Author: accidental devotional

I live and work and love in the city of Atlanta. I am trying hard to follow God as a mother, teacher, wife, speaker and writer. Sometimes, there are moments when I get it right. And when I don't God's grace is sufficient.

When You Do It For the Kids

You know, at eight or ten or even two years into this you already know, if they tell you to do it for the kids, it is something you really don’t want to do. It is hard, it is complicated, you think it might be unnecessary, in the worst of scenarios you think it will hurt.

But they ask you to do it…for the kids.

So you do it. You abandon your tried and true for the new fangled thing that has been packaged and sold to your school. You go to trainings in the summer, and in-services on Saturday. You try to get on board.

After all, it is for the kids.

The kids are why you took this job. You were one of those kids once and you still remember the way the teachers who mattered made you feel. Maybe they were the first ones to ever tell you, you could write, or you were good with a language, or you had a head for numbers. Maybe those teachers were the first people who said your name like they were glad you were there. Maybe you didn’t have that at home. Maybe you were sick and they smiled and said they were glad you were back when all the other teachers grimaced and asked how soon you could have your make up work back. Maybe they saw how fast you did the multiplication tables and introduced you to trigonometry at age 9, on their lunch break because that was the only time they had.

Whatever it was, those teachers changed your life, because they did it for the kids.

It is ten, twenty, thirty years later and you still remember their name, the way they made you feel, what they taught you and how it changed the way you looked at the world.  You show up every day, every year, just to be that person, just to change the world one five, ten, fifteen year old at a time.

And now they are telling you to give these tests, adjust to these standards, implement this initiative, for the kids.

But what do you do when you think it might hurt the kids? When you realize that, in your professional opinion, the standards aren’t developmentally appropriate, the tests aren’t preparing the kids for anything but more tests, the initiatives improve the test scores but limit genuine learning opportunities. What do you do when the very things they are asking you to do, you think might hurt the kids?

What do you do for the kids you are doing this for?

So you do it. You ditch the project your students from ten years ago still mention on your Facebook page, the lesson the parents from two years ago mention when they drop the younger sibling in your class, whatever it is that you know taught your kids how to really exist in this world. You tuck it away into your file cabinet and you hope that you will find a way to pull it out next year. But right now, there just isn’t time. There is this new thing to wrangle.

You sigh and remember you are doing it for the kids.

Perhaps it is true that your students in the long-term, are being hurt by these test, these programs, these initiatives. Right now, for the kids, you need to be concerned about right now. You are teacher, and this is the only year you will have. You need to do what is right, right now. It may hurt your students in the long run to not engage the world the ways you once allowed them to, but it will hurt them next year, if they cannot pass their graduation test. Your students need to graduate.

You do what needs to be done, for the kids.

You hope that one day you will be asked what you think benefits the kids. You hope the idea that you do this for the kids is seen as something worth hearing about, rather than a barb to poke you into places you do not want to go. You show up and do what needs to be done, for the kids.

You try to remember why you became a teacher, for the kids.


A grandfathers tears, proof of the Holy Spirit.

I was ten the first time I saw my grandfather cry. A business man, and a purchasing agent, I knew my grandfather loved us because of the way he provided so generously for us, by the way he patted us on the back and said “Oh, that’s okay” when his grandchildren would thank him for the ice cream, the presents, the dinners out.

It was my grandmother who emoted. She got excited and delighted and clapped her hands when we came to visit, or when we preformed our talents for her. She got teary and disappointed when we had to go home, even if we had been visiting for two weeks. She choked up often and with ease.

But not my grandfather, the only emotion I can really remember from him in my early days is anger. (Mostly, as a result of one of us being disrespectful to my grandmother.)

When I was ten, my grandparents were visiting. I came home from school and the TV was on. It was Oprah, in her four o’clock syndicated hour, and my grandfather sat alone in the living room, tears wet against his cheeks. I don’t know what was on the TV, I don’t know why it touched his heart, I don’t even know if he saw me seeing him. But I will never forget the first time I saw my grandfather cry.

It certainly wasn’t the last. I remember him choking up while praying for my cousin who was not celebrating Christmas with us, but stationed in Bosnia. I remember him crying at my cousins funeral. A half-dozen times maybe, I remember grandpa crying, or almost crying. And mostly those moments were in gratitude. To God, for his family.

But that first time, that first time I often cite as proof that the Holy Spirit continues to change us, that the spirit works in us our entire lives. As my grandfather retired, and then retired for real, he started teaching a men’s Bible study at his church. Or maybe he always did, and I had just never noticed before.

