box long forgotten. I wanted to live overseas as a missionary but found myself in the land of sports, sports and more sports.

When my husband took a position as a high school football coach I pretended it would all be OK. Have you ever had one of those things you agree to in the “discussion” but when it actually plays out you can’t stop asking, “Why did I agree to this?” That was our first year of high school football. Spring training. Summer practices for 6 weeks. During the season it was a 7 day a week commitment: coaches meetings, practice everyday and games… long games; two in a row. Come on. Seriously?! “What did I agree to?”

I never really played sports. My brother and dad didn’t really play sports either. I was not used to the amount of time consumed by sports. I was drowning in responsibilities of keeping the house, the family (3 children at the time) and everything else all by myself while my husband gallivanted off to FOOTBALL. I became bitter and felt unloved, beaten out by a game centered around an odd shaped leather ball.

That first year was rough. The second year, a divine wind of change swept through my heart. I went to every game and watched my husband, really watched him. I saw the glow of a man who was created to coach. With the enthusiasm of a child walking for the first time, I saw the very best qualities of my husband coming out. He could critically think and scheme up creative plays. He could be an example of what a Godly man is and share his zeal for sports all at the same time. It was as natural as breathing to him. To top it off, the group of coaches he worked with were also men of integrity and honor.

What did my husband’s dream of being a coach have anything to do with my dreams? Although at first it seemed in complete competition with my own hopes and passions, it was not the case at all. Rallying behind my husband, cheering him on and supporting him in every way I could muster pushed my husband to be the best version of himself. Maybe I am not on the mission field yet but I am married to a man I admire and respect now more than ever. His response to my attitude change is simple, “I feel like there is nothing I can’t do when you support me.” I thought football would win my husband over and leave me stranded, alone and further away from my own pursuits. In reality football has brought us closer together, united and stronger as a couple more than I could have ever dreamed of.

I am a coach’s wife.

* * * * *

Amy Chaney

Amy Chaney, who has been writing since the fourth grade and currently just completed a one-year, handwritten letter-writing project; she also blogs at http://hearttohearten1by1.blogspot.com. She is a graduate of Wheaton College and resides in Batavia, Ill., with her husband and five children. She also works part time for Northwestern University.

I write about grace. (Try to live in it, too.) *Book update

jenmichel@me.com

I gave my husband a father’s day card for his birthday. Although he is a father - a wonderful father, this was not appreciated. I’ve since destroyed the evidence, can’t bear to hear him one more time refer to my kind and thoughtful card. I suppose I was hoping he’d ignore the rhyming references to “dad” and fail to notice the way I’d whited-out the “Happy Father’s Day!” and substituted in its place, “Happy Birthday!” (I may, in this particular instance, have underestimated the male powers of observation.)

I am a terrible wife. And I have reasons for being a terrible wife, although I won’t claim they are good ones. On the day of his birthday, I’d been writing. Most days now, I sit obediently at my desk for the quiet hours the children are in school, alternatively typing and wishing for something to say. Sometimes, if it’s going really badly, I putter in the kitchen, even put the dishes away.

On the day of said-birthday, I’d been betting on the idea that I had a birthday card already purchased for Ryan. But when it came time to look for it, I realized it was not a birthday card after all; it was a Father’s Day card.

That’s OK. Before getting the kids from school, I had already planned to stop by the cupcake shop. They’d sell birthday cards, right?

Wrong.

To make matters worse, the birthday card (Father’s Day card!) - which I did, I might add, lovingly inscribe to make up for my awfulness - ended up buried in the trunk of the car. (I confess: I was writing it at the school playground.) I couldn’t even find the birthday card (Father’s Day card!) in time for Ryan’s celebratory dinner (of leftover taco meat dressed up as nachos.)

I found it the next day, hand-delivered it with love.

(And you, too, wish you were married to me?)

I tell this story as preamble to a brief update on the book. How’s it going? Five chapters drafted, five to go. I think I’m finding my way into a better process, and I haven’t yet wanted to throw my laptop to the bottom of Lake Ontario. These are good signs.

Meanwhile, though, I’m giving my husband father’s day cards on the occasion of his birthday.

I wish it weren’t so hard to keep life in balance. But it is. And that's bids us towards grace.

“Grace is not only needed for the occasion of conversion, the moment we suddenly (or slowly) come to our senses and realize that we are spiritually bankrupt, having nothing to bring to God and everything to receive. Grace is also required for the long season of cultivated growth that follows. By grace we set out. By grace we are also sustained. Grace has as much to do about endings as it has to say about beginnings. It is a lifetime transaction.” (Excerpt from Chapter 3, whose title I still can’t land)

I write about grace - try to live in it, too.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

.

Eshet Chayil: Good news from Rachel Held Evans

jenmichel@me.com

There is much to say about Rachel Held Evans’s recently released book, The Year of Biblical Womanhood. So much, in fact, is already being said that I’m reticent to add more noise to that - spirited - conversation. (In full disclosure, I've pitched a piece to another blog that addresses some of the misguided assumptions of that conversation. Stay tuned.) But in case you’re not up on the debate and want to be, here are some fabulous reviews to read about Evans’s yearlong experiment at womanhood according to (what she calls) the standard of biblical literalism.

I may not agree with everything that these reviewers have said, but I think they present important points and represent some of the major dimensions of the debate.

