Who Do You Play For?

Monday night Christian and I did the nerdiest thing we have ever done. We stayed up to watch the awards ceremony for the National Forensics Association. A coach of a team was live streaming it so we could all play along at home.

Probably the cutest thing there is to know about Christian and me and our relationship is that we met on the Ball State Speech team roughly thirty years after my parents met on the Ball State Speech team. We sat in our living room in our pajamas and held our breath and clapped along as we waited to find out how our alma mater did. We yelled and then shushed trying not to wake up the babies in our excitement. It has been awhile since Ball State had a top ten finish, and they managed to do just that this year.

I was surprised at how invested I was in the outcome of the tournament. I know the coaches of the Ball State speech team but I no longer know the team members. I couldn’t give you the name of anyone who competed for Ball State this year, and yet I teared up a little; I was so stinking proud of their success. I updated my Facebook status to spread the news. I tweeted about it. I was (and still am) pumped that the team I was once a part of was able to accomplish what they did.

In some ways it feels like I am still on the Ball State speech team. I always will be. It does not matter who is competing, in what events, on which campus. I will always, always be rooting for my team.

One of Christian’s closest friends (who he competed with in High school and college) used to refer to Christians (not my husband, rather Christ followers) as “Team Jesus.” “You know Andy,” he would say, “he is Team Jesus too.”

Sometimes I think the Church, Christ followers collectively, forget that we are all on the same team, that we are all Team Jesus. My coaches and teammates can tell you that I was not always the most amazing teammate. I held grudges, I talked about people, I held my best interests above the team sometimes. But in my best moments, in the weeks before State and Nationals we came together.  I rooted for, helped out and cared for people I otherwise did not get along with, because we both wanted the same thing. We both wanted the team we were playing for to do really well.

Lately my blog feed has been covered in leaving the church, not leaving the church, coming back to the church. All of the posts are well thought out and beautiful. They are real and painful sometimes; honest and gentle sometimes. They point the finger at self as much as they do at the church as a whole. I know that my generation is leaving the church in droves.

My pat answer to those I am talking to in real life is “come to mine!” But that glosses over the fact that on many things I am on the exact opposite side of the theological divide as the man standing in the front delivering the message. It ignores the soul-searching nights I have wondered what to teach the girls in my house about what the Bible does and does not say about what they can do, if it is fair to them to go to a church that does not have a woman on staff, that does not believe in female elders.

All of those things and a million others can get in the way of the ultimate truth. Anyone participating in those conversations are on the same team. We are all team Jesus. Even if the men that lead my church have views that I disagree with on women’s roles, I follow them because they love Jesus desperately. Because this is the community I feel led to serve with. We have the same goals. Love God, love our neighbors. We play for the same team. Team Jesus.

I don’t think we all have to agree. I don’t even think every Christian has to like each other, I don’t even think it is possible. But I do think that we can agree that we play for the same team. We have the same goals. However vehemently I disagree with them on some things we are still Team Jesus. I think it may be time to act like it or at the very least talk to each other like we are all Team Jesus.

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When I am desperate, God is till enough

It got a little dark around these parts on Wednesday.  I have the strong desire to tell you that when my sister therapized me she pointed out my nature to catastrophize things and then make some self deprecating joke or point to my own sinful nature and laugh it off. Isn’t Abby silly, she gets so worked up over stuff when God really has it. Sigh. Maybe one day I will learn. (Insert patronizing head shake and finger wagging at myself here.)

But today the Spirit is leading me to leave it. In that moment, it was that bad. It was worse. Some days this Jesus-filled-spirit-lead living thing is hard. Whether it is because you have as many diapers that need changed as hands every morning, or you drive into work everyday thinking that if you got into an accident you could skip today (hello, first year of teaching), you feel like you are suddenly in a situation that you did not sign up for and you have no idea how to get out.

Even though I try desperately to be a Jesus Lover, to live by the Norman Family Creed, to dismantle the Failure Siren, it all came to a head last week. I now understand better than ever before why the Lord implores us to humble ourselves. Being humbled by the reality of your own sinful nature totally sucks. The difference between knowing in your head that you are a sinner, and watching your sin punch someone you love in the stomach is severe.

In the midst of that I called out, Is God enough? And my call was answered. Because He is enough. He is enough and He is faithful. Not in that, yes, yes, the Bible says He is faithful so it must be true kind of ways, but rather in a visceral I did not deserve His grace and the Lord chose to lift me from my pit of self loathing anyway kind of faithful.

