Assurances at 4 a.m. (It’s a Psalms Thing)

lavender
Photo credit: Jana Greene (“Lavender Moon-rise”)

By: Jana Greene

It’s been a long night.

I fell asleep easy enough, but a few hours later I woke up to pee (we keep it real here, right?) like I do every other night at least three times, and was assaulted by hip pain when I stood up. Soon after, when I crawled back into bed, I felt the familiar dull headache begin stirring behind my eyes.

Terrific.

I tried to go back to sleep. I really did. But although I was desperately tired, I hurt. Hurting in the middle of the night is a lonely endeavor. Whereas I normally might complain to my long-suffering but incredibly supportive husband, he was fast asleep.

Soon, my mind got in on the action.

Suddenly – at 4 a.m. – I had this primal wave of worry wash over me. As if pain was tag-teaming anxiety. I tossed and turned, and asked God for a little help here, please. We are going through such a weird and wild season right now.

At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances.

I wanted to call my adult child and make sure she was okay. And then I wanted her to make promises to do what I cannot even manage myself – to get my sh*t together. I wanted God to guarantee her safety.  To guarantee all of us safety.

Then, the spiraled from there….

I wanted to log into my email and find five job offers in my in-box. Even though I’m really not healthy enough to work right now.

I wanted to will myself well and get on with life already.

I wanted to lift all of my husband’s worries off of his sleeping chest, so that when he wakes in the morning, his burdens are lifted.

I wanted to know that the world is not imploding, contrary to the evidence all around us.

I wanted to fast-track my therapy to purge my closet of skeletons in one fail swoop.

I wanted to stop feeling so crappy about myself.

I wanted a magic pill to calm my nerves so I could sleep.

I wanted – no, I NEEDED to tangibly feel God’s presence RIGHT NOW. Isn’t that the real craving? Without it, no amount of ‘fixed’ satisfies.

Instead, the more I panicked, the more it felt as though my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.

A little voice in my spirit tapped me gently on the shoulder as if to say, “Excuse me….I hate to interrupt your anxiety attack and throbbing headache, but – um…..Pslams.”

I took a deep breath.

In another lifetime (fifteen years to be exact) I was a single mother of two pre-teen daughters. I was juggling four jobs after having been a stay at home mom all their lives. I became estranged from unhealthy relationships to safeguard my recovery.  My health problems kicked in, aided by the stress. My car window didn’t roll up – a hefty bag and duct tape was all that kept me dry.  We lived in a bad neighborhood. It felt like loss, loss, loss.

Since the separation from my girls’ father, it had just been one thing after another after another – big life issues – the kind of things that threatened by then-newish (four years) sobriety. That I survived that season in life sober is a walking-on-water caliber miracle.

All on my own and responsible for the lives of two beautiful girls, I’d never felt so alone. I lived on coffee, Diet Coke and cigarettes, and the only other reliable staple I had was my Bible and prayer life.

I made it a habit each morning to rise before my children, grab my Virginia Slim menthols and a cup of coffee, and sit outside on my porch with my Bible, looking for answers. Looking for assurances between drags on cigarettes.

Psalms are assurances. If you read them aloud, they are even promises.

There is no magic pill for me.  I’m an alcoholic. I am wise enough to not trust myself to substances.

But there are Psalms.

So this morning, I’m sharing this little love letter that God led me to just now. The words were written by a man who just couldn’t get his sh*t together either – the biblical David. I love David because he is desperate and wildly in love with God, all at once.

I hope these verses speak to you, too. God pretty much drug me out of bed to come write this post. Maybe somebody out there somewhere can feel a little less alone.

Read the Psalms aloud – they are meant for those whose worlds are imploding. Savor every word.

At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances. Thanks Papa God for showing up. You always do.

(I would also love to know what your favorite Psalms are, too.)

Need a Psalm? Take a Psalm.

Have a Psalm? Leave a Psalm.

And God bless us, every one.

I run to you, God; I run for dear life.
    Don’t let me down!
    Take me seriously this time!
Get down on my level and listen,
    and please—no procrastination!

Your granite cave a hiding place,
    your high cliff aerie a place of safety.

 You’re my cave to hide in,
    my cliff to climb.

Be my safe leader,
    be my true mountain guide.
Free me from hidden traps;
    I want to hide in you.

I’ve put my life in your hands.
    You won’t drop me,
    you’ll never let me down.

 I hate all this silly religion,
    but you, God, I trust.

I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love;
    you saw my pain,
    you disarmed my tormentors,

You didn’t leave me in their clutches
    but gave me room to breathe.
Be kind to me, God
    I’m in deep, deep trouble again.

