Inspirational

Bumping into the Light (Prayer, Awkwardness and the Wildest Love)

By: Jana Greene

I’m not sure if God is moving me slightly out of my comfort zone, or if he just keeps changing where “comfortable” abides in me, but He has been manifesting His love in the wildest ways lately.  Like standing under a blackening sky, I find myself a bit afraid of the darkness in the world until….Look! A tiny star appears, and then another, and another.  He keeps bringing points of undeniable light all around me until I am so surrounded by his obvious love, and the darkness is overpowered.  I just keep bumping into light and love, utterly grateful.

One of the areas becoming new to me is praying aloud with others.  Strangers.  I am perfectly comfortable writing to God, writing about God, writing with the Holy Spirit guiding me.   But verbally, I am not eloquent in the least.  I stumble over my words and stutter in making my request. Complicating the matter is that I don’t do so well in large groups, or in public speaking, and the role I’m stepping into requires both.   But still, I’ve felt the tugging at my spirit to step out of what is comfortable in order to plead on behalf of others in front of the father.  So, I’m trying to be obedient in that.

I am blessed that one of my closest friends, Melissa, is a gifted pray-er. The first time I prayed for others with her, I was humbled immensely.  She and I were huddled together with a couple of people who were hurting and needed prayer, all of us crying, and my friend’s words were cascading into the small, intimate space between our faces.  She first invited God to our circle, and then her words just knew what to ask Him for.  And as she made petition to the Lord to heal the hurts, she praised him for meeting us in that place and for all that He was already at work doing.

Request and praise.

Make vulnerable and give glory.

Ask and trust.

Afterward, I thought about her glorious prayer, which was not stumbled over, but straight from her heart to God’s in the most raw and holy way.

“You are such a good pray-er,” I told her, and hugged her tight.  But later on, I wondered if “pray-er” is even a word found in the dictionary.  As it turns out, it is not.

Prayer is defined as an address (as a petition) to God in word or thought, or a set order of words used in praying.  But in doing a little research, I found out that “one who prays” is called: a “Supplicant” -one who makes humble petition. My friend, Melissa, is an excellent Supplicant.

We, in relationship to God our Father, are all Supplicants – whether our set of words flows easily or with struggle.  Perhaps when we link hands with a stranger and petition God to hear us, our willingness to act with supplication is part of our prayer.  I’m trying to learn this when I pray with others, not to worry about presentation, but presence.

Last Sunday after church, I went up front to pray for others with my Supplicant friend.  We held hands as we waited for others to come forward for prayer, and I peered out into the congregation.  The lighting in our sanctuary is kept very low during this time, so that worshipers might concentrate more fully on God instead of worrying what others might think.  I’ve always appreciated this twilight-prayer time personally because I get so easily distracted, but today, it looked dark out there in the crowd.

Until a young lady and her friend came up for prayer- two tiny stars of light until they were in our arms and under Melissa’s fervent prayer. I allowed myself to stop nervously formulating prayers for my time aloud, and melted into the pleads and tears and worship that was spreading throughout the entire sanctuary like wildfire.  I was the “amen” section for this prayer-time, which was just fine with me.  All of us – we prayed in agreement – and  Jesus, huddled up with us, delighting in  Melissa’s beautiful words of supplication, through her gifting – music to His ears.

On the walk back to our seats, we could not move without bouncing into light and love, and I wondered….

Is it possible  my stumbling on words is of no consequence to God, who considers the heart even in silent prayers?  If He can read my thoughts, he knows my gifting and lack thereof, He can translate my awkward out-loud requests. Perhaps the word ‘prayer’ is both a noun to describe words that petition and a noun that describes the humbled person doing the petitioning.   Maybe we are walking, breathing prayers – going about the daily business of living in constant pleading and praising.  Continual requests and praise as we make ourselves vulnerable, asking and trusting and giving Him glory throughout.

And He answers, overpowering darkness….manifesting His love in the wildest ways.