God was enough when  I confessed to my small group ending in “my heart is so ugly”, and they all laid hands on my head and chose to love me anyway. He was faithful in the Peanut placing her little hand on my head and patting. “Okay, mommy? Okay?” and “Jesus, Jesus, Amen.” I hope she never grows out of praying more Jesus over people. I have yet to run into a circumstance that wouldn’t be helped by more Jesus.

Meanwhile the Rooster was tickling my foot and checking for smiles. Bringing me joy, being the change she was insistent on seeing. I suppose you could say that a 7 month old was only grabbing what was right in front of her, but I wasn’t the only one who noticed her looking. I wasn’t even the first. Her looking and tickling and smiling, that is what was right in front. God is enough. He is faithful.

Thursday I received an email from Sarah Bessey.  I hope to never get over how much this means to me. There was a marked change in the way that I write out my life when I read hers. Her honest living and writing gave me permission to be the me God is molding me into. The Lord saw fit that I receive her words to me on my lunch break and cried big fat ugly tears on the keyboard until the bell rang and my freshmen were about to walk in the door. (The only crying that is acceptable in my 9th grade class is the crying I cause.)  She did not smack my hand for bringing her name into all of my mess, but instead offered prayer, understanding that grad-school is hard for the wife too, and assurance that as loud as we howl, it is enough. God is enough.

Then, Friday another email. Grace extended that I do not deserve, hope and restoration chosen when death and excommunication would be easier. Understanding and assurance and the door left open when I was sure it would be slammed in my face. There is no clearer way to see Jesus in a believer than when they extend unwarranted forgiveness to you.

Sometimes God has swooped down and healed my heart. BAM. Done. I am forever changed. I can mark the day on the calendar that He healed my body. It is finished. This change, this enough, God’s faithfulness that I am sure I do need and will need all the days of my life, this is a healing that God is asking me to choose, that He offers in this moment, and this one until the “and this moments” are linked in an eternal chain that I must continue to grab on to.

And I will, continue to grab on to that glorious chain. Because today I know that falling is hard and it can get lonely in those moments when you are no longer sure where that healing is. That chain gets covered in the muck that is the moment right here. But it will be unearthed because my God, He is faithful. My God is enough.

In Which I Write An Open Letter to Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, Jen Hatmaker, Kathy Escobar and the like

I read somewhere that the human mind literally does not remember the pain we were once in. This makes sense. Had I not recorded it, I would completely underestimate the terrible mess I was the weeks before the Rooster was born. I think this causes us to sometimes gloss over others pain. “I did that and it wasn’t that bad,” when in actuality “I did that and I don’t remember it being that bad.” Those are very different things. I know that my circumstances are not hopeless, they just feel that way right now. I feel pretty strongly that if nothing else the Lord is calling me to be transparent, and I want to honor that by writing how I really feel, through the mess, so that someone else can stumble upon this when they are all messed up to, but hopefully read ahead and feel reassured. Some of you  (mom)  worry a little when I do this. I am okay, or if I am not the Lord is working on me. This is the dark underbelly I am exposing. In His infinite wisdom, God had some things planned already for me to read that are cleaning this out.

These ladies I am writing I have discovered in the past year and their words on their blog, they minister to me. When I grow up I want to be like them. But lately I am stuck right where I am trying to get out. I know that it is God who will pull me out of this mess (with little to no help by me) but sometimes you just want someone wiser to come in and fix the whole mess that is your heart.

Dear Sarah,

When you wrote that post about your husband turning in his final papers, and celebrating with a waffle maker, I was happy for you in a way that was far more than a “hey a blogger that I read had something good happen today.” We are sisters in Christ you and I, even if you don’t know me yet. But I confess that I was also jealous, not that cute “I am so jealous but it is just my way of saying I think your life is great” jealous. Nope, it was more of the “You get right back here right now missy. If God hasn’t pulled me up out of this then you should be stuck here too” kind of jealous. The kind of jealous that makes you scream those unholy words “this is not fair’ and “why me.”

You see, I had an unexpected baby in September, a month after I was transferred to a new school and my husband started his PhD program. All of these things we know that God has called us to. The Rooster is the sweetest, most even-tempered baby in the history of babies. But my family is just starting and your family is done, and I don’t know if I can do three more years of this without knowing that you are doing it too. I know you don’t know me, and it is so very selfish of me to think this way, but we were in this “holding down the fort while our husband gets his school on because we run a mean egalitarian household” thing together. And I know it makes no sense, but I feel abandoned.

