Recovery, Spiritual

In the Twelfth Year of Recovery, My Father Gave to me….

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By: Jana Greene

There is something cool about the number twelve. It makes me think of the famous recovery“steps”,  fresh, hot doughnuts – and the beloved disciples of Jesus – not necessarily in that order.  It also brings to mind the song about the twelve Days of Christmas that just passed; the lyrics of the song I never really understood, having little appreciation for Lords a’ Leaping or partridges in pear trees.

But I have all the appreciation in the world for addiction recovery, so in honor of God and His making the past 12 years possible (joy-filled, even!) I wrote a little redux. I pray it blesses you, and I look forward to living sober for my lifetime with the Father’s graceone single day at a time.

In the first year of recovery, My Father gave to me – a helping of humility.

Step 1: I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol and compulsive behaviors, that my life had become unmanageable. It was hard to admit I had zero power over a silly substance, really humiliating, actually…but in the best way possible. I had to learn how to bite off one without drinking day as it came, and then another and another – in complete surrender to God. I still approach sobriety that way.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

In the second year of recovery, My Father gave to me – reckless, steady love, and a helping of humility.

If you don’t think you deserve to be loved, it is a hard thing to accept. But true love doesn’t come because we deserve it at all; it comes when we can’t possibly deserve it. God’s love is reckless in nature, and He wants us to learn how to love one another similarly.

“In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” – John 12:26

In the third year of recovery, My Father gave to me –hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

Oh, the mess I’d made of things. Surely I’d used up all of the favor I could reasonably be shown. Blessedly, God is not reasonable in promising hope and favor for the faithful!

“I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. 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

In the fourth year of recovery, My father gave to me – grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

Now I had some major decisions to make about my life. Some of my choices were good and healthy at this stage, and some were not good at all. Through trial and error, and floundering effort – I just didn’t drink. And I tried really trusting in the Highest Power instead of my own barometer.

“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.” – Lamentations 3:22

In the fifth year of recovery, My father gave to me – fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes, hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

Life keeps happening, and without a numbing agent. Not everything that light is cast upon shows up in a rosy light. Acknowledging character defects became a priority, and remains one. By necessity. The learning curve is constant, but God loves me right where I am today. He is so awesome that way.

“But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.” – Romans 2:1-2

In the sixth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

 Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

When I humbly request that God remove my shortcomings, the space gets filled up with much better stuff. Love, grace, joy and mercy. (Step 7, for those who are wondering). This was a time that God stormed the shores of my life with people to love me (think the beaches of Normandy!) It still amazes me that He sends just the right people into your life with such care and mercy.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” – John 13:34

 

In the seventh year of recovery, My Father gave to me – coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

Not easy living, mind you….but complete life. That is how I cope: bring it to the Highest Power. He is always available when help is needed. When I struggle to stay sober, he goes to the mat to fight for and with me.

God is a safe place to hide,
ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in sea storm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.” – Psalm 46:1

In the eighth year of recovery, My Father gave to mepermission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes;  hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

I love the Serenity Prayer, especially the little-known end of the Reinhold Niebuhr poem because it helps me differentiate between having joy and being happy. We all are on a quest for happiness, but sometimes reasonably happy is enough.

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen. And AMEN!

In the ninth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – comfort in His Presence, permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

 Grace through massive changes;  hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

And what of the “joy” thing? It comes only from His presence, which is the most tangible when I am still and quiet; when I stop trying so hard to anticipate what He is communicating to me before my heart has a chance to have a good listen. This is sincerely a work in progress! Recovery itself is work, in progress. But there is nothing sweeter than His presence.

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalm 46:10

In the tenth year of recovery, My Father gave to me – acceptance through surrender; comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes;  hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

The only formula I know that works is:  constant, daily surrender to God + hard work you often don’t feel like doing + helping others = forward moving recovery. Sometimes it inches and sometimes it races, but giving it all to the Father is key. I am still one drink away from repeating my old, self-destructive patterns. Accountability in a group is important. Step 10: We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”– 1 Corinthians 10:12

In the eleventh day of recovery, My Father gave to me – a better perspective. comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

 Grace through massive changes;  hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

The human condition: assuming victory over one area of struggle only to have temptation rear its ugly head or have another struggle knock me down. It seems to happen when I least expect it and nothing I do seems right; I have a long way to go, and so much yet to learn. But when I let God pick me up, I can see a little better than when I’m wallowing around in the pit. The view just isn’t that good from there. His righteousness makes up for my weaknesses.

“God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.” – Romans 3:26

In the twelfth year of recovery, My Father is giving me – a way to pay it forward. a better perspective. Comfort in His Presence; permission to be happy; coping skills for living; mercy overflowing; fine clarity!

Grace through massive changes; hope for a future; reckless, steady love and a helping of humility.

When I was active in my disease, everything revolved around drinking. Hiding my secret was my first priority. Now – a dozen years after starting this journey – I cannot keep quiet about addiction recovery because I was lost, you see. And now I’m found.

What drinking left room for are peace, comfort, healthy relationships. A second chance to be the mother my daughters deserve and the wife my husband should have. I have to write about it, talk about it and  tell other broken people with secrets that I am broken too, but that God actually prefers to use broken people over the ones who think they have it all together. Or….as Step 12 states: Having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

“That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

I am so grateful to God, because He is the Author and Finisher of my faith and my recovery. Without Him, I never would have made it a day without alcohol (and for many years didn’t.) With Him, I have hope for the future renewed every day, because it is fresh every morning and comes like my sobriety – one day at a time in full measure as I need it.

In the (first) 12 years of recovery, My Father gave to me:

A way to pay it forward

Better perspective

Acceptance through surrender

Comfort in His Presence

Permission to be happy

Coping skills for living

Mercy overflowing…

FINE CLARITY!

Grace through massive changes

Hope for the future

Reckless, steady love

And

A helping of humility.

Devotional

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

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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.

Spiritual, Writing

Life is Gathering Material – Writers and (a little bit of) Madness

By: Jana Greene

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-CANF3z4LY

This morning, I stumbled across a movie trailer for a film that came out last April. It’s kind of a funny story, how I came across it on youtube.com, since I wasn’t really looking for movie trailers – or videos at all.

A good friend of mine is a Writer (with a capital “w”) and mentioned recently that we share an “urge” to write that is impossible to be ignored. This friend is a legit writer, with all kinds of publishing credits to her name, but she still reads my stuff. I love that about her – that she treats me like a Capital W writer.

So I am having a cup of coffee this morning and it is delicious, because it has real cream in it that was leftover in the carton from a pie I’d made on Thanksgiving. If you ask me, good coffee is all about the dairy. You could brew the crappiest coffee beans in the world and if you add real cream to it, it all tastes like Starbucks. But I digress in a big way.

