A Lady who was Mean to her Kid (or “Grace for Jerks”)

Friends.jpg
“Friends” by Liz Lemon Swindle

“One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.”– Matthew 19:14 (MSG)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Jana Greene

In her book “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith,” Anne Lamott wrote a chapter entitled “A Man who was Mean to His Dog.” She wrote about witnessing a guy being mean to his Golden Retriever at her local beach, and her incredulousness that anyone could be unkind to a dog of that breed. Goldens are the most people-pleasing dogs in the world, just so full of goofy and abundant love. They just want to win your approval.

I witnessed something this morning at the grocery store that may have been the human equivalent, which is even worse.

I live in a coastal town, and here’s one of the Rules of Living at the Beach on any 4th of July weekend: DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE. And if you must leave the house, do it at 7 a.m. in the morning before the tourist craziness reaches fever pitch, usually around 9:30 a.m on a holiday.

But I had to leave the house, because I needed some things from the grocery store, so I trekked out early and thankfully there were few people out and about yet.  Unfortunately, one of those people was a really upsetting presence. A harried-looking mom (or grandmother? Could have been either) with a darling little tow-headed 3 or 4 year-old girl.

The first time she opened a tirade on the wee one was in Bakery.

“Put that down!” the mom shouted, when the girl reached for a free cookie. “Can’t you just ever do anything right?

To which the tiny, blonde adorable human being who has the inalienable right to enjoy a free grocery store cookie (it’s in the Constitution) responded with a muted “Sorry.”

I blew it off as a frustrated albeit really cranky mom, and made a note to try to avoid her for the rest of my shopping, which of course resulted in her passing me in almost EVERY AISLE.

In Bread, the girl skipped around the cart while her mother scanned the shelves.

“STOP IT!” the mom commanded.

“I’m just being silly….”

“Well, knock it off. You’re always silly. Its getting really old.”

Ok, now I’m getting angry. Who the hell reprimands a child for silliness? I catch the mother’s eye and give her a mid-grade stink-eye in return. She looks mean. MEAN, I tell you. But I thought she might think twice about berating her daughter if someone gave her the stink-eye.

But no.

In Pasta / Rice / Soup, I met them again. This time, the girl was trying to put a tiny stuffed animal she had brought into her mom’s purse.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She snapped loudly. “Carry it! If you didn’t want to hold on to it, you shouldn’t of brought it. If you put it in my bag, I’m throwing it away.”

Let me stop right here and assure you that my mothering skills are completely imperfect and always have been. I try really hard and always have, but I make mistakes. I snapped at my daughters plenty as they were growing up, I know I did. We all have bad mommy days. Snapping at your child occasionally isn’t what I’m talking about. I don’t mean to judge this woman harshly, but as she systematically tore down her child in such a nasty way,  I started judging aplenty. Every word she directed at her daughter was full of scorn. I can only describe it as venomous. (The sad thing is that if this is mom at 7 a.m., I cannot imagine how she might treat the kid at 5 p.m. when exhaustion really kicks in, or at 8 p.m. when putting her child to bed.)

I started praying for the girl, who wasn’t even misbehaving in the least – just being a kid. Even on the aisles we didn’t mutually cross, I could hear the mom yelling at her.

When we met up in Frozen Foods, the little girl told her mom “You look pretty.” Anyone could see that this child was trying to win approval, and it was freaking heartbreaking, because her mother responded with “Yeah, whatever.”

Finally, at the checkout, who should queue up behind me but this woman and her daughter. The girl touched a candy bar and her mother loudly said in a seething tone: “You got a hundred dollars? No, you got nothing. Don’t even touch that.”

She didn’t get physical with the girl, but I wanted to scoop the child up and get her away for a while. I wanted to offer to babysit, and invite the girl to come skip around my dining room table and eat candy. I would take her to feed the ducks at the pond near our house, and I would put flowers in her hair and assure her that she IS doing everything RIGHT, and that silliness is a character attribute of the very highest order.

