Weary and Burdened: Mental Illness and the Church

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

Meet Joe.

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

Meet Sarah.

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

And Sam.

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

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

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

Now meet Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christians struggle with mental illness, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Skewer the Stigma: In the wake of losing a star, an addict shares “who we are”

Philip_Seymour_Hoffman_2011 Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman.

He had enjoyed 23 years of clean time, previous to his relapse.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

In the announcement of his recent death from a drug overdose, CNN refers to Hoffman as “everyman,”  and indeed, he was extraordinarily talented while still remaining personable. I know in my head that people with two decades of sobriety “fall off the wagon,” but it is always jarring to my heart when I hear about those occasions. Addictions will not be taken for granted.

There seems to be a slight shock that Hoffman, who suffered the same disease as Amy Winehouse, died from the same disease. His spin was not that of a train wreck, but of an accomplished and revered performer.

The article goes on to describe Hoffman as an actor so versatile that he “could be anybody.”  I’m not sure the author of the piece really appreciates how true his statement is.

We are everyman …. everywoman.  We alcoholics and addicts. We are legion.

Hoffman is Winehouse,

Who is the twenty-year old kid who died in the bathroom of a fast food joint with a needle in his arm,

Who is the elderly gentleman in the nursing home, stealing pills from a roomate,

Who  is the wealthy businessman drinking in the wee hours of the morning to get going,

Who is a soccer mom who cannot stop at three glasses of chardonnay,

Who is me.

If the silence of those ripped from the landscape of the entertainment world is deafening;  the gaping voids left by loved ones lost to addictions are life-swallowing sinkholes.

We alcoholics and addicts…..

We are not weak. The strongest people I’ve ever met have been recovering alcoholics.

We are born with super dopamine-seeking brains, susceptible to a hijacking of our brain chemistry. We know that our choices can keep our disease at bay, but we usually have to learn that the hard way.

We don’t want to make excuses for the train wrecks we pilot; we just want you to know they are not by design.

 We are sensitive, and are often creative forces to be reckoned with.

We contribute to the landscape of the world. We make music and poetry and art. We make business deals, and partnerships. And we value relationships more than you can imagine.

We love deeply, intrinsically…..sometimes so deeply that our souls cannot seem to bear it sober.

We punch time clocks and live ordinary lives. And truth be told, it isn’t always the pain that makes us want to drink and use, but fear of the ordinary.

We love our children fiercely. Yes, we would change  “For the sake of the children” if only we could.

We have heart.  We grieve so for hurting people. We often lack the instincts to handle that grief without self-destructing.

We really don’t want to self-destruct at all, but we don’t always know how to keep it from happening until the process has begun.

We crave the ability to handle life on life’s terms “normally,” like you do.

We don’t mean to embarrass you.

We don’t want to inflict the pain on others that our brain chemistry urges us to.  Addiction is as a plaque in the arteries of the spirit, a disorder of the brain. Like any mental illness, nobody wants to have it.

A good portion of any recovery program worth it’s salt is accountability. We want to make ammends with you (and if we don’t want to, don’t despair….we are working on it.)

We are brought to our knees in a desperation that normally-wired brains cannot fathom.  And we can get better – if we stay on our knees.

We need each other for survival. We sit in meetings in drab church basements drinking lukewarm coffee with others like us who are cut from the same colorful brilliant, thread-bare, sturdy cloth – because we want to go on living and contributing to the world, just like you.

We need God most of all. He is the Power Greater than Ourselves that can restore us to sanity.

We are “everyman” and “everywoman.”

And we get sober. We even stay sober, with work. With the understanding that our disease will not be taken for granted.

But we need you to understand some things:

You can support people who are trying to win – and daily WINNING – the footrace with tragedy.

You can try not to shame them. They feel guilty enough.

You can start here to educate yourself on the realities of alcoholism and drug addiction.

You can know that you are NOT ALONE – if you are everyman or everywoman, too.

You can ask someone who struggles with addiction – past or present – to church.  Our spirits, above all else, need to be nourished.

You can ask a recovering friend to go to the movies with you, or out to dinner, or for a walk on the beach.  Our minds and bodies need to be nourished, too.

You can ask questions.

You can pray for us.

You can just not give up on us.

You can know this, mothers and fathers. Your child’s addiction is NOT YOUR FAULT.  You did not cause it.

You can be tender to us in recovery, just as you would anyone in treatment for a disease.

By simply talking about it, you help strip away the stigma. Because the only thing worse than battling a disease is battling a disease that many people don’t believe exists. A disease that – if treatment is not embraced as a way of life – can be fatal.

For everyman.

Please take a moment to consider the loss of life and talent that alcoholism and drug addiction has taken from the cultural landscape.

And then think about the voids left by the vastly more important “everyman”  lost or still in the trenches of addiction – the children, spouses, friends and family that you love.

Amy Winehouse, musician; Brian Jones, musician with The Rolling Stones;   Chris Farley, comedian, actor;  Cory Monteith, actor  and singer;  Darrell Porter, American professional baseball player ;  Elisa Bridges, model, actress;  Elvis Presley , musician, singer, actor, cultural icon; Freddie Prinze, actor;  Hank Williams, Sr., country music singer-songwriter; Heath Ledger, Australian actor;  Howard Hughes,  business tycoon, movie producer and director, aviator, engineer, investor; Janis Joplin, musician; Jim Morrison, musician, singer; Jimi Hendrix, musician and singer-songwriter;  John Belushi , actor and comedian; John Entwistle, bass guitarist for The Who; Jon Bonham,  drummer  and songwriter for Led Zeppelin;   Judy Garland, actress and singer; Keith Moon, drummer for The Who;  Kurt Cobain, Nirvana singer;  Len Bias, Boston Celtics player; Lenny Bruce, comedian ; Marilyn Monroe, actress, model, singer;  Michael Jackson, singer and icon; Richard Burton, actor; River Phoenix, actor;  Sigmund Freud, considered by many to be the founding father of psychoanalysis; Tommy Dorsey, jazz musician; Truman Capote, writer; and Whitney Houston, singer and actress.

For a more comprehensive list of the famous who have passed away due to substance abuse, click here.

Normalcy is for Suckers

What a long, strange trip its been.
What a long, strange trip it IS.

Sometimes the light is shining on me, other times, I can barely see” – The Grateful Dead

Can I just be honest?

I hate change.

The past several months have been one change after another for me, and I resent it. I’m ready for some normalcy, but I no longer believe it exists. I’ve decided that believing in “normal”  is for suckers.

