Devotional

Merry-go-Prophesy: Mayans will be Mayans, but no man knows

Merry

By: Jana Greene

My seventeen-year-old daughter made an interesting comment about the supposed Mayan Doomsday prophesy:  “If the Mayans were so smart, why didn’t they see the Spaniards coming?”

When I was her age, the Social Studies teacher made our class watch a 1983 movie about post-nuclear war life called “The Day After”. I had my first anxiety attack that same afternoon, because sooner or later this is very likely to happen and how can everybody just carry on living normally after KNOWING that this was likely to happen? I wanted to stand under a street lamp with a sign warning everyone that THE END IS NEAR! I had nightmares for years, and my walk with the Lord suffered from neglect because I was too busy wringing my hands to fold them in prayer.

But the world kept spinning like a crazy merry-go-round anyway, and I had to learn to hold on.

Oh how we humans like to believe that SOMEBODY on earth has a clue about our future! Maybe not the crazy Hale-Bopp Comet chasers (remember them?) or Pat Robertson or the paranoid Doomsday Preppers, but SOMEBODY.

If the world really ended this month, I would mostly carry on as I am now.The priorities are getting to know the God that I will spend eternity with, loving people to the best of my ability and letting them know that this planet we call home is NOT ‘all there is’.

I would probably eat more chocolate if I knew the end was near – a LOT more chocolate, watch the sunset from the North End more often, finish the My Name is Earl collection I (selfishly) got my husband for Christmas last year. I would spend more time laughing in general, because so much of life is absurd.

Ironically, it has always been on the bottom-end of my bucket list to learn all of the words to REM’s “It’s the End of the World as we Know it” and not just sing out the words “that’s great, it starts with an earthquake”, “Lenny Bruce”  and “Leonard Bernstein”. (Who IS ‘Lenny Bruce’, anyway?) But really, if we only have eight days to live, I could die without knowing the lyrics and be okay with it.

The truth is that life on this planet will end one day, that life as we know it is already over because it changes every day. The only future I am secured is life in Christ, but really – that’s the only life that matters. The merry-go-round will stop and let us off where we are meant to be.

The Bible says that nobody knows when that will occur. We really can’t see the “Spaniards” coming in advance, we just have to learn how to hold on.

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[fbut only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” – Matthew 24:36-44 (NIV)

Buckle up – its a wild ride!

Recovery

“Noshing” to Worry About: Food, Comfort and the God-shaped Hole

Don't these look delicious? They were sinful, I tell you! Chocolates from Blue Ridge Chocolates.
Don’t these look delicious? They were sinful, I tell you! Chocolates from Blue Ridge Chocolates.

By: Jana Greene

MMMmmmm, Christmastime. The music is lovely,  the parties are grand. The food? Well, it’s almost divine.

Almost.

As a recovering alcoholic, I save a lot of calories by not drinking (sick thought #1) but I make up for it by taking part in food festivities.  Savory dips piled high on crackers, sugary cookies and cakes. If it arrives in a crock pot, it’s simmering on borrowed time. Anything with a cream-cheese base? Yes, please!

The problem is – if I’m honest – is that I need to admit a little secret:  making food a centerpiece in my life is not just a holiday phenomenon. And I have the pounds to prove it.

I worry about my issues with food because I see a pattern emerging. A few weeks ago, I cleaned out my closet, and within moments I found the first Hershey bar. I had hidden it in an otherwise empty shoebox, a single candy under tissue paper. Working my way under some random papers stacked on a closet shelf, I found another Hershey bar and at the bottom of the stack? Another one., and another. The last one was under an old Pittsburgh Steelers blanket behind some more boxes.

I have had issues with food all my life. From hating to eat as a child, becoming a full-on “foodie” as an adult. When I went through a painful divorce several years ago, I lived on Diet Coke and cigarettes, losing 80 pounds. To be truthful, it felt pretty good to have some measure of control over something going on. The cycle has repeated over and over: starving myself for a little while because I don’t like what I see, bingeing to fill up and comfort.  It was the kind of hidden behavior that I just didn’t want to “discuss” with myself (also known as “denial)  But now – here in a tangible intervention, was evidence bold on brown wrappers: H.E.R.S.H.E.Y.

