The Times, They are ‘a Changin’ (and we Must Listen)

By: Jana Greene

My husband and I were discussing how crazy the world is the other day. We talk about it a lot, actually. Just like everyone else.

The conversation ended in frustration and befuddlement, because we couldn’t understand what the world has “come to,” and frankly, why young people have such contrarian views on so many things.

We sounded like crotchety curmudgeons, because if we aren’t careful, that’s what we will become. And I’m at an impasse now – become bitter, or (God I hate to use this cliche but it’s so appropriate here….) better?

It’s going to be one or the other. I have to choose.

So I took it to God and stewed on it for several days. In the interest of enlightenment, I had a, um….robust conversation with my 28 year old daughter about the political climate. We agree on many things. We also disagree on many things. She helps me see things from another vantage point.

I have not abandoned some of my views. Because I feel they are right.

But we cannot react to militancy with militancy – meaning all sides are yelling at each other and nobody is listening. Young people don’t always have the life experience to listen. But we do….or should.

As Bob Dylan sung so many decades ago, the times, they are ‘a changin’. They are changing fast.

Even though I was a tot back then, I’m having early 70’s flashbacks. The renewed feminist movement, the remnants of an only partially successful civil rights movement, and heck, even yoga and house plants are back “in.”

Some of the best things ever came out of the 70’s (okay, mostly just the music.) And good things will come of all of these movements we are currently experiencing. This all needs to happen, and I’m optimistic about the outcome. You can say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

The Eastern philosophies I was so spooked by my whole life that our Baptist forefathers warned us of? I’m dipping a toe in some of their teachings because they are NOT contrary to Christ. At ALL. Christ was not a Westerner. He is opening my eyes to all kinds of awesomeness, because of one thing: I prayed for – and received – an open mind.

My prayer is that no black citizen is ever treated poorly. My eyes have been opened to what day to day life is like is for our African American brethren and it is with shame I admit that I had no idea how bad it was. After all, I treat everyone the same, doesn’t everyone?

NO. No, they don’t and it’s unacceptable. As a Southerner born and bred, I’m convicted of how my ancestors (all who purport to be upstanding Christians, I’m sure) belived and behaved.

Forgive me Father, I knew not the scope of the problem. I just didn’t know.

But our kids do.

My fellow Karens and Boomers? We have to listen. We have to have open minds. Or we are choosing to spend the rest of our lives upset and disgruntled, and we’ll leave the world no better than we found it.

It is NOT our fault – the whole state of the world. If youths blame us for it all, they are mistaken. The world we inherited wasn’t a whole lot better. But it is our fault if we don’t find common ground. We have turned a blind eye to so many things. And we cannot afford to do it anymore.

We can’t keep acting like it’s our world and the young people are upsetting it. The world belongs to us all, and American belongs to us all. Things that smack of anti-patriotism are often the reverberations of cultural and racial pain. And that’s a shame.

I don’t worship America. I don’t bow down to a flag, which is, if you really want to get biblical, is technically idolatry. I worship God, who is the spirit and definition of Love. 

First Corinthians 13 says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” And if I say I’m a Christian, but hate any one people group, I’m but a “clanging symbol.” I’m making a lot of noise, but really just crushing the fruits of the spirit between two cymbals.

Of all the deafening noise going on in the world right now, I don’t want to be just a clanging cymbal.

We can’t keep insisting that old-timey ways are better. Because they weren’t always. And they certainly weren’t for everybody.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot possibly live my best life if I’m angry and resentful all the time. I don’t have to understand everything. I do have to be willing to change, to grow. And to respect others. Even when we disagree.

The world we all share – young and old – depends on us doing our best to love one another.

Kumbaya, homies.

 

 

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

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

And here I thought ordinary life was daunting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless us, every one.

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

 

 

 

Faith Reconstructed (or, I think I’m ready to write again…)

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

Hi, my name is Jana and I’m a writer.

Sometimes, I forget that.

I used to write quite prolifically, and about everything.

As a matter of fact, this is the 475th blog post on The Beggar’s Bakery.

Sometime in the past few years, I’ve misplaced my writing mojo, which is to say that I’ve slipped into committing the cardinal sin of true creativity, which is to worry more about what people might think of me than to have confidence in what I have to say.

I think I started writing less when a series of unfortunate events took place, namely the catalyst for me to question, test, and try the faith that I’d inherited from my ancestors and never outwardly doubted.

It started when I got sick, and stayed sick. It started when well-meaning churchy people attempted to cast demons out of me (no, really) that weren’t really demons, but infirmary. The thing about sickness is that it is actually more threatening than demons to religious people, of whom I was chief amongst. After endless rounds of being prayed for, having “deliverance” ministries, and demon casting, well… it turns out that my illness is genetic, and while God CAN and DOES heal instantly, that was not the case for me, which led me to one of two conclusions:

1. I was doing something wrong and was a fundamentally flawed Christian. Or

2. God isn’t real. Healing isn’t real. My life is based on lies.

Now, I’m all about that –  laying on hands and praying in Jesus name. That is GOOD STUFF. We should always aspire to heal one another. We should always ask for our own healing and petition God to heal others. It’s just that when it doesn’t happen the way our religious leaders aspire it to, it leaves us in a spiritual lurch.

A few funny things happened on my way to figuring out that neither of those conclusions are true. It’s kind of a long story, and I’ve taken to the blog to tell it piecemeal, as best I can, whether anyone reads it or not. For a long time, this blog was my sanctuary, where I came to be raw and real. Then I underwent this huge physical and spiritual metamorphosis, and I wasn’t the chipper writer with a fast answer and scripture reference to throw out there anymore.

And I stopped writing here because that little Southern baptist girl inside told me that I had NO right to pen a blog that claims to be “one beggar telling another where she found bread,” because I am not a conventional evangelical anymore. Sickness changed me, yes. But the spiritual angle changed for me in ways I can scarcely count. What if So-and-So thinks I’m a big, fat heathen because I ascribe to this hippy-dippy, love one another craziness that has taken the place of my rigid, religious persona?

I guess that’s what they’ll think, then.

God and I are square, more than ever.

There was a time that I was sure my calling was to be a mom. And then my kids grew up; they still need me, but in a different way. I was sure I was called to be an artist, and poet, and for a season, I was. For many years, I thought my calling was to minister to recovering alcoholics, and that is still true. Those things will always be parts of my mission.

But here’s what nobody warns you about: Our “callings” change. They morph. We are always called to something new because Papa LOVES opening our eyes to the NEW!

So I guess for the foreseeable future, The Beggar’s Bakery will again be sanctuary for my words. Because I badly need to get these feelings out, and why not bring along 1,940 of my closest friends with me?

It isn’t a pretty journey.

It isn’t even a COMPLETE journey.

Just a leg of the trip, replete with all the joy, angst, confusion, acceptance, and hope I can muster and share with my readers.

This revival is for the doubters. It’s for the broken-hearted, and the disenchanted. It’s for those who always feel that they fall short of the glory of God, and the expectations of men. It’s for the marginalized and the giver-upper. It’s for the real people, the ones trying to figure out and complicate what is really, really simple – that God is Love itself and YOU are an expression of that love to the entire universe.

I’m still struggling with a lot, so don’t look to me to feed you in whole – to hand you the Bread of Life – the truths, mysteries, and answers. But I CAN tell you where to find that bread still. The Bakery is open – loaves and fishes for all.

