Faith, Spiritual

A Cold and Broken Hallelujia – When faith falters, but God does not

 

man tattooed praying
Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

By: Jana Greene

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” used to be just a song to me. Beautiful lyrics, yes. Haunting melody, certainly. But until the past few years, the words were not a sucker punch to the gut, nor a comfort to the soul. Today they are both. (I’ve attached to this article the video by Jeff Buckley of the song, my favorite version.)

Right now, we are all thinking back to a time when things were simpler, even though we all bitched constantly about the way things were, as human nature dictates. It’s what we do.

In the Hebrew Bible hallelujah is actually a two-word phrase, not one word. … However, “hallelujahmeans more than simply “praise Jah” or “praise Yah”, as the word hallel in Hebrew means a joyous praise in song, to boast in God. The second part, Yah, is a shortened form of YHWH, the name for the Creator.

I don’t identify as an “evangelical” Christian anymore. It was easy to be an evangelical when privilege was running the show. Before I got so sick. Before the world was literally shut down. Before I started questioning things.

I don’t for one second accept that the current state of affairs is God’s doing. Love – and only love – is his modus operandi.

You’d be surprised how much ire you draw professing that God is simply Love, Jesus is that manifestation, and practicing radical love can draw, proving that what many of us learned from “love” is how to shoot at someone who outdrew you because. But, love is not warring with a devil who is already defeated. It’s not giving him credit for things ego produces. It isn’t striving. It’s resting.

In a twisted way, my illness and pain brought me closer to Jesus. But not because he sent it to “test” my faith. And not because I accepted it as status quo, or any of the other ways Christendom tried to convince me I was a dirty rotten sinner and somehow brought it upon myself.

Yes, it broke me down. It is still breaking me down. but it isn’t breaking me. And it didn’t break my faith. “Broken” is okay.

I didn’t fall back in love with God until stopped expecting “proof” to come as a flash, a deliverance. Many Christians will elude to the fact that in order to be healed and whole, we must pray harder, fast harder, beg harder.  But when you aren’t “changed in an instant,” it must be something you’re doing wrong, o ye of little faith!

But I think it takes BIG faith to “keep the faith.”

“Proof” of Jesus is sometimes just standing still, and still standing. Still loving. Still having joy underneath. I’m finding that it’s making life a constant prayer, having thousands of little conversations with God in my head and reminding myself that the same God listening intently to my ramblings and problems (first world and otherwise) is the same God who engineered the cosmos and created microcosm and macrocosm that we so marvel at. It’s telling him whats really going on below. Even when I’m struggling, my life is hallelujah.

Cold and broken, but full of hallelujah anyway.

It’s figuring out for yourself that belief in the unbelievable is the only thing that makes sense after all.

It’s walking away from pain with faith intact.

It’s a white flag on a battlefield that God is holding up for you because you’re too weak.

It’s a Creator who hunkers down with you under the crappiest circumstance because he isn’t afraid to get his robe dirty or get a little dirt under his fingernails on your behalf.

I don’t need a God who is waiting at the finish line for me, to take that victory march when everything is peachy keen again. I need him to struggle in the enmeshed, awkward, three-legged race with me. To fall with me, if necessary. Sometimes falls help me right myself again.

It’s a love that’s ever-present even if we’ve suffered loss so severe that our hearts beat against a constant heaviness. It’s there when we can’t compose ourselves; when we are threadbare with frustration. When nothing makes any sense and we are living in the upside-down.

It’s not somebody who’s seen the light.

It’s a cold and broken Hallelujah; a praise for spiritual commoners and baffled kings, received and welcomed by a God, who – in his infinite mercy – really digs it when we are authentic, even if we’re scared.

Hallelujah.

Hallelujah

Hallelujia.

Amen.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE JEFF BUCKLEY PERFORMING “HALLELUJAH”

 

Faith, Spiritual

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

fall

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.”

 

Spiritual

Letting Go of the “God of the Heavy Hand” (a little poem about His acceptance of you)

 

By: Jana Greene

When we perceive God’s heavy hand,

See? He’s showing his disdain!

For the common core of man,

Those so doubtful of His reign.

But what if we misperceive

Our own egos as his voice,

The thunder, ire, and condemnation

In response to our own choice?

 Or does God come softer still?

His love not found in angry roar,

But like a city on a hill,

Whose light beckons as an open door.

 He, with mercy, looks below

With radical, offensive grace

By leaps and bounds we rise and grow,

And learn to seek his loving face.

It’s not by punishment we learn

The vastness of his love and care,

But by accepting that where we find ourselves,

He’s already there.

 

 

Health, Mental Illness, Psalms, Spiritual

Hurts, Psalms, and Healing Balms

japanese

By: Jana Greene

A long time ago, when I had retrospectively minimalist problems, I used to read the Psalms out loud in my morning devotion time. Until recently, I’d forgotten how much power is invoked in reading them aloud.

It’s 4 a.m. right now. And it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, Oh Lord…..standing in the need of prayer. I’ve been up all night with gargantuan aches, pains, and the like –  that seem hellbent of keeping me awake.

The Bible says that biblical David was a man after God’s own heart, but if you read the scripture, it seems that David was a bit of a whiner at best, and a real drama queen at worst. I mucked up a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and STILL God knew his deep and abiding love for him. I absolutely love Kind David. He GETS me.

Yesterday, I got some medical news that I suspected was coming. I’d warned my mind and body about it (as the symptoms had already revealed themselves to said mind and body), but my Spirit put up quite a fit upon learning what’s going on. Renal issues. Enlarged Liver issues. Chronic pain and more migraines to expect. Fatigue as the order of the day forthcoming. And leg and foot cramps that make you want to cry uncle at the top of your lungs at 2 a.m. (My poor, poor husband, I KNOW he is losing sleep…..)

Oh, and did I mention mental health issues arising from dealing with the stress of all of the above PLUS childhood trauma that has never been dealt with, and a whole lifetime of untreated depression? As I lurch forward in treatment for mental health issues, I’m feeling black-and-blue, my heart beat up badly, and bones and soul, too.

Which brings me back to the biblical David, bitcher of circumstance, beloved man after God’s own heart (is it possible to be both? I’m kind of counting on it….) Like David, I am on the cusp of digging deeper in my faith. Like David, I’m getting ready to clean out my closet and make room for fresh hope.

The Psalms are best read aloud because you can better capture biblical David’s desperation aloud. He is one of my favorite biblical characters because he can slay giants, become a mighty king, loves God with all of his heart, and seemingly and impulsively throw it away for a hot chick in a bathtub. Hey, who am I to judge?

Here is a man who knows frustration. Here is a man who gave us authentic prayer of the highest order.

Pray it aloud when you are at the end of your proverbial rope:

1-2 Please, God, no more yelling,
    no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
    I’m so starved for affection.

2-3 Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue,
    beat up badly in bones and soul?
God, how long will it take
    for you to let up?

4-5 Break in, God, and break up this fight;
    if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I’m no good to you dead, am I?
    I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!

6-7 I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed
    has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
    My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
    nearly blind, I squint and grope.