All told, there were 11  chocolate bars hidden in strange places in my closet.There is a big difference between using food as a treat and an anesthetic.  I am very emotional about food (and dern near everything else) but usually not to the point of crying. This time, there were tears.

The candy had been stashed individually over the course of months, because chocolate is my comfort food and having three young adult daughters, someone is ALWAYS PMS’ing at my house, looking for this anesthetic for the symptoms. So I hide it. Because when I am jonesing for chocolate, I am really jonesing for chocolate, you know? I am the mother in this house and don’t I deserve chocolate for putting up with everyone? I can quit any time I want! I’ll quit for the New Year and get in shape…you’ll see! What’s the big deal?

See? Emotional.  Hershey bars should not be that powerful of an emotional trigger. Also, while I’m being real here, hoarding food is a related compulsion I struggle with. But that is a blog post for another day.

Do I remember hiding the chocolate? Not really. It is something I did  kind of automatically. Go to the store for milk and eggs, pick up an extra chocolate to hide.  When I get especially stressed out, I go buy more chocolate at the store and sooth myself the Hershey Way and it seems harmless enough. Except like some people can’t “just eat one” potato chip, I almost never “just eat one” chocolate bar. Here’s the secret: The second bar I like to enjoy in private – and that’s really embarrassing to admit. Sometimes it is more than two.  I’m ashamed, even for my husband to know. Why does all this seem SO familiar?

Ah, yes.

Right before I got sober, I was terribly sick. The first glass of wine, I would drink in front of other people, but the second….seventh…..tenth? I “enjoyed” those alone, ashamed. I had boxes of wine stashed in secret places all over the house, because there was never enough. What if I ran out? Dang it, I am an adult and it’s just WINE for Pete’s sake, and don’t I deserve a little something for putting up with everyone? I can quit any time I want! I’ll quit for the New Year and stay sober, you’ll see! What’s the big deal?

The big deal was that I’d forgotten that the void requiring filling was not shaped like a bottle or box of Chardonnay. The hole is not shaped like a Hershey bar. It is a God-shaped place that, in times of stress and need and worry and peace, can only be filled by Christ. It’s not “just a treat” if you are tormented by it.

Run first to Him, and away from things done in secret. There is no shame in Him; no room for condemnation. Love conquers sick thoughts #’s one through one-billiion.  Love fills up the void, and I know that already. That’s the thing about life on this planet: I will struggle with SOMETHING until the undertaker is throwing dirt in my face. You will too. But oh, the grace that God offers us strugglers!

That – the sweetest of things – I don’t need to hoard or hide.  It flows constantly and with such force that it spills over into other spaces and can’t be contained. Kind of like my belly over the waistband of my jeans right now. (Hey, it’s important to keep a sense of humor!)

Jesus as the centerpiece of my life, First. Jesus consulted before food or drink or even friends – renewable comfort, available. I just have to ask for it.

Now, that is truly divine.

Devotional

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.

Holiday

Carols for the Saturday of Awkwardness – Sing Along!

Santa says, “I’m still at the beach! Don’t rush me!”

I ought to be excited about this day.
Thanksgiving is over, but there are still plenty of leftovers. And the ominous Black Friday is finished, giving way to the Saturday of Awkwardness.

For me, every year, The Saturday of Awkwardness opens up the first weekend after Thanksgiving. There are still dishes from the feast in the sink, soaking and re-soaking – but nobody is really in the mood do finish scrubbing off the residue, much less start decorate for Christmas yet. Awkward Saturday is a 24-hour period in which nobody really knows what to do with themselves, and as a result – a sort of funk can settle over us. Our bellies are still too round to carry in boxes of ornaments from the garage; we light the short wicks on the leftover pumpkin-scented candles and hope they burn down in time for the Frazer fir candles to come out. We aren’t ready for real Christmas music quite yet. We are in full-fledged holiday-flux.

