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Jen Pollock Michel

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Filtering by Category: Family

Where I Belong (Guest Post by Lina Abujamra)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for I’ve never felt like I belonged.

There’s a small park near my house. It sits in the middle of an average suburban neighborhood and has a man-made pond with a couple of rickety benches along the trail that spans its perimeter. It has a forlorn feeling about it. When a few days go by without rain the pond starts to evaporate, yet for the handful of geese in the neighborhood, it’s home. I watch as they waddle around the trodden path oblivious to the decrepit look of their surroundings. Even after the last of the birds have migrated south this group of geese remains undaunted by the now frozen tundra.

Every spring there is a fishing competition at the pond hosted by our neighborhood. I see the sign advertising the event and am tempted to roll my eyes at its pretentiousness. But on the day of the event I watch as kids stream in from all over, faces hopeful and totes worthy of a fishing competition in the Keys. They are oblivious to their surroundings as they settle in for a day of fun.

I recently went back to Beirut, Lebanon for a visit after almost 30 years away. I was anxious to visit our home in the building on Verdun Street. I remember it being a mansion. My parents used to sit on the balcony every morning and every evening drinking their Turkish coffee while my three siblings and I played on the balcony swing. Despite the war outside our home, we were undaunted and hopeful, safe in our mansion on Verdun Street.

West Beirut in the 70s and 80s was not for the weak in heart and far from a center for evangelicalism. We were a few of the handful of Christ followers and felt it on the playground of the school we attended. We felt it as we drove down the war torn streets to and from our piano and ballet lessons. We felt it as we listened to the sounds of the early morning call to prayer. We felt it as we sang the old hymns in our tiny church building. But later on we’d make our way home to our mansion on Verdun street and we felt safe. For a moment in time, we belonged, undaunted and hopeful.

I stand in front of the building on Verdun Street and look up at the old balcony. The mansion has shrunk. The building is older, more worn out than I remember it to be. The swing is gone. So much has happened since those days on Verdun Street. I’m American now. My mother still drinks coffee in the morning and the evening, but she is alone now. I, too, am alone in a home of my own. I strain and listen to the afternoon prayers, a reminder that I still don’t belong.

Much later, I sit on a plane hollow inside. I’m not always sure who I am anymore. I now live in a suburban neighborhood with a decrepit pond that boasts a fishing competition for the hopeful. I open God’s word and read a familiar passage. The sound of the turning pages is the only familiar noise that I hear. For a moment I feel like I’m home and it dawns on me. This isn’t home, but it will do for now. Someday I’ll finally make it home and I will find a mansion waiting for me.

Until then I’m undaunted and hopeful. I’m going home, and someday I’ll finally belong.


sarahcarterstudio_lina2015-7722resolvedLina was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, and now calls Chicago home. She has written three books: Thrive: The Single Life as God Intended and Stripped: When God’s Call Turns from Yes to Why Me? both published by Moody Press, and Resolved: 10 ways to Stand Strong and Live What You Believe by Baker House Publishers.  Find out more about Lina and her ministry here: livingwithpower.org, on TwitterInstagram, or on Itunes Podcasts.

390 High Street, Bath, Maine (Guest Post by Meadow Rue Merrill)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for He carried half of our house on his broad, twenty-something shoulders, one concrete cinderblock and stack of framing boards and bundle of roofing shingles at a time.  To the twenty-by-fifteen foot crawl space he’d dug with his dad earlier that summer.

It was our first house, a snug New Englander on half an acre in Bath, Maine’s smallest city.  My husband, Dana, built much of it himself, adding rooms to fit our growing family the way a snail builds its shell, winding a layer of soft calcium around itself to make room for its budding body. Two boys and a girl—that had always been my dream. Then someday we would adopt a beautiful brown baby from Africa.

The Thanksgiving we moved in with our energetic nine-month-old son, our lives were just beginning. We’d been married four years and were eager to discover what God had in store. Our 1,200-square-foot house was small—two rooms downstairs; three up.  But our dreams were big, and so the following summer we began adding on.

We thought we’d have the full two-story addition done in a couple of months. But the work took so much more time and money than we expected, Dana finished the upstairs bedroom nearly two years later, just in time for me to give birth to our second son.

By the time our daughter arrived three years later, only the downstairs hall remained unfinished. Two boys and a girl. My dream had come true. And then—miracle of miracles—we met Ruth, a beautiful brown baby born in Uganda, abandoned at birth, and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. After spending much of her first year in a children’s home, Ruth arrived in Maine for six months of physical therapy. We met her through friends and decided to adopt.

The day the social worker arrived to complete our home study, only a patch of flooring was unfinished. Had we not begun six years earlier, we never would have had room to adopt. The original house would have been too small for the needed number of beds. But God knew. Just as he knew that ours was the right home for Ruth, with active, older siblings to bring her toys, read her stories, decorate her wheelchair like a carriage and pull her all over the house while she squealed in excitement.

We ended up welcoming two more children into that home, vastly exceeding even my expectations for our growing family. But Dana had built our shell well, with enough chambers for everyone. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and first-steps and holidays. We welcomed friends and family, and struggled and fought and endured grave disappointments and then a sudden, devastating loss. To survive, we had to move.

I loved our home, our neighbors, our city. I loved the memories we had there, but for some wounds to heal, it is necessary to withdraw, to seek sanctuary, to rest deep. Without warning, Ruth had been taken away by a condition that neither we—nor most of the doctors who treated her—had ever heard of. The same broad shoulders that built our house, held me in bed each night as I wept. Desperate to protect what remained, we found a little fixer-upper in a nearby farming town. Two rooms downstairs, three up, with lots of work to be done.

“If we don’t like it, we’ll move,” I told Dana.

“I don’t know if I have another move in me,” he said.

And I knew what he meant, not the actual moving, but the hammering and hauling. The striving to make it fit. My husband is as faithful and hardworking as they come. But he is tired. We both are tired. Hearts worn thin. Souls stretched to breaking. That is why I take such comfort, knowing that even while we are struggling here—with our needs and our dreams, with our losses and our griefs, Christ himself is working on a home for us.