I did notice the tears, the softening of his heart. I noticed the way he yelled just a little less. I noticed the way he approached the world with a softer step. And I immediately recognized it as a work of the Holy Spirit. Apparently God still changed people, even when they got old. Even when they were godly before. It was proof to me that the Spirit is real and always, always working.

I see the Spirit working in a lot of people lately, and I hope the Spirit is working in me too. But I am strangely aware, that if the spirit is working in my own heart, it means there is much work to be done. It means I am wrong, a lot. It means the people I love are wrong sometimes too. And it means there is space and grace for that.

Because I didn’t see my grandfather cry until I was ten. And it was proof to me, that the spirit moves.

Birthday celebrations and Awkward feelings: Let the little children lead

On Friday, I got home from work to discover my oldest was next door. There was a birthday party, and a bounce house, and we were invited. Juliet was already there, shoes off, red hair flying. “Hey MOM! Look! We get to go to the party!” Priscilla had her shoes off before I could get into their backyard. I mean, a bounce house, for free, in the neighbor’s backyard! It was pretty much the best day of their entire lives.

We had hot dogs, and I chatted with the family. The other kids came up to me because Priscilla’s balance is not the greatest and she kept getting knocked over in the bounce house with the big kids. (We solved that problem by having her enjoy the house firmly on her heiny.) I wondered if the kids knew immediately that I was the right mom because we were the only white family there, or if it was because we were the only family that was not part of the larger family. I shrugged. Our neighbors have been exceedingly warm, welcoming and helpful in the years we have lived in our house. So the cousins know the white kids go with the white mom. Duh.

In fact, I was at ease, eating ribs and chit-chatting until the cake. It wasn’t the cake itself. All of a sudden I was in a place where my children have been known to not be so well-behaved. They get their sweet tooth from me, and I spent more than one wedding this summer reminding my girls not to stick their fingers in the icing. Suddenly, in the small room where the two candles are being lit I was reminded of the things my students used to ask me about white parents. Why are we so lenient? Why do we let our kids behave so badly?

I know my neighbors well enough to know that they just see us as neighbors, not as white neighbors, but I don’t know their relatives and I don’t know what my kids are going to do, and I don’t know if whatever happens will be told somewhere later, when people are talking about how poorly behaved white kids can be, how lenient their parents are.

In fact, I was so paranoid about whether or not my kids were going to shove their grubby fingers in the cake that I didn’t even think about the singing. The SINGING! If you don’t know, now you know, there is a version of happy birthday I have only ever heard black people sing.  And my girls only know the white version, and y’all they LOVE to sing the birthday song. They LOVE to call ALL of our relatives on their birthday and sing to them. They are all UP in the birthday song. Luckily, this particular family sang the version we were familiar with. And I was very, very relieved. I just didn’t want another reminder that we were different.

Can I tell you that it is hard to feel awkward sometimes at a neighbors birthday party? Can I tell you that sometimes, in a store where I am the only white lady, I am extra embarrassed when my children throw a fit? Not just because my children are throwing a fit, but because I hear the things that people used to tell me, about white parent and fit throwing children. Can I tell you that my black friends deal with this every single day, but it isn’t just a matter of feeling awkward? It is a matter of making sure their kids stay alive.

As conversations about race have been thrust to the forefront, so has the realization that we don’t talk about race enough, that we aren’t engaging our neighbors. But why not?

Because it is hard, because it is awkward, because it is easier to be at a birthday party where you are not representing an entire race, where your kids know which birthday song to sing, where you are at ease. I get it, I do. I understand that at the end of a long week all you want  is to go to a place where you are comfortable, where you can let your hair down, where you can be totally relaxed and everyone understands you.

But it is time. It is time for us to go to places we are uncomfortable. It is time for us to learn the songs and stories of people who are not like us. If Ferguson has taught us anything, it has taught us to go, to listen, to understand. I know it is uncomfortable. Believe me I know. But it is necessary, and it is worth it.

Because my kids, they know when they don’t know the birthday song, they know that they are the lightest kids bouncing in the house, but it doesn’t make them uncomfortable. They hear and see and learn far faster than their mother. They lead me into places where I would only go reluctantly, because the celebration is worth it. The understanding is worth it. Who doesn’t want to learn a bonus birthday song? I am learning, from my girls, as we navigate these new spaces, that going and staying are worth the awkward feelings. I am learning we can do better. I am learning that starts with me. When all else fails, I let my children lead.

