Fuzzy Brows, Bathing Suits, and the Renewal of the Mind

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

And here I thought ordinary life was daunting!

Three weeks ago, I was obsessed with getting my brows and upper lip waxed. It was driving me crazy, all the peach fuzz and renegade brow hairs. I didn’t feel better until I had my hairstylist do it when I got a haircut.

And then another thing seemed paramount: Getting a bathing suit for the summer, since I’ve put on hella pounds since I injured my hip seven months ago. I’d given away most of my “fat clothes,” since I’d lost 25 lbs prior to the injury and was SO SURE I wouldn’t gain any of it back. Gained it all back and then some. Damn it.

Then I fixated on the problems my kids are going through. I really don’t even need my own problems; just give me a few kids who are learning things in life the hard way, and I’ll think of little else than their welfare.

The things these issues have in common are: 1. They either seem laughably insignificant now. Or 2. They are out of my control entirely. All within a short span of time, I found things to worry about that fell under these two headings.

Also, the joke’s on me. All the pools and beaches are closed! Who needs a bathing suit?

What I have right now is fear and anxiety. What I want to have is the renewal of my mind. It’s happening, but it’s happening piece-meal. If you’re one of those people who trust God with nary a care in the world, my hat is off to you! I’m having to turn my will and mind over to his care every day, especially during this time of extreme weirdness.

That being said, I would very much like to avoid catching Covid-19, as my immune function is ridiculously low and I’m afraid that I won’t be able to fight it. I’m also worried that my loved ones won’t be able to fight it.

There ARE things I can do – and so can you – to alter the trajectory of the virus. That’s the thing I find supremely frustrated. There are things we can ALL do to reduce the risk for the people we cherish. Can we all please take this thing seriously enough to protect them?

One of my favorite songs by the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Things That I Used to Do,” and it’s been in my head for days. Because “things that I used to do, Lord, I won’t do no more,” as the song goes.

But I also will try to remember that some of those things were – in truth – pretty insignificant. And certainly pale in comparison to what we are all going through now. It’s funny how stuff that seemed crucial three weeks ago seem frivolous now. When this shit show wraps up, I’m going to try to make the conscious effort to NOT “sweat the small stuff” as much. But it’s easy to fall back into old ways.

Lord, let this thing make me a better person. Help me to take this day as it is, not as I would have it. Help me rise to the occasion of surrendering my will and worries to you, less inclined to obsess about the things I get worked up over.

Help us all over this bombardment of anxiety we are experiencing, so that we can live life abundantly in you. Hairy brows and lips, and all.

In the meantime, please stay home if you can. I know it’s boring. I know the people you live with are getting on your last nerve. I know that we are all on edge, and experiencing an unprecedented level of NOT knowing what the future holds. Let’s do all we DO have in our power to protect one another.

God bless us, every one.

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” – Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)

 

 

 

Beatitudes for a Pandemic

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By: Jana Greene

Spent some time with God today, but it was restless, addled time. I can’t seem to still my mind right now, what with the current state of Covid-19 ravaging the planet. I like a certain amount of chaos with my order, but this is ridiculous.

BLESSED is not a word I would use to describe the state of my mind right now. Edgy, tense, scared….these are the adjectives that describe my state more accurately. Still, I started thinking about the Beatitudes, and how the “blessings” Jesus outlined in them run contrary to what many of us would consider positive things, or even bearable things at times.

This is one such occasion – the unprecedented happenstance we find ourselves in, in the midst of a global pandemic. So I thought I’d write a little piece today so that I can have a little peace today. I invite you with much love to join me.

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:”

Blessed are the exasperated, the cooped up, the frustrated, and the lonely. For they shall be reminded that God is not bound by illness or protocol, or the foibles of human nature.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

Blessed are those grieving the loss of certainty and structure. For their hope lies in bigger things. Hold on tight, you are still in the Father’s embrace, even though the world seems upside-down.

 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”

Blessed are the odd ducks and weird people, who are just trying to navigate their way through the “new normal.” We are all free to be who we were created to be, no need for shame. Yours is the Kingdom, weirdo.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

Blessed are the seekers, the doubters, the spiritually starving. Does your soul feel empty? Are you hungry for peace, comfort, and hope? Your system is just making room for the One who gives those things, and in abundance.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.”

Blessed are the helpers, the lovers, the carers. For they are showing the rest of us how to be the hands and feet of God on Earth, modeled after the Perfect One.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.”

