The Kindness of Strangers – musings of a hurricane evacuee

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By: Jana Greene

Greetings from the great state of Georgia.

I just finished my breakfast of obligatory grits and cheese, and a cup of excellent coffee in the lobby of our Hampton Inn.

It is home to us right now, this Hampton Inn. Displaced from our home at the coast by Hurricane Florence a week ago, my husband, adult daughter, and three cats are on the lam from the floodwaters and the chaos that is post-hurricane Wilmington. We are lucky our home was spared, but there is no actual way to get into our city right now, much less our house.

We are in limbo, and it’s uncomfortable. So freaking uncomfortable.

So here we stay for now – building-mates with a passel of other evacuees, all of which have been amazing comrades in arms against Florence and her nasty disposition.

But it’s the native Georgians who have blown us out of the water with their southern hospitality, which the employ with such gusto, it makes you entertain the idea of packing up house and becoming a Georgian, too.

From the hotel staff, who has gone out of their way to learn all of our names, the names of our pets, and our general situation, to the check-out lady at the local Walmart who asked me where I was from and came around her register to embrace me in a comforting hug when I answered her. Everyone – and I mean EVERY PERSON – that we have met has been angelic to us. Genuinely compassionate.

On the network news, you will see stories of Charlatans and looters, price gougers and swindlers in our city right now. But I’m telling you, they are the exception.

That that God Particle that manifests in others as mercy, compassion, and love? God has imparted it to all of us. Even to the people we don’t know yet.

Especially to the people we may not know yet….those humans we call “strangers.”

There’s a line in the classic, old movie “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams. The slightly unhinged character of Blanche DuBois”says in her soft, southern drawl: “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.”

I finally know what she meant now. I don’t think I’ve ever understood it before.

The kindness of strangers is thick here. It’s in the air; you can feel it. One good, bolstering hug from a stranger can hold you up for a full day. A day full of kind words and smiles can bolster you with enough energy to take on another new day full of uncertainties.

I’d much rather be on the side of giving and loving others than be in the position of having to receive it in so copious a manner. But I have to tell you, my worried heart is filled with gratitude for the people God has put directly in our path.

God bless us, EVERY ONE.

Flotsam, Jetsam, and Faith

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By: Jana Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless us, every one.

 

Settling the Cosmos – Calling out Hopelessness

Hi, dear Readers.

The past few weeks has been WOW. And not “WOW! SO GREAT!” either.

Just wow.  It’s superfluously wacky, this life season.I wonder if Mars got out alignment with Venus, or Pluto is pouting  for being excommunicated, or the stars are staging a great rebellion.

I used to believe in astrology many, many years ago. I still get my direction from the Heavenlies – just not the heavenly bodies.

It’s tempting to seek out what God seems reticent to tell us in tangible, chart-able ways.

But it isn’t he fault in our stars or the heavy hand of Karma trying to set us straight. The less-glamorous truth is that a lot of crap happens, and keeps happening. It’s so largely out of control, it makes you wonder if anyone is supervising this planet, which seems to be spiraling into a Lord of then Flies level madness.

The truth is often, before our stars ‘align,’ we have to somehow make it through this experience, hurling through the chaotic cosmos sight-unseen (and violently so, on occasion.)

Several things have happened in my life lately – all of them emotionally loaded – in a short span of time, and an old, sickening vibe in my stomach resonates a foreboding  sense of doom.

Ah, I remember you, you dirty rat. You’re Hopelessness. Don’t even THINK about getting settled in here. I’ve renovated the space you used to rent, I think you will find it most uncomfortable. I’ll chase you out a million times if need be, and bring  the Landlord with me. Go on, now, GIT!

Hopelessness is, excuse the expression, an attention monster.  It thrives where it is welcome. It grows where you allow it to feed.  I know all of its favorite foods! Self-pity, alienation, wallowing.  I am currently trying to starve my old nemesis, but like the monster in the movie” Alien” that also resided in the pit of a stomach,  it’s not leaving neatly and politely.

You have to knock Hopelessness on its keister; it won’t go willingly.

