Faith Reconstructed (or, I think I’m ready to write again…)

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

Hi, my name is Jana and I’m a writer.

Sometimes, I forget that.

I used to write quite prolifically, and about everything.

As a matter of fact, this is the 475th blog post on The Beggar’s Bakery.

Sometime in the past few years, I’ve misplaced my writing mojo, which is to say that I’ve slipped into committing the cardinal sin of true creativity, which is to worry more about what people might think of me than to have confidence in what I have to say.

I think I started writing less when a series of unfortunate events took place, namely the catalyst for me to question, test, and try the faith that I’d inherited from my ancestors and never outwardly doubted.

It started when I got sick, and stayed sick. It started when well-meaning churchy people attempted to cast demons out of me (no, really) that weren’t really demons, but infirmary. The thing about sickness is that it is actually more threatening than demons to religious people, of whom I was chief amongst. After endless rounds of being prayed for, having “deliverance” ministries, and demon casting, well… it turns out that my illness is genetic, and while God CAN and DOES heal instantly, that was not the case for me, which led me to one of two conclusions:

1. I was doing something wrong and was a fundamentally flawed Christian. Or

2. God isn’t real. Healing isn’t real. My life is based on lies.

Now, I’m all about that –  laying on hands and praying in Jesus name. That is GOOD STUFF. We should always aspire to heal one another. We should always ask for our own healing and petition God to heal others. It’s just that when it doesn’t happen the way our religious leaders aspire it to, it leaves us in a spiritual lurch.

A few funny things happened on my way to figuring out that neither of those conclusions are true. It’s kind of a long story, and I’ve taken to the blog to tell it piecemeal, as best I can, whether anyone reads it or not. For a long time, this blog was my sanctuary, where I came to be raw and real. Then I underwent this huge physical and spiritual metamorphosis, and I wasn’t the chipper writer with a fast answer and scripture reference to throw out there anymore.

And I stopped writing here because that little Southern baptist girl inside told me that I had NO right to pen a blog that claims to be “one beggar telling another where she found bread,” because I am not a conventional evangelical anymore. Sickness changed me, yes. But the spiritual angle changed for me in ways I can scarcely count. What if So-and-So thinks I’m a big, fat heathen because I ascribe to this hippy-dippy, love one another craziness that has taken the place of my rigid, religious persona?

I guess that’s what they’ll think, then.

God and I are square, more than ever.

There was a time that I was sure my calling was to be a mom. And then my kids grew up; they still need me, but in a different way. I was sure I was called to be an artist, and poet, and for a season, I was. For many years, I thought my calling was to minister to recovering alcoholics, and that is still true. Those things will always be parts of my mission.

But here’s what nobody warns you about: Our “callings” change. They morph. We are always called to something new because Papa LOVES opening our eyes to the NEW!

So I guess for the foreseeable future, The Beggar’s Bakery will again be sanctuary for my words. Because I badly need to get these feelings out, and why not bring along 1,940 of my closest friends with me?

It isn’t a pretty journey.

It isn’t even a COMPLETE journey.

Just a leg of the trip, replete with all the joy, angst, confusion, acceptance, and hope I can muster and share with my readers.

This revival is for the doubters. It’s for the broken-hearted, and the disenchanted. It’s for those who always feel that they fall short of the glory of God, and the expectations of men. It’s for the marginalized and the giver-upper. It’s for the real people, the ones trying to figure out and complicate what is really, really simple – that God is Love itself and YOU are an expression of that love to the entire universe.

I’m still struggling with a lot, so don’t look to me to feed you in whole – to hand you the Bread of Life – the truths, mysteries, and answers. But I CAN tell you where to find that bread still. The Bakery is open – loaves and fishes for all.

It’s all love.

Til’ tomorrow….

 

When Depression Makes Landfall

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

Hi, Dear Readers.

Can I keep it real today?

I was going to title this piece, “When it’s too much,” but then I asked myself to be more specific….WHAT is “too much?” What exactly is it that is TOO MUCH for me to handle right now? The answer is simply YES.

Everything.

I’m feeling so defeated and sad today. I was doing pretty well with water aerobics, which I’ve been enjoying since February – it’s the only exercise my joints can handle. A week ago in class, I tore a muscle in my right hip doing underwater side kicks.

By the way, not one single 80 + year old woman in the whole class had trouble with that maneuver. Yet such a simple movement took me down. I’m looking at yet MORE physical therapy now and I can’t do the class for the foreseeable future.

This injury is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, er….hip.

I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, along with a half dozen other debilitating, exhausting, painful conditions. And it’s driving my depression into this hurricane-force thing that is spiraling in my spirit. The outer bands are making landfall today, and I can feel the intensity whipping up.

EDS is a progressive thing, meaning all of the cells in my body have mutated collagen, and I’m not going to get better.I do not – can not – take narcotics for my chronic pain because I’m an alcoholic in recovery 18 years and I still don’t trust myself to go that route.

I am literally wearing out. It’s getting to where I can hardly move my body some days, and when I do, each movement sounds like a bone cracking. In addition to being annoying, it’s painful. And embarrasing.

It’s TOO MUCH.

Yes, I know by the Stripes of Jesus, I am healed. I have had every deliverance ministry method prayed over me. People have told me that if I ‘just believe more’, I’d be healed.

