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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To the Peanut on her second birthday

Dear Peanut,

I am having trouble believing that it has been two years since we got our first glimpse at your peach-fuzz covered head. It just doesn’t seem that long. At the same time I am having trouble believing that it has only been two years since you got here. It seems like you have been with us forever. I guess that’s what happens when people belong with you. They just fit.

Sometimes, like after your bath, when you insist on sitting in my lap all wrapped up in a towel and have me rub it close to you, that you are simply my baby, cuddle loving as always. The second before I blink I can see the baby that you were in your face. Sometimes when you are careening through the yard, you turn around just long enough to make sure I know where you are headed, and I am sure I see the 16-year-old you will become, standing right there in her homecoming dress asking me for the car keys. You my dear, are who you are.  I admire you for it.

A few months back the woman who I have come to think of as your unofficial God-mother told me that she noticed how much more I dance since you have come along. Mulling that over I thought of the line from that song we sing in church (the one from the Psalms), “You turn all my mourning in to dancing.” I remembered how I cried out to God after the ultrasound that revealed you were one girl. I was so hurt and confused. How could he tell me one thing and give me another? Where were those twin boys? Why would God do that? I mourned for the loss of the family I had pictured, I mourned for the boys I was expecting, for my own pride and the way it was “supposed to go” and God in His infinite wisdom gave me you.  I dance, with you, for you, to get you to dance, because you invite me to dance with you. God did turn my mourning into dancing, He did that through you. Your dancing has become contagious in our house. I dance at work when good things happen, I dance at the grocery store when we find a fifty percent off sticker. We dance because we can, because it is an outward expression of our joy. We dance because it is fun. I dance because of you.

I look at you and am reminded that my worrying is futile. Your peach fuzz has turned into a mass of red ringlets, you walk and run just fine, you adore your life as a big sister, you (mostly) sleep through the night. You do all those things I feared you would never do and so much more. You bring joy; you carry it on you like a natural perfume. Your natural tendency is to yell and laugh and clap in delight. It brings those around you joy too.

There is so much I want for you, such big dreams I have for you. But I am learning to let that be between you and your God. I am trying to be a woman who lets God do big things through her, who knows when to step up and when to get out of the way. It is my greatest hope, that you would follow hard after Jesus. May you learn to love Him, to dance for Him, to dance with Him. His plans for you are extraordinary, and I am so blessed to watch them play out.

I love you!

Mom

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?

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.