Inspirational

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry

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.

Recovery

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.

Recovery

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.

Inspirational

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.

Spiritual

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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Inspirational, Spiritual

Big Fish in a Little Pond

By:  Jana Greene / thebeggarsbakery.net

You might be a big fish
In a little pond Doesn’t mean you’ve won
‘Cause along may come
A bigger one –  Coldplay, Lost

Fill in the blank:  When I finally achieve ______________, I will be_____________.

Accomplishment…it is a slippery little sucker.  Once you catch it, it tends to wriggle free.  I think I know what success is, but the definition keeps changing. But I’m learning not to compare myself to others.  If God doesn’t compare us to one another, why do I?

My “fill-in-the-blanks” have changed many times:

When I finally achieve career success, I will  fit in.

In the business world, while others were striving to reach the next rung on the ladder, I was just trying to keep from tripping over myself on the ground.  The message at the office is: the work world is how you measure your success – and a large portion of society  confirms that it must be true.  But there is very little requirement in corporate America for creativity.  While others were making money and enjoying the fruits of their labor, I felt like my fruits were dying on the vine. I was such a square peg forced into a round hole even my successes weren’t really mine.  They were the achievements of a round-shaped square peg, whittled down to conformity in order to fit.

When I finally achieve my ideal weight, I will be happy with myself.

This is a biggie (no pun intended) with most women I know.  At different stages of my life, I have been heavy and I have been thin.  Here in the middle (and middle-aged) is not where consider my body ideal, but I have to be honest with myself.  In the skinny years, I found a myriad of other ways to be unhappy with my body.  Fitting into size six jeans was nice, but all the while I was thinking, “Another gray hair!” while hating this feature or another.  Those goals I set for myself that seem so important often fail to satisfy.

When I finally achieve organization, I will be a better writer.

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I’ve decided that I will one day become an organized person.  I will sit at my desk, which will have all of my resources handy (dictionary, thesaurus, extra printer paper, highlighters) and utilize Microsoft Outlook’s calendar and scheduling features.  My desk would not appear to be the workplace of a mad scientist who decided to take up writing Haiku…..half-drunk cups of coffee, sharpies missing lids, a random cat wandering across the keyboard.  But as it is, my desk is never clean and orderly.  It is covered in yellow post-it notes that proclaim messages like “Next Tuesday” and “Why snails have strong faith” or “7”…things that I am sure will later jog a writing idea but usually don’t, because I’ve forgotten why I wrote them down in the first place.  I’m not even sure my computer has Outlook.

So, I keep asking God, what can I achieve for you?  What can I accomplish as Your child? 

After all, he knows me best.  He knows that I am no businesswoman.  He knows that I carry a little fluff around, that I am messy and disorganized.  He is ok with these and a million other personality and character attributes belonging only to me, and the defects?  He is helping me work through those.

He always finds me, even under the striving to please others – even in my most vain and selfish pursuits.  I sense my Creator saying often to my spirit, “Little fish….how did you get in there?  No wonder you are miserable – you are in the wrong pond!”

He created me.  He should know!  The definition of the true measure of success in Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

When I achieve surrender to God I will be successful.  Accomplished. And most likely, covered in yellow sticky notes.

Hitting the bottom, Recovery

Romancing the Drink

By:  Jana Greene

“There are all warning markers – DANGER! – In our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes.  Our positions in the story are parallel – they at the beginning, we at the end – and we are just that capable of messing it up as they were.  Don’t be so naive and self-confident.  You’re not exempt.  You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else.  Forget about self-confidence, it’s useless.  Cultivate God-confidence.” – 1 Corinthians 10:11 (The Message)

It is hard to wrap my mind around the Holocaust, the horror and carnage of genocide.   And 9/11?  The images we all watched that day as they occurred resulted as what can only be described as hell on earth.  The past teaches us that human beings can inflict mind-blowing destruction onto other human beings.

History, if forgotten, repeats itself. and we all have a personal history, as well.

Recovering alcoholics have a tendency to “romance the drink”.  No matter how low one became when he or she “hit bottom”, there are those memories that somehow retain a rosy glow in the mind of addict.  The glass of champagne in celebration of a loved one’s wedding.   The salt-rimmed margaritas enjoyed at the beach in the summertime.  The warm glow experienced while drinking  beer at a barbecue with family.  By romancing the drink, we feel we are honoring the few snapshots of time in which we were not exhibiting addictive behavior.  For the person in recovery, it is a dangerous train of thought to board.  It is not accurate history.