To which I say, STOP TELLING SICK PEOPLE THESE THINGS. When they don’t get healed Binny Hinn-style, it adds insult to injury. Not only are you in sick and experiencing chronic pain, but NOW you doubt your faith and feel inferior and less-than a “good Christian.”

My genes are still mutated. God knows about it. He and I are square, after many years of me being bitter and angry. He knew my joints would held together with bubble gum instead of gorilla glue, so to speak. He isn’t angry with me. He isn’t punishing me. It just falls under the header of “shit happens,” and it happens to everyone in one capacity or another.

Better to just encourage and love on the chronically ill. That’s what we need.

Because I have anxiety and depression under normal circumstances, but there have been several times in my life when I couldn’t push through it…when I went from being sad and low-grade anxious, to I CANNOT GET OUT OF BED.

Not “I really FEEL like staying in bed” … no. I literally – as the Millennials say – I CAN NOT EVEN.

Can not even laugh.

Can not even cry.

Can not even do the things I love – like create art, and even just BLOG.

But I know if I don’t get it out in writing and share it with others who might be able to relate, it will only gather strength. So here is a blog post. The one thing I have gotten done today.

I’m tired. I am so tired. There are too many things going on in my home life and (lack of) professional life. Too much change. Too much pain. Just too much.

Most days, I try to be positive, and some days I can even find the humor in things, but when every joint in my body is hurting – and the hip is almost unbearable – it makes it difficult. This is approximately the tenth injury in the last few months. From small rib subluxations to finger dislocations, a sprained wrist, to all the crappy, debilitating POTs symptoms, and constant illness from having a horrible immune system….

I’m TOAST. Ever feel that way?

I know Jesus walks with me. I know he crouches down with me in the dark places. And yes, I know “this too will pass.” But it’s sure as hell not yet in the process of passing right now.

It’s the most frustrating thing in the world to realize all of your blessings, but still not be able to pull yourself up out of the sadness.

Hey, thanks for reading my work, ya’ll. In joviality and in sorrow. In celebration and in grieving. Knowing I have so many precious readers who take the time to read my innermost thoughts is both mind-blowing and comforting. We are never, NEVER alone in what we go through!

I hope when this blows over, I can get back to business being snarky and ultra-spiritual (that’s a joke, ha.) But I’m of the mind that when we are in low places, it doesn’t mean we are less-than spiritual. It just means our spirits need a little more help.

God bless us, every one.

The Thing about Ruts

By: Jana Greene

Greetings, readers. Tonight I wrote about getting out of the negativity rut. So here is the brain purge of the day (and a heart purge, too.)  God bless us, every one.

We live about a mile from the Atlantic ocean, as the crow flies. Even though it’s super close, to get there, you have to drive around a while. There is a monumental body of water called the Intracoastal Waterway that you must cross via bridge. Our town is one of the few places left on the East coast that you can actually drive your 4-wheel drive vehicles right onto the beach. The stretch of coast is simply called “The North End.”

During the summer, we locals lay low and stay away, because the strip of beach you can drive on is a huge cluster-bleep. Trucks and other utility vehicles crammed into every square foot of beach. Thousands of tourists. No thank you very much.

But in the Fall and Spring – and even in Winter – riding in a jeep on the sand is a blast.

Until it isn’t.

The beach – like the ocean – is never the same place twice. As you drive down to the southern-most tip of the island, the dunes are on your left. Lush with sea oats and grass, they are roped off from traffic. To your right, the majesty of the sea. Sometimes it is blue and foamy, and other times a vast ocean of green. It looks brown, too, when the sediment below gets riled by a hurricane  or tropical storm; choppy and angry and dangerous.

I have ridden on the beach many times in our old jeep. Just 10 years ago, it was great fun. I loved going there with My Beloved and unzipping the clear, plastic windows so that we could smell the sea as we jostled about.

It isn’t as much fun anymore. It makes my hurting body hurt badly.

There are times when the drive-able sand is flat as an asphalt highway, and times the sand is mountainous and soft. A different landscape every visit.

One of the risks you undertake by driving on the North End is getting your vehicle stuck in the deep sand. Nearly every time we are there, someone gets standed.

For reasons that I do not understand, men take getting stuck / unstuck VERY seriously. And they take a hit right in the pride if they are unable to work themselves out of the ruts. It causes extreme embarrassment when they are the stuck-ee.

The opposite of getting stuck is being a hero. This designation occurs when you help another driver out of a rut. So far as I can tell, the Man Rules for this scenario looks like this:

You happen upon some poor sap stuck in the sand. His wheels are spinning and spinning, but cannot get any traction. This is not a deterrent. He keeps spinning.

You watch him for a while, perhaps a little smugly.  Not only did you NOT get stuck in the rut yourself, but you might get the opportunity to pull someone else OUT of one.

Pulling alongside the dude whose tires are knee-deep in tightly packed tread, you offer your standard greeting (‘Sup?’) and ask if you may help him, all whilst assuring him that it’s “no problem,” and that you have been stuck on the North End yourself. Several times.

