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.

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?

If I can’t win…

Today, the technology that I was using in my classroom refused to participate and my students almost got a lesson on “colorful language in context.”

I stayed home from church yesterday. This was after going out after nine to find a neti–pot in hopes of clearing the pressure in my head. Sunday I woke up and simply did not feel good. So I sent out a mass text asking someone, anyone to cover me for kids community so that I could lay down my head and take a rest. Luckily I got some replies.

Saturday I got myself and the girls up and around in time to sign up for our trial membership at the Y. They have free childcare for members and I wanted to try this Yoga-Pilates strength class. I ended up at the class about 15 minutes late. Then twenty minutes after that I got called into the nursery because the Peanut was still crying. And she refused to be comforted by the amazing nursery workers. She wouldn’t let them touch her. But right as I got there they waved me back out. So I went back to the class. I didn’t want to. It was hard.

My body used to be pretty good at yoga and Pilates. I used to do a video three days a week or so; in High school I went to a yoga studio to get my gym credit (thanks Mom! what a good advocate!). I loved it. But now, two babies and too many years later, my body is unable to do everything it used to do even half of what it used to do. And it hurts my pride, to be on par with the white-haired woman next to me.

I know that my body, and the Peanut, need time. (Rooster however continues her streak and I was told by three different women what an easy baby I had.) In my head I get that. But that doesn’t make me want to walk out of the room any less. To just give up on the silly “in shape” notion. We are english teachers and rhetoricians in my house. We are speech teamers not swim teamers. We have a way with words, not physicality. So let’s just use those words to joke about how we are not the in-shape sort of people and please pass me the Girl Scout Cookies.

I’m not good at being bad at things. If I am bad at something I simply abandon it. I always have. It isn’t a very pretty part of me. It is prideful and selfish. There is an old family joke that our reunion t-shirts should read “If I can’t win, I don’t want to play,” But right now that doesn’t feel like a joke. It feels like me walking out of a yoga class because I wasn’t as good as I thought I was going to be. Or giving up on new technologies because I can’t get them to work right. It feels like resigning myself to the fact that I can’t get anything to grow in my yard and I should just deal with the fact that I will forever have dirt in the backyard and the flower beds or pay someone an arm and a leg to sod the mess.

It feels like me wanting to throw a big hairy tantrum right here right now because no one can give me the things that I want. And I want them NOW!

Then I get a reminder email that if it isn’t humbling it isn’t yoga. And it reminds me that if it isn’t a narrow path, then perhaps I am not on the right one. And then all the stars align and I am able to race to the Y to make the cardio-funk class. I drop the Peanut  and Rooster off in the nursery (where I remember to leave the big one with a snack) and when I think I am being all clever and sneaking out, she looks me dead in the face and waves, “buh-bye, see-ya.” Apparently we’ve adjusted.

I race to the cardio-funk class even though the only funk dance I have ever done is the funky chicken, and somehow I don’t think that counts. In the class are all shapes and sizes, and the front row isn’t limited to the clearly fit. There is a big man up front and he is killin’ it. And there is a woman right in front of me who looks exactly like my mom if she were to do cardio-funk. But the best was the guy in the back corner who is clearly a librarian and NPR enthusiast with his round metal glasses and his perfectly trimmed beard. He is having a blast in the corner.

I decide that if Yoga is only yoga if it is humbling, then Cardio-funk is only cardio-funk if it is fun. And I have a ball. I am just thinking it is too bad Jill couldn’t make it when she shows up right next to me. She still grasps choreography much faster than me. But today the goal wasn’t winning. It was fun. Which was good, because half way through I thought I was going to die. I wanted someone to come in and tell me the Peanut would not stop crying. But alas, I had to push through. And I did. And that was where the winning came in.

Welcome to Franceland

WARNING: The following story happens within the metaphysical space my sisters have dubbed “Franceland.” Franceland is the space where we who are married to or are descendants of John S France screw up in a very specific sort of way. The classic example of Franceland is leaving the car for someone to use, but taking all sets of keys (including their set) with you. This happens more than we would like to admit, and more times than you would believe. This story is far more ridiculous than that. Feel free to be completely amused at my expense.

Last night I got all ready for bed and wandered upstairs. For the first time in a long time. I remembered both my Kindle and my phone so I did not have to trudge up and down the stairs multiple times when I just wanted to go to sleep.

At four the Rooster woke me up to feed her and on my way back into the bed I noticed that my phone was nowhere to be found. So I woke Christian up to set his Ipod as a back up (which he did without even grumbling). I was sure I took the phone upstairs and it would go off but just in case….

Fastforward to the Peanut waking up and Christian checking the time and “I’m really sorry Abby, but it is 7:04.” Turns out I took Christian’s phone upstairs, not mine. I am supposed to leave my house at 7.  I jump out of bed and rush around the house as quickly as possible and have to leave the Peanut in a fit on the floor because I am leaving. Never did I think I would be glad I leave every morning before the Peanut gets up, but it turns out I am.