Dear Jen,

When you wrote that post, about feeling completely overwhelmed and being empty I had to stop reading right in the middle because I was too tired to finish it. As a high school english teacher, I appreciate that irony. I am glad I did because the state of my heart would have caused me to throw up all over my computer when I got to the part about that being the way that God can use you, empty like that.  I read it the next day and was inspired as usual.

But then you got to have a weekend away. I know that I should celebrate with you, and as a teacher I get holidays that everyone else wants to punch me for (what other adult you know gets spring break every year?), but when you wrote that blog post about your weekend on the Harley at your friend’s house, with no diapers to change, I held my breath so I wouldn’t scream and wake up the two under two who were both sleeping at the same time for the first time in what seemed like an eternity even though it was probably just that weekend. Some days, the days are just that long. I’ve read your books, I know you have been here where I am. You got to go on that respite I have been dreaming of. I don’t fault you, I just wish I had one coming.

You two ladies and Rachel and Kathy,

You all write about these amazing spiritual spaces where people are coming to doubt, to question, to heal. Where they and you and we all come and be and receive the body of Christ. Spaces where people don’t have to have all the right answers and do it all the same way. I believe in those spaces, was raised in a house that valued those spaces, am attempting to live an honest, communal life where I really and truly do community with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the neighbors who are perhaps far from Him (Am I still allowed to say that in these spiritual safe places?).

You write about all of the healing, holy-humility, right-with-Godness of it all. And I believe in that. I swear I do. But right now I am at a total loss in how to do it and I could use a little help. It is just your stories always seem to come around in the end. I am afraid mine won’t.  Those stories lift me up when I need them, when I don’t know if I will ever find God in a place, I cling to them, hold them up as proof that the “all things work to the good of the Lord” thing I keep hearing is true. It is true, isn’t is? Oh, please tell me it is.

You see, I am left searching and keep checking your blogs to see if you will write to my situation, because I desperately want a clear-cut answer. One that maybe I am afraid of. Are there stories of yours that you don’t publish because they are too painful? Because they start with “God made us sisters” but end in “I hope she is doing okay, I thought it was forever, but it was only for a season?” Do they just hurt too much to write? Or am I as alone as I feel in all of this?

I know that it is the black and white thinker in me that wants a what if scenario to be answered in a certain way. This is something that perhaps God is trying to rid me of. But what if you really don’t know what to do? What if someone says they found God in a space the bible says you shouldn’t go? Can you find God there? Is it God if He isn’t leading you out? What do you do then, when you have been doing community so well that your lives are so intertwined that you feel complicit in it even when you aren’t (or am I, Do you see my dilemma)? I know it is against every prescriptive bone in all of y’alls bodies. But can someone please just tell me what to do?

What if you do something so hurtful, and un-godly as you are looking for answers that you wouldn’t blame someone for writing it all off? What happens when community feels like a group of wounded people thrashing around and accidentally inflicting more wounds? Lately, I don’t see God in the journey. I don’t believe that God can redeem this mess. Even when I know that I should. Even when I desperately want to. I know that God works through the lives of imperfect people. I was in the Sunday School circuit long enough to have the stories of David, Moses, Paul, down pat. But I need to know, do you flounder too? Are there days and moments when you are sure you aren’t good enough? Does God still think I am a woman after His own heart? Even when I don’t?

Thanks for sharing your life with me, for being ladies I can look up to. Sorry this first interaction is so needy. It is just, you seem to be doing life so well, and I could use a little help.

Sincerely,

Abby Norman

The Younger Siblings Baby Book

The best way for me to describe my relationship with my sisters while growing up is this story. In pre-school we were talking about heroes or bravery or something. Anyway, I told my teacher about how brave my sister Jill was, that she stuck her fork into the toaster in order to rescue my breakfast from the malfunctioning button that was holding my bread hostage and burning it. My teacher, (being a responsible professional) told me that this was very dangerous and no one should ever shove a metal fork into a plugged-in toaster, especially one that was turned on. In my four-year-old brain this teacher was a complete idiot. She missed the whole point of how extraordinarily brave my older sister was, and did not understand that my sister was clearly invincible. I never saw her in the same light, she was a moron for the rest of the year.

There are unique situations that only apply, if you are the little sibling. The Rooster has a whole list of firsts the Peanut never had.

