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.

OUT: Why “the closet” is no place for an addiction

The closet is no place for an addiction
The closet is no place for an addiction

Why “the closet” is no place for addiction

Out of the closet.

Closets are for shoes and jackets and unused scuba gear. They are for cramming clutter into when company arrives, and storing cardboard boxes full of unused stuff.  A closet is a room for what we put on to present ourselves to the world, and where we keep what no longer fits. It is no place to keep addiction.

I am not suggesting that anonymity be compromised in recovery; on the contrary – it must be protected. Many, many people would never seek sobriety without all-important confidentiality being respected with the utmost care. But I do believe that it might be possible to become sober on one’s own, getting healthy in recovery requires the fellowship of others who have suffered similarly.

The “safeness” of the closet is really just isolation. And no matter what your struggle, there are others who have survived it – thrived, even – who want to help you. There are others who know exactly where you are; you are never alone.

They meet in community centers and church basements to drink coffee and talk about living life on life’s terms. They meet because each one of them can learn from the others. They come together on a regular basis to clear the spirit and mind clutter from the closets, to get rid of what no longer fits. These rooms are a place to dress in healthy surrender to God so that we can present ourselves to the world as his broken but fully redeemed kids. And one of the tenants that helps keep our recovery going is the duty to offer a hand to help others out of the addiction closet.

You are never, never alone.

 

 

All the Sparkly Things: mindfully mothering in the moment

IMG_6548

By: Jana Greene

She doesn’t know it, I’ve pulled a muscle, and it’s all her fault.

I am lacing up the back of her dress, the periwinkle blue ribbons weave in and out of the stays, corset-style. I have to lift the tendrils of red hair out of the way as I work, and I worry it will be too tight -I can tell she is sucking it all  in.

Her dress has all of the elements of girly-ness that she guffawed only a few years ago: sparkles, lace and taffeta. All the pretty things she used to think were silly. It is strapless ballerina-style, showing off her young curves and fair skin. As I pull the last of the ribbon through and tie it into a bow, the muscle that is my heart lurches.

“There,” I say. “all done.”

Like Scarlett O’Hara she arches an eyebrow, and eyes herself in the mirror. Sunlight just so happens to be coming through the window at the perfect angle, setting the  on fire.  So many rhinestones! The perfect amount to be glitzy, without being  tacky. They are sprinkled throughout her dress and in her hair – even on her shoes. Just to be certain she sparkles enough, she slides on a bracelet chock-full of them, and clips on dazzling earrings to match.

The lurching again, in the heart. The pulling.

The heart is a muscle, and if it’s working properly it is always in motion. Lurch and soar, lurch and soar.

My daughter is always in motion, too. How can this be? I am wondering how this moment came to pass, sitting on the edge of the bed, watching her slip on ridiculously high heels. The reel of her growing up sped through my mind.

Don’t panic over time lost, I tell myself. And don’t rush into thoughts of the future. It’s a struggle to live in the moment sometimes. Even when the moment is beautiful.

Not very long ago, this girl hid herself away. Not very long ago, she didn’t want anyone to notice her at all. But now …

She cannot wait to see her boyfriend, to assault his senses with her girly-ness -sparkles,  lace and taffeta. He is wearing a suit with a vest to match her dress, and she swoons when she sees him. He is utterly handsome. I want to think that they look like two kids playing grown-up, but no. They really are growing up.

She beams while her date ties a corsage around her wrist.  It is a lovely, delicate gathering of white flowers, and it’s perfect. It had bloomed just the right amount to be perfect in time for the evening – just like her.

Boys were “gross” just a few years ago…weren’t they?  The memory of her chiding her older sister for liking a boy is still clanking around in my mind when we drop them off at the venue.

When we drive away, I look behind me, and they are kissing. The rhinestones in her dress are glittering, and she has one  ridiculously high-heeled foot slightly lifted – just like in the movies.

Lurch, goes the heart.

My hand goes over my chest  involuntarily, but my husband takes my other hand and squeezes. This daughter  is my youngest child; I will not go this way again. My husband knows that the stays are loosening, even as my heart tightens.

