Once Upon a Gospel – An Invitation to Love

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By: Jana Greene

Once upon a time, there was a good and perfect King whose agenda for the whole land was Love.

He provided everything his subjects needed – in this realm and The Eternal one – but one subject became jealous of the King and wanted to rule in his stead. Being the good and perfect King that He was, Love banished the hateful subject -who was one of the beings considered a friend of The King Himself  – from the Kingdom. He became a defector with his greedy endeavor to be equal with his Creator.

Furious at being banished, The Defector appealed to the less-than-royal castle walkers to leave the King’s dominion. He was very persuasive, and took a third of their masses with him. Because The King was Love Incarnate, The King mourned their loss. But his mourning was supplanted by a great concern for the subjects of his kingdom and their heirs. For the The Defector and his minions – subject to eternal separation from Love – vowed to use whatever evil means necessary to recruit members. Nothing was off limits.

Suffering and death. But also temptation and slick false-life advertising to sell it.

One of the biggest weapons used against the kingdom subjects was the very freedom The King had invoked a the First Testing. Essentially, it sounded something like this (and like exactly the same message he is spinning in this generation):

Don’t you think YOU should be King? Why does King Love get, well … all the love. You are ruler of your own life! You can have all the power. The King is out to ruin your fun and your lives. He sits up there on His throne, having no idea of your struggles. And that’s IF He exists…..Have you ever even SEEN Him in person? I didn’t think so. Maybe He doesn’t even exist. Maybe Love cannot save the world.

And the subjects were deceived, because a tiny seed in their hearts was watered by the slick words that appealed to Self over King. And confusion took root and has become a plague upon the earth ever since. Many subjects decided to follow the ruler of Self and, in turn, rejected The King’s perfect will.

Many declared they were subjects of no land at all, and by doing so, still made a choice to defect the Kingdom. There was no dual citizenship. Perfect Love casts out all fear, and fear was at the root of autonomy of the Subjects of No Land.”

There seemed no end to the weaponry that The Defector had at his disposal. Yes, good old sin bugaboos ran amok, But often times the destruction came in other slippery forms: Shame, Defeat, Distraction, Depression, Addiction, and a general elevation to Self while – at the same time – beating it down by diminishing it’s value.

It seemed like The Defector had the deck stacked in his favor, as all of the subjects had one thing in common, bestowed by the King – Choice. The Power to accept The King of Love, ruler of the Kingdom and keep the laws enacted by him in love for their own good, or to defect themselves to a more self-serving path.

Oh, the humanity – literally!

Could no one save The Kingdom from the author of confusion?

Will no one step in to save the subjects created to serve The King and those He loves?

And then The Magic happened. The King Himself would become a subject. He himself – through His divine heir – would become man and King, and show up in person. He would be Redeemer. He would know the anxiety and hardship of the masses, just like any other subject. But He would come to show them that The King is Love.

A nobler knight or king, the world had never known. Instead of cavorting with elite and rule-keeping, The Redeemer loved on the castoffs, touched the un-touchables. The peasants. He lived His life in a manner befitting The King in all ways. Whether teaching in the temples or on the street, all subjects were invited to become members of The King’s fold. And His love was the invitation to citizenship.

Healing. Unselfishness. Unconditional Love.

The Redeemer walked the realm for 33 years, a short span of time in history, but changed absolutely everything.

No longer could the subjects resent The King for not have walked among them as a common subject. The Redeemer showed the way that any subject could  become a bona-fide royal. He did so without serving Self or following any of the rules of the conniving Defector.

He would finally be crowned a King with a headpiece of thorns in a mockery of ascension to the Kingdom Throne. The Defector had a heyday. He considered a major win for his ruling. In truth, it was the beginning of His ultimate end.

Those who followed the defectors and beat him to a bloody death did not know they were in fact cementing the admission of Whomsoever into an Eternal Kingdom. The one who defected from The Eternal for seeking equality with The King made it possible for all of us to be equal heirs in all The King’s riches, in essence. Ironic, and beautiful paradox, that one.