The first time you and your sister meet.

The first time your sister and you wear matching outfits and everyone thinks you are ao cute.

The first time your sister hits you.

The first time she scratches you.

The first time your sister leaves a mark.

The first time your sister hits/kicks/scratches/ you because she is really just mad at your mother and she knows this will make her mad.

The first time your eyes light up and you kick your little feet because you see your sister.

The first time your sister lies about you. (Ouch, Rilla pushin’ me out of the back seat of the car when both of you are strapped firmly into your respective car seats.)

The first time you pull her hair.

The first time she shares her food with you.

The first time you get to have a present strictly as your own, rather than sharing it with your sister becuase she wants it (sorry about your christmas presents this year, you can have them back when you are mobile enough to go get them).

The first time you sneak into her space and play with or wear the things she told you not to, just because you can (this will likely happen when she is at school and you are not).

The first time you miss each other.

The first night you share a room.

The first time you refuse to wear matching outfits with your sister (note this has still not happened with me and your Aunts. We still would wear matching outfits.)

The first time you are in cahoots with your sister behind your mom’s back.

I hope you two like having sisters as much as I do!

So commenters, this list is not complete! What did I miss?

Easter Sunday: I am not over it.

This past Sunday was Easter. We were at Piedmont Park at sunrise because that is the way 1027 rolls. (There is something so wrong about waking both the girls up to go anywhere.) Holy Week was spring break, which seems like I would have more time to reflect but that was not the case. It was pretty insane in the best kind of way (Emily and my nieces came down and there was some serious Franceland. More on that sometime this week.)

Basically I woke up on Sunday, threw some resurrection rolls in the oven (it is officially the Norman family Easter thing), put the girls in their matching easter outfits (thanks Grandma!), and prayed that the Holy Spirit would meet me at the park. I broke my Lenten fast with some glorious Land of a Thousand Hills coffee (Yeah, that: lent fast post coming up Thursday), had some conversations that started with Jesus is Risen! and grabbed the paper bulletins we only use when we are outside (1027 tries to be Green like God). I am glad I grabbed an extra one because the Rooster has entered what my cousin Kim calls “the dog stage” because that thing got chewed up faster than a chocolate bunny.

We opened the service with Christ the Lord is Risen Today, which I occasionally snicker at because my mom had this work out video led by Stormie O’Martian that used to pump that hymn up and then have you do sit-ups to it. If one of my sisters is sitting next to me, I have been known to whisper “and one, and two, and work those abs!” while the rest of the congregation is singing. (This may have been the reason for a dirty look or two from the choir loft. Sorry mom. I still think it is funny.)

I have sung that song probably every Easter Sunday for as long as I could talk. But this Sunday I really read the words. Where oh death is now thy sting? Because of Jesus Christ, not just his death but also his resurrection, I can talk smack in the face of death y’all! You see that satan, you see that death IN. YOUR. FACE. My savior, he defeated death. DEATH! This is a big deal. This is THE DEAL! I know I am overusing the caps lock and the exclamation points. But I can’t help shouting about it. MY SAVIOR LIVES! HE DEFEATED DEATH FOR ME!

I was reminded of the funerals of the people I love: my cousin Rachel and my Grammy, my Great Grandma’s Burgess and Michael . It is still painful that they are no longer here. I don’t want to gloss over the pain, especially of my Aunt and Uncle who had to bury a daughter. But I get to mourn with hope, because Jesus Christ defeated death for them too! Because Jesus lived, so too can they live. This is not over. My Jesus got the last word, the last laugh. I too will one day get to give a nana-nana-boo-boo to death.

Part of me wonders why we save that message for Easter Sunday. It is a big freaking deal people! Jesus Christ is ALIVE! How could there be a more important message than that? Next week and the week after, and the week after that. Let’s come together and simply remind each other of the fact that our savior lives. I am not over it. And I don’t plan to be for quite some time. Jesus is alive. It is a big deal.

Accidental Communion

Lately life has been coming at my family like the waves in the ocean. Even the coming up for air is exhausting. You can see it on our worn faces, can hear the gasping in our voices. Those waves have been getting the best of us lately, we are drowning under them where we once were riding on the top. We are slowly swimming to spring break but this week has left me wondering if we were in fact going to make it.

Tuesday I got a series of texts in the afternoon: one telling me I was being prayed for, one asking how could they help, and one letting me know that I was no longer in charge of my own dinner tonight, it would be brought to me and does my family eat broccoli? We sure do and we were eating it that night. (My friend from work told me she was tempted to join my church simply for the likelihood of the occasional dinner.)

