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.

I wasn’t anxious at the Apple Orchard: On coping with high functioning depression.

I went to the apple orchard and was not anxious.

I know this seems like a normal thing, but I need you to know it is the first time in my adult life that I can remember it happening. It is the first time since I was 16 that I can remember not being anxious at the apple orchard.

My junior year of high school I got really sick. I got really depressed because I was really sick. It was pretty clear that I was in a spiral, so my mom through out all the rules about if you don’t go to school you can’t leave the house and took me to the apple orchard for lunch. She thought maybe I needed to be outside. I remember being grateful as we ate our donuts on the picnic table. But I also remember being anxious that someone was going to see me, or ask me why I wasn’t in school, or….I don’t even know what. I was just anxious.

We’ve been going to the same apple orchard for three or four years now. The ten dollar admission isn’t cheap, but then there is no more asking. The jumping pillow, the pig races, the petting farm, the cow train, all are included in the price of admission. Even the clogger show and the cow milking are things I can say yes to.

It sounds like a practically perfect day, and it always is. We started inviting our family and friends who are like family. And every year I would sit on the bench while my kids took 15 turns on the zip line, or road the cow train seven times in a row, and my head would be full of boxes I needed to tick off: Have we seen the pigs race? What time is that? What time is it now? Are we going to milk the cows? Are we going to buy the apples? Should we pick them? Is the kid I can’t see okay? Are they spending too much time on the jumping pillow? Are my kidless friends bored? Does my sister need something? Is my husband having a good time? Are we making enough memories? Have I taken enough pictures? Are my kids going to  be picked for the chicken chase? Do I want them to be? What if they cry? What should I do? What if I am doing this all wrong all wrong all wrong?

That is what was going through my head every year at the apple orchard. I think part of it has to do with the changing of the seasons. It is dark when we get the girls up and the sun sets before bedtime. I just need more sunlight, I need more vitamin D. I need more serotonin in my brain.

The way that people talk about motherhood sometimes, it makes it sound as though this thought pattern is normal. No one thinks that they are enough! Everyone is plagued with mom guilt! Everyone worries about their kids! And that is true to an extent, but not like that. Not like sitting on the porch, admiring the beautiful view, being really happy that your people are with you, and not being able to stop the voice in your head that is telling you that this is either all wrong right now, or it is about to be.

Yes, mothers are often exhausted at the end of the day, but not because they are afraid all day long no matter what they do. Yes, mom guilt sucks, but it shouldn’t be the predominant force in your thought pattern on any given day. Yes, moms can benefit from an occasional glass of wine in the evenings, but it shouldn’t be the go to for turning the angry voice in your head off.

The slippery thing about anxiety and depression is that sometimes, these thoughts are normal. Sometimes, it is totally normal to be overwhelmed. Sometimes life is just like that. But when sometimes become most times, when sometimes becomes almost all times, that isn’t okay. It is a problem. something is wrong.

I was suffering from what they call high functioning depression. Yes, technically I was pushing through, but there were better ways of coping. As it turns out my body doesn’t make enough serotonin. It probably hasn’t since I was a teenager, and I used to do this or that to manage my moods. But what I needed was more serotonin in my brain. I have been taking 20 mg of prozac since March and I am just so relieved. I don’t have to fight for the space in my brain for positive thoughts. There is so much more room.

I wasn’t anxious at the apple orchard y’all. I sat through a practically perfect day and believed each moment that it was practically perfect, that I was good enough. I am noticing the changing of seasons this year, and it is not making me sad. I take prozac every day, and it doesn’t feel like a failure. It feels like a miracle.

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To Priscilla on Her Sixth Birthday

Dear Priscilla,

You are six. I can hardly believe it. My baby is six. How is that possible? And how is it possible that you were ever not here, that you were ever not a part of our family?

This year you went to kindergarten and you were totally ready. About a week before school started you pulled out the picture Ms. Rudolph had gifted you of your pre-k class. You spent time looking at it and being sad that this would not be your class this year. You spent time grieving that things would be different. You are remarkably good at feeling your feelings, something I am still learning how to do. It is sad this year is different, and also it is wonderful. You knew to feel through the sad to get to the wonder.

You are having a particularly glorious year. Your teacher tells me you are like a tiny para-pro, keeping everyone on track and learning, even her. She says your presence in the classroom makes her a better teacher. I ask her if she is trying to say you are bossy and she shakes her head vehemently. “She is a leader, she is learning how to lead.” I smile, grateful that the adults in your life see the best in you.

