Faith and Florence – Riding out the “Storm of a Lifetime”

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By: Jana Greene

Good day, dear readers. I’m going to try to blog about this experience with Hurricane Florence a little each day. Maybe someone else will be able to relate to my fear, faith, and feelings…maybe it will just prove good therapy for me to get them all OUT! Be safe out there, friends.

I was thinking about “hurricane preparedness” this morning, and what a misnomer that phrase is. We feel we are prepared. We did all the cursory prep as most of my neighbors –  bringing in every porch / yard item that could become a missile in Cat 4 winds…shutting all of the interior doors before we left…evacuating two states away. Hurricane Florence, you see, is taking dead aim at our lovely little beach town.

You know that feeling you get when – first thing in the morning – you open your eyes and realize there is something very wrong? That sinking feeling? A giant monster storm coming straight for your city and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. “Preparedness” is important, but how do you prepare yourself for coming home to utter devastation? What if we lose everything we own? It’s a very real possibility. I’ve had several mini panic attacks over the past few days, like many of you, I’m sure.

OMG, this is happening.

This is the “big one.”

I might lose the things of my heart, like my kids’ baby books. The unity candle from our wedding.

The outfits my babies came home from the hospital so many years ago.

The more I think about all the things, the more I remember we could lose, and the more I have trouble breathing.

Then I remember I have lost nearly everything before, during the course of my 2004 divorce. I just left, took the kids and left with little more than we had on our backs. It was a horribly difficult time, but we survived it, and my daughters actually thrived.

Eventually, the sad sting of losing so many pictures and yearbooks lessened. But that was high school yearbooks and pressed homecoming mums; furniture and trinkets. Not a whole house.

Today, one of my kids is here in Atlanta with us, another is in Charlotte safely with her boyfriend (who is an absolute super hero…) and one on the way to VA.

Even our kitties are stuffed into this tiny hotel room – all three. It’s cozy.

So what we are going through is unbelievably stressful. I just consumed an entire bag of “extreme” sour gummy worms. Yes, I’m’ praying to Jesus but candy helps, too.

This hurricane is not an “act of God.” God is responsible for all that is good and lovely, pure and true. He is in our laughter and in our joy. He is not punishing anyone. He is always either blessing us with all the beauty around us, or he is hunkered down with us in the storms. He hasn’t left us.

File natural disasters under “sh*t happens,” and look around you. You will find some of the kindest, most loving people manifesting right now. I’ve lost count of how many friends I’ve seen post, “I have an extra bedroom; whoever needs a place, you are welcome here!” And “What do you need?” on public FB feeds. “I can run errands. I can help you pack. I can give you a ride.”

That’s where I’m seeing God at work – not in a swirling vortex of doom. I don’t know why bad things happen and I’m not going to yank your chain with useless platitudes.

It sucks. I’m scared.

This whole shebang is super stressful.

Can faith and fear occupy the same space? I used to think not. But anymore, I’m convinced that our Creator is grace-full about the overlap. He isn’t mad at our anxiety. We’re his kids, for crying out loud.

Right now, those same girls who went through the valley of having a single mom in the early 2000’s (and my Bonus Daughter, too) are out of North Carolina. Nobody knows what this thing will do, but stuff be darned, my family is safe.

We are just one family of the literal million who has left for higher ground. There’s nothing special or particularly unique about us. We are all going through this together.

For your family – whether you are riding it out or stuck in your car right now in a long, seemingly stationary line of traffic, I pray for you. I worry for you. I’m hopeful for you.

And I’m super glad to be a part of a community of people whose hearts are so loving and giving. You guys are – in the worst of circumstances – being the hands and feet of God. Thank you.

Flotsam, Jetsam, and Faith

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By: Jana Greene

Ever been through a dry spiritual season? Without exception, we all have. Some of us are there now.

The place where God’s voice seems muffled under the din of mind noise. Oh my Lord, such mind noise!

Faith made stale by either struggle or monotony…because let’s be honest, both can really make us feel small and lost.

Swimming is a great therapy for me. It soothes my janky joints and relaxes my tense muscles. One of my favorite places in the world is the beach, and we are fortunate to live minutes away from the Atlantic ocean. When I go to the coast and scan the vast horizon, it reminds me how tiny we humans are.

But when I get in the water and swim, I’m in another world. It is a soft, enveloping womb – the ocean. I get immersed, letting the gentle current carry my floating form. I like to swim out past where my feet can feel the bottom. When I go with my adult kids, they are forever telling me, “Mom! That’s deep enough!” It’s funny how the roles have somehow reversed.