Instead, I smiled and winked at her. She was just precious beyond all description and she smiled back at me – as sweet and happy as a Golden Retriever whose owner had mistreated it. What I’d witnessed  wasn’t cruel enough to be reported to the authorities, but it was definitely cruel enough to chip away at the spirit of a beautiful little girl.

Four year-olds are full of glee and “why?” and skipping around. Quite frankly, that age is often the most lovable of the childhood years, the most people-pleasing age, just so full of goofy and abundant love. I continued praying for the girl as I checked out my groceries and put them in the cart. By this point, I’m beyond angry. I am rolling away to my car, imploring God to protect and comfort that child’s wounded little spirit.

And then I had a thought invade my pleadings: Pray for the mother.

Hurumph! I shut that thought down quick, dismissing it on the grounds of righteous anger.

I’m loading my groceries, and again – like an annoying internet pop-up ad, it comes again: Pray for the mother.

What do you want me to pray, God? Forgive her,  for she knows not what she does? She knows damn well what she’s doing! But still, as I started the car, God really just wouldn’t get off my back about it, so I prayed an honest prayer:

God, I’m just so mad. I’m mad but I’m asking you to somehow work in the heart and mind of that mother. I don’t know what she is going through, but you do. That meanie is your little girl. Forgive me for praying for her very last, and with trepidation.  You were pretty clear about praying for our enemies, and I ask for you to pour your supernatural, unconditional love on her. Show her grace, Lord. And show me grace and mercy too, please. I need it just as much.

Praying for thine enemies is very, very difficult. That’s why Jesus was the only person ever to do it perfectly. It’s especially hard when the aggressor is mean to a child or a dog. I’m working on learning to petition God on the behalf of the jerks in the world, because I’ve been a jerk before too in other ways, so maybe someone was praying for me.

God bless us, every one. Please, God. We need it so.

 

 

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Trusting Adult Kids to God’s Care (Even when it really freaks you out)

IMG_3329

By: Jana Greene

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and because it was Mother’s Day, I cried a lot. I cried because it is my first totally empty nest Mother’s Day. I cried because  my own relationship with my mother is fractured into a bazillion pieces. I cried because someone I love didn’t acknowledge me at all. I did have a few tear-free segments of the day, but menopause was around to keep the good times rolling.

I may or may not have fed my feelings heaping spoonfuls of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream.

I’m still kind of mopey, honestly. But I’m getting a grip today. I must get a grip today.

You see,  I love my daughters. Oh my God, how I love my daughters. But they took different paths than I’d expected.

I think that every mother has a certain set of dreams and assumptions for her child. Those assumptions are that your child will grow up to be successful and kind and happy, and stop wiping boogers on the wall. Happily, this is usually the case.

I assumed mine would grow up and get scholarships to universities because they are super smart, they would naturally stay away from all drugs and alcohol (from, you know, learning from MY mistakes, like THAT ever worked,) graduate college and get jobs they are passionate about. That they would be in straight, monogamous relationships – not living together before marriage – then get married to Godly men, and have a couple of kids that they devote their entire lives to, just like mom. (But that was MY own dream, and I couldn’t even do it right!)

Then there are is The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams –  that they will follow God – really know Him on a personal, intimate level. That they will pray regularly, and allow Him to guide their lives.

The reality is that kids are not appliances – there are no warranties. They are on a crazy merry-g0-round. You can try to hop on if you dare, but it won’t slow down for you and in the end, there is a lot of nausea involved. It’s best just to stay out of the way. There is no control.

There is, however, a loving God we can trust them to.

Perhaps your child grew up and stopped wiping boogers on the wall (remember when that seemed like such a BIG DEAL? Sigh)  but instead ran away from home and you don’t know where she is.

Or is gay / transgendered.

Or is a drug addict.

Or is in prison.

Or drinks to much.

Or is mean to people who don’t think the way she does.

Or has turned her back on everything you taught her.

Or hates you.

Or hates God.

…Any deviation from the loving plans you made for that child when she was first born and they lay her on your belly. (Remember how EASY it was to TRUST GOD with that child when they were brand new? Piece of cake!) New babies don’t stay new, though. They grow up and do wonderful, glorious, horrible, confused, amazing, and confounding things. Things for which YOU HAVE ZERO CONTROL.

