Women & Work
Women & Work Podcast
Episode 10: Michelle Stratton
COURTNEY: Welcome to the Women & Work podcast, the show that inspires you to confidently step into your God-given calling & view your work as meaningful to the Kingdom of God. I’m Courtney Moore.
MISSIE: And I’m Missie Branch. We want to introduce you to women who through their own unique vocations are seeing what they do make an eternal difference.
COURTNEY: We pray these conversations will inspire you in your own calling to honor God, image Him to the world through your work, and leverage your potential for His glory.
MISSIE: Thanks so much for joining us today.
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COURTNEY: Welcome listeners, I’m Courtney Moore here, and we are glad to have you listening in today, Missie and I are so thrilled to welcome our guest today. Her name is Michelle Stratton, she is an attorney at Smyser Kaplan & Veselka in Houston, Texas. Her practice focuses on complex, civil, commercial and white-collar criminal litigation and appeals, sounds very fancy. I can’t wait to hear about it. She was first in her class in law school where she earned the top grade in 20 courses.
MISSIE: Yes, excellent. [chuckle]
COURTNEY: In addition to practicing in State and federal district courts in Texas, Michelle has litigated in the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth and DC circuits, the Texas Supreme Court and both Houston courts of appeals. Before entering private practice, she served as a law clerk to associate Justice Clarence Thomas…
COURTNEY: On the Supreme Court of the United States and to Judge Edith Jones on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
COURTNEY: She is married to Brandon, they have three kids whom she home schools. And she is a member of Christ Community Church in Houston. Michelle, we are just so thrilled to have you here.
MISSIE: Yes, ma’am. Welcome.
Michelle Stratton: Thank you so much for having me.
COURTNEY: And just to give our audience kind of a back story, this whole conversation and meeting you was just all of the Lord, we really could not have even planned it. Michelle and I were both at the Gospel Coalition women’s conference back in March. I believe it was March of 2021. We were… Happened to be on the same plane ride home, and she was on an aisle seat and I was across from her on the other… Just right across the aisle, and I don’t even remember Michelle, how we started talking? Do you remember?
MICHELLE: I don’t know either. I think we connected over Texas, you were… Over being at the conference and going back home to Texas and then yeah, the conversation took off from there, and you said, “You should come on my podcast.”
COURTNEY: As soon as you started talking about your life, I thought… First I was fascinated and I can’t really even believe I didn’t start taking notes on my phone because I was so fascinated… We talked for a long time, a good little way there, so… And I knew I was like, “Our women will love you and everything the Lord is doing in your life.” And so, we’re just thrilled to have you on today, can’t wait to hear more about you.
MICHELLE: I am so excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
MISSIE: Well, I do remember when Courtney said, “Missie, I met a lawyer on the plane. She’ll be perfect for the podcast.” So Michelle, what we like to do is we like to start each guest off with what we call our rapid fire questions, and so they are just three questions for us to use to get to know you a little bit better, so I’m gonna start us off with, as a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
MICHELLE: So, okay, I know that I had a stint wanting to be an astronaut, and that was only though, because I had watched Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks, that was what led to the astronaut stint, and then I also… I recall wanting to be a broadcast journalist, and I think that was because my dad watched the local news a lot and it was on in our house, and I thought the idea of standing in front of the TV with a microphone would be great. So of course, I turned out not doing either of those things, but those are the two I remember.
MISSIE: I actually wanted to be the same thing, until I realized you don’t just wind up on the screen, you work pretty hard before you get there. [chuckle]
MICHELLE: There’s a lot of… There’s a lot that has to happen before you get to either of those professions.
COURTNEY: So what was your first job then?
MICHELLE: Okay, so I have to answer this question in two parts, my first paid job, my dad was a high school principal, and so over the summers in high school, he got me a job just doing clerical secretarial work in our local school board office, which was great. It was a chance for me to be in a professional office environment and fulfill all my type A dreams of organizing things but truly, my first job, even though it was unpaid, was when I was two years old, and I was playing quietly and my dad called me over because he wanted to mow the front yard, and he handed me one of those big 13-gallon buckets and said, “Fill this up with the pine cones and the sticks from the front yard,” and so I did… Then there was the typical like two-year-old grumbling and having to deal with me and fight with me over it, and when it was all said and done, my mom asked my dad, she said, “Michael, she was playing so quietly like, why did you need to interrupt her and have her do that?”
And he said, “Well, you know, in life, she’s gonna have to learn to stop doing things she’s enjoying in order to start doing things she doesn’t and she might as well learn now.” [chuckle] That is adulthood. Is it not? So I learned a very good and early lesson through my very first job.
MISSIE: I love that, I love that. Well, other than picking up pine cones from the yard, what kind of work do you wanna be doing when you’re 80 years old?
MICHELLE: I love this question, I think because we were created to work. Work is a good thing and so at 80, Lord willing, I would love to be loving my husband and mentoring my children and grandchildren, if God gives them to me. I would love to be discipling younger women in our church and teaching the Bible to women. I just wanna teach the Bible and disciple women until I drop dead.
MISSIE: Love it. Well, I would love for us to get to know you a little more. One of the things that is obviously fascinating is that you’re a lawyer, but who is Michelle? Tell us a little bit about you, where you’re from, and then even how you became a Christian.
