The Beggar's Bakery

More than Many Sparrows

or

A Tale of My Daughter and the Audacity of Ink 

By:  Jana Greene

October 12, 2011

      The first thing I noticed about it was the blackness of the outline, almost as if it were drawn with bold magic marker.   My next thought was that I must absolutely write about thisthe design that now lay bare on her skin.   As if, somehow putting pen to paper would give permanence to the moment, as the needle brought it to her flesh.

My daughter’s first tattoo.

     I had known that it was coming, that she considered it a rite of passage. My girl had always danced to the beat of a different drummer; a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture.  If she had a credo it would be this:…

View original post 2,107 more words

“Can You Hear Me Now?” – God

By:  Jana Greene

Do you ever wish God used a megaphone?  I do.

I have a couple of friends who are blessed with the ability to hear from God:  that small, still voice, presenting audibly.   I believe it is a gifting, the way speaking in tongues is a gifting, but not one of mine.  At least not yet.

A few months ago, I felt like the Lord was telling me to quit my stressful job.  (Convenient, right?  That’s why I didn’t listen at first).  I was experiencing health issues and as my doctor said, “something had to ‘give’. “  (As I live in a house with three daughters of the teenage persuasion, it was unlikely to ‘give’ at home.)  And my creativity?  Withering on the vine.  By the end of the day, I was too tired to create anything, even dinner for my family.

“It’s ok,” I felt like my Father in heaven was telling my spirit.  “Its ok to quit your job.”

But it was a good job; a full-time job, with benefits.  Employment is hard to come by these days.  So, I figured I must have misunderstood God.  But the health issues got worse.

I wanted to be obedient, but I also wanted my 401-k and paid time off.  In essense, I wanted assurance of a favorable outcome.  Nevermind that, in thirty years of salvation, God has never given me a guarantee that “Plan B” will pan out.  Even when I am absolutely sure that I am being obedient. But things have always worked out to the good.   I suppose that’s why it is called a Leap of Faith, and not a Baby step of Certainty.

My prayers continued.  Please, God….show me the direction to go.

“Write,” my interpretation of his voice said.  “Quit your job, and write.”

Why would God, who knows all, advise me to do that?  And what if I was hearing Him wrong?  What if, because writing has always been my dream, I am hearing what I want to hear?  The stakes are high here, there is much to lose.

But so, so much to gain.

For weeks, there was confirmation that it was time to quit.  It was time to move on and take a risk.  Still, I kept hoping that the clouds would break open, the sun shine upon me, and the booming voice God – who sounds a lot like Morgan Freeman in this scenario – would tell me what to do.  (He also called me a “good and faithful servant” here, but I digress).

If that actually happened, it would not be a Leap of Faith on my part, I guess.  It would be more a Baby -Step of Certainty.

If I want to hear what God is saying, I have to approach it with openness.   I have to ask that He reveal His will.  It seems so simple, but I forget to ask specifically sometimes, but still wait for an answer.  Just asking is the first step.

I have to read what He has to say in His Word.  I use The Message translation because it is plain to me, and although I enjoyed Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” as much as the next 10th grader in high school, I like to read The Word to read plainly, not in King James English.  My soul digests the message easier when my brain doesn’t have to digest it first.

I’ve learned that other Believers are a resource that God expects us to tap into.  I must ask for prayer, and listen to the advice of those who walk closest with Christ.   (Different from taking a “poll” – which  is what I mistakenly did at first.   The reactions amongst my friends were split about 50/50, with “Wow!  Good for you!” and “Are you CRAZY?” being the predominant reactions.)

My believing friends?   Overwhelmingly supportive.  When I ask them for prayer, there is always the chance that they might even hear audibly the confirmation that I received only from a gentle brush to my spirit.

I am so afraid to misunderstand, which of course, I will at times. It’s part of learning to discern God’s voice.  My struggle is that even when I hear from God – quite unmistakably – I still question it.

JESUS (using megaphone):  Quit your job and write.

ME: Get  a mob at night? Fit the fob just right?  Lob it out of sight?  What, Lord, WHAT?

Jesus:  **FACEPLAM**

Maybe that’s why I don’t hear him audibly.  If He did use a megaphone, I would no doubt complicate his command by over-analyzing.  He really isn’t a drill sergeant anyway.  He is love itself, patient and kind.  SO patient and kind.  And if I mis-heard?  He will still use the experience to bless me and others, and to glorify Him.   He is so awesome that way.

I quit my job, and I’m writing.  I don’t know how long it will be before I need to find a paying job, I trust God will let me know.  As for today, I have peace that passes understanding.  As for today, I am healthier, if not wealthier, and my soul is “listening” for the next move.