One of the most fabulous things about a faith walk is that even when you trip up, you still always know where true North lies. Navigating by the Heavens is tried and true, predictable and concise. Sometimes when I trip, I stay down on the ground and have a little spiritual tantrum, refusing to get up for a bit.

But when I come back from a dark place, my worship is fresh and welcome to my Papa God. Just like dipping into the cool waters of the sea, I’m not small but significant. I’m part of the water, and it’s part of me.

That’s all it takes to get my mind right – worship. And worship isn’t always about flashy church worship bands, or getting the lyrics right. It can be about seeking Him in nature. It can be about a long conversation with him – trusting Him to hear us is an act of worship. Noticing the tiny things that are beautiful and miraculous. Because the miraculous surrounds us every day, if we take time to look for it.

I have offered up some of my best worship while floating on the surface of the salty sea. Words fail me at times. But He is as close as my breath as I admire His handiwork.

When I am spiritually dry, He isn’t waiting on me to get it right to respond. He is in that dark place beside me, within me as Holy Spirit.  I am not small and lost, but infinitely valuable to my Creator, and so are you. So much so, that He is in us and around us, guiding our flotsam and steering our jetsam. Interestingly, the definition of “jetsam” is: “unwanted material or goods that have been thrown overboard from a ship and washed ashore, especially material that has been discarded to lighten the vessel.” He wants to lighten our burdens! What a God we serve.

Immerse yourself in Pure Love and be reminded that you were not designed to admire the vast love from a safe place. You were born to learn that trust makes us weightless.

That’s how I think about God – He desires that I don’t stay on the shore, but dive in and trust Him fully, even when our “feet” don’t touch the bottom.

God bless us, every one.

 

Seasons (that suck) are followed by Seasons (that ROCK!)

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By: Jana Greene

This whole post could easily be about hating summer.  Because I really hate summer, and frankly don’t understand why any temperature over 90 degrees exists. That’s what I want to talk about today – hating summer because it’s hot.

In the literal heat of the moment, I can decide the whole damn season just sucks.

Heat is oppressive. My body doesn’t like it. Easily eighty percent of my health woes are directly impacted by temperature, although I hate admitting that because it’s such an old lady complaint. (Spoiler alert: You really CAN feel the storm coming in your bones!)

Something about sweating really brings out my flair for the dramatic. In the foyer of my house – as I am exiting my home – I am woman, hear me RAWR! And I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me! I’m having a great hair day!

Two seconds later, I’m walking to the driveway awash in the oven-like conditions of the great outdoors (yes, the stretch between my front door and driveway IS considered the ‘great outdoors,’ especially in the summer.) Within moments, I have dissolved into a sweaty, ruddy, giant two year old who needs a nap. The air feels too damp to breathe. Ew.

When I get over-heated, all of the sudden, I feel fat and ugly.

All of the sudden, my inflammation levels rise.

All of the sudden, I hate everything about living on planet Earth.

Oh my goodness, what first world problems! But during the experience of segueing between Hearth and Home and Habitat Hell, I become extremely grumpy. What possible purpose could 100 degree weather serve? I mean, sorry about the Ozone, God, but could you hook a sister up with some nice 80 degree days between May and September?

To everything, turn turn turn,

Season, turn turn turn,

And a time for every purpose

Under Heaven.

Purpose. Hmmmm.

The inevitable truth is that summer is only a season – one season – and as such, will turn into Fall. Things turn; it’s the nature of things to turn.

Now, I LOVE everything about Fall, ya’ll. The whole shebang!

Autumn leaves changing colors, and hot apple cider. Snuggly sweaters and crisp, cool air. October is my favorite color, and I can’t wait for it to come around! At the slightest whiff of cool air, my attitude changes. Witnessing the falling of one orange leaf means all of the bounty of my favorite season is in view. It’s coming! It really is!

That seasons change is a fact. Better times are coming. After this season comes another, better one. I will not need gills to breathe outside then. I will be able to exhale, and inhale again, with little to no drama about leaving the house.

So I suppose this whole post is kind of all about hating summer. But even this wretched season has it’s charms – like going to the beach. And….going to the beach. (I got nothin’ else here.)

No matter what we are hating right now – it will change. Seasons always do. Whatever is stifling us and strangling us, making us grumpy.  Knowing that it’s nearly September and October inevitably follows is a great comfort to me right now!

If you are going through some awful season right now, I pray you will just be encouraged. I’m not going to feed you a line about everything happening for a reason; that’s not helpful at all. But I am reminding you that it is temporary.

It helps to remember that in all of the other seasons, too – the ones that make heat strokes look like a walk in the park. Like the Big Three – health, money, and relationships. There’s a season for everything, including huge life changes.

