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.

On being whole and taking Prozac

My word for the year is “whole.” I had decided sometime in December that I wasn’t going to get my word for 2017 until epiphany. I would just let it go, and just like that it came into my head. Whole. My word for 2017 is whole. I spent January and February and some of March writing it everyday on my hand. All capital, all lower case, all cursive, big, small, colored ink, blank. Every day on my left hand: whole.

I want to be whole.

I gave up negative self talk for Lent. I announced it cheekily on my Facebook page and invited everyone to join me. Only, I couldn’t. I could not give up the voices in my head telling me I was not enough, telling me I would fail, telling me that everything was too hard and I was too soft and I just could not keep up with my life so why try? Praying it away wasn’t enough.

How do you commit to being whole when every third thought you have is that you are irreversibly broken?

When I went on vacation with just my husband and still could not shake the feeling that something was coming for me, that I was not enough (Y’all all we had to do all day was wander around and eat, how could I not be enough?) I knew I could not do this on my own. I called from our hotel room to take advantage of the free student counseling through my school. I got in the next day, and the day after that I got a psychiatrist referral, and the day after that a prescription for Prozac.

I gave myself permission to take it for two weeks, be incredibly gentle with myself, and just try to maintain C’s. I told some of my professors. My preaching professor, who I have ridiculous amounts of respect for looked me dead in the face and reminded me that my wholeness was more important than any grade I could get. I knew this, but being reminded was certainly God’s grace to me that day.

I am almost at the end of my two weeks. My appetite is kind of off, and I feel a little shaky at the wrists, but I am not so scared of life anymore. I am able to see that some of my thoughts (like they are going to kick me out for incorrect citations) are maybe not totally rational, and that maybe there is no need to hold myself to an impossible standard then berate myself for not attaining it all the time.

Monday after school I was able to take the girls easter dress shopping. It was hard, but not impossible. After we picked out my dresses (they really wanted me to get a pink lacy one, I declined. Dresses with rhinestones were also quietly vetoed) and I tried them on. (Priscilla says: That one is cute but so not you. She was right. It was returned to the racks.) They wanted the same experience, so we collected three dresses a piece and tried them on and chose.

I know my plate is always full, but I would not have had the space for this without meds. Of that much I am sure. It was a big win. I could follow today in systematic theology without talking myself down. I am not as anxious that I will fail out of school.

A week ago today I planted seeds as an act of prayer. It wasn’t my idea, these seeds of hope. I was too far in the dark. I am too used to killing off plants. I took this little pot and put it on the window. I would have told you that I forgot about it but I must have been looking at it every day because I noticed when it sprouted. My seeds of hope sprouted. There are four of them now, and they keep getting taller.

I am not fully healed. I think I am headed in the right direction but there is still some work to be done, some blood tests, some checking in, probably some therapy. But there are seeds of hope. I can sort out the thoughts as helpful and not. I can take my kids Easter dress shopping. I can do my assignments without talking myself down. These are all good things. I can nurture this grace that is growing inside of me. I can feel it growing. I am working my way toward whole.

 

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If the Yoke Ain’t Easy

I am over at She Loves today writing about quitting. This season is hard. I mostly feel like I am treading water. I mostly feel like the waves are coming anyway. Five weeks until the end of the semester. I got this. I hope.

At the same time that I know I am overwhelmed just in my day to day I am also overwhelmed by the pressing needs of my community, my state, my world.  I am paralyzed by this more than I care to admit. I do not have a life that I can be paralyzed in. The Lord is working this out with me.

 

Everywhere I look there is work to be done. Everywhere.

My kids’ school sends home fliers asking, always asking. For wipes, for Kleenex, for dry-erase markers, for paper. They need chaperones and cupcakes for the Valentine’s Day party. They need time and resources and they are doing good good work, and I want to help. I do. But I only have so much time and resources. If I am totally honest I would much rather fill out a grant application for a teacher than chaperone a Pre-K Valentine’s Day party.

