Setting a Table of Plenty

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. –Virginia Woolf

A good meal is one of life’s greatest pleasures. In a world of fast food, quick service, and complimentary bread baskets, we can quickly lose sight of the joy in planning, preparing, and sharing a meal with others. Having worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years, I’ve seen this first hand. Parents neglecting their children in favor of their iPhones, friends talking to each other without actually having a real conversation, and kids coloring on the windows (even my child has snuck an errant doodle past me). It’s discouraging to see the way people interact with each other in restaurants. Don’t even get me started on their interactions with servers. Many days I left work with no hope for humanity because I’d seen such rude and insincere behavior.

One shared meal banishes thoughts of restaurants and always reestablishes my love for people: church Potluck.

I have vivid memories of potluck meals at my grandparents’ church. A tiny church in a tiny town. Their congregation couldn’t have been more than 100 people of whom the average age was well over 50. But there was always plenty of food, home cooked food. Five kinds of bread, rolls, and biscuits. Three kinds of potatoes. Fried chicken. Casseroles. Green beans. Deviled eggs. And dessert to end all desserts. My mouth starts watering just thinking about them. But the most striking part of the meal wasn’t just how great the food was, but that there was always more than enough. There is nothing more disappointing (even as an adult) than being at the back of the line and finding all the macaroni and cheese pans empty. Never happened there. They made plenty.

Our current church home won us over with their potluck. They share lunch together every Sunday, I don’t know of another congregation that does that. Our first visit, people introduced themselves and made sure we stayed for the meal. Immediate and meaningful hospitality to me; kind words and food. I saw the huge bounty of food prepared and could instinctively gauge the health and vigor of the church. Big potluck = big hearts. They planned on having visitors, on having enough to give to whomever walked through the door. They made plenty.

This past Sunday, the sermon was actually about potluck and how sharing a meal expresses Christ in so many ways. Which initially caused me a little guilt; I’d made cupcakes Saturday from a new recipe and did not take them to church because I thought (a.k.a. my pride and perfectionism told me) they were overcooked. Once I got past that little pang of conviction, I sat through the rest of the message absolutely buzzing.

Remember how I said here the last sermon I heard was one of those indirect answers to my prayers kind of sermons? Well this one was the arrow to my heart, the frying pan to my head, and the chord at which I resonate.

God has not just made me enough, he has given me plenty.

Wait, what crazy thing did I just say? I, single mother living with my parents because I can’t afford an apartment, I have been given plenty?

I have never gone hungry because there wasn’t food available. Thank the Lord, Eva has never gone without a meal because we couldn’t afford it. There are people in this country and many others that go hungry every day. And I just can’t live with knowing that and not do anything about it any longer.

Feeding the hungry is one of the most basic and most loving things I can do. I’m sure it could be as simple as volunteering at the Food Bank but I think God may slowly be revealing something bigger. And it starts with me setting a table of plenty.

It’s been so long since I could visualize my future and now these hopes are bombarding my mind. I have been so hungry for purpose! I thank God for the walk in the desert that has made me long for His plenty. The closer I get to sitting at His table and seeing the bounty there, the more equipped I feel to set my fear and pride aside and say, “Ok, let’s go where you want me to go.” And the more I can affirm that, the more clearly I can see a way.

Help me set the table. I need your support, your thoughts, your prayers and your love. I am terrified of the crazy obedience this journey requires. I’m tired of the bad rap Christians have because not enough of us live in the radically loving way Christ calls us to live. I want to go there even though it’s scary. Once the plans I’m working on come together a bit more, I will share more, but for right now just hang with me and pray that I am going the right way.

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I’m Not Daddy Too

How many times has a single mom somewhere said, “I have to be Mommy AND Daddy,” as a means of explanation?

Probably hundreds of times of day. I have definitely had those moments. I could list all the things I’ve never gotten from Eva’s father…but the list of what I did get is much shorter:

1. Sperm
2. A Headache

He doesn’t pay child support. He lives hundreds of miles away. He doesn’t send Eva presents. He doesn’t call. He does text, but they are all about the same as the one discussed here. He is virtually nonexistent.