I am enjoying the coffee and thinking about writers and their compulsion to write about everything (see above paragraph as Exhibit A) and how it is probably really some form of Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder.  There is an reel running in a  writer’s mind at all times; a kind of narrative about people we meet and what makes them tick, and the deeper meaning in every life experience, including people who cut you off in traffic…and about what makes coffee taste good. We are forever gathering information and formulating a way to present it to the world from our points of view. Not that everyone necessarily wants to hear our points of view. I didn’t even want to hear my own  point of view for many years, which is why I drank heavily and became an alcoholic. Tons of creative people become addicts because of that dang reel of thoughts. But I digress yet again.

The crafting of words can be healing, too. If you are very authentic with your words and ask God to help you parlay his sentiments on occasion, you might even help other people. But you have to be very brave, and a little wacky.

Acting, like writing, is highly subjective. There are a few actors who I would pay good money to hear read a phone book, so convincing are they in presenting their characters. Christopher Walken is one for me – I’ve no idea why. Morgan Freeman, for obvious reason.  Another is Robert De Niro, who just happens to star in the movie I’m referencing here.

See? It all ties together (albeit loosely). Follow the bouncing ball.

The film is titled “Being Flynn”. De Niro is Jonathan Flynn, who writes brilliantly but leads a troubled life wrought with relational disaster. From the movie trailer, several things are clear. First, Flynn sees himself as a Capital W but his son feels only his absence. And second, I must see this movie.

I hesitated to write about this film about writing until I had seen it, which would make logical sense. People who live with the incessant urge to write emotionally are spontaneous creatures, and only employ logic when absolutely necessary.  We often cannot wait to record our thoughts and deeds, as writing about moment becomes obsolete after the moment passes.  And also, I found it through googling quotes about writers, which led me to watch the trailer in which De Niro’s character – who is homeless at this point – says this:

“Of course, writers – especially  poets – are particularly prone to madness.”

They are, indeed. Or are they just more honest about their inner workings, sharing the deeper meanings of each experience in such a non-refundable way? They give of themselves what can never belong exclusively to them again. Most of the time, they don’t find validation or wealth or recognition of their craft. Most of the time, what they give to the reader never pays off Capital W style.

By further researching “Being Flynn”, I found that it is a true story based on a novel entitled, “Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City: A Memior.” It is written by the  son of De Niro’s character, Nick Flynn. That’s a crazy title – and I nearly didn’t include it in this piece because I am a Christian and not supposed to endorse profanity( I’m not really supposed to use profanity in everyday life either, but sometimes I slip and I thank God that He extends grace) but I actually appreciate the author’s honesty. In keeping it real, he keeps as sane as possible and writes a story in which human kindness and goodness prevails.

Writing itself is madness in some ways, because it makes the artist most vulnerable. But it is also the antidote to madness. Because recording experience through the written word is reaching out to reality instead of losing touch with it. Everyone is a little bit mad. I’m only really afraid of people who claim to be completely sane.

“We were put on this life to help other people, Nicholas,” Flynn finally tells his son. “It’s a wonderful life. It’s a masterpiece.”

A wonderful, spiritual, maddening masterpiece.

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, Recovery

Playing the cards you’re dealt

By: Jana Greene

Seven UNO cards were spread out like a fan in my hand. There were four greens, two reds and one blue. The card facing upward on the table was yellow, emblazoned with the number “5”…just about the only number and color not represented in my hand.

Anyone who has ever played the card game could see that this was an unlucky grouping. My daughter, who was nine years old at the time, smiled like the cat that ate the canary. Never one to present a poker face, she picked the last of her own seven cards from the thick, worn pile.

“Hmmmm,” she said. “Another wild card.”

I looked down at my cards again, knowing I would have to pick yet another in a game that required losing all to win.

“Skip me?” I asked.

“You know the rules, Mom,” she chided. “You have to pick another card until you get a match for the yellow or the five.”

She was right, of course. So I picked the first card lying face down in the pile. It was a blue eight. The next was a green “skip” card and the one under it was another green three.

“Dos, tres, cuatro,” I counted, my hand becoming heavier with the losing cards.

“You will have catorce soon!” laughed my opponent. “Catorce” is the Spanish word for fourteen.

“I must not have shuffled them well,” I grumped.

“Maybe not,” she said. “But you have to play the cards you’re dealt.”  How many times had I told her that?

It was not, in fact, until I did have fourteen cards that I was able to get rid of even one of them. By the time I chose a winning card, there were too many to hold in fan formation so they fell about in a messy heap that allowed my opponent to see which colors and numbers I held.

Miraculously, though, I won the game that day. I kept choosing and she kept laying down her cards until she was forced to play a green one. She had been holding on to not one, but FOUR wild cards – pieces that entitled her to change-up the game in her own favor all along. Somehow, using all of her good cards had resulted in her ending up with green cards.

And green cards I had!

It seems to me that many people are dealt unfair cards in this life. Some are given wild cards in abundance, while others have a handful of “fives” without any apparent significance.

I didn’t mean to choose the hand of proverbial cards that I had to play in the darkest times in my life, but I did pick many of them myself.

I hadn’t wanted to grow up to be an alcoholic.

I don’t remember picking the card for divorce that showed up in my deck.

And single motherhood? I’d have just as soon left that one out, too.

Chronic pain, financial struggle, surviving abuse….I’d never have asked for them. So many issues  – more than catorce! – that my hand could not hold them all, spilling out of formation and into a messy heap.  And when you have a big enough pile, you can’t hold them close to your chest and they fall about you for all the world to see. For your opponent to see.

I didn’t ask for that messy pile. Even though I often contributed to the disorder with my own actions, it still seemed unfair. Sometimes I’d done all the right things – shuffled well. Still, bad things happened, things that made me hurt deeply.

“Skip me!” I’ve begged the Lord on numerous occasions. “God, please….”

But He had purpose all the while.  I found out that there is a huge difference between perceived unfairness and purposeless-ness.  All of the losing cards I’ve held have  played pivotal roles in making me understand what God’s grace is all about. I wouldn’t trade that card for anything.

We all have to play the cards we are dealt – in a game that often requires losing all of self to win.

Keep picking up the next card, believing that God will work it to the good. Believe it, and ask him to fill in the gaps where you do not believe it yet.

And lay them down; keep laying your cards on the table – on the altar.

At the cross.

Inspirational

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.