Speaking personally, The Saturday of Awkwardness can even be a little depressing. I am still tired from being on my feet preparing and cooking twelve meal items, but antsy about the upcoming holidays, which are looming ever closer like a bumbling turkey float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade on a windy morning.

How will we afford Christmas this year, without my income? Writing about my experiences may be fulfilling in some very important ways, but Santa’s workshop does not accept blog posts as payment…not even on Pay Pal! I thought that by now I would have a paying job; it has been seven months since my last employment. Seven months since I broke my ankle that resulted in the surgery that kept me down for more time.

Write, God had said. Clearer than I’d ever heard His voice. And down for the proverbial count, I did. Now, we are approaching the commemoration of the blessed birth of His Son, and I’ve written enough to fill a horn-a-plenty, but have not even generated enough income to fill a mouse’s Christmas stocking. This does not seem to be a problem to God, although I’ve tried making Him understand that the numbers just don’t work.

And then there is the whole family angle.  How will the drama play out this year? Family and Drama go together like the pilgrims and Indians who’s coming together we replicated just a couple of days ago for Thanksgiving: two very different Peoples exchanging niceties and delicious food.  But just underneath the request to pass the maize pie, someone is plotting the scalping of another before the day’s end.

The Saturday of Awkwardness makes me tired; because I know that the holidays are coming like a tsunami and I do not have the energy to dodge it. So, as I poke around the house as slow as a sloth that has participated in a competitive eating event (and won): without purpose to clean, cook, wrap, and shop or decorate the thought occurs to me: The awkward Saturday may the perfect time for resting, and maybe a little songwriting.

During the holidays, we love our festive Christmas music, and Thanksgiving has it’s oven tunes about going to Grandmother’s house (and figgy pudding…you know the one).  So I decided to write a couple of little carols the about Awkward Saturday time. They go a little like this:

(to the tune of O’Tannenbaum)

Oh Saturday

Oh Saturday

Thanksgiving dishes in sink still lay.

Oh Saturday,

Oh Saturday,

Black Friday stole my joy away.

The reds and greens of Christmastime,

Shant’ prematurely hang in mine.

Oh Saturday

Oh Saturday

Make me a turkey sandwich.

 Or….

Joy to the world,

For crying out loud,

We just had Thanksgiving meal!

For Black Friday, You’re a fan of all

The sales, like a crazed animal,

Shopping til’ you dropped

And now your cash flow’s stopped.

And it’s still just November

Awkward Saturday.

God bless us…one and all!

Hitting the bottom, Recovery

Take me Higher – an Alcoholic Finds Solid Ground

By: Jana Greene

You are an alcoholic. Or an addict. There is precious little difference, really. You indulge in some substance or activity that you cannot for the life of you control. You have tried, under your own power. You simply cannot stop.

It started innocently. You got drunk, or high – maybe a little accidentally. Certainly, it was harmless. Over time, you needed to get just a little drunker or higher to achieve the same result – feeling okay in your own skin. So you start to drink a little more, to get a little higher.

But one day, you start to need the substance or activity more than you really want it.  You begin to dread coming down from it.

Who wants to come down from something? All of the great clichés espouse the glory of high

Ain’t no mountain high enough.

High achiever.

Soaring to great heights.

Your love keeps lifting me higher…..

For a while, “high” made you feel weightless, but not anymore. Now it feels unbearable because you can’t get high enough. It becomes apparent that high is a manner of deceiving yourself. You used to have direction. What happened to knowing where you are in relation to other things?

Then, the spiral. Everything is out of control.  Which way is up? It is impossible to tell as you flail about, falling.

Coming down is a bummer. But coming down from artificial heights is inevitable, and fast. It is not the gradual and glorious slow decent of a skydiver with a sturdy parachute.

No.

You must come back to earth because there is nowhere else to go, but doing so results in a free-fall, a plummet.  No parachute to catch the wind, and no wind to fill the chute if you had one at all.  And something inside you tells you that you should fall and with a hard landing.