8-9 Get out of here, you Devil’s crew:
    at last God has heard my sobs.
My requests have all been granted,
    my prayers are answered.10 Cowards, my enemies disappear.
Disgraced, they turn tail and run.  Pslam 6:1-10 (MSG

Read this aloud when imploring the Lord, perhaps in times you feel forgotten:

 

13-14 Be kind to me, God;
    I’ve been kicked around long enough.
Once you’ve pulled me back
    from the gates of death,
I’ll write the book on Hallelujahs;
    on the corner of Main and First
    I’ll hold a street meeting;
I’ll be the song leader; we’ll fill the air
    with salvation songs.” Psalm 9:1-10 (MSG)

And then this. Pray it out loud. Pray it so that the devil can hear you. Pray it so that the cells wrapped in pain in your body can know it’s true. If we don’t get healing this side of the kingdom, we get it eventually and in full, and forever! In the meantime, pray it LOUD:

And this after-God’s-own-heart, keeping it 100, plea from an authentic David to God:

“Oh, God, my Lord, step in;
    work a miracle for me—you can do it!
Get me out of here—your love is so great!—
    I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins.
I’m fading away to nothing, passing away,
    my youth gone, old before my time.
I’m weak from hunger and can hardly stand up,
    my body a rack of skin and bones.
I’m a joke in poor taste to those who see me;
    they take one look and shake their heads.

26-29 Help me, oh help me, God, my God,
    save me through your wonderful love;
Then they’ll know that your hand is in this,
    that you, God, have been at work.
Let them curse all they want;
    you do the blessing.
Let them be jeered by the crowd when they stand up,
    followed by cheers for me, your servant.
Dress my accusers in clothes dirty with shame,
    discarded and humiliating old ragbag clothes.

30-31 My mouth’s full of great praise for God,
    I’m singing his hallelujahs surrounded by crowds,
For he’s always at hand to take the side of the needy,
    to rescue a life from the unjust judge.(Psalm 109:25-31)

And here, finally, we see the AHA moment in which David sees the light, so to speak. He is at that pivotal place we all need to find ourselves in, in order to keep running that most challenging race set before us:

“Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
    who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
    when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
    put your hope in God and know real blessing!
God made sky and soil,
    sea and all the fish in it.
He always does what he says—
    he defends the wronged,
    he feeds the hungry.
God frees prisoners—
    he gives sight to the blind,
    he lifts up the fallen.
God loves good people, protects strangers,
    takes the side of orphans and widows,
    but makes short work of the wicked.

10 God’s in charge—always.
    Zion’s God is God for good!
    Hallelujah!” Psalm 146:3-10

Lift up us fallen ones, Abba. We are so tired.

But even in our sickness and sadness and end-of-our-rope-ness, we are are a people after your own Heart!

God bless us, every one.

 

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Health, Spiritual, Spirituality

Whatever Comes Further, God is already There

 

bed

By: Jana Greene

“Hey, God…..”

“Yes?”

“What’s going to happen further along down the road?”

“I’m sorry, that’s on a need-to-know basis. Just trust me.”

“But….”

“Trust me, love. Whatever comes further, I’m already there with you.”

I’m always badgering God about what’s next, even though I know that I couldn’t even handle it if I knew. Seriously, I COULD NOT EVEN. But in some convoluted way, I ask God to reveal to me the outcome of certain things, but the gift of prophesy is not my strong suit.

I am considering this today as I’m struggling with my health issues. I have a rare-ish condition that causes chronic fatigue, migraines, intermittent system pain, and recurrent infections. It’s not going to kill me, but some days I feel like it would kill me if it were more merciful.

Here’s the thing, though: If God had revealed to me that I would do battle with this for the rest of my life, I don’t know that I would have stayed sober. I don’t know if I’d handle it well at all, so I’m grateful for the not knowing.

While I was busy NOT knowing, He went further down the road with me when I wasn’t even looking. The manifestations of His mighty hand over this struggle were being constructed long before I was even symptomatic.

If God had revealed that I would carry this thorn, maybe it would have gone down like this:

“Child, enough badgering! Come sit with me, and I will indulge your curiosity….

“As you grow older, you will feel like your mind and body are falling apart, because they will be – sort of – and you will be scared and tired and frustrated. But I’m working on an infrastructure for your life so that you will be able to carry this yoke…..

“I will bring you a spouse who adores you, and believes you when you are telling the truth about your pain. He will never give up on you, even when you are really sick….

“I will drop friends into your life with EXACTLY this same disease that you suffer from, and they will seemingly drop from the clear blue sky. You will marvel that I took such care to place those perfect people in your life at just the right moments. Lean on them and let them lean into you. They are sent directly from me….

“When you are having a bad day and hurting inside and out, I will scootch right up next to you so close that you can feel my love  for you, even through the pain. My Holy Spirit will be IN you, giving you fresh hope, even through the tears…..

“I will give you the gift to write about your experience, so that you can pay this Love forward to others….the ones who are gravely sick but look well, the ones whose labs and tests all come back normal and they feel like they are losing their minds, and that nobody believes them. YOU will comfort and believe them, just as you have been comforted….

“I will give you humor in copious quantities, so that you can not just survive, but THRIVE….

“Whatever comes further, I am already there with you.”

I get by with a LOT of help from my friends.

God bless us, every one.

 

 

 

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migraines, Spiritual

Through a Glass Darkly – a Migraine Tale

migraine

By: Jana Greene

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”

– 1 Corinthians 13:12 (MSG)

Greetings, Readers. I’ve been away a while due to several obligations and one horrible migraine that lasted – roughly – for as long as it took Jesus to rise from the tomb. Three days.

Here’s what my migraines feel like – An army of tiny, pix-axed elves are carving Mount Rushmore on the surface of my brain. They are groovy little elves because they provide lots of auras for my visual displeasure as they are unloading their tools. After a prelude of giving me auras and scary face numbness, they start chipping with their elfly chisels, but several hours in, they break out the jackhammers.

I must lie in absolute stillness in a dark and silent room for however long they ascribe to completing their dastardly and painful masterpiece. Sometimes that’s a couple of hours. Sometimes it’s days. DAYS.

I woke this morning gloriously pain-free, as if the stone had been rolled away. I wanted to get out of bed and dance the jaunty jig of the grandfather in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” when he finds out that Charlie has the Golden Ticket.

Come to think of it, maybe biblical King David was a migraine sufferer and danced post-headache:

“David, ceremonially dressed in priest’s linen, danced with great abandon before God.” – 2 Samuel 6:14 (MSG)

You never know.

But I digress…

This is where I’d like to give you some platitude about how all things work to the glory of those who love the Lord. I’m not about to praise God for horrible migraines. Every time I crawl out from under one, my spirit feels a little bruised. “Hey, Lord. I thought you had my back? FIX ME.”

It hearkens back to my primal and paradoxical predicament of thought: Is God an angry and vengeful, spiteful being who is punishing me for my infractions? Or is he a good, good Father who protects me from He-knows-what regularly and walks through every single circumstance with me.

I choose to believe that God is only good. He is love and He is lovely.

He shows UP.

Even as the jackhammers rat-a-tat-tat in my head. Even as we near a nightmare election. Even as I use ice cream as a coping mechanism. Even as I’m angry at him for allowing pain to invade.

Migraines necessitate that I must lie in absolute stillness in a dark and silent room, sometimes for a couple of hours. Sometimes for DAYS. I have some really amazing prayer times while squinting in the fog.

I’m not grateful for brain-invading  jackhammers. But I AM grateful that the God of the Universe hunkers down with me, escorting me through the pain. Clearly there are a LOT of things on His plate in the world right now, but He takes the time to crawl into that dark and painful space with me. Sometimes that is Kingdom Work enough.

I’m convinced that presence is the real Golden Ticket.

God bless us, every one.

*I don’t know about you, but whatever beef I’m having with The Almighty has a applicable Coldplay song. Don’t ask why or how, it’s just a cosmic thing. Music is HEALING. As I was writing this piece, I decided that the following might apply:

CLICK HERE to watch Coldplay’s “Fix You” video on YouTube.

