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.

What Needs to Be Said in light of Aziz and Grace

Recently a not famous woman wrote and published an account of a sexual encounter of a very famous comedian. She is going by Grace, he is Aziz. This is a particular account of a particular sexual encounter. It is an account of a sexual encounter that is at best gross and not totally consensual. If you know how to use google there are hundreds of voices saying who to blame, whose fault this was.

I don’t want to talk about whose fault this was. I want to talk about how it is that we live in a society where people have sexual encounters that one person thinks is consensual and the other one does not. I want to talk about how we can do better for all parties if we want to, but the conversation starts WAY before anyone goes to anyones house for wine and making out.

We HAVE to start talking about consent, we have to start talking about consent as soon as our kids can talk. We have to start talking about consent because our society tells everyone lies about sex, and sexiness, and these lies turn into sexual encounters where someone is the victim and someone is the predator but no one meant any of it and everyone is sorry but nothing is changed.

We tell girls: Just say no! Say no! Make sure you say no. But don’t hurt his feelings. Let him down gently. Don’t be mean. Make sure you are still nice. But say no. But nicely.

We tell girls: Be sexy! But not too sexy! Not slut sexy but don’t be a prude. Look presentable and alluring, but not like….too much. Not easy. But look good.

We tell boys: No means no! But sometimes no means ask again. Sometimes no means yes.

We tell boys: Real men respect women, but REALLY masculine men have a lot of sex with a lot of women and women can’t resist them.

We say: Respect each other, but it is really really romantic when a man pursues a woman even after she tells him no.

We say: Real men know how to please a woman and don’t have to ask her, they just know.

We say: tickling children even after they shriek no is a fun and silly game.

We say: I know you are uncomfortable but kiss your aunty because she wants you to.

We say: You can’t wear that at school because they boy behind you cannot be in control of himself if you wear that.

We say: He only is teasing you in a way that makes you cry because he like you. Just ignore it.

We say: Boys will be boys.

We say: don’t talk about sex right now right here. That is nasty. That is embarrassing. Your body is shameful.

Then we say: I don’t know why she didn’t say no and mean it. I don’t know why she couldn’t communicate clearly about sex. This is her fault.

Then we say: I don’t know why he kept pressing. He should have been able to read her signals. This is his fault. How could he not know?

We need to change the narrative, and we need to change it now.

We need to say: Everyone is in charge of their own body. If you aren’t sure THAT IS OKAY. You can ask. Asking is hot. Consent is super sexy.

We need to say: Desire is allowed and it is important to learn how to communicate what you want. If you can’t talk about sexy things with a partner, then maybe that isn’t a good partner for you.

We need to say: Coercion is not acceptable. Real Men and Real Women is a dumb made up label anyway. People who are trying their best stop when they hear no. People who are trying their best have their listening ears on for no. Someone who is worthy of a sexual experience with you will be someone you can communicate about sexy things to.

We need to say: Clear communication does not take away any mystery or intrigue. Sex and bodies are beautiful gifts that are honored with clear communication. So yes, toddler I will answer your questions about why that baby is “missing her penis” and yes 7 year old I would be happy to talk about where babies come from wherever you brought it up, even though we are sitting down in the very full sanctuary after church (okay, you can rush to the car first just this once.)

We need to say over and over again so that everyone hears: Everyone is in charge of their own body. And we need to mean it. We need to let our children be in charge of their own bodies as often as we can while still making sure that everyone is safe.  We need to practice being in charge of our own bodies when we are picking out our clothes, when we say no we don’t want to hug or kiss someone, when we are learning to be friends.

We need to say Everyone is in charge of their own body when dress codes come out that blame girls for boys not paying attention, and when boys are made fun of for not trying to get laid. When teasing is normalized and girls are slut shamed for having sexual feelings.

We need to say everyone is in charge of their own body, and then we need to normalize sex so that when the time comes our young adults are not too embarrased to say the words and name the feelings and the body parts. We need to say the things in benign situations so they are able to accurately communicate what they do and do not want in a highly charged and vulnreable time.

We need to stop pretending that these conversations about consent and mutual desire are just going to spring out of the ether when adults are ready to have sex. We need to stop spending all our time talking about whose fault this very common experience, and start talking about how this confusion about consent is A THING that needs to stop and can stop if EVERYONE GETS TO BE IN CHARGE OF THEIR OWN BODY. If everyone is trying first and foremost all the time to make sure everyone is in charge of their own body.

