The “Seven Little Action Words” Blog Series

EstherBy: Jana Greene

Leaning.
Falling.
Listening.
Risking.
Trusting.
Rising.
Living.

The last few weeks have been pretty squirrely for me and my family. We had been prayerful about a number of things, hoping they would just change already. And for a long time, nothing changed.  It was if God were purposefully being silent, and it seemed a little spiteful. I forget sometimes that He works ALL things to the good, not just the things on my “Honey Do” God list.

While divine appointments were happening behind the scenes, I made a regular appointment to meet with some divine people in my church. Depression was creeping in like unholy Kudzu, and I know these believers, so strong in faith that they seem tethered to this world only by a cleat of love, would machete that shit right out. I am not being profane – that’s what depression feels like. It’s gotta go.

We met, and they listened. Words that began with a sputter started flowing, as did the tears. I know that in that brief time where two or more of us were gathered in Jesus’ name, powers of darkness were bound, joy was released, and trust was installed. I am ever so grateful that I have a place to go where I am embraced not for my potential as a Christian, but for the person whom Abba truly sees me as. I don’t really have to try so hard. But sometimes I still do. I am learning.

The silence – what I had interpreted as God’s silence – was His quiet machinery doused in the oil of Holy Spirit (that’s why there wasn’t a ruckus going on where I could sense it.) As cogs and wheels turn in a direction that is favorable to us – His most beloved creation – I started thinking about writing again.

When will I learn? He is always forever working things for my good. He is not out to punish me or remind me where I fall short. He is never, ever spiteful. His ways, so much higher than my own, are not subject to human limitation.

In the past few weeks, I have blogged nary a word, but all the while God was instilling words into my spirit. Seven, to be precise.

Leaning. Falling. Listening. Risking. Trusting. Rising. Living. One word for each day of the week; one word for each action I’m currently being asked to undertake. I’ve no idea what ideas it will manifest. I only know I am supposed to write a series about each of the words over the next week.

What will the Creator of the Universe reveal to my puny little brain? More than it can hold, as it pours over into the spirit. And hopefully, into your spirit, too. I have much more use for spiritual truth these days than nuggets of academic matter.

In your squirreliest hour, He is working all things for your good, behind the scenes. Quietly.

Half Measures Avail us Nothing: How rigorous honesty and fellowship help avert relapse

68206a0ca12711e19dc71231380fe523_7People in recovery continue to amaze me. They are some of my very favorite people, because they have a high compassion level coupled with a low judgement level. One of my friend, J, is like that. He is brave and in love with Jesus in a way that just scours the complications of sobriety and salvation clean. When you meet such a person, you feel you can scale that pillar of recovery that can be the hardest to keep firm – rigorous honesty.

I emailed him today: “Do you know where I can hit a meeting tonight?”
And he emailed me right back: “What’s up?”

I told him that I’m struggling. The past few months have been super emotional and crazy….a cruel mixture of extreme change and boredom of mediocrity, both. I’m not sleeping well. I’m cranky about things out of my control. Experiencing health challenges. My kids are grown now, and my purpose has shifted. I feel depression tugging on my sleeve and anxiety strangling me with it. And all the while, I’m feeling a little guilty because I’m a follower of Christ and THIS IS NOT WHAT TRUSTING LOOKS LIKE.

And in the midst of emotional turmoil, a thought popped in to my head, smooth and serpentine.

“I’m just going to move,” I told myself, emotions rising. “I’m going to move far away from here and leave everything and go where nobody knows I’m an alcoholic. And I’m going to drink. I’m going to have a whole bottle of wine.”

What a very alcoholic thought! Lose it and leave it – to gain an hour of oblivion, just to be out of my skin for a temporary stay. Perhaps not even one hour – a time that would be followed with heaps of shame.

The thought – a skilled assassin….poised on the edge of my clean time – ready to take my sobriety out.

Nevermind that God has graced me with fourteen very good sober years now.

Nevermind that my life is – my all accounts, including mine  – a really good life.

Nevermind that I’ve cultivated friendships and recovery partners.

Or that I would be dead, had I not gotten into recovery in 2001.

How cunning and baffling the disease of addiction is. You can be trucking along, and BAM! That’s why we must be on our guard.

I told J about my assassin thought. I thought about glossing over the messier points, but I shared my heart honestly, because I figure that assassins who are called out into the open are less likely to get off a clean shot.

“I know exactly how you feel,” he wrote. “ I’ve had those same thoughts. And I wasn’t even really in a bad place or anything. My mind just always defaults back to my old ways.The good news is you are aware of it and want to get to a meeting.”

It is a fact of chemistry that we addicts are wired differently. Our default is so often continuing the old behaviors that never really worked in the first place. Rigorous honesty can be tough.

“The best possible news any of us can hear,” continued J, ” is that the God of the universe put on skin and walked the earth. And while He was here He went through what we went through – he was tempted, in many respects just like us. Worse actually…worse, because He is GOD. He can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants. I mean really, how tempting must it have been to not just say ‘Pfft, forget this. I can fix it all, and I’ll start by erasing Satan from history.’ But he didn’t. He resisted the temptation, and used His own written word to do it.”

People in recovery are some of my favorite people.

“And we have Jesus,” he reminded me.”The absolute best possible sponsor – which falls so insanely short in describing Him – living inside of us! He is alive, and He completely understands our struggle because He came here and went through it. That is absolutely mind blowing! And the only reason I still have hope, is because all of that is 100% fact.”

Brave and in love with Jesus. Like I said, scoured clean.

Assassination averted.

Addiction has a sort of timelessness to it. A day is a thousand years and a thousand years is a day. I don’t rely on ‘clean time’ to keep me clean for that reason.
I rely on Christ.  And on others walking the same path. Others who are willing to say “What’s up?”

So, I’m saying…sharing honestly, because there is healing and fellowship in vulnerability.

I’m in a messy place. But I won’t always be in a messy place. While I’m in the midst of it, I stay put. I gather with my tribe and drink coffee in fellowship halls, asking God for help just as I have for 14 years, knowing that He will help – every time.  He has not dropped me on my ass yet, even as I often try to wriggle free of his grasp. I will use God’s written word to resist temptation. He knows exactly how I’m feeling and doesn’t love me any less, emotional basket case as I may be.

