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.”

 

Demi Lovato and Relapse – No Addict Left Behind

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By: Jana Greene

“I think I’ve definitely had my rock bottom and I think that was probably right before I went into treatment where I said, ‘I definitely need help.’  – Demi Lovato

I know I’m not alone in my feelings of sadness about Demi Lovato’s heroin relapse.
The singer and actress had six consecutive years of recovery time before she overdosed on Heroin yesterday.
That’s a long clean time, by anyone’s estimate.
Relapses are always jarring – even when they happen to celebrities who – if truth be told – sobriety may even be more difficult for with so few checks and balances on finances and public adoration.
They are even more jarring when they happen to someone you know and love. I found that out in March.
One of the “girls” my daughters grew up with was taken by heroin after two years of sobriety. Two YEARS.  She and I had grown close in the past, because she knew I was in recovery, and I had the distinct pleasure of getting to mentor her a while back. She was  feisty, hilarious, sweet, and beautiful. More recently, she moved and we’d lost touch,  but I knew she was a couple of years into active recovery and I was so proud.
Demi’s overdose brought up so much pain, all over again. It highlights an uncomfortable truth – we are never, never free of our addictions. You don’t “get over it.” Society may not understand this, but I hope that some wisdom and understanding about the disease will blossom on the heals of this awful thing. People need to know that we cannot rest on our laurels and that we need support to stay in recovery.
This problem touches all of us. The more we understand, the better.
I’m seeing something beautiful happening in the wake of the tragedy. I’m watching the recovery community around the world – MY recovery community – rally around one of our own. It’s very Jesus-y, really; the way only LOVE (and plenty of it) triumphs, no matter what. As she had made the recovery life a platform, she probably thinks she disappointed the whole world. She may not realize that we still claim her, proudly. That we still believe in her.
In the cyber world, I see it everywhere. My Instagram (MyFIERCErecovery) feed is awash in posts by 800 fellow addicts who GET it, and are pulling for Demi in every way. There hasn’t been a shred of disappointment or smack-talk, much to my surprise. On Facebook, I see the same thing. For those in my community, this is an excellent time to spread awareness.
I see it in the real world, too. My friends and I have had discussions about the sadness of relapse, but also the tremendous hope that comes from knowing she can make this near-death experience into an even stronger recovery.
We don’t give up on anyone!
It’s like the addiction world version of “no man left behind.” She will likely be embraced and encouraged from the recovery community around her. These people are just bulldogs, ya’ll. They stand with you until you can stand on your own. I’ve no doubt she has a wide and loving network of people and resources to help her heal.
I myself am one drink away from destruction, and I know it. I have no illusions about my disease, even with nearly 18 years of sobriety. Our drug of choice is a patient force; it will wait until we are tired and triggered. It will wait for us to feel confident about being sober. It will wait for damn near anything – time itself is no deterrent.
I came across another quote when I was preparing to write this piece, and if you just read it hurriedly or in passing, you may miss the profoundness of the statement:
“No matter what you’re going through,” Demi has said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it may seem hard to get to it but you can do it and just keep working towards it and you’ll find the positive side of things.”
I hope she still believes that, because it’s still true. The things she learned in recovery didn’t dissipate because she had a relapse. That’s another misconception. What you gain in recovery time, you keep. It’s yours. Now use it every single day – ONE single day at a time – to bolster your new recovery journey.
If you just keep working towards it.
Just keep working.
Just keep going.
I pray that Ms. Lovato will come out of this bolstered, strong, and with renewed commitment to recovery. Her light at the end of the tunnel has not been dimmed – it still shines bright waiting to guide her through recovery. I believe she will find the positive side of things again.
We are all pulling for you, Demi.

Please take a moment to consider the loss of life and talent that alcoholism and drug addiction has taken from the cultural landscape.

And then think about the voids left by the vastly more important people in our own lives who are lost or still in the trenches of addiction – the children, spouses, friends and family that you love.

