About Abby Norman

I live and work and love in the city of Atlanta. Former teacher, future preacher, current wife and mother and writer. Always looking for more Jesus.

The Work of Mothering

I was sitting in Old Testament when I couldn’t take it anymore. Thursdays are my long days, out of the house before the girls leave for school, I come home right in time for bedtime. But I had a welcome dinner for the certificate I am considering. So, I didn’t really get to see them.

Priscilla had stayed up too late the night before and was not thrilled with the idea that she was going to have to go to school despite her complaints of a multitude of ailments. Her tummy hurt, her arms were too tired to lift above her head, her feet hurt. She was just too tired.

On paper I would have told you that natural consequences are a way we parent and this was a perfect opportunity for her to learn them. On paper I would tell you that it is important for my girls to watch their mom follow her God into the wilderness. How else are they going to learn how to do it? On paper (and multiple times on this blog, and in the class I teach, and all kinds of other places) I would tell you that my daughters need their whole mother and they have a mother that God sent to seminary. This is not an accident on anyones account.

And I believe that. I do. But it is so much easier to believe something on paper than it is to live it out in this world. It is so much easier to think something with your mind, then it is to act it out with your body. And while you would tell your daughter, your husband, whoever would listen that it is time for you to go back and you believe this is what the Lord is asking of you, that doesn’t mean you don’t sit in Old Testament and cry. It doesn’t mean you don’t let the tears run down your face while the jovial professor in the front snaps his fingers and asks everyone in the room to sing a long to a little Hebrew alphabet song he made up.

The lies about motherhood are ancient and persistent. We must sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. We must always, always make sure everyone else has their needs met. We go last. We get up first. We say we didn’t much want that pie anyway.

I don’t want to be that kind of mother. I wasn’t raised by that kind of mother. I was raised by a woman who said “I think we can probably make this work.” And “If it is really this important to you, we will figure out a way.” I was raised by a woman who taught me how to do my own laundry at 12 and expected me to cook dinner once a week in High school. Not because she was super busy (she was) or because she couldn’t do it herself (she totally could) but because she wanted me to grow up as a contributing member to our house hold.

I did those things because it was my turn and my responsibility. I was expected to contribute because the weight of what belongs to you can at first feel overwhelming and too difficult, but if you learn to step beneath it you will find it is where you belong.

I don’t want to raise daughters who shirk from their work, and part of that is not constantly doing it for them. And I want to be the kind of mom who bears the weight of her responsibility well in front of my girls. On Thursday that looked like telling her I was sorry she was sad but she absolutely had to go to school. Because I had to go to school. There was work to be done. And it felt for a moment as though I wasn’t mothering well. But I came home and they were fine. Of course they were. And we managed. All of us. To do our work that day.

I think I might be living the dream (and you can too)

Christian looked at me the other day, we were sitting on the couch. Just sitting there, and except for waiting for some laundry to come out of the dryer, we didn’t really have anything else to do. It had literally been years since that happened. We were both really happy.

I’ve been really happy a lot lately. It has been intense, getting everyone to school and getting all the kid pick-ups scheduled. It has been strange to drop that amount of money on books and not be in charge of the cell-phone use of everyone else in the room. It was a little shocking to buy all my books (ouch).

But mostly, I have an overwhelming sense of pride in myself. Y’all. I did this thing. I quit my job, I asked for what I needed. I prayed, I trusted, I hustled. I got really lucky, and I am living the dream, the one I was scared to write down a few years ago when someone  asked me what I wanted.

What did I want? I was a mom, a wife, a teacher. Was I allowed to want? Was I allowed to have big dreams, or even little dreams? Where was the time? Wouldn’t me taking the resources mean someone else , someone I loved wasn’t getting them?

How the heck was I supposed to fit my dreams into my life?

My answer: One sentence at a time. A little here, a little there, until there was a manuscript in my hands, and then chip, chip, chipping away at querying until I finally landed an agent. Doing what I loved in the small time that I had until I pieced those spaces together into a whole life.

I am not promising you will make any money off your dream, and it takes a lot of work to even chase it. But I think you are worth it. I think you can do this. I think I can help.

Sign up here by September 1! 

The Ministry of a Messy House

Our door is almost always open, and our house is almost never clean. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t like…gross…but there are toys on the floor, dishes in the sink. You know, because we live here. We actually live here. 

