Spiritual

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:…

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Spiritual

“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.

Spiritual

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.

 

 

Spiritual

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.

Devotional

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”

Spiritual

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.

Devotional

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

Devotional

Sure-Footed Faith

By:  Jana Greene

 

My mother used to call it “petering out”.

“You’re always starting things without finishing them,” she would say.  “you just peter out.”

Oh, how hard I try not to “peter-out”!

I start out strong, and by ‘strong’, I mean obsessive-compulsively.  I gorge myself with information about any given pursuit, lunging into it with enthusiasm.  I will go the distance!

It makes no difference what the pursuit might be.  Below is an incomplete list of projects I have begun without finishing  (what…you expected a complete list?) :

Yoga:  This routine involved a DVD set in which I was to emulate the “poses” of unnaturally flexible people.  Thinking this excercise might be good for a tightly-wound person such as myself, I went all-out.  I bought the mats –  and, I am sorry to say – two pairs of spandex pants. (The mats are now rolled up decoratively under our living-room coffee table, so that a passer-by might think I am fitness-minded….if this passer-by were not to see my actual body.  I’ve no idea where the spandex pants are and if God is merciful,  I will never see them again.)

Gardening:  This one is a real embarrassment because it seems I have actually  failed more times than I’ve tried, if that were possible.  I plant flowers in the spring, carefully considering the nutrient needs of each kind  (ok, glancing at the tag at Home Depot…sun or shade?) and lovingly transferring into the soil.  Inevitably, each precious plant dies a slow and choking death by thirst and weed.  Yet, each new Spring, I forget that I don’t really  like dirt.  By the first hot summer day, I remember that I don’t like heat either,  and that I would have to stand in the hot sun watering plants all summer if I expect them to live.  I don’t, so they don’t.

Laundry:  I love to do laundry!  That is, I love to start the process.  I forget that the clothes have to be transferred into the clothes dryer  after being washed.  The result is that the clothes either start to smell funky and have to be re-washed, or my husband has to complete the cycle.    I just forget that laundry is in process (Really, Honey….I meant to finish it!)

Bible Study:  Ouch!  This one is hard to own.  I join groups with the best of intentions, but often end up dropping out.  Help me to focus, Lord, has become my prayer.  The initial propulsion is strong and forward-moving, but I am fickle, impatient and horribly inconsistent.

For reasons I cannot begin to understand, God picked me for His team anyway.

We’ve all heard that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions”.  I can testify that the roads to frustration, disappointment (and abdominal fat) are too.

What about the daily grind of getting through life with faith-intact?  What about losing interest in the mundane aspects, and giving up altogether on the difficult things?  Many times during this long faith-walk of mine, I have flat-out told God, “I can’t do this!  You have the wrong girl!”  Or, I fall behind and hope no-one will notice, with the mindset that this is too hard. Because sometimes, truly, it is.  We cannot see the finish line; we have no tangible evidence that it exists, but we are commanded (in the words of “Journey”):  Don’t stop believin’.  Thats the “faith” part.

I have a dear friend who is a runner.  As it turns out, there is an entire  sub-culture of people who engage in running – voluntarily – and with no large, predatory animals  in pursuit!  This friend trains relentlessly to run in marathons where the goal is to cross the finish line.  Sometimes a trophy is awarded, but often the only recognition is completion.  There is no prize for crossing the starting line.

“I feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when I cross the finish line,” she told me.  “I always know that I will finish, even if I have to walk.  When I start a race, I start with the end in mind.  And when the finish line is in sight, I push even harder.  There is no turning back.”

My prayer is that my spirit will do what my mind and body refuse to – go the distance without “petering out”.  God tells us that we can follow Him with the sure-footedness of an Olympic athlete so long as we study the way that Jesus did it Himself, never losing sight of where he was headed.  My friend, The Runner, understands that more than most.

Even if we have to walk, we finish.

No turning back.  No petering out.

