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.

To the Peanut on her second birthday

Dear Peanut,

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

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

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

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

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

I love you!

Mom

When I am desperate, God is till enough

It got a little dark around these parts on Wednesday.  I have the strong desire to tell you that when my sister therapized me she pointed out my nature to catastrophize things and then make some self deprecating joke or point to my own sinful nature and laugh it off. Isn’t Abby silly, she gets so worked up over stuff when God really has it. Sigh. Maybe one day I will learn. (Insert patronizing head shake and finger wagging at myself here.)

But today the Spirit is leading me to leave it. In that moment, it was that bad. It was worse. Some days this Jesus-filled-spirit-lead living thing is hard. Whether it is because you have as many diapers that need changed as hands every morning, or you drive into work everyday thinking that if you got into an accident you could skip today (hello, first year of teaching), you feel like you are suddenly in a situation that you did not sign up for and you have no idea how to get out.

Even though I try desperately to be a Jesus Lover, to live by the Norman Family Creed, to dismantle the Failure Siren, it all came to a head last week. I now understand better than ever before why the Lord implores us to humble ourselves. Being humbled by the reality of your own sinful nature totally sucks. The difference between knowing in your head that you are a sinner, and watching your sin punch someone you love in the stomach is severe.

In the midst of that I called out, Is God enough? And my call was answered. Because He is enough. He is enough and He is faithful. Not in that, yes, yes, the Bible says He is faithful so it must be true kind of ways, but rather in a visceral I did not deserve His grace and the Lord chose to lift me from my pit of self loathing anyway kind of faithful.

God was enough when  I confessed to my small group ending in “my heart is so ugly”, and they all laid hands on my head and chose to love me anyway. He was faithful in the Peanut placing her little hand on my head and patting. “Okay, mommy? Okay?” and “Jesus, Jesus, Amen.” I hope she never grows out of praying more Jesus over people. I have yet to run into a circumstance that wouldn’t be helped by more Jesus.

Meanwhile the Rooster was tickling my foot and checking for smiles. Bringing me joy, being the change she was insistent on seeing. I suppose you could say that a 7 month old was only grabbing what was right in front of her, but I wasn’t the only one who noticed her looking. I wasn’t even the first. Her looking and tickling and smiling, that is what was right in front. God is enough. He is faithful.

Thursday I received an email from Sarah Bessey.  I hope to never get over how much this means to me. There was a marked change in the way that I write out my life when I read hers. Her honest living and writing gave me permission to be the me God is molding me into. The Lord saw fit that I receive her words to me on my lunch break and cried big fat ugly tears on the keyboard until the bell rang and my freshmen were about to walk in the door. (The only crying that is acceptable in my 9th grade class is the crying I cause.)  She did not smack my hand for bringing her name into all of my mess, but instead offered prayer, understanding that grad-school is hard for the wife too, and assurance that as loud as we howl, it is enough. God is enough.

Then, Friday another email. Grace extended that I do not deserve, hope and restoration chosen when death and excommunication would be easier. Understanding and assurance and the door left open when I was sure it would be slammed in my face. There is no clearer way to see Jesus in a believer than when they extend unwarranted forgiveness to you.

Sometimes God has swooped down and healed my heart. BAM. Done. I am forever changed. I can mark the day on the calendar that He healed my body. It is finished. This change, this enough, God’s faithfulness that I am sure I do need and will need all the days of my life, this is a healing that God is asking me to choose, that He offers in this moment, and this one until the “and this moments” are linked in an eternal chain that I must continue to grab on to.

And I will, continue to grab on to that glorious chain. Because today I know that falling is hard and it can get lonely in those moments when you are no longer sure where that healing is. That chain gets covered in the muck that is the moment right here. But it will be unearthed because my God, He is faithful. My God is enough.

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?