 

 

 

 

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Christianity, God, Spiritual

Dry Toast and God Wrestling

858px-Rembrandt_-_Jacob_Wrestling_with_the_Angel_-_Google_Art_Project

Rembrandt – Jacob Wrestling

By: Jana Greene

Yesterday I fell violently ill, the kind of sick that you crawl on all fours to the bathroom and end up sprawled out on the floor because whats the point of going anywhere else? I couldn’t hold down so much as an ice chip.

It was the kind of sick that you feel you might die and don’t really care if you do. I told my husband, who lovingly cared for me, that the last time I was that horribly ill was the night before I got sober in January 2001. There, on another bathroom floor, I was broken and sick, and wrestled mightily with God.

For some reason, God has chosen to meet me on the floor of a bathroom repeatedly. It’s kind of my personal “Peniel.”

But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn’t get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint.

The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”

Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”

The man said, “What’s your name?”

He answered, “Jacob.”

The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”

Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?”

The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him.

Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!”

The sun came up as he left Peniel, limping because of his hip. (This is why Israelites to this day don’t eat the hip muscle; because Jacob’s hip was thrown out of joint.)

– Genesis 32″:22-32 (MSG)

There is nothing like being a collapsed heap on the floor and yet still feeling the presence of God. On the verge of going to the hospital, I tried to will myself to be well. I tried to bargain with God. I wrestled him much like I did on January 2, 2001.

I’m not letting you go until you bless me. And he does.

It astounds me that the force that created the entire universe is not too proud to come hang out with me when I am at my worst. Isn’t that amazing? Sometimes a prayer can be a whimper, but he shows up just the same.

And this morning I consumed and managed to hold down some flat Sprite and toast. Glorious, glorious TOAST.

I guess the moral of this story is that God meets you where you are, whether it be on the floor of a bathroom or a regal palace; whether it be a life-altering and radical thing like getting sober, or having a wretched 24-hour stomach bug.

Sometimes, we come away limping.

I don’t know why some people get almost never get sick, and some people are sick chronically, and why other people die from disease. Theology and biology are not my strong suits.

All I know is that if you cling to Abba, you win any which way. Perhaps dying for the believer is not a triumph for disease, but a respite from a race well-run and finished. To see God face to face is certainly no hardship. You’ve still wrestled with God and come through.

The sun came up when Jacob left Peniel. And then right then and there (God) blessed him. Limp notwithstanding.

Today I am grateful for healing. I’m grateful for My Beloved who went above and beyond (as is his way) for me. I’m grateful for my kitty cats who parked out with me flanking each side of my body and not leaving my side (who says cats don’t have feelings?) all day long. I’m grateful  for dry toast and flat Sprite.

But most of all, I’m grateful for my Heavenly Father, and his capacity for comforting us wrestlers. I do love him so.

A prayer can be a whimper, but he shows up just the same.

 

 

 

Spiritual, Surrender

A Hundred Little White Flags of Surrender

flag3

By: Jana Greene

This past weekend, I instructed a workshop about “Surrender” for a large group of women. In it, I shared the absolute necessity of LETTING GO of our anxieties.

And, in the interest of honesty, I also shared my own propensity of surrendering my worries to Jesus, only to revisit them on occasion – as if I have some twisted kind of weekend custody of them or something.

“Thanks for handling the financial worries I surrendered to you, God. Now, if you don’t mind, I believe it’s my right to have visitation with it. Just to check up, you know.”

Or…

“I know I surrendered by kids to you, God. But they seem to be making worse choices than even  BEFORE I fully trusted them to your care, so maybe if I revisit the situation, I can give you some pointers on fixing them. Nobody knows them like their mother….”

At which point, God usually reminds me that, no….actually nobody knows them like their Father.

I keep forgetting that. even though it’s right there in 1 Peter 5:7: “So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.” (MSG)

At the conclusion of last weekend’s workshop workshop, I invited the ladies to visit the Surrender Board on a table in the back of the room. After channeling my Amateur Craft Maven earlier in the week in preparation for the ceremony, I’d covered a large Styrofoam board with some glittery scrap booking paper, and made over a hundred little white flags from toothpicks and white masking tape. I provided metallic paint pens at the table for the ladies to emboss the flags with their most difficult struggles before raising their own white flags in surrender on the board.

To get it started, I’d  pre-added about seven of the issues nearest and dearest to my heart. The names of my children. My weight struggles. Anxiety. Fear.

One by one, the women filed to the table to the accompaniment of soothing worship music.  Tearfully, they turned their worries into a Styrofoam battlefield of surrender, letting go of their issues and giving them to God.

After the workshop, I took the Surrender Board home with me, and vowed to pray for the surrenderees each day this week.

But last night, I had a dream.I was approaching the board in a room where it sat on a fancy table (think “Arc of the Covenant” fancy)  Jesus stood between me and all of the white flag surrenderables, which I had come to pray over.He was lovingly guarding them.

“Excuse me, Lord,” I think I said. (Very politely, it was Jesus, after all.) “I need to pray for these items left here by my sisters.”

“But they gave them to me,” He countered.

Not wanting to argue with The Great I Am, I peered past his shoulder to take a look-see at all of the little white flags. The metallic paint that marked each struggle was so aglow in the light of Christ that I couldn’t make out the words.

“Yes, but you see,” I explained. “I told myself I would pray over each one.”

“Yes, but you also told them that they could trust these things to me.”

As I peer over the shoulder of the Living God again (I can be really stubborn sometimes) I can see that each little white flag has been folded and stamped crimson with an old-fashioned molten wax-type seal. Upon closer inspection, I could see that the insignia was the stamp of a Cross. And the crimson wax? It was the blood of Jesus.

cross

Whatever was written beneath was inconsequential. The same seal covered each one.

All at once, I faded from the dream and experienced a kind of had an epiphany. When I was fully awake, I logged on the very modern research tool of the interwebs to find out more about the ancient art of seals:

A seal, in biblical times as today, is used to guarantee security or indicate ownership. Ancient seals were often made of wax, embedded with the personalized imprint of their guarantor.

“….Third, the seal of the Holy Spirit helps protect against tampering or attack. Romans 8:13 declares, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (www.BibleStudyTools.com)

Jesus wasn’t upset with me that I wanted to have visitation with my struggles and those of my sisters, but He DID want me to make good on my promise to surrender them to HIM and leave them there.

And that INCLUDED my own items of surrender.

No need to revisit them anymore. It’s sealed by the blood. You cannot even tell what it used to be. Even the little white flags of surrendering my children and their lives. (Nobody knows them like their Heavenly Father.)

Each little white flag erected by the wonderful women who so bravely surrendered it? Precious to Him beyond all imagining.

Leave it there at the altar. He has sealed it with his blood.

Signed, sealed, surrendered. Personally imprinted by their Guarantor.

LIVE CAREFREE IN GOD – HE IS MOST CAREFUL WITH YOU.

Surrender is a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

12 Steps, AA, Addiction, alcoholism, Brokenness, Celebrate Recovery, Christianity, fellowship, Grace, Hitting the bottom, Holy Spirit, Inspirational, Jesus, Recovery, Serenity, sobriety, Spiritual, Spirituality

Recovery Option “B” – Have Faith Anyway

bBy: Jana Greene

Very recently, I came across the prayer journal that I  kept before I got sober on January 3, 2001. That is my D.O.S. (date of sobriety) which has become far more meaningful to me than my birthday or any other anniversary.

