This piece ran in last winter’s edition of In Recovery Magazine.
I pray it blesses you, and as always – feel free to share the link.
By: Jana Greene
In the Twelve Steps of Recovery, my Higher Power gave to me . . .
There is something cool about the number “twelve.” It makes me think of the number of recovery steps; a dozen fresh, hot doughnuts; the number of beloved disciples of Jesus; and the Twelve Days of Christmas (even though that never made much sense to me – having little appreciation for a Partridge in a Pear Tree or Lords a-Leapin’).
But I do have all the appreciation in the world for addiction recovery. In my twelfth year of active recovery and in celebration of the Twelve Steps, I composed a “Twelve Days of Christmas” redux.
In the First Step of Recovery, Higher Power gave to me – a serving of humility.
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.
It was difficult to admit that I had zero power over a silly substance – alcohol – truly humiliating, but in the best way possible. I had to learn how to bite off one single day at a time without drinking, then another and another – in complete surrender to God. I continue to approach sobriety this way.
We lose the meaning of it all, in the quest to get it right. This Christmas thing is hard to fathom, under our own might.
We know that Jesus was born in a manger, We know that animals lowed nearby, We know the wise men brought him presents, We’ve all heard of the star that guided them nigh.
But stop the Christmas rush for a moment, Silence the bells and jingling sleighs, Look beyond trees and feasts and caroling, And elaborate displays.
Remember for a moment what we most often forget, Let it rest in your heart (where it’s a perfect fit!) Christmas is about a God crazy for you …
Listen …. Can you hear him pursue?
A God who became human for a time, just to be closer to you?
The Creator of the universe craving relationship, Wanting to be where you are? That small, still voice following you Like the bright Bethlehem star?
So far across the universe, yet as close as drawing breath, What could make God’s people see This love that conquers death?
God sent his son – a part of Himself – A promise he’d made long before. And so to Mary, a son was born, On a humble stable floor.
God himself poured over bones, and under fragile skin, To draw you close and know your pain, and forever conquer sin.
God made manifest in a baby boy, Who would grow to save the world. And bring them the gospel of truth and joy, His prophesy unfurled.
Hark the herald angels sing! Peace on earth, good will toward men! Do not fear, Your God is near, Even to the end.
Emmanuel – God With Us – Yeshua, God most high! The hope for everlasting life Heard in an infant’s cry.
That’s the meaning of Christmas.
Rejoice in your heart of hearts, Where God has made his home … Your heart – the manger for the savior, Filled with peace – Shalom.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. An Event for Everyone
There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
Christmas is Christmas. Everyone just needs to accept it and move on.
There is definitely a movement of opposing the true meaning of Christmas going on, and to the folks perpetuating it, Christmas is just the High Holy Occasion for said hate. Last year, in New York City, atheists paid good money to put up billboards at Christmas espousing the holiday as a “fairy tale.” The celebration of the Messiah who changed the landscape for all mankind draws ire from those who don’t know Him. I get it.
But I have a truly revolutionary idea, which I put into practice all the time. You won’t believe it, it is such a crazy-radical idea!
Every single year….
At Hanukkah, I don‘t light a Menorah.
At Ramadan, I do not fast.
On special atheist days (such as “Tuesday”) and Santeria holy days, I do nothing to commemorate them.
I do not own a statue of the Buddha.
I appreciate nature, with no regard whatsoever to paganism.
And although I like reggae music, I do not follow one single Rastafarian tenet.
I also don’t recognize the Summer/Winter Solstices, or celebrate the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Because, you see, I’m not Jewish or Muslim, pagan or Hindi. I am not Buddhist, or Rastafarian, or an atheist.
I believe with everything that God poured himself over bone and under skin to be born in a humble manger. I believe he came to walk around in flesh, so that he could (a) know what the human condition feels like, and (b) give himself as a living sacrifice for all mankind. Jesus was revolution incarnate.
So, you can see why the birth of that savior is a big deal to Christians.
As a revolutionary thinker, I just don’t celebrate the holidays that are not meaningful to me.
I don’t insist that members of other religions alter their icons of celebration so that little crosses are part of their displays.
I don’t ask that they change their traditions to suit my skepticism and faith.
I don’t ask that they homogenize the teachings of their prophets, so as not to offend my delicate spiritual sensibilities.
I would have no right to insist upon these things – to change an entire religious celebration for ME! Because I am JUST. THAT. SPECIAL.
I wouldn’t think of demanding that they light candles on alternate nights, eat a mid-day meal, or “don’t stop believing” (I couldn’t help it) because those ways are not my ways. How arrogant that would be of me!
But I would defend the traditions of either of those groups, and even of atheists – yes, atheists! I defend their right to NOT celebrate MY religion, it’s tenants, OR it’s holidays. Crazy, right?
It’s kind of the American Way, religious freedom.
In return for my not imposing my beliefs (or non-beliefs) on you – like I’m doing you a favor there – I ask that you extend the same to me.
You know, the whole Golden Rule idea. It’s an idea that has roots in Judeo-Christian origin, not that its okay to mention that in polite society.
If Christmas has no meaning to you, don’t celebrate it. But how arrogant of you to ask that those who do change the very definition of the occasion.
If it offends you to be wished a “Merry Christmas,” I feel kind of sad for you. The message of Christ is and was love, and Christmas a celebration of goodwill toward men.
If it pains you to respond, “And Merry Christmas to you,” perhaps you are not as enlightened and tolerant as you fancy yourself.
(My favorite take on giving Christians the courtesy to allow them celebration is written by Ben Stein, himself Jewish. If you’ve never read it, I recommend it highly: A Ben Stein Christmas.)
If you begrudge Christians the right to celebrate the birth of the savior, all you manage to change in the hearts of Christians is their resolve to keep Christ in Christmas.
You do not – by displaying a hardened, offended spirit – change the fact that God came in the form of a human being, changed the course of history one life at a time for over two thousand years now.
You will not change our hearts.
But yours might be.
Would your heart change if you passed along the goodwill that Christians celebrate at Christmas, by not insisting that the single most important event in history to millions of people be watered down to assuage those who don’t believe?
Are you just that special? (Irony: to the God you deny, you are incredibly special.)
I would rather Jewish, Islamic, and yes – even atheists! – celebrate their respective religions (or lack thereof) full-on without watering down their traditions to please me.
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 together – which, 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.
Today, I would like to share the opportunity to check out my blog post on Wilmingtonfavs.com. As a blogger on that site, I have the honor of writing for “Redemption Feast” and yesterday’s post was all about the Christmas Season and The Five People you are likely to encounter during this particularly frenzied time. I hope you check it out and share the link!
As always, thank you for reading thebeggarsbakery.net and God bless us, EVERYONE!