Friday, January 20, 2012

I'm Moving Out.

A little over a year ago, I re-started this blog with this post. I wasn't sure what the heck I was doing. I was too scared to write in first person. Somehow I felt like all those you's could shield me a little bit. I was trying to be obedient....but I was so afraid to hope. Maybe this could be a thing. Could be my thing. Perhaps this was the start of the fruition of promises that God started to speak into my heart when I was only 12.

Today I am proclaiming it. I believe that the Lord has called me to write. I believe Him today as I did the day He told that awkward almost 7th grader with the terrible, terrible haircut that He wanted my voice. That He would use it for His glory.

In so many ways this is bittersweet. It feels very much like the time I packed all my stuff out of my room from my childhood and into a u-haul because I would not be returning home as Abby France anymore. I would return as Abby Norman, and I would call a new place home, a new person my family. I remember returning to that space one last time, looking around and saying goodbye. It was sad, but it was time. God had new adventures for me elsewhere.

I have grown up as a writer on this blog, like I grew up in that room. I hope I have shed at least some of my awkward beginning. It is a little sad leaving, but it is time. The Lord is calling me elsewhere. I have transferred most of the content here to and that is where you can find me from here on out.

Thank you for reading, for commenting, for encouraging me. I hope you will come join me at Accidental Devotional. I am excited to see what the Lord has for me, maybe He has something for you too?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Traveling Mercies

We travel a lot as a family. Christian and I in the front, the Peanut next to the Rooster next to the dog in the back. It is a tight squeeze, especially with the Christmas haul in the back. The Peanut got a ride on fire truck and a Radio Flier big wheel for Christmas. Grandparenting looks like it will be a lot of fun. Every time we leave a driveway to go up and down interstate 75 we pray for traveling mercies.

When I pray for traveling mercies, I have a certain idea in my head about it. In my world traveling mercies look something like this: kids asleep or playing nicely with each other in the back (yes, I am speaking about children who are not yet old enough to be front facing), dog asleep, no traffic, no inclement weather, no line at the Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts when we pull off, no poopy diapers, minimal bathroom stops and inside warm bathrooms with changing stations for both mom and dad when we need them, we arrive in the destined driveway 15 minutes before the GPS originally said we would. The crazy thing is that I can recall multiple trips that were like this.

The way home from my in-laws started the same way we always start car trips. We prayed for traveling mercies. And then just an hour in to our trip we hit dead stopped traffic outside of Cincinnati. Both kids were asleep in the back and we were not about to let a stopped car wake them up. (Rilla Rilla Rooster Head, hates it when the light turns red.) So we turned around to go the other way, and 45 minutes later we were stuck in another branch of the same stupid traffic jam. What. The. Heck. And when we finally got passed that the going was snowy and so so slow.......So we took a dinner break outside of Elisabeth town.

And wouldn't you know it the there was a Chik-Fil-A, (traveling mercy) that was having kids night so they were fully prepared to help us get the tray to our table and entertain the Peanut (traveling mercy) and it gave the good plows enough time to go before us (traveling mercy). It was slow going but doable until we got outside of Lexington, and we hit a patch of black ice and started fish tailing and Christian started steering and I started praying, and when it was all said and done and no one was hit my 20 month old rear facing Peanut started pointing "see, see, flying see." No, I don't see, but yes I certainly do see, angels of traveling mercy.

We got stopped again outside of Knoxville, and after being dead stopped on the side of the road for over an hour where I tucked the Rooster into her bear suit and walked her up and down and up and down the freezing cold high way to get her to stop screaming until we were finally moving again we decided to stop. This was one of the first times we had the money in our account to not blink about the cost of a hotel. And there was a Red-Roof-Inn, that takes dogs, with one room left. Traveling mercies anyone?

We arrived safely the next day in the beautiful sunshine well rested enough that it wasn't a big deal to bring all of our stuff into the house. In fact there wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed with fresh clothes and a hot shower for all.

And I was struck with the thought in my little house with my little family and my little dog, that we were home safe and sound and showered. That maybe it wasn't the kinds of mercies I was anticipating, but the Lord is merciful all the same. Sometimes God parts the clouds, and we avoid the storm all together by His mercy, and sometimes God takes us through the storm and provides His mercies in the midst of it.

You would think that there I would have learned my lesson, but just a few days later someone lost the paper I needed to go back to work, and I prayed for God's mercy. I was just so sure He was going to show me where I had placed the extra copy I had been hanging on to, I was so sure I would find it in the trash I was digging through. I would find God's mercy and my paper there. Instead, I found His mercy in a mid-wife who wrote whatever note I needed, and an incredibly gracious and understanding department that covered my classes until the moment I walked in the door with that paper. His mercies.....I need to start looking better, I seem to be finding them in the most interesting of places.