The dual demons of entitlement and self-loathing surface in this free-fall:

You deserve to drink/ use and get away with it, because you have all of these pressures and why shouldn’t you have a little relief?

And you deserve to use and lose everything, because you are a weak and hopeless person who can’t cope with Life on Life’s terms.

That is why sharing recovery is the Highest calling for an alcoholic or addict. There is purpose in it – God makes sure that no agony goes to waste in this life.

Authentic life takes place in the venue that is grounded. Recovery can be bumpy path, but it is on solid earth, at least. It is, in the truest sense of the term, death-defying….more so than any leap. It is life worth living for any addict because an active recovery is an expedition..a wonderful journey into uncharted territory and the clarity to soak it all in.

Your active recovery is a hike in the wilderness with a pack full of provision – more than you will ever need, courtesy of God. It is helpful to know which tools are available, but even a blind search through a knapsack is better than a fall from a high cliff.

On the ground, there are people to link arms with who will pull you up when you feel like tripping, because everybody feels like tripping sometimes and everybody needs support. On the ground, it is okay for you to have weight – a fullness and purpose in your step, because you are a human being carrying around a burden of being human. But not by yourself.

Most importantly, you aren’t artificially high  in a free-fall of destruction -you can easily locate “up” . From positioning yourself on your knees in prayer, you can see in all directions. You can clearly discern that God is God and you are not. It becomes obvious that He was the wind that filled the parachute you didn’t know you had so that he can be the solid ground beneath your feet now. You are filled with gratitude for having survived, for not having to be your own higher power anymore.

So, where do you go from here?

You go out and find the ones spiraling in the air, grasping at entitlement and self-loathing as they fall. You make sure that they don’t hit the ground without knowing that the dual demons of entitlement and self-loathing are not trying to catch them, but waiting for them to destruct upon impact. Tell hurting people that there is hope because of Grace, and Grace promises that we don’t get what we “deserve” (thank God!)

That’s how you will avoid the same temptations of dangerous height – by providing the gear for others and leading the expedition. Because you are not immune; you are never immune to relapse. You must stay on your guard and ask for God’s help on the journey – each day. He is strong and full of hope and He has sent others to walk with you, victoriously.

One Day at a Time, you feel okay in your own skin. Lifted higher by real love, the Highest Power.

You are going to be just fine.

Inspirational

As the Leaves Turn, Perfectly

 

Blue Ridge Mountains, October 2012

 

“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

By: Jana Greene

Last week, I watched the leaves turn with my husband.

Tired of waiting to be given the extra time to spend, we took it ourselves… stealing away to the mountains of North Carolina for a few days together.

We rented a tiny cabin, after choosing it on merit of standing far away from all other dwellings and people. When we arrived, the steps down the hill to the cabin were clear, and our little fortress surrounded by trees in every stage of turning – greens and yellows, but reds and oranges, too. Like a picture postcard.

He and I set up house in a hurry to sit on the back porch, which overlooked a short but steep mountain valley and wide creek at the bottom. All we could see from our balcony was leaves and water. All we could hear from our balcony was the rustling and rushing of leaves and water, and the occasional birdsong from the canopy above.

Decompressing from the stressors of being full-time grown-ups with concerns for jobs, kids and the political climate, we spent days reveling in the promise of cool autumn air instead. Together, my husband and I explored the creek and the hills nearby. For a few days, we fished and we feasted. We did nothing at all for great lengths of time on the back porch of our little cabin.

And we didn’t miss the grown-up world, because it didn’t occur to us to stress out about the jobs, kids or concerns for our country. It seems obvious enough – if you took the time to look at the trees – that God was still in control and didn’t need our help to work things out.

No internet. No television. No constant feedback and validation from the world-at-large. Political seasons are ugly and corrupt, but God’s seasons are perfect. Out there where creation is pure and heavenly, you would never know all “hell” was breaking loose.  I needed to be reminded that the harmony of nature is what the Creator intended for His world. It is the created that distort it.