Take heart – your “October” is coming!

Mine is, too.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.”

 

A Prayer for the Hallway – Faith in the in-between

 

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By: Jana Greene

Lots of people say that starting a thing is the hardest part, but I beg to differ. To me, the hardest part is when you’ve done all the things to put yourself on the right track, but it seems forces are conspiring against you.

Paranoid? Maybe. True? Certainly.

When you’ve changed your lifestyle to a healthy one, but have hardly lost an ounce over the course of weeks. I don’t know about you, but it was my intention to have a window opened to me when I said goodbye to pleasures like sugar and carbs. When I’m stuck in limbo, my Inner Jana really just wants to say, “Well, screw it! I tried! Back to the Haagen Dazs!”

And in matters much more important…

When you’ve chosen to step out in faith but doors are not exactly opening up to you.

When you are expecting God to part the Red Sea but He isn’t making a way for you like you’d trusted. He is doing it some other way – even though you clearly instructed Him to please come through.

Getting started isn’t always the hardest thing. Sometimes the hardest thing is to KEEP going.

Here’s another thing a lot of people say:

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.” To which I’d like to add – “but it’s HELL in the hallway!”

The hallway is the perfect place for giver-uppers to give up; trust me, I know.

In the hallway, the light is often busted. You cannot see a way out, no matter where you turn. Where’s that window again, God?

In the hallway, our hearts hurt. It’s a lonely, unforgiving place. It can easily feel like no one even knows you’re missing.

In the hallway, you feel vulnerable, like Eve when she discovered she was naked. Just you and your Maker in this strange place of neither here-nor-there.

It seems like the long hallway will never end at times. You walk and walk, and the hall just stretches ahead like a mirage. I mean, sometimes it REALLY just goes on and on.

The hallway seems like a TERRIBLE place to rest! Right beyond a locked door and with no other exits clearly marked. But “rest” is what we are supposed to do in the damn Hallway, I think.

The hallway can be a purgatory-esque place of extreme anxiety building and extreme faith building, in that order.

Here’s the thing about hallways, though. They always lead to somewhere.

Some of the longest, darkest hallways I’ve had to camp in on have been great places to wait it out and wait on God. Not COMFORTABLE places, mind you. But pretty good incubators for learning to truly trust, even when you cannot imagine what the future holds.

When I went through a divorce in the early 2000’s, I experienced a stint in one of the loneliest hallways of all time. Formerly a mom who worked from home, I had to go out and get four part-time jobs to care and feed for my kids. We had nobody else. For a period of a couple of years, I stayed in “fight or flight” mode, to the extent that I’m pretty sure I crashed my spiritual hard drive. I had shut a door that badly needed shutting, only to find that my circumstances got more difficult before they got any better (and they did.)

When I quit drinking, deciding to quit was not the hardest part. The hardest part was on Day 11 and 105 – random times when I’m just minding my own sober business and the shit hits the fan and I’m caught unaware by the drama. The only thing that got me through sober was the faith result of spending untold time in the hallway.

And now, with my janky health problems and chronic “I’m not sure what I want to do when I grow up” (I’m nearly 50…) state, I find myself in yet another corridor, waiting for God to open my window and trusting that when He does, it won’t be on the 21st floor.

I’m preaching to myself as well as anyone else! I’m struggling, ya’ll. That’s why I’m writing about this phenomenon, hoping to pull myself AND you up with the hope that God is indeed working on things, even when nothing changes on the surface.

Had I not sat in that lonely place of in-between for so long, I wouldn’t have known how to survive life on life’s terms. The Hallway isn’t really a Hell, but a changing room.

A portal to accepting GRACE.

I will keep pressing through the hallway if you will!

Until we come out the other side, please join me in this prayer. ❤

Dear Papa God,

I feel like I’m in between. In between things and people and places. I’m ready for the glorious answers to prayer, but I know that you ONLY have my best interest at heart and have wonderful things stored up for me just beyond the open window. Thank you for changing things in your perfect time, instead of my time – which is seen through such a limited scope. Help us to be patient in the hallways, when we feel lonely, lost, scared, or anxious. Thanks for camping out in the hallways WITH us. What a wonderful thing for a Father to do. Holy Spirit, instill in me the faith to keep on keepin’ on, every day, with assurance that YOU are faithful.

Amen.

 

How ’bout that OFFRED?

