Growing Up and Growing Out

I started Accidental Devotional 5 years ago. I was going back to work after our second baby in two months. My husband was less than a semester into graduate school and the people I trusted most were beginning to suggest that writing was something I did, but perhaps a writer was something I was. I found the name in a comment from a dear friend, Abby reading your blog often turns into an Accidental Devotional. I loved it. It was perfect.

And it was. I spent 2012 blogging five days a week and following people I admired on Twitter. A few of those people have become my dear friends, and while I am not totally proud of every single post I wrote that year, writing is like running. You only get better if you do it. Like all of life, you have to show up. And I did. I did show up over and over again.

Slowly I began to show up other places. On a place called Mercy Mondays. To the FaithFeminisms conversation. As a guest poster on a blog no longer in existence about why I stopped talking about my inner city teaching experience. I showed up to online writing groups and a few conferences. I just kept showing up. Sometimes people ask me about how to go about blogging, and really this is the only piece of advice I have. Show up. Keep writing. Keep tweeting. Keep posting.

Slowly I found that I was writing about more than the ways God showed up in the middle of my messy life. I started talking about race, feminism, parenting. I started talking about the questions I was having about my faith, my profession, my privilege. Every single time I thought I was bumping over the boundaries of what my readers wanted from me, I discovered there was more than enough room. Over and over I thought, this is it. I have gone too far. I have said too much. Over and over again my readers said me too, we love you, we are with you. I cannot believe the community I have found, here on the internet. It has been such a gift.

There is a lot of new happening in my life. Next week all my colleagues will go back to school. I will not. My husband will (in two weeks God willing) go from being a PhD candidate to a PhD. Period. My baby is going to pre-k. I am going to seminary. It is a lot, but everyone is more than ready. Everyone is sure that this is our next right step.

We got our back to school hair cuts last week, the girls and I. I took eight inches off my head before we even started talking about styling. New haircut lead to new head shots lead to new banners lead to new website. I still own accidentaldevotional.com and that is probably how you got here, but I am ready to show up as my whole self. I have moved on over to AbbyNorman.net and all of my social media places are @abbynormansays I should have my email abbynorman@abbynorman.net up by the end of the week.

Of all the changes happening in my life, this is the one I am most bittersweet about, changing my url. Maybe I am a millennial. I love Accidental Devotional. I love everything it brought me. I love everyone it brought me, but it just doesn’t quite fit anymore. It is like growing out of a favorite dress as a child, or realizing that the couch you love dearly is about to collapse under the weight of your dog. These things have served you well, but it is time to move on.

I am excited and ready to move on, but I want to pause here and say thank you. Thanks for finding God with me at Accidental Devotional. Thanks for giving me the space to grow into myself. I am sure I would not have made the decision to go to seminary without this space. Thank you for giving me the space to grow and cheering me on in that growth.

Here’s to just being Abby Norman. All of her. All the time.

At What Cost?

I am at Off the Page today, talking about the cost of me not wanting to do the uncomfortable work of talking about race. Sometimes, people ask me why I talk about race as much as I do. I seem to bring it up a lot. Why should it matter? Why do I always have to think everything is about race?

I bring up race, I retell the story of my own awakening to my own internalized racism because the cost of not is too great. My brothers and sisters of color are paying too high a price for my wanting to stay “safe” and “comfortable.” They don’t have that choice. If the only work that I can do is to re-tell the stories of my own awakening then I will tell them. If you have been reading for awhile some of this will likely sound familiar. 

We live in a society that perpetuates racist thoughts. What I have watched and listened to my whole life has encouraged my mind to think one way. The wrong way. I don’t like admitting I have racist thoughts.

It was really, really uncomfortable for me to realize I had some internalized racism. It was really hard for me to look myself in the mirror and face the fact.

But you know what’s worse than me having to face that about myself? My friend’s fear that her husband and son will be killed by the police, or a vigilante, or otherwise harmed by someone who fears them because they are black and young and therefore seen as a threat. I do not have to tell my children to operate a certain way in the world in the hopes that they will be treated fairly, but she does.

You can read the rest here.

A Lament for Injustice and the Hardness of My Heart.

I wrote this when Michael Brown died. I have updated it. This is my heart.

I did not always have ears to hear. 

When people told me that young black men were sometimes shot in this country by police, I would respond with a small shake of the head. How sad. But in my heart I would not really believe. That could not possibly be true. Police are here to protect us. This is America, this is the twenty-first century. People do not simply get gunned down for being black. That is history. That simply does not happen anymore. In my heart of hearts, I am very ashamed to admit, there was a tiny whisper: Surely they did something to deserve it. 

I did not always have eyes to see. 