By the time of our departure, the steps up the hill to our car were littered with color – crispy greens and yellows, and reds and oranges turned up at the corners. They crunched as we loaded up and readied ourselves for re-entry into the “real” world. As we drove away, we rolled down the windows to hear rustling leaves and rushing water, and the occasional birdsong from the canopy above.

God is not in a hurry for the leaves to fall, they break from the trees one at a time, floating to the ground in perfect order to that He can begin creating more abundance at just the right time.  And after stealing away to the reality He intended, I have a better sense of peace that He still has good and perfect plans for His children.

Even in this political climate (maybe especially during it) take the time to sit and watch the leaves turn wherever you are. It seems obvious enough – if you take the time to look at the trees – that God is still in control.

 

Inspirational

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.

Spiritual

Southern-Fried: Thoughts on Knowing Better

By: Jana Greene

Today, I reminded about showing compassion to those who may not “deserve” it.  I made a dumb mistake, you see.

It’s the blisters that are reminding me. Or maybe the skin on my nose and shoulders that has turned the deep crimson hue of a good Merlot. I have a bad sunburn, and all I want to do for the moment is wrap up in soft sheets and whine about the pain.  Maybe even moan a little. And eat chocolate.

What… You never heard that chocolate has healing properties?

I am nearly forty-four years of age. I know better. I’ve been a fair-skinned red-head all of my life, and this is not the first time I’ve been severely sunburned.

The other day, my Beloved and I took a day-trip to the beach and we only intended to stay for an hour or two.

But as if by some act of divine mercy, we found a spot on the shore that was nearly deserted (by at least twenty feet on either side) and the sky was a wide blue with nary a cloud to block the glorious rays of the sun! A breeze from the ocean blew gently and cool (but warm for October) against us, making us forget that…hey,  there are no clouds to block the sun.

We had even remembered to put up the beach umbrella!

Not that we stayed under it for very long.

When we did get warm-ish sitting under the wide blue sky, we walked down to the water – holding hands. And although the ocean was a bit chilly at first, the initial “yikes!” gave way to a cooling ahhhhhhh until we were neck deep and free-floating.

On an October day, no less!

We swam until we were tired and then walked back to the beach chairs in the sun, enjoying the sensation of water evaporating off of our skin. Conversation, laughter, sunshine, water. And then again. And then again.

Until we – satiated and out of cold beverages – headed home.

And then, over the next few hours, our bodies turning burgundy, thought “Hmmm. Maybe we should have used sunblock.”  We did think about it a few times.

But it’s OCTOBER, my mind protested stubbornly. As  if one cannot possibly get sunburned in the fall, the way one cannot possibly wear white after Labor Day.  My mind, which felt increasingly  like an egg fried underneath my crimson scalp relented. Excuses, excuses…and then a painful consequence. And now the moaning.

You did this to yourself.

Wandering  through Wal-Mart later on a quest for aloe lotion, I see the stares from people thinking, Well, she should know better. Or worse…..Tourist!

Judging is easy….the smug realization that whatever painful, blistering circumstance a person might be in – they brought it on themselves.  I’m getting better at not judging, but sometimes it’s still a challenge. Because when we see homelessness, addiction, a pregnant teenager or even celebrities who struggle with consequences – sometimes our first thoughts are not of compassion:

You know, that could have been avoided.

Don’t you know better?

That was a dumb mistake.

And while all of these things are possibly true, the resulting pain is still pitiful. God may shake his head with frustration over us – the stubborn ones – but he still gathers us up in soft sheets of compassion. He expects us – as if by His divine mercy – to do the same. Even when one’s mistake is out there  for all the world to see. No excuses necessary….just love.

Ouch.

Yeah…..Especially then.

Inspirational, Spiritual

Picking up Rocks on a Walk with God

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28 (The Message)

Crispy.

Fried.

Burned out.

These are not amongst the niceties exchanged between friends as we pass in the street.

“How are you?”

“Parched.  Just really heavy-laden lately. You?”

“Weary and burdened, actually.”