MICHELLE: Yeah, that’s a great question. When I was… I was born and raised in a tiny little town in central Louisiana, grew up in a very country rural environment…
MISSIE: You don’t have an accent, just…
MICHELLE: Well, it’s been… I’ve been many years away, and so I think it’s been purged. When I go back home and I spend enough time there, and I have some… I’m from Central Louisiana, but I have some Cajun relatives from Southwest Louisiana and when I spend enough time with them, it begins to emerge. But my parents, by God’s grace, my parents were believers, and they shared the Gospel with me consistently and faithfully, and I was brought to church every time the doors were opened from the moment I was conceived until the moment I left home, and I’m very… I’m very grateful to the Lord for that environment and that upbringing. So yeah, so I’m just a Louisiana girl in Texas.
COURTNEY: And you’ve got three kids. Tell us their ages and genders.
MICHELLE: I do. I have two daughters who are six and five, first grade and kindergarten, and then I have a son who is three and he has one more year before he starts school, and I think you said earlier, we live here in Houston, Texas, which is where my husband is from a suburb here, and we are members at Christ Community Church, which is a church here in West Houston and active there. And then, yeah, I split my time between being an attorney in private practice and home schooling my kiddos. They go to a classical Christian school that is collaborative, so they go on campus two days a week, and then they are homeschooled by me the remaining days of the week, so that’s where we’re putting most of our time and energy these days.
MISSIE: Did you always know you wanted to homeschool your kids, or is that something that kind of evolved?
MICHELLE: That completely evolved. I mentioned earlier, my dad was a high school principal, and I was educated nearly exclusively in public school, my husband was as well, and we had never really thought about doing anything different. And then we came to our church, and our church had several families who were doing the school that we’re doing now. And that was the first we had heard of it, and it was really intriguing. And then we read a book called Perspectives on Christian Education. That was really helpful. It was a very short book, and it was four authors who each wrote an essay advocating for Christians to do. One advocated for public school, one advocated for an open enrollment Christian school where unbelieving families are welcome, a Covenant Christian school where only believing families attend and then a pure homeschool, and they each got to write their reasons for why they thought that was a good choice, and then the other authors responded. So it’s just this very helpful civil debate from a Christian worldview, from everyone’s perspective, and that just helped my husband and I really think critically about the issue in ways we hadn’t before and my one takeaway from that, I think before I read the book, I had this false dichotomy in my mind that, “Okay, my job was the spiritual education of my children,” and then I would…
MICHELLE: The school’s job would be all the other things. And I really came to see that all of education is from God and to God, and for God, we’re learning about the world he’s made, and he has given to parents the responsibility to educate our children, and so it’s all my responsibility, and it’s just a question of how much and to whom I delegate it. And different families can come to very faithful, wise and godly choices about that. But it really helped me settle in the conviction that I am the one who is accountable before the Lord for the holistic education of my children. And so the school that we’re in has worked really well for us, but different families can do it… Can do it differently, and I think faithfully.
COURTNEY: So what was the name of the book again that you mentioned?
MICHELLE: It’s called Perspectives, and it’s four perspectives on Christian education. I might be botching the title, but if you Google it…
COURTNEY: Yeah, we’ll Google it and we’ll even put it in the show notes for people.
MICHELLE: Put it in the show notes.
COURTNEY: Yeah. Awesome, well, we would love to hear more about what you do. I read in your bio that you practice civil, commercial and white-collar criminal litigation. So I’m wondering, how did you choose this type of law and maybe even kind of give listeners who are not in this world kind of maybe a broad perspective of the types of law, maybe perhaps they’re someone young listening and they’re thinking, “Oh, maybe God’s calling me to this type of work.” How do you navigate the options and how did you do that?
MICHELLE: That’s a great question. So there are lots of different types of law practice, just a few examples, there are lawyers who do wills and estate planning, there are lawyers who do family law, divorce and child custody disputes, there are lawyers who do corporate law, so they’re doing business acquisitions and mergers. There’s tax law, there’s lots of different fields, and then there’s this broad area known as litigation, and that’s just a fancy way of saying lawsuits. So someone has sued someone else, there’s a dispute and now that case needs to be resolved, and so I am a litigator. I do litigation and there are… As you might imagine, there are lots of different types of litigation, you might have an environmental lawsuit or an employment dispute, and some litigators will specialize in one specific area of litigation. I do a much broader spectrum of litigation, but essentially I represent a client in a lawsuit, either we have sued someone or we have been sued. And for me, in my particular work, I have focused more so on appellate litigation, and that is when a case has been decided in the trial court, so the very first court, it’s reached a resolution, and now it’s going up on appeal to an appellate court to review the judgment of the court below, and I will represent a client there. So sometimes we have lost below and we are going to appeal, or sometimes we’ve won below, and now I’m defending that judgment on appeal.
But practically speaking, what that means is I write a lot of legal documents, so these are documents that the judges and the court reads, that lays out the facts and the law and argues why my client should win under the facts in the law. And then I will go to court at times and make what’s called oral arguments where the judges have read what I’ve written, and now they’re going to let me verbally present my position, and they’re going to ask me questions about it. So that’s really, practically speaking, I read and write and argue all the time, for a living. [chuckle]
COURTNEY: Wow. Do you feel like your mind… Are you naturally very… I mean, you’re in the details… You’re in these weeds. I mean, just hearing you talk about that, I’m like, that’s a lot of details that my brain doesn’t… Not… It resists that.
MICHELLE: Yeah, I do think that there are areas of the law where people of different aptitudes can really flourish. I do think in litigation, verbal and written communication skills are essential, and that was one of the things… I always excelled in that area growing up, so I had a natural aptitude. I remember in junior high I took an aptitude test with everybody else in my junior high, and it gives you your results for the things that you might most likely be good at in a profession, and my four results were politician, judge, lawyer, and teacher.