You drive your jeep just ahead of his truck, pull out some chains from the back of your own car (beach-driving men always have chains in their vehicles, for just such an occasion,) hook his front bumper to your rear trailer hitch, and engage all four wheels  slowly and deliberately. You have to be careful not to slip the clutch. Sand flies up behind your tires like crazy, but within minutes, your new buddy is being towed out of the rut. Once he is free, you get out of your car and ask him if he needs any further assistance, and he says “no,” thanking you repeatedly.  Assure him that you were glad to help

Here comes the inevitable analogy: I’ve been in a rut. Not in sand, but in spirit. My chronic health issues and pain have hijacked my whole life. I am almost never well, and this has been going on for nearly a decade, slowly worsening. Most of the time, I feel like I am either getting a migraine, having a migraine, or getting over a migraine. I have very little collagen and thus many of my joints sound like gravel with every step I take. Many of my issues will not resolve (thanks, genetics….) and that’s just the facts, and I don’t like it. This is the new normal. I’m thankfully married to an amazing man who looks after me and takes good care of me, but I imagine it wears on him as well. This – as they say – is not what he “signed up for.” Except that it IS, because he signed up for me, whatever that looks like.

God bless him.

This situation, combined with other circumstances in the past few years, have made me a little negative. Okay, a lot negative. Dealing with pain, and life drama – one thing after another – it takes a toll.

So excuuuuse me if I’ve allowed my ills to affect my attitude. Unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes (which I know many of you dear readers have similarly done) you just don’t know how taxing chronic illness is.

Some days I feel like I handle it like a superhero, and other days, I’m quite the whiny little bitch about it. I wake up every day expecting the worst, because otherwise I’m disappointed with the day’s challenges. Expecting the other shoe to drop continually will give you grade-A anxiety of the highest order. It’s a deep rut, and I feel like I’m just spinning tires.

That’s the thing about ruts. The same old, same old.

I genuinely want to be a positive person, and sometimes I am. I love my life, and am blessed beyond my wildest dreams, compliments of 17 years recovery from alcoholism. I have great faith in Father God, and a twisted sense of gallows humor to cope whenever my faith falls short. God is my chain-maker and chain-breaker. It’s pretty amazing to know that the Creator of the universe has got my back, no matter how deep of a rut I’m buried in. He is glad to help.

I think it’s time I pull out the chains and start making a concerted effort to be less negative. And I am reminded again of the Serenity Prayer:

…”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Hmm. The “wisdom to know the difference” is key here. What amongst the litany of complaints and struggles is under my control?

Genetics I cannot change.

The shitty state of the world, I cannot change.

The co-dependency cycle, in which I agonize over the choices of those I love until I work myself into a frenzy?

I can’t change the actions of others, but I can change my reaction to them.

In the interest of self-care, here are some things I can have the courage to change, God willing:

Engage all four wheels, and pull somebody else out of a rut.

Start physical therapy for my wonky joints, and stay the course rather than give up.

Cut myself a damn break every once in a while and be less self-critical.

Make healthier food and exercise choices, insofar as my joints allow the strain.

And I can wake up in the morning and have the name of Jesus on my lips first thing; instead of expecting the worst.

I may not be able to bounce along in the jeep on the North End anymore, but I sure as heck can pack a beach chair, a picnic, and a book, and park my butt on the beach – one mile away, as the crow flies.

I’m tired of being the “stuck-ee” and ready to pull up my hero pants.

Who’s with me?

Occupation: Depression – Thoughts on Faith and Mental Illness

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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.

 

Be Still and Know that You’re Not God (Whew – What a relief!)

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By: Jana Greene

“Be still and know that I am God.” – God

Yeah, but it’s HARD to be still!

Sometimes it’s almost unfortunate that our Creator has endowed us with this thing called “free will.”Free will has gotten me into a lot of jams.

God, if you knew me, you totally wouldn’t trust me to me.

You know, the will that keeps telling you that you don’t have a disease called addiction.

That you can stop anytime you want.

That you have a plan and it looks like doing what you’ve always done.

But if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Recovery in real time doesn’t look like a baby-steppable feat, but a free fall. Every single day, I surrender my will to my Father’s, because I know he only has my best interest at heart.

Every single day, I don’t drink today. No matter what happens, I don’t have to take a drink on this very day.

And tomorrow, I will wake up and surrender my free will again, just for tomorrow.

Bite-sized pieces, you see. Bite off enough recovery today to nourish yourself today. Then free fall into the love of a very real Father.

So often we try to do the opposite. Bite off more than we can chew by declaring we can never, ever drink again and poor pitiful us! And we chase it with ‘babystepping’ just to make it through the day.

This is not the life your Father desires for you!

You don’t fail God when you fail, dear one! That’s an old trick of the enemy. He wants you to feel like a failure. Don’t give that rat bastard the pleasure.

Instead, surround yourself with other people whose free wills are also prone to malfunction. Find as many as you can and watch what they do to just NOT drink. Take what you need and leave the rest, as they say in the Rooms.

Here’s the thing – God totally does know you. He isn’t tolerating you and your janky free will. He is madly and passionately in love with you, in all of your jankyness. He gave us free will so that when we choose to receive His love, it comes from us mind, body, and soul.

Be still and trust in His perfect will for you….

That He has only your best interest at heart.

That He knows you intimately and loves the bejeebers out of you JUST AS YOU ARE.

That He has the most amazing adventures for you to enjoy, and to enjoy SOBER so that you can be mindful of the  miracles as they unfold.

If you can’t be still and know that He is God, be mad that He is God. Let Him know that you relinquish trying to push Him out of a job, and if you can manage it, surrender your will to Him.

You’ve got this, daughter of the Most High, because He has YOU.

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Sufficient Grace in a Season of Suffering

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By: Jana Greene

Good morning, God.