1-3Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!  – Hebrews 12 1:3  (The Message)

Spiritual

Grace Graffiti

By:  Jana Greene

  It is Monday. Although rainy days and Mondays don’t always bring me down, there is a tendency to feel a sense of let-down on the first work day of the week.  Sunday mornings have eclipsed  Friday and Saturday nights as the highlight of my week these days, maybe because I’m getting older, but mostly because I attend a church I look forward to attending.  It is full of people like me: broken but crazy in love with Jesus.  The worship is wild and the message is radical, and I leave feeling….vibrant. .  Technicolor.  No matter how washed-out I felt as I took my seat in the sanctuary, I am renewed when I leave the building.

                But now it’s Monday.  I can already feel the monotony moving in…the ho-hum.

                In an effort to revive my enthusiasm, I picked up my Bible. In the interest of being honest, I don’t always pick up my Bible when I am feeling blah; usually, I try to comfort myself with any number of things (music and chocolate are high on the list).   But I’m (slowly) learning to identify what void needs a fill-up and the appropriate remedy to fill it.

I read a translation that makes clear the message – a translation called “The Message”.  Today in Psalms 17:6-7, I read:

”I call to you, God, because I’m sure of an answer.

So, answer!  Bend your ear!  Listen sharp!

Paint grace-graffiti on the fences;

Take in your frightened children, who

Are running from neighborhood bullies

Straight to you!”

Grace graffiti?   Pure poetry. 

About a year ago, I was lucky enough to accompany my oldest daughter on a class Chorus trip to New York City.  As a chaperone having three seventeen-year-old girls in my room, there was a tremendous sense of responsibility.  As a mother, life-long memories were made with my child in The Big Apple.  As a tourist?  Pure amazement was the order of the day, four days in a row – starting with the bus ride from LaGuardia Airport to our hotel in Manhattan.

My daughter had never been to the big city, and I hadn’t been since childhood.  As we bumped along on the ride, the driver attempted his tired monologue of landmarks as we passed them, but nearly every kid (and chaperone) on the bus was talking simultaneously.  Alexandra and I could not point fast enough to all of the things we were seeing.  As we moved from the more “colorful” parts of town into New York City proper, we saw what I had only witnessed in movies and pictures:  Graffiti.  Real New York Graffiti.  “Wow….” Alexandra and I said together when we saw it.

The surprising thing about graffiti, it is so full of color.  The structures surrounding it were gray and drab, but the art on so many surfaces were bright.  Huge paintings of reds, blues, yellows and greens – with every shade between.  The sheer size of each was baffling, drawing the eye and demanding attention.

And another thing about it, it’s as illegible as it is illegal. The images are universally understood, but the letters may as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics….. Something only the person – or gang – who crafted it would understand – frightened children and neighborhood bullies, all.   Although the intent was to deface property, most of the murals were beautiful, in truth.  A bright protest of the ‘ho-hum”, they relayed the message:  Make no mistake Who was here.

What does “grace graffiti” look like?  The grace of Christ, not as a Sunday morning phenomenon, but as a testimony?

I want a Technicolor faith walk, but I don’t want to be a billboard that only other Christians can decipher.  I struggle with the implications of voicing the desire for it….. graffiti, no matter how society views it, is an honest and raw statement.  Shouldn’t a life covered in graffiti of grace say to the world:  Make no mistake, He was here?

Broken, but crazy in love with Jesus.

Vibrant.  Even on a rainy days and Mondays.

 

Spiritual

No Turning Back Now

What actually took place is this:  I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law” (wo)man and so that I could be  God’s (wo)man.  Christ’s life showed me how and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God.  Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine “‘ but is lived by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I am not going to go back on that.  –  Galatians 2:19-21

Spiritual

More than Many Sparrows – My Daughter’s Tattoo

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:  Live by Deliberate Acts of Impulsivity.

As her mother, I would surely prefer that she not bear any tattoos at all, because (and yes, I am the expert here) she is absolutely perfect the way God made her.  I am rather attached to her being, looking, sounding exactly like my daughter – the only one of her kind, anywhere.  Tattoos are just not my thing”, whereas she very much is.  

           Nineteen years ago, just after she was born, the delivery room nurses whisked her away for her first bath and returned with my infant girl swaddled very tightly.  No sooner was she in my arms than I was removing the blankets, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning.  As mothers have done since the dawn of time, I checked her, head to toe.  I found her birthmarks, the dimples in her plump hands, and worked my way to her tiny, peach-fuzzed back.  There, between two flawless round shoulder blades, I placed my open palm to her skin.  It was a perfect fit.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined anything marring that space.