In this particular journal, the entries began about a month before my D.O.S. (the date in which my sobriety ‘stuck’) and continues only through about six months into recovery. There are about ten entries, total. It would not seem to be a very in-depth journaling exercise if, say, I were being graded on it. But I wasn’t being graded on it, of course. The number one key to keeping a journal, in my humble opinion, is remembering that nobody is going to grade you on it. It is for the benefit of you own tender spirit, and no one else.

I sat down with a cup of coffee to read my old, cringe-worthy journal just the other day.

On an entry dated December 11, 2000 – about three weeks before I came to the end of myself in my addiction – I am hopeful at the top of the page:

Reflections/notes: “I am saving this space to write in tonight when I am tempted to drink.”

And then scrawled in the center of the page many hours later …

Drank anyway.

Even today, nearly 15 years later, I can feel the collapse of my heart as if it just happened. Oh how vividly I remember that sensation of disappointment. I hope I always remember it, it helps keep me sober today.

In between those two writings, a full-on war was going on inside of me. Picking up a drink was, for me, setting down a portion of my faith that God was in control and could handle my problems. Drinking was my way of sitting out the game. Not only did I relinquish my part in saving my own ass, but I was shaking my fist at God for not helping me save it. By continuing to pick up, I was in essence tying the hands of God. He is a gentleman, you see, and will coerce by force. There must be surrender.

I don’t know why it took so long for my sobriety to become ‘sticky,’ I only know that it took what it took. And I know that I had to do the work to put my disease in its place. Meetings. Prayers. Surrender every minute of the day. Strategy. Every war requires expert strategists or it is doomed to fail.

Part of the strategy in very early sobriety was to give myself only two choices. Any more than two were completely overwhelming.

Today will be challenging in the same old ways. It will also be challenging in some brand-new ways. You have a choice. You can …

A) Drink/use anyway.

or

B) Have faith anyway.

The latter is so much more difficult than the former. But choosing the second option saved my life.

“Having faith anyway” looks messy! It means believing that which seems completely impossible. It means accepting THIS, one day at a time, one hour at a time, one SECOND at a time, if need be.

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:28 (MSG)

It’s interesting to read the journal entries that followed. They were desperate. Here is the entry from five days sober:

“I cannot drink today, not today. Maybe not ever again. Nobody knows the extent of my disease. My hands are trembling, holding this pen. I feel toxic, inside and out. The alcohol is bad for my body but worse for my soul. It’s like acid and sweet nectar of oblivion, all in one. I cannot serve two gods anymore. I can feel the hand of Jesus reaching to me, I know He is with me, even now. I used to boast that Jesus was my crutch. I used to be embittered by all that happens in life, and talked to him every day. Over the years, the wine instead became my crutch….just a ‘little something’ to relax me, and then a few more, and then I don’t even remember, until an empty bottle or box. And so here I am on this cool January morning, trembling and calling out the demon. I want God back at the helm, and it’s not because I ‘deserve’ it, but because of this amazing, impossible-to-comprehend gift of Grace. I don’t want to feel the constant shame, the uneasy and bewildering guilt anymore. I’m ready to change, with His help.”

Lots of other notes in the journal follow.

“Okay, God….what is the DEAL with my LIFE?”

and …

“Help me, God, I cannot do this!”

But I COULD choose option B…Have faith that if I surrender to the will of God, I will survive it – and thrive, even.

And so I chose Recovery Option B, no matter what.

Is everything falling apart and you can see no possible resolution? Choose faith anyway. He’s Got this, if you only surrender your will to His.

Are you hurting – mind, body, and soul?

Choose faith anyway. NOTHING has ever been healed by drinking / using the toxins.

Angry, bitter, fed-up?

Don’t pick up and HAVE FAITH ANYWAY. Have faith that your D.O.S. – that glorious, meaningful GIFT of a date – is yours to keep, but you’ve got to work to keep it.

And surround yourself in a healthy recovery community. Journal, if it helps, and remember nobody is grading you! Don’t sit out the game of your own life. Don’t tie the hands of God. He has SUCH good plans for you. He knows you far better than you know yourself. And He is madly in love with YOU. When you get tired, ask for His Spirit to help you along. It’s a messy thing, recovery. But oh how your tender spirit will rejoice on the journey, one single day at a time.

It can save your life.

It saved mine.

 

 

12 Steps, AA, Addiction, alcoholism, Brokenness, Celebrate Recovery, Devotional, Healing, Hitting the bottom, Inspirational, Recovery, rehab, sobriety, Spiritual, Spirituality, substance abuse, The Big Book

Step Five – The Exact Nature of our Wrongs

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STEP FIVE
We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16 

“There are some secrets I will take to my grave.”

Have you ever said the statement above? I have. It is a sentiment that keeps sickness active and recovery stunted. Step Four helped us form an inventory and delve into the wrongs done to us and done by us to others. What to do with the indiscretions laid bare by the hardscrabble work of the fourth step?

Step Five is clear about taking action.

Words have power. What you speak from your mouth can change the trajectory of your healthy recovery, even change the world around you. Speak light and life over people, and their lives change. Speak darkness and it attracts darkness. Let’s not confuse admitting the exact nature of our wrongs to another human being as speaking darkness. To the contrary, as our searching and fearless moral inventories, they can be cleanly dealt with. It’s hard to see in the dark. But whatever the light touches is seen. And can be grasped to be fully put behind you.

Some items on our inventories might be harder to admit than others. Some may seem impossible to own before God, much less a sponsor or accountability partner. But our wrongs – our sins – stay powerful unless confessed to those we trust. Confessing them deflates them so that we can step over them and move forward.

The exact nature of our wrongs, taking responsibility for those things so shameful we vowed never to admit them on this side of the dirt. You really are only as sick as your secrets.

The problem with taking secrets to your grave is that it requires you to lead a grave-tender’s life to some degree. It forces you to spend your lifetime keeping something destructive underground, making sure it stays covered up. Part of you is always tending to that, protecting it. Digging it back up to make sure it is still there so that you can flog yourself with it’s shame, reburying it twice as deep. It’s a lot of work to keep secrets.

You don’t know what I’ve done,” you might be saying.

And you’re right, I don’t. But I do know that – in order to live victoriously in recovery – you must not keep it to yourself. All the things you’ve done in active disease and otherwise are covered under the blood of Christ Jesus if you accept Him and His love.

You see,  God already knows what you’ve done, and is crazy in love with you anyway. If you are in a 12 Step program, you already know people who are equipped to help you admit the exact nature of your wrongs.

“I’ve done bad things” doesn’t cut it when working Step Five. Share your heart with someone who is trustworthy and then burn or bury your past indiscretions in the place of the secrets that have required you to tend to your grave as you are in the living.

So that you can say “Grave? What grave?”

So that you can get on with this big, juicy life you’ve been given and ask “What’s next, Papa?”

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!” – Romans 8:15-17 (MSG)

12 Steps, Addiction, alcoholism, blogging, Spiritual

STEP THREE – A Time to Turn

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STEP THREE

We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.
Biblical Comparison: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” – Romans 12:1

Standing at the counter of the DMV among the throng of other vehicle owners  at the License Plate Tag Office, I was feeling more than a little stressed out. I’d formed an emotional attachment to the car whose tags I would be turning in today. In turning in the license plates, I was essentially saying, “She’d been a good little car, I’ve  had lots of good memories with  her. But she isn’t safe anymore. The car was no longer getting the job of getting me where I need to be reliably anymore. It was time to turn in the tags.

How do you know it’s time to turn in your way of living? Is your life unmanageable? Turning can be hard, but a life driven by peace and love under the care of God is so much better than one driven by our own devices.