That’s 100% fact.

Asking for help is what trusting looks like. Yeah, I think asking for help is sometimes what trusting looks like.

“HOW IT WORKS” AA Big Book pg. 58:

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of beng honest with themselves. …. At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of
us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. Remember that we deal with alcohol- cunning, baffling, powerful!  Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”

MORE

more

Father, Son and Holy Ghost
We’re the ones you love the most.
It’s only in You that we boast,
But Abba, we want more.

Over all and under none,
Not by our might, but what you’ve done
The battle has been fought and won,
But we want more of You.

When we worship and adore
In our pews (and on the floor)
Until our hearts can take no more,
We want more of You.

Your presence like a gentle breeze
Is a prompt, a holy tease
Of what will bring us to our knees,
More and more of You.

You made the earth, the moon, the stars,
And still make time to heal our scars
Freeing the prisoner from iron bars
But Abba, we want more.

Radical Savior, we seek your face
An avalanche of holy Grace
To overflow, fill every space
With more and more of You.

Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End,
Counsel, Provider, Redeemer and Friend
Calling out torn hearts to mend.
Give us more of You.

Drench us in your Spirit sweet
From the top of our heads to the soles of our feet,
Only then are we complete.
More and More of You.

 

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” – Luke 11:13 (MSG)

Go Boldly, and Forgiven – Guest Blog by Chris Canuel

Hi, readers…long time no “see.”

Since life is a bit crazy for me right now (which almost guarantees a manic spree of future post writing – stay tuned!) I am delighted to welcome my friend and fellow author Chris Canuel as Guest Blogger for today. I’ve never hosted a guest blogger before, but his work always speaks to my heart. He writes about what matters, with a lot less freaking out and spillage of raw emotion. His writing is, shall we say, “refined” and I love it. I really enjoyed this one – because I feel guilty about feeling guilty – or not guilty enough – on the daily.

If you enjoy this post, check out his blog at http://www.StrivingWithGod.com, or any of his books available on Amazon.

Author Chris Canuel
Author Chris Canuel.

I was at work the other day (and not having a particularly good day) when I found myself being rude to a customer. Not overtly rude, mind you…but still rude enough to get the point across that I was not happy with this particular customer. I’m not sure why though, just as the transaction with this customer was completed, I looked at her and wondered what was going on with her day.
I asked myself why this customer might be annoying me so. Why did the customer seem so distracted? Why did I care so much? Was it really going to kill me if this transaction took two minutes – as opposed to a minute and a half?
I actually found myself feeling rather guilty. I found myself thinking this is a person created in the image of God. This is a person Jesus cares about. How would Jesus have treated her?
Yes…all of this happened in span of no more than two minutes.
As I caught myself thinking these thoughts – and realized how rude I was being – and how contrary it was to the way of Christ, I tried to correct myself and be overly nice to this person. I’m sure she thought I was the Jekyll and Hyde cashier. She eventually went on her merry way, completely unaware of the mental and spiritual dialogue that had taken place in my mind.
I thought about this moment for the next several hours … feeling guilty and was beating myself up. I asked myself, “Did Jesus go to the cross so that you could act this way? Is this how you are supposed to live your life in light of the cross? Jesus didn’t die so you could treat people, created in his image in this way. Is this the way I am supposed to live in light of the cross?” I think began to ponder all of the ways in which I am supposed to live in light of the cross. And then it hit me.
Stop beating yourself up. Jesus did in fact go to the cross, and your sins are covered. You are forgiven. The weight of my sin on this particular day was lifted from my shoulders. I started contemplating the beauty of the cross and the riches we have in Christ. I was humbled and amazed by the many facets of what it means to live my life in light of the cross. I was stunned by the grace of God poured out through Christ.
So what does it mean, “…to live your life in light of the cross?” Why is it so stunning?
First of all, the cross of Jesus is a picture of amazing love. As we ponder the love of God displayed by Jesus, we should be moved to love like Jesus. If in our sinfulness God still loved and loves us, how can we not choose to show love to our fellow sinners? Not out of obligation, but so that we can also show them how Jesus loves. Our lives as Christians should be lives defined by love. Our desire should be to make everyone aware of this amazing love that we’ve been shown. This happens as we put this love on display. Jesus loves us in spite of all of our faults and failures. This being true, we must love others in the same way.
This leads to the next point. Even when we mess up, Jesus still loves us. Even when I was treating this customer poorly, Jesus loved me. Jesus died for my rudeness. My sins are ALL covered by the cross. I’m forgiven. Because of this fact, I don’t need to dwell on this sin. I’m free to move on. Does this mean I don’t think about my sin? I don’t think so. I think we should mourn over sin…because I believe God does. God desires holiness from His people…yet, we have this holiness in Christ. Therefore, even though we acknowledge our sin, we don’t stay there mired and wallowing in guilt. We can go boldly, proclaiming that we are forgiven.
We could continue to analyze this from all angles (the many facets of the cross are far more than what can be put forth in any blog post) but I can sum up this point like this:
Because of the cross, we have the responsibility AND the freedom to love others, in spite of all of their sins and failures. Also, because of the cross, we can know that even when we aren’t doing this perfectly, God still loves us in spite of all of our sins and failures.
For those of us who have experienced and known the unbelievable love and mercy of God, we don’t have to live defeated lives of guilt defined by our failure and sin. We can live lives of perpetual joy knowing that we are always loved and always accepted by God. What can be better than that?
This truth is what defines us as believers. Because we are loved much, we love much. Because we are forgiven much, we forgive much. And even when we don’t, we are no less loved or forgiven.
How freeing is that?
How wonderful is that?
Now, let’s go and enjoy the rest of our day, the rest of our lives even, resting in these marvelous truths and resting in this unbelievable love and mercy of God.

EDGWISE for Kindle Free through June 28

Okay, folks….I am running a promotion for EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God.

It is a FREE Kindle download, via Amazon for the next few days. I pray my story will bless someone out there!

Just click on the link below, and choose “Read it for free.”

