The Year 2013 in Review (Whew!) – stats for TheBeggarsBakery.net

The WordPress.com Statistic Helper Monkeys (their terminology, not mine!) prepared a 2013 annual report for TheBeggarsBakery.net. I am sharing it with YOU with a heart full of gratitude.

What a year! When I started this site to share recovery, parenting, marriage, and general life issues in an authentic way with others (and also because writing is my therapy, of course) …  I did not really believe anyone would read my work. I remain amazed and so grateful that you do!

God bless you in 2014, as your support, readership, and comments have blessed me in 2013.

We are all in this thing called “life” together!

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Pushing off of Rock Bottom

 I love you, God—     you make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet,     the castle in which I live,     my rescuing knight. My God—the high crag     where I run for dear life,     hiding behind the boulders,     safe in the granite hideout. - Psalm 18:2 (Message)
I love you, God—
you make me strong.
God is bedrock under my feet,
the castle in which I live,
my rescuing knight.
My God—the high crag
where I run for dear life,
hiding behind the boulders,
safe in the granite hideout. – Psalm 18:2 (Message)

On January 3rd,  I will celebrate thirteen years of continuous sobriety. In getting ready to publish my testimony in full, I wanted to share what ‘hitting bottom’ was for me. I need to remember these things, so I am not doomed to repeat the past.

And I need  to share it with you – in case you have touched bottom yourself, or know someone who is there now.

“Bottom” is a terrible place to be, but it is the only place that gives you enough leverage to  push off.’

Hitting bottom enabled me to anchor on the true Rock, instead of drowning in the dark abyss.

I am still – forever – an alcoholic, and still – forever – in need of Grace. It is only by the grace of a savior who is willing to crouch down on the bathroom floor with me that I am saved.

It is by His grace that I live now, one day at a time.

By: Jana Greene

“Please, Jesus…please.”

My prayer was simple and desperate, my head spinning.

Crouched down against the unfamiliar toilet – in the home of the hostess for the Christmas party where I was employed.

How did this happen again?  How did I let this happen again?  I was so careful, careful with the first drink, nursing it politely while milling awkwardly about the crowd of coworkers.  I wanted to gulp it down to ease my nerves.  I was shaking when I arrived alone at the party, because I was sober then.

Sober always meant shaking.

The second drink went down a little quicker.  But my hands slowly stopped quaking and with the warm fire of the drink came slight nausea.  Ironic that I must drink every day now – even though my body was starting to reject alcohol vehemently.

In those days, the whites of my eyes yellowed and face bloated, every day ended with a violent vomiting session.

Every day ended with the words,  “Please Jesus, please.”

Be careful, I reminded myself while I poured the third.  But I was just starting to feel “normal”,  laughing with the other partygoers…maybe even fitting in, just a little bit.  For just a few moments…joviality.  The warmest place. Then, just as always, the relaxation turned to spinning and whirling.

I worked for an elementary school that year – my coworkers were also my children’s teachers, principal and librarian.  My daughters were in Kindergarten and second grade respectively.  I had to be careful with the drinking on this occasion.  I’d been able to hide the extent of my drinking to my coworkers, friends, husband – the world. Or so I earnestly believed. I passed off hangovers as stomach bugs and headaches as minor inconveniences.  I thought I was such a clever girl.

It had been less than an hour since I’d arrived at the party, when I had my fourth drink.  I was proud that I was pacing myself so well.  But by the sixth (or seventh?) drink,  I casually wove to the guest bathroom, taking care to lock the door behind me.

And then the sick. The warmest place filling my throat and choking me.

I hate myself, I thought, shaking with another retch.  Vomit quietly! 

How did I even let this happen?

I tried to asses the situation soberly, rationally.  But I kept forgetting where I was. Worse, someone had gone in to the bathroom with me! I could feel the presence of another person,  but I couldn’t focus enough to identify who it was. I wished they’d leave!  Having someone see me at my weakest was my worst fear.  I was not alone….that much I knew.

Through the door, I can tell that voices were rising over the holiday music  in the living room.

Now, someone is knocking at the bathroom door!  I am laying on the cold tile now, convulsing in dry-heaves, but I can still hear the knocking.  I whisper to whoever is hunkered down in the bathroom with me,  “Shhhh…please, don’t open it!” Pulling myself to my knees, I can see that the  bathroom floor is a mess, the lovely white rug splattered with the evidence that I cannot control myself.

“Just a minute,” I say louder, trying to articulate the words.

Another knock, and then a woman’s voice.  “Are you okay?”

It sounds like the school’s principal. Oh no.

“Yes,” I respond, but it sounds like  “yesh.” Hot humiliation burns my face.