Spiritual

The World Gone Crazy, but we still have The Friend

I took this picture at the Little Chapel in NYC at the base of Ground Zero. The banner was decorated by children to cheer the emergency workers and volunteers during the recovery. The Little Chapel, directly next to the Twin Towers was virtually untouched by the carnage that day.

By: Jana Greene

“Judas (not Iscariot) said: ‘Master, why is it that you are about to make yourself plain to us but not the world?’ (in reference to ascending to heaven).

“Because it is a loveless world, “said Jesus. “A sightless world.  If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and the Father will love him – we’ll move right into the neighborhood!  Not loving me means not keeping my words.  The message you are hearing isn’t mine.  It’s the message of the Father who sent me.”   John 14:22-27 (MSG)

Over the past few weeks, I have felt like the world were falling apart.  Losing hope, like Jesus is not welcome in many neighborhoods.  As we are approaching a Presidential  election, media coverage (largely unbalanced) is stepping up the mud-slinging and Americans are picking mud off the ground and  hurling it at each other.  Civil rights issues are at the forefront, and people and businesses with belief systems that have been practiced and adhered to for centuries are being sucked into the vortex under the guise of “civility”.

It is un-hip now to be a Christian, no matter which side of one particular debate that Christian might fall on. That’s the crazy thing – Christians as a whole are slowly but surely starting to be persecuted  in America – not by bodily threat, but by that thing that Americans have long disdained: intolerance.  A witch hunt for historically conservative people is still a witch hunt.

There is even a movement to make “all religion illegal”.  It is still a small and restless, largely underground phenomenon, but I can assure you, it exists.  I have seen the evidence with my own eyes, in my own town.   The frightening thing is that such a thing doesn’t seem  out of the realm of reality these days.

Allow me to describe the current government trajectory as I see it with my earthly eyes:  It is growing into a massive,  monstrous machine that sucks the civil liberties of the masses into a grinder in the name of its own twisted definition of the ‘greater good’.  In the end of digestion, this ravenous machine – having  gorged on the constitutional sacrifices of Americans, craps out a tiny brick of pseudo-rights for a small segment of society.  That’s positively un-American.  And yes, that’s my opinion.

So far as I know, we are all still entitled to have one.  But leaning too much on my passionate opinions and too little on my faith doesn’t usually go well.

Everyone seems angry with everyone else right now, myself included.  I hate that feeling, that angst.  Because it comes from a place of fear.  I need to take a step back and breathe, and give my earthly eyes a rest.

It seems to be American against American, in chat rooms, on blog pages, on Facebook, even in our homes, our neighborhoods.  It is so easy to get focused on the manifestations of evil all around – the horrors that took place in a movie theater in Colorado, the epidemic of human trafficking – which takes in our own country!  The distractions of feeling politically passionate because of movements and issues, and freaking out with fear about the possibilities.  The longing for justice, because it is so out of whack. I get so wrapped up in my emotional frustrations with the entire world, which  are largely out of my control, that I forget that none of it is a surprise to my God.   I forget that He himself said that it is a loveless world, and that even when it feels completely out of control, He did not leave us all here stranded.

“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you,” Jesus continues in the verse.  ” The Friend, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you.  he will remind you of all the things I have told you.  I’m leaving you well and whole (on earth) – that’s my parting gift to you.  Peace.  I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left – feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset.  Don’t be distraught.”

Distraught doesn’t even begin to TOUCH how I’ve been feeling lately.  But that’s what happens when you look around the world for peace, instead of exclusively  within – where He has placed it.  Within, where He gives us The Friend, who in turn fills us up so that we can love on a loveless world.  The Friend, to guide us through a sightless world.  Hearing the message of the Father, who IS love, instead of talking heads on the news, and instead of the voices of hatred.

