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.

Sweeping off the Crumbs (or: It’s a NEW day!)

sun

By: Jana Greene

The house is dark and quiet. It is five o’clock in the morning and I’ve been up for hours now, with a belly unable to digest the cookies I ate during a late-night bender and a mind unwilling to forgive myself  for going on the binge at all. As a matter of fact, I’d like to use a picture of the cookies for this blog post, but they are all gone – nothing but a sad, empty package and a chocolate fallout of crumbs on the carpet.
They were generic Oreos, a very poor substitute for the real thing. I remember thinking it would be easy to only eat a few, because they were an inferior product, but no. I just kept consuming because the consuming itself was a comfort, and it had been a hard day. I would promise myself just one more, and then promise myself just ONE more after that. After a while, I didn’t even taste the cookies – that’s the crazy part. Just hand to mouth, mindless motion and quasi-momentary satisfaction. As if faux-Oreo cream could smudge out all the challenges of the day. After a while, I stopped believing my own promises.
No harm done, short of raising triglycerides and adding more fluff to my frame.
And a helping of very non-generic grade regret this very early morning.

Possibly the only good thing about insomnia is that it gives me time to talk to God without so many distractions. In the frenetic pace of daily life, I get distracted easily. I pray for my family and friends, and that God will reveal His will for me for the upcoming day it to me in such a way that I won’t wonder if it is He who is sending it or just a figment of a belly full of late night cookies and some random clues. Because I can mix up the two, sometimes.

I feel my Heavenly Father nearby – the unmistakable primal presence of His – and He brings to mind one of my favorite Psalms as I pray.
“ For His anger lasts only a short time. But His favor is for life. Crying may last for a night, but joy comes with the new day.” – Psalms 30:5
A day’s trouble lasts a day, unless I invite it to stay longer. Sorrows may last through the night, but JOY comes in the morning. God says it right there: we are not designed to dread each new day, chasing after comfort in a mindless motion of quasi-momentarily satisfaction. We are made to anticipate joy in the morning, every new morning. Our mistakes from yesterday fading like yesterday’s bellyache. Forgiving benders and binges, even extending that forgiveness toward ourselves – sweeping up the crumbs and moving on.
Perhaps my anger at myself should only last a short time. Maybe there is no need for regret.
It’s now 5:30 a.m. in the Greene house and all is still dark and quiet. Even this early, God has made a thousand promises to me – offering grace, acceptance, forgiveness and love. Those are promises that all the cookies and clues in the world can’t make. His favor is for life!
This day looks pretty….promising.

“Noshing” to Worry About: Food, Comfort and the God-shaped Hole

Don't these look delicious? They were sinful, I tell you! Chocolates from Blue Ridge Chocolates.
Don’t these look delicious? They were sinful, I tell you! Chocolates from Blue Ridge Chocolates.

By: Jana Greene

MMMmmmm, Christmastime. The music is lovely,  the parties are grand. The food? Well, it’s almost divine.

Almost.

As a recovering alcoholic, I save a lot of calories by not drinking (sick thought #1) but I make up for it by taking part in food festivities.  Savory dips piled high on crackers, sugary cookies and cakes. If it arrives in a crock pot, it’s simmering on borrowed time. Anything with a cream-cheese base? Yes, please!

The problem is – if I’m honest – is that I need to admit a little secret:  making food a centerpiece in my life is not just a holiday phenomenon. And I have the pounds to prove it.

I worry about my issues with food because I see a pattern emerging. A few weeks ago, I cleaned out my closet, and within moments I found the first Hershey bar. I had hidden it in an otherwise empty shoebox, a single candy under tissue paper. Working my way under some random papers stacked on a closet shelf, I found another Hershey bar and at the bottom of the stack? Another one., and another. The last one was under an old Pittsburgh Steelers blanket behind some more boxes.

