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Five People You Meet at Christmas

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By: Jana Greene

They come from all walks of life and every background.

The people you meet at Christmas.

They love, hate, dread or excitedly anticipate Christmas. They are us, full of the spirit or full of ourselves.

 Here is sampling of the Five people you might meet at Christmastime:

 

The Consumer:

“My ornaments are so last year.”

Stuff, stuff and more stuff.  Black Friday? Not for these guys and gals. Why wait when you can blacken Thanksgiving evening? Christmas is packages, boxes and bags. So much to DO! Genuine givers they may be, but the baby Jesus gets a little lost in the shuffle of shopping and wrapping.  In the extravagance of perfectly decking the halls, it is easy to forget that the son of God was born in a simple stable surrounded by livestock. It’s very easy to forget when retailers break out the red and green before the Labor Day sales are over.

The Grinchy Begrudger:

“If you can’t prove it, remove it!”

These folks don’t believe in a power higher than themselves and resent anyone who does. Live and Let Live is not their strong suit. They will spend time researching to make sure that a life-size nativity scene is not set atop any government or public property, and would cut the leg off of the Wise Man whose plastic sandal touches the border. Bah!

The Homogenizer:

“Christmas tree? No-sir-ee! That right there is a” Holiday Tree!”

The star atop that tree is not representative of the Star of Bethlehem, but could be any astrological phenomenon. The Homogenizer doesn’t really want to take Christ out of Christmas, just water it down enough to please everyone. “Happy Non-Specific Winter Jubilee Holiday Solstice,” might be the response to a greeting of “Merry Christmas”, when a simple “you, too” would be just as easy.

The Revelers:

For true believers, Christmas is  the birthday of someone whom they love very much.  Having had an intimate spiritual encounter with Jesus, they know him personally. They appreciate folks who – if they practice another faith (or no faith at all) -can allow Christmastime to be celebrated without knickers knotted in staunch offense. For Revelers? The wonder and awe of the season revolves around the birth of a savior. But be warned; Revelers might insist on wishing you a merry Christmas with nary a thought of hurting your feelings because, um…. it is Christmastime.

God:

The fifth person you might meet at Christmas is God.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” – John 3:16

God as a person? Yes.

That’s what all the hullabaloo is about, you see. God poured over bones and under flesh and wrapped in swaddling clothes. God himself, who lived as a carpenter by trade and at thirty years of age began to assemble a rag-tag band of twelve to follow him. God, who in three years of ministry to his creation, changed the entire trajectory of human history (and more importantly, of human lives). God, whose flesh and bones hung on a cross to make sacrifice for all of us – Begrudgers, Homogenizers, Consumers, Revelers, and everyone else– and rose from the dead on the third day. His birth has been celebrated in some way every year since. He lives even today.

You might encounter God this Christmas. He welcomes us all -– to gather at the manger and see what Christmastime is all about.

God bless us. Every one.

A Thanksgiving Treatise (or Turkey Day with the Grown-Up Kids)

The Beggar's Bakery

(*This piece is satire* No offspring were hurt of egos bruised in the making of this post.)
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By: Jana Greene
Happy Thanksgiving, All!
There are certain things my adult daughters and I have agreed to disagree on, and thus; avoid conversing about altogether on Thanksgiving.
We get along SO MUCH BETTER when certain topics are off the table. It ain’t denial – we all know where the other stands – lets call it relationship maintenance. These things have been hashed out MULTIPLE times, and are only really good for raising blood pressure and driving a wedge between us.
Your typical Thanksgiving table talk is rife with strife, amirite?! So as in years past, I have issued a brief and snarky outline of acceptable Thanksgiving dinner topics for my lovely but liberal daughters and their paramours, because nobody really wants to see Old Mom stroke out at the table during the…

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Election Reflection – thoughts on the day after

By: Jana Greene

I haven’t checked any poll results yet. I’m awake before the birds, having gone into exhausted sleep at 7pm last “night.” This year, I haven’t had the spare energy to get worked up about one candidate or another. Of course, I care deeply – I didn’t vote a straight ticket this year – I probably won’t again. I did take the time to research issues and individuals, with an emphasis on issues, one by one.

