On Halloween and Privilege: All the work half the candy

Have you ever talked to a kid on Halloween, at the end of the night when their pillowcase is bursting with Reese’s cups and Starburst? When their feet are tired and their eyes are sparkly from the exhaustion and the excitement of eating as much candy as they can fit into their bellies for just one night?

Their costumes are falling off, and their make up is smeared, and they are so proud. They earned that candy. They earned it! 

Do you know how many houses they had to go to? Do you know how heavy their bag is? Their mom didn’t even let them run through the lawns! They had to go up and down a million side walks, and they had to say thank you even when the house was giving out nothing but raisins and dimes! It was hard work, and this candy? They have worked for it, and that makes it all the sweeter.

But did you know that there are kids who walk just as far, whose feet hurt just as much, who worked just as hard on their costume and they come home with half the candy. 

How is this possible?

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Privilege.

Let’s start with the costumes. I wasn’t rich growing up by any means, but I was never expected to pay for my own costume. And when we couldn’t afford it my mom sewed me the most incredible Snow White costume out of old bed sheets (true story) and I wasn’t 8. I was 18. I had a perfect childhood. I know. But not every kid has parents that can help them with the cost or the labor of a costume. Some kids simply do not have access to a costume. That happens, that is real. Don’t be mean to a child with no costume at your door. They know. They already know they are not in costume and they are already sad about it.

But let’s say two kids each have twenty bucks for a costume and are both dying to be a Ninja Turtle, and good news! The Ninja Turtle costume is only twenty dollars on Amazon! But kid A has a mom who has Amazon Prime and kid B does not. Even with the same twenty bucks, only kid A has access to the Ninja Turtle costume, because he has access to Amazon Prime.

But lets say everyone is suited up and ready to get that candy! Kids in neighborhoods where not everyone has extra money for Halloween candy walk just as far, but only get to knock on every third door. That is sad.

No problem! You say, the kid in the sucky Halloween neighborhood can just trick-or-treat in the festive neighborhood! Which they can, and they do, but first of all some neighbors in the better neighborhood resent it. And that ignores the fact that the kid already has an extra step (finding a way to get to the neighborhood) than the kid who lives there.

But, Abby, be reasonable! That is just one step. Yes. It is. But the kid who had to hitch a ride is not as familiar with the neighborhood, doesn’t know the best paths, is not able to plot out the best path for hitting all the houses that give the best stuff. They are just kind of winging it. Plus, they don’t have the candy-hander-outer hook up.

When my sisters aged out of trick-or-treating I started trick-or-treating with my friends at church who lived in neighborhoods that were nicer than mine. It was awesome. I got about 7 times as much candy as I ever had before, and it was ALL GOOD! I was in dream land. I didn’t really care, but I did notice, that often neighbors would give more candy, or candy from a special stash (like the FULL SIZE stash) to the kids that they recognized, the neighborhood children got better treats at some houses. I didn’t care because I was already getting more candy than I ever had, but I walked just as far, had just as cool a costume and did not get as much candy. Did my friends earn their candy? Sure! But they had access to things I didn’t have, and I had access to things other kids didn’t have.

Acknowledging a kid’s privilege isn’t ignoring all the steps they walked, or how hard they worked on their costume. It is just acknowledging that they had access to certain things that other kids didn’t. That is all. That is privilege.

Practicing my Shut Ups: A spiritual discipline for being an ally.

When you begin to tell me about your experience as the other. What I really want to do is interrupt you. To tell you how I get it. How when I picked up my daughter from her mostly black school, they tried to put a fourth grader, the only other white kid in the carpool line, into my car, despite the fact we were both telling them that we did not in fact go together.

I want to tell you this story for a number of reasons. I need you to know that I am the right kind of white lady. That I have not just chosen a minority neighborhood, I have also chosen the neighborhood school. I want to tell you this story so that you will know that I understand your pain. But I also want to tell you this story so I won’t feel so bad about your pain, to remind myself that I have done enough, that I am a good ally.

When you tell me about how exhausting it is to be repeatedly asked how your sexuality intersects with your faith, to have your faith questioned and qualified by people who do not want to have a conversation with you, I want to tell you that my best friend is gay. I want to tell you that I have an ally sticker on my door. I want to tell you that I get it that I have heard this story and I know people, and love people who are leading it. I want to tell you about my wrestling on this issue and what it has cost me. I want to let you know that I love well.