Because I will worship God on my knees forever and ever, and no law can stop me.  The government didn’t give me the right to pray and worship and it cannot take that right away.   It is a right endowed by my Creator, who will is not subject to the rules of man, and who gives a peace that passes understanding to ALL who ask for His redemption.  There is also a lot of beauty still in the world.  Because the Holy Spirit is still on this planet and within us, there is still majesty, purity, grace, hospitality, and love – so much love.  God fills all of us imperfect, cracked vessels with his love in order to love on a world that is falling apart.  My hope is in Jesus.

Amen and God Bless America!

Hitting the bottom

You are Invited to Check out my Other Blog – Redemption Feast @ Wilmingtonfavs.com

Good morning, readers!

I’m working for a piece for The Beggar’s Bakery today.  But in the meantime, I wanted to share a link to another site that I blog for (Redemption Feast @ wilmingtonfavs.com) and the piece published there today.  If you have time, don’t miss the video attached to the link.  – about redemption from addiction, about grace and about contentment.  God bless you today!

http://wilmingtonfavs.com/blogs/jana-greene/i-am-second-happily

Devotional

Sign of the Fish

The great “Gatsby”. So proud my daughter named him with a nod to literary greatness!

By: Jana Greene

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Phillipians 2:3-4 (NIV)

The need is so great.

Yesterday I took my youngest daughter to the pet store to purchase a pet fish.  First, she chose a fishbowl, colorful gravel, and a sad little plastic plant to “furnish” the habitat.  It was then time to choose an actual pet.

The Betas were stacked in individual cups, each with barely enough space to swim in a circle.  There were dozens of them, stacked end-to-end in what looked like a rack for giant test-tubes.  To really see each fish, my daughter had to lift every cup out and bring it into the light.  She would study the creatures one-by-one and return them gently to the rack, noting the special attributes of each.  One had long, flowy, red  tail-fins, another was a sapphire blue.  One of the fishes was the color and sheen of a pearl.  They were all incredibly different, and there were so many!  She had to make sure she got the “right” one.

“Please pick a fish!” I implored, after what seemed an eternity of her inspecting them.

“I’m trying,” she laughed.  And I knew she was trying.  There were so many fish, and every single one was distinctly beautiful.  Every single one needed a home.

My girl finally did choose a fish.  It was a smaller one, hidden behind the cups of the bolder, fancier ones. He has nice red fins and perfect, opalescent scales, and he seems happy in his new home with the sad plastic plant.  He is a little different from all the rest of the fish, which makes him perfect for our family.

In a small way, it reminded me of making a commitment to minister to those in need – because “those in need” encompasses everyone.  Many times I get paralyzed by the vastness of the need – people who are suffering from addiction, poverty and other ills -and fail to do anything at all.   It begins with the one person, of course.  Instead of becoming intimidated by the sheer numbers of people needing care (they are all so different, and there are so many!), step out for the “one”.  Not must telling God, “I’m trying!” but meeting  a need and bring it out into the light.  Out of the darkness.

The need is so great.

Recovery

Terminally Unique….Just Like Everyone Else

By: Jana Greene

Terminal uniqueness.

The first time I heard the term bantered around in an AA meeting, I was personally offended.  After all, I was at a meeting because I couldn’t drink like normally like “everyone else” and by attending, I was spotlighting a weakness that had resulted from my unique set of circumstances.  And I had stayed sober for weeks by then – in spite of very challenging things:  My unhappy home life.  My health issues.  My negative thought patterns.  Of course I am special!

Just like everyone else in the room.

Nowadays, I don’t bristle at the suggestion of feeling terminally unique. It makes me chuckle a bit because I know how terminally unique I am, as are you and each other person whom God has created.  For years, I used it as an excuse to keep from getting sober.  Easy for her, I would think of someone in recovery.  She doesn’t walk in my shoes.

We are all incredibly unique, endowed with a one-of-a-kind skill set of coping, growing, thinking, feeling and choosing….our weirdness, perhaps.  Our unique weirdness, combined with life experience, is terminal – there is no chance of being born one soul and dying entirely another.

Even as we are born again in the spirit, that soul still exhibits some quirkiness on occasion.

