What I really want for Mother’s Day

The Lord has been confronting me a lot these day with self-sacrifice. I’m not going to lie, it isn’t the most exciting lesson I have ever learned. It is daily and tedious, and can sometimes even be confusing. Much like my relationship with Jesus, it seems to be something that is deeply personal. What God calls me to sacrifice is not always what He calls you to sacrifice (but sometimes it is). Plus, I like stuff. I just like stuff.

This is something I have struggled with for a while. In taking the  Five Love Languages test I always end up with gifts as my number one. Getting gifts makes me feel particularly loved. I don’t think it is bad. I think it is the way God designed me. But I am learning about the balance of feast and fast. How the church in America has perhaps neglected the fast in favor of the feast thereby cheapening both. Somehow America’s sound track about money and stuff has laced its way into my brain.

 I work, I can afford it, (through no small miracle) we are not going into debt so why the heck can’t I buy whatever it is I want? Don’t I deserve it? The answer the world gives me is yes. Yes, Abby you do work hard and that entitles you to that Venti iced Starbucks concoction of pure goodness. That entitles you to another pair of shoes, another dress. That watch that strikes your fancy makes you feel good, and you deserve to feel good. So yes, buy it. You deserve it.

Slowly the Lord is reshaping my heart and the Holy Spirit is becoming more clear in Her gentle whispers. Yes love, what you want is nice, but I have a better way. I know that you want that, but what I have for you is better; it is worth it. I promise it is. The Lord isn’t interested in what I deserve. Because what I deserve is a complete separation from Him, and the death and ressurection of Jesus means I am now entitled to so much more than I deserve.

I am entitled to a place at the Heavenly table, and a part in ushering in the Kingdom of heaven now. More justice, more mercy, more peace, more life, today. If I want to. If I choose it. I am entitled to the truly good things of life, the fruit of the Spirit even. But if I want more joy, love, peace, patience etc. then I must make room.

For me, this year that means not sending an email reminder link to my husband a week before Mother’s Day of my Amazon wish list. (I am seriously picky about gifts, just like my mom, so this system has saved Christian a lot of grief). It means knowing I will not get the ice cream maker even though I changed the priority to “high” last week. The Lord is replacing my visions of homemade sorbet all summer with something better.

I stumbled across this video a few days ago. I wish that I could tell you that I, right then and there, gave it all up to the nudging in my heart. That is not the case. It has taken me three days to write this post because I simply did not want to. I wanted what I wanted.

But I couldn’t get the statistics out of my head. Here they are from the Every Mother Counts website just in case you missed them in the video:

  1. Approximately 358,000 women die each year due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. That’s one woman every 90 seconds.
  2. For every woman who dies each year in childbirth, 20-30 more suffer from lifelong debilitating disabilities.
  3. Pregnancy is the number one cause of death in women, ages 15-19, in the developing world. Nearly 70,000 young women die every year because their bodies are not ready for parenthood.
  4. Over 200 million women who would like to choose when they get pregnant don’t have access to family planning.
  5. The United States ranks 50th globally in maternal mortality, even though it spends more on health care per capita than any other nation in the world. African American women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than Caucasian women.

Almost all of these deaths are preventable.

I have the kind of birth stories that other women dream about. I have had the luxury of being cared for by midwives that I truly believe are the best in the state, if not the country. I have been able to give birth the way I want in a hospital where if something does go wrong I am seconds from an operating room.

When I was giving birth to the Peanut I remember thinking about the 16-year-old girls that I knew from my hometown and from my classroom, and marveling at the fact that they had to do this, sometimes alone. I don’t want those girls to be alone. I want to stand in solidarity with them, and with all the women around the world who go into motherhood knowing they may not make it out of labor alive. That is simply the reality of where they live.

More than I want to eat homemade ice cream all summer (and who doesn’t want to do that?) I want a little peace of mercy, of justice, of the rightness of the Kingdom of God to come now. So, Christian, you won’t be getting a link to my amazon wish list, instead I want you to make a donation to Every Mother Counts.