Amy Winehouse, musician; Brian Jones, musician with The Rolling Stones;   Chris Farley, comedian, actor;  Cory Monteith, actor  and singer;  Darrell Porter, American professional baseball player ;  Elisa Bridges, model, actress;  Elvis Presley , musician, singer, actor, cultural icon; Freddie Prinze, actor;  Hank Williams, Sr., country music singer-songwriter; Heath Ledger, Australian actor;  Howard Hughes,  business tycoon, movie producer and director, aviator, engineer, investor; Janis Joplin, musician; Jim Morrison, musician, singer; Jimi Hendrix, musician and singer-songwriter;  John Belushi , actor and comedian; John Entwistle, bass guitarist for The Who; Jon Bonham,  drummer  and songwriter for Led Zeppelin;   Judy Garland, actress and singer; Keith Moon, drummer for The Who;  Kurt Cobain, Nirvana singer;  Len Bias, Boston Celtics player; Lenny Bruce, comedian ; Marilyn Monroe, actress, model, singer;  Michael Jackson, singer and icon; Richard Burton, actor; River Phoenix, actor;  Sigmund Freud, considered by many to be the founding father of psychoanalysis; Tommy Dorsey, jazz musician; Truman Capote, writer; and Whitney Houston, singer and actress; Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor; Prince, singer; Michael Jackson, singer; Whitney Houston, singer; Tom Petty, singer; Chyna, female wrestler; Scott Weiland, singer for Stone Temple Pilots; Corey Montieth, actor; Mikey Welsh, bassist for Weezer; Bobby Hatfield, singer for The Righteous Brothers.

A Prayer for the Hallway – Faith in the in-between

 

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By: Jana Greene

Lots of people say that starting a thing is the hardest part, but I beg to differ. To me, the hardest part is when you’ve done all the things to put yourself on the right track, but it seems forces are conspiring against you.

Paranoid? Maybe. True? Certainly.

When you’ve changed your lifestyle to a healthy one, but have hardly lost an ounce over the course of weeks. I don’t know about you, but it was my intention to have a window opened to me when I said goodbye to pleasures like sugar and carbs. When I’m stuck in limbo, my Inner Jana really just wants to say, “Well, screw it! I tried! Back to the Haagen Dazs!”

And in matters much more important…

When you’ve chosen to step out in faith but doors are not exactly opening up to you.

When you are expecting God to part the Red Sea but He isn’t making a way for you like you’d trusted. He is doing it some other way – even though you clearly instructed Him to please come through.

Getting started isn’t always the hardest thing. Sometimes the hardest thing is to KEEP going.

Here’s another thing a lot of people say:

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.” To which I’d like to add – “but it’s HELL in the hallway!”

The hallway is the perfect place for giver-uppers to give up; trust me, I know.

In the hallway, the light is often busted. You cannot see a way out, no matter where you turn. Where’s that window again, God?

In the hallway, our hearts hurt. It’s a lonely, unforgiving place. It can easily feel like no one even knows you’re missing.

In the hallway, you feel vulnerable, like Eve when she discovered she was naked. Just you and your Maker in this strange place of neither here-nor-there.

It seems like the long hallway will never end at times. You walk and walk, and the hall just stretches ahead like a mirage. I mean, sometimes it REALLY just goes on and on.

The hallway seems like a TERRIBLE place to rest! Right beyond a locked door and with no other exits clearly marked. But “rest” is what we are supposed to do in the damn Hallway, I think.

The hallway can be a purgatory-esque place of extreme anxiety building and extreme faith building, in that order.

Here’s the thing about hallways, though. They always lead to somewhere.

Some of the longest, darkest hallways I’ve had to camp in on have been great places to wait it out and wait on God. Not COMFORTABLE places, mind you. But pretty good incubators for learning to truly trust, even when you cannot imagine what the future holds.

