Friendship – Sisters by Design

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C. S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

This letter is a gift to someone who is a gift to my life.  I asked her permission to publish it, to which she responded:

“You have full permission to publish it if you want—I hope it inspires others to have real friendships like ours!”

Amen, Sister-Girlfriend. The world would be a much better place.

My sweet Melissa,

Do you remember the first Christmas that we became friends? Our daughters – now freshmen in college – were fourth-graders who had just declared themselves Best Friends Forever. I was a struggling, single mom, just having divorced my children’s father after fourteen years of marriage. My little girl was having a terrible time.  I got her a good therapist, and tried to calm her fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded.

What she really needed was a very good friend. Your daughter was that very good friend to her.

It was a horrible, awful  time in my life. I was working four jobs to feed my girls after being a stay-at-home mom all of their lives. They became latch-key kids. I became a hot mess from the guilt.

When we first met, I was holding on to my four-year-old sobriety by a single thread, it seemed, and living on high anxiety. You invited me over anyway when the girls were having a play-date, serving coffee (and, I’m certain)  sweets.  You asked questions that nobody else had bothered to ask, and didn’t judge me when I answered honestly.

Sometimes when you stop trying so hard, God makes mystical things happen. Like our friendship.

At the time, you were wary of organized religion, and I was wary of everything. But in your guest bathroom, you had a display of decorative crosses. Every time I went to the loo at your house, I thanked God for you and your kindness. I prayed that you would trust Him again, even as I struggled to trust Him myself. Yes, on the loo!  I can tell you that now, all these years later.

That Christmas, I sat with all of our girls while you went on a date with your hubby. Before you departed for the evening, you gave me a pretty little wrapped gift box, and instructed me to open it when you left.  I did, and it was a lovely new wallet.

When you came back home, I thanked you, and you said that I should make sure to look inside of it. Folded in the zipped compartment was a hundred-dollar bill.

“Get your girls a little something for Christmas,” you said, like it was not a big deal.

It was SUCH a big deal, Melissa, to fill the girls’ stockings that year. Such a big deal.

Little did I know that praying for you on the loo would be the least of what we would come to discuss as our friendship deepened!  No subject was off-limits, no pretending to be who we were not. No pretense, all acceptance – what a wonderful foundation for a friendship.

I have to tell you, my friend, throughout the storms, you were my safe place. And always – even if there were tears –  laughter was ultimately the order of the day.

We are pretty cool that way.

Over the years, we have really been through it together, have we not?  With six daughters between us, holy cow – have we ever!

Teenagers and all the stupid stuff they do. Teenagers and all the awesome stuff they do.

Through a divorce and a new marriage (both mine) you were such a support. Through your steady marriage, you taught me so much.

When our husbands drive us bonkers, we have a kvetch session, and are a-okay again.

When our kids drive us bonkers, well … together, we find the strength to soldier on.

We’ve done the Mom Circuit, and weathered the “Mom, leave me alone!” syndrome.

Between us, we’ve done new careers, and unemployment.

We’ve drowned our sorrows in Queso dip at every Mexican food restaurant in town. (Cheese plays a major role in our relationship, as well it should!)

We’ve had pajama parties, and felt the betrayal of gravity (especially me….you look MAHVELOUS!) and – as we schlepped into our forties – the reward of chasing dreams and catching them, on occasion. (Or should I say, we sashay gracefully into our forties – and beyond.)

We’ve struggled with the discovery of what is out of our control (everything, essentially) and celebrated what we which we can control (keeping the faith.)

We’ve threatened to write a book togetherwhich, incidentally is still TOTALLY happening!

Most meaningfully, when my own family members high-tailed it out of my life, you ran towards me.

You and I …. we’ve  had spiritual crisises and awakenings, stumblings and triumphs. And shared with honesty every experience.

We discovered together that we are NOT orphans after all, but beloved daughters of the Most High King….princesses, really!

And that makes us sisters. Family.

Even our husbands became MFFs (Man Friends Forever…please don’t tell them I said that,) and our daughters as close as any siblings.

Family, like I said.

Your love, prayers and steadfastness have helped keep me sober. Honestly, I doubt I would have maintained it without your support.

That love….those prayers and acceptance – they have kept me from running away from home on numerous occasions (“This parenting teens thing? I QUIT!”)