Step Three assures us that God is worthy to turn to. In much the same way you would turn license plates in to the DMV after a car has stopped working for you, you can turn your life and will over to the care of a loving and redeeming God if it isn’t working.

We often form emotional attachments to things, making “letting go” difficult.

“Well, my situation may suck, but at least it’s familiar to me.”

“How do I know sobriety will ‘stick’ this time? I’ve turned my will over to God Before, and I am using again. (Answer: Put that thing down and don’t pick it up again no matter what happens…and trust Him to help you!)

Turning away from the hurts, habits, and hangups that have put you in this despondent place? Well, they just aren’t worth going back to look for and picking back up.

God is a gentleman. He will allow you to choose what you hang on to, and what you lose. He will not keep you from turning back around and resurrecting the addiction or pain you are trying to overcome. It’s your choice to turn your life over to His care.

If you desire a lifetime driven by peace and love, make the conscious decision to turn your will and life over to the care of God is yours and yours alone. Turn in those tags! The vehicle isn’t keeping you safe; in fact, it is causing you harm.

And don’t look back, my friend.

 

Musicians The Byrds had a great song, pulled from the book of Ecclesiastics about this very thing:

To Everything Turn Turn Turn

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under Heaven.

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together.

A time to turn.

 

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you know the innermost parts of our spirits, and you long for us to be free of our hurts, habits, and hangups. We cannot do this alone.  We ask humbly for your help to take our character defects, and give us beauty for ashes for each one of our issues. Thank you for always being accessible. We love you. We trust you.

Amen.

12 Steps, AA, Addiction, alcoholism, Brokenness, Celebrate Recovery, Creation, Devotional, Faith, God, Grace, Healing, Health, Hitting the bottom, Holy Spirit, Inspirational, Jesus, Recovery, rehab, sobriety, Spiritual, Spirituality, substance abuse

STEP TWO – Taking off the God Pants

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STEP TWO
 We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Biblical comparison: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” – Philippians 2:13 
There is a God out there. And I am not Him.
Seems a reasonable enough, right? I’m pretty sure YOU know that I am not God, that I didn’t mastermind the universe and place the heavenly bodies in orbit.
But at one point in my life as an active alcoholic – on some really deeply corroded level – I behaved as if I were perhaps God.
No, I didn’t create the universe, but I believed I was able to control my consumption from a liquid in a bottle.
Yet, over and over again, I made hollow promises to myself that tomorrow I would not drink. Period. After a period of thousands of ‘tomorrows’ and repeating the same behavior, I began to question my sanity. Isn’t the definition of ‘insanity’ doing the same thing the very same way over and over, expecting a different result?”
 Time, Higher Power, and that pesky Sanity
Step Two is an action step, in that it takes movement and time on your part.
It doesn’t say “We believe that a power grater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
It states “We came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Another way of saying “I came to believe” is that I have faith. How do you ‘get’ faith? We have long heard that you either have faith or you don’t, that you can exercise your ‘faith muscle’, and even that faith is ‘blind.’ I believe none of those things, actually. Because each and every one of those misconceptions places the glory of your faith squarely on you. Faith is not earned, it is a gift that our Father wants us all to know we have. Ask God to help you trust in the faith he has already planted in you – trusting Him to do what you cannot do for yourself – and your faith will grow.

He is a good father. If you ask for bread, He will not give you a stone.

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” – Luke 11:11 (MSG)

In Luke 17, the apostles came up and said to the Master, “Give us more faith.”  But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy-seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.”

Wouldn’t you like to tell your addiction to go jump in a lake?

Understanding that and really embracing it is a process. It’s a faith thing, not a ‘knowing’ thing, so I cannot open a text book and show you it’s true. It takes time to allow what you are wrapping around your mind to melt down into your heart and get gooey love into the deepest crevices of your spirit and what you believe.

What is the catalyst for making that happen in Step Two? Higher Power, of course. My Highest Power (and personal friend, and counselor, and Creator who masterminded the universe and placed the Heavenly bodies in orbit…yeah, that one) is Jesus Christ. I know that in many 12 Step programs, many different applications of a Higher Power are utilized – and in some, none is recognized at all. All I can tell you is what works for me, and Jesus is the ONLY way I’ve maintained sobriety for over fourteen years now (still, one day at a time.)

He is as real as can be – even more so than you or I. Ask Him for help every single day, and he will never forsake you. He loves the brokenhearted, the addicted, the desperate. And He is a Restoration Specialist, especially when it comes to Sanity. We are all a little crazy, right? I think that’s fair to say.

The sanity referred to in Step Two is not addressing our quirks and individual weirdness. It is speaking to rebuke the insane behaviors that we engage in as active alcoholics and addicts.

The insanity that spurs you to place your drug of choice above your children and family.

The insanity that manifests when you tell yourself, “never again” (and really MEAN it each time,) only to drink and use the next chance you get.

The insanity that keeps you down, telling you that you will NEVER be well. You will NEVER get clean.

The insanity that makes you a person that you detest, who does things you know are wrong and destructive.

There is a better way, and Step Two puts it at your fingertips. Take off the God Pants (they are an awful fit, anyway) and ask your Higher Power to restore you to sanity, to really living.  Ask Him to take that poppy-seed sized grain of faith you have and activate it so that it can expand and you can apply it to your recovery. He is the Restoration Specialist, and He loves you more than you can ever understand.

Prayer: Father God, fill us with Holy Spirit in all the spaces chemicals used to reside. Don’t let our faith lie dormant, but help us understand the power we carry that makes all things – sobriety among them – possible through you! We’ve done it our way….Jesus, do it your way now, and help us to trust you through every step. – Amen

12 Steps, AA, Addiction, alcoholism, Brokenness, Celebrate Recovery, Devotional, Faith, Healing, Hitting the bottom, Inspirational, Recovery, Serenity, sobriety, Spiritual, Spirituality, substance abuse

STEP ONE – The Big Admission

By: Jana Greene

 

BlogSTEP ONE

We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable. – Celebrate Recovery

Biblical comparison: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” – Romans 7:18

I don’t know if you are supposed to play favorites with the Steps, but I am rather fond of Steps One and Twelve – One because it gives you the opportunity to admit “defeat” over a substance or habit, and Twelve because – having become victorious over an issue or addiction in Steps 2-11  – you actively become the person paying your new life forward by giving yourself to others. From “It’s all about me and what I cannot handle” to “It’s all about you and I think I can help!”

In some of my 12th Step work, I have been given opportunities to help others get involved in the programs, and nothing brings me joy quite like seeing someone pick up their “Surrender Chip” at a meeting. Each of the plastic chips designates a different amount of “clean time,” and the “Surrender” chip is the very first one taken as an act of letting go and letting God. I can feel the energy coming off of my friend, the Newcomer, who is here for the first time tonight.  Although I’ve seen it 100 times, the it’s all new to her. She is waging a war in her own mind about accepting the “Surrender” chip.

I cannot do this. There are so many people here. What if someone knows me? There is no going back once I stand up.

But I must do it. My way isn’t working. How many times have I tried to get sober on my own? I need to find another way.

If I surrender, I am giving it up. There will be a hole left where my drug of choice took up space…..a lot of space.

But these people seem to know another way. Some of them are even laughing and joking!

It’s all I know, drinking.

But it’s crushing my relationships and killing me from the inside out.

Every day I say NO MORE! But every day I find myself right back in the center of drunkenness and drama.

I think I need to surrender.

Yeah, I know I need to surrender.

