48 Shades of Love – God delights in Us

God loves his colorful ones!
God loves his colorful ones!

By: Jana Greene

My church is having a series of prayer meetings each evening for 40 days, and  I attended one of the gatherings last week. For the first hour or so, each of us finds a quiet space in the sanctuary away from distractions and just soaks up God. There is worship music playing softly, and the lights are low, and if you happen to fall asleep in the love of your Father and snore, nobody judges you. After that hour, we gather together with our pastor, who asks us what we “heard” or “felt” or “saw” or sensed during our quiet prayer time.

I’m not spiritually evolved enough yet to say that my thoughts during prayer center on prophesy, or  theological issues, or epiphanies that would part the Red Sea with their amazing-ness. Sometimes, I just tell God how much I love him, and I praise him, and ask for his favor….and then my mind wanders to things like wondering if we need to stop at the store and pick up milk, or what is the deal with the Obama administration, or did I take my vitamin today, to being just amazed that God took a cracked pot like me and calls her his own. He knows I’m a little flaky. He doesn’t hold it (or anything else, thanks to the grace of Christ) against me.

When we gathered up front of the church after quiet prayer, I told the group that I had the  little vision. In it, I was very small – maybe four years old –  and lying on the living room floor at my grandparents’ house. I’m on my tummy, and I have a brand new coloring book and crayons, and I am just going to town in that coloring book…brows furrowed, colors carefully sought, humming a happy song that I was just making up as I went along.

My maternal grandfather, Papa – the only male influence in my young life that was safe and unconditional loving –  is nearby in his recliner, listening to me yammer on. Because I am talking-slash-humming the whole time I am coloring – about everything and nothing. He chuckles every now and again and asks to see the picture I’m working on (and raves over every work of art I do.) These memories  – being 100% who I was (chatty, creative, open) without any risk or fear of rejection….that’s the feeling I go back to as I continue to understand who I am, and who my Heavenly Father truly is.

You might even say that Papa delighted in me.

It’s scary to share your wonkiest thoughts in  a group of people, but I did. And nobody thought I was weird or spiritually inferior. Everyone just loves on everyone else in that church and encourages you to be who God created you. They encourage you to seek out who that is, because honestly, most of us are carrying around so much garbage – self-loathing, conditioning of religiosity, confusion of what the world has told us we are – we need to cut through all of that other crap and accept who Abba really says we are.

Our pastor suggested that Holy Spirit gave me that memory at just the right time, and that – metaphorically, at least – I should think of God as my Papa during those coloring sessions – patient and interested in hearing all I have to say – my yammerings. That he is  anxious to see what I’m working on, and that nothing I do is insignificant to him.  I thought about Little Me coloring on the living room floor and talking to my Papa. Perhaps I should be less worried about coloring in the lines. I’ve tried to make a pretty picture my whole life, and forgot what it felt like to be enough.

The very next day, a dear friend in church brought me a gift that brought tears to my eyes – a grown-up coloring book featuring pictures of butterflies to color. She said something to the effect that God wants to be my Papa and says to start coloring again. You are still that little girl to him.
It was a metaphor I needed to see, to touch tangibly. It was a gift to my heart for her to do such a thing.

And just this morning, my husband gave me a birthday gift – a brand-new, 48-color box of crayons. Not art store  professional pencils, but crayons made by Crayola as God intended they be. I opened the box and smelled them (well, wouldn’t YOU?) and marveled at how good our Father is. In order to remind me that he is my Daddy and I am his own girl, a coloring book and crayons were used to illustrate the point. He GETS me, I tell you!

What a blessing to share a vulnerable insight and be blessed for it! What a blessing to have friends who understand and support this season in my life in which I am seeking to return to the fundamentals of faith as a child. What a blessing to lean into the Papa-ness of Abba – to be 100% who I am without fear of risk or rejection.

