Addiction, Inspirational, Jesus, Prayer, Recovery, Spiritual

Praying Through the Desert – Jana Greene

Could be titled “Prayer in the desert” … Could be titled “VEGAS, BABY!”
A friend of mine, who happens to be a writer I admire very much,
asked me to guest blog. When I was trying to figure out what to write, I struggled a bit. He suggested that ‘prayer’ might be a good subject. I told him that I’m having a bit of a (as Christians are disposed to saying) Walking in the Desert prayer spell right now. Then I prayed about it a bit. Then I remembered a trip to Vegas. And then I wrote. The result is attached below.

Thanks, Chris Canuel, for the opportunity to guest write for your awesome blog.

And thanks, God, for reminding me of Vegas.

Striving With God

I’m so excited to have one of my favorite writers guest blogging for me today. Her name is Jana Greene and she blogs over at The Beggars Bakery. Jana is also the author of Edgewise: plunging off of the brink of drink and into the love of God. Be sure to check out both her blog and book. You won’t be sorry!

vegas prayer

How do you get out of the spiritual desert? You build a huge, blinking distraction to it.

Or, you can just walk through it, and fully expect God to bring you to the other side.

About eight years ago, I went to Las Vegas on a business trip. The long and short of it was that I had a mini-nervous breakdown.

My colleagues and I stayed in the Luxor – a magnificent pyramid structure on the Vegas strip, smack dab (as we say in the South)…

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Addiction, Food, weight management

My Fat Pants Fit! (and other excitable statements)

SALAD

 

And it came to pass that she did not think of Munchos *every hour of every day, and her spirit learned to recognize that chocolate was – in fact – not necessarily the only means of spirit-soothing. And in that day, she did no more dread Romaine instead of Big Mac, but did so feel slightly feel slightly less like Jabba the Hut when dressing in the morning, as her pants did not cutteth her in half.

* But only every other hour

 

Today is Day 8 of “clean eating,” and the truth is that I do feel better. I am supposed to do 30 days, which – in theory – helps reboot my mindset about food.

Although my body feels better, the psychological effects come in lurches. For example, last night –  in a fit of seemingly random stress –  I  announced to my husband that I could eat a whole bag of chips all by myself at that very moment; that I wouldn’t even share with him.

“And,” I said, for dramatic effect. “I would lick the greasy, salty remnants out of the empty bag, after I ate it all myself!”

I really could have done that, but instead I just bitched about not being able to, and the urge passed. My husband, knowing my penchant for both bitching and the dramatic, just listened and lets it pass. He is so much saner than I.

For the hundredth time in the past week, the parallels between this 30-day program and my sobriety came to light. In a stressful moment, I wish I could obliterate. In reaction,  I do one of two things:

A) The healthy choice: Dig out my recovery tools – affirmations, prayer, mindfulness, admittance of powerlessness, and ask God for help. Examine why I desire to obliterate.

B) The less-than-healthy choice:  Gripe about why I cannot handle food, alcohol (it keeps going….fill-in-the-blank) with said substance like a regular, “normal” person, until the craving passes. And then examine why I desire to obliterate.

I am working on making choice “A” my default, but working is the operative word here.

Progress, not perfection.

I am also working on acknowledging the results of my eating regimen. Fussing about having to do something does not cancel out the effects of following through and not doing it. Successes still count, even if my attitude isn’t so peachy.

Instead of focusing on my Munchos/chocolate dietary deficit, I am going to give thanks that my (fat) pants fit!  I will give myself props for fighting the good fight,  and embracing the Romaine (figuratively, not literally. That would just be really weird.)

And ask God to soothe my spirit when I am stressed, on Day 8, Day 30, and for a lifetime; to help my mind stay “re-booted.”

And in that day ….

She shall enjoy the occasional chocolate as a treat and not a staple, and she shall rejoice in God’s bountiful creation of the components of the Hershey bar, and useth moderation in imbibing in the works of thine hand.

Alleluia … and pass the salad tongs.

