Seasons (that suck) are followed by Seasons (that ROCK!)

fall

By: Jana Greene

This whole post could easily be about hating summer.  Because I really hate summer, and frankly don’t understand why any temperature over 90 degrees exists. That’s what I want to talk about today – hating summer because it’s hot.

In the literal heat of the moment, I can decide the whole damn season just sucks.

Heat is oppressive. My body doesn’t like it. Easily eighty percent of my health woes are directly impacted by temperature, although I hate admitting that because it’s such an old lady complaint. (Spoiler alert: You really CAN feel the storm coming in your bones!)

Something about sweating really brings out my flair for the dramatic. In the foyer of my house – as I am exiting my home – I am woman, hear me RAWR! And I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me! I’m having a great hair day!

Two seconds later, I’m walking to the driveway awash in the oven-like conditions of the great outdoors (yes, the stretch between my front door and driveway IS considered the ‘great outdoors,’ especially in the summer.) Within moments, I have dissolved into a sweaty, ruddy, giant two year old who needs a nap. The air feels too damp to breathe. Ew.

When I get over-heated, all of the sudden, I feel fat and ugly.

All of the sudden, my inflammation levels rise.

All of the sudden, I hate everything about living on planet Earth.

Oh my goodness, what first world problems! But during the experience of segueing between Hearth and Home and Habitat Hell, I become extremely grumpy. What possible purpose could 100 degree weather serve? I mean, sorry about the Ozone, God, but could you hook a sister up with some nice 80 degree days between May and September?

To everything, turn turn turn,

Season, turn turn turn,

And a time for every purpose

Under Heaven.

Purpose. Hmmmm.

The inevitable truth is that summer is only a season – one season – and as such, will turn into Fall. Things turn; it’s the nature of things to turn.

Now, I LOVE everything about Fall, ya’ll. The whole shebang!

Autumn leaves changing colors, and hot apple cider. Snuggly sweaters and crisp, cool air. October is my favorite color, and I can’t wait for it to come around! At the slightest whiff of cool air, my attitude changes. Witnessing the falling of one orange leaf means all of the bounty of my favorite season is in view. It’s coming! It really is!

That seasons change is a fact. Better times are coming. After this season comes another, better one. I will not need gills to breathe outside then. I will be able to exhale, and inhale again, with little to no drama about leaving the house.

So I suppose this whole post is kind of all about hating summer. But even this wretched season has it’s charms – like going to the beach. And….going to the beach. (I got nothin’ else here.)

No matter what we are hating right now – it will change. Seasons always do. Whatever is stifling us and strangling us, making us grumpy.  Knowing that it’s nearly September and October inevitably follows is a great comfort to me right now!

If you are going through some awful season right now, I pray you will just be encouraged. I’m not going to feed you a line about everything happening for a reason; that’s not helpful at all. But I am reminding you that it is temporary.

It helps to remember that in all of the other seasons, too – the ones that make heat strokes look like a walk in the park. Like the Big Three – health, money, and relationships. There’s a season for everything, including huge life changes.

Take heart – your “October” is coming!

Mine is, too.

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.”

 

Playing the Fool (or When Trust Goes Terribly Wrong)

fool

By: Jana Greene

Well hello, dear Readers.

Today I’d like to talk about something that happened to me several months ago. I’m hoping writing about it will help clear my head, because its been a good while now and it still smarts. Sometimes, putting an issue out into the universe by means of keystrokes helps me process and deal with things.

File this blog post under “no good deed goes unpunished.”

The gist of it is that I had a friend who was also in recovery. After a stay in rehab, she was released back into her natural habitat with all intentions of staying sober. Or so I believed.

We had mutual friends at the time, and someone suggested she reach out to me because maybe I can hook her up with some meeting resources, and just generally be her friend. As a result of her past choices, she relied on others to get her around town, and I was all too happy to be her recovery buddy and take her to meetings with me.

And become her friend, I did.

Not only did she confide in me, but I in her; and regularly. Looking back now, I cringe at the uber-vulnerability I felt comfortable engaging in with her. I wasn’t her sponsor, but I was her friend, and I have a propensity for letting it all hang out anyway.

She had close ties with people who used to be an intimate part of my life – family even – but I trusted her (mostly.) She seemed to trust me, too.

What I should have caught on to, but missed by a mile was that her wildly elaborate and passionate stories about recovery. How could I not have seen them as overkill? I have had teenage daughters before – I should KNOW that when someone clearly sells past the close with oversharing.

Sample conversation with (insert name of teen daughter…)

Me: “Where do go last night?”

Teenager: “Emily needed help with her homework, so I went over because we are learning the square root of infinity and she doesn’t really get it, but I’m good at math and….”

Me: “And you did this by sneaking out at 2 a.m.?”

Teenager: “Well, her dog had passed out, so I went over to show Emily how to give it CPR, and then a group of bandits broke in to her house and held us hostage, so I couldn’t come home, and when I finally did, a clown driving an ice cream truck followed me and I freaked out, and then Britney called and…..”

Ok, I exaggerate. But not terribly.

On our rides together,  she was super animated and would often even quote from my own blog to me. I would sometimes think, ‘okay…THAT was weird,’ but most of my friends – and certainly me – are weird. Some of the personal stories she told suspended belief!

