Tuesday, April 4, 2017

on Freedom

 I have found myself thinking a lot about slavery and freedom. A dichotomy of my profession is that I see both sides of that coin on a daily basis. There are many I work with still fighting to find their way out of the slavery in which they are bound, be that addiction...domestic violence...poverty or any other number of captors. I also have have the joy of watching many break free and learn to walk in that freedom. The funny thing about slavery is that freedom is just the first step. Learning to live free is a whole other issue. So often you can be free while still living like a slave. If you don't believe me, read about the modern day effects of slavery on the African American population. Although slavery was outlawed in this country over 150 years ago, it's impact on the lives and culture of it's victims continue today. (I won't get into that here, this is not the place for it. But if you'd like to read more, here is a simple place to start Ways Slavery Still Affects the Black Community ) When you have generations enslaved, it takes generations to break free. My own genealogy is generations of addiction. My parents, my grandparents and on and on. I was able to break free from addiction nearly 19 years ago but changing my behaviors and mindset have taken much longer. Years of counseling, recovery work, tough conversations and lessons learned the hard way were necessary. I have had to be willing to look at myself in the mirror many times and be willing to face what is there. Naively, I thought addiction was the chain I needed broken. I had no idea that was just the first one. I have spent the past ten years learning to be free from codependency, shame, self condemnation, spiritual abuse, patriarchy and the expectations of others. I have come a long way and I still have a long way to go. But today... I am secure in who I am. I am unashamed of my past or present failures. I am unafraid to be vulnerable. I have learned to love myself as a woman and a leader, making no excuses for that and unwilling to yield to those who would want otherwise. But what I never expected in this journey was how uncomfortable I would become with others' slavery. It's as if I have had blinders removed from my eyes and there is no putting them back on. I posted on Facebook the other day the following thought:

I am no longer able to be in the presence of bondage without addressing it. I can no longer watch someone drag around their chains without offering them help removing them. I can no long stay silent while you operate as slave when you truly are free. Because once you have tasted freedom, you have to share it. When you have learned how to fly, you can't help but show others how to use their wings. One of my favorite thoughts is from Stephanie Gretzinger, a worship leader at Bethel Church. In one of her live videos she says the following:

"We were all born with wings and made to fly. Throw off the heavy things that have kept you from flying. You've believed the lie that you were made for the ground but you've wanted to fly so badly. But you've always had wings. and it's only been a matter of growing them and learning to fly! Whether it's that you didn't know you had wings or you were afraid to fly, let perfect love come in."

Because perfect love strips away the lies we've believed about ourselves, the lies our slavers have taught us, the mindset of bondage.

That little voice that tells you you will never be good enough
That you will always be a victim
That this is just who you are
That things will never be different for you
That you will never be free.

That voice is shame and the antidote to shame is identity. Shame tells us that we are the sum of our wrongs. Identity tells us that I am not what I have been delivered from but what I am being delivered to. Shame tells us we will forever suffer the consequences of our bad choices. Identity tells us that we have overcome and we will flourish in that freedom. Shame is operating in agreement with a lie, identity is operating in the truth of who you are. When the voice in my head won't be silent, I am learning to replace those lies with truth.

I am free.

I am not bound by other's expectations of me.

I am created in the image of God.

I can walk in that identity with freedom from condemnation.

I am created to co-rule and as an heir to the kingdom

I never again have to "Know my place"

I am no longer addicted

My failures are my teachers and I will not be ashamed of them

I can be strong and vulnerable at the same time

I will walk in who I was created to be and will not apologize for it

If shame is whispering in your ear, or shouting at your back, silence it with truth. If those chains are lying around your feet calling you to pick them back, it's time to fly away. If you are believing lies about yourself, ask the creator to replace it with truth. If you don't have anyone in your life who will fight with you in this battle, I am here. You never fight alone. It's time to fly.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Out of the box

It feels weird to be writing a blog post. It’s been several years now.  Back when I was writing here regularly, my life was very different. I was a work at home mom with a house full of young children. This place was my outlet and connection to the outside world.  Over time, I went back to work. My kids grew older and their stories became theirs to tell and no longer mine. I lost the desire to write my feelings as I spend most days at work sharing them. I no longer needed that outlet. People occasionally ask me when I’ll blog again and my response is always the same… “when I have something I just have to say.”

