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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When Your Ceiling Caves In: Thoughts on Being First Time Homebuyers

My husband Jeremiah and I were super excited, but not naive. Enough trusted people in our lives had told us how much work goes into owning a home. This was going to be our very first home that we would close on in just a few hours.

We did the walk-thru with our realtor, Susan, making sure repairs had been made and that all was well and it was… until… we made our way upstairs and opened the door to the attic.

“Babe, can you walk across there and take down those tacky white curtains hanging in the dormers?”

They had been annoying me for a while now, especially because they were visible from the road. Jeremiah takes his first few steps, slowly. I had this odd feeling something was about to happen.

If you remember Chevy Chase in the classic movie, Christmas Vacation, you probably recall him falling through the ceiling while reminiscing over old home videos. Well, that’s basically what went down yesterday.

Jeremiah took another step and part of the floor caved in. It happened to be the dining room ceiling.

My godly, soon-to-be seminary graduate was in shock. “I’m not sure if I want to cuss or laugh! So I think I’ll laugh,” he said.

My eyebrows were raised the whole time, and then I just started cracking up. We knew we wanted the house. We were just about to close. But, really? The ceiling? Oh dear. Should we still close on this house?

Susan couldn’t believe what she was seeing either. “Well, it looks like this is going to be your first repair,” she said. All of us laughed together.

As we walked out of the door, Jeremiah assured me that regardless of the circumstances, this was what we were supposed to do and better that this happened now than later with kiddos around. On our way to the title company, we were laughing so hard about the whole situation. He was already formulating a plan on how he would fix it and what he would need to get at Home Depot.

“Maybe this will encourage you when it comes to fixing all the other future repairs and updates,” I said trying to look on the bright side.

He smiled and assured me that he was up for the task. I had no doubt he would get it done and do it well.

Well, yesterday was just the beginning of our first home buying experience. We chose a two-story house about 10 minutes away from the city, close to Jeremiah’s work. It was built in 1964 and hasn’t had any major updates, but has a ton of potential- nothing a little paint can’t fix! The house is awesome space-wise as everyone will have their own room. It’s going to take a lot of cleaning practice making sure 5 bedrooms are in order.

We were able to get an incredible deal on the home as well. It’s only a few miles away from one of our favorite lakes for running and biking and it’s near a beautiful botanical garden that everyone in Dallas seems to frequent. Not to mention, a park and playground that the kids love are five houses down.

But like I said, the house is older so with that comes a lot of work. And I can only naturally relate this whole house experience to life because it has taught me so much already. Having the ability to own a home and fill it with good things is a gift, but it will not satisfy the deepest cravings in my heart. Only God will be able to satisfy those needs.

Our new house will also, in one way or another, disappoint us. Stuff will break. Pipes will leak. There will always be work. There will be new challenges that didn’t exist in an apartment and there will be new worries and fears.

But Lord willing, God will use this house as a place to show his love, be hospitable, share the gospel, disciple our children, grow our marriage, nurture authentic relationships, make friends and family feel welcome, and teach us more about Himself. And I am definitely excited about that. Most of all, my prayer is that this home will glorify God and that it will be a place where His purposes are accomplished in our family and among the people we will live near.

Until we move out of seminary housing at the end of April, we will be painting, getting appliances, and doing lots of dirty work. Well that is, mostly my husband, family, and friends since I shouldn’t be around paint being pregnant.

Oh yeah and we’ll also be praying that nobody else falls through the ceiling.

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