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.

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.

If I can’t win…

Today, the technology that I was using in my classroom refused to participate and my students almost got a lesson on “colorful language in context.”

I stayed home from church yesterday. This was after going out after nine to find a neti–pot in hopes of clearing the pressure in my head. Sunday I woke up and simply did not feel good. So I sent out a mass text asking someone, anyone to cover me for kids community so that I could lay down my head and take a rest. Luckily I got some replies.

Saturday I got myself and the girls up and around in time to sign up for our trial membership at the Y. They have free childcare for members and I wanted to try this Yoga-Pilates strength class. I ended up at the class about 15 minutes late. Then twenty minutes after that I got called into the nursery because the Peanut was still crying. And she refused to be comforted by the amazing nursery workers. She wouldn’t let them touch her. But right as I got there they waved me back out. So I went back to the class. I didn’t want to. It was hard.

My body used to be pretty good at yoga and Pilates. I used to do a video three days a week or so; in High school I went to a yoga studio to get my gym credit (thanks Mom! what a good advocate!). I loved it. But now, two babies and too many years later, my body is unable to do everything it used to do even half of what it used to do. And it hurts my pride, to be on par with the white-haired woman next to me.

I know that my body, and the Peanut, need time. (Rooster however continues her streak and I was told by three different women what an easy baby I had.) In my head I get that. But that doesn’t make me want to walk out of the room any less. To just give up on the silly “in shape” notion. We are english teachers and rhetoricians in my house. We are speech teamers not swim teamers. We have a way with words, not physicality. So let’s just use those words to joke about how we are not the in-shape sort of people and please pass me the Girl Scout Cookies.

I’m not good at being bad at things. If I am bad at something I simply abandon it. I always have. It isn’t a very pretty part of me. It is prideful and selfish. There is an old family joke that our reunion t-shirts should read “If I can’t win, I don’t want to play,” But right now that doesn’t feel like a joke. It feels like me walking out of a yoga class because I wasn’t as good as I thought I was going to be. Or giving up on new technologies because I can’t get them to work right. It feels like resigning myself to the fact that I can’t get anything to grow in my yard and I should just deal with the fact that I will forever have dirt in the backyard and the flower beds or pay someone an arm and a leg to sod the mess.

It feels like me wanting to throw a big hairy tantrum right here right now because no one can give me the things that I want. And I want them NOW!

Then I get a reminder email that if it isn’t humbling it isn’t yoga. And it reminds me that if it isn’t a narrow path, then perhaps I am not on the right one. And then all the stars align and I am able to race to the Y to make the cardio-funk class. I drop the Peanut  and Rooster off in the nursery (where I remember to leave the big one with a snack) and when I think I am being all clever and sneaking out, she looks me dead in the face and waves, “buh-bye, see-ya.” Apparently we’ve adjusted.

I race to the cardio-funk class even though the only funk dance I have ever done is the funky chicken, and somehow I don’t think that counts. In the class are all shapes and sizes, and the front row isn’t limited to the clearly fit. There is a big man up front and he is killin’ it. And there is a woman right in front of me who looks exactly like my mom if she were to do cardio-funk. But the best was the guy in the back corner who is clearly a librarian and NPR enthusiast with his round metal glasses and his perfectly trimmed beard. He is having a blast in the corner.

I decide that if Yoga is only yoga if it is humbling, then Cardio-funk is only cardio-funk if it is fun. And I have a ball. I am just thinking it is too bad Jill couldn’t make it when she shows up right next to me. She still grasps choreography much faster than me. But today the goal wasn’t winning. It was fun. Which was good, because half way through I thought I was going to die. I wanted someone to come in and tell me the Peanut would not stop crying. But alas, I had to push through. And I did. And that was where the winning came in.

Grass Day 5: Not every seed takes

We made it! I blogged all week about grass (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4) I can’t imagine being a farmer and not believing in a God. I get over and over again why the Bible uses agricultural metaphors. And the one I like to avoid is the parable of the sower.