This summer we went to a play date with your cousins. A kid who was much larger than you stole a ball out of your baby cousin’s hand. “Hey!” you shouted, “Give him back his ball! That is HIS ball!” The kid gave it back, deciding wisely that he did not want to tangle with you. Your cousin was delighted. Your aunt and I were not surprised.

You are an excellent advocate. Most often, you are advocating for yourself, and there certainly is a time and place to remind people it is your turn. But this gift of yours becomes exponentially more powerful when you advocate for others. Bigger kids, adults, even your mom sometimes give in because we do not want to go up against you. I am praying you can learn to know when to stand down. I am praying you know when to fight, both for yourself, and for those who need you.

Some time this summer your sister learned how to read. You have decided you need to learn as well. You resent the idea that everyone in the house has access to information before you. You are doing everything in your power to catch up. You are your biggest critic. Be gentle with yourself love. You are doing so much better than you know. You are doing so much better than you think you are. You see the world as black and white and right and wrong and good and not. I see you looking at yourself with that eye, and I want you to know that you are the only one.

Everyone else thinks you are doing great. No one else is as critical of you as you are. You are delighted in, by more people than you could ever know.

3 days ago you snuck your sister’s pink kimono robe into your book bag, you paired it with the blue sparkle boots you like to wear. You put it on over your uniform as your “jacket” and apparently marched around school all day like that. Your teacher thought we were letting you express your free spirit. We really just had no idea. It didn’t occur to you that this was out of the ordinary. We all loved it. We all love you.

Love,

Mom

 

Summer Lovin’: Things I have loved 2017

Hey there! It is 11:24 on Labor day and therefor the end of Summer. I am sad. I am so sad that this summer was over. Last summer was all angsty and I wasn’t sure where I was going to land. This summer I knew where I was headed in the fall. It was good, actually relaxing, and just a good time.

I was on the book launch team for two books that I totally adored. One fiction and one non-fiction.

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker is just really good. If you grew up as an avid reader and in a church you have read a lot, A LOT of christian fiction that isn’t very good. You keep thinking the next one will be better. THIS ONE IS ACTUALLY GOOD. It actually is good and I highly recommend it, especially if you want to have theological discussions with your kids (maybe age 10 or above.) I read it in two days. Get this one y’all.

Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a broken world by Kelley Nikondeha is stunning. It is absolutely stunning. Kelley is my favorite theologian, hands down, and her take on adoption is amazing. It is robust and thoughtful and a really necessary voice in a conversation that christians are having about adoption. It needs to be our guiding light on this topic, it absolutely does!

My big summer project is a podcast! I put our first episode out Friday and the next one comes out this Friday. I love the format and am really enjoying myself. Next week you get to meet my husband and also how I set my oven on fire and ruined a super bowl party once.

I also helped my professor start a blog, and am learning all about what it means to be a methodist. If that is your thing, go say hi to Dr. Burkholder.  If you want me to help you start a blog, I can do that too!

I also found the most remarkable lipstick ever. Catsuit liquid lipstick by wet n’ wild! I am totally surprised that I love the same brand I did in the second grade, but there it is. This stuff is AWESOME and is under 5 dollars. If you want a really pigmented lipstick that stays on all day, this is what you want. Target carries it. Could it be better?

The highlight of my summer might be that I bought an instant pot. It is like a really remarkable electric pressure cooker. I love, LOVE my instant pot. I did ribs (amazing), risotto without stirring, and the most amazing french dip sandwich ever. If you have an instant pot recipe that you think I want, you are totally right. I do!

What are you into? What did you love this summer? I would love to know!

Sit Down Taylor: On White Femininity and Preforming Victimhood

To say I was looking forward to the release of a new Taylor Swift song would be an understatement. I seriously considered setting an alarm. My at the time 3 and 4 year old knew every word of the 1989 album. It was, hands down, my favorite Christmas present that year. Once upon a time one of my students updated the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet and replaced all of Juliet’s lines with T. Swift’s lyrics. I framed it.

I was even excited for the re-brand, because ever since the leak of the phone call where Taylor was all “OMG! SO GREAT!” after her public, “Here I am a victim again!” I had decided that I really couldn’t support her as an artist.