But this moment is pretty delicious; I know it’s fleeting. It’s still dark out this morning, and my husband is sleeping next to me, and I’ve no exposure to the militant anger – red and / or blue – that will no doubt flood my social media feed today. Nor do I feel any division at present – the “us vs. them” heavy-hitting that will doubtless follow us around in the coming days (weeks, months…years.) Right now, to my mind, we are a nation that turned out in droves to vote because we all, almost without exception, love our country. Period.

No matter what the results are, most of our motivations are pure. I’ll venture to bed the races were close, which won’t bode well. Because the tighter the race, the angrier the contenders and the more gloating the victors.

I’m urging my dear readers to remember that we are not first hawks or doves, but Americans.

Can we try to remember that opposing candidates – one of which won yesterday – are not saviors or devils? They are people, swayed by money and kudos, just like everyone else.

Let us remember that this election is a blip in history, not an opportunity to amp up national negativity. Yes, it impacts us. But not as much as the contact you have on the person you come across daily – the person who shows you kindness by forgiving your trespass, or even holding a door open for you. Yes, each of us feels passionately. Can we just try not to manifest that passion as hate?

Let us remember that the opposing party is not Enemy Number One, but consists of our daughters and sons, parents and friends – people we love who feel just as strongly as we do.

Let us remember we are first people, not politicos.

Let us remember that absolute pier corrupts absolutely, and that we all need to be represented.

Let us do one small thing today in the name of being the comrades we are – one act of kindness the day after an election is a platform I can really get behind! Heck, let’s do more than one thing, and trigger an explosion of good will, not in spite of our differences, but because of them. Let’s be mindful about it, too. Really stick it to “the man” and get along with each other on purpose. That’ll teach him!

Let’s try to do what Jesus would do today. Because if anyone should have a beef with how they are represented, it’s Christ. Yet He finds a way to keep living. I hope we can too, at least a little.

God bless us, every single one.

The Holiness of Old Dogs

I’m running this piece for dear friends who have recently left their holy furbaby. ❤️

God comfort you until you see him again.

By: Jana Greene

Five years ago, we lost our Golden Retriever mix, Emmie.

I know Emmie was holy, as old dogs tend to be. I see her holiness. I know God sees it in her too, that He placed it there.

I’m finding that God often places the holy and pure things where we least expect them, and that He uses my dog to make me a better person, to teach me things.

Emmie has been a good and faithful friend to me for over thirteen years now.  A Golden Retriever (with a bit of Chow-Chow) she never knew the first thing about retrieving. But being kind and loving, joyful and true?  She knows everything about that.

When I call to her, she comes to me – even though she is old and creaky probably has a million good doggie reasons why she would rather not.  She might be on her soft bed, having the dream in which she is jumping the chain-link fence like she used to get scolded for in her younger years. (I can always tell when she has that dream, because of her front feet jerking, and then her rear ones.   And because she is smiling smugly as if to say, “it was totally worth it!”) She always comes to me when I call, whether she has been naughty or good, counting it all joy.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” – James 1:2

She enjoys her life, with little concern for the future.   Although it’s not easy for her to get into the back seat these days, she loves car rides.  Groaning a little as I help her hoist her achy haunches up, she seems to say, Mom, roll down the window already!  We might be going to the park, or to the vet’s office; she knows either one is a possibility.  No matter!  On the way, she forgets that she has trouble moving around, that she is elderly.  She is just a smiling doggie in my rearview mirror, her coat an explosion of golden fur in the wind, her slobber forming a snail-like trail down the side of my car, anxious for nothing.   “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” –   Matthew 6:25 -27 (NIV)

Emmie is an expert on affection, both the giving and receiving of.  She hasn’t yet learned that she doesn’t need to sit on top of me to be with me.  She simply cannot get close enough, even when I am trying to get things done.  Her tail wagging furiously, she is conveying that she loves me too much to contain it in a lady-like, reserved manner.  It reminds me of times that I raise my hands at church during worship, unfettered by rules, overcome with gratitude…when I just cannot get close enough, love/grace/gratitude bubbling over.   “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” – 2 Corinthians 9:12 (NIV)

But holiest attribute that Emmie displays may be the most subtle.  It is the way she humbly seeks my face.  When offered a treat, her gaze is on my hand (nor the delicious bone I’m holding).  No, she is starting at the acceptance in my expression, her big, chocolate drop eyes searching to read my face.     Interestingly, the Bible reminds us to seek the face of God, not his hand and what he can offer us in the way of treats. “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” – 1 Chron. 16:11

My sweet Emmie may not know about retrieving.  But she knows all about love.