I surprise myself that think of my girl only several times – and not several hundred times – during the course of the evening. The occasion is making me feel a million things – old amongst them, to be honest. But mostly I am blissed-out that my daughter has come out of her shell in so dazzling a way. It is  her turn to have young curves and fair skin and wear so many rhinestones. I hope she wears all the pretty, sparkly things every chance she gets.

When she comes home, she is barefoot and  luminescent. She sits on the edge of my bed to share the details, even though its late.

Prom was wonderful. Her hands are fiddling with the edge of the periwinkle taffeta, just as girly as you please,  as she rushes to tell me the details.

“Swedish meatballs were the best, and I ate lots of them.  The courtyard was decorated with these candles and white lights, and linens and tablecloths… There was dancing, of course, and we slow danced, too,  but I  had to take my shoes off right away,  because I couldn’t really walk in them, and all my friends loved my dress…..”

When I unlace her dress and her remind her  to put away all of the sparkly things, she leans in for a hug. I take it, and hug her a little longer than usual, just because – like my daughter – the moment is beautiful.

And my heart soars.

Sweatpants of Bloatedness and the Pimple of Doom….

Today, dear readers, another share from Redemption Feast, the WilmingtonFAVS.com blog I write for. It was previously posted as an origional on this blog under “Unhinged” and only minor changes were made for this publication. Anyway, it’s about feeling unhinged. Can you relate at all?

My apologies for not keeping The Beggar’s Bakery more current with new content. I’ve begun working full-time in addition to serving in Celebrate Recovery in church, in addition to all my other goings-on. I really need to become better at this time-management thing!

**also, if there is a video under this post….it is a WordPress thing – I did not post it! The views in expressed in whatever video is there may not represent the views of this writer.**

Thank you for reading, and God bless you and yours.

http://wilmingtonfavs.com/blogs/jana-greene/unhinged-by-the-sweatpants-of-bloatedness-and-the-pimple-of-doom

Daddy’s Girls – The Healing

By: Jana Greene

Little girls….they are so full of themselves!

I never really got to know my father. He was disinterested in me when I was born.  As a very small girl, I remember jumping and dancing and shouting for him, wanting him to pick me up.

Look at me!

I can still see him now, coolly smoking a cigarette looking through me. How do I get my Daddy’s attention? Little girls crave that attention. They feel deficient if they cannot obtain it.

Then, I had a step-father. When he came into my life I was five years old. I was  both jealous of his attention for my mother and hopeful that he might show some for me. I became his adopted child, losing my identity as the daughter of one disinterested. But that didn’t really make me a beloved daughter. There are worse things than parental indifference, I would find out. There could be malevolence and maltreatment.

Years after the damage had been done, God healed my heart. He is still healing my heart. I trust Him daily, but it is an ongoing process to give up the hurt.

For years, I tried to fill up instead of give up. Fill up that space with attention from men. Fill up shame with alcohol. Fill up neediness with accolades. Fill up deficiency with a pouring into various meaningless pursuits. It’s a lot harder to give up expectations and surrender wholly. Giving up pain requires a kind of filling up faith…and trust.

It is said that we model our idea of who God is by our experience with our earthly fathers, and that is true, because we have no other measure to go by.  But then, what is a father? My maternal grandfather was a loving influence on my life, and my husband shows me what the most noble human fathering looks like in the way he cares for his daughter (and my daughters, too). But for the most accurate picture, I have to go to the Bible instead of looking to personal experience:

A father doesn’t ignore the needs of his child; he provides more than enough for her.

“Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6:17

A father isn’t irritated by the presence of his daughter, but delights in her with pride.

“Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in.” – 1 Peter 4:3-6

A father doesn’t betray his daughter’s trust, but honors it.

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (MSG)

A father doesn’t abuse and neglect his girl, but protects her from harm.

“Every promise of God proves true; he protects everyone who runs to him for help.” – Proverbs 30:5-6 (MSG)

A father is not detached, but involved.

“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” – Matthew 10:29-30 (MSG)

A  Father is not waiting to reject his child, but welcomes her with open arms regardless of her deeds.

