Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, 1-6

“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Draw a long breath and shut your eyes. What do you see?

I see a house on a farm. Inside the house lives a brave little girl who happens to be coloring and singing to herself right now. Her mother’s in the backyard feeding the chickens. The goats are farther back on the property. There aren’t that many acres but their first harvest will probably be decent. On Saturday, they’ll host a middle school class to visit and learn about how to grow the right produce and ways to cook inexpensively. There are herbs drying on the back porch for homemade spice mixes and seedlings just starting to sprout in the greenhouse. It smells of fresh bread and sweet breezes and the sun is playing peekaboo with the treetops.

That’s the first impossible thing. It’s the first thing I see when I close my eyes because it is the hope filling my heart. I know, I’m too girly to live on a farm, but that’s kind of the most beautiful part of the picture.

Second impossible thing: I could overcome my pride and my flaws enough do whatever crazy thing it is God is calling me to.

Third: Everything will turn out okay in the end.

Fourth: If I never get married, I will not waste time regretting it.

Fifth: We will somehow find a way to provide Eva with everything she needs.

Sixth: I can stop procrastinating.

What impossible things can you believe when you close your eyes and breath?

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With Love, Your Momma

To My Daughter on Mother’s Day,

I told you in the car yesterday that I couldn’t be Momma if it hadn’t been for you. And you said, “Mom, I’m just Eva. You’re the mommy!”

You’re right, sweet one. You are your own person. You are Eva and I am Abby. But being your Momma is the best and most wonderful privilege. It does not define my existence, but you have shaped me and helped me grow in ways I never anticipated.

mommy daughter love

From the moment I saw your perfect form on the ultrasound, to holding you as a newborn, to witnessing your first step, to you mastering all manner of tasks and expressions, you have taken me on a journey that I have cherished every single day–even the tough ones.

Right now, I adore how you love your family with such a sweet constancy. You are always talking about the people you care about. Oly, G, Auntie, and our many friends. I giggle inside when you talk about anything that happened in the past because it was always “yesterday.” You approach everything with a vengeance! So strong, so confident, and so very beautiful.

Your face absolutely glows with delight when you accomplish something new. I can’t wait to see that expression when you bring home a great report card, dance a perfect routine, or graduate high school. There are many happy days ahead.

But there will be days that aren’t as happy, too. Life isn’t easy or fair but, little one, you will be shown a way. I promise. You will have enough grace to make it through.

You have never asked about your father, but I think you might soon. I dearly hope that you don’t wonder yet because you are so surrounded by love that it doesn’t matter that he is gone. One day, you will ask and one day it will matter. I am thankful today is not that day. I don’t know if he will ever find the strength to give you the love you deserve. I don’t know that we’ll ever find a man to be my husband and your Dad. But if I teach you anything in life, please, let it be that you are no less worthy than a little girl with two parents.

God would not have trusted me with you if I was going to fail; He would not have given you this life without the strength you need to succeed.

You are more than I ever dreamed a daughter of mine could be. Thank you for filling my heart with love, my days with laughter, and my future with hope.

With love,
Your Momma

Never Alone

Quote

I graduated from a small, private, Christian college in Tennessee. You’ve probably never heard of it. I tell people it was a great experience because all of my professors knew my name. Well, it took half a semester and a concussion for one of them to remember it… But after everything I put him through in my three and a half years there, he probably wishes he’d kept forgetting.

I enrolled in one of his classes every single semester–including my study abroad term. I think I am his only student to ever manage that so far. I’d sit in the back of the class (because I’m a “W” and grade school alphabetical seating stuck with me) and pass notes, and make snarky remarks, and occasionally have something positive to contribute. He’d teach us about life without us realizing it and then say something about metaphors and sexual relations with roses and we all just loved him more.

He saved me from dropping out my first semester. He passed me when I deserved to fail. He walked with me to my first therapy session. When I showed up to his office 7 months after graduating, I didn’t even have to tell him I was pregnant–he knew. We have an understanding that if his administrative assistant ever decides to quit (God forbid because she holds that department together), I am going to work for him regardless of where I’m living, what I’m doing, or what I’m being paid.

And he introduced me to The Merton Prayer when he knew I needed these words:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”
© Abbey of Gethsemani

I prayed these words so many times; they carried me through some of my darkest, ugliest times. Still do. My final semester of college was pretty traumatic personally–I can’t even remember what classes I took–my grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer a week into the term and I had some things happen to me…that nearly drove me over the edge. I would lay on my bedroom floor with my Sacred Heart of Jesus candle burning, holding the piece of paper with this prayer to my chest, tears running down my face, begging God to make these words true. I wasn’t at the point where I desired to please Him, but I did want to learn that desire. I totally believed I was lost and in the shadow of death. And I was certain–without any doubt–that in no way, shape, or form did I know myself.

Oh, but the hope!