Yet, in the midst of whatever your child engages in that breaks your heart, you still – always – love that child.  If YOU love her so much, can you imagine how much ABBA loves your child? He isn’t surprised at your kid’s lifestyle choices, and He isn’t limited by  our ways of imagining our children ‘fixed.’

There is no grace deficit for your child that you have to worry will run out. God is merciful and FULL of grace! Because they are not the droids we were looking for – happy little predictable robots – does not mean God is not working out HIS PURPOSE IN OUR KIDS, even as they experience stuff.

I still pray every day that my wild and loving and confounding children will make good choices. I pray that The Big Granddaddy of All Dreams that I harbor in my heart for them comes to fruition. I will pray that until my dying breath.

I want to trust the Lord with my daughters JUST AS MUCH as when they lay on my belly as little newborns, squinting up at their mama. I want to trust Him that easily with them still, and I’m asking Him to help me do it.

Jesus, 

I lay my children down at the altar and TRUST YOU with their lives. Ultimately I know that my children must know YOU intimately. Lord, help me get out of the way.

And all God’s children said, Amen.

Save

More than Many Sparrows – My very own daughter and the audacity of ink

In working on a series of “Seven Little Action Words,” I was kind of at a loss on ‘Trusting.’ Honestly, I think it is because we are very nearly empty nesters now and I am learning to trust God with my grown daughters. This may seem easy if your child is still in diapers or is navigating the waters of Kindergarten; not so easy in the tween and teen years they seem bent on making the stupidest choices possible in any given circumstance. In the epiphany that I was never in control of my girls’ lives in the first place (illusion, my friends…it was all an illusion) God is giving me a single question: “Do you trust me with these girls who you love so much? I love them even more than you do, you know.” I know, Abba. Thank you. Sometimes I need reminding. I trust you. Your eye is on my little sparrows, too.

By: Jana Greene

My daughter's tattoo, which has come to have significant spiritual meaning to me as a mother.
My daughter’s tattoo, which has come to have significant spiritual meaning to me as a mother.

The first thing I noticed about it was the blackness of the outline, almost as if it were drawn with bold magic marker. My next thought was that I must absolutely write about this, the design that now lay bare on her skin. As if, somehow putting pen to paper would give permanence to the moment, as the needle brought it to her flesh.

My daughter’s first tattoo.

I had known that it was coming, that she considered it a rite of passage. My girl had always danced to the beat of a different drummer; a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture. If she had a credo it would be this: Live by Deliberate Acts of Impulsivity.

As her mother, I would surely prefer that she not bear any tattoos at all, because (and yes, I am the expert here) she is absolutely perfect the way God made her. I am rather attached to her being, looking, sounding exactly like my daughter – the only one of her kind, anywhere. Tattoos are just not my “thing”, whereas she very much is.

Nineteen years ago, just after she was born, the delivery room nurses whisked her away for her first bath and returned with my infant girl swaddled very tightly. No sooner was she in my arms than I was removing the blankets, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning. As mothers have done since the dawn of time, I checked her, head to toe. I found her birthmarks, the dimples in her plump hands, and worked my way to her tiny, peach-fuzzed back. There, between two flawless round shoulder blades, I placed my open palm to her skin. It was a perfect fit. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined anything marring that space.

In her “growing up” years, there were manifestations of her free spirit, of course… harmless acts of rebellion, none of them leaving a lasting mark. She formed strong opinions before she could form complete sentences, and had no trouble expressing them. At around age four, she developed magnetism to the camera (any camera) and made it a habit to insert herself into any and every photograph.

Around the same time, Alexandra began displaying fashionista tendencies. An ensemble she chosen for a summer day in the park might include: a sweater with leggings, plastic Disney princess shoes, a toboggan with ear flaps, seven necklaces and a life-vest (after all, it was July!)…all worn together and on dry land. It soon became apparent that stares, glares and pointing in her direction by the public at large was not a deterrent to this behavior. It was more the entire motivation.