It’s all love.

Til’ tomorrow….

 

Sisterhood of Solidarity – Chronic Illness and that B*tch, Depression

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By: Jana Greene

Greetings to the 1,950 people STILL with me here at the BB, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate and love my dear readers. ❤ I guess I should start this post with a disclaimer:

Warning – this is not a happy, shiny, churchy article.

It does not “glorify the lord,” necessarily. (Although I’m of the mind that God will be glorified in EVERYTHING in it’s time…)

Also – and let’s just get this out of the way – I have salty language. I’d like to say I’m working on it, but I’m trying to be transparent, and it’s actually the least of my damn worries.

Please don’t tell me how I’m already healed by the stripes of Jesus.

Please don’t insist I pull myself up by the bootstraps.

Please don’t tell me I am…

(1) under demonic oppression (been there, got that T-shirt…),

(2) not trusting God (because when someone is hurting, making them question their faith is always helpful,) Or…

(3) need to try an essential oil / nutritional shake (although it tickles me that the same issue can be considered “treated” by demon expulsion OR Plexus! Whichever!)  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I believe the last time I posted, I resolved to write a post every single day for a while, which was vintage me – setting up expectations I will never fulfill. I’m wicked good at writing emotional checks that my mind can’t cash.

Today I decided to write because I find myself in more solidarity with my depression than with my fellow sisters who are also fighting the good fight. I’m not sure what anxiety and depression feel like to you, but here’s my breakdown:

A sense of DOOM. Doom. Doom, dooooooom.

It also feels like:

Nothing is going to work out.

I’ll always be in physical pain.

I’ll probably always struggle.

But sometimes, you just have to get sassy back.

Sometimes, you just need to call a bitch out, and this bitch is DEPRESSION.

It has taken literal YEARS to receive the correct diagnoses-es, fight with God about the ensuing bitterness, and come to an acceptance.

Usually, I am pretty freaking accepting and have figured out a million work-arounds to deal with life.

“Doom mind” isn’t the most most Christian-ese terminology. Even admitting that I still struggle with it still feels janky, because being vulnerable is hard. Aren’t we supposed to play OPTIMISTIC, HEALTHY, and LIGHT-HEARTED?

The thing is, I’m not sure Christians are doing the hurting world any favors by wearing these stupid masks. I don’t think Jesus judges depressed people for being depressed. It doesn’t licit his anger, but his compassion. That much I DO know.

I am a pretty happy person, generally. I LOVE life.

I absolutely LOVE to laugh. I’m creative. I love hard. I don’t want to be sad.

Usually, it’s just easier for everyone for me to fake being okay.

Dry that tear.

Minimize that limp.

Ignore the anxiety attack.

Get out of those pajamas.

Apologize for being depressed – I have so much to be grateful for!

But some days, I can’t muster putting on a happy face.

Life is different now. Not always “bad,” but always “different.”

Mobility aids are not sexy. Prescriptions are not cheap. And you can only watch so many episodes of 90 Day Fiance without losing your ever-loving mind.

I’m hurting too bad to walk, just less climb mountains. My creativity feels shriveled up like it will NEVER return. I watch a thousand funny cat videos, but can’t rally with laughter.

It comes. It goes.

I’m doing my best.

And I’m supposed to do it without picking up a drink!

I don’t know how my friends remain supportive, and I appreciate them so much. But I also lay low sometimes especially with the good friends. Because who the hell wants to be bummed out?

I certainly don’t understand how my husband stays supportive. This is not what he signed up for (although to be fair, this is not what I signed up for either.)

Even for those of us blessed enough to be surrounded by love, it’s lonely. I cannot call my husband at work and worry him when he is already supporting his family by working hard every day. I wouldn’t want to. He has enough on him already!

I cannot call my daughters and whine every time I’m anxious or hurting, even though they are wonderfully supportive grown-ups. They have lives, and I want them to live their BEST possible ones.

So today, I’m writing as a little “reach out” measure in the blogosphere. Where my “spoonie” sisters at?

We just need eachother.

Something not a lot of people know about it a phenomenon that sick people – believers or not – don’t want or intend to check out.

We need to be able to say that we’re not okay without people assuming we are suicidal. I know people would rather be safe than sorry, but despondency comes in many flavors, and not all are true red flags. Some are just white flags of surrender.

I’m ok.

I’m not a danger.

I don’t need triage care.

I just need care.

I just need to know somebody else understands this lonely struggle with chronic pain and the havoc it wreaks on us via depression. Unless you are going through it, it’s hard to grasp, I’d imagine. I used to find this kind of thing impossible to understand myself.

A lack of serotonin and constant, unrelenting physical pain is a special kind of hell. I know Jesus walks through it with me; I totally feel his presence. I know I’m not completely alone. But damn if it can’t still feel lonely.

I’m writing today NOT because I have any answers, but because I feel alone and wonder if other chronically ill people feel me.

Do you understand?

If you do, I’m so sorry.

But how do you pull yourself up?

Let’s figure out this thing together and help one another.

When I have a painful day, and I say I’m DONE, the done-ness I’m talking about is hard to explain. It’s like when your toddler is at the grocery store and suddenly, inexplicably dissolves into a screaming, snot-faced, NO monster on Aisle 11, and cannot be reasoned with. He is DONE (temporarily.)

But I will. And I will smile / laugh / create another day.
So will you. ❤

The Grace Gospel Poem

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By: Jana Greene

What if you were already “right with the Lord,”

And didn’t have to live by the sword,

And battle every single day

With what you do or what you say?

What if you embraced your human-ness,

And didn’t have to strive and stress,

And earn your way into His good graces,

Would you then lean into wide open spaces

Of redemption and love, unconditionally given.

Would you then be so afraid of living?

If we believe what we claim to believe

Could our weary hearts gain a reprieve?

What if His love is totally free.

What, then, would would you open up to be?

What if you could truly rest,

Would you be less exhausted and less of a mess?

Does “it is finished” ring true to you,

Or are you still giving the devil his due?

We try so hard to earn His grace

When really if we seek his face,

We are already there

It is finished and done,

We are one with the Father

And one with the Son,

And Holy Spirit will guide us through;

If you trusted completion,

Tell me, what would you do?

 

Resurrecting the Bakery – a blog revival

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By: Jana Greene

Hello, dear readers.

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged; the longest span of time in the six year history of The Beggar’s Bakery.  In the interim, I began another blog, “So She Laughed Anyway,” which takes on issues with a humorous bent. I think I’ve only posted three posts to it. It has been a dry season, writing-wise.

But here in a difficult place, I find myself needing to write again. And I think I need to do so often, as writing things down seems to relocate my thoughts to a better, less scary, neighborhood. The challenge to myself is to write a blog post every day, for 60 days. I am prayerful that God gives me material with which to work, but chances are good some of the posts might be drivel. If I go off the rails, please be patient with me. I will get my mojo back at some point.

What has been happening since last we met? A lot. A whole lot.

Over the past two years especially, my heart has been in religion deconstruction mode. In crisis with my health, I came face to face with the issue of trying to relegate the personal Jesus I know with the dogma of the Church Proper, and Jesus came out on top. I questioned everything I’d ever been taught, took a historical and contextual look at the Bible, and prayed that the very Spirit of God would reveal truth to me. I plan on touching on this process in the days to come. Much like any worthwhile endeavor, the process has not been linear. In reconstructing my entire faith, I feel like I might be able to tell others “where to find bread” again. But it won’t be white-washed and it won’t be fundamentalist Christianity. It will be Truth.