Let me explain. Being a white woman is a tricky space, because white women both benefit from and are hurst by the patriarchal upholding of white femininity. Huh? Let me break it down. White women benefit from playing the victim. It works for us for a long time. One of the ways that people made sure that black people were maligned was to say that white women needed to be protected from them, both men and women.

Violation of white women’s sensitivities were enough to literally kill a black man. She hollered, he was killed. And while actually lynchings are less common, metaphorical ones are still very often to the white woman’s advantage. Taylor Swift is not an idiot. She knows this. Kanye is also a ready made villain. He is clearly emotionally unwell. He says mean and ugly things and is kind of rude in public. You want to root against Kanye. You just do.

I am not trying to throw Taylor under a bus. I know this behavior because I have benefited from this behavior. As a teacher at a primarily black school, I knew that if I cried, I could get a kid suspended. And even if the kid TOTALLY deserved to be suspended anyway, I still should not have used my white tears to remove a child from my classroom. But I did. I can tell you how desperate I was, and how hard my job was, and how emotional I actually was about the situation and all of that is true. Ultimately, I did mostly because I could, and I owe some kids an apology.

Taylor Swift has been the victim her entire career, the victim of her circumstance, or the popular girls, the victim of older boys or the friends who betrayed her. She is always the victim, and when I found out the old Taylor wasn’t coming to the phone anymore I was here for it! FINALLY at 27 years old Taylor Swift is going to be someone in charge of herself, like the woman we all loved from the court testimonies. I would love to hear what the woman who counter-sues someone for a dollar because she doesn’t want or need your money anyway has to sing about. But we didn’t get her. We never get her.

At 27 years old, Taylor is smart enough to know that she can’t be the victim of another white woman forever. So, instead she goes after Kanye, mostly because she knows it will work. “Look what you made me do” is the repeat cry, because she refuses to take responsibility for her own behavior, and she knows that this will work or she wouldn’t have done it.

So how do all these tears hurt Ms. Swift? She never grows fully into herself. At 27 I had two babies, a home and a job. I was in charge of my life and myself and it was good. It was hard, and there are still days I don’t want to be the grown up, but it is good for us to be in charge of our own lives. I was so impressed this summer when Taylor Swift became a strong voice against rape culture. To hear her turn around and use a common trope in victim blaming as a hook for her song is a huge waste of momentum, talent, and this moment in our culture.

The other problem with white feminine victims is there cannot be too many of us. So, you are either the victim or the mean girl, the one who needs saving or the one who needs beaten. It puts us in a constant position of fighting against each other instead of rooting each other on.

True story, in high school a boy broke up with me because I didn’t need saving. He broke up with me because I could handle my own problems and didn’t need him to come in his car and literally rescue me from anything. It was, and is the weirdest compliment I have ever received. People don’t always know what to do with white women who don’t need saving. I would love to watch Taylor Swift model that for us.

When People Show You Who They Are: On Joel Osteen and The Nashville Statement

Yesterday Christian twitter got so loud, NPR picked up the story this morning. In case you don’t know, now you know Joel Osteen is not being totally honest about why his giant church didn’t house hurricane relief efforts, and a bunch of very conservative theology guys thought it was time to remind everyone what they think about human sexuality.

I understand the outrage. I understand the fury. (My favorite response here) I understand the heartbreak of being reminded that some people think you are broken in the eyes of God. What I did not understand was the surprise. I was not surprised by any of these actions. I was not surprised by any of these statements.

As the brilliant Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

It is no surprise that Joel Osteen did not think it was his job, or the job of the church to house people in crisis. He doesn’t think of the church as a house of refuge. He thinks that people favored by God will be able to help themselves. I am not trying to be critical of his theology, and I am not trying to negatively represent him, these are the things that his says. They are broadcast live on television every Sunday.

Why would a man who thinks that favor with God and financial favor are one and the same even consider opening the doors of his church for refuge? The people of God can surely spend the money that God has blessed them with to take a little vacation while the waters recede. He didn’t open up the doors of the church, because he does not believe that sheltering the unfortunate is the job of the church. He has never said anything that would make us think that.

Meanwhile, as the country is watching Houston and worrying about where people are going to stay, a group of very conservative mostly men put out a statement on what they believe about human sexuality and the Bible. I am a little unclear as to why they even put out a statement, because everyone who cares even a little already knows what they think. It is like me putting an ad in the newspaper about how much I love to eat or how I run my mouth a lot. If you met me, you know. This is information I regularly volunteer.