My church is doing good good work. We have a breakfast ministry and a community closet. We have an arts ministry and a partnership with a village in Haiti. We have about 60 kids who scuttle off to Sunday school every Sunday. We need greeters and parking attendants, and people to make the coffee. Who will cook? Who will serve? Who will fold clothes carefully into bags or teach children about how much God loves them?  We have a congregation who are all right around the same age as me. We are all in our tired thirties. Who has the time? Who has the energy? Someone needs to do it or the church won’t run.

You can read the rest here.

On Being Frozen and Learning of Abundance

I.

I wore black the day after the election. Black pants, black tank top, black blazer. I wore my darkest lipstick. I didn’t know what else to do. I had a class to go to. We met in the youth detention center. I had things to do, and people to see, and Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited to discuss. But I also desperately needed to mourn. I desperately needed to show on the outside the despair on the inside. I woke up in a foreign land, one I thought I knew but no longer recognized.

I don’t know that the darkness has lifted for me. I wake up in a start a lot. I have been having a lot of trouble sleeping, (especially if I don’t limit my Facebook scrolling). I never really know what is coming next. Sometimes it is the thing that breaks my heart, but often it is the reaction by a church I feel I no longer know. I thought you taught me to love my neighbor. I thought you wanted me to make big sacrifices for God. It is like coming back to my childhood home only to find not just the furniture re-arranged, but also the walls.

II.

I have been invited to more Facebook groups than I can count. Women of the Resistance, Georgia Blues, Ten things in Ten days. I see them. They are all doing good work. I want to do that work. I want to flip my county and resist, and do ten things in ten days. I want to be a part of the change I need to see in this world. I want for things to be different. But mostly, I scroll through my Facebook feed and feel afraid. I think about how there are other things to do, make dinner, write my paper, go to a protest, call my senator…again. I could paint post cards and sell them and donate the profits to the ACLU or the Refugee Relief Fund or even to the social worker at my girl’s school. We need shoes, and snacks, and paper. I should do all of those things. Instead I sit on the couch frozen until my kids remind me that they are hungry. I pull the bag of  chicken nuggets out of the freezer and pre-heat the oven. I decide that and an orange is good enough for all of us. Again.

III.

I sit in the back of the church scrolling through my social media feeds. I know this is sort of rude and inappropriate but I can feel myself coming unglued and I do not want to break apart in the back pew. Again. I get a text from my friend. She is about to go to the front and tell us about the work she has been doing. Can I record her? I hold my phone and watch her explain to the congregation about answering a post on social media from her bed. Yes, she could take her youngest to an apartment complex and tutor a woman who has come to America as a refugee. Yes. She could do that. I laugh with her as she explains her anxieties, how she is terrible at small talk, but they don’t speak the same language so that is a non-issue, how kids and moms are the same in some ways across all cultures, how saying the same word over and over again becomes ridiculous no matter the cultural barriers. I watch her and there is just a flicker of hope inside of me. I don’t need my screen because this knowledge grounds me: This thing matters. Going to a woman’s house and teaching her the words for her groceries matters. My friend is doing the work of the Lord, every day she goes into that house, and also right now, her testimony does holy work in my heart.

IV.

I sit on the couch of a friend who has moved to the opposite corner of the country than me. It is a rare thing to find a couple whom you adore in equal parts. We have managed to maintain our friendship despite the distance. We are talking about the contrast in the messages we grew up with in our evangelical youth groups. We are talking about the ways we feel abandoned in the adult versions of a belief that we were given as teens. Do you think it is because we were too fast or too slow? he asks. Neither of us are people who are used to not understanding. I drink some wine and think. Both? I respond. We were fast in understanding the implications of that message, maybe better than they did. We were slow in the ways we believed that they believed what they were telling us as surely as we did. Now we are drinking wine together, silently, wondering what land our faith has left us in.

V.