But I also want our standard agreement to apply, I am not changing diapers on Mothers day.

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In Which I Write An Open Letter to Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, Jen Hatmaker, Kathy Escobar and the like

I read somewhere that the human mind literally does not remember the pain we were once in. This makes sense. Had I not recorded it, I would completely underestimate the terrible mess I was the weeks before the Rooster was born. I think this causes us to sometimes gloss over others pain. “I did that and it wasn’t that bad,” when in actuality “I did that and I don’t remember it being that bad.” Those are very different things. I know that my circumstances are not hopeless, they just feel that way right now. I feel pretty strongly that if nothing else the Lord is calling me to be transparent, and I want to honor that by writing how I really feel, through the mess, so that someone else can stumble upon this when they are all messed up to, but hopefully read ahead and feel reassured. Some of you  (mom)  worry a little when I do this. I am okay, or if I am not the Lord is working on me. This is the dark underbelly I am exposing. In His infinite wisdom, God had some things planned already for me to read that are cleaning this out.

These ladies I am writing I have discovered in the past year and their words on their blog, they minister to me. When I grow up I want to be like them. But lately I am stuck right where I am trying to get out. I know that it is God who will pull me out of this mess (with little to no help by me) but sometimes you just want someone wiser to come in and fix the whole mess that is your heart.

Dear Sarah,

When you wrote that post about your husband turning in his final papers, and celebrating with a waffle maker, I was happy for you in a way that was far more than a “hey a blogger that I read had something good happen today.” We are sisters in Christ you and I, even if you don’t know me yet. But I confess that I was also jealous, not that cute “I am so jealous but it is just my way of saying I think your life is great” jealous. Nope, it was more of the “You get right back here right now missy. If God hasn’t pulled me up out of this then you should be stuck here too” kind of jealous. The kind of jealous that makes you scream those unholy words “this is not fair’ and “why me.”

You see, I had an unexpected baby in September, a month after I was transferred to a new school and my husband started his PhD program. All of these things we know that God has called us to. The Rooster is the sweetest, most even-tempered baby in the history of babies. But my family is just starting and your family is done, and I don’t know if I can do three more years of this without knowing that you are doing it too. I know you don’t know me, and it is so very selfish of me to think this way, but we were in this “holding down the fort while our husband gets his school on because we run a mean egalitarian household” thing together. And I know it makes no sense, but I feel abandoned.

Dear Jen,

When you wrote that post, about feeling completely overwhelmed and being empty I had to stop reading right in the middle because I was too tired to finish it. As a high school english teacher, I appreciate that irony. I am glad I did because the state of my heart would have caused me to throw up all over my computer when I got to the part about that being the way that God can use you, empty like that.  I read it the next day and was inspired as usual.

But then you got to have a weekend away. I know that I should celebrate with you, and as a teacher I get holidays that everyone else wants to punch me for (what other adult you know gets spring break every year?), but when you wrote that blog post about your weekend on the Harley at your friend’s house, with no diapers to change, I held my breath so I wouldn’t scream and wake up the two under two who were both sleeping at the same time for the first time in what seemed like an eternity even though it was probably just that weekend. Some days, the days are just that long. I’ve read your books, I know you have been here where I am. You got to go on that respite I have been dreaming of. I don’t fault you, I just wish I had one coming.

You two ladies and Rachel and Kathy,

You all write about these amazing spiritual spaces where people are coming to doubt, to question, to heal. Where they and you and we all come and be and receive the body of Christ. Spaces where people don’t have to have all the right answers and do it all the same way. I believe in those spaces, was raised in a house that valued those spaces, am attempting to live an honest, communal life where I really and truly do community with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the neighbors who are perhaps far from Him (Am I still allowed to say that in these spiritual safe places?).

You write about all of the healing, holy-humility, right-with-Godness of it all. And I believe in that. I swear I do. But right now I am at a total loss in how to do it and I could use a little help. It is just your stories always seem to come around in the end. I am afraid mine won’t.  Those stories lift me up when I need them, when I don’t know if I will ever find God in a place, I cling to them, hold them up as proof that the “all things work to the good of the Lord” thing I keep hearing is true. It is true, isn’t is? Oh, please tell me it is.