"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also,” Jesus said in John 14:3.

That where he is—that where Ruth is, and others we have lost—we’ll be together again. Such a coil of rooms it must be, not formed of fragile calcium or concrete blocks or easily shattered hearts—but of love, spiralling out to eternity.


Meadomeadow-rue-merrillw Rue Merrill writes and reflects on God’s presence in her ordinary life from a little house in the big woods of Mid-coast Maine. Her memoir, Redeeming Ruth, releases in May 2017 with Hendrickson Publishers. Find her at www.meadowrue.com.

The Grace of One Loo (Guest Post by Katherine Willis Pershey)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for Home for me is, and I hope shall be for some time to come, a charming little Dutch colonial in a quaint village many affectionately call “Mayberry”. We love where we live. We can walk to the girls’ elementary school, to our beloved church, to a family-friendly restaurant where you can snack on fresh hot pretzels while you wait for your meal. We know and love our neighbors, and frequently swap favors and share meals together.

Our house itself is cozy. Try as I might, it’s rarely tidy, but rather cluttered with solitary socks, piles of correspondence, and the occasional half-dressed Barbie doll. Our home is - well, homey.

The four of us share one bathroom. For the last few summers my mother-in-law has come for extended stays to care for the girls and escape the Arizona heat. When she’s in town, the people-to-bathrooms ratio becomes 5:1. A nearby house has 7 bathrooms; we would need to be housing a whopping 35 people each summer to maintain the same people-to-bathrooms ratio, or a more modest 28 people during the school year.

Sometimes I worry that it’s not normal to be so acutely aware of bathrooms-to-people ratios. I clearly covet my neighbor’s loo.

Having one bathroom isn’t always comfortable. We often must quickly assess which of us needs the facilities most urgently, and wait our turn. We have precious little privacy, and as the girls get older this will only get more complicated. Not long ago we got an estimate to put a bathroom in the unfinished basement. We confirmed what I suspected: we can’t afford to do it. But even if we managed to save up enough to pay the plumber, I’m not sure I would go through with it. Which is not to say I don’t pine for another toilet. I do. It’s just that this house was built in 1929; for 87 years, families have lived with the constraint of sharing one place to bathe, brush teeth, and relieve themselves.

We aren’t the only house in town with one bathroom, though the older and smaller houses are torn down at an alarming rate and you can be darn sure that the large homes constructed in their wake are generously appointed with master bath suites.

I’ve been praying about this, realizing that my covetousness was becoming a problem. I received a humbling nudge from the Holy Spirit to remember this simple truth: that we have access to clean water and indoor plumbing at all is a profound privilege. At least, I think this was a nudge from the Holy Spirit - I tend to believe that whenever I am moved to remember the poor with compassion, the Spirit has been on the move.

Without casting aspersions on my neighbors, who am I to spend my treasure on a half bath? I reckon I would be stepping over Lazarus every time I crossed the threshold. Instead of comparing faucets and paint chips, I’ve been researching mission organizations that focus on bringing clean drinking water to communities in need.

Home is where we are formed in both virtue and vice. I’m grateful that our solitary bathroom doubles as a workshop for learning patience, courtesy, and generosity.


katherine-persheyvery-married

Katherine Willis Pershey is an associate pastor of the First Congregational Church of Western Springs. She is the author of Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family and Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity, which will be published by Herald Press on September 27, 2016. 

211 East Brenner Street, Hinsdale, Illinois (Guest Post by Lara Krupicka)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long forIn my childhood home, the dining table, chairs tucked underneath, nestled up against a wall beneath a large Marimekko wall hanging in bright oranges, browns and reds. The table and chairs came out from the wall only when we entertained. Otherwise, we ate our meals in the kitchen at a counter-height table surrounded by swivelling Naugahyde stools. Stools from which my young legs always dangled and to which my skin stuck on hot days.

I remember many meals in that kitchen. Meals where I long sat refusing to eat, occasionally choking down bites of casserole followed by large gulps of milk. Eating for me was a chore, not a joy. I wasn’t often hungry and didn’t care for many of the standard American dinners my mother made, despite Mom being a good cook with a wide repertoire. I relished breakfast and tolerated lunch. But dinner always hit my gag reflex.

And so the day my mother cooked up a full Korean meal in honor of my adopted sister’s homeland stands out in relief against all those other dinners. A meal that grounded me in what home and feasting could mean.

Preparations began early in the day and not in the kitchen. Mom and Dad cleared as much furniture as they could from the dining room, including the table and chairs. They set up a large piece of plywood atop cinder blocks in the middle of the floor and draped it with a tablecloth. Around this low “table” they scattered cushions of various sizes.

In the kitchen my mother sliced beef, which she marinated to make Bulgogi. Earlier in the week the clay pot of Kimchi she kept in our refrigerator was filled to the rim so the cabbage could ferment to its greatest potency. Mom chopped vegetables and cooked up sticky white rice, some for Bibimbap, a mixed rice hot dish, and some to roll into dried seaweed for Korean sushi rolls. Potato noodles simmered on the stove for Japchae. And I helped stuff wonton wrappers with cooked ground beef and bean sprouts to make Mandu, a fried egg roll.

The smells, sweet and savory, foreign and familiar, wafted through the house. We ate a sparse lunch to save our appetites, and our time, to focus on the meal to come.

As the dinner hour approached our guests arrived. My aunt and uncle. Good friends of my parents. And us. My father put on a recording of Korean music and we gathered in the dining room, the makeshift table laden with steaming bowls and plates piled with Korean food.

That evening I ate without gagging. I laughed. I chatted. And I tried every one of those unusual dishes. At that table of celebration I discovered I could enjoy dinner foods. I could be adventurous and treat my taste buds to new sensations. I relished my cushioned seat on the floor among people I loved. I admired my younger sister for causing my introduction to the wonders of Korean food. The meal we shared that night became one of my favorite memories in that home.