This post has been brewing for me for several years. In reality, the journey started for me in my early 30’s as I began really unpacking who I am. What a long strange trip it’s been. But oh the freedom that has sprung from it. But first, a little background…

I was raised in a family of strong women. Raised by a single mother who had a single mother. Then when I was ten, my parents became Christians. Our family and church subscribed to the theology that men are the leaders, both in the home and in the church. A woman’s calling is always to be a wife, a mother and submissive. It was drilled in to me during the very formative teen years of figuring out who you are. I believed it. My struggle was that I didn’t fit into that box. I was not quiet, I was not submissive and I was very rarely gentle. So the label I wore was “rebellious”. I spent years walking out that label to its fullest degree. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy. I carried that label into young adulthood, even after I returned to the Lord after many years astray. I threw myself full force into what a Godly woman was supposed to look like. Ministering in acceptable areas (children’s ministry, hospitality, music). Trying to fit who I really am into the box of “Godly woman”. I tried to be more submissive to my husband. I tried to suppress the natural leadership skills I have always had. I tried to learn how to be meek and sweet and quiet. I failed miserably. With each passing year another piece of me shriveled up and faded. I found myself increasingly burnt out by being the small group leader’s wife, who isn’t allowed to teach because there are men in the group. I was tired of serving in children’s ministry when quite frankly… I don’t like children. My marriage was suffering greatly as I tried to submit to my husband being the leader of our home and resenting him for not meeting my standards. Meanwhile, his resentment for me grew as he was forced into a role that is not his gifting either. And around and around we go…

Fast forward to 2011. We had officially crashed and burned in ministry. We had walked away from all of our leadership roles and rarely attended church. My husband was drowning in addiction and I had no choice but to be the strong one. It had to be done. But the resentment carried on. Opportunities began to arise in the community that allowed me to lead outside of the church and I ran with it. I finally felt like maybe I could spread my wings a bit. I had spent the past ten years of my life carrying shame and guilt over not being good enough, not being the right kind of woman, not being a woman of God. I began to step out a bit, little by little, and lead. I began to let those gifts lying dormant out of the box. I started teaching. I started to mentor. I started to find Abby again. Meanwhile, my place in the church didn’t change and my resentment there grew even more. I started to notice that I had never seen a woman speak from the stage. I had never heard a sermon by a woman. And I had a lot of questions. I’m just enough of a type A personality that when I am questioning something… I begin to obsessively research. It takes over my mind until I am satisfied. I began to read everything the Bible had to say about women and compare it to what it says about the character of God. I began to read books on the topic and pray pray, pray. During this time, the Lord spoke. His words were so clear to me.
“Abby, if I had wanted you to be a follower, I wouldn’t have created you a leader.”
I wish I was a gifted enough writer to describe to you what impact that revelation had on my life. It was as if someone had taken the lid off of the box and let me FLY. It set me free.
  All of my life I had worn the label of “rebellious” under a cloud of shame.. I now wear it as a badge of honor. 
  I felt free to walk in who I really am.  As this new found revelation began to permeate the different areas of my life, things began to change. I will never forget the day my husband and I sat down and discussed what it could look like if we were equal partners in this marriage. If neither of us had to be the leader or the follower. If we were able to mutually submit to one another. When he is weak, I can be our strength. When I am weak, he can be strong. Our marriage changed profoundly from that point on. We both were able to be free to be who we are. Sometimes strong, sometimes weak, always a team.
Around this time, I began to really struggle with whether I should leave our church. Staying or leaving a church may seem like a minor decision to some. But keep in mind, my family has been there for 27 years. The people that make up that congregation are not just acquaintances I see on Sundays, they have become my family. How could I leave? But resentment continued to grow. I went to coffee one day with a dear friend and I shared this struggle. She knows me well and knows I prefer someone to be direct. She looked me right in the eye and said “It’s easier to walk away than to stay and change the system.” In the moment, I was angry. I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to leave and find a place that agreed with me. I was tired of fighting the system. I was tired of being put in a box and not being allowed to walk in my identity. I was weary. But despite my pleas to the Lord to release me, He didn’t. Within a few weeks of that conversation, we were approached by one of the pastors about being part of a church plant in a neighborhood of high poverty. It really is the exact thing that I’m passionate about. I put everything on the table that night in a coffee house. My anger at the church, walking away from leadership years before and my refusal to get back in the box. He assured me that we were on the same page and I would be allowed to walk in freedom there. I agreed to come. Over the past two years, he has kept that promise. He has gone to bat for me more times that I can count and probably many more than I am aware of.  Not long after opening, circumstances occurred that allowed me to become a staff member and serve as a community advocate for the church directly serving that neighborhood. I was finally free to minister in the way the Lord uniquely gifted me to do so without the constraints of my gender.  I was able to serve with a pastor that saw me as an asset and not merely a woman. It was breathtaking.

