Mind the Gap – Standing in prayer amid the roar

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By: Jana Greene

One of my favorite places in the whole world are the mountains of North Carolina. They aren’t sharp and pointy like the Rockies, demanding awe of their majesty. Rather, they are vast and rolling and a thousand shades of blue and purple – those Blue Ridge Mountains. And some of our favorite places to visit are not at the tops of mountains, but in the valleys or ‘gaps.’ Surrounded on all sides by massive, ancient mountains, it always gives me pause.

Little towns named for the gaps they settled in always have the most dramatic names: Deep Gap. Windy Gap. Air Billows Gap. Smoky Gap. And my favorite, Roaring Gap.

It’s called “Roaring Gap” and not “Whispering Gap” because when the winds pick up between the mountains around it, it roars.

Today I was privileged to pray for a dear friend whom I love very much. She is in a difficult situation in which there will be no easy resolution. She is scared, of course. Her anxiety is palpable, and I don’t know what magic words to tell her that will make things instantly better.

She is encountering a ‘gap’ in her life, and she just needs someone to stand in it with her, to bridge her reality with the answered prayer on the other side.

I don’t know why so much scripture describes “peace in the valley” because in between mountains can be an anxious place. Unless, I suppose, you can rest in the gap with full faith that those mountains will move.

Many of my friends right now have fallen from ‘mountaintop’ experiences and are just hurting. They cannot see a way out of the roaring, all-encompassing gaps. I pray for them, but it doesn’t seem like enough to do.

I was raised Baptist and often heard people refer to intercessory prayer as “standing in the gap” for someone. This morning, as I prayed what I felt were insufficient prayers, God reminded me of what it means to “stand in the gap” in prayer for others by giving me a visual.

(He does that for me sometimes. It is literally as if the Almighty is saying, “Dang, girl. Do I have to DRAW YOU A PICTURE!?”

Yes, Papa. Sometimes you do.)

I saw myself in a mountainous gap, worried for a friend. But I wasn’t standing.

In the vision, I am sitting cross-legged in a beautiful mountain valley and imploring God to please help my sister in need. And then I look around me and try to find routes through the foliage. I wring my hands and close my eyes, and ask the Father again for resolution. Then I start wondering what the dimensions of this gap are. Hmmm. I wonder where God IS already?

Then I look behind me and there stands my sister-in-need. She is standing upright, but just barely. She is crying into her hands and trying to keep her balance, wavering on her feet.

She just needs me to stand with her. She needs me to stop trying to figure out how to fix her problem, and just to stand with her, help hold her up, and implore God on her behalf. She is too tired and weak to do it on her own.

I like to ‘fix’ people and situations, you see. Maybe you do too. Or maybe you feel your prayers are insufficient.

If you have a prayer language, use it. Think of your friend and her needs and her heart, and let the words flow, echo off the mountains they are facing.

(If you don’t have a prayer language, ask God to give you one. It’s not as spooky as it sounds and is incredibly intimate. He wants to fill you with those words you cannot even understand!)

If your sister is sad, hunker down and be sad with her. But prayerful always. God can fix what she is going through.

God doesn’t expect us to survey the gap…or question WHY is this gap here? Who left the gate open?

He just expects us to stand in it. He expects us to stand firm on the promise that He is still at the helm. However much we love our suffering friends, He loves them infinitely more.

Fill that gap with prayerful petition to Christ on behalf of your sister. One day, her struggle will be behind her like one of those endless and beautiful ancient ridges of blue mountains.

And just stand there, even in the roaring.

Lord God Almighty,

So many of my friends are hurting. Their spirits are wounded, and they are standing, but just barely. Help me to stand with them. Give me the words in this otherworldly language to plead their cases before you. Waste not ONE BIT of their struggle, but lend them comfort in the midst of it. Hold them, Abba. Douse them in your Love. Remind them that you are faithful.

In Jesus’ name.

AMEN.

Weary and Burdened: Mental Illness and the Church

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Jesus as depicted in stained glass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC. My Jesus loves everyone. Everyone is precious in his sight.

Meet Joe.

Joe is a Christian who struggles to keep his blood pressure under control. Following his doctor’s advice and having the support of his family, he manages to healthy. He keeps encouraged by those who love him, and that makes all the difference.

Meet Sarah.

Also a Christian, she is a survivor of breast cancer. She has suffered through a double mastectomy and many chemo treatments, and is currently in remission. She surrounds herself with people who love her to stay in a positive mindset, and has the admiration of the community for the brave fight she has waged.

And Sam.

Sam’s  diabetes demands constant care. The dietary and medical choices he makes impact his life every day. Sam is very open with others about his condition, as he depends on their support and his own healthy choices to keep him going.

Joe, and Sarah, and Sam. They each battle a disease. Each need a place to rest, as rest is essential to wellness.

