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.

You don’t have to be good at this: emotional permission to just get by.

Last weekend, per all of the very best how to survive in social isolation advice, I made a schedule. It is Wednesday and we had our first adjustment to the schedule because everyone was late to school even if I didn’t enforce the get dressed/eat breakfast/brush your teeth rules for starting the day.

Reader, school was scheduled to start at 10 am. We all missed even that low bar. I made a bell ring noise with my mouth at 11 am. Then I did a tardy bell. It is 11:20 and I think everyone is doing something they should be. I hope at least. I am sure it will be fine. (Actually I am not sure, I can’t tell if anything will be fine. What is fine? We will be here. That much I know.)

My schedule said that recess was for after lunch, I have kicked my kids out of the house to go play in the yard before the allotted time 100 percent of the days of the homeschool year so far. I am not sorry. This morning my little one walked the dog and then came home and told us all the bad things the dog did while the dog pretended to be sorry but was wagging her tail. I am sad we didn’t get it on video but it will live in my heart for a long time.

I keep seeing memes about how Shakespeare and Newton and all of these white men we know did amazing things while quarantined. I have yet to point out that their wives were doing all the work at home and caring for the kids and feeding everyone but it is coming. If someone wants to come to my house and do all of that work while I write a theological treatise that will change Jesus-loving as we know it I would love that, but until Mary Poppins shows up how bout we give everybody a freaking break.

You don’t have to be good at living in a pandemic, at least not everyday. You can have horrible days where everyone goes to their room to be on their screens and you chuck lunch in there cause you are all done seeing each other. You can have a unit on the historical significance of Friends the television show. (Education Hack, watching tv is not educational but “critical viewing” is in most state standards. You are welcome.) This unit will only be complete if you watch the whole thing. I don’t make the rules.

Okay. I do make the rules, and SO DO YOU! You make all the rules that don’t violate the recommendations of the WHO and the CDC. As I am telling my kids and myself, we don’t have to like it, we just have to do it. So make the rules with tons of grace and kindness to yourself and anyone you are stuck in the house with. Some of us are going to be good at parts of this and some of us are going to be good at other parts, and some of us have to be reminded constantly that social distancing is the opposite of social gathering because gathering people together and stress feeding them is how you deal with hard things. I am trying.

Maybe this great pause isn’t an opportunity to be productive, but rather an opportunity to ask ourselves why we think our self worth is tied to production. Maybe we finally learn how to be with ourselves. Maybe each of us learning to be a little kinder to our own selves and each other, to be a little more patient, to be a little more generous would change the world way more than one person being hyper productive. This work is hard. It is painful, and it is going to take time and right now we have that. Maybe we practice our humanity and our religion in the true sense of the word. We just keep keeping on the best we can and don’t give up, like practicing an instrument or a dance or a skill.

And maybe somedays are pajama days. Maybe somedays are cry and yell and then apologize and try again days. We don’t have to be good at this. I am not even sure we have to try to be good at this everyday. Take a lot of naps. Do nothing. Brag about that. No one is good at this, we are all just practicing.

 

 

Dear White Parents: We need to tell our kids the truth about MLK.

Dear White Parents,

Today is the day this country has set aside to celebrate Martin Luther King. Likely your kids are home from school and you are off of work. Likely you slept in. Maybe you are going to a place to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King by picking up trash or packing sandwiches for your neighbors in need. That is good. I am glad you are doing that. I need you to know that isn’t enough. This year, to honor MLK you need to, at the very least, tell the truth to your children.

Martin Luther King DID have a dream, and I am glad that they know that, but they need to know that that dream STILL isn’t realized. If their school is primarily white, they need to know that was probably not some kind of happy accident. They need to know that schools that are primarily brown and black are not being supported in the same way their school is. Yes, I mean your kindergartener. Yes I mean your senior in high school. Kids know about not fair, they understand that everyone should get a turn, and the same amount of stuff. They get that. What they might not know (because you haven’t told them) is that things ARE NOT fair EVEN NOW. They might now know that the system didn’t magically fix itself, things are basically as unequal now as they were then.