And I need gas, like really need it. So I get gas and text someone that I will be late but am coming, and rush to work as fast as possible and make it to my classroom with about 6 minutes before the bell rings.

Right as that bell rings my most jocky of jock students points to the floor and says, “Ummmm, Ms. Norman I think you dropped something….” Right in front of his desk is a breast pad, which he thinks is a maxi-pad, that I did not put in because I was trying to save time and I figured  would put them in between classes.

Then I explained to a room full of tenth graders that I am still breastfeeding and sometimes my boobs leak, as I blushed uncontrollably and probably should have stopped talking but babbled on. I do that when I am uncomfortable. Even when the little man in my head is screaming JUST STOP TALKING. Because while I am a huge advocate of a woman’s right to breastfeed anywhere anyhow, it is still awkward to talk about when you are talking to adolescent boys about your boobs specifically. I am blushing just typing that.

So I was having trouble gaining traction anyway as I stumbled through the discussion about Antigone when my phone rings. My phone never rings during class, I leave the front of the room to discover Christian has called. Something is wrong.

Yup, something sure is wrong. Specifically, I took the car seat and the double stroller with me to work. And the Rooster has a doctor’s appointment. When Christian asked me what we were going to do, I answered “we are going to call Tiffany to come rescue us.” So he called Tiffany, who ditched her plans for the day, and by God’s mercy had an extra car seat. She got herself and her two-month-old in the car and delivered the car seat to Christian so he could take both girls to the doctor sans the double stroller (I have no idea how he got them both into the doctor’s office). Meanwhile I was frantically calling the Doctor’s office to see if they could delay our appointment.

They could reschedule the appointment (yeah!) for one thirty which is too close to Christian’s class today (boo!). So I had to teach my class amidst all of this. It was a disaster to put it mildly. Out of my mouth came, “This is why I am a teacher and not a surgeon, in this profession I can just say, well botched that one, we will try again tomorrow.”

Mostly, it was this. I have three jobs, mom, wife, teacher, and in that moment I was failing at all three. All of them. I was trying to laugh it off, but my kids could tell I wanted to cry.

Tiffany did in fact come to the rescue. Christian got the Rooster to her appointment (18th percentile weight, 72nd height, 75th head size) and the Dr. gave us the okay to turn the Peanut’s car seat around.

All is well that ends well I suppose. I am so grateful for the community of people I have in my life that would abandon their plans because I botched mine. I am trying hard to simply chalk this up to Franceland antics and laugh it off, and I am sure I will. But right now it stings a little. I suppose that is my pride again. I am certainly glad that Jesus’ mercy is new every morning. I could use a re-do tomorrow.

Rooster: 4 months old

The Rooster is officially four months old. Two days ago she was sitting on my lap and when the dog came up to join us, she lunged in his general direction. This noticing the dog thing, this is a major milestone around our house. I was shocked.

As interesting as that furry thing is, nothing is as fascinating as big sister. When the Peanut walks into the room, Rooster lights up and tracks her as she spins in circles. And the Peanut has declared herself the keeper of the little sis. If  you go anywhere with just the big one (it is how we are distinguishing them  of late) don’t be surprised when you get a constant barrage of “sister. sister, what happened?” out of the backseat. Yesterday Rooster was crying, and I was told in no uncertain terms by the Peanut “Rilla, Rilla, UP! UP! Rilla UP!” Translation: Mom, my sister is crying because she wants you to pick her up. Do it. Now. I love the way they already love each other.

I learned on Dooce.com yesterday that dimples are actually a malfunction of the cheek muscle. It is something messing up. If Rooster’s dimples aren’t proof that God can make beautiful, beautiful things out of our malfunctions I don’t know what is. I love that she wears a metaphor of God’s goodness in the midst of our brokeness on her face. We have ourselves another very happy baby and those dimples make friends and strangers alike melt into a puddle on the floor.

Speaking of puddles on the floor, girl can spit. This is a first for us and yesterday at the grocery store you could hear the splat as we stopped to pick up the free sample. I am glad I don’t wear expensive shoes. But she isn’t bothered by it at all, if anything she thinks it is funny. But what else are you going to do besides laugh about it I suppose.

Now that I am back to work, it seems as though she is bigger every single time I come home. Perhaps she is. She now goes to Elizabeth’s and seems perfectly happy to hang out there while I am gone. Who wouldn’t be really. In a perfect world I would be hanging out with Elizabeth a few times a week myself (shout out to loving your sitter-swapper partner!).

In short, happy baby makes a happy mommy, who could only be happier if baby decided to start sleeping through the night. Christian and I make adorable and delightful ginger kids….but not great sleepers. Sigh.