The aforementioned illness is a trifecta of health issues that are slowly causing me to lose mobility, and constantly causing me pain. Every day. Pain, in one form or another. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, POTs, and Mast Cell Activation Disease, severe and recurrent migraines, along with lots of other disorders and diseases. I just call it “Alphabet Soup Disorder” to save time. Lots of acronyms. Some of my genes are mutated, I am only grateful that neither of my children seems to have inherited these issues.

So, suffice to say, I am home a lot. I am by myself a lot. This necessity has proven to be both a benefit and a curse. It’s a sticky wicket, because the more isolated I become, the more depressed I get, and the more depressed I become, the less I want to physically be with my friends, because sick people can be a real drag.

There are two of me these days.  There is the sick me, who seems to be taking over some days. She is whiny, sad, hopeless, and in horrible pain; and there is the REAL me, who loves to laugh, be silly, encourage people, and travel. The real me is clawing her way back, but it seems that each time I gain a little foothold on the side of the wellness cliff, another boulder comes tumbling down. Sounds dramatic, right? Well, it feels dramatic.

It’s been a dramatic year for my family. A very difficult time. Yet I still haven’t taken a drink, and for that I am proud and very grateful.

I’ve begun a new hobby recently that has been a stepping stone to writing again. I’ve discovered abstract art, and the therapy of painting. A pretty good gauge of my mental health is the amount of paint on my person. The days I am up to my elbows in acrylics are the days that I started off sad and scared, and in some degree of physical and mental pain – and ended up creating something colorful that cheers me.

So, I am setting a goal to blog every day for two months, but I’m not going to set it in stone. I am fantastic at setting unrealistic expectations of myself. I’m going to try to write here or at SoSheLaughedAnyway.com each day, even when nothing I have to say is earth-shattering. I need to get back in the habit, even if not one single person reads my stuff.

There will be “brain droppings” (as the late, great George Carlin called random musings) about recovery, chronic illness, spiritual growth, and the general absurdity of life; and literally God only knows what else.

There will be posts with what some might consider controversial subject matter. There will be potty words. There will be transparency about my relationship with God, which looks almost nothing like it used to, but in a good way. There will be randomness.

Oh, so much randomness.

If you’re one of the 1,950 subscribers to The Beggar’s Bakery, I am so grateful for you. Thanks for sticking around. ❤ Please consider following “So She Laughed Anyway” on WordPress as well.

If you’re new, welcome to the jungle!

My goal is simple: Do life honestly, and share the journey.

God bless us, every one.

 

The Grace Commodity

 

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BY: JANA GREENE

Grace is a funny thing.

It delights us when granted when we screw up.

And it pisses us off when applied to someone we feel is undeserving of it.

It slips out of the cuffs of condemnation,

It rises above the rules we think it should follow.

It holds accountable only itself.

It is pure.

Grace is golden when get extend it,

And humbling when we receive it.

It runs ram-shod over rules, and laws,

It cares not for protecting secrets,

Or making others pay.

It isn’t “fair” to us,

And thank God for that.

Grace is a thousand points of light,

A thousand Tiffany lamps,

Shining, bold, brightly colored.

It is a “do over,” for what is done,

And a fresh start for what is coming.

Grace is the Bail Bondsman who leaves the door open.

It is the Father who forgets that you tripped up at all.

It is free, but not cheap.

When all other avenues have been exhausted,

Grace chases shame out of the neighborhood.

The only commodity we are commanded to spend,

Grace builds up,

Shores up,

Holds up.

The byproduct of love,

Grace has unfathomable value,

Just like those for whom it is poured out.

Grace can be scandalous and offensive,

But it always makes it’s mark,

Washing the Spirit clean.

Trade it, give it, spend it,

Let it set you free.

It is for freedom we are set free by it,

Spread that stuff around.

 

Election Reflection – thoughts on the day after

By: Jana Greene

I haven’t checked any poll results yet. I’m awake before the birds, having gone into exhausted sleep at 7pm last “night.” This year, I haven’t had the spare energy to get worked up about one candidate or another. Of course, I care deeply – I didn’t vote a straight ticket this year – I probably won’t again. I did take the time to research issues and individuals, with an emphasis on issues, one by one.

But this moment is pretty delicious; I know it’s fleeting. It’s still dark out this morning, and my husband is sleeping next to me, and I’ve no exposure to the militant anger – red and / or blue – that will no doubt flood my social media feed today. Nor do I feel any division at present – the “us vs. them” heavy-hitting that will doubtless follow us around in the coming days (weeks, months…years.) Right now, to my mind, we are a nation that turned out in droves to vote because we all, almost without exception, love our country. Period.

No matter what the results are, most of our motivations are pure. I’ll venture to bed the races were close, which won’t bode well. Because the tighter the race, the angrier the contenders and the more gloating the victors.

I’m urging my dear readers to remember that we are not first hawks or doves, but Americans.

Can we try to remember that opposing candidates – one of which won yesterday – are not saviors or devils? They are people, swayed by money and kudos, just like everyone else.

Let us remember that this election is a blip in history, not an opportunity to amp up national negativity. Yes, it impacts us. But not as much as the contact you have on the person you come across daily – the person who shows you kindness by forgiving your trespass, or even holding a door open for you. Yes, each of us feels passionately. Can we just try not to manifest that passion as hate?

Let us remember that the opposing party is not Enemy Number One, but consists of our daughters and sons, parents and friends – people we love who feel just as strongly as we do.

Let us remember we are first people, not politicos.

Let us remember that absolute pier corrupts absolutely, and that we all need to be represented.

Let us do one small thing today in the name of being the comrades we are – one act of kindness the day after an election is a platform I can really get behind! Heck, let’s do more than one thing, and trigger an explosion of good will, not in spite of our differences, but because of them. Let’s be mindful about it, too. Really stick it to “the man” and get along with each other on purpose. That’ll teach him!

Let’s try to do what Jesus would do today. Because if anyone should have a beef with how they are represented, it’s Christ. Yet He finds a way to keep living. I hope we can too, at least a little.

God bless us, every single one.

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?

Offred1
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.

Goodnight, Billy Graham. And Thank You.

  • Billy-Graham-Praying
    By: Jana Greene

     

    It was in the Fall of 1981. Rice Stadium in Houston was packed to the gills. I’d been invited by a dear friend (who is still a good friend) to attend a Billy Graham. crusade. The whole youth group piled onto an activity bus for the shuttle ride.

    The cool kids congregated in the back of the bus. I sat right behind the bus driver.

    Two months shy of my 13th birthday, I was just old enough to join youth group. I remember so many little details about that evening, which is odd because a lot of my childhood I’d just as soon as forget.

    I honestly cannot tell you what I had lunch yesterday, but I can recall every nuance of that evening in 1981. It is as though all of my senses were tingling – there was charge in the air.

    I remember the loud grumble of the bus, and the smell of diesel fuel (mingled with Love’s Baby Soft perfume, which we girls regularly doused ourselves with.)

    The brightness of the stadium lights.

    The cold hardness of the bleachers.

    The scent of buttery popcorn from the concession stand.

    The itchiness of the sweater I’d worn, because it because the weather in Houston was actually cool for a change.