What we human beings can do to ourselves is pretty horrific, too.

Romancing the drink doesn’t allow for the desperation to feel “other than” that preceded that rosy picture.  It does not acknowledge the lack of control from the very first sip, nor the dark craving for oblivion that is the goal of each drink.  Romancing it forgets about the self-demeaning actions  that followed many drinking sessions, the endless slide show of ugly behavior and shameful choices made under the influence.  It doesn’t reflect the sobering shame after the snapshot, nor the lives of the children and spouses left in the destructive wake of a drinking binge.  Romancing the drink will not show you the bigger picture: broken relationships, self-loathing, sickness, embarrassment, loneliness, shame and death.

What to do when romancing thoughts of our drinking days creep into our minds?  Sometimes they flash before us simply as memories  of  our lives in a different time, but other times they are a warning sign to stop and consider the trigger.

1.       Stress – for an active alcoholic or addict, the drug always promised to ease the stressful times in our lives, but ultimately did NOT deliver.   A glass of wine will not keep stress from affecting the mind and body…it only tricks it into thinking it will.  Fifteen minutes of oblivion is never worth repeating the history that brought us to sobriety in the first place. 

 

2.       Feelings of being out of control:  From my experience, addicts are often “control freaks”.  We like things to happen a certain way, and we like to know when they will occur.  This is one of the hardest things about recovery, because it requires constant submission to God.  Any illusion we had about being in control when we drank/used was just that – an illusion.  With sobriety, we can have the wherewithal to surrender that illusion to God DAILY. 

 

3.       Taking Sobriety for granted:  This is perhaps the most slippery rock of all.  If you are an alcoholic, you will not “outgrow” your disease.  Nor will you “get well”.  You have an incurable condition for which there are treatments and options for disease management.  Having one drink or using on one occasion does not prove you aren’t addicted; it only sets the stage for a painful and repetitive relapse pattern.  How much do I respect the parameters of my disease?   One drink is all it would take for me to fall flat on my face again.

 

4.  Putting confidence in self, rather than God.  I got myself into the mess of active alcoholism, but God got me out.  Having God-confidence is the difference between a successful recovery and a frustrating, self-driven relapse pattern, in my experience.  Part of managing the disease of addiction is to remember the past for what it was – dysfunctional.  I am just as capable of messing things up as I’ve ever been.  But God is my ever present help in danger.

It helps me to imagine each deceptively idyllic picture of having romanced the drink with its ‘before’ or ‘after’ snapshot, based in reality.    The glass of champagne imbibed in at a wedding?  It was really the fifth or sixth drink, as I had started while getting ready for the event hours before, and had to fill a soda cup with wine to keep the buzz at a comfortable level until the ceremony started.  The salt-rimmed margaritas in the summertime?  My drinking them  created an environment in which I took risks with myself and my children near the water, and embarrassingly passed out on the beach.  Beer at family barbeques?  What better venue than a family event to really get obliterated and make yourself sick because you cannot stop your drinking.

Romancing the drink honors that which does not deserve honor.  Tinkling glasses, and toasts among friends and feeling a part of the normal drinker world….such a small price to pay for living life with clarity, whole and full.  What I could not do for myself was no problem for our loving God when I cultivated confidence in him.

An honor he deserves.

Inspirational

I Triple-Dad-Dare You….Happy Father’s Day!

 

When I met my husband six years ago, it was – as they say – love at first sight.  I was a single mother of two adolescent daughters, and he was a single father to one.  His girl was the same age as my oldest, who was about to turn 14.

If you know anything about teenage girls, you know about fourteen.  Brutal on both child and parent….fourteen is parental boot camp.

While we were dating, my Beloved swept me off my feet with romance – but really wowed me with his fathering abilities.   His daughter was his heart….and because she was – he melted mine.  He was so committed to her and to the job at hand – being the best dad he could be.

A little over a year later, he and I took “love at first sight” to “I thee wed”.   With our vows, he went above and beyond in assuming the daily fathering duties of his new wife’s daughters. The carpooling,  trips to the dentist’s office, and buying the school supplies.   This previously single father  of an only child tripled his “dad-ness” factor practically overnight.

He is the bravest man I know.