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By: Jana Greene
Okay. I’m about to pull a Jesus juke The Handmaid’s Tale.
If you’re not familiar with the show, that’s too bad. Remedy that please.
The protagonist – played by Elisabeth Moss – is everything a heroine should be, including relatable and flawed.
In addition to giving me the compulsion to approach strangers in the produce section of the grocery store and whisper, “Blessed be the fruit” for my own entertainment, The Handmaid’s Tale is also an incredible series laced with danger, truth, and foreboding.
SO much terrifying allegory for a world that I could not have imagined in my younger days, but is now reality. It is about having human rights stripped away – even one’s very identity.
No spoiler alerts here, just little old me spreading thoughts for your perusal.
This show illustrates religion vs. grace in an embarrassingly bright light.
It’s about what happens when an ‘elite’ few in are allowed to run amok over its own citizenry, in the name of the “common good.”
Or worse, in the name of God.
And I guess that’s what especially pisses me off about the world we live in. We use His name to damn and to bless, as if we had that kind of power. Look at what a mess we’ve made! The evidence perpetuates itself –  God is rules. God is anger. God is the Nanny State.
Except that He is not. He is courage. He is compassion. He is freedom. The Word is a person, not a book.
Without going into spoiler-heavy detail, let’s just say in this cliché: the season two finale had many twists and turns. But all the while maintains it’s message:  You can try to twist ideologies to glorify your own, or embrace the truth about who you are. We cannot be boxed; Commanders, Guardians, Marthas, nor Handmaids.We were created for the wild liberation of individuality.
The fact that love conquers insurmountable odds is the godliest tale.
We simply cannot worship political parties.  Both have to potential to land us in a Orwellian spot like Gilead, one just as easily as the other. God has no political agenda. Only God can show us how to fight for justice while keeping our love front and center.
Like Jesus. Or like Offred….
I mean, JUNE.
May the Lord open.

When we got Nothin’, we Still have Hope

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By: Jana Greene

“You haven’t posted to The Beggar’s Bakery in a while…”

“The Beggar’s Bakery hasn’t gotten any new likes.”

“It’s been a while since your readers have heard from you.”

Such are the multitude of notices I’m getting that remind me I haven’t blogged in a while.

I’M SORRY, FACEBOOK OVERLORDS. I GOT NOTHIN’.

For six months, I’ve been writing a book about recovery. It hasn’t left any time and / or creative juice residue with which to write other things. Writing a book is stressful, but not nearly as stressful as surviving all the things that become material for the book. Right now, things are tough.

The book is all about the fierceness of the recovery life, whether that recovery be from drugs and alcohol or shitty childhoods, or bad relationships, or poor self-image. It is in fact titled “FIERCE Recovery.” But I am not feeling particularly fierce these days, you see.

I think maybe I am fierce in the same way as my fat house cat, who has delusions of grandeur that he is a big, scary panther, when in reality he is scared of the vacuum cleaner. We love him dearly, so he gets to live out his fantasy and we all pretend that he is super badass.

I AM fierce. I am strong.  But sometimes I’m delusional about what that means. Any thread of self-glory in those statements is being unraveled like a sweater. I’m naked underneath, but the thread keeps being pulled. Part of my fierceness is being exposed as vulnerability. Vulnerability can dangerous, but no more so dangerous than we are to ourselves when he hurt. Depression is a bitch.

But still, we have hope, because it’s a gift that is not the enemy’s to take. It’s not even OURS to withhold from ourselves.

I think my own personal free fall began with the death of a dear friend’s daughter from a heroin overdose. She was not just a friend’s daughter, but a young woman who I’d watched grow up alongside my kids and struggle with drugs. I had the distinct honor to “mentor” this girl for many of her recovery years, and came to love her.

My city is the “opiate capital” of the East Coast. Overdoses are commonplace. People are dying – mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. It is becoming “normal” to hear that someone I know directly or indirectly owe their lives to Narcan now.  Every day I hear of another overdose death, and every single time it brings my heart back to the girl who didn’t mean to die, but didn’t know how to live without her drug.

In other news, the suicide rate is skyrocketing. We were all sad to hear of Chef Anthony Bourdain’s passing, but how much more devastating are the lives lost in our own friend and family circles? People I love very much are being hospitalized for depression. Beautiful human beings are considering taking their own lives, choosing a permanent “solution’ to temporary problems. (Note: ALL problems here on planet Earth are temporary! It’s a universal law that things ALWAYS get better!)

Its as if two of the four horses of the apocalypse – suicide and drugs  – have decided to trample the human race under sharp, deadly hooves. We are all so tired.

But we cannot ourselves afford to tire of pulling each other out of the way, when people are hurting so badly.  But damn, it’s overwhelming.

Maybe it’s not so important that I fit the definition of FIERCE.  Perhaps I don’t need to feel like I have all the answers before I feel worthy to write a blog that says “I’m struggling. You?”