MICHELLE: And in my very juvenile mind, I thought, “Well, my dad’s a teacher and they just don’t make enough money.” And then I thought, “Well, and judges and politicians they’re basically all lawyers. So I guess lawyer it is.” And that was in eighth grade, and it just filed away in the back of my mind, but I always had a strong sense of justice, of the dividing line between right and wrong, and I was always drawn to advocacy. The idea of representing someone else and advocating for their position, and on their behalf. And so those were all… As I look back at how God made me and the things that I was gifted in, I can see how they were suitable to the type of work that I do today.
MISSIE: Wow, you’ve pretty much answered my next question I really wanted to ask, how did this all begin? But you know it’s interesting when you say, someone gave me an aptitude test and it almost helped me define or put words to what I knew existed about me already. Is that true?
MICHELLE: Yes, I think that that’s right. It confirmed… It really confirmed things that people had already… Who knew me and were observing me had already seen in my life, and so I think that those tests can be really helpful. God has gifted us all with a diversity of gifts, and uniquely created us to do kingdom service in all sorts of different areas and I just think that’s such a beautiful way that he’s designed things.
MISSIE: That’s so awesome. That’s so awesome.
COURTNEY: So you went to LSU for law school, correct?
MICHELLE: That’s right.
COURTNEY: And your undergrad… First of all, let’s go back. Your undergrad was in history.
MICHELLE: That’s right.
COURTNEY: Okay, and you thought… Did you love history or you thought this would be a good precursor to law school?
MICHELLE: You know, I did enjoy history, but you can go to law school with any undergraduate degree. You can be a biology major and go to law school, and there are… There were in my law school class, there were people with all sorts of different undergrad backgrounds, and so before I majored in my undergrad area, I talked with some lawyers… Because again, at the time, I felt pretty confident I would go to law school eventually. And they just all encouraged me that whatever I majored in, it should be something that had me read and write in large quantities, and so I majored in history and minored in English, both because I thought I would enjoy those subjects, but also because they met those criteria, I was going to be reading a lot and having to write papers and essays, and that was a very good practice both for law school as well as the legal profession.
COURTNEY: That makes sense. And so pretty much after you graduated from law school at LSU… I mean, you were pretty immediately moving up to Washington DC, right?
MICHELLE: I spent one year in Houston right out of law school, and that’s actually when I met my husband, because you can’t… As you mentioned earlier, I went on to clerk at the US Supreme Court, but you can’t clerk on the US Supreme Court until you’ve clerked on an appellate court. And just for listeners who might not be familiar with the system, the federal court system is made up of over 90 federal districts that are spread throughout the United States. So for example, here in Texas, we have several different districts that cover different territory, and those are where your trial courts are, your judges who hear cases, lawsuits when they’re first brought and they reach a conclusion. Well, then those cases get appealed to federal appellate courts, and those courts preside over different territories as well. So for example, the Fifth Circuit presides over district court cases out of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and then cases that go to the US Supreme Court are appealed from those appellate courts. And so in order to clerk for a judge on the US Supreme Court, you have to have first clerked for a judge on one of the circuit courts, and so I came to Houston to clerk for a judge on the Fifth Circuit, right out of law school.
COURTNEY: Okay. And so, how did it come about after you did this for a year in Houston, how was the connection made for you then to go serve with the Supreme Court?
MICHELLE: You know, this is such an example of God’s hand in my life. I had no lawyers in my family. At the time that I went to clerk for the US Supreme Court, LSU law had not had any students go on to clerk at the court. And so, I really just… I knew very little about post-law school career paths in general, much less clerking what it was, its importance, I just didn’t… I was very much country come to town. [chuckle] And God just placed… He just placed people in my life who…
MICHELLE: He used, and so I met lawyers in private practice who had been successful appellate attorneys who clerked at the court, one was a believer. And these were people who just really shepherded me, the chancellor of my law school, they saw my aptitude and they held my hand and told me what to do and how to apply. And then my appellate judge, who I clerked for here in Houston was very instrumental in recommending me to Justice Thomas. And so, I’m so grateful to God for just the people he put in my life who helped me and made that path possible.
COURTNEY: I think that’s so amazing. And even just… Like you said, it’s just such… The grace of God in your life, but then I also hear that and think some of us might be roles where we are mentoring and we can see people under us maybe that are coming up, that we need to be generous, like these people were in your life to help them take the next step. So I think it really goes both ways.
MICHELLE: That’s absolutely right. And I’ve tried to live that out in my own life. You know, having done what I’ve done, I have people who are much younger than me, who will be put in touch with me to ask me, “Okay, Michelle, what should I put? What should my application look like? And what kind of recommendation letters should I get?” Just these sort of nitty-gritty.
MICHELLE: And I remember needing help and needing people to tell me what to do, and I’ve wanted to pay that forward and just encourage people… You know, again, at the time that I went on to clerk, people clerk on the court from Harvard and Yale and Stanford and other top law schools, and I wasn’t from a place like that. And I really just took the view, like the worst that anybody can say is no, so you might as well just try.
COURTNEY: I love that.
MICHELLE: And so, I’ve just tried to encourage people to just try, and if they say no, your life will go on and you will do wonderful things, but they might say yes.
COURTNEY: I love that.
MICHELLE: And there you’ll be. So just try.
MISSIE: So Michelle, okay, so you are clerking [chuckle] at the Supreme Court for Clarence Thomas, what in the world was it like for you to work at the Supreme Court? Like, were you scared? What…
COURTNEY: Intimidated, what?
MICHELLE: Yes, yes, all of the above, all of the above. I just… My overriding thought was just, “Do not screw this up.”