That small, still voice that presents by brushing my spirit?  It’s the sweetest sound.

Small, Deliberate Wonders

By:  Jana Greene

Yesterday was the kind of day that makes up for so many others.  It made up for the stressful ones, the days filled with worries.  It was the kind of day that seemed lovely in a very non-random way.  A day of a hundred small and deliberate wonders.  Lovely by design.

I just happened to leisurely sleep in, and then took my time having my coffee.  Bob and I decided to take a trip to the beach (okay…”trip” may be overstating it, we live 15 minutes from the shore) and we just happened to find a good parking place.  I held his arm walking onto the warm sand, so it was no problem to navigate the terrain in my orthopedic boot,  and there just happened to be a surfing competition at the beach access we parked nearest.  We spread an old, flowered comforter out on the sand to claim our spot and watched the surfing while sharing a bags of Munchos potato chips and M&Ms candies, which just happens to be the best salty / sweet combo ever. 

The sun was in and out of hazy clouds, but not oppressive with its heat.  My husband and I alternated between lazy conversation and occasional PG-13 make-out sessions.  He walked me down to the water two times, which took forever because I was bootless then and could not  put much weight on the broken leg, and we stood in the chilly waters together while the water washed the wound.  Saltwater just happens to be a wonderful antiseptic.   

When we  got home, we ate cheeseburgers with so many toppings – blue cheese and pickles,  and mustard, lettuce and cheese  (of course) that  it took four napkins just to get the condiments off of my face and from between my fingers.  We watched the movie “Tower Heist”, which was good but not great, but WHO CARES?  We had a lovely time, a time totally devoid of stress or worry.

Then, he and I, sunburned and satiated with full bellies and chilled-out minds, went to bed at the same time that our teenaged daughters were going out for a night on the town, and for once, we were glad to be the old  fogey parents settling in, cozy.  The dog was  lying on the floor of our bedroom, and the cat was asleep at the foot of the bed, and neither launched  an attack  in the usual bedtime turf war.  (See?  Small and deliberate wonders!)  I fall asleep holding my husband’s hand,  so glad that he and I just happen to be perfect for one another.

We are perfect for one-another in a very non-random  sort of way.  Lovely by design.

 

 

Alcoholism and the Art of Intermediate Mat Dragging

By:  Jana Greene

Thebeggarsbakery.wordpress.com

Addiction is addiction is addiction.  If you cannot control it, and it interferes with your relationships (especially your relationship with God), it is addiction.   Alcohol, heroin, crack , porn, online shopping….all reward the reward centers of the human brain, but differently in different people.  Which dopamine receptors scream the loudest determine which drug-of-choice a person might invest in.  Mine happened to be alcohol. But all scream loudly.  I long for the blood of Jesus to replace the toxic flow in my system that not even active recovery can replace.  In constant touch with my limitations, both as an alcoholic and someone who experiences chronic health issues, I need a transfusion of the Blood of Christ every day.

When I first started dealing with chronic pain and fatigue,   I had the “I gave at the office” mentality;  as in thanks for considering me, God….really, it’s an honor just to be nominated…but you see, I’ve already been through the ringer, so to speak , with alcoholism and whew!  I’m glad I got that suffering out of the way.  Except that it has become apparent that I might battle illness the same way I have with addiction.  One day at a time.

Popular among evangelical Christianity is the issue of deliverance.  It is not so prevalent in AA or other recovery programs, where it is considered dangerous to court the disaster of referring to your disease in the past tense.  Everyone has a sticking point when it comes to dogma, and this would be mine.  After eleven years sober (as of this writing), I think I’ve identified the root cause of this stickiness:  I’m jealous.    I envy people who have experienced the very real and one-time-only-ness of deliverance.   God can most assuredly deliver us from a plethora of evils, addiction being the least of them, but not everyone experiences recovery or healing that way.  For years I believed that there was something wrong with my walk with Christ because I still struggle at times, I still live One Day at a Time in recovery.   So foreign was the concept of total deliverance from addiction to me that the first time I met someone claiming it, I thought he must be drunk.

“Sober five years now,” said a middle-aged man at the AA meeting, when it was his turn to speak.  “I just woke up one day and God said, ‘You’re delivered’.  Never touched drugs again.”

I was amazed.  Aghast.  “Really?”  (I didn’t mean to engage in ‘cross talk’ at the exclusion of other people, it just came out).

“Yes.  Really.  He is so good.”

Yes, I know He is so good…I really do.  But this is supposed to be a program of rigorous honesty, after all.  Don’t pull my leg!  This guy  must be high.   He must be high RIGHT NOW; making claims like that!   This man had spent a considerable amount of his life as a junkie, had lost everything because of his drug habit.  His startling statement made me think of the paralyzed man in scripture, the one who Jesus healed on the spot and told to “pick up your mat and walk”.  And the man did.  Just like that.  Astonishing.