People tried to tell me that this lens I see life through is a white one. But what did they know? They did not know about me and my struggles. White kids could grow up poor too. I was disabled for goodness sake, okay. I knew about teachers treating me poorly just because of my body. I knew about having it rough. How dare someone tell me my life was privileged. Didn’t they know just how hard I worked?

I did not always walk humbly

I knew. Okay? I got it. I was an inner-city teacher. I was saving the world. Racist thoughts, racist ideas? Not me. I was better than all of that, and I proved it every day by teaching at a black school. I was down.

But then

But then my husband got a job coaching speech at a historically black college. And when I traveled with the fine men of Morehouse, some of the brightest in the country, I got asked if I was okay. More than once I got asked if I was okay. Because surely a white woman traveling with a bunch of young black men is in danger. Because surely young black men are dangerous.

But then I started working at an all black high school. And when my darkest, dread-locked student went to grab a pencil, there was something in my mind that told me I was in danger. For a split second I was sure it was a gun. Because somewhere in my own mind and heart, something told me that my black boys were dangerous. Something no one had ever taught me. Something I had never wanted to learn.

But then a student came to tell me that her brother got shot. By a cop, on a rural road in Georgia, and he bled out on her white dress while the cop sped off. She had to call 911 and comfort him as he died in her arms while the ambulance came wailing to her aid. There was never an investigation.

But then I got an email a few days before school started that one of last years students had been shot. And there was no news story or vigil. There was no call to action or call to arms. Just an email. FYI one of your students has been shot. It happens sometimes.

But then I moved into a predominantly black neighborhood and some of my friends expressed fear of my neighbors. The neighbors who sat on their porch and fed my dog all day when we left our front door wide open. My neighbors didn’t want to shut my door, just in case we wanted it like that, so they watched it instead. The neighbors who have mowed my lawn, invited me to their birthday parties, held the packages that came to my house. And some people asked why I would live in the ghetto, and wondered aloud if I was concerned for the safety of my kids. Not because of the crime report (my neighborhood is very safe) but because they assumed that black people are dangerous.

But then we put our daughter in the neighborhood school, and people want to ask me about her safety. My four-year-old in a classroom of other four-year-olds. Who did they think was going to hurt her?

And I began to hear.

I began to hear that there was a distinct danger you face every day, if people just assume that you are dangerous because you are black and you are male. And I began to hear the stories of police brutality, of unnecessary aggression, of my sophomore boys being treated like criminals simply because of their bodies.

I began to finally hear, that just because it didn’t happen to me did not mean it did not happen. 

And I began to see.

I began to see that my skin granted me access to pretty much anywhere I wanted to go. I began to see how no one ever starts out aggressively toward me, because I am never seen as a threat. I began to understand that my students, my colleagues, my neighbors were not granted the same access, the same pass.

I began to see the injustice of this world, and the ways in which I was purposefully ignoring it.

And when I look back at how much it took to have my eyes open to see and my ears open to hear, I am ashamed. 

I am ashamed that I did not seek to understand until I had to. I am ashamed that I did not choose to see until it was right in front of my eyes. I am ashamed, that until I had people that I loved who were being affected by racism, I was completely oblivious to its existence.

My heart was hard. I was only concerned with injustice when it was hurting people I loved. It should not have taken someone I know dying for me to care that innocent people were dying. It should not have taken me knowing them personally, for me to believe that they were innocent.

I was blind, I was deaf, I was proud. 

I am praying the people of this country have softer hearts than mine. I am praying that we are broken over all the lives that have been turned into hashtags and that brokenness is only a beginning. I am praying we listen when we are told that this is only one of many. I am praying we hear when brown mothers tell us they fear for their babies’ lives. I am praying we do something when our eyes and ears are opened to injustice. I am praying we speak out, we reach out, we educate ourselves. I am praying we care. 

I am praying for eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts that are moved into action. 

It is not enough to stand with Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Alston Sterling, Philando Castile. It is not enough to feel bad about the black men and women being killed because they are presumed dangerous. It is not enough.

We need to open our eyes. We need to stop and listen. This is not the first time this has happened, and this is not the first time we have been told. May this finally be the over due catalyst for our hearts to move into action. May our hearts be heavy that it has taken this long.

What Purity Culture Got Right

I wrote this piece for Cindy Brandt. She is AMAZING y’all. She runs a really good Facebook group on unfundamentlist parenting, has her own blog, and writes for Patheos. I am thrilled to be contributing. 

Here is the thing that I still believe from my purity culture days: The world has dangerous ideas about sex, and it is totally up to Christians to combat those ideas.

Here is the problem with purity culture: We fought bad ideas with equally terrible ideas, sometimes worse ideas.