MICHELLE: And I had that thought for various reasons. I mean, one, I really respect and admire Justice Thomas, he’s a wonderful person, and I think has just done incredible things for the jurisprudence in our country. And I wanted to live up to the trust that he had placed in me. So that was a big motivator. I also knew the cases that come before the court, they’re important. They’re important, not just because they affect the actual parties to the case, but as you know, they determine what the law will be going forward for many years in many cases. And so, I wanted to do well and to do the work right and reach the right conclusions. And I was also, frankly, I was sensitive to the fact that I was not from Harvard or Yale or from a traditional place, and I wanted to demonstrate that people from other schools could perform at that high level as well. I didn’t wanna ruin it for people behind me, right?
MICHELLE: I wanted people to come. And so, there was a lot of pressure to do well, but it was also just a very… It was a very inspiring year to think about the fact that you could be someone like me who didn’t have connections and didn’t have…
COURTNEY: Love that.
MICHELLE: Family money or you know, I didn’t have the power and the prestige, but we live in a country and in a system where I could get to the Supreme Court. And I thought about my grandfather who loves the United States and loves the Lord and loves his country, and he would never walk the halls of the US Supreme Court, but I could… But I was there to help interpret the Constitution and the laws that affect his life, and that I could do him honor and serve him, and other people, just common people who need to be governed by a system of laws, and I could just play a small role in that. So, it was hard and it was intimidating, but it was worth it.
MISSIE: So I think it’s so beautiful to hear you say that you were thinking about the people that come behind you, because I do think that a lot of us walk through these incredible experiences only cataloging how great it is for me, but not understanding that we all carry a responsibility for who we represent, no matter what that community or group of people may be, that we carry that. So, I think that’s really beautiful to hear you say that. So now, being reflective, so you look back 10 years from having worked at the Supreme Court, how did that experience change you? How did your perspective of the law and all those things change, but then how do you see, “This is where I was spiritually 10 years ago, and now I walk away 10 years and I look back, what have I gained?”
MICHELLE: Yeah, you know, I gained a lot professionally in the sense that I was able to see and experience how the court operates, both the good, the bad, and the ugly, right? Being on the inside. And that was… That’s been helpful to me in my career as an appellate lawyer. I think one of the great benefits of clerking for any judge on any court is that you get to see on the inside how judges operate, so that when you become a lawyer practicing before those judges, you know what they’re looking for and how to best help them reach the conclusion you want them to reach. So…
MISSIE: So smart.
MICHELLE: I think it can be really beneficial. But you know, at the time, I was 26 or 27, and in my sort of humble or not humble, no, youthful, [chuckle] arrogance, I thought, “God is bringing me to Washington DC so that I can do really important and consequential work for the US Supreme Court, for the kingdom.” And I think that that was true and right, and I do think that the work I did there was honoring to the Lord, but I don’t think that was God’s primary [chuckle] objective. My husband and I, when we moved to DC, we became members of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and that… We were only there for a little under two years, but that was really probably the most spiritually formative event in both of our adult lives. It was really the first time we had sat under just expositional… Faithful expositional preaching consistently, and I remember just thinking, “Wow, this God of the Bible that… ” And I had darkened the church doors again, every minute of every day, right? I felt like I knew church and I knew the scriptures, but I really didn’t in so many ways. I had all these gaps, and the God of the Bible that was preached there, he was so big and so amazing, and I was not the center of the universe, he was.
COURTNEY: That’s good.
MICHELLE: And he did things for his own glory, not my glory. And it just blew my mind and my husband’s mind, and we saw just a healthy church operating so intentionally, and so I just… The Lord was so kind to use that church, just that brief time that we were there to shape us in our understanding of his scriptures and our understanding of the local church. So yeah, it’s funny how you get some years at a distance, and you see how God’s providential hand was at work in unexpected ways.
COURTNEY: Don’t you love that? I mean, God wasn’t just interested in what you were doing during work hours of the day, but he really is always moving us forward in sanctification and closer to who He wants us to become in Christ, so I love that.
MISSIE: You work at the Supreme Court and he’s changing your life at church.
COURTNEY: There you go.
MICHELLE: That’s right. And in some ways, we talked about how I’ve carried with me the things I’ve learned from the court, but in all honesty, I probably use and rely more today on things that I learned through my time at church than I do on things that I learned at the court, because the things that I learned from my time at church were the truly lasting eternal heart-changing things that I use every day in my life with my children and husband and family and church members.
COURTNEY: Well, just a quick follow up, going to, you know, Missie, you talked about representing and you coming from LSU instead of Harvard, I was just curious how many women were doing the same thing you were doing? Was it mostly men, were you an exception as a woman, I’m just curious?
MICHELLE: You know, by the time that I was clerking, there were a fair number of women, and in fact, I’m not sure what the statistics are now, but the top graduates from law schools for a while have been women.
COURTNEY: Okay. Interesting.
MICHELLE: And I think that the profession has really changed, women are doing well, equally as well as men, and opportunities are open to women at the court. I clerked with several other women who were working for various judges, some of whom had children, and looking back, I didn’t have any children at the time I clerked, and I don’t know how those women did it. It’s a one-year job, so you know it’s time limited. But now that I’m a mom and I know the responsibilities of home, I admire so much how they juggled their different responsibilities.
COURTNEY: Wow. Okay. We can get more in depth in that in just a minute, ’cause we do wanna hear about that as well. So, as you have grown in your faith and just in your walk with the Lord, one of our big things at Women & Work is we love the idea of how we can really represent who Christ is through our work. And are there any ways that you have thought through specifically your work as an attorney, like, how you can image God in that role, certain specific things that you thought through, maybe?