Don’t despair,  my friends, and I’ll try not to despair too. God is here for us.

Take despair breaks to practice self-care…the two cannot inhabit the same space for long.

What soothes your raw and ragged soul? Are you denying it’s cry for attention? Are you being 100 % real with God about how you are feeling? Tell Him. Yell it if you need to. It’s okay to do so.

Does nature soothe your soul? Or music?

Go for the car ride and blast your music with the windows down.

Eat the chocolate and/or cheese.

Call your friends, the ones who ‘get’ you.

Take the nap.

Go to the meeting.

Hug someone you love for five minutes solid.

Talk to the God.

You won’t get empty platitudes here at The Beggar’s Bakery about how when God closes a door, he opens a window. I always hated that saying. What does hat even mean? It’s Hell in the hallway!

But soon – and very soon – in God’s perfect timing, there comes a shift. There always is. Eventually, crappy things will un-happen, and some really good stuff will happen that will make you forget all about hurdling though the vortex.

Things like belly laughs, birthday cake, time with friends, sand between our toes, hugs, family, romance, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…

Those really good things include participating in life so that we can look forward to the future with hope.

If you are struggling today, I get it.

Remind yourself that its not an endless black hole;  just a black moment. I’ll remind myself, too.

We are not unsupervised, as it may feel,  but always carry the Navigator with us. This by no means minimizes the crap-storm of challenges you are experiencing right now. Sometimes things just suck.

But Heavenly Papa is with you. You’re not alone.

This too – whatever this is – shall pass to make room for the belly laughs and happy experiences yet to come.

I’m not preaching to you, but at myself! Hang on tight and so will I.

God bless us, every one.

 

Mountain Climbing with Jesus

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By: Jana Greene

Let me preface this piece by saying that I’m going through a bit of a depression. And yes, I know that depression is “not of God” and that if I had mustard seed-sized faith, I could declare to this mountain MOVE, and verily I say unto thee, it shall be done as it is written.

But I’m kind of a regular Joe, who navigates the terrain in fits and starts, wholeheartedly loving my Jesus, but not always making the grade.

So this morning, I found myself in the ice cream aisle of our local grocery store, crying, and in doing so, made the stock boy feel kind of awkward. I’m sure I’m not the first menopausal lady to cry in the ice cream aisle but who knows. At least I’m not crying in the liquor store, which is – in all honesty – where I’d end up in days of yore. I’m 15 years into sobriety from alcohol, praise Jesus. I’ve cried in liquor stores many times.

I came home and put my ice cream(s) in the freezer, and sat down on the hardwood floor because my energy was gone right that very minute and I had no auxiliary source in which to plug. I’m kind of slow-burn crying, and my amazing and very codependent tuxedo cat, Catsby, threw all 20 pounds of himself against me in purry solidarity. Oh my God, I love that little guy.

“Ugh,” I told God. “I’m so tired of being SAD. Why won’t you just come pluck me out of this Sad?”

And then God – who was sitting on the floor with Catsby and I, his arms around me – gave me the craziest vision. I feel I should make the distinction right now that my depression is rather garden variety, and not psychotic, and my the vision was not an apparition. I don’t hear audible voices. It is more like a vivid and comforting thought visual. But whatever, I’ll take communication from God any way I can get it.

And it looked like this:

I’m sitting in the forest, wearing climbing gear. All around me are beautiful mountainous peaks and lush valleys, and I have NO IDEA where I am. None. I’ve gone missing in perilous terrain and I radio for help. A chopper appears from nowhere, lowers a rope, and whisks me away from all danger. I am plopped into familiar territory and the helicopter  leaves, having done it’s job. And I’m alone.

In an instant, I understood what Abba was trying to tell me.

Do I want a God who will be my Genie in a bottle and pluck me out of every precarious situation, and then be on His merry way? (Although that sounds good sometimes, it’s not the deity I crave.)

I felt Abba say, “How deep would our relationship be, if I were only ever your rescue party?” In my mind’s eye, I imagine Him sitting with me and my big fat cat, and in my imaginings, God is also wearing climbing gear.