It was so tiny, so dim, I didn’t really know it was there. Barely a candle in an empty coliseum. I didn’t feel hopeful, I just felt like maybe I could make it through another night without taking a whole bottle of ibuprofen. That wasn’t a good feeling per se, but I was still breathing and that’s what mattered.

I found my little flicker of hope in two phrases:

“You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it..” and

“..for you are ever with me…”

Believe me, I could do a line-by-line analysis right now and still have more to say about this prayer, but those two phrases… Those two phrases took root deepest in my heart.

When I prayed aloud, I always exhaled through the “know nothing” line because I had to take a deep, reassuring breath before I could say it. That nasty being-in-control issue again. And I could almost never affirm “for you are ever with me” without my voice breaking or tears flowing.

Ever with me?

Really, Lord?

Even when my grandfather is laying in a hospital bed with part of his skull removed and it feels like my family is falling apart? Even when my sister is blacking out for inexplicable, undiagnosed reasons? Even when I have been abused and assaulted? Even when I can’t get out of bed for crying?

Yes.

Even then.

I cannot know where my path leads now, but I know I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for that professor (along with others in that department and the French one, as well). I don’t know that I would have had the courage to keep Eva. He was the one I was scared to disappoint. I knew there was no escaping my parents’ disappointment and anger. I knew that my female professors/mentors would still love and accept me. But if I had disappointed him… oh no, I could not have borne that. But he wasn’t disappointed. In fact, he told me that if he had to pick anyone he knew to be a single mother, he’d pick me.

Without his care and the love of all my mentors there, I don’t even know that I would still believe in God, honestly. That’s how much they have done for me.

I have seen my daughter in his arms when she’d never been in her father’s. I have cried in his office when I felt like i had nowhere else to go. I have gotten better life advice from him in one sentence than in whole discussions with others. And I will never, ever stop being grateful.

So I am returning to this prayer now. One, because I need to practice spiritual discipline and lectio divina is a good way to start. Two, because I am starting to feel lost like that again. And three, because when I hold those words in my hands, I am strengthened by his (and my other mentors’) support. So even when I feel more lonely than seems humanly possible, I know I am never truly alone.

A Different Kind of Bucket LIst

I’ve been seeing a lot of “bucket list” posts on Pinterest and Facebook…memes, right? And they are typically centered around travel, kissing celebrities or other unlikely events. Now, this is not judgmental or holier-than-thou (single moms are not allowed on the moral high ground and I want to kiss Brad Pitt as much as you do), but my bucket list doesn’t include any of those things. In fact, there are only three things I absolutely want to do before I die.

1. Adopt a Child
I love being a mother more than anything else in the world and any time I think about having more children, adoption seems more likely than carrying another baby. Had I been a slightly different person, Eva could have been adopted and…(sorry, I have to take a moment and thank God He gave me the courage to keep her)…I would love to honor a woman who couldn’t decide to parent her child.

2. Serve in Africa
As much as I know it wasn’t my time to go in 2007, there will come a time when it is. Something in my heart calls me there. (No, it is notto meet a man and produce more genetically-blessed biracial children.) Maybe I’ll adopt from there, maybe I’ll have the chance to rejoin the Peace Corps, maybe I will get to work there, MAYBE I’ll start my own non-profit there–I don’t know yet–but I will serve.

3. Give Abundantly
I was constantly showered with blessings from complete strangers during my pregnancy all the way up to providing a place for me to live rent-free. In my one-day home, there is a bedroom for someone who needs it. What a joy it would be to honor Larry and Linda by giving the way they gave to me.

So, that’s it. The sum total of my life goals. I don’t actually care about how much money I make as long as Eva is provided for. I would love to travel the world but I haven’t been out of the States since 2004 and can still breathe normally. I would like to get married but…yeah, I don’t see that happening at this point and that’s ok. There are plenty of things that would be fun to have in the future–a big house with a big family and a big dog, a big bank account thanks to a big fancy job–but what if none of that happens? Will I consider myself a failure? Nope, I sure won’t. What if for some reason life doesn’t go as I planned (oh, wait…that has never happened anyway) and I don’t even accomplish those three things? Fail then? No way, Jose.

The life you live is greater than the plans you set aside. Trust me.

It’s so easy to get caught up in what’s popular and trending, I am so guilty of thinking about things that are less than productive: industrial-grade kitchen appliances, hopping on a plane to Vienna at any given moment, how the heck I am going to survive Eva’s teen years (because if I haven’t already mentioned, she started those 9 years early) and so on… But when I stop for a moment and re-center my thoughts on the things that are present and important–Eva is only four, we have immediate needs to fill, I am blessed and already able to give to others–I can take a deep breath, say thank you, and keep on going. Things will happen in their own time.

Today I will focus on today.

At least…that’s my plan…

Happy Saturday!

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.

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.