MICHELLE: Absolutely. So, if you really think about it for a minute, I only have a job because of the fall. So, people have fights and they have quarrels and disputes because of sin. And if we did not have a society governed by laws and a justice system that was accessible, well, people would find less desirable ways to resolve their disputes, whether it be violence or coercion or some other way where the powerful can just triumph over the weak.
MICHELLE: And so, I really view both our civil and our criminal justice system as instruments of God’s common grace to mankind. I mean, this mitigates the fall for us by giving us a way, a peaceful and hopefully fair way to resolve the disputes that we have because we are sinners. And so, when I participate in the justice system as a lawyer, I think I’m participating in my own small way as an instrument of God’s common grace to the world. And of course, it’s not a perfect system. It is still flawed and there’s partiality, and that’s because it’s owned and operated by sinners, including myself, but it’s still something that we can be, I think, very thankful for. And then when I think about what I do specifically, I alluded to this earlier, I write legal documents, and I think I’m able to image God by using words to bring about a logically ordered environment.
COURTNEY: I love that.
MICHELLE: And that’s what God did at creation, right? He spoke and he brought into being this incredibly complex, but also logically ordered an orderly world, and then he commissions Adam and Eve to go out and to be his representatives and to subdue the Earth and exercise dominion over it, and to bring order and human flourishing wherever they went to his glory. And so, I think that that’s a little bit of what I’m able to do in my small piece of the litigation world, where lawsuits are these incredibly… Often incredibly complex disputes where there’s competing facts and versions of what law should apply and how we should reach this outcome. And so, what I do when I write is I dive into that disordered morass, [chuckle] and I hopefully through words am able to bring order and logical reasoning that will help us reach a clear and a just resolution. So that’s just one… That’s just one area where even in something that seems secular, it seems, well, this is just a contract dispute between two companies, how does this have anything to do with the Lord?
MICHELLE: I really think when we think carefully about what we do in whatever profession we’re in, we can begin to see just these amazing ways that we are being used by God to be instruments of his grace and his generosity to humankind.
COURTNEY: That’s beautiful.
MISSIE: Wow. To restore order and then to show him off.
MISSIE: Michelle, what part of your job do you see the unique gifts given to Michelle being used? Like, we all could be… We all have to use who we are, and so, you’re a lawyer, do you see how God has gifted you specifically to bring those gifts to this role and you glorify him through law? You know what I mean, what I’m trying to ask?
MICHELLE: Yeah. You know, maybe one way to think about this is, I said, I use words to bring order, well, lots of people can use words to bring order, but for some people, it might take a lot more time and effort, and they have to work really hard to communicate. They’re smart, they’re capable in myriad ways, but just verbal and written communication is a harder means of communicating for them. And I think just the Lord has helped me and designed me to be able to do that with relative ease and speed.
COURTNEY: Yeah. That’s amazing.
0:33:35.2 MICHELLE: So, there are times when I have to work hard and I have to put in hours to study and to understand the case and understand the laws that apply, and of course, as I have been a lawyer longer, I have gotten more efficient, hopefully in how I am able to work, but just the speed and ability with which I can digest large quantities of information and then order it and present it hopefully in a way that others can understand, and that is compelling. That’s just a skillset God’s given me, and it’s something I’m constantly learning and improving and watching other people who do it better and trying to emulate them, but I can see how if you were someone for whom that just was very difficult, maybe this particular practice of law is not your speed. But I couldn’t be a nurse, you know? I just couldn’t. Because I’m not… Those are not my… That’s not my particular set of skills. And so, the Lord just has made us all so differently, but we can all be used for his glory.
MISSIE: So then, how did you see… Like, when you thought, “Okay, I wanna be a lawyer. I’m gonna set this up as my life,” did you see you being a lawyer come in contrast against being a wife and a mom, or did you see them as separate? And the reason why I ask, I used to wanna be a lawyer, like, that was my life’s dream. [chuckle] But selfishly, I’ll be honest, I wanted to be a wife… I wanted to be a lawyer, and I did not want a husband, and I did not want kids, because my motivation was, “I’m gonna work hard and make a lot of money, I’m not sharing this or having people coming to get my money,” right? [laughter] So, the Lord shut that down. Great dream, terrible motivation, right?
COURTNEY: So, first of all, what profession is your husband in, and then second, how did you grapple, how did you come to… Kinda walk us through the process of how God worked in your heart, in your mind, and practically in your life?
MICHELLE: So my husband is not a lawyer, he does network administration for a large university here in Houston. So he does all of their wireless IT work, and his job… It’s very flexible, which is what allows me to continue to be a lawyer, and with having small children. And so, I’m very thankful for that, I could not do what I do if he did not also have a job that enabled him to help me.
MISSIE: Also, none of us could do what we do, if it wasn’t for people like him, who bring order to chaos.
MICHELLE: That is right, that is right. He resolves all the technical problems in my world, and I’m very thankful. [chuckle]
MISSIE: That’s awesome.
MICHELLE: You would think that I would have thought about how marriage and motherhood would impact my legal career, but it kind of astounds me, but really, I’d never thought about it. I wasn’t opposed to marriage and motherhood, I had grown up surrounded by believing families and had seen a lovely picture of marriage and motherhood, so I didn’t have any negative feelings toward it. I was just so singularly focused on my career, that I never gave it much thought. And so, in the early days of marriage, it was definitely something that I had to work through, and I had… I was confronted with this new reality that now that I was married and another person was in the picture, that that would inform my decision-making and our decision-making about my job.