Blessed are those who “check themselves before the wreck themselves.” For they are ever striving forward, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”

Blessed are the calmer heads, the team players, and the encouragers. For where would we be without the Light Bearers? They see the Spirit in all, and welcome all to the table with Christ.

 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

Blessed are the ostracized, yet steadfast. For they keep moving forward, in the face of opposition and a bleak forecast for a broken world.

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.”

Blessed are those who get knocked down, but keep getting back up. For they are US! In us lies incomprehensible power, as we are the Kingdom of God on Earth.

So let’s remind one another that LOVE is the strongest force – far more contagious than a virus. Hardier than any microbe, or quantum physics, for that matter. Love swallows up hopelessness and gives us a boost to keep soldiering on. No sickness can touch it, no disease can end it.

In sickness and in health. In warm gatherings and in lonely quarantine. In times of plenty, and times of rationing. Always, there is love.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Stay safe, every one. And God bless you.

  • Scripture taken from Matthew 5:1-12, The Message translation.

Confessions of a Food Hoarder in Pandemic Pandamonium

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

Greetings from The House of Greene, where we now eat unsalted peanut butter, because on our last visit to the grocery store, that’s all that was available.

Now that I write that, how FIRST WORLD does THAT problem seem? And it’s because they ARE first world problems. But I have a funny little quirk about food. Well, MANY quirks. But this one is especially relevant.

It started in my single mother days. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for years when my daughters were little. I was room mother in their classes. I made wholesome dinners every night. Even in the hardest times, when I’d have to get food from the church pantry, we were well-fed.

And then my divorce happened. All of the sudden, it was all on ME. Two children, no child support, no help from family, NOTHING. It was all me and I had to work four part-time jobs just to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. The girls that I had ‘helicopter parented’ became ‘latch-key’ kids, which made me feel horribly guilty. We ate a lot of hamburger helper, minus hamburger. Instant mashed potatoes. Boxed mac and cheese shaped like Spongebob characters.

I will never forget the evening I put the girls to bed and took a bleak inventory of our week’s food supply. There was NO WAY we were going to make it. You know that feeling you get when anxiety comes on real sudden-like, and your blood turns to ice water? Your heart starts racing? This was a normal anxiety attack times 100. Something went awry in my brain that day.

Now, we all made it through and somehow, Jesus pulled a ‘loaves and fishes’ on me. He did THAT by some of my wonderful friends, who (much to the dismay of my pride) showed up with a meal or a $20 bill or something. Let the record show that we were NOT fed by the scriptures that other friends threw at me. Nor the lofty platitudes about if I only had more faith, “claimed” a scripture, or “believed” that our needs are already met.

(If you don’t meet a person’s basic fundamental rights, do me a favor, and DON’T preach at them. A Bic Mac and a couple of kids meals were a whole lot more effective than an “I’m praying for you.” But I digress.)

At some point in my single motherhood, I became a bit of a food hoarder. If I had some around, I felt great. So if I had MORE around, well…you know. I also recalled my old trick of soothing myself with food. I was only a handful of years sober back then, so it was all I could do not to pick up a drink. I picked up ice cream instead. Fast food is hella cheap and filling.

It became a way to reward and punish myself. Then I discovered that I could experience the comfort of stuffing my face, and then throw up to get rid of the calories. This is a HORRIBLE practice and I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT. But I hooked up with bulimia for a bit and thought I’d found the best of both worlds. Eat yummy food. Barf. Repeat. I lost 80 pounds during my divorce. The whole bulimia issue is a blog for another time (and I’ve touched on it before) but I’m telling you the whole story so that you can fully appreciate how f-cked up my relationship with food truly is. It’s WHACK, I tell you.

So fast forward to when I met my now (and forever) husband in 2006. He was so kind and loving. We didn’t have to worry about running out of food after we married, but old habits die hard. For years and years (and up until TODAY, ACTUALLY) it’s kind of a family joke that we always have stuff falling out of the freezer because it’s too full, and we can’t find anything thing in the pantry because I have this sick thing about having it COMPLETELY FULL to feel secure, and in order to fit anything in our fridge, I have to play “fridge Tetris” to make things fit.

It’s super annoying to my family, and honestly – to myself,  but I can’t seem to stop it because WHAT IF we run out. It’s not just about the food. It’s some primal holdover from when I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to feed my kids or something. It’s like a COMPULSION. It IS a compulsion, actually.

But today I opened the fridge and there is an empty shelf. AN. EMPTY. SHELF. I can actually see the back wall of the fridge (hey, it’s WHITE!) which never happens.