The Younger Siblings Baby Book

The best way for me to describe my relationship with my sisters while growing up is this story. In pre-school we were talking about heroes or bravery or something. Anyway, I told my teacher about how brave my sister Jill was, that she stuck her fork into the toaster in order to rescue my breakfast from the malfunctioning button that was holding my bread hostage and burning it. My teacher, (being a responsible professional) told me that this was very dangerous and no one should ever shove a metal fork into a plugged-in toaster, especially one that was turned on. In my four-year-old brain this teacher was a complete idiot. She missed the whole point of how extraordinarily brave my older sister was, and did not understand that my sister was clearly invincible. I never saw her in the same light, she was a moron for the rest of the year.

There are unique situations that only apply, if you are the little sibling. The Rooster has a whole list of firsts the Peanut never had.

The first time you and your sister meet.

The first time your sister and you wear matching outfits and everyone thinks you are ao cute.

The first time your sister hits you.

The first time she scratches you.

The first time your sister leaves a mark.

The first time your sister hits/kicks/scratches/ you because she is really just mad at your mother and she knows this will make her mad.

The first time your eyes light up and you kick your little feet because you see your sister.

The first time your sister lies about you. (Ouch, Rilla pushin’ me out of the back seat of the car when both of you are strapped firmly into your respective car seats.)

The first time you pull her hair.

The first time she shares her food with you.

The first time you get to have a present strictly as your own, rather than sharing it with your sister becuase she wants it (sorry about your christmas presents this year, you can have them back when you are mobile enough to go get them).

The first time you sneak into her space and play with or wear the things she told you not to, just because you can (this will likely happen when she is at school and you are not).

The first time you miss each other.

The first night you share a room.

The first time you refuse to wear matching outfits with your sister (note this has still not happened with me and your Aunts. We still would wear matching outfits.)

The first time you are in cahoots with your sister behind your mom’s back.

I hope you two like having sisters as much as I do!

So commenters, this list is not complete! What did I miss?

Accidental Communion

Lately life has been coming at my family like the waves in the ocean. Even the coming up for air is exhausting. You can see it on our worn faces, can hear the gasping in our voices. Those waves have been getting the best of us lately, we are drowning under them where we once were riding on the top. We are slowly swimming to spring break but this week has left me wondering if we were in fact going to make it.

Tuesday I got a series of texts in the afternoon: one telling me I was being prayed for, one asking how could they help, and one letting me know that I was no longer in charge of my own dinner tonight, it would be brought to me and does my family eat broccoli? We sure do and we were eating it that night. (My friend from work told me she was tempted to join my church simply for the likelihood of the occasional dinner.)

When she dropped dinner off, we chatted and let our kids run around my backyard. Her son may have peed right there in the backyard and the Peanut may have then tugged on her pants until I helped her pull them down and attempted to do likewise. Standing up and holding herself. We may have stood and watched the whole thing and laughed.

But when my friend headed home and the laughter faded I found myself gasping for air again.

I grew up in a church tradition that centered around the eucharist. I don’t know what else you are going to get at any Disciples of Christ church, but you are bound to get communion. Bread and grape juice passed amongst the people. It is so central to the faith I was given, and the one I claim as my own. I remember once on a church camping trip grape Snapple and wonder bread passed around as Luke 22 was read. The blood of Christ poured out for me on the shores of Lake Michigan as the gulls sounded. I was maybe ten.

When I am drowning in life, as I have been lately, I miss the eucharist every week. I sometimes need a physical reminder to cling to in order to keep the faith.

I finally got the Peanut inside and pulled back the foil on the home-made pot pie that was waiting for me in the kitchen. It was still warm and I could smell the comfort wafting from it. There on top of the pie my friend had taken the extra pie crust and formed a cross. It was as clear a sign of hope as a stained glass window at a sunrise service. I heard something echo inside of my heart. This is my body, poured out for you. My body, the church body. Poured out for me right there in my kitchen.

It is communion I have been desperately seeking. The symbolic act of being one with God, receiving his great sacrifice as I in turn attempt to lay my life down for others. And it was communion I received. A hot meal delivered to me, by the body of Christ, when I had nothing left. Poured out for me, broken for me. Take, eat, in remembrance of Him.

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.