What do I hate about change? I hate that good things go away, and bad things come around – before the good things come back.

I hate that change seems to happen at the precise moment that I seem to find my groove. Change often feels like having the rug yanked out from under me. You know that rug….the one  that can feel like a genuine magic flying carpet, before it gets yanked.

I like riding on the high of good times. I cling on to the good times as if they are The New Normal.  I like the exuberance of feeling ‘normal.’ Normal seems, for all  the world, to have a rhythm, a steadiness. But changes keep rolling in.

Peace sometimes gets disrupted, and chaos ensues – it is lost, before it can be found again.

Jobs, weight, weather – all forever rising and falling – and getting on my ever-loving nerves.

Fresh things get stale.

Income comes in, and becomes “out-go” in the blink of an eye.  Bills go up, the market goes down.

Kids outgrow their childhoods, but don’t leave when you are ready for them to fly. Then they grow up, and leave before you’re ready.

Relationships grow and change, morphing in uneven spurts.

Feelings in a footrace with facts, boundaries built and crumbled.

The world is a mess – just look at the news! Nothing stays stable – nothing on this earth.

Pets grow old and sick., and pass away (we lost two beloved animals in a two month span.)

We – and our circumstances – change unevenly.

Don’t even get me started on hormones… Oy vey!

Lately it occurs to me….what a long, strange, interesting trip it’s been

And the hardest changes? Spirits get bound and released, and broken and mended. (Why can’t they just stay mended?)

I suppose because….It just wouldn’t be “normal.”

Jesus said, “In this life, you will have trouble,” and He wasn’t whistling Dixie. I think he was saying, in a way:  “In this life you will have change.”

In this life, you will lack for normal….if you’re “normal.”

So, is it normal to hate change?

I decided to look up synonyms for “normal” in the thesaurus – to see if Webster could define what I cannot.  Interestingly, “normal” is synonymous with  ordinary. Its meaning is the same as “ uniformity, average, common, and routine.”

I cannot relate to any of those words. They are not words I would claim over my life. I do not ask God for average, common. Where is the interestingness?  Where is the exuberance?

The antonyms –exact  opposites  of “normal” are magic-carpet words:  buoyant, eager, exciting, vigorous, vital, and zesty. (Zesty!)

I am  learning to “go with the flow,” really. I’m trying. Since change seems to be the order of the day, I really need to enjoy the ride. My hatred of so many changes doesn’t seem to be preventing any of it, anyway.

Circumstances will never stop evolving, but eventually …

New, fresh things come to pass with change. Buoyant, vital things. Change means the change in seasons just when you are sick and tired of the current one. It means new babies. Sunrises. Music you’ve never heard before. Laughing about something that you have the frame of reference to appreciate now – because of all the changes.

Relationships deepen and broaden, and become more enlightened  – if not ‘normal.’

Kids do grow up, and have their own kids to contend with (ahhhh, a sweet consideration!)

And God still loves this messy, messy world – made up of so many lives that will have trouble. So many lives who will have change.

Normalcy is for suckers, honestly. I’m sure of it.

A Tree Grows in Prison – addiction and the harvest of God-seeds

TREE

By: Jana Greene, thebeggarsbakery.net

Hebrews 13:3

“Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.” – Hebrews 13:3  (MSG)

 

God,

I’m thinking today of all the saints in the early church who prayed to you from the cells of prisons. Wrongly persecuted, they mustered their faith and lifted it to you, because they had been stripped of everything else they owned.

I know you’ve gotten your fair share of letters from prisoners.

Jails and prisons are often the venue in which lost souls lift their last remaining possession to you – faith – but the truth is that many have been stripped of that possession, too. Many, before even arriving for intake to be processed by a legal system, were already processed by another captor – Addiction – before ever setting foot in jail.  Addiction is a thief of hope.

Today, I have a broken heart for a dear friend and Sister in you, whose adult son is both literally, and figuratively, a prisoner. He is addicted to drugs, God. He has reached the end of himself. Right now, he seems a shell of himself.

But a long time ago, this friend raised this man up by filling him with God- seeds. She took him to church, and youth group; she talked out her active faith in you….all the way forming rows as she raised him, and planting  seeds in the soft soil of youth.

He is familiar with you. But he has made some bad choices, covering that fertile, planted ground with all the world has to offer, including substances that distract him from You. He has filled his life with all the plastic distraction that keeps the sunlight from getting in; that keeps the water of life from reaching the seeds.

Society sometimes has very little compassion for those who bring woes on themselves. Society forgets that it is only made up of infinite units of just the same kinds of people – sinners.  It’s easy for them to open their bibles to the letters that Paul wrote as a prisoner, and feel compassion.
But you don’t forget to be compassionate, because you never forget that we are infinite units of people who sin, but whom you love dearly.  All people must come to you from their knees on the floor of a prison cell, its only a matter of what four-walls constrain us.

Today, this man – this addict – is on the floor of a cell. I like to think he is calling out to you right this minute, but I know how stubborn addicts can be (being one myself) – I know how insane the cycle is, and how hard it is to let go of that tarp of denial we keep covering ourselves in.

But I am asking you – right now, in Your Holy Name, to crouch down on that prison floor with this man. Scrootch up so close to him that You feel familiar, that the seeds planted in his spirit in his growing-up-years feel like beads under his skin. Crack them open, and as they are opened, let him feel surrounded by love.

The supernatural feeling all addicts crave, that many addicts are willing to go to prison for – to die for – is only just a craving for you, Lord.

This young man is feeling the pain of the chemicals leaving his body, as we speak. Let the suffering he is experiencing  be for the cause of one little Seed of Faith germinating. Fill up the space left by the chemicals, the hurt, the loneliness, the shame and pain. I’m sure he will remember you, God.

Be with his family, who is suffering beyond comprehension. Fill them up, too.

Since this precious son of my Sister in You is currently  in no position to “write letters” in your name, and lift prayers from his broken spirit, mind and body, today I am interceding on his behalf. I ask that everyone who reads this to pray along with me.

For the addicts, the prisoners. The broken, the sinners. For my friend’s son.

Remind them that they are full of seeds of Truth, let them receive water and light, in their own personal prisons, and let those seeds grow healthy and strong and take root in You. So they can go out and tell other prisoners that there is life waiting to be lived.

Give them HOPE, Jesus.

In the name of the Father God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

AMEN

What We Cannot Do for Ourselves – recovery meetings and the bravery of surrender

 

LIFE

By: Jana Greene

A man walks into a bar.

