Advent 1: Hope and the First Trimester

I think it is on purpose that most pregnancies do not make a physical appearance the first tri-mester. It is no small gift to be given twelve weeks or so to wrap your brain around the fact that you are carrying a life inside of you.

I have been pregnant twice. Once I knew from practically the second I was pregnant. We were trying. I was hoping. We got pregnant. Just like that. We tried to keep it a secret but I have a huge mouth, and I started drinking gatorade in the morning instead of coffee. That was all it took for my friends to ask.

The second time it took me about six weeks to take a pregnancy test. I had this “flu” I couldn’t seem to kick. I was tired all the time. My oldest (about 9 months at the time) stopped breast feeding and when I googled it Google asked me if I was pregnant. Pffff. How ridiculous. Turns out Google is never wrong. I took a pregnancy test when less than careful teeth brushing made me gag.

The first trimester is often in secret, and it is most often the one where you feel the worst. You are tired all the time. You are sore and your body feels weird. You have to pee all the time for no apparent reason. Smells you used to like make you want to die. You don’t want to eat anything. You are starving. While no one can see it, something new is happening, and that something new makes you super uncomfortable.

The first Sunday in Advent is hope. While most often hope is portrayed as some sort of magic balloon that comes floating into our life, for me it is often accompanied with a sort of nauseous feeling. Am I really wanting this? Am I really expecting this? Do I really believe that God could, would, will work in this way I am hoping for? How long will I have to hope? How disappointed am I setting myself up to be?

I think we underestimate how uncomfortable hope can be. How hard it can be to carry all by ourselves. It is a little cruel to ask a woman to pretend she isn’t pregnant when she needs to sleep twenty hours a day, or puke every twenty minutes. Hope can feel that hard. It does for me anyway. I think this is one of the reasons I tell people so early, about the babies I was carrying, about the dreams and imaginings I sometimes feel God is stirring. I need people to ease the discomfort.

Can I tell you that I have been in the first tri-mester of a hope for a few years now? I wrote a manuscript about four years ago, queried agents, signed with one, and was sure I would have announced a book contract by now. But I haven’t. I don’t have one to announce. Still. And I have prayed about moving on, self publishing, turning chapters into blog series, and still I feel a pull in my spirit to wait. To hope. Just a little longer.

This hope is uncomfortable. It is hard. But I believe it offers the promise of something new. Maybe you too? Maybe I am not the only one with a secret uncomfortable hope inside.

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On Not Talking about Guns

When you search for my kids school on Google or Youtube, the word “shooting” pops up as predictive text. No one was hurt, but a guy with an AR walked into my kids the year before my girl started going there. I started trembling a little the next day when we had a shooter drill at the school I was teaching at, that we were just being overly-cautious and active shooter drills were just a waste of instructional time. I could no longer pretend this was a thing that happened at other places. The traffic was routed around the school and right past my house. School shootings were a thing that happened to me.

A few days after Sandy Hook a kid drove through the parking lot off to Christmas break with a buddy of his in the back holding paintball gun. I had my phone out to call 911 but thankfully realized it was a false alarm. High school boys with paint ball guns needed to be seen as deadly until proven otherwise. This was the reality we lived in.

An Elementary School, A concert, a night club, a church. These are the places that shootings happen sometimes here in the united states. And I don’t know what to say about that. I don’t know what to say to my kids who report that there was a tricky game their school played where they pretended to hide from a bad guy. Do I tell them good job? Do I tell them that a bad guy did come to their school but their teachers were very brave and very smart? Do I protect their innocence or do I give them all the information and extra tips just in case this is information they might need one of these days? Information they might need to keep them alive. I don’t know what to say when they get into my car and report an active shooter drill, so I just ask what they think about it and grip the wheel so they can’t see my hands shake. I remind myself that this will probably never happen. This is only a drill.

I know for a fact that the church I attend has an active shooter plan. An active shooter plan is something churches now have to have. Should I learn that in seminary? Or is that more of an on the job training situation. This is a question I now have.

We don’t have alien abduction drills. There is no legal requirement to have escaped and rabid tigers roaming through the school. We don’t have drills for thing that will not happen. We only have drills and plans for things that sometimes do happen, even if they probably won’t. My kids live in a world where sometimes people take really big guns and shoot other people. Where people go to places like churches and schools on purpose, for maximum impact. I don’t know how to parent through that. I should not have to know how to parent around a society that values rights to weapons more than lives of people in church or school.