My ideas of home and identity shifted that night, even more than they had shifted in the previous months since we adopted my sister. Around the table, at a feast of celebration, I found freedom. Freedom to eat and explore. Freedom to invite what was different and unknown further into my life. While mealtime would still sometimes be a struggle for me, it never tormented me again the way it had previously.

Now that I am older, I can see it is no wonder it took a feast to bring freedom. After all, it is a feast to which we are invited and given freedom in and through Christ. We remember His sacrifice on the Cross at a table - the table of Communion. And we look forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven, where we will know the fullness of our freedom in Christ. When we will be at last truly Home.


2012headshotfamily bucket listsLara Krupicka is a parenting journalist, mom of three, and author of Family Bucket Lists: Bring More Fun, Adventure and Camaraderie Into Every Day.  She is currently working on an essay collection about her childhood growing up along Chicago’s Burlington Northern Railroad line. Lara also serves on the board of the Redbud Writers Guild.

When the Cycle of Home Begins Again (Guest Post by Cara Meredith)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for 412 Pelican Landing Way, Brisbane, California 94005

It was our first home together, the place whose doors we first danced through after our honeymoon on Maui. I learned how to cook food that extended beyond the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s in her kitchen, and in her bathroom I giggled with joy and shock at two lines on a pregnancy test.

My husband and I became us in that house. I, for instance, came to realize how much he loves ketchup. And he (for instance) came to realize how I much refuse to let one drop of said ketchup go to waste before opening a new bottle.

“But there’s one tablespoon of ketchup left!” he’d exclaim, eager for a sparkly new bottle of Heinz 57.

“Exactly, honey: reduce, reuse, recycle. And we’re not recycling that bottle until it’s all squeezed out.”

If only ketchup remained our greatest worry.

In that place we both realized we don’t like to be wrong. We don’t necessarily like to say, “I’m sorry,” and we sure don’t like to admit that marriage can be hard work. But we also realized how much we desire the best for the other person – how we want to be the best team we can be, even if we disagree and don’t see eye to eye and find that sleeping on the couch sometimes is the best option after a night’s fight.

I think that’s why our abrupt move, a year and a half into marriage, slayed me.

We did what we had to do, moving closer to my husband’s work, closer to our church, closer to those with whom we were in community. With the birth of our son only a few months’ away, we began to think differently: as Real Live Parents who think with child in mind. We needed to save money, so for the time being, we’d rent instead of own. We’d go down to one car. We’d rely on our more-than-able bodies, on walking and biking and public transportation instead.

It felt so good, so healthy, so us in theory – which is probably why the overwhelming sense of loss surprised me.

When we moved to the tiny house in San Francisco, I mourned our condo, everyday. I missed the neighbors we’d come to love. I missed the familiarity of the walking paths I knew by heart, and I missed the spacious layout, the cupboards with room to spare. I missed sipping my coffee on the back patio, and I missed bursts of wind-filled sunshine in the morning instead of a thick layer of coastal fog.

I missed it all.

And it felt so lame – it was just a house, after all, a temporary place we’d called home.

But when home is uprooted, when we pack up and sift through and can’t find the right fit of a place for the stuff that fills our space, we find ourselves longing for home. We long for the familiar, for a place that feels ours, for something that doesn’t feel so abruptly unknown all the time.

Here’s the truth: when loss interrupts my world, I tend to run far from it. I try and avoid it at all costs. But when loss is so physical and guttural and unavoidably present in front of us, we can’t help but mourn and wail for the comfort of what was.

And that, I’m learning, is okay. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s healthy. Because sometimes, when all is said and done, I come to remember that God still exists whether or not I believe he’s present, in both the joy and the pain. There his more-than-gracious self remains, even when loss and tears and disruption come my way.

Eventually, the pain subsides. Eventually, the hurt isn’t quite so big, and when it comes to houses at least, the new place becomes comfortably threadbare and worn around the edges like the old place. We begin to get to know our neighbors and they begin to know us.

The cycle of home begins again.


profile_smallerCara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Co-host of the Shalom Book Club podcast and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, she is currently writing her first book about her journey into seeing color (issues of racial reconciliation). She's also written for For Every Mom, Scary Mommy, Books & Culture, Englewood Review of Books, For Her and Gifted for Leadership. She is passionate about racial justice and reconciliation, the great outdoors and dinner around the table with people she loves. She holds a Masters of Theology (Fuller Seminary), and can be found on her blogFacebook or Twitter.

For This World is Not Our Home and Yet It Is (Guest Post by Christina Crook)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for On Third Avenue in New Westminster, British Columbia - the Royal City - I remember berry brambles in the back alley. Smears of homemade blackberry jam on toast laced with butter. I remember gathering chestnuts across the street in enormous Queens Park, methodically prying the prickly shells from the smooth interior, sitting crosslegged under a canopy of leafy green oaks with my big brothers.

I remember the Hyack Parade which happened right outside our doorstep. Shuffling two blocks down to park ourselves on the cement curb to watch the floats and cheer the marching bands. I remember the wooden frame my father constructed around our enormous trampoline, complete with stairs. I remember the hose and the sensation of half dozen kids bouncing in a pool of ice cold water in the sunshine. Us and the water dropping in perfect rhythm. Ker-plunk. Ker-plunk. Ker-plunk. This was my first home and the memories of this place lay deeper than the rest.

Home.

At Buntzen Lake, British Columbia, a frigid lake up in the mountains, I remember my little sister Kristen and I wandering the beach during the church picnic - my sister shadow. At two years younger she was custom-built for shadow life when I was around.

The New Westminster Christian Reformed picnic was a yearly highlight. I remember Dairyland vanilla ice cream cups with wooden paddle spoons. Soapy slip and slides. Adults acting like kids, throwing off the Dutch work ethic and letting loose. Barbecues chalk full of burgers and wieners. Ketchup faces. Sandy, dirty feet and damp bathing suits.

The day was growing late: adults collapsed on metal frame flower-print fabric beach chairs, children running in packs. Life at its grandest. A sweet interlude for hurried parents and children destined for the Monday morning rush.