You see, I am left searching and keep checking your blogs to see if you will write to my situation, because I desperately want a clear-cut answer. One that maybe I am afraid of. Are there stories of yours that you don’t publish because they are too painful? Because they start with “God made us sisters” but end in “I hope she is doing okay, I thought it was forever, but it was only for a season?” Do they just hurt too much to write? Or am I as alone as I feel in all of this?

I know that it is the black and white thinker in me that wants a what if scenario to be answered in a certain way. This is something that perhaps God is trying to rid me of. But what if you really don’t know what to do? What if someone says they found God in a space the bible says you shouldn’t go? Can you find God there? Is it God if He isn’t leading you out? What do you do then, when you have been doing community so well that your lives are so intertwined that you feel complicit in it even when you aren’t (or am I, Do you see my dilemma)? I know it is against every prescriptive bone in all of y’alls bodies. But can someone please just tell me what to do?

What if you do something so hurtful, and un-godly as you are looking for answers that you wouldn’t blame someone for writing it all off? What happens when community feels like a group of wounded people thrashing around and accidentally inflicting more wounds? Lately, I don’t see God in the journey. I don’t believe that God can redeem this mess. Even when I know that I should. Even when I desperately want to. I know that God works through the lives of imperfect people. I was in the Sunday School circuit long enough to have the stories of David, Moses, Paul, down pat. But I need to know, do you flounder too? Are there days and moments when you are sure you aren’t good enough? Does God still think I am a woman after His own heart? Even when I don’t?

Thanks for sharing your life with me, for being ladies I can look up to. Sorry this first interaction is so needy. It is just, you seem to be doing life so well, and I could use a little help.

Sincerely,

Abby Norman

I Got to Be There

One of my students worked really hard to memorize a poem. This is not something that comes easily for him. He recited that whole poem. Every word. He even volunteered to go. And at the end of the poem he was so proud he shouted the last line. Jenny Kissed Me I don’t know if he will remember that poem for the rest of his life, but he will surely remember that moment. And I got to be there.

A week ago a student was called down to the Principal’s office to see his dad for the first time in 6 years. He came back to my classroom tears streaming down his face. The full-grown body that houses his 16-year-old soul visibly shaking with emotion. And I got to be there. I got to tell him how proud of him his dad must be. I got to be there.

I got to be there when a student came into my room under the guise of asking about an assignment. Really she just needed to talk to someone about the fact that she was seeing a therapist, and it was helping. She didn’t know what to think about it. I got to tell her that I saw a therapist in high school, that by the time she is thirty at least half her friends will have seen one at one time or another. She was just getting her issues worked out early, ahead of the curve. But mostly, I got to be there.

I showed a student an article that my friend had posted on Facebook. He actually read the entire thing. Then he looked me straight in the face and told me, “If I could write things like this I would be a journalist.” Later that week his study hall teacher gave him her copy of the magazine that article was in. When I asked him about it the next day he pulled out the magazine and told me about the whole thing. Not only did I get to be there. I got to help.

The coming and going of days, the terrible commute. It is exhausting some days. But it is important to remember, that it is a privilege, getting to be there. Watching students grow into their best selves. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

Grass Day 5: Not every seed takes

We made it! I blogged all week about grass (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4) I can’t imagine being a farmer and not believing in a God. I get over and over again why the Bible uses agricultural metaphors. And the one I like to avoid is the parable of the sower.

Grass and grass and grass

Maybe not quite that much, Lord.

The bottom line in that parable is that not every seed grows. Every time I have been taught the parable of the sower it is always the same take away “make sure your heart is not of rocky soil, make sure your heart is a place where God’s word can grow.” I think that is a valuable lesson. God does want to sow all kinds of good seeds in my life, and I am discovering some rocky soil in my heart as of late. May God continue to rake it on out of there.