 

afterlife, Inspirational, Prayer, Spiritual

Imperishable: What cancer cannot take

IMG_4172

But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” – 1 Cor. 15:54-57 (The Message)

I have a dear friend who lives many miles away, whose dear friend is dying from cancer. I’ve never met the woman suffering , but I have implored God to heal her. She is forty-four years old, in the prime of life – and until a few months ago –  expected that life to be a long, full one. My dear friend is brokenhearted. She tells me that her dear one is wasting away, tethered to IV to cords of fluids and nutrition, to buy her a few more days. In short, her earth suit has a very finite warranty, but the essence of who she is will break free of it and know no more pain.

The woman with cancer… she prayed for healing, and believed. Why is she not miraculously whole?

Life, and death. And Life.

Last night, while in fervent prayer for this cancer patient, I had a bit of a vision about the confounding cycle of life and death. God gives us what we need to make the journey, but only to make the journey. And then …. life everlasting.

Have you ever seen a picture of a human embryo floating in its mother’s dark womb? First-conceived babies are alien-esque; plump, pink, funny-looking things, tethered by a cord of fluid and nutrition. They look like little pods, really – and in fact, they are. Little pods of spirit poured under skin and over bone (or what will become bone –  the super neat thing about life in this stage is that the cells have intellect of sorts, they know where they are to go, and what they are to be, to become what the Creator deemed long ago they become.) Humans are transparent, at this stage …you can see through them; and from the moment their earth suits are crafted, they are destined to change the world.

Some say our bodies – our intricately designed, one-of-a-kind pods – are cosmic happenstance. But my faith isn’t big enough to believe that.

I say they give us form and physical function to make a journey. They are suits that enable us how to have an experience – simply put, how to learn to love God and love each other.  Our Creator pours us into them for this assignment, in which every nerve reaction puts forth a ripple, affecting the trajectory of the lives of every other journeyman. So when the essence of who we are breaks away from the pod, we are well-versed in love for the journey that is only beginning.

My friend’s friend is breaking away from her earth suit. Her form of life is transitioning, getting ready for another birth.  She is sallow now – yes, skin and bones. Her pod is worn-out from an insidious sickness. Her cells, which God once orchestrated into perfect harmony, are suffocated by cells that don’t belong there at all. They have lost their intellect.

But her spirit ? It is changing the world. Having set into motion shock-waves of love that will ripple long after her body has expired. She has gained enlightenment, because she was transparent with the world in her love for God – and others – on this crazy journey…  others who could only know love through the vehicle of her life.

She will live, and the cancer will die.

Just as she prayed, believing.

Life and death. And Life. And more life still.

Addiction, Hitting the bottom, Recovery, Spiritual

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

Philip_Seymour_Hoffman_2011 Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman.

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

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

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

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

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

Hoffman is Winehouse,

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

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

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

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

Who is me.

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

We alcoholics and addicts…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t mean to embarrass you.

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

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

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

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

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

We are “everyman” and “everywoman.”

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

But we need you to understand some things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can ask questions.

You can pray for us.

You can just not give up on us.

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

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

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

For everyman.

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

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

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

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

Addiction, Hitting the bottom, Jesus, Recovery, Spiritual

Pushing off of Rock Bottom

 I love you, God—     you make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet,     the castle in which I live,     my rescuing knight. My God—the high crag     where I run for dear life,     hiding behind the boulders,     safe in the granite hideout. - Psalm 18:2 (Message)
I love you, God—
you make me strong.
God is bedrock under my feet,
the castle in which I live,
my rescuing knight.
My God—the high crag
where I run for dear life,
hiding behind the boulders,
safe in the granite hideout. – Psalm 18:2 (Message)

On January 3rd,  I will celebrate thirteen years of continuous sobriety. In getting ready to publish my testimony in full, I wanted to share what ‘hitting bottom’ was for me. I need to remember these things, so I am not doomed to repeat the past.