I’ve cried my eyes out;
    I feel hollow inside.
My life leaks away, groan by groan;
    my years fade out in sighs.

My troubles have worn me out,
    turned my bones to powder.
To my enemies I’m a monster;
    I’m ridiculed by the neighbors….

Desperate, I throw myself on you:
    you are my God!
Hour by hour I place my days in your hand,
    safe from the hands out to get me.

 

Warm me, your servant, with a smile;
    save me because you love me.
Don’t embarrass me by not showing up;
    I’ve given you plenty of notice…..

What a stack of blessing you have piled up
    for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
    to escape an unkind world.

You hide them safely away
    from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
    you silence the poisonous gossip.

Blessed God!
    His love is the wonder of the world.
Trapped by a siege, I panicked.
    “Out of sight, out of mind,” I said.
But you heard me say it,
    you heard and listened.

 

Love God, all you saints;
    God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
    those arrogant enough to go it alone.

 Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.
    Expect God to get here soon.” – Psalms 31 (MSG)

Occupation: Depression – Thoughts on Faith and Mental Illness

foresale
Photo credit: Denver Post

I’d like to dedicate today’s piece to all of the doctors and health care workers who take the time to treat the WHOLE patient. Not all heroes wear capes. You know who you are ❤

 

By: Jana Greene

Here’s what today’s blog post is not going to be about: Snapping Out of It.

Snapping Out of It is the ugly cousin of Just Get Over It, who is a third cousin twice removed to This Too Shall Pass. There would be no point in snapping out of or getting over something that isn’t going to pass. Know what I mean?

I am not only a recipient of these sentiments, I have – at various times – been the advisor. I never meant to be curt with anyone, but from where I was sitting in my own woe-is-me-pod, some other depressed people had it pretty cushy, honestly.

You went to Disney World twice last year. You drive a car with working air conditioning. You are physically healthy. Your children are little full-ride scholarship, carved-out-of-cream-cheese, ministry workers who worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Oh my God, what more do you WANT!? Why are so SAD!? STOP IT. JUST STOP BEING SAD.

Except that depression is the very definition of subjective-ness. (I once was the lady who went to Disney World twice every year, and eventually nearly drank myself to death anyway.)

Here’s what this blog piece IS about: What depression feels like. I am SO hoping that many of you respond with how it effects YOUR life so that we can interact. It’s such an important subject.

You are already whole in Christ! 

Yes. But I feel like a whole lot of hurt. And that’s just the truth. Maybe if I had normal brain chemistry, I would grasp this wholeness in a more useful and fulfilling way!

That I struggle doesn’t mean my faith is janky.  It might mean my chemicals keep me from realizing the beautiful truths that seem to come so easily to others.

I’ve recently become more proactive in improving my mental state. I am currently in therapy to try to slay old, fermented demons from childhood forward, because you cannot slay and deny the demons simultaneously. Oh, and it would be nice not to have nightmares nearly every night.

I’m doing self-care. It’s a work in progress.

I know a perfectly lovely woman with cerebral palsy. To watch her worship is how I totally envision perfect praise. Her movements may be jerky, she may stumble at times, but I have NEVER seen more genuine worship than that by my friend.

Is she a child of a lesser god because she isn’t in perfect health? Oh COURSE NOT.

Mental illness is no different.

Depression can be *&%^$#@! organic and I have the lab results to prove it! I’m virtually out of stock with the serotonin. This is why God created geniuses in billowy, white lab coats (coincidence that they dress like angels? You decide) to whip up concoctions to help our bodies heal. Better living through chemistry. Yes, I would rather take some St. John’s Wort (although anything with ‘wort’ in it kind of turns me off) or slather on Snake (Essential) Oil) or chaw on some magical, organic hay that has been regurgitated by free range cows, but I don’t have time for that dangerous gamble.

I come from a long line of depressed people. And honey, I mean a LONG line. In the past four generations, many of us have started with the Gerber baby food of antidepressants (Prozac or equivalent) around 13, when hormones make us crazy. Deep despondency requires our brains get a little help.

We are almost ALL ridiculously creatively gifted. We are painters, and artists, and sculptors, and writers, and poets, musicians. (What’s the nice way to describe someone loony? Oh, “eccentric.”)

We fight hard, we love hard – there is no moderation.  If you are in my family and are not on at LEAST three medications to regulate your brain chemistry, thyroid, migraines, blood pressure, and cholesterol, step down, son. You can’t even play in the majors.

You see, we also have this quirk in which our brains do not manufacture dopamine and serotonin sufficiently. It’s hard to call it a curse, as it is directly correlated to our creativity. But it’s impossible to call it a blessing.