On Glitter and Parenting

My girls are two and three, and cannot get enough of girly things. Their grandparents got them two baskets full of dress up clothes this Christmas, and it has been a rotating fashion show every day since. Pink bunny masks, pointy princess hats, beloved white heels that clop-clop-clop through our wooden hallway.

But nothing compares to the pretty skirts that the girls can scoot up their legs by themselves. For about a month after they opened them, my girls wore those dress up skirts every day. We had to draw the line at wearing them outside the house. Not because I am terribly concerned about the impression we will give the neighbors (our neighbors love the crazy flare of our daughters ). Rather, the rule of no “fancy skirts” outside the house came because I did not want to inflict the trail of glitter these skirts leave on anyone else.

One of the skirts was covered in purple glitter, neon purple glitter. Within 24 hours my house was also covered in neon purple glitter. It was everywhere. On the couches, the carpet, all over our wood floors there was glitter. The girls room looked like a purple fairy had exploded. Their bed was covered in the stuff.

Read the rest at Cara’s place.

When Them Becomes Us: On Emmanuel

Lately I have been thinking about the incarnation. Specifically the Emmanuel part, the God with us part. I have been thinking about the incarnation and how the only time I think on the incarnation is at Christmas. When Christ is a baby. 

And I’ve been thinking about how it is cute and cuddly and a miracle, but not one I identify with very well. I’ve been thinking about summer camps and youth rallys and identifying with Jesus. How we were asked to be crucified with Christ, to die to ourselves. To live for Christ. We were promised that it would be worth it. That there would be a resurrection in ourselves, that we would be reborn more gloriously. 

I have been thinking about how we were often asked to live for Christ, but never asked to live as Christ. 

Emmanuel. God with us. I have been thinking about the birth, and how it came before the resurrection. I have been thinking about how Jesus was first one of us. With us before he saved us. I am thinking about how He understood the people, and they knew he understood them because he was one of them. Because He was Emmanuel: God with us. 

I’ve been thinking about how Jesus never once had to get defensive about how he understood his people. Of course Jesus understood his people. He was with them. And I have been thinking about how I have heard many sermons about dying to myself, being crucified with Christ, I have never once heard a sermon challenging me to be Emmanuel, God with us.

I’ve been thinking about all the ways I have avoided being Emmanuel. How I have lived in my neighborhood for five years but I have not been diligent in being with my neighbors. I have never once set foot in either of the two churches I run by on my evening exercise route. Never once. I have noticed the fish fry and the VBS and thought oh! we should do that. But it has never made it on my calendar.

I have made some effort in connecting with the local elementary school, but I was until my own daughter went there did I get serious about it. 5 years. It took my five years and my own daughter to put my money where my mouth is. I had partnered with a kindergarten class, I had emailed a teacher or two. But if I am honest, this has always been from the perspective of an outsider. Now that I am with them, that my daughter is with them….the them has become an us and my actions have changed. Because I am no longer on the outside, because their neighborhood school is my neighborhood school. 

Because with has changed me in a way that near never could. 

And I am thinking about how unwilling we are to identify with people who are not like us. I am thinking about how important it is, and how hard it is do. And I am thinking about how it isn’t just physical proximity. It isn’t just where you live that makes you with someone, but what you are willing to hear, and how you are willing to let your heart brake. 

I am thinking on Emmanuel, on God with us, and just how intimate that is. And I am thinking about people who live in but not among. And I am thinking of people who do not live in, but whose hearts are fully immersed. And I am broken for our unwillingness to be broken. And I am hopeful for our hearts to be changed. 

I know that dying for Christ is a noble and worthy thing, I am grateful for a savior who loved the world enough to die for it. And I am grateful for a savior who lived among us, who identified with us. I am hearing the call to live as Christ, and I fear it may be a lonely road. 





On Ears to Hear and Eyes to See: A Prayer for Ferguson

I did not always have ears to hear. 

When people told me that young black men were sometimes shot in this country by police, I would respond with a small shake of the head. How sad. But in my heart I would not really believe. That could not possibly be true. Police are here to protect us. This is America, this is the twenty-first century. People do not simply get gunned down for being black. That is history. That simply does not happen anymore. In my heart of hearts, I am very ashamed to admit, there was a tiny whisper: Surely they did something to deserve it. 

I did not always have eyes to see. 