And I need  to share it with you – in case you have touched bottom yourself, or know someone who is there now.

“Bottom” is a terrible place to be, but it is the only place that gives you enough leverage to  push off.’

Hitting bottom enabled me to anchor on the true Rock, instead of drowning in the dark abyss.

I am still – forever – an alcoholic, and still – forever – in need of Grace. It is only by the grace of a savior who is willing to crouch down on the bathroom floor with me that I am saved.

It is by His grace that I live now, one day at a time.

By: Jana Greene

“Please, Jesus…please.”

My prayer was simple and desperate, my head spinning.

Crouched down against the unfamiliar toilet – in the home of the hostess for the Christmas party where I was employed.

How did this happen again?  How did I let this happen again?  I was so careful, careful with the first drink, nursing it politely while milling awkwardly about the crowd of coworkers.  I wanted to gulp it down to ease my nerves.  I was shaking when I arrived alone at the party, because I was sober then.

Sober always meant shaking.

The second drink went down a little quicker.  But my hands slowly stopped quaking and with the warm fire of the drink came slight nausea.  Ironic that I must drink every day now – even though my body was starting to reject alcohol vehemently.

In those days, the whites of my eyes yellowed and face bloated, every day ended with a violent vomiting session.

Every day ended with the words,  “Please Jesus, please.”

Be careful, I reminded myself while I poured the third.  But I was just starting to feel “normal”,  laughing with the other partygoers…maybe even fitting in, just a little bit.  For just a few moments…joviality.  The warmest place. Then, just as always, the relaxation turned to spinning and whirling.

I worked for an elementary school that year – my coworkers were also my children’s teachers, principal and librarian.  My daughters were in Kindergarten and second grade respectively.  I had to be careful with the drinking on this occasion.  I’d been able to hide the extent of my drinking to my coworkers, friends, husband – the world. Or so I earnestly believed. I passed off hangovers as stomach bugs and headaches as minor inconveniences.  I thought I was such a clever girl.

It had been less than an hour since I’d arrived at the party, when I had my fourth drink.  I was proud that I was pacing myself so well.  But by the sixth (or seventh?) drink,  I casually wove to the guest bathroom, taking care to lock the door behind me.

And then the sick. The warmest place filling my throat and choking me.

I hate myself, I thought, shaking with another retch.  Vomit quietly! 

How did I even let this happen?

I tried to asses the situation soberly, rationally.  But I kept forgetting where I was. Worse, someone had gone in to the bathroom with me! I could feel the presence of another person,  but I couldn’t focus enough to identify who it was. I wished they’d leave!  Having someone see me at my weakest was my worst fear.  I was not alone….that much I knew.

Through the door, I can tell that voices were rising over the holiday music  in the living room.

Now, someone is knocking at the bathroom door!  I am laying on the cold tile now, convulsing in dry-heaves, but I can still hear the knocking.  I whisper to whoever is hunkered down in the bathroom with me,  “Shhhh…please, don’t open it!” Pulling myself to my knees, I can see that the  bathroom floor is a mess, the lovely white rug splattered with the evidence that I cannot control myself.

“Just a minute,” I say louder, trying to articulate the words.

Another knock, and then a woman’s voice.  “Are you okay?”

It sounds like the school’s principal. Oh no.

“Yes,” I respond, but it sounds like  “yesh.” Hot humiliation burns my face.

“Okay then….” the voice says, unconvincingly.  “Okay.”

Get up, I tell myself, pulling myself up to the counter.  Get up, damn you…. and fake sober!

I’d taken such care to prepare for this evening, having bought a new  “little black” dress, curling my hair,  and wearing just the right makeup.  But my shoes are missing….where are my shoes?

If I could pull of looking okay on the outside world, I could still be okay on some level.  And this night, while driving to the party, I had repeated a mantra:  paceyourselfpaceyourselfpaceyourself….you can do it if you try! 

This night, I promised I wouldn’t cross the line between “relaxed drunk” and obliterated, which is what always  (every single day) “happened to me,  in the privacy of my own home. As long as no other human being knew my secret,  I was safe.