God bless us, everyone.

FREE KINDLE COPY

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

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.

EDGEWISE book giveaway time!

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

It’s book giveaway time again! I am happy to announce that two copies of my recovery memoir, “EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God” will go to winners in the http://www.goodreads.com giveaway event. The deadline to enter the contest is July 20.

It’s easy to enter, and there is no obligation whatsoever.

To enter, CLICK HERE.

God bless you!

 

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

68206a0ca12711e19dc71231380fe523_7

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

 

Losing my Religion

The truth will set you free. But first it's going to be pretty uncomfortable.
The truth will set you free. But first it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable.

By: Jana Greene

I have been reading “Mystical Union” by John Crowder. And it is wrecking me, absolutely wrecking me. If you are a Seeker, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Getting wrecked can be a good thing.

“It will turn everything you believe on its ear,” I was told by the person who suggested I read it. “In the best possible way.”

Oh, goody. Because everything I believe is all that I know. And I know so little, really.

The word “mystical” can be off-putting for Christians, although it shouldn’t be – you don’t get much more mystical that the Creator of the Universe becoming human to reconcile himself to his creation – Christianity 101. The whole thing is mystic to the core.  Still, I am rattled by what I am reading.

Among the  dozen or so ideas that have taken me aback – in the book I’m only half-way through with –  is Crowder’s assertion that  “God is never looking at your performance as the indicator of His pleasure toward you. So many people live on an emotional roller-coaster ride … ”

Raising hand, and wearing the promotional roller coaster T-shirt, nauseated from the marathon ride…

I am on a quest to lose my religion – religion being all  the spin that man has put on relationship with God through the ages – and turn down the noise of it, so that I can hear what God is really saying.

That we cannot fathom how much he adores us, every one of us.

That He is always in a good mood, not temperamentally mood-shifting, like we are.

That He is only always good.

That He is less the stern-but-loving Father-figure that churches have historically made him out to be….assessing our accomplishments and shortcomings – and more of a laid-back,  hippie-dippy, all-you-need-is-love (Christ), welcoming, tolerant Father – in a way that transcends all time, space, and reason.

(What if He isn’t even disappointed in me for comparing him to a hippie-dippy, all-you-need-is-love, welcoming, tolerant, Father and Creator  who transcends all time, space, reason with pure, unrelenting love?)

I usually invite a challenge, especially the kind in which I can easily prove the challenger wrong. But this time, I know the Challenger Himself is Almighty God, and He is  pulling me away from the idol of religion, and into Him. My weaponry of thin, papery religiousness powerless against His embrace of Truth.

He transcends all with pure, unrelenting love. He transcends the regulations, pontifications, rules – all the things we’ve made it about for more than 2,000 years. Surely he can transcend my own dirty deeds; my wonky quirks.

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant, when He uttered his last words, ” IT. IS. FINISHED.”

I don’t think I’ve ever grasped the finality of what happened at the crucifixion and resurrection of God. If it is  finished, the residual guilt and shame I keep picking up and hauling around is not my cross to bear– as I’ve always believed.  The grace I ask for and receive is not meant to counterbalance the heft of my shame. I do not receive grace by the bucket-full to douse the fire of each indiscretion – I am already drowning in it. So are you. The work of the cross was the catalyst for God to flood the world with grace.

Religion says that God swoops down and saves me from myself a thousand times a day, and that is what grace looks like. But the theology of Mystical Union says (and with scripture, I might add)  that we believers were co-crucified with Christ and in one swoop. God reconciled us to Him….

We can stop trying to make perfection happen. Perfection is not going to happen.

It is finished, period. Mind blowing.

Sometimes being a Seeker gives me a headache.

Religion says we are responsible for aspects of our salvation – ergo, we can turn the volume up or down on our spiritual speaker, tweak the boom of the bass, turn down the treble, change the center with the fader of our deeds and actions.

But God cannot be moved from Center. He is the Center. He is undeterred by the noise we create.

Fundamental to this spiritual epiphany is the idea that we are not “sinners saved by grace,” which I have – over the years – convinced myself was my identity. After many years of sobriety and much prayer, that had been the only conclusion.

But what if the work of the cross – that event in which Creator God heaved toward humankind with such love and power that it knocked the evil in us to the ground and buried it with Christ – was powerful enough to resurrect us in glory with Christ, while leaving evil in the grave?

What if God only sees us through the lens of his living, life-giving Son, and not as sinners wearing toe-tags that say “Admit One – Heaven.” I am going to have eternal life, yes. But I don’t want to slog out my existence here during my mission on Earth, not understanding and appreciating what my birthright truly  is. I want joy now too, please.

Hey, has  anyone seen my “everything I thought I believed?”

Oh, there it is – on the ground. On it’s ‘ear’

Wreck me, God. Wreck me.

I’m after Truth. Help me to accept it, and to share it with others as I walk the journey. I’m ready to be fully, 100% set free.

Amen.

Save

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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Praying Through the Desert – Jana Greene

Could be titled “Prayer in the desert” … Could be titled “VEGAS, BABY!”
A friend of mine, who happens to be a writer I admire very much,
asked me to guest blog. When I was trying to figure out what to write, I struggled a bit. He suggested that ‘prayer’ might be a good subject. I told him that I’m having a bit of a (as Christians are disposed to saying) Walking in the Desert prayer spell right now. Then I prayed about it a bit. Then I remembered a trip to Vegas. And then I wrote. The result is attached below.

Thanks, Chris Canuel, for the opportunity to guest write for your awesome blog.

And thanks, God, for reminding me of Vegas.

Striving With God

I’m so excited to have one of my favorite writers guest blogging for me today. Her name is Jana Greene and she blogs over at The Beggars Bakery. Jana is also the author of Edgewise: plunging off of the brink of drink and into the love of God. Be sure to check out both her blog and book. You won’t be sorry!

vegas prayer

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)…

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The Princess and the Plea: a Christ-follower explores true identity

 

Photo credit: Jana Greene
Photo credit: Jana Greene

I’ve been learning a lot about my identity in Christ lately. Through a series of events and sermons, experiences and words of knowledge – it has been presented to me that I am not, in fact, a sinner saved by grace, but a most-beloved daughter of Abba whose transgressions were nailed to the cross of my savior over 2,000 years ago.