This is when the adage “choose your battles” took on meaning for me. And as I became a student of war, the years rolled on like a tank.

With the advent of tween–hood, there were lines drawn, of course. Not a fan of shirts that showed adolescent bellies and shorts that declared suggestive adjectives across their bottoms, those were not tolerated. Alexandra compensated with crazy combinations of adornment, including stick-on tattoos of all kinds.

At twelve, after spending a long day with friends at the beach boardwalk, she returned home with a henna tattoo, ecstatic.

“Until I get a real one,” she told me.

She managed to graduate high school with only a nose ring as modification, but no sooner was the ink dry on her diploma than she was ready to display ink on her body.

“I’m ready,” she said to me one day. “I’m getting my tattoo. A bird.”

Okay. A bird.

“A Tribal Sparrow,” she added.

“What in the world is a ‘tribal sparrow’?” My voice is more condescending than I intend.

Eye rolling and head shaking. Translation: “Mother, you just don’t get it.”

I wonder about the subject she has chosen for the artist, and it’s tribal-ness. Our family heritage is sort-of a homogenized breed. We have no “tribe”. We have no “people”. We are Scotch-Irish with German in the mix, and a little Louisiana-Cajun-French (but you have to really look for it). No- we are very garden variety, Ellis-Island mutt American. Perhaps that’s the attraction for her, the tribal aspect.

“If you’re trying to belong,” I said, in an attempt to appeal to her lovingly (sometimes changing strategy can be effective). “You already do. You don’t need a tattoo to belong here.”

She knows that, she says.

“Is a bird something you now,” I pause for effect. “And forever more want to be associated with? Because you will….you will be ‘that girl with that tattoo.” But as I am asking her, I am secretly grateful she isn’t branding herself with a map of Area 51, or the image of a pop tart, or a beer keg. “It should be something meaningful to you.”

“It is. It represents freedom to me, Mom.”

“You still live at home,” I reply dryly. “We pay all of your bills….. Don’t you want to wait until you are free to commemorate freedom?”

Heavy sigh. “Freedom from things. Personal things.”

“If it’s so personal, why does it have to be permanently inked on your body for the whole world to see?”

“Why would I not?” she counters, and I have no reply. All their lives, my children have been told to be authentic, true to themselves. Encouraged to be real.

Don’t be afraid to show who you are. It’s the message I’ve tried to impart, even during the years of life-vest accessorizing. Don’t wear the masks.

“You know what?” I say. “You don’t even know who you are yet! You are who you are right now, and a mere five years from today, you will be in a completely different place.”

She says that none of us remain the same, not even for a single year. And it’s true. I am a very, very different mother than I was when she was born, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning. The particular audacity of getting inked is that it alters your shell, the only one you will get in this life. It is a deliberately impulsive act.

Parenting is not a sane endeavor, and complicating the matter is that she is, in fact, not a child. Still, I have to believe she will listen to reason.

“Not everyone is going to be so accepting of your ways in the world,” I bleat wearily. “There are people who will make value judgments about you based solely on the fact that you have a tattoo.”

But my instincts tell me to RETREAT, as I watch her body tense.

RETREAT, or there will be immediate launch into mutual hysteria, familiar territory for us. It seems that – these days –she and I are either dissolving into tears of laughter together (our ‘inside jokes’ are legion), or hurling words of frustration at one another, rapid-fire.

“If I ever care what people think of me based solely on my appearance, than I have bigger problems than having a tattoo!”

How can I not admire that statement? Who can argue? She is, after all, an adult. I surrender, but silently, and with a slow refrain of “Taps” playing in my mind.

What I want to tell her, but do not say aloud, is that she will be marked, molded, and modified, without ever setting foot into a tattoo parlor. I look at my body, once just as perfect as hers, mapped by the story of my life. Constellations of freckles from forgetting sunscreen a thousand times, and wrinkles from the same offense. Smile-lines around my eyes from laughing, scars from mishaps and missteps, and from the pieces I have lost to surgeries….all part of the story. But it’s the pink, translucent ribbons that cover my lower belly that mean the most to me. Tributaries of skin stretched to accommodate the growing bodies of she and her sister long ago….. These are my tribal marks.