In this life, we will have trouble. If God’s own son was not spared suffering, we will surely not be either. Health challenges are simply a part of life.

Now meet Amy.

Amy is a follower of Jesus Christ who suffers from mental illness. Perhaps you know Amy – or someone like her. We all do.

Maybe she cuts herself. She might even have visual and auditory hallucinations.

Perhaps depression weighs her down, making even the most mundane survival tasks difficult.

She could have anxiety, the dreaded foot race between her worrisome thoughts and the beats of her heart.

She may have crippling compulsive behaviors, making her a social outcast.

Her moods may soar to the top of the stratosphere – beyond logical control – and then crash and splinter in too many pieces for her to put back together.

Her emotions may be too wild for her will to handle.

She might rage or isolate, with the same outcome: shame.

Amy is just as sick – but no sicker – than others with chronic diseases to be managed, but that makes some people feel uncomfortable. So she hides, even from her own church. She knows there are others who struggle with issues like hers, but she is wary to share her story with them.

She depends on Christ to help her through each day, but desperately needs other Christ followers to walk with her.

Christians struggle with mental illness, too.

A brain that does not regulate serotonin levels is – spiritually speaking – no different from a pancreas that does not regulate insulin. The biological propensity toward addiction and alcoholism should carry no more stigma than having genes that could carry cancer.

High blood pressure can be managed and so can mental health. And having a mental illness has nothing to do with having a relationship with Christ because that relationship is simply, not “all in one’s head.”  It is all in one’s heart.

The church is the first place that the mentally ill should seek to stay encouraged, become surrounded with love, and depend on the support of one another.

To bear our own crosses while we help others keep from collapsing under the weight of their own.

To manage the pain of life and all the challenges it doles out.

To combat the stigma of mental illness, and nurture the brave ones coping with it every day.

To stay encouraged by those who love us, which makes all the difference. To have a safe place to find rest.

Joe, and Sarah, and Sam. They each battle a disease. And so does Amy.

It takes a village to build one another up, yes – but it also takes a church.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus. (Matthew 11:28, NIV)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus. (John 16:33, NIV)

 

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Imperishable: What cancer cannot take

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

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

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

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

Life, and death. And Life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She will live, and the cancer will die.

Just as she prayed, believing.

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

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.

In the Twelfth Year of Recovery, My Father Gave to me….

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By: Jana Greene

There is something cool about the number twelve. It makes me think of the famous recovery“steps”,  fresh, hot doughnuts – and the beloved disciples of Jesus – not necessarily in that order.  It also brings to mind the song about the twelve Days of Christmas that just passed; the lyrics of the song I never really understood, having little appreciation for Lords a’ Leaping or partridges in pear trees.

But I have all the appreciation in the world for addiction recovery, so in honor of God and His making the past 12 years possible (joy-filled, even!) I wrote a little redux. I pray it blesses you, and I look forward to living sober for my lifetime with the Father’s graceone single day at a time.

In the first year of recovery, My Father gave to me – a helping of humility.

Step 1: I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and compulsive behaviors, that my life had become unmanageable. It was hard to admit I had zero power over a silly substance, really humiliating, actually…but in the best way possible. I had to learn how to bite off one without drinking day as it came, and then another and another – in complete surrender to God. I still approach sobriety that way.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

In the second year of recovery, My Father gave to me – reckless, steady love, and a helping of humility.

If you don’t think you deserve to be loved, it is a hard thing to accept. But true love doesn’t come because we deserve it at all; it comes when we can’t possibly deserve it. God’s love is reckless in nature, and He wants us to learn how to love one another similarly.

“In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” – John 12:26

In the third year of recovery, My Father gave to me –hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

Oh, the mess I’d made of things. Surely I’d used up all of the favor I could reasonably be shown. Blessedly, God is not reasonable in promising hope and favor for the faithful!

“I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. 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

In the fourth year of recovery, My father gave to me – grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

Now I had some major decisions to make about my life. Some of my choices were good and healthy at this stage, and some were not good at all. Through trial and error, and floundering effort – I just didn’t drink. And I tried really trusting in the Highest Power instead of my own barometer.

“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.” – Lamentations 3:22

In the fifth year of recovery, My father gave to me – fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes, hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

Life keeps happening, and without a numbing agent. Not everything that light is cast upon shows up in a rosy light. Acknowledging character defects became a priority, and remains one. By necessity. The learning curve is constant, but God loves me right where I am today. He is so awesome that way.

“But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.” – Romans 2:1-2

In the sixth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

 Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

When I humbly request that God remove my shortcomings, the space gets filled up with much better stuff. Love, grace, joy and mercy. (Step 7, for those who are wondering). This was a time that God stormed the shores of my life with people to love me (think the beaches of Normandy!) It still amazes me that He sends just the right people into your life with such care and mercy.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” – John 13:34

 

In the seventh year of recovery, My Father gave to me – coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

Not easy living, mind you….but complete life. That is how I cope: bring it to the Highest Power. He is always available when help is needed. When I struggle to stay sober, he goes to the mat to fight for and with me.