No, wait. That’s the wrong story.

A man walks out of a bar. The establishment has been his “safe place” for years. He knows the owners and they keep a seat waiting for him on the end, where the bartender can lean in to listen when he talks without knocking over the high-ball glasses. They know his story and keep pouring, and those two things have always made him feel understood. Loved. He went to the bar every day because he wanted to be cared about and he wanted to just be left alone. Drinking is a funny thing – it makes both seem possible simultaneously.
He was incredibly brave, he thought, to work so hard and provide for his family, to deal with all the drama and dealings of life. Wasn’t he due this time? Didn’t he have it coming to him?

Until very recently, when it became obvious that his safe place was a dangerous place, he thought he would keep drinking. As his wife was leaving for the last time, and he had not been willing to follow her. He had not been willing to ask for help. The path to help was a rocky, treacherous road. The way to the bar was paved with familiarity.

As he slowly became more  lost, lost, lost, it became increasingly clear that pouring did not equal understanding; that having someone lean into you and listen did not always equal love. Over the years, he chose this seat over relationships, over passions. Everybody knew his name here, but not a single soul knew his heart.

He is sick, in mind, body and in spirit.
He doesn’t know how to stop. How do you stop? Someone somewhere has to know how.

There must be magic pill to stop the drinking, and there was. There were lots of pills, all supposed to make him better,  but they only made him worse in time. Perhaps he needed another diversion? A few days without drinking made possible by strange women and dirty, secret deeds. And then drinking again. What about sheer willpower? Alone, in his room, shaking and sorry, he had no one but himself for company. Nothing is working. He asks God for help, if God is real….if he exists at all.

 “Love me and leave me alone,” he wanted to tell God. But instead, he searched for a support meeting nearby. Because, at the end of himself, he had no other choice.

Before the first meeting, he sat in his car, debating with himself about going in at all. Because the rooms are full of “those people” and once you walk in, you are one of them…no turning back.  But he knew that he already was.

He thought of the bar, but he made another choice. And stepped into a new place.

Inside the building, worship music filled the space. He filed past others – men, women of all ages, all races. The stereotype represented was very specific: The Human Race. As he took his seat and the speaker began to share her experience with substance abuse and recovery, he leaned in.
I am lost, lost, lost, he said in his spirit.

In that most-alone place, God made his presence known.

There were relationships among hurting people in those rooms. There was a passion for living. He took small glances around the room as the meeting wrapped up. Over cups of coffee, there were tears, but laughter, too. There was palpable joy, something he’d forgotten existed.
And nobody knew his name. Nobody knew it until the men gathered alone for small group.. There, in a small circle, he shared his name.  He told a little of his story, when it was his turn.

At the end of the meeting, all of the others knew why he was there, and why he didn’t want to be there anymore. And no-one turned away from him. His eyes met with love.

 There was a pouring-out of himself and all of his drama and dealings, and he filled up that space with hope for a future, because here, “those people” have one – a future.

The God he had doubted helped him to stop drinking when he couldn’t do it himself, and gave him people who loved his heart when he was at the end of himself. He had been incredibly brave to walk through the door. He was due this time, he had it coming – this life raft. This safe place.

Keep coming back, they said. Your seat will be waiting for you.

A man walks out of a bar……and into a meeting. He keeps coming to meetings because he feels cared about there, and he knows he cannot be left alone to his own devices. The road he is on – to recovering his life – is well-worn by others.

It is paved by hope.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.- Alcoholics Anonymous

Debt Relief – The motives of a Most Charitable God

God moves all obstacles between Himself and His children
God moves all obstacles between Himself and His children

By: Jana Greene
When I first met my husband several years ago, I had a lot of debt in the form of medical bills. Years without health insurance had not kept the health issues at bay, and the bills were stacked high with neglect. Like a Mega-Debt Mountain, it was not just a stack of papers, but a looming monument to financial failure. As a single mother working three jobs, I still couldn’t make ends meet. As a matter of fact, I didn’t think the ends would ever even see one another from afar!
As my soon-to-be husband and I got closer and closer, I was ashamed of all this debt. Thousands of dollars for office visits, treatments for migraines, endometriosis and chronic sinus infections had been wracked up. I felt embarrassed that I owed so much, that I would owe it the rest of my life and still never get it paid off, most likely.
One day, he asked to see Mega-Debt Mountain for himself. We were getting pretty serious at the time, and I couldn’t put off showing him my debts much longer. Still, I presented a lame stalling technique.
“Why?” I asked.
“So I can pay them off,” he said without so much as a sigh.  In that season of his life, he had the means to free me of this debt.
At first, I was embarrassed because, after all, it was a substantial amount. I brought the stack of bills, most of which were marked “Last Notice” or “Past Due” (or both) and felt the shame burn my face. He took them gently from my hand and laid them on the desk without even glancing at them, and then he kissed me. Tears sprang to my eyes with gratitude, because I never expected such a thing; such grace.
These were not his debts. He took them on for two reasons:
So they would no longer hang over my head.
And because he “just wanted to be with me for the rest of my life.”
He had erased a debt that I had assumed I would carry all my life, simply because he loved me. The truth was, as huge as Mega-Debt Mountain was, it did not hinder his love for me. He didn’t see the “balance due” when he looked at me, but a future together.
Kind of like God when He looks at us through the filter of His Son. So often we all allow our own mountains to block the view of the grace He offers, because we are ashamed of our sin. Our Father has the means to free us. The blood of Jesus has the most amazing stain-removing properties!
“What are you waiting for?” God is saying. “The debt of everything you’ve ever done wrong is already paid for when you accepted my Son as your Beloved!” Our Father doesn’t see the “balance due” when He looks at His Christ-redeemed children.
God offers us freedom from sin debt for two reasons, you see:
So they will no longer hang over the head of one He loves VERY much. (Debt cannot hang over our heads and on the cross both!)
And because He wants to be with you for all eternity.
Such a thing is grace.

Amazing.

The Geometry of Marriage

I really do!
I really do!

By: Jana Greene

“Did you lose the bet?”

It was a man’s voice. I was sifting through birthday cards at the drugstore, and it took a moment for me to realize he was speaking to me.

“Excuse me?” I said politely.

“Did you lose the bet with your husband?” He nodded at me, looking at the words on my t-shirt.

Emblazoned in simple, black lettering on the front of the pink shirt: I love my husband.