Where have you seen God's mercy lately? Surely I can't be the only one discovering them.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ohhh baby (body).

I was walking out to the stadium in a sea of fire drill induced students last week. As I rounded the corner I heard it. One girl to another "I am like going to get soooo fat this semester." I didn't have to turn around to know that the girl probably weighed less than 125 pounds. Only skinny girls say that. Only the ones who don't actually have to worry about anyone else commenting about their weight. Why in the world was she concerned about her body fat? If I still had that metabolism I wouldn't be wasting time saying "I am going to get soooo fat" when I could be shoving copious amounts of peanut butter m&m's in my mouth.

This came just hours after I had had a mini break down in my closet because I couldn't find a work-appropriate-Friday-casual-sweat shirt to put over my post baby body. I looked in the mirror and all I could see was what was wrong. My pull over was just too tight for my vanities comfort. And dress pants are less than forgiving as well. The "bottom half" part of dressing every day is not something I look forward to.

And yesterday, a girl in the special-ed class pointed at my stomach as we were passing in the hallway and said "you are going to have a baby!" Wow.....that...felt....awesome... I couldn't even yell at her for doing it as developmentally, she is just in that stage right now.

In high school and college I never thought I had body issues. I mean, not the looks kind. No matter whether my body could get me out of bed and to school on time, It turns out that at 5'6" and 120 odd pounds you do have body issues, you just don't realize it because society approves of your body. But it turns out I have them. And having babies back to back has brought them out in me.

It is ironic in the worst sort of way. I have never been healthier. Truly. I am stronger than I have ever been (thanks to the healthy weight of the Peanut and five pm toddler dance parties). I don't wake up every day in pain or so exhausted I am literally puking. I have the freedom to make plans without saying "as long as I feel up to it." I can grow and birth babies with comparatively minimal difficulties. My body works great. And yet, I have never been harder on it.

When I tell my daughters that it is what is inside that counts, I want to mean it. When I tell them they are beautiful, not they  would be  beautiful if....I want them to believe me. I want to be conscious of my diet and exercise because I want to be able to play with my girls, not so I can fit into all my pre-baby clothes. I want to live out for them "beautiful and healthy comes in lots of shapes and sizes" not "it matters what the boys think, and they like skinny bodies."

I know that I am slowly making my way back into my clothes, but I also know that my body will be different than it was before. And I want to be okay with that. Proud of that even. I don't like the way my students talk about their own bodies as the enemy at the ripe age of 15. How did that happen? How did a 15 year old in a size 0 come to fear an extra five pounds above all else? How did a 28 year-old who was miraculously healed of a disorder Dr.'s still don't even know how to diagnose come to loathe a healthy working body that has fed and housed two beautiful babes? How did that happened?

Could it be that this world offers very little grace? We are told that good enough isn't good enough! Perfection is the new good enough! That if we only tried harder did more we could and would reach the standard that is in fact impossible to reach. And not just in our physique, in our jobs, as parents, as friends and Christ followers. I feel like the world is screaming at me: If you only tried harder you would do better! You aren't enough! Bad parent! Bad wife! Bad teacher! Bad, bad, bad, step it up!

It is time for me to tell the world to shut it. There is no longer space in my thoughts for those lies. God says I am enough. My body is enough, whether it fits into my dress pants or not. I am done running on that treadmill that gets me nowhere even as it increases in speed and incline. I will instead stroll hand and hand through the day with my savior, whose burden is light. I will do the best I can, and trust His grace to see me through. Rather than depend on my own efforts. And I will be kind and gracious, even to myself.

This body of mine seems to be ground zero for me when it comes to my year of giving grace to myself and others. And I am starting to understand why. It is the thing I can't hide. The thing that is out there, not explained away. It isn't perfect, and that is okay, imperfectly perfect even. Yes, I think we will start calling it that instead. After all isn't that what Paul said? Something about God's perfections coming through from my weaknesses?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Yeah, that. I think that sounds good.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where I am at....2011

As I look back at this year a phrase goes round and round in my head "If God put you where you're at, He will meet you where you are." And I think that pretty much sums up 2011 for me. It was a big year for my clan and I. Peanut's first birthday, Rooster's arrival. Another move by my school district, another fit thrown by me, another perfect fit for this time in my life. Christian started his PhD program. I wrote a children's book. 