But it really… Consistent with what I said before, about how going to DC was so spiritually formative for us, that was the first time we were introduced to this idea of complementarianism, which some of your listeners may be familiar with this word, others might not. But, it’s just basically, as I understand it, the idea that God has made men and women equal before him, in dignity and value and worth. We are co-heirs, co-laborers, women are not lesser in any way to men. But by the same token, while we are equal, we are not the same. That men and women are different, and we are distinct in both our roles and how we function in certain ways. And I just remember being confronted with this idea and really frankly, being angry about it.
Because by God’s grace, I believed that the Bible was inerrant and that it was authoritative and that God had absolute claim over my life. And so if something was God’s way, I knew I had to submit to it for my good and for his glory. I knew I had to obey. But I just remember thinking, “If this is true, if this is biblical, and the fact that I’m female, and the fact that I’m married, and by God’s grace if he gives me children, that these might actually matter for my legal career and my decision-making. Well, what does that mean for me? Because I have invested so much time and energy and money in becoming a lawyer and developing those skills,” and I felt completely ill-equipped at wifing and momming.
MICHELLE: And I had very… At the time, I look back, I had very stereotypical understandings, not necessarily biblical understandings. In my mind, I couldn’t sew and I couldn’t cook, so why would God want me to at all stay at home with my children in any capacity? And that was just not biblical thinking, that was stereotypical thinking. But the Lord just softened my heart. That’s really the best way I can say it. And over time, began to show me that he’s not in the business of calling people who are competent. He’s in the business… Actually, the entire Bible, you might look at as a storyline of calling the incompetent and the ill-equipped, and the least. And God displaying his power and making it perfect in their weakness. And so I just began to see that the Lord was not calling me to consider my role as wife and mom because I was more competent in those areas, than I was as an attorney. In fact, to this day, I still think I’m a far better attorney, than I am a wife and mom, at times.
MISSIE: Isn’t that refreshing? To be honest about that, is refreshing to hear.
COURTNEY: It really is, yeah.
MICHELLE: And I have literally stood… Just so women know, look, I have stood in my laundry room and told my husband, “I should be in an office writing legal briefs, not doing what I’m doing with these children. I feel so inadequate.” But I think that that’s exactly where the Lord needs me to be.
MICHELLE: Because I would be arrogant and insufferable, if I just spent all my time doing what I feel skilled at and what I feel equipped and competent and successful at. And the Lord said, “No, no. We’re gonna strip Michelle Stratton of all of those things that she relies on, that aren’t me, and I’m gonna make her learn to depend on me and to see her need and her inadequacy, and I’m gonna do it in her home, in her relationship with her husband and her children.”
So the Lord has just been… He has worked in my heart, to cause me to depend on him, as I thought through those things. And obviously, I’m still a lawyer, so I haven’t stayed home full-time, and I’m very thankful that I have the ability… I recognize it’s a privilege, right? There are women who don’t get the option of staying home and they have to work outside the home, and the fact that I even have that ability to stay at home in any capacity is a gift that not every woman has. So I certainly don’t wanna suggest that complementarian means that every single woman’s family life must look the same. We can all do different things with regard to our work outside the home, and be faithful.
I think what the Lord has taught me is just that, I have… It’s about my humble heart posture, and do I have a heart posture of submission to him and his design, and to be willing to be content in whatever role he has me in. If that means being in the home with my children, to be contented and joyfully submissive to his good plan for me. If that means being outside the home, then having that same heart posture of open hands to the Lord, ready to obey him in whatever role he has given me.
MISSIE: It’s interesting to hear you say this, Michelle, because for some women, it’s what they’ve aspired to, to be a wife and a mom and to be home with kids, and that’s beautiful. Because you commit to this man, so why not wanna be great at it? And you commit to these children, why not wanna be great at it? For other women though, it is a very humbling experience to think through the idea that I will give up parts of me for the service of someone else, or someones else, and often I find myself in seasons where I’ve been like, “Man, the moment I want to “release the chains of something,” is when I should be doing it more, more and more. You know what I’m saying?
For example, I make my husband a cup of coffee every morning, and I love doing it, but there are some mornings where I’m like, “I gotta be up early before him, I gotta get out the house faster than him, I gotta do… Why isn’t he making me coffee?” And every time I go through that season where in my mind I’m like, “He should be doing this for me.” I’m like, “That’s why you will continue to make this coffee every morning, because you need to shut it down, it is okay to serve someone else.” But sometimes I do think it’s easy to separate all of these these view… These roles out in our minds, like wife, mother, employment, disciple-maker, church member, do you view them all as these separate spheres in your world, or do you see how they assimilate to create something that works in synergy. You know what I’m trying to say?
MISSIE: Because sometimes for some people, it is better to just, I gotta go be a mom and then stop and go to work, but…
MICHELLE: Yeah, I think the way that I think about this issue is I recognize in myself, and I think this is probably something a lot of people share, is a tendency to derive our identity from our work, so if our work is primarily in the home, we can derive our identity from being a wife and a mom, or if our work is outside the home, we derive our identity from that role that we play. And I think what’s important for me to remember is that’s not who I am. I am not first and foremost, a wife, or a mom, or a lawyer, or a church member, or a Bible teacher, I am fundamentally Christ’s. I am his.
MICHELLE: And I am his child, the Father’s child, I’m united with Christ, I’m in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit. That is who I am. And now I live out of that identity in these various roles that God gives me, and I think about The Parable of the Talents, where the master… Jesus tells the story of the master who leaves his servants with their talents, they each get different talents. We don’t all get the same gifts and resources, and then he goes away for a little while and he’s coming back, and when he comes back, he expects us to have stewarded what he gave us.
MICHELLE: So I view my roles as wife and mom and lawyer, and everything else as, how am I stewarding these talents God has placed in my hand, not comparing my talents to other people, not saying, “Well, that servant got 15 and I only got 10,” but just, what am I doing to steward these talents so that when he returns he finds me faithful in those roles?