When you tell me about how you felt, when your wheelchair wouldn’t fit in the door, when your dietary restrictions were met with an eye roll, when you were not believed. I want to tell you that I have been there, that I totally get it because I too was once sick, that I am sorry, and that I know. I will likely tell you about the person I know who has your disease, or what I know about it. I’m not sure why I do this. Maybe I want you to know you don’t have to explain.

I’ve heard it called the cookie syndrome, and I can identify it most easily in men who are feminists, but that isn’t good enough. They somehow want credit for being a feminist because they are a man and they don’t really have to be. I first noticed it on Twitter.

Those last sentences aren’t exactly true. I can identify this thinking most easily in myself, when I want credit for loving someone who is most often the other, especially the kind of other that I am not. And I found it first in my own heart, before I even knew Twitter was a thing, let alone a thing that would inform my politics.

My friend (my best gay friend, see paragraph two) calls it practicing your shut ups. She sometimes tells her students that they need to do a better job of practicing their shut ups. It is a little bit nicer than just saying shut up, but more serious than “please be quiet.” I am interested in the idea that shut ups are something you practice, that shutting up is something my students could get better at.

I am interested in the idea that practicing my shut ups is something I could get better at too. Because what I am really saying when I want to tell you about my experience as a minority, or with a gay person, or with an illness, is that I am interested in your story only on the level of how it applies to me. I know about that. I have experienced that. I am relevant to this conversation.

I need to practice my shut ups.

Because maybe, just maybe, your story isn’t about me. Maybe you experience the world in a way that I never will. Maybe you have experienced pain that I do not, nor will I ever, fully understand. Maybe your story isn’t supposed to be about me, about how I relate to it, about how I can make it better. Maybe you are not asking me to rescue you from it, because I am not the savior. Maybe your story isn’t about me at all.

Maybe all your asking me to do is listen, to try to understand, to bear witness to your story. But I can’t do that if I am thinking about me, if I am interrupting you to tell you how what you are saying has to do with my own experiences. I can’t hear you if I am busy talking, and I can’t totally understand if I am only thinking about how you perceive me.

I need to practice my shut ups.

Because your story isn’t about me, but it is about a person who was made in the image of God. And if I get better at practicing my shut ups, maybe I can hear Him when you speak.

I am linking up with SheLoves magazine. I love them every month, but this month has been Holy ground. Don’t miss it. 

When you are scared and doing it anyway

My friend tells the best story about her first year of teaching. She is a band director and had inherited a band that was set to take trip to New York City for spring break. Not wanting to disappoint her students or be blamed for ruining someone’s senior year (the ultimate affront to an 18-year-old). My friend finished collecting the money and booked the charter bus. In April she found herself on a bus in the middle of Manhattan with a bus full of teenagers. They hit some sort of snag with the schedule or the traffic or something, maybe they were lost. Anyway, there was a moment when someone asked who was in charge, and she looked around to find that person, only to discover that she was the one who was in charge. She was in charge of the bus, the schedule, the 100 teenagers on the bus in the middle of New York City. How did that happen? But she did it, of course she did it.

I too had some moments in my classroom where I look for the person who is in charge, only to discover that it is me. Every mom has a story of being left with their child and suddenly realizing that they were the mom.  I’ve been thinking that a lot lately, because I’ve been feeling like that a lot lately.

I have been thinking about it because I have a thing, a message, that has been handed to me, buried in me, grown out of me, and now it is here, and I am scared. A TEDx talk and a book? Who am I to be saying this stuff anyway? Who am I to write a parenting book about bodies and sexuality? I mean, who knows if it worked for me, I don’t yet have adult children. I may have hung out with teenagers for most of my adult life, but I didn’t get an advanced degree in adolescent psychology. I didn’t get an advanced degree in anything.

Who am I to talk so boldly about sexuality and body ethics? Who am I to say that we are in desperate need of a cultural revamp? I’m not an expert on cultural studies.

But I am a woman who has noticed something, who has chosen to open her eyes and connect the dots. I am a person who has put together a simple message that people may understand, but often do not know it, like really know it, in a way that comes out in their every day actions. I’m someone who thinks that words can change things, so I want to make sure we are using good ones, having conversations that will shape hearts and minds.

I want to tell stories that are true.

And I have one. I know because it changed my life. It changed the way I talk to my students and my own children. It changed the way I think about other people. It found the root of the thread I was unraveling about the way we think and are taught about women and men and everybody’s body. I connected the truth, that all humanity is fully human and worthy of respect and love because God first loved us. With a concrete message even my kids could understand. So I pitched a TEDx talk, I wrote a book, I’m selling a t-shirt. And I am hoping for a better conversation to start taking place, person to person.