In the midst of building this friendship, you had a revolution in your spirit.  When God lit a fire under you, he used spiritual kerosene!

Girl, you were on FIRE, and you are still on fire!  It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been witness to.

A spark from the heart of Jesus himself caught the hem of your garment, and you just had to serve Him. You served Him by helping other women, like you helped me. By genuinely loving them – fiercely. From it came additions to the sisterhood – the WAYwards – and lots of tears and laughter.

And laughter came in handy during the difficult times.

Several years ago, when I got sick, I stayed sick for nearly three years. It was another awful, dark time in my life.  Chronically fatigued. Endlessly in pain. And with no answers in sight, living on high anxiety once again.

For three solid years, I fought numbness, pain, fatigue….every single day, and bitched about it plenty. My complaining and frustration had to have tested your dedication! But you listened every time, and never gave up.

You prayed for my health fervently. Sometimes, when I was in the middle of exhaustion and complaint, you would just extend your right hand toward me and pray so hard that we would both cry – even when I was right in the middle of a bitching session!

It’s hard to be hopeless when someone is that dedicated to asking God to help you.

But sometimes – when you stop trying so hard – God makes mystical things happen.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I remember telling you. And I meant it. “I can’t!”

“God can,” you said, with no judgement. More listening, more praying, more encouraging. You listened. Like a true friend, you loved fiercely, calming my fears of loss, which were pretty well-founded. “Father,” you prayed. “Please heal my friend. But even if she doesn’t get better, we praise you. We LOVE you!”

Because you see, what I really needed was a very good friend. You were – and are – that very good friend to me.

All these many years later, how many cycles have we gone through !– Distrusting organized religion, and calling on God. Trusting God, and being there for each other.

I’m so grateful for you.

Thank you for being so steady a prayer-warrior. Thank you for never, ever saying, “This friendship thing? I QUIT!”

Thank you for all the times you still give me encouragement (and chocolate) and for being my “nothing is off limits” sister.

When I think about who you are and who you’ve become, and all God has in store for you, it brings me to my knees.

When I pray for you, I ask God to take that beautiful, bright, effervescent and glorious spirit of yours and just unleash it on the world in a way that brings him glory. I pray that the same joy your spirit brings me gets unfurled on the world, and comes back on you like a tidal wave.

I never forgot the Christmas that you folded a Benjamin in the gift of a new wallet  … so that I could give my daughters a Christmas. But more importantly, I never forgot that you reached out to this hot mess girl, that you went out of your way to be kind.

I never forgot that you treated my frightened, maddeningly insecure and hurting fourth-grade daughter like your own. Now a confident – gregarious, even!- young woman, she never forgot your love, either.

I love that you never stopped praying for my healing. I love your heart, that it breaks for hurting people.

I love that the most important prayer I ever learned to pray, I learned from you – “I trust you, God. I may not understand a single thing you are doing, but I trust you.”

It was a  beautiful thing to do for an old friend, to teach me that prayer.

I love you with all my heart. Thank you for being a friend. Thank you for being family.

And Merry Christmas, BFF.

Sweatpants of Bloatedness and the Pimple of Doom….

Today, dear readers, another share from Redemption Feast, the WilmingtonFAVS.com blog I write for. It was previously posted as an origional on this blog under “Unhinged” and only minor changes were made for this publication. Anyway, it’s about feeling unhinged. Can you relate at all?

My apologies for not keeping The Beggar’s Bakery more current with new content. I’ve begun working full-time in addition to serving in Celebrate Recovery in church, in addition to all my other goings-on. I really need to become better at this time-management thing!

**also, if there is a video under this post….it is a WordPress thing – I did not post it! The views in expressed in whatever video is there may not represent the views of this writer.**

Thank you for reading, and God bless you and yours.

http://wilmingtonfavs.com/blogs/jana-greene/unhinged-by-the-sweatpants-of-bloatedness-and-the-pimple-of-doom

Kinked Links and God’s Messy, Knotted up Favorites

By: Jana Greene

Having just finished a fantastic book that talked about – among many other things – whether Christians should “keep it real” with the world, I felt as though I should blog about my entanglement. Not because it’s so interesting that a middle-aged woman would get so worked up about what amounts to normal, first-world problems, but because I wanted to share a vision that God is giving me to deal with feeling this way. (Spoiler: it isn’t His magically making things perfect….that miracle is for the next world, not this one).