I was raised in the height of the purity culture madness.The holy grail of the Purity Movement, I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out my freshmen year of high school, right when I was ready to give dating at least a full frontal hug. I have heard the sermons about chewed up gum and plucked flowers. I have been a teen who drew lines, and confessed and recommitted and re-drew. Instead of the sexy and sacred married sex we were promised, many of us walked into marriages and discovered that the shame that was supposed to magically fall away with our wedding clothes, didn’t. We were left in a new and strange land with no road map to navigate and a lot of extra baggage.

Is it any surprise that parents my age are searching for new ways to talk to our kids about sex?

Again, we are left with a road map problem. We know what we don’t want. We don’t want to heap shame and guilt upon our kids for natural sexual desire. We don’t want them to think that their worth rests soley in the choices they make with their body. We don’t want our kids to experience the massive amounts of shame we did.

But we have to say something. Purity culture was absolutely correct in teaching us that the world has it wrong about sex. The world teaches boys to constantly push boundaries, while teaching girls to say yes but not too much, and no, but not too much, and to like sexual activity, but not too much. I am confused just writing it.

You can read the rest here. 

Questions My Kids Has About Race

As a white person raised in the mid-west I didn’t grow up having very deep conversations about race. But I moved to Atlanta almost ten years ago, taught at a majority black school, and learned I didn’t know a thing about race. I learned. I did the work. I read the books. I know unpacking my privilege is a lifelong journey but I am on that journey and actively trying to move forward.

But y’all, I am having some road blocks.  Sometimes things come up that I have no idea  how to deal with.

We are living in a neighborhood we love and sending our kid to a school we love. Our girl is one of the only white kids in the school  and I am encountering problems I am not really sure how to navigate. It is just my kid, at five and now six years old has questions about race I do not have answers for.

Question 1: Why can’t my hair go clack-clack-clak?

It started with the requests for braids. I put one small braid on the edge of her head. That wasn’t enough. I put two. I put the limit at three. She was asking for a whole head. LOTS of braids mom! With BEADS! When Trinity shakes her head it goes click, click, click, can my head do that?

No. I don’t think so. I mean….I don’t know. I struggle with the line between appreciation and appropriation and I actually am not sure if a tiny white child with reddish cornrows is okay or not. So…I just told her she can’t have them because her mom doesn’t know how to do it. This is technically true. Also, being tender-headed is real and my kid has that, she would cry and I do not want my kid to affirm the stereotype of white kids being soft in the middle of the beauty salon. So the answer is no…but would it be okay? I don’t know!

Question 2: Can I wear the police hat to school?

So another thing I am not sure about…What happens when the only white child in the class chooses the police hat for the pay a dollar wear a hat day. Not the soft police hat with the little bill, no. The riot gear one. The hard plastic round one with the all capital letters POLICE on the side. Is that okay? When there are protests against Police Brutality, and it seems like most of the issues are white police officers and black victims is it okay for your white kid to wear the police gear to school? Is it bad parenting to hide the police hat and make your husband convince your daughter that the yellow construction hat is really just as cool while you are driving to work and don’t have to deal with any of it? Is it okay to pretend I am asking for a friend?

Question 3: What is whiteness?

Okay. This one I am not asking for a friend. Last year my daughter told me we were white, and when I did the whole progressive parenting exploration thing and asked her “What do you think that means?” She roller her eyes at me and pointed at the skin on her arm. “It is this mommy, you got this too.” Yeah. That is all I really know. What the heck is whiteness anyway? From what I have read the Irish weren’t always considered white, nor Italians, Jewish people are only considered white sometimes. When do things change? What does that mean? Are you considered white when society as a whole decides to accept you into the majority so they can better discriminate against other groups? That seems pretty jacked up. How the heck am I supposed to explain that to my six year old?

 

Question 4: Why can’t we celebrate our whiteness?

So. Last year my kid learned with her class to recite  a poem that was the cutest thing ever. They did it at the Pre-K banquet. But also, it freaked me out, especially when she performed this verbal feat by herself, in public places. There was this line, about being proud of her race and I cringed every time. It sounded like I was raising an adorable, tiny voiced,  white supremacist. And the kids books I could find were no help. Every children’s book specifically addressing whiteness and what it meant was written by the KKK, so that isn’t really the angle we are going for.

Question 5: Why wouldn’t I be allowed to have any friends back in history?

One of the things I L-O-V-E about my kid’s school is that they talk about history and current events pretty frankly. The confusing part of this is that 5 year olds tend to make things all about them. So, when my baby hears that black and white children didn’t go to school together, she doesn’t hear that the white people were trying to keep the best things for themselves. Instead, she looks around the room, sees all her friends are various shades of brown, and thinks that segregation would have deprived her of her friends. That is why it is bad. That is all. The more I learn about white supremacy, the more I realize that I center whiteness in almost every narrative. This is what white supremacy has taught me to do. But it is also totally developmentally appropriate for my daughter to center herself. All kids do! At what point do I start the “this isn’t about you” mantra?
Even with these questions unanswered the benefits of raising our kid in a majority minority environment far outweighs the sometimes awkward and confusing conversations we have at dinner. Ultimately, our world is only going to be more diverse and I am (I hope) giving my kids the best foundation to tackle their adult world. But I could use the answer to these questions if anyone has them.

