Archive for February, 2010

20th February
written by Michelle

On Thursday night I and about half of southern California went to LA to hear Rob Bell speak. I was like a little kid waiting in line to meet Santa Clause. Now I know Rob Bell is not in fact Santa Claus, but that same childish excitement and giddy feeling was present as we waited to enter the Wiltern Theater. I’ve read RB’s books and listened to his podcast for years because they offered a different voice, a new perspective and sometimes a radical understanding of the gospel. In some of my darkest and most painful seasons his writing and words offered Hope, when everything else seemed silent.

And in case you were wondering, he is just as good live. Articulate. Creative and Down Right Funny. He somehow connects Will Farrell and Jesus in the same sentence- pure brilliance. He’s the kinda guy you’d want to have over to your house to hang out with your friends. And yet he seamlessly connects faith and pop culture and art and politics and the bible into a canvas that leaves room for mystery and honesty.

Obviously, I don’t really like him.

The best part about Thursday was that Rob Bell acknowledged right off the bat that bad stuff happens- pain, heartache, loss, suffering, and grief- and yet, we don’t know why. Our lives do not unravel the way we expected. Some things never, ever make sense! But instead of trying to give simplistic answers that many Christians to do, he invited us to see pain, heartache and loss as a complete disruption to our lives-which it is. But “The Art of Disruption” as he says, also plants seeds of creativity. When we suffer we are challenged to re(create), (re)imagine and re(define) parts of our life that will never, ever be the same.

I think about some of the times I have cried out in anger or heartache and how I often feel like the sadness and loneliness are the roots of my pain, but RB said often the root of our pain is actually mourning the loss of the expectation.

Aren’t these some of the thoughts that often go through our heads?
This is not how I thought life would be. I expected him to be here forever. I never thought we would lose our house. I expected to be married by now. I never imagined my mom getting cancer. I never thought we wouldn’t be able to have kids.
I never planned on this. And the list could do on.

RB said something that stuck with me- Pain has a way of making us honest.

He didn’t justify the pain, gloss over it or simplify it. No, he just said, it has a way of making us honest. And I think he is right. Pain forces us to look deep inside and cry out with questions. Pain forces us to admit I can’t do this alone. And the God that I believe in meets us right there in our pain. He meets us in the empty places. Some of the most beautiful, honest and genuine people that I know have experienced deep pain and loss, but somehow they’ve taken the art of disruption and let it shape and change who they are.

RB obviously describes it better, but this is the best I could do at quick synopsis. If you’re inclined to fly to the UK or Australia you still have a chance to see him! Click here for tour dates. For the rest of you, you can settle for buying the book.

Next post, bar soap and “The Art of Elimination.”

15th February
written by Michelle

Last week I was strolling through one of my favorite bookstores trying to ignore all of the sentimental, and yes slightly cheezy, valentine books that are so conveniently placed on the table right by the checkout stand. I am still a firm believer that Valentine’s Day is a hallmark holiday that was created to boost greeting card and flower sales in between Christmas and Easter, but nonetheless I still happen to like this day of love. Maybe because cute cards and handwritten letters are my love language so any excuse to receive one or give one is well worth it.

On the table that day at the bookstore I saw this book, 10,000 ways to say i love you by Gregory J.P. Godek. Apparently this guy is some kinda of love master because I don’t think I could come up with 10,000 ways to say I love you, but I did come up with 10. So, whether you are spending today with the love of your life…or wishing you had a love in your life, enjoy these 10 little nuggets. And know that they can be done any day of the year, not just Valentine’s day.

10 ways to say i love you
1. do your _________ (fill in the blank: husband’s, roommate’s, sister’s, etc) dishes in the sink, even though they’re not yours.
2. give a foot massage
3. be a good listener
4. every now and then when you’re out to dinner with friends, take the check and say “i got this one” instead of diving it up 5 ways.
5. call. sometimes it just means more than sending a facebook message or having a texting conversation
6. learn someone’s favorite coffee drink and bring to them. just because.
7. let him choose the movie. and don’t complain about it after.
8. buy her flowers. and put a handwritten note inside. trust me on this one.
9. take your daughter out to breakfast- just the two of you.
10. Give good hugs- often.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tags: ,
8th February
written by Michelle

It’s hard to beat an afternoon at home, on the couch watching the Superbowl. I guess I should clarify “watching” football for me is synonymous with multi-tasking. I really do really like football, but I what I like even more is that I can simultaneously “watch” a game while also painting my nails, grading papers, updating quicken, folding laundry and shoveling steamed edamame into my mouth! I know it’s a skill- don’t be jealous. I think I’ve learned this fine art of football-watching-multi-tasking from my mother, who is the queen of getting things done during football games. She has given me both an appreciation and understanding of the game of football, as well as a high aptitude for being productive while watching the game. Thank you, mom.