  In her “growing up” years, there were manifestations of her free spiritof course… harmless acts of rebellion, none of them leaving a lasting mark.  She formed strong opinions before she could form complete sentences, and had no trouble expressing them.  At around age four, she developed magnetism to the camera (any camera) andmade it habit to insert herself into any and every photograph.  

Around the same time, Alexandra began displaying fashionista tendencies.  An ensemble she chosen for a summer day in the park might include: a sweater with leggings, plastic Disney princess shoes, a toboggan with ear flaps, seven necklaces and a life-vest (after all, it was July!)…all worn together and on dry land.  It soon became apparent that stares, glares and pointing in her direction by the public at large was not a deterrent to this behavior.  It was more the entire motivation.

This is when the adage “choose your battles” took on meaning for me.  And as I became a student of war, the years rolled on like a tank.

With the advent of tweenhood, there were lines drawn, of course. Not a fan of shirts that showed adolescent bellies and shorts that declared suggestive adjectives across their bottoms, those were not tolerated.  Alexandra compensated with crazy combinations of adornment, including stick-on tattoos of all kinds.  

At twelve, after spending a long day with friends at the beach boardwalk, she returned home with a henna tattoo, ecstatic.  

“Until I get a real one,” she told me.

She managed to graduate high school with only a nose ring as modification, butno sooner was the ink dry on her diploma than she was ready to display ink on her body.

“I’m ready,” she said to me one day.  “I’m getting my tattoo. A bird.”

          Okay.  A bird.

         “A Tribal Sparrow,” she added.

         “What in the world is a ‘tribal sparrow’?” My voice is more condescending than I intend.

          Eye rolling and head shaking.  Translation: Mother, you just don’t get it.

          I wonder about the subject she has chosen for the artist, and it’s tribal-ness.  Our family heritage is sort-of a homogenized breed.  We have no “tribe”. We have no “people”.  We are Scotch-Irish with German in the mix, and a little Louisiana-Cajun-French (but you have to really look for it).  No- we are very garden variety, Ellis-Island mutt American.  Perhaps that’s the attraction for her, the tribal aspect.

         “If you’re trying to belong,” I said, in an attempt to appeal to her lovingly (sometimes changing strategy can be effective)“You already do.  You don’t need a tattoo to belong here.”

She knows that, she says.  

Is a bird something you now,” I pause for effect. “And forever more want to be associated with?  Because you willyou will be ‘that girl with that tattoo. But as I am asking her, I am secretly grateful she isn’t branding herself with a map of Area 51, or the image of a pop tart, or a beer keg.  It should be something meaningful to you.”

         “It is.  It represents freedom to me, Mom.”

        “You still live at home,” I reply dryly. We pay all of your bills…..  Don’t you want to wait until you are free to commemorate freedom?”

        Heavy sigh.  “Freedom from things.  Personal things.”

        “If it’s so personal, why does it have to be permanently inked on your body for the whole world to see?”

        “Why would I not?” she counters, and I have no reply.  All their lives, my children have been told to be authentic, true to themselves.  Encouraged to be real.

Don’t be afraid to show who you are.  It’s the message I’ve tried to impart, even during the years of life-vest accessorizing.  Don’t wear the masks.

         “You know what?” I say. You don’t even know who you are yet!  You are who you are right now, and a mere five years from today, you will be in a completely different place.”

She says that none of us remain the same, not even for a single year. And it’s true  .I am a very, very different mother than I was when she was born, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning.  The particular audacity of getting inked is that it alters your shell, the only one you will get in this life.    It is a deliberately impulsive act.

Parenting is not a sane endeavor, and complicating the matter is that she is, in fact, not a child.  Still, I have to believe she will listen to reason.

“Not everyone is going to be so accepting of your ways in the world,” I bleat wearily..   “There are people who will make value judgments about you based solely on the fact that you have a tattoo.

But my instincts tell me to RETREAT, as I watch her body tense.

RETREAT, or there will be immediate launch into mutual hysteria, familiar territory for us.  It seems that – these days –she and I are either dissolving into tears of laughter together (our ‘inside jokes’ are legion), or hurling words of frustration at one another, rapid-fire.