I am not totally anti-gun. While I would never freeze my butt off in a deer blind waiting for my chance, I will happily eat all the venison sausage those hunters are willing to share with me. I understand that responsible hunting is a valid hobby, one that sometimes feeds families and very often helps our eco-systems. I grew up across the highway from a metro-park, one people were not allowed to hunt in. Occasionally emaciated dear would cross all of those lanes to eat my mom’s bushes. The park would later decide to open certain days to bow hunters. It was the most humane decision for everything involved. The deer don’t come starving to eat the grass off of the neighborhood lawns anymore. Their babies are healthier. We need hunters. I am not anti-hunting rifle.

I don’t know how I feel about hand guns. I personally will not have one. We will not have that in our house, and I used to say that I would never allow my child to be in a house with a hand gun. But that was before a good friend invited me to try to pull the trigger on his empty one, showed me how hard it would be, showed me where he kept it and how it was locked up. While I personally would not make the decision to have a gun in my house, I understand his decision. My cousin married a woman who became a police officer. She carries. When they drive across the country to come to the cabin, she has a gun that she either secures in her car or in her room when she gets there. I don’t have a problem with that. She knows what she is doing and has talked to me about guns when I asked. I know enough about hand guns to know I don’t want one, but not enough to know whether or not I should advocate that others not have one.

I do know that no one should have access to an AR 15….I do know that it is disgusting that we outlawed automatic weapons, but then ruled an apparatus that turns semi into fully technically legal because bump-stocks don’t change the inside of a gun, even if they do change the functionality of it. People died from that technicality. Bump stocks are legal, and being sold, and one congress person will even buy you one he believes in them so much.

As a country we have decided that we care more about people being allowed to by very lethal guns, than we do about keeping people safe, even children. Even children in schools and churches. I am learning that most of us don’t want to live in this world, the one we created.

I know that gun legislation is a heated topic. I know I don’t know everything there is to know about weapons. But I know enough to know that we have to start talking about it. We need to start talking about it in ways that are not “you hate freedom” and “you don’t care if kids die.” We need to start saying, what can we all agree on?

Most people in this country favor background checks, most people favor outlawing semi-automatic weapons, most people think hunters should get to keep their rifles, and while we don’t want to sit in a deer blind or skin a rabbit we respect people who do. Most people want to not have to worry about mass shootings. How do we get there? When can we start talking about that? 

I have had this in the que for more than a week. Since I have written it and not posted it another school shooting gone right has happened. The kids were locked down the man went away, everyone was safe. People were grateful for the shooter drills working. I am just still sad we need them. This doesn’t seem like the best solution.

When Will Fulton County Take Their Gun Problem Seriously?

Yesterday at Banneker High School in College Park Georgia, there was a shooting. I saw it across my Facebook feed and held my breath as I opened the article. Thankfully, it was a gun that went off on accident in a classroom. It hit a girl’s ankle and grazed another student. I opened the article holding my breath because I used to teach there, and some of my friends still do. I am grateful it was an accident that will have no life or death consequences. I wish it didn’t happen, but I cannot say I am surprised. I’ve known there were guns at Banneker High School since I taught there in 2007. Ten years ago I knew there was a problem, and so did everyone else. Fulton County was more interested in optics than actually safety

I worked at Banneker from the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2010, until I was surplussed to Tri-Cities high school in East Point. The entire time I was there, I knew kids were bringing guns to school. I knew they were and so did everyone else. Nothing was ever done.

Every few months or so an announcement would come on and we would be told to lock our doors. Don’t let anyone in, don’t let anyone out. The administration and the resource officers, and sometimes extra officers would open most of the lockers to see what was in them. They would come into certain classrooms and pat down kids. They would ask for bookbags to be opened and dumped out. And every single time, every single time they went looking for them, guns were found on school grounds. In lockers, in bookbags, guns were found in the school every year, multiple times a year.

In the spring of my first year I was walking to my car when the rush of students that was normally coming out of the building was suddenly rushing back onto me. All the kids who were normally running out of the school were suddenly running back into it. The kids were screaming that there was a gun. The kids were insisting someone had a gun at the bus loop.

The next day the only people that were talking about this incident were the kids. No announcement, no letter home, no we are looking into it. Nothing. The official position of the school and Fulton County was that there was never any gun. No one who had the power to do anything about it, simply claimed the gun problem did not exist. Meanwhile everyone actually showing up in the school every day knew there was a problem.