It would behoove my spirit to believe that, to know it 100 percent. But I am really struggling with it. It took a long time for me – my sin-list dragging behind me everywhere I go like coattails – to accept that I am a sinner and a saint, both. …that there was any “saint” in me to be had.

I am, after all, a paradox. Like the Apostle Paul, I find myself doing what I do not want to, and not doing what I should. But I love Jesus with all my heart; it’s just I’m actually not Jesus; you would never in a million years mistake him for me.

My pastor just happens to be a man I respect very much – a man whose heart beats for God. He knocks around in the supernatural as if God had just poured it into his spirit to overflowing. That might be because God did – in fact – pour it into him. He is different; he is chosen – and humble and grateful. I want that supernatural walk, but my struggle with my identity in Christ is putting a damper on the manifestation of my faith.

I can believe – for 30 minutes in church – that I am an absolute princess, daughter of the most-high God; and as such, God sees me only through the filter of his son when he looks at me. He doesn’t see sin. God is – spiritually speaking – illiterate to my self-professed labeling. “Sinner,” “Alcoholic,” “Worrier,” “Selfish,” “Short-tempered,” “Moody,” “Judgmental.” All of these things about me are true, really. The truth is that I’d rather be all of these things, than to be “self righteous.”

For those 30 minutes in church, I will know that I am royalty – God’s own child – but I also know that – on my drive home from service that very day – I will curse at least a dozen other drivers in the ten minute drive home (under my breath if I’m really feeling holy.) I will have negative thoughts almost immediately, and ask Jesus to help me rein them in, and he will – but I will hesitate to let them go because I feel justified in thinking them. Because I have three young adult daughters (who sometimes make abysmal choices – where do they get that?)  I will worry about each of them, one at a time. Maybe I have had a lustful thought thrown in to the mix for some random reason, or entertained thoughts of how someone has wronged me, or beat myself up for a diet failure, or ….. Well, you get the picture. By the time I get home from church, I feel like a “Princess of God Gone Wild”  at the very least; certainly like a sinner, not so much like a saint. Like one of those princesses who cannot quite get the hang of it, or worse…makes the royal family look bad…brought shame upon the throne –  Apox opon ye!  That kind of thing. (My paparazzi of self-condemnation follows me everywhere, and catches every slip for the world to see…)

But what of the old adage I learned in recovery, “Feelings are not facts?” Am I living in regal-ity, or legality?

Hmmm.

What if the blood of Christ were powerful enough not only to save a wretch like me when I first believed, but cover all of the transgressions I am yet to be guilty of? What if I was royalty enough to cut off the coattails, leave the labels behind, and – and a daughter of the Most High God – accepted the supernatural to overflowing?

While these things sink into my spirit, and begin the (often long, treacherous) journey to my brain, I ask God to help me struggle less and trust more. And wear this crown that sits on my head ever-so-wonkily just now. And ask for him to see me through the filter of his son as I learn to be righteous in Him, and not in self. I want to knock around in the supernatural, overflowing with the same love and grace for others that has been given me.

Help me understand my birthright, God. And until I understand, hold the paparazzi at bay, in the name of your son, Jesus.

Amen.

Imperishable: What cancer cannot take

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But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” – 1 Cor. 15:54-57 (The Message)

I have a dear friend who lives many miles away, whose dear friend is dying from cancer. I’ve never met the woman suffering , but I have implored God to heal her. She is forty-four years old, in the prime of life – and until a few months ago –  expected that life to be a long, full one. My dear friend is brokenhearted. She tells me that her dear one is wasting away, tethered to IV to cords of fluids and nutrition, to buy her a few more days. In short, her earth suit has a very finite warranty, but the essence of who she is will break free of it and know no more pain.

The woman with cancer… she prayed for healing, and believed. Why is she not miraculously whole?

Life, and death. And Life.

Last night, while in fervent prayer for this cancer patient, I had a bit of a vision about the confounding cycle of life and death. God gives us what we need to make the journey, but only to make the journey. And then …. life everlasting.

Have you ever seen a picture of a human embryo floating in its mother’s dark womb? First-conceived babies are alien-esque; plump, pink, funny-looking things, tethered by a cord of fluid and nutrition. They look like little pods, really – and in fact, they are. Little pods of spirit poured under skin and over bone (or what will become bone –  the super neat thing about life in this stage is that the cells have intellect of sorts, they know where they are to go, and what they are to be, to become what the Creator deemed long ago they become.) Humans are transparent, at this stage …you can see through them; and from the moment their earth suits are crafted, they are destined to change the world.

Some say our bodies – our intricately designed, one-of-a-kind pods – are cosmic happenstance. But my faith isn’t big enough to believe that.

I say they give us form and physical function to make a journey. They are suits that enable us how to have an experience – simply put, how to learn to love God and love each other.  Our Creator pours us into them for this assignment, in which every nerve reaction puts forth a ripple, affecting the trajectory of the lives of every other journeyman. So when the essence of who we are breaks away from the pod, we are well-versed in love for the journey that is only beginning.

My friend’s friend is breaking away from her earth suit. Her form of life is transitioning, getting ready for another birth.  She is sallow now – yes, skin and bones. Her pod is worn-out from an insidious sickness. Her cells, which God once orchestrated into perfect harmony, are suffocated by cells that don’t belong there at all. They have lost their intellect.

But her spirit ? It is changing the world. Having set into motion shock-waves of love that will ripple long after her body has expired. She has gained enlightenment, because she was transparent with the world in her love for God – and others – on this crazy journey…  others who could only know love through the vehicle of her life.

She will live, and the cancer will die.

Just as she prayed, believing.

Life and death. And Life. And more life still.

Too Far Gone

“The Prodigal Son Returns: The Art of Soichi Watanabe,”
“The Prodigal Son Returns: The Art of Soichi Watanabe,

By: Jana Greene

www.thebeggarsbakery.net

Ever feel like you are just too far gone?

For a long time before experiencing my current spiritual  revival, I felt an awfully long way off from the Father.

