A simple melody

I have a pretty simple voice. It is strong and I can carry a tune, but I was always a soprano in choirs so I can’t pick the alto line out of the hymnal like my mom. or make up a descant on top of the melody like my sister (the music therapist). But strong and steady I can sing the chorus and verses. As loud as you want it I can sing out. It came in handy from the back of the stage in the musicals I was in.

This summer as I was praying about what to do, what would honor God, what would restore me from the whirlwind of this school year, God moved my heart and settled on my guitar. The one I got for my twenty-first birthday. The one that has spent years in silence interrupted by a couple month stretches of me attempting to re-learn what I forgot.

While most of my friends spent their teenage years dreaming of a boy who could play them the guitar, I always wanted the guitar myself. I wanted to be able to play.

It is the simple melodies I am attracted to. Nothing on the radio or to remind me of high school. I am learning to play old hymns and songs from the toddler music class they have free at the Y, Old Macdonald and Twinkle Twinkle. Tonight I wanted to look up some songs from serenade night at Church camp I now sing as lullabies. I love anything you would sing around a campfire.

It is true that I heard the Lord tell me he would use my voice right there at that camp. I thought for a time He meant singing. I was drawn to my Mom’s old guitar because I thought I might need the skill.

I have since received a different vision for those same words, that the Lord would use my voice. I believe I am supposed to tell the stories I have been entrusted with, starting with my own. It is in a way the exact same thing I pictured when I was twelve. A simple story, a strong melody, the Lord leading, and I sing out. My taste in stories and songs are the same. I find the simple ones the most compelling, the old stories new again the most beautiful.

Advertisements

What I really want for Mother’s Day

The Lord has been confronting me a lot these day with self-sacrifice. I’m not going to lie, it isn’t the most exciting lesson I have ever learned. It is daily and tedious, and can sometimes even be confusing. Much like my relationship with Jesus, it seems to be something that is deeply personal. What God calls me to sacrifice is not always what He calls you to sacrifice (but sometimes it is). Plus, I like stuff. I just like stuff.

This is something I have struggled with for a while. In taking the  Five Love Languages test I always end up with gifts as my number one. Getting gifts makes me feel particularly loved. I don’t think it is bad. I think it is the way God designed me. But I am learning about the balance of feast and fast. How the church in America has perhaps neglected the fast in favor of the feast thereby cheapening both. Somehow America’s sound track about money and stuff has laced its way into my brain.

 I work, I can afford it, (through no small miracle) we are not going into debt so why the heck can’t I buy whatever it is I want? Don’t I deserve it? The answer the world gives me is yes. Yes, Abby you do work hard and that entitles you to that Venti iced Starbucks concoction of pure goodness. That entitles you to another pair of shoes, another dress. That watch that strikes your fancy makes you feel good, and you deserve to feel good. So yes, buy it. You deserve it.

Slowly the Lord is reshaping my heart and the Holy Spirit is becoming more clear in Her gentle whispers. Yes love, what you want is nice, but I have a better way. I know that you want that, but what I have for you is better; it is worth it. I promise it is. The Lord isn’t interested in what I deserve. Because what I deserve is a complete separation from Him, and the death and ressurection of Jesus means I am now entitled to so much more than I deserve.

I am entitled to a place at the Heavenly table, and a part in ushering in the Kingdom of heaven now. More justice, more mercy, more peace, more life, today. If I want to. If I choose it. I am entitled to the truly good things of life, the fruit of the Spirit even. But if I want more joy, love, peace, patience etc. then I must make room.

For me, this year that means not sending an email reminder link to my husband a week before Mother’s Day of my Amazon wish list. (I am seriously picky about gifts, just like my mom, so this system has saved Christian a lot of grief). It means knowing I will not get the ice cream maker even though I changed the priority to “high” last week. The Lord is replacing my visions of homemade sorbet all summer with something better.

I stumbled across this video a few days ago. I wish that I could tell you that I, right then and there, gave it all up to the nudging in my heart. That is not the case. It has taken me three days to write this post because I simply did not want to. I wanted what I wanted.

But I couldn’t get the statistics out of my head. Here they are from the Every Mother Counts website just in case you missed them in the video:

  1. Approximately 358,000 women die each year due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. That’s one woman every 90 seconds.
  2. For every woman who dies each year in childbirth, 20-30 more suffer from lifelong debilitating disabilities.
  3. Pregnancy is the number one cause of death in women, ages 15-19, in the developing world. Nearly 70,000 young women die every year because their bodies are not ready for parenthood.
  4. Over 200 million women who would like to choose when they get pregnant don’t have access to family planning.
  5. The United States ranks 50th globally in maternal mortality, even though it spends more on health care per capita than any other nation in the world. African American women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than Caucasian women.