The adjustment was not easy or seamless.  All three daughters lived with us in our “blended” family (which at times was more of a pureeing than a blending).  After all, our daughters hadn’t fallen in love with one another; they were at the mercy my husband and I – and our commitment.

If parenting teenagers is walking through a minefield, step-parenting is navigating a minefield during a hurricane while under nuclear attack, without even having had the benefit of boot camp.   It’s intense.

Yet he stayed present, committed to the job….

He has been through fourteen three times over now.  Our daughters, now 17, 19 and 20, still all live at home.  Our little pureed family is strong because my husband is strong, and committed to the job.

Through the usual growing pains of our daughters’ having boyfriends, breakups and broken hearts (and yet more boyfriends) – he offers advice and more importantly, sets the bar for how they should expect to be treated by the way he treats me.  Through graduations and awards, he lets them all know he is proud.  He has sat through three times more middle school band concerts, chorus performances and class plays than he ever imagined when he was the father of one child.

He doesn’t flinch when buying Midol, knows what time of the month  to bring home extra chocolate and doles out the best hugs in the household.  He knows all the little things that make the girls unique…his daughter, who is still his heart, and both of mine, whom have come to love him deeply.

And he makes me a better mother, because I know that he and I don’t just ‘present a united front’ to the girls.  We are united.

The bravest man I know.

To my husband, you are truly, the most amazing husband and father in the world.  The girls love you, and I love you.  Happy Father’s Day!

Spiritual

Great Faith and the Bigger Picture

By:  Jana Greene

“And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.  My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along.  Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!” –  Saint Paul, Ephesians 3:9-10

I am inspired by The Greats.  Saint Paul was definitely a great man.

As was  C.S. Lewis, the Oxford-educated Novelist who penned The Chronicles of Narnia, among other works.  He himself had been a staunch atheist before his conversion to Christianity, explaining that in his youth, he had been “very angry with God for not existing”.   I have read everything I can get my hands on by Mr. Lewis and have an appreciation for his amazing mind.  Still, I would love to sit down and have a cup Irish tea with him, and pick his brain.

I’ve a feeling that his musings might be “over my head”.

There are so many things I don’t understand.  What is God doing about the things that seem to make no sense?  What about the good and lovely human beings who suffer with cancer or mental illness or addiction and whose lives are claimed by those things?  The ones who fight as hard as they are able and trust in God’s strategy in spite of the predicted outcome?

Those people – they are The Greats as well.

Yesterday, the world lost such a great man.   He was a dear friend to my husband and I – an amazing husband to his wife of forty-eight years, and an incredible father to his daughters.  He was a gentle giant, a man who trusted that God was working behind the scenes.  He suffered intermittently with cancer for twenty-two years, and although he doesn’t walk with us on earth anymore, the cancer did not win.

My friend – The Great – is in paradise now, whole in his brand-new glorified body.  The cancer is dead.

I was blessed to be able to talk to This Great about his struggles.  Frankly and plainly, he  talked about dying sometimes, but more often he talked about living.  He was a living example of the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ; about the life he was honored to live – however long that might be.  He made plain the word of God with his faith.  He would never want his passing to be considered tragic.  He would want others to look at the bigger picture.  How many lives did he impact with twenty-two years of unrelenting faith and love for other people?

Am I angry at God for existing, but not stopping the disease that claimed my friend’s earthly life?

Perhaps a little, if I’m honest.  But God looks after The Greats, he looks after all of us.  Even in issues that seem to be over our heads.  The things that make no sense make no sense because we aren’t privy to the back-story, the Master strategy.  That’s just simple faith.  Simple, life-giving faith.

C.S. Lewis also said:  “Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret?  There are better things ahead than any we should leave behind!”

That, I can understand.

Today, Heaven rejoices that my friend – The Great – suffers no more.   I like to think he might be sitting down to a cup of Irish tea with Mr. Lewis, considering things that remain over our earthly heads.

With the Father whose plan is perfect, there among the angels.

Inspirational

I’m ALL in! A Reintroduction to the Beggar’s Bakery

Hello, and pleased to meet you – or meet you again!  Today I’m re-posting the first piece from The Beggar’s Bakery as a reintroduction.  God bless you, and thanks for your readership!

By:  Jana Greene

Welcome to my little piece of Real(ity)Estate on the web! It took a long time for me to create one; I could not imagine anyone would read it.  (I hope it turns out that I’m wrong, but if not – I get LOTS of writing practice!)