When I went to bed last night, my More Spiritual Self was kinked up.

After instigating a mild argument with my husband, I had tried to sleep. When that failed, I tried to pray. Fitfully, I asked God would He please give me a break here?  I know we are not supposed to let the sun go down on our anger, but I am clearly in the right!

That small, still voice didn’t chastise me anymore. Still, I quit trying to pray because I was so out-of-sorts and jumbled up, I couldn’t tell where one request started and another whiny demand ended.  Frustrated, I tossed and turned all night. Tomorrow will be better, I told myself.

But this morning, nothing in my closet fit me – The Fat Fairy neglected to visit me during the night to relieve the body-issue angst that is the hallmark of my Selfish Self. (If she would only come and take my fat away while I was sleeping and leave money in it’s place, it would solve TWO problems simultaneously!) All day, worry entangled me. Issues big and small (and all out of my control) tormented me and I walked around in a cloud of menopausal grump.

By noon, I had myself so knotted up with stress that I broke out in tears at Costco while waiting to purchase toilet paper and cat food. The check-out girl was very friendly, in a “I’ve no idea what to do about this” way, which made me cry harder because I felt sorry for her. She didn’t tell me to have a nice day.

But on the way home from Costco, I had a random memory about a short exchange between my daughter and I earlier.  When I had taken her to school that morning, I complimented her on her outfit (which really was lovely) and she held out her necklace for me to see and said, “It’s my favorite.”

I also remembered that it was the same gold-toned necklace with beads and feathers on it  that sat on our kitchen table for a week, knotted up in a ball. My daughter had gotten it tangled up at the bottom of a bag and asked me to unravel it, which I’d tried to do several times.

“You should really take better care of your stuff,” I had told her, when she’d given it to me and asked me to fix it.

And each time I would try to untangle it, the frustration mounted. Within minutes of not being able to tell where one link started and another began, I’d leave the project out of sorts, the necklace jumbled up worse than before. She’s just going to have to throw it out…it’s unsalvageable.

As a last resort,  I enlisted the help of my husband, who patiently untangled the entire chain and left it for my daughter to find on the kitchen table. He didn’t fuss at her for letting it get that way, he just solved the problem behind the scenes.  Which brings me back to today, when she wore her favorite piece of jewelry restored to it’s former glory.

I’m trying to untangle my chain, I realized. I’m knotted in a ball and don’t even know what to pray for.

“Perhaps,” said my More Spiritual Self. “You should give the big ball of it to God and let him untangle it.” And my Selfish Self, after reeling from the sting that my husband would be God in this analogy, had to concur that I have to bring my anxiety, pain and restlessness while I am still frustrated. Nothing is unsalvageable to God, but when I try to untangle myself, I make the knot bigger. He will be untangling  my messes  all the days of my life, but I have to leave it on the kitchen table, so to speak – and not as a last resort.

Sometimes I fail to take my issues to Him because I know He has every right to say, “You should take better care of your stuff” and I’m afraid He will.

But He never does, He just loves.

I’d like to say that VOILA! I am in a fantastic mood now that I had an epiphany, but I’m trying to “keep it real” here.  I can tell you that this afternoon, I’m not crying anymore and that when I got home from Costco, I broke down and changed into sweatpants with an elastic waistband. I texted my awesome husband that I love him twice today and I am still sober, which doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal after eleven and a half years of not drinking, but trust me – sometimes it still is. All of these things (yes, even elastic waistbands!) are blessings.

And God is still on the throne and loves us even though we are messy, knotted-up things.

We’re His favorites.

Unhinged

By:  Jana Greene

Yesterday wasn’t one of my best days.

I woke up with a headache and other tell-tale signs that it was “that time” of the month.  Granted, I’ve had a hysterectomy – but the one remaining ovary I own is in total denial and tries to “keep up with the Joneses” – the Joneses being the three other young women I live with.

Grumph, I thought, getting out of bed.

Somehow, mysteriously, all of my pants and jeans had shrunk two sizes over the course of a few days, so that nothing would fasten.  Pulling on sweatpants, the waistband felt tight.  I would feel like the magician’s assistant all day long – the one for whom being cut in half at the midsection was a paying gig.  Except for me, it isn’t.

