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.


Abby Norman

The Failure Siren OR Things I am Attempting to Un-learn

Saturday, the Peanut got into the german cold cream my brother-in-law gave me for Christmas. Penaten cream is awesome for dry baby cheeks and diaper rash, but it has a bit of a sticky quality to it (we have sent the Peanut through three showers and I don’t think it is out of her hair. Good thing she loves showers). Sunday morning I realized that her tennis shoes were covered in cold cream and we could not find the other leather Robee anywhere. My kid had exactly one shoe to wear to church…awesome. So I dropped Christian and Rooster-head off early and off we went to Target.

We were late to church, but we weren’t even the last ones through the door. It really was no big deal. Except, it felt like a big deal.

It felt like I am a terrible wife and mother, worse, that I am a terrible woman of God.

The reason we couldn’t find the dumb leather shoe was because my house is a disaster. There are q-tips all over the living room floor where the Peanut left them, a cheese grater in the hallway (courtesy of guess who), toys and shoes and clothes and stuff that I need to find a place for are everywhere. Christian and I have the tendency to leave stuff out or drop stuff as soon as we get in the door. And the Peanut loves to shuffle it all around.

And if I am going to be honest, (you know, because I never let it all hang out on this thing) I pretend it doesn’t bother me. It haunts me, like so many of these seemingly innocuous failures do. But the house, the state that the house is in most of the time. That is the thing that makes me sob during worship as my friend wraps her arms around me and tells me that I am doing a good job, that my kids and my husband are remarkably happy, that she is sure glad I am teaching high schoolers. She believes I am called to it just like I do.

If my days were like a leisurely Sunday drive, they would start out just fine. But slowly I would notice that I hear a faint siren, like any ambulance siren. Wee-ooo, wee-ooo, wee-ooo. Only this siren doesn’t go wee-ooo, wee-ooo, wee-ooo. It goes fail-ure, fail-ure, fail-ure. To the exact same tune and rhythm.

On good days I only hear it faintly and I can tell from the sound that it is headed in the opposite direction. I don’t need to worry about that noise, it has no bearing on where I am or the direction I am headed.

On other days I hear it coming, fail-ure fail-ure fail-ure, but it does not overtake me. I turn, it turns, I pull over and let it pass. Those days I have a moment or two when I think it is coming for me, the failure siren, but something or other allows the noise to leave my mind.

But there are days when I spend my moments trying to outrun the siren. And as I speed through the day it keeps coming closer. I try desperately to avoid the siren, fail-ure fail-ure. I start running red lights and taking sharp turns. I careen through life hoping that I don’t run over anyone while I am just trying to get away from the noise. Fail-ure Fail-ure Fail-ure.

It comes. Closer and closer until it is right next to my car and the lights and the sound are so bright, so loud, so frantic that it is the only thing I can think or see or hear. FAIL-URE FAIL-URE FAIL-URE. YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH TODAY. YOUR KIDS, YOUR HUSBAND, YOUR STUDENTS DESERVE BETTER. GOD DOES NOT APPROVE! And even when the moment passes and the ambulance finally leaves. The sound resonates in my ears; I see spots from the lights and I have trouble thinking. I am shaken deeply by the encounter. I cannot let it go.

Those are the days where I tell the story of my failure loudly and to anyone who will hear and then laugh my loud, occasionally obnoxious, laugh and hope that you join me. I am re-telling the same story and laughing at the same parts in hopes that if I just talk and laugh and have you laugh loud enough it will drown out the remnants of the siren. Sometimes it does. Sunday it did not.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the failure siren overtook me on Sunday. That failure came as a direct result of my inability to keep my house in order. And I am trying very hard to un-learn the lies that I have learned about a woman and the state of her home. How those things are connected and how she should find her value in that. But it is still deeply ingrained within me. That a woman’s job is keeping her house and the affairs of her husband and children in order, that no matter what else she does if she is not doing this well she is failing.