The names of all the subjects – those who serve The King and those who serve The Defector – were on His lips, pleading with Love to administer grace and mercy. The subjects who accepted The Redeemer received permanent citizenship in the Eternal Kingdom.

The King ALWAYS uses what the enemy plans for evil to the GOOD of those who love Him.

The Magic – known as Holy Spirit – he left with the subjects, so that His power would be forever close at hand. That spirit of all that is lovely, The Magic lives on to this very generation.

The Defector knew the Day of the Redeemer had been coming, and he was prepared. Further making a mockery of Love, The Defector upped his war game, and with each new generation of subjects, became better and better at deceiving them.

Those satisfied to serve Self we easy to take down and make slaves to The Defector and his flunkies. With the ultimate knowledge that he is doomed to failure, he is quite literally hell-bent on taking as many subjects with him in eternal alienation from Love.

Even some of the Eternal Kingdom citizens sometimes forgot they are citizens of a Higher Order through the work of The Redeemer, the spoils of a war already won on the cross.  They struggled mightily, far more than people with an eternal birthright should. Tasked with spreading the message of unearned love to the whole world, they became weary.

The Defector must never allow subjects of The King to rest. They are dangerous on the battlefield, a liability to the Evil One’s schemes to overthrow The King. He was always on the prowl, looking for chinks in the armor that The Magic covered them in. He perfected the tips of his arrows and narrowed his aim, upping the ante with each attack.

It is for this reason the Redeemed subjects are not spared hardship and even occasional agony.

It’s not the end of the story. The King gets the last word. Love always wins, you know.

Because the Bible isn’t a fairy tale at all.

The King of Love exists. We call him God, and He isn’t the stuff of fables. The Redeemer who is both God and Man? He is Jesus. And there is, in fact, a Defector called Satan, and his demonic hosts of demons who defected the angelic realms. I know it sounds mythical, until you consider the state of the war, pestilence, and destruction both large-scale and in our personal lives. Look around the world we inhabit, so infused with suffering and tribulation. There should be no doubt we have a living enemy. And – here’s the twist in the story – it’s not us.

Yes, evil seems to be running the trial of the world as it hurtles toward implosion, as The Defector makes his closing arguments against us. Darkness is his counsel.

But our Counsel is Truth.

Our Judge? Love.

Your enemy doesn’t get to make it to your sentencing at the end of your life without allowing you to testify on your own behalf. And that testimony is the one and true light that vanquishes even the blackest darkness.

Our testimony is simply JESUS.

If you know The Redeemer, this tale may seem a filtered-down, fable-esque take on the Gospel. But a lot of people haven’t heard it in a relate-able way, and I’m hoping this little blog post helps one person see hope with new eyes.

The story has a happy ending.

If you don’t know The Redeemer, know that there is a good and perfect King whose agenda for the whole life is Love. He came in human form to understand the  anxiety and hardship of the masses, and to offer reprieve and eternal life.

His Kingdom – His LOVE – is available to you. Not Once upon a time, but today.

God bless us subjects, every one.

 

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

“And don’t tell me that I have no authority to write like this. I’m perfectly free to do this—isn’t that obvious? Haven’t I been given a job to do? Wasn’t I commissioned to this work in a face-to-face meeting with Jesus, our Master? Aren’t you yourselves proof of the good work that I’ve done for the Master? Even if no one else admits the authority of my commission, you can’t deny it. Why, my work with you is living proof of my authority!” – 1 Corinthians 9:1-2 (MSG)

It is written: “In the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned, and) created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. …” – Genesis 1 (AMPC)

“When Lucifer was cast out of Heaven, one third of all the angels were cast out with him.” – Revelations 12:14-9

“Bilious and bloated, they gas,
    “God is gone.”
Their words are poison gas,
    fouling the air; they poison
Rivers and skies;
    thistles are their cash crop.