That brings me to the present. I am serving my community with the gifts I have. I have a career that is both fulfilling and heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time.  I still don’t see eye to eye with my church on issues of women but I’m continuing to have the conversation. But what I’ve learned along the way is that my church’s theology doesn’t define me. The world doesn’t define me.
I am free to be who I am without shame.
There will always be those who disagree. There will always be someone trying to put me back in the box. But the best weapon I have in this battle is walking unapologetically in who I am and doing so to the best of my ability. I can be the best version of myself. I can be a female leader who is not aggressive or militant. I can be a woman who is strong and powerful. I can be a woman who is passionate about social issues and still cries during worship. I can speak my truth and tell my story and be vulnerable so others can hold me up when I don’t have the strength to hold myself. I can raise daughters who have no boundaries set upon them, either in the world or the church. I can teach them that the possibilities are endless. Maybe the Lord will have them be a pastor or a CEO or a homemaker. Whatever future He has for them, they will be powerful. 
Because just like their male counterparts.. they are created in the image of God.
 And their call will be to use that power to be a voice for the voiceless, as is mine. That we serve in our church because we are called to be servants. That we love the unlovable because we were first loved. That sometimes we visit a different church so they can hear a woman preach. That this is OK. That being powerful and strong doesn’t mean being overbearing and critical. It means being wise and empathetic and knowing who you are. It also means knowing who you are not. I am not meant to be in a box… and I’m never going back there. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

From the first to the last...

I always feel awkward posting after so long. But every once in a while, I have something I want to say. I've been thinking a lot about the difference in my parenting style from the first child to the fifth. Now that I am finally out of the baby and toddler stage, I can look back with a little more clarity, probably because I'm no longer sleep deprived and I haven't had to wipe anyone else's bottom in years. I look at the way I parented my first, the things that seems like such a big deal, compared to my last and the differences are significant. I have to laugh at the irony, as I've spent most of my adulthood complaining to my own mother that my youngest brother gets away with murder! But when I look at my own children, with ten years between the first and last, how could it be the same? I was not the same person by the time I had Esme as I was when I had Ari. A 21 year old college student's attempt at parenting looks vastly different than a 31 year old wife's. And so many of things that seemed like such huge things, really don't make any difference even five years down the road. I don't think anyone meets my 15 year old and says "She was obviously breastfed for two years!" or "I bet she was an early potty trainer!". My 12 year old will never put on a college application that he walked at 7 months. I'm pretty sure no one other than his father, myself and maybe his future wife will ever care about that! But in the moment, those things seem monumental. Those decisions; how to feed, how to sleep train, when to take away the pacifier...they seem so huge. As if they will determine what kind of person your child will be. But even a few years down the road, they don't matter any more. I have four children who were only ever breastfed and one who had formula. I would guess that if I lined them up, you wouldn't be able to guess which is which. I'd even go so far to say you will could never guess which two were birthed with epidurals and which three were not?  I'm not trying to diminish these moments as a parent. However, we live in a world that tells us that these will define our child's future. They will make or break us. That's simply not true. The one I had the least experience in raising (and probably made the most mistakes with) is an amazing human being, despite her imperfect upbringing. The last one, with whom I was a verified expert with, gets away with murder! As I raised them, I continue to grow up myself. I change and learn and make mistakes and do things differently. How sad it would be for them (and me!) If I was the same person 15 years later? So really, we've grown up together. And I hope that one day, they will look back fondly at the things I did right and the things I did wrong and know that I always loved them. They will take the good parts and pass them on to my grandchildren and they will take the bad parts and do better than I did. I was recently sharing with a friend my fears about the effect on my children concerning some of the bad parts. I was lost in that scary place in mind that whispers "you're messing them up". She was able to remind me that her parents made the same mistake, but never took responsibility for it. That even though the action is done, the practice of admitting that wrong to my kids would be powerful. The whispering lies in my brain had never thought of that before. It was one more moment of growth, one more realization that I do not solely determine who my kids will be, that there is One greater than me that defines their future. So I suppose this post is for young parents who are struggling under the weight of the thousand decisions you must make every day. Who are struggling with the whispering voice telling you that you are doing it WRONG. Give yourself a little grace today. And remember that in the blink of an eye, This