I love the story of the prodigal son because I can relate to all three of the central characters.

I have been the prodigal child, returning to the father after making an absolute wreck of her life.

I have been the brother who did not think his father’s warm welcome of the long, lost brother was fair.

And as the mother of three teen and young-adult daughters, I have been the joyous  parent when a rebellious child returns home that I would gladly kill the fatted calf (or at least make a trip to Costco for a porterhouse steak) for her welcome.

But the most poignant thing about the story is this:

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.  But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then kill the fatted calf and  roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ Luke 15:20-24 (MSG)

While the son was still a long way off. The father did not stand on the porch, arms folded, waiting for his son to reach him.

So tonight – praying on my knees – I  told God that I was sorry for wandering such a  long way off  (as I am want to do from time to time) and that I was feeling pretty lousy about the low-grade effort toward my faith walk.  I’ve been giving it the old college try, but only half-heartedly, feeling like I’m slogging through a muddy rut.

But getting me out of muddy ruts is one of Abba’s specialties.

When I am truly a long way off –  in the throes of addiction, depression, anxiety – and feeling ‘too far gone,”  He simply cannot wait to hold  me. And nothing is sweeter than the embrace of the Father.

When the air (and mud) clears, it is the supernatural, unexplainable, un-containable  God, wildly in love with me.  The God that is not content to be the vague and angry character  we all learned about in  Vacation Bible School as children,  or the long-ago Messiah who turned a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish into a mass-meal.  But the radical, revolutionary of love itself that I want to walk close enough to to be covered in the dust of his sandals.

“My beloved daughter,” he is saying. “You were given up for lost – if only by yourself  ….and now you are  found!”

And this radical, revolutionary Savior who  sees me in various states of disrepair from a long way off,  running toward me  to pull me into a crazy embrace.

And I am 100%, all-in, too far gone in love with him to let go.

Permission to Land

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By: Jana Greene

I’ve been looking back on my very brief career in the airline industry recently,  not out of melancholy or nostalgia, but because so many of the terms I learned while training seem to relate to my current spiritual life.

You see, I’ve been in a bit of a funk, waiting upon the Lord to reveal his plans – and himself – to me.

“I’m ready, Lord,” I tell him, impatient that his timing so out of whack with mine.

But instead of instructing me on where to let the wheels down and make a descent, I am getting: “Circle back around, be patient.”

Life in a holding pattern, it seems, is not my forte.

And so I wait, trying to trust that the Pilot knows what He is doing. He has all the credentials, certified and able to direct the course of my life. This is not his first flight.  He knows his way around – the lay of the land, the circumstances of my life – since he is the mastermind of both.

He knows exactly where I’m going, and I don’t have a clue.  Not having an idea of my destination only adds to my frustration.

 “Thank you for flying blind with God today,” pre-flight announcements would say. If there were any. ” on your way to God-only-knows-where, for the purpose of God-only-knows-what.”

And that’s not where the air travel metaphor ends..

Right now, God is on the precipice of taking my life somewhere wonderful, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So many challenges have presented lately,  I feel like a Frequent Flyer who has earned the status as a hostage  – having experienced too may changes in a short period of time.

And most recently, I’m just  justthisclose  to a full-on Tarmac Tantrum, because there has been an inordinate amount of time just sitting in the plane without even getting off the ground. Confined, and feeling slighted, the whole situation out of my control.

I’m afraid of new journeys, and resent  the Comfort Compromise – even though the safety constraints are there for my  well-being, I’m tired of being all buckled-in.

But when we are soaring, God at the controls – and I take enough time to look out the window instead of trying to figure everything out,  the views are incredible.

“We are, once again, in a holding pattern,” I hear God’s voice crackle across the intercom.

“But you can still enjoy the view!”

Down through the clouds, I see the people milling around, as they become tiny ants on the ground. I stop to consider that my Pilot knows  every thought in the heads of each “tiny ant” –  and ever hair on each of their heads, so precious are them to Him.

I can’t help but admire his creation as we fly over,  knowing that the majesty of mountains and vastness of the sea  that confirms God’s handiwork is also manifest in the smallest cells and molecules .

He is in all. He IS all.

Why do I so often Miss that?

And as to directly answer my question, I hear:

“The Free Will sign is always illuminated,” my flight attendant – an angel – advises. “so feel free to move about your life.’

Ah, yes. The Free Will, so generously given us by God. That’s how I so often miss the things God shows me…my free will is busy focused on  other, more trivial pursuits.

As the Captain indicated that we will be descending shortly, he reminds us not to fear. “you may hear changes in the engine, or feel a little turbulence,  I’ve got this. I’ve got you.”

I’ve been flying in a holding pattern so long, I scarcely know what to do when Permission to Land has been directed. What shall I take with me into this new place where God has brought me?
The armor of God, of course. It’s really heavy, but absolutely essential.

His word, of course. It is how I will navigate my new surroundings.

Good friends, who have been through thick and thin, and love Christ with all of their hearts.

And faith. Never leave home without it!

And as I depart the plane, which has kept me hostage in a holding pattern for so long, God stops all of the important things he is doing to thank me for flying with him. Thank you for Trusting Him.

Stepping onto the concourse, the whole atmosphere changes, It is loud and bustling, full of people and full of opportunity. It is almost always a vastly different place than I thought I would end up.

But I know that my Pilot accompanies me on my missions every day of my life, even – especially – on a new, bumpy journeys.

It’s going to be wonderful.

Friendship – Sisters by Design

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C. S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

This letter is a gift to someone who is a gift to my life.  I asked her permission to publish it, to which she responded:

“You have full permission to publish it if you want—I hope it inspires others to have real friendships like ours!”

Amen, Sister-Girlfriend. The world would be a much better place.

My sweet Melissa,

Do you remember the first Christmas that we became friends? Our daughters – now freshmen in college – were fourth-graders who had just declared themselves Best Friends Forever. I was a struggling, single mom, just having divorced my children’s father after fourteen years of marriage. My little girl was having a terrible time.  I got her a good therapist, and tried to calm her fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded.

What she really needed was a very good friend. Your daughter was that very good friend to her.