To some degree, I have allowed that. I don’t wonder when he’s going to step up. His name is not on her birth certificate. I have never asked for money. I do not fight or rebel against his lack of interest. In fact, on some level, I prefer it this way. It’s simpler, not necessarily easier, just less complicated. (Which is specific to my situation and should not be misconstrued as a recommendation for other single mothers.)

I do everything I possibly can for Eva. My parents help. My sister helps. My friends help. All things considered, I am raising Eva well. We make it work even though sometimes that is a gigantic, nearly insurmountable challenge. Even though sometimes I feel like I am failing miserably. I’m not a superhero, I’m just a mom.

But I am also only that; just her mom. I am not Daddy too.

Eva doesn’t have a Daddy. I don’t know how to explain that to her. I don’t know how to make it bearable or understandable. She hasn’t asked about it, but I know it will happen soon. She is old enough to make the correlation that the other kids have pictures with their daddies and she has a picture with her grandfather when they make Father’s Day cards at daycare.

What can I tell her? That he’s far away and can’t see her? In my mind, that only explains why she doesn’t have her father around, not why she doesn’t have a Daddy.

I would give her that if I could. I would be another parent to unite with her against Mommy when she’s tough. I would give her extra kisses after Mommy’s kisses when she falls down. I would tell her yes when Mommy says no. I would scare away the ambitious 3 year olds trying to flirt with her when Mommy only laughs. I would show her how a man is supposed to treat a woman, instead of just telling her. I would be the rational one when Mommy gets too emotional.

But I am just Mommy.

I carry a responsibility that two people typically share; that does not make me equal to two people. Am I a great mother? Yes. Do I struggle with this burden? Yes. But I don’t see the point of placing an additional weight on my shoulders by attempting to fill a role I was never meant to have.

I certainly don’t fault any single parent for saying they act as both parents; it’s certainly the most succinct way to describe something that no married parent understands. No, that weekend that your husband spent away for a friend’s bachelor party does not even begin to compare. But I don’t exactly understand how you make your marriage a priority when you’ve got little ones to watch either; I’ve never had to do that. I’ve never lived your life and you’ve never lived mine. Single parents provide on one income with one pair of hands, one pair of eyes, and emotional support from a network of loved ones instead of the one you love most.

I’m sure my choice mom friends may see this issue a little differently. I definitely see (ahem, hope for) adoption in my future regardless of whether or not I ever marry. But no matter how many children I have, be it just Eva or a handful more, I will always choose to just be Mommy.

Enough

I’ve clicked through a lot of blog links on Twitter in the past few weeks. Especially the ones that seem geared towards feeling overwhelmed, making big decisions, or being a single parent. I’ve been struggling with writing and just wanted some direction, a filter to make all this nonsense in my mind coalesce into a cohesive post. A flint stone to throw myself at until I spark. I have 8 unfinished drafts in my queue. Not joking. This is the ninth attempt at saying what I’ve been agonizing over for two weeks.

The most significant issue in the mix is my career. One day, driving on the highway, I was so struck with an achingly painful certitude that God made me a writer, I started weeping. Not the pretty, romantic kind of weeping, but the ugly hyperventilating, pull-off-the-side-of-the-road kind of weeping. And as much as I know that’s what I was made to do, I am equally struck by the weight of my responsibilities to provide for Eva. I’m not exactly in a position to drop everything and make it happen. It’s not an impossibility, it just can’t happen today. But I desperately wish it could happen today.

So I kept reading other posts, hoping that maybe someone has said something that will help. Lots of people have said things, good things, but none were the words I needed.

Sunday I arrived at church starved for hope and comfort. I was relatively confident I could find a bit of each while there. Mark, our pastor, passed out a stone to each person before he began his sermon. They were small, smooth black stones, probably something you’d normally use in a decorative water fountain or floral display. He gave no explanation except that we needed to hold on to them. I chose a triangular stone with a little crevice on one side. I held it in my left hand, calmly nestled in my palm through the whole service, as I listened to Mark and tried to sift through everything on my heart.

I’d really hoped that the sermon would be an easy answer to my problems–some variation on “Do what God made you to do” or “Go where the Holy Spirit calls you,” something I could latch on to and run with. But it wasn’t. It was about love. God is love, not just that he loves us, not just that we love him but that everything about love is God and everything about God is love. So my job as someone that follows God is to love. (Yes, the Moulin Rouge soundtrack did just start playing in your head–“The greatest thing you’ll ever know is to love and be loved in return.”)

