Keeping Place: An Interview with Jen Pollock Michel, wife, mother, speaker and Christianity Today award-winning author

I’m excited to introduce you to Jen Pollock Michel about her new book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home. Jen is a wife, mama to 5, award-winning author, regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog, and more! My Bible study group recently went through her book and Rightnow Media video series Teach Us To Want and learned so much from it.

Jen has written a book that I believe is timely for us as women. How should we properly view our work in the home? What about this heartache we sometimes experience for our heavenly home?

Thank you, Jen, for your time and willingness to answer a few questions about your book. In Keeping Place, you challenge us to consider the ordinary and beautiful spaces of our homes and how taking care of them is, in fact, sacred. How do you define a faithful homemaker?

 Jen: I really think we can look to God as a Homemaker. I know that’s not traditionally a title we would give to God, but I think Genesis 1 and 2 give us this wonderful glimpse into God’s acts of homemaking. He’s making a world for his children to live in!

I’m struck by the idea that making a home isn’t about beauty for beauty’s sake or comfort for comfort’s sake. Homemaking is a work of welcome, and it’s always in service to others. It’s a work centered on people and a work anyone can do. You don’t have to be a married woman with children. You don’t have to live in a big, fancy house. You can be a young professional. You can be an empty nester. We can all make home for others in the world by following God into his work of hospitality, and this is all about seeing people, helping them to find belonging, and loving them in concrete ways.

 

Samantha: How has understanding God as your Homemaker drawn you closer to himself and those under your own roof?

Jen: First, to consider God as Homemaker inspires in me a very real sense of his love. I think that’s what the Psalmist had in mind in Psalm 8 when he looked at creation and said, “How could so big a God care about someone so small as me?” And Scripture does testify to the very personal and intimate care that God takes of us. He numbers the hairs on our head. He knows our words before we’ve yet spoken them. He collects our tears in his bottle. He wants to know us—and dwell with us.

Because God’s care is so intimate and personal, I want to know that kind of love to my children. This kind of intimate, personal love requires a lot of patient listening. It means drawing people out with questions, being available especially at inopportune moments. I want to be better at this: just loving my husband and children by being present with them and seeking to know them intimately.

 

Samantha: What encouragement can you offer to those of us who struggle to “keep house” (ahem, such as myself J) and live out the daily grind with an eternal perspective?

Jen: It’s tempting for all of us to want home without the housekeeping. And what I mean by this isn’t so much that we should be mopping and dusting more, although maybe we should be doing that, too! Instead, it’s really just this idea that you can’t have the welcome of home apart from the work of home. I remember this every time we host overnight guests, which means washing lots of extra towels and sheets. People in our homes, whether children or friends, creates work. It’s work to feed people, work to make a home welcoming. Especially with young children, home is a lot of repetitive and seemingly meaningless work.

But maybe we can think of it through the lens of John 13, where Jesus took up a basin and a towel to wash his disciples’ feet. He didn’t just say to his disciples, “Man, I love you guys!” He demonstrated that love by taking their dirty feet in his own hands and washing them clean.

When we pick up socks and wash towering stacks of dishes and wipe the table for the fourteenth time of the day, we are following Jesus into his housekeeping work. A home can’t be made apart from those menial efforts.

 

Samantha: After knowing the unconditional love, acceptance, and welcoming arms of our Savior, what is our responsibility to those who have yet to receive the gospel?

Jen: Similarly, it’s just this idea that we must love our neighbors in concrete ways. A lot of this is about being present to our neighbors’ suffering. What is breaking the heart of the person next door? What is the particular grief in your neighborhood or city? Do we take that suffering to God in prayer? Do we look for ways to practically meet needs? That kind of practical love doesn’t replace a verbal witness of the gospel, but it sure goes a long way toward improving its reception!

 

Samantha: What were some of your favorite reflections throughout Keeping Place?

Jen: A borrowed reflection in the book is something from Henri Nouwen in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Henri Nouwen talks about his own realization regarding this familiar parable of Jesus. For so long, he’d read the story and identified himself as one of the sons. He’d been the younger son, estranged from God because of his overt rebellion. He’d also been the older son, estranged from God because of his inner resentment. But as he continued to read and reflect on the story and on Rembrandt’s painting of this story, he began to see that in Christ, God moves the church into the role of Father. That we aren’t just the ones who are being loved, but that we are the ones who do the loving. That we aren’t just the ones being welcomed, but the ones doing the welcoming.

I think that’s where the biblical story of home really takes us: into the work of mission.