I was taught to look for my Esther moment, for my such a time as this. And I feel like I am in a foreign land, and I am shocked by the cruel and unjust decisions of my leader, and I wonder if God has abandoned us because of our hard hearts. Where is Moses leading us out of this mess? Where is Esther, born to subvert the king she sits next to? Where are the prophets doing weird life as performance art in the name of God? I know these things are supposed to have 5 parts, but this story isn’t over.

VI.

I ask these questions moments before I get into a car with someone I have known since 22 to meet with women I have only ever met on the internet. I come wandering, wondering, empty. I come to meet with women who mostly feel the same way. One by one they stand up and say the things they are doing, are feeling, are called to. Each one isn’t a whole lot, until it is. Until you have had your head held by a woman who spent a whole year learning to be present, until you get an eye brow raise and a ‘let’s try it’ from a woman who has spent years learning to say yes her dream, until you get thanked for following your calling to seminary by a woman saved your faith so many times you lost count. These things that you felt in your hands don’t matter, in other people’s hands it is broken open, like manna from heaven, like fish and bread. Maybe all you have is so small that you want to just go back to bed. Maybe you do it anyway. Maybe it is enough.

You Were Made on Purpose.

This month they are talking personality tests at the Mudroom and if you know me, you know I am into that! 

The first time I read the description of the ENFP in the Meyers Briggs personality test I took, I cried. Gregarious, full of energy, passionate, an ability to inspire others, I knew who they were talking about because I was who they were talking about. I cried because if I was one of 16 types than I wasn’t created on accident. I didn’t have to work to be a little less, a little less enthusiastic, a little less in love with other people. I didn’t need to tone it down. There were REASONS I was so boundless in my energies. I was an ENFP, and this was the way my tribe navigated the world. I was supposed to be talkative, I wasn’t wrong. I was me, an ENFP.

I cried again when I found out which number on the enneagram chart I was. This wasn’t because I was relieved. This was because I was horrified. I am not alone in this feeling after discovering I was the helper. Turns out the two is most sensitive to criticism and your enneagram number is really best found when you think of yourself at your very worst. But I also cried because I didn’t totally understand what the enneagram was for. I thought it was telling my HOW I was to behave and not WHY I was behaving. The enneagram isn’t very interested in labeling your behaviors, but rather telling you why you might be doing those things. I thought I had been made incorrectly again, I thought I was being told I was behaving outside the bounds of a two.

But as I continued to work through my understanding of the enneagram I came to realize that, again, I was made on purpose. I didn’t have to fit myself into an imperfect box.

You can read the rest here. 

If You Want to Subvert Betsy Devos, Choose Your Neighborhood School

“There are no such thing as other people’s children” – Glennon Doyle Melton

It has become rallying cry amongst women like me. Most of us white, Christian, maybe a little more liberal than our pastor or families suspect, (but maybe not since the election, when we outed ourselves on Facebook). There are no such thing as other people’s children. This is a thing that we say, because this is the point at which our activism began. Our motherhood linked us to global motherhood and we could hear the cry of mothers with less privilege than our own.

This is why the appointment of Betsy Devos has made so many of us so angry. The system of education that she promotes is a system that employs an us and them dichotomy, one that makes you believe that the best education of your own child requires that you abandon the kids who do not have a choice to leave. It is a system that pits mother against mother, instead of one that demands that all children we treated as precious and worthy of a quality education.

Like most of the fury in this country, we are both angry at the things that this women promotes, and furious at a system that got us here in the first place. We rallied, tweeted, we called our senators and pledged to actively campaign against them. Some of us pledged to run against them if we had to. We were, and are loudly and proudly against the threat this woman is to public education, and in particular to special education. We were clear, and we were ignored.

I was heartened by the enormous support of a NO vote on Devos, but I am afraid that when it comes down to kindergarten registration, there will be such a thing as other people’s children. There will be an us versus them. There will be a quiet getting in line to go to the schools with the best reputations, because while there are no such thing as other people’s children, I still need to do right by my own child. I still need to protect my own, even if that means other people’s children get left behind. This dichotomy is powerful; it is also a lie.