    At the stadium, I remember that there was an electric buzz in the atmosphere  – a kind of spirit-hum that kind of vibrated in all of us. It seemed to resonate in the whole stadium, in every soul. I’d never felt anything like it, and rarely have I ever experienced again. We took our seats and settled in, most of us just as interested in the cutest boys in youth than on Rev. Graham’s message. The stadium lights were nearly blinding,  but as he spoke, I forgot about the cute boy in youth (his name was Rick, and he only listened to the band “Rush,” alas, a story for another time.)

    In his booming yet gentle voice and North Carolina lilting accent that I would so come to love as a North Carolinian myself later in life, Billy Graham distracted us all from or wriggling, twittering, self-absorbed teenage selves by introducing us to this revolutionary concept of absolute GRACE.

    Many of us had never heard about true grace, even in the Southern Baptist churches we’d been reared in. Hellfire and brimstone – that we knew.

    I listened and was overcome with a peace that passed all of my young understanding. I was a broken kid, from a broken home.

    So confident was Rev. Graham in his message, that I became confident in God, too. Not the god I’d prayed to for years, but the real and tangible God.

    The Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end.

    After the service that evening, the Reverend invited all those who wanted partake in the grace of God to come down the bleachers and pray with members of his prayer team. It was like an altar call on steroids – more of the people in attendance made their way down to accept this crazy anointing as did not.

    Grace – ours for the taking, all we had to do was accept it, to take what seemed to me an impossible risk: Believing on the basis of the stirrings of my spirit, and nothing else. Risky. Scandalously risky. But I made my way down in a sort of floating transport. I don’t remember navigating the steep stadium steps; only that I positively knew Jesus Himself was fidgeting with anticipation to love on me through the prayers of strangers.

    There was a song playing in a continuous loop as I approached a prayer volunteer. I didn’t mind hearing the refrain a hundred times. As thousands of voices joined in from all around, I wished it would never end.

    “Just as I am – and waiting not
    To rid my soul of one dark blot,
    To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    -O Lamb of God, I come!

    Just as I am – though toss’d about
    With many a conflict, many a doubt,
    Fightings and fears within, without,
    -O Lamb of God, I come!”

    I was never the same after that experience. I knew that I knew that I knew it was Truth.

    I was never the same, but unfortunately,  still completely human.

    I still kissed boys on church mission trips.

    I still grew up to be an alcoholic. In my drinking years I did some awful things.

    Life happened, and parenthood happened, and marriage happened. Chronic illness, battles with anxiety and depression. And now I’m nearly 50, and still don’t have my sh*t together.

    But had I not accepted Christ at a Billy Graham crusade in 1981,  I might never know that even for prodigal daughters, the arms of Jesus are always and ever open to embrace this broken girl. I might never have known He would make me whole a million times and with a smile on his radiant face.

    A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to attend a Christian blogger conference in Asheville, North Carolina – not far from Reverend Graham’s birthplace. The facility – run by Billy Graham Ministries – that hosted the event is called “The Cove.” In the multi-building complex, there are mementos of the Reverend where everywhere.

    In one of the buildings, there was a museum of sorts. Included in the displays were personal artifacts of the Graham family – a family that I (and so many others) felt a part of.  There was an odd but wonderful ambiance of peace. It kind of made me feel like I’d come home.

    Billy Graham passed away today. Alas, he really is home. I’ve no doubt Jesus is hugging him tight, but the rest of us left here have suffered a loss.

    He was one man, on one mission. Humble and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But what a difference he made in this world!

    If I could tell him one thing, it would be this: Thank you.

    Thank you, Reverend Graham… for making it okay for me to come to the throne of God just exactly as I am.

    Even with many a conflict and many a doubt.

    Thanks for being the messenger that delivered the concept of boundless grace to my young heart. Fighting and fears within, without  – because that’s how God rolls, infinite in his mercy.

    And tell Jesus ‘thank you’ as well, for lending you to us.

    Rest in well-deserved peace.

     


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

cash

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.

Assurances at 4 a.m. (It’s a Psalms Thing)

lavender
Photo credit: Jana Greene (“Lavender Moon-rise”)

By: Jana Greene

It’s been a long night.

I fell asleep easy enough, but a few hours later I woke up to pee (we keep it real here, right?) like I do every other night at least three times, and was assaulted by hip pain when I stood up. Soon after, when I crawled back into bed, I felt the familiar dull headache begin stirring behind my eyes.

Terrific.

I tried to go back to sleep. I really did. But although I was desperately tired, I hurt. Hurting in the middle of the night is a lonely endeavor. Whereas I normally might complain to my long-suffering but incredibly supportive husband, he was fast asleep.

Soon, my mind got in on the action.

Suddenly – at 4 a.m. – I had this primal wave of worry wash over me. As if pain was tag-teaming anxiety. I tossed and turned, and asked God for a little help here, please. We are going through such a weird and wild season right now.

At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances.

I wanted to call my adult child and make sure she was okay. And then I wanted her to make promises to do what I cannot even manage myself – to get my sh*t together. I wanted God to guarantee her safety.  To guarantee all of us safety.

Then, the spiraled from there….

I wanted to log into my email and find five job offers in my in-box. Even though I’m really not healthy enough to work right now.

I wanted to will myself well and get on with life already.

I wanted to lift all of my husband’s worries off of his sleeping chest, so that when he wakes in the morning, his burdens are lifted.

I wanted to know that the world is not imploding, contrary to the evidence all around us.

I wanted to fast-track my therapy to purge my closet of skeletons in one fail swoop.

I wanted to stop feeling so crappy about myself.

I wanted a magic pill to calm my nerves so I could sleep.

I wanted – no, I NEEDED to tangibly feel God’s presence RIGHT NOW. Isn’t that the real craving? Without it, no amount of ‘fixed’ satisfies.

Instead, the more I panicked, the more it felt as though my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.

A little voice in my spirit tapped me gently on the shoulder as if to say, “Excuse me….I hate to interrupt your anxiety attack and throbbing headache, but – um…..Pslams.”

I took a deep breath.

In another lifetime (fifteen years to be exact) I was a single mother of two pre-teen daughters. I was juggling four jobs after having been a stay at home mom all their lives. I became estranged from unhealthy relationships to safeguard my recovery.  My health problems kicked in, aided by the stress. My car window didn’t roll up – a hefty bag and duct tape was all that kept me dry.  We lived in a bad neighborhood. It felt like loss, loss, loss.

Since the separation from my girls’ father, it had just been one thing after another after another – big life issues – the kind of things that threatened by then-newish (four years) sobriety. That I survived that season in life sober is a walking-on-water caliber miracle.

All on my own and responsible for the lives of two beautiful girls, I’d never felt so alone. I lived on coffee, Diet Coke and cigarettes, and the only other reliable staple I had was my Bible and prayer life.

I made it a habit each morning to rise before my children, grab my Virginia Slim menthols and a cup of coffee, and sit outside on my porch with my Bible, looking for answers. Looking for assurances between drags on cigarettes.

Psalms are assurances. If you read them aloud, they are even promises.

There is no magic pill for me.  I’m an alcoholic. I am wise enough to not trust myself to substances.

But there are Psalms.

So this morning, I’m sharing this little love letter that God led me to just now. The words were written by a man who just couldn’t get his sh*t together either – the biblical David. I love David because he is desperate and wildly in love with God, all at once.