New Testament Scholar Ben Witherington finds praise for The Year of Biblical Womanhood

Kathy Keller, at the Gospel Coalition blog, disputes Evans's approach

Rachel Held Evans responds to Kathy Keller

Matthew Anderson's even-handedly review at Mere Orthodoxy

Of course, what I suggest most vigorously is not that you read reviews but that you read the book. And why? Because if you're a Christian woman, you have a stake in the debate over Biblical womanhood. Evans doesn't say all there is to say; in fact, there is much she leaves out, and there are real problems with her approach and conclusion. But whether or not I agree or disagree with Evans, I concede that she figures importantly into this conversation.

And there are winsome and beautiful parts to what I would describe as an otherwise theologically troubled book. I find much on which I can agree with Evans. And most of all, I want to publicly thank her for assuaging the guilty Proverbs 31 conscience of many contemporary Christian women, under whose prescriptive weight we have flagged.

By exposing the myth that Proverbs 31 has meant to prescribe biblical womanhood, Evans reclaims its original intent: to praise women.

"Eshet chayil [woman of valour] is at its core a blessing - one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally. . . In Jewish culture, husbands commit each line of the poem to memory, so they can recite it to their wives at the Sabbath meal usually in a song.

I dig this interpretation - probably because I, like you, know my own failures intimately. I see weakness, rather than strength. I am attuned to my failures more than my successes. My inner voice chides and corrects, scolds like the finger-wagging mother that my mother never was but that I have become.

We need blessing, all of us, and this is fundamental to the gospel project. When God came to Abraham and preached the gospel, he said this: "I will bless you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Public blessing  - especially for the members of our very own families - is a great gift of love. It is an expression of the gospel of living water - it slakes our thirst for affirmation. We need to hear that more is true of us than failure and deficiency and falling short. We need grace.

Tomorrow, I'll continue a blog tradition and will bless a child who is celebrating his birthday.

"Mom, will you write on your blog about me tomorrow?" Nathan asked last night as he headed up to bed.

He must be looking forward to those words of blessing.

As would I.

Eshet chayil!

 

 

Anatomy of an Apology: The Business of Atonement

jenmichel@me.com

Kiernan and Wendy Stringer lead the discipleship ministry at our church, Grace Toronto. They're humble, authentic, and have loved Jesus through joy and loss. They are just the kind of people you want leading you - and the kind of people you want as friends. Wendy is my friend - and confidant. When we traveled together last winter for a writing retreat, I told her my entire life's repertoire of stories. Every. single. one. And she still likes me, which I take to mean that she, like Jesus, is full of forgiving grace. Wendy is a writer and speaker. (Shhh, but it's been months that I've been asking her to blog.) She's passionate about the gospel, and she's writing here this week about apologies. Because you're all super fantastic readers, consider leaving a comment: what spoke to you? rang true? nudged you towards God or simply closer to yourself? I know that would encourage Wendy. (Heck, if you want to also mention that she should be blogging, that would be completely up to you of course.)

Thanks in advance, friends. And if you'd like to contact Wendy, email me, and I'll make the connection.

* * * * *

Thanks for sticking around this week. Here's where we've been so far.

The Naked Truth: "There's something about an apology, about owning my crap, that just feels bad."

Saying I'm Sorry: "Sorry isn't good enough. Name it. Be specific. Hold no punches."

Mr. Deepwaters and Ms. Pushy Lass: "'Is there anything that I've missed or anything that you want to say to me?' I mentally sew my mouth shut while he answers."

The truth is owning my sin is about way more than just making that guy of mine like me again. It's about remaining in the truthfulness of who I am, what I've done, who Kiernan is and how he needs better. It gets me out of myself and into relationship, no more hiding or pretense.

This relationship matters too much and letting it slide or defending myself will not make me feel like everything's fine. My sin won't just go away if we both agree to act like it never happened.

The mess of it will fester if left to itself.

But even if I remember all these lessons (I rarely do) and I try my very best to make them work (again, rare) it guarantees nothing.

Learning from these lessons and following my own advice can not make everything ok. Everything is not ok.

Which reminds me of my second lesson and brings me to the seventh:

Seventh lesson, ask Jesus, the only one who could atone for this sin I've committed against my guy, and the only one who can make it right, to heal the wounds that I've inflicted. Preferably ask it out loud so my loved one can hear.

This is where hope comes. There are times when I have done or said something and I know, I went way too far this time. Not only is forgiveness unlikely but I could never make him well again, not after what I've done.

And at that point, I tend to despair.

But here is where the truth of the gospel touches down into my reality. Not only will I be forgiven for my sin against my guy, not only is it wiped away as though I never did anything wrong and only ever did what is right, but I can trust this same God to work my horrible sin, for good, in my guy's life. This is a lesson I'm still trying to learn.

 Nothing can separate Kiernan from the love of his Father, not even my wretchedness.

What if God uses even our messed up stuff for His plans? What if He takes the terrible things we do and the terrible things done to us and gives them meaning and purpose that transcends the ugliness and brokenness of it all? What if He was doing something beautiful while I was sinning?

What if, for my guy, somehow, God used my sin to make him whole?

The One who takes my worst sins against my loved guy and uses them to make him into the image of Christ. The One who will use the wrong things Kiernan endures at my hand to shape him for something life giving, transformative, God glorifying.

And I'm not trying to get out of anything here.

This is not me signing a permission form for myself so I can sin against others, but it is a comfort. When I know I can never make my sin right again, but Jesus will, I am comforted. All is not lost. I screwed up, but because of Jesus all is not lost.