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (MSG)

So, how do I get my Father’s attention? That pure adoration that little girls crave from their Fathers? I don’t have to jump and dance and shout Look at me! He is already looking, already getting a kick out me….just because I’m His kid.

In the spiritual realm, he is my Daddy by adoption because His son grafted me into his family.  He is my Creator, the one who used love to make me family.

Getting to know God for The Perfect Father is an adventure in loving and being loved. I wish I could say that I don’t ever struggle with abandonment, rejection or trust issues, but that wouldn’t be true. I am learning to accept that My True Father loves me even though sometimes I misbehave. He is teaching me to accept that he forgives me, even when it is difficult for me to forgive myself.  And He doesn’t instruct me with the iron fist or shaming ways of the fathers I have known on Earth, but with the gentlest correction reminding me to focus on His grace instead.

Maybe so many of us women are attention-seekers because we’re designed to be. Perhaps we are created that way  in order to seek our Father’s love. To  give up on being perfect to earn a Father’s love,  in order to fill up on the love of a Perfect Father.

To be Daddy’s Girls in the purest sense…not so much “full of ourselves”, but FULL of our Father.

Kinked Links and God’s Messy, Knotted up Favorites

By: Jana Greene

Having just finished a fantastic book that talked about – among many other things – whether Christians should “keep it real” with the world, I felt as though I should blog about my entanglement. Not because it’s so interesting that a middle-aged woman would get so worked up about what amounts to normal, first-world problems, but because I wanted to share a vision that God is giving me to deal with feeling this way. (Spoiler: it isn’t His magically making things perfect….that miracle is for the next world, not this one).

When I went to bed last night, my More Spiritual Self was kinked up.

After instigating a mild argument with my husband, I had tried to sleep. When that failed, I tried to pray. Fitfully, I asked God would He please give me a break here?  I know we are not supposed to let the sun go down on our anger, but I am clearly in the right!

That small, still voice didn’t chastise me anymore. Still, I quit trying to pray because I was so out-of-sorts and jumbled up, I couldn’t tell where one request started and another whiny demand ended.  Frustrated, I tossed and turned all night. Tomorrow will be better, I told myself.

But this morning, nothing in my closet fit me – The Fat Fairy neglected to visit me during the night to relieve the body-issue angst that is the hallmark of my Selfish Self. (If she would only come and take my fat away while I was sleeping and leave money in it’s place, it would solve TWO problems simultaneously!) All day, worry entangled me. Issues big and small (and all out of my control) tormented me and I walked around in a cloud of menopausal grump.

By noon, I had myself so knotted up with stress that I broke out in tears at Costco while waiting to purchase toilet paper and cat food. The check-out girl was very friendly, in a “I’ve no idea what to do about this” way, which made me cry harder because I felt sorry for her. She didn’t tell me to have a nice day.

But on the way home from Costco, I had a random memory about a short exchange between my daughter and I earlier.  When I had taken her to school that morning, I complimented her on her outfit (which really was lovely) and she held out her necklace for me to see and said, “It’s my favorite.”

I also remembered that it was the same gold-toned necklace with beads and feathers on it  that sat on our kitchen table for a week, knotted up in a ball. My daughter had gotten it tangled up at the bottom of a bag and asked me to unravel it, which I’d tried to do several times.

“You should really take better care of your stuff,” I had told her, when she’d given it to me and asked me to fix it.

And each time I would try to untangle it, the frustration mounted. Within minutes of not being able to tell where one link started and another began, I’d leave the project out of sorts, the necklace jumbled up worse than before. She’s just going to have to throw it out…it’s unsalvageable.

As a last resort,  I enlisted the help of my husband, who patiently untangled the entire chain and left it for my daughter to find on the kitchen table. He didn’t fuss at her for letting it get that way, he just solved the problem behind the scenes.  Which brings me back to today, when she wore her favorite piece of jewelry restored to it’s former glory.

I’m trying to untangle my chain, I realized. I’m knotted in a ball and don’t even know what to pray for.

“Perhaps,” said my More Spiritual Self. “You should give the big ball of it to God and let him untangle it.” And my Selfish Self, after reeling from the sting that my husband would be God in this analogy, had to concur that I have to bring my anxiety, pain and restlessness while I am still frustrated. Nothing is unsalvageable to God, but when I try to untangle myself, I make the knot bigger. He will be untangling  my messes  all the days of my life, but I have to leave it on the kitchen table, so to speak – and not as a last resort.