“Nope,” I said, laughing a little. “I just really do.”

He shrugged and walked away.

Another time, I had a nurse who was taking my blood pressure say, “That’s an interesting shirt. What does it say on the back?” He was thinking maybe that there was a snarky retort on the reverse…a zinger.

“Nothing,” I replied. “I just love my husband.”

“Huh.”

I’d bought the pink t-shirt it at a  bookstore several years ago when My Beloved and I were newlyweds. I had never been in love in the all-encompassing way that I loved him, and had never really expected to be. That head-over-heels-ness was for other people, I’d thought.

But God had other, better plans.

It’s the second marriage for each of us; not quite a May-December union, but possibly a June-September one, in that we were older and – if not wiser – more in tuned with God.

We actually did meet in church, and there was chemistry right away. But there was sanity, too – and that was a new wrinkle in relationships on my part.

As we fell in love more deeply, it became apparent that we were meant to be married. But because we had both failed at our previous marriages,  we decided to do something differently. We made a conscious and verbal decision not to make our marriage about ourselves – or even about each other. Making marriage about the other person is like making salvation about religion. It’s the relationship that really matters.

From the very start, we agreed to consider our marriage as a triangle of sorts, with God sitting at the top and he and I on the bottom corners, looking up. The “circle of trust” may be important, but the Triangle of Marriage keeps us in check.

In the years since My Beloved married me, reality has moved in and made itself at home, as is inevitable.  With the blending of three teen daughters came epic drama in the household. With reality came  economic ups and downs, health issues and challenges of getting older.  We are two very imperfect people, in love with each other and with God. And sometimes we disagree, and have to check our positions in the triangle of relationship and remember who is in the Highest Place of honor.

So, come to think of it….maybe I do wear the t-shirt because I lost a bet.

I happily and gratefully lost a bet with God. Before marrying my husband.  I had staked my understanding of the future on my own past failure in marriage. I couldn’t make it work, so I was doomed to be alone (or worse, repeat the cycle).

But God had other, better plans that are not dependent on my failures or successes.

There – at the top of the Triangle – He gives our marriage chemistry, sanity and loads of grace when reality makes itself at home.  In the all-encompassing way that only God can love us, he emblazoned it in simple, black lettering in the pages of His Word:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16.

We are His Beloveds, and He is head-over-heels for us.

Sweeping off the Crumbs (or: It’s a NEW day!)

sun

By: Jana Greene

The house is dark and quiet. It is five o’clock in the morning and I’ve been up for hours now, with a belly unable to digest the cookies I ate during a late-night bender and a mind unwilling to forgive myself  for going on the binge at all. As a matter of fact, I’d like to use a picture of the cookies for this blog post, but they are all gone – nothing but a sad, empty package and a chocolate fallout of crumbs on the carpet.
They were generic Oreos, a very poor substitute for the real thing. I remember thinking it would be easy to only eat a few, because they were an inferior product, but no. I just kept consuming because the consuming itself was a comfort, and it had been a hard day. I would promise myself just one more, and then promise myself just ONE more after that. After a while, I didn’t even taste the cookies – that’s the crazy part. Just hand to mouth, mindless motion and quasi-momentary satisfaction. As if faux-Oreo cream could smudge out all the challenges of the day. After a while, I stopped believing my own promises.
No harm done, short of raising triglycerides and adding more fluff to my frame.
And a helping of very non-generic grade regret this very early morning.

Possibly the only good thing about insomnia is that it gives me time to talk to God without so many distractions. In the frenetic pace of daily life, I get distracted easily. I pray for my family and friends, and that God will reveal His will for me for the upcoming day it to me in such a way that I won’t wonder if it is He who is sending it or just a figment of a belly full of late night cookies and some random clues. Because I can mix up the two, sometimes.

I feel my Heavenly Father nearby – the unmistakable primal presence of His – and He brings to mind one of my favorite Psalms as I pray.
“ For His anger lasts only a short time. But His favor is for life. Crying may last for a night, but joy comes with the new day.” – Psalms 30:5
A day’s trouble lasts a day, unless I invite it to stay longer. Sorrows may last through the night, but JOY comes in the morning. God says it right there: we are not designed to dread each new day, chasing after comfort in a mindless motion of quasi-momentarily satisfaction. We are made to anticipate joy in the morning, every new morning. Our mistakes from yesterday fading like yesterday’s bellyache. Forgiving benders and binges, even extending that forgiveness toward ourselves – sweeping up the crumbs and moving on.
Perhaps my anger at myself should only last a short time. Maybe there is no need for regret.
It’s now 5:30 a.m. in the Greene house and all is still dark and quiet. Even this early, God has made a thousand promises to me – offering grace, acceptance, forgiveness and love. Those are promises that all the cookies and clues in the world can’t make. His favor is for life!
This day looks pretty….promising.

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

PIEBy: Jana Greene

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

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

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

Except that it wasn’t, of course.

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

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

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

Busy work, busy work that only made me tired.

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

God,

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

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

I’m worried.

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

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

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

I’m so tired, Lord.

Weary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, give them rest.

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

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

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

Day of the Dog, Day of the Hydrant: Everyday is a Mixed Bag

IMG_3572

By: Jana Greene

Have you ever heard the expression: “Sometimes you are the dog and sometimes you are the fire hydrant”? Sometimes you feel as if you are in control and other times? Well, you are stuck in a bad place, feeling helpless.

Yesterday was a mixed bag for me, for instance.

BAD: Sick with sinus issues…again.

GOOD: The doctor finally gave me antibiotics –the kind that might actually work!

BAD: the cat continually tried to sit on my keyboard when I was trying to work.

GOOD: Hey, the cat was not completely ignoring me, nor plotting my imminent death!

BAD: I yelled at my kids, enthusiastically.

GOOD: I apologized to them for losing my temper and enjoyed the forgiveness hugs.

BAD: Got cut off in traffic.

GOOD: …

Actually, no good came of that particular situation.

BAD: Overdue fine of $1.60 at the library.

GOOD: Happened across Stephen Colbert’s new book while paying the fine! My seventeen-year-old daughter read some especially funny parts to me whilst I was driving home. We both laughed so hard that we cried, and that’s always good.

If attitude is really 90% of any given problem, I really need to work on my numbers. Because good and bad stuff will happen to me, and good and bad stuff will happen because of my own actions or inaction.

It helps me to remember that the same man who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament of the Bible struggled with the same issues we do today. It is never a surprise to God when we are “all over the map”.