Our sins against the one's we love highlights our inabilities, our flaws and our desperate condition. Though we bumble as we try to get an apology out, as we sob uncontrollably with snot and tears running down our faces, when we wrestle hard to talk about it honestly, we find that at some point, somehow, Jesus has brought us to the foot of the cross, and our whole aching self cries out: "Lord, who else can I go to? Only You have the words of eternal life!"

And He speaks over us and into us those words of eternal life. He speaks them into our sin wearied hearts and He makes promises to us and to those we have hurt. Promises of forgiveness and mercy, of love and presence, of taking all things broken and making them new.

 Lord, help me to pray for the healing of those I sin against and teach me to hope in a God who is so much bigger then the things I do to the people I love.

* * * * *

Thanks again to Wendy for all her insight here this week. She's a great writer, isn't she? You want her to blog, don't you? (Now look who's the pushy lass.) Next week, stay tuned for a return to some posts about calling. I don't think that dog is quite dead.

Blessings for your weekend. Grace and Peace.

Anatomy of an Apology: Mr. Deepwaters and Ms. Pushy Lass (Guest Post by Wendy Stringer)

jenmichel@me.com

Kiernan and Wendy Stringer lead the discipleship ministry at our church, Grace Toronto. They're humble, authentic, and have loved Jesus through joy and loss. They are just the kind of people you want leading you - and the kind of people you want as friends. Wendy is my friend - and confidant. When we traveled together last winter for a writing retreat, I told her my entire life's repertoire of stories. Every. single. one. And she still likes me, which I take to mean that she, like Jesus, is full of forgiving grace. Wendy is a writer and speaker. (Shhh, but it's been months that I've been asking her to blog.) She's passionate about the gospel, and she's writing here this week about apologies. Because you're all super fantastic readers, consider leaving a comment: what spoke to you? rang true? nudged you towards God or simply closer to yourself? I know that would encourage Wendy. (Heck, if you want to also mention that she should be blogging, that would be completely up to you of course.)

Thanks in advance, friends. And if you'd like to contact Wendy, email me, and I'll make the connection.

* * * * *

And so continues the excruciating journey of learning to talk the truth about the things I'm so ashamed of. Just a quick recap of yesterday's lessons learned in the most painful ways possible:

 Lesson one: A simple "sorry" will never be good enough. 

Lesson two: Grieve that I cannot fix my sin with my own words and deeds. 

Lesson three: Confess the wrong I've done. Get explicit.

And onto the fourth lesson: confess my motivation behind the sin, specifically. Ok, this does take a little digging and it is so undoing I'd often rather skip it, but my experience has been that my guy is more than willing to help me out here; if I can't think of what to say he's up for giving it a shot. You may want to pre-empt this too.

However, honestly, as unpleasant as it is, thinking about and talking out the why behind my sin has proven very helpful. To both of us.

So, back to our day of fighting and the self absorbed habit that Kiernan was calling me on. Here it is: when we argue I cut him off. He'll be mid thought, mid sentence, mid point and I've already decoded it, I've encoded, and I'm ready to tell him how he should think about things. I'm ready, he's taking too long to make his point, what I have to say is too important, so I interrupt.

And then he, "Mr. Deepwaters", wants to know why.

I always assumed that I did this because I'm a pushy lass and I like winning an argument. This is true. However when he  told me to "think about it" I did and I realized that there was something deep in my impulse to speak over him: the desperate, almost panicked need to be heard.

For many reasons (another time perhaps) I fear not having a voice that others would listen to. I am afraid of being missed and missing out. I am afraid of being unsafe and so I am my own biggest advocate for the things I need to feel like everything's ok.

Getting specific about the deeper motivations behind my sin made it possible for me to know myself, for Kiernan to know me and for us to get to the heart behind my sin of self absorption, rudeness and the need to win a fight.

Fifth lesson: acknowledge what my sin communicated to loved guy and how it hurt him.

My sin hurts the people I love. Being truthful about my sin includes being clear on how I wounded the other. I tell people all kinds of things when I sin against them, even if I'm not talking, which is, admittedly, rare.

For example, if I were to walk away from my guy in mid sentence and then proceed to ignore him for a period of time (no, of course I've never done that), I am telling him that his thoughts are garbage and he's not worth listening to. My guy is an influencer and wants to be heard almost as badly as I do so this "silencing" cuts him to the quick. It confirms for him what his fears often try and tell him: you have nothing to say that anyone should ever listen to.

When I tell him I know that my sin has communicated something very specific to him, something that has hurt him deeply and I am sorry, I am choosing to recognize his hurt rather than obsessing about how I can convince him to like me again. When I spend time thinking and talking about his hurt in all of this I tell him that I know this is not all about me.

It's about him too.

Sixth lesson, ask my loved guy to express his hurt and point of view (if he's ready). After I try and communicate to my loved guy how I have hurt him and how much I hate it I should really let him get a word in edgewise. Being the quiet guy that he is I shouldn't push him to speak and make nice before he's ready.

Once in a hardly ever while I'm brave enough to ask "Is there anything that I've missed or anything you want to say to me?" Sometimes he says no and forgives me right there. Other times he needs to add a thing or two and that's hard to swallow; I mentally sew my mouth shut while he does this.

Defensiveness and repentance are not bedfellows.

Tomorrow, we'll wrap up with how Jesus figures into this whole business of apologies.