People tried to tell me that this lens I see life through is a white one. But what did they know? They did not know about me and my struggles. White kids could grow up poor too. I was disabled for goodness sake, okay. I knew about teachers treating me poorly just because of my body. I knew about having it rough. How dare someone tell me my life was privileged. Didn’t they know just how hard I worked?

I did not always walk humbly

I knew. Okay? I got it. I was an inner-city teacher. I was saving the world. Racist thoughts, racist ideas? Not me. I was better than all of that, and I proved it every day by teaching at a black school. I was down.

But then

But then my husband got a job coaching speech at a historically black college. And when I traveled with the fine men of Morehouse, some of the brightest in the country, I got asked if I was okay. More than once I got asked if I was okay. Because surely a white woman traveling with a bunch of young black men is in danger. Because surely young black men are dangerous.

But then I started working at an all black high school. And when my darkest, dread-locked student went to grab a pencil, there was something in my mind that told me I was in danger. For a split second I was sure it was a gun. Because somewhere in my own mind and heart, something told me that my black boys were dangerous. Something no one had ever taught me. Something I had never wanted to learn.

But then a student came to tell me that her brother got shot. By a cop, on a rural road in Georgia, and he bled out on her white dress while the cop sped off. She had to call 911 and comfort him as he died in her arms while the ambulance came wailing to her aid. There was never an investigation.

But then I got an email a few days before school started that one of last years students had been shot. And there was no news story or vigil. There was no call to action or call to arms. Just an email. FYI one of your students has been shot. It happens sometimes.

But then I moved into a predominantly black neighborhood and some of my friends expressed fear of my neighbors. The neighbors who sat on their porch and fed my dog all day when we left our front door wide open. My neighbors didn’t want to shut my door, just in case we wanted it like that, so they watched it instead. The neighbors who have mowed my lawn, invited me to their birthday parties, held the packages that came to my house. And some people asked why I would live in the ghetto, and wondered aloud if I was concerned for the safety of my kids. Not because of the crime report (my neighborhood is very safe) but because they assumed that black people are dangerous.

But then we put our daughter in the neighborhood school, and people want to ask me about her safety. My four-year-old in a classroom of other four-year-olds. Who did they think was going to hurt her?

And I began to hear.

I began to hear that there was a distinct danger you face every day, if people just assume that you are dangerous because you are black and you are male. And I began to hear the stories of police brutality, of unnecessary aggression, of my sophomore boys being treated like criminals simply because of their bodies.

I began to finally hear, that just because it didn’t happen to me did not mean it did not happen. 

And I began to see.

I began to see that my skin granted me access to pretty much anywhere I wanted to go. I began to see how no one ever starts out aggressively toward me, because I am never seen as a threat. I began to understand that my students, my colleagues, my neighbors were not granted the same access, the same pass.

I began to see the injustice of this world, and the ways in which I was purposefully ignoring it.

And when I look back at how much it took to have my eyes open to see and my ears open to hear, I am ashamed. 

I am ashamed that I did not seek to understand until I had to. I am ashamed that I did not choose to see until it was right in front of my eyes. I am ashamed, that until I had people that I loved who were being affected by racism, I was completely oblivious to its existence.

My heart was hard. I was only concerned with injustice when it was hurting people I loved. It should not have taken someone I know dying for me to care that innocent people were dying. It should not have taken me knowing them personally, for me to believe that they were innocent.

I was blind, I was deaf, I was proud. 

I am praying the people of this country have softer hearts than mine. I am praying that we are broken over Mike Brown and that brokenness is only a beginning. I am praying we listen when we are told that this is only one of many. I am praying we hear when brown mothers tell us they fear for their babies’ lives. I am praying we do something when our eyes and ears are opened to injustice. I am praying we speak out, we reach out, we educate ourselves. I am praying we care. 

I am praying for eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts that are moved into action. 

It is not enough to stand with Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin. It is not enough to feel bad about the black men and women being killed because they are presumed dangerous. It is not enough.

We need to open our eyes. We need to stop and listen. This is not the first time this has happened, and this is not the first time we have been told. May Ferguson be the catalyst for our hearts to move into action. May our hearts be heavy that it has taken this long.

Syndicated on





When You Just Need to Be Held: On wrestling with depression and faith

I take medicine for depression. 

Some people find this hard to believe. I am generally happy and outgoing. I smile all the time. I love Jesus and my faith is often characterized as strong, whatever that means. I just don’t seem like the type.