I used to be embarrassed about my mess. I would rush home on the nights we hosted Bible study in our homes and throw everything I could not find a place for into the guest room and slam the door. My husband and I would frantically run the vacuum cleaner and wipe out the sink. We would plop down on the couch out of breath moments before the first person rang our doorbell.

When I was on maternity leave with my second baby I had to give up the facade. Two in diapers and my husband coming home from class fifteen minutes after group was supposed to start meant that the house didn’t always get cleaned. The laundry didn’t always get moved for the living room. Sometimes that laundry wasn’t even clean.

An interesting thing happened that messy semester. People opened up. They showed us their whole selves. They sat on the couch and tucked their feet up like they lived there. They exhaled and laughed and cried more easily, right there in my messy living room. We started eating together at the table that was too small for all of us and I bought bean bag chairs from Walmart that people flopped into when there wasn’t enough room on the couch.

We got real with each other. We were able to be our whole selves. People weren’t afraid of messing up my perfect life with their imperfect prayer requests or questions because I was pretty up front about mine. They knew if they spilled something, or dropped something, or cried so hard they got snot on the couch that would be okay. They knew their kids, in all their messy glory were welcome. I had tried to communicate that when I was still presenting the perfect home. But it took people really seeing my mess to feel safe enough to bring me theirs.

We don’t host that small group anymore, or go to that church. But still, no one rings the doorbell at our home. New friends, old friends, everyone just comes on in. I have heard so many times now that people feel at home in my house. They aren’t afraid of messing anything up. They feel comfortable with me.

I used to spend my time frantically cleaning up for other people, but have found they feel most welcome when I invite them into my mess.

D.L. Mayfield is releasing a new book today. She is a voice that I very much admire and I was very lucky to have already received a copy of her book. She writes honestly about the realities of a missionary life and gives us a new path to follow as we learn to serve one another. I cannot recommend Assimilate or Go Home high enough. D.L. invites us into her mess, she leaves a place for us to tuck up our feet and really be at home in the hard places with her. You can get the book here.

Snack and School Disparity (again)

They call it food insecurity. The state of being without reliable access to quality food. And when I heard the phrase I cried. It was linked with my kids’ school. 30 percent of the kids who go to school with my kids are dealing with food insecurity.

This is why I get so angry when people talk about test scores, and teachers, like the teacher can make up all the difference. My kids school is making huge test score leaps, but how do you teach hungry kids? This is what I know about my own home: everyone is cranky and no one will listen to anyone when we don’t eat on time. And I don’t mean just the kids. I can’t learn anything if I haven’t eaten enough, and I don’t have a growing body.

This is why I get so frustrated when people want to say that fair means every kid gets the same dollar amount. There are entire schools down the street from us where all the kids show up well fed, everyone can take their turn with the snack rotation, Goldfish crackers are never a burden to these family budgets.

Because my kids’ school is below the poverty line everyone gets free breakfast, and free lunch. But lunch is pretty early and the pre-k kids just can’t make it that long. The harsh reality is that some 4 and 5 year olds have learned to make the choice to slip their snack in their book bag in case dinner isn’t enough that night.

I don’t even really know how to write about it. I’ve been hitting the backspace a lot more than usual. I don’t live in this reality and seeing the words in black and white just makes me so sad. In other countries maybe, but how does this happen in my city, literally in my own neighborhood? How do I wrap my brain around the reality that some of my kids friends are going hungry while mine reject the snack I give them because I bought the wrong brand? It just feels very overwhelming.

When I talk to people about the disparities in education, I can see the same overwhelmed feeling cloud their faces. How can this be? How can we live in America and not have everyone have a quality education? How can children who are my neighbors not have what they need? The reality of solving for problems in education is that mostly what we are talking about is solving for poverty.

 

I don’t know how to solve for poverty either. And while I have a lot of thoughts about ways to solve for education I know that it boils down to showing up, finding out what the school needs, and getting it to them. So. That is what I am doing. My kids’ school needs snack.

 

Christian and I checked our grocery budget, and while we have the resources to provide snack about once a month, we also don’t have the means to cover snack everyday. Often my very generous readers ask me how to help when I talk about education. Here is one way to help. I started an amazon wish list with appropriate snacks for the class. All you have to do is click click click and these items will be delivered to our house. We will be sure to pass them on.

I am hoping to get all year covered. We were able to do that 2 years ago! I know that the fruit packets are a little bit more expensive, but I also know kids in poverty don’t get enough fruits and vegetables. If you have the means, those would be great.