And with legs shaking and heart palpitating, she rises from her chair and excuses herself as she walks past the people in her row. They are clapping and cheering, like surrendering her addiction was a GOOD thing.

A gentleman holds out the blue chip to her, and embraces her as she takes it. She didn’t realize that she was crying, but she was – tears streaming down her face. When she turns to walk back to her seat, all attendees are on their feet, applauding. They know how hard it is to surrender an addiction. They, too, are powerless over their addictions and compulsive behaviors, and as their lives became unmanageable, they had mustered the courage to walk up and pick up a “Surrender” chip.

Many folks get caught up on the powerlessness angle of the First Step. How DARE anyone refer to me as powerless?  We live in an age in which we are all  expected to be super heroes in our lives, figure it all out, and certainly be the conquerors of our own worlds. Being powerful is highly esteemed by society (although society holds equal disdain for the powerful among us, too)  because being “in control” is where it’s at, right?

Wrong. The only way for an addict or alcoholic to regain control of his or her life is to surrender. My Highest Power is Jesus Christ. When I surrendered my will to him in regards to getting sober fourteen years ago, it was not an occasion taken lightly. I was giving him my very own will, since my will was only serving to make me sicker and sicker. I tried many times to do it “my way,” with abysmal results. Like Paul wrote in the book of Romans in the Bible, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

Ever tried really hard to do something you knew would result in destruction? I’ve tried thousands of times. Why can I not carry it out?

Because complete Surrender must precede the abstinence from alcohol, the drug. Not partaking in drugs and alcohol is a nifty concept, but it just doesn’t work. Unless you want to live the rest of your life as a “Dry Drunk,” it’s essential. Surrender to God has to stay strategy #1, or my life becomes unmanageable all over again.

Admitting “defeat” over the drugs and drink is the most powerful thing you can do.

And in the not-to-distant future, you will be paying your life and gratitude forward by helping a shaky-legged, tearful Newcomer take that First Step

 

 

Serenity, Spiritual

Reasonable Happiness

Happiness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Jana Greene

God grant me the serenity…

Last week was an almost magical week for me, having had the opportunity to connect with some family members and friends, with whom I needed connecting. For a few days I was back in my state of origin, geographically. But my spirit was in it’s element…happy. There were times that I felt my heart would burst from the pure enjoyment of living one moment at a time, just as my belt would burst from so much Texas barbecue. My face was sore from smiling. There was healing and forgiveness bestowed and accepted, and the kind of camaraderie that only dear childhood friends can resurrect.

Visiting rivers and singing along to songs in the car to Pandora’s “’80’s Radio Hits.”

Seeing how much my hands are like those of my father, who I’ve only ever seen a handful of times in my 46 years.

Coming to know my half-sister and her family.

Remembering that I do have people.

Happiness is to serenity, as serenity is to joy – the ultimate goal, the place where we are in God’s presence with no distractions. We long for supreme happiness, but have only delicious, fleeting tastes of it.

What made me happy last week – Texas – might be different than what makes me feel happy next week. We are fickle creatures.

I suppose I have kind of an emotional hangover. Today,  I’m weepy and sentimental, and have this crazy urgent want to make all things right. But that’s a problem in this world, because setting all things right is not my job. Trying to make it my job leads straight to unhappiness. I know enough to know that.

It makes me think that maybe perfect happiness is too much…just too much to ask for. I can’t wait around for everything to get it’s collective act together before I allow myself a slice of ‘happy.’

Oh, how I love the Serenity Prayer – such a simple thing! Most people know the first refrains of it, but it is the last half of the famous prayer that really speak to my heart.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

– Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

It’s hard to take this world as it is, not as I would have it. Expecting supreme happiness in this life being unreasonable and all.

The state of my origin can also be melancholy, and sometimes I get my wheels stuck in the muck of melancholy. It helps if I just go ahead and feel what I’m feeling already, instead of attempting to stuff, manipulate, or eat my feelings.

Feel the bittersweet. Feel the melancholy. Really let it squish around between my toes like Texas mud. And then step out of it to walk into the courage to change the things that I can. Because I can’t experience the pure joy of living one day at a time any other way than to surrender to His will.

Accept that hardships – those stumbling blocks to happiness (a feeling) – are nothing but paving stones for the pathway of peace.

God,

Grant me reasonable happiness and help me to trust YOU to make all things right.

In the name of Jesus.

Amen

 

 

Devotional, Health, Holy Spirit, Inspirational, Jesus, Love, Mental Illness, Recovery, Spiritual

No Pain, No Gain – Chronic Illness and the Christian Church

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Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

2 Corinthians 12:7 (The Message)

As I write this, I have the flu. I think I am on day six of it. Every once in a while, I get up to get water or crackers and notice that the sun has made an entire rotation around the earth since the last trip to get water and crackers. And one week prior to getting sick with the flu, I had a freak allergic reaction and infection from a spider bite. And three times previous to that in the past month, I have had debilitating migraines. I have a lot of horrible migraines, for which there are harbingers of auras, sensitivity to sound, and numbness of my face (always disconcerting, that one.)

I get sick a lot. My immune system is not terribly strong, and I have a lot of pain and inflammation issues. If you saw me, you might see a healthy middle-aged person, a little fluffy and dented,  but well. Illnesses don’t always show on the outside. Oftentimes, the erosion is on the inside, where you cannot see.

Some of my dear friends also suffer from ‘invisible illnesses’ – ranging from bi-polar to nerve diseases, diabetes to chronic fatigue. They are health issues that are chronic – meaning more or less constant. Many of them are followers of Jesus Christ, such as myself.  Chronic illness reminds me of alcoholism, in that I seemed to serendipitously end up as a member of a club I didn’t choose to join.

I do, however, get to choose my membership in the body of Christ, which needs to better deal with some of the realities on this planet – chronic illness being one.  I am not the only Christian who has felt awkward about her health problems in the Church proper (not my particular church, which kind of ‘gets it’ on the level … but the church in general.)

Many in the Christian community don’t really know what to do with chronic illness – of that I am convinced.

I believe in miracles all day long. I believe that signs and wonders abound every single day. Nothing is impossible for God – nothing! He can rearrange every cell in my body to work in perfect alignment. He does it for people all the time. Knowing that can make it especially frustrating to suffer.

But the reality of the matter is that some of us will not get the healing we imagine this side of the Kingdom. People suffer in innumerable ways all of the time, and die from disease every day. That’s the reality.

Our bodies are indeed the Temple of the Holy Spirit, but I don’t for a minute believe that God only takes up residence in the Taj Mahals among us. Jesus was not put off by hanging out where there was great pain and suffering – in the alleyways. In bodies like ours.

He can heal me, and one day he will. Until that day, one question usurps the pain, the fatigue.

“Do you trust me?”
Do I trust Him even in the debilitation and pain?

Either I believe that all things work to the good or I don’t. Either I know that His grace is sufficient, or I don’t. On especially painful days, it’s harder to come to terms with that.  If Jesus was not spared pain, why do we imagine we deserve to be spared the experience?

Sometimes we do not get healing that the world recognizes as whole. When Christians insist that you become healed in a specific way on an ongoing basis, a number of things happen to the sufferer, the church, and  most awkwardly, the world as it observes us.

And this makes us all uncomfortable. Let’s bring this thorny issue  into the light where we can deal with it.

The sick believer isn’t believing/praying/wanting wellness enough

Let’s be honest. After your friends have prayed for the same healing for you over a period of months or years, you might start to believe that you are just a dud. I know I have felt like a dud many, many times. The whole “believe harder” angle is so damaging, because it places the miracle out of God the bestower, into you the believer. And nothing we do or do not do causes the heavens to release power. It is all in Christ Jesus that we receive. It is our job to receive what is released – and when you are suffering, accepting and receiving can seem a whole lot harder than turning water into wine.