But as I was scattering grass seed in my yard on Saturday, all of a sudden I was looking at that parable not from the perspective of the soil, but from the perspective of the sower. Not every seed I sow is going to grow into a blade of grass or a wildflower. That is not the way things work.

Sometimes the seed doesn’t take because the soil isn’t right, or a bird came and ate it, or the wind blew it away, or it never got watered. But sometimes the seed has everything going for it and it still doesn’t grow. And sometimes grass starts sprouting in the most unlikely of places. Simply because it can.

It is hard for me, to know I can do and say all the right things, and yet sometimes the seed will not grow, that thing I am trying and waiting for simply will not come to fruition. I like to think that if I just work hard enough, that the seeds I plant will all grow. If I just pray enough than everything I am planting will bloom into beautiful works of God. But this is not it. Sometimes I am meant to do the work because God asked me to, and nothing comes of it but a better me.

And sometimes, growth just sprouts up. Just because God is good like that and doesn’t really need me to do anything, or just because He knows I would enjoy it. Grass starts growing in the most unlikely of places, just because that is the way it is.

But it isn’t my job to grow the roots and the stems, to pop hope out of the ground, to make it all work perfectly. It is my job to prepare the soil to the best of my ability, to scatter the seed, to water it until it rains. Growing it isn’t my job. It is God’s. And that is terrifying and peace giving all at the same time.

Grass Day 3: Waiting for Grass to grow

So here we are after  day 1 and day 2 waiting for the grass to grow. And I have to confess. I am not good at this part. The waiting.

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I know Audrey.  I am waiting too…..

Every time I go in or out of the front door I check for new growth. The wildflower garden is in full bloom in my heart and mind, and I keep hoping that I will be greeted with a matching picture when I walk out the door.

I know that God can do this. Have a full garden spring over night. But most of the time He does not. Most of the time you see the start of something poke out, and like right now at my house I think, surely it is too early. But then think well maybe before I decide it must just be a weed.

The backyard…the waiting is leaving me in knots. I want so badly to believe that the grass will grow, that the seeds I planted will turn into a real live yard. But I don’t seem to have the faith for that. Instead what runs through my head is this “surely this won’t work. I can’t believe that I wasted all that time energy and money.” (Forty dollars is a lot of money at our house right now.) But then “wait, is that grass, new grass, no that was already there…I think…maybe.”

I am not good at waiting it turns out. And I already knew that. You should see the journal entries I wrote to Juliet when I thought she may be the twins. And my mental state after my second ultrasound. But there is nothing for me to do but wait for them.  I have been able to rest in that pretty well. Especially since I hope they don’t show up any time soon!

But I want the grass to show up soon, when I get home today would be perfect. I want to be able to do something, you know? And worrying feels like doing something…even when it is not. Worrying isn’t doing anything but making me unable to look in my backyard without feeling like I am going to throw up. It is me attempting to gain control of things I cannot control.

When I stop worrying I can  learn to grow other things along with my grass. Trust, faith, hope. Trust that the Lord wants good things for my life, faith that things will work like they were designed, hope that there could be change for the better. And the pragmatic part of me thinks, Lowe’s is not going to run out of grass seed anytime soon. Worst case scenario I have to do the whole thing over again. And the even more pragmatic part of me is rolling her eyes, “muddy backyard? If that is the only problem you have you are pretty danged lucky.”

It is such a little thing to be consumed by, considering the bigness of my God.

Grass Day 2: Seeds of Faith

 

As I explained yesterday, Juliet helped in the grass seed throw down in our back yard. Rarely is she allowed to grab handfuls of stuff and throw it all over the place and not get told “no, no.” Having a 22 month old (I am very aware that at this point I am just refusing to call her two because….she was a baby two seconds ago!) that you are trying to explain things to, makes you realize just how very little you actually have figured out. I mean, really, why do we have to wear pants outside anyway? What is up with that?

                                                       Little in the Hands of God is much…..
 