God sticks his head out of heaven.
    He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
    one man, even, God-expectant,
    just one God-ready woman.

He comes up empty. A string
    of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
    to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
    follow their fellow.” – Psalm 14:1-4

This history-changing gift changed the world forever. “This how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.– John 3:16-18 (MSG)

 

Choosing YOU: “How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” – Ephesians 4:1 (MSG)

“How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.” 1 Corinthians 5:21 (MSG)

As his killers laugh and mock him as He is dying, throwing dice to see who would keep His robes as a macabre souvenir, He pleaded with The King: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:24 (ENT)

The Redeemer said it Himself: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” – John 14:26-27 (MSG)

To which The King decreed  “You see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” – Hebrew 12:1 (MSG)

For The King issued this proclamation: “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does.” – 1 Peter 5:8

As fellow subject and apostle summed it up: “You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message.  Colossiains 1:22 (MSG)

“Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.” – Philippians 2:15-16 (MSG)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mind the Gap – Standing in prayer amid the roar

gappic

By: Jana Greene

One of my favorite places in the whole world are the mountains of North Carolina. They aren’t sharp and pointy like the Rockies, demanding awe of their majesty. Rather, they are vast and rolling and a thousand shades of blue and purple – those Blue Ridge Mountains. And some of our favorite places to visit are not at the tops of mountains, but in the valleys or ‘gaps.’ Surrounded on all sides by massive, ancient mountains, it always gives me pause.

Little towns named for the gaps they settled in always have the most dramatic names: Deep Gap. Windy Gap. Air Billows Gap. Smoky Gap. And my favorite, Roaring Gap.

It’s called “Roaring Gap” and not “Whispering Gap” because when the winds pick up between the mountains around it, it roars.

Today I was privileged to pray for a dear friend whom I love very much. She is in a difficult situation in which there will be no easy resolution. She is scared, of course. Her anxiety is palpable, and I don’t know what magic words to tell her that will make things instantly better.

She is encountering a ‘gap’ in her life, and she just needs someone to stand in it with her, to bridge her reality with the answered prayer on the other side.

I don’t know why so much scripture describes “peace in the valley” because in between mountains can be an anxious place. Unless, I suppose, you can rest in the gap with full faith that those mountains will move.

Many of my friends right now have fallen from ‘mountaintop’ experiences and are just hurting. They cannot see a way out of the roaring, all-encompassing gaps. I pray for them, but it doesn’t seem like enough to do.

I was raised Baptist and often heard people refer to intercessory prayer as “standing in the gap” for someone. This morning, as I prayed what I felt were insufficient prayers, God reminded me of what it means to “stand in the gap” in prayer for others by giving me a visual.

(He does that for me sometimes. It is literally as if the Almighty is saying, “Dang, girl. Do I have to DRAW YOU A PICTURE!?”

Yes, Papa. Sometimes you do.)

I saw myself in a mountainous gap, worried for a friend. But I wasn’t standing.

In the vision, I am sitting cross-legged in a beautiful mountain valley and imploring God to please help my sister in need. And then I look around me and try to find routes through the foliage. I wring my hands and close my eyes, and ask the Father again for resolution. Then I start wondering what the dimensions of this gap are. Hmmm. I wonder where God IS already?

Then I look behind me and there stands my sister-in-need. She is standing upright, but just barely. She is crying into her hands and trying to keep her balance, wavering on her feet.

She just needs me to stand with her. She needs me to stop trying to figure out how to fix her problem, and just to stand with her, help hold her up, and implore God on her behalf. She is too tired and weak to do it on her own.

I like to ‘fix’ people and situations, you see. Maybe you do too. Or maybe you feel your prayers are insufficient.

If you have a prayer language, use it. Think of your friend and her needs and her heart, and let the words flow, echo off the mountains they are facing.

(If you don’t have a prayer language, ask God to give you one. It’s not as spooky as it sounds and is incredibly intimate. He wants to fill you with those words you cannot even understand!)

