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 are we waiting for?

I wish I could give you a better explanation, but the Holy Spirit told me to be friends with Tanya Marlow. I may have cyber-stalked her a little bit until she became my friend. I am not even sorry about it. Not even a little.

I don’t quite know how to explain my relationship with Tanya. We have never met in person, but she knows me, really knows me and I her. We get each other. We are both two’s on the enneagram (though we have different wings) and just generally think in similar ways. A lot of our stories are the same too, and we are both figuring out how to tell them.

Here is the bizarre piece of the way our puzzles do and do not match up. We suffer(ed) from the same kind of illness. We have both been talked to like we are idiots by doctors and told to just pretend we are better until we are better by people who are unqualified to tell us anything. We both know what it is like to become mysteriously ill and watch all our life plans veer into the unknown, and we both know what it is like to beg God for a healing for years and year only to be met with radio silence.

But this is where our stories diverge. I was healed 13 years after I got sick, and Tanya is still waiting for healing. I struggled through pain and exhaustion, and she literally cannot get out of her bed or her home most days. I got better. Tanya is still waiting.

If I am 100 percent honest I have not yet sat and read through the book Tanya Marlow has written about waiting. I am in seminary and it just is a terrible time for me to read anything that no one is going to test me on eventually, but what is also true is I do not have to read this book to recommend it.

Tanya knows what it is like to be sliced through by people who are wielding the Bible like a samurai sword when they should be carefully cutting like a scalpel. She hasn’t just found the easy answers people like to give theoretically unsatisfying, but personally heart braking and brutal. She knows first hand there are no easy answers and she isn’t about to give anyone any. She knows better than most of us how those answers may go down easy, but can leave us sicker than when we started.

Tanya wrote a book about waiting while she is still in the thick of it. She wrote about God breaking your heart with the silence, while she is believing the story of my own healing and deciding if she has the energy today to hope for her own. Sometimes that answer is no, and you know what? That is okay.

All too often christian books are only written from the perspective of the healed, the better, the let me tell you about my story now that I am at the end. I think that does us a real disservice. I haven’t read this book but I don’t have to. I know Tanya. I know how she has been hurt by easy answers. I know how she is so achingly careful about never ever doing this to anyone else.

I get into a surprising number of conversations with women with the same kind of thing I had. I wish I had more answers for them. I wish there were a way to explain my own healing besides shrugging my shoulders and saying it is miraculous. It was, it is, I don’t know how to explain it. God is good, and also Tanya isn’t healed and God is good and that makes no sense to me. I am so very grateful that she is writing in the midst of the waiting and not in the neat and perfect ending we all want.

If you are longing for something and God does not seem to be hearing you, I am praying God finally breaks through. Until then, there is company in the waiting.

You can buy those who wait right here. 

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You probably don’t know, you know an abuser.

I know it is really hard to believe, but right now you probably know someone who is abusing his wife, his girlfriend, his assistant, his kid’s teacher or babysitter and you probably have no idea. I know you don’t want to believe it, I didn’t want to believe it either.

But there it is. The statistics on domestic violence don’t lie and are probably under reported. The fact is, you may not know that you are currently in relationship in some way with a survivor.

When Harvey Weinstein was outed last week as an abusive man who sexually assaulted women he had a lot of power over, everyone was wondering how this could go on for so long. Everyone wanted to know who did know and who didn’t know, and mostly they wanted to know, how could people not know?

I am sure there were many, many people who DID know and kept quiet. I am sure the reasons are complicated, and a few years ago I would have judged them. I would have written plainly on this blog that there is right and there is wrong and if you see something you should say something, shout it from the rooftops even. I hope that more often than not we speak up, but I just realize that it may be more complicated than we want it to be.

However, when I hear people say that they cannot believe that people close to this man didn’t know, I think they are kidding themselves. We want to believe that abusive men are over there. They are in Hollywood, have more power than our circles have access to, they are over there not in contact with me. If that is the case then abusive men and how to hold them accountable never has to be my problem. This simply isn’t true.

The first time someone tried to tell me about her abusive husband I told her I thought she should stay, work it out, try again. I knew she was unhappy, but come on aren’t there rough patches in everyone’s marriage? My mind was changed the day she asked for a separation in order to reconcile. His reaction made it clear that he did not see her as a whole person; he thought of her as a piece of property that he was entitled to control.

I started reading more about domestic abuse, emotional abuse. I started understanding the difference between a marriage that was having a rough patch, and a husband that believed that he was allowed to do whatever he wants. I began to understand that the reason I hadn’t seen it before is because the abusive men didn’t want me to see it.

A year later a woman I thought of as a dear friend told me all the things that happened behind closed doors. I had thought of her as a confidant, I had thought I really knew her, knew her marriage, knew her husband. I am sure when it comes to marriage, you only know what they want you to know. And that feels really terrifying.

You want to believe that abuse happens outside of your circles. You want to believe that you would know if someone you loved was being abused. You want to believe that you know who is a good guy and who is not and that knowledge will protect you and the people you love. You want to believe if you are smart enough and good enough and capable enough you won’t be abused or assaulted. You desperately want to believe if you just raise daughters who are smart, and loud, and free enough they will be protected.

I understand why you would want to believe those things. They aren’t true and they aren’t protecting you. Of course other people did not know that Harvey Weinstein was sexually assaulting women, he didn’t want them to know. He likely did things, on purpose, that protected him from true accusations. People who are invested in manipulating their power make sure they get to keep it.

You probably don’t know that you know an abuser. When their victims speak out, I pray that we hear them.

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.

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.