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.

Formation isn’t our party. Quit crying and enjoy the delicious cake.

I, like most people, found out about Beyonce’s new single because everyone on my Twitter timeline was completely losing their minds. So I, like any good millennial (I know I am on the older end, just let me have it) immediately dropped what I was doing to check it out.


Wow. I was as stunned as everyone else. The Southern Gothic imagery alone made me want to teach American Literature. Here were the two things I immediately knew:


  1. This video was not for me. It was not made for me. It does not belong to me.
  2. I am here for this video. I love it. I think it is awesome. I am very glad she made it and I am very glad that it has been seen by everyone I know. I would recommend it. I am trying to figure out how to teach it. (I think we would probably have to watch it without the words. But the images alone are worth talking about.)


What in the world does that mean, that something is not for me, but that I am here for it? Basically it is exactly like when one of my daughters is present for the other daughter’s birthday party. As a white woman, Beyonce’s video and subsequent Superbowl performance is like my sister having a really amazing party that I get to go too.


Y’all, your sister having a birthday party is a really really good deal. There is cake, there are games, there are snacks. People come to your house, those people bring presents, some of those are toys that you are for sure going to get to play with.


Sister birthdays are really second only to your own birthday. But sometimes my girls don’t see it that way. Sometimes, one of my girls throws a major fit because it isn’t her birthday. She wants it to be in charge of the cake and the theme and the guest list. She wants it to be all about her, and it isn’t her turn. Sometimes, (and this gets shut down REAL QUICK at my house) the other sister just sort of starts acting like it is her birthday, bossing people around and trying to lay claim to the presents.


The Beyonce performances of Formation are not our party. We are there, we get to be at the party. But the party is not for us. So we can’t be blowing out the candles and expecting people to sing to us.


Here is a present that does not belong to me: I got hot sauce in my bag. While I appreciate the sentiment, and have even traveled with people who carry their own hot sauce, I do not in fact identify with that particular swag. I am from the midwest. I don’t understand the love of hot sauce, but there is nothing on this earth that can’t be improved by a side of ranch. It is a personal tragedy to me that ranch must be refrigerated and cannot simply come with me wherever I go. My pants however, are grateful.


Don’t act like it is our party. It isn’t. That cake does not have our name on it. And we didn’t get to pick the flavor. Beyonce picked the flavor, that flavor is Unapologetically Black, and if you don’t like it, then that cake is NOT FOR YOU. (But probably you need to seriously consider the reasons you like Beyonce’s other flavors and not this one.)


And we don’t get to open the presents. I too found the Formation video extremely moving, especially the parts with the children. But that does not mean that I get to unwrap that junk and claim it as mine. I don’t have children who will ever have to face off against the police. My daughter’s hair is not up for public discussion. Ever. I can think those things are awesome, but I do not get to claim them as mine.


For the women who are throwing a gigantic fit because this isn’t our party, your mother needs to come get you and take you to your room for a time out. It doesn’t always get to be our birthday party and Adele JUST threw us one! CHILL OUT! Stop throwing a fit. You look ridiculous.


So it isn’t my birthday party, but that doesn’t mean I don’t benefit from it! Y’all when your sister has a birthday you still get to be there. We still have access to not just the Formation video and the amazing performance by Beyonce, but also ALL the think pieces written by our black sisters about what these things mean to them. The discussion of this particular video is rich, complex, and beautiful. I am learning a lot about the myriad of Black experiences simply because so many women have been gracious enough to share their thoughts with the world. They aren’t our toys, but they are being shared with us! That is a good thing!
It isn’t our party, so we shouldn’t act like it. But we can be here for it, and I for one am having a good time. If I act right, I might get invited next time, and I want in. This cake is delicious.

For the Love of Paczkis

Today is Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lent. As I currently reside in the south, most people around me refer to this day as Mardi Gras. But not me. As a true daughter of the Midwest, this daughter will forever and always be known as Paczki day.

What are Paczki’s? First of all, it is polish, so nothing sounds like it looks. It is pronounced pawnch-ki, or punch-ki. I think. Who cares how it comes out of your mouth, what is most important is how to get one into it. They are the most delicious donuts you have ever had.

People who were not raised in a town where every third person in your second grade had a last name ending in ski, do not know the deliciousness that is polish heritage. There were multiple Palowoskis in my graduating class and they weren’t even related. Toledo Ohio is not messing around with their Polish heritage, and Fat Tuesday aka Paczki day? They are HERE FOR IT.

Oh yeah, you may think, I saw that weird word on some boxes of donuts in the grocery store. They were filled or something. How could that be special? Well if you would think that, YOU WOULD BE WRONG! Calling a paczki a donut is like calling Beyonce a member of Destiny’s Child. While technically true, you are leaving the most incredible part out. A paczki is not just a donut. It is a glorious creation that never disappoints. Not even once.