When I went through a divorce in the early 2000’s, I experienced a stint in one of the loneliest hallways of all time. Formerly a mom who worked from home, I had to go out and get four part-time jobs to care and feed for my kids. We had nobody else. For a period of a couple of years, I stayed in “fight or flight” mode, to the extent that I’m pretty sure I crashed my spiritual hard drive. I had shut a door that badly needed shutting, only to find that my circumstances got more difficult before they got any better (and they did.)

When I quit drinking, deciding to quit was not the hardest part. The hardest part was on Day 11 and 105 – random times when I’m just minding my own sober business and the shit hits the fan and I’m caught unaware by the drama. The only thing that got me through sober was the faith result of spending untold time in the hallway.

And now, with my janky health problems and chronic “I’m not sure what I want to do when I grow up” (I’m nearly 50…) state, I find myself in yet another corridor, waiting for God to open my window and trusting that when He does, it won’t be on the 21st floor.

I’m preaching to myself as well as anyone else! I’m struggling, ya’ll. That’s why I’m writing about this phenomenon, hoping to pull myself AND you up with the hope that God is indeed working on things, even when nothing changes on the surface.

Had I not sat in that lonely place of in-between for so long, I wouldn’t have known how to survive life on life’s terms. The Hallway isn’t really a Hell, but a changing room.

A portal to accepting GRACE.

I will keep pressing through the hallway if you will!

Until we come out the other side, please join me in this prayer. ❤

Dear Papa God,

I feel like I’m in between. In between things and people and places. I’m ready for the glorious answers to prayer, but I know that you ONLY have my best interest at heart and have wonderful things stored up for me just beyond the open window. Thank you for changing things in your perfect time, instead of my time – which is seen through such a limited scope. Help us to be patient in the hallways, when we feel lonely, lost, scared, or anxious. Thanks for camping out in the hallways WITH us. What a wonderful thing for a Father to do. Holy Spirit, instill in me the faith to keep on keepin’ on, every day, with assurance that YOU are faithful.

Amen.

 

How ’bout that OFFRED?

Offred1
By: Jana Greene
Okay. I’m about to pull a Jesus juke The Handmaid’s Tale.
If you’re not familiar with the show, that’s too bad. Remedy that please.
The protagonist – played by Elisabeth Moss – is everything a heroine should be, including relatable and flawed.
In addition to giving me the compulsion to approach strangers in the produce section of the grocery store and whisper, “Blessed be the fruit” for my own entertainment, The Handmaid’s Tale is also an incredible series laced with danger, truth, and foreboding.
SO much terrifying allegory for a world that I could not have imagined in my younger days, but is now reality. It is about having human rights stripped away – even one’s very identity.
No spoiler alerts here, just little old me spreading thoughts for your perusal.
This show illustrates religion vs. grace in an embarrassingly bright light.
It’s about what happens when an ‘elite’ few in are allowed to run amok over its own citizenry, in the name of the “common good.”
Or worse, in the name of God.
And I guess that’s what especially pisses me off about the world we live in. We use His name to damn and to bless, as if we had that kind of power. Look at what a mess we’ve made! The evidence perpetuates itself –  God is rules. God is anger. God is the Nanny State.
Except that He is not. He is courage. He is compassion. He is freedom. The Word is a person, not a book.
Without going into spoiler-heavy detail, let’s just say in this cliché: the season two finale had many twists and turns. But all the while maintains it’s message:  You can try to twist ideologies to glorify your own, or embrace the truth about who you are. We cannot be boxed; Commanders, Guardians, Marthas, nor Handmaids.We were created for the wild liberation of individuality.
The fact that love conquers insurmountable odds is the godliest tale.
We simply cannot worship political parties.  Both have to potential to land us in a Orwellian spot like Gilead, one just as easily as the other. God has no political agenda. Only God can show us how to fight for justice while keeping our love front and center.
Like Jesus. Or like Offred….
I mean, JUNE.
May the Lord open.