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.

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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.

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.

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.

Easter Sunday: Still Not Over It

I wrote yesterday about my reminder on Easter Sunday, that I follow a God who came as a man and defeated death. I don’t ever remember not knowing…but it somehow struck me as new. Maybe that is a part of the whole “God’s mercies are new every morning” business.

Not only have I been marveling at the fact that it happened, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. I have been thinking about the implications of it. What exactly does that mean for me if I identify with Christ? (Which I do, see here.)

Somewhere along the way I became deeply connected to my identity with Christ on the cross. In the third grade, when I prayed the sinners prayer after Wednesday Night Alive with Mrs. Wiegand, it was because I knew that I was not enough. Somewhere deep in that 9-year-old body I knew that I was never going to be good enough on my own. I needed saved. I did not have to be convinced of my own sinful nature. I just knew.

If the gospel ended right there, if Jesus dying for our sins was the last chapter in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, then that would have been it. No Acts to Revelation. No early church, no current church, no Christians. The power of the cross is only realized when linked with the power of the resurrection. Jesus died for our sins, yes. Sin leads to death so even though it is an amazing sacrifice that someone else would die for my sins, a sinless God who is also fully man, in a way it is expected, credible. The story had to go there if we were to be saved.

I am in no way trying to diminish what Jesus did for me. I am so very grateful He did it. But I think perhaps I have been ending my reflection there, at the cross. The reason Jesus died on the cross for me, and for you, is so that the story doesn’t end in death.

The story doesn’t end there. There is more. Jesus Christ was resurrected into a new body, a new creation. The old went and the new came. My sins died on the cross with Jesus, and I have been resurrected with him. I am a new creation too. The sacrifice on that cross lead to the incredible miraculous transformation of the resurrection. The man who was killed, became the living God. Hallelujah. It is unexpected. It is incredible. It is beautiful, and miraculous, and completely indescribable. It is big and unexplainable. Perhaps that is why I have kept my distance. But the resurrection is also personal.

I am supposed to identify with the resurrection as much as I do with the cross. I am a new creation. When I got baptized on Easter Sunday morning in the sixth grade, Mrs. Wiegand’s husband, Pastor Wiegand, didn’t leave me at the bottom of the baptismal, symbolically buried with my sins. He brought me back up, as a new creation. I was buried with my sin and then resurrected as new.

The newness, the holiness, the miracles. I get to claim those too right along with the sinful nature now pierced and dead. Because the story didn’t end at the cross. There was a resurrection. I don’t know that I have been lately, claiming the new creation that Christ has promised me. Sometimes the sinful nature still seems so evident to me. I am sure I have not been identifying other Christians in their newness.

The sinful nature not only can be conquered, it has been conquered. The old has gone, the new has come. Hallelujah. I am not sure what exactly this means, walking it out day by day. But I am excited by the possibilities that this newness has to offer, the hope of the resurrection. Yes that sounds good to walk in. I’ll take more of that.

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.