That’s the thing. (Warning: Cornball mountain / valley analogy ahead:)

Our Father longs to hike the tough peaks and deep valleys alongside us. That’s where the relationship grows. When we don’t have the strength to command the mountains to move, Jesus treks with us. He knows the way out, He has all the right tools and equipment, and most of all, He has a passionate love for me that will not allow Him to leave me behind.

Valleys are depressions in rock formations. Depressions. He could easily pluck me from the midst of my circumstance, and sometimes He does. But other times, He is my mountain guide, walking with me every step, talking with me, laughing and joking, picking flowers, climbing seemingly insurmountable peaks. He is my Spotter, my Safety Net, the Director of my Steps. He holds on to me and refuses to let go. He CARES about the little stuff along the journey. We are BONDED, man. We have a bond. It’s deep and rich and personal.

A bond we would never have if I only depended on him to pluck me from danger and depression every time I asked.  It’s such a comfort to know that He will never leave me behind!

I kept sitting on the floor with my cat and my God. I sat til I stopped crying (for now.) Catsby got up and stretched, and so did I. And I thought I’d better write this down before I forget it. So here it is, I’m sharing it with you in the hopes that your Sad might be lessened if you’re reminded that Jesus treks with you, too. It’s not instant wisdom or bottled Genie wish-granting, but reassurance that you aren’t climbing alone and you were never meant to.

Today, I’m still sad, but that’s okay. Everything isn’t coming up sunshine and rainbows and unicorn farts because I have the best mountain guide ever. It just doesn’t work that way. And I’m pretty sure Jesus GETS that.

I’m still going to eat my ice cream to make myself feel better, and that’s okay too. I’ll share it with Jesus, if he wants. I don’t have any Mustard Seed flavored ice cream, but I do have Belgian chocolate, and that’s got to count for something.

He will be sitting right next to me just like always, in this perilous terrain. I’m never alone.

 

 

 

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Love Swings Harder

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By:Jana Greene

“Persuasion confirms confident expectation and proves the unseen world to be more real than the seen. Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future.” – Hebrews 11:1 (The Mirror Bible translation)

Can I just take a minute to appreciate the beauty of that verse? Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future. MIND BLOWN.

There doesn’t seem to be a glut of things to celebrate right now.

I was turbo-thumb scrolling through Facebook chuckling at goofy cats wearing hats and babies teaching each other to walk, and then.. a trickle of posts from news agencies. Lives of yet more law enforcement officers were taken in Baton Rouge, and oh my dear Lord, what is happening to us?

Oh no. Please God, no.

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t even tuned in for live coverage yet. Much like the grounds of my beloved hometown of Houston, my ground is saturated. My spirit is just saturated. I can’t take one more sad thing. Storm after storm have filled the ground and there’s nowhere for the runoff to go. I know we are all hurting. We are all just trying to doggy paddle in the flood of awfulness right now.

The past few weeks have been an abysmally horrible example of what people of a godless world can inflict upon each other. Does blood mean NOTHING to us anymore?

In between tragedies and murders, there have been tides of goodwill and love between fellow men. Each tragedy followed by an outpouring of people helping one another, followed by another blow, followed by good people acting, followed by more blood in the street….Each time Grace gets on her feet, she is assaulted with another hard swing. But like a boxing match between Hatred and Grace, Grace is getting its ass kicked.

Or so it seems.

But still …

I keep thinking of the end of Jesus’s last day on earth, and how terrified the disciples must have been when the sky turned black and their One True Hope died just like a regular guy. Can you imagine?  Talk about feeling like God has left the building!  There was even an earthquake as His Spirit ascended, but from the human viewpoint, it just looked like the world was ending.

It just looked like doom.

That’s what it feels like to me now.

Blood means everything, and is the only way anything matters. The darkening sky had to happen; It had to happen for love to swing harder. Blood and disaster ushered in hope for the whole of mankind.

I guess faith isn’t about not questioning, because any sane person is doubting and questioning right now. I know I am – big time. Just being honest.