I am one of the few middle class parents in my area who has decided to send my kids to the local neighborhood school, despite the space available in the neighborhood charter school. What started as a “well, it is free so we will see” spot in the pre-k program has turned into a deep love for the community that is my daughter’s school. I have the principal on speed dial and the PTA president in my text messages. I hear every day about how well-loved my babies are, mostly from my babies who are thriving there. I have been blessed by a community who teaches reading,writing, and math to my kids, and also has time for a robotics lab experience and a deep commitment to raising good citizens. It is also poorly rated on the state website. Because of this, most of the parents who look like me won’t even give this school a chance, because this school was set up by the system that Betsy Devos represents.

No one wants to fail their babies by sending them to a failing school. The schools in this country are given this label based on test scores. The test scores do not in fact reflect learning and positive environment accurately. All they reflect is how much money the kids in the school come from. Mostly, standardized tests test for poverty. They also tests for whiteness. A school with a “failing” score is pretty much guaranteed to be impoverished. It is also very likely to be primarily students of color. The system is rigged to create an us versus them and to capitalize on white middle class parents making choices out of fear. This lie encourages parents to pull their kid from the neighborhood school and send them to a safe school, whiter, richer, less kids with special needs. It isn’t about that these other kids are bad, it is just that the this lie works. Our schools are more segregated than they have ever been because parents are afraid of the label failing that has been foisted upon schools that serve communities of color.

I know it is no small thing to send your kid off to school. I know it is serious business, educating our children. I spent almost 10 years doing it. I know how important this decision is.

Betsy Devos isn’t the beginning of the systematic dismantling of our public schools. She is simply the face of a faceless nameless entity that has been subverting public education since I went to college to be a teacher, probably before that.

The system  she represents currently uses the rhetoric of competition and choice, ignoring the fact that these choices are not available to every person within the community. Ignoring the fact that competition means someone will lose, and our kids are too important to participate in a system that has a loser. But the truly amazing thing about this rhetoric of choice and competition is that the parents still have a huge amount of power. As the mother of two daughters in a public school, I have far more power on the local level than I ever did as a teacher.  Parents, the choice is still ours.

We can choose to reject the dismantling of the public school system. We can say, we have looked at your choices. We have chosen not to choose them. Our choice is a vibrant and beautiful community school where all kids are looked after. I choose to believe that the education of my child is wrapped up in the education of all children. I choose to believe that my neuro-typical child benefits from the inclusion of children all over the spectrum of learning. I choose to believe that my child will benefit from a diverse environment that accurately reflects my community more than my child will benefit from any special programming a charter or private school may have to offer.

I can give you the research that backs this claim. ALL children benefit from a diverse learning environment. ALL children benefit when disabled children are included in the learning environment. I can give you years of personal anecdotes from my time as a teacher in an inclusion classroom. I can give you testimony as a mother, who is benefiting from a neighborhood school that I love.

But I am afraid this will not matter. The lies that the schools are in fact failing, that sending your kid to a school with low test scores is to fail them as a parent is a lie that is powerful and prevalent in this country. It is one that I was almost willing to believe, and it is now one that I find on the lips of people in my community on almost a daily basis. But it is a lie.

I am afraid that the very parents who have fought, and yelled, tweeted and sent letters, marched in protests against this very appointment because it will hurt our schools, will not be willing to put their children in my school. Instead of staying and demanding equality for all, they will take their child and all the resources that go with her, and run to the haven of a school with higher test scores. I am afraid that when it comes right down to it, Betsy Devos can be maligned, but her system will be used by the very people who vocalized so loudly against her.

We can still defeat her system. We can still win this fight. It is going to take committing to our public schools in word, deed, money, time, and especially in the sending of our own children. If there are no such thing as other people’s children, there needs to be nothing but all of our schools.

When You Cling to the Rising

Today on SheLoves I am writing when I am in the middle of something. Really just at the very beginning. It is probably better and prudent to wait until the whole thing pans out so I can either never speak of it, or speak of it often to the glory of God. But I am not doing that. Instead I am clinging to the rising of hope. I am publicly Hoping that this thing just might work. 