Anatomy of An Apology: Saying "I'm Sorry" (Guest Post by Wendy Stringer)

jenmichel@me.com

Kiernan and Wendy Stringer lead the discipleship ministry at our church, Grace Toronto. They're humble, authentic, and have loved Jesus through joy and loss. They are just the kind of people you want leading you - and the kind of people you want as friends. Wendy is my friend - and confidant. When we traveled together last winter for a writing retreat, I told her my entire life's repertoire of stories. Every. single. one. And she still likes me, which I take to mean that she, like Jesus, is full of forgiving grace. Wendy is a writer and speaker. (Shhh, but it's been months that I've been asking her to blog.) She's passionate about the gospel, and she's writing here this week about apologies. Because you're all super fantastic readers, consider leaving a comment: what spoke to you? rang true? nudged you towards God or simply closer to yourself? I know that would encourage Wendy. (Heck, if you want to also mention that she should be blogging, that would be completely up to you of course.)

Thanks in advance, friends. And if you'd like to contact Wendy, email me, and I'll make the connection.

* * * * *

Yesterday, I began by sharing how someone commented that my husband, Kiernan and I, had a "graduate marriage." I was pleased that anyone out there thought I was lookin' good. Imagine my chargrin when Kiernan and I woke up the next day fighting, spent the day fighting and went to bed fighting - and it was my fault.

Here are the first three lessons I'm still learning, the hard way, about apologies.

First lesson: a simple "sorry" will never be good enough, especially if the intonation I use makes it sound like I'm cussing.  Just "sorry" seems to say: "something went wrong here and I have no idea how to talk about it". 

That said, "forgive me" is worse. "Forgive me" is the manipulative imperative I give when I know I've really screwed up, he's mad, and I can't fix it. "I command you to have mercy on me." Turns out he does not obey my commandments.

It has to be a question. Repentance asks, it does not demand.

And I know, "I am sorry, will you please forgive me?" is a very scary thing to ask. What if he says he won't? What if he does but only 'cause he knows he should? What if he's still really mad after I ask him to forgive me?

Which brings me to the second lesson, and maybe it should have been the first: grieve over the fact that I can't atone for this sin and I can't fix it with my words or my deeds.

This, for me, the compulsive fixer, is the terrible part. I can not make my sin right. I can not fix the damages that my angry words or my ugly deeds are responsible for. When I opened this mouth of mine and bit at my loved one there was no secret remedy in my medicine cabinet that I could apply to make him better. Damage done and I don't have anything to make him whole again. My apology, my sorrow, my regrets, no matter how sincere or eloquently expressed, can not make this better. My sin hurts the people I love.

God help me to grieve it.

Third lesson: confess the wrong that I have done. Get explicit.  Although a good beginning, "I'm sorry will you please forgive me?", on it's own, will not be enough. Although unbelievably humiliating I need to be really frank about what I did that was ugly and what hurt him so much.

I'll need to wade into the filth of it, willing to get the dirty truth out. Uncomfortable as this is, it is better than my loved person calling me on my shoddy apology and telling me what's really what. You can pre-empt this.

Although that shouldn't be your motivation, it is a perk.

I don't have to dig to deep here. If I told him he's stupid then I know exactly what I need to confess. If I broke a promise I made I don't need a manual to figure out where I went wrong.

Name it. Be specific. Hold no punches.

And as an aside, I feel I should mention, the times I've said something like: "I am really sorry that you got so worked up about what I said"  were not awesome.

At this point my loved one's reaction to my sin is not fair game; leave that part out.

Part III: Tomorrow, three more lessons to come about apologies. Thanks for reading along with me here this week.

Anatomy of An Apology: The Naked Truth (Guest Post by Wendy Stringer)

jenmichel@me.com

Kiernan and Wendy Stringer lead the discipleship ministry at our church, Grace Toronto. They're humble, authentic, and have loved Jesus through joy and loss. They are just the kind of people you want leading you - and the kind of people you want as friends. Wendy is my friend - and confidant. When we traveled together last winter for a writing retreat, I told her my entire life's repertoire of stories. Every. single. one. And she still likes me, which I take to mean that she, like Jesus, is full of forgiving grace. Wendy is a writer and speaker. (Shhh, but it's been months that I've been asking her to blog.) She's passionate about the gospel, and she's writing here this week about apologies. Because you're all super fantastic readers, consider leaving a comment: what spoke to you? rang true? nudged you towards God or simply closer to yourself? I know that would encourage Wendy. (Heck, if you want to also mention that she should be blogging, that would be completely up to you of course.)

Thanks in advance, friends. And if you'd like to contact Wendy, email me, and I'll make the connection.

* * * * *

On Tuesday night friends of ours told Kiernan and I we have a "graduate marriage". The thoughts running through my mind were immediately complicated and in opposition to one another.

First off, I felt like a total fake. After 20+ years together I know all the sneaky, ugly, sore spots of our marriage and I'm pretty sure that in my shame for our sins as a couple I have been complicit in leading people to think our marriage is something it's not. I can be such a fraud.

However, I was also pleased that anyone out there thinks I'm lookin' good. The idea that our marriage might appear pretty rock solid is, well, a nice idea. I liked it and I nursed it. I want to be noticeably better than other people. Perverse but true.

But another part of me felt lucky that the guy I've known for 23 years still makes me laugh and I'm not sick of him yet. I'm not sure if that's what equals a "graduate marriage", but I thought it might be a start.