I have had issues with food all my life. From hating to eat as a child, becoming a full-on “foodie” as an adult. When I went through a painful divorce several years ago, I lived on Diet Coke and cigarettes, losing 80 pounds. To be truthful, it felt pretty good to have some measure of control over something going on. The cycle has repeated over and over: starving myself for a little while because I don’t like what I see, bingeing to fill up and comfort.  It was the kind of hidden behavior that I just didn’t want to “discuss” with myself (also known as “denial)  But now – here in a tangible intervention, was evidence bold on brown wrappers: H.E.R.S.H.E.Y.

All told, there were 11  chocolate bars hidden in strange places in my closet.There is a big difference between using food as a treat and an anesthetic.  I am very emotional about food (and dern near everything else) but usually not to the point of crying. This time, there were tears.

The candy had been stashed individually over the course of months, because chocolate is my comfort food and having three young adult daughters, someone is ALWAYS PMS’ing at my house, looking for this anesthetic for the symptoms. So I hide it. Because when I am jonesing for chocolate, I am really jonesing for chocolate, you know? I am the mother in this house and don’t I deserve chocolate for putting up with everyone? I can quit any time I want! I’ll quit for the New Year and get in shape…you’ll see! What’s the big deal?

See? Emotional.  Hershey bars should not be that powerful of an emotional trigger. Also, while I’m being real here, hoarding food is a related compulsion I struggle with. But that is a blog post for another day.

Do I remember hiding the chocolate? Not really. It is something I did  kind of automatically. Go to the store for milk and eggs, pick up an extra chocolate to hide.  When I get especially stressed out, I go buy more chocolate at the store and sooth myself the Hershey Way and it seems harmless enough. Except like some people can’t “just eat one” potato chip, I almost never “just eat one” chocolate bar. Here’s the secret: The second bar I like to enjoy in private – and that’s really embarrassing to admit. Sometimes it is more than two.  I’m ashamed, even for my husband to know. Why does all this seem SO familiar?

Ah, yes.

Right before I got sober, I was terribly sick. The first glass of wine, I would drink in front of other people, but the second….seventh…..tenth? I “enjoyed” those alone, ashamed. I had boxes of wine stashed in secret places all over the house, because there was never enough. What if I ran out? Dang it, I am an adult and it’s just WINE for Pete’s sake, and don’t I deserve a little something for putting up with everyone? I can quit any time I want! I’ll quit for the New Year and stay sober, you’ll see! What’s the big deal?

The big deal was that I’d forgotten that the void requiring filling was not shaped like a bottle or box of Chardonnay. The hole is not shaped like a Hershey bar. It is a God-shaped place that, in times of stress and need and worry and peace, can only be filled by Christ. It’s not “just a treat” if you are tormented by it.

Run first to Him, and away from things done in secret. There is no shame in Him; no room for condemnation. Love conquers sick thoughts #’s one through one-billiion.  Love fills up the void, and I know that already. That’s the thing about life on this planet: I will struggle with SOMETHING until the undertaker is throwing dirt in my face. You will too. But oh, the grace that God offers us strugglers!

That – the sweetest of things – I don’t need to hoard or hide.  It flows constantly and with such force that it spills over into other spaces and can’t be contained. Kind of like my belly over the waistband of my jeans right now. (Hey, it’s important to keep a sense of humor!)

Jesus as the centerpiece of my life, First. Jesus consulted before food or drink or even friends – renewable comfort, available. I just have to ask for it.

Now, that is truly divine.

Southern-Fried: Thoughts on Knowing Better

By: Jana Greene

Today, I reminded about showing compassion to those who may not “deserve” it.  I made a dumb mistake, you see.

It’s the blisters that are reminding me. Or maybe the skin on my nose and shoulders that has turned the deep crimson hue of a good Merlot. I have a bad sunburn, and all I want to do for the moment is wrap up in soft sheets and whine about the pain.  Maybe even moan a little. And eat chocolate.

What… You never heard that chocolate has healing properties?

I am nearly forty-four years of age. I know better. I’ve been a fair-skinned red-head all of my life, and this is not the first time I’ve been severely sunburned.

The other day, my Beloved and I took a day-trip to the beach and we only intended to stay for an hour or two.