I am saddened that there was an accident with a gun at Banneker. I am sad because this will yet again over shadow all the amazing work that is done at that school every day. People will shake their heads and blame the community that goes to the school. Why does this happen?

This happens, a gun goes off accidentally at a school because Fulton County Schools has ignored a problem everyone knew was going on for at least ten years. When I was teaching there, everyone in that building knew that sometimes kids brought guns to school, they found them in their lockers sometimes. But Fulton County preferred to lead with the test scores from the North side of the county, and claim lots of diversity by forgetting to mention how segregated the school system really is. Fulton county, who felt that metal detectors weren’t necessary, mostly by ignoring the rumors that everyone knew were true. A gun went off on accident in a classroom and no one is dead. Fulton County got lucky, but when will they take the problem seriously?

Where are all the Pro-Life Protestors?

If you were raised in the evangelical church in the 90’s and early aughts you heard a lot about innocent child life. You heard a lot about the child not being punished for the sins of the parents. You heard a lot about how everyone had a right to life.

I still identify as pro-life. I probably wouldn’t picket in front of an abortion clinic and I think the pro-life folks should be all in on contraception, so you know I will never be their poster-girl. I think the issue is complicated and should center all the people. But I found another place where all of these arguments go, a place where we can all agree on them.

There is right now, as I type this a child who is dying because we are worried about the “sins” of his father. A.J. Burgess needs a kidney. His dad is a perfect match. This seems like a pretty easy solution except the father, Anthony Dickerson was a prisoner. The hospital wants to wait three months. They want to make sure Anthony Dickerson is in good standing with the parole board before he is allowed to donate a kidney to save the life of his child.

We don’t know if A.J. Burgess has three months. We know he needs a kidney now. We know he has one available. Where are the pro-life protestors advocating for this child? Where are the people demanding that a child not be punished for their parents sins? Where are the people crying out that A.J. Burgess have a right to his own life?

I think one of the most important things the church has to tell the world is that all life is beautiful. We were all born in the image of God. We all deserve to live. I absolutely believe this. I know there are a lot of things the church disagrees on but surely the life of A.J. Burgess is a place for us to meet.

If you are local: Thursday November 2nd, 2018 we are meeting at Asbury Circle on Emory’s campus at 12:05pm walking 10 minutes to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on Clifton Rd. We will likely pray and sing on the way and then return to the Candler building for class before 1:00pm

From anywhere: Call this number. Leave feed back. Let the people who are in charge know that their actions are immoral. 404-778-7777

Where are all the pro-life protestors? I am praying it is simply they do not know. Now, you know.

Birthday Musings:

Today I turned 34. My youngest daughter remarked that they HAD to be nice to me because it was my birthday and I am too old to go to school and my oldest stood aghast. Priscilla! It isn’t nice to call people o-l-d. Apparently 34 is the bright line for being o-l-d. I will take it. I think for me my thirties is when I realized that very many things I thought of as flaws are ACTUALLY features. But for sure the best present I have given myself is prozac. That probably should have happened in the late 20s.

I like what I like. I have written here and here and here about learning to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. I am a notoriously picky gift getter, and also I love getting presents. I have an Amazon wish list I don’t feel bad about that anymore. It is okay to like what you like. (Here it is because I do not think I am the only one who is DEEPLY curious about people’s wish lists. I love looking at them.)

And on the note of liking what you like,  I say I listen to anything and don’t have any musical tastes but if I am choosing music for myself on Amazon streaming I always, ALWAYS, pick a soundtrack to a broadway show. Now that I am thinking about it, I did this in High school and Middle school but was embarrassed about it. I stopped being embarrassed about it a few months ago. Thank you Hamilton for making this habit of mine semi socially acceptable. My kids also now know all the words to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor dream coat AND Dear Evan Hansen. We are working on Bring It On next. Judge your mom. I like what I like.

I love a good cheeseburger. Like, I really love a good cheeseburger. Medium rare. And I am serving nachos at my house for birthday dinner. If you want to take me to a fancy dinner I will revel in it, but I also love just plain great bar food. That is okay too.

I laugh really really loud, and I talk too much, and I love champagne with anything and for pretty much any reason. I have too many balls in the air (podcast! blog! book deal dreams! seminary! speaking! consulting!) and I am finally willing to own up to the fact that I do that because I like it that way. I like doing all of those things.