So imagine my chagrin yesterday when Kiernan and I woke up fighting, spent the day fighting and went to bed fighting.

 Graduate marriage my @$$! From the school of failure maybe.

Without exposing the entire embarrassment that is my flawed self I will tell you that at 11:00 last night the argument was left with Kiernan challenging me on a particular, self centered habit and asking: Why do you do this? 

Long awkward pause where I silently seethe and call him every dirty name in the book for winning this argument by exposing my sin in such an inopportune way and then finally I answer: I don't know.

Well, you should think about it, he says. End of discussion. I guess.

So when my 12 year old asked me this morning if Dad and I had made it right, if we had "made up", I might have been a little defensive. Because why should I be the one to shame myself first? Why's the onus on me kid? And am I over sensitive or am I right to read in her question the tacit assumption that the fight was my fault?

Driving in to work there was deadly quiet and I actually wanted to own my bit and see this thing done because I really like the guy and I don't want to have anything between us.

And maybe also because I am a compulsive fixer.

But when that silence stretches out before me it's like bloody war in my mind, talking myself in and out of being the one to start the conversation. Wanting to because I think it will draw us back into each other but not wanting to because I'm afraid that maybe it won't. I probably went too far this time.

There's something about an apology, about owning my crap, that just feels bad. Stripping down to the naked truth of sin and guilt is so ugly and uncomfortable and it makes me want to run and hide. In the moments of trying to get those words out nothing about it makes me feel good.

That said, we made up. I offered a fine apology (read the self-mockery that is intended here) and we made up.

But the whole thing got me thinking. After 20+ years of being together and fighting with the person I love I've had to apologize a lot. And after many bad attempts at contrition I've learned a little about what doesn't work, what's a cop out and what "sorry" doesn't look like.

 I've learned a few hard lessons. 

Now lessons mind you, not a "to-do list". Not a program to follow or more hoops to jump through. Not "if you do this everything will be sunshiny and happy". Not "if you don't do this your relationships will run bankrupt".

Just lessons, learned the hard way.

Just a simple recognition that even when I love people I hurt them, and while I can't change that, I want to learn to talk about it in a way that's honest. So, over the next few days, I will utterly humiliate myself and share with you my mistakes and the things I'm learning in spite of myself.

See you tomorrow.

I Love This Man (and how good husbands help fight panic)

jenmichel@me.com

I love this man. I imagined he would have been proud of the spreadsheet I had been working on. My husband, Ryan, is an actuary, and life, according to actuaries, is best handled with spreadsheets and mathematical models.

It is Sunday morning, and I am spending the morning hours of quiet in extended Scripture reading and prayer. As I’ve begun this new season (five children in school, me at home during the week with hours of quiet strung together), I’ve wanted to listen to God, clarify what He’s asking of me, and remain sane in my expectations of myself.

Because it’s been many times that I have confused hearing from God with megalomaniac delusions.

Shouldering the impossible is ONLY a good idea when you’re quite certain it’s something to which you’ve been called. If, on the other hand, you’ve willingly signed yourself up for madness, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself when the multiple plates you’ve tried to keep alight come crashing at your feet.

Determined that I would NOT do this, not spin one plate too many, I’d come up with this brilliant plan:  I would tally the hours I’d have to myself while the kids were at school and subtract the necessary time for keeping up with laundry, housework, grocery shopping, cooking (in addition to a few personal pleasures like exercise and coffee dates with friends). What was leftover could be reasonably dedicated to other pursuits (namely, writing.)

Yes, I admit: this is my OCD self on steroids.

And here’s is a modified version of the facts and figures of my life:

30 hours

Weekly total

- 3 hours

Exercise

- 2 hours

Groceries

- 2.5 hours

Housework

-2 hours

Laundry

-2.5 hours

Reading

- 3 hours

Coffee with friends

- 4 hours

Cooking

11 hours

????

11 hours left for writing?

My heart knotted. It wasn’t as much time as I expected to have.

I panicked, rethinking all my plans to write a book this year (in addition to the two issues for Today in the Word for which I’m already slotted and the various other articles I also need to be writing). I concluded that book writing was IMPOSSIBLE, muttering questions to myself like, why was I planning to attempt anything beyond the care of my family and didn’t I remember that we had FIVE kids?

Later that morning, I stood at the bathroom mirror, admitting to Ryan that I was “feeling a little bit of anxiety.” (Just a teeny bit.)

“Why?” Confused, he was thinking that school had just begun. Hadn’t I reached the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel?

“Because I sat down this morning, took a hard look at the time I would really have to dedicate to writing this year and realized that it’s not that much. I’m kidding myself to think I can get a book written this year.”

He paused, like all good men do, when they need to calculate how best to handle their wives teetering in a state of emotional fragility. (He’s not been fooled that I am feeling only a little anxious.)

“Why don’t you just see how this week goes?”

Thud. Sanity lands at my feet.

You mean, not have a panic attack before the actual week has begun?

You mean, wait to see however accurately or inaccurately my spreadsheet reflects the week’s reality?

You mean, keep cool because the kids have been in school ONLY ONE DAY SO FAR and there are 179 days ahead of me?

Oh, yeah.

I love this man.

