Gratitude, intentionally

By:  Jana Greene

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. – John Milton

I don’t know what I would do without everyday epiphanies.

In recovery circles, they are called “aha!” moments…those times when things suddenly make sense just a little bit.  My favorite brand of “aha!” moments are the ones of reverent, intentional gratitude.

Yesterday, my husband and I visited with some old friends at the beach.  It was – at the risk of sounding dramatic – as perfect a day as I’ve ever had.  We hoisted beach chairs to the water’s edge and talked for hours about how fast our babies grew up, about all of the things that surprised us about parenting (a lot!)  We swam in the salty sea and snacked on chips with homemade salsa.  And spent the evening having dinner on the back porch, which overlooked the marshes.  We shared so much laughter, our cheeks ached.

Several times, I reached over to touch my good friend, because I felt so blessed by her that I wanted to make sure she was real!  God loves on us through his other children….Aha!

On the drive home, I held my husband’s hand, which is not at all unusual.  But we locked fingers like we have a thousand times before and I thanked the Lord for this perfect fit.  And that prayer led to gratitude for all of the other ways I love my husband.  I can’t count all of my blessings if I don’t start with “one” ….Aha!

Washing my sandy feet in the tub before bed, I considered the events of the day.   I thought about friendship – and said a quick prayer to let the Father know I appreciated his orchestrating those relationships.  I smiled, thinking of the ocean and complimented Him on His handiwork.  I couldn’t remember a day in recent history in which I’d felt so humbled by blessing, so full of gratitude.  It isn’t because I’m not blessed; it’s just that worry has been renting the space in my head that joy rightfully owns.  Worry is a destructive tenant, opposite of thankfulness in every way.

God is always bestowing gifts big and small to us, but sometimes I don’t encounter grateful-ness because life is full of not-so-wonderful days, chock full of them.  Things seem to go wrong more often than right, and days are not often even close to perfect.

I know that we are not here to be blessed, but to bless. But I also think God gets tickled when we notice the things that we, ourselves, cannot take credit for – the things we shouldn’t take credit for that change forever how we experience life and the world.  It takes almost no time at all to say “thank you” but it can change the whole trajectory of mind-set.

Being truly thankful makes sense of things, I think.

Aha!

 

From Outside of the Circle: My 50th Blog Post

By:  Jana Greene

Observations from Outside of the Circle

A Writer Looks at 50 First Blog Posts

My dear friend, Liz, and I were at the beach, watching her six-year-old son play.  He had found a long stick of driftwood and was using it to draw a tight circle around himself in the sand.  When he was done, he sat down in the center, knees drawn up to his chest.

“It keeps the monsters out,” he said, matter-of-factly.  With the imagination of a child, he enjoyed the safety of his circle.  Pleased with himself, pleased with the illusion that he was safe…that although he could get out, nobody else could get in.  It reminded me of writing.

I don’t think I’ve ever written every day for fifty days in a row before.  Even though it’s my passion, I’m too wonky and inconsistent to employ the self-discipline.  But today, as I write the 50th blog post for The Beggar’s Bakery, I am keenly aware that I have so much to learn about the craft.

Learning be true to my own story. God didn’t give me a love for writing so that I can be someone else’s mouthpiece.  I’m working on the bad habit of second-guessing myself all of the time.

Learning to be as honest as I can.  This is difficult, because when I write in my most honest voice, I will potentially offend/shock/elate/disappoint/inflame/inspire/make nauseous any number of friends and strangers.

 Learning to treat heavy subject matter with gentle care.   Addiction, rejection, the difficult aspects of parenting and marriage, self-condemnation and the theology of grace.  And that could be the combined topic for any given Tuesday.  “Keeping it real” may help someone in a similar situation know that they are not alone.  At the very least, it helps keep me humble, sober and realistic.

Learning to appreciate the writing community.   I have gotten to know other writers who, much like sponsors in recovery, love to encourage new bloggers.   They are amazingly, selflessly supportive.

Learning to let others IN.  Anyone who has battled addictions knows that you protect your secret with your life, until it becomes your entire life to protect it.  By it’s very nature, alcoholism demands keeping others out.  It just makes sense to me, then, that recovery means letting others in. 

At some point during the past 50 days, I realized that I don’t want to live in a tight little circle anymore; writing to be pleased with myself, pleased with the illusion that I am safe…. that although I can get out, nobody else can  get in.   That self-drawn circle is cramped and predictable, and the edges are the same in every direction.   Writing is stepping out of self-preservation in order to let others in.  It is running full on- to the sand, inviting others to join me, even though the tide keeps rearranging the landscape.