I woke up in a panic today. Sick and tired, and tired of being sick. I have basically been ill since I had shoulder surgery 3 1/2 months ago, and I’m so over it. Feeling like crap for nearly 4 months straight would depress dang near anybody.

I’m really fighting the emotional funk, and I know I’m not alone – so I’m posting my prayer here. I know several of my friends are fighting (or have fought) the same funk. Depression and anxiety are real bugaboos, even for believers. I’m so tired of the stigma that gets perpetuated in churches. Jesus People should be the LEAST stigmatizing, for crying out loud. (No, really, I have cried out loud a few times this week.) Being of good cheer seems out of the question. Getting dressed today might be doable.

Every day in February, I have declared that THIS is the day I shall get it TOGETHER already! Mind over matter, right? (Wrong.)

I tell myself that TODAY, I shall work on taxes, get caught up on seminary, write another chapter for the book (AND get busy on some other projects) and lose 10 lbs and basically be a better version of me – the me in her PJs 24/7 this week, the me bingeing on Munchos. The me that feels so weak, she can hardly sit upright for more than 30 minutes.

Everything seems to be beyond my control right now, and I need Your comfort. I am asking for more faith, which comes from You. Help me with that, please.

Weakness…..Hmmmm.
There’s a scripture for that….

Your Grace is sufficient, I seem to recall. Praise Jesus for that sweet, amazing GRACE!

In your Word, you tell me that radical weakness is not a character flaw, but an opportunity for You to really bring home the razzle dazzle. You know how you do. Paul said it best:

“…Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (MSG)

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Mountain Climbing with Jesus

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By: Jana Greene

Let me preface this piece by saying that I’m going through a bit of a depression. And yes, I know that depression is “not of God” and that if I had mustard seed-sized faith, I could declare to this mountain MOVE, and verily I say unto thee, it shall be done as it is written.

But I’m kind of a regular Joe, who navigates the terrain in fits and starts, wholeheartedly loving my Jesus, but not always making the grade.

So this morning, I found myself in the ice cream aisle of our local grocery store, crying, and in doing so, made the stock boy feel kind of awkward. I’m sure I’m not the first menopausal lady to cry in the ice cream aisle but who knows. At least I’m not crying in the liquor store, which is – in all honesty – where I’d end up in days of yore. I’m 15 years into sobriety from alcohol, praise Jesus. I’ve cried in liquor stores many times.

I came home and put my ice cream(s) in the freezer, and sat down on the hardwood floor because my energy was gone right that very minute and I had no auxiliary source in which to plug. I’m kind of slow-burn crying, and my amazing and very codependent tuxedo cat, Catsby, threw all 20 pounds of himself against me in purry solidarity. Oh my God, I love that little guy.

“Ugh,” I told God. “I’m so tired of being SAD. Why won’t you just come pluck me out of this Sad?”

And then God – who was sitting on the floor with Catsby and I, his arms around me – gave me the craziest vision. I feel I should make the distinction right now that my depression is rather garden variety, and not psychotic, and my the vision was not an apparition. I don’t hear audible voices. It is more like a vivid and comforting thought visual. But whatever, I’ll take communication from God any way I can get it.

And it looked like this:

I’m sitting in the forest, wearing climbing gear. All around me are beautiful mountainous peaks and lush valleys, and I have NO IDEA where I am. None. I’ve gone missing in perilous terrain and I radio for help. A chopper appears from nowhere, lowers a rope, and whisks me away from all danger. I am plopped into familiar territory and the helicopter  leaves, having done it’s job. And I’m alone.

In an instant, I understood what Abba was trying to tell me.

Do I want a God who will be my Genie in a bottle and pluck me out of every precarious situation, and then be on His merry way? (Although that sounds good sometimes, it’s not the deity I crave.)

I felt Abba say, “How deep would our relationship be, if I were only ever your rescue party?” In my mind’s eye, I imagine Him sitting with me and my big fat cat, and in my imaginings, God is also wearing climbing gear.

That’s the thing. (Warning: Cornball mountain / valley analogy ahead:)

Our Father longs to hike the tough peaks and deep valleys alongside us. That’s where the relationship grows. When we don’t have the strength to command the mountains to move, Jesus treks with us. He knows the way out, He has all the right tools and equipment, and most of all, He has a passionate love for me that will not allow Him to leave me behind.

Valleys are depressions in rock formations. Depressions. He could easily pluck me from the midst of my circumstance, and sometimes He does. But other times, He is my mountain guide, walking with me every step, talking with me, laughing and joking, picking flowers, climbing seemingly insurmountable peaks. He is my Spotter, my Safety Net, the Director of my Steps. He holds on to me and refuses to let go. He CARES about the little stuff along the journey. We are BONDED, man. We have a bond. It’s deep and rich and personal.

A bond we would never have if I only depended on him to pluck me from danger and depression every time I asked.  It’s such a comfort to know that He will never leave me behind!

I kept sitting on the floor with my cat and my God. I sat til I stopped crying (for now.) Catsby got up and stretched, and so did I. And I thought I’d better write this down before I forget it. So here it is, I’m sharing it with you in the hopes that your Sad might be lessened if you’re reminded that Jesus treks with you, too. It’s not instant wisdom or bottled Genie wish-granting, but reassurance that you aren’t climbing alone and you were never meant to.