The truth is that we do become those things, regularly. Or at least I do. A praising heart becomes a languid spirit far too easily.

I will be walking alongside Jesus, matching my footsteps to his, and enjoying the journey. And then I see something up ahead and forget to keep pace with him, racing toward what I assume is our mutual destination. Every footfall becomes heavier, until it feels I am stepping through jelly.

Or, as often happens, I will head off toward somewhere He never planned to go, figuring that I will on meet up with Him later. My steps are intentional in keeping His steady pace, but in another direction entirely.  Forcing my own awkward gait,  I lose sight of the unforced rhythms that are His grace.

And still….I am always surprised by the result from either choice: weariness. A tiredness that originates from the soul.

“Walk with me and work with me,” implores the God of the universe. “My ways are not your ways, you have no clue about which route to take. And for crying out loud, stop picking up rocks to carry around on the way! No wonder you’re tired!”

I have to stop and remember to read His love letter to me, to take hold of his hand for the same reason that I held my children’s’ hands when they were small.  Because although they truly believed they knew better, I had the power to keep them safe on busy streets and complicated intersections.  It really is that simple – stay in the Word, love God, love others, serve.

“To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.” – Isaiah 61:7

It turns from praise to languish when I make it about religion instead of relationship.

I’m fried, Lord, I tell him when I get worn-out. And he always collects the burned-out bits and pieces  together, brushing the “me-dust” back into a pile and transforms it again.

Beauty from ashes.

Spiritual

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.

Devotional, Inspirational, Spiritual

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.
Recovery

Lead me not into temptation – or a sketchy alleyway ATM

By:  Jana Greene

At the end of a long alleyway in my city’s otherwise very lovely downtown district there is a dumpster, a metal landing that leads to nowhere and an incongruous automated teller machine.  Or at least it advertises itself as such, what with the bold-font red printed “ATM” lettering.  When my husband and I passed it while strolling around,  I burst out laughing.

“Looks legit,” I said. He laughed too.  I took a picture of it, which really doesn’t represent the shady-factor, since I had to zoom in a good bit in order to see the “ATM: letters.  The machine is far, far down the alley.

Who would go down that path?  I suppose you might be tempted to use it if you  really needed cash and had no other way to get it.  But there are teller machines at nationally-known banks fifty feet away in either direction.

I don’t know if it is a legitimate machine or not,  because  it didn’t feel safe to venture down the alley, much less withdraw cash and have to venture back out.  It seemed very sketchy.

Going into dangerous places often feels “sketchy”.

When I first became sober, I acutely felt temptation everywhere.  The first time I made a run to the grocery store as a person in active recovery, I barely made it through one aisle before having a panic attack, because I knew that a mere six aisles away was the wine section.  By the time I passed the wine en route to the frozen foods, I finished my shopping while quietly sobbing, grieving.  It has been eleven years since that day and I have grocery shopped without incident for years – passing  the wine section like someone with a fatal addiction passes the peanut products – they are perfectly safe for most people, but not for me.

But I still don’t go into a liquor store.  It’s just a dangerous place for me.  Why risk temptation?

Another dangerous place can be my own mindset.  Sometimes in my anxiety,  I allow my mind to wander around, consulting my experience instead of my chaperone (and sponsor) Jesus.    Who would go down that path?  Me.  But in truth, my past mistakes have never held the key to coping with life on life’s terms.  So when those dark-alley thoughts appear, Jesus reins me back by reminding me that temptation never comes from Him.

Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up”.  God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way.  The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us.” – James 1:13-14

My mind is not always the best judge of what is dangerous, sometimes temptation doesn’t feel dangerous – just tempting.  What I need is never in the sketchy place; God never tries to trip me up.  It is in Him, and His good and perfect will.

The most legit place there is.

Spiritual

Great Faith and the Bigger Picture

By:  Jana Greene

“And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.  My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along.  Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!” –  Saint Paul, Ephesians 3:9-10

I am inspired by The Greats.  Saint Paul was definitely a great man.