Grass and grass and grass

Maybe not quite that much, Lord.

The bottom line in that parable is that not every seed grows. Every time I have been taught the parable of the sower it is always the same take away “make sure your heart is not of rocky soil, make sure your heart is a place where God’s word can grow.” I think that is a valuable lesson. God does want to sow all kinds of good seeds in my life, and I am discovering some rocky soil in my heart as of late. May God continue to rake it on out of there.

But as I was scattering grass seed in my yard on Saturday, all of a sudden I was looking at that parable not from the perspective of the soil, but from the perspective of the sower. Not every seed I sow is going to grow into a blade of grass or a wildflower. That is not the way things work.

Sometimes the seed doesn’t take because the soil isn’t right, or a bird came and ate it, or the wind blew it away, or it never got watered. But sometimes the seed has everything going for it and it still doesn’t grow. And sometimes grass starts sprouting in the most unlikely of places. Simply because it can.

It is hard for me, to know I can do and say all the right things, and yet sometimes the seed will not grow, that thing I am trying and waiting for simply will not come to fruition. I like to think that if I just work hard enough, that the seeds I plant will all grow. If I just pray enough than everything I am planting will bloom into beautiful works of God. But this is not it. Sometimes I am meant to do the work because God asked me to, and nothing comes of it but a better me.

And sometimes, growth just sprouts up. Just because God is good like that and doesn’t really need me to do anything, or just because He knows I would enjoy it. Grass starts growing in the most unlikely of places, just because that is the way it is.

But it isn’t my job to grow the roots and the stems, to pop hope out of the ground, to make it all work perfectly. It is my job to prepare the soil to the best of my ability, to scatter the seed, to water it until it rains. Growing it isn’t my job. It is God’s. And that is terrifying and peace giving all at the same time.

A week in planting grass.

Saturday we got out of the house so Christian could write. Plus Jill hates going anywhere by herself and she had two anywheres to go. So we piled into the station wagon, just us girls, and headed for all the errands. We ended up at Lowes, where I got some grass seed and a bag of “southern wild flower seed” on a whim. I had a surprising number of thoughts about all this. So here we are a week in grass seed. 

Pinned Image

This is pretty much what I was dreaming of…I found it via flickr.

Part 1: The emotional roller coaster that is my lawn.

I showed up at the Lowes, my babies and sister in tow. By the time we got around to buying the grass seed, the Peanut had decided she was too big for the riding business, and was in charge of pushing the cart. (She may have had some grown up help as we did not want her to ram Rooster into anything. No killing your sister is officially a rule at our house.)

It was intimidating. I don’t know anything about grass except that it grows in lawns and it is nice to have. And we need some. But we went out to the lawn and garden section and found a guy who could point us in the right direction. Just your every day average lawn? There were two choices. As I went to choose a woman mentioned that she had planted her grass seed just two weeks ago. Hers was growing in really well and she was buying more seed just to fill in the patches. Sweet. Two weeks? The lawn would for sure be in, in time for the Peanut’s second birthday party! To be on the safe side I got the fifteen pound bag.

I was feeling really good about my fifteen pound bag of grass. I can do this. All I have to do is put it down and water it. No problem. My lawn is going to be beautiful! It is going to be lush and green and Peanut and Rooster are going to play in it all summer. They will roll around in it, getting their clothing all stained green and smelling of earth. This will be awesome it could even be fun.

Then I got home and read the back. I had gotten distracted with my wildflower garden and had spent some time and energy raking that out and repositioning the brick border. So when I read the back of the grass package, I was already a little over the raking part. It just the actual doing it seemed a lot less fun than the idea of planting the grass. It was certainly less fun than playing in the already grown grass with my girls (we are studying alliteration in class, hey!). Which is what I kept thinking about when I bought the “super easy” grass.