 

So I am tossing this grass seed out and I am thinking, this girl has exactly zero idea that we are actually doing something here. She has no idea that I expect something to come out of this activity. She just thinks we are running around the backyard having a good time. And really how would I explain it to her? These seeds are going to bury themselves in the ground, then they are going to open up and grow roots down and poke up out of the ground beautiful green grass. In two to four weeks.

The Peanut can’t even comprehend the time it takes for a cookie to cool down. She just knows there is a cookie on the counter and not in her mouth. So the time thing alone is impossible. And when you actually break it down, no matter how scientific you get, it still sounds a little mystical. Because it is a little mystical. This teeny tiny seed has everything it needs to become a blade of grass that can then die and regenerate itself. Everything it needs, with the right set of circumstances and this seemingly worthless seed becomes the grass I have been dreaming about for two years.

I was thinking about how if someone who had never seen anything planted came to my backyard they would laugh at me. This is surely not going to work. Sprinkle little beeds of dead looking grass in the dirt. Put water on it and you honestly expect the ground to be covered in grass? You are an idiot.

But I know that this is possible, that this is what I can expect, because I have seen it. Every year from preschool through the third grade I planted something and watched it grow, from a seemingly worthless seed to a styrofoam cup of live green stuff that I held with two hands because I did not want to spill it. Because I was proud of it, and thought it was pretty cool that a plant could grow out of a seed. We had a garden one year where I even grew pumpkins and cucumbers, and lets not forget the space tomatoes that we got from our LEAP class. ( I am aware there are maybe 200 people on earth that understand the back end of that sentence. Shout out to Mrs. Salvage!)

The doubts are creeping in, about these seeds that have been planted. (That is my post for tomorrow). But it is easy to keep them away right now because I have seen with my own two eyes, the evidence that given the right circumstances, plants do grow from seeds. There is not a way to explain it, you simply have to see that it is true. I think that is why we have small children plant stuff. The evidence takes hold stronger if they experience it for themselves.

I had seeds of faith planted in my childhood, and I got to watch them grow. There is a huge difference between understanding that God is your provider mentally because the Bible says it is true, and watching a “random” check show up a week after you prayed for the mortgage bill to be covered. Or have the light bill come back on after your dad met someone on the street who handed him a check on his way to tell the electric company he didn’t have the money. Or getting a phone call just hours after you prayed for a car, offering you the exact same car you just lost, only two years newer.

It is easier for me to believe the Lord wants to physically heal people, because I was healed. It is easier for me to trust that God will provide for our families needs because He has never screwed us over before. Even in my car accident, the Lord was faithful. But if I stop noticing, stop talking about them, I can forget about those seeds, and how they grew into blooming bushes of God’s goodness. Just like it is easy to forget that every living plant I pass every day starts from seeds.

It also makes me want to intentionally plant seeds with my girls, to pray for things and watch with the right circumstance of faith and love, those prayer seeds grow into bushes of God’s goodness. And to remember that those things started out as little seeds of faith.

How about you? What bush of goodness is growing in your life?

Grass Day 1

A week in planting grass.

Saturday we got out of the house so Christian could write. Plus Jill hates going anywhere by herself and she had two anywheres to go. So we piled into the station wagon, just us girls, and headed for all the errands. We ended up at Lowes, where I got some grass seed and a bag of “southern wild flower seed” on a whim. I had a surprising number of thoughts about all this. So here we are a week in grass seed. 

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This is pretty much what I was dreaming of…I found it via flickr.

Part 1: The emotional roller coaster that is my lawn.

I showed up at the Lowes, my babies and sister in tow. By the time we got around to buying the grass seed, the Peanut had decided she was too big for the riding business, and was in charge of pushing the cart. (She may have had some grown up help as we did not want her to ram Rooster into anything. No killing your sister is officially a rule at our house.)

