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.

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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

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.

From Pee to Living Water

I think sometimes I overlook miracles. Ones that happen everyday so they no longer seem impressive. They happen every day at my house, two under two lends itself to miracles. Two babies with clean diapers at the same time, synchronized nap times, first words, first steps, a not-yet-two-year-old who agrees to go along with the plan. They don’t happen all the time. But enough that I forget they are miracles.

Lord, allow me to pour out you Living Water.

But it is emotional miracles, change of heart miracles, miracles you can’t see I have been noticing lately. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the healing, the manifestations, the return of $900 for your $500 deposit. I’ve seen them, and plan on seeing more. But the emotional miracles, the ones you can’t see. I’ve been seeing a lot of those lately.

Like the time just this weekend when God changed pee into living water. I wish I was speaking metaphorically here, but I am afraid that a misguided child snuck into a friends house and offered his practical joke in the form of peeing in her boot. A child that she could have ignored, but instead has been kind to. A child no one else thinks about much. His parents are too busy, too sick, too overwhelmed, too underserviced. The best that they can is not enough to meet the needs of the kids they have in the house. So the child sneaks into another house, and pees in a boot. Who knows why really, he probably doesn’t know himself.

The pee in the boot was not the miraculous part. It was the gross part. The miraculous part was the Living Water that was poured back out. The initial reaction was expected, I am calling the police (you should I responded) I am telling those kids I am done (be done I agreed) I am telling those parents that I don’t care how overwhelmed they are, they need to get a handle on those children (it is for the children’s own good I encouraged.) But then we prayed about it. And the bitter, stinky, gross puddle of waste that was pooling in our hearts was touched by the finger of God. And as the puddle rippled…..the piss in my friend’s heart was turned into Living Water. I love praying with Godly people.

I wonder if those kids would like to go to church with us? (I wasn’t so the church’s kids community could handle all that.) I had planned on asking those boys to walk my dog with me, I wonder why I never asked the parents. What would it look like if I were radically kind to those boys in direct response of being pissed on? It would look like Jesus. Like what Jesus did for us. What Jesus does for us. Even when we know we are doing wrong and continue it anyway, just because we feel like it.

I know that there are other miracles that are flashier, water to wine lets you continue to party. Manna every morning lets you keep walking. Being healed of blindness, lameness, leprosy; tumors disappearing all of these are glorious things. But turning a puddle of pee into living water, and watching someone pour it out to the pisser. How do you get more miraculous than that?

This post was written for Just Write. Go check it out!

Cast off Your Chains

Cast off your chains my friends, the ones that have been weighing you down. On the left wrist, the chain reads “try harder” on the right “do better.” Wrapped around both ankles is the chain of “you are not enough” it is held together with the links reading: should. I should be thinking this, feeling that, doing the other.

Should be spending less, should be giving more. You should have gotten to church on time and been more productive. You should be more, do more. You should get your act together. The shoulds link together wrap around your shoulders until you are stooped and shuffling along.

Some of these chains have been there so long, they feel as much a part of you as your arms. Some have snaked into your body and wrapped around your heart until it beats to the rhythm of the chain. Shouldshould, Shouldshould, Shouldshould.

Somehow, somewhere, someone taught you to wear these, maybe even wrapped the first one like a scarf gently around your neck. You are not enough, it read. But now you dress yourself in these chains every morning, some you even sleep in. Never take them off.

Someone may have even told you that Jesus wants you to carry these chains. They are a testament to Him, proof that you are faithful to your God. But these chains, these thoughts of inadequacy, these are not the things the Lord has for you. Jesus came to set you free from these chains.

Look closely, you will find the shackle on your wrist is unlocked. You do not in fact have to walk around today with the weight of trying harder and harder still. Let Jesus take that from you today. Allow Him to be enough…instead of you trying to be.

It may feel awkward, maybe even a little scary at first. New found freedom usually is. But soon you will realize, that without this chain, the one telling you to try harder, that your range of motion is extended. With Jesus holding the weight of that trying, you suddenly have the freedom to do just that.

Soon you will be dancing to the sound of those chains falling away. The sound of the clanking will cause your heart to dance with joy.

And your heart, oh your heart, it will recognize the freedom of the falling chain, reject the chain that snaked its way in. It will no longer beat Shouldshould Shouldshould. Instead it will beat Beloved Beloved. Because you are, just the way you are. No shoulds attached.

Biggest Critic. Biggest Fan

I remember when I was too sick, or maybe too sick of being sick, to get up off the couch. I remember my sister, the one who had not yet left for college, coming home to her sister laying on the couch…..again….and yelling at me to get up. Get up, go to school, do something. My illness had not just infiltrated my body. It had infiltrated our entire family. She wanted it, needed it, gone.