It’s Sunday. I can smell the air: smoky, with a cold cut off Buntzen’s deep waters.

I’m barefoot. Kristen in over worn spongy sandals. My hand-me-downs, probably.

Buckets have been filled and dumped. Swims have been swam. We’ve eaten our fill. Our friends have packed up into station wagons and our parents are lingering.

We are eying new adventure, and then we spot it! A sandbox. How could we not have seen this before? I see it first and plunge right in with six-year-old brava. Sister-shadow only a step behind.

Just as our hands are about to dig into the silty treasure, the pads of our feet, the paper-thin skin separating toes - those tiny pieces of flesh register the burn.

There are signs everywhere reminding lakeside visitors to pour water over their coals before departing for the day. These fire pits litter the property. Our small bodies found the lone lit pit of the day.

The screams.

I do not remember screaming. Though, as I write this, my body still registers the panic.

It is unclear who found us, but found we were and - by some genius - tossed into the lake where, over a few minutes time, our screams lessened to a whimper.

I recall the stillness of the lake and the calm of dusk closing in around us as I sat in the lake on a fold-up chair eating a popsicle while my dad and stepmom presumably cobbled together a plan.

The seven of us kids were probably there. I only remember Kristen and me. Maybe I don’t remember Kristen. Maybe it’s because I’ve been told the story so many times that I’ve written her in.

I later remember her at the hospital with our feet soaking in bedpans, using our plastic syringes to suck water up and aim it back between our toes, nestled in our father’s thick tanned arms.

Home.

"For this world is not our home" and yet it is. This place. This blood and bramble world.

Home is in the thick of peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding. And home is also in the throes of pain and discomfort as sojourners cheerfully share their homes and gifts with those who need a meal or a place to stay. Home is sitting around the summer campfire with in-laws and siblings, telling hard truths one moment and rolling over with laughter the next. Home is in the midst of my husband's current hospital stay, reading pages of Scripture in the unlikely evening quiet, as he recovers from surgery. Home is seeing life as a gift.

None of us is promised a perfect home: an unchanging physical place with well-worn features and well-adjusted cast of characters.

What we are promised is Him. God. Our refuge, home, dwelling place, rock of habitation. "He makes us lie down in green pastures." He makes us.   

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I have been memorizing Psalm 23 and transfixed by that line. It is not an invitation, nor a command. He simply does it. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He makes me home.


 

 christina-authorthumbnail joy of missing out Christina Crook is a TEDx speaker, essayist and author of The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. She Fights the #FOMO, raises three children and makes her bread and butter speaking about technology, relationships and joy with digital leaders, Jesuit priests, university students, and major media. She, author Julie Kraulis and Jen Pollock Michel have followed in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien's footsteps, forming the modern-day Inklings, a community fostering curiosity, spiritual discernment, literary excellence, and sheer good fun. 

 
Subscribe to learn about Christina's Daily JOMO emails launching this fall, book her for your next conference, or simply say hello.

 

When Mom is Home, but Absent (Guest Post by Gillian Marchenko)

Stephanie Amores

To be human is to long for I hear the kids downstairs; they must be home from school. My husband yells at them to put away their coats, hats and gloves. Polly sings a song from Super Why, and Zoya complains that Elaina is mean. Pots and pans shuffle around in the kitchen. I imagine Sergei clicking on the gas on the stove and pulling out a skillet to start dinner while Evangeline plays with a toy near him on the kitchen floor. These are things I should be involved in. But I’m not. I listen, hold my breath and wonder if signs of life downstairs will bring a pulse back to my chest. I push air out of my cheeks and feel my body sink deeper into the mattress. My head is a stuffed cabbage roll. Nothing computes. I turn over and pull the soft white comforter with a black design over my face.

“Mom?”

I’m down under a mud puddle somewhere in a dream. I hear a muffled voice.

“Mom? It’s time for dinner. Mommy?”

I roll onto my back and squint my eyes up at Zoya, daughter number two, the easiest baby for me, the one who still crawls up in my lap and rests her head on my breast like she’d nurse if she could.

“Hi.” My voice has a smoker’s grittiness.

This is where it gets tricky. I don’t want my depression to to scare my kids. On good days, I help get them off to school, then do a little work and perhaps a load of laundry. I go to bed for a while and then get up again right before they return. But sometimes it’s like this: I don’t function.

Zoya stands expectantly. I glob together blips of energy hiding in my body. My mind gathers them up like worn-out pieces of leftover pie crust that won’t stay together, even with a little flour and spit.

“Hi, honey. How was school?”

“Okay.”

Her voice is small, distant. I see fear in her eyes, and work to remember whether I’ve taken a shower today or yesterday.

“Um, Papa says it’s time for dinner. Can you come down and eat with us?”

My daughter’s face is smooth white velvet. (I catch her once in a while, when I’m better, lying around in her bed. “Whatcha doin’?” “Nothing, just resting,” she says. “Okay,” I reply, and walk down our light yellow hallway. I wonder if she’s sad. Would she tell me? In a lot of ways Zoya is the kid most similar to me: natural athletic ability but not a lot of follow-through, a somewhat round shape, prone to watching long television programs and spending time alone. I worry she’ll have whatever wacked gene I seemed to have inherited that makes life bad and hard sometimes for no reason. I hope to God it isn’t so.)

“I’m not coming down for dinner tonight, honey. I’m still not great.”

“Okay. Do you want us to bring you up a plate?” she asks.

“Maybe a little later.”

Depression is not a lazy susan. Depression is a savage. It sucks my life down its gullet; I slide like a sip of bourbon. I’m worthless. A waste. I’m no longer a wife, a mother or even a Christian. I am depressed. Here. Now. People say you can choose happy. Okay, I choose it every day. But it doesn’t choose me. I see Zoya’s face in my mind and remember her as an infant, jet-black hair sticking straight up all over her head. Hair everywhere on her body. A dark patch in the middle of her back, a landing strip for a tiny toy airplane. I think of her laughing over a silly comment her father or a sibling has made. She bends her head back, opens her mouth and lets go. I think of her cuddled up in her bed: “Goodnight, Mommy, see you in the morning.” When she was a toddler I tucked her in for a nap every afternoon, and it felt like Communion, her soft face and gorgeous eyes smiling into mine.