Depression feels dark. I’ve been sitting here trying to visualize what depression would look like if it were a person, and an image came to mind. Depression would be a coal miner. A hard-working, hard-scrabble, soot-covered man with the weight of the world (or its resources) on his shoulders.

He is in danger every single day, never sure if this will be the day a shaft collapses or any of 1,000 other mishaps might take his life. That’s the anxiety component.

He wears a helmet like some kind of gag gift – as if it could stop boulders and shaft supports from crushing him. On the helmet is a head light, but it, too, is covered in so much soot. It’s glow is minimal.

You see, there is soot everywhere. Blackness. All of his workday (and much of his life outside) he is blackened head to toe. When he goes to eat his wax-papered lunch sandwich, there are remnants of coal in his lunchbox. When he takes every breath, coal wisps into his lungs. By day’s end, only the whites of his eyes are not blackened by thick, powdery coal.

Had he any other choice, he would have a different occupation, but like so many families dealing with chemical genetic depression, it seems a simple given.

Like fighting depressive feelings, he gives his all every single day. It exhausts him, but he will get up and do it again the next day.

Cavernous darkness and a sinking feeling. That’s what it feels like to me. Depression manifests with thoughts of certain doom, ridiculously high anxiety, and in losing complete interest in anything that has ever brought me joy.  Heavy-hearted, short on hope. Praying to be delivered from the mine, and getting really pissed off at God for not rescuing me. So I cry. I do a lot of crying, but that only makes the soot sticky.

But there are those times in the hole, the black, black vortex, that I sense a miner just like me. His presence is the Comfort. That’s where faith comes in. For what I lack in serotonin, I more than make up for in camaraderie. Eventually I will take hold of the hand – also covered in soot – and allow myself to be lifted up and out. I can try to pull up others with my own sooty hands.

It isn’t that we are truly out of hope, it’s just that it’s hard to find in the darkness.

Please feel free to share your own experience with spirituality in regards to depression.

And God bless us, every one.

 

Love Takes Home the Prize (a little poetry slam attempt)

jacob's well
Jacob’s Well in Texas

Hello, dear readers. I pray everyone is safe in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires.

Oy vey, this world.  What is the DEAL with it?

As I fight my own battle with depression, I’m learning that fighting it is exhausting, like trying to climb out of a deep well where the walls are slick and there are no footholds. I’m learning to be still, let Jesus shimmy down the well to where I am, hold and comfort me, and then lift me to safety. I know He will because He always does. As surely as death or taxes.

I have recently become addicted to watching poetry slams on YouTube. I love the wordcrafting and tempo, the emotion and power that go into the slamming. I would love to write poetry for a gathering of slam fans, but I don’t really have the guts to do it in front of actual people, so I’ll just do so from my little corner of the world here at The Beggar’s Bakery, where I don’t have to stutter or worry about what to do with my face or hands in front of people.

Here is my slam of the day.  It’s my first in this style of writing. Chalk it up to a mid-life crisis.  It almost has to be read aloud, and gives little credence to punctuation and grammar and all that jazz.

It may be pure awful. Something I look back on publishing and cringe.  Trying new things is hard. But hey – that’s always a risk when starting anything new. Right?

 

By: Jana Greene

There is no love apart from God

That being who embodies us

And shines like glass inside of us

Reflecting who He is.

Not given straight-up, tidy, neat

This thing we make about ourselves

This thing that wracks and wrecks ourselves

Spills over, out, and through.

We look at life through half-blind eyes

Despairing at the poverty

Body, mind soul  poverty

that chokes and breaks our hearts.

How can you say that God is Love?

I’ve heard asked in angry tones

Broken, acrid, angry tones

Where is He in the hurt?

Has Love gone void in this dark place

Where pain crushes the human race

This fickle, tender human race

And leaves it there to die?

But I say ‘no’; do not give in

To throwing in the towel, my friend,

The towel so soaked with blood and tears

Wring it and be free.

Chin up, all creation!

Rise up, all you nations!

And then crouch down with fellow men

And make yourselves Jesus to them,

For he is inhabiting you.

It’s not by spell of your own power

But by His Spirit enmeshed in you

The Friend he left to dwell in you

Manifesting Love for you.

Like liquid gold, let it flow

Out from the vessel and into the mold

The empty, barren, starving mold

In your brother’s heart.

We see here through half-blind eyes

Through the glass darkly in side of us

But even in spite of the dark in us,

Love takes home the prize.