The paczki always slays.

It is the richest donut you will ever have in your entire life. Back in the day the lovely polish grandmothers insisted you give up ALL THE THINGS for lent. Sugar, dairy, eggs, fat, it was like a whole 30 but for 40 days. So, the polish grandmothers, not wanting all that great stuff to go to waste, made the richest donut in the whole world with all the things you weren’t supposed to eat anymore. So, God bless these polish grandmothers, made paczkis. They didn’t just stop at the delicious, dense, rich pastry. They stuffed it with all kinds of jams and cremes and then covered the outside in powdered sugar.

Did we already bless these grandmothers? Can we do it again? I love them and their thrifty and delicious ways.

Paczkis are a big deal in Toledo, and lucky for me I drove past the premier paczki bakery on the way to my High school. The ladies in the bakery basic stay up for 48 hours to meet the demand of this day. And you better get up early to get them. If you wait until after school to go get your paczkis you will be left with only the fig ones which, while traditional are kind of disappointing compared to the raspberry jam and custard ones or the lemon curd, or the apricot. I legit just started drooling thinking about them.

But I don’t live in Toledo anymore, or anywhere close to the polish loving midwest. While I am grateful that I often do not even have to wear a coat to work on Fat Tuesday (especially during a year where this day comes SO EARLY. I haven’t even had time to fail at my resolution and need to re-group a la Lent.) but I can’t help but be sad for a paczki-less paczki day.



Ordinary Love Stories


I don’t write a lot about my marriage. I just…don’t. I think it is because I just feel so inadequte when it comes to marriage. I don’t clean enough, cook enough, spend enough time. Christian and I are happy. Life is stressful but we still love each other, we even still like each other, so that seems even better to me. But how do you know you are good at marriage? What metric is there? I don’t know.

When you pledge, till death do us part there really isn’t a time when you go WOO-HOO we made it! Plus and it is so personal, and ordinary, and different and the sane for everyone, marriage. But this month at She Loves I was challenged to write a love story. So I went for it…..

The girls, perhaps, are too young to understand the romantic gestures of a PhD student and his writer-by-night wife. They understand the big save of a white knight with a sword, but underestimate the power of the words, “You look exhausted, I’ll put the kids to bed tonight.” They don’t understand the sacrifice it takes to answer the follow up, “You sure?” with “Yes. I am sure. Go upstairs and go to bed.”

I have no tales of magic powers.

I only know of the sacrifice it takes to roll over in bed for the fourth or fifth time when one of the kids has woken up again, the sacrifice it takes to say, again, “Go back to sleep. I got it. You have a big day tomorrow.”

You can read the rest here.

Tired, Broken, and Dripping with Abundance

I showed up to church on Sunday tired and broken. I haven’t had the nerve to show up in this space that way. I feel like I have been writing about how tired I am, how hard this season is, since about September. How could anyone still want to read that? I certainly am sick of it.

So I showed up to church on Sunday tired and broken, Christian was sick and the week had been hard and we are just to the part of the next year decision making process that all the balls are still in the air, but some of them have become real and it looks like they may just all hit us in the face, or dissolve in our hands and leave us with nothing.

Probably neither of these things will happen. Probably. I hope.

I managed to keep it together until a few songs in when they dismissed the kiddos. I sat and patted both their heads and managed to keep them sort of quiet. I remembered the day when I used to hold both of them, one on each hip as I contemplated the paradox of my double blessing, of the visceral feeling of having my hands full. There was so much weight, there was so much joy. There still is. It just is a little harder to hold.

I stood with my eyes closed and my hands raised, between two women who I love and admire who are also carrying so much. Some I know, some I don’t. It seems there is just so much to carry for so many people I know.

We were singing a song about bring things to the altar. Other people were singing. I was crying. What in the world do you want me to bring you God? What else could I possibly hold?

“I just want your brokenness. That is all. I want you, and so I want your brokenness.”

It has been a minute since I felt the Spirit speak so clearly. I cried harder and decided that brokenness it was. I would hand it back. Again. In January I was alerted to the fact that I have been blogging at Accidental Devotional for four years now. I have grown a lot and changed a lot. I have written and grown and written and grown. I have thought and un-thought and learned and taught. I have changed, and I have stayed the same and I am a little embarrassed that I am back in the place of needing this reminder again:

Abby Norman, you are already enough. All God wants is your brokenness. Hand that to God. It is enough. It is just so hard to believe that. Especially when everything is up in the air, especially when everything is so unclear. It is so hard for me to remember that I am enough, that what I do is enough, that God’s love and blessing on my have absolutely nothing to do with how much I do or don’t do. I don’t need to do one more thing, or one more thing better to experience the abundance of Jesus.