Over the years….

In times of sorrow, I have buried my face in her uber-floofy coat and cried buckets of tears and she didn’t seem to mind.  She lay perfectly still, only moving to lick my face.  Always compassionate.

In times of great joy, she has skipped circles around me, pouncing up and down as if she had a single clue as to what the celebration was all about.  Obliviously joyful.

In times of sickness or pain, she is my shadow, following me to the kitchen, the mailbox, even to the bathroom.  Endlessly loyal.

Yesterday, I bent down to kiss the top of her cone-y head like I have hundreds of times before.   I held her face up in my hands and looked into her eyes.  Heart melting, a feeling came over me of sweet reverence.  Where have I felt this feeling before?

And then I remembered:  standing in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, a tourist awed and humbled.  The same sensation of being close to what His hand had fashioned flooded me in this realization: .  Where God’s glory is manifest in the great majesty of  architecture and art, it is also manifest in the eyes of an old dog.

Holy and sacred, where God placed it.

The Kindness of Strangers – musings of a hurricane evacuee

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By: Jana Greene

Greetings from the great state of Georgia.

I just finished my breakfast of obligatory grits and cheese, and a cup of excellent coffee in the lobby of our Hampton Inn.

It is home to us right now, this Hampton Inn. Displaced from our home at the coast by Hurricane Florence a week ago, my husband, adult daughter, and three cats are on the lam from the floodwaters and the chaos that is post-hurricane Wilmington. We are lucky our home was spared, but there is no actual way to get into our city right now, much less our house.

We are in limbo, and it’s uncomfortable. So freaking uncomfortable.

So here we stay for now – building-mates with a passel of other evacuees, all of which have been amazing comrades in arms against Florence and her nasty disposition.

But it’s the native Georgians who have blown us out of the water with their southern hospitality, which the employ with such gusto, it makes you entertain the idea of packing up house and becoming a Georgian, too.

From the hotel staff, who has gone out of their way to learn all of our names, the names of our pets, and our general situation, to the check-out lady at the local Walmart who asked me where I was from and came around her register to embrace me in a comforting hug when I answered her. Everyone – and I mean EVERY PERSON – that we have met has been angelic to us. Genuinely compassionate.

On the network news, you will see stories of Charlatans and looters, price gougers and swindlers in our city right now. But I’m telling you, they are the exception.

That that God Particle that manifests in others as mercy, compassion, and love? God has imparted it to all of us. Even to the people we don’t know yet.

Especially to the people we may not know yet….those humans we call “strangers.”

There’s a line in the classic, old movie “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams. The slightly unhinged character of Blanche DuBois”says in her soft, southern drawl: “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”

I finally know what she meant now. I don’t think I’ve ever understood it before.

The kindness of strangers is thick here. It’s in the air; you can feel it. One good, bolstering hug from a stranger can hold you up for a full day. A day full of kind words and smiles can bolster you with enough energy to take on another new day full of uncertainties.

I’d much rather be on the side of giving and loving others than be in the position of having to receive it in so copious a manner. But I have to tell you, my worried heart is filled with gratitude for the people God has put directly in our path.

God bless us, EVERY ONE.

Faith and Florence – Riding out the “Storm of a Lifetime”

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By: Jana Greene

Good day, dear readers. I’m going to try to blog about this experience with Hurricane Florence a little each day. Maybe someone else will be able to relate to my fear, faith, and feelings…maybe it will just prove good therapy for me to get them all OUT! Be safe out there, friends.

I was thinking about “hurricane preparedness” this morning, and what a misnomer that phrase is. We feel we are prepared. We did all the cursory prep as most of my neighbors –  bringing in every porch / yard item that could become a missile in Cat 4 winds…shutting all of the interior doors before we left…evacuating two states away. Hurricane Florence, you see, is taking dead aim at our lovely little beach town.