I still have a ton to learn about God (no surprise there) but I have learned that He does modern-day miracles like this all the time!  He heals in all ways – maladies of the spirit and the body, every day just like that.  Tumors vanish from x-rays and breast lumps from mammograms.   Sufferers of depression alleviated from sorrow, sometimes instantly.  When I hear of such deliverances, the Child of God within me says, “PRAISE YOU, JESUS!” but the “child” within me worries, “You love him better than me.”

Behold !  I am a new creation in Christ Jesus.

But I still have to drive this clunker.

I want to pick up my mat and walk.  I do not want to be a mat-dragger all my life.  But I am also reminded of the scripture that describes Paul, whom endured unspeakable acts of abuse and torture, had a “thorn” in his side.  The Bible never says what his malady is, and perhaps this is a purposeful omission.  In scripture, different translations describe this “thorn” as an “obstacle”, a “handicap” or a “trouble in the body”.   Or, I imagine, trouble in the mind.  The Message translation of the Bible says in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10:

“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. “

Paul knew God could remove the issue, and he believed in deliverance.  He had seen miracles throughout his travels, and if anyone has ever “given at the office”, it would be Paul.

“My grace is sufficient,” Paul was told.  So he had to stumble about with his thorn and live life to the fullest “undelivered” from it.

The thorns of addiction, chronic pain and anxiety?

I am starting to understand that the Lord cares more about whether or not I trust Him than my perceived limitations.  He is limitless-ness.  He seems to tolerate my childishness when I envy those differently-blessed, simply because I am his child.  And although I’m learning to take things in stride, the “with good cheer” is a work in progress.

More of Him; the antidote for the venom of anger, resentment, fear and  unforgiveness.  I don’t know how it works, I just know that it does.

I very well may be a mat-dragger, but I have to remind myself to consider this:  I am walking, sometimes with a little limp, but moving nonetheless.  Toxic thoughts and aching bones, pain and restless worry?  The remedy is the same:  Grace Transfusion, because His grace is more than enough.

One Day at a Time.

A Prison of My Own Making

By:  Jana Greene

Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free.  For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly.  Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.” –

James 2:12-13 (Message)

 

                I’ve heard it said that Christianity is only just “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food”, and I believe there is a lot of truth in that analogy.  But if that is so, I believe it is also “one freed prisoner showing another prisoner who can make him free”.

Currently, there seems to be a spate of television shows about prison life.  Filmed in actual penitentiaries, TV crews camp out in the common areas and just outside of the cells.  They then report on the conditions of the facility, and go in-depth with those serving time.  What must the mindset be to survive captivity?  There are much-needed layers of security, no doorknobs to turn here, and no gates that unlock from within.

From a human interest standpoint, it is fascinating.  Although there are those inmates who use the time to better themselves and the world, many are hopeless.   Hardened by life, they seem to feel justified for whatever crime they have committed, and express no interest in the world outside.   The lifers are the ones whose fates are often summed up with this phrase:  “No hope for parole”; and while I’ve never understood the logic of serving multiple life sentences, it must be unbearable to carry.

Once while watching an episode of “Lockup”, I wondered… what if somebody with a lot of clout opened the door for these prisoners, intentionally and literally– and pardoned all of their debt to society on the spot.  Granted, it would have to be someone very, very powerful to pull off such a feat.  Citizens would no doubt be angry – the time must be served for the sake of justice! – But I wonder….would many of them even walk through?  Fully pardoned, would they accept freedom and face new uncertainties, or stay behind the walls in distrust of the One who bought them liberty?

We believers sometimes remain captives all of our own accord, shuffling through this life with the world shackled around our ankles.  Each of us have our own issues, our own ball-and-chain – heavy and awkward to carry about.  I often haul my burdens around fully voluntarily, knowing the gate is wide open.  It is sometimes a constant struggle for me to slip out of certain shackles – resentment, unforgiveness, anger – because sometimes I feel justified in having them around.  Thankfully, my debt has already been paid.  To me, at least, this Living Free isn’t something you escape into only when you accept Christ,  but that you intentionally do on the daily.   Claim life as a freed captive, and not only live free, but introduce other prisoners to The Only One who has the power to grant a full pardon.  It’s not only our obligation as Christians…it is our great privilege.

“Father God, help us to live free from the power of sin, free from addiction, and free from a mindset that keeps me from your good plans for my life.  Give me the discernment to see and help others struggling and hurting, and let me live a life in this freedom that glorifies YOU!  In Jesus’ Holy name.  Amen”

Simplify (sim-pluh-fahy)

 

By:  Jana Greene

It’s complicated.  But sometimes it shouldn’t be.