Later, in high school, I remember going to her best friends house to get ready for homecoming, my first high school dance. Though she does not remember saying it, I remember her saying that I wore too much make up. Easy to say I suppose, when you get elected prom queen in nothing but lipgloss. Later, she would ask me for make up tips, and I would be vindicated.

I remember her critiques on my outfits and my boyfriends. She was always right about the latter. Some weren’t good enough for me, some did hurt me, some were jerks.

I remember my freshman year when I did not make the musical. To my face she told me that it happened sometimes to freshman, I would just have to wait my turn. To her friends she complained that the freshman girls who did make it were not nearly as talented as her sister. I heard her. I was probably listenting in on her phone call.

Now, Jill is not so quick to criticize. She is the one who tells me “You can’t talk about my sister like that.” She is the biggest fan of this blog. She shares every post and emails some to her friends. She tells me that I write well, that sometimes, when I get it right, she can see Jesus in here. She took me to see her writer friend because she believes, more deeply than I that someone will like this enough to publish it.

I know now what I didn’t know then. That the criticism was coming from a place that screamed both “You can do better” and “You are already enough.” She was critical because she knew I was better than that. She was critical because she wasn’t going to let anyone, including myself, sell me short.

It is this relationship that reminds me, when I hear the Spirit convict me. That God is telling me to change because He loves me deeply. He wants great things for me. He will not let me sell myself short.

I Can’t Talk About Me Like That

Today started out like that other terrible day this week. Rooster is running a mild fever do to her four month vaccines so she is uncomfortable and can’t sleep well and I was just going to lay my head down for 5 more minutes….and this time I didn’t wake up until 17 minutes after I am supposed to leave the house. And the traffic was terrible because no one in Atlanta really knows what inclement weather is so they slow down to 35 when it is a little rainy out. (Seriously people, 75/85 isn’t just the interstate number, it should be the speed minimum!)

So I had to call my co-worker for the second time in three days and ask her to unlock my door. When I showed up at school the announcements were on. Another co-worker who also has an itty-bitty and a blooming toddler at home was holding down the fort. Both women told me it was no problem as I admitted how embarrassed I was. As the voice in my head chided, two days in a week you pull this? Get it together Abby!

And the worst part is, I may have lied to them. (I did) I may have told them that I was late because the Rooster had a fever, and not because the Rooster had a fever which made me tired so I made Christian take her a half hour before the alarm went off, so I lazily fell asleep after I turned off my alarm. (I just left out the part that made me look bad.)

Lucky for me the Lord convicted my heart and gave me the chance to come clean and apologize. My sweet grace giving colleagues forgave me and decided the grace they extended previously still stood. (I was not planning on confessing in person. I was planning on sticking an apology on here where neither of them go…that dang pride again.)

I was, I am, ashamed that I messed it up twice this week. My pride could not get over it. I am better than that. Other people are just big screw ups, but not me. I am not allowed to over sleep because I don’t do that. But I do, do that. I was easily the biggest screw up in my department this week, and it isn’t even Friday yet.

This morning I tweeted this: Kill my pride oh Lord; steal it from me. Let your grace fill those spaces.

God has heard my prayer of less than 140 characters. I decided to fight the lie that I am not good enough by treating myself to lunch, on a day I certainly did not deserve it. Besides, I had to go to the bank because I had no toll money to get home.

On the way out of the door I ran in to a teacher on duty. (Duty- the time once a week a teacher has to stand somewhere and bother every kid that walks by for a pass. It is necessary, but it is no fun.) She asked me where I was going and I asked her if she needed anything. Was I going to Starbuck’s? I was not. So we left it at that. Until my errands drove me right into the Starbucks parking lot. Literally, my bank and the Starbucks have adjoining parking lots. Cafe Mocha’s for everybody!!!

And when I delivered it to her, she told me I was good to her. She told me I was good, and I believed her. In that moment, by God’s grace, I was good. Not a screw up, not someone who better start doing better. And I had a beautiful conversation with another mom about how we don’t give ourselves the grace we give everyone else.

Sometime in mid-October I was telling Jill all the terrible things I was and she stopped me with this line, “I’m sorry, but I don’t let anyone talk about my sister like that.” She doesn’t let anyone say mean things about me, not Starcha who told me I was buck-toothed in the second grade who Jill threatened to beat up in the cafeteria, and not me about myself in my own kitchen. And now, I don’t either. I’m sorry, but I can’t talk about me like that.