I am coming to terms with the fact that I believe this lie so deeply because the church reinforced it. I have been very lucky to have had largely positive experiences when it comes to the three churches that I have been a member of. But the church is made of people and those people sometimes get it wrong.

I have been told over and over again that God cares about the state of my house. As a woman, it speaks to my Godliness. A Proverbs 31 woman would keep her house neat and clean and always know where her kids shoes are.  Folks, I just read Proverbs 31, and that lady works super hard and her husband and children think she is awesome. But it never says in there that she has a clean house. But it does reference the servants who are probably pickng up said house. Why did people tell me that it talked about the state of my living room?

Fact: I once read a study companion to Esther that told me one of the main take aways to that amazing story was that we should always be presentable and have a presentable house so that we could use our neat houses for God’s glory. Never mind the fact that Esther had people who made her and the house that she was being forced to occupy presentable. She had nothing to do with it. I think this version is probably more accurate.

Somehow the lie that God demands that all women are called to home and hearth, that if I do not care that the baby clothes are in the living room and I have absolutely no clue what I am having for dinner until Elizabeth feeds it to me (With a glass of wine. You are the best girl. The best.) that I am not a Godly woman has seeped in so deeply I don’t know how to dig it out.

I know women who are called to serve the Lord in their home right now. I think that their work is difficult and valuable. And I am grateful they do it well. I have been blessed by more than one of these women more times than I can count. But honestly, I don’t think I am called to be one of them.

Christian and I are both people who can thrive despite (and sometimes because of) chaos. Stuff all over doesn’t bother me really. This trait in the past has made people crazy (oh hi, mom, sisters, college roomie) but right now it is a serious asset. It allows me to use the small window when I am home and the girls are awake to play with them. It means I can take the girls out of the house on the weekend so Christian can get some reading and writing done. Because if I am out of the house, then I can’t clean it.

Right now hospitality does not look like a clean house and some fresh cookies I baked just because. It looks like me swallowing my pride and inviting you to move the toddler clothes and have a seat. Sorry if they smell like pee. I hope that this is not how it will be forever, but my kids, my husband and my boss are all currently happy with me, so for now it just needs to be like that.

In my head I know that this is true, and in my heart too, but the failure siren…I am learning that I may out run it some days, but to really get it to shut up, I better de-construct it.

When the Fog Descends

The weather has been crazy lately. Last week I went to go see the final addition in the 1027 church baby boom (welcome Ethan!) and by the time I got to Jill’s house to take her big dog and my bus-like stroller for a walk we decided the fog was so thick we didn’t want to risk even walking along the roads. It took me ten minutes to get the mile and a half home.

Sometimes in life the fog descends. You are in a familiar place and your path looks clear. You are on auto-pilot as you head toward your goal. Tra-la-la praise Jesus, I am racing closer to him on my clearly demarcated path. And then, the fog descends.

Sometimes it creeps up on you. Slowly your surroundings get muddled. You keep thinking, “this isn’t terrible, I will be fine if it just doesn’t get any worse.” But it does. And sometimes you are driving along and then BAM you can’t see a thing. The familiar looks unfamiliar and it is all you can do to just keep from running in to anything. You throw your GPS in your lap and pray that it tells you to turn at the right time. You need assistance to get home from a place you have been a thousand times before. You pray you will make it home without serious damage to you or anything surrounding you.

And the fog, it isolates you. It makes you feel like you are the only one on this path. You can’t see anyone else on the journey.

I know that these times are terrifying. You thought you knew where you were going, you thought the turns were clear. Now it is all confusing and you can’t even see the street to get home. But do not let the fog isolate you. Use your Bible and your community as your GPS. Let them tell you where you need to turn. Keep your eyes open for the other people on your journey, assure yourself you are not alone. You will pull into your driveway, and eventually the fog disappears.

I am praying for you today. That you will be safe in the fog, that it will clear up soon.