Constantly rearranging it.

And what about the monsters that the circle was supposed to keep out?

Honestly, none of my monsters has ever respected my boundaries anyway.

To be Big-Souled (and Beachfront)

By:  Jana Greene

There is a scene in the Movie, “The Bucket List” in which Jack Nicholson‘s character, Edward, and Morgan Freeman’s character, Carter, are flying in a private plane over the polar ice cap.  Both terminally ill, they engage in a conversation in which Carter waxes about the beauty of the night sky and the ice and ocean below, giving God credit for its splendor.

“It’s indescribably beautiful,” he says.  “Really one of God’s good ones.”

And Edward, dry and skeptical, barely glances out of the window from above his bifocals.  He describes the same starry landscape as “desolation”.

“I envy people who have faith,” he says.  “I just can’t get my head around it.”

Carter’s reply:  “Maybe because your heads’ in the way.”

I love this scene, because it is relatable.  I can certainly relate to Carter’s appreciation for what is Creation.  But I’ve also felt like Edward –although he was a very wealthy and intelligent businessman – in that  faith seems the single luxury he cannot afford.  He wants to believe, but he has absorbed too much of what the world has to offer, and what the world says makes sense. 

There are things so beautiful in this world that they make no sense at all.

My “polar ice cap” is the beach.  Having lived within 15 minutes of the shore for a dozen years now, setting my eyes on the sea is still exhilarating for me, and searching the sand for treasures is still a Zen-like experience to my spirit.  Scanning the edge where the water meets the land, I watch carefully as the waves deliver shells with every flow and suck them back out with every ebb.  It is an endlessly different place every time I visit, and I like suprises.

Years ago, I was fascinated with the process of the tides.  Why does the moon pull and push at the seas?  How did the ancients know enough to produce charts in advance of tides and navigate dangerous waters?

The science was fascinating to learn, but it didn’t help me to enjoy the beach.  The more I researched, the less I reveled in the mystic marriage of water and earth.  Believing that if I could understand something, I would  appreciate it even more is exactly opposite  tenant of faith.  I appreciate the One who made it in order to understand His nature, not nature in general.  It was missing the point entirely.

He is my Father.  I know Him personally.  The world tells us not to be “small minded”.  I try to remind myself not to be “small-souled”.  It isn’t that what can be proven is unimportant; it’s just that He is so much BIGGER than that.

Look at a single sea shell… Is the intricate design a happy evolutionary accident, or one of the millions of ways God pays attention to detail?

A pearl may have started as an errant grain of sand, but who decided that it would not remain a grain of sand?  (As an errant child of God’s, I especially appreciate that His penchant for making beauty out of randomness and mistakes.)

Google and Wikipedia can tell you what makes a sunset over the river red, pink and orange…but there is no textbook answer for why the colors just happen to be so pleasing to us.

Human beings can break down the chemical make-up of the oceans, but the depths of it are still more mysterious than known.  Do we even make the correlation between the vastness of the seas and diversity of the life living in it to a Supreme Creator, or do our heads get in the way?

Sometimes, my head gets in the way, too.

It’s easy for me to remember that God is present in the creation when stroll by the seaside admiring His handiwork. I know that without Him, the greatest majesty on this planet is only desolation.  Sometimes, that I go to the seaside to remind myself that God is present in the creation that is my life, too. That He is still in charge…that He is, indeed, ‘in the details.’

I forget that I am “indescribably beautiful” to Him.  And you are, too.

Really one of God’s good ones; you can afford to have faith in that.

Band of Mothers

This week, as I celebrate the birthdays of my friends Cris and Liz, I am posting today’s piece in honor of them, and in honor of our friendship.  I love you, girls!

By:  Jana Greene

My friend Liz and I had signed up for the “Gymboree” class together.  Gymboree was kind of a “Mommy and Me” class for moms and their babies to meet and play.  She and I were fledgling friends back then;  our husbands worked with one another and our daughters were born six months apart.  When her Caroline was a newborn, already lithe and lean, I would bring Alexandra over to visit and we would sit on the sofa and drink International Delight Coffees and breastfeed our babies while we got to know each other.   It’s been nearly twenty years now, and we’ve been talking ever since.

We met our friend, Cris, at the same  Gymboree class.  Her son Billy was a blonde, blue-eyed doll of a boy, the same age as our girls.  Cris, a sweet and gentle, maternal spirit, found her identity in being a mom, too.