Insanity is thinking that you would be just fine, as long as nobody knew – and I could find my shoes.

Now,  on the bathroom floor,  I remembered it was not only my professional reputation at stake, but my children. The party-goers were same people in the first line of defense for children, my children.  They would pity my beloved daughters at the very least, perhaps even … I cannot even imagine.  Oh, my sweet girls – how I love them.  How much better they deserve.

I raise my eyes up to the bathroom mirror, and my reflection paid homage to my dread. Eyes ringed in crimson,  makeup sloughed off with sweat.

This is the mother of my beloved daughters.

Sick.

I tried to wipe my face with a wad of toilet paper as best I could, and then kneeled back down to clean the floor.  It was difficult with the room spinning.

I hear a strangled whimper rise from my own throat and it swells to an involuntary sob.  I try to muffle it while I rummage around in the cabinet under the sink for air freshener to cover the stench of vomit, but it is not use.  The only think under the sink is a small toilet plunger and a very old bottle of White Shoulders perfume, half-full and orange with age.

I still feel whoever is in the room with me when I am misting the perfume around the bathroom. He is crouched down on the floor with me, but I still cannot discern his identity. Whoever it is, I owe him an apology. “I’m sorry,” I cry in a whisper. “I’m so sorry.”

 

 

I stand up, wobbly, and smooth my hair.

I can make slight eye contact with myself in the bathroom mirror now and hold the sad, strange gaze.  I am just beginning to feel like the un-numb version of myself again, the hiccup in my buzz was rapidly becoming the itch of sober reality,  immediately uncomfortable. Never mind, I tell myself.

Opening the door,  my boss and coworkers – my children’s teachers – are standing around casually, trying not to stare at the wreck that emerged from the bathroom.

And my thought process is simple and desperate in that moment of sickness. I have stopped politely imploring Jesus to help me, afraid that he might – and what that might mean.

Instead,  I am thinking, “I need just one drink.”   After all, I’m not the first person to get drunk at a company Christmas party. It’s practically expected. I will just pace myself.

I’ll just be extra-careful.

Clever, dying girl.

Christmas, Friendship, Holiday, Inspirational, Middle Age, Motherhood, Prayer, Recovery, Spiritual

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.

Inspirational, Recovery, Spiritual

Who do you say Jesus is?

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By: Jana Greene

Who do you say that he is?

Jesus, I mean.

He asked me to ask you…..who do you say that He is? He is quite concerned about what you think of Him.

Do you say that He is Historical Figure, criminal, prophet or ordinary man? Would you say that  He is the Son of the living God?

Writer and scholar C.S. Lewis, who was an avowed (and very vocal) atheist for many years before accepting Christ described him this way: “Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”

This Jesus, who so radically changed the world, was brought up on bogus criminal charges at the end of his earthly life.  He was the first and only completely perfect human being  to have walked the earth. His reward? Death by brutal crucifixion, burial in a tomb from which He would rise in splendor three days later.

But what does that have to do with you? Why would it matter what one man did over two-thousand years ago?

You and I can never live as perfect human beings. I’ve tried, and it was the hardest seven minutes of my life! We need God’s help to secure our place in eternity. Jesus was the sacrifice that makes this possible. But God is not only interested in the “forever”; He is sincerely invested in the ‘here and now’.

Who do I say that Jesus is? He is my

Debt Settler: Jesus is not a debt collection agency, reminding you of every mistake. He is not in the business of setting up payment plans for all of your sin, either.  He settles the debt of all you have accrued  in the past (and I mean ALL of it!) and cancels it entirely when you ask Him to be your savior.  When asking His forgiveness,  no sin debt is  too big or too small. He is waiting to set you free!

Game Changer: Your rules? The way you’ve always handled challenges on your own…He doesn’t even need to see the playbook. He wrote a better one! He changes the trajectory of your life in ways you cannot imagine….in ways you will be so humbled by.