I used to believe that if I were doing it “right”, being a Christian cause me to have it all together.  In my mind’s eye, I saw myself evolving into an entirely different creature:  Poised, reverent, polished and wise, the Christian Me would be emotionally available, sane at all times, selfless and serene.

Just like everyone else seems to be!

Except that no-one is all of those lovely things all of the time.  Only Jesus could manage to pull that off.  God is teaching me that my addictions and behaviors are not weakness born of my terminal uniqueness, but of my humanity.  They were born for one unique purpose: to bring his name glory.  The weaker times in my life – when I couldn’t cope, grow, think or feel like anyone could pull me out of my troubles, I chose to ask God to help me up.  And despite my being so terminally unique, he answered my prayers and advised me to tell others that he can use weirdoes like me.  And you.

What about the very unique circumstances that challenged me?  My home life, my health issues, my negative thought patterns? Perhaps allowed by God to share hope with those in similar circumstances, walking in similar shoes.

Not the least bit “all together”, terminally unique, and saved by Christ.

Spiritual

Gratitude, intentionally

By:  Jana Greene

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. – John Milton

I don’t know what I would do without everyday epiphanies.

In recovery circles, they are called “aha!” moments…those times when things suddenly make sense just a little bit.  My favorite brand of “aha!” moments are the ones of reverent, intentional gratitude.

Yesterday, my husband and I visited with some old friends at the beach.  It was – at the risk of sounding dramatic – as perfect a day as I’ve ever had.  We hoisted beach chairs to the water’s edge and talked for hours about how fast our babies grew up, about all of the things that surprised us about parenting (a lot!)  We swam in the salty sea and snacked on chips with homemade salsa.  And spent the evening having dinner on the back porch, which overlooked the marshes.  We shared so much laughter, our cheeks ached.

Several times, I reached over to touch my good friend, because I felt so blessed by her that I wanted to make sure she was real!  God loves on us through his other children….Aha!

On the drive home, I held my husband’s hand, which is not at all unusual.  But we locked fingers like we have a thousand times before and I thanked the Lord for this perfect fit.  And that prayer led to gratitude for all of the other ways I love my husband.  I can’t count all of my blessings if I don’t start with “one” ….Aha!

Washing my sandy feet in the tub before bed, I considered the events of the day.   I thought about friendship – and said a quick prayer to let the Father know I appreciated his orchestrating those relationships.  I smiled, thinking of the ocean and complimented Him on His handiwork.  I couldn’t remember a day in recent history in which I’d felt so humbled by blessing, so full of gratitude.  It isn’t because I’m not blessed; it’s just that worry has been renting the space in my head that joy rightfully owns.  Worry is a destructive tenant, opposite of thankfulness in every way.

God is always bestowing gifts big and small to us, but sometimes I don’t encounter grateful-ness because life is full of not-so-wonderful days, chock full of them.  Things seem to go wrong more often than right, and days are not often even close to perfect.

I know that we are not here to be blessed, but to bless. But I also think God gets tickled when we notice the things that we, ourselves, cannot take credit for – the things we shouldn’t take credit for that change forever how we experience life and the world.  It takes almost no time at all to say “thank you” but it can change the whole trajectory of mind-set.

Being truly thankful makes sense of things, I think.

Aha!

 

Inspirational

Why Jesus is my Sponsor

Sculpture at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC (photo by Jana Greene)

One of the first things that one is encouraged to do in Alcoholics Anonymous is to get a sponsor.  Webster’s dictionary describes a sponsor as:

a)      A person who vouches or is responsible for a person or thing.  Or…

b)      A person who makes a pledge or promise on behalf of another.

Although I attended many meetings, I never did find a sponsor in the halls of AA.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want one initially, but asking someone to sponsor me seemed a cruel thing to ask of anyone in those early days.  Kind of like asking a stranger to donate a kidney.  And I surely didn’t want to sponsor someone else, even after some time in recovery, because I am a messy and flawed human being.  Being responsible for myself is about all I can handle (and some days that’s a stretch).