 

Calling, Day 6: Marriage and Calling

jenmichel@me.com

We married when we were 22. That was sixteen years ago today, and what can I say about traveling so long through life with someone you have never once considered that you didn’t love? The steadfast sweetness of this relationship is not so much pizzazz but a kind of rhythmic goodness that I have learned to count on. Yesterday, Ryan walks through the door, and when I find his eyes, we smile. Coming closer, we hug, kiss, and it’s a scene our children are used to. Whenever those moments of embrace stretch longer than normal, there is the collective, “Ew, gross!’ and “Love scene!” and “Black-masked love birds!” that our children pronounce with the apparent horror of having to witness their parents’ tenderness. (And secretly, of course, they’re just happy to know all is well with mom and dad.) Marriage is unbelievably funny. It keeps unfolding, year after year, surprising you with the things about yourselves and about your relationship that you've never before noticed. I find there to be more surprises than I anticipated, even though Ryan and I are so unbelievably well-paired, compatible in most everything. We fight rarely, finding it usually easier and more natural to agree.

But calling has been for us one of the most challenging aspects of our relationship. Because we function as a unit, there is an essential kind of agreement that we must always reach about our priorities. But because our unit is made up of two very different, component parts, it takes willingness, listening, and ever-increasing surrender to hammer out this agreement and release one another to our respective callings.

Together, we are called to love each other and make this marriage work. Both of us realize that all other callings enfold themselves in the vows of richer, poorer, better, worse. Secondarily, we are also called to love and nurture and discipline our children. And beyond the confines of our family, Ryan and I partner together to be neighbors in our geographical community and active participants in our community of faith. Gratefully, we both share an eagerness to faithfully serve in all of these ways.

Individually, however, we are called to much different things. Our time in Canada has confirmed for Ryan that he is meant for leadership in the corporate sector. He leads humbly and confidently, wishing to embody the servant leadership model of Jesus. But I can attest that it has not always been easy for me to release him to this calling.

After he had finished eight years of actuarial exams, he announced that he wanted to do an MBA, to which I promptly and definitively said, “Absolutely not.” I dug my heels in, reasoned to myself and maybe to God that Ryan was asking too much. It wasn’t so long ago that I remembered the weeks after the birth of our first child, Audrey, when Ryan came home from work, ate dinner, and disappeared to the local library. For a long time, I resented that he sat for that actuarial exam, which came on the heels of the birth of our first child, its own cataclysmic shifting of our universe.

I did so much alone those years of exams. And I felt now that they were finished that I deserved to have him home. I did not want to share any more of his time. Graduate school was a firm NO.

Or was it? Because I can remember one Sunday worship service where I felt God speaking to me on this very subject and asking of me this very pointed question: “Would you hold Ryan back from the things that I have called him to?” And I guess if you put it that way, God, the answer is no. No, I wouldn’t hold him back.

And yes, six months later, we had moved from Ohio back to Chicago into the home of my in-laws, me just three weeks away from delivering our third child. And yes, there was to be more aloneness on my horizon as he worked and did graduate school in the evenings.

I can be honest to say that 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.

To which I now say that I have asked Ryan to bear some weight for me. To do this. To write and this year, by God’s grace, to finish a book. He sent me to a week’s long writer’s retreat this past February, staying home from work six days by himself with the children, getting kids to school and dinner on the table. Last fall, when I told him that I felt nudged towards more writing, I told him I would need a cleaning lady to free up some time. It was done. And while I often feel selfish to ask of him anything, I know that is part and parcel of the interconnectedness of marriage and calling. We grow in intimacy as we grow in dependence, mutually needing each other.

And calling, while it’s a giving, is also a receiving. In marriage, I believe it’s receiving the support (material, physical, emotional, spiritual) from our spouse to fulfill the giving that has been required of us elsewhere.

By unexpected providence, we’ve hit a sweet spot at sixteen years. Ryan has a position at work that well suits his calling. And his work, which has brought us to Canada, has given us the opportunity to send our children to a school we like and feel confident in. And this decision, freeing me from my former responsibilities to homeschool, grants me the time to write.

I am extraordinarily grateful for this current confluence of calling, these rivers of responsibility, which for now, placidly run alongside the other.

Happy anniversary to my husband of sixteen years. You are the only man I’ve long admired and loved.

 

When you're afraid

jenmichel@me.com

I woke this morning. The first words I heard were these: surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. These are words to anchor us whenever tomorrow is uncertain, whenever fear breathes hot at our neck.

And they are words not only of promise meant for me to clutch and hoard; they are words of calling, God breathing life into the dust of these bones.

Always, be the blessing you receive.

"The story of the manna gathered and set aside by the Hebrews is deeply significant. It so happened that the manna rotted when it was kept. And perhaps this means that all spiritual reading which is not consumed - by prayer and by words - ends by causing a sort of rotting inside us. You die with a head full of fine sayings and a perfectly empty heart." - Julian Green, Diaries

Choose goodness and mercy, in your closest, most intimate relationships - even marriage on days when you feel bruised by misunderstanding, want simply to wallow in the mud of your self-pity. Choose goodness and mercy, saying sorry like you mean it, giving away full and free forgiveness.

Choose goodness and mercy because this is the topography of God's landscape, and there is no better place to put your feet.

 

Who are you blaming? (Sin and its revisionist tendencies)

jenmichel@me.com

I don’t think it often makes sense, doing what God calls you to do. It’s only ever in the looking back that puzzle pieces of life experiences and choices begin to frame any kind of clear picture. The demand for sense-making is human: and God isn’t in the business of making sense. The looking back is such an important part of faith. I believe in keeping our stories. I believe in retracing steps and finding patterns submerged there in the waters of days lived. I believe we live tomorrow better when we’ve thought a little more deeply about yesterday.