The three of us took our babies all over the ” Mom Circuit” in those early days, which is to say we frequented Chuck E. Cheese, the toddler program at the local library, and a human gerbil-maze called “Owlberts”.  We chased our kids through every park in Raleigh, including our favorite one,  Pullen Park, which has a real train to ride and the kind of ancient, metal playground equipment that we had played on ourselves as kids.   We taught our toddlers how to swim at public pools on sweltering summer days, and met at the mall to feed the kids at the food court on the chilly winter ones.  At  one-another’s houses, the host-mom would often serve lunch sandwiches cookie-cuttered into stars and hearts, or chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.  The kids would play and fight and run and nap together.  And we moms were bonding, too.

We three just “clicked”.  Cris and I were brand-new at this parenting thing, but Liz had a five-year-old son as well, so we  looked to her for advice.    The three of us  were stay-at-home moms with beautiful new babies, and truly – it just doesn’t get any better than that.

It was becoming apparent that the three children were individuals; that there was something to the “nature” portion of “nature vs. nurture.  As they grew, their personality traits surfaced a bit, showing us a glimpse of who they were born to be.   Caroline, the quietes,t was the most driven to succeed at building a Lego tower or stringing the best macaroni necklace.  Billy had a competitive streak, and was all about the playing games, and being outdoors.   Alexandra was all about the  dress-up, creating some of the most interesting outfits, and talking the whole time.  She was bossy and extroverted, and strived to be the center of attention.

Still, we moms had tons in common.  We built relationships with one-another beyond play groups and potty-training.  Beyond sharing recipes for homemade play dough, our friendships were about sharing life, albeit with a lot of interruptions.

Most of the conversations we had with children present were stuccatoed with motherly reprimands: “I know, it is so hard to find a babysitter who NO, ALEXANDRA-YOU PUT THAT DOWN….  BILLY WAS PLAYING WITH IT FIRST you can trust and who GET THAT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!  WHAT IN THE WORLD? Has good references….”

Or tinged with worry, about what is “normal”:

“She has had a fever for days now, and the antibiotics aren’t touching it.”

Or with our heads cocked with “Awwwww!” at the cutest things they did;  Liz ever-ready with a camera, recording those moments.

One summer, Cris invited Liz and I (and our now nearly 2- year- olds) to her mother’s beach house a few hours away.   It remains to this day  one of my favorite beach trips of all time.  Cris had a daughter now, too, and she was only a few months old.  We swam with the kids in the pool and sang Raffi songs, played in the waves, and while the toddlers were getting drowsy watching Barney VHS tapes (ad nauseum) and napping, we ate chips with Cris’s homemade salsa and had glasses of chardonnay and talked without much interruption.

We- this Band of Mothers – forever linked by the sweet years of our children’s babyhoods, and the saltiness of the ocean.

A few months later, we met  met one afternoon at the local McDonald’s to let the kids blow off some steam at the new playground.  While the cultural phenomenon (and germ receptacle) of the “ball pit” was not new, it was new to us and new to our town.  There, I told Liz and Cris the great news that  that I was pregnant.  Six months later, I had my second daughter, Ashleigh.  And what couldn’t possibly get any better, got so much better.

And deep inside, I think we knew this, and feared it – that these were the best parenting years; the easiest ones.  We felt like we knew what we were doing to some degree, and we suspected that it would not always be the case.

Shortly afterwards,  some major life-changes happened in quick succession.  The children, who had gone to preschool together for years, started different Kindergartens and I homeschooled Alexandra for school.  Soon after that, me, my girls and their father moved a few hours away from Raleigh, to the beach.   Goodbyes were hard, but we kept in touch for awhile.

Our kids did not.

Christmas cards each year told a little about our friends in Raleigh.  Photos of grade-schoolers missing front teeth, shots of Billy in his Football jersey, Caroline in dance recitals.  And later, in the awkward adolescent years, reluctant siblings posed together in family photos near the Christmas tree, faces sprinkled with a little acne.  The next year, new hairstyles and more genuine smiles.  Eventually, they morphed into  the young adults that we didn’t realize they would be.   Strangers with the inclinations of our babies, but so different from who they were nearly two decades ago.

Christmas card snapshots tell you so precious little.

It would be over ten years before the three of us and our children would reconnect, gathering once again at the beach for a reunion.  There was awkwardness among the kids, for the simple reason that they were virtually strangers.   They scarcely remembered spending their earliest days at the park together, finger-painting pictures in preschool for each other.

But we remember it.  We, this Band of Mothers, now in our mid to late 40’s, we remember it all.

We remember when the biggest issue our child could  face on a given day might be sitting in the  “time-out” chair for refusing to share.  We remember agonizing over choosing the right chewable vitamin, and getting the little ones signed up for the best Vacation Bible School each summer.