At one of the first meetings I went to, one member told the group that your “higher power” could be just about anything.

“It could be a lampshade,” she said, nodding toward the light in the corner of the room.  “As long as you admit that believing in it can restore you to sanity.”

I looked at the lampshade, which admittedly appeared to be more sane than I at that moment.  But it was not a “higher power” and I didn’t believe in its holiness. I didn’t believe that I could save myself, or that Buddha could save me or nature or another person.  I believed in Jesus Christ and His power to get me through this thing called sobriety.  It would have to be an act of God for me to stop drinking.

You see, for three days prior I had been on my knees, sick and begging for help.  Three days of detoxifying sweats, shakes, and hallucinations – the penalty of denying my body alcohol.  In my weak and lonely state, I had called out to Jesus Christ.  A fill-in-the-blank deity did not carry me through that – it was nothing short of supernatural.

When I was at my worst, sprawled out on the bathroom floor heaving and shaking, I screamed at the Lord and called him to the mat.

“You said your grace is sufficient,” I yelled, fist punching at air.  “Well, where are you?  Help me!”

Help me.  Help me. Please help me.  You SAID you WOULD!

And he did, moment by moment, bit by bit, comforting my sick body and tortured mind.  In that dark time, he became my closest friend.  The kind of friend you would give you a kidney.  The kind of friend that would give up his life for me.  Because you see, he did that, too.

Ever since that day, I have felt that I HAVE to tell other people about him, that he is still in the miracle business.  I have to show other “beggars” where I found bread.

I love the 12-steps and believe in the practicality that they offer.  I pull them out of the “toolbox” constantly, because they help me to do life on life’s terms instead of my own.  In the rooms of AA meetings and Celebrate Recovery gatherings, I have met the bravest people on earth.  Every person in recovery has something to bring to the table that another person in recovery needs to know or hear.  But for me, the program itself and the wonderful people I met at the meetings were just not enough to maintain sobriety.  They could not save my soul.

Life kept happening…the good and the bad, and all along, Jesus stayed. Jesus made the pledge, the promise – and he is still vouching for me today.  Any sanity I have had restored in these past eleven years of sobriety?

Given to me by my Sponsor, Jesus Christ.  He is the Highest Power of all.

Spiritual

No Bullies at the Table – the truth about fear (and soul wedgies)

By: Jana Greene

Fear is a big, fat bully – the kind that steals our spiritual lunch money.  It is lurking in the nooks and crannies of our being, waiting to lunge out and take our provision.  And give a big ol’ soul wedgie so we don’t even THINK of ignoring it later.

At first, fear is just trash talk:   You can’t do it.  You aren’t qualified.  You don’t have the smarts/degree/credentials to do it.

But then it becomes a paralyzing barrage of blows.

You’re a failure.  You’ve had a failed marriage, failed relationships, failed careers.

You’re too old to start this project.  You’re too boring/plain/ordinary.

Fear can result in so many bugaboos:  depression, addiction, self-loathing.  Inaction.

The bully sounds a lot like the devil, because fear is more tactical than random.  Sometimes the strategy is not to destroy, but to distract.  God aims to fellowship with us, to feed us on his love and purpose.  If we get too distracted by the lies, we never get where we were meant to go.

We never get to enjoy the feast in fulfilling His greater purpose in us.

There are hundreds of verses in the Bible reminding us to “fear not”, but this is one of my favorites:

“People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.” – Luke 12:32 (MSG)

My perception is that I don’t have the means to follow God’s purpose for me, but in my heart – where no bully can steal it – is the Holy Spirit.  That is truth, fear’s greatest nemesis.

I belong to Christ  – why worry for my everyday human concerns?  As his Spirit leads  me to purpose, I cannot lose.  God doesn’t need my success, he longs for my surrender. His will is that I walk past the fear, even when it’s difficult.  Even when the bully is loud, he is still a liar.