Martin Luther King was well liked now but was hated when he died. He wasn’t popular. He wasn’t seen as a peacemaker. He was seen as an agitator who wasn’t going about racial justice the “right” way. Very many people who believed that his ideas were good, also believed he should ask nicer, and be patient. Sound familiar? It should. This rhetoric is used today. If you want to honor Dr. King today, tell your kids that saying someone isn’t asking nice enough is a classic power move. It is used to not have to give people what they deserve.

Martin Luther King was not BFF with white people. He was seriously irritated with the white moderates who told him they liked what he was saying but were absolutely unwilling to give up any of their power or privilege. If they are up for it (they probably ARE) read them letter from Birmingham Jail. Or you read it and break it down for them.

We have to stop white washing Dr. King and his messages. We have to stop telling our kids the things that we wish were true, and avoiding the uncomfortable. We need to tell them the truth.

When one of my girls was in Pre-K she came home and told me that the reason MLK was important was he allowed her to go to her majority black school. And can I tell you that for a minute I thought about letting her think that? That MLK was for her and her friends being nice to each other. But that wasn’t true. And so I let her know that because of our privilege we would be fine, but her friends wouldn’t. I told her that he was fighting for black people and their rights, and I told her we could fight too, if we wanted, but we weren’t at the heart of his dream. She got it. She could handle it.

If you are still willing to say that your kids aren’t ready to hear any of this, then I need you to think about yourself, about where you fit in. Why not? We have to be honest with our kids, and that honesty starts with ourselves. If you are unwilling to give up power and privilege for a more just society for all, then say that to yourself. Dr. King, and your children deserve that much.

On Attending to the Ordinances of God

I thought maybe this was the year I stopped having a one word. I have been doing it since 2012. I still think of my year of Unashamed as a key year in a lot of ways. It was the year I started leaning into who I am. It turns out I really like myself. The year I chose WHOLE and then went on prozac is also a highlight. Two years ago I got PERSIST and then just had to truck through life, get through it. Last year I had ART and I spent December covered in paint and very happy about it. I love painting things. But maybe this was a practice that didn’t serve me anymore and maybe that was okay.

But it is a practice that serves me. For awhile I was leaning toward EMBODY. I have the tendency to push my way through life, to just keep going. This isn’t good for my body, it means I live in my head a lot, and it means I am often just doing the thing in front of me while thinking about getting to the next thing. I am not exactly present at any of it. I am just keeping it moving. It being me? Why? I don’t know. But if you asked me how I was sometime in the last three years or so I probably told you I was tired.

I started writing when Juliet was just a baby. I got serious about it when Priscilla came along and my husband went to Grad school. It taught me to pay attention to myself, to my own life, to the things that mattered to me. It taught me to be present in a moment, even if it was just so I could write about it later. I am grateful to blogging for that. I don’t know who or where I would be without it.

It also taught me to pay attention at all times to all the things happening in all the circles of the internet. Pay attention to things that really aren’t my concern. Pay attention to the drama and the fighting and the discontent, not my OWN discontent mind you, just everyones all the time.

I don’t want to do that anymore. I only have so much attention and I don’t want to spend it on other people’s lives. I want to start paying attention, to my body, to my marriage, to my kids, to my art, to my writing. I want to pay attention to the things that feed me, and let go of the rest even if they ARE good things, they might not be the best things for me.

The Methodists have three rules (thanks John Wesley) 1. Do no Harm 2. Do Good 3. Attend to the ordinances of God. When attend popped into my head I knew it was mine because the way I want to use it is kind of old school and deeply methodist. I want to attend to the things God has for me. I want to do Good (and no harm obviously) but I also want MY good. MY life, the one I show up to. And I have to be in attendance. I have to pay attention to what God has for me.

Going On An Advent

Yesterday marked that start of Advent, a time where we intentionally journey toward Christmas, where we take the time to long for the Christ child, where we remember that we are not the first people to long for a better world, to look the skies and cry out, “Seriously God? Fix this!”