We remember laughing at the antics of our beloved babies in what would indeed turn out to be the best and  easiest parenting years.

And sharing our innermost thoughts about motherhood with each other without fearing judgment, the truest measure of a good friend.

Since those easy days, each of us has been thrown he inevitible curve-ball or two.  I am divorced from my daughters’ father, and I’ve also been sober for 11 years from the alcoholism that nearly killed me – the alcoholism that I hid from my dearest friends across the miles because of shame.  Each of us has lost loved ones during the many years we were apart; there were medical issues that presented themselves in each of our lives to be dealt with.

And the kids?

The Dancer; Caroline….still the quietest, lithe, lean, driven and successful.

The Handsome Jock; Billy…still a blonde, blue-eyed doll– in a rugged, manly way, of course.

And Alexandra, the Free Spirit…still the chatty, opinionated spitfire she ever was.

They grew and challenged boundaries, and found low-grade trouble to get into, and learned the consequences.  They made good choices and and soared, made poor choices and gave us all gray hair.  One of them got a tattoo (mine, of course) and one of them got into an excellent out-of-state university  (Billy), and one has also gone to university and  found so much success as a Dancer that I won’t be surprised if she becomes a Rock-ette in New York City.

But I think the biggest change in nearly 20 years of friendship for the three of us is this:  Our faith has gone from being a minimally-important in our lives, to an absolute necessity on a daily basis where our kids are concerned.  Whereas we would think to pray bedtime prayers with them when they were small, each of us Mothers has a deep, abiding trust in Jesus Christ and we cover our kids with prayer continually.  We were right back in the day:  we wouldn’t always know what we were doing as parents.

And this deepened faith has also deepened our bond to one-another, Liz, Cris and I.  We are A Band of Mothers not just for a season.  We supported each other through the play date years, and enjoyed one-another’s company.  We thought we knew our children intrinsically, and helped each other out with advice.  But now, I see the three of us for who we really are:  A Band of Mothers sharing a friendship for a lifetime, supporting each other through the really difficult times (should Caroline move to NYC to dance?  Billy wants to go out of state to University!  Good Lord, Alexandra finally went and got her nose pierced), through marriage crisis, through health scares, and diagnoses, and through crises of our very identities as Moms.

Who are you, really, once the kids are out of the nest.  Who are we now?

We are meeting at the beach again this year, to enjoy one-another as who we are now, all these many years later.  Because we are not just a Band of Mothers, but a band of Sisters in Christ, and friends on a level that many do not understand.  On a level that I, myself, don’t even understand.

We will talk – uninterrupted now – about sharing new recipes, about sharing life.  We will still wonder “What is normal?” but perhaps less frantically.  Frantic takes energy that we don’t have as much of now, so we try to hand it off to God, having learned that we can’t handle it.

We- this Band of Mothers – forever linked by the sweet years of our children’s babyhoods, and the saltiness of the ocean.

Forever linked by one-another.

It just doesn’t get any better than that.

To Thine Own Self be True?

 

We’ve all heard the old adage

“To thine self be true”

But I say NO to that baggage…

I’ve seen what My Self can do

I love the verse in Romans that asks the simple question, “With God on our side, how can we lose?”  It reminds me that God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for me, exposing Himself to the worst of humanity in order to save me.  What could possibly even attempt come between the love of God and me?

Me.

I cringe when I think of some of the things I’ve done in the past.  You see, I am my own worst enemy.

In my life as an active addict, I used alcohol as a numbing agent to quiet my anxiety.  It started off innocently, but ended in the near-destruction of my body  and mind.  Yet the worse byproduct of my drinking was that it anesthetized the  quiet, divine stirrings that  my Father in Heaven was sending.  He was loving me, trying to tell me He loved me.  I chose numbness over relationship in order to keep my sickness alive.  In countless small ways, I shut God out, preferring to get “my way”. 

Before long,  there seemed to be a pattern with “my way”.   It always ended in destruction, and then surrender to God.  What if my pattern were to become taking all matters – big and small – to Him, and bypass the whole “destruction” phase altogether? 

I’ve been sober 11 years, but I’m still a work in progress.

“To thine own self be true,” ends, ironically, in my self-destructive behaviors.

People ask me sometimes when I knew it as time to stop drinking.  I’m never quite sure how to answer them, because I knew the first time I took a drink and thought, “If I can feel like this all of the time, I’d be crazy NOT to stay drunk”.  That warm buzz?  I loved that sensation….I really loved it.  At first, I tolerated the destructiveness because it felt so good.  Years went by, and by that time I realized it didn’t help with the anxiety anymore,  I needed it in order to stop the shaking in my hands.   The shaking in my spirit. 