Thank you so much, Jen!

Jen Pollock Michel is the author of Teach Us to Want, Christianity Today’s 2015 Book of the Year, as well as Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (May, 2017). Both books have been produced as original video series by RightNow Media. Finalist for The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association New Author Award in 2015, Jen writes widely for both print and digital publications. Additionally, Jen travels to speak at churches, conferences, and retreats. Jen holds a B.A. in French from Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL) and an M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). She is married to Ryan and together, they have five school-age children and live in Toronto.

 

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Why I Choose to Connect with You, and Not Compete

One day in the midst of the craziness of getting my coffee made, I scrolled through Facebook for a mommy break. In the newsfeed, my friend Katie had shared a photo of her pristine, cute, crafty living room that looked like a Pinterest explosion. My eyes were glued to the design in her home and the eye candy on her walls!

She’s so much more gifted than I am. How does she do it? My home isn’t as beautiful as hers. Sadly, I dwelt on these thoughts and they put me in a bad mood. I was holding up the measuring stick to a dear, trusted friend of mine. I was competing and comparing and it had the best of me.

A few months later, I didn’t heat up another coffee cup in the microwave but instead got one at Starbucks with Katie. We talked about our struggles and I shared how I compared myself to her and all her gifts. She revealed how she’d done the same with other mom friends who were always going on outings with their kids.

“I can barely get out of the house each day,” she mentioned. “I feel like I’m not doing enough with my kids.”

I felt similar feelings. We laughed and talked about how you rarely see the whole picture of a friend’s life in your highlight reels. You see the joys and milestones, rarely the fighting with your husband, no make-up, unshaved legs, disaster-of-a-house kind of days, the dark reality of depression, defiant children, a broken marriage, tears on your pillow at night, or the pain of how life can be so stinkin’ hard (literally).

It’s much easier to be preoccupied with another friend’s perfect life, instead of choosing to have a heart full of gratitude for own own.

There is a way to celebrate those gifts and talents we see in our friends: the friend who can creatively homeschool all five of her kids and still remain sane. The friend who lives, eats, and breathes essential oils when you have no idea how to use them. The friend who eats squeaky clean and has chiseled shoulders from Beachboy workouts when you’re eating your kids’ processed mac and cheese. The friend who managed to fit into her pre-pregnancy jeans within two weeks after giving birth.

The friend who can sell Plexus, LuLaRoe, Norwex, and Rodan + Fields like nobody’s business. The friend whose husband can build anything from a scrap of wood. The friend who is traveling the world, while you’re wiping nasty noses and changing dirty diapers. The friend who seems to juggle ten different responsibilities when you can barely muster up one simple task. And more…

Comparisons sneak up in all kinds of ways and they indeed steal joy, but we can choose to be devoted to love and honor one another above ourselves (Romans 12:10). We can choose to praise each other for the gifts God has given us.

It takes time, humility, understanding, love, and patience to connect, instead of compete with one another in our hearts. It requires pulling up a chair at the table and listening. It also means calling competition and comparison what it is: Sin.

Envy, jealousy, and covetousness is not the way God desires for us to live. There is a better way. A more freeing, satisfying, and joyful way. There’s so much gratification, fulfillment, and sweet friendship when we connect with our friends to learn the full story of who they are and their unique challenges, not just making judgments from the mere snapshots on the screen. Because the Lord knows, we’ve all got mountains to climb!

When we reach out, it gives us a better appreciation for one another and helps us see that we’re simply not alone. Most of all, we discover the blessing of a friend knowing who we really are and loving us still– and vice versa– which is perhaps what our hearts have been longing for in the first place.

In my sinful nature, I still struggle at times with competing, but I’m determined to confess it to God, do my best to catch myself when I do, and instead ask a friend out for coffee.

If you’ve read Quiet Time, this story is what I’m referring to on Page 5. If you haven’t read a copy yet, you can do so here.

 

Samantha Krieger is a wife, mother, and writer in rural Colorado. She is the author of the new devotional for moms: Quiet Time: A 30-day Devotional Retreat for Moms in the Trenches.

 

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{Photos} Quiet Time Devotional Book Signing at Inklings & More Bookstore – Holyoke, CO

Last weekend, I had a wonderful time signing my new devotional book at our local bookstore Inklings and More in Holyoke (which is adorable by the way, for you out-of-towners. It even has a coffee shop/bakery attached to it… and a craft store… and an antique store.. and more!).