When the time arrives, Alexandra comes to tell me it is The Day. . She tells me the name of the artist who will do the work. I recognize his name; he attends my church. She is the definition of “all smiles”, luminous.

“Do you want to come with me while I have it done?” She asks. “You can hold my hand.” I am instantly frustrated with her for acting like a little girl – still needing my approval, and equally frustrated that she is not one anymore.

I politely decline, and her boyfriend goes with her instead. I am considering the natural order of things, pondering the business of ‘letting go’ when she walks out the door with him. I try not to think about ink and needles. I’m glad he will hold her hand.

It finally occurred to me to talk to God about my qualms; it should have been my first response. How many times do I wrestle tiny inconsequential issues to the ground as though they are giants without asking the Almighty God to assist me on the mat? As usual, He was already in that place I had hesitated to invite him.

The Bible has a lot to say, and the gist of the message that speaks to my life is Grace. True, there are passages that warn about marking the body, scriptures that warn against cutting the hair. But it is a verse about birds that God brought to my mind. Leafing through the pages, I found it right away:

Matthew 10:29. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Has my daughter inadvertently given flesh to the scripture I pray over her?

Though I hate to admit it, Alexandra’s tattoo has forced me to consider the messy business of acceptance. The “Choose-Your-Battle” cry of all parents has a different tone for each scrimmage and every life stage. What do I gain, as a mother, if I choose not to accept my grown child’s decisions? Am I selfishly seeking validation that I have “raised her right” if she refrains from what society might be uncomfortable with?

The freedom she is trying to parlay is that today, she can still go anywhere from here. This tattoo is meaningful to her. And she is meaningful to me.

When she returns, she cannot wait to show me, walking backwards into my bedroom so that it’s the first thing I see. There is no hiding the work; she will have none of that. This girl, a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture….Now adorned.

So that’s a Tribal Sparrow…

A clear coat of laminate covers the wound, so that it can heal properly. In the mental melee of preparing myself to see it, I had forgotten that it would scab and scar…that it would be a ‘no pain, no gain’ commitment, as most things that become permanent are.

“It’s lovely,” I say. And I think I mean it.

The Tribal Sparrow is a beautiful bird.

Her outline is striking and very bold, not the least bit likely to fade, but her plumage is just the color of Alexandra’s complexion. Centered between my daughter’s flawless and round shoulder blades, the sparrow is exactly the size of my open palm…a perfect fit. She is in flight, but I’m not sure she knows where she is going, her two tail feathers pointed high. Her eye appears to be a soft swirl, peering neither downward or behind, but straight ahead. Her wings are gently drawn with a curve, as if she is gliding, not yet looking for a place to land. A true Artist painted her right onto my daughter’s perfect body. And every time I see it now, I am reminded that His eye is on the sparrow, and that she can go anywhere from here.

Anywhere at all.

Valor, quietly: What “Father-ness” really looks like

“Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”

– John Mayer, “Daughters”

I used to be a big fan of greeting cards – Instagram-esque images on the front, the oh-so-eloquent sappiness that makes up the text inside. But these days, I’m finding that Hallmark doesn’t always capture the essence of occasions. Here in my sepia years (not near ‘golden’, mind you) mass-generated greetings don’t cut it.

Looking for a Father’s Day card to recognize my husband, I hovered over a card on the rack that pictured the quintessential daddy-daughter image: A black-and-white picture of dancing feet – a little girl’s bare feet perched upon her father’s leather Oxfords. I love that image.

Isn’t that what father-ness looks like?

What does it look like, as a reel – instead of a snapshot? It is a no guts, no glory endeavor. Father-ness also looks like a million other little acts of devotion.

It looks like canceling long-awaited plans to attend a chorus concert/band performance/theatrical production that a child forgot to mention until the day of.

It looks like children whom he has advised can “tell him anything” will, in fact, tell him anything.

It looks like forgoing something he wants – or even needs – so that the girls can have what they want and need.

It looks like giving 100% in the little things, like positive reinforcement for clean dishes and put-away laundry.