And it scares me. It freaks me out pretty much every day. Am I doing this right? Do I say enough? Am I tweeting too much? Do people need reminded? Is everyone annoyed by me?

I don’t know that I will ever feel brave, or that I am totally qualified to do this, or anything really. I think we convince ourselves that other people feel totally ready to do the things we admire from them, and we should wait till we feel that too. I don’t think that feeling is real. I think most of us are doing it scared.  I’ve considered deleting this blog post at least 16 times. No one wants to know that I am scared. I am constantly learning to do it anyway. Do it because it burns in me, even though it makes me scared. Stand up shaking, say it scared, write it out as best I can.

Because really, who am I? I guess I am the person in charge of this message. I’ve looked around, and sure enough this baby was left with me. So I will nurture it the best I can and trust that it is enough.

Look here for the t-shirts, the book, the TEDx talk just as soon as it gets posted.

Happy Birthday to ME! On #scarfweek and being 31

Yesterday was my birthday. (Saturday was my party but yesterday was my birthday).

I feel like 30 was a big year for me. I got a tattoo. One that had come to me sort of slowly, and I think I love it now even more than I did at first. I blogged about some seriously personal things and I think I like it that way. I got a major speaking gig. I dropped an ebook. I made a fancy video with an intro song and everything (That last part was mostly thanks to two awesome friends, but I stood in front of the camera and ran my mouth.) I found out I am really good at helping other people sort out their dreams a little bit. I like that last thing a whole lot. I embraced my love of the rally.

But mostly, I finally gave myself permission to love the things I love, to want the things I want. I stopped believing the lie that had snuck in about how my desires are inherently selfish, how it is stupid to want to speak in front of people, or write books, or like bold lipstick. I just like bright colors. I just like the way it makes me feel. I just want to use my words to make people think about how much they are loved, and the lies that we believe and what that might mean for the world. I started finally to believe that God made me loud and bold and bleeding heart on purpose.

My friend Jamie calls it practicing your you-ish-ness. Before a retreat this summer, we were asked, what did each of us need. Jamie’s heart is so beautiful, and what she told us we all needed, was for us to be fully and wholly ourselves. For each of us to fully practice our you-ish-ness.

I started playing with that term. You-ish-ness. What if we all were practicing yous? What if we didn’t have to get it right all the time. Being authentically you is hard, you know? What if we were just practicing? Trying to get it right? Trying it out? What if we became you-ish?

If I have learned anything this year, it is that God made me, me completely on purpose. That I am wholly and deeply loved because of who I am, not in spite of it. And that is true for you too.

So, in the spirit of Birthday week, and unashamedly loving what we love, I give you the second annual scarf week! Where we wear a scarf every day because we want to! Because there is nothing cozier, and sometimes bright, and we just plain like it. Snap a picture, use the hashtag #scarfweek. Tag me on Facebook, and Twitter (@accidentaldevo), and Instagram (@accidentaldevotional).

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Sunday and Monday #scarfweek

As an added super awesome Birthday Bonus I am giving away a scarf Grace Wear Collection contacted me about being an affiliate*. I took a look and love their stuff! (Sometimes christian accessories can be less than stylish, you know?) They sent me this scarf and this necklace. I had to get used to the necklace, because it was a little outside my comfort zone, but my students convinced me that it was totally hip, and now I throw it on and feel very put together in my solid t-shirt and jeans headed to the post office. But, unsurprisingly my heart belongs to the turquoise and purple scarf. I love it, and it loves me. It just make me feel….you-ish, you know?

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Grace Wear Collection has offered to let me give away a scarf in the colors of your choice! So in the comments, tell me about you. Tell me something you love, tell me something you dream of, tell me something that makes you just exactly you. And go to Grace Wear Collection and dream of the color combination you love most.

*I am an affiliate, so that means when you click the link, if you buy something I get a percentage.

You are Always Mothering: A tribute to my mother

It is my mom’s birthday today. She celebrated her birthday thirty-one years ago, in the hospital recovering from her c-section that brought me into this world. I was breech, and planned, so she got to pick my birthday, and wisely decided we should each get our own space.

I learned a lot from my mom. A lot. My favorite thing I ever learned from her is that you can do anything, learn anything, as long as there is a book on it at the public library. But the thing that has been sticking with me lately, in this crazy busy season of my life is this:

You are always mothering. 