Several months ago, they not only asked to carry my book but offered to let me have a book signing. I jumped at the opportunity! Upon arriving, sneaky and thoughtful Bev from our church surprised me with teal carnations, a cute coffee mug, and lollipops to decorate the table.

Joylyn at the bookstore was a huge help in making sure the table was set up and there wasn’t too much sun coming in the window. She took care of a lot of the details. My friend Leslie snapped these photos and I’m so thankful she did because I probably would have forgotten. My friend Jean helped me manage the table and provided the humor (as always).

My moms Bible study surprised me at the very beginning and it was so much fun seeing them. I really enjoyed interacting with visitors and friends. Many who came by bought multiple copies for their friends and family. My husband is not in these photos as he was taking care of our kids, but he was a huge part of this project from start to finish, and continues to be. He snapped a photo and put it on social media and it was fun to see friends and family from a distance getting excited about the book and sharing it from Amazon.com.

Many thanks to owners Lucas and Jennifer Hayes, and Susan Hinck for allowing me to be here and share about Quiet Time! You do such a great job with Inklings and More. Our community is thankful for you. Thank you to my readers, friends, and family for your continued support in launching Quiet Time!

 

Samantha Krieger is a wife, mother, and writer in rural Colorado. She is the author of the new devotional for moms: Quiet Time: A 30-day Devotional Retreat for Moms in the Trenches.

Open Door – {an excerpt from the Quiet Time Devotional book for Moms}

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OPEN DOOR

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

1 Peter 4:9

A fresh-from-scratch poppy seed Bundt cake for our neighbors, a trusted place to drop off your kids for a few hours, a glass of sweet tea to cool you off, or just a place to sit and talk, that was the atmosphere my mom created in my home growing up in the Carolinas. One of the greatest gifts my mom gave my dad, sister, and me growing up and continues to radiate in is hospitality.

My high school friend Jen would often say, “Every time I come in your kitchen, I want to e-e-a-a-t!” The aroma smelled like an apple pie endlessly baking in the oven. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, our table was set like the front cover of a Williams-Sonoma cookbook. Every glass cup, plate, and piece of silverware in its perfect place, gracefully decorated. Best of all, my mom made people feel accepted, special, and important—even the plumber. To this day, I love reminiscing about the environment she created for us.

Her youngest daughter, on the other hand (that would be me), has burnt broccoli and other dishes multiple times. I’ve misread ingredients. I once made a chocolate cake that made my friend Mallory nearly choke to death due to baking soda overload. I’ve dished out the weirdest concoctions on the dinner table. I’m not always the neatest in my home. I’m clean, but a bit cluttery. I blame it on being creative. Showing hospitality makes me shake in my boots, gives me anxiety, and causes my control-freak tendencies to protrude.

So when I read verses like 1 Peter 4:9, I’m both challenged and convicted. Scripture clearly teaches that as Christ-followers we’re to practice being hospitable to one another. Key word: Practice. Yeah right, you may be thinking. My house is a disaster, macaroni is glued to my floor, I haven’t vacuumed in months, and don’t you dare step a foot in my filthy bathroom! I’m right there with you.

The clincher, though, is that we’re taught to do this “without grumbling”… Murmuring is the expression of secret and sullen discontent. In other words, it is a form of covetousness—having desire for something God has not given you. Not trusting God for what he has given you. Hospitality isn’t drudgery but is a gift from God, and we have incredible opportunities to change the world through this gift in a way that nobody else can. In this way, hospitality can be freely offered with joy and without complaining.

When our doors are open, others can sense a belonging and a welcoming that is difficult to find in this cold, dark, and lonely world. When our home is accessible to outsiders, whether that includes our mom friends, their children, our kids’ friends, neighbors, or strangers, it communicates, “I welcome you. I love and accept you. I invite you in.” This is the gospel lived out in one of the most practical, tangible ways.

An open door also invites others into the craziness of our own life. It doesn’t always have to be complicated either. If dinner is too overwhelming, sharing a cup of tea or coffee will do. If the house is a mess, inviting them to sit next to the overflowing pile of laundry can suffice. I’ve done that many times. People will see you for what your home life is really like and recognize you’re pretty normal after all.

I’m convinced that if we waited until our home was pristine and picked up, we’d never welcome anyone inside. Practicing hospitality is a gift to others and an opportunity for others to know the real you. Who’s God calling you to invite in to the four corners of your beautiful mess? Chances are good that in turn, you’ll be invited into their mess too.