Almost all of these deaths are preventable.

I have the kind of birth stories that other women dream about. I have had the luxury of being cared for by midwives that I truly believe are the best in the state, if not the country. I have been able to give birth the way I want in a hospital where if something does go wrong I am seconds from an operating room.

When I was giving birth to the Peanut I remember thinking about the 16-year-old girls that I knew from my hometown and from my classroom, and marveling at the fact that they had to do this, sometimes alone. I don’t want those girls to be alone. I want to stand in solidarity with them, and with all the women around the world who go into motherhood knowing they may not make it out of labor alive. That is simply the reality of where they live.

More than I want to eat homemade ice cream all summer (and who doesn’t want to do that?) I want a little peace of mercy, of justice, of the rightness of the Kingdom of God to come now. So, Christian, you won’t be getting a link to my amazon wish list, instead I want you to make a donation to Every Mother Counts.

But I also want our standard agreement to apply, I am not changing diapers on Mothers day.

The Princess Problem, Officially Solved!

Perhaps I am thinking a little too far ahead on this one. The Peanut has yet to reach her second birthday, and the only thing the Rooster currently wants to do with sparkly pink shoes is gnaw on them. (Seriously, Elvis the Elephant, Eddie-Frogruerro, tossed aside in favor of shoes that are occasionally still on your feet. Mmmm.) But I have three nieces and a not so secret feminist agenda. (I have a recurring conversation with one of my students where he continually calls me “one of those people” and I tell him the word he is looking for is feminist, it isn’t an insult and my hair cut has very little to do with my ideas about gender-roles.) The princess thing makes me nervous and I haven’t even read Cinderella Ate My Daughter yet.

My sister Emily does a good job at her house, of allowing her girls to be whoever they might be, which means the Star gets to be a S-T-A-R in all of her glitz and glamour and show-boating glory. The Scientist will join in, but she also is allowed to take apart the fish tank and see if the addition of play dough will contribute or hinder the filter mechanism of the tank. (Well, perhaps not all of the Scientist’s experiments are explicitly sanctioned.) The third kid (who I have yet to name on here. I am open to S suggestions, Seer? Sage? I don’t know help me out here family!) is pretty much just interested in being with Mama. But the point is that Em doesn’t monitor the amount of pink plastic versus the amount of red plastic in her house like I do. She doesn’t fret over the implications of her daughters liking nail polish. (which duh I currently have a fascination with the Sally Hansen nail stickers so couldn’t it just be that nail art, like all art, is super fun and colors are pretty. Or perhaps, I want to be like Mommy. I am clearly over-thinking this bit.)

She doesn’t worry about any of that, and Em’s kids are fine. All kinds of girls are encouraged to be just the kind of girl who God made them. My nieces are healthy and happy and I don’t think anyone is worried that they are not empowered to feel like they can make their own choices. Some days I bet Emily is looking for the book on how to un-empower your girls so that they will just do what you want and not question you this one time for Pete’s sake we are late to church! I know I am.

Maybe I am over thinking it, and watching Em parent makes me confident I am. But first I get nervous when the Peanut develops a fascination for my make-up and then think that is stupid because it is my make up after all and what am I trying to say I don’t want her to be like me? Then I think about how make-up is essentially getting to draw on your own face and the Peanut is way into that. The other day she went at it with red and brown washable marker and she looked like she had been in a fight. She managed to color red up all visible parts of both nostrils. And yet, I still worry

Basically the whole princess thing boils down to this. If I get past all of my issues with the pink, glittery, plastic stuff. I have one concern remaining: I don’t want my girls to think that they are incomplete without a man, that they are not fully whole until they get married. (If they even want to get married. I believe the Apostle Paul when he said singleness is a gift from God.) I want my girls to believe that God thinks they are incredibly value just for being them, and not only in the role of  wife or mother.

I want my girls to grow up believing in their own white horse, hitched to a carriage with the Holy Spirit driving. And if God has it for them, I want another rider, with a white horse of his own, together they would choose to ride into the sunset, because they believe that God has for them an amazing adventure and a partner in crime. But no one has written that story book, and Disney hasn’t picked it up. There is no two-hour movie complete with happy meal toys to tell it. The Princess Problem indeed.