Today, I’m still sad, but that’s okay. Everything isn’t coming up sunshine and rainbows and unicorn farts because I have the best mountain guide ever. It just doesn’t work that way. And I’m pretty sure Jesus GETS that.

I’m still going to eat my ice cream to make myself feel better, and that’s okay too. I’ll share it with Jesus, if he wants. I don’t have any Mustard Seed flavored ice cream, but I do have Belgian chocolate, and that’s got to count for something.

He will be sitting right next to me just like always, in this perilous terrain. I’m never alone.

 

 

 

Save

Christians, Meds and Mental Illness – We can do better

Credit: Adam4d.com via SaveALife.com
Credit: Adam4d.com via SaveALife.com

By: Jana Greene

This morning, I came across this on Facebook this morning, and I just HAD to share.

Please forgive me for climbing atop my Mental Illness Soapbox, but I feel really strongly about this.

Christians, please stop shaming people for taking medicine for mental illnesses.

Oh how I wish more believers understood THIS SUBJECT. If you have a minute, click the link below and read the comic that pretty much sums up the experience. And share it. Share it lots with as many Christian friends as you know.

What it’s Like Explaining Depression Meds to Many Christians

(A million THANKS to http://www.ToSaveALife.com!)

In my periods of depression and anxiety, I have been told that it wasn’t ‘going away’ because I wasn’t ‘letting God have it,’ or that I didn’t believe ‘hard enough.’ Look, I’m all about some supernatural deliverance and totally believe in it. I’ve experienced it several time in my life.

HOWEVER, sometimes God allows us to experience things for reasons He doesn’t explain to me, and you know what? I accept whatever He wills in His time.

It doesn’t help my anxiety to feel guilty for feeling anxious.

I can ASSURE you that nobody “holds on” to depression and anxiety.

And no, I have NO shame about suffering depression and anxiety. Jesus may still be allowing me to do battle with it on occasion, but I am completely FREE of the shame that too often accompanies a legitimate illness.

It is 2,000 times worse to pray for someone in depression and then spiritually guilt them for not immediately getting better than it is to not pray at all for that person. That’s kicking a dog when she is down, and not at all the Christ-like thing to do. Ditto medication, which helps people with brain chemistry deficits or disorders have the chance to experience life as you do with your ‘normal’ brain.

Thank GOD that medicines are available.

Sometimes depression is chemical. Sometimes its situational, but no matter WHAT, God doesn’t hold it against me if I don’t snap out of it. He walks with me THROUGH it, every single time. I wish I could say the same for some of His followers.

There isn’t a pill yet to help people stop judging others so harshly. If there were, I doubt the haters would ingest it.

Saint Paul had a ‘thorn’ to carry all his life and managed to minister to others like nobody else in history. I think we can all do WAY better to minister to the modern-day thorn-carriers. There are so many of us.

We can do better, Christians.

Okay, rant over.

Greene out.

Peace.

The Rainy Season – Depression

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This is the view from under my umbrella during a recent visit to my home state of Texas. I took it because it was pretty consistently my view for periods of torrential downpours.

By: Jana Greene

I’ve been watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain shows during my recovery from surgery. For those of you unfamiliar with “No Reservations” (his finest show, in my opinion) Bourdain trots about the globe in search of both culinary and cultural discoveries. He often visits rural pockets of Asia, where people live in jungles that stay wet for months at a time.

He and his film crew will be chugging along in the bright sunshine of Pasay City in the Philippines, and BAM! Torrential rains come out of nowhere. It will rain for the duration of their entire shoot. And everyone who lives there, films there, and visits there concurs with Anthony Bourdain’s ironically dry narration that “It is now the Rainy Season here.”

That’s it. Queue The Rainy Season.

Everyone on film is totally resigned to the fact that it is now officially rainy season. It wasn’t five minutes ago, but now it is. So deal with it. It isn’t going away until The aptly-named Dry Season. Suck it up and learn to survive wet ankles.

Nobody tries to argue with The Rainy Season. It is what it is and there is no negotiating with it. It reminds me so much of depression. When the conditions are just right, it is sudden and debilitating.

I am an individual on mild antidepressants, and sometimes those antidepressants hold the tears at bay. Even times that I WANT to cry, I often cannot. But when I start? Torrential tears. I get the sadness everywhere, between my bones and cartilage. Between my toes.

There are perfectly legitimate reasons that I am feeling depressed.

My body is recovering from the dual surgical insult of general anesthesia and 500 stitches. Major surgery. I hurt, inside and out.

I stay tired.But there are things to be done all around me that I cannot do quite yet, and that’s frustrating.

And worse, someone I love very much hurt my feelings to such a degree that I it crushed the little corner of my spirit blanky where I first look for solace, the silkiest edge. Stomped on. It’s been a long time since someone has hurt me so much, and that’s not by accident. I will build a boundary quicker than you can say “Aw HELL no.” I’ve had to learn how to do that to survive. But this was someone with whom I have no natural defense and didn’t ever for-see having to build one against

But then there many, many other hope-stealing soul sucks that aren’t helping at all.

The world is a mess. I’m tired of hearing about aborted babies and their brokerage, tired of having everyone’s sexuality shoved down my throat (Ok, we GET it now, move on with your life, whatever that life looks like!) I’m tired of being made to feel less-than by women’s magazines. I’m tired of the Emperor’s New Clothes atmosphere surrounding this presidential administration. I’m tired of hearing about mothers leaving babies in hot cars. I’m tired of addicts and alcoholics being stigmatized and dying of their legitimate, treatable diseases. I’m tired of pretending that Christians don’t get depressed.

