Persisting and What the Church is For

I had the most horrible procedure I have ever had on Wednesday. I told the very pregnant woman shoving the tube down my throat that I would WAY rather give natural birth again than do the thing where they test my esophagus. Then we talked about my favorite birthing books and how she could TOTALLY do this, because I am always me.

My esophagus failed spectacularly. Even my body doesn’t do anything half way. If it only exerts 60 percent of swallowing pressure you need surgery. Mine exerts 0 percent swallowing pressure. Just a free fall down to my stomach.

With my new church and my school work and my already full plate we don’t really have room for an emergency. We don’t have room for a mom who is tired because she isn’t getting enough calories. We just don’t have room.

It is really easy to blame myself in all of this. If I could just not have a broken esophagus. If I had not over filled my plate. If I could just write faster, work harder, do better. If I could just be more then I would not be behind on the laundry and desperate for a nap. If I could just….

Here is what I know to be true: This new church gig I picked up is so perfectly orchestrated for me I am sure this is what God has. I am sure I am supposed to be in seminary. I am sure my family is well cared for. I am sure I am supposed to be doing all of the things. I am not sure how the dog is going to get walked.

The really really brave thing I did today was ask. I had my church set up a meal train. I asked my people to walk my dog. I invited people to pre-blend me soup. I cannot believe how hard this is for me.

I love helping people. Making food for people is my love language. There is no meal train I do not want to sign up for, no person in my church who I would not want to make a casserole for. There is nothing you could do to make me feel more loved than to feed me or my family. If I am supposed to do all the things I know I am supposed to do I also need to let people love me. Not from afar, but actually in my own house with food and dog walking and if I get really brave laundry folding.

I have persist for this year, and I have been given impossible things to persist through on my own. But maybe I don’t have to do it that way.

When I was in the third grade my mother had a seizure and could not drive. My predominant memories of that time are of casseroles with noodles and meatballs and red sauce, of being picked up and dropped off by people that I knew vaguely as my mom’s friends from choir. When people ask me about what the church should be, this is still what I tell them. Church is for casserole drop off and getting your kids to piano lessons when you can’t.

What a gift to my girls. Church is for walking your dog and bringing your mom blended soup and meals when she can’t cook. Hallelujah. Together we can do this.

 

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When I am Longing for a New Hope

I didn’t watch the State of the Union address last night. This is sort of a big deal for me. In college I hung out with the kinds of ladies who hosted SOTU watch parties and joked about Ted Kennedy hosting a party every year afterward. (We used to just call the whole night the “Kegger at Ted’s.) I couldn’t watch it. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t watch the clapping on one side the stone faces on the other. I couldn’t stand to hear one more “immigrants are murders” jab that is just soft enough no one has to own what they say. I don’t want to think of politics as a zero sum game where if I am winning the other side is losing. I love people on the other side too.

So instead, I sent emails and made phone calls. I sent a text message about what should be played in church on Sunday and I started writing my very first sermon for my very first church appointment. In the midst of a political scene that feels chaotic and scary, God and my district superintendent were quietly ordering my next steps in ministry.

The name of the church is New Hope, and I feel like a proud mother showing off pictures of the beautiful building and telling the stories of the kind people I have already met. I am dreaming with the community that also loves this place about what the future may look like. What might New Hope look like in this world?

At the beginning of my seminary journey, when I thought I was going to be a youth pastor, God whispered to me that I was being prepared for a new thing, a thing that hadn’t been tried before, and here I am on the front edge of a missional partner church. I get to still be on staff at the church I have grown so much in and am so supported in, and I get to preach every week at New Hope and together we all get to figure out what this partnership might look like. I am a really bad loan wolf, but now I get to keep my pack and be a pastor to a church and we all get to live through new ways of doing things. We all get to figure out what God’s New Hope is together.

There are so many things I am excited about, so many things we are beginning to dream about, so much to learn. So many ways this feels like the very right next step for me. I had no idea this was a possibility until it was handed to me. No we don’t know exactly what a New Hope might look like, but we know it is God’s and we know we are grateful for it. This world needs a little more New Hope in the world.

Sunday is my first sermon. We meet at 11. All are welcome. I sure would appreciate your prayers.

Take this body. Broken for you.

This is from a prompt in my creative writing class. I have been thinking a lot about women and medicine and being believed. Expect something of a similar theme about me and the USA gymnastics team and how we are the same. But until then. 

Take this body. Broken for you.