Name Changer: When you accept Jesus, your name is written in permanence in God’s book of life. It isn’t penciled in, jotted down hurriedly. It is written in Spiritual Sharpie, bold and eternal. Your name, and your life, becomes His as you are adopted into His family. The name He remembers you by when He thinks of you? “Mine.”

Life-Giver: I want the kind of life that is eternal, but let’s be honest…I’d like it to be pretty awesome here, too. Jesus doesn’t want us trudging through each day with just enough energy to survive until we get to heaven.  Here’s what Life-Giver Jesus has to say about that in scripture: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10.

Friend: Why the Creator of the universe would want to hang out with me, I have no idea. But for some reason, He does. If he were a great human teacher, that would be humbling enough; but no. Jesus, in dying on the cross and raising to life, bridged the gap between the Holiest of Holy Ones and puny, neurotic, recovering alcoholic, generally-all-around misfit and master of mistakes – ME. His Holy Spirit never leaves my side and calls me “friend”.  And that’s a miracle.

Who do you say that He is? It matters very much.

My name is Jana Greene, and I say He is also the Savior of the world.

Inspirational, Spiritual

Graft-itude – Becoming Community through Gratefulness

 

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By: Jana Greene

Church is a community of believers in salvation through the one and only Son of God, Jesus Christ.  We humans make it about other things so often. Throughout history, we have tried a thousand ways to make it about ourselves.

But what if the tide turned and God’s people made gathering for worship about our thankfulness to God. What if we would seek purely to know Him, because He has been so generous in His love for us?

There is a horticulture technique called “grafting”. Tissues from one plant are delicately combined into those of a healthier one so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together and thrive.

What if we could become related to the God of the universe via grafting? What if we could become brothers and sisters to one another by the same technique?

Many people who grew up in churches across the globe avoid joining a body of believers because they have been hurt by “church people” in the past or made to believe that church was about money, pretending to be perfect or pot-luck dinners. These things are not what Jesus Himself intended for His church. He sought out the ones who were broken and bent, cast out and hurting. The priests in their fine robes and the elite with their feasts did not impress Him much. These “church people” had no appreciation for God Himself in their very midst.

The ones who became Christ’s beloved family on earth all had one thing in common: an imperfect but genuine love for God, and a grateful heart. Because Jesus wanted so much to count us as branches on His family tree, he hung from a tree as sacrifice to make it possible.

He tells us to gather together still today and encourage one another, grieve with one another and praise Him.

God, I worship you because you never give up on me – not even once!

God, I thank you because you gave your life up for me so that I can be called “yours” forever.

God, I magnify you because you take time to nurture my spirit, loving me when I’m not too loveable.

We are the church. Cut off from one another, we run the risk of withering. Together the way our Brother Jesus intended, we thrive. All of us saints and sinners are drawn by God’s flourishing, vascular love for us. God’s people are us, you see. It is His will that not one of us be lost. We are black and white and every glorious shade in between. We are young and old, the clean-cut and tatted up. Haphazard branches going every which way, full foliage and a strong trunk, grafted and grateful.

God’s family tree.

Devotional, Inspirational, Spiritual

Missing the Moon by Miles: a tale of perception

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By: Jana Greene

Perception is everything.

The other day, I took Emmie the Elderly Golden Retriever for a long walk around the neighborhood. As is her way, she stopped every three feet to intently sniff one of the many olfactory neighborhood newsletters previously left by other dogs. I’m trying not to hurry her along these days. Her hearing is going and her vision as well, and I imagine her sense of smell is not what it used to be.

She takes a really long time, but when she looks up at me between sniffings, her eyes are so grateful that I am patient with her.

The sky just happened to be clear and blue, so I looked up to admire it to pass the time. The moon was out on the horizon in broad daylight, as if it missed the memo that it was not yet night. And from out of nowhere, a jet engine plane roared through the blue sky toward it, cutting the sky in half with its trail of white exhaust. From my vantage point on the ground, appeasing a poky dog, it looked as though that plane would fly straight into the moon and cut it in half, too.