Yeah, I’m really tired of that one.

Oh, and menopause. ‘Nuff said on that one.

I’m just so tired. Overwhelmed.

I guess I should become resigned to the fact that it is now officially The Rainy Season. It wasn’t “five minutes ago” but now it is. So deal with it, Jana. It isn’t going away until The aptly-named Dry Season. Suck it up and learn to survive wet ankles.

I’m writing about this bout with The Rainy Season because I refuse to deny it’s fury. Giving voice to The Sad keeps it from taking over. I will not allow it to be a silent coup. Identify your enemy, profile the ever-loving shit out of it. You cannot fight an enemy you deny exists.

Talking about depression hastens the arrival of The Dry Season  – a place of sun, and sane happiness, and making the best of things, and NOT crying 24/7, just a little earlier. Best of all, talking about my depression hastens the arrival of the spiritually nutrient-rich LAUGHTER sooner.

I also know that I’m not alone in experiencing this. Depression is a bitch, and not a ‘resting face’ bitch – a true vixen of vexing viciousness. Depression isn’t just kicking a dog when it’s down, it’s kicking a whole litter of dogs when they are down, and making sure they fall off a very steep cliff and into a briar patch. Or at last that is how fatalistic and hopeless my own personal depression bitch is.

I woke up a couple of times during the night last night to pee, and ended up crying. Couldn’t even get up to pee without crying! I cried waking up this morning, and decided that being awake was too sad and I needed more sleep.

Then I had bad dreams. More crying.

I love to laugh so very much. I absolutely love to laugh, even at the really frustrating things. I’m radically silly.

But I can’t seem to muster that right now.

Depression is SUCH the Drama Queen! It tells you that you will never muster laughter again. It’s all too hopeless. But that’s a lie. Call it OUT as a lie.

This season too shall pass and I will be the happy, silly, hope-filled person I am at my core. And I know that my God has not forsaken me, nor will He ever.

But He does allow my ankles to get pretty wet in The Rainy Season.

Which is, after all, still just a season. And seasons pass.

Until then, I will crawl up in God’s  lap and cry already. Cry because I’m sad. And because it’s not FAIR! And because I’m so tired. There is no shame in crying to Daddy. He cares and He listens, and He soothes.

I’ll try to focus on all the things I am grateful for, which are more than I can count. Oh the loving people God has put directly on my path, how I adore them! I’m so blessed, I know. My sphere includes people with whom I can ‘be real’ and they just love me any way. Go figure. They are weird that way.

Oh, and I will re-read for the 100th time Allie Brosh’s “Hyperbole and a Half” – a colorful graphic novel that manages to address depression in the most colorful, poignant, honest and hopeful way possible. I highly recommend it. It is not a “Christian book” but a very, very funny and relate-able one.

(Here is one of the graphics, which I think I might blow up poster-sized and hang on my bathroom mirror…)

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And I will keep the faith.

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE.

Because moods and feelings come and go, but faith is eternal and eternally only good.

God bless us, every one.

Getting There in One Peace – Recovery as the Road Less Traveled

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By: Jana Greene

A long time ago, when I was just a new human being, I decided that I wanted to go places. As I grew, I came to realize that I could not merely transport myself to that place called Destiny; I would need a vehicle.
I made up my mind that I would take the fastest route there. It would need to be sleek, and “smart” enough to get me around in unfamiliar places. I needed it to know where I was going, since I had no clue.
Fast modes of transportation are fun for a while, aren’t they? “Wheeee! I’m headed for Happy and nobody is going to stop me!”
The vehicle I chose was alcohol, and the disease it led to was addiction. For many years, alcohol fueled the fast rattle-trap that took me everywhere, and oiled all the bothersome squeaky parts.
It never really took me to Happy, of course, although I saw tons of directional signs claiming I was getting close. It always started off in the right general direction, promising to get me where I needed to go. But it  lost its way every single day. Sometimes it took me to places that could pass for Happy, if you squinted really hard and were in pretty deep denial. Sometimes it got me worse than lost, landing me in neighborhoods of darkness and despair. It even tried to kill me a few times. Every night as I lay my head down to sleep (or black out), I swore I would never ride in that vehicle again. Never. Never. Never.
Still, every new morning, I stepped into the same means of transport, chiding it to take me to Happy, and to  remember the way this time.

“My destiny awaits!” I would tell it, every single day. But it couldn’t hear me over the bravado of it’s own engine.
I was so cocky in my disease, so confident that I was calling the shots. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The transportation I stepped into every day by choice was addiction. And every day, for many years, alcohol fueled that fast, rattle-trap, and oiled all the bothersome squeaky parts.
If you choose not to disembark from your addiction, you will miss all of the amazing sights. And that’s tragic, because the scenery is breathtaking. The things you do manage see in addiction, you will not remember.
If you choose not to disembark, accept that your vehicle only seats one. It’s a lonely mode of transportation. You will crush many under your wheels while you self-destruct, but you will sit by yourself in active disease.
If you choose not to disembark, you will continue to delude yourself that you – and your addiction – know The Way.
“Wheee! I’m headed for destruction and nobody can stop me!”
Essentially, isn’t that what we do?

Nobody could stop me from drinking.
Except me.Backed by the power of God Himself.