But as if by some act of divine mercy, we found a spot on the shore that was nearly deserted (by at least twenty feet on either side) and the sky was a wide blue with nary a cloud to block the glorious rays of the sun! A breeze from the ocean blew gently and cool (but warm for October) against us, making us forget that…hey,  there are no clouds to block the sun.

We had even remembered to put up the beach umbrella!

Not that we stayed under it for very long.

When we did get warm-ish sitting under the wide blue sky, we walked down to the water – holding hands. And although the ocean was a bit chilly at first, the initial “yikes!” gave way to a cooling ahhhhhhh until we were neck deep and free-floating.

On an October day, no less!

We swam until we were tired and then walked back to the beach chairs in the sun, enjoying the sensation of water evaporating off of our skin. Conversation, laughter, sunshine, water. And then again. And then again.

Until we – satiated and out of cold beverages – headed home.

And then, over the next few hours, our bodies turning burgundy, thought “Hmmm. Maybe we should have used sunblock.”  We did think about it a few times.

But it’s OCTOBER, my mind protested stubbornly. As  if one cannot possibly get sunburned in the fall, the way one cannot possibly wear white after Labor Day.  My mind, which felt increasingly  like an egg fried underneath my crimson scalp relented. Excuses, excuses…and then a painful consequence. And now the moaning.

You did this to yourself.

Wandering  through Wal-Mart later on a quest for aloe lotion, I see the stares from people thinking, Well, she should know better. Or worse…..Tourist!

Judging is easy….the smug realization that whatever painful, blistering circumstance a person might be in – they brought it on themselves.  I’m getting better at not judging, but sometimes it’s still a challenge. Because when we see homelessness, addiction, a pregnant teenager or even celebrities who struggle with consequences – sometimes our first thoughts are not of compassion:

You know, that could have been avoided.

Don’t you know better?

That was a dumb mistake.

And while all of these things are possibly true, the resulting pain is still pitiful. God may shake his head with frustration over us – the stubborn ones – but he still gathers us up in soft sheets of compassion. He expects us – as if by His divine mercy – to do the same. Even when one’s mistake is out there  for all the world to see. No excuses necessary….just love.

Ouch.

Yeah…..Especially then.

Chocolate Salad for the Soul

By:  Jana Greene

“I always thought the Bible was more of a salad thing, you know, but it isn’t. It’s a chocolate thing.”  – Donald Miller, Blue like Jazz:  Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality

The first time I read the quote above, I laughed out loud.  Mr. Miller put to words my feelings about the Bible.

In the past, I have believed:

The Bible was bland like ice-berg lettuce…I’d  had it a hundred times; I knew what it has to offer.

Or filler,  like fiber.  I knew  I should have it to keep things in working order, but I resented needing it.

Or as justification to imbibe in something decadent ….. because I was  planning on doing things my way later.

If I’d  bought a pretty case to carry it in from a Christian bookstore (bonus points?) , it was nearly as good as consuming it.  For some strange reason, that made me feel better about never opening it.

All dressing.

In the past, I have considered The Bible a “salad” thing:  devoid of surprises, ancient, boring.

Read it.  It’s good for you.

It will help you grow big and strong.

But when I stopped thinking I knew everything about it….I found it to be Chocolate for the Soul.

A few years ago, my family presented me with the gift of a new Bible.  The scriptures were written so  that I could  easily consume and digest them.  The Message is the translation for which my craving for holiness and my short attention span decided to cooperate with one-another.

Thank you, Jesus.

It turns out that The Good Book is indulgent, but I  have to open the wrapper in order  to indulge.

The Bible is a chocolate thing:

Rich and personal, as if someone knew exactly what I would go through at different times in my life, and wrote me a letter about it.

Available to savor.  I have the privilege of picking it up anytime I like.

Satisfying.  I know of nothing else that fills the soul-space, the empty mold I’ve tried filling up with  all of the things that the world believes will satisfy.

It’s a treat to know what God thinks about me.  It’s the sweetest thing to know He loves me  with decadence.  He loves  me in a very non-ancient, un-dusty, and unpredictable way.  Not boring in the least.

I rarely crave salad, but chocolate?  All the live-long day.

Go ahead, unwrap it.  It will help you grow big and strong….in ways you never imagined.

