It was in the Fall of 1981. Rice Stadium in Houston was packed to the gills. I’d been invited by a dear friend (who is still a good friend) to attend a Billy Graham. crusade. The whole youth group piled onto an activity bus for the shuttle ride.
The cool kids congregated in the back of the bus. I sat right behind the bus driver.
Two months shy of my 13th birthday, I was just old enough to join youth group. I remember so many little details about that evening, which is odd because a lot of my childhood I’d just as soon as forget.
I honestly cannot tell you what I had lunch yesterday, but I can recall every nuance of that evening in 1981. It is as though all of my senses were tingling – there was charge in the air.
I remember the loud grumble of the bus, and the smell of diesel fuel (mingled with Love’s Baby Soft perfume, which we girls regularly doused ourselves with.)
The brightness of the stadium lights.
The cold hardness of the bleachers.
The scent of buttery popcorn from the concession stand.
The itchiness of the sweater I’d worn, because it because the weather in Houston was actually cool for a change.
At the stadium, I remember that there was an electric buzz in the atmosphere – a kind of spirit-hum that kind of vibrated in all of us. It seemed to resonate in the whole stadium, in every soul. I’d never felt anything like it, and rarely have I ever experienced again. We took our seats and settled in, most of us just as interested in the cutest boys in youth than on Rev. Graham’s message. The stadium lights were nearly blinding, but as he spoke, I forgot about the cute boy in youth (his name was Rick, and he only listened to the band “Rush,” alas, a story for another time.)
In his booming yet gentle voice and North Carolina lilting accent that I would so come to love as a North Carolinian myself later in life, Billy Graham distracted us all from or wriggling, twittering, self-absorbed teenage selves by introducing us to this revolutionary concept of absolute GRACE.
Many of us had never heard about true grace, even in the Southern Baptist churches we’d been reared in. Hellfire and brimstone – that we knew.
I listened and was overcome with a peace that passed all of my young understanding. I was a broken kid, from a broken home.
So confident was Rev. Graham in his message, that I became confident in God, too. Not the god I’d prayed to for years, but the real and tangible God.
The Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end.
After the service that evening, the Reverend invited all those who wanted partake in the grace of God to come down the bleachers and pray with members of his prayer team. It was like an altar call on steroids – more of the people in attendance made their way down to accept this crazy anointing as did not.
Grace – ours for the taking, all we had to do was accept it, to take what seemed to me an impossible risk: Believing on the basis of the stirrings of my spirit, and nothing else. Risky. Scandalously risky. But I made my way down in a sort of floating transport. I don’t remember navigating the steep stadium steps; only that I positively knew Jesus Himself was fidgeting with anticipation to love on me through the prayers of strangers.
There was a song playing in a continuous loop as I approached a prayer volunteer. I didn’t mind hearing the refrain a hundred times. As thousands of voices joined in from all around, I wished it would never end.
“Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!”
I was never the same after that experience. I knew that I knew that I knew it was Truth.
I was never the same, but unfortunately, still completely human.
I still kissed boys on church mission trips.
I still grew up to be an alcoholic. In my drinking years I did some awful things.
Life happened, and parenthood happened, and marriage happened. Chronic illness, battles with anxiety and depression. And now I’m nearly 50, and still don’t have my sh*t together.
But had I not accepted Christ at a Billy Graham crusade in 1981, I might never know that even for prodigal daughters, the arms of Jesus are always and ever open to embrace this broken girl. I might never have known He would make me whole a million times and with a smile on his radiant face.
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to attend a Christian blogger conference in Asheville, North Carolina – not far from Reverend Graham’s birthplace. The facility – run by Billy Graham Ministries – that hosted the event is called “The Cove.” In the multi-building complex, there are mementos of the Reverend where everywhere.
In one of the buildings, there was a museum of sorts. Included in the displays were personal artifacts of the Graham family – a family that I (and so many others) felt a part of. There was an odd but wonderful ambiance of peace. It kind of made me feel like I’d come home.
Billy Graham passed away today. Alas, he really is home. I’ve no doubt Jesus is hugging him tight, but the rest of us left here have suffered a loss.
He was one man, on one mission. Humble and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But what a difference he made in this world!
If I could tell him one thing, it would be this: Thank you.
Thank you, Reverend Graham… for making it okay for me to come to the throne of God just exactly as I am.
Even with many a conflict and many a doubt.
Thanks for being the messenger that delivered the concept of boundless grace to my young heart. Fighting and fears within, without – because that’s how God rolls, infinite in his mercy.
And tell Jesus ‘thank you’ as well, for lending you to us.
Rest in well-deserved peace.
By: Jana Greene
I hope you know it wasn’t you,
When all of it is said and through,
When damage from the floods recede,
I hope that you can still believe.
I hope you know I really tried
To reconcile the pain inside
And find a way to overcome
Before my pieces came un-done.
I was walking wounded then,
I didn’t have the tools to mend….
I tried to stick close to your side.
I failed, but Jesus knows I tried.
My instinct is to protect you, love.
I lost the strength to rise above
So I did the only thing I knew,
To protect my spirit, too.