The sufferer feels embarrassed/ashamed that they have not been restored in the way they’ve prayed.

It’s no fun being run down or in pain. It sucks, badly. If you are healthy on a regular basis, praise God! Please don’t tell sick people, “Wow, you are sick again?” or “I never get sick.” I think I speak for chronic illness sufferers everywhere in saying those comments are not at all helpful. Ultimately, we end up lying to those around us who ask “So how are you feeling?” with the f-word. “Fine.” After all, who wants to hear the same story over and over? It feels shameful, but it shouldn’t. If we cannot be transparent in the church, where is it safe to do so?

If I don’t get healthy, my witness is damaged

This is a pretty persuasive lie, because it makes common sense. Who wants a piece of what I’ve got, if I’m sickly? Over and over again it has been confirmed to my spirit that the world needs to see faith in imperfect lives. Because all of our lives are imperfect, and nobody can relate to perfection. You are going through what you are going through, that is your reality.

“If it hasn’t happened by now, it isn’t happening” is never true

I will never stop asking for healing. I will never stop interceding for my friends who are dealing with chronic illnesses. As chronic as these conditions are, they are ultimately temporal. And God wastes not one single hurt I go through. He can use it all, and He can take it all away. What the devil means to use for destruction, our Father can easily use as a means to love. That’s a fact.

God is not punishing us

God is love in its purest form. He is not sadistic. He hurts that you hurt. His plans are much bigger than the pain. That is the foundation of my survival, because it is truth.

You don’t need to ‘get well’ so that ‘God can use you’

What kind of propaganda is that? Stop saying that, church!

If I am supposed to do a thing, but I cannot because I am sick, then I am not supposed to do the thing. My illness is not keeping God from doing HIS thing, which is the main thing. He equips me, and He knows my innermost being and what it is capable of. That’s the thing about it.

Run the race He has set before you. You are not responsible for running the courses set for others.

Jesus is not afraid of catching my ick

Although migraines are not contagious, it is easy to fall into thinking He is staying far away. But he is present in the pain, He doesn’t run from us when we are in the valleys.

I think about the paralyzed man who was healed by Jesus in a common setting – the one who was told to pick up his mat and walk. This is so easy for God to do – to enable that! Why would he not allow us all to pick up our mats? Why are some of us barely dragging our mats behind us? I cannot begin to understand.

I’m inclined to believe it has to do with the Bigger Picture. For the sake of the whole purpose have had life breathed into these bodies – so that someone else can be blessed by hearing “I know what you are going through, you are not alone.” If suffering comes at the price of one other person knowing that God is to be trusted even through the circumstance of pain, it is somehow more tolerable.

Until I get my full healing, I’ll tell you what Jesus does for me – He gets down on the mat with me and loves me to pieces. That’s what I think the church should do. Pray, always! But also bend down to the hurting people where they are – and love them to pieces in the midst.

We don’t always get restored the way we want, but we always have comfort available to us.

We should stop selling Christianity in a slick package that promises a specific healing

Guess what? People see other people get prayed for that still suffer and die all the time. It’s the circle of life thing. Christianity is so much more than surface healing – so much deeper than tissue and brain matter and physical vitality. It is relationship with the Creator….. SO much MORE. And so much better.

Never stop praying in the Spirit. But get down on the mat and love people where they are.

I know for a fact that other people have gone through pain before me,  so that they could impart that same message to me. So, in a way, I am grateful for the pain of others.I am glad  I can pay that forward. When I have a finite amount of energy  every day, and I can either use it to raise my fist to shake it at God – because I don’t understand this! Or, I can raise it to praise Him. I am about 50/50 with the fist shaking and worship through the pain at this point. But I’m getting better at the latter.

Love the sinner, hate the sin. Love the sufferer, hate the pain. Jesus does.

Come to me, all you chronic pain sufferers, and I will give you rest.

Come to me all you whose minds are tortured with mental illness, and I will give you a soft place to fall.

Come to me, all you exhausted souls, and I will give you my Shalom.

Not a single other human being on this planet might know how much you are hurting, what your body and mind are going through. But God does. Make room on your mat for Him until you can get up and run that marathon.

Are you weak and sick? Then you are strong!

… It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.

God Himself inhabits our puny, struggling flesh as if it were the most beautiful temple in all the land. Because it is.

Rest in Him.

Christianity, Enough, Grace, Spiritual

The Importance of Being ENOUGH

Sea glassBy: Jana Greene

Being enough.
If I had a self-help book for every time I didn’t feel I was enough, I’d have a  library of self-help books.

Wait, I do.

I buy the books (and occasionally even read them) to convince myself that I am enough. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of actualizing self; it’s just that sometimes my ‘self’ is a bullshit artist. I know this because she constantly tells me that I’m not now – nor will I ever be – enough.

Not pretty enough.

Not healthy enough.

Not thin enough.

Not pious and thoughtful enough.

Just not good enough. And although the arguments in favor of all of these things being true are pretty concrete, it isn’t what my Creator says about me.

When you become a Christ-follower and “walk with him,” it doesn’t mean that the people-pleasing, self-flagellating, hurting person inside of you pipes down all the days of your life. I am a new creation in Christ, but the devil is still a liar and I’m still working through some pains.

I continually have to give up my frustrations, but sometimes they roll downhill at a pretty high clip and make me feel bulldozed. God knows I am not trying to minimize his awesome power, but I’m just being honest about how I feel (which all the self-help books say is important, and also my recovery experience has taught me.) Denial ain’t just a river, but it can drown you all the same.

I am so blessed, yes. I long for the day that I can blithely respond to people who ask me “How are you?” that I am “too blessed to be stressed” or “blessed and highly favored!” But then again nevermind. Christians who spout off things like that when it is clear they are  hurting have always secretly made me want to throw up. On them.

Because, you see, sometimes I still struggle with feeling enough.

My inner critic is a heartless wench, a dominatrix, really. She combines lording my inadequacies over me with equal parts humiliation.

“Roll up your sleeves, and do! You must do more to be more. …
Well, you really fell short there.
You did it again. Get it together, already!”

She cracks that whip with enough force to split me in two, and she has.

I really just want to know that I am enough already.
I don’t have to prove my worth or disprove my frailties.

That people will run their mouths about things they know nothing about, and that’s okay. I’ve run my mouth plenty. It’s what people do. (What is that old AA adage? “What you think of me is none of my business.”)

That having spent a lifetime on one pursuit and have the season end, doesn’t mean that I’m spent altogether.

That I cannot control my own flesh and it’s propensities, but I can rest in that flesh instead of fight against it. That bodies wear down against our wills. Somehow I’d like to learn how to keep my will from breaking down with it.

God knows that it’s hard to roll up your sleeve when you wear your heart on it!
And therein lies the answer, I think.

God knows.

I know in the deepest pools of my spirit that what God believes about me is absolute truth, that everything else is either bullshit or outright lies. Everything else is having my spirit ‘taken behind the woodshed’ and beaten to a bloody pulp. People will try to take you back there, you know…behind the proverbial woodshed. Don’t follow them – or your inner critic – there.

God says I am already enough. He said, “It is finished.” That’s a really good thing, because I’m tired, Lord.

“It is finished already.” That’s what Abba tells my soul.  “Stop making idols of people whose opinions of you don’t matter.”

(Why do I DO that? When will I learn? What’s my DEAL? See? Self-flagellation engage.)

