In With the Out Crowd

 

By: Jana Greene

There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them.  Popularity contests are not truth contests – look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors!  Your task is to be true, not popular.” –  Luke 6:26 (The Message)

It was the first day of fifth grade at Quail Valley Elementary School.   First and second period had been rough already; none of my friends were in my class.

I had chosen the all-important “first day of school” outfit carefully.  I wore the very latest Jordache jeans (win) but had paired them with a shirt that featured an American flag on gold, metallic fabric (fail).   I loved it, felt unique in it.  But the snickers and glares of my “friends” at my choice of clothing conveyed disapproval in the extreme.

My attempt to shine just ended up shining a big, twirling 1979 disco light on my awkwardness.

And now….the lunch bell.   The. Lunch. Bell!

I’d brought my lunch in a new K.C. and the Sunshine Band lunch box, and all of the other fifth graders brought brown bags (lunch boxes were for babies and I hadn’t gotten the memo).

When we entered the cafeteria, all of my classmates fell into some kind of socially pre-determined seating arrangement as if they had rehearsed it – which of course, they had.  I circled the table like a lost, pubescent Solid Gold reject for what seemed like an eternity.

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.   My teacher gently touched me and whispered “Why don’t you come sit with me?  We can eat lunch together.”

If my social fate hadn’t been sealed by that moment, it was done then.  Eating with the teacher. 

Many days during fifth grade, I ate lunch with Mrs. Sewell.   But the funny thing was that I came to enjoy it, to choose sitting with her.  She planted little seeds of affirmation into my spirit with offhand comments at the table:  I’m glad you’re in my class.  I like the story you wrote about the leprechaun.  Gold is my favorite color, too.  I like eating lunch with you.  Don’t believe the junk other kids say about you – none of it matters!   Words carry such power.

I vowed that next year, Junior High School would be different!   I had no idea how true that statement would be, nor how exponentially more awkward it would prove.

Middle school is its own special kind of adolescent hell.  It was when our peers started the process of labeling others in earnest, and all it took to become that labeled entity was for enough people to say you were, believe you were – that thing:  Prep, Jock, Nerd, Loser, Slut, Prude, Stoner –all sub-headings for “Popular” or “Unpopular”.

I guess you realize by now, I was not popular.

By early adulthood, long after high school, I came to realize that all of the socially tormented moments growing up did not destroy you but only (warning: cliché ahead) made you a stronger person.  I tried to tell my daughters that same thing all throughout their middle and high school years.

“You will not even remember the people whom you are giving this power to!” I would say.

But of course – they responded as if their mother were telling them something clichéd.

We adults figure out that the approval of others isn’t important.

Right?

Until someone says something to us or excludes us in a school or workplace function.

Or criticizes a project we’ve poured our heart into.

Until somebody spreads a rumor about us, and we are hurt by it.

Until society demands that accept a certain set of beliefs, lest we be labeled intolerant.

Until we cannot afford to keep up with the neighbors, or the standards we used to consider “comfortable”.

Or until we feel out of place at  church, God forbid.

Until someone makes us feel “less than” or labels us with their incomplete assessment of our talent or time or ability.

Or worse, until we label ourselves.

Fifth grade lunch table all over again.

In Author Joyce Meyer’s book Approval Addiction, she concludes:

“We suffer much agony because we try to get from people what only God can give us, which is a sense of worth and value.  Look to God for what you need, not to people.”

People will always, always disappoint you.   I tell my kids that, too, but I’m not sure they believe me yet.

Because other people don’t have the answer about what is true about us.   They don’t know what God sees in us.

Jesus chose the crowd He ran with during his ministry here on earth, and the “in” crowd of His day had a lot to say about his choices.  He saw beyond the labels that society had so generously doled out on his followers and gave them a new label altogether:  HIS.

I am still a little socially awkward, messy, and well….unique.  But I am His.

Regardless of whom we are or what we’ve done, no matter what we have or what we don’t have, Jesus says, “Why don’t you come sit with me?  You’re welcome at my table.”

In His love letter, the Bible, He affirms:

I’m glad you’re my follower.  I love that you’re using your gifts and talents in fellowship with my other kids.  If I had any use for a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.   I like spending time with you.  You are mine forever.  Don’t believe the junk others say about you – it doesn’t matter!  Your task is to be true, not popular.

Words carry such power.

 

 

 

 

 

Your Words and the Strength to Bleed Them – a poem

“CUTTY SARK” painting by Paul M. Kruemcke (my beloved grandfather “Papa”)

circa 1966

By:  Jana Greene

“And I’m bleeding, and I’m bleeding, and I’m bleeding
Right before the Lord
All the words are gonna bleed from me
And I will think no more
” –  The White Stripes, Seven Nation Army

Words

like the ocean when you are standing at the end of the world

right about to fall off the edge.

Just when you think you’ve run out of sea

the world becomes round and look! 

Endless more!

More to say.

More to think.

More to write.

Units of communication,

Words,

transfused into us by our Creator.

On the waters of written language

The world takes passage in order to think.

Thought-provoking words inspire

ignite and set into motion

Kingdoms, governments and laws.