It is my 46th birthday today. And I am going to color in a coloring book with my set of brand new crayons – literally and figuratively. I am not going to worry about staying in the lines. I will motormouth my love to God – talking to him about every little detail. There might even be humming. He is my Papa and I am his little one. I might even make him chuckle at times.

He delights in me, you know.


“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.” – Psalms149:4 (MSG)

 

The Flippin’ Sweet Whole Love of God

napoleanBy: Jana Greene

Last night, I was tossing and turning. Thinking about all the things that are oh-so wrong in this world. I exhausted my energies with worry, and then I implored my Heavenly Father to please comfort me. As I often do when asking God for favors, I quoted scripture to Him, when really – plain talk would have sufficed. He already knows my heart – a heart thirsty to be filled up with His love.

“I’m tired, Abba. Worn down. I need your strength,” my spirit said. ” I just need a touch, Lord. Just see me through today.” I reminded him of the woman at the well, who touched the hem of the garment of Jesus and was made whole.

Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned—caught her at it. Then he reassured her: “Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.” The woman was well from then on.” Matthew 9:20-22 (MSG)

And God, in His infinite wisdom and Holy magnificence, brought a very specific thought to my addled mind…. a scene from one of my very favorite movies, Napoleon Dynamite. Because – if there is anything I’ve learned about the Creator of the Universe – it’s that He has a sense of humor. He wants to relate to us.

SWEET (Yes, even this guy….)

The quirky film’s protagonist, Napoleon, is just trying to make it through high school. In one of the best scenes, he works up the courage in the lunchroom to talk to the girl he is crushing on, who is sitting at another table. In the most awkward pursuit ever, he commences to woo his girl – who is drinking a carton of milk – with this smooth line:

“I see you’re drinking 1%,” he bluntly states. “Is that because you think you’re fat? Because you’re not. You could be drinking whole if you wanted to.”

Why would the God of the universe bring that scene from the movie (CLICK HERE to see it)  so vividly to the forefront of my mind in the middle of the night? Because I’ve been drinking in about 1% of His word lately, and asking for the bare minimum of his power to just get by.

I see you are reaching for a touch of the hem of his garment. Is that because you think you’re not enough? Because in Him, you are enough. You could be filled with Holy Spirit if you wanted to.

I hear you asking for a touch. Are you drinking in God’s love in tiny sips because you think you’re not sure it’s real? Because it is. You could be having the real deal if you wanted to.

Are you asking for less than is already yours because you think only a portion of Me is available to you? Because it’s all here for you. You could be having more comfort than you can handle, if you wanted to.

The “hem of his garment” – the part of Him which is furthest from His heart and still tangible – is flippin’ sweet, as Napoleon might say.

But the heart of Him?

It’s ours, and He wants to fill us with it. And we cannot even begin to imagine the supernatural-ness available to us.

It made me smile, in the midst of my insomnia, that God would remind me of his Whole Power in such a way – a way I could readily understand and even laugh at.

Are you asking for just enough to make it through because you think you’re unworthy? Because you’re not. You could be having the Whole Love of God if you wanted to.

God’s pursuit of us is not awkward, but our acceptance of His love often is. I am learning that Holy Spirit is already in us in full, but our ability to tap into it, to have the Whole Milk Experience, is fettered by our own busy minds and insecurities. Courage, daughter.

Just follow your heart, as Napoleon says.

That’s what I do.

 

 

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A Thousand Little Crests of Joy – balancing the blues

wave

“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.

Valor, quietly: What “Father-ness” really looks like

“Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”

– John Mayer, “Daughters”

I used to be a big fan of greeting cards – Instagram-esque images on the front, the oh-so-eloquent sappiness that makes up the text inside. But these days, I’m finding that Hallmark doesn’t always capture the essence of occasions. Here in my sepia years (not near ‘golden’, mind you) mass-generated greetings don’t cut it.

Looking for a Father’s Day card to recognize my husband, I hovered over a card on the rack that pictured the quintessential daddy-daughter image: A black-and-white picture of dancing feet – a little girl’s bare feet perched upon her father’s leather Oxfords. I love that image.