I hope these verses speak to you, too. God pretty much drug me out of bed to come write this post. Maybe somebody out there somewhere can feel a little less alone.

Read the Psalms aloud – they are meant for those whose worlds are imploding. Savor every word.

At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances. Thanks Papa God for showing up. You always do.

(I would also love to know what your favorite Psalms are, too.)

Need a Psalm? Take a Psalm.

Have a Psalm? Leave a Psalm.

And God bless us, every one.

I run to you, God; I run for dear life.
    Don’t let me down!
    Take me seriously this time!
Get down on my level and listen,
    and please—no procrastination!

Your granite cave a hiding place,
    your high cliff aerie a place of safety.

 You’re my cave to hide in,
    my cliff to climb.

Be my safe leader,
    be my true mountain guide.
Free me from hidden traps;
    I want to hide in you.

I’ve put my life in your hands.
    You won’t drop me,
    you’ll never let me down.

 I hate all this silly religion,
    but you, God, I trust.

I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love;
    you saw my pain,
    you disarmed my tormentors,

You didn’t leave me in their clutches
    but gave me room to breathe.
Be kind to me, God
    I’m in deep, deep trouble again.

I’ve cried my eyes out;
    I feel hollow inside.
My life leaks away, groan by groan;
    my years fade out in sighs.

My troubles have worn me out,
    turned my bones to powder.
To my enemies I’m a monster;
    I’m ridiculed by the neighbors….

Desperate, I throw myself on you:
    you are my God!
Hour by hour I place my days in your hand,
    safe from the hands out to get me.

 

Warm me, your servant, with a smile;
    save me because you love me.
Don’t embarrass me by not showing up;
    I’ve given you plenty of notice…..

What a stack of blessing you have piled up
    for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
    to escape an unkind world.

You hide them safely away
    from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
    you silence the poisonous gossip.

Blessed God!
    His love is the wonder of the world.
Trapped by a siege, I panicked.
    “Out of sight, out of mind,” I said.
But you heard me say it,
    you heard and listened.

 

Love God, all you saints;
    God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
    those arrogant enough to go it alone.

 Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.
    Expect God to get here soon.” – Psalms 31 (MSG)

The Beggar’s Bakery and Big, Fat Changes

By: Jana Greene

Big, fat changes are on the horizon. I can just feel it. Do you ever sense that change is afoot, yet have no earthly or Heavenly idea what that change may be? It’s 20% exciting and 80% frightening.

When I really trust God, those stats blessedly flip.

Hey, Papa? Help me to trust you ever more.

One of those things is this: I think it may be time to change the name of this blog / ministry from “The Beggar’s Bakery” to something else….I’m not sure what just yet.

The blog has been my ‘home’ for five years now; it’s my ‘baby.’ But it may be time to change the baby’s name.

The Grace Gospel has got me thinking (and un-thinking about religiosity both.) It’s ruined me, really. In the best possible way.

I no longer relate to the beggar I was the hour I first I believed. I don’t have to beg for God to love me – Jesus sealed the deal and it is finished.

I’m learning to operate in the finished work of the cross. It’s a journey, admittedly. It just seems too good to be true!

But it IS good.

It IS true.

As I prayerfully consider what to re-name it (the content will stay the same, unless / until God tells me different) I welcome suggestions and ideas from you Readers. Even keywords might prove helpful.

Big, fat changes can be scary, but they can also be the catalyst for some really awesome things. I just have to trust.

Thanks, friends.

The Good Natured Father (Part II)

A seat for everyone

 

Today, we pick back up where we left off yesterday (June 24th, Part I posting) with a further exploration of the Nature of God.

Can we ever really know this Almighty Being we call “God”?

We look to Jesus to see His heart. It’s so simple, yet so profound. He looks like Jesus.

God bless us, Every One, and Happy Sunday.

By: Jana Greene

What if God’s nature is really only good?

A few weeks ago, I camped out in the lesson presented by Francois Du Toit, “Celebrating His Initiative.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “initiate” as ‘to begin, set going, or originate: to introduce into the knowledge of some art or subject. And to propose (a measure) by initiative procedure.

Initiate is a verb! It is an action. There is nothing passive about it. Jesus has issued a proposal on bended knee and bloodied cross. This voluntary decision by God of God is a thing to be celebrated!

I don’t think I’ve ever grasped the finality of what happened at the crucifixion and resurrection of God. If it is finished, the residual guilt and shame I keep picking up and hauling around is not my cross to bear– as I’ve always believed.  The grace I ask for and receive is not meant to counterbalance the heft of my shame. I do not receive grace by the bucket-full to douse the fire of each indiscretion – I am already drowning in it. So are you. The work of the cross was the catalyst for God to flood the world with grace.

Religion taught me that God swoops down and saves me from myself a thousand times a day, and that’s what grace looks like. But I’m learning that Abba is pulling me away from the idol of religion and into Himself. My weaponry of thin, papery religiousness is powerless against His embrace of Truth.

Bradley Jersak’s book on the subject sharpened my focus on divine grace vs. rhetoric.

“Setting Jesus as the standard for perfect theology, many of our current Christian beliefs and practices would obviously face indictment. Even significant swaths of biblical literature don’t line up well with the Christ of the Gospels. Claiming that God is revealed perfectly in Jesus triggers tough questions about the God I once conceived and preached. Jesus’ life and character challenges my religious clichés and standby slogans—especially the rhetoric of supreme power and irresistible force.”

― Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel

In the segment “Who is the Father,” presented by Mike Zenker, the truth of Abba’s consistency is highlighted in Matthew 11:27, which says “All things have been handed over to Me by the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Or, as The Message translation reads: “Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor does the Father the way the Son. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.”

Religion says we are responsible for aspects of our salvation – ergo, we can turn the volume up or down on our spiritual speaker, tweak the boom of the bass, turn down the treble, change the center with the fader of our deeds and actions.

But God cannot be moved from Center. He is the Center. He is undeterred by the noise we create.

Fundamental to this spiritual epiphany is the idea that we are not “sinners saved by grace,” which I have – over the years – convinced myself was my identity. After many years of sobriety and much prayer, that had been the only conclusion.

But what if the work of the cross – that event in which Creator God heaved toward humankind with such love and power that it knocked the evil in us to the ground and buried it with Christ – was powerful enough to resurrect us in glory with Christ, while leaving evil in the grave?

What if God only sees us through the lens of his living, life-giving Son, and not as sinners wearing toe-tags that say “Admit One – Heaven.” I am going to have eternal life, yes. But I don’t want to slog out my existence here during my mission on Earth, not understanding and appreciating what my birthright truly  is. I want joy now too, please.

Jesus is joyful! He is not somber.

“A Papa with a sense of humor: “Christ’s humor is always redemptive, never mocking the individual. But He is sharp and sarcastic in His derision of those institutions such as Pharisaism, which posture in their self-made self-importance. Wisdom”

― John Crowder, Seven Spirits Burning

Another epiphany? God has a sense of humor! What a blessing for us all.

Of all the lectures in Course II, “The Dynamic, Artistic, Creative Being of God” by Andre Rabe struck a chord in my soul.  As a messy, creative person, it’s lovely to know that I inherited one of my attributes – writing – from my Papa.

The arts are a pulpit for the Muse, divinely given. The amazing thing is that as the Triune God is our Muse, we are His as well.