I also hope that you might take something away from it each day.  I am going to try my level best to keep it real (probably too real at times).

So what you should you know about me?

There are the usual stats and facts:

I am happily married to Bob Greene, whom I don’t write about in the public forum often at the risk of sounding like I’m bragging.  He really is – cliché not withstanding – my best friend, and I’m so glad to be doing this crazy life with him. We have been married over five years and have blended a family that contains three teenaged daughters; two mine, one his. (Yes, they all live with us, and yes….He IS practically  a Saint!)  The blending is harder and sweeter and more challenging  and more rewarding than I could have imagined.

I gave birth to two daughters, now 16 and 19, and I  mother my lovely stepdaughter (nearly 20) when she lets me.  They are my heart walking around outside of my body, if my own heart chose to drive me absolutely crazy (which it has on occasion). I love them fiercely and will try to respect their respective privacies here, although you can expect a good many pieces about my frustrations as I learn to let them go. If they get bored enough, they might read this one day, in which case I have TONS of chores for them to do.

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 for a small  local paper,and although I couldn’t make a living at it, it was the best job I ever had.  Also, I have a terrible “wordi-ness” problem, but I’m working on it.  Sort-of.  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 a beggar.  That is my most accurate self-description.

Over eleven years ago, I came to the end of myself and all of my delusions of put-together-ness, which is to say – I got sober.  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.

All posts are copyrighted.   Feel free to share a link to this blog and let me know who you are sharing it with, please 🙂

Spiritual

Gather by the River, and Touch the Hand of God

By:  Jana Greene

A lifetime ago, I had a dream.

There stretched before me, under a lavender sky,  a wide ribbon of water.  I approach it alone at first, barefoot and wearing a robe of opalescent  linen.  As I draw closer to the river, others come, too.  Feeling a soft tug at each of my sleeves, I know by instinct that my children are by my side and I clasp their hands.  I look down at two heads shining blonde in the bright moonlight, their gazes focused forward.

The river is mighty, but sounds like a tinkling brook of a million bells.  I see multitudes of people at the river’s edge and more spilling from the hilltops beyond and through green valleys – all resplendent in the whitest garments.  I instantly understand  that some had been blind in earlier times, for their eyes took in more than mine.  For others, the river bells were the first sound to befall their ears.  Some were skipping, as though they had never walked before.  Everyone is in a slow rush to get to the water.

Everyone is  at such peace.

My children were pulling me now, their voices joined in with an ancient song that grew with the masses, as if known by instinct.  Nothing I’d ever heard compared with this music, composed by angels.

Across the river!  There is my Papa!  My beloved grandfather’s eyes were clear of the depression he carried when I was young.  And next to him was my grandmother, healthy and alive!  Oh how I want to run to her and bury my face in the familiar softness of her shoulder.  And my mother, there, too…ever beautiful, now serene.  And all the ones I loved so much – who struggled with all kinds of issues and hurts – are here, with whole minds for their bodies, whole spirits for their journey to the river’s edge.

One by one we gather until there are too many to count.

Closer, closer to the river now, I am desperate for the water. I wade in until my tunic is wet to the waist.  The current is cool and swift, but I am not moved by it.

I absolutely must reach Jesus.  I know He is here.

See?  There He is – holding out His arms to me!  There are so many, many people here, but He is waiting to embrace me!  When I can no longer touch the soft sand of the river bed with my feet, the current starts to move me gently toward Him, and the music surrounds me – fills me –clearer and more harmonious than anything I’ve ever heard, and I am almost close enough to reach the Living God.

But, wait.  I can’t see His face.  Why can’t I see His face?

With all my might, I try to hurl myself sideways against the water that now rushes.  But my strength is not enough and I fall just short of brushing His fingertips with mine.  My tunic is suddenly so heavy.  Isn’t this the living water?  Why is it so heavy, then?   Within moments, it is burdensome, like swimming in jelly.

Your face, Lord….I am seeking your face now!

And then I wake with a sudden, terrifying start in the darkness of my bedroom.  I am panting with suffocation, and my arms ache with having been outstretched in my sleep.  Heart racing-skipping randomly like a rabbit in the brush-  body drenched in a detoxifying sweat.  The beautiful  music has been replaced by an eerie sobbing – my own – and though it is pitch-dark, I close my eyes as hard as I can, grief-stricken that I am back in my heavy, wet, hurting body.