If I ever care what people think of me based solely on my appearance, than I have bigger problems than having a tattoo!”

How can I not admire that statement?  Who can argue?  She is, after all, an adult.  I surrender, but silently, and with a slow refrain of “Taps” playing in my mind.  

What I want to tell her, but do not say aloud, is that she will be marked, molded, and modified, without ever setting foot into a tattoo parlor.  I look at my body, once just as perfect as hers, mapped by the story of my life.  Constellations of freckles from forgetting sunscreen a thousand times, and wrinkles from the same offense.   Smile-lines around my eyes from laughing, scars from mishaps and missteps, and from the pieces I have lost to surgeries…all part of the story.   But it’s the pink, translucent ribbons that cover my lower belly that mean the most to me.  Tributaries of skin stretched to accommodate the growing bodies of she and her sister long ago….. these are my tribal marks.  

When the time arrives, Alexandra comes to tell me it is The Day.  She tells me the name of the artist who will do the work.  I recognize his name; he attends my church.  She is the definition of “all smiles”, luminous.

“Do you want to come with me while I have it done?” She asks.  “You can hold my hand.”  I am instantly frustrated with her for acting like a little girl – still needing my approval, and equally frustrated that she is not one anymore.

I politely decline, and her boyfriend goes with her instead.  I am considering the natural order of things, pondering the business of ‘letting go’ when she walks out the door with him.  I try not to think about ink and needles.  I’m glad he will hold her hand.

It finally occurred to me to talk to God about my qualms; it should have been my first  response.  How many times do I wrestle tiny inconsequential issues to the ground as though they are giants without asking the Almighty God to assist me on the mat?  As usual, He was already in that place I had hesitated to invite him.

The Bible has a lot to say, and the gist of the message that speaks to my life is Grace.  True, there are passages that warn about marking the body, scriptures that warn against cutting the hair.  But it is a verse about birds that God brought to my mind.  Leafing through the pages, I found it right away:

Matthew 10:29.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Has my daughter inadvertently given flesh to the scripture I pray over her?    

Though I hate to admit it, Alexandra’s tattoo has forced me to consider the messy business of acceptance.   The “Choose-Your-Battle” cry of all parents has a different tone for each scrimmage and every life stage.  What do I gain, as a mother, if I choose not to accept my grown child’s decisions?  Am I selfishly seeking validation that I have “raised her right” if she refrains from what society might be uncomfortable with?  

The freedom she is trying to parlay is that today, she can still go anywhere from here.  This tattoo is meaningful to her.  And she is meaningful to me.

When she returns, she cannot wait to show me, walking backwards into my bedroom so that it’s the first thing I see.  There is no hiding the work; she will have none of that.  This girl, a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture…now adorned.

So that’s a Tribal Sparrow...  

A clear coat of laminate covers the wound, so that it can heal properly.  In the mental melee of preparing myself to see it, I had forgotten that it would scab and scar…that it would be a ‘no pain, no gain’ commitment, as most things that become permanent are.

“It’s lovely,” I say.  And I think I mean it.

The Tribal Sparrow is a beautiful bird.

Her outline is striking and very bold, not the least bit likely to fade, but her plumage is just the color of Alexandra’s complexion.  Centered between my daughter’s flawless and round shoulder blades, the sparrow is exactly the size of my open palm…a perfect fit.  She is in flight, but I’m not sure she knows where she is going, her two tail feathers pointed high.  Her eye appears to be a soft swirl, peering neither downward or behind, but straight ahead.  Her wings are gently drawn with a curve, as if she is gliding, not yet looking for a place to land.  A true Artist painted her right onto my daughter’s perfect body.  And every time I see it now, I am reminded that His eye is on the sparrow,and that she can go anywhere from here.  

Anywhere at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual

Franken-Ankle

By:  Jana Greene              

             Several weeks ago, I wrote in my journal about the experience of breaking my right ankle.  It was a deep and angsty piece  ruminating on the inconvenient timing of the accident, why God would allow it to happen two days after I quit my job (didn’t He know it was supposed to be a happy time?) and why it happened before I had other health issues resolved.  “Why?” I asked God as I typed.  “Why?”