I know what it is like to have a body that is broken. One that conforms to societies standards for height and weight and gender expression but one that is….broken. Irrevocably broken. I know what it s like to be broken.

I was thirteen and it was 1996 and I had never kissed a boy but I had the kissing disease. Mono. This felt entirely unfair. Cruel even. What do you mean I have mono? But I suppose it was better than the alternative diagnoses. It took two doctors and a therapist to get the tests done to prove I was broken, or rather my body was broken. Everyone agreed that something was wrong but my first pediatrician decided that my body was fine and I was broken. I was diagnosed as lazy. The sentence was directed at my mother but I was in the room. She sent me to a therapist, a therapist for delinquents who told my mom to quit her job so that she could stop me from having sex and smoking weed at home when she was at work….I wasn’t allowed to deny it in the session. He didn’t much care what I had to say. But my mother did. And over the diagnoses of lazy and delinquent came a firmer stronger softer call: Abby, I believe you. I believe that your body is broken, I refuse to believe that you are broken. I believe you, Abby. What you say is true.

And she did. She believed me and quietly cancelled the next pediatric appointment, sent me to her own doctor who she knew to be an exceptionally kind and good listener. And she believed me through the co-pays on the blood tests we could not really afford. She believed me when we went to specialist after specialist and had tests for my thyroid every month for a year. She believed me when the doctors shrugged and said “maybe she will grow out of it” and “maybe we could put her on an anti-psychotic” and she believed me that this was not a good drug for me and weaned me off it before the lawsuits against it came out. She believed me so much that she took her credit card and called the doctor who only saw adults with cash and convinced him to see her 17 year old. For four years she believed me.

And, then…and then she believed him. She believed him when he told me that I was going to get much better. She believed him when he said it would take a massive amount of change. She read the dietary restrictions and packed up everything in the house I could not eat and she sent it off to my boyfriend the very same day. She learned which cans of spaghetti sauce had preservative and she learned to buy all natural peanut butter.  She believed I did not have to be broken. She believed I could be whole.

And there is a myth of motherhood that tells us that she broke and that is why I did not have to. But that is a lie, one that is likely straight from the pit. She believed me, and that made me whole and that made her whole and we were whole together. Maybe more whole than either of us had ever been.

This is my body, broken for you. You don’t have to be broken any more.

Persist: The Year of Getting on with it.

This is my seventh year choosing a word. My eighth year blogging. My half way through seminary mark. The year I start filling out ordination paperwork and dreaming of what is to come. This little practice of a guiding word has proved powerful in my life, and starting in December my sisters and I started texting each other about what our 2018 word might be.

Mine popped into my head extremely quickly, PERSIST.

Can I tell you this didn’t make a huge amount of sense to me, so I put it away and finished my finals and baked my cookies and had Christmas. And there it was, waiting for me persist. My word for 2018 is for sure persist.

I am not the kind of person who needs the word persist. Just this weekend I was in the urgent care for 8 hours because I was persisting through an ear ache and a it hurts to breathe and it turns out I should not have done that. I have pneumonia.

No, I am not the kind of person who needs to be told to persist, but I am the kind of person who needs to choose more carefully in her persisting. I have the tendency to throw all my energy at all the things instead of prioritizing anything. I have the tendency to over commit then run myself ragged and neglect my family a little while I deliver.

Lately, I feel like I have spread myself so thin that the things I want to persist in are not seeing enough attention. Instead of going full steam ahead this January, I did a thing I do not usually do. I did not full speed ahead, I reflected and thought about what I want to persist on. Here is the truth I have discovered: I have all the things I need to do what I feel called to do, I need to get on with it.

My best podcast guest is hands down my husband and I love doing the show with him so I need to scale back my ideas and just talk to him once a week, on purpose, while you are listening. My blog is always open and I need to write in it. My scarcity hunter email list is right there and available and I even have a class where the professor asked me to pick my own writing project. I have the tools, I have what I need, I need to stop wishing more people would notice and simply keep on keeping on.

At every turn of my creative life I decide I cannot possibly do the thing because I do not have what I need, and at every single turn I have exactly what I need to do what God is calling me to do. I might not have everything I WANT (where the heck is my personal writing cabin and my babysitter on retainer?) but I do have everything I need. When I think about what the year of persisting might mean for me, the Holy Spirit gently reminds me to get on with it already. I don’t need an audience, or a cookie, or anything else I might arbitrarily decide I absolutely have to have. I need to persist.