It is day three of this thing called sobriety, and I almost touched the hand of God.

Inspirational, Spiritual

Parenting for the Potty-Mouthed but Well-Intentioned

Potty-Mouth Parenting

Or, When Your Adult Children Live at Home

By:  Jana Greene

Let me sing for you” the song of my people”.

It goes a little like this:  “ &@#*&!#@!!!!  

(Chorus: &*@!%!, #%*!@)**!!!))

A few days ago, I had a huge blow-up argument with my (nearly 20-year-old) daughter  about something that was not a big deal to her, but was a really big deal to me.  The thing that made me the angriest was that I felt it should be a big deal to her, too.

She and I are very close.  We “get” each other.  But nobody reaches The Point of no Return faster than she and I.  Like (and I really hate to make this analogy) two poodles yapping at one another through a glass door.  Not seriously out to do damage, but competing for the loudest yip, the most audacious showing of teeth.  We can take it from 0 to 60 in seconds, feeding off of one another’s tone of voice, pushing the buttons on the customized panel of emotions in record speed.

As Chef Emeril says – BAM!

Sometimes, I yell at my kids.

Sometimes, I say curse words.

Sometimes, I use curse words while yelling at my kids, but not often.

I’m a follower of Christ.  I am supposed to know better.  And I do.

I’m not proud of either the cursing or the yelling.  As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed.  I am asking God to help me in the times that my tongue is swifter (if not mightier) than the sword; the times when my words become the rudder for my ship of thoughts before I can tell which way the wind is blowing.

I have to give it to Christ constantly, my itchy trigger-tounge.

In days of yore, kids generally moved out at 18, at just about the time you reached the end of your proverbial “rope”.    I always kind of simultaneously  dreaded and looked forward to “18” for that reason.  I had preconceptions about that magical age.

Now, more adult children are living at home than ever.  You hear a lot about the effect on the kids – not so much on the hapless parents who dearly love them but are ready to enjoy the fruits of what they’d long ago decided was ‘successful parenting’.

In my particular parenting fantasy, the children would move away to college at 18 (on scholarship, of course) but come home frequently to visit.  While they are living apart from us in a learning environment, I imagine their activities being scholarly in nature… you know:

  • Studying so hard that they regularly shut down the library (I like to picture them using old Encyclopedia  Britannicas and a card catalogue.  Hey, it’s my fantasy!)
  • Leading  peaceful youth rallies for conservative reform (again…its my fantasy)
  • volunteering in soup kitchens in their free time (or some other completely unselfish pursuit)

But they didn’t move out.   These beloved girls of mine are now almost 17, 19 and 20.   And their undertakings are not all scholarly in nature.

I know I am the mother, and that my adult daughter is still the child, and that those parameters are a constant; they never change.  But they do morph as kids grow up.  And because I’m the mother, there is a pushing away on her part.

In a climate in which five adults live together, there is bound to be conflict.  I’m learning to accept that reality.  I’m learning that my fantasies of parenting college-aged children are not rooted in much reality at all.  I just want my kids to be happy and successful, whatever that might be to them.

The good news is that the “trigger tongue” gets a little less itchy each time I ask God to help me with it and that forgiveness reigns supreme, in relation to God’s grace and between my daughter and I.

Long after I am flogging myself with the torches still hot from the last argument, she has forgotten the whole poodle-esque drama.

The wonderful thing about our relationship is that she and I feel the same urgency with forgiving one another as we do in escalating the fight.  We want to make things right, because  LOVE  is the greatest of all four-letter-words.

So then comes the true “song of my people”.  It mostly goes  like this:

I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean what I said.

I love you. 

(Chorus:  you drive me CRAZY, but I love you still!)

BAM!  Right in the soul.

Inspirational

Jesus in the Bathtub

By:  Jana Greene

 

Jesus is everywhere at one time.

My little niece (not by blood, but by blessing) Madelyn reminded me about Jesus, and his penchant for being everywhere one day after church.    I was making her a peanut butter sandwich for her lunch.  She was sitting at the kitchen table, swinging her feet high above the floor, and humming.

“What did you learn in Children’s church today?” I asked her .