                Surely God knew I needed to find another job, at least part-time.

                Surely He knew we didn’t need any more medical bills.                

                Like so many other things, it seemed a random misfortune, especially considering the manner in which it happened.  I didn’t injure it skydiving or bungee jumping, or even by participating in that fitness staple of the forty-plus-year-old woman, “Zumba”.

                I broke it by stepping out of bed because I needed to use the bathroom.  It made a horrible crunch and I felt searing pain….stepping onto the floor.

                I know….reckless, wanton behavior.  What can I say?  I live on the edge.

                For eleven days after the injury, I didn’t seek medical help, believing that it was a bad sprain.  I’ll just walk it out….I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, and frankly….I had other plans for that time.  The swelling and pain got to be too much, and I finally relented, going to the doctor.  The result of my top-notch stubbornness was a referral to an orthopedic specialist that quickly became a pre-op appointment and within days, surgery to rebuild my ankle.  Clearly, denial was not a good strategy.  When will I learn?  Denial never works out for me.

                The surgery went well, and I rested as directed for several days afterward.  Still, I was frustrated about the whole thing, and though it seems silly in retrospect, I’ve always kind of liked my ankles the way they were.  I know it sounds odd, but I could find fault with nearly every feature on my person, except for my ankles.   And although they are disproportionally small, they really do a good job of helping my feet get me where I need to be. 

I’m not a big fan of pain, either, and there was plenty of that involved.

                The first time I had a good look at my leg after surgery, my husband was sitting with me.  He makes it a point to be by my side when I need him most; he is just cool that way.  I took off the boot, and unwrapped the dressings.  Then the gauze pad.

On the outside of my leg, an angry-looking five inch scar ran from the lower calve to the top of my foot.  Stitches poked out at random intervals like little weeds in a garden row.  And where did the bone go?  The little round anklebone that should jut out a bit?  GONE. 

“It’s…it’s…” I sniffed “It looks like Franken-ankle!”  That’s what it looked like to me.

To which my Beloved, a man who lives with three grown daughters and a very emotionally- driven wife replied, “It looks great!”  He knows a thing or two about smoothing over hysteria.  Less is more. He gave me the tightest hug and smiled, and I felt better. 

                Days later, when I did the writing, I felt better still.  Bad things happen all of the time to each of us, much worse things than a broken leg.  Maybe God allowed it to happen now so that I would slow down enough to actually do some writing, which I’d been threatening to do for years.  I don’t really know, because the Almighty doesn’t let me in on the Master Plan, even when I ask real nice.  Or ask repeatedly.  The whole incident seemed overwhelming when it was happening, and as I heal, it sometimes still feels that way.  But it’s better every day.

                “Why” is a big thing with me;  I wish it wasn’t.  I am God’s oldest four-year-old, following him around and tugging on the hem of his garment, asking “WHY?”  Writing about things always helps me work through the pesky stages of acceptance (including denial), and reminds me what REALLY holds me together in all of the ways that matter, the grace of God.  Sticks and stones (and midnight bathroom trips) may break my bones, but His plans will never hurt me.  He knows my needs, far better than I do. 

                As for what now holds my leg together?  One titanium plate, six screws and one pin.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.  I am learning to reach for the hem of Jesus’ garment for His healing, and His will, instead of reaching out to ask Him “why”.

                It’s a process.   

“I don’t think the way you think.
   The way you work isn’t the way I work.” – Isaiah 55:10

Spiritual

Your Attention, Please!

I wrote this piece just after I had broken my ankle and had surgery to rebuild it, and came to decidedly discontent place!

By:  Jana Greene

Okay.  You have my attention.  You have my full attention.

I have been avoiding you, I admit; although I’m not sure why.  We’ve been on pretty good terms lately, I believed.  Things look rosy from the outside right now, but inside….the gnawing starts. Running right under the surface of my contentedness?   Molten lava.   I suppose it should have been sign that we aren’t on such good terms – that I was starting to feel contentment.  I should know by now that my comfort level with you is not your comfort level with me.  How do I keep forgetting that?

You want more.

Spend some time with me, you’ve been whispering.