It looks like giving 100% with little or no notice for big things – like weddings. Moves. Driver’s licenses.

It looks like unselfishness.

It looks like knowing a child’s favorite birthday cake flavor, and going to all the grocery stores in town until you find it.

It looks like making taking the time to hear their points-of-view of his kids  (even when they make no sense, even when they are “wrong”.)

It looks like insisting that they treat their mother/step-mother with respect, even in the sassiest teen years (such a mouthy time!)

It looks like openly loving God, while respecting the truth that each daughter is on her own the journey to discover that God is real.

It looks like praying on behalf of each one of them, every day.

It looks like midnight runs to the skating rink, and dropping four other loud, yapping, excitable teens off at their own houses, so their parents don’t have to make a midnight run. Sometimes, it looks like four or five loud, yapping, excitable teens having a sleepover at his house.

It means rolling with the punches, constantly – without harboring resentment, or bestowing guilt on the children.

It looks like valor, quietly.

It looks like giving away his life’s treasure to her new husband on her wedding day, and making that day as memorable as possible for her.

It looks like buying class rings that he knows will be worn once, and then sit in a drawer. And it means never mention a word of the expense again.

It looks like treading the fine line to deal with a daughter’s choice to date the over-cologned, greasy haired, lip ring-wearing, juvenile delinquent, junior Bad Ass (completely unworthy of her,) without being overbearing (thus increasing the boy’s appeal ten-fold.)

It looks like buying feminine hygiene products when necessary – without embarrassment. Without missing a beat.

It looks like stick-to-it-ness when going through the drudgery of parenting, honestly – the day-in, day-out homework inquiries.

It looks like having stunt-man like ability to roll off the drama.

It looks like learning – and accepting – that all three daughters respond differently to different situations, that “one size” rules, privileges, and relating does not fit “all.”

It looks like honoring our daughters, even when their behavior is not honor-worthy.

It looks like standing in a darkened window with a notepad in-hand to write down the license plate number of a boy who has picked up a daughter for a date. (Date my daughter? Be ready to be properly vetted. ) Note to daughters: Yes, he did this – and with enough forethought to make sure the dining room lights were off before you left. Better visibility.

It looks like shuttling kids to doctor appointments, play practices, sleep-overs, and SAT tests. And back again.

It looks like listening to Christina Aguilera, when he’s in a Robert Cray kind of mood.

It looks like being the practical parent; not always getting to be the fun parent. It looks like school supplies instead of frivolities, in leaner times.

It looks like treating your wife exactly the way you want your daughters to be treated by their husbands.

My Beloved’s flesh-and-blood daughter was born with the privilege of calling him “Dad.” He has raised her most of her life. She is a married now, still Daddy’s Girl at 22 years old.

“Most people experience just having a mom raise you – or even both parents if you’re lucky – but I always just had my dad,” she recently told me. “He is the one person who told me what he thought and then let me make my own decisions without judgment…always dropping everything to help me, and giving me the biggest hugs, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye. He has given me a life to be proud of, always giving me the best advice and showing me how to better my future. “

For my own two daughters, My Beloved came on the scene when they were 10 and 13; the first and only man I dated as a single mom that my daughters immediately gave the stamp of approval (I only dated a couple, I swear!)

“Mom didn’t really have any boyfriends before my step-father, but she did go on dates occasionally,” my youngest, now 18,  says. “Being the grumpy child that I was, I did not like any of them, but something about him was different. He didn’t just care about mom; he cared about my sister and I – and he went out of his way to show it. A few weeks into his relationship with my mother, he surprised me with a necklace of my favorite animal – a penguin. It had a gold chain and crystal eyes, and came in a penguin-shaped case. It wasn’t my birthday or anything … he just wanted to show me that he cared. I hoped that he would be my stepfather, and I am so grateful that it happened!”