If I didn’t have the most basic rudimentary knowledge about time and space and air travel, I would swear that the two bodies in the sky were set to collide. Because from here on earth, it would seem obvious. Inevitable. In reality, the moon and the plane are thousands of miles apart.

Only a few days before this walk, something wonderful had happened to me that I was not expecting. It really kind of came out of nowhere, an answer to prayer that I had wanted fervently and waiting for without knowing it was even on the horizon. But for a long time before this answer, I pleaded with God to make other things happen– things that I was SURE were right for me – and why wasn’t he making them happen? Why so much rejection over and over and can’t He see that there will be a collision unless He takes this matter seriously? Silly human, His timing is perfect.

My spiritual perception is not what it used to be – relying only on the obvious to determine the inevitable. But it is not where it should be, either – and too often forgets to take into account my vantage point. My perception is earthly, seeing the scene from the ground with possible solutions cut in half by my trail of exhaustion. Either things can turn one way or another way – from here, that’s all I can see.

I wait for the KABOOM.

And then….there is the sudden gliding through just as I wait for the explosion, and it becomes clear that He had better plans all along. As obvious as a daylight moon in a bright, blue sky, a roar of peace and gratitude. Danger was thousands of miles away, I just couldn’t see it.

God, surveying the scene, had been able to see everything from above and around and in. He is in us, you know.

He is so good, making better things happen than I could imagine. Appeasing my poky and impertinent soul, doesn’t rush me. He knows I’m learning. When I look upward at Him, I’m grateful that He is patient with me.

His perception is perfect.

“I don’t think the way you think.
The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.” – Isaiah 55:8

Prayer

Faith is not Baby-steppable

Hello, dear readers.  Today, in WilmingtonFAVS.com, this prayer was published. It is about the freefall of faith, the fear of a hard landing. I hope you are blessed today in some outrageous way, knowing that you have a Father to catch you when you fall.

http://wilmingtonfavs.com/blogs/jana-greene/freefall-into-the-fathers-hand-a-faith-not-baby-stepped

Hitting the bottom, Inspirational, Recovery

Gimme Shelter – a venue for amazing grace

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By: Jana Greene

I have an addictive personality. That’s usually a bad thing, especially with substances, drink (and chocolate) but not always.

Over a decade ago, I had an encounter with Jesus like no other I’d ever experienced. I would like to say that it happened in a beautiful cathedral or in a peaceful mountain valley or by the roaring ocean. But no. It occurred on my dirty 5’x5’ dirty bathroom floor at 2:00 a.m. with my head bowed against the toilet seat.

I felt dead inside, and I knew that I was dying on the outside as well. I had known Jesus from the time I was twelve, but had not walked along side him for many years. I didn’t really need to, you see. I had it ALL under control. There were small, still whispers and glaring neon signs as I passed through on my way to  the valley of the shadow that is alcoholism, but I could usually drink them away. Not anymore.

Taking a drink would momentarily stop the shakes but would cause immediate retching. I had consumed so much alcohol on a daily (well, nightly) basis that my body required it now, and rejected it too.  Here, lying on the bathroom tile, I crawled over to lock the door so that my children wouldn’twalk in to see their mother this way.

My beautiful children. I hated myself more in that moment than ever before, because my daughters didn’t deserve this kind of mom. Even my deep love for them couldn’t get me sober. My declining health wasn’t enough motivation either. And I certainly was powerless to stop drinking, as every single day for two years I’d promised myself that I would simply NOT drink today. What can get me well? I asked God, from the cold bathroom floor.

But God was in another place. He had to be, didn’t he? He had tons of Good Christians to hang out with instead. The church-goers, the teetolers. The ones like me, who know Him but have pushed him away in favor of some pursuit, addiction or selfishness…why would He want to be present with us?

But between great wracking sobs and heaves, the room spinning like a mad carousel, I vaguely remembered reading something in the Bible years ago about God meeting you where you are.