In nature, we see His artistry all around us. I’ve often lifted a sea shell from the beach and marveled at the fine details adorning it. I’ve wondered at the Blue Ridge mountain range in their ancient perfection. Animal, mineral, vegetable – everything in creation attests to the existence of our creative God. His nature is in nature.

One of the ways I like to celebrate God’s initiative and parlay his creativity is through writing poetry. In concluding this essay, I would like to leave you with a work that God ‘downloaded’ (for lack of a better term) in my spirit a while ago. I believe He gave the words to me as I wrote, as it came to me impromptu and with fierce passion. I believe He was sharing His very nature with me.

Everything I’m learning at Global Grace Seminary lends credence to what I wrote that day.

God bless us, every one.

Agape for Amateurs: a love letter from God

Oh Dear Created One,

Do you know who you are to me?

Who am I, you ask?

I am Love….only ever good.

And you are my handiwork.

I am not angry with you.

In Jesus, I gave myself to you, for you – redemption in one fail swoop.

When you have a misstep, I am saddened because you are hurting. But I will never leave you.

I am with you to the ends of the earth and in the deepest crevices of your spirit.

Your hurting places don’t scare me away.

When you deny me, curse me, hide from me – I do not shy away, nor do I condemn you.

The finished work of my Son ensures you that I keep no records of your wrongs,

But have been courting you all along.

Where there is love, I am.

This fallen world – where hope seems in deficit – does not merit your trust. But I do.

I am trustworthy.

All the things you’ve been foolish for have torn you down, yet you are so afraid to be a “fool” for me?

Enough of the fallen.

Enough of the foolish self-dependency.

Walk with me – I long to raise you up!

That small, still voice?

It’s me nudging you.

Can you feel it?

Let yourself consider that I am never more than a nudge away.

That roaring storm of emotion that pulls at you? Called by 1,000 different names?

The emotion is my urging, too.

You were created to feel.

Your quirks and your passions make you one of a kind, in a world of billions.

I see you.

I see you!

And you matter to me.

 

“This life is hard,” you say – and I know that it’s true.

You see, I am human, too.

The friend I left to you – the Holy Spirit – is available to you, in you.

The Spirit rejoices with you in times of celebration,

And in times of sorrow, she brings great and all-encompassing comfort.

Cut through what others have told you about me.

Throw away the ritualistic, legalistic, egotistic religion.

Cut through the culture of shame.

Have your own relationship with me.

Not a figment of imagination in stories from dusty texts,

But a force of creation, life, and love to be reckoned with.

Nothing is happenstance.

Believe in me, and you have all the love to gain!

In your hurting places.

In your hiding places.

There is no deficit of hope, Dear One.

Only the great gulf between us that you’ve erected in the name of self-preservation.

I would love to close that gap and draw you so near that you feel my breath in your ear as we embrace.

I am embracing you now.

I delight in you.

Seek my face.

I shall never hide from you.

There is no other like you.

You are my BELOVED!

With boundless grace and endless love,

  • Papa

The Good Natured Father (Part I)

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Good day, Dear Readers.

Today I would like to share Part I of an article I recently wrote for seminary class. 

I will post Part II – the second half – tomorrow.

As always, I welcome comments and conversations, and shares if you so choose 🙂

God bless us, every one!

 

By: Jana Greene

“What is your most dominant image of God? What does that say about your own belief system? Your own temperament? Your own faith community?” ― Bradley Jersak, A More Christ like God: a  More Beautiful Gospel

I’ve been having a wee bit of an identity crisis over the past several years. Nothing too wild and reckless, but a low-grade churning in my spirit. This identity crisis burbled up from the primordial ooze I’d always been so careful not to fall into. Step on the stones, only on the stones. Jesus is your rock, etc. and so on, more stone / rock / foundation analogies; anything to keep from falling into the ooze, because if I fall off a rock and into the ooze, God is really going to be angry with me for taking my eyes off of the Prize – Him.

But what about Him?

Never before had I been compelled to systematically dismantle (oh how Religion loves things done systematically) all I had learned from birth, but now? Now I am forming a brand new construct out of what crumbled down in the destruct, and it changes everything.

This nature of God.

When considering the nature of the Almighty, I have the tendency to cling to one of two hard-line descriptions:

God is Love incarnate. He is full of mercy, overflowing with grace. There is only GOOD in His being, and wants to captivate us with his adoration.

Or….

God often has to punish and crush, as a means to the end of making man righteous. He smiles on us when we remind him of Jesus (maybe once or twice a day) but is filled with grief and fury when we remind him of the very humans he created. He gives us a whoopin’ because He loves us, and it really does hurt Him more than it does us, as parents are apt to say.  He gets tired, you know, with so many naughty children to keep in line. This would explain why natural phenomenon can be so destructive. This would explain the grumpiness of the Old Testament Lord. We like to think it explains a bible-ed up version of Karma. You’ve got whatever’s coming your way, buddy. Too bad you didn’t tow the line.

Except here’s the rub: God’s nature is scandalously lousy with Grace. And I so enjoyed learning about His true nature in my education at Global Grace Seminary.

Of all the excellent materials, Steve McVey’s way with words pierced me. I would read his work and stop to ponder it, and read it again. There was so many practical presentations of grace, I found myself re-reading each line in order to soak in the truth.

“You have been set in the place of a child who is loved and accepted by the Father just as surely as Jesus Himself knows that love and acceptance. Your place is in the triune circle dance is as safe and secure as the place of Jesus for the staggering reason that you are in Him.”

― Steve McVey, Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You

As Kay Fairchild explored in the module “Our God is One,” not only is there One True God, but He is three-fold – each facet of his Being sentient and in perfect, permanent synchronization. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three distinct individual entities, each one supreme and whole, and wholly loving.

I am learning truths that explore scripture in context. In all honesty, one of my biggest challenges is that small, still voice saying, “Yes, but why then is there still so much evil in the world?” I wish I had a better understanding of that fundamental question. I am trusting that God will reveal truths ever more as I chug along. If we ask Him for bread, He will not give us a stone; that much I know.

For thousands of years, humankind has tried to explain God. We’ve placed Him in boxes to keep Him out of (or in) trouble. We’ve elaborated on his life story and we’ve left the context of his Word out far too often. The Word is a person, and that person is Jesus.

When considering this, I’m reminded of the fun house mirrors that appear to be endless images – mirror inside another mirror, inside another – an endless tunnel of reflection. There is so much more depth in the Trinity than I’d ever considered. The Triune God layer upon layer of Love, grace, and inclusion. And we are the very mirror image of those three beings of love! We sell ourselves so short.

Will the real Nature of God Please Stand Up?

With nearly 17 years of recovery time from alcoholism, I’ve come to love the legendary 12 Steps.  Before I happened across the Christ-based recovery step meetings I attend now, AA was the initial safe zone to explore the nature of God as His grace pertains to sobriety.  The program’s third step proclaims that “we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” In this model, you hire and employ your own Higher Power. It could be a floor lamp. Or a door knob. Anything, really. And that deeply offended me! You cannot just go making up gods as your puny mind perceives them, all willy-nilly.

Now I so clearly see that I was so grace-less. So self-righteous. Anything less than recognizing the One True God – my Jesus – was blasphemy. What I didn’t understand was that these folks didn’t want to hear that they were going to hell, because they’d already been. And the “God of our understanding” is a great place to begin the Seeker journey. I sat in the meetings with angry arms folded, shut down and petulant. What a way to represent Christ!