You know that feeling you get when – first thing in the morning – you open your eyes and realize there is something very wrong? That sinking feeling? A giant monster storm coming straight for your city and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. “Preparedness” is important, but how do you prepare yourself for coming home to utter devastation? What if we lose everything we own? It’s a very real possibility. I’ve had several mini panic attacks over the past few days, like many of you, I’m sure.

OMG, this is happening.

This is the “big one.”

I might lose the things of my heart, like my kids’ baby books. The unity candle from our wedding.

The outfits my babies came home from the hospital so many years ago.

The more I think about all the things, the more I remember we could lose, and the more I have trouble breathing.

Then I remember I have lost nearly everything before, during the course of my 2004 divorce. I just left, took the kids and left with little more than we had on our backs. It was a horribly difficult time, but we survived it, and my daughters actually thrived.

Eventually, the sad sting of losing so many pictures and yearbooks lessened. But that was high school yearbooks and pressed homecoming mums; furniture and trinkets. Not a whole house.

Today, one of my kids is here in Atlanta with us, another is in Charlotte safely with her boyfriend (who is an absolute super hero…) and one on the way to VA.

Even our kitties are stuffed into this tiny hotel room – all three. It’s cozy.

So what we are going through is unbelievably stressful. I just consumed an entire bag of “extreme” sour gummy worms. Yes, I’m’ praying to Jesus but candy helps, too.

This hurricane is not an “act of God.” God is responsible for all that is good and lovely, pure and true. He is in our laughter and in our joy. He is not punishing anyone. He is always either blessing us with all the beauty around us, or he is hunkered down with us in the storms. He hasn’t left us.

File natural disasters under “sh*t happens,” and look around you. You will find some of the kindest, most loving people manifesting right now. I’ve lost count of how many friends I’ve seen post, “I have an extra bedroom; whoever needs a place, you are welcome here!” And “What do you need?” on public FB feeds. “I can run errands. I can help you pack. I can give you a ride.”

That’s where I’m seeing God at work – not in a swirling vortex of doom. I don’t know why bad things happen and I’m not going to yank your chain with useless platitudes.

It sucks. I’m scared.

This whole shebang is super stressful.

Can faith and fear occupy the same space? I used to think not. But anymore, I’m convinced that our Creator is grace-full about the overlap. He isn’t mad at our anxiety. We’re his kids, for crying out loud.

Right now, those same girls who went through the valley of having a single mom in the early 2000’s (and my Bonus Daughter, too) are out of North Carolina. Nobody knows what this thing will do, but stuff be darned, my family is safe.

We are just one family of the literal million who has left for higher ground. There’s nothing special or particularly unique about us. We are all going through this together.

For your family – whether you are riding it out or stuck in your car right now in a long, seemingly stationary line of traffic, I pray for you. I worry for you. I’m hopeful for you.

And I’m super glad to be a part of a community of people whose hearts are so loving and giving. You guys are – in the worst of circumstances – being the hands and feet of God. Thank you.

Flotsam, Jetsam, and Faith

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By: Jana Greene

Ever been through a dry spiritual season? Without exception, we all have. Some of us are there now.

The place where God’s voice seems muffled under the din of mind noise. Oh my Lord, such mind noise!

Faith made stale by either struggle or monotony…because let’s be honest, both can really make us feel small and lost.

Swimming is a great therapy for me. It soothes my janky joints and relaxes my tense muscles. One of my favorite places in the world is the beach, and we are fortunate to live minutes away from the Atlantic ocean. When I go to the coast and scan the vast horizon, it reminds me how tiny we humans are.

But when I get in the water and swim, I’m in another world. It is a soft, enveloping womb – the ocean. I get immersed, letting the gentle current carry my floating form. I like to swim out past where my feet can feel the bottom. When I go with my adult kids, they are forever telling me, “Mom! That’s deep enough!” It’s funny how the roles have somehow reversed.

One of the most fabulous things about a faith walk is that even when you trip up, you still always know where true North lies. Navigating by the Heavens is tried and true, predictable and concise. Sometimes when I trip, I stay down on the ground and have a little spiritual tantrum, refusing to get up for a bit.

But when I come back from a dark place, my worship is fresh and welcome to my Papa God. Just like dipping into the cool waters of the sea, I’m not small but significant. I’m part of the water, and it’s part of me.