But sin has its revisionist tendencies. Your story, my story, are threatened by our interpretive hands. What is it that we want to believe about the days that cannot be erased or edited? Where has God been in the middle of it all?

And who do we find ourselves blaming?

I don’t know that it initially made sense to take up a call to write. I suppose the sense it made was that writing was something I had long done. The slice of confusion was: write about what? write for whom? write on what canvas?

In a month’s time, I was writing here for me. For you. Telling you my story. But it’s days like today that I wish I was not, not when my head is dulled by the sound of our argument last night. It is hard to pray. Hard to write.

Good. This is good. Sit down and face the truth. That’s was writing is. You want the truth because the best kind of writing is the naked truth. And you will tell the truth as it leaks straight out of the ends of your fingers. It will, without fail, surprise you.

I did my fair share of blaming last night, made my revisionist accounting of history, all because he had burst out, “You spent $15 on the tollway today?” Yes, it was in the middle of rush-hour, and before we left town, I needed to take the gerbils to our friends’ house out in the suburbs. And sure, I saved myself over an hour taking the near-empty tollway.

His question explodes, and the vortex of blame swirls. A tornado is birthed: I am spitting something ridiculous about the unfairness of my life and the economics of it all, quoting whole sentences from the feminist novel which must have been chafing under my skin, telling him that for eleven years now I’ve been home with children, making nickels and quarters for the little bit of writing I’ve done, and I can’t spend FIFTEEN DOLLARS if I want to? And what is it that he’s wanted and hasn’t gotten, all those years I did the heavy-lifting at home when he was taking actuarial exams and getting through graduate school?

He asks what it is that I’ve sacrificed.

EVERYTHING.

(Do not trust your generalizations.)

I write this morning to settle myself, to pick up the pieces after the storm and prepare for the apology I know I must make. Because I don’t think I meant much of what I said last night. It wasn’t about the fifteen dollars.

Something else is bothering me. I know it because I ate six chicken fingers last night at the restaurant, literally gorged myself until I felt I would almost vomit. And before bed, I reached into the fridge, sliding a seventh from the box of leftovers we brought home. I ate it, too.

I am soothing something.

Fear. I am afraid. I am afraid of the future, afraid of having to move. Again. For all the changes we’ve made and loved, I think I have also wanted all my life to belong, to be permanent, to send thick roots down into soil. I have wanted to stay, and I’m afraid we won’t. Stay. Anywhere.

It’s easiest to blame him.

(And thankfully he’s on my subscriber list because could this count for an apology?)

It can’t, and I know that. I promise you there will be a phone call this morning. There’s a love story in the making, and apologies are critical scenes. Sixteen years of marriage: we’ve been building something that matters, and whenever there is a storm, it's true that, whatever broken branches and littered leaves our words have scattered, something always stands the next day.

Hope.

 

How-to Friday: Be a Woman

jenmichel@me.com

(We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for the second in a two-part series concerning gender issues in the church.) I have been put up to the topic of Biblical femininity by my pastor. I spoke with him by phone yesterday for a little over a half an hour after he reviewed  the essay I sent him (and posted here yesterday) regarding John Piper's recent comments about Christianity's necessarily "masculine" feel. I am grateful for my pastor's carefully reading of that essay as well as his courage to voice his criticism and push back. I believe that our theological thinking and study is best done in this way -  in community and dialogue. I grant it is not easy; quite the contrary. It is complicated and charged with emotion. Both he and I shared our own sense of outrage - me, over Piper's comments, him over some of my own biases and exegetical missteps.

I fear I have waded into waters deeper than I imagined. The gender issues debate is not new for me: I went to Wheaton College, a Christian college which is routinely criticized for its liberal leanings. And it was indeed at Wheaton that I had (and enjoyed) my first taste of feminism. I remember how both Ryan and I had both cheered Ruth Tucker on when she stood opposite John Piper in an auditorium as they debated gender roles, she defending an egalitarian view.

Ryan and I married happily egalitarian - believing that male and female were equal in Christ, neither having any unique roles or responsibility.

Gradually, that shifted to a complementarian understanding of Scripture. I cannot remember at what moment exactly, except that perhaps living together and working out the mechanics of marriage on the ground forced us to keep looking back to the Scriptures and meet with stubborn passages like Ephesians 5. Why are women called to submit? Why are men called to love? Why is Christ compared to the husband, the wife compared to the church? The texts seem to indicate real differences not easily argued away. 1 Corinthians 11 was also a turning point for me: "The head of Christ is God." The passage teaches that within the Trinity, Christ submits to God. And for eight years, I've been writing for a devotional publication, a job for which I am asked to do careful Bible study and reflection. Years back, I wrote an issue on 1 and 2 Timothy, and again, I was faced to think through more difficult, thorny passages regarding the roles of women.

It is really not my intention to argue for either view here, only to explain a little of our own path. My pastor challenged me to the topic of Biblical femininity for a number of reasons.

1. It is very difficult to moderate the discussion when you are male. I couldn't agree more, and to be honest, that may have been in part why I reacted so strongly to what Piper said. We need women also speaking up and weighing in.