COURTNEY: That’s all of that. I think that’s Matthew 25. Well, practically, this is a transformation you’ve really endured, and you’re just from your 20s to now, from being single and how you thought about work and life, and then married and then kids, you said, you work about 15 to 20 hours a week right now as an attorney, you’re homeschooling your two girls part… A couple of… Two or three days a week, and so are you… The days that they are in school, is that when you’re getting the bulk of your work done? Just practically, how… I mean, none of us do this perfectly, we’re all trying to figure out how to make it work for our own families, and they’re all gonna be very different, but practically for you, how are you making it work?
MICHELLE: Yeah, so that’s exactly right. My girls go to school two days a week, and my son while they’re in school is watched by a nanny, and so those are the days that I try to do the bulk of my legal work, and then the rest of the days of the week I might squeeze in a couple hours of work during a rest time, I’m holding on to rest time as long as I possibly can. I know other moms out there are in solidarity with me. For whatever reason, you might hold on to rest time. But for me I’m like, “Okay, two hours of uninterrupted legal work,” so I have pieced it together in that way, and as I mentioned, my husband is so helpful and instrumental.
MICHELLE: There have been times… I try to work on average 15 to 20 hours, but there are times when a case is heating up and is requiring more from me, and I can’t just say, “Well, I worked my 15, so sorry client, you’re on your own.” I have to do what’s required, and in those days, my husband is great about he’ll take a day off or he’ll take the kids and they’ll go to his mom’s, and he will just make space for me to work. And so we are really a true team and partnership in every way, I could not do it without his help, so I’m very grateful for him.
MISSIE: That’s beautiful. So for some people, depending on what their work is or how their life is set up, it can almost feel isolating… Depending even on season. At my church, there’s a lot of people having little children a lot, and so sometimes I can feel… Like in my growth group, I’ll be the only person who doesn’t have little people, and so I’m in a season that’s just so different from other people. Or I’m the only person who may work outside the home, or different things like that, and it can be isolating if I allow it. Have you experienced that in church at all?
MICHELLE: To some extent. I’m in a church where there are women who work to some… To varying degrees outside of the home, whether that be nurses, or there have been a handful of female attorneys or women who do other things outside of the home, and there are still a fair amount of women who have felt called to stay home and just to focus on raising their children, and there are also… I’m around a lot of big families, so women who have decided with their husbands to have large families, and so there’s a fair amount of diversity in family life, and I think our church has done a really good job of not conveying that the Bible is prescriptive about those things, we are all called to obey King Jesus, and the Bible does tell us some very clear things, and we need to be about obeying them.
MICHELLE: But not sort of imposing legalistic rules, but rather recognizing that this area of home and family can often be a matter of wisdom and conscience, where do people feel God is calling them, and how does work outside the home work. So I’m thankful that I haven’t felt isolated or ostracized because I’m different from so many others. I do sometimes have to fight resentment. It would be nice sometimes to just be able to kick up my feet during rest time, and I thought, “Oh it would be so nice, these women who don’t have jobs outside the home, they’re just able to like, I don’t know, Netflix and Chill during rest time,” and that’s not necessarily true…
COURTNEY: I doubt it’s true.
MICHELLE: Women have been called to do all sorts of things, but I can sometimes find myself comparing or being resentful and I have to… The Lord reminds me, “Michelle, do not be envious or jealous or compare yourself with other people, you have no idea what different peoples struggles are”, and it is a first world problem of the highest order that I have… That I even have the ability to work part-time and make enough money that it actually justifies the child care costs. There are all kinds of economic factors and other things. So I have to just fight this contentment in my heart like everybody else, but I’m thankful for our church home that has not been overly prescriptive about what it should look like for everybody.
COURTNEY: That’s great. Do you feel like your church… I was just reading an article this week about how sometimes women’s work can be undervalued even by the fact that just small things that… People maybe a church, don’t even remember, oh, you have this whole professional life over here and that’s a whole aspect of your world, and they’re not even asking you about, “Oh, how’s it going? How’s that case that is so stressful?” Do you feel that your church community supports you in your vocational work, or is it more like, “Oh yeah, she’s doing that and that’s… ” They don’t even think about it. Do you feel valued in that?
MICHELLE: Yeah, I do, I do. And I have several comments about that, the first thing is that if you’re a woman who is not in a situation where you feel seen or valued, it’s not… I don’t want to sound trite, but Jesus sees and he values and he is the audience for whom we perform. And so while we do want encouragement and we want people to see and know us horizontally, I think we can drive just tremendous comfort from the fact that the Lord sees, but I do think it’s good for us to remember that one of the beauties of being in the community of a local church is the diversity of backgrounds and life experiences, and really making it a point to connect with and do life with people who are different from you. So whether that be young single women who are purely in the professional world or older women who have retired and they’re now raising their grandbabies… Just being around women from all walks of life. So that way I’m not just hanging out with other moms of kids who are six, five and three.
Although it’s wonderful to spend time with them and we have so much in common and so much we can learn from one another, I can begin to only consider life from that point of view, or only hanging out with women who are in… If I just said, “Nobody at church will understand me unless they’re also part-time working outside the home. And those need to be my friends because they’re the only ones who will get me.” Well, that’s not true. I’ve seen that born out of my own life, I sit across the community group table every week from women who are completely different from me, working full-time outside the home and staying home completely, and they see me and they pray for me and they listen to my struggles, and they have befriended me and they have taught me, and the Lord has used them in my life, and so I just commend to you the local church and the diversity, and getting to know people who are different from you in all of these different ways, I think it displays the unity of the gospel so beautifully to a watching world.