“Oh, I will!”  I say.  “Let me just go to the store/update my status on Facebook/make a phone call/clean the kitchen, and then I will spend some time with you.”  And you always “let” me, because you are a gentleman and will not intrude.  And because I still feel, a little smugly perhaps, that I can handle things right now, so I delay making time for You.

You understand, I know.  You understand busy.

I have something to tell you, you say. 

But I cannot be bothered to crack open Your book – your letter to me – right now.  “I will definitely check it out in a little while,” my spirit says, full of all the best intentions.  And I busy my mind instead with the most trivial and mindless of things instead.

If a dear friend   told me to be expecting a letter in the mail soon that would directly impact my life in the most positive way imaginable, I would be waiting by the mailbox each day!   And when the long-awaited letter arrived, would I open it right away, or put it on the shelf and forget about it?   Wouldn’t I want to know the news right away?

And you are the Dearest of friends to me, yet I don’t return your communication sometimes.

Often times.

The problem with my superficial “content” is that it is so easily broken.  It takes  little for my fickle spirit to become discontent.  Any number of things can break the glossy, fragile bubble.  But You aren’t all that interested in bubbles anyway – pretty shells filled with nothing.

So here I am, needing you again, and so I come.

Spend some time with me?  I whimper, the most selfish part of me needing a favor.  The noblest part of me, just needing your presence. 

And you don’t withhold your communication from me.  You aren’t too busy.  You crouch down next to me, sorry that I am hurting.  Sorry that things aren’t going so well for me right-this-minute.  You remind me to open that book – Your letter.

I have something to tell you.

Spiritual

About Jana Greene

Beggars

By:  Jana Greene

So what you should you know about me?

I love my husband (whom I refer to as “My Beloved” because he truly is) with my whole heart. He really is – cliche not withstanding – my best friend, and I’m so glad to be doing this crazy life with him. We have been together nearly 14 years.
Our blended family includes three now-grown daughters, one grandbaby, and three very spoiled kitty cats.

I’ve worked at insurance and real estate agencies, mortgage companies, law offices, and as a day-care teacher. As a single mother I worked several at a time – including a hardware store paint-slinger and as a part-time hotel maid.  All were character building.  But I’ve been a writer – legit or not – since I could hold a crayon.

I am imperfect all the way.  As a writer,  I use the forbidden “three dots”…too often and cannot bear to part with the text-forbidden smiley faces 🙂 and sometimes use run-on sentences because I think they convey stream-of-consciousness better and yes, I know all of these are against the Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” guidelines.  I have written one small newspaper and one large-ish one, and have had several articles published in “In Recovery Magazine.

I write for the selfish reason that it helps me productively process the pain and pleasure in life when I pour words onto a page.  And for the selfless reason that I cannot help anyone else find the “Bread of Life” if I don’t show them where I found it.

Because, all of these things I tell you about me, are true, but none define me. I am a Christian, and because I am, I’m also a princess and a beggar.  That is my most accurate self-description.

In 2001, I came to the end of myself and all of my delusions of put-together-ness, which is to say – I got sober from alcohol. If you know me even casually, you know I am an alcoholic. I haven’t had a drink in that long, but I am still – forever – in recovery, something that keeps me humble and coming back for more of what got me clean in the first place.  Every single day. I keep it “out there” because there is somebody, somewhere who is hiding bottles and drinking that “two” beers just to stop the shaking and who is so, so, ashamed. I know shame. Or maybe he/she is addicted to drugs, or porn, or the approval of others –  it’s all the same to your soul – or cannot seem to find a reason to wake up in the morning.  I can’t tell you how to fix it, but I can tell you who can.  I can tell you that I 100% expected to die during that hard time, and sometimes would have considered it a relief. I still have bad days (that “One Day at a Time” thing…) but I have the clarity to enjoy the GOOD ones, of which there are many.  Faith and humor are key.  Oh, and boundaries, on occasion.

One Day at a time, by the Grace of God.
Even if I might have bad days, or whine a little. You know, just to keep it real!

One beggar showing another beggar where she found food. When I couldn’t love myself enough to lift myself up, I crawled back to Jesus, and He  said “You look hungry… come to the table!”  Redemption is the best feast ever.

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