Sometimes I fail to take my issues to Him because I know He has every right to say, “You should take better care of your stuff” and I’m afraid He will.

But He never does, He just loves.

I’d like to say that VOILA! I am in a fantastic mood now that I had an epiphany, but I’m trying to “keep it real” here.  I can tell you that this afternoon, I’m not crying anymore and that when I got home from Costco, I broke down and changed into sweatpants with an elastic waistband. I texted my awesome husband that I love him twice today and I am still sober, which doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal after eleven and a half years of not drinking, but trust me – sometimes it still is. All of these things (yes, even elastic waistbands!) are blessings.

And God is still on the throne and loves us even though we are messy, knotted-up things.

We’re His favorites.

The Last First Day of School – a minor motherhood identity crisis

By: Jana Greene

Today is the last “first day of school” for my youngest child.  She is nearly seventeen now – a senior in high school.  Before I dropped her off, she and I said a quick prayer together – Dear Jesus, please give her a great first day and a great school year.  Now that she is in 12th grade, she has a lot to look forward to.

But as it is the last day I will ever drop a daughter off for her first day of the new school year, it’s a little bittersweet. As I watched her walk into the building, my eyes stung for a moment. Wasn’t she only a kindergartener clinging to my legs a couple of years ago? Now, she is a beautiful young lady carrying herself with confidence. I am so very proud of her.

Driving my kids to school in the morning is one ritual I’ve tried to keep constant through the years. They rode the bus home in the afternoons, but morning trips were mine. It usually felt like quality time (in 20 minutes or less), except for when they were thirteen and fourteen, and then it sometimes felt like a root canal (what with snarky attitudes and slammed car doors).  But mostly I remember a lot of laughter, and singing to the radio, and really good talks about the deep and the trivial.

A happy morning ride to school made me feel as though my kids would be okay. I would remind them to “make good choices” and get a feel for what was going on in their little worlds. On the mornings all went well, I felt born to be a mom. I didn’t know that they would grow up so fast.

You hear a lot about empty nests but my husband and I can’t really relate to that concept yet.  In our blended family, the children are twenty, twenty and seventeen respectively and all three are still living at home. None of them seem in a particular hurry to fly into the world without us.  He and I often groan about not having FIVE MINUTES alone in the house; we joke that we will have to move to an island in the middle of the night and leave no forwarding address, just to get five minutes alone. We have a bit of empty-nest-envy sometimes, in truth, because I was also born to be his wife and now in our mid-lives, he deserves to be the center of my attention as well.

This morning, the milestone of my youngest daughter’s last first day of school generated a tiny little identity crisis panic attack in my heart. I think that’s normal, but then I remind myself that “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine.

The truth of the matter is that we Moms – having devoted ourselves to our kids – have to learn what makes us “tick” all over again when they grow up. There is so much purpose in motherhood that I forgot it might not be my sole purpose. I’m still figuring out where God’s plan places me in the scheme of my identity, but many times His plan places me nowhere near who I’ve understood myself to be. He knows I will always be “Mom” to my beloved daughters, but His plans for HIS children are grander still.

Enjoy the full nest! my empty-nester friends tell me. Enjoy your kids…they fly away soon enough!  And it’s true – mine is a SENIOR now! If I get teary now thinking about her being in 12th grade, how will I fare when the kids really DO move out?  If I worry about them so much now while they are still under our roof, how much more will I worry when they are out? What will I fill the space with – the space that is feathered now with clutter and noise and drama?

And the small, still voice that I recognize as family, too, says “Trust. Fill it with trust in me. I’ve got them now.” So I have to try, because my Father knows best.

For her last year in high school, I hope circumstances allow me to take my youngest to school each day.  We will laugh and sing to the radio and talk about subjects deep and trivial in twenty precious moments or less, and pray together quickly before she leaves for class. God has fresh ideas for her life, and she has the whole journey ahead of her.

Born to be God’s child, too….