Becomes THIS

And all of those little things become this big person who is a person all of their own! Take a deep breath, you're doing a great job!

Friday, January 31, 2014

10 things i want to teach my daughters

Having three daughters can be hard. This world we live in is not the one I grew up in. It is so much harder for them than it was for me. Here are a few of the lessons I hope to teach them.

10. In order to be yourself, you have to know who you are. This will be a life long journey filled with voices trying to answer for you. Shut them out. You define you.

9. Real friends are a gift and should be treated as such. In order to have good friends, you must be a good friend. A true friend will laugh when you laugh, be there when you cry and pull you out of the pit when you can't find your way out on your own.

8. The internet is forever. Before you post that picture, ask yourself if you want your future boss/husband/grandfather to see it. And if you ever decide to write a blog, remember that some day your kids will learn how to read.

7. You can't have it all. Well, you can, but you can't do it all well. In order to be really great at something, there is always sacrifice involved. Prioritize wisely.

6. You will make mistakes. Sometimes you will make the same mistakes over and over. Give yourself grace. And then add a little more grace. Get back up and keep trying.

5. The older you get, the more you will realize the mistakes I made. Save a little of that Grace for me. And when you have your own kids, I'll remind you that I screwed it up a lot but you turned out just fine :)

4. You are beautiful. Not because of your porcelain skin or your giant blue eyes, those will fade. But because of who you are underneath all of that. You will spend your whole life being barraged by what beauty is defined as. Don't believe them. Beauty is compassion, kindness, strength and all of the quirky things that make you YOU.

3. Learn to strong AND vulnerable. The two are not mutually exclusive. You can be a woman of strength while still being honest about your struggles. You don't always have to have it together to be strong. Sometimes we are strongest when we are real about our weakness.

2. Don't give your heart to someone not worthy of it. Each piece you give away is a piece you don't get back. So before you give it away, know your own worth. And then wait for someone who deserves it.

1. No matter where your life takes you, I will be proud of you! I will always be your biggest cheerleader, your counselor and hopefully some day, your best friend. I will love you no matter what, and no matter how big you grow....you will always be my little girl!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Unplug #2014

I don't generally make New Year's resolutions. I don't really think they work and I am naturally a goal oriented person so I don't need the calendar to encourage that. That being said, while enjoying a short date on New Year's day, Eli asked me what mine were. I didn't really have an answer, as I hadn't given it any thought at all! Over the next few days, I did think about what I'd like to work on this year and the answer came more easily than I'd like to admit. Simply, I need to unplug more.  Especially from my phone. I have observed more and more lately the passionate relationship others have with their phones... and no place is sacred. As I watch parents totally ignore their children in a park, or even spend the whole time trying to get the perfect cell pic, I feel convicted. How am I the same way? How often am I not at all in the moment because I'm looking at that darn phone. How many times in my life do I really need to be completely accessible to anyone who may need to reach me? The answer is: almost never.  I've justified myself in my mind over the years that I'm OK because we do have rules like no phones at the dinner table, etc.  But is that really enough? For me personally...No. So here are a few that I'm trying to put into place in my own life, because I doubt I'll look back one day and wish I'd spent more time on my phone.