Inspirational

I’m ALL in! A Reintroduction to the Beggar’s Bakery

Hello, and pleased to meet you – or meet you again!  Today I’m re-posting the first piece from The Beggar’s Bakery as a reintroduction.  God bless you, and thanks for your readership!

By:  Jana Greene

Welcome to my little piece of Real(ity)Estate on the web! It took a long time for me to create one; I could not imagine anyone would read it.  (I hope it turns out that I’m wrong, but if not – I get LOTS of writing practice!)

I also hope that you might take something away from it each day.  I am going to try my level best to keep it real (probably too real at times).

So what you should you know about me?

There are the usual stats and facts:

I am happily married to Bob Greene, whom I don’t write about in the public forum often at the risk of sounding like I’m bragging.  He really is – cliché not withstanding – my best friend, and I’m so glad to be doing this crazy life with him. We have been married over five years and have blended a family that contains three teenaged daughters; two mine, one his. (Yes, they all live with us, and yes….He IS practically  a Saint!)  The blending is harder and sweeter and more challenging  and more rewarding than I could have imagined.

I gave birth to two daughters, now 16 and 19, and I  mother my lovely stepdaughter (nearly 20) when she lets me.  They are my heart walking around outside of my body, if my own heart chose to drive me absolutely crazy (which it has on occasion). I love them fiercely and will try to respect their respective privacies here, although you can expect a good many pieces about my frustrations as I learn to let them go. If they get bored enough, they might read this one day, in which case I have TONS of chores for them to do.

I’ve worked at insurance and real estate agencies, mortgage companies, law offices, and as a day-care teacher. As a single mother I worked several at a time – including a hardware store paint-slinger and as a part-time hotel maid.  All were character building.  But I’ve been a writer – legit or not – since I could hold a crayon.

I am imperfect all the way.  As a writer,  I use the forbidden “three dots”…too often and cannot bear to part with the text-forbidden smiley faces 🙂 and sometimes use run-on sentences because I think they convey stream-of-consciousness better and yes, I know all of these are against the Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” guidelines.  I have written for a small  local paper,and although I couldn’t make a living at it, it was the best job I ever had.  Also, I have a terrible “wordi-ness” problem, but I’m working on it.  Sort-of.  I write for the selfish reason that it helps me productively process the pain and pleasure in life when I pour words onto a page.  And for the selfless reason that I cannot help anyone else find the “Bread of Life” if I don’t show them where I found it.

Because, all of these things I tell you about me, are true, but none define me.  I am a Christian and a beggar.  That is my most accurate self-description.

Over eleven years ago, I came to the end of myself and all of my delusions of put-together-ness, which is to say – I got sober.  If you know me even casually, you know I am an alcoholic. I haven’t had a drink in that long, but I am still – forever – in recovery, something that keeps me humble and coming back for more of what got me clean in the first place.  Every single day. I keep it “out there” because there is somebody, somewhere who is hiding bottles and drinking that “two” beers just to stop the shaking and who is so, so, ashamed. I know shame.  Or maybe he/she is addicted to drugs, or porn, or the approval of others –  it’s all the same to your soul – or cannot seem to find a reason to wake up in the morning.  I can’t tell you how to fix it, but I can tell you who can.  I can tell you that I 100% expected to die during that hard time, and sometimes would have considered it a relief. I still have bad days (that “One Day at a Time” thing…) but I have the clarity to enjoy the GOOD ones, of which there are many.  Faith and humor are key.  Oh, and boundaries, on occasion.

One Day at a time, by the Grace of God. Even if I might have bad days, or whine a little.  You know, just to keep it real!

One beggar showing another beggar where she found food. When I couldn’t love myself enough to lift myself up, I crawled back to Jesus, and He  said “You look hungry… come to the table!”  Redemption is the best feast ever.

All posts are copyrighted.   Feel free to share a link to this blog and let me know who you are sharing it with, please 🙂

Spiritual

Band of Mothers

This week, as I celebrate the birthdays of my friends Cris and Liz, I am posting today’s piece in honor of them, and in honor of our friendship.  I love you, girls!

By:  Jana Greene

My friend Liz and I had signed up for the “Gymboree” class together.  Gymboree was kind of a “Mommy and Me” class for moms and their babies to meet and play.  She and I were fledgling friends back then;  our husbands worked with one another and our daughters were born six months apart.  When her Caroline was a newborn, already lithe and lean, I would bring Alexandra over to visit and we would sit on the sofa and drink International Delight Coffees and breastfeed our babies while we got to know each other.   It’s been nearly twenty years now, and we’ve been talking ever since.

We met our friend, Cris, at the same  Gymboree class.  Her son Billy was a blonde, blue-eyed doll of a boy, the same age as our girls.  Cris, a sweet and gentle, maternal spirit, found her identity in being a mom, too.

The three of us took our babies all over the ” Mom Circuit” in those early days, which is to say we frequented Chuck E. Cheese, the toddler program at the local library, and a human gerbil-maze called “Owlberts”.  We chased our kids through every park in Raleigh, including our favorite one,  Pullen Park, which has a real train to ride and the kind of ancient, metal playground equipment that we had played on ourselves as kids.   We taught our toddlers how to swim at public pools on sweltering summer days, and met at the mall to feed the kids at the food court on the chilly winter ones.  At  one-another’s houses, the host-mom would often serve lunch sandwiches cookie-cuttered into stars and hearts, or chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.  The kids would play and fight and run and nap together.  And we moms were bonding, too.

We three just “clicked”.  Cris and I were brand-new at this parenting thing, but Liz had a five-year-old son as well, so we  looked to her for advice.    The three of us  were stay-at-home moms with beautiful new babies, and truly – it just doesn’t get any better than that.

It was becoming apparent that the three children were individuals; that there was something to the “nature” portion of “nature vs. nurture.  As they grew, their personality traits surfaced a bit, showing us a glimpse of who they were born to be.   Caroline, the quietes,t was the most driven to succeed at building a Lego tower or stringing the best macaroni necklace.  Billy had a competitive streak, and was all about the playing games, and being outdoors.   Alexandra was all about the  dress-up, creating some of the most interesting outfits, and talking the whole time.  She was bossy and extroverted, and strived to be the center of attention.

Still, we moms had tons in common.  We built relationships with one-another beyond play groups and potty-training.  Beyond sharing recipes for homemade play dough, our friendships were about sharing life, albeit with a lot of interruptions.

Most of the conversations we had with children present were stuccatoed with motherly reprimands: “I know, it is so hard to find a babysitter who NO, ALEXANDRA-YOU PUT THAT DOWN….  BILLY WAS PLAYING WITH IT FIRST you can trust and who GET THAT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!  WHAT IN THE WORLD? Has good references….”