“If you have seen your God through the lens of legalistic religion, you most likely have believed that God was warning them [Adam and Eve] that He would punish them if they ate from the tree. Nothing could be further from the heart or intent of God. He wouldn’t kill them – sin would kill them. God wasn’t warning them about what He would do but about what sin would do to them.”

― Steve McVey, Beyond an Angry God: You Can’t Imagine How Much He Loves You

What if God’s nature is really only good?

Part II to be published Sunday, June 25th

A Rose, a Homeless Man, and 10 Measly Dollars

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homeless man
St John’s
Photo by swissrolli on Flickr

By: Jana Greene

I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with the saying “There but for the grace of God go I.” I love it because it’s a handy-dandy way to explain how some of my alcoholic friends might have died of their disease but I’m still sober. I hate it because it makes blessings and cursings result from a God who plays “Heads Up 7-UP” while we all have our heads down not paying attention and goes around choosing who’ll be graced by random thumb-touch (if aren’t familiar with Heads-up 7-UP, I’m not sure I can explain it. Google might be able to help.)

At any rate, the implication is that God somehow graced me with a circumstance that he has flatly refused to grace another human being with. Which seems cruel and rings of “favorite-ness,” as if he loves me better than you because I have a home but he loves you better than me because you can enjoy a nice bottle of red wine without drinking the whole bottle (or box) of wine without killing myself. That just really doesn’t seem fair to me at all. Guess what’s MORE unfair? Some people have no homes or food or family. Or one of a million other variables that would indicate God is in fact NOT gracing them at all. In fact, he is withholding his grace. And that’s something I do NOT believe in the least.

We see through a glass so darkly. What looks graceful here in the moment or disgraceful in the next are not manifestations of what we ‘deserve’ or ‘earn.’ I believe that God is ALWAYS full of grace. I don’t believe he is a sadist. There was a time I believed his modus operandi was punishing, scolding, and good old fashioned smiting. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT ANY MORE. I believe that we live in a fallen world and that we don’t understand God’s ways, but I know his ways are GOOD.

So here’s a poem about a gentleman I met. I will not say ‘there but for the grace of God go I” and not because I could EASILY have become this man (which is true,)  but because I’m fairly certain life has been extremely difficult for him – such difficulty I cannot even IMAGINE – but because he MATTERS to God more than I can even fathom.

The whole experience left me feeling terribly inadequate. This man’s need is so great.

Maybe he isn’t a ‘bum’ on the street. Maybe he is an incredible survivor who has overcome incredible odds to be alive today. Maybe he himself is an angel. They don’t have wings, you know. Or maybe he just absolutely SLAYS survival like a freaking world champion. I have a feeling he does.

A Rose, A Homeless Man, and 10 Measly Dollars

On this past Mother’s Day

The pastor gave me a rose.

“Red or white?” He’d offered me

From the box, a white one I chose.

All the moms in attendance

Received a rose that day

As a token of appreciation

And the honor it conveyed.

After church, I went to leave

As soon as service was done,

And saw a homeless gentleman

On the sidewalk in the sun.

Dreadlocks fell to his shoulders,

But several spots were bare

Where mange had stolen unkempt tufts,

I tried hard not to stare.

His eyes were a milky shade of white

In contrast to dark skin,

He carried all that he possessed,

A streetwise Bedouin.

I thought of walking past him,

I am ashamed to say.

Not because I didn’t care

But didn’t know what to say.

So I dug around in my purse

And finding a ten dollar bill,

Decided to give the man money

So that he could buy a meal.

I approached him gently

So that he could easily see

I didn’t come to harm him

But in solidarity.

I saw the depth of suffering

When finally his eyes met mine.

I saw not sadness but indifference,

Empty and benign.

“HI,” I said in greeting

But he did not say a word.

His glance was only fleeting

As if he hadn’t heard.

I held out the ten dollar bill

But he shied away.

I smiled at him and whispered

“I promise. It’s okay.”

His eyes met mine and in that moment

Their whitish tint compelled

My heart to think of the milky petals

Of the very rose I held.

So with the one hand I offered him money

And with the other I offered the rose.

“I want to honor you,” I explained.

And for a while we froze.

He stared a hole right through my face

And for the longest time.

I thought time somehow had stopped,

Transcendentally sublime.

Scanning for patronizing glare.

He looked right through my privileged soul

And laid all of my intentions bare,

Not in part but on the whole.

In that raw second I realized

How worthy this man is.

Jesus himself resides in him,

A rose is the least that I can give!

“Okay then,” the man finally replied,

Taking the $10 bill.

It took him longer to accept the flower

But when he did, it gave me a chill.

He brought the white rose to his face

And let it touch his cheek,

Then brought it to his nose

And inhaled the fragrance sweet.

I almost saw him smile then

A fleeting, warm, and wary grin.

I hugged him before I left his side,

Would I ever see his face again?

My drive home from church was quiet

Fraught with tears and silent pleas,

And musings of honoring those who have nothing;

Thoughts of loving “the least of these.”

My homeless friend didn’t smell nice,

What clothes he had were all threadbare,

But oh how often do we entertain

Those angels unaware?

God bless this homeless gentleman,

I wish I’d asked his name.

I wish I’d invited him back to church

Because inside we are all the same.

If I see him again someday,

I’ll ask him to come worship inside.

I’ll tell him “I promise, it’s okay!”

I hope “Okay, then” will be his reply.

Until then, I pray he will know his worth

That’s he’s precious to God above.

And that he will finally understand

He is worthy of honor and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music from Remnants – a Father / Daughter Story

 

 

By: Jana Greene

This evening, before my husband came home from work, I was making a casserole and listening to Jesus music. Let me be perfectly clear here – my musical tastes span nearly EVERY genre.

I don’t ONLY listen to Christian music.

I love Eminem.

Jack White is boss.

I also like some of the Jesus-y music, too.

I like to think that deep, deep down, under the smile lines and cellulite and freckles, I have an inner groupie who is wild and free and would love to follow The Grateful Dead all over Creation or something. But then, reality.

Always reality, right? Such a joy suck.

I love music…all kinds. I see God everywhere and in everyone. In the arts. In the science.  I don’t like using the terms ‘secular’ and ‘religious.’ Honestly, both of those words stick in my throat. Ick! Who the heck do we think we are to deem each person, place, or thing either ‘secular’ or ‘religious.’

The God of the Universe need is not subject to our licensing laws. O.M.G.

Anyway…the chicken. Yes. As I’m putting the casserole into the oven, Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father” comes on Pandora and I stop dead in my tracks. I don’t know what it is about this song – it’s catchy and repetitive, as are many, many contemporary Christian tunes. But Good, Good Father?  It is the Official Anthem for Those Afflicted with Daddy Issues.

The lyrics, oh…the lyrics slay me! Tears spring up every time, every single time – and instantly. I am silly in my oven mitts, dancing circles around my kitchen by myself, but I don’t care. The song has so much depth to me.

Growing up, I didn’t know my dad. As a matter of fact, I’d met him only a smattering of times, even though we lived in the same town. He was a musician – a guitar player. I think my surprise birth threw him a curve ball. He was in the band that became ZZ Top, you see. He could have been a contender, as they say. He was a 19 year old kid when he became a father.