In spite of everything, I believe we are on this planet right now because God deemed us fit to thrive in it for His sake. Not just survive – but thrive.

Even when I just want to make a blanket fort and consume multiple cartons of Haagen Dazs and wash it down with boxed chardonnay while I snuggle with my cats and listen to sad Coldplay songs so I can properly grieve the state of the Union (and the state of the world.)

Again, just being honest.

I’ve been sober a long time, but I have to tell you, I am asking God for help every single day. I need him to help me stay sober and sane.

How can love swing harder if we all stay drunk in our blanket forts? Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future.

Here’s my strategy, and it’s kind of weird but wildly helpful to me:

Each time I become despondent and feel anxiety rising,  I try to visualize the expressions on the faces of the disciples when they laid their actual EYES on the resurrected Jesus. Awe, wonder, hope sprung eternal. Doom turned to dust, death made impotent for all eternity.

Jesus was all like “TA DAAA!”

And “What part of ‘I’m coming back’ don’t you understand?”

And “I love you! Go now and love on everybody else.”

That’s how I’m coping and staying sober – striving toward the day Hatred doesn’t get the last swing, the day evil gets its ass kicked forevermore. Leaning INTO a loving Father whose heart is breaking for the way His kids are treating one another.

And trying to honor the One True Hope – and be the best ambassador for Him that I can.

When it looks like doom, stand on this saturated ground with me, and keep proclaiming who we KNOW God to be. By grace, love wins. This broken world needs to know it.

God bless us EVERY one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bitter Strife and Loss of Life – American Anathema

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By:  Jana Greene

Life is crazy, and blogging about it such a crazy process. Yesterday, I spent hours writing a fanciful and spiritual fairy tale. Today, I’m writing about death and chaos and the ever-widening chasm between us as members of society.

I hardly slept at all last night. I know many of you probably didn’t either. The happenings in Dallas did a number on my already-over active ‘fight or flight’ response. Anxiety was the order of the night, all night. I pulled out every anxiety-quelling practice I’ve ever learned (it’s a very big toolbox.)

The word “Anathema” kept popping up in my head.

Here’s how the dictionary defines it: “An abomination, an outrage, an abhorrence, a disgrace, an evil, a bane. Abhorrent, hateful, repugnant, odious, repellant, and offensive. And what example did the good people of Google use in the definition? “Racial hatred was anathema to her.”

After a fitful three hour sleep full of nightmares, I woke up and posted this to my personal Facebook wall, and I meant every word:

If you are trying to somehow justify what happened in Dallas, go ahead and unfriend me now. Do us both a favor. Hate begets hate. Those officers were picked off by sniper fire as they are protecting citizenry. No, I cannot justify what happened to the innocent black men killed, but here’s the rub:

Not ONE of the Dallas cops was responsible for what happened in MN or LA. Not a single one. An officer is killed every 58 hours, on average in this country.

Michelle Malkin: A cop is killed every 58 hours

If we are going to be outraged about murder, let’s be outraged about murder. Period.

The sad state of affairs we find ourselves in as a nation is making my heart so heavy.

I am sad that “All Lives Matter” even has to be a thing. It should be a given.

I am sad for the slaughter of peoples everywhere, including the unborn. Violent acts against another human being can never inherently bring PEACE.

I am sad that portions of our citizenry consider justice and vengeance interchangeable terms.

I am sad that we are a nation more divided today than ever. (And I’m mad that the current administration seems to have perpetuated a lot of that division among Americans instead of uniting them.)

I am sad that my young adult children are already bitter about the state of the world, instead of hopeful.

I am sad that my granddaughter has to grow up in such a time as this.

I am sad because the undercurrent of hatred is rising to the mainstream, and people are dying as a result.

And I’m just just sad, but scared. I talked to God at length in the wee hours of the morning about being scared. And wouldn’t you know, He comforted me quite a bit – and didn’t even chastise me for my ‘lack of faith.’

You see, to my mind, the chaos and injustice in the world is indeed socioeconomic and racial and political , but it is fundamentally a SPIRITUAL problem at the root. The skin is only, well…skin deep.