Expect me at the table, Father God.  And thanks for the provision.

 

Spiritual

A Heart Unwrinkled – thoughts on getting older

By: Jana Greene

“To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, and reverent–that is to triumph over old age.”– Thomas Bailey Aldrich

There was a time in my life when I would have bought this magazine, but now, waiting in the grocery store check-out, I don’t even pick it up.  A celebrity in her late 40’s, looking freakishly young and thin, smiles through the thick glossy cover.  Her name, known the world over, is boldly printed over an italicized quote that proclaims that she is finally  at peace with her middle-aged self.

She is at peace with her (surgically enhanced) body.

At peace with the (airbrushed) wrinkles.

She is at peace with her “real” self these days.

How inspiring.

Although I’ve never read this edition of the magazine, I’ve read the essence of it a thousand times.  Full of articles imploring other women in mid-life to embrace the REAL you! sandwiched between  ads and columns featuring pictures of women who’ve been photo-shopped within an inch of their likenesses.

Real.

Some days I struggle with this aging thing.  It’s hard to sign a peace treaty with something as it marches across your face and forms dimples your thighs while you sleep.  I have to constantly remind myself that getting older is actually a gift; more time to make a difference to someone, more time to love and laugh and serve.

God says that “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life. (Proverbs 16:31, NIV) but that’s not what society says.

Society says to color the gray out, because we are worth it….to cover our faces with makeup to “take the years off” and to Spanx-corset our mid-sections. To tan, moisturize, condition and bind.  To  dye, tweeze, pluck and lift.

Because if you are 45 but look 25, you might find “peace”?

Peace wasn’t a real hallmark of my 20’s.  The best thing about them was  not a tight jaw-line or flat abs (although yes, they were nice if I recall).  The best thing about being 20-something was the belief that the best was yet to come.  The hopefulness.

Every woman I know over 25 struggles with the insecurity that whispers “Look in the mirror!  Step on the scale!  Your best has already been…..”

But that isn’t what God says at all.

Ironic… that the same forces marching across my face, dimpling my thighs – are the ones bringing the crown of splendor.  The experiences that bring “hopeful, kindly, cheerful and reverent” are often the same experiences that precede wrinkles, gray hair, a few extra pounds.

I’m learning that a heart unwrinkled is what really inspires me.

And the peace-treaty with my wrinkles and thighs?  Yeah.  That’s a work in progress, too.

Spiritual

New Feet (not perfect? no problem!)

By:  Jana Greene

Years ago, a friend had given me a gift certificate for a pedicure at a local nail salon.   Andrew, a nice gentleman from Vietnam, would do the dirty work – my feet were a mess.  First he ran a very warm foot bath and instructed me to relax while enjoying the gentle jets.

But I was not relaxed; I became more nervous as he lined up the implements of pedicures by the side of the tub:  lotions and oils, pumice stones and cuticle sticks.  After a while, he lifted one foot at a time and placed it on a towel on his knee.

I’d never had a pedicure, and it was a humbling experience so far.  I was so embarrassed.

Living near the beach, I had become accustomed to staying either barefoot, or in a pair of well-worn leather sandals, and the soles of my feet were calloused and cracked from not wearing shoes.  As Andrew rubbed oil into each foot, I began apologizing.

“I know my feet are in bad shape,” I said quietly.  “I’m sorry they are so rough.”

To which he replied bluntly in a clipped Vietnamese accent:  “That’s why you come here!  Why would you come if feet were perfect?”  He scrubbed with the pumice until my heels were smooth and painted my nails a warm sunset orange.  By the time he was done, I felt restored and (dare I say?) relaxed.

And a little silly that I apologized about my feet during a pedicure!

Walking out of the salon on “new feet”, I thought about Jesus’s washing the feet of his disciples.  I love that story:

“So, he (Jesus) got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.” – John 13:5-6 (MSG)

If it were embarrassing for Andrew to wash my feet, I cannot imagine the Son of God bending down to do the task!  God incarnate, serving!  So  that we would learn how to serve.  He even washed the feet of Judas, whom he knew would betray him in a matter of hours.  So humbling.