I wrote a book, I have a ted talk, hell their are t-shirts you can find them all here. 

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Whole: A 2017 recap on a not totally dumpster fire year.

I went looking for my January post about the word WHOLE and I found it, in March, two weeks after I went on Prozac. If the year stopped there it would have been a huge win. Prozac. Healing. Wholeness. There are years I take the word by the horns and shake everything I can get out of it (unashamed) and years they just kind of keep showing up (here) but this year it feels like WHOLE did the work of 2017 I needed to do and I watched.

I am, for sure, more integrated, less scattered and boxed off, my mothering and seminary and writing and all the things feel like pieces of me that fit together not pieces of me that are fighting with each other. Part of this was thoughtful balancing from me.  Most of this was prozac. When I am not fighting the anxiety that only shows up when I am depressed, I have more time to like my life. My whole life, as a whole, not tiny pieces of it at a time.

I became a preacher in 2017. I preached once in 2016. I knew I wanted to preach, but I became a preacher in 2017. I took two preaching classes last January, preaching and women in preaching. I took them back to back and I loved it. I loved learning to preach. I loved talking about preaching. I loved dissecting sermons and thinking about what makes preaching good. I liked talking about preaching in a digital age, the difference between a ted talk, a lecture, and a sermon, and whether or not Michelle Obama is a preacher. I bring my whole self to preaching. It contains all of me and I love it, and it loves me back. I will preach pretty much anywhere someone will let me.

I started being paid for my “hobby” of social media. Part of being whole for me has been about integrating my life and saying WHOA not all people can do what I do. Not all people want to do it. I have skills that I developed that are monetarily of value. Y’all. This was huge for me.

I am a student who is a mother, and that means that part of my mothering is saying “mommy is studying right now” and part of my student-ing is bringing my motherhood into the classroom. I am allowed to talk about the deeply spiritual (for me) experience of birth and mothering when we are talking about spiritual things. I am allowed to say “my kids are like the Israelites” or “Juliet and Priscilla struggle less with inclusivity than I do.” Can I tell you that sometimes my class mates roll their eyes? That is okay. I sometimes write off their 22 year old experience as not applicable too, so I guess we are even.

But mostly, it is the Prozac. I am comfortable in my skin. I am confident in my voice. I am whole. When I assessed this year there was a lot of me that felt sad. Other women I know got new jobs, book deals, promotions. None of that was 2017 for me. But I got whole, and I am so very glad.

 

Love and the Fourth Trimester

(Yes, I am still writing my advent posts. Christmas isn’t over yet. I’m going to take all twelve days okay? Okay.)

Fun fact: If everything goes according to plan, babies only come out of the womb because there is absolutely no more room in there. Like…none. Not even a little. If there was a little room they would stay in there because babies are not idiots. They are warm, and fed from a tube, and are much, MUCH safer in there than they are in the wild. It is a lot less work in there where everything is happening automatically and your mom even pees for you because you do not need to be bothered with such things.

But then, she gets really uncomfortable, which frankly the baby could live with, and the baby gets really uncomfortable and there is literally no more room so the kiddo comes out. During that discomfort and birthing and that next three months there is just so much waiting. So much waiting and so much wanting and so much figuring everything out.

Do you remember the early days of being in love? The like head over heels googly eyed, I know I saw you twelve hours ago but I miss you SO MUCH days of being in love? Yeah, it is amazing, and also exhuasting. I remember Christian and I confessing to each other we were relieved it was over. It is amazing, but how do you even get anything else done.

The first couple months with a baby are like that too. They call it the fourth trimester. The baby wasn’t really to come out and they depend on you, the mother to keep them alive. They depend on the fact that we will love them. Our bodies are biologically trained to fall in love with these kiddos but keeping them alive feels totally impossible, and wonderful, and terrible, and amazing.

That first three months is totally all consuming. It is completely wonderful and exhausting and you are falling in love. You with the baby, the baby with you. And it is really hard work, falling in love. It is really hard to get to know and figure each other out and know what different noises mean and how you fit together. It is hard work falling in love with a baby, learning about this tiny human that you grew inside of you and kind of already knew. Then you spend the rest of their life re-learning them.

Babies change right when you think you have it figured out, and toddlers are completely unpredictable, and then school age children come home from school and gob-smack you about once a week with something completely new and totally classically just like that child all at once.