And in time, I withdrew.
I hope you know it wasn’t you.
Afraid to open doors to ghosts
And raise the specters I fear most,
I faded off into the clear.
(I can only survive from over here.)
I’m still un-done in places, you see,
Where life has gotten the best of me,
But I love you all the same.
I hope you bear no fault or shame.
You mean the world to me still now.
I don’t know when or where or how
To make things better, so I pray
God smile upon your life today.
God show mercy on this soul
Whom I love and lost in whole,
When the pieces threaten to unbind,
Give peace to this anguished mind.
When memories keep on pushing through…
I hope you know it wasn’t you.
By: Jana Greene
I haven’t written a blog post for over a week, because it has such an odd, difficult, wonderful, sad, exciting time in my life – just over the last week. Today is Saturday and it is 7:00, and I am still in my pajamas. I guess I should mention that it is 7:00 P.M. and I am still in my pajamas. I had scheduled a minor nervous breakdown for today and was hoping it would have resulted in enough crying to snot through at least two boxes of Puffs Plus (the lotion in the tissue makes them extra soft, and if you are having a half-way decent nervous breakdown, you’ll need at least one box). But no. Now that I’m home and have the time to grieve, all I can manage is not getting out of my pajamas. I don’t have the energy to cry.
I was thinking about what a weird week it’s been, and figured that if I can’t muster a nervy-b (as my daughter calls it) maybe I can write about it. Oh yeah. I have a blog….such a distant memory, my blog. But it’s only been a week – an eternity – since I’ve written in it. I thought maybe opening the door to my thoughts might lubricate the gates of my release, so I can get these pent-up feelings out.
As a matter of fact, if I had to choose a word to describe the past week, it would be “gates”.
In the span on one week, the gates of opportunity swung open in a most unexpected manner, so that I could start work in my (WARNING: cliché use ahead) “Dream Job”. Starting any job is stressful and at least a little difficult, what with learning new things and faces and protocol in the office. I worked hard and long and with great enthusiasm because I want this to work so very much.
A few days after I started work, a terrible thing happened. Our sweet, sassy, bossy dictator of a 20 pound cat, Hunter, had to be “put down” because his cancer tumor was pressing on his windpipe and he was beginning to suffer. My Beloved and his daughter took him there and held him, loved him as he passed into the pearly Gates and out of his family’s arms. He had been healthy only a month before! His tumor grew so fast, there wasn’t a lot of time to say goodbye. And now we miss him like crazy – his incessant hissing at the dog, crying for food, but also his ability to scrootch up against you while you are trying to type on the computer and put his little paws on the mouse…..you know, as if he was saying, “Hi, Mom. I’m just gonna walk across the keyboard and rewrite your document with utter nonsense, then I’m going to lay on it, because you’ve obviously been warming it up for me. And then I’ll just erase your work with a few kitty keystrokes. And you are going to think I’m adorable.”
I miss that stinkin’ cat like crazy. He died on a Tuesday, but I had no time to grieve.
Our church is kicking off a brand-spankin’-new Celebrate Recovery program at Lifepoint, which is REALLY exciting, and for which we leaders have worked and trained and sacrificed and poured ourselves into. That meeting opens up Monday nights and we are all standing right at the gates waiting for the moment to launch, waiting for the time we can finally serve others who need Christ.
But then yesterday, I got a call that a good friend of mine had passed away from cancer…after a valiant seven-year battle with it. We were such good friends that she helped me plan my wedding in 2007 and I sat though her chemo treatments many times. But suddenly, she and her family moved three states away and I never heard from her again. So its kind of a double whammy – I am grieving for her, and grieving that there is no closure between she and I. All the things that needed to be said were left unsaid, and will always be unsaid now. She got to walk through the gates of Heaven, and I was too busy learning a new job to even break down like I wanted to. I wanted to so badly. When the tears sprung up in my eyes, I chastised them, telling them they would have to wait. When I got the call about Jen’s passising, I was at work. I held it together, making a promise to myself that I would have this Nervy B today, here in my pajamas..
So much sad news.
But so much happy news, too! Like starting my job, and starting the Celebrate Recovery at church. OH – and my dear friend, Beth, who is due to give birth any minute now and has asked me to be her birth coach.
Isnt’ that just like life? Losing friends and kitties that we love, while new babies drop in to position for birth – seven and a half pounds of screaming, puking, erethral, soft and lovely evidence that God wants life to carry on. Even with all the stress, and loss and work that we must endure. I’m glad he gives us such a heaping measure of grace with which to get through all of these things.
I think I might be too exhausted to really lose it, Nervy B style. Maybe I’ll just cope with this week by eating mass quantities of chocolate and staying in my pajamas for another day or so….you know, until the gates of work open Monday Morning.
And Monday night, when our Celebrate Recovery small group shares around the circle, I will share that I ate mass quantities of chocolate, and no one will tsk tsk at me, judgementally, because they understand the particulars of a really healthy Nervy B. And then, just maybe, we will pass the Puffs Plus around and remind each other of how blessed we are. And about how grateful we are that the ministry is not a gated community and they let the likes of us in.