As was  C.S. Lewis, the Oxford-educated Novelist who penned The Chronicles of Narnia, among other works.  He himself had been a staunch atheist before his conversion to Christianity, explaining that in his youth, he had been “very angry with God for not existing”.   I have read everything I can get my hands on by Mr. Lewis and have an appreciation for his amazing mind.  Still, I would love to sit down and have a cup Irish tea with him, and pick his brain.

I’ve a feeling that his musings might be “over my head”.

There are so many things I don’t understand.  What is God doing about the things that seem to make no sense?  What about the good and lovely human beings who suffer with cancer or mental illness or addiction and whose lives are claimed by those things?  The ones who fight as hard as they are able and trust in God’s strategy in spite of the predicted outcome?

Those people – they are The Greats as well.

Yesterday, the world lost such a great man.   He was a dear friend to my husband and I – an amazing husband to his wife of forty-eight years, and an incredible father to his daughters.  He was a gentle giant, a man who trusted that God was working behind the scenes.  He suffered intermittently with cancer for twenty-two years, and although he doesn’t walk with us on earth anymore, the cancer did not win.

My friend – The Great – is in paradise now, whole in his brand-new glorified body.  The cancer is dead.

I was blessed to be able to talk to This Great about his struggles.  Frankly and plainly, he  talked about dying sometimes, but more often he talked about living.  He was a living example of the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ; about the life he was honored to live – however long that might be.  He made plain the word of God with his faith.  He would never want his passing to be considered tragic.  He would want others to look at the bigger picture.  How many lives did he impact with twenty-two years of unrelenting faith and love for other people?

Am I angry at God for existing, but not stopping the disease that claimed my friend’s earthly life?

Perhaps a little, if I’m honest.  But God looks after The Greats, he looks after all of us.  Even in issues that seem to be over our heads.  The things that make no sense make no sense because we aren’t privy to the back-story, the Master strategy.  That’s just simple faith.  Simple, life-giving faith.

C.S. Lewis also said:  “Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret?  There are better things ahead than any we should leave behind!”

That, I can understand.

Today, Heaven rejoices that my friend – The Great – suffers no more.   I like to think he might be sitting down to a cup of Irish tea with Mr. Lewis, considering things that remain over our earthly heads.

With the Father whose plan is perfect, there among the angels.

Inspirational, Spiritual

How to Write a Life in Twenty (not so) Easy Steps – For my Daughters

 
By: Jana Michelle Greene

You are a writer when you take your first breath in life, perhaps even before that. Preceding the ability to have cognitive thought, you start to etch the words of your life into being. Just by living, you write a story, an imprint on the world.

It is read by every person you come in contact with, and devoured by those you hold most dear. People are funny about books. Those who love them usually love them much.

Some are not readers. But all are writers. As you write the book of your life, remember these things, my daughters:

Don’t allow yourself to be typecast.
Fancy yourself an Overachiever? A Diva? A Loser? Never wear a label, it limits your dimensions. Chances are you will be an Overachiever, an Underachiever, a Type-A Personality and Types B through Z at differing times in your story. Expect Character complexity. You will at times be more complicated those who read your life can comprehend, and certainly more complicated than you yourself can understand. In your lifetime, you will stoop to shameful behaviors in spite of yourself, and overcome unimaginable odds by the same measure. In your travels, never allow yourself to become what other characters ascribe you to be. And you will transform from birth to dying breath.

Add colorful characters.
Use Best Friends sparingly in your story, and delve into their character with lots of detail. They are integral to getting through the sticky scenarios, and absolutely indispensable in chapters of great joy. Acquaintances will make cameos in your life, and give you reasons you show up in theirs.

The Great Love of your Life? The truest loves are part and parcel of your own soul, Main Character substance. Villains and liars? They have a place in the story, too. Even absolute fairy tales prescribe their presence, and you will have them with you, always. Acknowledge them; they are teaching you what not to become. But don’t give the storyline over to them.

And if your story needs a heroine?
Be the heroine.

