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

When I Grow Up or Dreams Deferred

In the third grade I wrote an essay that I still remember, about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be tall and beautiful with careful tortoise-shell glasses. I wanted to live in a big city, and I wanted to be a writer.

In the eighth grade I used to email Emily updates on the Jr. High Drama in the form of a soap opera recap. I would end the email’s with the line, “And so are the days of my Jr. High life.” She thought they were funny enough to share with her roommates.

That same year I gave my four best friends an epic poem about the ins and outs of our friend group. It may seem like there isn’t all that much for a fourteen year old to document, but me and the pastor’s daughter had met in the church nursery. A lot had happened.

I wrote in my journal almost nightly, sometimes prayer, sometimes documentation, sometimes just as a place for all that angst to go. Slowly that started to trickle off, and writing became something I could do if there was an express need. I wrote myself a monologue for the church-camp talent show, and the speaking parts for that same years closing service. In college I wrote very little. Not at all simply because I liked to. I only wrote for assignments, and speech team speeches and introductions.

I stopped writing because I was afraid of being “that girl.” The one who only wrote darkness and took herself entirely too seriously. I somehow thought that all poets had to be loony enough to lock themselves in their house a la Emily Dickinson. Some of my peers continued writing, but they were outcasts even by the speech team/marching band/drama kid standard. And so I let it drop. I did not want to be that poetry girl.

My junior year of college I took a poetry class out of necessity. One of my other english electives had been cancelled, or maybe I thought it would be easy. Who knows really? I still page through the text books for that class. I learned that I did not have the gift of rhyme (a criticism I heartily agree with) but also that I truly enjoyed writing. Perhaps even, I had something interesting to say.

Sometimes even now I worry about being “that girl,” the blog girl. The one that is all “like my page, follow me, I just blogged about that!” I fear being annoying and pushy about the stuff I do in this space most days. I am afraid to say more than “hey check this out if you feel like it.” I am afraid of what people will say or think about me if I perhaps suggest that I had something worthwhile to say. I don’t want to be that girl.

I wonder if I will find out that question Langston Hughes asked, the one about dreams deferred. I worry that I did it all in the wrong order and a double stroller does not fit through the door of my dream.

Equally important, I no longer want to be the girl who is afraid of being “that girl” if that is who I want to be. And I will be damned if I raise any girl who has the same problem. So today, ten o’clock at night because the kids are finally in bed long enough for me to write, I will cease worrying about being “that girl” and start being whatever that might be.

I live in a city, and have careful tortoise-shell glasses. I am not quite as tall as I hoped, and not every day do I feel beautiful. But some days, my best days I do. And when I grow up, I am going to be a writer.

I Lift My Eyes Up

Saturday I met up for dinner with the woman I ride home with and her wife, as well as some of my other colleagues. We have fallen into a few patterns of conversation. We talk about religion, specifically mine, a lot. But somehow it is different when I am across the table and we are actually looking at each other and there are other people in the room. Everything just becomes more noticeable.

So we are having our conversation, she has asked me about something or other that has been a part of my life so long I don’t remember it is weird. (We may have been talking about Lent, which is kind of weird. And hard for me to explain because I am a protestant and don’t fully understand it. Though I do value participating in it.) Or something that is hard for me to understand, and I am just a little bit intimidated by how smart the questioner is. It is just, she always seems so sure about her positions.

Anyway, she says to me in the  middle of me thinking about how to respond to something, “Sometimes when we are talking about this stuff, you look upward, as though you are waiting for God to come down and answer your question.” Apparently, I really don’t hide anything on my face. I suppose I am waiting for my God to give me the right words.

The right words. I have been waiting for the right words quite a bit lately. I think that somewhere it has gotten into my head and my heart that if I only speak clearly enough, choose  the right words than all will be clear. I think it is a danger that makes sense in light of what I do. I teach english, I blog not only because I really like it, but also because I feel like the Lord is calling me to it.

But the truth is this, my words are as inadequate as the few fish and loaves were to feed thousands of people. My words, like myself, are from the dust and will return to dust. It is not up to me to make them enough. I only offer them to my savior. And sometimes they get multiplied. And sometimes, though I am doing my best, I get it totally wrong and He is gracious enough to work around that too. 

Sometimes I think that I have to have all the answers. But I don’t and won’t this side of heaven. And I will probably discover on the other side that some of the things I was sure of aren’t right either. I was feeling bad about all of this inadequate talking and thinking. How am I ever going to get it right? But then I read this.

Psalm 121:1 and 2 

 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
   where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

Yup. I do that. I look up to the Lord and trust that God will help me. He will help me correct what I don’t have right. He will help me say what needs to be said. I lift my eyes to the mountains and my help comes from Him. And I may not have all the right answers, but I don’t have to because my help is always enough.