I write in order to unthink.

Unable (unwilling)  to tourniquet the thoughts

with substance or busy-ness or logic,

the flow commences with a single prayer,

“Lord, give me the words.

And lend me Your strength to bleed them.”

Words, woven together

one pitifully weak and thin thread at a time.

One narrow thread of thought,

 meaningless by itself,

white with a memory of bliss until it bleeds from the loom pink,

and then red with heartache.

Keep weaving until the thread changes to the blues of struggle

and the yellows of rejoicing,

and a million shades in between.

My history

thread by thread

word by word

becomes a sail.

Patched when torn

woven with those glorious words

for which God gives us with generous abundance.

Which God reminds us to use carefully.

To choose carefully.

To bleed wisely and weave gloriously.

Under the wind of His grace…

To sail upon.

Lead me not into temptation – or a sketchy alleyway ATM

By:  Jana Greene

At the end of a long alleyway in my city’s otherwise very lovely downtown district there is a dumpster, a metal landing that leads to nowhere and an incongruous automated teller machine.  Or at least it advertises itself as such, what with the bold-font red printed “ATM” lettering.  When my husband and I passed it while strolling around,  I burst out laughing.

“Looks legit,” I said. He laughed too.  I took a picture of it, which really doesn’t represent the shady-factor, since I had to zoom in a good bit in order to see the “ATM: letters.  The machine is far, far down the alley.

Who would go down that path?  I suppose you might be tempted to use it if you  really needed cash and had no other way to get it.  But there are teller machines at nationally-known banks fifty feet away in either direction.

I don’t know if it is a legitimate machine or not,  because  it didn’t feel safe to venture down the alley, much less withdraw cash and have to venture back out.  It seemed very sketchy.

Going into dangerous places often feels “sketchy”.

When I first became sober, I acutely felt temptation everywhere.  The first time I made a run to the grocery store as a person in active recovery, I barely made it through one aisle before having a panic attack, because I knew that a mere six aisles away was the wine section.  By the time I passed the wine en route to the frozen foods, I finished my shopping while quietly sobbing, grieving.  It has been eleven years since that day and I have grocery shopped without incident for years – passing  the wine section like someone with a fatal addiction passes the peanut products – they are perfectly safe for most people, but not for me.

But I still don’t go into a liquor store.  It’s just a dangerous place for me.  Why risk temptation?

Another dangerous place can be my own mindset.  Sometimes in my anxiety,  I allow my mind to wander around, consulting my experience instead of my chaperone (and sponsor) Jesus.    Who would go down that path?  Me.  But in truth, my past mistakes have never held the key to coping with life on life’s terms.  So when those dark-alley thoughts appear, Jesus reins me back by reminding me that temptation never comes from Him.

Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up”.  God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way.  The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us.” – James 1:13-14

My mind is not always the best judge of what is dangerous, sometimes temptation doesn’t feel dangerous – just tempting.  What I need is never in the sketchy place; God never tries to trip me up.  It is in Him, and His good and perfect will.

The most legit place there is.

Wilmington FAVS Website

No article today (after all – it is Sunday, the day of REST!)  But I’d like to invite you to check out the Wilmington FAVS website, which explores religion news – regionally, nationally and globally.  🙂

http://wilmingtonfavs.com/culture/social-issues/meet-jana-greene-our-addiction-recovery-writer

Relapse Traps – Respecting the Disease

By:  Jana Greene

Over a dozen years ago, I became friends with a woman in California who got sober a few years  before I did.  We met on an internet support board for women alcoholics.  In retrospect, the venue for our support group sounds a little cheesy but there’s nothing cheesy about lives being saved, which is what happened there for some of us.

My Cali friend and I spoke on the phone regularly, and our bond that spanned the confines of dial-up internet and many miles.   In Malibu, she could literally be sticking a toe into the Pacific Ocean as I, on the coast of North Carolina, could be sticking a toe in the Atlantic.

She is Reiki where I am Massage Envy and she knows her way around auras and energies the way I know my way around town to find something deep-fried (equally good for the soul). You might not think we have much in common, if you were to look on the surface – but addiction and recovery are not skin-deep endeavors.    I love her and I respect her immensely, we are family – kindred spirits in recovery,   One Day at a Time, all glory to God.

There were a number of women in our little support group who did not remain sober.  Some still attempt sobriety, only to relapse time and time again.  For them, recovery hasn’t “stuck” yet, and I don’t know why.  I wish I understood why some people stay sober and some don’t, but taking my own recovery “inventory” is enough of a job for me – it’s plenty.

Not everyone survives active addiction.  That’s what people often forget about alcoholism…it can kill you.

For the first couple of years of my recovery, I had this awful, knee-jerk reaction to these friends who picked up the drink again after some period of sobriety.  Not angry with them, exactly – but angry at them, resentful and threatened.  What do you mean you got drunk last night?  You’ve been sober for the eternity of two weeks!