Isn’t that what father-ness looks like?

What does it look like, as a reel – instead of a snapshot? It is a no guts, no glory endeavor. Father-ness also looks like a million other little acts of devotion.

It looks like canceling long-awaited plans to attend a chorus concert/band performance/theatrical production that a child forgot to mention until the day of.

It looks like children whom he has advised can “tell him anything” will, in fact, tell him anything.

It looks like forgoing something he wants – or even needs – so that the girls can have what they want and need.

It looks like giving 100% in the little things, like positive reinforcement for clean dishes and put-away laundry.

It looks like giving 100% with little or no notice for big things – like weddings. Moves. Driver’s licenses.

It looks like unselfishness.

It looks like knowing a child’s favorite birthday cake flavor, and going to all the grocery stores in town until you find it.

It looks like making taking the time to hear their points-of-view of his kids  (even when they make no sense, even when they are “wrong”.)

It looks like insisting that they treat their mother/step-mother with respect, even in the sassiest teen years (such a mouthy time!)

It looks like openly loving God, while respecting the truth that each daughter is on her own the journey to discover that God is real.

It looks like praying on behalf of each one of them, every day.

It looks like midnight runs to the skating rink, and dropping four other loud, yapping, excitable teens off at their own houses, so their parents don’t have to make a midnight run. Sometimes, it looks like four or five loud, yapping, excitable teens having a sleepover at his house.

It means rolling with the punches, constantly – without harboring resentment, or bestowing guilt on the children.

It looks like valor, quietly.

It looks like giving away his life’s treasure to her new husband on her wedding day, and making that day as memorable as possible for her.

It looks like buying class rings that he knows will be worn once, and then sit in a drawer. And it means never mention a word of the expense again.

It looks like treading the fine line to deal with a daughter’s choice to date the over-cologned, greasy haired, lip ring-wearing, juvenile delinquent, junior Bad Ass (completely unworthy of her,) without being overbearing (thus increasing the boy’s appeal ten-fold.)

It looks like buying feminine hygiene products when necessary – without embarrassment. Without missing a beat.

It looks like stick-to-it-ness when going through the drudgery of parenting, honestly – the day-in, day-out homework inquiries.

It looks like having stunt-man like ability to roll off the drama.

It looks like learning – and accepting – that all three daughters respond differently to different situations, that “one size” rules, privileges, and relating does not fit “all.”

It looks like honoring our daughters, even when their behavior is not honor-worthy.

It looks like standing in a darkened window with a notepad in-hand to write down the license plate number of a boy who has picked up a daughter for a date. (Date my daughter? Be ready to be properly vetted. ) Note to daughters: Yes, he did this – and with enough forethought to make sure the dining room lights were off before you left. Better visibility.

It looks like shuttling kids to doctor appointments, play practices, sleep-overs, and SAT tests. And back again.

It looks like listening to Christina Aguilera, when he’s in a Robert Cray kind of mood.

It looks like being the practical parent; not always getting to be the fun parent. It looks like school supplies instead of frivolities, in leaner times.

It looks like treating your wife exactly the way you want your daughters to be treated by their husbands.

My Beloved’s flesh-and-blood daughter was born with the privilege of calling him “Dad.” He has raised her most of her life. She is a married now, still Daddy’s Girl at 22 years old.

“Most people experience just having a mom raise you – or even both parents if you’re lucky – but I always just had my dad,” she recently told me. “He is the one person who told me what he thought and then let me make my own decisions without judgment…always dropping everything to help me, and giving me the biggest hugs, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye. He has given me a life to be proud of, always giving me the best advice and showing me how to better my future. “

For my own two daughters, My Beloved came on the scene when they were 10 and 13; the first and only man I dated as a single mom that my daughters immediately gave the stamp of approval (I only dated a couple, I swear!)