My eldest, also now 22,  came to appreciate that he put in the time with parental grunt work: “A lot of things stick out to me when I think about my step-father,” she says. “He took time to come to all my school events and basically ‘owned’ us all from the get-go. One of my favorite memories is recent – just last month – when he came and sat with you during my tonsillectomy even though he didn’t have to….even though I was pretty out-of-it, and wouldn’t have known if he had skipped it. Waking up and seeing that he was there, that meant a lot to me. That’s just who he is. He is really that person.”

What does Father-ness look like, really look like?
So much better than a Hallmark card; so much deeper than Instagram-esque imagry and sappy sentiment. Off the rack; a reel of a million little acts of devotion. And some really big ones.

It looks like love.

Footnote from My Beloved’s daughter, Lynzee, who is leaving to be with her husband stationed in Japan in just a few days:

“Dad…
I’m not a very adventurous person. But you always told me, ‘You’re never going to see what the world has to offer you unless you put yourself out there and try new things.’
So now that I’m an ‘old married lady’; I have a chance to go to Japan for three years. Even though I haven’t left yet, I already miss you.
Thank you for working so hard. You’re always my secure place to call home. You are an awesome dad, and I love you.”

 

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.

Head-Over-Heels – love from a God undeterred

I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.
I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.

By: Jana Greene

“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”
―     Brennan Manning,     The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out    

From the very first minute I met my beloved husband, it was obvious that he was interested in me. He made is so clear! If ever there were a love at first sight, we totally nailed  it.

But seemed to be such a good man, that I had this primal urge to warn him.

“You should probably know,” I said, while waited  for a lunch table on our first date. “I’m an alcoholic in recovery.”

“And  have two daughters, 10 and 13, who I raise by myself.  And they are really handfuls.“  He only smiled at me, undeterred.

As that first date progressed, it was clear that this man was special, different. He was warm, attentive, interesting. I had butterflies, but in the most comfortable, natural way. As it turned out, that he had a 13-year-old daughter, too.  In our first, long conversation, I kept having the oddest feeling that this was The One.

We saw each other every day after that. We simply couldn’t be apart.

In times of anxiety, I wanted to tell him, “RUN! I am not worth it!” and when he didn’t run, that dark place in my spirit that was born of so much rejection in the past, whispered, “He will one day abandon you, you know. He will figure it out.”

Even after such a brief courtship, it occurred to me that If he wanted to run, I would rather it be right away, before I fell any deeper in love with him. I felt like such a mess, with nothing to  bring into this new relationship.

Nothing but me.

“I have medical issues,” I would say at otherwise intimate times. Or, “I struggle to pay my bills.”

I was sure that this sexy, compassionate, amazing man would not stick around, if only he knew the true me. But a strange thing happened … the more he came to know the true “me,” the more he just kept falling in love.  The alcoholism recovery (which is a lifetime endeavor,) the single-parenting of teenaged girls, the health issues….none of these – or any of the other in the plethora of anxieties and insecurities – kept him from loving me.

Oh how many times I experience the same dynamic in my walk with God!  From the very first moment I accepted Christ as my savior, it was obvious that he was head-over-heels with me.

From time to time I remind him: “I am small, insignificant. I battle anxiety, and fear abandonment, and have nothing to bring to the table. Only me.”

He is such a good God, it’s almost as if I feel I should warn Him.

Often, when I feel those butterflies that come from knowing the Living God has fallen in love with me, I still wonder “why?”  I am in awe that the God of the universe is undeterred by my character defects, challenges, and  not concerned about what I can “bring to the table.”

I’ve told God that – if he wants to run, I understand. I’m kind of a mess. Sometimes, when I am most anxious and depressed, when the old feelings of being a “mess” crash over me, I think about the early days when I tried to talk my Beloved husband out of loving me, and he just smiled. I was enough, he wanted me, just me – forever.

What kind of God would be crazy about me?  The kind that cannot be talked out of it.

The kind who just wants  to be with me, because when he created me, it was love at first sight.

And when he runs, it is only toward me.

Breast Practices – supporting nursing mothers

fresco
Fresco of Maria Lactans (literal translation: Mary as a nursing mother) at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Agliate, Italy.
As you can see, Mary is breastfeeding Jesus without so much as a blankie covering her shoulder.
Also, I can find no evidence that Mary – in either a fresco representation, nor the concordance of my Bible – fed him in a bathroom.