But try to keep it about everyone else
Make the Acknowledgements at least as long as your longest chapter in the story, and give plenty of credit throughout to those who have lent the richness and depth to your life.

It’s ok to have fragmented sentences and grammatical errors.
Life is incredibly messy. There is no Great Spellchecker in the sky; nobody is counting your mistakes.

Short chapters are ok, too.
Some scenes will end before you know you’ve written the first paragraph. When a chapter has taught its lesson, it’s ok to walk away from a setting.

Every story has a beginning, middle and an end. Make them all count.
Just as your story begins with a date of birth, it has a finite number of pages until the Acknowledgments. Like any page-turner worth its weight of paper, you will never know exactly what’s around the corner. Never knowing the end of the story ahead of time keeps you motivated to write your best ending.

Bright, fancy covers don’t really matter.
The slick sleeves that invite others to read your manuscript always, inevitably fade and fall apart. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has a postscript: “Give people more than a cover to judge you by.”

Allow for deeper meaning in the seemingly insignificant things.
A poem about the rain is sometimes really about despondency and angst.
And sometimes, it’s just about rain.

Keep the Table of Contents Flexible
Things change, sometimes a lot. Majors in college, boyfriends, financial situations; they can all evolve. Don’t let the shifting throw off your truth, or the telling of it. Write the Table of Contents of your life mostly in pencil, with only the most important core subjects penned. God, family, integrity and your truest passions – these should be inked.

Lighten up the Plot
Have fun, and enjoy the tale as you go. Much of the story is extraordinarily silly; laugh as much as you can. Laughter lightens any load and exhilarates those who read your story along with you.

Use the right punctuation when necessary.
Use lots of exclamation points! Everywhere you look, there are things to be excited about, and little manifestations of pure joy! Exclaim those things; they are worthy of literary device! And equally important, versing yourself in good punctuation means that you know when you put a period. After bad relationships. Unhealthy behaviors. Mistreatment. Selfishness. Utilize the “three dots” only when necessary…but don’t be afraid of “To Be Continued”…

Make your life a symphony of genres.
There is equity in throwing in a little Comedy when the Drama gets too intense, and a little Romance when the Tragedy is overwhelming. And daily, there will be Mystery.

Don’t be discouraged when the plot seems to drag.
It will seem to veer right as you try to steer the story left. Keep on keeping on. Keep writing.

Dedicate your “book”.
God is your Publisher and your Editor, the Ultimate Author and Finisher. Don’t try to do His job, yours is enough labor. Take His suggestions and read what He writes in the margins. Review His critiques of your work often, taking care to pay attention to the subtle cues as well as the highlighted ones; it will make the next chapter flow much better. He will make sure your “book” gets into the right “hands”, and He gives out no rejection letters. (It’s always good to be close to your Editor!)

Handle Writer’s Block with dignity.
All Great Writers suffer this crisis. Don’t mistake stagnancy with your identity. It is equally true that many of the greats turn to the numbing agents of drugs and alcohol and all manner of poison, all of which takes you back to some other point in the story when you faced the same dilemma. How many times do you want to repeat the same scene in which you suffer? Weakness breeds bad storylines; small bouts with strength (consult with The Editor) help you over that mountain. There are no small victories.

In all great works of literature, there is a Turning Point.
In your story, there will be lots of them, turning points. Never underestimate the power of a fork in the road. This is the moment in time where the decision of one tiny paragraph, sometimes one word. It can be one turn of a page, impacting each page thereafter and ultimately, and the end of the story.

Set out to make your story epic.
Don’t settle for ordinary, “See Spot Run” is easy but empty. Make sure every page is full, even if with mistakes. Love the people whom you love very hard (and with every cell in your being), you will get loved back hard. Mediocre is not an option, yours is a tome that will touch a life, and another and another.

Almost nothing you’ll ever do will affect only you.
No one life is a single-print.

And last, Love yourself just like the Great Classic you are.
Tattered pages, yellowed edges, typos and all.
Whatever goes into the final print, it’s all Character Development.

It’s your story – utterly familiar, irreplaceable.
Only you can write it.