“Mom didn’t really have any boyfriends before my step-father, but she did go on dates occasionally,” my youngest, now 18,  says. “Being the grumpy child that I was, I did not like any of them, but something about him was different. He didn’t just care about mom; he cared about my sister and I – and he went out of his way to show it. A few weeks into his relationship with my mother, he surprised me with a necklace of my favorite animal – a penguin. It had a gold chain and crystal eyes, and came in a penguin-shaped case. It wasn’t my birthday or anything … he just wanted to show me that he cared. I hoped that he would be my stepfather, and I am so grateful that it happened!”

My eldest, also now 22,  came to appreciate that he put in the time with parental grunt work: “A lot of things stick out to me when I think about my step-father,” she says. “He took time to come to all my school events and basically ‘owned’ us all from the get-go. One of my favorite memories is recent – just last month – when he came and sat with you during my tonsillectomy even though he didn’t have to….even though I was pretty out-of-it, and wouldn’t have known if he had skipped it. Waking up and seeing that he was there, that meant a lot to me. That’s just who he is. He is really that person.”

What does Father-ness look like, really look like?
So much better than a Hallmark card; so much deeper than Instagram-esque imagry and sappy sentiment. Off the rack; a reel of a million little acts of devotion. And some really big ones.

It looks like love.

Footnote from My Beloved’s daughter, Lynzee, who is leaving to be with her husband stationed in Japan in just a few days:

“Dad…
I’m not a very adventurous person. But you always told me, ‘You’re never going to see what the world has to offer you unless you put yourself out there and try new things.’
So now that I’m an ‘old married lady’; I have a chance to go to Japan for three years. Even though I haven’t left yet, I already miss you.
Thank you for working so hard. You’re always my secure place to call home. You are an awesome dad, and I love you.”

 

Weary and Burdened: Mental Illness and the Church

Stained glass in St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC
Jesus as depicted in stained glass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC. My Jesus loves everyone. Everyone is precious in his sight.

Meet Joe.

Joe is a Christian who struggles to keep his blood pressure under control. Following his doctor’s advice and having the support of his family, he manages to healthy. He keeps encouraged by those who love him, and that makes all the difference.

Meet Sarah.

Also a Christian, she is a survivor of breast cancer. She has suffered through a double mastectomy and many chemo treatments, and is currently in remission. She surrounds herself with people who love her to stay in a positive mindset, and has the admiration of the community for the brave fight she has waged.

And Sam.

Sam’s  diabetes demands constant care. The dietary and medical choices he makes impact his life every day. Sam is very open with others about his condition, as he depends on their support and his own healthy choices to keep him going.

Joe, and Sarah, and Sam. They each battle a disease. Each need a place to rest, as rest is essential to wellness.

In this life, we will have trouble. If God’s own son was not spared suffering, we will surely not be either. Health challenges are simply a part of life.

Now meet Amy.

Amy is a follower of Jesus Christ who suffers from mental illness. Perhaps you know Amy – or someone like her. We all do.

Maybe she cuts herself. She might even have visual and auditory hallucinations.

Perhaps depression weighs her down, making even the most mundane survival tasks difficult.

She could have anxiety, the dreaded foot race between her worrisome thoughts and the beats of her heart.

She may have crippling compulsive behaviors, making her a social outcast.

Her moods may soar to the top of the stratosphere – beyond logical control – and then crash and splinter in too many pieces for her to put back together.

Her emotions may be too wild for her will to handle.

She might rage or isolate, with the same outcome: shame.

Amy is just as sick – but no sicker – than others with chronic diseases to be managed, but that makes some people feel uncomfortable. So she hides, even from her own church. She knows there are others who struggle with issues like hers, but she is wary to share her story with them.

She depends on Christ to help her through each day, but desperately needs other Christ followers to walk with her.

Christians struggle with mental illness, too.

A brain that does not regulate serotonin levels is – spiritually speaking – no different from a pancreas that does not regulate insulin. The biological propensity toward addiction and alcoholism should carry no more stigma than having genes that could carry cancer.

High blood pressure can be managed and so can mental health. And having a mental illness has nothing to do with having a relationship with Christ because that relationship is simply, not “all in one’s head.”  It is all in one’s heart.