“It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.” – Apostle Paul, Romans 7:21-25 (The Message)

My thought life is similar and my attitude? Always in flux. But I’m working on it.

BAD: I am a sinner – and like the Apostle Paul, often do, say and think what I shouldn’t.

GOOD: God is full of mercy and grace, and sees me through the filter of His Son.

Most days are a mixed bag, are they not? It is so easy to label the days of our lives as a good or bad one, depending on the good/bad experience tally of any given timeframe.  It’s nice to know that although I cannot be consistent to save my life (literally), God is the same yesterday and today – all day long.

All About the Ride – Lessons from an Elderly Dog

My girl, Emmie

By: Jana Greene

I took Emmie the Elderly Golden Retriever to the vet this morning. It’s only for a nail-trim, I told her when she balked a bit about getting into the back-seat. It was cold outside, and her old bones don’t like the cold. Finally she did her best to jump into the car, her posterior getting a little boost from me.

Along the way,  I rolled down the window so that my rearview mirror was filled with the vision of Emmie’s face behind me – full splendor, tufts of golden fur and a wide smile of teeth and gums (okay, mostly gums) and eyes squinting in the cold sunlight. She had forgotten that there was a destination involved. She was all about the ride.

When we arrived at the vet’s office, she remembered, of course. The last time we’d been here, she was extremely sick. She had suddenly developed a violent gastrointestinal issue and fever, and lost an alarming amount of weight as a result. At fifty-two pounds, she seemed all ribs and misery and the vet was not hopeful for her recovery. She was tested for all manner of parasites and disease, only to come up empty.

“She is nearly fourteen years old,” the Vet had said. As this that explained everything.

“I know,” I said in return, trying not to bawl. I know that some day, it will explain everything. But not that day.

Some people think it’s ridiculous to pray for dogs, but I disagree. As it happened, Emmie’s illness went away as suddenly as it had begun, and she rallied mystifying vigor. Within days of special food and treats, extra rubbing and loving, she perked right up. Once again, she was my shadow, following me around from room to room as I worked around the house even though it meant constant motion and achy joints. That girl is a trooper.

So, the last time we were at the vet’s office, Emmie had been poked and prodded, her old bones jostled about. She has a pretty good memory for an old lady. I had to coax her out of the car with extra-syrupy sweet talk and skritches behind the ears. She walked slowly to the door, like I’m not buying it, Mom, but I’ll follow you because I love you.

We went into the Dog Door, because our vet has a Cat Section and a Dog Section and ideally, never the twain should meet. Emmie has two brothers that just happen to be cats, cool characters the total opposite of her loopy, goofy, people-pleasingness. Two feline brothers who she is still adjusting to after five years of grafting into the family. So I think she especially appreciates the Dog Door. I know I do.

Upon setting paw inside, she developed the shakes – all over. Nervy, full-body shakes that shiver her bones (which I am pleased to report, are getting some meat on them finally). I’m too old for this crap, she is thinking.

I whispered comforts to her. But she doesn’t speak the King’s English, so she’s still not buying it.

A very nice lady in scrubs covered with a collage of cats came out to gather her. She took her leash and gently encouraged Emmie to follow. Emmie declined by digging her dragon-lady nails into the tile until ever so slowly, she disappeared into the grooming room. She turned around before the door was closed and looked at me with giant, chocolate drop eyes slightly milky with age to say, “You’re giving me to a stranger wearing cat-covered scrubs?”

But one of the amazing things about Emmie is her rally-ability. Within minutes, she was finished, neatly tapping her new mani-pedi on the same tiles she had tried digging into and with the same semi-toothless grin she displays with her head out the window.  Emmie the Elderly Golden Retriever inspires me with her trust.

She just wants to be wherever I am. When I shut the door and she happens to be on the other side of it, she lays against the crack like a live draft-catcher, just to be as close as possible to her master – no matter what.

Emmie the Elderly Dog reminds me about trust and unconditional love a lot these days. I have a tendency to dig in when having to face an old obstacle; I have a pretty good memory, too.  Oh, no. I’ve been here before! Or simply, I’m too old for this crap.

But do I want to be as close as possible to The Master, no matter what? He always takes me gently by the lead. That’s the only way to keep rallying, in my experience.  Okay, Father. I’m not seeing the point in this, but I’ll follow you because I love you. And God whispers comforts, too, when I listen.

I want so badly to be loopy and goofy with God-pleasingness, following Him around even though it requires constant motion (and achyness of the soul, on occasion) – a Trooper. Sometimes I try to have my own way – to be a cool character grafted awkwardly into a family that takes some adjusting to. But other times, I can channel my inner Golden Retriever, with the Father’s help. Those are the best times, spiritually.

All about the ride.

The Flu or Something Like It

By: Jana Greene

It wasn’t the flu.

It couldn’t have been, because my husband had gotten a flu shot and he got  sick before me. The flu shot, heralded as viral kryptonite, was supposed to prevent just such an incidence as this….this plague upon the Greene Residence.

Of course there are two schools of thought on the flu shot.

Team Flu Shot, which consists of people wearing lab coats and the government (completely trustworthy, right?) insists that you MUST have the flu shot. If you don’t, you are a biological renegade, careless with your own health but worse, a phlem-ridden public nuisance volunteering to spread disease.

Team Never Been Sicker is comprised of people who have had the shot and soon thereafter became gravely ill. These folks complete every sentence pertaining to the shot with, “No, really….I’ve never been sicker!” People in this category will also tell you (with a far-away look in the eye, remembering the horror) that they will  never get another shot.. Because if you have every symptom of the legit flu, it is The Flu to you whether or not you’ve been immunized against it.

So, maybe it wasn’t the flu that my husband and I had, but it was a relative, at least. If it approached a talent agency about becoming a Flu Impersonator, it would get hired on the spot and paid top-dollar. It was a dead-ringer.

My Beloved and I lay next to each other for a week – two people madly in love with one another in bed – barely touching and saying things like, “please don’t touch me, even my hair hurts” through stuffed, red noses.

Hours became days. Bedside tables became crowded with wadded up tissues and cups sticky with Thera-flu residue. The days became a solid week, and then ten days of Imposter Flu…misery. And then, a tiny ray of hope in the form of a lapse in the constant headache.

We are starting to crawl out from under it, this monster bug.  A few days ago, I logged onto this blog and realized that I have not written since October!  What? How can that be? But there it was – bigger than Dallas – the calendar on the right-hand side of this page that chronicles blog entries with November empty.  Time flies when you are incapacitated.