Not like, every single thing you do makes a difference so make all decisions based on Pinterest. Not like, you better get this right or your kid will pay the price. Not in the perfection is the goal, here is your shame cycle kind of way so many of us fall into.

You are always mothering.

As in, you are your child’s mother, so the choices you are making are as their mother. So when you go away for the weekend to be with a relative, you are mothering them. And when you make the choices that are best for your family, you are mothering. And it is good.

You are always mothering.

We had piano lessons on Thursdays. It was important to my mom that we got a musical education. This meant two years of piano lessons. Period. Then we got to pick. I am grateful for the background in music. Taking us to piano was my mother, mothering. But the part I tucked away into my heart was the part after piano. We went to Little Caesar’s and then we all made a salad when we got home. My mom was into healthy eating way before there was a campaign about it. And it was okay for us to have pizza on Thursdays, we all grew up understanding what a balanced meal looks like.

You are always mothering.

My mom worked part time when I was little. I was maybe four and I have these distinct memories of following her around on the campus of the University of Toledo. I remember the way her heals clicked on the sidewalk. I remember the cool spiral stairs we took to her office. I remember the way the copy room smelled. I loved watching her in her fancy red trench coat. I remember thinking my mother was so elegant and glamouros. I liked watching her put on lipstick in her bathroom mirror before we went out. I liked the way that smelled too.

You are always mothering.

Later, I think I was in the first grade, my mom went back to work full time as a speech and English instructor at a local community college. All the time her students stopped us. In the pharmacy, in the grocery store, at a park, my mother’s students wanted to say hello to her, thank her for the work she did, and then lean down to tell me that I was lucky to have such a big hearted mother, that I was lucky to look just like her. I remember that. I’ve always wanted to change the world, and these people taught me that she did. I don’t think it is an accident I am now an English teacher.

You are always mothering.

I don’t resent the times I walked into the house to a note that told me when to turn on the crock pot. I am grateful to have known early how awesome the crock pot is. I think about my mom when I use my crock pot, when I make dinner with my work clothes still on, when I write lists on the backs of the envelopes for junk mail. (It is a thing, as my sisters.) I had an awesome example of a working mom and I am very grateful to have had that.

I don’t resent the times we had pizza, she couldn’t do the field trips, she wasn’t their when we got home. I remember the things she was good at (and they are many). She was always my mom, even when she was working. You know that last part is true because I still have the community college’s phone number memorized! And she was always mothering.

So stay home, or work. Cloth diaper or not. Feed your kids pizza sometimes and don’t feel bad about it. Make whatever choices you need to make because those are the choices that are best for your family. Then don’t stress about it. Just because you aren’t with your kids, or you are and you need a break some time, or any of the numerous things that throw us into the not good enough mom pit, doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering. You are the mother.

You are always mothering. 

Pizza For Dinner: An affirmation of things that are enough.

I picked up pizza last night for dinner. And you know what, I didn’t even apologize for it. We had pizza for dinner. Because the point of dinner is to get fed. So I did, I fed everyone, and that was enough. That is enough.

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It has been sort of rough week. I spoke in front of the largest audience I have ever spoke for at the TEDx Peachtree conference last Friday. It was an amazing experience, a message I believe in. But it totally wore me out. And Saturday I got slammed in the face with a sinus infection that I am just very grateful I didn’t get before the talking. By the time I got back in my classroom on Wednesday, having missed four days in a row with a weekend in between, my students had completely forgotten how to act right.

Yelling at my students while hopped up on the cold medicine you have to get from the pharmacy because apparently you can make meth out of it was less than relaxing. (Good news, my students remembered where they were and are now back to normal). I was completely beat and I had an internet meeting about ten minutes after I was scheduled to get home.

Dinner needed to happen without me, and it needed to be something the kids would for sure eat. So I ran through the Little Caesars and thanked God that I can get my family pizza without ever getting out of my car. Because sometimes, I need to remember what the goal is, and last night the goal was simply that everyone got fed.

I think we need to remember that more often. What is the goal?

I got to pick Juliet up from pre-k for the first time last week. Her teacher mentioned a Halloween party and I was momentarily thrust into a Pinterest induced planning whirlwind. This would be the best Halloween party EVER! Complete with cupcakes and sandwiches and games and crafts and punch. All homemade and adorable. All out of my kitchen.

When the flyer came home two days later explaining the party there was a note on the bottom: Per school district policy, all treats needed to be pre-packaged. (Food allergies are real, y’all. No one wants to accidentally hurt a kid because their counter had peanut butter on it.)