Or tinged with worry, about what is “normal”:

“She has had a fever for days now, and the antibiotics aren’t touching it.”

Or with our heads cocked with “Awwwww!” at the cutest things they did;  Liz ever-ready with a camera, recording those moments.

One summer, Cris invited Liz and I (and our now nearly 2- year- olds) to her mother’s beach house a few hours away.   It remains to this day  one of my favorite beach trips of all time.  Cris had a daughter now, too, and she was only a few months old.  We swam with the kids in the pool and sang Raffi songs, played in the waves, and while the toddlers were getting drowsy watching Barney VHS tapes (ad nauseum) and napping, we ate chips with Cris’s homemade salsa and had glasses of chardonnay and talked without much interruption.

We- this Band of Mothers – forever linked by the sweet years of our children’s babyhoods, and the saltiness of the ocean.

A few months later, we met  met one afternoon at the local McDonald’s to let the kids blow off some steam at the new playground.  While the cultural phenomenon (and germ receptacle) of the “ball pit” was not new, it was new to us and new to our town.  There, I told Liz and Cris the great news that  that I was pregnant.  Six months later, I had my second daughter, Ashleigh.  And what couldn’t possibly get any better, got so much better.

And deep inside, I think we knew this, and feared it – that these were the best parenting years; the easiest ones.  We felt like we knew what we were doing to some degree, and we suspected that it would not always be the case.

Shortly afterwards,  some major life-changes happened in quick succession.  The children, who had gone to preschool together for years, started different Kindergartens and I homeschooled Alexandra for school.  Soon after that, me, my girls and their father moved a few hours away from Raleigh, to the beach.   Goodbyes were hard, but we kept in touch for awhile.

Our kids did not.

Christmas cards each year told a little about our friends in Raleigh.  Photos of grade-schoolers missing front teeth, shots of Billy in his Football jersey, Caroline in dance recitals.  And later, in the awkward adolescent years, reluctant siblings posed together in family photos near the Christmas tree, faces sprinkled with a little acne.  The next year, new hairstyles and more genuine smiles.  Eventually, they morphed into  the young adults that we didn’t realize they would be.   Strangers with the inclinations of our babies, but so different from who they were nearly two decades ago.

Christmas card snapshots tell you so precious little.

It would be over ten years before the three of us and our children would reconnect, gathering once again at the beach for a reunion.  There was awkwardness among the kids, for the simple reason that they were virtually strangers.   They scarcely remembered spending their earliest days at the park together, finger-painting pictures in preschool for each other.

But we remember it.  We, this Band of Mothers, now in our mid to late 40’s, we remember it all.

We remember when the biggest issue our child could  face on a given day might be sitting in the  “time-out” chair for refusing to share.  We remember agonizing over choosing the right chewable vitamin, and getting the little ones signed up for the best Vacation Bible School each summer.

We remember laughing at the antics of our beloved babies in what would indeed turn out to be the best and  easiest parenting years.

And sharing our innermost thoughts about motherhood with each other without fearing judgment, the truest measure of a good friend.

Since those easy days, each of us has been thrown he inevitible curve-ball or two.  I am divorced from my daughters’ father, and I’ve also been sober for 11 years from the alcoholism that nearly killed me – the alcoholism that I hid from my dearest friends across the miles because of shame.  Each of us has lost loved ones during the many years we were apart; there were medical issues that presented themselves in each of our lives to be dealt with.

And the kids?

The Dancer; Caroline….still the quietest, lithe, lean, driven and successful.

The Handsome Jock; Billy…still a blonde, blue-eyed doll– in a rugged, manly way, of course.

And Alexandra, the Free Spirit…still the chatty, opinionated spitfire she ever was.

They grew and challenged boundaries, and found low-grade trouble to get into, and learned the consequences.  They made good choices and and soared, made poor choices and gave us all gray hair.  One of them got a tattoo (mine, of course) and one of them got into an excellent out-of-state university  (Billy), and one has also gone to university and  found so much success as a Dancer that I won’t be surprised if she becomes a Rock-ette in New York City.

But I think the biggest change in nearly 20 years of friendship for the three of us is this:  Our faith has gone from being a minimally-important in our lives, to an absolute necessity on a daily basis where our kids are concerned.  Whereas we would think to pray bedtime prayers with them when they were small, each of us Mothers has a deep, abiding trust in Jesus Christ and we cover our kids with prayer continually.  We were right back in the day:  we wouldn’t always know what we were doing as parents.

And this deepened faith has also deepened our bond to one-another, Liz, Cris and I.  We are A Band of Mothers not just for a season.  We supported each other through the play date years, and enjoyed one-another’s company.  We thought we knew our children intrinsically, and helped each other out with advice.  But now, I see the three of us for who we really are:  A Band of Mothers sharing a friendship for a lifetime, supporting each other through the really difficult times (should Caroline move to NYC to dance?  Billy wants to go out of state to University!  Good Lord, Alexandra finally went and got her nose pierced), through marriage crisis, through health scares, and diagnoses, and through crises of our very identities as Moms.

Who are you, really, once the kids are out of the nest.  Who are we now?

We are meeting at the beach again this year, to enjoy one-another as who we are now, all these many years later.  Because we are not just a Band of Mothers, but a band of Sisters in Christ, and friends on a level that many do not understand.  On a level that I, myself, don’t even understand.

We will talk – uninterrupted now – about sharing new recipes, about sharing life.  We will still wonder “What is normal?” but perhaps less frantically.  Frantic takes energy that we don’t have as much of now, so we try to hand it off to God, having learned that we can’t handle it.

We- this Band of Mothers – forever linked by the sweet years of our children’s babyhoods, and the saltiness of the ocean.

Forever linked by one-another.

It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Inspirational, Recovery, Spiritual

To Thine Own Self be True?

 

We’ve all heard the old adage

“To thine self be true”

But I say NO to that baggage…

I’ve seen what My Self can do

I love the verse in Romans that asks the simple question, “With God on our side, how can we lose?”  It reminds me that God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for me, exposing Himself to the worst of humanity in order to save me.  What could possibly even attempt come between the love of God and me?

Me.

I cringe when I think of some of the things I’ve done in the past.  You see, I am my own worst enemy.

In my life as an active addict, I used alcohol as a numbing agent to quiet my anxiety.  It started off innocently, but ended in the near-destruction of my body  and mind.  Yet the worse byproduct of my drinking was that it anesthetized the  quiet, divine stirrings that  my Father in Heaven was sending.  He was loving me, trying to tell me He loved me.  I chose numbness over relationship in order to keep my sickness alive.  In countless small ways, I shut God out, preferring to get “my way”. 