And mostly all this space I have given myself to be me, has been a gift because it gives me so much more space to see you, really see you. I see the ways my friends are amazing at things that I am not, that their critical eye, their attention to detail, their slow to speak up until they have heard and carefully considered all the things, their ability to bring the energy down (not up) are features. They are beautiful amazing features, not flaws.

Today my friend gave me such a gift in the compliment that I call myself good, and I do, and that has been hard fought. I thought on the other end of that battle I would be LESS inclined to call others good, but instead I find there is so much more. I am 34 and the best (and apparently o-l-d hahahaha) and YOU are too, you are the best too. Those things that build your youishness, those are features. Not flaws.

Why I’m not using the word LIT (even though it is a great word).

I am at SheLoves magazine writing about cultural appropriation and learning to police myself. That part is hard. 

Hi. My name is Abby and I am super white. Also, I really like to describe things as “lit.” At least I did, until I started thinking about it more critically, and now I don’t. A lot of people think it’s just a silly word, but I’m beginning to think my love of the word “lit” is endemic of something more problematic than a 34-year-old using the language of a 16-year-old.

I was raised in the Midwest and went to a predominantly white church, high school, and college. I knew I was white, but kind of thought of my whiteness as the neutral. I didn’t have to think about it because I didn’t have to. Everything around me was built for me, until it wasn’t.

I moved to Atlanta and began teaching at a predominantly black school. Suddenly, my whiteness became very obvious. As my students liked to point out, I talked like a white girl. I dressed like a white girl. I said things that I thought were totally “normal” that put my students into giggle fits simply because “Ms. Norman you are sooooo white.” I know it seems like it shouldn’t be a revelation with my white name, parents, experiences, and family. But it didn’t really occur to me that there were experiences that were completely different than mine. I figured that out the hard way, but I learned.

you can read the rest here.

What are we waiting for?

I wish I could give you a better explanation, but the Holy Spirit told me to be friends with Tanya Marlow. I may have cyber-stalked her a little bit until she became my friend. I am not even sorry about it. Not even a little.

I don’t quite know how to explain my relationship with Tanya. We have never met in person, but she knows me, really knows me and I her. We get each other. We are both two’s on the enneagram (though we have different wings) and just generally think in similar ways. A lot of our stories are the same too, and we are both figuring out how to tell them.

Here is the bizarre piece of the way our puzzles do and do not match up. We suffer(ed) from the same kind of illness. We have both been talked to like we are idiots by doctors and told to just pretend we are better until we are better by people who are unqualified to tell us anything. We both know what it is like to become mysteriously ill and watch all our life plans veer into the unknown, and we both know what it is like to beg God for a healing for years and year only to be met with radio silence.

But this is where our stories diverge. I was healed 13 years after I got sick, and Tanya is still waiting for healing. I struggled through pain and exhaustion, and she literally cannot get out of her bed or her home most days. I got better. Tanya is still waiting.

If I am 100 percent honest I have not yet sat and read through the book Tanya Marlow has written about waiting. I am in seminary and it just is a terrible time for me to read anything that no one is going to test me on eventually, but what is also true is I do not have to read this book to recommend it.

Tanya knows what it is like to be sliced through by people who are wielding the Bible like a samurai sword when they should be carefully cutting like a scalpel. She hasn’t just found the easy answers people like to give theoretically unsatisfying, but personally heart braking and brutal. She knows first hand there are no easy answers and she isn’t about to give anyone any. She knows better than most of us how those answers may go down easy, but can leave us sicker than when we started.

Tanya wrote a book about waiting while she is still in the thick of it. She wrote about God breaking your heart with the silence, while she is believing the story of my own healing and deciding if she has the energy today to hope for her own. Sometimes that answer is no, and you know what? That is okay.

All too often christian books are only written from the perspective of the healed, the better, the let me tell you about my story now that I am at the end. I think that does us a real disservice. I haven’t read this book but I don’t have to. I know Tanya. I know how she has been hurt by easy answers. I know how she is so achingly careful about never ever doing this to anyone else.

I get into a surprising number of conversations with women with the same kind of thing I had. I wish I had more answers for them. I wish there were a way to explain my own healing besides shrugging my shoulders and saying it is miraculous. It was, it is, I don’t know how to explain it. God is good, and also Tanya isn’t healed and God is good and that makes no sense to me. I am so very grateful that she is writing in the midst of the waiting and not in the neat and perfect ending we all want.

If you are longing for something and God does not seem to be hearing you, I am praying God finally breaks through. Until then, there is company in the waiting.

You can buy those who wait right here.