Today someone Twitter asked what was the best advice we have ever received regarding anxiety and I gave me stand by answer, the bear hunt answer.

Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it, gotta go through it.

To be honest, this is totally solid advice for just about anything in life. Sometimes, the shit hits the fan. Sometimes people break your heart, or disappoint you, or die. It is horrible, it sometimes feels extra horrible in December. There is no way around the pain of this sometimes brutal world. The only way through it is through it. You have to go through it.

These days the avoidance of sad feelings often gets blamed on the perpetual high light reel of social media and the ability to watch entire seasons of your favorite shows on Netflix in one sitting. But advent has been around since the beginnings of the church. The church has always set aside the time before the feast of the Christ child to feel our feelings. Apparently, the world has always attempted to avoid them, apparently we have always wanted everything to be fine. And things are just so often not fine.

The early church knew that we needed time for longing, time to ponder hope and how hard it is sometimes. We needed a time to say out loud that we wish things were different, that they didn’t have to be this way. If we pretend that everything is perfect why do we even need a savior anyway?

My friend Tina asked her congregation, “What does your heart long for?” It may take some of us a few days to even give ourselves permission to ask ourselves the question. What is it your heart is longing for? What is not right in this world? These might not seem like very merry questions but I think they are the exact questions we need. These sad feelings we never have time for, Advent is the time.

Can’t go around them, can’t go under them, can’t go over them, gotta go through them.

We are going on an Advent, to see what we need to see.

 

 

 

Why Go Home When The Harvest is Plenty?

I crossed a thing off my bucket list this last week. I got to preach a women’s retreat. It was as much fun as I thought it would be. I got to stand in front of a room of women and tell them all the things that were true, about them, about God, about the way God made them. I have known for a long time that this was something I wanted to do, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to finally do it.

Ironically, or perhaps not, while I was preaching my face off at this women’s retreat, while I was telling these amazing women that God made each of them on purpose, that God would go searching for them in the wilderness, would always welcome them back home, some man who I will not be linking to told the world women should go home. He scoffed at the idea of listening to what marginalized groups have to say about the Bible. He rolled his eyes at the idea of LGBTQ people made in the image of God. And the internet has not been able to stop talking about it. I got sucked into the vortex too.

But that was not the important thing that happened this past weekend. At least it wasn’t in my world. No, the important thing was that I got to see all the amazing work these women I spent the weekend with are doing. I got to hear about the impossible work of trauma recovery, the good hard work of advocating for the elderly. I got to hear about work being done in elementary schools, and non-profits working with foster kids. I got to hear about the ways that this work has brought people’s hearts close to the systems that are desperately broken.

These twenty or so women I got to preach to were already doing the work of the gospel. They trusted me with their frustrations and anger at the injustice of it all.  They pushed back on the things I had to say and they let me know the parts of the Bible they don’t like very much right now. They told me about the things they hoped to one day do, the non-profit they want to open, the hats they make for people who are cold. They promised to send me a church cookbook. I am going to hold them to that.

I was struck, yet again this weekend, by the millions of ways God has equipped each of us to bring the good news. I was struck by just how much good work there is to be done. I was amazed and astounded by the work that was already being done by these twenty women.

There is so much work to be done. There is so much good work to be done. The harvest is so plentiful. The workers are so few. There is so much justice to be fought for and so many people to feed. There are so many casseroles to be made and so many kiddos to hug. There are so many hats to be knit. There is so much justice to fight for. There is so much grief to be grieved. There is so much to laugh at. There is so much joy to be found.

I think it is trash that some man in a room full of other white men would take the opportunity to remind everyone of the lie that only they are qualified to preach the gospel, that anyone who is not straight, white, male, and able bodied doesn’t have a place at the table. I am so so so grateful that they don’t get to decide.

It isn’t their table. It isn’t their gospel. It isn’t up to them. The good news is for everyone and includes everyone, and if it doesn’t do that then it isn’t good news.