“But how? How are we going to accomplish that, God? How is this going to happen?” It was one of those chicken and egg problems. I needed a space to generate the art to get the funds, but I needed the funds to get the space where I could put the artist. I really needed an artist, but I didn’t have the funds or the space for that either.

I had been dreaming with my pastor about the intersection of art and justice. If God is a creative God who creates all people to create, what does that say about the lack of opportunity for our brothers and sisters who are experiencing homelessness, who do not have access to ways of creation? No laptop for writing, no instruments, no paint and brushes and easels. How can we facilitate all people to create in the image of our creator? These were the questions we were asking, but we hadn’t even begun articulating an answer, when an artist showed up to eat breakfast with us.

You can read the rest here.

Evangelical Church: In the wake of banning refugees, what do you believe?

If you spent your teens years in an evangelical youth group, you know about the 10/40 window. As I have very poor spacial awareness, maps and globes never meant much to me, but I knew that the box between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator with huge amounts of poverty and no access to Jesus. At least, that is what I learned when I was being implored to pray for these people. And I did pray for these people.

In stadiums full of other kids learning about Jesus and just how sold out we had to be for him, I learned about muslim countries and how going there for Jesus might just be the death of us. I learned we should do it anyway. I was told that the gospel was worth my life, that Jesus may call me into dangerous places. I was told that I should follow Jesus no matter the cost. I pledged that I would and I meant it.

I went to college and majored in English education so that I would have a skill to rely on and a good cover to get into countries closed to christians. I joined bible studies that also had a 10/40 bent. I heard stories of people praying on the sly in restaurants while pretending they were commenting on the pictures on the walls. I read emails and updates where everyone’s names had been changed to the names of candy bars and I spent weeks and months faithfully praying for “Kit Kat” and “Reese Cup” to know the grace of God.

I was told that God could and would change the hearts of these people, if we were only willing to follow Jesus no matter the cost, God promised that it would be worth it. God would make a way when there seeme to be  no way.  I believed it. I still do.

The same churches that taught me to love my global muslim neighbors as myself, before myself, are the same churches who categorically voted for a president who has made good on the campaign promise of a muslim ban. He said he would ban muslims from entering this country and he has. Many who sent me to my knees, weeping on behalf of the 10/40 window are complicit in sending those same people to die in the very places we begged God for access to.

The muslim people that we knew only God could reach are in our airports, and the church is complicit in turning them away. You asked me to give my life. You told me it would be worth it eternally, and now you cry SAFETRY FIRST to mostly women and children who are desperately looking for safety.

The same church that told me that people were dying eternally damned because no one was willing to risk their life to tell these people about Jesus, is the same church that is telling me it isn’t safe for these women and children to be in our neighborhoods. I thought following Jesus was worth the risk.

You wonder why the millenials, even those raised in your churches, are exiting your pews en masse. It isn’t because we didn’t believe what you were saying. It is because we did. We believed you. You said, go do something dangerous for God and we said YES! But when it was your turn to welcome these people you said it was too  dangerous. We still want a Jesus who is worth following no matter the cost.

The evangelical church told us that souls were on the line, that eternal life was at stake. But the evangelical church was willing to elect a president who staked his claim on banning muslims. The church voted for that. You with your big T Truth and your make Godly choices, you decided that refugee banning was worth it.

My theology has moved quite a bit since those days. I am now a proud member of a mainline liberal congregation. I go to a liberal seminary and find my current beliefs well represented there.

But I will never forget my theological mother tongue. I know the evangelical message well. It introduced me to God and the power of Jesus Christ, and for that I will always be grateful.

As a daughter of the evangelical church I am asking: What do you really believe? If you really believe that anyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their savior is eternally damned, wouldn’t you demand that any muslim who wants to can come in? Wouldn’t it be worth whatever risk there may be for the chance to introduce this muslim to Jesus?  This is what you told me. I believed it. My question now is, do you?