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.

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

Sometimes on Saturday

Sometimes all it takes is making coffee with the french press to be reminded;  Out of what looks like muddy water to us, God makes beautiful things.

Sometimes your friend sends you a text message with the word “ass” in it and it makes you think: “She has grown so much since I have known her!”

Sometimes you wake up to your oldest babbling through the baby monitor. She tells Teddy all about J, and M, and S each in turn. You are reminded how blessed you are that God saw it fit to give your daughters a whole bonus family.

Sometimes you are sitting in the bathroom waiting for your child to agree to get out of the tub when she stands up and announces “All done!, Towel.” When you wrap it around her, she insists on crawling into your lap and having you rub the towel close. You learned how to do this from your mom. You tell her that this is the very best part of the bath and she agrees.

Sometimes both kids take a nap at the same time and the dog insists you sit outside with him. You agree so you don’t have to clean the house.

Happy Saturday! Hope yours is going just as swimmingly.

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.

I’m tired. Wor…

Aside

I’m tired. Worn is not enough, exhausted is too dramatic. I wish I was exhausted. At least then I would collapse and get a break. Exhaustion sounds like a vacation. I am just so very tired. 

And I am emotionally tired. I have been having the same fight with the same person for too, damned. long. Around, around the Mulberry Bush we chase each other until it is no longer clear who is chasing and who is running and we are both sure that the other person started it.

I am afraid I inherited my need to blame. One side of my family growing up always needed to know whose fault it was. The door could be almost broken for the last three years, but if it broke in your hands your name was put down forever in the family history book, “Abby broke that door.” It doesn’t matter if 13 cousins slammed that door fifty million times before me.

The thing about that blame is this. The door isn’t fixed with it. Blame, even when appropriately assigned, doesn’t fix anything. By the time you have gotten around to assigning blame, everyone is tired of talking about it and yet nothing is fixed.  The door is hanging by the hinges and the bugs are still coming in. But at least you know whose fault it is…..

Trayvon Martin and Identifying My Own Racist Thoughts.

In my first weeks of my first year of teaching, when I was still adjusting to being the only white lady in the room, I asked the kids to get out a pencil. A boy in front, so dark that the students around him referred to him as “Black” as though it were his name, with thin, chin length locks bouncing around his head, stooped down to his backpack.

In that split second my heart began to race and my palms began to sweat, as though someone were coming after me or my not yet born baby girls. “He has a gun” I thought. “He is reaching for his gun.” I calculated how many steps it would take to get to the emergency button…too many. “What are you doing?” I snapped, saying his name sharp and loud like the gunshot I feared.

“I thought you told us to take out a pencil,” he replied showing me his brand new mechanical pencil in his favorite color. A splurge for the beginning of the school year.

I am sure my face turned red. I learned that semester that blushing is a hazard when you are the only white girl in the room. My shame crawled onto my face, hot and sticky.

In the spring of that year I heard the tale of an older brother being shot for making the mistake of reaching for his vibrating cell phone out of habit. The assumption was he was reaching for the gun he did not carry. He died in the arms of his little sister, the white dress she wore to school for her seventeenth birthday stained with the memory of her brother’s death. I know because she was in my poetry club. She wrote about it. That story never made the national news; no newspaper in the country was interested in the tale. So I keep the story in my filing cabinet. I want to make sure that someone remembers.

Two years later, between my second and third years, I found out when checking my email a few days before school started that one of my former students had been shot and killed over the summer. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong skin color. His death hadn’t even made the local news. My principal had to email me about it, just in case I cared.

Trayvon Martin is not the first young black man to be shot simply because of the way he appears. And sadly, he won’t be the last. Everyone keeps asking, “How could something like this happen?” But sometimes not only does this happen, it doesn’t even make the news.

I am a woman who wanted to teach in an all black school. I chose it. I was raised by parents who didn’t blink an eye when my sister started dating a black man. Uncle Calvin is one of my daughter’s very favorite people.  I would never hesitate to ask him to watch my girls. Yet, when a certain type of student, classified that way simply by his dark skin color his hair and his propensity for saggy pants, reached into his bag I assumed he was reaching for his weapon. Even when I had instructed him to get a pencil.

My parents did not teach me to think that way. I didn’t even know I did think that way until I had the thought. No one in my college classes suggested to me that I needed to fear my black male students. And yet, I did. Where did that come from?

Everyone wants to talk about how horrible George Zimmerman is (and he is) and how terrible his actions were (and they were). But not very many people are talking about how we live in a society that teaches us to fear black men. Not even men, any black kid over the age of 10 or so could be a threat. If we look into our own selves we can identify just an inkling of the thoughts that sparked George Zimmerman’s behavior.

We live in a society that perpetuates thoughts. The things that I have watched and listened to my whole life have encouraged my mind to think one way. The wrong way. I don’t like admitting that I have racist thoughts, but the only way to get rid of them is to identify them. Once those thoughts are identified, we can start calling other people out on them. We can refuse to watch things that perpetuate those stereotypes. We can begin to call things as we seem them. As unacceptable.

I would like to believe that Trayvon Martin’s murder is just the case of one crazy vigilante. It would be easier for me to see it that way. But I would really like for this to never happen again. That has to happen one person at a time, one mind readjustment and I am starting with me. And I am coming after you next.