The church is the first place that the mentally ill should seek to stay encouraged, become surrounded with love, and depend on the support of one another.

To bear our own crosses while we help others keep from collapsing under the weight of their own.

To manage the pain of life and all the challenges it doles out.

To combat the stigma of mental illness, and nurture the brave ones coping with it every day.

To stay encouraged by those who love us, which makes all the difference. To have a safe place to find rest.

Joe, and Sarah, and Sam. They each battle a disease. And so does Amy.

It takes a village to build one another up, yes – but it also takes a church.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus. (John 16:33, NIV)

 

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Upcoming EDGEWISE book launch

Hello, dear readers! It may seem as though I have been on some sort of writing sabbatical, but I can assure you that is not the case. Since the last blog post, I have been working hard to publish my first book, EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God. If learning is a ‘curve,’ than I am on a ‘figure 8’ adventure these days! I am very much looking forward to the upcoming launch, and will keep you readers advised of the progress. Thank you for your readership, by the way. Best readers in the WORLD!

(In the meantime, here is a sneak peak at the cover…)

EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God
EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God

Head-Over-Heels – love from a God undeterred

I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.
I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.

By: Jana Greene

“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”
―     Brennan Manning,     The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out    

From the very first minute I met my beloved husband, it was obvious that he was interested in me. He made is so clear! If ever there were a love at first sight, we totally nailed  it.

But seemed to be such a good man, that I had this primal urge to warn him.

“You should probably know,” I said, while waited  for a lunch table on our first date. “I’m an alcoholic in recovery.”

“And  have two daughters, 10 and 13, who I raise by myself.  And they are really handfuls.“  He only smiled at me, undeterred.

As that first date progressed, it was clear that this man was special, different. He was warm, attentive, interesting. I had butterflies, but in the most comfortable, natural way. As it turned out, that he had a 13-year-old daughter, too.  In our first, long conversation, I kept having the oddest feeling that this was The One.

We saw each other every day after that. We simply couldn’t be apart.

In times of anxiety, I wanted to tell him, “RUN! I am not worth it!” and when he didn’t run, that dark place in my spirit that was born of so much rejection in the past, whispered, “He will one day abandon you, you know. He will figure it out.”

Even after such a brief courtship, it occurred to me that If he wanted to run, I would rather it be right away, before I fell any deeper in love with him. I felt like such a mess, with nothing to  bring into this new relationship.

Nothing but me.

“I have medical issues,” I would say at otherwise intimate times. Or, “I struggle to pay my bills.”

I was sure that this sexy, compassionate, amazing man would not stick around, if only he knew the true me. But a strange thing happened … the more he came to know the true “me,” the more he just kept falling in love.  The alcoholism recovery (which is a lifetime endeavor,) the single-parenting of teenaged girls, the health issues….none of these – or any of the other in the plethora of anxieties and insecurities – kept him from loving me.

Oh how many times I experience the same dynamic in my walk with God!  From the very first moment I accepted Christ as my savior, it was obvious that he was head-over-heels with me.

From time to time I remind him: “I am small, insignificant. I battle anxiety, and fear abandonment, and have nothing to bring to the table. Only me.”

He is such a good God, it’s almost as if I feel I should warn Him.

Often, when I feel those butterflies that come from knowing the Living God has fallen in love with me, I still wonder “why?”  I am in awe that the God of the universe is undeterred by my character defects, challenges, and  not concerned about what I can “bring to the table.”

I’ve told God that – if he wants to run, I understand. I’m kind of a mess. Sometimes, when I am most anxious and depressed, when the old feelings of being a “mess” crash over me, I think about the early days when I tried to talk my Beloved husband out of loving me, and he just smiled. I was enough, he wanted me, just me – forever.

What kind of God would be crazy about me?  The kind that cannot be talked out of it.

The kind who just wants  to be with me, because when he created me, it was love at first sight.

And when he runs, it is only toward me.