But today I read a blog post and something happened in real-life that I have only dreamed about Julie Andrews solved my problem. Julie Andrews, just like when she played Mary Poppins, swooped in and told me which spoonful of sugar I could utilize to make the whole princess thing go down smoothly with me. Real Princesses. They speak foreign languages, they dress beautifully and modestly and sometimes funkily (give it up for those crazy hats!) they stump for good causes and make sick people feel better. They are the light of the world and they sit up straight.

Yes ma’am you can wear that tiara. Now tell me, which foreign language will we be learning today? What worthy cause would you like to shed light on? Sign me up for this tea party. One lump, or two?

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

Bullies and the Hands and Feet of Jesus

The movie Bully is coming out in theatres everywhere tomorrow. It has been creating a lot of press, and I am intrigued. The movie follows the lives of kids who are currently being bullied, and also the stories of a student who committed suicide and a young girl who brought a gun on her school bus in response to the people bullying her.

I have yet to see this movie, but the morning radio show that I listen to ran a segment on it. The main radio personality took his nine-year-old to see the movie and they taped the conversation that they had after the movie. (FYI: Said personality says that nine is too young and only reccomends this movie for those thirteen and up.) Parents and kids who have been dealing with bullying called into the show. If I hadn’t have been driving, it would have brought me to my knees.

As a High School teacher I see the way that kids can be, the cruelty is not often in my presence, but it can be brutal. I do the best I can to keep a positive tone in my room. My general rule in my classroom is that we are going to be nice. Period. But it is hard sometimes even for me to figure out if the joking is all in good fun, or if it is something that has been going on for years and everyone is just used to it.

Every adult I know can name the names of the people who were mercilessly picked on for years. Bullying is not a new problem. But like most things, new media has made things easier to do and harder to catch. As a teacher there is nothing I can do to alter a kids Facebook page and Twitter feed. I can’t police the bathrooms and hallways all the time. But I see what the torment can do to the students and I remember some of my friends from High school and Middle school being tormented at my own school.

I was in the middle school cafeteria when the Holy Spirit broke through the chatter so clearly it was almost audible. “Abby, go sit by that kid.” I didn’t want to. I only had a few friends myself and I feared alienating them. But God would not leave me alone. So I did. I moved my lunch three tables down and sat by a kid who regularly got his head slammed into lockers. The next day or maybe a few days after that, that kid showed me the imprint of the belt he had wrapped around his neck in an effort to make it all go away.

I don’t tell this story to make you impressed with me. It was not my idea to be looking out for anyone but myself.  Now, I am very grateful that the Lord broke through that day. At the time, I was mad. I can honestly say that I was Jesus to that kid, if only for a moment in the school cafeteria. It is a testament to the few friends that I did have that they invited that kid to sit with us. I can’t say that we were truly friends with him, but we were friendly. We at least provided him a safe place to sit and eat his lunch but we did not invite him places with us. He still had it hard when we got to high school. The bullies nominated him for turn about king as a joke and then mocked his reaction to the situation they put him in.

I was reminded of this story as I listened to the radio. Listening to a mother cry as she explains what it feels like forcing her son to go to school every day, like she is sendng him off to be tortured made me ask myself this question: Lord, where are you? Where is Jesus in this mess? Why don’t you do something already?

But I already knew the answer. You are the answer, I am the answer. The church is the body of Christ, and we need to get up off the couch and do something. One of the reasons the movie Bully is so controversial, is because the camera crew (adults) just stood by and filmed while these kids were abused. They didn’t participate in the ridicule, but they certainly did not help the situation. They simply stood by, watched.

I can’t help but wonder where the classmates are who confess to knowing Jesus Christ. Sometimes I wonder that in my own classroom and school. Why are the Christian kids just standing by? Maybe it is too much to ask a 15-year-old to stand up to all of his friends and the kids who are bigger than him in defense of a kid he doesn’t even like. Maybe I am expecting too much spiritual maturity to hear and heed that call, the one to serve, and identify with the least of these. Maybe, but probably not.

One of the reasons I enjoy my job, is because of the amazing things I see my kids do every day. I know that they are capable of thinking big thoughts and backing those thoughts with honest intentional outcome. These are just every day kids. Imagine the possibility of spirit-filled kids.

At another local school there is a student who got removed as student council president because (he claims) he introduced a bill that would allow for two students of the same gender be made prom kings or queens if the student body so chose. It made national news because he is suing the school. His attorney has come out recently with a statement claiming the kid is being attacked at school, in the hallways between classes.