Do I still count as a mother like this? I wanted to be a good mom to my kids, and now look at me. I’m not a mom at all. I’m sinking. I don’t want to sink.

Zoya bends toward me and wraps her arms around my body. Her embrace stops the ache for a second. A tear slides down my cheek— I wipe it away before she can see it.

“I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too, Zoya.”

She leaves my bedroom, and I wriggle around on the mattress to find a way to ease the pain. The door closes. I sigh. How did my life come to this? The mother who is always home, but absent? My kids. Oh, my kids. What do they think?

Jesus, help me. I can’t do it anymore. I ache. I need help


Gillian2014-20-Edit-2Still Life #4324 (1)Gillian Marchenko is the author of Still Life, A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression and Sun Shine Down, A Memoir. She lives with her husband and four daughters near St. Louis, MO. Keep up with her at gillianmarchenko.com.

-An excerpt from Still Life, A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression; pages 55-57 (with minor edits and additions), published by InterVarsityPress.

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: Courtney Reissig, "I wanted a baby."

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." Jennifer Tatum, "I've wanted to be a woman of faith, but . . ." Sarah Torna Roberts, "I didn't want to be broken." Suanne Camfield, "I want a bigger house."

Today, Courtney Reissig shares her story on the blog.

* * * * *

I wanted a baby. And like so many, I haven’t gotten everything I have ever wanted. I’m finally starting to appreciate that. Like the old Garth Brooks’ song croons, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” I have been the recipient of said gifts.

The Bible says it is good to desire children. Children are a blessing (Ps. 127:3). Jesus went so far as to make children part of his ministry (Matt. 19:13-14, Mark 10:14). Yet so many women must daily reconcile this strong, God-given desire with the sad reality of a negative pregnancy test. If children are so good, why is it so dang hard to have them sometimes? And many times, those who have them with relative ease don’t want the brood of children that comes to them so naturally.

I remember so clearly sitting in the office of a reproductive specialist as he looked at my husband and me and said with sarcastic clarity, “If you were 16 and on drugs, you would have 10 babies by now.” But we weren’t 16 or on drugs. We were in our late twenties and seemingly infertile. It was a case of devastating irony.

Those words stung. So did the words, “There is no heartbeat” that I have heard twice now. My road to motherhood has been marked with pain and confusion. But it has also been the source of my greatest blessing.

After Joseph spent years in captivity in a land not his own, he finally saw the realization of what God revealed to him as a teenager. But it was not without great cost. Surely, in the midst of false accusations, prison time, and general loneliness over his complete abandonment from his family it was hard to see that God was still there, let alone working in his seemingly cursed life. But he was. And while we aren’t given any insight to know if Joseph knew that in the midst of it all (though we know he remained faithful to God), we do know what he believed at the end of it. What Joseph’s brothers meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20). The very suffering that threatened to undo him was the means for God to not only bless Joseph, but bless his entire family as well.

I can relate. For me, the very thing that caused me the greatest pain to date was what God used to bring me the greatest joy in him. By not giving me the desires of my heart he was changing my heart to treasure him more than anything this world (or my body) had to offer me. He filled the void left by an empty womb with fruitfulness and contentment I never could have conjured up on my own.

Failing to receive what I thought would give me the greatest earthly happiness was a blessing in disguise. God has brought me through a journey of shifting my desires to align with him. For however well-intentioned they may have started, they ultimately must fall in line with his good purposes for me.

I’ve heard it said that there are a million details happening behind the curtain of our lives, details that show us that every missed desire, every broken dream, every dashed hope really are working for our good. There are a myriad of things that keep us from seeing this reality, but that does not change that those details still exist.

So how did my story of desire end?

I didn’t get one baby. I got two. One miscarriage, two years of uncertainty, one surgery, and a lot of treatment, led to two unexpected little baby boys. But it was more than that. In those years of waiting I saw another desire emerge, one that was met with fulfillment and blessing. I wanted a baby and I got God instead.

In the wake of a delayed desire, God was giving me a better portion.

* * * * *

Courtney Reissig is a wife, freelance writer, blogger, and teacher. She was born in California, grew up in Texas, and did a couple of stints in Michigan before finally graduating from Northwestern College (MN). After doing some graduate study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, she met her husband and fell in love, and they now make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can read more of her writing on her blog or follow her on Twitter @courtneyreissig.

Found Wanting: Wendy Stringer, "I didn't want to move to suburbia."

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.”

Adams. And Abrahams.

“Genesis is a book of beginnings and blessings. And if it is a book about unfaithful starts – Adam – it is also a book about faithful endings – Abraham. I trust, by grace, that my story (and yours) will, at the end of [our] days, have traveled that distance.”

* * * * *

I didn’t want to move to suburbia.

5 years ago we put our Toronto Upper Beaches home on the market and made plans to move to an acre lot in Markham.

After 12 years in ministry we were both tired, my husband soul weary and heart broken. We had to take sabbatical, and we needed to sell our house to do it.

I loved our home in the city and the work we had done; the gardens I planted, the kitchen we renovated. I loved the gentle slide and hum of the streetcar and the quite double chime the driver would ring just before turning north on Main Street.

But on a hot summer’s day we packed boxes and we sold house; we said goodbye to the best neighbors, and I kindly left my perennials behind.

We rented a 1950’s bungalow in the suburbs on an acre of land--an acre of dirt really. The kitchen cupboards were coral or peach (I was never sure), and the house smelled of dampness in the basement and mice in the walls. Right across the street were monster homes: 4000 square feet of ugliness on 4500 square foot properties. This place, this suburbia, was everything I hated and loved to judge, and I now lived in the midst of it. Crap.