Would you consider sponsoring a day of snack? 

(If we get more than we need I am going to share with the other pre-k teacher who I am sure is in the same boat. Juliet’s teacher also needs snack, and it was the most requested item from her kindergarten teacher. I promise I can find a place for any snack we get. Your donation will not be wasted.)

Patriarchy and Performance: Olympic Gymnastics is SO UNFAIR

I know I am not the only one watching all the Olympics, and especially all the gymnastics all the time this week. And I am sure I can’t be the only one who has noticed the disparity of expectation in gymnastics, specifically floor exercises.

Men: Complete the elements. Be powerful. Stay in the lines.

Women: Complete the elements. Be powerful but not too powerful. Or rather be powerful but don’t make it look like that. Be effortless, graceful, fun, flirty, whatever feminine personality trait you are going to work, work that with the elements. And be beautiful. And smile. And have your wrists right, and please do it all to music. And stay in the lines.

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I’m going to own you, but also be adorable. I am just that good.

Here is the thing about being a woman in the world, we can’t just do the thing, we have to perform the thing. When my husband takes the girls to the grocery store, he gets told he is a wonderful dad. He gets told he is brave by strangers, just for completing the basic parenting element that is taking the children with you to the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that is harder than a triple double flippy tuck. (I believe that is the technical name.) But COME ON! I don’t get points for just doing the element. It has to be effortless, no yelling, everyone smiling, and I have to look cute while doing it if I want the points.

And the ease. The ease these ladies are expected to exhibit while slinging their bodies into the air at twice their height and then sticking the landing is just ridiculous. How come men are allowed to grunt? How come they are allowed to make noise as the air is pushed out of their lungs because their feet hit the floor with a force that would probably shatter my weak 30 something ankles. The ladies, they have to smile. SMILE. Silently WHAT THE HECK? HOW IS THAT EVEN HUMANLY POSSIBLE?

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Even their hair is perfect.

But ease is a necessary part of being a lady. I know because making things look easy is not really something I excel at. Every, single, time I express my struggle, I get at least one person telling me that I need to just quit complaining, that I need to suck it up. My life isn’t that hard. Um, Y’ALL! My life is allowed to be hard and I may grunt a little bit at the sheer force of the landing on any given day okay? Okay. Don’t deduct points because I can’t say “Fine! We are great! Everything is JUST GREAT!”

 

Also, there is a disparity as always, with clothing expectations. Can we just talk about how unfair that is? Men get to do their thing in pants. Pants! Women have to wear sparkly leotards that they have glued to their hinies so nothing rides up their butt on national television. Because even if Simone Biles can do things with her body that literally no one else in the world can do, you know if she picked a wedge that would be the only news worthy thing for the next twenty-four hours. I taught high school for nine years and every single day I had to make sure nothing was too tight, too loose, too short, too low, too whatever man. I seriously doubt my khaki and polo everyday friends (button down if they are getting fancy) have ever thought about most of this? NO! Not even on the radar.

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Wedgie not likely.

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Wedgie guaranteed.

How many extra points does Gabby Douglas get for the most incredible lipstick in the entire olympic games? Or Simone Biles for not poking her eye out while applying glittery lower eye liner? How much does it up the difficulty level, because that junk is HARD!! How many extra points in life do I get for putting on make up most non-house days? And for correctly negotiating water proof mascara necessary situations in my life? I have literally preached one time in my whole life, and I have already thought way, WAY more about my make up than the pastor who gets up their almost every week. I want a little credit! I want two bonus tenths.

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I need to know what color this is.

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I am as likely to ever be able to get my eyeliner like this as I am to ever stick on of her landings. This eyeliner alone needs a gold medal.

And on top of all of this. All of it, women have to do their routines to music. Dance! Dance! Perform perform perform! Point your toes! Flick your wrists! Make this look fun! Entertain us! It would be one thing if we just got BONUS for doing all of these things, but we get punished if we don’t hit these ridiculous standards. And I guess that would be fine too, but these things aren’t even on the list of things that most men are expected to do! The world does not ask them to smile while also defying gravity.

I could not be prouder of the women gymnasts this go round. I am so glad my girls are growing up in a world where they can look up to them. But I hope my girls will be allowed to navigate the world in pants if they want to, and not get punished for it.

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Smash the Patriarchy? Oh, they are ready.