I read the note, and suddenly all of my Pinterest plans turned to dust. And I was relieved. Because what is the point of a Pre-k Halloween party? The kids having fun (bonus points for goody bags stuffed with things they love.) Snickers bars and pumpkin bean bag toss without home-made bean bags meet that goal just fine. With the spider rings I picked up for 99 cents, I would say I may have even over-achieved.

The goal of dinner is to feed everyone. The goal of a Halloween party is to have a good time. The goal of my kids costumes is to let them dress up in ways that make them happy. It doesn’t have to all be perfect. Good enough is enough.

So here’s to Pizza on a Thursday, store-bought cupcakes, and anything else that meets the goal while giving us a break. This life is hard, and there is a lot to do. And mostly, we do those things well. Give yourself a break. Remember the goal.

Are we having fun? Is everyone being fed? congratulations. You are enough.

Against Such Things: On Prayer in Schools and Bullying

My husband came home from church last week, singing a new to him song, about the fruit of the spirit, about the fruit not being an apple or a grape. I joined in on the song and finished it before he could even get to the list

Because the fruit is lovejoypeacepatiencekindnessgoodnessfaithfullnessgentlenessandselfcontro-o-ol. lovejoypeacepatiencekindnessgoodnessfaithfullnessgentlenessandselfcontrol.

How do you do that? He asks. How do you just list them off like that?

I shrug. It is just in there. Like the way my kids can sing the alphabet song but don’t quite understand that the elemenopee part is actually a list of the letters l, m, n, o and p. Or like I knew how to spell christian and eternally before I knew how to spell my own name because we learned the I am a C, I am a C-H song in Vacation Bible School, and I had gone to that for literally as long as I could remember.

The fruit is lovejoypeacepatiencekindnessgoodnessfaithfulnessgentlenessandselfcontrol.

Just because I can sing the song doesn’t mean I understand what they mean, you know? Just because I can sing them faster than anyone I know doesn’t mean I practice them. It just means I can sing them really fast. What’s the point?

What’s the point? I’ve been wondering that about a lot of things, but especially about this new campaign to put prayer back into school. In the state of Georgia there is already the mandatory moment of silence. With only 50 minutes a day, how am I supposed to get anything done when my kids can leave for 15 of them? Can kids get out of my pop quiz with prayer? Does this mean a school day that is 15 minutes longer? I have a lot of logistical questions.

But deeper than that, I am truly wondering, what is the point? How is this going to make our kids know God better? How is this going to make our schools holier? How is this actually going to put Jesus in the cafeteria? I’m not saying I don’t believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of prayer. I am just saying, why are we fighting for this particular way, when even the Bible tells us there is no law against the way of the spirit.

I too think we need God in school. Desperately need God’s people here. But there will never be a school that outlaws the ways of the Spirit. 

Today is apparently, a day to unite against bullying. People are wearing orange as a way to stand against cruelty, in our words in our actions. And I wonder again, how bullying could possibly be a problem at my school, the one I work in.  In a school with literally hundreds of kids, meeting on Friday morning to praise the Lord, I wonder where are the kids who will also love their neighbor.

Just as I cannot imagine a school with 15 minutes devoted to prayer, I cannot imagine a classroom where everyone is kind, where I don’t have to come down hard on eye-rolls and exasperated breathes when the kid who no one has liked since the third grade starts talking. Do you know how much easier my job would be if just ten of my students were patient and gentle? Do you know what a witness it would be, if just two kids said, we want that kid in our group. We want to love well, the kid with no friends, we want to show him Christ, by laying down our popularity, by putting our reputation on the line. Hey, that girl who no one likes? Let’s invite her to eat lunch with us and see if she wants to go to the football game.

We want, so desperately for our kids to be counter-cultural. We want them to know Jesus. We want them to know what the Bible says. Could there be anything more counter-cultural than a school with no clicks? Than a cafeteria where everyone is kind to each other? You want to counter the teen culture? What if every teen acted like every person they came in contact with bore the image of God? What if every kid who missed three days of school to go on a mission trip came back looking for people who needed loved well? What if bullying wasn’t a thing because the christian kids looked down at their WWJD bracelets and actually did it? Actually aligned themselves with the high school least of these?

What if I wasn’t just able to sing the fruit of the spirit faster than any person I knew? What if I lived in a way that exhibited it, and all of my christian students did to?

I don’t know about the fate of prayer in school, but I do know a little about the fruit of the spirit, and I know of no school who isn’t longing for that fruit to be always on display.