“Okay then….” the voice says, unconvincingly.  “Okay.”

Get up, I tell myself, pulling myself up to the counter.  Get up, damn you…. and fake sober!

I’d taken such care to prepare for this evening, having bought a new  “little black” dress, curling my hair,  and wearing just the right makeup.  But my shoes are missing….where are my shoes?

If I could pull of looking okay on the outside world, I could still be okay on some level.  And this night, while driving to the party, I had repeated a mantra:  paceyourselfpaceyourselfpaceyourself….you can do it if you try! 

This night, I promised I wouldn’t cross the line between “relaxed drunk” and obliterated, which is what always  (every single day) “happened to me,  in the privacy of my own home. As long as no other human being knew my secret,  I was safe.

Insanity is thinking that you would be just fine, as long as nobody knew – and I could find my shoes.

Now,  on the bathroom floor,  I remembered it was not only my professional reputation at stake, but my children. The party-goers were same people in the first line of defense for children, my children.  They would pity my beloved daughters at the very least, perhaps even … I cannot even imagine.  Oh, my sweet girls – how I love them.  How much better they deserve.

I raise my eyes up to the bathroom mirror, and my reflection paid homage to my dread. Eyes ringed in crimson,  makeup sloughed off with sweat.

This is the mother of my beloved daughters.

Sick.

I tried to wipe my face with a wad of toilet paper as best I could, and then kneeled back down to clean the floor.  It was difficult with the room spinning.

I hear a strangled whimper rise from my own throat and it swells to an involuntary sob.  I try to muffle it while I rummage around in the cabinet under the sink for air freshener to cover the stench of vomit, but it is not use.  The only think under the sink is a small toilet plunger and a very old bottle of White Shoulders perfume, half-full and orange with age.

I still feel whoever is in the room with me when I am misting the perfume around the bathroom. He is crouched down on the floor with me, but I still cannot discern his identity. Whoever it is, I owe him an apology. “I’m sorry,” I cry in a whisper. “I’m so sorry.”

 

 

I stand up, wobbly, and smooth my hair.

I can make slight eye contact with myself in the bathroom mirror now and hold the sad, strange gaze.  I am just beginning to feel like the un-numb version of myself again, the hiccup in my buzz was rapidly becoming the itch of sober reality,  immediately uncomfortable. Never mind, I tell myself.

Opening the door,  my boss and coworkers – my children’s teachers – are standing around casually, trying not to stare at the wreck that emerged from the bathroom.

And my thought process is simple and desperate in that moment of sickness. I have stopped politely imploring Jesus to help me, afraid that he might – and what that might mean.

Instead,  I am thinking, “I need just one drink.”   After all, I’m not the first person to get drunk at a company Christmas party. It’s practically expected. I will just pace myself.

I’ll just be extra-careful.

Clever, dying girl.

Permission to Land

IMG_3351

By: Jana Greene

I’ve been looking back on my very brief career in the airline industry recently,  not out of melancholy or nostalgia, but because so many of the terms I learned while training seem to relate to my current spiritual life.

You see, I’ve been in a bit of a funk, waiting upon the Lord to reveal his plans – and himself – to me.

“I’m ready, Lord,” I tell him, impatient that his timing so out of whack with mine.

But instead of instructing me on where to let the wheels down and make a descent, I am getting: “Circle back around, be patient.”

Life in a holding pattern, it seems, is not my forte.

And so I wait, trying to trust that the Pilot knows what He is doing. He has all the credentials, certified and able to direct the course of my life. This is not his first flight.  He knows his way around – the lay of the land, the circumstances of my life – since he is the mastermind of both.

He knows exactly where I’m going, and I don’t have a clue.  Not having an idea of my destination only adds to my frustration.

 “Thank you for flying blind with God today,” pre-flight announcements would say. If there were any. ” on your way to God-only-knows-where, for the purpose of God-only-knows-what.”

And that’s not where the air travel metaphor ends..

Right now, God is on the precipice of taking my life somewhere wonderful, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So many challenges have presented lately,  I feel like a Frequent Flyer who has earned the status as a hostage  – having experienced too may changes in a short period of time.

And most recently, I’m just  justthisclose  to a full-on Tarmac Tantrum, because there has been an inordinate amount of time just sitting in the plane without even getting off the ground. Confined, and feeling slighted, the whole situation out of my control.

I’m afraid of new journeys, and resent  the Comfort Compromise – even though the safety constraints are there for my  well-being, I’m tired of being all buckled-in.

But when we are soaring, God at the controls – and I take enough time to look out the window instead of trying to figure everything out,  the views are incredible.