 

 

 

The Art of Church

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I looked at the calendar and saw half the Sundays of the summer gone to travel, to family, to festivals. How do you schedule the art when you are going to be gone. I reached out to my people, my faithful artists who stand at the easel and work it out with paint and brush as the preacher works it out in words. They were busy. They were mothering, and sistering, and in the same strange sort of summer flux that I was also experiencing. And I wonder too if my unspoken reality was also theirs. We were tired.

I found a giant canvas in the room full of stuff that had been left behind. When you are in a historic building, you just never know what you might stumble upon if you go looking. (I have my eye on a card catalog but cannot yet figure out what I would do with it. The wooden wheelchair is also pretty cool.) I don’t know how we acquired it, but I knew I wanted to use it.

Before I left for a few weeks I traced a huge one-line drawing on the canvas, one that started and ended in the same place. We were studying Acts and I wanted to represent the one work of the Holy Spirit, the one never ending love of God, the one universal church. I then ordered my colors and left instructions for our congregation. Come to the front. Fill in  some spaces.

I chose the colors carefully and watched over the first few weeks, it was going well. It was working. But then I left. And when I came back, it seemed that people had believed me. When I said: all are invited, the process is far more important than the product, that I wanted anyone who wanted to come take a crack at this canvas, they believed me. The people believed me. The children believed me. 

I wonder sometimes what it means to come to the kingdom of God like a child, and lately I have been thinking of the little ones who heard me say they were wanted and tugged their parents to the front of the sanctuary. They mixed colors and painted through my careful lines and worshiped before their God with abandon. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, and it certainly wasn’t what I expected, but wow. It was beautiful. It was real, it was genuine. It was worship.

When I look at parts of this painting I see the kids who painted it. The careful mixing of that beautiful lavender. The bold pink streaks and the pride that accompanied them. The fierce determination of a 4 year old who was literally hanging from the stage railing to get the paint where she wanted it. The precious corner of a little boy who has not yet been told that art is for girls, it is black with green dots and it makes me cry. I love the streaks and the mixed colors and the mess that was presented humbly to our God. Our kids are re-teaching me about a life and a church that cannot be contained and I am just so grateful. I hope that I can follow these little disciples well.

I also see the faithful clean up crew. A few people just quietly filled in the gaps, redrew the painted over lines, found boundaries around the messier bits and formed it into something whole. I am more sure than I have ever been that the church is mostly made up of people who quietly go about their work. With the kids, running the slides, making the coffee, painting the building, fixing the wifi, watering the plants. I learned recently it takes over 30 volunteers to make our church go each Sunday. (That doesn’t include either the child care workers or the folks serving brunch.) That is a lot of people who just show up and do the thing that is needed, because it is needed. Who just show up and say, where are the gaps? How can I fill them? I love a church that doesn’t mind a little work and a little mess because they just want to serve well. Because they believe in a bigger picture they are participating in.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what church means, how we do it. I am headed to seminary and now attend the staff meetings. Y’all, there are a lot of beautiful ideas, gorgeous sketches in the planning stage. There are so many carefully drawn out lines. But these ideas are not meant to sit in the staff meeting. They are meant to be colored in with all the beauty and color and fierce determination of a greater church. Sometimes that means the plans are not executed exactly as originally thought. Sometimes the congregation has their own ideas. Sometimes this thing is happening in this corner and that in another and the only thing that holds it together is the line of the Holy Spirit.

Always, the picture is something more than I could ever do on my own. Always, always it is beautiful.

As always this blog runs on love via Patreon.

 

What if you did it on purpose?

!n our first Skype meeting, she asked me the question that has haunted me for years: What I want to know is, what would purposeful look like?

We had met in an online writing course, Esther and I, and were “randomly assigned” critique partner status. If it was random, it was darn lucky for me. We took a look at each other’s blog and offered our honest feedback. Both of us coming from very artistic backgrounds, we didn’t hold back.

We’ve been pacing each other ever since. But only a few weeks ago did I answer that first question. What would purposeful look like?

I was writing at the time, at Accidental Devotional. I was claiming a lot of things in my life were an accident. I didn’t know if I wanted to go to college, but I wanted to be on a speech team, and I “accidentally” majored in education, and was good at it, so it stuck. Then I moved to Atlanta and accidentally started writing, accidentally about God.

I was doing all the things, but I wasn’t owning any of them. I was telling the story as though my life was a thing that happened to me, not something I was creating.

You can read the rest right here.