So dudes who don’t believe women should be pastors, don’t believe women should be the head of the household, got in a fight with a muppet bear over gender roles, believe that homosexuality is a sin and OH BY THE WAY also believe that if you don’t believe what they believe you are not a christian.

Y’all. None of this is new. I am a woman who left a career that I was good at to pursue three years of academic study of the Bible, and people LOVE to tell me I don’t take the Bible seriously. We disagree. I still think they are christians, they think I am not. We disagree on that too. Whatever man.

None of this is a surprise. None of it is new information. When people show you who they are believe them. These men have showed us who they are. These men have showed us what they think about God and what that means for their christian practices. None of this should be a surprise. We don’t just think about theology. We practice it. We do it and live it and work it out in word and deed.

These men have long told us what they believe. They have lived it out by who they let in and who they let speak and what they say and where their money goes. This is what they believe, this is what they say, this is how they live.

There are so many other churches and people and places that are opening their doors wide in the name of Jesus. Melissa Greene has been quietly excluded from the christian machine for years as she continues to affirm LGBTQ people in Nashville no less. The United Methodist Church is doing the quiet work they often do in times of crisis. I am sure they are not the only denomination doing good work. Very many denominations have emergency squads.

If the actions of these men in the name of Christ have hurt you, please know that I am praying that you feel desperately loved today. If you are looking for a different kind of christian leader, there are so very many in your community quietly doing the work of Jesus.

This doesn’t have to be our way, our theology, our belief. We can do better. God is so much bigger than this.

Jesus is Hilarious

I have been writing for She Loves for the last few months, things I learn in seminary that everyone needs to know. This month I am thrilled to be talking about new ways in which I have encountered Jesus. Seminary is for everybody!

I wish someone told me how funny God is. And I don’t just mean lame pastor joke funny. I mean hysterical. Laugh out loud, long set up, OH MY WORD DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN funny. Y’all. I had no idea.

When I was in the third or fourth grade my mom went on an Emmaus walk. I remember this mostly because I remember the little tokens she brought home to remind her of her time there. She kept them in a top drawer mostly, but there was a picture of Jesus she stuck in her mirror above the favorite baby pictures of me and my sisters. This picture of Jesus was like nothing I had ever seen before. The reason my mom loved that picture was because she felt the same way. In this picture, Jesus was smiling. Not just a “smiling with my eyes, looking nicely and softly at a child,” but, like … really smiling. Really, actually smiling, like I-am-about-to-laugh-out-loud-from-the-delight-of-being-with-you-because-I-actually-really-like-you-and-being-with-you-makes-me-laugh kind of smiling.

I’m not sure if it’s because of the felt boards or the stained-glass windows or the pictures in the kids’ Bible, but when I picture Jesus, he always looks so … serious. It never really occurred to me that Jesus was funny, that God’s messages could be delivered a little less like Dan Rather on the nightly news and a little more like John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. But Jesus being a crack-up to make a point is well within the Hebrew tradition of a prophet.

read the rest here

This is Not Okay

This is not okay.

I think I have said this every week of this year. This is not okay. When Betsy Devos was appointed Secretary of Education, when Steve Bannon was allowed anywhere near the white house, when Ivanka moved in just because she could.

This is not okay.

I was wrecked by the refugee ban, hopped into a mini van with another mom and protested at the ATL airport. We cannot and should not attack refugees. Our country needs to welcome them.

This is not okay.

Again and again I find myself astounded at what I have to say is not okay. Overwhelmed I have found myself getting quieter and quieter. I don’t want to always talk about politics. I don’t want to always be fighting with people that I love who think I am a crazy leftist liberal. I do not want to believe that we elected someone who reps for white supremacists. But we did, and so I need to continue to say that this is not okay.

Most recently I find myself speechless because the President released his very first pardon, Joe Arpaio. I know I lean to the left, and I know not many of you are here for my political positioning, but John McCain and various other republicans have also condemned this pardon. If you want the full deal, the Pheonix New Times has a pretty intense thread on Twitter. To be honest I couldn’t finish it.

This is not okay.

Treating prisoners as though they are not people is not okay. I am sad that I have to say that, I am sad that this is where we are at, but I guess it is and I want it on record. This is not okay.

I know that this is not enough, I know there is more work to do and I am doing it. It feels as though I am tossing a marble into a giant hole in the ground in the hopes that the hole will fill up. But this marble is all I have, and so I at least can do my part.

This is not okay. None of this is okay.