I got myself together in time to greet my babies as they came barreling into the sanctuary so we could take communion together. I am ministered to so deeply every time my children are offered a place at this table. While I was attending to my own portion, my child who showed up at the communion table so tentatively at first enthusiastically dunked her entire hand into the cup.

And the cup holder, God bless her, laughed. So I laughed, because what else is there to do, as your child stands next to you dripping purple drops from her hand. She looked me in the eye as I too dipped my portion, but with greater restraint, this is the blood of Jesus, poured out abundantly for you she said. And for a second I thought about dipping my whole hand in too.

I know I have said it all before, but maybe you need to hear it again too?

You are enough. God wants your brokenness. Go ahead. Dip your whole hand in. The table is open. The love is abundant.



When it still doesn’t feel like Christmas

So you aren’t feeling the Christmas spirit. It is the eve of Christmas Eve and something isn’t right. Maybe the weather, maybe the exhaustion, maybe this year isn’t at all ending the way you were hoping it would. You started the year expectant in some way, and you are realizing that the end of the year will come with your hands still open, empty waiting.

Come Lord Jesus Come.

You have faithfully lit the candles for hope, for peace, for joy, for love. You sang the songs, or didn’t. You read the readings, or got interrupted trying. You didn’t miss a single day opening the tiny doors and pulling out the chocolates because your five year old wouldn’t let you. You wish that sweetness symbolized something you could point out this Christmas, but mostly December has just been hard. You are so tired.

You are just so tired. Come Lord Jesus Come.

In past years you have felt by now, that the waiting is almost over. But this year is different. Two days before Christmas and you just feel like you have been waiting forever.

You think on the words, hope, peace, joy, love. You realize you have been chasing them in your mini-van. There were times this season you could maybe see them.

You found hope. Your kids were invited to a live nativity, and when you chided them for getting too close and asking too many questions, they were invited to stand right next to the manger, to talk to Mary and Joseph and ask questions of the angel. To come look and see if the baby Jesus really was there after all. You got teary eyed on the sidewalk outside of an old country church your in-laws were married in. You felt, just for a fleeting second God reminding you that you were allowed to come in and ask questions too. That this was holy, but not untouchable, that you have always been invited and you weren’t going to mess it up with your honesty. Your kids and you got invited inside to have cookies and hot chocolate. Three separate church ladies listened attentively as your oldest rattled on and on. They were so sorry to see her leave. They were delighted by her and her holding forth. You were reminded that God is delighted in you too.

You found peace for just a moment on a country rode. You are trying to keep a tradition alive, even as the traditional giver has passed. You just hope it is enough. And on the way home, while the radio played melancholy Christmas songs, sung wistfully by crooners of the past, you are sure that this small thing was done with great love, and you are so sure that it is enough. That you are enough, at least in this moment.

There was joy that one night. You put the girls in their matching PJs and piled everyone in the minivan with to-go cups full of hot chocolate. Your husband remembers where all the really good lights are, and they are but it may not have mattered. The girls ooh and ahh over even the smallest light displays. They don’t even mind when we hit a cul-de-sac and they have to see it all over again. They squeal and point and tell us to slow down. They want to get a better look. They just like it so much.

And maybe it isn’t okay or popular to say, but it seems that this year you found love in the mall. A generous gift from a generous friend who just saw how hard you were struggling turned into a trip to Build-a-Bear with enough YES left over to bring an extra kiddo. You do the math and think you might have to pay extra for the sparkly shoes, but the girls just want them so bad. The stuffed animals end up coming home with their shooes and a leash and beds to sleep on, all under budget. So you say YES again to the train, and you watch as a teenage boy leaves his friends, who are sort of rolling their eyes at him, to high five a kid who is just totally starstruck by this. You watch as the people in the food-court sipping on lattes wave at your kids and make them feel like celebrities. Your heart melts a little as you choose to loosen your grip on old grudges and choose train-rides, and Build-a-Bear, and high fives instead.

It is raining on the way home and you have to put the shoes back on the stuffed animals more than once. There is yelling before there is three little girls falling asleep in the back seat. You come back home and the exhaustion sinks in. You suddenly realize there was something you forgot to pack and have it shipped where you are headed next. You accept that this year Christmas will be felt like a flame through a thick glass, dimly and a little skewed. You decide, for once, that it is enough. Maybe it won’t totally feel like Christmas, maybe every dream will not be fulfilled. But Christ has come, and you are invited to come in, to take a closer look. To ask some questions if you need to. You are invited to feel that you are enough, to find the things that delight you, to share the generous gifts. It may not always feel the way you want it to. That is okay. You can choose it anyway.

For My Grampy, They don’t make them like they used to.

We buried my Grampy a week ago, said our final goodbyes, laid him to rest. All those other things we say when we know it is for the best but we will just miss the person so deeply. This is my last grandparent and I am feeling the grief so deeply.

There is something amazing about the love of a grandparent. So freely given, so utterly proud. Grampy was good at loving us well.