So, I’m sending apologies to the blogosphere for missing out on the entire month of November (so far) and looking forward to doing some writing in earnest to make up the difference. God snuck in some inspiration for new articles in between bouts of fever and nausea, and I’m looking forward to digging in to His Word and His work, and venturing out into the world again.  Mister and Mrs. Never Been Sicker were down for a count, but not out of the game!

The plague is lifted, may the words soon follow!

Pathway to a Richer Life

By: Jana Greene

God,

Your plans are perfect, holy, good.

Mine lead me in the wrong direction.

My plans don’t work out as they should,

Flawed and full of imperfection.

Your mercy, it endures forever.

Mine toward others? Not always so.

Depending on my mood and temper,

My mercy will often come and go.

Yours is the path to righteousness,

Of light and honor, love and grace.

Mine is the path of least resistance

My flesh seeks a faster pace.

Show me where to venture next

(My sense of direction? It’s off by a mile!)

And I will follow your inflection

Instead of the pulling of my own guile.

Not because I’m so deserving –

A member of this human race,

But because your love does no deserting,

You run towards those who seek your face.

God,

Your plans are perfect, holy, good.

Mine are often cause for strife.

Teach me to follow your will and way,

And mine will be a richer life.

 

Daddy’s Girls – The Healing

By: Jana Greene

Little girls….they are so full of themselves!

I never really got to know my father. He was disinterested in me when I was born.  As a very small girl, I remember jumping and dancing and shouting for him, wanting him to pick me up.

Look at me!

I can still see him now, coolly smoking a cigarette looking through me. How do I get my Daddy’s attention? Little girls crave that attention. They feel deficient if they cannot obtain it.

Then, I had a step-father. When he came into my life I was five years old. I was  both jealous of his attention for my mother and hopeful that he might show some for me. I became his adopted child, losing my identity as the daughter of one disinterested. But that didn’t really make me a beloved daughter. There are worse things than parental indifference, I would find out. There could be malevolence and maltreatment.

Years after the damage had been done, God healed my heart. He is still healing my heart. I trust Him daily, but it is an ongoing process to give up the hurt.

For years, I tried to fill up instead of give up. Fill up that space with attention from men. Fill up shame with alcohol. Fill up neediness with accolades. Fill up deficiency with a pouring into various meaningless pursuits. It’s a lot harder to give up expectations and surrender wholly. Giving up pain requires a kind of filling up faith…and trust.

It is said that we model our idea of who God is by our experience with our earthly fathers, and that is true, because we have no other measure to go by.  But then, what is a father? My maternal grandfather was a loving influence on my life, and my husband shows me what the most noble human fathering looks like in the way he cares for his daughter (and my daughters, too). But for the most accurate picture, I have to go to the Bible instead of looking to personal experience:

A father doesn’t ignore the needs of his child; he provides more than enough for her.

“Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6:17

A father isn’t irritated by the presence of his daughter, but delights in her with pride.

“Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in.” – 1 Peter 4:3-6

A father doesn’t betray his daughter’s trust, but honors it.

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (MSG)

A father doesn’t abuse and neglect his girl, but protects her from harm.

“Every promise of God proves true; he protects everyone who runs to him for help.” – Proverbs 30:5-6 (MSG)

A father is not detached, but involved.

“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” – Matthew 10:29-30 (MSG)

A  Father is not waiting to reject his child, but welcomes her with open arms regardless of her deeds.

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (MSG)

So, how do I get my Father’s attention? That pure adoration that little girls crave from their Fathers? I don’t have to jump and dance and shout Look at me! He is already looking, already getting a kick out me….just because I’m His kid.

In the spiritual realm, he is my Daddy by adoption because His son grafted me into his family.  He is my Creator, the one who used love to make me family.

Getting to know God for The Perfect Father is an adventure in loving and being loved. I wish I could say that I don’t ever struggle with abandonment, rejection or trust issues, but that wouldn’t be true. I am learning to accept that My True Father loves me even though sometimes I misbehave. He is teaching me to accept that he forgives me, even when it is difficult for me to forgive myself.  And He doesn’t instruct me with the iron fist or shaming ways of the fathers I have known on Earth, but with the gentlest correction reminding me to focus on His grace instead.

Maybe so many of us women are attention-seekers because we’re designed to be. Perhaps we are created that way  in order to seek our Father’s love. To  give up on being perfect to earn a Father’s love,  in order to fill up on the love of a Perfect Father.

To be Daddy’s Girls in the purest sense…not so much “full of ourselves”, but FULL of our Father.

Lousy with Fish (when grace and provision strain the nets)

Look closely at the wave – it is full of fish!
Wave after wave, so many fish!

Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.

Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him. -James 5:1-15(The Message)

Do you ever worry about how you will meet your needs – financially – and in every other way? Like there is a drought in the middle of the ocean in some area of your life? Do you ever feel like water, water everywhere but not a fish in sight?

The story in the Bible’s book of James became manifest to me in a way I could see, hear and touch during an evening trip to the beach last month. My husband had come home from work stressed out and I’d been writing bills, so we decided to load the jeep with a couple of chairs and journey the 15 minutes to the seashore.

Ahhhh. Restorative salt air eased our moods right away.

And then, gazing out on the water, we noticed a single fish jump – and then another and another. They were swimming quickly northward and popping out of the water as they raced, some as big as a foot long.  There were hundreds, which became thousands within moments. And the most amazing thing happened. As we looked into the transparent, glassy, green waves breaking in the light of the setting sun,  each was filled with fish! End to end, big silver fish formed a visible wall of life under the surface.  And they kept coming – millions of shimmery fish making the waves silver, leaping and splashing.  The water was lousy with fish!  For a couple of hours, we sat and watched the miracle. Let’s go for a swim, I suggested. So, for a glorious time,  my husband and I floated amongst the fish, trying to keep still so that they wouldn’t be disturbed.  In all of my years living near the water, I had never experienced anything like it.

I’m sure that there is an explanation for the phenomenon, some migration pattern that science can explain, but for me – it was a miracle. I had been in my own pattern of worry / pray / worry / pray for months. Worried about our finances, about the economy. That day I felt so comforted, remembering Jesus and his complaining brethren, who – when asked to trust Him – said, “Ok, but we’ve already been working on it with no results.” (At this point I imagine Jesus doing a face-palm and thinking, aye carumba!)

“Trust me anyway,” he says, in essence.  That’s important.