Today, I am asking God to do what I cannot seem to do for myself (for the millionth time) – remind me that I am enough, more than a conqueror, in flighty emotions and failing flesh.

I’m praying he will convince me of it – not in some flashy way –  but with an installation in my spirit too deep for my inner critic to deny. Because knowing that I am enough will never truly come from any other source – not an entire library of books, not from the opinions of others – only from God.

ONLY from God.

But his is the only opinion that matters. He has no use at all for pious. He needs present. He doesn’t care about ‘thin,’ he just wants to know I’m IN.

It is finished, it is finished, it is finished.
So, pipe down inner-critic, and naysayers, devil and other purveyors of bullshit.

I am enough already.

(And reader, so are you.)

Grace, Jesus, Poetry, Spiritual

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Father, Son and Holy Ghost
We’re the ones you love the most.
It’s only in You that we boast,
But Abba, we want more.

Over all and under none,
Not by our might, but what you’ve done
The battle has been fought and won,
But we want more of You.

When we worship and adore
In our pews (and on the floor)
Until our hearts can take no more,
We want more of You.

Your presence like a gentle breeze
Is a prompt, a holy tease
Of what will bring us to our knees,
More and more of You.

You made the earth, the moon, the stars,
And still make time to heal our scars
Freeing the prisoner from iron bars
But Abba, we want more.

Radical Savior, we seek your face
An avalanche of holy Grace
To overflow, fill every space
With more and more of You.

Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End,
Counsel, Provider, Redeemer and Friend
Calling out torn hearts to mend.
Give us more of You.

Drench us in your Spirit sweet
From the top of our heads to the soles of our feet,
Only then are we complete.
More and More of You.

 

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” – Luke 11:13 (MSG)

Creation, Grace, Holy, Inspirational, Jesus, Recovery

Agape for Amateurs: a love letter from God

Only love to lose

Oh Dear Created One,

Do you know who you are to me?
I am Love….only ever good.

And you are my handiwork.
By avoiding me, you have only love to lose. And love is everything.

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 are  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.

Without relationship with me, you have only love to lose. But love is everything.
I delight in you – created to love, created for love.

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 – I dare you to seek me for who I truly am…

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 do so long to embrace you!

When you seek me, I am there waiting – with wild, reckless love.
I delight in you.
Seek my face, and I shall never hide from you. There is no other like you – You are my BELOVED!

With love,

Your Papa God

“Hallelujah! Sing to God a brand-new song, praise him in the company of all who love him. Let all Israel celebrate their Sovereign Creator, Zion’s children exult in their King. Let them praise his name in dance; strike up the band and make great music! And why? Because God delights in his people, festoons plain folk with salvation garlands!” – Psalm149:1-4 (The Message)

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Addiction, Inspirational, Recovery

EDGWISE for Kindle Free through June 28

Okay, folks….I am running a promotion for EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God.

It is a FREE Kindle download, via Amazon for the next few days. I pray my story will bless someone out there!

Just click on the link below, and choose “Read it for free.”

God bless us, everyone.

FREE KINDLE COPY

EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God
EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God

Prayer, Spiritual

Prayer Vegas-style, Baby

VEGAS

This piece originally ran as a guest blog for my friend and fellow writer, Chris Canuel. I felt like maybe someone needs to read it today…someone who might be currently praying in the desert.

Maybe that someone who needs to (re)read it is ME.

How do you get out of the spiritual desert? You build a huge, blinking distraction to it.

Or, you can just walk through it, and fully expect God to bring you to the other side.

About eight years ago, I went to Las Vegas on a business trip. The long and short of it was that I had a mini-nervous breakdown.

My colleagues and I stayed in the Luxor – a magnificent pyramid structure on the Vegas strip, smack dab (as we say in the South) in the heart of Sin City. Although there were seminars by day, there were too many hours of free time after the nine-to-five activities.

I don’t always do that well with too much free time.

Vegas is not so much fun for a person in alcohol – or any other, so far as I can tell – recovery. Moment after moment, fleshly appetizers are placed before you. In-your-face, 24/7 sex, drugs, drink, gambling, smoking. Even things that had never tempted me before – such as the gambling – became this enormous tease.

I knew that Vegas was not for me before the plane even touched down. If you’ve ever flown over Las Vegas, you will know what I mean. Here is a visual synopsis of the view from the plane.

Hours of flight over sandy canyons, gorges, and deserts. Everything is some shade of brown– nothing, nothing, nothing, hours of nothing– barren brown, tan and beige. Nothing.

BAM! Super incredibly bright neon, see-it-from-outer space, larger-than life and twice as gaudy, Technicolor VEGAS, Baby! The strip is, quite literally, just a strip that – from the air – looks as though the heavens barfed forth a city-sized strip of neon, glitter, and a strange, Disney-like conglomeration of architectural/cultural mess. Pastel medieval castles, next door to Greco-Roman-columned casinos, next door to the great pyramids, next door to a shrunken New York City entwined by a roller coaster, punctuated by liquor and nudie bars.

It is the anti-nature, if you will.

Before even the first rah-rah corporate event, I was burned out. Too much to see. Everything in sight vying for my attention – and so, none of it really getting my attention. The first night, I stayed in the hotel room and cried while everyone else went out and had Vegas adventures. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Every morning, for privacy, I wandered down to a café in the Luxor, and call my (then) fiancé, a grown woman crying in an enormous, cartoonish pyramid, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and utterly alone.

“I can’t be here,” I told him. “It’s too noisy. Too much temptation. Too many drunk and high people…so much gambling, porn everywhere…. too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. I have to come home.”

It didn’t upset me because I believed I would never do such things, but because I know good and damn well that I could – given the right circumstances and a weak moment – and, in fact, have. I try to respect the parameters – the slippery slopes. And Vegas is a very slippery slope.

Each day, I became more and more depressed, the thin veneer of sanity cracking under the weight of trying to appear all the things I was not: Professional, immune to the temptations, and able to cope.

Where I live at home, the Ocean is a scant 10 minutes away, and the Cape Fear River 10 minutes in the other direction. Water, water everywhere. And people I love.

Of course, I survived it – and as a bonus, with my sobriety intact. When I finally, got home, it didn’t seem like such an ordeal. But during the experience, I was miserable.

For the last month or so, I have really been struggling with prayer. Not just having a desert-like prayer life, but a Vegas-like prayer life. Unwittingly, I’ve filled up a dry-spell with diversions to distract my spirit. Sensory overload is not the same as spirit satiation. What happens in my prayer life lately…..it goes nowhere. Or so it seems.

Praying…. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

BAM! Diversion!

But anything but Holy Spirit in a hurting soul is not an oasis….only a mirage.

Sometimes, my spiritual walk becomes about too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. A grown woman crying in church, surrounded by dozens of happy worshippers. Everyone else seemingly bloated with happiness. Don’t they see the barren dryness?

Aridness…brown, tan and beige. So I build great, giant cities – big, awkward pastel and neon structures of distraction, instead of just walking through the desert – exhausted from trying to pretend to be what I am not: A “professional Christian.” Immune to the temptations. Able to cope.

I don’t always do that well when I have too much time, but I know the God of the Universe always makes time for me. I have to come home, and the only route is through the desert.

It’s hard to encounter God, what with the gaudy, neon monuments to my worries and anxieties blinking. Why don’t I remember that in the “uninhabitable” – He inhabits? He dwells in me always, vying for my attention.

And if I am simply willing to just walk through the desert?

BAM! God. Living water, water everywhere. Deserts can’t go on forever.

But the love of my Father does.