Nobody can stop you from using, except you. Backed by the most Powerful Force in the Universe and His mighty angels, the gates of Hell itself cannot prevail against your recovery.
You have the power to get out of that vehicle. There is a handle on the door. You might have to feel around for it. You might mash a few buttons or pull a couple of levers accidentally. That’s okay. AH, there is, the handle! I know it feels as if you aren’t powerful enough to pull it, but I promise you that you are. Don’t worry about what will happen when you open the door to step out. The future is nothing to fear.
Is life not slowing down enough for you to step out? Open the door and jump out. It will be the first of many incredible, supernatural feats of faith you will employ. The Father will catch you!
By choosing Holy Spirit to take me where I need to go and surrounding myself with others who want to arrive at Happy, I am loving the journey.
The drinking and using life will never get you to your Destiny, only to Destruction. You can only squint so hard to confuse the two destinations. God is okay with the rattles and squeaks in our spirits. He isn’t bothered by them in the least. He is not impressed with sleekness, nor with getting there the fastest.
My first mistake was in choosing that particular vehicle in the first place.
My next mistake was choosing to get into it every day, expecting it to take me to a different place. (And that, folks, is the very definition of insanity.)

I had to kick around a few tires before I chose my new transportation. That’s okay, too. There is a huge learning curve to this Recovering Life. It isn’t about arriving at your destination all in one piece, but experiencing the journey in One Peace.
In recovery, you are a new human being again, with places to go, people to see, things to do. Don’t even entertain thoughts of your old ways and means. They literally took you nowhere but down. They have no part of getting you to Happy.

Daily ask God to direct you in all that you do.

Daily take the time to stretch your traveler’s legs.

Gather with others, who – like you – are on the way to Happy. And don’t forget to enjoy the views.

Your destiny awaits.

The Secret Keepers – Little Girls Lost

You are only as sick as your secrets.
We’ve all heard the platitude.

Yet buried deep inside each of us are two compartments…the one we hesitantly  dust off and open up when we get into recovery – full of skeletons –  but none so shameful as to mark us for life; and those that we bury just beneath the surface of the last dig. It’s this cache that is the most dangerous – it’s a trap door. We will keep falling into it until we rip the lid from it and explore what is underneath. Like an archeologist frightened by a supposed curse of the tomb, we just don’t go “there.”

What if we unleash the curse?

But what if the curse is in the “not going there?”

What if we are marking ourselves for life by keeping sick secrets? What if opening up our crypts brings fresh air to heal the curse?

What if healing the curse helps others to heal?

I very rarely re-blog here at The Beggar’s Bakery. But my friend and fellow writer Karen Perry just inspires the crypt-keeper in me, and this particular piece spoke to my spirit.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, I applaud her candid transparency. I wrote about the subject on my own blog a while back (“Daddy’s Girls – the Healing”) but I am still actually doing a lot of healing. And a lot of trying to bury the site of excavation. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a process.

In my travels giving my testimony, I am astounded at the sheer number of women who have experienced this horror. Night terrors, anxiety, depression, substance abuse … can all be rooted in this abuse. It is a VERY BIG DEAL, it shapes who you are.

You are only as sick as your secrets, as Karen knows.You can read her awesome piece here: “Mended Musings – The Secret Keepers.”

GOD BLESS YOU, friend, for opening up. It has already helped this survivor by reading your story.

And by the way, here is my photo of the little me who kept secrets she should never have had to. It isn’t her fault.

It never was.

little me

A Thousand Little Crests of Joy – balancing the blues

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“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end —
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:2 (MSG)

The blues…

I’m not sure if it’s an addict thing, or a depression thing, or a human thing….I only know it’s a thing. And it can be a Christian thing, too. Why do I know that? Because I am one, and I struggle with it.

I live for the great swells of emotion … raw joy, good surprises, high energy spurts, times of health, romance. And that’s a problem because it isn’t an even equation.

In happiness numbers, the math doesn’t work. Wake up to the alarm clock + make coffee + go to work +  deal with parenting issues (kids are the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done) + get stuck in traffic + worry about the state of the world +  take a walk + weigh myself (gained three pounds) + pet the cats + load the dishwasher + fight chronic pain + admire my husband’s smile + pay bills + laugh at funny cats on the internet + read the news (the world is on fire!) + go to sleep ….only to do it all again the next day = a deficit.

In the less-than, greater-than schematic, it doesn’t balance.

Have you ever seen how tsunamis are formed? Forced? Before a great swell washes ashore, there is a disruption. There has to be some event – an underwater earthquake, volcanic eruption, or landslide – that causes the initial undulation. That emotional undulation is birthed of frustration.

But with every tsunami swell of the positive, there is a great sucking under to fuel it.

When there is too much sucking underneath and not enough swell, I despair. The waters get shallow, and a great, dark current takes my feet from under me. I’m not afraid anymore to present that honest emotional dilemma – and my pain – to my Creator.  I don’t have to play ‘perfect.’

I can’t.

Deliver me from that dark current, God. From the fear of disaster and of mediocrity!

It is a sign of maturity – in recovery and in my walk with Christ – that I don’t live for the great swells, but for the emotional undulation is birthed of redemption. I am working on remembering that great swells of raw joy, good surprises, pain-free times, and ease of mind are only a swell away, no matter what the circumstances. I live for Christ, in actuality. But I have to do it in this body on this planet awash in feelings, issues, and hormones – and I’m finding walking on top of the water a bit tricky.