It was a horrible, awful  time in my life. I was working four jobs to feed my girls after being a stay-at-home mom all of their lives. They became latch-key kids. I became a hot mess from the guilt.

When we first met, I was holding on to my four-year-old sobriety by a single thread, it seemed, and living on high anxiety. You invited me over anyway when the girls were having a play-date, serving coffee (and, I’m certain)  sweets.  You asked questions that nobody else had bothered to ask, and didn’t judge me when I answered honestly.

Sometimes when you stop trying so hard, God makes mystical things happen. Like our friendship.

At the time, you were wary of organized religion, and I was wary of everything. But in your guest bathroom, you had a display of decorative crosses. Every time I went to the loo at your house, I thanked God for you and your kindness. I prayed that you would trust Him again, even as I struggled to trust Him myself. Yes, on the loo!  I can tell you that now, all these years later.

That Christmas, I sat with all of our girls while you went on a date with your hubby. Before you departed for the evening, you gave me a pretty little wrapped gift box, and instructed me to open it when you left.  I did, and it was a lovely new wallet.

When you came back home, I thanked you, and you said that I should make sure to look inside of it. Folded in the zipped compartment was a hundred-dollar bill.

“Get your girls a little something for Christmas,” you said, like it was not a big deal.

It was SUCH a big deal, Melissa, to fill the girls’ stockings that year. Such a big deal.

Little did I know that praying for you on the loo would be the least of what we would come to discuss as our friendship deepened!  No subject was off-limits, no pretending to be who we were not. No pretense, all acceptance – what a wonderful foundation for a friendship.

I have to tell you, my friend, throughout the storms, you were my safe place. And always – even if there were tears –  laughter was ultimately the order of the day.

We are pretty cool that way.

Over the years, we have really been through it together, have we not?  With six daughters between us, holy cow – have we ever!

Teenagers and all the stupid stuff they do. Teenagers and all the awesome stuff they do.

Through a divorce and a new marriage (both mine) you were such a support. Through your steady marriage, you taught me so much.

When our husbands drive us bonkers, we have a kvetch session, and are a-okay again.

When our kids drive us bonkers, well … together, we find the strength to soldier on.

We’ve done the Mom Circuit, and weathered the “Mom, leave me alone!” syndrome.

Between us, we’ve done new careers, and unemployment.

We’ve drowned our sorrows in Queso dip at every Mexican food restaurant in town. (Cheese plays a major role in our relationship, as well it should!)

We’ve had pajama parties, and felt the betrayal of gravity (especially me….you look MAHVELOUS!) and – as we schlepped into our forties – the reward of chasing dreams and catching them, on occasion. (Or should I say, we sashay gracefully into our forties – and beyond.)

We’ve struggled with the discovery of what is out of our control (everything, essentially) and celebrated what we which we can control (keeping the faith.)

We’ve threatened to write a book togetherwhich, incidentally is still TOTALLY happening!

Most meaningfully, when my own family members high-tailed it out of my life, you ran towards me.

You and I …. we’ve  had spiritual crisises and awakenings, stumblings and triumphs. And shared with honesty every experience.

We discovered together that we are NOT orphans after all, but beloved daughters of the Most High King….princesses, really!

And that makes us sisters. Family.

Even our husbands became MFFs (Man Friends Forever…please don’t tell them I said that,) and our daughters as close as any siblings.

Family, like I said.

Your love, prayers and steadfastness have helped keep me sober. Honestly, I doubt I would have maintained it without your support.

That love….those prayers and acceptance – they have kept me from running away from home on numerous occasions (“This parenting teens thing? I QUIT!”)

In the midst of building this friendship, you had a revolution in your spirit.  When God lit a fire under you, he used spiritual kerosene!

Girl, you were on FIRE, and you are still on fire!  It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been witness to.

A spark from the heart of Jesus himself caught the hem of your garment, and you just had to serve Him. You served Him by helping other women, like you helped me. By genuinely loving them – fiercely. From it came additions to the sisterhood – the WAYwards – and lots of tears and laughter.

And laughter came in handy during the difficult times.

Several years ago, when I got sick, I stayed sick for nearly three years. It was another awful, dark time in my life.  Chronically fatigued. Endlessly in pain. And with no answers in sight, living on high anxiety once again.

For three solid years, I fought numbness, pain, fatigue….every single day, and bitched about it plenty. My complaining and frustration had to have tested your dedication! But you listened every time, and never gave up.

You prayed for my health fervently. Sometimes, when I was in the middle of exhaustion and complaint, you would just extend your right hand toward me and pray so hard that we would both cry – even when I was right in the middle of a bitching session!

It’s hard to be hopeless when someone is that dedicated to asking God to help you.

But sometimes – when you stop trying so hard – God makes mystical things happen.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I remember telling you. And I meant it. “I can’t!”

“God can,” you said, with no judgement. More listening, more praying, more encouraging. You listened. Like a true friend, you loved fiercely, calming my fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded. “Father,” you prayed. “Please heal my friend. But even if she doesn’t get better, we praise you. We LOVE you!”

Because you see, what I really needed was a very good friend. You were – and are – that very good friend to me.

All these many years later, how many cycles have we gone through !– Distrusting organized religion, and calling on God. Trusting God, and being there for each other.

I’m so grateful for you.

Thank you for being so steady a prayer-warrior. Thank you for never, ever saying, “This friendship thing? I QUIT!”

Thank you for all the times you still give me encouragement (and chocolate) and for being my “nothing is off limits” sister.

When I think about who you are and who you’ve become, and all God has in store for you, it brings me to my knees.

When I pray for you, I ask God to take that beautiful, bright, effervescent and glorious spirit of yours and just unleash it on the world in a way that brings him glory. I pray that the same joy your spirit brings me gets unfurled on the world, and comes back on you like a tidal wave.

I never forgot the Christmas that you folded a Benjamin in the gift of a new wallet  … so that I could give my daughters a Christmas. But more importantly, I never forgot that you reached out to this hot mess girl, that you went out of your way to be kind.

I never forgot that you treated my frightened, maddeningly insecure and hurting fourth-grade daughter like your own. Now a confident – gregarious, even!- young woman, she never forgot your love, either.