7 months into our sabbatical, sitting on the back deck under maples that were not quite budding I said to my husband, “This place is sucking the life out of me. We have to get back into the city.”

I hated this place. But there were trees. There were trees, and there was land.

I got lost in that land. Pulling out spade and wheelbarrow, I began to dig and toil. I began to work out my grief and loss and unmet desires with my hands in the soil and an eye to the sun.

10 raised vegetable beds, 8 chickens (and years later) I see this place in the heart of suburbia a little differently.

A tire swing. A tree fort. A meadow for my girl. A neighborhood fox.

What a refuge this land has been.

This is where my little girl sold the pumpkins she grew at the end of our driveway, where teenagers wolf down burgers after playing football in the side field, where neighbors come by for a dozen eggs, where I eat a tomato, right off the vine, making a mess as I savour the warm fruit in the hot sun.

I love this place.

But three weeks ago, our landlord called. He is very sorry but he sold the house, and we’ll have to move. Months previously, though, my husband and I had been hearing the Lord’s call: it was time to move back into the city, to love neighbor and to love local church.

But I don’t want to move. I want to stay here.

Still - maybe just as Jesus wanted rest and land for me here, in suburbia, maybe He wants something for me now, back in the city. And maybe I believe it is something very good.

staff_wendy

Wendy Stringer was studying theology at Tyndale when she met her husband, Kiernan. They married and after seminary planted a church and served there for 15 years.

Wendy volunteered and worked with the Warehouse Mission until 2012 when she began working at Grace Toronto in discipleship ministry with Kiernan.

They are raising 7 kids, a big black dog and some chickens together.

A Tribute to My Mother: Essay at Today's Christian Woman

jenmichel@me.com

IMG_9302 "Clumps of hair fell to the floor. I was razoring my mother's head, making her bald and vulnerable. This was not an act I had prepared for, but neither was cancer, and we met my mother's diagnosis six years ago with as much equanimity as possible. I took the phone call—the news—from the couch, one week before I delivered my twins, conspicuously lacking energy for tears and rage. In her year-long treatment to follow—chemotherapy, surgery—there is little I remember. When I comb through memory and look for the file marked "Cancer," the only one I find and retrieve is "Children."

We were separated by two states at the time, my mother and I, and I couldn't—didn't—care for her. The babies, the distance—they removed me from the everyday of her suffering and what should have been my diligent concern and phone calls. Between treatments, she visited us and rallied. She held the babies and it felt like business as usual. She also took naps in the afternoon, and that signaled change."

Read the rest of my essay, "Learning (and Relearning) to Forgive My Mother at Today's Christian Woman.

I am forgiving: Review of "Forgiving our Fathers and Mothers"

Ben Goshow

forgiving our fathers and mothers There will always be someone to forgive. And the need to be forgiven.

Forgiveness may be the greatest of our life’s work, and it is work because it requires the diligent, difficult effort of remembering, revisiting, and then releasing. But the work of forgiveness is not like ordinary work of our hands. Forgiving is not like writing an essay, carving a table, or preparing a savory soup. There is not the finished product of forgiveness from which we stand back, lean on our elbows, and admire. There is not often any real sense of completion and accomplishment for the toil involved.

Which is why it may be more true to say, “I am forgiving,” rather than “I have forgiven.” We don’t finish with forgiveness (although there was one who did that. It is finished.) Rather, we keep at it. The work. And the daily deciding.

I am learning this. I am learning that I need not will today to forgive forever. I need only to, today, decide that I am forgiving. And if you want to get grammatical about it, forgiveness is a present participle, not a completed past action. Begun in the past, continuing presently: this is forgiveness. We cannot decide tomorrow’s forgiveness. Only today, let us forgive – and become a forgiving people.

Becoming a forgiving person and leading a forgiving life is an idea that comes to me from recently reading Leslie Leyland Field’s book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Our Mothers. Fields has undertaken to write a book that does not prescribe how to forgive so much as to describe what forgiveness, in practice, really looks like. Its stories are tender and tragic, hopeful and hard. It is every man and every woman’s story, for we’ve all grown up in human families. And human families fail.

Field’s own story is more tragic than most: hers was a distant father. He was often absent and out of work. There wasn’t enough food. There wasn’t enough love. And years later, after having left her childhood home, she realized that her father had sexually abused her sister.

How to forgive that man? That monster? And of course there was infinite reason not to. Fields describes the busyness of her life, the thousands of miles of convenient distance between them, the inexcusable sins that she cannot justify excusing. “We’ve all run,” she describes, “fugitives from our own stories, our pasts.” Only in her mid-thirties does she, moved by the Spirit, slow enough: to remember, revisit, and finally release.

We read of Field’s last years and days with her father, of her reaching across the divide of her father’s indifference to love and to honor him. This is a story of her life, and of her journey into forgiveness. But it is also a story of his death. And I am coming to cherish books like this one.

No one is teaching me to love my mother, my step-father, my mother- and father-in-law as they grow old and frail and potentially return to an infantile state of dependence. I have no examples, no mentors for the end-of-life scenarios that I cannot now imagine for my parents, much less for my husband and for me. Where are my daily reminders of death, so necessary according to St. Benedict? Because if he’s right, I need them to live.

This book is a good read, and Fields is a humble guide—into forgiveness and life and even unto death.

“I am just beginning,” she admits near the end of the book. “I am just learning to live a forgiving life.”

 

 

 

Living into the chapter I've recently drafted (and something new happening with the Michels)

jenmichel@me.com

I hope my editor isn’t reading this. He won’t be keen on the idea that the sixth chapter of my book is now 6800 words, especially when we’d agree that each chapter would be 6000 words in length. Can I defend my indiscretion by saying that one cannot possible hope to write about the kingdom of Jesus Christ in so few words? The proverbial too-big bite of content: I’ve darn bit it off, chewed it up, and swallowed it.

But I will say that “Chapter 6: Project Kingdom: Good News to Inspire Desire” has been a good chapter to write. And I guess if I were to say it most simply, I’d argue this: when we pray, your kingdom come, your will be done, we are being formed into the desire for God’s rule in our lives.