Over a week ago, I’d taken a fall due to my POTs and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome symptoms, and it was a bad one. Nearly broke both my arms and was bruised from fingertips to elbows. People thoughtfully brought meals over, since my arms were useless for a while. We had a REALLY full fridge (there are between 3-5 of us living in this house at one time, so it’s not just my belly I’m worried about) and it was glorious.

My first thought was: “I’ll run to the store.” Except I WILL NOT run to the store, because I have virtually no immune function and there is an actual PANDEMIC (another fear formerly referred to as “irrational,” but pretty damn rational now) and I am staying home to avoid germs.

It’s not that we are anywhere NEAR running out of food. It’s that if we were, there is nothing we could do about it. I’m thinking that this whole pandemic is going to be a HUGE re-boot for all of us. I can’t let an empty refrigerator shelf throw me into an emotional tailspin, although that is my habit. Habits are gonna have to be tweaked, as are knee-jerk emotional responses, which are kind of my forte.

I cannot afford to be ruled by my many, many compulsions. But I CAN come here and drone on about how different things are now, and be honest about how I’m freaking out on the regular in spite of my best effort to use my “tools.” Applying my emotional coping tools feels like using a regular screwdriver on a screw that requires a “Phillip’s head” screwdriver (I’m using this analogy because those are the only two tools I can differentiate…) It kind of works, but not really.

It’s like there is a Woody Allen (sans perversion, of course) Me, and a Brene Brown Me. Woody Allen Me’s hair is all askew, he is neurotically pacing, displaying nervous tics, and generally running in circles exclaiming “THE SKY IS FALLING!” while my inner Brene Brown interjects with Ghandi-esque, rational quotes about walking inside your story and owning it, and not standing outside your story and hustling for worthiness, and what not (which, frankly, isn’t even helpful at a time like this.) She is calm. She is at one with the Universe.

Why am I both these people at once. (I’m thinking maybe we are all a little of both right now?)

So for the foreseeable future, I’m planning on coming here to blog about empty refrigerator shelves, and one-ply toilet paper. But also about the very real crossroads of anxiety and faith in an unprecedented time. It’s an opportunity for me to dust off the ol’ 12 steps and revisit “surrender” mode, lest I revisit self-destructive behaviors (which will only make things worse.)

One of the scary things about all of this, if we are honest, is that it’s a leveler. We all feel far less “first world.” But that’s not a bad thing, spiritually. Spiritually, we are all One – all the same. We bear one another’s problems, even when they are more severe than unsalted peanut butter. Seriously, though. Not one of us is less precious than another, and sometimes we get so wrapped up in our privilege, we forget that this is the NORM for so many people across the globe – doing without. I know I forget.

I don’t know what else to do but write about it. Eating my feelings isn’t suitable, since food is more or less rationed, but my feelings are not following suit. All I know for sure is that we will all get through this together. Woody, Brene, me, and you. ❤

The Thing about Ruts

By: Jana Greene

Greetings, readers. Tonight I wrote about getting out of the negativity rut. So here is the brain purge of the day (and a heart purge, too.)  God bless us, every one.

We live about a mile from the Atlantic ocean, as the crow flies. Even though it’s super close, to get there, you have to drive around a while. There is a monumental body of water called the Intracoastal Waterway that you must cross via bridge. Our town is one of the few places left on the East coast that you can actually drive your 4-wheel drive vehicles right onto the beach. The stretch of coast is simply called “The North End.”

During the summer, we locals lay low and stay away, because the strip of beach you can drive on is a huge cluster-bleep. Trucks and other utility vehicles crammed into every square foot of beach. Thousands of tourists. No thank you very much.

But in the Fall and Spring – and even in Winter – riding in a jeep on the sand is a blast.

Until it isn’t.

The beach – like the ocean – is never the same place twice. As you drive down to the southern-most tip of the island, the dunes are on your left. Lush with sea oats and grass, they are roped off from traffic. To your right, the majesty of the sea. Sometimes it is blue and foamy, and other times a vast ocean of green. It looks brown, too, when the sediment below gets riled by a hurricane  or tropical storm; choppy and angry and dangerous.

I have ridden on the beach many times in our old jeep. Just 10 years ago, it was great fun. I loved going there with My Beloved and unzipping the clear, plastic windows so that we could smell the sea as we jostled about.

It isn’t as much fun anymore. It makes my hurting body hurt badly.

There are times when the drive-able sand is flat as an asphalt highway, and times the sand is mountainous and soft. A different landscape every visit.

One of the risks you undertake by driving on the North End is getting your vehicle stuck in the deep sand. Nearly every time we are there, someone gets standed.