 

 

What Needs to Be Said in light of Aziz and Grace

Recently a not famous woman wrote and published an account of a sexual encounter of a very famous comedian. She is going by Grace, he is Aziz. This is a particular account of a particular sexual encounter. It is an account of a sexual encounter that is at best gross and not totally consensual. If you know how to use google there are hundreds of voices saying who to blame, whose fault this was.

I don’t want to talk about whose fault this was. I want to talk about how it is that we live in a society where people have sexual encounters that one person thinks is consensual and the other one does not. I want to talk about how we can do better for all parties if we want to, but the conversation starts WAY before anyone goes to anyones house for wine and making out.

We HAVE to start talking about consent, we have to start talking about consent as soon as our kids can talk. We have to start talking about consent because our society tells everyone lies about sex, and sexiness, and these lies turn into sexual encounters where someone is the victim and someone is the predator but no one meant any of it and everyone is sorry but nothing is changed.

We tell girls: Just say no! Say no! Make sure you say no. But don’t hurt his feelings. Let him down gently. Don’t be mean. Make sure you are still nice. But say no. But nicely.

We tell girls: Be sexy! But not too sexy! Not slut sexy but don’t be a prude. Look presentable and alluring, but not like….too much. Not easy. But look good.

We tell boys: No means no! But sometimes no means ask again. Sometimes no means yes.

We tell boys: Real men respect women, but REALLY masculine men have a lot of sex with a lot of women and women can’t resist them.

We say: Respect each other, but it is really really romantic when a man pursues a woman even after she tells him no.

We say: Real men know how to please a woman and don’t have to ask her, they just know.

We say: tickling children even after they shriek no is a fun and silly game.

We say: I know you are uncomfortable but kiss your aunty because she wants you to.

We say: You can’t wear that at school because they boy behind you cannot be in control of himself if you wear that.

We say: He only is teasing you in a way that makes you cry because he like you. Just ignore it.

We say: Boys will be boys.

We say: don’t talk about sex right now right here. That is nasty. That is embarrassing. Your body is shameful.

Then we say: I don’t know why she didn’t say no and mean it. I don’t know why she couldn’t communicate clearly about sex. This is her fault.

Then we say: I don’t know why he kept pressing. He should have been able to read her signals. This is his fault. How could he not know?

We need to change the narrative, and we need to change it now.

We need to say: Everyone is in charge of their own body. If you aren’t sure THAT IS OKAY. You can ask. Asking is hot. Consent is super sexy.

We need to say: Desire is allowed and it is important to learn how to communicate what you want. If you can’t talk about sexy things with a partner, then maybe that isn’t a good partner for you.

We need to say: Coercion is not acceptable. Real Men and Real Women is a dumb made up label anyway. People who are trying their best stop when they hear no. People who are trying their best have their listening ears on for no. Someone who is worthy of a sexual experience with you will be someone you can communicate about sexy things to.

We need to say: Clear communication does not take away any mystery or intrigue. Sex and bodies are beautiful gifts that are honored with clear communication. So yes, toddler I will answer your questions about why that baby is “missing her penis” and yes 7 year old I would be happy to talk about where babies come from wherever you brought it up, even though we are sitting down in the very full sanctuary after church (okay, you can rush to the car first just this once.)

We need to say over and over again so that everyone hears: Everyone is in charge of their own body. And we need to mean it. We need to let our children be in charge of their own bodies as often as we can while still making sure that everyone is safe.  We need to practice being in charge of our own bodies when we are picking out our clothes, when we say no we don’t want to hug or kiss someone, when we are learning to be friends.

We need to say Everyone is in charge of their own body when dress codes come out that blame girls for boys not paying attention, and when boys are made fun of for not trying to get laid. When teasing is normalized and girls are slut shamed for having sexual feelings.

We need to say everyone is in charge of their own body, and then we need to normalize sex so that when the time comes our young adults are not too embarrased to say the words and name the feelings and the body parts. We need to say the things in benign situations so they are able to accurately communicate what they do and do not want in a highly charged and vulnreable time.

We need to stop pretending that these conversations about consent and mutual desire are just going to spring out of the ether when adults are ready to have sex. We need to stop spending all our time talking about whose fault this very common experience, and start talking about how this confusion about consent is A THING that needs to stop and can stop if EVERYONE GETS TO BE IN CHARGE OF THEIR OWN BODY. If everyone is trying first and foremost all the time to make sure everyone is in charge of their own body.