Don’t be fooled: this is an extremely dangerous way to pray – because kingdom will involve you. Frederick Buechner says this in his book, Whistling in the Dark:

'Thy will be done' is what we are saying. That is the climax of the first half of the prayer. We are asking God to be God. We are asking God to do not what we want but what God wants. We are asking God to make manifest the holiness that is now mostly hidden, to set free in all its terrible splendour the devastating power that is not mostly under restraint. 'Thy kingdom come. . . on earth' is what we are saying. And if that were suddenly to happen, what then? What would stand and what would fall? Who would be welcome in and who would be thrown the Hell out? Which if any of our most precious visions of what God is and of what human beings are would prove to be more or less on the mark and which would turn out to be phony as three-dollar bills? Boldness indeed. To speak those words is to invite the tiger out of the cage, to unleash a power that makes atomic power look like a warm breeze.”

Praying for God’s kingdom to come is to effectively surrender yourself to the divine draft: you’re going to be plucked up for service, and this is going to force you from your comfortable familiarities into the realm of risk.

Which isn’t the same thing as saying you’re on your way towards doing something grand. In fact, quite the opposite. You are, in actual fact, willing yourself to become small.

That’s the way of Jesus. That’s the method of kingdom. Down is up. Least is greatest.

And calling is more ordinary and inconspicuous than you originally are inclined think.

Here’s an example, a story I haven’t told and can’t fully tell because it isn’t my own.

It belongs to my nephew. And I’m sure there will be time to tell it more fully and more completely – later.

His father – my brother – died when he was only two. I tell more of that story here if you’re interested in more background.

I suppose you can imagine that losing one’s father - in that way and so young – wounds a person deeply, profoundly.

And we’ve watched my nephew grow up into that woundedness. How long have I wanted hope written into those places of pain? His whole life, I think I have been praying for redemption, which is to say that I have asked this of God:

Jesus Christ, make something good of all this evil!

Last summer and into the fall, our family began praying about having my nephew come and live with us when he graduated from high school. Not knowing exactly what that would look like or what the future held for him, we extended to him this invitation – which he accepted with the blessing of his mother.

Home had been providentially arranged long before he had the news.

Stomach cancer. She has two months to live.

My nephew’s mother died on April 4. He is now alone – and not. Because tomorrow, two of the children and I drive to West Virginia to watch him graduate from high school and to bring him here to Toronto.

How good is God? This is something I cannot help but ask. I know we live in a world that is ridiculously tortured by senseless evil. Moore, Oklahoma – this is our most recent example. And I, like everyone else, sometimes wonder where God is in all the mess. Why does he seem to be standing idly by?

But my nephew’s story reminds me that he is not indifferent to our pain. I think God is in the midst of answering some of the prayers we have long been praying for my nephew. I think he’s going to do something good. And I trust him, even as I feel ill-equipped for the task of participating in his redemptive work.

The chapter on kingdom is drafted, on the eve of leaving to get my nephew. It serves to remind me: live into these words.

By the unfailing, steadfast, persistent grace of God, I think I’ll try.

 

 

 

 

I'm at Her.meneutics today talking about MAKING BABIES

jenmichel@me.com

"It's not often that a company asks you to "go make babies," but Chicago's National Public Radio Station, WBEZ, is imploring listeners to "Do it. For Chicago." Their surprising marketing campaign, called the 2032 membership drive, also prompts their audience, saying "Hey Interesting People, get a room already. And then put a crib in it." But NPR may have failed to do their math. In her New York Times essay, "Opting out of Parenthood with Finances in Mind," Nadia Taha estimates the cost of raising a child at a whopping $1.7 million. At that amount, if WBEZ listeners follow the station's advice, they wouldn't have much left for philanthropic contributions.

Recognizing the potential economic disadvantages of starting a family, Taha and her husband decided "that the single decision that can best help us achieve [our financial goals] is one that many newly married, affluent young adults don't usually consider: Don't have children."

. . . Should economics decide the size of our families? I challenge that assumption in my post today at Christianity Today's blog for women. You can find the rest of the article by clicking here.

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.

 

 

 

Damaged Goods: How should the church respond to sexual sin?

jenmichel@me.com

With all the emphasis on virginity as virtue’s Holy Grail, if a Christian woman isn’t a virgin when she marries, she’s made to feel that she has somehow disqualified herself from God’s greatest blessings and callings. That’s how Sarah Bessey explains the unfortunate subtext of much of the purity speak that is happening in our churches in her recent post “I Am Damaged Goods.”

“In the face of our sexually dysfunctional culture, the church longs to stand as an outpost of God’s ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness,” she wrote. “And yet we twist that until we treat someone like me… as if our value and worth was tied up in our virginity.”

* * * * *

Read the rest of my post today at Christianity Today's blog for women as I try and answer this question: How do we talk about sexual sin in ways that don’t shame and yet stay faithful to the biblical truth that sex outside of marriage is, after all, sin (Heb. 13:4)?

 

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.

 

 

.

A View from the Kitchen: Why your pile of pots and pans matters this Christmas

jenmichel@me.com

"It must be nice to be a man," I told Ryan in the aftermath of our family Christmas. We'd shared our traditional dinner and unwrapped gifts with the children before leaving Toronto for the holidays. All the responsibilities for cooking and shopping, cleaning and wrapping had, like most years, fallen almost entirely on my shoulders. And goodness, can I really complain about that? I mean, if Ryan works hard enough to bring home the bacon, can't I at least cook it?

But to what degree I cook it with a charitable spirit is always up for grabs.Though Christmas should traditionally be a season of joy, in truth, I can battle with resentment about the extra domestic work it requires of me.

And this is why I wrote my most recent post at her.meneutics. If you've been reading here for any length of time, you know well enough that I don't often write about the areas of my life over which I feel mastery or control. (And by the way, I'm not even sure what those areas are.) Instead, I write in order to preach the sermons I most need to hear. I write as a way of living into what I know to be true but have a harder time absorbing.