2. There are gender distinctions that are universally true if we hold to the Biblical account that He created us, male and female, and understand gender distinctions, not as cultural constructs or products of patriarchy, but as right and fitting differences according to the purposes of God. This is the view of John Stott, who was very influential in my evolution of thinking on this issue a number of years ago. I came to agree with him.

3. Both men and women share a great deal of confusion on this issue, and it has led to paralysis in the church, neither men nor women understanding what they can and should do. This is an unfortunate tying of our hands.

I realize that until this point, I said nothing concrete about what it means to be a godly woman. The truth is, I can't. I don't know that I've really clearly thought this through. I will, however, stick my neck out and say why I think this is an important issue.

1. The family is in a state of deterioration. Just today in the New York Times, there was an article about the rising incidence of divorce for people over the age of 50. And if you read my blog earlier this week, I also commented on the rising trend of people who choose not to marry, preferring to live alone. This deserves a response from the church, where marriage and family are obviously to be highly valued. If we don't see at least some correlation between the confusion on gender roles and the waning support of the family, I think we've missed something significant.

2. Feminism hasn't lived up to its promises. Please here me say that I believe women are gifted and capable to do a great many things. Hello! I am one. But I do not believe that women can work and tend to their families and pursue their hobbies and run for public office and volunteer in the children's classroom and serve at their local church. The do-it-all pill women have swallowed makes for feeling terrifically exhausted and chronically guilty. There has got to be a better way than this path cleared for us by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinham.

3. The roles of wife and mother, disdained as they might be by our culture, are sacred  responsibilities. The church needs to recapture language for helping us understand these roles and find joy and purpose in them. I am one who has very rarely, if ever, heard clear teaching about this. Where in my church growing up and at the Christian college I attended was I challenged to see these roles as good and God-given? This omission was serious, causing me not less than a few growing pains on my journey.

4. Women share and enjoy the spiritual gift of teaching. I realize that this debate hits me hardest here, and I understand firsthand the clear tension between points 3 and 4. How and when is it appropriate for women to exercise this gift? Back to an earlier point where I agreed that men find it difficult to moderate this debate, it must also be acknowledged that as women who affirm a complementarian view, we have to necessarily look to our male leaders to find suitable places for us to exercise this gift. My greatest fear? That they won't. That they don't find it an urgent enough issue. Scot McKnight's ebook, Junia is Not Alone, makes the provocative claim that we have actually silenced women in our churches, and he cites a number of Biblical and historical examples of women, first of all Junia, female "apostle" cited in Romans 16:7. I am not necessarily advocating his view, but I do think it's compelling enough to consider.

There you have it folks. I hope to be back to our regularly scheduled, lighter content fare on Monday. I do actually need to do some laundry and get a little more sleep.

 

 

 

 

What 15 years can teach you

jenmichel@me.com

In the years when I taught writing at the community college, I'll admit to having given notoriously bad advice. I'd hailed the merits of the semi-colon. Called it punctuation's sleight of hand. But  what was deft about cramming details into the bulging suitcases I called sentences? I'd been ponderous and self-inflated back then, forcing my readers through indented bogs of sludge.

I wish I had my students back in neat little rows in front of me. I'd revise all my advice, tell them that I'd known nothing back then. It would take 15 years just to get the elemental stuff figured out.

That goes for marriage, too. Call the first 15 years a round of preliminaries. In the looking back, you're embarrassed to discover how little you've known and the fool you've been all those years.

Ryan and I did so many things wrong in the first years of our marriage. In the years before we had children, we let form between us the creeping separateness against which we'd been warned. We'd married young; we were only 22. Too young to have brought any real baggage of habit into our marriage, too naive to understand that we were forming with our own hands the weights we'd later carry.

In the early years, our marriage suffered a quiet kind of neglect.

Having children for many couples is a strain they may not have anticipated. The vacations they'd grown used to taking, the lazy pajama mornings that Saturdays have always been, all the spontaneous invitations to dinner and evenings out; these are the leisures that evaporate when parenthood first dawns. That baby, packaged so small, wreaks unimaginable havoc, at least initially.

For us, it worked differently. We'd spent our twenties adding letters behind our names. Pre-parenthood had its blazing intensity - and its separateness. So when we brought Audrey home in the spring of 2001, there began a forced (but welcome) rethreading of our time and our priorities. Home and family exerted a beautiful centripetal force, hugging us close together. Those first years of parenthood saw us dusting off our marriage.

From the beginning, ours has been the conventional arrangement: husband working, wife managing the home and the children. I haven't ever wanted it otherwise. When the nannies stroll past my house pushing the prams of the strangers they care for, I remember what an unimaginable privilege these years have been. I do not regret the choice we made together. I have now been home almost eleven years.

Which isn't to say that I've put to rest all my struggling to make sense of what a godly mother is and does. Which doesn't mean that I now find it easy to make peace with these limits that are mine.

I wonder what the writing means in it all, how to even dare dream of taking the next year to begin a book. There are days I feel utterly ridiculous, wishing I'd just get the laundry done rather than wrangle here with these words.

I leave for a writing retreat in less than a week. Five days disentangled from meals and laundry and chauffering. It is a gracious gift from this husband of mine, the man to whom I've entrusted the secrets of my dreaming.

I'll admit there are things we've definitely gotten wrong in the past. There are seasons and separateness I'd now revise. But 15 years teaches you something, even to the most obtuse. There are some things we're starting to get right: the leaning, the trusting, and the vocabulary of intimacy that is daring and tremulous.