But the spirit? We are all connected.

I’m going to go out in a limb here, but I’ve got to say it, perhaps at the risk of over-simplifying. I mean no harm in what I’m saying. I have friends of all races and creeds, and I love them all so dearly.

It’s a spiritual problem, and ain’t no way to fix that except Jesus. What we are seeing is the human race operating as its own Higher Power. If you’re not already, please pray for our nation.

It’s the devil’s game to divide us all. He is the author of confusion and the father of lies. It seems obvious that he is gaining a foothold.

Division is NOT the way of the Father. My Jesus is your Jesus. We NEED the intervention of a good and inclusive God, and we need it desperately.

I hated to pull the ‘unfriend’ card on my Facebook account,  as it seems on the surface as a divisive action itself. But for the sake of my adrenals and blood pressure, I can’t. I just cannot even, ya’ll.

I see a sick pattern emerging on social media: Are you “Team Black Lives Matter?” or “Team Thin Blue Line?”

I don’t know how this will all pan out. But I am imploring those in my itty bitty blog sphere of influence to consider that what we are doing is clearly not working, and to call on the Almighty to hook us up with some supernatural Shalom here. STAT.

In my flesh, I am not optimistic. There is so much strife and pain and rage.

But in my Spirit? I know ALL things are possible through Christ Jesus.

It’s going to take a miracle. Hearts have to change, not just minds or views or laws. HEARTS.

I’m going to close this out with one of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

God please….please bless us. Every one.

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Politics, the Devil, and the Deep Blue Sea

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“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” – Anne Lamott

By: Jana Greene

This planet is a scary place to be stationed for the duration of our earthly lives, isn’t it? It is full of manifest proof that people are completely whack. Especially in this political season, so rife with corruption and spite and division. I quite fancy the bumper sticker I saw the other day that simply says, “GIANT METEOR 2016” and in small print “Just end it already.”

In my flesh, I’m pretty sure that a giant meteor is the best contender, if for no other reason that it would at least be a quick death, and not a slow-burn of horror that might be a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency.

Surely God is avoiding those two candidates like the plague. Surely, God is a nice libertarian, right?

Right?

Be a light, I keep telling myself. Enough people are bitching about the election. Bitching about the state of the world is kind of a specialty of mine, because I feel so STRONGLY about things that I often work myself into a Chicken Little-style frenzy of running in circles yelling THE SKY IS FALLING! THE SKY IS FALLING!

In my flesh, I’m pretty sure we are politically doomed. Yet even as bits of sky are raining down, my supernatural spirit knows God will work all things to the good.

(God can even use Hillary and Trump somehow. THAT’S how powerful our God is, people.)

God is in this place, in this time. He isn’t in hiding. Contrary to many believers’ cries that God is so fed up with this country, he has left ‘Murica altogether. If that were true, indeed all hope would be lost.

But hope isn’t lost. Not all of it, anyway.

Christians especially love to put demographics of people into little boxes, so that we can give ‘those people’ wide berth.  There are many, many believers who think that God would never be present in unholy places – the back alleys. The venues of ill repute.

The campaign trail (*shudder*)

But that’s just not true. I know this because Jesus entered into darkness when he signed up for this Earth gig. He never said, “Ew, I can’t go THERE with THEM.”

He entered into darkness so that every one of us has the opportunity to walk in the light. Because of that, I don’t have to fear the dark (I don’t HAVE to, but sometimes I still do…its a work in progress!)

One tiny light vanquishes darkness; it doesn’t have to be a torch or an incandescent bulb. It just has to be willing to be lit – accepting Christ and trusting that he is still on the throne no matter who is in the White House.

What to DO when you feel like you are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea? Stand there and be a lighthouse, of course.

Here is what I believe:

God is in me, and he is in you.

He is faithful and steadfast (no meteor required).

He has a plan, even when all evidence points to the contrary.

Plot twists are kind of his specialty.

He is not deterred by people, places and things.

He is only ever good at heart.

Because God is love, anywhere there is love, there God is.

 

God bless America. And may he bless us, every one.