“God,” I cried. “Oh, God. I’m calling you. I’m so sorry I’ve turned my back on you. I’m asking you to be with me and help me. Father….meet me here.” More wailing. More puking and crying. “You said you would” I whispered hoarsely. ” I remember.”

“Father! Come sit here on the floor with me, please. Please don’t leave me alone!”

I crawled over to make room for God…this God who fashioned the universe but was not too busy or big  to come sit on a dirty bathroom floor with his broken child. I felt His presence stronger than I had ever felt it before. In my sickness, I lay down with my head in the lap of Jesus and He comforted me. I knew He was there just as tangibly as any human being could have been; more so. He met me there.

“Come close to God, and God will come close to you,” said Jesus’ brother James, in the Bible. “Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” For me, my loyalty had been divided between God and alcohol addiction. I didn’t want my Father to have to compete for my life any more.

That day was twelve years ago this month. I have been sober by His grace (one day at a time) since my encounter with Jesus on the bathroom floor all that time ago. Recovery is sometimes a cathedral-like experience and sometimes a gritty challenge. It is at times peaceful like a mountain valley and at others, as clamoring as a roaring ocean. It is messy work, always.

But Jesus still meets me where I am, in all of those places. He is so good, I tell you. I still have an addictive personality, but these days my addiction is God’s Grace. I cannot get enough of it, and I cannot tell enough people about it.

Redeemed and alive, inside and out. Sheltered by amazing grace.

Devotional

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

PIEBy: Jana Greene

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

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

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

Except that it wasn’t, of course.

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

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

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

Busy work, busy work that only made me tired.

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

God,

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

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

I’m worried.

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

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

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

I’m so tired, Lord.

Weary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, give them rest.

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

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

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

Spiritual

Prayer for Sandy Hook Elementary – and a broken world

When I don’t know what else to do, I pray. Well, sometimes I wring my hands and cry and get angry…but then I pray. And I write about it to process the information and ask God for help. This is one of those times. The whole  nation is mourning the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary and the true senselessness of it all. This is just the prayer of one person – my prayer. God bless each of you readers today and every day.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14 (NIV)

Dear God,

Yesterday, twenty children came to you in rapid succession. Others, too…taken suddenly in a Connecticut schoolhouse without any warning at all. What havoc one single individual hell-bent on destruction can wreck.

I know you did not “will” this. This has the signature of your enemy stamped all over it.

There is a growing movement taking place about intellectualism…how we humans are too smart to believe in the Supremes of Good and Evil. I personally know people who don’t believe in You at all and think believers are fools. They don’t believe that there is a devil, either, and that no “sin” at all exists – that people only just make “mistakes”.

“See THAT?” I want to scream in their faces today. “What happened in New England to those babies? That is what evil looks like!” But of course, illusion is one of your enemy’s greatest tricks. He desires that humans don’t believe in him at all. It makes his vile work seem innocuous.

Folks want to blame gun laws, mental health issues and just about everything else. These things may have played a part in this tragedy (only You really know), but nobody wants to blame the devil and his demonic influence…that would be considered positively medieval Meanwhile, we look for a root cause to such terror, while the witch leads the witch-hunt.

This world is a broken, broken place. To be honest, God, it seems too broken to support life at all. And too many times, it is the least of these who bear the brunt of the brokenness. I don’t understand why that is the case. From a human standpoint, we don’t understand. Horrible things happen to innocent people – even the most innocent.

Oh God, be with the families of those victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. Surround them, infuse the, love them in a way that leaves no doubt that you are a God of compassion! As the Kindergarteners climb clamoring onto your lap today, comfort the ones whose laps are now empty. Erase the last earthly memories from the minds of those precious children and ease the torment in the minds of their families.

Father, help us! And forgive us for our in-house bickering over who lies at fault. Let it be obvious!