COURTNEY: Right on.
MISSIE: Michelle, child, when I say you have said it the way it needs to be said… [laughter] I feel like we can even pass our offering plate, okay, [laughter] [1:00:22.6] ____.
COURTNEY: No I agree.
MISSIE: I mean, but we need to prove, I think we do this to ourselves… We get all the single women in a group and all the moms with little kids in a group, and all the retired ladies in the group, and we forget, we are all women. We all need to learn from each other. We’re all juggling a lot of things. We’re all dealing with a lot of things, and why would we want to keep segregating ourselves instead of being for each other what we’re supposed to be? So that is so beautiful. And then one of the things we miss out on is all of our unique gifts, this person who is a retired woman who may have never been married, has incredible gifts to offer me, whose life looked completely different, and so I think that we lose out on the beauty of all of that when we continue to separate. So thinking through that, so thinking through specific gifts and roles, have you been able to use your specific gifts to bless the church at all?
MICHELLE: I love that you asked this question because it ties in so nicely to the path the Lord took me on as I confronted complementarianism, and what that might mean. You recall, I said, what was all this for? Why did I become a lawyer if I’m not gonna be doing this full-time and full-throated, and… Why? Why all of this time effort and study? How will I ever use this in the home or in any other context, if I’m not just full-time devoted to the law and I don’t know if you all are… You might be familiar with John Pipers, Look at the Book, he puts the text on the screen, and he circles the words and shows how they all relate. Well, he came to our church… This was many years ago now, and he did one of these look at the book conferences, and I turned to my husband and I said, “Is this weird to you what he’s doing?” And he said, “Yeah.” His mind was just like, “What is this?” And I said, “Brandon, this is what I do.” I look at text, whether it’s a constitutional text or a statutory text or a contract, and I look at words and I interpret what they mean, and then I try to explain why they mean that to other people.
And that was the moment where the Lord- I felt like- showed me a glimpse of how he could take the skills that I had developed as an attorney and he could use them in the context of my local church. And so I began to teach the Bible in my local church, and I’ve taught Women’s Bible study, and I’ve taken some other opportunities to teach women in our church, we have women’s dinners where we’ll speak and I just see the Lord using the skills I developed as an attorney, but now using them as I interpret the Bible and I try to explain the Bible clearly to women, and of course, the Bible is different, right? I need the Holy Spirit to help me understand it in a way that I don’t necessarily with these other things, but isn’t that just so sweet of the Lord the way that… I never would have imagined in a million years that those skills would have had any use but he doesn’t waste a thing, he doesn’t waste a thing, and it might be years until we see it, but he does, he is faithful to use all of the stuff in our life for his glory and for the good of the people around us, so yeah, I just lawyer the Bible sometimes.
COURTNEY: I love that so much. I love it. Well Michelle, this has just been such a fabulous conversation, but as we close, we ask all of our guests this, and it’s so interesting to hear the different answers they give, but as we close, is there one piece of advice or a warning or encouragement that you would leave with women who want to honor God through their vocational calling?
MICHELLE: Yes, I’ve thought about this, and this is not novel, it seems really ordinary, but be faithfully in God’s word and in a community of believers in a local church that you are committed to. I think work is a gift from God, it is a good thing, but just like all of God’s gifts, the scriptures teach us, we, because of our sin, we tend to worship the gift rather than the giver, we worship the created thing and the creature, not the Creator who is blessed forever. And so there are so many ways that in our work, whether it be our work in the home or outside the home, that we can idolize it and worship it in unhealthy ways, whether that’s we work too much or too little for the wrong reasons, we derive our identity from it, all of those things. And so the scriptures are God revealing himself to us and correcting and encouraging us and helping us to see things clearly and the scriptures have everything we need for life and godliness, so everything you need to do your work inside or outside of the home in a godly way, you have been given in the scriptures.
And so we need to be women who are saturated in God’s word so that… Not just so that we can be good church members and wives and mothers, but also so that we can work well outside of the home, if that is our calling, and then we have to do that in the context, I think of a community of believers, God gives us in the local church because he has saved us into a people. He is saving a people for himself, and we all have blind spots and where we can be self-deceived and being with other believers who can encourage us and correct us, and help us to see things clearly that we may not be seeing, it’s just so valuable, who can speak in your life and say, “Are you too busy? Are you idolizing? Do you have fear of man motivating you right now, Michelle, in the way that you’re going about your work?” That’s just so important. So if you do anything else… If you don’t know anything else, study the word, be in the word saturated and be in a godly Gospel-centered local church.
MISSIE: I love it.
COURTNEY: Right on. Well, thank you so much. That was… We love that answer. Well Michelle, thank you. It’s been just a pleasure to hear more about you. And again, I’m just so grateful that the Lord brought our paths together on that flight home from Indianapolis, and we just… Really our hearts are just that the Lord would just continue to bless you in every area of your life and use you for his glory, so thanks for coming.
MICHELLE: Absolutely. Thank you.
MISSIE: Thanks for joining us Michelle. It’s been so much fun.
MICHELLE: Thank you.
MISSIE: And thanks to our listeners for joining us today. Be sure to check out our website at women work.net for today’s show notes. There will be more information about today’s conversation there.
COURTNEY: While you’re there, take a look at the Women and Work podcast discussion questions. We’ve provided those so that you can lead your friends from work, your neighborhood, or your church into useful conversations that will encourage you as you take *your* next step of faith into your calling.
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COURTNEY: And with that, we hope you’ve been inspired to more confidently step into your God-given calling and view your work as meaningful to the Kingdom of God.
See you next time!