Before long,  there seemed to be a pattern with “my way”.   It always ended in destruction, and then surrender to God.  What if my pattern were to become taking all matters – big and small – to Him, and bypass the whole “destruction” phase altogether? 

I’ve been sober 11 years, but I’m still a work in progress.

“To thine own self be true,” ends, ironically, in my self-destructive behaviors.

People ask me sometimes when I knew it as time to stop drinking.  I’m never quite sure how to answer them, because I knew the first time I took a drink and thought, “If I can feel like this all of the time, I’d be crazy NOT to stay drunk”.  That warm buzz?  I loved that sensation….I really loved it.  At first, I tolerated the destructiveness because it felt so good.  Years went by, and by that time I realized it didn’t help with the anxiety anymore,  I needed it in order to stop the shaking in my hands.   The shaking in my spirit. 

And prayer?  I’d stopped praying altogether, because of the mess I’d made of my life.  I was embarrassed before God Himself, ashamed that I couldn’t control this thing, this one thing.  That is how insidious my disease is.  I was turning yellow, sick and retching, but I just couldn’t let it go.  I wanted desperately to be a good mother, but that facade was breaking apart.  I couldn’t get sober for my kids, for my job,  or for my life. 

One cold January evening, I walked to the harbor near our house, and sat on the bulkhead.  I always felt the Creator a little closer near the water.  I told God that I couldn’t do this anymore, that I’d made a mess of everything.  I shouted at Him for not saving me from myself, and warned him that if I had to live without drinking, He may as well take me home now because I couldn’t give it up.   I cried for my children, who were four and seven at the time.  For two hours, my cares and worries spilled out in racking sobs until I had said everything.  I ended the rant of my soul by telling the Almighty that He had to meet me in that place because I couldn’t take another step. 

Essentially, I said, “Ok, God….You said you are enough to get me through this.  You said your grace is sufficient.  Show me your grace, then!”  I’m not proud that a challanged God, but thats what I said.

The sun had set by this time,  and all was quiet.  I half-expected a light to beam from heaven, but instead, something better happened.  I felt His Spirit gather me into the lap of his unfathomable grace and hold me there.  I felt so incredibly small, like a much beloved child.   I cried for a long time in the lap of Jesus.  “What took you so long?”  He seemed to say.  “I love you so much.”

It was January 3rd, 2001.  I was a captive set free.

Of course, it was no easy task to get sober, or to stay sober.  It was very hard work, but every day, God extended His help, His supernatural-ness to me as I needed it; not ahead of time, mind you.  But enough for each day.  He is faithful every day, one day at a time.

My addictive personality didn’t change, although I have a healthy dis-trust of it now.   I ask God to use the good stuff within me to tell others what He did for me, and to help me overcome the bad stuff within me so somebody might actually listen and receive his help, too.  

 Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us?  Theres no way!  Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins found in scripture

That’s  what God says about it.  Still not convinced? 

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.  I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing dead or living, angelic or demonic – today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely NOTHING can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. – Romans 8:31-39 (The Message)

I tried to drive a wedge, but I failed.  He loved me still.  Now I ask for His will for my life, and try to get out-of-the-way of it. 

“Lord, your will…not mine,” is my prayer.

I’ve seen what “myself” can do.

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.

Inspirational

Write, Wrong or Indifferent (Part 2)

Write, Wrong or Indifferent

Joining a Writer’s Guild

Part 2

The night of the first guild meeting finally arrived.  Because it was December, it had already become pitch-black by the 7 o’ clock scheduled start.  I was haggard from work, and had been in a fair amount of back pain all day.  On especially trying days, I cannot wait to come home from work and pull off my shoes and put on comfy clothes, usually PJs.  This was definitely one of those days.  I chose a decent pair of sweats to wear to the meeting, and when I passed my husband as I walked out the door, grumbled:  “I hate clothes.”

“I love you,” he said anyway.

How I adore that man.

The guild meeting was held in a church classroom, and the parking lot was only dimly lit.  I realized how dimly lit when I accidentally ran over an orange traffic cone, and then another.  The last cone was still dragging under the Jeep when I screeched into (what I assumed was) a parking space.  When I look up, there is the silhouette of a woman standing in the doorway to the classroom.  I can tell by her body language that she is trying to look casual, as if she is unsure whether to laugh, offer help, or call the cops.  I am five minutes late now, and I hate being late for anything.  Maybe I should just go home.

When I step out of the car, it immediately begins to rain.  I am cold, nervous, embarrassed and now wet.  The six copies of my article are wet too, I notice, around the edges.  I slog up to the door, and the woman I had seen in the doorway was gone.   But I do see Melissa!

She is standing at a “welcome “area.  Melissa is a kindred spirit.  She claims to feel awkward, too, on a regular basis, but it is hard to imagine her insecurity.  She is deeply and powerfully beautiful and disarmingly candid – which made me love her right away when we met several years ago.

I couldn’t wait to hug her.

She explained how the guild meeting works, and gave me some pamphlets and other materials.

“I’ll sign you in,” she says.  “What is your genre?”

I had no idea.  This article would not fit neatly in any one “box”.  If I were to “shop” the piece out, what magazine might buy it?  Again, no idea.  Although it was essentially about parenting, it would certainly not be a fit for parenting magazines (which, really, only cover the predictable parenting topics like potty training or making popsicle-stick art.  Show me an article in a magazine for parents entitled, “You Want to Pierce WHAT?” and I will buy a subscription on the spot).

There are spiritual aspects to the piece as well, but I doubted a Christian magazine would touch it, what with its subject matter (tattoos) and generally snarky overtones.  And, it was neither comedy nor horror, though to be honest, there were elements of both.  I tried to quell the anxiety that I am in the wrong place at the wrong time, with a genre-less essay.  This was not a good start.

“Don’t worry about it,” Melissa soothed.  “It’s ok.  Just find a seat.”

In a room right off the hallway, the other ladies sat in school chairs in a small auditorium.  It was, actually, the Band room for the Christian school housed at the facility.  There were less than a dozen women scattered unevenly throughout about forty chairs and while I was wondering what significance – if any – choosing where to sit might have with perceived writing skill, they stopped chatting amongst themselves to say hello.  I responded, took a random seat, and resumed thinking about the universality of Band rooms all over America, with their distinctive scent of woodwind oil and their porous ceilings, and …yes?

Oh, yes…..Nice to meet you, too.

A lady had just arrived and taken the seat right next to me.