I was supposed to rake out the debris, then evenly spread the seed, then rake it in really good. Wait a minute, this is not what I signed up for…I thought it was a drop and grow kind of seed. Just how much of the debris needs raked out? How deep do I have to rake? How evenly distributed? I have a 22 month old who is dead set on helping….. Maybe I was in over my head.

I raked as much debris as I thought necessary. Then I started the process of distributing the grass seed. I didn’t have one of those push spreader things, so it was just me and the Peanut tossing handfuls of grass seed across the ground.

I started by going up and down in rows, stopping every once in a while to rake the seed around more evenly. But the Peanut wanted to help and I have never been one to be able to stick with any sort of organization, so our rows became much more rambling and pretty soon we were just running around all willy nilly throwing grass seed everywhere. I mean, I had a plan in my head and I think we covered it all,  but we didn’t go as evenly or as perfectly as I had once set out to go.

Then I started to feel bad about that. What if I didn’t get the grass all perfect? What if it is all clumpy and there are bare spots? What if it doesn’t grow at all and I may as well just throw forty dollars worth of pennies all over the backyard for all the money I wasted?

And then I started to feel bad about myself. Calvin would have done this perfectly, Tiffany can make anything grow, I should have shelled out the money for sod. This was a terrible idea and I wasted time and money (neither of which I have a lot of lately) all for nothing.

So I decided that if I get sporadic clumpy growth I will be happy. And I started this thing dreaming of rolls of lush green carpet for me and the girls to sink our bare feet into.

And then I realized that in many ways I do exactly this. Especially with the things I believe God has called me to do. I am a little intimidated at first starting a blog, or (and again I hesitate to write this, but I feel like it may be my next step) marketing myself as a Christian speaker. But then I get a little information and I am pumped. Yes! I can do that! Yeah, this is going to be awesome! I will start publishing posts and the Holy Spirit will take over and I will get a couple thousand hits a day! (on a good day I get 60. And I have been at this for over a year.) I think that God is big enough to do that, but for this He seems to want me to do the work.

When I actually start doing it I have a plan. Sometimes the plan is manageable and sometimes it is not. But often I abandon it and start sporadically dropping things here and there all willy nilly.

Then I beat myself up about not sticking to the plan. A million other people can do this better. I finish, but defeated, sure that no grass will grow, nothing will come of the work that I just did. And my faith in a great work, the one the Lord entrusted in me, is shrunk to just hoping that He can grow something, anything out of it. But it certainly won’t be that thing I had in mind to begin with. I’ll just be happy with a little bit, God, could you just manage that?

Somewhere between the green lush grass my babies will nap in that is in my head, to the actual planting of the seed, to the waiting, waiting, waiting….I let my faith die. Until I am begging God for a sliver of the dream that I was promised in full.

I think I am selling that grass seed short. I think it probably will grow and be fine by May 1. And I am selling my dreams short too. They weren’t labeled specifically, but these here posts are seeds I am planting. And I know that God will grow it into something beautiful.

What are you planting in your life? How is God growing it?

Does God believe in working moms?

Yesterday my sister told me about another family from our church. The mom was all set to go back to work full-time after maternity leave (serious baby boom over at 1027 church). She loves her work, is good at it, and has always planned on being a working mom, at least since I’ve known her. And suddenly and unexpectedly the Lord provided a way for her to go back only part-time. And today the only other full-time working mom told me she had quit her job and was hired part-time elsewhere.

I know that these stories have nothing to do with me. Really I do. I know that no one but my family bases their decisions on what is best for me and my kids. But somehow this felt very personal to me. She was supposed to be my working mom friend. My one friend who the Lord called to the same place He called me.

DISCLAIMER: If you are reading this right now and thinking, what the heck I am a full-time working mom that is following hard after Jesus, don’t I count? The answer is probably you do count, the Lord was taking me through something. And I am sorry, I should have thought of you, I was just being self-centered. I am working on it.