For reasons that I do not understand, men take getting stuck / unstuck VERY seriously. And they take a hit right in the pride if they are unable to work themselves out of the ruts. It causes extreme embarrassment when they are the stuck-ee.

The opposite of getting stuck is being a hero. This designation occurs when you help another driver out of a rut. So far as I can tell, the Man Rules for this scenario looks like this:

You happen upon some poor sap stuck in the sand. His wheels are spinning and spinning, but cannot get any traction. This is not a deterrent. He keeps spinning.

You watch him for a while, perhaps a little smugly.  Not only did you NOT get stuck in the rut yourself, but you might get the opportunity to pull someone else OUT of one.

Pulling alongside the dude whose tires are knee-deep in tightly packed tread, you offer your standard greeting (‘Sup?’) and ask if you may help him, all whilst assuring him that it’s “no problem,” and that you have been stuck on the North End yourself. Several times.

You drive your jeep just ahead of his truck, pull out some chains from the back of your own car (beach-driving men always have chains in their vehicles, for just such an occasion,) hook his front bumper to your rear trailer hitch, and engage all four wheels  slowly and deliberately. You have to be careful not to slip the clutch. Sand flies up behind your tires like crazy, but within minutes, your new buddy is being towed out of the rut. Once he is free, you get out of your car and ask him if he needs any further assistance, and he says “no,” thanking you repeatedly.  Assure him that you were glad to help

Here comes the inevitable analogy: I’ve been in a rut. Not in sand, but in spirit. My chronic health issues and pain have hijacked my whole life. I am almost never well, and this has been going on for nearly a decade, slowly worsening. Most of the time, I feel like I am either getting a migraine, having a migraine, or getting over a migraine. I have very little collagen and thus many of my joints sound like gravel with every step I take. Many of my issues will not resolve (thanks, genetics….) and that’s just the facts, and I don’t like it. This is the new normal. I’m thankfully married to an amazing man who looks after me and takes good care of me, but I imagine it wears on him as well. This – as they say – is not what he “signed up for.” Except that it IS, because he signed up for me, whatever that looks like.

God bless him.

This situation, combined with other circumstances in the past few years, have made me a little negative. Okay, a lot negative. Dealing with pain, and life drama – one thing after another – it takes a toll.

So excuuuuse me if I’ve allowed my ills to affect my attitude. Unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes (which I know many of you dear readers have similarly done) you just don’t know how taxing chronic illness is.

Some days I feel like I handle it like a superhero, and other days, I’m quite the whiny little bitch about it. I wake up every day expecting the worst, because otherwise I’m disappointed with the day’s challenges. Expecting the other shoe to drop continually will give you grade-A anxiety of the highest order. It’s a deep rut, and I feel like I’m just spinning tires.

That’s the thing about ruts. The same old, same old.

I genuinely want to be a positive person, and sometimes I am. I love my life, and am blessed beyond my wildest dreams, compliments of 17 years recovery from alcoholism. I have great faith in Father God, and a twisted sense of gallows humor to cope whenever my faith falls short. God is my chain-maker and chain-breaker. It’s pretty amazing to know that the Creator of the universe has got my back, no matter how deep of a rut I’m buried in. He is glad to help.

I think it’s time I pull out the chains and start making a concerted effort to be less negative. And I am reminded again of the Serenity Prayer:

…”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Hmm. The “wisdom to know the difference” is key here. What amongst the litany of complaints and struggles is under my control?

Genetics I cannot change.

The shitty state of the world, I cannot change.

The co-dependency cycle, in which I agonize over the choices of those I love until I work myself into a frenzy?

I can’t change the actions of others, but I can change my reaction to them.

In the interest of self-care, here are some things I can have the courage to change, God willing:

Engage all four wheels, and pull somebody else out of a rut.

Start physical therapy for my wonky joints, and stay the course rather than give up.

Cut myself a damn break every once in a while and be less self-critical.

Make healthier food and exercise choices, insofar as my joints allow the strain.

And I can wake up in the morning and have the name of Jesus on my lips first thing; instead of expecting the worst.

I may not be able to bounce along in the jeep on the North End anymore, but I sure as heck can pack a beach chair, a picnic, and a book, and park my butt on the beach – one mile away, as the crow flies.

I’m tired of being the “stuck-ee” and ready to pull up my hero pants.

Who’s with me?