I am His. I am not HIM.

In the force that is forming a great tsunami, there is a priming. And in the struggle against depression, there is a priming, too. A stirring up of sand, a washing-out of debris. And a chance to see things from the top of the crest – a new perspective. I am praying for that now. How many times have I felt stuck in the sucking vortex on the bottom – over my head! – only to enjoy the brand-new landscape that couldn’t have been formed any other way? So often I ask God to change my circumstances and he changes me instead. I welcome that, God. HELP me welcome it fully.

Until the landscape changes, He gives me a thousand little crests of joy: Warm baths, my husband’s smiles, Nutella straight from the jar, Van Morrison music, friendships, romance, and funny pictures of cats on the internet. (Never underestimate the power of a cleverly captioned picture of a cat on the internet.)

Or a personal God for whom “deficit” is not an option….a God who isn’t mathematical – and who is always ‘greater than.’

Surf’s up.

Before His Miracle Arrived: Robin Williams and the specter depression

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These days, I feel I could re-wire my entire blog to write about celebrities ensnared in deadly addiction and depression (after writing about Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Skewer the Stigma” in February…) and that makes me really sad.

For every well-known person who takes his or her life – or dies from an overdose – there are mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends of “real” people who lose the battle every single day. And that makes me more sad.  They are your Hollywood icons and musical geniuses – yes…but they are also your family, community, coworkers and clergy.

God bless the brokenhearted, and let the awareness spread.

It could save a life.

The news of Robin Williams passing hit me hard. I was checking my texts while walking out of a 12-step meeting when my daughter messaged me. The tears were immediate.

It was only weeks ago that I offhandedly posted on Facebook about his latest stay in rehabilitation in June. “Go, Robin!” I think I wrote. “Go, Robin – get well!”
After all, I felt like I knew him. Didn’t you?

Didn’t he make you believe in interplanetary rapport, as an alien in “Mork and Mindy”?

Didn’t he inspire you as the wartime DJ in “Good Morning, Vietnam” who brought smiles to soldiers in the midst of misery?

Didn’t he make you secretly wish he was your father-slash-nanny, as Mrs. Doubtfire?

Didn’t you just swoon at his prose-loving, word-weaving portrayal of John Keating, in “Dead Poet’s Society”? (Okay, maybe that was just me…)

Even as he made flawless comedy, there was a sadness behind his laughing eyes. It was palpable. In the mind from which flowed such beautiful, authentic art,  he no doubt felt hopeless. The news sources say that “rehabilitation came too late for him.” And this breaks my heart anew. I am not sure I believe that.  It is never too late for hope to take hold, and I wish Mr. Williams  had been in a place to realize that.

Didn’t he know that things always, ALWAYS get better? It is a law of nature – things get bad. And then they get better. But his spirit just ran out of the patience for the better to come.

He was – by all accounts – a good person. Being a good person has precious little to do with suffering depression and addiction. If anything, sufferers of both struggle mightily, since they are generally sensitive to those around them, attuned to sadness and anger and joy – all of the empathetic humors. Addicts and alcoholics self-medicate with booze and/or drugs in a futile attempt to stop feeling hopeless. Of course, more hopelessness ensues as the addiction surges like dragon, breathing more fire on the already-scorched earth of your spirit.

I’ve never attempted to take my own life, but I have battled depression a few times deeply enough to consider it. At one point, I remember thinking – very nonchalantly – that I just didn’t want to exist anymore…that I would honestly be doing my family a favor if I just ceased existing. And the most terrifying thing about that thought was the aplomb with which these thoughts presented.

I was all cried out, all screamed out, all worn out. And really tired of being disappointed. I could not imagine ever being in a non-exhausted state and living with an ability to get up in the morning and dress myself without resentment for having to do so. It is a dark, lonely place.

I hated living in this flawed body, with chronic pain – both physically and emotionally. And Neverland is only a place where reality has been plundered and ravaged. The flat, casual tone of my suicidal thoughts alarmed me enough to seek help.

I cannot tell you what would/should/could have worked for Robin Williams. Or you.

I can only tell you what works for me. (Notice I didn’t say ‘worked’ – mental illness is often not a one-trick pony – depression can and does recur.)

When the demon of severe depression rears its fiery head, I work hard to employ the same 12 steps that saved my life when I got sober…particularly those that focus on faith, surrender, soul-searching, acceptance, and a willingness to get well – a willingness to press on for One More Day. Even though things seem pretty shitty in the moment. (I attend Celebrate Recovery. If you would like to see the 12 Steps and their Biblical comparisons, click here.)

Take one single day at a time, because the law of nature is that things do get better. You just have to ride out one more day and rely on the God who says he loves you even in those times (especially in those times.) No matter who you are, He has a plan for your life that would just blow you away. The old “don’t give up before your miracle arrives” platitude? It seems there is truth to it. I have lived it firsthand.

Hopelessness is an illusion. There is always hope.

The world needs me, and it needs you. It needs your message and your energy, the fingerprint of your love influence on the lives of those who love you. God knows we could have used more of Robin Williams on this earth.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. I feel like I knew you.

Rest in peace, knowing you brought joy to millions of people…knowing you endeared yourself to countless people in your 63 swashbuckling years here on earth. The world needed more of you – even so, rest now.

God be with you and give you shalom everlasting.

Go, Robin – and be well.

Be whole.