1. When in any social situation, my phone is turned off and in my purse. The only exception being if my kids are home alone. And even then, on vibrate and only answered if they call.

2. When on a date, phone stays in the car. Period.

3. Any time I am out with my children, even at the grocery store, the phone stays on vibrate in my purse. Again, I don't need the perfect Instagram pic. I need to be in the moment.

4. I need to stop using my phone as a filler.  If I am sitting in the car, waiting for a child to finish a practice... why not read a book? Make a phone call to actually talk to someone? Sit in quiet and just relax.  Facebook will still be there later!

5. Lastly, using text messaging as a tool to connect with others instead of doing face to face (or at least voice to voice).  I let texting be my copout. No more.

I share these so you can hold me accountable! Blessed New Year!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

another glamorous day in the life

Let me paint a picture for you of my afternoon. After work and a full afternoon of appointments, it's 5pm. That's the witching hour around here. Everyone is tired/hungry/psychotic. None of us are at our best. The house is a disaster because I've been gone all day. Esme didn't have a nap for the same reason. Dinner needs to be made. I'm laying on my bedroom floor after throwing up. I'm not sick, I'm stupid. turns out coffee all day + no food= upset stomach. My body was all "uh no thank you. We're not doing this". My compassionate six year old is yelling at me to stop throwing up and MAKE DINNER. My three year old is having a midlife crisis because I turned on the wrong calliou and also Barbie is wearing a purple hat on the kindle game when OBVIOUSLY SHE SHOULD BE WEARING A PINK ONE!!!  It's Norman Rockwell over here. I have to survive one hour until my husband comes home. I briefly consider cookies for dinner, but nix that idea because I will pay dearly in over excited kids. I manage to throw something remotely healthy together (and by healthy, I mean there was a vegetable on the plate). It's Monday. I need a vacation. I don't have a witty, feel good ending. The end.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

twas the night before school starts...

Hey, did you hear that school starts tomorrow? I love the beginning of the school year, not only because my house can stay clean for seven minutes instead of three, but also the excitement! New shoes and new haircuts and ROUTINE! Our house can go back to a finely oiled machine instead of the frat house it becomes over the summer. Now with five kids starting back, I start preparing early. No procrastinating! By this past weekend I had bought 132 glue sticks and enough tissues for a hospital and at least ten one direction themed items. I was pretty proud of myself for being so on top of things! Until Monday...when I realized Esme has to wear uniforms at preschool. Complicated by the fact that nobody makes uniforms in 2T because when on earth does such a tiny person need a uniform? No worries...we'll just throw something together and I'll shop this weekend. Then I realize that somehow I forgot to get left handed scissors for Aliyah. I'll just run by Wal-Mart on my way to work today! Can I just say that they should warn people that going to the school supply section in Wal-Mart the day before school starts is like wandering into a den of angry wolves? Or maybe a crack house? Or possibly a den of angry crackheads? But I got the scissors. It's gonna be smooth sailing from here on out. I went to work and got home around 6:30. Now keep in mind, theMr is still at work also. That means the house looks like it should be condemned and the kids are VERY excited about tomorrow...which translates into running around screaming and punching each other. It's now 7pm and all I have left to do is bathe five kids/find the storage bin of uniforms/iron the uniforms because apparently I packed them away unfolded and they now look like homeless people's clothes/pack lunches/paint tiny nails/and get them settled down and to sleep before midnight. Easy peasy! But after all the chaos, I'm kissing little cheeks and saying bedtime prayers and reminded why I do all of this when Esme says to me, in her sweet little voice,
"I hope I learn where stinkers come from at preschool tomorrow!" 

happy first day of school from our family to yours :)