Write, Wrong or Indifferent – Part 1

Write, Wrong or Indifferent

Joining a Writer’s Guild

Part 1

By:  Jana Greene

Joining a local writer’s guild almost kept me from writing.  I say “almost” because I have since come to love it and look forward to the monthly meetings.  It was because of fear – yeah, that old chestnut – that I nearly didn’t participate at all.

From the time I could hold a crayon, I wrote about things.  I can remember forming “J”s first, and from there, looping and dotting kindergarten hieroglyphics to tell my story.  Because even then, I was a historian of sorts, not a fiction writer.  I felt the need to journal everything I experienced and observed, wanting to chronicle my own life story.  My name is Jana, and I am six was my first story.  And later, I wrote about the things that happened to me as a child – some of them traumatic – that I could not speak about aloud. Many times, in middle and high schools, I wrote angst-laden pieces about my social awkwardness, with titles like:  I don’t fit in anywhere .

What a strange little girl I was.  But writing things down helped me deal with things, big and small, that I couldn’t reconcile in my spirit any other way.

At forty-three years of age, I am still a strange bird.  If I am going to tell my story, I’d better start doing it now.  I am becoming annoyingly forgetful, and I don’t want to erroneously tell someone else’s story by mistake.  One of my dearest friends, a woman named Melissa, also finds comfort in the writing, and has her own story to tell.  We are forever vowing to write a book together about overcoming struggles and such, but we can’t seem to lasso one issue onto the page before another is bucking and rearing back, thus our tales never seem to get written.  This is why we joined a writer’s guild, a Christian writer’s guild.

I missed the first monthly meeting , which was kind of an orientation.  I was sick that day.  But the following afternoon, Melissa left a breathless voicemail on my phone about her experience.

“Jana!” She began.  “Guess what?  I know what we are supposed to DO with our lives!  Call me!”

I could not dial her number fast enough.  Our very purpose, made clear!  (Of course I would be absent on the day my life’s purpose was designated!)  Her line rang only twice.  When she picked it up, I could feel her warm energy burning through the line.

“Write,” she said, instead of ‘hello’.  “You and I, we are supposed to write!”  With her sweet, Georgian accent, she launched into a synopsis of her time at the meeting.  There were other women, she said, just like us, who dream to translate a tiny little fraction of what God whispers into our lives onto the page.

But of course!  We needed support!  Support from a group was the missing ingredient; it might even override the fear….the fear that still says that I don’t fit in anywhere.

That evening, I could hardly wait to write a piece for the next month’s meeting.  But what to write?  Whisper to me, Lord.  Please whisper.

                Nothing.  Like the proverbial author who sits down to his typewriter and taps out the word “The”.  And that’s all.

Oh NO!

I strained for ideas, for eloquence.  I longed to write as Helen Steiner Rice, the prolific Christian poet whose very prose rivals those of the Psalms.  I wanted to present something that would glorify God and really showcase my writing style, except that those two things are sometimes mutually inclusive.

Stalling, I logged onto the guild website and paid my dues (literally, with MasterCard).  No turning back now!  Surfing through the site, I noticed that one of the membership perks was a free critique.

Critique.  That sounded a lot like critic, the root word of criticism, which I am not a huge fan of, constructive or otherwise.  Immediately my concern went from channeling Helen Steiner Rice in order to glorify the Almighty, to how I would soothe my own bruised ego when the bruising commenced.  Ashamedly, I was licking my wounds before the whip was anywhere near.

It is those self-serving thoughts that result in articles titled “The”, wherein the main character – me – does nothing.  Writes nothing.  Glorifies no-one.

God, what do you want me to say?

And with that prayer, a pseudo-crisis appeared in my life just in time to become the subject of an actual story.  The issue was that my eldest daughter decided to make good on a lifetime threat to get a tattoo, and I was upset about it (hey, don’t judge me for judging her!) so I wrote about the experience from a mother’s point of view.  As usual, a serious bout of writer’s block was averted by the antics of one of my children (thanks, girls)!  The piece I wrote was raw and real, and more importantly, helped me heal from an event I couldn’t work through my mind and spirit any other way.  It was twice as long as the guild guidelines allowed for, and did not follow proper grammatical rules.  Also, it contained the word “damn”.  It was a rather rough “rough draft”.

I removed the naughty word, but left the rest alone.  With no idea what to expect (or who my fellow guilders were), Melissa and I agreed to meet at the front door of the church that hosted the meetings.  Still, I wondered…..what if I don’t fit in?

I drove there with my hands on the wheel at “9’o clock” and “3 o’clock”, just like they teach you in Driver’s Ed.  My hands were shaking that badly.