“The type.” Saying there is a type for depression is like telling someone you are surprised they wear glasses or contacts, or have cancer because they just don’t seem like the type. There is no type. Loud, smiley women sometimes struggle with depression. Even when they are cracking jokes about their rowdy toddlers and telling you life is delightful in the church lobby. We just do. 


I’ve struggled with depression since middle school, but I’ve had glasses since the third grade. I’ve been told I needed to pray my depression away before we even had it diagnosed. I’ve been told it is a sign of weak faith. People who cling to the joy of the Lord hard enough should just stop taking those silly pills and trust God to heal me. No one has ever once suggested that I take off my glasses and trust God to give me perfect vision while I drive my children home from church. Not once have my contact lenses been sighted as a sign of weak faith. Me not wearing my glasses is as dangerous as me not taking my pills. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think that God is capable of healing both. I’m just saying that for me, He hasn’t. I’ve experienced miraculous healing. It doesn’t have much to do with my faith or lack there of. It is simply that God works mysteriously, and sometimes not at all. I’ve mostly stopped trying to figure it out, and instead decided to honor both sides of the story.


As a christian, and a story teller I once believed that the only kinds of stories that honored God were the ones that told of great light. Those were, after all, the only kinds of testimonies that people gave at church. I once was lost but now am found. I once was blind but now I see. I once was sick but now I’m healed. I once was confused but now I am sure.

Even testimonies in the midst of things ended with a but. My child is wandering but I know they will return. I am sad now but joy comes in the morning. I am struggling but I know that God will bless me. 

I wanted desperately to honor God, so I sat quietly in the back and waited for my healing to come. Or I walked to the front and had people lay hands on me. Maybe this time I would claim it, and it would be real. You know what has been real? When I am taking my medication my sister who is also a licensed professional counselor does not ask me therapy sorts of questions, and when I am not she knows. She can tell by the tone of my voice and my inability to concentrate on anything that I have stopped taking my meds. That is real, and that is healing. 


I sometimes have been told that my story of darkness, when the light has not yet come, does not honor God. I have mostly been the one telling myself that. No one wants to hear that you are struggling, Abby. No one wants to hear that this is hard. Great kids, great husband, great job, what could you possibly have to be depressed about? Suck it up and be happy, for Jesus. Jesus died for your sins, he doesn’t want to see you sitting around being sad. Good Christians get it together. And when they don’t have it together they certainly don’t tell anyone. 

That is the depression talking. It certainly isn’t the holy spirit. No, the holy spirit often prompts me to share the darkness, to tell people that this life is hard, even with the great kids, great husband, great job. The holy spirit often reminds me that darkness does not cast out light. My mother often reminds me of that too. Sometimes the holy spirit whispers in my mother’s voice. 


I’ve written about it before, but it remains the best way for me to describe what I think the church is capable of. I was 13 and sick, but no one knew what was wrong. I was 13 and depressed, but we couldn’t tell if the sickness was making me depressed, or if the depression was causing the mysterious illness. I believed in a God of miracles, but every time I asked for it, I was not healed. 

And the more I was not healed, the more I questioned God. The angrier I became. Why not me? And that became a whole new thing to be ashamed about. Good Christians get healed, and when they don’t, they do not question God, they do not become angry with him.

It was my mother who pointed me to the life of King David, to the psalms of lament. It was my mother who asked me if I was mad at God, and then told me she was too. It was my mother who pulled me into her lap and held me as I raged and wept to and about a God who did not heal. It was my mother who promised me that God could handle it, that He still loved me and so did she. 

It was my mother who was the church to me, who taught me that darkness does not overcome light, who showed me that I was never too much for God, who held me for as long as I needed holding. 


I think the church is sometimes afraid to tell the stories of darkness because they are afraid that those stories will somehow overcome the light. The darkness cannot overtake the light. It can’t. That isn’t how it works. But when you are depressed, it is certainly how things feel.

 The only way to know that, when depression has settled and all you can see is darkness, is to talk about it, to tell someone, to share that it is dark and you are incapable of seeing light right now. You are sure, in that moment that you will lose your faith, your God, your friends. You are sure that not being able to see the light is a grave sin from which there is no recovery. 

But if you are lucky. If you have people in your corner who are really the church, they will hold you. They will be angry with you. They will tell you it is okay to rage, to cry, to not feel God. They will hold the light for you when you see nothing but darkness. They will love you well. And it will still be hard. It will still be hard to be depressed. It will still be hard to have faith. But is easier when you are held. It is easier when you know that you are not alone. Stories of darkness, they hold light too. It is time for the church to tell them.