I don’t know anything else about the situation, but I began wondering out loud what it would look like if the Fellowship of Christian Athletes said “enough.” What if they arranged to have two kids escort this kid between classes? What if they treated that kid with the humanity he deserves even if they disagreed with him? What would that look like to that kid, the other high school students, the world?

I think it would look like Jesus. Jesus stopping the stoning of the woman, Jesus advocating for the poor, the widowed, the outcasts. If the christian teens at high schools would literally stand in solidarity against the bullying, they might lose friends. They might lose popularity. They might get bullied too. After all, I have already admitted there isn’t anything I can do sometimes. But they might just get to experience what it is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And that might be completely worth it.

When I Grow Up or Dreams Deferred

In the third grade I wrote an essay that I still remember, about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be tall and beautiful with careful tortoise-shell glasses. I wanted to live in a big city, and I wanted to be a writer.

In the eighth grade I used to email Emily updates on the Jr. High Drama in the form of a soap opera recap. I would end the email’s with the line, “And so are the days of my Jr. High life.” She thought they were funny enough to share with her roommates.

That same year I gave my four best friends an epic poem about the ins and outs of our friend group. It may seem like there isn’t all that much for a fourteen year old to document, but me and the pastor’s daughter had met in the church nursery. A lot had happened.

I wrote in my journal almost nightly, sometimes prayer, sometimes documentation, sometimes just as a place for all that angst to go. Slowly that started to trickle off, and writing became something I could do if there was an express need. I wrote myself a monologue for the church-camp talent show, and the speaking parts for that same years closing service. In college I wrote very little. Not at all simply because I liked to. I only wrote for assignments, and speech team speeches and introductions.

I stopped writing because I was afraid of being “that girl.” The one who only wrote darkness and took herself entirely too seriously. I somehow thought that all poets had to be loony enough to lock themselves in their house a la Emily Dickinson. Some of my peers continued writing, but they were outcasts even by the speech team/marching band/drama kid standard. And so I let it drop. I did not want to be that poetry girl.

My junior year of college I took a poetry class out of necessity. One of my other english electives had been cancelled, or maybe I thought it would be easy. Who knows really? I still page through the text books for that class. I learned that I did not have the gift of rhyme (a criticism I heartily agree with) but also that I truly enjoyed writing. Perhaps even, I had something interesting to say.

Sometimes even now I worry about being “that girl,” the blog girl. The one that is all “like my page, follow me, I just blogged about that!” I fear being annoying and pushy about the stuff I do in this space most days. I am afraid to say more than “hey check this out if you feel like it.” I am afraid of what people will say or think about me if I perhaps suggest that I had something worthwhile to say. I don’t want to be that girl.

I wonder if I will find out that question Langston Hughes asked, the one about dreams deferred. I worry that I did it all in the wrong order and a double stroller does not fit through the door of my dream.

Equally important, I no longer want to be the girl who is afraid of being “that girl” if that is who I want to be. And I will be damned if I raise any girl who has the same problem. So today, ten o’clock at night because the kids are finally in bed long enough for me to write, I will cease worrying about being “that girl” and start being whatever that might be.

I live in a city, and have careful tortoise-shell glasses. I am not quite as tall as I hoped, and not every day do I feel beautiful. But some days, my best days I do. And when I grow up, I am going to be a writer.

Thoughts While Zumba-ing

I have been to Zumba twice this week. I seem to think a lot during it. Here they are those thoughts

This is what I like to think I look like doing Zumba.

This is probably more accurate.

– This song keeps saying “I found love in a hopeless place.” That right there is an accidental devotional if I’ve ever heard one. I did find love in a hopeless place. This has to be talking about the cross…right? Even if it wasn’t, it is now.

-I cannot figure out what this instructor wants me to do. Yelling “rhythm” at me certainly isn’t helping anything. I wonder what I yell at my students that is not helping.

– She said she needed to see more booty, but this is the East Lake Family Y. I see plenty of booty in this classroom.

-Oh, that is what she means. White booty don’t shake like that.

-Why do I have a repeating track in my head that says “you can’t dance, you can’t dance.” Who put that there? That is stupid.

-The Peanut definitely thinks she can dance, and the Rooster already spends her time bopping around. I wonder if I can do something to protect them from that sound track. It sure is stupid.

– See, look at her. I am not the most awkward person in the room. I need to get over myself. No one is in here thinking about me.

– Here comes the nursery worker, I hope that is for me. I am dying. Nope, not me…guess I have to finish the workout.