Humbling doesn’t usually feel restorative, but it often is.

There is a young lady I know who is struggling with coming to church, wrestling with believing in God at all.  She wants badly to stop hurting but asserts that she is just not there yet, not quite ready to make herself vulnerable enough to allow Jesus in.

She says she has done a lot of bad things, and that she is in rough shape.  A part of her still likes those bad  things, I suspect – and she isn’t sure she wants the calluses pumiced down by “religion”, because of the tenderness under the surface.  It’s so much easier to throw a coat of paint on something and make it look alright.  Religion can be superficial; a relationship with the God who bends down to where you are?  That is deep and powerful.

I want to say, like Andrew the Pedicurist, “Why would you come if you were perfect?”  Being in bad shape, rough around the edges, makes you the perfect candidate for Jesus to wash your feet!

To wash your soul and to restore you, right where you are.

That’s why you are here.

Inspirational, Spiritual

“What’s Next, Papa?” A Control Freak looks at the REAL Adventureland

By: Jana Greene

Many years ago, my family enjoyed taking a vacation to Walt Disney World about every two years.   After a few trips, I came to learn the” lay of the land” and decided that I would create an itinerary in advance of each vacation in order that we might enjoy the maximum amount of fun mathematically possible in ten or so exhausting hours in the parks.

Never mind that my children (and budget) were small; there were exciting adventures happening everywhere in that place and dadgummit – we weren’t going to miss a thing!

Crafting each itinerary in advance was a lot of work, what with the hours of research spent analyzing the historical crowd levels, taking our favorite restaurants into account and studying the parade schedules

I am not an analytical person normally, but I’m very prone to addictive behavior, and I took each Pilgrimage seriously.   My itineraries became so neurotically detailed (each activity on each day down to a half-hour margin of error) that my family became unwilling to follow my plans.

One day on vacation, we walked into the Magic Kingdom at 9:00 a.m. as scheduled  and my family informed me that they would not be following the plan for today.  Even though the plan clearly indicated that we would visit Tomorrowland first, they started to head to Adventureland, dragging me by the hand.  The itinerary ended up in a wastebasket somewhere near Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

My family’s mutinous rebellion resulted in two things:  everyone had a much better time when NOT following a strict schedule and it became apparent that I am a CONTROL FREAK.

It took the intervention of a cartoon mouse to make me see it.

Knowing the “next cool thing” we were going to do actually had the opposite effect on the Fun Factor.  It was hard to get excited about the next activity when you already knew what to expect.  There was no room for the wonderment of what delightful thing you might just happen across.

As a general rule, I like knowing what is going to happen ahead of time, and I’m happy to help the process along by making lists/itineraries when applicable.  This season in my life is no exception.

This might be especially true when it comes to time and money – the two things that seem to run out the fastest.   I am all too happy to make suggestions to God about what might be the next big step (with subtlety, of course) but I suspect He sees right through me and knows that my suggestions are really just prayerful efforts to control.  I don’t know what is going to happen next, and anytime I think I do – it turns out to have been pure delusion.

But delusion trumps uncertainty in my primal brain quite frequently.  So I pray.    “Help me, God….whatever is next!  And help me to stop trying to help you decide what that is!”

This morning I read something in the Bible that stopped my worry-wart, hand-wringing prayer time today with its simplicity.

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a child-like “What’s next, Papa?”  God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us – an unbelievable inheritance.  If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!” – Romans 8 15:17 (MSG)

Could it be that I am missing the wonderment of delightful things because I’m too busy tending to the “grave” thoughts?  Tending to the thoughts of an empty grave at that?  Time, money, the actions of other people – all out of my control, all distractions from the rich destiny intended for me.  What about the Fun Factor?