At first I thought, “God, this is not helpful, this is not an answer.” But then I realized it was an answer that made my question obsolete. To some degree, it doesn’t matter what I do, I am still able to love on people–Eva, my family, my friends, you readers. It doesn’t matter what I do to provide financially, I can still be a writer.

I am already exactly the woman God made me to be.

I’m not perfect, I have so much learning to do, so much faith to grow into, but I am just as capable of living a life set apart for Him now in a job I hate, without a home of my own, with Atlas’ burden on my shoulders, as I would be if I had my dream life. In fact, I might even be better off this way because I am reminded of my desperate need for God every single day. If I had a cushy job, a house, a dog and the stability I crave, would I crave God’s grace so much? Probably not.

So if I am who I need to be, if I have everything I need to love and fulfill that purpose, what is stopping me from feeling fulfilled?

Mark finally told us what the stones were for as the service ended. Each stone represented a fear, just a single fear, and we were supposed to place the fear on the altar and let God deal with it. (Yes, some objects lessons are simplistic but no less meaningful in action.)

And with a rush of clarity as strong as the day I wept in the car, I knew that the only thing holding me back is my fear of not being enough. Not good enough to succeed, not smart enough to make the right decisions, not in tune enough with God’s plan to go the right way, not woman enough to ever be a wife, just simply not enough.

I know exactly where those feelings of inadequacy originate. I know that even though they resulted from real situations and feel like legitimate worries in my mind–they are not legitimate. They are damaging and debilitating. They prevent me from loving myself and loving others because I am too scared to try. They stop me from feeling fulfilled.

I laid the stone of that fear on the altar; I didn’t fully relinquish my fear to God. I acknowledged it. I said to God, “I know this is getting in the way of…everything, help me give it to you. Help me see the opportunities you give me to heal.”

I will struggle to place that fear before God every day. To truly be free to believe I am enough requires a daily overhaul of how I think about myself, but I am going to try. I’ll probably fail more often than not, but I am going to try.

When No Means Yes

Before I get to the intended topic, I just have to say I had my first search engine driven view yesterday! They searched for “downton abbey and wilkie collins ‘the moonstone.'” Yes. If you come back, let’s be friends. I can tell we like the same things.

Now, the post…

My daughter, Eva, developed an interesting habit a year or so ago. Sometimes, when she really wants to answer a question with “yes,” she’ll respond with “no.” Do your kids do that? I know she is just being stubborn and testing my resolve to give her what she wants–especially after she has been cranky or in trouble–but it can be bewildering.

Example: Meltdown early in the morning, couldn’t decide what to have for breakfast, wanted bacon and we only had sausage. What grief. Mom thinks, “let’s turn this around.”

“Eva, do you want to go the the park?”

She eyes me warily.

“No…” and subtly conveys, “how dare you offer me something I like after all this commotion?”

“Ok, we don’t have to.”

WAILING AND GNASHING OF TEETH.

It is so frustrating to be offering her a chance to redeem what has been an awful morning/afternoon/experience and have her deny the good things out of sheer willfulness.

Let’s condense that thought…

It is so disappointing when I offer her grace for her behavior and she rejects it because she knows she doesn’t “deserve” it.

…reflective pause…

On Thursday, I received a ridiculously well-timed and meaningful gift from a buyer-turned-friend, “The Renegade Writer.” It’s a guide to freelance writing. I would dearly love to write full-time. Truly, that is my dream job. Sometimes, I dream about running off and saving the world but really… writing. Writing is what keeps me going. And the moment I pulled back the wrapping paper and saw the title, I felt something start settling in my soul. A piece fell into place. Peace began to unfold.

Yesterday morning, I had a job interview. I knew pretty quickly that, while the employer was very enthused about my potential, I am overqualified to the extreme and worth way beyond the offered salary. I knew at least three people had prayed that I would have a clear yes or no feeling after the interview, so it was easy to focus on being thankful for the no rather than disappointed at the closed door. So I applied for a few more jobs afterwards, to buoy my own spirits and stay on the right track.