If your sister is sad, hunker down and be sad with her. But prayerful always. God can fix what she is going through.

God doesn’t expect us to survey the gap…or question WHY is this gap here? Who left the gate open?

He just expects us to stand in it. He expects us to stand firm on the promise that He is still at the helm. However much we love our suffering friends, He loves them infinitely more.

Fill that gap with prayerful petition to Christ on behalf of your sister. One day, her struggle will be behind her like one of those endless and beautiful ancient ridges of blue mountains.

And just stand there, even in the roaring.

Lord God Almighty,

So many of my friends are hurting. Their spirits are wounded, and they are standing, but just barely. Help me to stand with them. Give me the words in this otherworldly language to plead their cases before you. Waste not ONE BIT of their struggle, but lend them comfort in the midst of it. Hold them, Abba. Douse them in your Love. Remind them that you are faithful.

In Jesus’ name.

AMEN.

The Value of Struggle

Unanswered prayer
This sunset, brought to you by God, was preceded by some of the crappiest weather phenomenon or area has experienced in years. Just weeks of sloppy rain, gray skies, and gratuitous yuck. Though sorrows may last through the night, His joy comes with the morning. And all God’s children say “Amen.”

 

By: Jana Greene

You have value to God and to the world He made. There is no question about it. You may not feel very valuable (I don’t either sometimes) but your worth cannot even be measured.

I get lazy with prayer, and there are times (honesty alert!) I don’t pray for a thing like I should because I am secretly afraid of being disappointed in the outcome. In my own wisdom, which is exceedingly limited, I just don’t see a way for the thing to work out, so I don’t even bother asking.

But God says ask anyway, and keep asking.

Why would He encourage that? Clearly everyone’s prayers don’t always get answered or else we’d have a populace of lottery winners and a complete deficit of sickness and suffering in the world.

Sounds wonderful on the surface, but you’ve got to wonder how our spirits would fare; what our character would look like.

This morning, I heard from Him about it. While I am already in bed trying to figure out how to fix the whole damn world (or at least my little corner of it) and then asking God for help in fixing it.

But it’s not mine to fix, He reminded me.

We live in a world that rewards our expectations. It is a vending machine, instant gratification society and we get upset when even the smallest things don’t go our way.

But we’ve got to stop asking God to jump, and expecting Him to ask us “how high?” We do that, or at least I do.

I want to orchestrate the outcome of my prayer petitions to Abba in order to see something or someone I care about ‘turn out’ a certain way.

That expectation – that He somehow needs our direction in the matter we bring to Him –  takes His sovereignty out of the equation. And His sovereignty is everything.

God doesn’t get our orders wrong.

He says to pray unceasingly, but I don’t think His command to do so is to get everything we want. I think maybe we are to pray unceasingly until God changes our hearts about what we want.

Maybe the thing that is haunting your spirit and demanding Holy resolution has value.

Maybe the experience – and your victory over it – will be used to help someone desperate in the future. I’ve seen that play out thousands of times in my own life. In looking back, God wasn’t ignoring my plea, but had a purpose in that struggle to benefit someone else.

‘Cause it’s not all about me.

Maybe your acceptance of a heavy situation has finally caused you to lay it down and God is working with your spirit on the skill of NOT picking it back up.

Maybe an answer to prayer looks NOTHING like you imagined, but it’s an answer nonetheless.

Have faith that the Father who loves and values you is trustworthy in every area, seen and unseen. Have faith that He is still listening and is working all things to the good for those who love Him. Even when all rational thought and preconceived notion tells you otherwise.

(I’m preaching to myself here, too.)

Our battles are fought and won in the Heavenly realms and we don’t always get to take home the tangible souvenirs.

Ask Him for a faith big enough to believe He knows how high to jump. Be honest in telling him you are afraid to be disappointed.

Bother to ask. And keep asking.