PRAYER: Jesus, my natural bent is toward selfishness. I’d rather isolate myself than invite others in to see my reality. Give me the desire to reach out and be a welcome mat for others so they’ll see your love and goodness. Amen.

This excerpt was taken from my new devotional book Quiet Time that releases at the end of the month. If you would like to be on the Launch Team, there is still time. Please fill out your email in the form below and you’ll be sent an Advanced Electronic Copy to review and details on how you can help spread the word. Thank you!

 

When God Feels Far: From Barren to Beautiful

13000412_10102547634542308_443667638_oThis morning as I was getting breakfast and glanced outside our kitchen window, I noticed the first few buds beginning to burst with flowers. On Monday when my husband and I left for the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, there was no sign of new life. The trees were barren.

Today, even though it is dark and gloomy outside and thunderstorms and rain are in the forecast, there is an explosion of new life in my yard.

“Look kids! The flowers are budding!” I said.

They jumped out of their seats and ran outside to see. My son John snapped some photos of the new life before his big brown eyes.

During the winter months, the hardened buds and lifelessness from the trees are all we see but we know that in Spring, the buds are set up to blossom again. And much of the deadness all around us in the winter months actually protects the buds so they will sprout again and in the right time.

Similarly, I’ve gone through seasons of intense dryness spiritually where my soul is cold and numb to the things of the Lord. Where I don’t thirst for Jesus, the Living Water, as I should. Where I don’t treasure the gospel like I should and cling to his all-sufficient grace because I’m selfish, full of pride, the difficulties of life have choked me, and idols fill my heart. I have sometimes questioned, “Is God even working in the cold, winter months of my soul? Is he here?”

I’m still in a season of struggle or should I say “struggling well,” where I desire to be closer to Jesus and further away from my sin. But I know He is here just as sure as Spring promises new life.

I may not see the fruit in the waiting, but I know he is working. I may not behold what I want to “now.” I may not see change or growth in my anger, control, and people-pleasing struggles right away but it will come. This process of sanctification changes in each season and it is indeed a process of patience. Motherhood teaches me this every, single day.

We may not think we are growing or becoming a different person right now, but God sees the last paintbrush stroke on the canvas.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

In his grace, God carries us all the way to becoming more like his Son. It is always a gift of grace. And perhaps the greatest truth is that we can’t do it in our own feeble strength. But we can always look to Him for help.

What might appear as barren and cold in our souls, if we wait patiently, might actually be beautiful in due time. Just like the buds are exploding with new life, color, and vibrance, I know that God is fully able to work in our life in a way that we’ve never experienced before.

When There are No Words, but Tears and Hope {Reflections on the Life of Cassidy Hale}

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Last Wednesday, I had just arrived at church for a prayer meeting when I heard that a serious accident happened just a minute away on County Road 41. It was a fatality.

My heart raced as I learned more about the family and their daughter, Cassidy Hale, who had just been hit by a pick-up truck while on a walk with a friend. She was only 15 1/2 years old. I had never met this beautiful family but immediately I began tearing up as we prayed for them. I couldn’t imagine the pain they were experiencing. One of our church members Roger told me had just seen her just a little bit ago.

My mind and heart immediately reflected back to when I was a freshman in high school in North Carolina and lost two classmates from a car accident weeks before school was about to let out for the summer. The same ache I had for them struck me thinking about Cassidy and her family. I couldn’t stop thinking and praying for them all week.

When I woke up yesterday, a dense fog hovered over our town. My heart had been anxious for this day. It was the day of Cassidy’s funeral. I got showered, the kids all dressed, and dropped them off to my neighbor Jill’s (my brave friend willing to take on a lot of kids!). My husband was there early among other pastors to help where needed.

As I parked and made my way into our town’s event center where the funeral was being held, I saw parents and students supporting one another, huddled in circles and crying on each other’s shoulders. They walked by the table to see Cassidy’s artwork and baby photos up until she was a teenager.

IMG_0522I then saw her casket over to the left. After signing the guestbook, I made my way over and saw her beautiful lifeless body. The moment felt surreal as if I was in a dream and my heart couldn’t keep up with what my eyes were seeing. Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at her picture frame on top of the casket.

As I sat down, Christian hymns were played on the piano while people were being seated. “All in All,” is the one that hit me the most. As the funeral began, a family member read a piece that Cassidy’s dad wrote about her love for superheroes, overcoming the daily grind of life, and always putting a smile on people’s faces. The pastor spoke about her life and how she was a light, a ray of sunshine to all who knew her. She knew Jesus and was now with him and would want us to know how much He too, loves us. Many came up for prayer after the invitation and showed love and support to her family. About 700 people filled the room.