Then yesterday afternoon, I heard from my buyer-turned-friend; she had a few last minute orders for the store. I played delivery girl and we were chatting afterwards about her plans. She mentioned starting a blog about value wines in the local area. (Many times, wine reviewers focus on the expensive bottles and who really wants to spend $60 on their table wine?) I casually offered to write a restaurant review accompaniment for her…but as we talked through it a little more, light bulbs started flashing, there may have even been a neon sign lit up over my head. We are going to lunch next week to brainstorm. Plus, earlier in the week I’d actually called one of my best friends about blogging our dating adventures (hers for upbeat “that shit’s funny” hilarity, mine for “gosh, I’m glad that happened to her, not me” hilarity/gravity) and gotten an affirmative from her as well.

Looking back on the week now, the “no” of the interview yesterday is at the bottom of the list. I don’t even care that it didn’t work out like I hoped, in fact I’m GLAD it didn’t. Why? What if my eyes and ears had been clouded over with a yes from that interview yesterday? Would I have heard the opportunity when my buyer-friend spoke? Would I have even offered to write with her? Would I still be excited about the other blog my best friend and I might write? Probably not. Most likely, I would have been too excited about the job to notice what was in front of me.

I would have been focusing on the wrong yes.

Like I said, I was gifted discernment and peace over seeing that door close in the interview. But how often do we see doors closing without seeing an open window nearby? How often do closed doors feel like punishment? How often do we perceive an open window to be covered with bars when it is only our own hesitation (or even fear and shame) blocking us?

It’s arresting to reflect on things that have happened in my past and wonder what I missed because I didn’t believe I deserved the chance, that I didn’t deserve to be happy. That, like Eva, I said no because I thought it was just a tease or there were conditions on it I couldn’t possibly meet.

Maybe God has only been leading me with closed doors because I wasn’t leaping with faith through the open ones. Because it was easier for me to function knowing what I couldn’t do, rather than all that had been made possible (remember, the unknown is scary?). Lately, my prayer has been to clearly see His way and follow it. Basically for Him to push me through the right door.

Today, I consider myself shoved. Now, if someone can please make sure I don’t turn around and run the wrong direction? Thanks.

Don’t let the no’s get in your way; sometimes, they’re a yes in disguise.

Too Many Options

A friend and I have been talking about relationships a lot lately, I’ve ended one as she has begun one and we use each other as a sounding board a lot.

She is anxious about the future of her relationship (aren’t we all?) and we started discussing it as if she were 7 months in.

“What if we get to November and I realize I don’t like him enough?”

(OK, 8 months in–I prefer to estimate, not count)

Eventually, we realized what we were doing and tried to steer ourselves out of it. Because the deeper we delved, the more we were just trying to solve problems that didn’t exist yet. She and I are both go-getter/problem-solvers and are prone to the same worries. We want to know that things will go as we plan.

Which is to say we don’t always live in the moment. (But to her credit, she is much better at it than I am.)

In this moment, she and her guy are dating and having fun and I am coping as best I can.

We can’t predict what will happen in November. We can’t even predict what will happen tomorrow.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop us from trying…because we are FIXERS. And the thing about fixers is that we love to solve problems–real or imagined. We FIX things because it gives us something to do, a sense of accomplishment, but more importantly a sense that we have returned ourselves to “normalcy.”

For my friend, normal has meant a year of establishing consistency: the same job, the same home, the same routine and no boyfriend. She has a very clear picture of her “normal.”

So she has to decide to change her routine and allow for the possibility that maybe the next year doesn’t look like she thought it would.

Which means that OF COURSE we have to extrapolate and hypothesize exactly how this change will play out so as to ascertain if the change is worth it.

Wooo, controlling the future takes a lot of work!

She and I both had to realize that we needed to reexamine why we were approaching life this way. There are too many options. And having too many options is scary.

The unknown is scary.

Who hasn’t had that realization before? If you haven’t, please return to your regularly scheduled programming–this discussion may not be for you.

So she and I took a step back and reminded ourselves that we can’t anticipate how any of this is going to happen, we can only deal with what we have right now. I think it helped. At least for yesterday.

Deciding to work with what you have in front of you, to be gentle with yourself instead of demanding and critical, to hope and to just breathe… those are are choices that have to be made anew every morning. Some days (ok, almost every day) I forget to make them and I end up panicking, stressed, dejected and on the verge of hyperventilating. Not the attitudes anyone, much less a parent, wants to have.