I’m starting to figure out that it isn’t knowing the next cool thing that’s important; it is trusting that God has my best interests in His plan. It’s “What’s next, Papa?” in genuine adventurous expectancy.

Without knowing the “lay of the land”, without making suggestions to my Father.

And without missing a thing, except for the illusion of control.

 

Dogs, Holy

The Holiness of Old Dogs

By:  Jana Greene

There is something holy about old dogs.  I can’t quote scripture to prove it, but I can see the sacredness in the eyes of my old dog, Emmie.  And I know God sees it in her too, that He placed it there.

I’m finding that God often places the holy and pure things where we least expect them.  I know that He uses my dog to make me a better person, to teach me things.

Emmie has been a good and faithful friend to me for more than fourteen years.  A Golden Retriever (with a bit of Chow-Chow) she never knew the first thing about retrieving. But being kind and loving, joyful and true?  She knows everything about that.

When I call to her, she comes to me – even though she is old and creaky probably has a million good doggie reasons why she would rather not.  She might be on her soft bed, having the dream in which she is jumping the chain-link fence like she used to.  Or a dream in which she finally catches that tormenting cat.  But, she always comes to me when I call, tail in full-wag….. counting it all joy.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” – James 1:2

She enjoys her life, with little concern for the future.  Although it’s not easy for her to get into the back seat these days, she loves car rides.  Groaning a little as I help her hoist her achy haunches up, she seems to say, Mom, roll down the window already!  We might be going to the park, or to the vet’s office; she knows either one is a possibility.  No matter!  On the road she  is just a smiling doggie in my rearview mirror, her coat an explosion of golden fur in the wind, her slobber forming a snail-like trail down the side of my car, anxious for nothing.  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” –   Matthew 6:25 -27 (NIV)

Emmie is an expert on affection, both the giving and receiving of.  She hasn’t yet learned that she doesn’t need to sit on top of me to be with me.  She simply cannot get close enough, even when I am trying to get things done.  Her tail wagging furiously, she is conveying that she loves me too much to contain it in a lady-like, reserved manner.  It reminds me of times that I raise my hands at church during worship, unfettered by rules, overcome with gratitude…when I just cannot get close enough, love/grace/gratitude bubbling over.   “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” – 2 Corinthians 9:12 (NIV)

But the holiest attribute that Emmie displays might also be the most subtle.  It is the way she humbly seeks my face.  When offered a treat, her gaze is not on my hand (or the delicious bone I’m holding) … No, she is staring at the acceptance in my expression, her big, chocolate drop eyes searching to read my face.  Interestingly, the Bible reminds us to seek the face of God, not his hand and what he can offer us in the way of treats.  “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” – 1 Chron. 16:11

My sweet Emmie may not know about retrieving.  But she knows all about love, unconditionally.

Over the years….

In times of sorrow, I have buried my face in her uber-floofy coat and cried buckets of tears, and she didn’t seem to mind.  She lay perfectly still, only moving to lick my face.  Always compassionate.

In times of great joy, she has skipped circles around me, pouncing up and down as if she had a single clue as to what the celebration was all about.  Joyous oblivion.

In times of sickness or pain, she is my shadow, following me to the kitchen, the mailbox, even to the bathroom.  Endlessly loyal.

Yesterday, I bent down to kiss the top of her cone-y head like I have hundreds of times before.   I held her face up in my hands and looked into her eyes.  Heart melting, a feeling came over me of sweet reverence.  It took my breath away a little.  I’ve felt just this way before……

Where have I felt this feeling before?

And then I remembered:  standing in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  I, as a tourist from North Carolina, standing in the sanctuary of the church, having never seen so regal a place, in the presence of magnificence….. awed and humbled.  How odd that the countenance of a loving, loyal animal would remind me of such a holy place.  The same sensation of being close to what His hand had fashioned flooded me in this realization:  Where God’s glory is manifest in the great majesty of  architecture and art, it is also manifest in the eyes of an old dog.

Holy and sacred – right where God placed it.