She was well-dressed (business-casual, you might say) and I noticed that her brown leather purse matched her brown leather shoes perfectly.  A quick look around the room revealed that all of the ladies are lovely.  They are all “put together”, by outward appearance anyway.  No-one else is wearing sweatpants.  No-one else had her hair in a poorly executed (and wet) ponytail.  Suddenly, I was in 8th grade band again, the new kid.  I wondered why I was there.

I was wondering, too, where did the other traffic cone I hit go? When Melissa sat in the other free chair next to me and took my hand to hold.  And the meeting began.

Inspirational

A World Away – Picture of an African Mother

I have always had a desire to travel to Uganda for a mission trip. 

Maybe one day I will.   It was from that desire that the idea for this article grew.

photo credits below
PHOTO: The then eight month-old Martha Akwango, who was suffering from malaria, with her mother Janet Awor in September 2007. Martha and her mother live in Katine, a Ugandan village where the Guardian is participating in a project to improve medical facilities and infrastructure. Photograph: Dan Chung.

 

              In my mind’s eye, I see an African mother.  She is an amalgam, really….her face a compilation for every young sub-Saharan woman whose picture I have ever seen on the glossy pages of National Geographic magazine.

                Her haunting eyes implore the camera to, “Come. Capture my reality so that the world can see.” And, at the same time,  “Stop!  Don’t record my shame!”

                We, in our comfort, like to banter about who we consider our “Most Inspirational Person”.

                She is mine, but I don’t know her name.

Her figure, baby strapped to her back, is  a montage from every television commercial that has implored me to “feed the hungry” and every picture brought back from mission trips to Africa by white, middle-class Americans.

A powerful beauty, her  hair is shorn close to her head (no time for vanity here) and her sandaled feet are dusty. Always, there is at least one child tethered to her body.  Her hands are never empty because they are  always at task. She doesn’t get coffee breaks or vacations, or time to unwind.  Her work is never done.

Unlike her First World counterparts, she does not have issues with self-esteem. Survival is the esteemed goal here.  Is she a woman who “loves too much”?  What about her “inner child”? Does she take healthy time for herself, and is she setting aside time in her busy day for God? No time for that – she hums prayers as she works, and that is her worship.

                She is a fallible person who makes mistakes, just as we all do.  But doubting her Creator is not a luxury she can afford.

                Her children, barefoot….do they have enough to eat today?

                Yes?  She hums her praise louder.

                No?  Pray and hope, and work all the harder.

                She doesn’t despair in losing the keys to her car, or fuss about the value of her 401k plan.  Her grief, when it comes….is wracking, life-altering. Her loss… it’s behind her eyes if you care to look.

                In the Western world, we like to say that our lives are our gift from God, and what we do with it is our gift to Him.   How presumptuous we human beings are.  My Sister in Africa has little opportunity to bring gifts that we in the First World consider valuable.  I think God smiles on her offerings especially;  they are  her very life and the lives of her children.

                I think that is what God intended us to bring. She inspires me so.

                I, as a white, middle class mother in America, sometimes wonder why I was not born as she. If life were fair, I mean.  If life were fair, I would have been.

                Sometimes, when my kids are getting on my very last nerve, I think about this woman. Because I often say to myself and others, “If this mothering thing were any harder, I couldn’t do it.” I mean it, too, when I say it.

When my children were small, I felt like I knew what I was doing as a mother. Like my Sister in Africa, I wore my babies in a sling on my hip or my back.  I nursed them into toddler-hood.  It felt natural, like they would be tethered to me forever.

                 Nowadays, as they are approaching young adulthood, I’m not quite as confident.  Writing about their growing up and my mistakes as a mother now is my attempt to capture the reality and share it.  And yet I know that during the process I will record my own shame.

                If this mothering thing were any harder…..God would equip me to do it, I suppose.

                But meanwhile, in a third-world, poverty-stricken, war-torn country in Africa….

                My Sister on the other side of the world.  Her life, just as precious to God, lived in the same units of time as mine – minutes, hours and days. Her love for her children just as fierce as mine.  When – if –  her babies  have survived to young adulthood, unclaimed by famine, drought or disease, she is not fixated about the proper way to “let them go.”

She is grateful.

Triumphant.

                I want to meet her one day, to touch her.  And to tell her that she is the Inspiration to another mother, all this world away.

Devotional

Sure-Footed Faith

By:  Jana Greene

 

My mother used to call it “petering out”.

“You’re always starting things without finishing them,” she would say.  “you just peter out.”

Oh, how hard I try not to “peter-out”!

I start out strong, and by ‘strong’, I mean obsessive-compulsively.  I gorge myself with information about any given pursuit, lunging into it with enthusiasm.  I will go the distance!

It makes no difference what the pursuit might be.  Below is an incomplete list of projects I have begun without finishing  (what…you expected a complete list?) :

Yoga:  This routine involved a DVD set in which I was to emulate the “poses” of unnaturally flexible people.  Thinking this excercise might be good for a tightly-wound person such as myself, I went all-out.  I bought the mats –  and, I am sorry to say – two pairs of spandex pants. (The mats are now rolled up decoratively under our living-room coffee table, so that a passer-by might think I am fitness-minded….if this passer-by were not to see my actual body.  I’ve no idea where the spandex pants are and if God is merciful,  I will never see them again.)

Gardening:  This one is a real embarrassment because it seems I have actually  failed more times than I’ve tried, if that were possible.  I plant flowers in the spring, carefully considering the nutrient needs of each kind  (ok, glancing at the tag at Home Depot…sun or shade?) and lovingly transferring into the soil.  Inevitably, each precious plant dies a slow and choking death by thirst and weed.  Yet, each new Spring, I forget that I don’t really  like dirt.  By the first hot summer day, I remember that I don’t like heat either,  and that I would have to stand in the hot sun watering plants all summer if I expect them to live.  I don’t, so they don’t.

Laundry:  I love to do laundry!  That is, I love to start the process.  I forget that the clothes have to be transferred into the clothes dryer  after being washed.  The result is that the clothes either start to smell funky and have to be re-washed, or my husband has to complete the cycle.    I just forget that laundry is in process (Really, Honey….I meant to finish it!)

Bible Study:  Ouch!  This one is hard to own.  I join groups with the best of intentions, but often end up dropping out.  Help me to focus, Lord, has become my prayer.  The initial propulsion is strong and forward-moving, but I am fickle, impatient and horribly inconsistent.

For reasons I cannot begin to understand, God picked me for His team anyway.

We’ve all heard that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions”.  I can testify that the roads to frustration, disappointment (and abdominal fat) are too.