I love that you never stopped praying for my healing. I love your heart, that it breaks for hurting people.

I love that the most important prayer I ever learned to pray, I learned from you – “I trust you, God. I may not understand a single thing you are doing, but I trust you.”

It was a  beautiful thing to do for an old friend, to teach me that prayer.

I love you with all my heart. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for being family.

And Merry Christmas, BFF.

Normalcy is for Suckers

What a long, strange trip its been.
What a long, strange trip it IS.

Sometimes the light is shining on me, other times, I can barely see” – The Grateful Dead

Can I just be honest?

I hate change.

The past several months have been one change after another for me, and I resent it. I’m ready for some normalcy, but I no longer believe it exists. I’ve decided that believing in “normal”  is for suckers.

What do I hate about change? I hate that good things go away, and bad things come around – before the good things come back.

I hate that change seems to happen at the precise moment that I seem to find my groove. Change often feels like having the rug yanked out from under me. You know that rug….the one  that can feel like a genuine magic flying carpet, before it gets yanked.

I like riding on the high of good times. I cling on to the good times as if they are The New Normal.  I like the exuberance of feeling ‘normal.’ Normal seems, for all  the world, to have a rhythm, a steadiness. But changes keep rolling in.

Peace sometimes gets disrupted, and chaos ensues – it is lost, before it can be found again.

Jobs, weight, weather – all forever rising and falling – and getting on my ever-loving nerves.

Fresh things get stale.

Income comes in, and becomes “out-go” in the blink of an eye.  Bills go up, the market goes down.

Kids outgrow their childhoods, but don’t leave when you are ready for them to fly. Then they grow up, and leave before you’re ready.

Relationships grow and change, morphing in uneven spurts.

Feelings in a footrace with facts, boundaries built and crumbled.

The world is a mess – just look at the news! Nothing stays stable – nothing on this earth.

Pets grow old and sick., and pass away (we lost two beloved animals in a two month span.)

We – and our circumstances – change unevenly.

Don’t even get me started on hormones… Oy vey!

Lately it occurs to me….what a long, strange, interesting trip it’s been

And the hardest changes? Spirits get bound and released, and broken and mended. (Why can’t they just stay mended?)

I suppose because….It just wouldn’t be “normal.”

Jesus said, “In this life, you will have trouble,” and He wasn’t whistling Dixie. I think he was saying, in a way:  “In this life you will have change.”

In this life, you will lack for normal….if you’re “normal.”

So, is it normal to hate change?

I decided to look up synonyms for “normal” in the thesaurus – to see if Webster could define what I cannot.  Interestingly, “normal” is synonymous with  ordinary. Its meaning is the same as “ uniformity, average, common, and routine.”

I cannot relate to any of those words. They are not words I would claim over my life. I do not ask God for average, common. Where is the interestingness?  Where is the exuberance?

The antonyms –exact  opposites  of “normal” are magic-carpet words:  buoyant, eager, exciting, vigorous, vital, and zesty. (Zesty!)

I am  learning to “go with the flow,” really. I’m trying. Since change seems to be the order of the day, I really need to enjoy the ride. My hatred of so many changes doesn’t seem to be preventing any of it, anyway.

Circumstances will never stop evolving, but eventually …

New, fresh things come to pass with change. Buoyant, vital things. Change means the change in seasons just when you are sick and tired of the current one. It means new babies. Sunrises. Music you’ve never heard before. Laughing about something that you have the frame of reference to appreciate now – because of all the changes.

Relationships deepen and broaden, and become more enlightened  – if not ‘normal.’

Kids do grow up, and have their own kids to contend with (ahhhh, a sweet consideration!)

And God still loves this messy, messy world – made up of so many lives that will have trouble. So many lives who will have change.

Normalcy is for suckers, honestly. I’m sure of it.

A Tree Grows in Prison – addiction and the harvest of God-seeds

TREE

By: Jana Greene, thebeggarsbakery.net

Hebrews 13:3

“Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.” – Hebrews 13:3  (MSG)

 

God,

I’m thinking today of all the saints in the early church who prayed to you from the cells of prisons. Wrongly persecuted, they mustered their faith and lifted it to you, because they had been stripped of everything else they owned.

I know you’ve gotten your fair share of letters from prisoners.

Jails and prisons are often the venue in which lost souls lift their last remaining possession to you – faith – but the truth is that many have been stripped of that possession, too. Many, before even arriving for intake to be processed by a legal system, were already processed by another captor – Addiction – before ever setting foot in jail.  Addiction is a thief of hope.

Today, I have a broken heart for a dear friend and Sister in you, whose adult son is both literally, and figuratively, a prisoner. He is addicted to drugs, God. He has reached the end of himself. Right now, he seems a shell of himself.

But a long time ago, this friend raised this man up by filling him with God- seeds. She took him to church, and youth group; she talked out her active faith in you….all the way forming rows as she raised him, and planting  seeds in the soft soil of youth.

He is familiar with you. But he has made some bad choices, covering that fertile, planted ground with all the world has to offer, including substances that distract him from You. He has filled his life with all the plastic distraction that keeps the sunlight from getting in; that keeps the water of life from reaching the seeds.

Society sometimes has very little compassion for those who bring woes on themselves. Society forgets that it is only made up of infinite units of just the same kinds of people – sinners.  It’s easy for them to open their bibles to the letters that Paul wrote as a prisoner, and feel compassion.
But you don’t forget to be compassionate, because you never forget that we are infinite units of people who sin, but whom you love dearly.  All people must come to you from their knees on the floor of a prison cell, its only a matter of what four-walls constrain us.

Today, this man – this addict – is on the floor of a cell. I like to think he is calling out to you right this minute, but I know how stubborn addicts can be (being one myself) – I know how insane the cycle is, and how hard it is to let go of that tarp of denial we keep covering ourselves in.

But I am asking you – right now, in Your Holy Name, to crouch down on that prison floor with this man. Scrootch up so close to him that You feel familiar, that the seeds planted in his spirit in his growing-up-years feel like beads under his skin. Crack them open, and as they are opened, let him feel surrounded by love.