The thing about a funeral is the way that people from all different parts of a persons life end up using the same word to describe him. I stood next to my mother during the showing. People time after time described my Grampy as steady.

He was always there, and he was always happy to do what was needed. And his idea of what was needed was always so deeply rooted in love.

I don’t know how to talk about Grampy without talking about Grammy. I don’t know how to tell you what a great man he was without talking about how well he loved my grandmother. That love held his family together even when all of the experts suggested it was time to be splintered apart.

When it was time to bury Grammy, this time of year so many years ago, she was buried under a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses. Grampy insisted on it. They matched the yellow rose he slipped around her wrist when they were 15 and going to their first high school dance. Their pictures hang together in the town museum. He was a basketball player and she was a cheerleader and going to state is museum worthy in a small town in Indiana. When we watched Hoosiers together he would count off the gyms he too had played in. He still had his lettermans sweater.

I wasn’t only Grammy he loved well. He was simply always there when we needed him, at father daughter dances (so there would be enough dad’s to go around) and every play I have ever been in, at a few games a year when my sisters and I took our rotation in the marching band. I think he and Grammy even came to the Miss Ball State pageant when I realized I could make 75 dollars for loosing. If it was important to us, it was important to him.

And it is hard for me to remember that the things he did were extraordinary because he just did it with so little fanfare. Building us a play set in the back yard and a basketball goal for our drive way, taking us fishing, donating a piece of his heel to heal my mother’s scoliosis. He didn’t want her to walk with a limp, he’d prefer it was him.

At the funeral I was reminded that Grampy had been a Mason and a Shriner, that he had taken 150 trips back and forth to the Shriner’s hospital to make sure kids got the care they needed. I was reminded that if there was a committee at his church, he had been on it, and if there was a paper that needed signed, he very well could have been the one who signed it. Finances, choir, finding a new pastor. Grampy was more than willing to serve where he needed.

And I was reminded of the joy he took in all of this. The way he laughed with delight when he pulled out the wheel barrow for my cousin Ally, it had stickers on it, she was three. Or the stilts he made for Jill and the way he laughed when my mom took a turn in their kitchen. I remember the way he made the Christmas Ham just so and the oyster dressing he loved. I remember the candies he bought every year for Christmas since my mom was a little girl.

I think of my grandfather and I remember how he never needed to be thanked for any of this, how he did it because he wanted to. I think of my Grampy and remember how this world is changed by people doing ordinary things with great love.





Sane for the Hollidays: Forget Perfection, choose delight

I have rules about the holidays. This isn’t because I think I am morally superior to anyone who goes all out, this is simply so I won’t drive myself crazy or throw us into bankruptcy. When Juliet was an infant and wouldn’t even notice if we got her anything at all, I cried because I was worried I wasn’t “doing it right.” I was afraid that my child who just wanted to put everything in her mouth didn’t have enough presents.

That was the year I took these hilarious and perfect pictures of her in her red cloth diaper socks and a Santa hat. Then I wrote a beautiful Christmas letter, and didn’t get it in the mail until March. Ooops. I felt awful, but my friends didn’t seem to  mind. They were actually mostly delighted to get a Christmas card in March.


But really who wouldn’t love to get this chubby face at any time? I felt like a total failure. I did not get my cards on time, I did not do it right, it was not perfect.

No one cared. Really. No one cared. Not even a little bit.

That next year I had another baby. We went to visit Santa. Juliet was not pleased. Priscilla was unclear about what was happening. I felt awful. Now, I giggle. This is perfect.


(You see how we had to bribe her with the sucker? My views about consent have evolved since then.)

The next year I wanted the perfect Christmas card photo. I booked professionals. Priscilla did this to her face two days before the shoot.



Rather than putting reindeer antlers on her and declaring her the family Rudolph, I found us coordinating outfits to wear at a friends outdoor November birthday party. I WOULD have the perfect Christmas card photo. I got this instead. I have blogged about it before, but really it is the perfect card for us that year (plus my hair looks really good.) It was crazy, things were crazy. Also, they were delightful.


I have mellowed out since then, mostly, but that is mostly thanks to the gift rules I implemented. Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. I didn’t invent it, but it works for us.

But this year I broke my rule. I had all the presents wrapped the day after Thanksgiving and then three days later something showed up in my email that I knew the girls would love, would just completely flip over. It was well within our budget. So I chose delight. Mine, and theirs. It isn’t exactly what I was planning or expecting. It means we have one more toy in the house (which I kind of rage against) but this year, this time, I am not second guessing. I am choosing delight.

Not just in the gifts, but in the extra swing I take around the neighborhood so the girls can see the lights, in the ditching of the complicated gingerbread house for the chocolate and sprinkle covered pretzel rods my girls can actually do, in the one simple story and advent chocolate every night. None of it is perfect, but all of it is delightful.