At the end of the weekend my friend who had invited me read pieces of Sarah Bessey’s commissioning from Jesus Feminist. She encouraged each of these women to go and do the work that God has uniquely called them to do. She encouraged us to find the things that we are home in, and do them with great abandon. For me, that is preaching. I am at home in the pulpit. It is a home God has made for me. You too have the home that God built for you. I pray you find it. I pray you go and do just exactly what God has called you to do with wild abandon. And I pray you are too busy doing that work to fool with the fools who think they get to decide.

When you are wandering

The last three or four weeks have been a beast preaching. I found out too late that the third lectionary year is a THING among preachers. I probably wouldn’t have skipped it anyway. I’m stubborn like that. Last week or maybe the week before I spent time on the parable about Lazarus, and Hades, which is tricky for a liberal preacher who is foggy at best about hell to a congregation that is pretty comfortable with the idea. I think it worked out okay. It usually does. At least that is what my very kind congregation tells me.

But I missed a sub point that day. I meant to talk about death, about the reminders of death and how we wouldn’t always have always and tomorrow. How we forget that, even in the midst of daily reminders. I forgot to talk about how true that phrase we had sung moments before was so stinking true “prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” I forgot to talk about how I don’t always love the things that Paul says, but dang it, that bit about wanting to do the things I do not do and doing the things I don’t resonates more days than it doesn’t. Being a human is hard. Telling the truth about it is harder.

Am I the only one struggling with this? I wonder that on the big things like God’s calling on my life, and little things like how the heck do I feed these children every single day? I see that cute sign in your instagram “Not all who wander are lost” and have to admit that some of us just might be. It is me. I am some of us. Being a human is just so hard, at least it is for me. I suspect I am not the only one.

I got some disappointing news on Thursday, I was deferred at the district level for commissioning. My paperwork was not as good as it needed to be. They want me to come back next year. They think I am called. They affirmed my gifts. This part is still hard. It makes everything less clear. I thought I knew the path toward ministry, I think this is probably a minor blip. A lot of the people I know say, yes I was deferred, they shrug, they got through next year. I am sure that will be me in a few years. Right now it stings. Right now it feels confusing and unclear.

I have left this post up for three days now. Hoping I can wrap it up neatly, put a little bow on it. I don’t have that. I just have this: If you are feeling parched, like you are alone out here wandering, wondering on the big questions, and also the daily minutia, you are not. I am here too. I believe God is out here with us. I can hold that today for both of us.

 

 

When you are changed but the same

The summer before I was to start seminary I freaked out a little bit. I had been a teacher for so long. I had heard seminary was going to change me. I wasn’t sure where or who I would be when those three years were up. I liked who I was, I wasn’t sure I wanted that to change. A very wise woman, someone who I often admire and seek council from looked at my fear with me and asked, Abby, why would you want to spend three years doing something that would leave you exactly where you started? Don’t you want seminary to change you? Isn’t that what worthwhile things do?

She was right. And I went. And I was right. Seminary has changed me.

This past summer I tried to write again in the ways I used to write, earnest and honest and thoughtful, with run on sentences and too many conjunctions. I tried to re-ignite the pieces of my brain that had been stored away in order to complete a full time three year degree while also being a brand new pastor turned accidental church revitalizer. I was a little worried seminary had broken my brain forever,

Turns out, I was just tired.

When I started blogging I was neck deep in diapers with a spouse trying to complete a PhD. I wrote as a way to remember who I was and also figure it out. I needed to not lose myself in all my rolls. And it did all of that for me. I wrote my way right into seminary. I wrote my way into calling myself called.

The blogosphere was changing when I left it to go to graduate school, and it seems I barely recognize what I have come back to. I will, I think, attempt to write articles that get published in places other than this, that pass through the hands of editors and give me a “by-line” but also I want to remember that I write because I need to, because it makes me feel whole. I write so that I can know what I think, so that I can remind myself of the good God has for me.

I write so I remember what truth sounds like, what truth sounds like for me and maybe you too. I write to order my steps and make sense of the ones that already come. I write here mostly to remind myself that I don’t need anyone else’s permission to be who I am, even if that has changed, is changing, and I am not quite sure exactly how.