It was a big year, and most of these were big surprises. And ones I certainly wasn't hoping for but am so glad they happened. I pray I never forget the lessons of this year. That my plans are so small, and God's plans are so great, and so good. That the less time I spend fighting what is to come, the more time I have to see Jesus in all of the impending chaos. That if God put me where I am at, I can trust that I am stepping into his mercy every single time I step out of bed, even when that is multiple times a night.

A couple days after Christmas I was nursing Rooster in the living room where the Peanut's new tri-cycle was resting. (Where else but Grandma's house are tri-cycles allowed in the living room?) I wish I could tell you that I wasn't resenting the fact that I was the only one in the house awake. But I was. I was so tired. And then I thought of fifteen years from now when the thing with wheels that the girls will want under the tree will likely not be there and will certainly not be operated with pedals. I can already here myself saying "Do you remember the year the Peanut got that tri-cycle? She couldn't yet reach the pedals, but she got around well. That was Rooster's first Christmas, she loved that Elephant rattle, we named him Elvis. Those were the days...."'

I am aware that in some respects I am currently living "the days" the ones I will think about every time I see a little girl. That in some respects, 2011 was the beginning of them. I see the wistful look on my dad's face every time he sees a couple of little girls climbing all over their daddy. I will long for these moments, so I best do less whining and more treasuring. And at the same time give myself more grace, and permission to have a good cry sometimes. Because that is where I have found His mercies on more than one occasion.

The biggest regrets I have for 2011 are the moments when I was stingy with my grace, both to myself and to others, especially my family. The truth is, sometimes your best doesn't cut it....But God can cover the rest. If I am nothing else next year....I want to be gracious, to my body as I get back to where most of my clothes fit, to myself as I balance motherhood, teaching, and being a wife, to my husband as he balances all the Lord has for him, to my friends as they heal through the wounds life has inflicted, to my students who are simply teenagers and no one wants to do that again. I want to give grace because the world says it is unnecessary and a waste of time. But I believe it is healing and facilitates the freedom to do better.

I want to do better next year, whine less, treasure more. Let 2012 be the year of grace. God's grace to me...and through me. I can't help but being a little nervous writing that. We all know what Christ-giving brought....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mary: Natural Birth Momma?

It is the second year in a row that I am celebrating Christmas having given birth that year. Hopefully third time is not the charm...... It changes my perspective on Christmas for sure. In the past I have always been sort of enamored with the shepherds. They were my favorites. I mean, there they are just minding there own business when BAM the glory of the Lord totally invades their life.I could relate to that. I have been there.

But the whole mother thing. I could never relate to it at all. I remember thinking as a teen, that maybe the Holy Spirit intervened for Mary, that it was a completely painless and peaceful birth. As serene as so many of those carols we sing suggest. Yes, I thought, a miraculous pain free birth, that must have been it.And that was pretty much how I pictured it all. Even after I went through it twice, until I read this. And I suddenly have a very different picture of how it all went down conjuring in my heart.

I picture Mary on hands and knees, panting and grunting. Looking to Joseph and asking him if it will be over soon. Calling to God that in the middle of transition, that He must have been mistaken. She simply cannot bear the Christ child, let alone raise Him. And then the sense of peace that comes (with all those awesome hormones that come rushing your way) as someone pulls Jesus into her arms and she sees that He is in fact okay, she did in fact bear this child just as the Lord called her to do. He is here, He is glorious, and He is hers. I picture Mary naked and sobbing as she buries her face into the top of Jesus' wet pink head. Later when she and her new baby are cleaned up, her and Joseph sit around and giggle about how tiny His little toes are, what a noisy eater He is. When the shepherds come Mary shows off her new baby. So proud of Him and what she managed to do. But her sweetest moments are the ones that first night when Joseph and all the animals are asleep and she pulls Jesus out of the manager just to smell Him. Joseph is a good guy and all but that was an arranged marriage. This is love at first sight.

I am drawn to the comparison of Christs actual birth and the things that Christ births in each of us. Sometimes it is actual things (anybody know what I should do with that kids book I wrote...anyone out there a literary agent?), sometimes relationships, sometimes freedom from things. God wants to birth things in us. I am struck by the stories I have head about birth, how much they sound like people in spiritual labor.

Like my sister who says half way through pushing she decides it is too hard. She hears the people around her telling her to push, that it is almost done, but really she just wants people to leave her alone. She is too tired and does not want to do it anymore so she just lies there instead, when she should be pushing through it. How often do we do this? Get to the end of something God wants us to do and decide it is simply too hard, we cannot go on. So we do nothing, when we would be better off pushing through.