“We are, once again, in a holding pattern,” I hear God’s voice crackle across the intercom.

“But you can still enjoy the view!”

Down through the clouds, I see the people milling around, as they become tiny ants on the ground. I stop to consider that my Pilot knows  every thought in the heads of each “tiny ant” –  and ever hair on each of their heads, so precious are them to Him.

I can’t help but admire his creation as we fly over,  knowing that the majesty of mountains and vastness of the sea  that confirms God’s handiwork is also manifest in the smallest cells and molecules .

He is in all. He IS all.

Why do I so often Miss that?

And as to directly answer my question, I hear:

“The Free Will sign is always illuminated,” my flight attendant – an angel – advises. “so feel free to move about your life.’

Ah, yes. The Free Will, so generously given us by God. That’s how I so often miss the things God shows me…my free will is busy focused on  other, more trivial pursuits.

As the Captain indicated that we will be descending shortly, he reminds us not to fear. “you may hear changes in the engine, or feel a little turbulence,  I’ve got this. I’ve got you.”

I’ve been flying in a holding pattern so long, I scarcely know what to do when Permission to Land has been directed. What shall I take with me into this new place where God has brought me?
The armor of God, of course. It’s really heavy, but absolutely essential.

His word, of course. It is how I will navigate my new surroundings.

Good friends, who have been through thick and thin, and love Christ with all of their hearts.

And faith. Never leave home without it!

And as I depart the plane, which has kept me hostage in a holding pattern for so long, God stops all of the important things he is doing to thank me for flying with him. Thank you for Trusting Him.

Stepping onto the concourse, the whole atmosphere changes, It is loud and bustling, full of people and full of opportunity. It is almost always a vastly different place than I thought I would end up.

But I know that my Pilot accompanies me on my missions every day of my life, even – especially – on a new, bumpy journeys.

It’s going to be wonderful.

Friendship – Sisters by Design

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C. S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

This letter is a gift to someone who is a gift to my life.  I asked her permission to publish it, to which she responded:

“You have full permission to publish it if you want—I hope it inspires others to have real friendships like ours!”

Amen, Sister-Girlfriend. The world would be a much better place.

My sweet Melissa,

Do you remember the first Christmas that we became friends? Our daughters – now freshmen in college – were fourth-graders who had just declared themselves Best Friends Forever. I was a struggling, single mom, just having divorced my children’s father after fourteen years of marriage. My little girl was having a terrible time.  I got her a good therapist, and tried to calm her fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded.

What she really needed was a very good friend. Your daughter was that very good friend to her.

It was a horrible, awful  time in my life. I was working four jobs to feed my girls after being a stay-at-home mom all of their lives. They became latch-key kids. I became a hot mess from the guilt.

When we first met, I was holding on to my four-year-old sobriety by a single thread, it seemed, and living on high anxiety. You invited me over anyway when the girls were having a play-date, serving coffee (and, I’m certain)  sweets.  You asked questions that nobody else had bothered to ask, and didn’t judge me when I answered honestly.

Sometimes when you stop trying so hard, God makes mystical things happen. Like our friendship.

At the time, you were wary of organized religion, and I was wary of everything. But in your guest bathroom, you had a display of decorative crosses. Every time I went to the loo at your house, I thanked God for you and your kindness. I prayed that you would trust Him again, even as I struggled to trust Him myself. Yes, on the loo!  I can tell you that now, all these years later.

That Christmas, I sat with all of our girls while you went on a date with your hubby. Before you departed for the evening, you gave me a pretty little wrapped gift box, and instructed me to open it when you left.  I did, and it was a lovely new wallet.

When you came back home, I thanked you, and you said that I should make sure to look inside of it. Folded in the zipped compartment was a hundred-dollar bill.

“Get your girls a little something for Christmas,” you said, like it was not a big deal.

It was SUCH a big deal, Melissa, to fill the girls’ stockings that year. Such a big deal.

Little did I know that praying for you on the loo would be the least of what we would come to discuss as our friendship deepened!  No subject was off-limits, no pretending to be who we were not. No pretense, all acceptance – what a wonderful foundation for a friendship.

I have to tell you, my friend, throughout the storms, you were my safe place. And always – even if there were tears –  laughter was ultimately the order of the day.

We are pretty cool that way.

Over the years, we have really been through it together, have we not?  With six daughters between us, holy cow – have we ever!

Teenagers and all the stupid stuff they do. Teenagers and all the awesome stuff they do.

Through a divorce and a new marriage (both mine) you were such a support. Through your steady marriage, you taught me so much.

When our husbands drive us bonkers, we have a kvetch session, and are a-okay again.