It was intimidating. I don’t know anything about grass except that it grows in lawns and it is nice to have. And we need some. But we went out to the lawn and garden section and found a guy who could point us in the right direction. Just your every day average lawn? There were two choices. As I went to choose a woman mentioned that she had planted her grass seed just two weeks ago. Hers was growing in really well and she was buying more seed just to fill in the patches. Sweet. Two weeks? The lawn would for sure be in, in time for the Peanut’s second birthday party! To be on the safe side I got the fifteen pound bag.

I was feeling really good about my fifteen pound bag of grass. I can do this. All I have to do is put it down and water it. No problem. My lawn is going to be beautiful! It is going to be lush and green and Peanut and Rooster are going to play in it all summer. They will roll around in it, getting their clothing all stained green and smelling of earth. This will be awesome it could even be fun.

Then I got home and read the back. I had gotten distracted with my wildflower garden and had spent some time and energy raking that out and repositioning the brick border. So when I read the back of the grass package, I was already a little over the raking part. It just the actual doing it seemed a lot less fun than the idea of planting the grass. It was certainly less fun than playing in the already grown grass with my girls (we are studying alliteration in class, hey!). Which is what I kept thinking about when I bought the “super easy” grass.

I was supposed to rake out the debris, then evenly spread the seed, then rake it in really good. Wait a minute, this is not what I signed up for…I thought it was a drop and grow kind of seed. Just how much of the debris needs raked out? How deep do I have to rake? How evenly distributed? I have a 22 month old who is dead set on helping….. Maybe I was in over my head.

I raked as much debris as I thought necessary. Then I started the process of distributing the grass seed. I didn’t have one of those push spreader things, so it was just me and the Peanut tossing handfuls of grass seed across the ground.

I started by going up and down in rows, stopping every once in a while to rake the seed around more evenly. But the Peanut wanted to help and I have never been one to be able to stick with any sort of organization, so our rows became much more rambling and pretty soon we were just running around all willy nilly throwing grass seed everywhere. I mean, I had a plan in my head and I think we covered it all,  but we didn’t go as evenly or as perfectly as I had once set out to go.

Then I started to feel bad about that. What if I didn’t get the grass all perfect? What if it is all clumpy and there are bare spots? What if it doesn’t grow at all and I may as well just throw forty dollars worth of pennies all over the backyard for all the money I wasted?

And then I started to feel bad about myself. Calvin would have done this perfectly, Tiffany can make anything grow, I should have shelled out the money for sod. This was a terrible idea and I wasted time and money (neither of which I have a lot of lately) all for nothing.

So I decided that if I get sporadic clumpy growth I will be happy. And I started this thing dreaming of rolls of lush green carpet for me and the girls to sink our bare feet into.

And then I realized that in many ways I do exactly this. Especially with the things I believe God has called me to do. I am a little intimidated at first starting a blog, or (and again I hesitate to write this, but I feel like it may be my next step) marketing myself as a Christian speaker. But then I get a little information and I am pumped. Yes! I can do that! Yeah, this is going to be awesome! I will start publishing posts and the Holy Spirit will take over and I will get a couple thousand hits a day! (on a good day I get 60. And I have been at this for over a year.) I think that God is big enough to do that, but for this He seems to want me to do the work.

When I actually start doing it I have a plan. Sometimes the plan is manageable and sometimes it is not. But often I abandon it and start sporadically dropping things here and there all willy nilly.

Then I beat myself up about not sticking to the plan. A million other people can do this better. I finish, but defeated, sure that no grass will grow, nothing will come of the work that I just did. And my faith in a great work, the one the Lord entrusted in me, is shrunk to just hoping that He can grow something, anything out of it. But it certainly won’t be that thing I had in mind to begin with. I’ll just be happy with a little bit, God, could you just manage that?

Somewhere between the green lush grass my babies will nap in that is in my head, to the actual planting of the seed, to the waiting, waiting, waiting….I let my faith die. Until I am begging God for a sliver of the dream that I was promised in full.

I think I am selling that grass seed short. I think it probably will grow and be fine by May 1. And I am selling my dreams short too. They weren’t labeled specifically, but these here posts are seeds I am planting. And I know that God will grow it into something beautiful.

What are you planting in your life? How is God growing it?