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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Who Do You Play For?

Monday night Christian and I did the nerdiest thing we have ever done. We stayed up to watch the awards ceremony for the National Forensics Association. A coach of a team was live streaming it so we could all play along at home.

Probably the cutest thing there is to know about Christian and me and our relationship is that we met on the Ball State Speech team roughly thirty years after my parents met on the Ball State Speech team. We sat in our living room in our pajamas and held our breath and clapped along as we waited to find out how our alma mater did. We yelled and then shushed trying not to wake up the babies in our excitement. It has been awhile since Ball State had a top ten finish, and they managed to do just that this year.

I was surprised at how invested I was in the outcome of the tournament. I know the coaches of the Ball State speech team but I no longer know the team members. I couldn’t give you the name of anyone who competed for Ball State this year, and yet I teared up a little; I was so stinking proud of their success. I updated my Facebook status to spread the news. I tweeted about it. I was (and still am) pumped that the team I was once a part of was able to accomplish what they did.

In some ways it feels like I am still on the Ball State speech team. I always will be. It does not matter who is competing, in what events, on which campus. I will always, always be rooting for my team.

One of Christian’s closest friends (who he competed with in High school and college) used to refer to Christians (not my husband, rather Christ followers) as “Team Jesus.” “You know Andy,” he would say, “he is Team Jesus too.”

Sometimes I think the Church, Christ followers collectively, forget that we are all on the same team, that we are all Team Jesus. My coaches and teammates can tell you that I was not always the most amazing teammate. I held grudges, I talked about people, I held my best interests above the team sometimes. But in my best moments, in the weeks before State and Nationals we came together.  I rooted for, helped out and cared for people I otherwise did not get along with, because we both wanted the same thing. We both wanted the team we were playing for to do really well.

Lately my blog feed has been covered in leaving the church, not leaving the church, coming back to the church. All of the posts are well thought out and beautiful. They are real and painful sometimes; honest and gentle sometimes. They point the finger at self as much as they do at the church as a whole. I know that my generation is leaving the church in droves.

My pat answer to those I am talking to in real life is “come to mine!” But that glosses over the fact that on many things I am on the exact opposite side of the theological divide as the man standing in the front delivering the message. It ignores the soul-searching nights I have wondered what to teach the girls in my house about what the Bible does and does not say about what they can do, if it is fair to them to go to a church that does not have a woman on staff, that does not believe in female elders.

All of those things and a million others can get in the way of the ultimate truth. Anyone participating in those conversations are on the same team. We are all team Jesus. Even if the men that lead my church have views that I disagree with on women’s roles, I follow them because they love Jesus desperately. Because this is the community I feel led to serve with. We have the same goals. Love God, love our neighbors. We play for the same team. Team Jesus.

I don’t think we all have to agree. I don’t even think every Christian has to like each other, I don’t even think it is possible. But I do think that we can agree that we play for the same team. We have the same goals. However vehemently I disagree with them on some things we are still Team Jesus. I think it may be time to act like it or at the very least talk to each other like we are all Team Jesus.

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.

We Still Want a Political King

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. I grew up in church so I’ve heard the Palm Sunday stuff before. That it was traditional in the day for a ruler to come through the town. A stallion meant war, a donkey meant peace. But I heard a new tidbit this year (Thanks Pastor Tim). The palms that were waved as Jesus passed through signified that the people still expected Jesus to lead the political revolution.

A week later the same people who were screaming “Hosana” were screaming “Crucify Him!”  They did not recognize Jesus for who he was. Their savior, someone who came to deal with the depravity of their own hearts. They were looking for someone to come and revolutionize the political system, to finally usher in God’s law and then they would get to be the ones on top.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus came back, would we recognize him? Would we be paying attention to the people and places that Jesus would go to? Would we beg him to get off the cross and go in to congress and do something already? Would we understand it any better the second time around?

I think we are still looking for the Political messiah. We are still waving those palms, begging God for our nation to turn toward Him. We still want a political messiah, not a personal one. Because a political savior deals with them and all of their stuff, and a personal savior deals with me, and my stuff.

And it is a whole lot more comfortable to have others change based on what I think, then to allow the Holy Spirit to rearrange my life, and trust that He will rearrange other people’s lives as well. I do want Americans to come to know the Lord, every single one of them. But I don’t think that is going to happen one law at a time. I think it can only happen one person at a time, one heart at a time turning toward God.

This Holy week, as I think about the beauty of the cross. I cannot get over how very personalized it was. For me. For you. To connect us to God. I think Jesus could have come to reign as king of a nation. It probably would have been a lot easier to rule a people who adored his decisions. Instead, Jesus chose to die on a cross, to sacrifice himself for people who literally curse his name. He was dying for people’s sins even as they became angry with him for saving them.

We are still clamoring for a political king, but Christ wants so much more than that. He doesn’t just want the hearts, and minds of the nation as a whole. He wants my heart, my life. He wants us to follow him regardless of what the laws say. He knows that changed laws do not change hearts. Christ centered hearts create Christ centered lives, and people are drawn to those lives. Then their hearts change too, and pretty soon no one cares what the law says. We just all follow Jesus.

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.

The Cleaning of the Wound

“It is like a festering sore,” she said. “It’s just going to keep bubbling; you’ve got to do something about it before the infection spreads. It isn’t going to get better on its own.”

This is an interesting dynamic for sure. Lately I have been the one speaking in spiritual similes, and I am not sure how I feel about the sudden role reversal. But it is accurate, this description. Sore and stinking pretty much sums up my attitude these last two days. My anger is bubbling, refusing the healing that I know I need.