The reality is that in God’s economy, there is no drought. Our needs – so radically different from our “wants” – are met despite our concern that our nets might come up “empty”.

If I’m meeting my needs – financial or otherwise – I have good reason to worry. With not a “fish” in sight sometimes, I could easily see only drought of supply  in the vast ocean.  Not even a minnow!

But Jesus is my portion and prize.  And His provision is perfect, trustworthy. When I’ve worried about my needs and He has (again) supplied them, I always wish I had employed more faith. “Jesus!” my spirit says, “I’m sorry …. I’m a sinner, and  I can’t handle this holiness!”

And after declaring aye carumba! He steers my boat back to shore and says “Folow me.”

Oh how I love Him.

I’ve never experienced anything like the grace and provision He gives….miraculous.

Meditation, Rumination and Prayer

By: Jana Greene
What is the difference between prayer and meditation?
The other day, while  sitting on the beach at sunset,  I felt God’s presence in an especially tangible way. Almost automatically, little kernels of prayer started expanding in my mind until each exploded like popcorn – all competing to fill that beautiful space with request.
 Quiet your mind, I felt The Father tell my spirit. And I realized the difference between prayer and meditation (to my heart):
Prayer is making request to God while I have his attention.
Meditation is making my spirit quiet enough for Him to have my full attention. And that isn’t easy.
Of course, we always have the ear and heart of the Lord; sometimes we feel it more acutely. I’m reminded of the scripture about being still and knowing I am not God:
“Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, Bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” – Psalm 46:10 (The Message)
I really needed to read that, because in this political season my emotions are popping as well.
Above everything, I have to deliberately turn my attention to God; take a long, loving look at Him above everything else. Meditate on His goodness, which is overflowing….He is good ALL the time.

To Carry a Tune (or: There’s a hole in my bucket)

Beach Buckets (photo by Jana Greene)

By: Jana Greene

The speakers on stage – as big as house doors – pump the baseline so hard that I can feel my ribs vibrate with each beat.  Always a sucker for percussion, I am bouncing slightly with each perfect, deliberate fall of the sticks upon snare. Melodies, streaming from the lead guitar, make me move against my will in the way that only a middle-aged white woman can manage; with certain awkwardness, but I don’t care. Move anyway, my spirit tells me, and I obey because sometimes my spirit knows what to do.

And then she sings.

Her voice, raised in worship, is flawless. It rises and falls in perfect synchronization with the music and it doesn’t struggle with highs or lows but surfs on the notes, catching the perfect wave every time.  She is worshiping God with all she has and I know that He is pleased.  He created her ability to sing with seeming ease and share it with the world, and she has mesmerized us all with her gifts.  With her obedience.

My voice has the potential to traumatize…not mesmerize.

When I get to heaven, I want to be able to sing like she does. Or like Queen Latifa.  Or maybe Joss Stone.  But who knows? Perhaps  by that time I’ll be at enough peace with my own gifts to keep from envying those of others. I’m not proud that I sometimes covet the talents of others, but hat covetness burrows into my mind  before I have the chance to rebuke it at times.

Music is one of my very favorite ways in which God spoils us all. It was created by Him to give us another tool of praise  (and sometimes just to get jiggy with it) and I wish I was as good at making it as I am to listening to it. I know God doesn’t mind that I sing off-key, but I do.

Sharing our talents can be a daunting task. We don’t get to choose the gifts we are given, but we do have the choice to use what we have – or to keep it to ourselves.  I know he truth: that the Singer at my church works on her music often, that her synchronization is perfected not only by gifting, but by practice. Effortlessness is not what she strives for; worship is.  Each of the musicians in our church’s worship band has mind-blowing talent, which they each use every week to bless others.  After Sunday services,  I have to fight the urge to corner each of them and say, “Do you have any IDEA how AMAZING you are?”  (I don’t want to be creepy about it.  Just appreciative.)

We all have different gifting, different processes. God is pleased when we use our talents to bring other hurting people to Him, no matter what that talent may be.  And those “what if’s”?

What if I use my talents and fail, and make a fool of myself?

What if it’s just too hard?

Move anyway, my spirit tells me.  You’ve been a fool for much lesser things. And I listen.

Because even though I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, sometimes my spirit really does know what to do.

Inspiration, Freestyle

By: Jana Greene

My husband makes me want to be a better woman…a better version of myself. He usually sees the best in me and overlooks the worst, which is an awesome courtesy for married people to extend to one another.

Because he lives with integrity, humor and generous love, he inspires me every day.

One of the cool things about aging, if we do it right, is that what we find inspiring changes. What I found inspirational ten or fifteen years ago does not “wow” me in quite the same way anymore. Olympic medals are amazing, no doubt – signifying the overcoming of unimaginable odds, hard work and achievement.  But the people who inspire me most these days overcome on a less-flashy scale.

Inspiring is:

A pastor who is real with his congregation week after week.

A new mom who sacrifices to be home with her baby.

A man driving a big pick-up truck with a “I ❤ My Wife” sticker.

A volunteer who gets up early Saturday mornings to make pancakes for the homeless.

An alcoholic picking up her “one year” chip at a meeting.  Or her “one day” chip.

An elderly couple who still hold hands.

A teenager who apologizes to a parent after an ugly fight.

A spouse who makes the effort to keep the spark alive in a marriage.

A person who remembers to be thankful, daily.

An old woman who forgets how old she is, and believes that she is beautiful because God said so.

A friend who prays for you every day.

A veteran.

An owner of a large company who stays true to his values, even when unpopular.

A single mother working hard to raise children by herself.

A father who makes the time for his kids and wife.

A wife who still enjoys spoiling her husband.

A person who knows brokenness and trusts God to put the pieces back together.

No gold medals. No cereal boxes emblazoned with faces. No household names.

Just someone who sees the best in people and overlooks the worst, which is an awesome courtesy for all people to extend one another.

Inspiring.

Big Fish in a Little Pond

By:  Jana Greene / thebeggarsbakery.net

You might be a big fish
In a little pond Doesn’t mean you’ve won
‘Cause along may come
A bigger one –  Coldplay, Lost

Fill in the blank:  When I finally achieve ______________, I will be_____________.

Accomplishment…it is a slippery little sucker.  Once you catch it, it tends to wriggle free.  I think I know what success is, but the definition keeps changing. But I’m learning not to compare myself to others.  If God doesn’t compare us to one another, why do I?

My “fill-in-the-blanks” have changed many times:

When I finally achieve career success, I will  fit in.