God is a safe place to hide,
ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in sea storm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.” – Psalm 46:1

In the eighth year of recovery, My Father gave to mepermission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes;  hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

I love the Serenity Prayer, especially the little-known end of the Reinhold Niebuhr poem because it helps me differentiate between having joy and being happy. We all are on a quest for happiness, but sometimes reasonably happy is enough.

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen. And AMEN!

In the ninth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – comfort in His Presence, permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

 Grace through massive changes;  hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

And what of the “joy” thing? It comes only from His presence, which is the most tangible when I am still and quiet; when I stop trying so hard to anticipate what He is communicating to me before my heart has a chance to have a good listen. This is sincerely a work in progress! Recovery itself is work, in progress. But there is nothing sweeter than His presence.

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10

In the tenth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – acceptance through surrender; comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes;  hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

The only formula I know that works is:  constant, daily surrender to God + hard work you often don’t feel like doing + helping others = forward moving recovery. Sometimes it inches and sometimes it races, but giving it all to the Father is key. I am still one drink away from repeating my old, self-destructive patterns. Accountability in a group is important. Step 10: We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”– 1 Corinthians 10:12

In the eleventh day of recovery, My Father gave to me – a better perspective. comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

 Grace through massive changes;  hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

The human condition: assuming victory over one area of struggle only to have temptation rear its ugly head or have another struggle knock me down. It seems to happen when I least expect it and nothing I do seems right; I have a long way to go, and so much yet to learn. But when I let God pick me up, I can see a little better than when I’m wallowing around in the pit. The view just isn’t that good from there. His righteousness makes up for my weaknesses.

“God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.” – Romans 3:26

In the twelfth year of recovery, My Father is giving me – a way to pay it forward. a better perspective. Comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

When I was active in my disease, everything revolved around drinking. Hiding my secret was my first priority. Now – a dozen years after starting this journey – I cannot keep quiet about addiction recovery because I was lost, you see. And now I’m found.

What drinking left room for are peace, comfort, healthy relationships. A second chance to be the mother my daughters deserve and the wife my husband should have. I have to write about it, talk about it and  tell other broken people with secrets that I am broken too, but that God actually prefers to use broken people over the ones who think they have it all together. Or….as Step 12 states: Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

“That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

I am so grateful to God, because He is the Author and Finisher of my faith and my recovery. Without Him, I never would have made it a day without alcohol (and for many years didn’t.) With Him, I have hope for the future renewed every day, because it is fresh every morning and comes like my sobriety – one day at a time in full measure as I need it.

In the (first) 12 years of recovery, My Father gave to me:

A way to pay it forward

Better perspective

Acceptance through surrender

Comfort in His Presence

Permission to be happy

Coping skills for living

Mercy overflowing…

FINE CLARITY!

Grace through massive changes

Hope for the future

Reckless, steady love

And

A helping of humility.

Fighting The Sad with Prayer…and Lemon Ice-Box Pie

PIEBy: Jana Greene

I made a lemon ice-box pie today, for no good reason. Several sad things have happened over the past few weeks – the pinnacle of which was the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, the saddest of all. And I had a jar of lemon curd in the refrigerator (very Rachel Ray of me, no?) that was on sale at the new Trader Joe’s last week and a pre-made graham cracker crust leftover from Thanksgiving, so I figured…why not make a lemon ice-box pie?

I’m fighting the funk a bit these past several days. The Sad is a powerful thing.

Lemons are yellow, the color that is supposed to lift your spirits. And the recipe also called for sweetened condensed milk, which is the antidote to whatever ails you. Throw in some cream cheese and lemon curd and I had a pie filling so yummy that for the two or three minutes of spatula-licking involved, all was right with the world.

Except that it wasn’t, of course.

So after putting my pie in the freezer to chill, I sat down and attempted to do the same.  I was thinking about how much the yum reminded me of my childhood – my grandmother used to make all kinds of ice-box pies. There are things about my childhood that don’t exactly put me in a cheery mood, but there are also many things that do. My grandmother is one of them.

She was from an era before mass school shootings and Doomsday Preppers, a time before it was considered dysfunctional to ease suffering with sweets and feed your family to comfort them. I was a skinny little kid back then who resented that I had to eat at all, much less enjoy food. I was too busy discovering things.

Childhood made me think more about the babies who died in Connecticut last Friday, so I started to cry…again. All through the day today, I checked the news websites to see if they’d come up with any answers (as if there COULD be any) and cleaned the house to distract myself from what I’d just read. My friends, who have recently experienced loss and depression, I am crying for them too.