I looked in the mirror to find that my face had become an obstacle course or sorts, with wrinkles and zits competing for the gold medal.  Team Zit was winning.  I dotted some foundation over them, which managed to magnify the blemishes and settle into the wrinkles.  I felt myself starting to cry, but decided to be angry instead.

Sometimes you have decide to be one or another.

At lunchtime, I enjoyed a perfectly lovely meal with some ladies whom I am getting to know in a business capacity and maybe even a friend capacity.  One of the topics of discussion had been meditation, which to me – is finding a Happy Place in your mind and hanging out there for a while.  Ironic subject today.   My Happy Place is in the presence of God, which honestly – in my mood – I didn’t think I could find on a map.  I felt like God was avoiding me, and I didn’t much blame him.

Later, while driving my 20-year old daughter home from work, she started an argument, which I was happy to keep going.  Living with grown kids is its own special brand of challenge, since they have had longer to become proficient at pushing  buttons.   Normally, I like to fancy myself a loving mama bird gently nudging my babies toward the edge of the nest, where they will spread their wings and soar into the wild blue yonder.

Today, I was more like a cranky public transportation driver who wanted to shove her out of the bus (destination: Independence) and yell – while waving my fist in a very non-nurturing way:  “Oh yeah?  Well you can walk the rest of the way to adulthood, Missy!”

I felt myself becoming more and more….well, unhinged.

“You act like your estrogen will never run out,” I actually said to her, menacingly.  “It will, I tell you!  It willlll……”

Making me even grumpier is that on some level, I realize how trivial all of these problems are.  They are First World Problems.  Middle-age problems.  Bad economy problems.  They are not the biggest issues I face, but they all conspired to storm the castle of my spirit at once and my defenses were down.

I hadn’t spent much time with God in prayer that morning; my defenses were not what they should have been. I hadn’t read his word at all – I hadn’t armored up with the belt of truth described in scripture –

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. –  Ephesians 6:14 (NIV)

Today, I felt armed with only  The Sweatpants of Bloatedness and the Pimple of Doom.  How could I fight this mood without even dressing for battle?

I had been in a rush to accomplish a dozen meaningless little things – straightening up the house, running mindless errands – to try to distract myself from myself.  Thinking maybe if I ran around enough, I could outrun the little black cloud of hormones and the grumph. 

At the end of the day, I finished up some work and ate some chocolate (detrimental to the waist and the face, but good for the soul).  I talked to my husband for a time and did some writing and felt just a little better.  And I read some scripture, because I remembered it hinges me back together.

I felt better because I gratefully remembered that God is present in my unhingedness, too.  I don’t have to go looking for his presence on a map.  He is omnipresent, and he gives grace big enough to handle me on my ugliest days.  He doesn’t mind hanging out, even when I finally allowed myself to cry.  Sometimes you have to decide to accept grace.

And that’s something to meditate on.

Sleepless

By:  Jana Greene

                Last night was a  self-choreography of tossing, turning, fitfulness.  Like synchronized swimming in the bed.    

                Yet, the sun still came up this morning, right on time.

                Last night, when I scrootched in bed next to my sleepy husband around 10:00 p.m., the possibility of slumber seemed promising.  I was in peaceful spirits because I had made it through the entire day without any pain medication at all.  For over a month, I had been weaning down to only one-half tablet per day at bedtime for pain due to a surgical procedure.  But not today, I thought, triumphantly.   This pain, I can handle.

                I tried to get comfortable, as the mild throbbing in my leg intensified.  Sleeping in the orthopedic boot is as awkward as sleeping with one of those giant “#1!” foam fingers you see waved around at football games strapped to your leg, if that foam finger were made of brick.  Still, I can usually manage to sleep a little.

                Not tonight.  It is now 1:00 in the morning.

                The pain is spread like a rash in my bones.  I take three Advil, and wait for them to negotiate with the pain.

                Meanwhile, I move my spastic-ness to the living room couch and try to settle in there.  There’s no point in keeping my hubby up as well.  Our dog – an elderly Golden Retriever with a lapdog mentality, tries to jump on the couch next to me.    I scold her.  She slurps me with a kiss to the face anyway, because, honestly, Golden Retrievers don’t know any other way to react except with love.  I could learn a lot from my dog.

                On this night, the Advil is a crappy negotiator.  I take the boot off, but my ankle feels too vulnerable.