By: Jana Greene

A young mother on an afternoon shopping trip at the mall juggles her fussy, hungry four-month old son. She needs to feed him, so she:

a) Sits on a bench in front of Victoria’s Secret store, and digs through the diaper bag for a bottle of formula. Her son quiets instantly as she feeds him. Shoppers smile as they pass by, because everybody loves a baby –  particularly a quiet one. Everyone loves to see a mommy caring for her child.

b) Sits on a bench in the mall – this time in the Food Court –  and digs through a diaper bag for a receiving blanket. She drapes it over her shoulder and  lifts her blouse underneath discreetly, and with a swift motion of the other arm, cradles her four-month-old son to her breast. Her son quiets instantly as she feeds him. Many shoppers either avert their eyes or make snarky comments amongst themselves as they pass by (some make them intentionally  loud enough for the young mother to hear) – Because everyone loves a baby, but apparently not everyone loves to see a mommy caring for her child.

Which of the mother’s feeding choices do you find most offensive?

As it so happens, a mother shopping at an actual Victoria’s Secret store in Austin, Texas was asked not to nurse her infant in the store at all. Not even in a dressing room. It was suggested by employee that – are you sure you’re ready to finish reading this? – she nurse him in “the alley.”

Ahhhh. You can spend hundreds of dollars on bras in an effort to lift and separate,  push ’em up and hold ’em down – so long as you don’t use them in a practical manner. It would seem that the Land of Silk and Money is NOT the Land of Milk and Honey.

Shouldn’t we find  floor-to-ceiling-sized posters of nearly-naked super models (whose boobs are so exposed that only her areolas are covered by strategically-placed feathers) a bit more offensive than a breastfeeding mother? Breasts are made for feeding babies. If that makes you uncomfortable, take it up with God – it was His big idea. He designed them perfectly for it, long before plastic bottles and rubber nipples. Society has managed – as is so often the case – to make something pure and natural into something perverse.

(By the way, my  least-favorite reaction to a breastfeeding mother is: “Well, SEX is natural, too – but I don’t want to see anyone else doing it.” In what alternate universe is nursing a baby “like having sex?” Answer: In no universe. What a wildly inappropriate comparison!)

When my daughters were babies – and even into toddler-hood – I nursed discreetly  in malls, and concerts; in the park, and on “Its a Small World” at Disneyworld. I was living life and raising kids. We were on the go, and many times I thanked God for the convenience and economy of lactation – not to mention the bonding between mother and child in ensures. Who has time for fooling with bottles?

Once, when my firstborn was about six months old, I was feeding her at a museum, on a bench in a quiet, darkened hallway. I had a light blanket loosely over my shoulder,  fully covering my breast (and my baby’s head, face, and shoulders.) Only her tiny legs and feet were exposed, kicking happily. A couple walked by.

“She should nurse that baby in the bathroom,” said the woman.

Here is what I wanted to say: “Do you enjoy eating your lunch in the bathroom? Most of us don’t. I’m pretty sure my daughter doesn’t either!”

But I’m a wimp, so instead, my face burned a little. Her statement did what she had  intended – embarrassed me. But only momentarily; I knew that I was doing what was best for my child.

Can a nursing mother be 100% discreet all of the time? Sometimes babies pull away for a moment to hiccup. Sometimes the chug too fast and choke a bit, in which case they suddenly sit up.  And yes, you regularly have to switch sides, folks (that old “supply and demand thing.) If you see a mother and baby in a “nip slip” and for that instant your delicate sensibilities are offended, look away.  If you “don’t need to see it,” don’t stare.

Now – If it doesn’t bother you to see it, give the mother a little smile.  She is doing what is (sadly) considered a brave thing these days…a much, much braver thing to do than what is socially acceptable (Victoria Secret model displaying her perfect breasts in billboard-sized glory.)

The nursing mother is just feeding her baby as humankind has been nourished since the dawn of time. Somehow our more primitive ancestors “got” what we have  lost.

Breastfeeding is what boobs are for.