But consider the value in the prayers that FEEL unanswered. We see through a glass darkly here, this side of the Kingdom.

God wastes no hurt. And always answers prayers. In His time, and to His perfect and pleasing will.

He’s got this. He’s got YOU.

 

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

Life Expectancy – Listening to God

This is 30 Doradus, deep inside the Tarantula Nebula, located over 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Millions of "baby stars" are birthed inside the thick clouds of dust and gas, and our God knows each one by name. Source: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2012/2012/01/results/100/ NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration
Anybody out there? This is 30 Doradus, deep inside the Tarantula Nebula, located over 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Millions of “baby stars” are birthed inside the thick clouds of dust and gas, and our God knows each one by name. Source: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2012/2012/01/results/100/NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

By: Jana Greene

“When you wait to hear from God, expect him to give you a dream, an insight; this is the faith factor where you wait expectantly.” – Rick Warren

Listening.

All day long, I’ve been asking God to tell me why He gave me the word “listening” to write about today. The problem is that my mind wouldn’t be still enough to listen for His answer to my questioning. When my spirit finally became still, the communication was as clear as a bell.

“Are you listening expectantly? Or just putting prayers ‘out there’?” Said Abba.

That’s an excellent question, and the answer is often the latter.

I immediately thought about the SETI Projects – scientific research using the best technology on earth to put signals out in space, so that if there were any intelligent life ‘out there,’ they might give us a  signal in response.

“There are great challenges in searching the cosmos for signs of intelligent life, including their identification and interpretation. SETI projects use the best available scientific knowledge to conduct experiments, which has traditionally led to searches for electromagnetic radiation emitted by advanced technologies. Radio telescopes are used to investigate the cosmos using large radio antennas.” – Wikipedia (which knows all, of course.)

When it became perfectly reasonable to embrace the likelihood of extraterrestrial life while denying the existence of God,  I do not know. Somewhere along the line, things went terribly wrong. Many scientists consider SETI to be pseudo-science – adding an itchy faith issue to what is accepted as hard-and-fast method. There is something out there, we just don’t know what it is….but we are sure enough that it exists to keep listening!

It occurred to me that nobody goes to the trouble to send out signals without making the effort to listen for a reply. Parts of the scientific community have been listening for a response from space for decades now. They just keep listening because they ultimately expect a response.

Which is more than I can say for myself at times, because listening is not my strongest attribute. But I’m learning.

When I pray and then listen expecting God to answer, my antenna is up, and the signal is clear.

When I pray just to put prayers out there, it become pseudo-spirituality.

Listening and expecting a response from Holy Spirit opens up all kinds of supernatural, extra-celestial communication. God wants us to expect a reply. He expects us to listen with expectancy, and He wants us to hear from Him.

Clear as a bell.

Breathe Joy into Me – a poem, a prayer, and a plea

POEM

God,
I’ve been feeling so discouraged,
Two steps forward, one step back,
Feeling like my soul is tired,
Over extended, under attack.

Oh to have my joy back!
I know it is mine for the asking.
To gain it I must first surrender to you
The pain that my sadness is masking.
The tiredness, the sickness,
The constant striving,
On my own human power
It keeps me from thriving.
Oh, God, please be infused in me.
They way Holy Spirit desires to be.

I want to have my joy back –
That birthright you left in the empty tomb.
I want the peace – the good shalom –
You left me in that Upper Room.
The weary dark replaced instead with
Your open, welcoming arms,
The chronic illness bested by
Your protection from all harm.

Oh God, please inhabit me, my
Source of peace so close to me
That Holy Spirit breathes in me,
Breathe joy into me.

Remind me that two steps forward –
In spite of the one step back –
Still means that I am traveling
On the forward-moving track.

Oh to have my joy back!
I know it is mine for the asking.
Oh, God, please be infused in me.
The way Holy Spirit desires to be.

And all the days of my life I will be,

Yours.