Learning someone. Isn’t that the most loving thing we can do? Isn’t the work of our whole lives?

Advent 3: Joy and the Third trimester

I am not a happy pregnant woman, not in the third trimester especially. One year I came to a new school to teach about 2 months before I gave birth to Priscilla. Upon my return my students would tell me that they were really scared of me coming back. I had apparently left pretty cranky. It didn’t help that my one year old wasn’t sleeping through the night and wasn’t walking so I had to schlepp her everywhere. It was awful, and totally hilarious.  I used to make my 16 month old crawl to the car.

I was on the struggle bus that last tri-mester. And then I went into latent labor. Latent labor is when your body is for sure contracting, but it isn’t really doing anything. I went to my weekly appointment about two weeks before my due date and I just started crying.

There is this thing that people say to you when you are huge and pregnant and none too pleased about it. You see they look at you and smile and say “well sweet heart, no one is pregnant forever.” And you will want to punch them and tell them that you think you are about to be the first.

Thank God my midwife did not say that. She rubbed my back and held my hand. I know this part is hard she said. I am sure you are miserable. You need to do one thing every day that brings you joy. One tiny thing, every single day, you need to find joy. So I did. I went to a movie, I got a fancy cookie, I read books I loved. I got through the waiting by finding the joy. Sometimes it was all I could do to cling to it. That tiny piece.

Waiting is hard. It can be excruciating, and there have been years in advent that it felt like some cruel joke, to talk about the joy in the midst of the shit-storm that is life. Joy? You have got to be kidding me. It felt cruel to ask people who are suffering to look for the joy. It felt stupid, like a fools errand. More and more I am becoming convinced that joy is for those who are waiting. It is imperative to keep on keeping on. Joy is the secret weapon in waiting for the ways of Jesus.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this. The people who taught me the most about joy were the boys I used to hang out with in the youth detention facility last year. Yes, they were locked up. Yes, they had it rough, yes life was hard and very unfair, and the way they laughed when we were playing games, the way they begged to be read to out of silly children’s books left me breathless.

Waiting is terrible, and waiting without knowing exactly when and where things are going to shake out is even harder, and waiting when you are oppressed, or in pain, or exhausted, or desperate is so so so hard. Which is exactly why we need joy. And I can’t help but think that finding joy in a prison, or while so pregnant you are sure a baby is going to fall out of you, or the powers that be seem to be coming down upon you with no plans of letting up, is just training for finding a baby in a manger when you were expecting a king. I think learning to choose joy is training for seeing God.

 

Advent 2: Peace and the Second Trimester

In the second trimester you tell. You tell your friends and your co-workers and I told my students. (Well I told three girls to see just how fast the rumor mill worked. Everyone knew by lunch.) You tell because you are reasonably sure that this new life you are carrying in your body will see the light of day. Safe through the first trimester means that this baby is probably going to make it.

I met with a friend today. “I don’t know Abby” he said to me, “I don’t know if people are capable of change.” I told him if they weren’t then we might as well burn our MDivs (I haven’t even finished mine yet.) If people can’t change, if they don’t change then we should for sure skip the Sunday morning worship. We should for sure hit the bottomless mimosa brunch down the street.

But also, I get it, and I have been there. I am there a couple times a year, in that place where every single piece of you is screaming this is too hard. This thing we are trying to do will never ever be done. I cannot take one more step. And what does God offer us in the midst of this? Fuel? Encouragement? An everlasting Starbucks gift card? (Lord, hear my prayer). Nope. God gives us peace. A peace that says, I know that you feel like this thing will never be. I am telling you it already is.

I preached on the Magnificat last week. The verses in Luke where Mary proclaims to the world, that this work is already done. This baby is coming and has already changed the world. We can have peace because God will work, does work, has already worked to completion,

By the end of the second trimester you are showing. You are clearly pregnant. People treat you like you are pregnant, and start giving you things for the baby. This thing that is happening in your body becomes a reality. It is as though this thing that will happen has already happened, you prepare for the inevitability of this new life even as you know there is still some risk.

I think that is the peace we can lean into. The reality that the work of Jesus is happening, will happen, has already happened. That despite what the world yells at us, and the way it feels in our bones, God’s work will come to fruition. Has already. There is a peace in that we can rest in.

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.

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.