Let the prayers and love of a nation be the tiniest little consolation for those whose lives are devastated beyond measure. I cannot begin to fathom the hurt, but YOU have been a grieving parent, Lord. I know this breaks your heart in two.

Let our nation know what forces are truly behind all acts of terror. This was not a “mistake” Although it only takes one individual hell-bent on destruction to devastate a nation, there is still hope.

There is also One able to save an entire world.  Save us, God.

We are NOT too “smart” to ask for your help. We need you.

In Jesus name. –

Jana Greene

Recovery

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

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

By: Jana Greene

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

Almost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

Now, that is truly divine.

Holiday

Carols for the Saturday of Awkwardness – Sing Along!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(to the tune of O’Tannenbaum)

Oh Saturday

Oh Saturday

Thanksgiving dishes in sink still lay.

Oh Saturday,

Oh Saturday,

Black Friday stole my joy away.

The reds and greens of Christmastime,

Shant’ prematurely hang in mine.

Oh Saturday

Oh Saturday

Make me a turkey sandwich.

 Or….

Joy to the world,

For crying out loud,

We just had Thanksgiving meal!

For Black Friday, You’re a fan of all

The sales, like a crazed animal,

Shopping til’ you dropped

And now your cash flow’s stopped.

And it’s still just November

Awkward Saturday.

God bless us…one and all!

Inspirational

All About the Ride – Lessons from an Elderly Dog

My girl, Emmie

By: Jana Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All about the ride.

Inspirational, Spiritual

Picking up Rocks on a Walk with God

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

Crispy.

Fried.

Burned out.

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

“How are you?”

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

“Weary and burdened, actually.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beauty from ashes.

Spiritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahhhh. Restorative salt air eased our moods right away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh how I love Him.

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

Devotional, Inspirational, Spiritual

Meditation, Rumination and Prayer

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

Acting Ugly

By: Jana Greene

I’ll take a step and its right behind me
Always fighting for control
There’s a war that’s raging inside me
I feel the battle for my soul
It’s like my shadow is dragging me around
And You are my only way out – Casting Crowns, My Own Worst Enemy

Yesterday – all morning – I felt like God’s red-headed stepchild. I was being a brat, really – acting ugly.

It wasn’t because of anything He did or said, but because of my mind-set. My brain chemistry felt “off” and my hormonal balance no better and I didn’t want to talk to God about it. I felt like there was a wedge between him and me because I was so messy, even though I know that’s the right thing to do. I wanted to own my little tantrum for a while, truthfully. But after a while, I got so tired of my own tirade that I agreed to go with my husband to the beach for a little while.

“Okay,” I told him. “But I’m in a really bad mood.” (To be fair, I thought he should be warned – as if the crying and crossed arms didn’t clue him in.)

As is his way, He took my hand anyway.  God love him (and He does) – that man ministers to my Spirit like nobody else because he just simply walks the walk by loving. Not by preaching or nagging or alienating me. Living with me and our three nearly-adult daughters, he cannot afford to be easily spooked by a little female freak-out.

By the first hour on the shore, sunshine on our shoulders, I felt my mind-set change dramatically, and with it came an apology to my husband – and my Heavenly Father.

I’m sorry I pouted with you, I told God silently. But He was already over it. I love that He is so forgiving.

This morning, I picked up my Bible and read in the book of Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God. The scripture reminded me that no matter how I feel on any given day (it changes constantly!), His WORD is fact.  And I know that, intellectually…I’ve read it 100 times. But I am still learning to fully accept that in my spirit (it’s a journey).

It isn’t trouble or hard times, or hatred or hunger….or homelessness, bullying threats or backstabbing that makes me feel that chasm between the Father and I.

No…. It’s me.  Often, I do it to myself.

Still, no matter where I stand crying, arms crossed and ornery, when I turn around He is there.  The enemy tells us that we are separated from God at our worst, and we feel that it must be true. But the enemy is a liar.

Here is what The Authority says:

“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I am absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, 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)

He is our only way out, carrying us in an embrace.

What a beautiful Savior.