Maybe FIERCE is simply keeping the faith anyway. Maybe ‘fierce’ is just not drinking, and instead writing all of your janky and desperate thoughts and publishing them to a blog that other people might be able to relate to.

Maybe that’s why I’m supposed to write this piece because Facebook wouldn’t get off my back. Maybe we all need reminding that there is hope.

So long has we have a shred of hope, we cannot count ourselves spiritually bankrupt. Sometimes a direct hit right in the delusions of grandeur can shake hopelessness loose and release our inner Big Scary Panthers. Those badasses are all about survival.

The world would be a different place if people understood that they are precious to a loving God, who adores them just the way they are. Still a difficult place, but not a hopeless one.

That means you. He loves YOU.

“I got nothin'” has, in prior times of struggle, been enough for God to work with. Empty of all suggestions to make to God in order for things to work out the “right” way, we just ‘are.’ We stand in need of the one thing we cannot ourselves manufacture – HOPE. We are empty of answers, and desperate for his intervention.

If I’ve got nothin’, my hands are free to pull others up off the ground. They are free to hold tight to God’s promises.

So if you are reading this and your heart is despondent, just know that you’re not alone.

I won’t drink if you won’t!

I won’t give up, if you don’t!

Please don’t lose hope – you are loved.

Vulnerability is okay. We can be badasses in need of help. That’s not an oxymoron!

Take my hand and I’ll pull you out from under the stampeding horses.

And then when you can get on your feet,  YOU take someone else by the hand and pull them out, too.

Because when we got nothin’, that is everything.

Romans 5:4-5 [Full Chapter]

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” – (MSG)

 

If you are overwhelmed, please reach out for help!

SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES ADMINISTRATION

1-800-662-HELP (4357)

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE

1-800-273-8255

NATIONAL ALLIANCE ON MENTAL HEALTH

1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

 

 

 

You can Run on for a Long Time, but Sooner or Later God will Tackle You with Relentless Mercy (The Beatitudes Series V)

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By: Jana Greene

I absolutely love Johnny Cash. It is rumored that he always only wore black because he forever identified with the poor and the downtrodden. I like to include those who are spiritually poor in this consideration.

One of his very best songs, in my humble opinion is “God will Cut you Down.” It’s so gritty, so confident in the justice in its lyrics. Do You know the song (CLICK HERE TO HEAR ” SOONER OR LATER GOD’LL CUT YOU DOWN”

 

If you haven’t heard the song I’m referring to, here is the main refrain:

“You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down”

On this blog, all I can do is share my personal experience, opinion, and hope with you. I like to do so honestly, and I know there are many who disagree with me on key subjects. That’s okay.

But my own personal story’s refrain goes something like this:

“I ran on for a long time.

I ran on for a long time.

I ran on for a long time,

But sooner or later Jesus found me and heaped so much copious grace on me that I had to start a blog to tell the rambler, the gambler, the back-biter that God himself is love and mercy.”

Not as catchy, I admit. But it’s the truth as my heart receives it.

Jesus isn’t running after you to cut you down, but to tackle you and tell you that he loves you. Right where you are. That’s the Good News.

He isn’t a god of cutting down, but a God of Great Mercy.

Don’t take my word for it. Matthew 5 1:7:

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (NIV)

or, more plainly,

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

We are blessed when we are merciful toward the riff-raff,  because God was and is merciful with us. The act of showing mercy brings about a state of revolutionary and scandalous blessedness, and people don’t always know what to do with it.

At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. Hmmmm.

Mr. Cash himself struggled as a rambler most of his life. Whether we like to admit it or not, so do we. We may not all dress in black to identify with the poor and downtrodden, but our white-washed, white-collar rambling is rambling, just the same.

You know the classic question, “If you could sit down with a person living or dead and have coffee with them, who would you choose?” I must admit Johnny Cash isn’t my first choice.

But if I were having coffee with him right now, I’d ask “What did Jesus come for, if not to be merciful and graceful? Of what value would the blood of Christ have if it only washed away the surface-level stains?”

Yes, we must repent. We must repent to gain the full benefit of relationship with Christ. That job position is already filled by Holy Spirit.

If I remember correctly, God doesn’t wait for us to get our sh*t together before loving us, making Grace available to us, and showing us mercy.

“Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.” – Romans 5:8 (MSG)

There are other lyrics in “Run On” that almost contradicts other parts of the same song:

“Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head’s been wet with the midnight dew
I’ve been down on bended knee talkin’ to the man from Galilee
He spoke to me in the
voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John go do my will.”

I like that part. I like that part a lot.

Let’s do God’s will.

Let’s be merciful.

Let’s be blessed.