 

 

Harvey, Irma, and the One True “Act of God”

HurricaneIsabel-660x383
Photo Credit: National Geographic

 

I wrote this and posted it a few days ago, but took it down. I had not really made the point that I had intended, so I’m doing a little clarification edit and sending it back out to you, dear readers.

Stay safe out there!

By: Jana Greene

Remember when insurance companies and other risk management professionals referred to natural disasters as “Acts of God?” I do. What a terrifying picture such terminology paints of our God! At best, He would have to be an uncaring and vindictive deity. At worst, a sadistic almighty force who delights in doling out punishment.

(“I told you not to eat that entire box of Oreos, you hedonistic glutton. Here…have a category 5 hurricane!)

Last week, a friend posted to Facebook, “I just pray it doesn’t hit here. As long as Irma doesn’t come here, I don’t care where it goes…..”

I struggle with saying prayers like “Jesus, please don’t let us have hurricane landfall here. Direct it away from us.” I care very much where it goes and wish all hurricanes back out to sea.

To me, praying it will hit somewhere else it’s a little like praying that your sports team will win. Guess what? The OTHER side is praying for a win, too.

And at this juncture, I am tired of reading Facebook posts that infer (or downright state) that these natural disasters are the result of one REALLY pissed off deity. It is the wrath of God, they say. We are getting what we all deserve as a fallen society. God is angry with us and punishing us, and causing us to suffer!

Um, not MY God. I feel really bad that yours is so hateful and vengeful, though.

For those of you who take every word of the Bible literally and out of context, it’s there in black and white for you, too.

Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” – John 16:33 (MSG)

 

The word that keeps coming to mind is “Emmanuel”.  It means ‘God with us.” And no matter where landfall hits or what/who is effected, God is with us. I cannot find Bible  verses that promise we get spared all the storms. But I do find scripture in numerous places that say ‘fear not,’ and “I will never leave or forsake you.

Yes, we bring our petitions to God but he is sovereign and works all to the good. All things. Even the seemingly awful things. He doesn’t cause the storms, but He also doesn’t always stop them. Our puny human minds find that a tough pill to swallow.

My good friend Elaine Q. Potts said it much more eloquently than I:

“While Jesus spoke to one storm, He didn’t speak to every storm. Prayer is about His presence through all of life, about hearing His direction for a given situation. To think that God casts his love/mercy away because we choose the wrong wording or statement style is not true. At no are a point in the Christian walk is it about performance–our having control. Pray, prepare, and  learn to look for his presence that never forsakes.”

So make preparations, dear readers. With the hurricane models for Irma showing so many different possible tracks, this thing could go anywhere. One of the maps looks like someone plopped a giant cat hairball on a map of the United States. Another looks like my 2-year old granddaughter predicted its landfalls. With ALL of our vast knowledge and science and technology, nobody knows for certain.

But don’t for a minute, even as it is barreling down, entertain the thought that it is retribution from the Almighty.

He is Himself Love.

I do not have the credentials to explain what’s happening in super storm-dom. I do not have the answers why God does allows suffering to occur. Life ain’t fair; that’s for sure. And there is ample suffering for us all.

And, hey – a wise friend of mine posted about suffering:

We are always looking for a way to NOT have to suffer, when the Bible teaches the opposite…to rejoice,” noted my friend Alexandra. “Suffering is not a popular message…but it is truly where the rubber meets the road. There is just something so sacred about suffering. It’s where it’s at. I hate it, but it’s where it’s at. It’s really a gift. I for sure will try to outrun this hurricane, but if it hits us like it hit Texas, we will get the opportunity to suffer along with them. Pray it doesn’t, prepare like it will.”

I have the most insightful friends, I’m telling you.

But I do have the faith to lean into Him when chaos seems to reign supreme.

Remember, you are not abandoned. The Father is with you. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.

Signed, Jesus.

His love has been made manifest this past couple of weeks in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. So many, many hurting and homeless; and so many people flooding the city with every kind of help imaginable…some putting their own lives at risk. Human helping human. Strangers helping strangers. People of all colors and creeds loving on one another.

God IS responsible for THAT.

Love is not destructive. Love isn’t trying to trip you up.

Love is an “Act of God.”

At no are a point in the Christian walk is it about performance–our having control. Pray, prepare, and learn to look for his presence that never forsakes.

Amen, my sister. Amen.

Praying each of you readers is kept safe in the storms, and that each of you suffering under the weight of Harvey are given an extra measure of comfort today. I, myself, am a little scared, to be honest. I live one mile from the Atlantic Ocean as the crow flies. My town sticks out like a big toe and has been a magnet for hurricanes – some of them severe.

But…..Emmanuel.

God bless us, every one.

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