When she dropped dinner off, we chatted and let our kids run around my backyard. Her son may have peed right there in the backyard and the Peanut may have then tugged on her pants until I helped her pull them down and attempted to do likewise. Standing up and holding herself. We may have stood and watched the whole thing and laughed.

But when my friend headed home and the laughter faded I found myself gasping for air again.

I grew up in a church tradition that centered around the eucharist. I don’t know what else you are going to get at any Disciples of Christ church, but you are bound to get communion. Bread and grape juice passed amongst the people. It is so central to the faith I was given, and the one I claim as my own. I remember once on a church camping trip grape Snapple and wonder bread passed around as Luke 22 was read. The blood of Christ poured out for me on the shores of Lake Michigan as the gulls sounded. I was maybe ten.

When I am drowning in life, as I have been lately, I miss the eucharist every week. I sometimes need a physical reminder to cling to in order to keep the faith.

I finally got the Peanut inside and pulled back the foil on the home-made pot pie that was waiting for me in the kitchen. It was still warm and I could smell the comfort wafting from it. There on top of the pie my friend had taken the extra pie crust and formed a cross. It was as clear a sign of hope as a stained glass window at a sunrise service. I heard something echo inside of my heart. This is my body, poured out for you. My body, the church body. Poured out for me right there in my kitchen.

It is communion I have been desperately seeking. The symbolic act of being one with God, receiving his great sacrifice as I in turn attempt to lay my life down for others. And it was communion I received. A hot meal delivered to me, by the body of Christ, when I had nothing left. Poured out for me, broken for me. Take, eat, in remembrance of Him.

The Cleaning of the Wound

“It is like a festering sore,” she said. “It’s just going to keep bubbling; you’ve got to do something about it before the infection spreads. It isn’t going to get better on its own.”

This is an interesting dynamic for sure. Lately I have been the one speaking in spiritual similes, and I am not sure how I feel about the sudden role reversal. But it is accurate, this description. Sore and stinking pretty much sums up my attitude these last two days. My anger is bubbling, refusing the healing that I know I need.

The grossest part is the way I have been treating this wound. Red and puss filled I present it like some kind of righteous badge. “Look at what has been done to me.” The pain pulses through it and around it to the rhythm of my heart. Theirfault Theirfault Theirfault. When bumped tears roll down my cheeks. Angered flesh mirrors the way I have convinced myself I am entitled to feel. The truth is I have been nursing this infection, unwilling to clean it out. I want to ensure my pain stays with me. A constant reminder of my wound.

The people closest to me begin to smell the rot that is in this wound. My husband, my sisters, they warn me of the infection they sense, it is evident in almost every conversation we have. The poison seems to be spreading to places it does not belong. I had planned on keeping it contained, I thought I was controlling it, but it is damaging things I never intended it to get close to. Spots of red flesh are cropping up in seemingly unrelated places, and the hurt is threatening to invade my veins, join my very blood on a path straight to my heart.

Still I protest. I have a right to this infection. I have a right to feel this wound. I was hurt after all. If I allow this to heal it will be as though I was never wounded in the first place. Isn’t that the point of healing?  I hear the Spirit whisper. I am tempted to tell God to shut up.

I feel like it happens just moments before the infection joins the path of no return. I decide it is time to let go of the pain, and let the Lord clean out my wound. I am well aware it is only His prompting that allows me to ask. It is my nature to cling to this angry wound until it destroys me. It is a little scary, asking the Great Physician to clean me out. I am ashamed at how long it has taken me to ask, how bad I let it get. I know from experience that this is certain to sting. It does sting. This wound is cleansed with an apology that humbles me. In order to release this stench I also must release my pride. My pride it turns out, has been fueling the infection of anger.

As I release my own pride and allow God to pour healing into my wound I can suddenly breathe again. It turns out I had been holding my breath against my own righteous stench, and I didn’t even know it. The Healer leaves my wound raw but clean. The sting was temporary and gave way to relief. I was not aware of how bad I was hurting. How much of that hurt was the infection, and how little the actual wound.

I am left with a pile of clean white cloth, instructions to tend the wound. Keep it bandaged, change them often, watch carefully for signs of infection. The wound is still there, but it is healing. It is not my responsibility to heal the original wound, but it is my responsibility to protect from infection.