In the business world, while others were striving to reach the next rung on the ladder, I was just trying to keep from tripping over myself on the ground.  The message at the office is: the work world is how you measure your success – and a large portion of society  confirms that it must be true.  But there is very little requirement in corporate America for creativity.  While others were making money and enjoying the fruits of their labor, I felt like my fruits were dying on the vine. I was such a square peg forced into a round hole even my successes weren’t really mine.  They were the achievements of a round-shaped square peg, whittled down to conformity in order to fit.

When I finally achieve my ideal weight, I will be happy with myself.

This is a biggie (no pun intended) with most women I know.  At different stages of my life, I have been heavy and I have been thin.  Here in the middle (and middle-aged) is not where consider my body ideal, but I have to be honest with myself.  In the skinny years, I found a myriad of other ways to be unhappy with my body.  Fitting into size six jeans was nice, but all the while I was thinking, “Another gray hair!” while hating this feature or another.  Those goals I set for myself that seem so important often fail to satisfy.

When I finally achieve organization, I will be a better writer.

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I’ve decided that I will one day become an organized person.  I will sit at my desk, which will have all of my resources handy (dictionary, thesaurus, extra printer paper, highlighters) and utilize Microsoft Outlook’s calendar and scheduling features.  My desk would not appear to be the workplace of a mad scientist who decided to take up writing Haiku…..half-drunk cups of coffee, sharpies missing lids, a random cat wandering across the keyboard.  But as it is, my desk is never clean and orderly.  It is covered in yellow post-it notes that proclaim messages like “Next Tuesday” and “Why snails have strong faith” or “7”…things that I am sure will later jog a writing idea but usually don’t, because I’ve forgotten why I wrote them down in the first place.  I’m not even sure my computer has Outlook.

So, I keep asking God, what can I achieve for you?  What can I accomplish as Your child? 

After all, he knows me best.  He knows that I am no businesswoman.  He knows that I carry a little fluff around, that I am messy and disorganized.  He is ok with these and a million other personality and character attributes belonging only to me, and the defects?  He is helping me work through those.

He always finds me, even under the striving to please others – even in my most vain and selfish pursuits.  I sense my Creator saying often to my spirit, “Little fish….how did you get in there?  No wonder you are miserable – you are in the wrong pond!”

He created me.  He should know!  The definition of the true measure of success in Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

When I achieve surrender to God I will be successful.  Accomplished. And most likely, covered in yellow sticky notes.

Self-Condemnation Deflation

By:  Jana Greene

A dear friend and I were having a discussion about self-condemnation the other day; about how it is a struggle for both she and I to avoid condemnation of ourselves.  When I put myself down, I am believing what the enemy says about me is correct.    That with my past actions –I am worthy of condemnation.   I get stopped in my tracks, stopped from moving forward.  Whatever holy and good things I was hoping to do today to pass along the love of God, gets buried like tires stuck from driving on deep sand.  The more I try to move forward out of a self-condemnation mindset, the more my wheels spin.

I am no Theologian.  I am un-schooled in psychology.  But I am a sinner, and I have taken putting myself down to an art form.  I’m working on breaking out of self-condemnation; working on learning not to self-condemn.

In my life, condemnation usually happens in one or two ways.  Half the battle (if not more) is remembering who is the perpetrator of this oppression is – satan.  If he can keep me stuck like tires in the sand, I can’t go anywhere forward-moving.

My self-condemnation says:  The things I have done in my past determine my feelings of worthfulness to God now. 

Confirmation by the Enemy:  Who are you to tell other beggars where you found bread?  You made every mistake in the book, and now you want to spread the Gospel.  If you want to help God, don’t drag His name into your mess.   Who is going to listen to you? 

My self-condemnation says:  I can’t do anything right…I am my own worst enemy.  If you compliment me, I will find a way to point out something negative about myself so fast I don’t even have to think about it.  I just keep messing up, even though I love God with all of my heart, with all of my soul, with my entire mind. 

Confirmation by the Enemy:  I am your worst enemy, but thanks for listening to what I have to say.

One stream of thinking applies to my past, and one to my present and future.  But both of them show a lack of trust in the one who pulls me out of the ruts of my own making.  I don’t need self-esteem, I need my esteemed Savior, Jesus Christ, who can and will do for me (as much of a mess as I am) for you, for anyone.

I researched a little bit the word “condemn”, hoping to find an accurate definition, and learned these things about the word.  Those of us who apply condemnation to ourselves are, in essence:

1.       Declaring ourselves to be reprehensible, wrong or evil without reservation, usually after we weigh “evidence” that we decide is obvious.

2.       Associating ourselves with the following synonyms:  Damned, denounced, denied, and pronounced guilty and unfit.  Oh, and convicted, sentenced and DOOMED.

Those are big-ticket items, Spiritually.  Self-condemnation is really an act of sentencing ourselves to doom.

Interestingly, there is only one antonym- one opposite – given for the word in Webster’s online dictionary:

BLESSED

That’s pretty powerful. There is a battle going on to determine how we view ourselves.  We can’t always get to the  self-loathing feelings before they get to us, but we can be lifted up out of them.  As a matter of fact, we have already been lifted out….

Romans 8:1-5:  So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.  The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could NOT do.  He sent his own SON in a body like the bodies we sinners have.  And in that body God declared and end to the sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins.  He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for  us., who no longer follow our sinful natures but instead follow the Spirit.” – (NLT)

There is no fine-print disclaimer to this verse.  It doesn’t say, “some” or “a tad” or “a smidgen” of condemnation of those who belong to Christ Jesus.  It says there is NO condemnation.

On my own, I am totally condemnable.  But with Christ as my salvation, I am just  BLESSED.

Blessed to know that negative self-talk is NOT of God, and that I have the authority to rebuke it.

Blessed to know that the Lord is infinitely patient, and doesn’t expect me to change overnight.  I’ve honed some really effective self-condemnation techniques over a lifetime, and it will take His supernatural help to reprogram the way I think.

Blessed to know that I cannot “out-mess” His love for me…I am His daughter.  Like a good father, He has already done for me what I could not do for myself.

Blessed to know the sound of my Father’s voice, whose words never tear me down, but build me up in love.

Blessed to know that the enemy of God is referred to in the Bible as ” The Author of Lies”, unable to tell the truth.

Blessed that, as Romans 8 reminds me, “And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”  That leads to doom.

No Condemnation at all, for those in Christ Jesus!
AMEN!