I suppose I should have heard this story and thought, wow, just as the Lord moved a woman’s heart, He provided the means to follow that dream…..and I should have been encouraged. And I suppose that today I should have heard that if the Lord wants to move me out of teaching full-time, He will, just as He did this woman. Instead I heard that God didn’t have the same thing for someone else as He had for me, and I began seriously doubting myself.

What if those Christians who insist that anyone other than the mother being the primary care-giver is against God’s plan are right? What if I only thought we have been openly praying and seeking the Lord’s will in our life but really I am just totally closed off to the possibility of not working, so God can’t tell me even though I sought Him for a month with what I thought was no agenda but I really did have an agenda I just didn’t know it? Wow…that last sentence did not seem that ridiculous in my head, in fact it kind of made sense. Now it is just really embarrassing.

Anyway, I was having some serious working-mom issues. Like, if I only wanted to be with my girls bad enough, God would provide a way. Or, the women who stay at home more than me, they are better mother’s than I. God has me working because I am not a good mom. Or most ridiculously, I should at least be miserable in my situation. Liking my life as it is right now, spending 40 hours a week away from my kiddo’s speaks to my ineptitude as a parent. Every moment I am not with them should kill me. I am a bad person for enjoying myself at work. It means my kids are not my greatest treasure.

As I type this out I can see how absurd it truly is. I had teachers in High school who hated their job, those classes were miserable even if I liked the subject. But my tenth grade English teacher, and my ninth and tenth grade history teachers, and the entire Spanish department at Whitmer High School (shout out to Senora Jaeger!) they really enjoyed what they did, and it ministered to me. I still remember their names and the things they taught me. And I remember how they seemed to like me and my class mates and the things we were learning. I know that me getting such a kick out of my job most days is beneficial to my students. I hope my girls have teachers who enjoy their jobs. Feel called to them even.

Beyond that, I have prayed repeatedly that God’s will be done. And rather than have me hit it big on the blog scene and get offered a book deal for the book I have yet to write, He put me in a relationship with Elizabeth and her kids, expanded my family in ways I did not know were possible, and allowed me to truly live the gospel. This semester we changed the kids schedule for the first time in a year and a half. The same semester we moved from Tuesdays and Thursdays to Mondays and Wednesdays, an employment opportunity landed in her lap for Thursdays.

God has so clearly gone before me. In school switches, in child-care, in moving to Atlanta. But none of the other women in my church are doing it this way. So I doubt. Even though I am happier when I am working, and my marriage is better, and I never ever doubt that my kids are being loved as well as I could love them.

No one from my church has ever made me feel anything but encouraged as far as my work is concerned. But there is something about doing anything in a way that isn’t normal, especially within the larger Christian culture, that doesn’t sit right. I have heard one too many speakers insinuate that a woman’s place is in the home, her only place. Read one too many “Biblical Woman” bible study that cites any woman’s greatest work as her submission to her husband. And while I know these things are not true, there was a piece of my heart that believed them.

I am replacing those lies with this truth. My mother-in-law worked. And the Lord provided her with a woman named Fay to take care of her children. Christian stills speak fondly of Fay. Christian doesn’t say that his mom didn’t invest in him or that she loved her job more than him. He says “Mom worked really hard, and our family is still reaping the fruit of that today” and “Fay was awesome.”

Those of us who were really into the youth group circuit when I Kissed Dating Goodbye  came out are used to this narrative: I am a Christian. God spoke into my heart that I was supposed to do (fill in the blank) this certain way. Which make this certain way God’s way. Period. For everyone, not just for me. Do it that way.

While this would certainly make being a Christian easier, I am learning daily that God does have some certain way kind of words: with kindness, with gentleness, prayerfully, lovingly, faithfully. That is the way God wants me to mother, to teach, to live. And that is hard for us, because it looks different for everyone, there is no set path.

I am a good mom because I am following God’s design for my family in this season, as are everyone else that I mentioned here. Maybe that doesn’t look like anyone else’s path (Seriously, anyone else a sitter-swapper out there…..anyone?) and maybe that is just fine. With me and with God.