When our kids drive us bonkers, well … together, we find the strength to soldier on.

We’ve done the Mom Circuit, and weathered the “Mom, leave me alone!” syndrome.

Between us, we’ve done new careers, and unemployment.

We’ve drowned our sorrows in Queso dip at every Mexican food restaurant in town. (Cheese plays a major role in our relationship, as well it should!)

We’ve had pajama parties, and felt the betrayal of gravity (especially me….you look MAHVELOUS!) and – as we schlepped into our forties – the reward of chasing dreams and catching them, on occasion. (Or should I say, we sashay gracefully into our forties – and beyond.)

We’ve struggled with the discovery of what is out of our control (everything, essentially) and celebrated what we which we can control (keeping the faith.)

We’ve threatened to write a book togetherwhich, incidentally is still TOTALLY happening!

Most meaningfully, when my own family members high-tailed it out of my life, you ran towards me.

You and I …. we’ve  had spiritual crisises and awakenings, stumblings and triumphs. And shared with honesty every experience.

We discovered together that we are NOT orphans after all, but beloved daughters of the Most High King….princesses, really!

And that makes us sisters. Family.

Even our husbands became MFFs (Man Friends Forever…please don’t tell them I said that,) and our daughters as close as any siblings.

Family, like I said.

Your love, prayers and steadfastness have helped keep me sober. Honestly, I doubt I would have maintained it without your support.

That love….those prayers and acceptance – they have kept me from running away from home on numerous occasions (“This parenting teens thing? I QUIT!”)

In the midst of building this friendship, you had a revolution in your spirit.  When God lit a fire under you, he used spiritual kerosene!

Girl, you were on FIRE, and you are still on fire!  It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been witness to.

A spark from the heart of Jesus himself caught the hem of your garment, and you just had to serve Him. You served Him by helping other women, like you helped me. By genuinely loving them – fiercely. From it came additions to the sisterhood – the WAYwards – and lots of tears and laughter.

And laughter came in handy during the difficult times.

Several years ago, when I got sick, I stayed sick for nearly three years. It was another awful, dark time in my life.  Chronically fatigued. Endlessly in pain. And with no answers in sight, living on high anxiety once again.

For three solid years, I fought numbness, pain, fatigue….every single day, and bitched about it plenty. My complaining and frustration had to have tested your dedication! But you listened every time, and never gave up.

You prayed for my health fervently. Sometimes, when I was in the middle of exhaustion and complaint, you would just extend your right hand toward me and pray so hard that we would both cry – even when I was right in the middle of a bitching session!

It’s hard to be hopeless when someone is that dedicated to asking God to help you.

But sometimes – when you stop trying so hard – God makes mystical things happen.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I remember telling you. And I meant it. “I can’t!”

“God can,” you said, with no judgement. More listening, more praying, more encouraging. You listened. Like a true friend, you loved fiercely, calming my fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded. “Father,” you prayed. “Please heal my friend. But even if she doesn’t get better, we praise you. We LOVE you!”

Because you see, what I really needed was a very good friend. You were – and are – that very good friend to me.

All these many years later, how many cycles have we gone through !– Distrusting organized religion, and calling on God. Trusting God, and being there for each other.

I’m so grateful for you.

Thank you for being so steady a prayer-warrior. Thank you for never, ever saying, “This friendship thing? I QUIT!”

Thank you for all the times you still give me encouragement (and chocolate) and for being my “nothing is off limits” sister.

When I think about who you are and who you’ve become, and all God has in store for you, it brings me to my knees.

When I pray for you, I ask God to take that beautiful, bright, effervescent and glorious spirit of yours and just unleash it on the world in a way that brings him glory. I pray that the same joy your spirit brings me gets unfurled on the world, and comes back on you like a tidal wave.

I never forgot the Christmas that you folded a Benjamin in the gift of a new wallet  … so that I could give my daughters a Christmas. But more importantly, I never forgot that you reached out to this hot mess girl, that you went out of your way to be kind.

I never forgot that you treated my frightened, maddeningly insecure and hurting fourth-grade daughter like your own. Now a confident – gregarious, even!- young woman, she never forgot your love, either.

I love that you never stopped praying for my healing. I love your heart, that it breaks for hurting people.

I love that the most important prayer I ever learned to pray, I learned from you – “I trust you, God. I may not understand a single thing you are doing, but I trust you.”

It was a  beautiful thing to do for an old friend, to teach me that prayer.

I love you with all my heart. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for being family.

And Merry Christmas, BFF.

JUDGED.