She stopped kicking her legs and said, “That Jesus is everywhere.” Her arms made a broad, sweeping motion to illustrate the concept of omnipresence.  Then she put her elbows on the table then, and rested her face in her hands .  “But He lives in your bathtub.”

I laughed out loud.  At nearly three years old, Madelyn has a host of imaginary friends, so I was not surprised that she concocted a scenario in which Jesus lived in my bathtub.

It wasn’t until I took her to the potty in that same bathroom later that day that I saw Jesus in the bathtub, too.

“See, Aunt Jana?  Jesus.”  she says, pointing to the wall behind me in a tiny (but utterly confident)  voice.  “He’s right there.”

There, on a shelf behind the garden tub, is my favorite sculpture.  It is a bearded man carved from wood with long locks of intricately whittled  hair.   At about a foot tall, it is hard to miss.  I’m not sure of its origins but I suspect my husband acquired it on a trip to the Caribbean years ago.  The expression of the wooden man is peaced-out, contemplative and focused all at once.

I always kind of thought he was Bob Marley…..but okay.  Jesus works, too.

“It’s Jesus,” Madelyn repeated, as if reading my thoughts.

Later that day, this exceptional little girl informed me that Jesus also lives in her heart.

Kids are so literal, believing that when Jesus is “in your heart”; he is in your heart.  And they are so faithful to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that even though He lives in my bathtub, He is still everywhere all at once.

Not like an imaginary friend, who can only be in one place.

But everywhere, peaced-out, contemplative and focused on us.

 

Inspirational

Time Management

By:  Jana Greene

There is a commercial on television recently in which a husband asks his wife, “Honey, can I quit my job and start a blog?” and it comes on frequently.  I’ve no idea what it is advertising, because I always feel a little squirmy when I see it and forget to pay attention to the product.  Inevitably, it runs when my husband and I are cuddled up watching NCIS or the 20th special showing on Avatar on FX.

I quit my job and started this blog.  Although that was not my intention when I put in my 2-weeks notice.  I meant to take a little time to get healthier and reassess my goals and maybe do a little writing between interviews for a new, less stressful position.  But two days after my last day of work, I broke my leg and had a metal plate, pins and screws surgically implanted so that I could walk again.  This unforseen accident serendipitously allowed for more writing time than I expected.  I would, I avowed, write a book – which is at the top of my bucket list anyway, so why not knock it out?

Except – as I mentioned – I started this blog.   And I love writing for the blog!  I’m walking again, so I’m enjoying all of the domestic things I was too tired to do when I was working fulltime – cooking, cleaning, a little reading, spending time with my family.  And I’m blogging, sometimes for hours.  The days fly by at warp speed, and the days are good.  Because I’m walking again, it is getting to be time to seek financially gainful employment, not just spiritually fulfilling purpose.  I’m so grateful that I’ve had this block of time to focus on just writing.

So, I might not be posting  for The Beggar’s Bakery every single day.  I’d like to concentrate a little on writing an actual book.  I’m not that swell with time management;  if I’m going to do it, I have to make it priority.

Please sign up to receive new posts via email, if you’d like.  And check back often.  I will try to post at least every few days!

A big, fat THANK YOU to everyone who reads The Beggar’s Bakery.  The biggest, fattest thanks for my Most Excellent Husband, who believes in my writing; who believes in me, period.  It’s so cool to be married to my best friend and have his unwavering support.  I have to pinch myself most days to be sure it is all real; that I’ve gotten to write every day, that  my husband encourages me to blog honest, that my friends cheer me on even though I sometimes embarrass myself, and that God just keeps showing me such grace in recovery and in life.

I can’t wait to see where God  takes me next, and to share it here.

God bless!

 

 

 

 

Spiritual

The Shock and Awe of Forgiving Yourself

By:  Jana Greene

“Many promising reconciliations have broken down because, while both parties came prepared to forgive, neither party came prepared to be forgiven.” – Charles Williams

The gesture of forgiving someone else is often referred to as “extending the Olive branch.” How peaceful is that imagery?  The phrase conjures a picture of biblically attired individuals, stepping forward in dusty, sandaled feet and stretching out a hand to offer and receive a leafy twig in reconciliation.

Self-forgiveness doesn’t feel like that at all to me.  When it comes to forgiving myself, it’s not a peace-summit  olive branch that comes to mind.  It’s more like a flag raised on a bloody battlefield.