IMG_1353I never knew Cassidy, as we’ve only lived here a few months, but her life and this whole tragedy has impacted me deeply. Many people would say her life was cut short. And that is true, but she lived a full life, evidence from those who knew her best. In the short amount of time she lived, her impact will reach farther and wider than most people. Because of her life, others came to know the Lord this week. Because of her life, others were encouraged to shine their light brighter too.

It is so difficult to understand the why’s. I have found myself rethinking the accident scene and how it happened and why. I have driven by it a few times. There are no words to say about her sweet young life being cut so short and the pain and suffering her mom and dad and sister are bearing. It is an unimaginable grief.

While at the graveyard, I broke down in tears watching Cassidy’s mom, dad, and sister set their roses on top of her casket. As a mother to four children, my heart ached most for her mom as I watched the pain she was enduring for her first born child. Her precious daughter that she raised and loved and sacrificed for. It was an image forever seared in my mind that I will never forget.

The hope in the midst of such a heartbreaking tragedy is that this earth is not our home. This earth and everything in it will pass away. We have all been given a dash. Cassidy’s was from March 14, 2000 – September 16, 2015. God has an appointed time for me and you. We must be ready for that time because we never know when it will be.

Do you know Jesus? Not just know of him, but do you know him intimately? Do you have a personal relationship with him and are confident that when you die you will meet him face to face and will have to give an account of your life spent on earth? Do you know how crazy in love he is with you, so much that he suffered and died on a cross to save you from your sins? Are you ready to accept his free gift of salvation and choose him as your Savior?

These are the questions Cassidy would want us to confidently answer.

In reflecting on this tragedy and Cassidy’s life, I’ve also seen that there is so much hope and light seen when a community comes together and genuinely supports each other. We hear the news immediately. We pray on the spot. We show love through serving. No matter how well we know the person, we mourn together. It is an ache that does not go away.

IMG_1349There is hope when we know that one day God is going to redeem all that has been lost from us. There is hope because we know The story isn’t over. There is hope that one day Jesus is going to wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will indeed be no more suffering. For those who know Jesus and knew Cassidy, there will one day be rejoicing in heaven together.

After the fog lifted off our little town the day of her funeral, the sun peered through the clouds and there was a gentle breeze. It was as if God was letting us see the light to remind us of the brilliant sunshine that Cassidy was to so many people in our town. And to also remind us that it is only through that we will find everlasting life.

You are thought of constantly and remembered, Cassidy Hale. You are in my prayers Jackie, Randy, and Tayler.

Devotional: His Countenance Upon You (Day 6)

Father and childDay 6 of 7 Devotionals I wrote for the Spring 2013 Issue of Heart Magazine. Scroll down for the previous days.

His Countenance Upon You

Numbers 6:24-26

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Chances are you’ve read in Scripture or heard the above blessing before as it’s commonly quoted in benedictions across churches today. These encouraging words were a Hebrew blessing that priests prayed over their people every morning after the sacrifices at the temple. It was their “sending out” and a prayer for God’s present and future peace.

The words, “May the Lord lift up his countenance (or face) toward you…” provides a picture of God holding us up high in his arms and looking up into our eyes with great love and care as a father would to his child. It is a picture of pure delight, both for the child and for the father.

In the Lord’s presence, we find peace for today and peace that is to come. He alone is our peace when everything else around us is uncertain. Not only do we need this blessing prayed over us before we exit the church walls, but we need his light, grace, and peace in our lives every hour of the day.

You are his child. Let his face shine upon you.

A small Thank You

In the midst of wild emotions, prayer, doubts, questions, and more prayer, God has provided for us and on Friday Jeremiah accepted a full-time position at the same hospital where his unit was closed down. This morning, he started orientation in the Cath lab! Everything happened really fast, and when the managers interviewed him a few weeks ago (for 4 1/2 hours), they were super impressed.

I don’t blame them.

God is so good. In joy, and in difficulty.

We thank the Lord for providing and meeting all of our needs and then some. God continues to show his love in tangible ways and we have learned so much (and will continue to).

I don’t know where we would be if the body of Christ didn’t live out their faith. Whether you’re a reader, just checking this little space out, or a personal friend of mine, thank you for all your love and support and prayers. It helped so much in the waiting period, especially as I was a bit of a basket case.

I’m sure that future blog posts will be impacted by this experience and thus in return, I pray that you will be touched by them.

Thank you again.

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