Or the woman who told her husband "You better get your brother out of here because I am about to take all my clothes off!" Sometimes what we need to do makes other people uncomfortable.....and we need to do it anyway, and let people leave the room if they can't handle it. Sometimes what God is asking us to do is lay our naked soul for all to see. And that can get awkward.

Sometimes it is like my cousin, who in the middle of transition she started packing her bags. She told her husband and her midwife she was not having this baby, that they were leaving the hospital. I can certainly relate to this. Sometimes when God calls us to something we simply flee. Jonah did that as I didn't really work out for Him. But I think sometimes I do leave, and then I am stuck spiritually pregnant and uncomfortable because I got scared and ran away.

Sometimes God's plan for us is like a dear friend's birth. She did everything she could but she needed a c-section. It wasn't at all what she pictured, and when she realized it wasn't going to go down as she had imagined she kicked everyone out of the room to grieve. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, what God has for us is nothing like we imagine. I think God understands that we need to grieve the old plans in order to embrace His new ones.

Or in my case, I need people around me who believe that I can give birth. Because even as I am doing it, I holler out that I cannot. I need my brothers and sisters in Christ to remind me that I can in fact and am in fact doing what I am claiming I cannot do.

Birth is messy and can feel confusing. It comes too quickly in some cases and not quickly enough in others (Oh were worth the wait). It never goes how we expect or plan or picture. I don't pretend to know what it was like for Mary, or any woman for that matter. Birth is completely individual and universal all at the same time, just like our relationships with God. It is hard. But oh it is beautiful in all forms. Birth at all, let alone in a stable, is not the most glorious way to show up on this planet. Often the things God births in us come as screaming needy babies, things that need to be nursed and protected.

If I had been asked how I wanted to come into this world, I don't think I would have picked through a birth canal as a baby. And yet, that is exactly the way Jesus came. He chose the birth process, and I am sure it changed Mary forever, just as it has changed me forever. When I think about Mary birthing the Christ child...I can't help wondering what God is asking me to birth this Christmas, and how it will change me.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Confessions of a Grudge Holder

You would think I would have learned my lesson by now. The one about withholding forgiveness do to my skewed sense of justice. The justice that does not hold hands with mercy but instead demands that I get my due right now! The justice that, when I have occasionally gotten it, leaves me vindicated....and hollow inside. Not at all the way I thought I would feel. Because that justice isn't of the Lord and from the Lord. It does not wait for the redeemer to come and paint a beautiful picture out of a fragmented mess. That justice is of the world......and this is not the first time it has seduced my heart.

You see, I am a grudge holder. Part of it comes from my excellent memory. I remember what people promised and did not, said and did not say. I remember. And more often than I care to admit, I hold it against them. And when the Lord calls me to repent, to go to my sister and brother in Christ and confess that my heart has been hard toward them....I tell Him no.

I grew up spending summers at my grandparents lake. There were thirteen cousins when I was young, with ten of us squished in to the span of 10 years. It was fun much of the time, but when there are that many cousins squished that close together, someone is bound to feel left out. And the dynamics were not in my favor. Looking back from an adult perspective I can tell you that much of the time it wasn't anyones fault, and with my propensity for fit throwing I probably deserved some of  those doors that were slammed in my face. But I needed someone to blame. So I picked my cousin Rachel, the one who was born just six months before me. The one who had no need or desire for the close relationship that I longed for.  I hardened my ten year old heart toward her. And as I grew older I did not put away the ways of my childhood. I continued my grudge-holding. 

When I was in college we both were believers and the Lord called me to confess to her, that I had been storing up slights (real and imagined) since I was ten and holding them against her without her knowledge. But I refused. "No," I told him, "she snubbed me she should go first. If she has this relationship with you then she should know how much she hurt me. She should come to me. I deserve that." Typing this now makes me cringe. What a foolish brat I was. Year after year when we were getting together at Christmas or in the summer I would hear the Lord call, and every year I ignored it. I had stopped adding new slights to the pile and figured that was good enough. Even when I knew it wasn't. 

Rachel died in a car accident the summer we were twenty-one. I never did have that conversation with her. I know I shorted myself out of the relationship that God intended for me to have, and it jacked up my relationship with my aunt for awhile. Until I confessed it all to her. She was gracious enough to forgive me. Good thing she isn't a grudge holder.

A month ago I wrote a post about Christ-Giving, about how I wanted to give this advent season the way that Christ had given to me. At the time I was thinking about financial generosity. He has been so generous to our family this year. But that is not what the Lord had in mind, and apparently He takes the intentions I profess to the internet seriously. He gave me forgiveness, and He has been asking me to forgive others, more like He forgives me. You know, no strings attached. And oh is my heart a tangled mess of strings attached it seems.