 

What is this “Mod-er-a-tion” you speak of?

There are parts of me that just cannot be reasoned with.  (Just ask this Kitty….he knows what I’m talking about!)
I know that moderation is considered a good thing – that a little bit of something is usually healthier than a lot of the same thing. I know this because it has been proven time and again in health journals, with kill-joy statistics and because the Bible even tells me so in Proverbs.
But you cannot make me understand this when I am eating a single Dove dark chocolate and the one-inch-squared melty goodness is coating my tongue. I immediately want more, lots more.
Chocolate, but only in moderation?  Now that’s just crazy talk.
When I was a smoker, I burned down two packs of menthol lights per day. To be honest, I enjoyed smoking immensely, so why would I only smoke one pack in a 24 hour period?  Okay, maybe because I couldn’t really afford it. And it affected my blood pressure and caused respiratory disease.  Bad example.
Before I got sober, I absolutely could not drink moderately, even though I really tried to “pace” myself. (Advising an alcoholic to “pace” her drinking is like  telling a tsunami to “pace itself” when it comes ashore….Actually, my life  and victims of a  Tsunami and  had more in common than you might think; like walking around in a dazed state of shock while more and more destruction builds around you.)

From the very first time I took a drink, I knew that a thousand drinks would never have been enough, and one drink would always  be too many. So drinking, as it relates to my moderation skill set….. Maybe that’s not the best example either.

This part of me who just can’t comprehend the “moderation” concept?  In early recovery I found out that she is (a) quite an unreasonable brat, and (b) very loud and insistent.  She is the troublemaker who insists that if ONE of something is good, than SIX of the same thing is GREAT!

And I have to tell you, that mindset  makes a whole bunch of sense to me; it appeals to me.

Since that loud, insistent part of me won’t listen to reason, I just have to tell her “NO” sometimes. I don’t allow myself any cigarettes or alcohol, not even on special occasions. (Not even at weddings, not even at MY OWN wedding, not at birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs, pretty days here at the beach, groundhog’s day, on Leap Years, Thanksgiving, graduations, well, you get it.)

Since I can’t drink in moderation, I don’t drink at all.  But something has to fill the space and time now laid bare by abstinence.

Indulgences.  Sweet, sweet indulgences.

Indulgences fill the space in which I couldn’t make moderation fit.  And they say “YES”!

Yes, I can hunker down and watch as many episodes as I like of the TV shows “Lockup” and “Swamp People” during marathon week.  And I shall watch them whilst lounging around in my PJs.  And not feel the least bit guilty.

Yes, I can take an afternoon to goof off and peruse the website featuring “parenting fails” because – I’m just being honset – it makes me feel like a slightly better parent after I look through them.

Yes, I will allow myself leisure time to surf the interweb’s selection of cat pictures with snarky captioned comments (Don’t judge, it is really quite entertaining – see above for an example.)
Yes, I can rub my elderly doggie’s belly for as long as I’d like at one stretch, and take my time scritching her ears and generally loving on her with nary a thought for “moderation”. Let’s face it; it’s a win-win for her and me.
Yes, I will blast my music  while I am editing an article or cleaning the house, and “krunk” the bass up so high I feel it in my chest. I will not be moderate with the funky beats of Herbie Hancock,  nor the Earth, Wind and Fire tunes I so adore. It is impossible to feel sorry for yourself when you are listening to either of those guys.

And Yes, Yes, YES!  I will love my husband with wild abandon, holding nothing back. I will neither kiss him moderately, nor pray for him moderately, nor appreciate him in moderation. He is my passion, and there is no room for moderation wherever passion is concerned.

Yes, I will indulge my children (although they are spoiled already) and remind them indulgently how much I love them.  Generously, I will spend the greatest gift of all with them – time.  They are my passion also, and as I said, there is no room for moderation whenever passion is concerned.

I will love God and His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, with utter extravagance, and ask for His Holy Spirit to be POURED out in my life, not sprinkled moderately.
And yes…..I will copiously forgive myself for my lapses in practicing moderation with my chocolate consumption. You know, because its a passion thing.