What about the daily grind of getting through life with faith-intact?  What about losing interest in the mundane aspects, and giving up altogether on the difficult things?  Many times during this long faith-walk of mine, I have flat-out told God, “I can’t do this!  You have the wrong girl!”  Or, I fall behind and hope no-one will notice, with the mindset that this is too hard. Because sometimes, truly, it is.  We cannot see the finish line; we have no tangible evidence that it exists, but we are commanded (in the words of “Journey”):  Don’t stop believin’.  Thats the “faith” part.

I have a dear friend who is a runner.  As it turns out, there is an entire  sub-culture of people who engage in running – voluntarily – and with no large, predatory animals  in pursuit!  This friend trains relentlessly to run in marathons where the goal is to cross the finish line.  Sometimes a trophy is awarded, but often the only recognition is completion.  There is no prize for crossing the starting line.

“I feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment when I cross the finish line,” she told me.  “I always know that I will finish, even if I have to walk.  When I start a race, I start with the end in mind.  And when the finish line is in sight, I push even harder.  There is no turning back.”

My prayer is that my spirit will do what my mind and body refuse to – go the distance without “petering out”.  God tells us that we can follow Him with the sure-footedness of an Olympic athlete so long as we study the way that Jesus did it Himself, never losing sight of where he was headed.  My friend, The Runner, understands that more than most.

Even if we have to walk, we finish.

No turning back.  No petering out.

1-3Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!  – Hebrews 12 1:3  (The Message)

Spiritual

More than Many Sparrows – My Daughter’s Tattoo

More than Many Sparrows

or

A Tale of My Daughter and the Audacity of Ink 

By:  Jana Greene

October 12, 2011

      The first thing I noticed about it was the blackness of the outline, almost as if it were drawn with bold magic marker.   My next thought was that I must absolutely write about thisthe design that now lay bare on her skin.   As if, somehow putting pen to paper would give permanence to the moment, as the needle brought it to her flesh.

My daughter’s first tattoo.

     I had known that it was coming, that she considered it a rite of passage. My girl had always danced to the beat of a different drummer; a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture.  If she had a credo it would be this:  Live by Deliberate Acts of Impulsivity.

As her mother, I would surely prefer that she not bear any tattoos at all, because (and yes, I am the expert here) she is absolutely perfect the way God made her.  I am rather attached to her being, looking, sounding exactly like my daughter – the only one of her kind, anywhere.  Tattoos are just not my thing”, whereas she very much is.  

           Nineteen years ago, just after she was born, the delivery room nurses whisked her away for her first bath and returned with my infant girl swaddled very tightly.  No sooner was she in my arms than I was removing the blankets, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning.  As mothers have done since the dawn of time, I checked her, head to toe.  I found her birthmarks, the dimples in her plump hands, and worked my way to her tiny, peach-fuzzed back.  There, between two flawless round shoulder blades, I placed my open palm to her skin.  It was a perfect fit.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined anything marring that space.

  In her “growing up” years, there were manifestations of her free spiritof course… harmless acts of rebellion, none of them leaving a lasting mark.  She formed strong opinions before she could form complete sentences, and had no trouble expressing them.  At around age four, she developed magnetism to the camera (any camera) andmade it habit to insert herself into any and every photograph.  

Around the same time, Alexandra began displaying fashionista tendencies.  An ensemble she chosen for a summer day in the park might include: a sweater with leggings, plastic Disney princess shoes, a toboggan with ear flaps, seven necklaces and a life-vest (after all, it was July!)…all worn together and on dry land.  It soon became apparent that stares, glares and pointing in her direction by the public at large was not a deterrent to this behavior.  It was more the entire motivation.

This is when the adage “choose your battles” took on meaning for me.  And as I became a student of war, the years rolled on like a tank.

With the advent of tweenhood, there were lines drawn, of course. Not a fan of shirts that showed adolescent bellies and shorts that declared suggestive adjectives across their bottoms, those were not tolerated.  Alexandra compensated with crazy combinations of adornment, including stick-on tattoos of all kinds.  

At twelve, after spending a long day with friends at the beach boardwalk, she returned home with a henna tattoo, ecstatic.  

“Until I get a real one,” she told me.

She managed to graduate high school with only a nose ring as modification, butno sooner was the ink dry on her diploma than she was ready to display ink on her body.

“I’m ready,” she said to me one day.  “I’m getting my tattoo. A bird.”

          Okay.  A bird.

         “A Tribal Sparrow,” she added.

         “What in the world is a ‘tribal sparrow’?” My voice is more condescending than I intend.

          Eye rolling and head shaking.  Translation: Mother, you just don’t get it.

          I wonder about the subject she has chosen for the artist, and it’s tribal-ness.  Our family heritage is sort-of a homogenized breed.  We have no “tribe”. We have no “people”.  We are Scotch-Irish with German in the mix, and a little Louisiana-Cajun-French (but you have to really look for it).  No- we are very garden variety, Ellis-Island mutt American.  Perhaps that’s the attraction for her, the tribal aspect.

         “If you’re trying to belong,” I said, in an attempt to appeal to her lovingly (sometimes changing strategy can be effective)“You already do.  You don’t need a tattoo to belong here.”

She knows that, she says.  

Is a bird something you now,” I pause for effect. “And forever more want to be associated with?  Because you willyou will be ‘that girl with that tattoo. But as I am asking her, I am secretly grateful she isn’t branding herself with a map of Area 51, or the image of a pop tart, or a beer keg.  It should be something meaningful to you.”

         “It is.  It represents freedom to me, Mom.”

        “You still live at home,” I reply dryly. We pay all of your bills…..  Don’t you want to wait until you are free to commemorate freedom?”

        Heavy sigh.  “Freedom from things.  Personal things.”

        “If it’s so personal, why does it have to be permanently inked on your body for the whole world to see?”

        “Why would I not?” she counters, and I have no reply.  All their lives, my children have been told to be authentic, true to themselves.  Encouraged to be real.

Don’t be afraid to show who you are.  It’s the message I’ve tried to impart, even during the years of life-vest accessorizing.  Don’t wear the masks.

         “You know what?” I say. You don’t even know who you are yet!  You are who you are right now, and a mere five years from today, you will be in a completely different place.”

She says that none of us remain the same, not even for a single year. And it’s true  .I am a very, very different mother than I was when she was born, unwrapping her like a present on Christmas morning.  The particular audacity of getting inked is that it alters your shell, the only one you will get in this life.    It is a deliberately impulsive act.

Parenting is not a sane endeavor, and complicating the matter is that she is, in fact, not a child.  Still, I have to believe she will listen to reason.

“Not everyone is going to be so accepting of your ways in the world,” I bleat wearily..   “There are people who will make value judgments about you based solely on the fact that you have a tattoo.

But my instincts tell me to RETREAT, as I watch her body tense.