And prayer?  I’d stopped praying altogether, because of the mess I’d made of my life.  I was embarrassed before God Himself, ashamed that I couldn’t control this thing, this one thing.  That is how insidious my disease is.  I was turning yellow, sick and retching, but I just couldn’t let it go.  I wanted desperately to be a good mother, but that facade was breaking apart.  I couldn’t get sober for my kids, for my job,  or for my life. 

One cold January evening, I walked to the harbor near our house, and sat on the bulkhead.  I always felt the Creator a little closer near the water.  I told God that I couldn’t do this anymore, that I’d made a mess of everything.  I shouted at Him for not saving me from myself, and warned him that if I had to live without drinking, He may as well take me home now because I couldn’t give it up.   I cried for my children, who were four and seven at the time.  For two hours, my cares and worries spilled out in racking sobs until I had said everything.  I ended the rant of my soul by telling the Almighty that He had to meet me in that place because I couldn’t take another step. 

Essentially, I said, “Ok, God….You said you are enough to get me through this.  You said your grace is sufficient.  Show me your grace, then!”  I’m not proud that a challanged God, but thats what I said.

The sun had set by this time,  and all was quiet.  I half-expected a light to beam from heaven, but instead, something better happened.  I felt His Spirit gather me into the lap of his unfathomable grace and hold me there.  I felt so incredibly small, like a much beloved child.   I cried for a long time in the lap of Jesus.  “What took you so long?”  He seemed to say.  “I love you so much.”

It was January 3rd, 2001.  I was a captive set free.

Of course, it was no easy task to get sober, or to stay sober.  It was very hard work, but every day, God extended His help, His supernatural-ness to me as I needed it; not ahead of time, mind you.  But enough for each day.  He is faithful every day, one day at a time.

My addictive personality didn’t change, although I have a healthy dis-trust of it now.   I ask God to use the good stuff within me to tell others what He did for me, and to help me overcome the bad stuff within me so somebody might actually listen and receive his help, too.  

 Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us?  Theres no way!  Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins found in scripture

That’s  what God says about it.  Still not convinced? 

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.  I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing dead or living, angelic or demonic – today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely NOTHING can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. – Romans 8:31-39 (The Message)

I tried to drive a wedge, but I failed.  He loved me still.  Now I ask for His will for my life, and try to get out-of-the-way of it. 

“Lord, your will…not mine,” is my prayer.

I’ve seen what “myself” can do.

Small, Deliberate Wonders

By:  Jana Greene

Yesterday was the kind of day that makes up for so many others.  It made up for the stressful ones, the days filled with worries.  It was the kind of day that seemed lovely in a very non-random way.  A day of a hundred small and deliberate wonders.  Lovely by design.

I just happened to leisurely sleep in, and then took my time having my coffee.  Bob and I decided to take a trip to the beach (okay…”trip” may be overstating it, we live 15 minutes from the shore) and we just happened to find a good parking place.  I held his arm walking onto the warm sand, so it was no problem to navigate the terrain in my orthopedic boot,  and there just happened to be a surfing competition at the beach access we parked nearest.  We spread an old, flowered comforter out on the sand to claim our spot and watched the surfing while sharing a bags of Munchos potato chips and M&Ms candies, which just happens to be the best salty / sweet combo ever. 

The sun was in and out of hazy clouds, but not oppressive with its heat.  My husband and I alternated between lazy conversation and occasional PG-13 make-out sessions.  He walked me down to the water two times, which took forever because I was bootless then and could not  put much weight on the broken leg, and we stood in the chilly waters together while the water washed the wound.  Saltwater just happens to be a wonderful antiseptic.   

When we  got home, we ate cheeseburgers with so many toppings – blue cheese and pickles,  and mustard, lettuce and cheese  (of course) that  it took four napkins just to get the condiments off of my face and from between my fingers.  We watched the movie “Tower Heist”, which was good but not great, but WHO CARES?  We had a lovely time, a time totally devoid of stress or worry.

Then, he and I, sunburned and satiated with full bellies and chilled-out minds, went to bed at the same time that our teenaged daughters were going out for a night on the town, and for once, we were glad to be the old  fogey parents settling in, cozy.  The dog was  lying on the floor of our bedroom, and the cat was asleep at the foot of the bed, and neither launched  an attack  in the usual bedtime turf war.  (See?  Small and deliberate wonders!)  I fall asleep holding my husband’s hand,  so glad that he and I just happen to be perfect for one another.

We are perfect for one-another in a very non-random  sort of way.  Lovely by design.