I resented relapsers because I myself had been one for years.  It terrified me that I could lose all of my “time” just like that.  I knew it was possible – that it is still possible, if I don’t give recovery the attention that I once gave the drink.  We alcoholics, in the midst of having a disease for which there is no cure, can only manage it by implementing 12-steps for living, and not picking up the poison.

Of course, it is the disease that tries to convince you that the poison is the medicine for your condition.

So when a friend on our support board would fall off of the proverbial wagon,  it had  seemed to me that she had gotten to enjoy a nice buzz for a while scot-free.  That she would get to start sobriety over again like nothing ever happened.

Except for something always happened.  Not once did a relapse lead to enlightenment, to repaired relationships….to healing.   Not once would the relapser even mention the buzz, so eclipsed was it by her self-loathing.  She would never claim the episode was anything but miserable and harrowing.  I knew that because each time I had relapsed, it had gotten harder to get back in the game.  To survive.

Alcoholism is a deadly disease with no respect for the length of previous sobriety; if I picked back up, I start wherever I left off before the relapse.  It is also no respecter of sex, age, faith, wealth or beauty; it is an equal opportunity killer.

Still, it demands that I must respect it – the disease.  Simply put:   If you can’t swim, the best way to avoid drowning is to stay out of the water.  Don’t even put a toe in.

My heart breaks for those in relapse-mode.  It is a terrible place to be.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to my Cali girl on the phone and we remembered our friends whom are still – all these years later – struggling like crazy.  We talked about not taking our disease for granted.  When you have recovery in common, you have everything in common.

No one ever regretted having stayed sober.  A life in sobriety is a life saved for an addict.

It is its own sweet, undeserved and precious reward.

Unhinged

By:  Jana Greene

Yesterday wasn’t one of my best days.

I woke up with a headache and other tell-tale signs that it was “that time” of the month.  Granted, I’ve had a hysterectomy – but the one remaining ovary I own is in total denial and tries to “keep up with the Joneses” – the Joneses being the three other young women I live with.

Grumph, I thought, getting out of bed.

Somehow, mysteriously, all of my pants and jeans had shrunk two sizes over the course of a few days, so that nothing would fasten.  Pulling on sweatpants, the waistband felt tight.  I would feel like the magician’s assistant all day long – the one for whom being cut in half at the midsection was a paying gig.  Except for me, it isn’t.

I looked in the mirror to find that my face had become an obstacle course or sorts, with wrinkles and zits competing for the gold medal.  Team Zit was winning.  I dotted some foundation over them, which managed to magnify the blemishes and settle into the wrinkles.  I felt myself starting to cry, but decided to be angry instead.

Sometimes you have decide to be one or another.

At lunchtime, I enjoyed a perfectly lovely meal with some ladies whom I am getting to know in a business capacity and maybe even a friend capacity.  One of the topics of discussion had been meditation, which to me – is finding a Happy Place in your mind and hanging out there for a while.  Ironic subject today.   My Happy Place is in the presence of God, which honestly – in my mood – I didn’t think I could find on a map.  I felt like God was avoiding me, and I didn’t much blame him.

Later, while driving my 20-year old daughter home from work, she started an argument, which I was happy to keep going.  Living with grown kids is its own special brand of challenge, since they have had longer to become proficient at pushing  buttons.   Normally, I like to fancy myself a loving mama bird gently nudging my babies toward the edge of the nest, where they will spread their wings and soar into the wild blue yonder.

Today, I was more like a cranky public transportation driver who wanted to shove her out of the bus (destination: Independence) and yell – while waving my fist in a very non-nurturing way:  “Oh yeah?  Well you can walk the rest of the way to adulthood, Missy!”

I felt myself becoming more and more….well, unhinged.

“You act like your estrogen will never run out,” I actually said to her, menacingly.  “It will, I tell you!  It willlll……”

Making me even grumpier is that on some level, I realize how trivial all of these problems are.  They are First World Problems.  Middle-age problems.  Bad economy problems.  They are not the biggest issues I face, but they all conspired to storm the castle of my spirit at once and my defenses were down.

I hadn’t spent much time with God in prayer that morning; my defenses were not what they should have been. I hadn’t read his word at all – I hadn’t armored up with the belt of truth described in scripture –

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. –  Ephesians 6:14 (NIV)

Today, I felt armed with only  The Sweatpants of Bloatedness and the Pimple of Doom.  How could I fight this mood without even dressing for battle?

I had been in a rush to accomplish a dozen meaningless little things – straightening up the house, running mindless errands – to try to distract myself from myself.  Thinking maybe if I ran around enough, I could outrun the little black cloud of hormones and the grumph. 

At the end of the day, I finished up some work and ate some chocolate (detrimental to the waist and the face, but good for the soul).  I talked to my husband for a time and did some writing and felt just a little better.  And I read some scripture, because I remembered it hinges me back together.

I felt better because I gratefully remembered that God is present in my unhingedness, too.  I don’t have to go looking for his presence on a map.  He is omnipresent, and he gives grace big enough to handle me on my ugliest days.  He doesn’t mind hanging out, even when I finally allowed myself to cry.  Sometimes you have to decide to accept grace.

And that’s something to meditate on.

The Beggar's Bakery

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…

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