Prayer Vegas-style, Baby

VEGAS

This piece originally ran as a guest blog for my friend and fellow writer, Chris Canuel. I felt like maybe someone needs to read it today…someone who might be currently praying in the desert.

Maybe that someone who needs to (re)read it is ME.

How do you get out of the spiritual desert? You build a huge, blinking distraction to it.

Or, you can just walk through it, and fully expect God to bring you to the other side.

About eight years ago, I went to Las Vegas on a business trip. The long and short of it was that I had a mini-nervous breakdown.

My colleagues and I stayed in the Luxor – a magnificent pyramid structure on the Vegas strip, smack dab (as we say in the South) in the heart of Sin City. Although there were seminars by day, there were too many hours of free time after the nine-to-five activities.

I don’t always do that well with too much free time.

Vegas is not so much fun for a person in alcohol – or any other, so far as I can tell – recovery. Moment after moment, fleshly appetizers are placed before you. In-your-face, 24/7 sex, drugs, drink, gambling, smoking. Even things that had never tempted me before – such as the gambling – became this enormous tease.

I knew that Vegas was not for me before the plane even touched down. If you’ve ever flown over Las Vegas, you will know what I mean. Here is a visual synopsis of the view from the plane.

Hours of flight over sandy canyons, gorges, and deserts. Everything is some shade of brown– nothing, nothing, nothing, hours of nothing– barren brown, tan and beige. Nothing.

BAM! Super incredibly bright neon, see-it-from-outer space, larger-than life and twice as gaudy, Technicolor VEGAS, Baby! The strip is, quite literally, just a strip that – from the air – looks as though the heavens barfed forth a city-sized strip of neon, glitter, and a strange, Disney-like conglomeration of architectural/cultural mess. Pastel medieval castles, next door to Greco-Roman-columned casinos, next door to the great pyramids, next door to a shrunken New York City entwined by a roller coaster, punctuated by liquor and nudie bars.

It is the anti-nature, if you will.

Before even the first rah-rah corporate event, I was burned out. Too much to see. Everything in sight vying for my attention – and so, none of it really getting my attention. The first night, I stayed in the hotel room and cried while everyone else went out and had Vegas adventures. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Every morning, for privacy, I wandered down to a café in the Luxor, and call my (then) fiancé, a grown woman crying in an enormous, cartoonish pyramid, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and utterly alone.

“I can’t be here,” I told him. “It’s too noisy. Too much temptation. Too many drunk and high people…so much gambling, porn everywhere…. too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. I have to come home.”

It didn’t upset me because I believed I would never do such things, but because I know good and damn well that I could – given the right circumstances and a weak moment – and, in fact, have. I try to respect the parameters – the slippery slopes. And Vegas is a very slippery slope.

Each day, I became more and more depressed, the thin veneer of sanity cracking under the weight of trying to appear all the things I was not: Professional, immune to the temptations, and able to cope.

Where I live at home, the Ocean is a scant 10 minutes away, and the Cape Fear River 10 minutes in the other direction. Water, water everywhere. And people I love.

Of course, I survived it – and as a bonus, with my sobriety intact. When I finally, got home, it didn’t seem like such an ordeal. But during the experience, I was miserable.

For the last month or so, I have really been struggling with prayer. Not just having a desert-like prayer life, but a Vegas-like prayer life. Unwittingly, I’ve filled up a dry-spell with diversions to distract my spirit. Sensory overload is not the same as spirit satiation. What happens in my prayer life lately…..it goes nowhere. Or so it seems.

Praying…. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

BAM! Diversion!

But anything but Holy Spirit in a hurting soul is not an oasis….only a mirage.

Sometimes, my spiritual walk becomes about too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. A grown woman crying in church, surrounded by dozens of happy worshippers. Everyone else seemingly bloated with happiness. Don’t they see the barren dryness?