Part of the difficulty is that as long as I carry guilt, I can trick myself into feeling like I’m paying back some of the debt that I drove up in my sin.

That’s why grace is so mind-blowing a concept…it is undeserved,  given by God in love.

No martyrdom required.

The other part is that I forget that unforgiveness is a weapon of warfare.   Self-condemnation is my using the enemy’s bullets and firing at my own spirit. How long I suffer is up to me….the enemy will keep engaging in that battle until I surrender my sins at the cross and leave them there.  At the cross…where the war has already been won.

Regret for bad choices is healthy; it keeps me from repeating the past.  But hauling around self-condemnation and accepting it as collateral damage is not what Christ came to earth and died for.  Like many wars, He fought for freedom – but on the ultimate level.

Good vs. evil.  Life vs. death.

So, today – I am choosing to forgive myself.

And by doing so, I am choosing to drop an atomic bomb on the devil’s ammunition storehouse, so that he cannot use my past against me anymore and call it “friendly fire”.   A dusty, barefoot soldier raising a flag red with the blood of Christ, even though I don’t deserve to even carry it.

It feels like shock and awe.

It feels like victory.

Save

Inspirational, Recovery

The Changing Room

By:  Jana Greene

Embarking upon recovery from alcoholism years ago, I realized that everything about my thought process had to change from the inside-out.

But how?

From my experiences, I had already learned that the ways ‘tried and true’ were not always true for me.  If I were to get sober, I would be scrapping my own blueprint for my life.  When I chose sobriety, I felt like an infant who lacked even the most basic instincts for survival, since what I had counted on to survive had nearly killed me.

The standard learning model did not work for me in early recovery, because alcoholism is not a rational disease.  Despite having read every self-help book I could get my hands on (there it is again…..self) and having listened to motivational speakers, preachers, and my own bullhorn of self-condemnation, I had failed repeatedly to get sober.

Then I attended some AA meetings.  It was not until I surrendered my own strategy and listened to other addicts in 12-step meetings that I began to accept that recovery was not about learning to change at all.

It was more about changing to learn.

In that room, I changed.  I listened.   I heard from people who somehow – and this is the miraculous part – did not drink.   They did not drink, but sometimes still wanted to….and when this occurred, they looked to 12 remarkable steps for living and to each other,  and it saved their lives.  They worked on recovery even when it wasn’t fashionable to be in recovery, when they really didn’t feel like it, when nobody else understood.  And they committed to sobriety in a way I never imagined possible, because they would never, ever be able to drink “like everyone else”, no matter how many meetings they went to.  Until this point, I thought meetings were a kind of means to an end….like perhaps once you “graduate”, you can celebrate with a Zima or something.

But no.

I would never graduate from alcoholism, and that was depressing.

But I would gradually LIVE, fully and joyfully….and that was exciting!

The successfully sober people I met were from all walks of life, but they all  had one thing in common:  they just didn’t pick up a drink.  No matter what.

“If your ass falls off on Main Street,” I remember one Old-Timer saying.  “Don’t pick up.”

I really never forgot that, and I’ve felt like my ass was going to fall off too many times to count, truly.

I also felt like I would die from the shakes or from the pain of de-toxing alcohol.  I felt like I would die of isolation because nobody close to me knew – or understood – the magnitude of what I was facing.  I felt incredible shame as a mother for all the nights I put my kids to bed early so that I could start drinking early.

I felt, felt, felt, felt…..like every nerve ending in my body was on fire and every piece of my spirit was shredded.    When will all of this FEELING end?  (Thankfully never, because I learned how to feel GOOD things, too 🙂

I kept feeling, but I didn’t pick up.  I tried to gather up all the nerves and soul-shreds and bring them to God, but I missed a few pieces in the process.  No matter; He found the ones that needed to remain a part of me and we decided to discard the ones that kept me in bondage, and bit by bit He is still restoring me.

I’m still a hot mess in some regards, but I’m God’s hot mess and I’ve decided to spend the rest of my life letting people know that He is utterly faithful and sobriety is a crazy-wonderful-life-saving thing.

Nearly a dozen years into recovery (thank you, Jesus – and one day at a time), I am still changing in order to learn. I have a long way to go yet, but the learning; it just keeps coming.   No matter what.

Because nothing changes if nothing changes.  Yeah, I learned that in a 12-step meeting, too.