That’s all it takes to get my mind right – worship. And worship isn’t always about flashy church worship bands, or getting the lyrics right. It can be about seeking Him in nature. It can be about a long conversation with him – trusting Him to hear us is an act of worship. Noticing the tiny things that are beautiful and miraculous. Because the miraculous surrounds us every day, if we take time to look for it.

I have offered up some of my best worship while floating on the surface of the salty sea. Words fail me at times. But He is as close as my breath as I admire His handiwork.

When I am spiritually dry, He isn’t waiting on me to get it right to respond. He is in that dark place beside me, within me as Holy Spirit.  I am not small and lost, but infinitely valuable to my Creator, and so are you. So much so, that He is in us and around us, guiding our flotsam and steering our jetsam. Interestingly, the definition of “jetsam” is: “unwanted material or goods that have been thrown overboard from a ship and washed ashore, especially material that has been discarded to lighten the vessel.” He wants to lighten our burdens! What a God we serve.

Immerse yourself in Pure Love and be reminded that you were not designed to admire the vast love from a safe place. You were born to learn that trust makes us weightless.

That’s how I think about God – He desires that I don’t stay on the shore, but dive in and trust Him fully, even when our “feet” don’t touch the bottom.

God bless us, every one.

 

Seasons (that suck) are followed by Seasons (that ROCK!)

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By: Jana Greene

This whole post could easily be about hating summer.  Because I really hate summer, and frankly don’t understand why any temperature over 90 degrees exists. That’s what I want to talk about today – hating summer because it’s hot.

In the literal heat of the moment, I can decide the whole damn season just sucks.

Heat is oppressive. My body doesn’t like it. Easily eighty percent of my health woes are directly impacted by temperature, although I hate admitting that because it’s such an old lady complaint. (Spoiler alert: You really CAN feel the storm coming in your bones!)

Something about sweating really brings out my flair for the dramatic. In the foyer of my house – as I am exiting my home – I am woman, hear me RAWR! And I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me! I’m having a great hair day!

Two seconds later, I’m walking to the driveway awash in the oven-like conditions of the great outdoors (yes, the stretch between my front door and driveway IS considered the ‘great outdoors,’ especially in the summer.) Within moments, I have dissolved into a sweaty, ruddy, giant two year old who needs a nap. The air feels too damp to breathe. Ew.

When I get over-heated, all of the sudden, I feel fat and ugly.

All of the sudden, my inflammation levels rise.

All of the sudden, I hate everything about living on planet Earth.

Oh my goodness, what first world problems! But during the experience of segueing between Hearth and Home and Habitat Hell, I become extremely grumpy. What possible purpose could 100 degree weather serve? I mean, sorry about the Ozone, God, but could you hook a sister up with some nice 80 degree days between May and September?

To everything, turn turn turn,

Season, turn turn turn,

And a time for every purpose

Under Heaven.

Purpose. Hmmmm.

The inevitable truth is that summer is only a season – one season – and as such, will turn into Fall. Things turn; it’s the nature of things to turn.

Now, I LOVE everything about Fall, ya’ll. The whole shebang!

Autumn leaves changing colors, and hot apple cider. Snuggly sweaters and crisp, cool air. October is my favorite color, and I can’t wait for it to come around! At the slightest whiff of cool air, my attitude changes. Witnessing the falling of one orange leaf means all of the bounty of my favorite season is in view. It’s coming! It really is!

That seasons change is a fact. Better times are coming. After this season comes another, better one. I will not need gills to breathe outside then. I will be able to exhale, and inhale again, with little to no drama about leaving the house.

So I suppose this whole post is kind of all about hating summer. But even this wretched season has it’s charms – like going to the beach. And….going to the beach. (I got nothin’ else here.)

No matter what we are hating right now – it will change. Seasons always do. Whatever is stifling us and strangling us, making us grumpy.  Knowing that it’s nearly September and October inevitably follows is a great comfort to me right now!

If you are going through some awful season right now, I pray you will just be encouraged. I’m not going to feed you a line about everything happening for a reason; that’s not helpful at all. But I am reminding you that it is temporary.

It helps to remember that in all of the other seasons, too – the ones that make heat strokes look like a walk in the park. Like the Big Three – health, money, and relationships. There’s a season for everything, including huge life changes.

Take heart – your “October” is coming!

Mine is, too.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.”