                 So, I put the boot back on, and it feels heavy on the hardware in my leg, like there is no flesh between it and the titanium plate.

 I don’t feel like “#1!”

                I start to worry about things, because the peace in my tired mind had vacated hours ago.  One anxious thought leads to another until the soundtrack to my mind goes something like this:  

I wonder if I took enough chicken out to defrost last night. Did I remember to feed the cat?  I wonder if Blues Traveler broke up, or if they might be touring?  I like harmonica music.  Hmmmm…..What bills have I not paid yet?    What if our kids live with us forever and never fly the nest? (this is when the thoughts took a turn for the worse, I think.)   OHNO!  How can Bob and I make them NOT WANT TO live at home forever?  We make things way too easy for these girls…..How much RENT should we charge them?  Oh, no….but I WILL MISS THEM when the nest is EMPTY!  When should I look for another job?  WHAT IF I DON”T FIND ANOTHER JOB???  Why is the economy so bad?  Where will the price of gas level out?  WHAT IF I NEVER WALK ON MY ANKLE NORMALLY AGAIN AND   WHAT IF I CAN”T LOSE THESE FIFTEEN POUNDS AND NEVER BRING MY TRYGLICERIDES DOWN AND OHMYGOSH, I”VE BLOGGED EVERY DETAIL OF MY LIFE AND WHY DID I DO THAT???”……

                You get the idea.

                3:34 in the a.m. now.

                My oldest daughter be-bops out of her room to go to the bathroom down the hall and sees me on the sofa.  I shut my eyes quickly and try to fake sleep (oh how the tables do turn)…..it’s too late. She lights up like a Christmas tree.

                “You have insomnia too, Mom?”  She beams, like we’ve both been invited to a Prince’s ball, instead of sentenced to a night without sleep. 

                Because usually, when neither she nor I  can sleep, we agree to watch a movie, or play Scrabble together, or look at funny pictures of animals saying captioned things on the internet until one of us gets sleepy.  She is young, at that glorious time in life in which she can choose to eat or not eat what she wants.  Sleep or not sleep.  It makes no difference to her body….yet. 

                No, I grouse at her, turning over on the couch.  Not tonight

Then, it comes, the slightest hint of drowsiness, as if someone is pouring sleep over my head.  Ah….sweet, sweet slumber.  Sleepiness is warm, I think, pulling my soft blanket up and smiling a bit.  Really warm.  Whew…..I kick off the blanket, panting.  Dammit!  This is not sleepiness!

                HOT. FLASH. 

                If these villians all formed an alliance to combat the superhero of Sleep…they would be Pain, Anxiety and Menopause. 

And they were attempting to take up headquarters in my body! 

                I start to cry a little now, because I am being slowly drenched in sweat, and I’m already miserably tired.  Sometimes I have to get to the point of crying to remember to pray, and this was one of those times.

                I began to pray for myself.  I asked that God would help me combat the forces keeping me awake.  Ouch, Lord.  Ouch!  And a hot flash, really?   But as I pray, I began thinking about all of the people I am blessed to know who are standing in much bigger need of prayer.  I didn’t really want to , to be truthful.  I wanted to complain and be grumpy.  But….Names and faces, appearing in  my mind, rapid-fire….until there is no room to worry about lesser things.   I lay still (and blanket-less) and try to concentrate. 

I see the face of a friend who is in the intensive care unit in a hospital in Chapel Hill, fighting for her life.  Pray.   I think of my three closest friends, and the battles they are going through right this very minute, real issues with potentially lasting implications, and I ask God’s guidance for each of them by name.  Several long-distance friends from high-school, brought back into my life via the miracle of Facebook, who stand in the need of prayer two-thousand miles away…..please, Lord, hear their cries.

Miles are no hindrance to God.  And neither are units of time….hours, minutes, seconds…time that I’ve designated for sleeping.  Maybe He had designs on my insomnia for other purposes.  Maybe for prayer.  

There was no sleeping last night, and I will stumble around today with Uncle-Fester-esque circles under my eyes.  I will also most likely be a bit ill-tempered with sleep deprivation.   But as I write this, my elderly Golden Retriever is wrapped around my feet, not seeming to mind the awkward orthopedic boot under her head, not seeming to mind that I wouldn’t let her on the couch with me last night.  She is sleeping, not a worry in the world.

I could learn a lot from my dog.