I was called to let go of a grudge I had been nursing for a long time. Grudges are like stray cats; they only hang around as long as you feed them. And if I am really honest with myself I have been nursing that grudge because I know that the person I was mad at doesn't really understand how badly I was hurt, and likely never will. I only wanted to confess my grudge if that person would then tell me how I had a right to it, and that I was of course forgiven because what they did was in fact as terrible as I had thought. I only wanted to confess if I would be told that my grudge holding had been justified all along. Which, thrown out in plain English like that, isn't much of a confession at all. 

But that wasn't God's plan. Before any interaction with this person my dear neighbor Esther, who speaks truth in a gentle way I hope to one day emulate, had looked at me and said: perhaps the Lord will allow you to restore your relationship. If that wasn't enough, the Lord gave me the exact words to say on Saturday, moved me to tears in worship on Sunday, and then because God knows just how stubborn He made me, had my pastor list the fruit of the spirit, and stick forgiveness where faithfulness belongs. I know my pastor knows the verse, that slip of the tongue was just for me.

And then God showed me something else. That I had been extending grace and mercy in a certain situation only because I expected that person to repent, and repent soon. The string attached to the love I had been so proudly extending to my friend was that she would change on my timeline. And I was frustrated because my time limit had come and gone and outward change. I felt like this person didn't deserve that grace and mercy anymore because they hadn't changed. How gross is that?

Christ has given me forgiveness, no strings attached. Even if I never repented of anything He still would have come to earth as a baby and grown into the man who chose to die a horrendous death for the sins that I committed. And this Christmas season, I want the gifts that my savior has given me to spur me to give to others, even if that doesn't mean what I thought it meant when I wrote it the first time. And the Lord has certainly granted me forgiveness. Even forgiveness for holding grudges; no strings attached.

I don't want to be a grudge holder anymore. The Lord has scrubbed that crevice of my heart clean. It is raw and a little tender to the touch, but that piece of my heart is clean. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Let's get physical, physical....

I am lying in bed exhausted. My hands feel as though my thumbs could fall off, my fore arms ache, and my back is asking me why in the world I contorted myself into a c shape for about two hours this evening. My feet aren't happy with me either. The Rooster has had a couple rough nights, and tonight while she wanted to fall asleep around 7:30 or 8, I didn't manage to actually get her truly asleep until about 9:45. I had her asleep three separate times before the fourth one finally took. Lately we have been coming up with "Roosters Rules for Babies" and the first two are: 1. Never ever leave the baby in a room by herself. Ever. Even for a moment. Even if you have to pee. 2. Babies are for holding, pick the baby up whenever possible.

Loving babies is such a physical act. It is even more apparent with my double helping of babydom. Putting on and taking off clothes, and shoes, and jackets. Picking up and putting down. Rocking and swaying and bouncing and walking. Tickling and hugging and kissing and patting. Holding Rooster in one arm while the Peanut grabs my hand and proclaims "walk!" So we go round and round the three rooms and a hallway that connect into a never ending circle of toddler path. And the feeding. Even the one who isn't actually being fed by my body still needs to be put in her seat and sometimes needs help with the spoon.

It is exhausting this physical love, even as I reflect on how it is fleeting. There is only a limited window that I will be able to hold both girls as we head for the car.The Peanut will one day take her own shirt off, rather than pulling it over her head and yelling "tuck, tuck!" (stuck, stuck) and there will come a day when the Rooster will no longer want rocked to sleep.

 I never think about the physicality of love, when I think about love I always think about the confessing of emotions or the listening to someone in pain, the being with someone who is lonely. The emotional burdens bared and shared. But that is not the phase I am in with my children, babies are for holding after all.

And Christ, he came as a baby in a physical body. He needed holding and patting and rocking and changing. This Christmas I have been thinking a lot about the physicality of the incarnation. Christ came in a body that grew just like the two bodies that grew inside of me. He was birthed by a woman in labor just like my own babes. He stubbed his toes often as a toddler and fell every couple of steps when He was learning to walk. And later that body was used to physically touch the people society deemed untouchable. He scooped up babies and stroked the hands of old women. He literally carried burdens for people, firewood or well water.

And then the physicallity of the cross, the brutality inflicted on the body that Christ chose for himself. The willingness of Jesus to endure it all. I am struck this advent season, when I think about Christ coming, by the physicality of Christ's love.