His first love was always music. He was obsessed with it. All my life, I’ve never allowed myself to consider that I got my adoration and encyclopedic knowledge of bands and music from my daddy. Couldn’t be. He was simply not around to influence me. But ah – in the nature vs. nurture debate,, nature is stronger than you’d think. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But just two years ago – nearly 40 years from the last time I’d seen him – I reconnected with my biological father. We enjoyed Mexican food with my half-sister when I visited Houston.

It should have been awkward, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t awkward at all.

These people, my people!  OMG, I HAVE PEOPLE!

I fell in love with my sister anew, too. At the table, I marveled that she, my father and I all  have the same hands! It tickled me to no end to compare them. Puzzle pieces snapping into place neatly and flush with every other piece. Why did I ever doubt God would allow such a reunion in my lifetime?

Ah, I remember. Because I was afraid to be disappointed. That old chestnut.

Fear is a terrible bully, squashing hope to a pulp. Pulpy hope is worse than no hope at all.

Somehow, all through the years,  God had caulked all of my cracks with grace, and I got to hold my earthly father’s hand, so similar to my own.  I think there was a Mariachi band there, but that may just be fantasy on my part. It was a super festive evening.

One dad, two daughters. Just for that night. No pie-in-the-sky expectations of making up for lost time, but instead a tender rekindling of hope for the future.

I had the honor of telling my father that I loved him, and I MEANT it. I also had the honor of telling him that I forgive him, because my Jesus extends so much grace and forgiveness and love my way. I got to call my father “Dad” for the first time in my entire life. I had always called him by his first name “Bob” even as an infant. And you know what? My Daddy says he loves me, too.

And we’re cool, my dad and I.

I’m typing this through literal tears right now. Not because everything wrapped up in a nice, tidy package and VOILA! INSTANT RELATIONSHIP! That’s not what happened at all.

I’m crying because my good, good Heavenly Daddy saw fit to bring some family remnants together. And because my Abba was with me all along, delighting in me, his daughter so wild and free.

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like

But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

Oh, and I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word.

My love of music? I got it from my dad.

Reality, RIGHT?

Sometimes it’s so sweet.

Here’s the audio for Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father” Enjoy!

CLICK HERE

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Oozing Grace and other Heretical Hazards

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BY: Jana Greene
Jesus sitting on a rock, looking wistfully into the atmosphere. Sandal-ed feet and in robe and sash. You remember him, right?
His portraits hung in your Sunday School and Vacation Bible School rooms. Dirty blonde hair, blue eyes. Perfectly serene expression.
I remember him, too. He is lovely and pure and holy, but He doesn’t appear to be radical, and I’m pretty sure Jesus was a radical guy.

Two weeks immersed in classes, and am experiencing all of those terms that I make fun of hipsters for using:

Wrecked.
De-fragmented
Disenfranchised from church as we largely know it.
This message of a grace-based gospel is ANYTHING but boring or staid.
What if the Love of God was bigger than the sins of the world?
It is scandalous in its oozing of mercy, positively radical in it’s inclusion.Where has this message of the Good News BEEN all my life!? Studying the Old and New Covenants, so much comes into focus. So many questions answered.

I find myself undone.

Because if what I’m learning is true, it turns everything upside down.

Sin gets so much airtime. But here’s the rub: Sin is not the MAIN THING.It shouldn’t take center stage?

What if Love took center stage, as Jesus intended?

If it’s true – this grace-based Gospel – then we can do nothing to mitigate the furious love of our father.

If it’s true that the Kingdom of God is within us, we need to stop looking for him elsewhere.

If it’s true, we need to stop trying to invoke the presence of Holy Spirit in our worship. He is already here.

If it’s true (and my Spirit tells me it IS, it’s gloriously, wonderfully, life-givingly TRUE!) then perhaps we should start spreading this amazing news. Gospel = GOOD NEWS.

I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and have never appreciated true Grace and the love of our Triune God.

Not the good news that comes with a disclaimer at the bottom for full legal disclosure. (Has anyone seen my can of “LAW BE GONE? I’m sure I left it right here next to my Self Condemnation Deflator….hmmmm.)

Not the news that Jesus loves you but you’d better get your act together before you try to follow him, or you’ll make us all look bad.

No.

The neat and tidy Jesus of Vacation Bible School is not gazing out into the atmosphere, but at YOU. Right now. He is looking upon you adoringly.

It is finished.

He is here. He is here in this messy, screwed-up, fallen, trainwreck of a planet  because he just cannot get close enough to YOU.

He walks among us, inhabits us, throws mercy on us, guides us, cradles us. LOVES US. People really need to hear this, ya’ll.

Yeah, I’m thinking Seminary is really going to mess with my head.

And I simply cannot wait to get to know my Papa better. I hope you don’t mind too terribly much if I blog about the experience here?

God bless us, every one.

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Triage for the Spirit – Loving a hurting world

 

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By: Jana Greene

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.”– Mark 2:17 (MSG)

Last night I had a curious thought. I was considering our roles as Christ followers and the very varied and controversial methods of spreading the gospel we employ.

How important is it chastise others who are not towing the proverbial line according to biblical standards, vs. how important it is to leave the confrontation of one’s behavior to God, if and when he so chooses, and just love the bejeebers out of people who don’t look / act / believe like us.

Pick your righteous anger pet peeve purveyor:

Drunks.

Presidents (incoming and outgoing).

Adulterers.

Junkies.

Atheists.

People who don’t use turn signals.

Flag burners.

The LGBT community.

Democrats. Or Republicans.

Sex addicts.

The maddeningly militant youths of today.

Twerkers  (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

A virtual smorgasbord of naughty and / or reprehensible to your delicate sensibilities. My delicate sensibilities. Here’s the rub: The hurting world already knows what Christians think of their behaviors and choices. They’ve already heard it, and built fortresses around themselves to keep Jesus out because his followers are too often full of hate and judgement.

Maybe what they DON’T know is the message of his passionate and unrelenting LOVE for them, right exactly where they are. Maybe they can’t hear it over the din of our disdain.

There is a large percentage of church-goers who will call you a heretic, if you don’t call unbelievers on their crap. I know because I used to be one.

But not anymore. Because God didn’t build a fortress to keep me out when I was abusing alcohol and dying inside. He invited me in to his kingdom as is. As. Is.

So, picking back up on the story of last night’s considerations, God gave me the image of a paramedic.

When an EMT is called to the scene of an accident or incident, it is because a horrible emergency has arisen. They are FIRST on the scene because they must act fast to keep people from dying. If they are responding to a car accident, for example, they are not tasked with figuring out which driver was at fault, who ran through the red light. They are not determining who was at fault and why. They are just bringing life-giving service in the heat of carnage and panic. Law enforcement will arrive shortly after an incident to hash out the details and disperse judgement via tickets or citations.

We believers are called to be triage. We are asked to be first responders in the call to tell people (even the ones that rile us up). God will do his thing – his Holy thing – smack-dab in the middle of carnage and panic. On his time. He metes out conviction, and does so lovingly, like the gentle Father he is. He hashes out the details. It’s simply not our job.

You are triage.

You might be the first point of contact for someone whose whole life is caving in.

Open the fortress gate like Jesus did for you. Fling those gates WIDE open. Tell people about the wild, fierce, passionate love that God wants to manifest in their lives. There is nothing tidy about his love, it spills over and out to all sinners and saints, and this hurting world needs desperately to know that.

Billy Graham is quoted as saying:

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”

I like that. I like it a lot.

God bless us, every one.