Busy work, busy work that only made me tired.

There is a pretty well-known verse in the Bible about feeling exactly this way – grieved, exhausted, overwhelmed. As I sat down and tried to fear the quiet stillness that enveloped me, I  told God that The Sad was overwhelming. Sometimes there are so many feelings and thoughts milling about in my mind that I can scarcely communicate them with a tangible person, much less an invisible God. But I pray anyway, because sadness  is powerful, but it will not prevail if I ask for help:

God,

I’m lugging around The Sad, and it’s heavy.

I miss my family…the ones with whom I’m estranged through a series of most unfortunate events, and the ones who have passed out of a world that has to deal with such horrors.

I’m worried.

I’m disappointed in myself on a couple of different levels. Help me to see myself the way You see me, God. Not through the scratchy lens of self-condemnation.

I don’t understand what is happening all around us.

It isn’t fair that children die. That their parents won’t ever have the opportunities afforded to so many of us. Daddy-daughter dances, little girls standing atop their father’s shoes to waltz perfectly; Mommies to clean the mud out of soccer cleats and teach their boys how to be good husbands.

I’m so tired, Lord.

Weary.

I know He is there, I feel His Presence intensely…like a strong wind. You can try to touch the wind; you can try to hug the wind but it’s far too big for that – it envelops you. It can either knock you off your feet or fill your sails, but you cannot deny it is present. I am like a tired toddler right now, I know, with my relative misery while the whole world seems to be falling apart. I need sleep and comfort (and more pie). Most of all, I need to know what my Daddy says about sorrow:

My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. – Psalm 119:28 (King David’s lament to God….well, ONE of them. He was another of the Father’s needy children).

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28 (I love this one)

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint. – Jeremiah 31:25 (Refresh us, Lord!)

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:3 (Even Jesus Himself became weary)

Knowing the  children who lost their earthly lives are in a perfect place, discovering wonderousness beyond our comprehension dents the grief. They are – I believe – surrounded by yellow there – experiencing ultimate uplift-ment.  All is right in their worlds now; they suffer no more, but their families? I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through. They carry the heaviest burdens anyone can be expected to carry. We cannot allow evil to prevail, but we must ask for help.

Jesus, give them rest.

Maybe we can all learn a bit about living in the now. Spend less time in busy work and more time in honest conversation with our Creator. Hold our families as close as we can for the time we are given.  Go a little easier on ourselves, learn to forgive ourselves.

When we’re weary, take time to be enveloped in the Wind and listen to what God says about strengthening, refreshing and giving rest.

And, of course, make lemon ice-box pie for no good reason.

Gratitude, intentionally

By:  Jana Greene

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. – John Milton

I don’t know what I would do without everyday epiphanies.

In recovery circles, they are called “aha!” moments…those times when things suddenly make sense just a little bit.  My favorite brand of “aha!” moments are the ones of reverent, intentional gratitude.

Yesterday, my husband and I visited with some old friends at the beach.  It was – at the risk of sounding dramatic – as perfect a day as I’ve ever had.  We hoisted beach chairs to the water’s edge and talked for hours about how fast our babies grew up, about all of the things that surprised us about parenting (a lot!)  We swam in the salty sea and snacked on chips with homemade salsa.  And spent the evening having dinner on the back porch, which overlooked the marshes.  We shared so much laughter, our cheeks ached.

Several times, I reached over to touch my good friend, because I felt so blessed by her that I wanted to make sure she was real!  God loves on us through his other children….Aha!

On the drive home, I held my husband’s hand, which is not at all unusual.  But we locked fingers like we have a thousand times before and I thanked the Lord for this perfect fit.  And that prayer led to gratitude for all of the other ways I love my husband.  I can’t count all of my blessings if I don’t start with “one” ….Aha!

Washing my sandy feet in the tub before bed, I considered the events of the day.   I thought about friendship – and said a quick prayer to let the Father know I appreciated his orchestrating those relationships.  I smiled, thinking of the ocean and complimented Him on His handiwork.  I couldn’t remember a day in recent history in which I’d felt so humbled by blessing, so full of gratitude.  It isn’t because I’m not blessed; it’s just that worry has been renting the space in my head that joy rightfully owns.  Worry is a destructive tenant, opposite of thankfulness in every way.

God is always bestowing gifts big and small to us, but sometimes I don’t encounter grateful-ness because life is full of not-so-wonderful days, chock full of them.  Things seem to go wrong more often than right, and days are not often even close to perfect.

I know that we are not here to be blessed, but to bless. But I also think God gets tickled when we notice the things that we, ourselves, cannot take credit for – the things we shouldn’t take credit for that change forever how we experience life and the world.  It takes almost no time at all to say “thank you” but it can change the whole trajectory of mind-set.

Being truly thankful makes sense of things, I think.

Aha!