For as much as I enjoy a relaxing and productive Sunday at home (and no, those two words are not mutually exclusive in my book) I actually look forward to Monday.

One of the reasons I love my job is that I honestly look forward to going to work on most days (not just Mondays). Each morning I am greeted (and when I say greeted I mean just stared at blankly) by twenty, sleepy-eyed teenagers. And these groggy, sometimes socially awkward, inquisitive students are the reason I love my job.

The Reciprocal Relationship

This is my fourth year of teaching and every year my students impart some new knowledge on me. I think one of the keys to being a good teacher is admitting that you always have something to learn from your students. Sometimes teachers get mixed-up and assume that the teaching-learning relationship flows in some linear fashion; going from teacher to student and then just stops. But I am a firm believer that the teaching-learning relationship is much more reciprocal.

Some of my students teach me about being resilient— many of them have encountered deep pain, loss and neglect in ways I can’t even imagine. Others teach me about creativity— their unfiltered, creative words* send me scurrying back to to make sure what they’re saying is still relatively appropriate for the classroom. And this semester my students have been teaching me about curiosity— their hands raised with genuine and thoughtful questions shaped by their own sense of wonder.

Asking Good Questions

I start off each new semester with a lesson about the importance of asking good questions. I tell my seniors that for the past 12 years of their lives they have learned how to give the right answers, but I want them to know how to ask good questions.

To discuss different types of questions I use the metaphor of a tree. When you look at a tree “on the surface” you see the obvious…the trunk, branches, leaves, etc. These represent the simplistic, one word, literal questions. The “When did the war start?” and “Who is the author of the book?” kinda questions. Important questions, but simple nonetheless. The answer is often obvious, right there in front of you.

Then there are the “under the surface” questions. Back to the tree metaphor- I ask, what can’t you see under the surface of the tree, but you know is there? The roots, dirt, soil, etc. These are the things that are harder to see and understand, but there is a richness and necessity to their presence. These are the more complex questions, the “why?” and “how come” and “do you think” questions of the world.

For one of their homework assignments I gave my students a rather simple task of asking 15 questions.

Here are some of questions they asked:
“Would the world be more peaceful if all of us had the same religion?”
“Why do people take advantage of other people?
“Why does the government spend more money on prisons than schools?
“How long can the average person hold their breath?”
“Why do teens these days not seem to care about their education and future?
“Why is school so hard for some people?”
“How come we can’t stop wars and all get along?

I have given this assignment before, but usually, I get the same, pretty standard questions. Questions such as “Why do teachers give homework?” or “How many days ’till school gets out?” or “Do you like teaching?” But this group of students is different. They asked complex, curious, and creative questions; questions that I don’t always feel prepared to answer or even discuss.

It’s Not About the Answer

I am learning that inviting someone to ask a question is like asking them to share a small piece of who they are. We are a culture that likes to spout off facts and megabytes of information in easily digestible chunks, but we don’t often pause to ask questions. Asking questions implies that you must be humble and vulnerable enough to admit that you don’t know the answer. And sometimes I think I shy away from asking questions out of fear that the answers won’t make sense. If someone gave me the assignment to write down 15 questions, I am honestly not sure what I would ask. What would you ask?

I believe questions are like a mirror that reflect the scattered doubts and musing of our hearts. They don’t realize it, but when I invite my students to ask questions, I am actually getting a glimpse into the kind of things that swirl around inside. And hopefully this inside glimpse allows me to be a better teacher and a better learner.

(*note: thanks to the help of my students I’ve added a wealth of words to my vocabulary. Words like kick back, chillin, lets book it, nah, not eeeven, aww, that’s a mission, don’t tripppp and..oh, I could go on. Sometimes these words even slip into my every day speech…which lends itself nicely to the occasional raised eyebrow from my peers, as if to say “Do you realize what you just said?”)