This is true of my most recent post, which I hope you'll read and find as a source of encouragement for your kitchen work this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Faith: If this is the only thing we give our kids

jenmichel@me.com

Inevitably, whenever we return from a trip to Chicago, we pick up the question that’s already been worn threadbare. What are we doing next? We moved to Toronto almost two years ago on what was understood to be a short-term work visa. And though we like it here - and might even wish to stay, that’s a decision that is simply not up to us. To stay permanently, one of us, of course, will need a job. And even if we had work, we’d still have to figure out where, in this expensive city, to live. I won’t deny that I’d rather resolve all the mysteries ahead of us. I definitely crave a clearer picture of what our future looks like. Some days, I have to admit that I want less faith and more sight.

I don’t find it easy to live with these hanging threads of perplexity.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things about living in this kind of impermanence – never able to answer if we’re staying or for how long – is that we have five children whose lives trail in the wake of all our decisions. Both Ryan and I feel the heavy weight of this responsibility.

I moved often as a child. Every three years, we drove somewhere new and called it home. And it was never easy. I remember the terrifying experience it was to walk in to school as the new girl, wondering if I’d find someone to sit next to at lunch.

Whenever I didn’t, I buried my head in a good book.

I’m sure much good was learned in my packed up childhood. I learned to make friends quickly. I learned to overcome fear. I learned that anonymity and aloneness weren’t as bad as you think. (And I read a lot of great books. . .)

But in truth, that’s not the life I want for my kids. Am I not revisiting my old ancestral curse of transience on them? What harm will be done to our children in whose future are sure to be some lonely school lunches? Wouldn’t they be better off with the stability of some permanence in their lives?

This is not how the American dream is scripted. Parents aren’t supposed to move when middle and high school loom, not when exclusion and loneliness are hunting for company.

Parents are supposed to stay.

And staying is safe.

These are my parental misgivings about how we’re betraying the common sense wisdom of raising kids.

Or, have we?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve had my nose in the final chapters of Hebrews.

By faith, Abel. . .

By faith, Noah. . .

By faith, Abraham. . .

By faith, Sarah. . .

It seems the only decisions that matter are the faith decisions. The only decisions that please God are the ones inspired by faith.

And faith involves mystery and provokes perplexity. Faith is future-oriented: it wills itself forward through the unknown toward certainties that lay ahead. If we demand answers and guarantees, we can only have them at the exclusion of faith.

Faith is hard, but faith is for our good.

Maybe the best thing any of us gives our kids is this journey of faith. Maybe permanence and belonging, though I would wish them for our family, stay out of reach because we were never meant to find these in a geographical place.

Home isn’t a zip code: home is God’s eternal city.

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

We can’t give our children solid answers as to where they’ll be in one year or two. We can’t promise that there isn’t loneliness in their future. And this may not be the safest and most predictable life we could have given them - but then again, how safe is God?

In the journey of faith, with its questions and complexities, we teach our kids to trust and pray, to listen and wait, to move only on the divine go.

And I think they’re soon to learn a truth, which I’m daily forced to reabsorb:

Wherever He leads is good.

 

 

 

 

Keeping Company With More Than Paper

jenmichel@me.com

"It should surprise no one that the life of the writer - such as it is - is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This explains why so many books describe the author's childhood. A writer's childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience. Writers read literary biography, and surround themselves with other writers, deliberately to enforce in themselves the ludicrous notion that a reasonable option for occupying yourself on the planet until your life span plays itself out is sitting in a small room for the duration, in the company of pieces of paper." -Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I've been in brilliant company this last week. Thankfully, it was neither pieces of paper nor my laptop.

Our family drove to Chicago to spend the week visiting with family and friends. Because we'd planned our trip to accommodate our children's fall break, we didn't stay long enough to participate in any real Thanksgiving feasting.We did, however, hold a three-day birthday celebration for Nathan, which was lots of fun but now that I think of it, might be the very kind of thing perpetuating the notion that his birthday is a national holiday.

It's always a good thing to step away from my otherwise normal writing life and the technology, which supports it. When we cross into Michigan and my iPhone tells me that I no longer have access to data (except for an exorbitant charge), I feel relieved. Radio silence descends, revealing just how reflexive my digital habits are: all those empty minutes inhabited by a quick scroll through Facebook status updates and tweets; rabbit trails of mental activity, as I follow one article after another. Not a bad thing - but not always defensible and certainly a source of distraction.

I welcome a pause when it arrives.

And although I didn't write this last week, I did make some writing connections.

I met Katelyn Beaty, the managing editor for Christianity Today, for breakfast one morning. About halfway through the conversation (at which point I'd finally slowed my nervous chatter to a normal speech cadence), Katelyn made the wonderful and unexpected offer that I join Her.meneutics as a regular contributing writer. (P.S. I forgot to tell you I wrote another article, which they published last week: "What You Don't Know About Complementarian Women.")

I'm grateful for this opportunity, knowing that great readers make for great writing. And Her.meneutics, with its outstanding roster of women writers, certainly courts a theologically thoughtful audience. At the same time, the offer makes me feel all jittery inside, wanting alternatively to do cartwheels or move to Montana.

There's courage needed for the writing life: to keep at it, to keep risking the sound of your own voice. Which is one of the many reasons I am grateful to belong to Redbud Writers Guild, a community of women writers. For the first time last week, I had the chance to meet some of the buds in person.

Shayne Moore, author of Global Soccer Mom  and the soon to be published, Refuse to Do Nothing

Teri Kraus, a seasoned fiction writer who has published 13 books

Aubrey Sampson, a newbie like me

Margaret Philbrick, who is working on her first novel

And a friend I've known a long time, Alisha Venetis.

So there's my update, friends: I've spent a week living not just recalling the real world. There was even a lazy morning spent at a coffee shop with the my beautiful daughters: hot chocolate for them, a latte for me, and several rousing rounds of Checkers and Clue.

And if that's not life . . .