I wrote a book, I have a ted talk, hell their are t-shirts you can find them all here. 

Whole: A 2017 recap on a not totally dumpster fire year.

I went looking for my January post about the word WHOLE and I found it, in March, two weeks after I went on Prozac. If the year stopped there it would have been a huge win. Prozac. Healing. Wholeness. There are years I take the word by the horns and shake everything I can get out of it (unashamed) and years they just kind of keep showing up (here) but this year it feels like WHOLE did the work of 2017 I needed to do and I watched.

I am, for sure, more integrated, less scattered and boxed off, my mothering and seminary and writing and all the things feel like pieces of me that fit together not pieces of me that are fighting with each other. Part of this was thoughtful balancing from me.  Most of this was prozac. When I am not fighting the anxiety that only shows up when I am depressed, I have more time to like my life. My whole life, as a whole, not tiny pieces of it at a time.

I became a preacher in 2017. I preached once in 2016. I knew I wanted to preach, but I became a preacher in 2017. I took two preaching classes last January, preaching and women in preaching. I took them back to back and I loved it. I loved learning to preach. I loved talking about preaching. I loved dissecting sermons and thinking about what makes preaching good. I liked talking about preaching in a digital age, the difference between a ted talk, a lecture, and a sermon, and whether or not Michelle Obama is a preacher. I bring my whole self to preaching. It contains all of me and I love it, and it loves me back. I will preach pretty much anywhere someone will let me.

I started being paid for my “hobby” of social media. Part of being whole for me has been about integrating my life and saying WHOA not all people can do what I do. Not all people want to do it. I have skills that I developed that are monetarily of value. Y’all. This was huge for me.

I am a student who is a mother, and that means that part of my mothering is saying “mommy is studying right now” and part of my student-ing is bringing my motherhood into the classroom. I am allowed to talk about the deeply spiritual (for me) experience of birth and mothering when we are talking about spiritual things. I am allowed to say “my kids are like the Israelites” or “Juliet and Priscilla struggle less with inclusivity than I do.” Can I tell you that sometimes my class mates roll their eyes? That is okay. I sometimes write off their 22 year old experience as not applicable too, so I guess we are even.

But mostly, it is the Prozac. I am comfortable in my skin. I am confident in my voice. I am whole. When I assessed this year there was a lot of me that felt sad. Other women I know got new jobs, book deals, promotions. None of that was 2017 for me. But I got whole, and I am so very glad.

 

Love and the Fourth Trimester

(Yes, I am still writing my advent posts. Christmas isn’t over yet. I’m going to take all twelve days okay? Okay.)

Fun fact: If everything goes according to plan, babies only come out of the womb because there is absolutely no more room in there. Like…none. Not even a little. If there was a little room they would stay in there because babies are not idiots. They are warm, and fed from a tube, and are much, MUCH safer in there than they are in the wild. It is a lot less work in there where everything is happening automatically and your mom even pees for you because you do not need to be bothered with such things.

But then, she gets really uncomfortable, which frankly the baby could live with, and the baby gets really uncomfortable and there is literally no more room so the kiddo comes out. During that discomfort and birthing and that next three months there is just so much waiting. So much waiting and so much wanting and so much figuring everything out.

Do you remember the early days of being in love? The like head over heels googly eyed, I know I saw you twelve hours ago but I miss you SO MUCH days of being in love? Yeah, it is amazing, and also exhuasting. I remember Christian and I confessing to each other we were relieved it was over. It is amazing, but how do you even get anything else done.

The first couple months with a baby are like that too. They call it the fourth trimester. The baby wasn’t really to come out and they depend on you, the mother to keep them alive. They depend on the fact that we will love them. Our bodies are biologically trained to fall in love with these kiddos but keeping them alive feels totally impossible, and wonderful, and terrible, and amazing.

That first three months is totally all consuming. It is completely wonderful and exhausting and you are falling in love. You with the baby, the baby with you. And it is really hard work, falling in love. It is really hard to get to know and figure each other out and know what different noises mean and how you fit together. It is hard work falling in love with a baby, learning about this tiny human that you grew inside of you and kind of already knew. Then you spend the rest of their life re-learning them.

Babies change right when you think you have it figured out, and toddlers are completely unpredictable, and then school age children come home from school and gob-smack you about once a week with something completely new and totally classically just like that child all at once.

Learning someone. Isn’t that the most loving thing we can do? Isn’t the work of our whole lives?