Last December, the Pastor at my church recommended choosing a single word to focus on for the coming year of 2012.  After much deliberation, I committed to “Simplify”, because I was making the whole process of choosing one word, well…..complicated. 

And also because I had been intrigued by a phenomenon on Facebook in which people describe “complicated” as a relationship status.  I came across this for the first time reading one of my friend’s profiles.   This young woman had chosen not to designate herself as either “single” or “married”, nor did she describe herself as “in a relationship”.  She instead chose the “it’s complicated” option.  Huh…..

I now know that this “status” has been around for years, and that my ignorance of it is further evidence that I am old and very un-hip.  Still, it made me pause and think, and choose it’s opposite – simplify – as my one word to focus on. 

Please forgive my naïveté, but when have relationships   not been “complicated”?   It seems an awfully redundant description of relational-status.  Of course they are complicated, as they consist in two complex individuals relating to each other.   (Being single has its own complications, too.  Just ask any single person.)

 It then occurred to me that this status may be a nifty way to keep your options open without being accountable.

And maybe that justification doesn’t just apply to relationship statuses.  That non-committal  stance?  It applies to so many aspects of living, and fosters the justified train of thought, “I can always change it when I figure everything out.”

Spiritually, I don’t want to be the person with complicated beliefs. 

“Well…..it’s complicated.  I believe that  God sent His only begotten Son, so I know I will go to heaven, but I really don’t want to make a commitment.   But I do….but I don’t.  You know?  All roads lead to enlightenment, right?  It’s complicated.  I believe that the Bible is the in-errant Word of God, but maybe some Bible stories are to be taken figuratively, and not literally….like Jonah and the whale, or Noah’s ark…..it’s just not that simple…..”

I don’t want my relationship status with God to be something I am content with thinking, “Well, I can always change it tomorrow”.  Do I believe or not?  What is my faith status, and what do I want it to look like?  After all, I will never, never, never “figure everything out”, understand how the cogs of complications I’ve gone through work in the overall machine of my time on earth. 

I believe.  No over-thinking, no leaving wiggle-room in my belief system.  Making my walk with Christ the simplest, least complicated relationship I have with anybody in my life. 

Simplify  (simp-pluh-fahy)  verb

Make easy, intelligible

Synonyms:  boil down, clarify, clean it up, clear up, facilitate, make plan, make clear, streamline, unscramble.

Yeah.  That kind of faith!  Unless I complicate it, it’s really not that complicated at all.

Telling the devil Where He Can Sit

 I originally wrote this piece for a collection of devotionals on the book of James that my church was compiling.  I hope it blesses you today 🙂

 

Jana Greene     

For the past several days of Vacation Bible School, the children were encouraged to bring their parents, grandparents and friends to this Sunday service.  Today, they would parade into the sanctuary, assemble in front of the altar and perform songs in culmination of all they had learned during the week.   To the delight of the congregation, they sing songs about God, of course, and about loving one another.   And just as many generations have sung before them, they often sing about the joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts and about being happy, so very happy.  The last verse of the song really gets them excited.

“And if the devil doesn’t like it, he can sit on a tack! OUCH!”

They are nearly screaming the “OUCH!” for dramatic effect, some of them jumping for more emphasis.  These kids, so much like the ones Jesus gathered around him.  The ones Jesus tells us to be like.

 Somewhere along the path to adulthood, most of us have lost this.  We have lost the joy, joy, joy, joy, but just as importantly, we’ve forgotten to tell the devil where to sit.  True, children are often fidgety, and messy – but they are serious about what they believe!  Time and experience in this world wring the purity out of our inner lives, and with it goes joy.  We come to understand how malevolent the powers of evil really are, but instead of invoking authority over them as Jesus commanded, we allow jadedness to crowd out Holiness.  Sometimes we even romance the sin, whatever that may be.  How can a people so broken become childlike in nature again?

Each one of us has the authority to rebuke the devil himself.  It isn’t that we lack authority to command evil from our lives in Jesus’ name, but that we lack faith that we are given such authority.  It is a supernatural proxy given us by Almighty God, not because we have the strength, but because His strength is manifest in our fidgety, messy weakness. Believe it, like a child; with passion and expectation.

So let God work His will in you. Yell a loud ‘no’ to the devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet ‘yes’ to God and He will be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.” – James 4:8-10 (Message)

  Father God, let us remember that we have the Authority through the Holy Spirit to tell the devil “NO” when we are tempted or tried.  Coming to you as little children, please restore our joy to overflowing, as we say “YES!” to You and Your good will for our lives.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we pray.  Amen.

 

–          Jana Greene