RETREAT, or there will be immediate launch into mutual hysteria, familiar territory for us.  It seems that – these days –she and I are either dissolving into tears of laughter together (our ‘inside jokes’ are legion), or hurling words of frustration at one another, rapid-fire.

If I ever care what people think of me based solely on my appearance, than I have bigger problems than having a tattoo!”

How can I not admire that statement?  Who can argue?  She is, after all, an adult.  I surrender, but silently, and with a slow refrain of “Taps” playing in my mind.  

What I want to tell her, but do not say aloud, is that she will be marked, molded, and modified, without ever setting foot into a tattoo parlor.  I look at my body, once just as perfect as hers, mapped by the story of my life.  Constellations of freckles from forgetting sunscreen a thousand times, and wrinkles from the same offense.   Smile-lines around my eyes from laughing, scars from mishaps and missteps, and from the pieces I have lost to surgeries…all part of the story.   But it’s the pink, translucent ribbons that cover my lower belly that mean the most to me.  Tributaries of skin stretched to accommodate the growing bodies of she and her sister long ago….. these are my tribal marks.  

When the time arrives, Alexandra comes to tell me it is The Day.  She tells me the name of the artist who will do the work.  I recognize his name; he attends my church.  She is the definition of “all smiles”, luminous.

“Do you want to come with me while I have it done?” She asks.  “You can hold my hand.”  I am instantly frustrated with her for acting like a little girl – still needing my approval, and equally frustrated that she is not one anymore.

I politely decline, and her boyfriend goes with her instead.  I am considering the natural order of things, pondering the business of ‘letting go’ when she walks out the door with him.  I try not to think about ink and needles.  I’m glad he will hold her hand.

It finally occurred to me to talk to God about my qualms; it should have been my first  response.  How many times do I wrestle tiny inconsequential issues to the ground as though they are giants without asking the Almighty God to assist me on the mat?  As usual, He was already in that place I had hesitated to invite him.

The Bible has a lot to say, and the gist of the message that speaks to my life is Grace.  True, there are passages that warn about marking the body, scriptures that warn against cutting the hair.  But it is a verse about birds that God brought to my mind.  Leafing through the pages, I found it right away:

Matthew 10:29.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Has my daughter inadvertently given flesh to the scripture I pray over her?    

Though I hate to admit it, Alexandra’s tattoo has forced me to consider the messy business of acceptance.   The “Choose-Your-Battle” cry of all parents has a different tone for each scrimmage and every life stage.  What do I gain, as a mother, if I choose not to accept my grown child’s decisions?  Am I selfishly seeking validation that I have “raised her right” if she refrains from what society might be uncomfortable with?  

The freedom she is trying to parlay is that today, she can still go anywhere from here.  This tattoo is meaningful to her.  And she is meaningful to me.

When she returns, she cannot wait to show me, walking backwards into my bedroom so that it’s the first thing I see.  There is no hiding the work; she will have none of that.  This girl, a lover of eclectic music, performance art and sculpture…now adorned.

So that’s a Tribal Sparrow...  

A clear coat of laminate covers the wound, so that it can heal properly.  In the mental melee of preparing myself to see it, I had forgotten that it would scab and scar…that it would be a ‘no pain, no gain’ commitment, as most things that become permanent are.

“It’s lovely,” I say.  And I think I mean it.

The Tribal Sparrow is a beautiful bird.

Her outline is striking and very bold, not the least bit likely to fade, but her plumage is just the color of Alexandra’s complexion.  Centered between my daughter’s flawless and round shoulder blades, the sparrow is exactly the size of my open palm…a perfect fit.  She is in flight, but I’m not sure she knows where she is going, her two tail feathers pointed high.  Her eye appears to be a soft swirl, peering neither downward or behind, but straight ahead.  Her wings are gently drawn with a curve, as if she is gliding, not yet looking for a place to land.  A true Artist painted her right onto my daughter’s perfect body.  And every time I see it now, I am reminded that His eye is on the sparrow,and that she can go anywhere from here.  

Anywhere at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Spiritual

About Jana Greene

Beggars

By:  Jana Greene

So what you should you know about me?

I love my husband (whom I refer to as “My Beloved” because he truly is) with my whole heart. He really is – cliche not withstanding – my best friend, and I’m so glad to be doing this crazy life with him. We have been together nearly 14 years.
Our blended family includes three now-grown daughters, one grandbaby, and three very spoiled kitty cats.

I’ve worked at insurance and real estate agencies, mortgage companies, law offices, and as a day-care teacher. As a single mother I worked several at a time – including a hardware store paint-slinger and as a part-time hotel maid.  All were character building.  But I’ve been a writer – legit or not – since I could hold a crayon.

I am imperfect all the way.  As a writer,  I use the forbidden “three dots”…too often and cannot bear to part with the text-forbidden smiley faces 🙂 and sometimes use run-on sentences because I think they convey stream-of-consciousness better and yes, I know all of these are against the Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” guidelines.  I have written one small newspaper and one large-ish one, and have had several articles published in “In Recovery Magazine.

I write for the selfish reason that it helps me productively process the pain and pleasure in life when I pour words onto a page.  And for the selfless reason that I cannot help anyone else find the “Bread of Life” if I don’t show them where I found it.

Because, all of these things I tell you about me, are true, but none define me. I am a Christian, and because I am, I’m also a princess and a beggar.  That is my most accurate self-description.

In 2001, I came to the end of myself and all of my delusions of put-together-ness, which is to say – I got sober from alcohol. If you know me even casually, you know I am an alcoholic. I haven’t had a drink in that long, but I am still – forever – in recovery, something that keeps me humble and coming back for more of what got me clean in the first place.  Every single day. I keep it “out there” because there is somebody, somewhere who is hiding bottles and drinking that “two” beers just to stop the shaking and who is so, so, ashamed. I know shame. Or maybe he/she is addicted to drugs, or porn, or the approval of others –  it’s all the same to your soul – or cannot seem to find a reason to wake up in the morning.  I can’t tell you how to fix it, but I can tell you who can.  I can tell you that I 100% expected to die during that hard time, and sometimes would have considered it a relief. I still have bad days (that “One Day at a Time” thing…) but I have the clarity to enjoy the GOOD ones, of which there are many.  Faith and humor are key.  Oh, and boundaries, on occasion.

One Day at a time, by the Grace of God.
Even if I might have bad days, or whine a little. You know, just to keep it real!

One beggar showing another beggar where she found food. When I couldn’t love myself enough to lift myself up, I crawled back to Jesus, and He  said “You look hungry… come to the table!”  Redemption is the best feast ever.

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