The supernatural feeling all addicts crave, that many addicts are willing to go to prison for – to die for – is only just a craving for you, Lord.

This young man is feeling the pain of the chemicals leaving his body, as we speak. Let the suffering he is experiencing  be for the cause of one little Seed of Faith germinating. Fill up the space left by the chemicals, the hurt, the loneliness, the shame and pain. I’m sure he will remember you, God.

Be with his family, who is suffering beyond comprehension. Fill them up, too.

Since this precious son of my Sister in You is currently  in no position to “write letters” in your name, and lift prayers from his broken spirit, mind and body, today I am interceding on his behalf. I ask that everyone who reads this to pray along with me.

For the addicts, the prisoners. The broken, the sinners. For my friend’s son.

Remind them that they are full of seeds of Truth, let them receive water and light, in their own personal prisons, and let those seeds grow healthy and strong and take root in You. So they can go out and tell other prisoners that there is life waiting to be lived.

Give them HOPE, Jesus.

In the name of the Father God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

AMEN

Stinking Thinking: The Soundtrack

Shut up the squawking, already!
Shut up the squawking, already!

By: Jana Greene

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

Too much noise.

The world is just full of too much noise. The past few months have simply overwhelmed me, good things and bad things, both.  Graduations, illnesses, a new job, family issues, children leaving the nest, new pets entering the nest….a reorganization of priorities made necessary because of that creeping, wonderful, awful thing called “change.”

Getting used to the “new normal” is hard when “normal” won’t stay static long enough to catch my breath. I’m really struggling with a bit of depression lately, low-level sadness and a feeling of being overwhelmed.

You know what used to really help me unwind? A glass of wine. It’s hard to believe its been nearly thirteen years since I’ve had a glass of wine. Of course, its been twenty since a drink actually relaxed me; there, toward the end, it nearly killed me. I am glad it doesn’t control me anymore.

But still, after all this time – and a life so blessed it is virtually unrecognizable from pre-sobriety days – my mind still sometimes thinks that “one glass of wine” would do the trick!  It parrots the same garbage that made me so sick years ago.

I’m on to it, though. In the recovery world, it is the soundtrack of “Stinking Thinking” (or stinkin’ thinkin’, if you are from the South.) I know what it looks,  feels, smells and tastes like. And this is it.

1)      That one drink would just help me unwind….

Never, ever have I had one drink. Or one of anything else, for that matter; unless it is one pint of  Häagen-Dazs ice cream*. Because eating more than one pint at one sitting is just gluttony!

Sometimes, and I’m just being honest, I just want all the noise and anxiety to stop. For five minutes. The five minutes a drink afforded me cost me hours and days of spiraling, and the occasional blackout. The parroting stinking thinking soundtrack forgets about that little detail. Hardly worth it.

2)      Its been over a dozen years! Maybe I’m  cured ….

This is a sneaky one because it adds pride to the already-convoluted mix, as if the length of my sobriety insures against future alcohol abuse. Danger! Danger!

I have known people with extraordinary “”time” relapse, and instantly be transported back to the depths of despair afforded by addiction, or worse. There is no cure for alcoholism. Not taking the first drink is the best insurance there is.

There was a time I could not imagine going 24 hours without a drink. It is not ‘living in the past’ to remember what that was like. It is essential that I remember that.

The fact that I still – when really struggling with life on life’s terms – obsess about drinking as a relaxation technique, confirms that I am, in fact, an alcoholic. I will never be able to drink normally. And to try could very likely be the death of me (and very nearly was.)

3)    It wasn’t that bad, my drinking…

Except that it was; it was awful. Again, remembering the reality is key. I did not have a fun, rosy, Nicolas Sparks-type romance with alcohol. I had a dysfunctional, co-dependent, Stephen King-type relationship with alcohol.

It’s best to remember that it made me a person I really don’t like at all. Not to mention I turned yellow and became very sick. The self-loathing was worse than any other symptom.

4)      I shouldn’t have admitted to the world that I am an alcoholic…

Well, the proverbial cat is out of the bag now! It jumped out of the bag back on January 3rd of 2001.

At my lowest – when my thinking is the most stinking, I have actually wished that  I’d never told a soul about my secret, because if nobody knew – I could just resume having the “one” glass of wine or random margarita and be like everybody else. See? Doesn’t that make perfect sense?

Lather, rinse, repeat…(see # 1) This is why it is called the “Cycle of Addiction.”

5)    I REALLY shouldn’t have blogged about it…

Ah, the blogosphere. Nobody forces anyone to blog, of course.  But having a passion for writing and recovery, I found that a Force was compelling me to do it anyway.

With the miracle of technology via The Blog, not only is the cat out of the bag, but it is circling the globe on a uni-cycle.

In the beginning, writing a recovery blog was very difficult, because it required such rigorous honesty. I wanted to become involved in recovery ministry and share my experience, faith and hope openly. And because living life in open-book format makes for vulnerability.

Ironically,  vulnerability contributes to accountability. More than once, that accountability has kept me from relapsing.

6) I will never “get there”…

This one is true. I will never have it all together, because then I would have nothing to learn. And this recovery thing is all about learning. Boy howdy….is it ever about learning. When I’ve learned all that God intends for me to learn, He will take me home.

Until then, I will depend on Him to help me navigate the noise. When I’m overwhelmed, I will go ahead and feel it, and acknowledge that change is inevitable. Sometimes, my mind is wrong about things, squawking when it should be listening. I’m going to try extra-hard to take that into consideration when depression creeps in.

I’ll write about that wonderful, awful thing called “change” when it happens (which is constantly), spending every thought generously on paper. You know, since its already out there. I’ll own my crazy, ask for Divine help with my anxiety,  and let the guilt of the past go.

Change is what brings the good stuff, too…the stuff I don’t want to be too numbed out to feel. Because stinking thinking kept under wraps only rots and festers. Change is what brings all that is good and acceptable and perfect.

And a life so blessed deserves to be truly lived, transformed by the renewal of my mind…noise and all.

*I would totally eat more than one pint of  Häagen-Dazs in one sitting if nobody were watching and it wasn’t so expensive.