JUDGED

By: Jana Greene

“None of us has ever seen a motive. Therefore, we don’t know. We can’t do anything more than suspect what inspires the actions of another. For this good and valid reason, we are told not to judge. ” ― Brennan Manning, The Wisdom of Tenderness: What Happens When God’s Fierce Mercy Transforms Our Lives

You don’t understand me. You may think you know me, but you don’t.

If you only knew my heart … you might not judge me so harshly.

 Or, you might judge me even more harshly….if you knew my heart.

A few weeks ago, I posed the simple question on social media:  “If you could describe the feeling of being judged by others in one word, what would that one word be?”  I  received an avalanche of responses from people of all different ages and creeds –  in rapid succession. Most of the responses were graphic, the words divided pretty neatly between two camps:

Deep, wounded feelings of inferiority,  and a strong, almost violent verbal depiction of spiritual beating.

Being judged  does not feel uncomfortable… or  a little unpleasant.

It’s personal.  It’s the worst kind of personal, because it confirms the  fundamental fear of being misunderstood, and couples it with the sting of rejection.

My own word to describe feeling judged  was “jagged.”  When other people judge me, it makes me feel torn – not slashed in a way that is easily mended or stitched, but with uneven edges and patches missing. When the full brunt of the judging stops stinging, I can tell that healing will be slow and scarring.

Isn’t that the crux of feeling judged? If taken to heart, it never heals just-so. Judgment feels jagged,  because it is sharp-edged self-righteousness … like the blade of a sickle, separating us one from another without benefit of cautery.

Many readers responded with similar words.

“Raw”” shared one friend. “Cut-to-the-bone,  ashamed, disgusted, disappointed, gut-wrenching….take your pick.”  She continued, ” it’s never fun to feel judged… like you came up short on character or something.”

Broken. Splintered. Betrayed. Heavily yoked.

Another friend found it difficult to stop at one word to describe her feelings. “Violated and victimized,” she explains. When people smile to your face, and talk behind your back, “It is sabotage , emotional hijacking.”

Being assessed as “not enough” is just as painful, as having your value estimated by another human being is often worse than having been misunderstood.

“Vulnerable,” described one young woman. And as if she had made herself vulnerable in the posting of the very word, others added to the sentiment. “And less-than.”

Misrepresented. Misunderstood. Rejected. Pitied. And perhaps most stingingly, condemned.

“Unworthy,” shared one. “And crestfallen.”

“Small,” said another friend, to whom I would never would have attributed that feeling. “You know – like someone has just decided you’re not worth a place at the table.”

The comments of one person gave me great pause.

“When someone passes judgement, I feel like they put a label on me,  stuck me  in a box and taped it up tight. This enables them to just ‘walk away’  and not ever really know the true me. I have to also add that I think people pass judgement when they are afraid, or lack knowledge and empathy.”

Only one person can have one person’s experience. Only God knows what my experience is.  The oft-repeated adage, “Only God can judge me” is true, but we forget that sometimes, when we are busy determining whose motives are pure and whose are not (as if we could ever know) and who among us is in the wrong.

Being judged by other human beings doesn’t make one  repentant.  If anything, it makes one defensive. Maybe when our spirits evolve beyond that spiritual schnaudenfrude (by your misfortunate deeds, I feel much holier) the blade will dull.  I hope so. I think God wants his kids to be kind to one another. That evolution can only happen when we ask for God’s help in overcoming our human ways.

I have to be reminded of this constantly –  to live this, because I’ve just made too many mistakes to survive  spiritually intact otherwise.  I’ve been too hurt, and  inflicted too much hurt – in my careless, momentary value judgements of others.

And taking the judgement of others too tightly to heart slices and dices, jaggedly…opening a a big, black, sucking vortex of self-important insecurity. When the scars from all the judgement become too tight, it is a reality check that I am giving people too much power.

The power to stick me in a box, tape a label on it and walk away…and never even know the true me.

The true You.

You don’t understand me. You think you do, but  you don’t. (Heck, I don’t even understand me!) But the Father, who understands every individual’s inherent value,  does. And it’s personal.

God, in Christ, says

“You think you understand me, but you don’t.  If you only knew my heart, you might come sit next to me at the table,  and know freedom.

I KNOW YOUR HEART.

There is no condemnation.

I’ve seen what you’ve done. It is finished, as far as the East from the West.

I’ve walked around in human skin, I know the temptations firsthand. It isn’t easy. Shake off that yoke.

Shake it off and stop trying to tie it around the necks of others. The burden is mine.

I understand you. In me, you are….

Perfect. Unbroken. Complete. Valued.

You are connected. Continuous. Fixed and whole.

I didn’t come to cut you away, but to bridge what is holy with what you are – what you really are …mine.”

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” – Romans 8:1 (Message)