The grossest part is the way I have been treating this wound. Red and puss filled I present it like some kind of righteous badge. “Look at what has been done to me.” The pain pulses through it and around it to the rhythm of my heart. Theirfault Theirfault Theirfault. When bumped tears roll down my cheeks. Angered flesh mirrors the way I have convinced myself I am entitled to feel. The truth is I have been nursing this infection, unwilling to clean it out. I want to ensure my pain stays with me. A constant reminder of my wound.

The people closest to me begin to smell the rot that is in this wound. My husband, my sisters, they warn me of the infection they sense, it is evident in almost every conversation we have. The poison seems to be spreading to places it does not belong. I had planned on keeping it contained, I thought I was controlling it, but it is damaging things I never intended it to get close to. Spots of red flesh are cropping up in seemingly unrelated places, and the hurt is threatening to invade my veins, join my very blood on a path straight to my heart.

Still I protest. I have a right to this infection. I have a right to feel this wound. I was hurt after all. If I allow this to heal it will be as though I was never wounded in the first place. Isn’t that the point of healing?  I hear the Spirit whisper. I am tempted to tell God to shut up.

I feel like it happens just moments before the infection joins the path of no return. I decide it is time to let go of the pain, and let the Lord clean out my wound. I am well aware it is only His prompting that allows me to ask. It is my nature to cling to this angry wound until it destroys me. It is a little scary, asking the Great Physician to clean me out. I am ashamed at how long it has taken me to ask, how bad I let it get. I know from experience that this is certain to sting. It does sting. This wound is cleansed with an apology that humbles me. In order to release this stench I also must release my pride. My pride it turns out, has been fueling the infection of anger.

As I release my own pride and allow God to pour healing into my wound I can suddenly breathe again. It turns out I had been holding my breath against my own righteous stench, and I didn’t even know it. The Healer leaves my wound raw but clean. The sting was temporary and gave way to relief. I was not aware of how bad I was hurting. How much of that hurt was the infection, and how little the actual wound.

I am left with a pile of clean white cloth, instructions to tend the wound. Keep it bandaged, change them often, watch carefully for signs of infection. The wound is still there, but it is healing. It is not my responsibility to heal the original wound, but it is my responsibility to protect from infection.

Everyone Wants to Be a Tim Tebow Christian

I talk to parents. It is part of my job. When people find out I teach High school (and like it) they sometimes talk to me about their kids. Tim Tebow has come up a surprising number of times. It seems everyone’s kid has Tebow potential.

Disclaimer: I’ve never spoken a word to Tim Tebow. From what I can gather based on the person that he presents himself to be, he seems legit to me. I hope that God is doing a great work in him for all the world to see. That would be wonderful. I don’t really have anything bad to say about him. I would however like it on record that I would love to see him do a really crazy thing like drive a used car, live on $100,000 a year (which is way over the average family income of $46,000 and change) and give the rest to charity. I know that may be a little much to ask, but a girl can dream.

Everyone wants to be a Tim Tebow christian. To live a big life in front of millions of people all for the glory of the Lord. We want a big car and pool and a compelling story. We want to be a football star for the gospel, a quarterback for Christ. We want to call the shots and save the game with millions of people screaming our name….for Jesus of course. We want a chance to proclaim on ESPN that it really isn’t about me, but my savior. As our name scrolls happily across the bottom of the screen. I know I do.

Everyone wants to parent the next Tim Tebow. To watch their kid succeed on the football field or the stage. To be succesful in front of a huge crowd. Everyone wants to cheer in the stands as their kid proves to the world, the haters, themselves that God made them special. Everyone wants their kid to be the one that is the light to the world in the most obvious of ways, with Jesus written on their state champion tennis shoes. Or perhaps as the child thanks God (then the parents) from behind the podium in their valedictory address on commencement day.

We know that Jesus said we would be persecuted. That our children might be as well. We would like that persecution to come in the form of some eye-rolls and being the butt of Jay Leno’s jokes. That’s the kind of persecution we can get behind. The one that comes with the fame enough to be mentioned on a late night show and everyone in America gets the joke.

Even if we can accept the fact that we are not a Tim Tebow Christian, what parent doesn’t desire the very best for their children

A Tim Tebow kind of life: fame. fortune, friends, all to the glory of God. Yes please, sign me up for that faith and I will take one for the kids. The one where God calls them to do something extraordinary that society values. And for some this is where he calls them, but for most this is not where the narrow path leads.

If Jesus thought that the Roman empire was rough, He should try choosing a seat in the average High School cafeteria. I am grappling with the fact already that there is a distinct possibility that God’s best for my child will not be very popular, will not make them very popular. What if my kid goes and sits next to the weird smelly kid (provided they are not the weird smelly kid) and then no one else wants to be their friend? How will that not be hard for me as well? It seems like in that moment I would wish for them to be the popular kid for Jesus.

There are a few of those in the Bible, but mostly not so much.  The Bible doesn’t give us instructions based on getting people to like us. It gives us instructions to abandon all that popularity and take up our cross. Rarely does this happen on television. Mostly we are called to serve quietly and humbly. (I have heard Tebow does this quite well, but we never hear about it because, you know, he is quiet and humble about it.) Most of us will never make it to the front page for the good works that we do. And that is hard for me, and perhaps you to be reminded that mostly the Christian life isn’t about us, but Christ.