Aridness…brown, tan and beige. So I build great, giant cities – big, awkward pastel and neon structures of distraction, instead of just walking through the desert – exhausted from trying to pretend to be what I am not: A “professional Christian.” Immune to the temptations. Able to cope.

I don’t always do that well when I have too much time, but I know the God of the Universe always makes time for me. I have to come home, and the only route is through the desert.

It’s hard to encounter God, what with the gaudy, neon monuments to my worries and anxieties blinking. Why don’t I remember that in the “uninhabitable” – He inhabits? He dwells in me always, vying for my attention.

And if I am simply willing to just walk through the desert?

BAM! God. Living water, water everywhere. Deserts can’t go on forever.

But the love of my Father does.

Mother’s Day/Father’s Day – when feelings won’t be held at bay

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My daughter Jana,

I’ve been watching you , keeping up with your feelings. I know you imagine I watch  you from my throne in Heaven, so far way. But in reality, I’m as close as you as your own heart, the one that’s been broken; the one that has been skipping beats lately. I am as close as the breath you have a hard time catching when you try to cry quietly. I am right there with you.

You’ve been a bit down lately, really kind of “attitude-y Judy” if you will, and I know it’s because of Father’s Day. Well, really, your blues  started to settle in around Mother’s Day, just  last month. You have been out of whack ever since.

You are estranged from the mother that you dearly love, because you heart has decided that healthy boundaries must be in place, but your brain has decided those boundaries were not  being respected.  At your heart-brain summit – trying to figure out what to do –  there was only chaos. I feel like maybe it’s time to let it go.

Father’s day is an even more loaded occasion. Aside from celebrating it for Your Beloved husband, you have no dog in this fight. The man who was most like father  to you (besides Me, of course) was your grandfather, Papa. How much he loved you, and you loved him! It is a beautiful thing so witness so much devotion this side of the Kingdom. Does my own heart good to see.

But when, my daughter, are you going to let go of the others who “fathered” you? The one whose DNA I chose to combine with your mother’s to weave you into being, and knit you in her womb? I am sorry he did not stick around. Is wasn’t about you, you know. Ahhh, perhaps that is the biggest problem – his indifference made it about you.

And others in the “father” position, like the others who volunteered to step into that role. You simply have to understand that it is a tragic thing that he took advantage of his position and that you were hurt. Oh, my child, you were only very small.

In love, I want to suggest to you – instead of focusing on the loss and estrangement, the hurt and the trauma of your earlier life …you could try to consider things from another side? I will not force you to let it go, child. I am quite a gentleman, in that I insist you must make the choice. But when you do, I am here to help you move on.

You, my daughter, are a survivor! Strong in heart and in mind. And what you’ve lost in this life, you can see I have given back to you ten-fold, if  you stop only looking back. Your cup is overflowing with blessings … Look around you, my child! Look forward.

All  the issues with parents (who are, after all, just human beings like you) cannot dilute the love you receive in your life every single day. Let go of the relationships that make you feel lost, orphaned, alone…and look around at this life I’ve given you!

What you lack in relationship with your parents, I have given you 1,000 times more, through circles of friends whom you love – and love you – like family. People I have purposely brought into your life (again, not by orchestrating from a different galaxy, but from within and with-out and all around you) cradle you in more care than you ever imagined you would experience in this life.

When have you gone through a time of sorrow or joy that you were not surrounded with friends that rush toward you, to climb in the trenches and sit with you in your sorrow, or rejoice with great exuberance when celebration was in order?

In your husband alone, I’ve given you a best friend and confidant, a lover, a helper; and a wonderful father for your children, as well. In all the world, I chose him for you, so that you would never feel lost, orphaned, alone again.

My daughter, if you would just realize this … maybe you would be lifted up. Maybe you could be a bit of a “gratitudey– Judy” – ya think? (I knew you’d get a kick out of that one!)

Let things go that do not matter, look around you and realize what you really do have.

And if you do… if you really see it, your epiphany might help me to have the best Father’s Day ever.
I love you.

Abba