Today I tried to choose gentleness. I failed a couple (cough_A LOT_cough) of times as I allowed myself to get caught up in all the terrifying potential future choices, the “inevitable” difficulties I’m facing, and even the uncertainty of my own desires. But when I took a deep breath of the spring breeze and focused solely on what I needed to do next to get through the day, I started to make it through.

I’m not saying pretend like you don’t have options; I’m saying don’t get overwhelmed by how many options there are.

Tonight, I have placed a vision in my mind. A beautiful mountain lake, shimmering water, a cool breeze, comfortingly tall trees and Christ standing at the shore. He’s looking at me with so much love and compassion in his eyes as I kneel by the lake. So simplistic, right? But it reminds my that I am seen. He sees me. He sees my heart, he sees my need, he sees my fear. And no matter how ugly or broken I think I look, he keeps his eyes on me.

Tonight, I don’t need lots of options. I don’t even really need answers. I need just ONE option: to let myself be seen and know that, for this moment, that is enough. The unknown is still scary, I still don’t want to go to work tomorrow, I still wish I could snap my fingers and have everything fall magically into place… But instead of running circles in my mind, I am going to be still and be seen. For now, that is enough.

Not My Will

I’ve been meaning to write/post this for a few days (as it all mostly stems from Palm Sunday) but a sprained wrist has been slowing me down. (Thanks for jumping on my hand, Eva.)

Before this year, I’d never really thought much about Palm Sunday. Lent has always been about getting to Easter, Christ’s big day, if you will. But this year, Mark, our pastor, gave me a whole new perspective on what Palm Sunday can mean.

It’s easy to look back at Christ’s life and say the high point was the death and resurrection, hindsight being what it is and all, but when you walk with Him without looking ahead to that…being ushered into the city like a king probably felt pretty mountaintop high to Him. Mark really opened my eyes to how much confusion that must have caused Jesus. That during all that begging in the Garden, when he was saying, “God, let this cup pass from my lips,” He was remembering how awesome it was to reach that pinnacle of ministry. The people were finally getting the message, his followers were growing in number and faith…”Hey, Father…this is good stuff! Let me keep going here like this!” And how hard it must have been for Jesus to already know the answer. What trust and love. It overwhelms me.

I think God has given me a couple of those moments in my life. Minus the palm leaves and donkeys and prophecy-fulfillment.

The first time He really knocked me off my high horse was when I tried to join the Peace Corps. Well, I didn’t just try, I actually succeeded in joining the Peace Corps, I just didn’t make it more than a day. I had been accepted into the Peace Corps after I graduated college and invited to serve in Benin as an English Teacher. I had my entire life figured out from there. Peace Corps for 3 years then enter the State Department as a Foreign Officer and commence changing the world. So simple and so absolutely what I wanted. It was in Philadelphia for my training that, 24 hours before my flight to Africa, I found out I was pregnant.

Obviously, they don’t send pregnant women to third world countries.

Clearly, I take full responsibility for the decisions I made. But how many women want to get pregnant with their husbands and can’t? How many months of “trying” does it normally take couples to conceive? As much as I know what I did, I also know what God did.

He said, “No, Abby. You are walking a different path.”

The second incident with divine intervention was when my engagement ended a week before we planned to elope.

For the sake of his privacy, I can’t divulge too much of that story but I will say it was a very narrow escape from what would have been certain divorce. I was in the jewelry store picking up his wedding ring when I found out he was in jail.

They make movies about this kind of stuff, people.

What a foundation-shaker that was. For months, I’d been affirmed and encouraged by EVERYONE in my life.

“We always knew you’d find someone to love you and Eva.”

“What a blessing!”

“God provides”

All of these strong, spiritual words had been spoken over us. Were they wrong? Was God absent from that situation? How could we have all been so confused? How could God have taken that which I had been told countless times He’d given me out of his love?

(If the story of Job isn’t running through your mind, let me know—I’ll fill you in later)

I find myself thinking back to both of those situations a lot lately. What is God’s bigger plan for me here? I have so clearly heard Him say, “No, Abby, not that way” that I am finally desperate to hear Him say, “This way, dearest. Go this way now.”

I hope that like Jesus in the Garden, God finds me on my knees begging for His will, not mine.