When it Feels Like God is Ghosting You

When I got the prompt for SheLoves this month I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I did a little of both. We could choose from DETOUR or WHAT THE HECK? Both felt appropriate but I had been yelling the latter into my phone at various people when describing my life for about two months. So, I went with that.

We moved to Atlanta 10 years ago, pretty much on faith. We just knew this was the way and every step up the way, things opened up like magic. If it wasn’t miraculous, it was at least remarkable. I think of the ways this worked out for us a lot. Sometimes it gives me hope. Sometimes it leaves me giving God the side eye. I mean…I know you can do it God, what are you waiting for?

It is June 16. I still do not have my future totally sorted out. We are leaning one way, but could be swooped another. Had you told me this would be my life a year ago. I simply would not have believed you. My God is faithful, and would never do this to me.

When I heard the term “ghosting” I was like. Yes. That is what it feels like God is doing. God just stopped answering my text messages, my emails, my phone calls. God is just….silent where there used to be a lot of direction and easy banter there is just…space. So what does it look like to believe that God is faithful even though God is not doing what you thought God would do? It is hard, and I am writing about it at SheLoves today.

I quit my job on faith (something I have written about for more than a year) and no new job has risen up to meet me. My husband set a defense date for his PhD, no job for him on the horizon. I was sure by June, we would be having conversations about our new town, or his new job, or the books I need for seminary. Instead, we are figuring out when each of our last paychecks will go in, when the health insurance will run out, when is the last day I can tell the seminary I am actually not coming without having to pay for the semester.

We are trying to figure out where the line in the sand is. At what point do we pull the trigger on putting our house up for sale and moving into my sister’s basement in Detroit? What kind of crazy is the life plan of starting a YouTube channel about four adults and six girls, 10 and under, living in one house? I’d call it Half a Dozen Cousins. I even have the beginnings of a jingle worked out. Is it like, delusional crazy, or is it this just might work crazy? I don’t really want to find out.

You can read the rest here.

On Finding Space for All of Me

A few weeks ago, as the girls and I were helping at the church work day, one of the trustees casually mentioned to me that one of the offices in the new staff area would be mine if I wanted it, since I am currently the art director at our church.

I burst into tears, and smiled through my ugly cry and told him that yes I would like that very much. I am not quite sure why the Lord led me to a Methodist church. The methodists are not exactly known for their emoting, but there I am crying, and laughing, and shouting, and they love me. My church loves me, all of me, and I do not have words for what a gift that is.

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this is what a preacher looks like

I have been praying, mostly without words, for enough space for me, so when a trustee casually mentions that one of the newly painted rooms is for the art director, I start crying. And it isn’t just the room. This very methodical man gave my two tiny and wild ladies paint brushes and permission to prime the inside of a cabinet because they wanted to help. When they dripped he quietly wiped up the primer and didn’t admonish us at all. He told them they were a big help. He meant it.

As a mother, space for me means space for my girls and there it was, just waiting for us on a Saturday.

And then… I got the text to ask if I wanted to preach on Sunday. Did I want to preach on Sunday? Have I been quietly hoping someone would let me preach since I was 28? Have I been longing to be called, called? Um. YES! yes! I would be happy to.

I couldn’t really talk about it, because I would start crying, I just….it really is a dream come true.

On the way to celebration brunch (y’all, I have the most amazing friends) my sister Jill got all choked up, mostly because she sees the same thing I do. “I am just so glad that you found a church where there is enough space for you. There really is so much space for you there.”

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I have spent a long time, trying to make myself fit places. Where is there room for a loud, opinionated, passionate, mother of two rowdy girls who wants to paint and preach and cry with abandon? Who wants to write and shout and tell the truth when it is hard? Why couldn’t I just be less of a dreamer, or a fighter? Why couldn’t I birth books and then babies? Why did this happen all at once?

I still wonder about that last one sometimes. But this I can certainly testify to: If there is not space enough for you, it isn’t you that needs changed. Go somewhere else, find another table, lean into to the whole person you are being called to be. It won’t be easy, but boy will it be worth it. It might take a few tries, and you will get tired. You may show up scared and bruised and it may take a whole year to spread out the ways you were meant to. Keep looking, keep dreaming keep growing. If God made you a certain shape and size, I promise, God made enough room for you somewhere. Keep looking. There is space for you.

You can find my sermon here.