Eventually, this friend needed witnesses who ‘knew’  her pretty well, and as her meeting buddy, I felt confident about testifying for her.  “You’ve worked so hard on your recovery,” I said. “I would be honored to help.”

The funny thing is that while all of this meeting hopping was going on, I mentioned to My Beloved, “Hey, wouldn’t it suck if  ****  was just a mole placed strategically to report back to my estranged family about how I feel about them?” We had a good laugh. That was  PREPOSTEROUS.

What wasn’t so preposterous was that I came to later find out that the whole shebang – including the two years of her sobriety – was an elaborate ruse designed to soften my heart toward this person. It worked.

I don’t know if she was ever a mole and I really don’t care – but she was definitely a user. A user who is still drinking and – as all evidence now proves – likely may have been all along, and I’m a SUCKER. I staked my name and reputation in the recovery community on my belief that she had been truthful.

The Oscar for Best Actress goes to ….

This gal.

After I was a character witness for her, I never saw or heard from her again. She fell off the face of the Earth. It’s hard for me to imagine that degree of deception, and over the course of a YEAR, no less.

I kind of pride myself on this mission statement: I don’t have relationships with people I don’t trust. That assumes I know untrustworthy people and can tell when they are lying. I thought I had decent discernment. Maybe that pride needs to go the way of ALL pridefulness. In the sh*tter, where it belongs.

The question I keep posing to myself is thus – HOW could I be so stupid and gullible? I honest to God just didn’t see it.

Deception. So much deception. Looking back, I’m not sure ANY of what she had tearfully told me was true. Like I said, I am a SUCKER. I lost a friend who I prayed  and hugged and laughed with.

There’s no way to wrap up this post all clean and tidy, because life is just so messy. I don’t think I’ll hear from her again; she got what she had befriended me for. I’m angry and hurt and feel like a complete idiot.

What I experienced ain’t terribly original. Active addicts lie. It’s kind of what they do. They deceive, minimize, maximize, lie, cheat, steal, and all to protect their best friend – the drug of choice. I myself used to strategically hide BOXES of wine all over the house (although I’m not sure why, as those in my life at the time didn’t seem to mind if I drank myself to death.) But once I got into a program, I learned to call myself out on these behaviors and stop lying to myself.  Because calling yourself out keeps you sober, frankly. “Rigorous honesty.”

Yeah, that old chestnut.

As with most things about recovery, I’ve learned tons about myself during this time. Had I to do it again, what would I change? Even if I knew she was using me and lying about her addiction?

I would still offer to take her to meetings with me. I would still give her a safe place to vent. I probably wouldn’t have shared as much of my personal life with her, and I surely wouldn’t have vouched for her. Like I said, it sometimes seems that no good deed goes unpunished.

Although the deception happened TO me, it is not ABOUT me. It’s not about me in the least. But it stings all the same –  I’m just being honest about how this whole debacle made me feel.

Still, God calls me to be grace-full, and I’m trying. He never called me to be a sucker.  I have forgiven this lady (although she never asked for it) after wasting precious hours and hours on trying to figure out what clues I missed.

But forgiving someone doesn’t mean you want to break bread with them. You can forgive, walk away, and be wiser for the trouble.

I still pray for my friend.  I hope she gets honest with herself and gets well. I hope she is safe and that others are safe around her. I ask God to give me discernment, but at the end of the day, I’m going to try to love people anyway. That’s the messy part.

The rest is on her.

Hurts, Psalms, and Healing Balms

japanese

By: Jana Greene

A long time ago, when I had retrospectively minimalist problems, I used to read the Psalms out loud in my morning devotion time. Until recently, I’d forgotten how much power is invoked in reading them aloud.

It’s 4 a.m. right now. And it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, Oh Lord…..standing in the need of prayer. I’ve been up all night with gargantuan aches, pains, and the like –  that seem hellbent of keeping me awake.

The Bible says that biblical David was a man after God’s own heart, but if you read the scripture, it seems that David was a bit of a whiner at best, and a real drama queen at worst. I mucked up a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and STILL God knew his deep and abiding love for him. I absolutely love Kind David. He GETS me.

Yesterday, I got some medical news that I suspected was coming. I’d warned my mind and body about it (as the symptoms had already revealed themselves to said mind and body), but my Spirit put up quite a fit upon learning what’s going on. Renal issues. Enlarged Liver issues. Chronic pain and more migraines to expect. Fatigue as the order of the day forthcoming. And leg and foot cramps that make you want to cry uncle at the top of your lungs at 2 a.m. (My poor, poor husband, I KNOW he is losing sleep…..)

Oh, and did I mention mental health issues arising from dealing with the stress of all of the above PLUS childhood trauma that has never been dealt with, and a whole lifetime of untreated depression? As I lurch forward in treatment for mental health issues, I’m feeling black-and-blue, my heart beat up badly, and bones and soul, too.

Which brings me back to the biblical David, bitcher of circumstance, beloved man after God’s own heart (is it possible to be both? I’m kind of counting on it….) Like David, I am on the cusp of digging deeper in my faith. Like David, I’m getting ready to clean out my closet and make room for fresh hope.

The Psalms are best read aloud because you can better capture biblical David’s desperation aloud. He is one of my favorite biblical characters because he can slay giants, become a mighty king, loves God with all of his heart, and seemingly and impulsively throw it away for a hot chick in a bathtub. Hey, who am I to judge?

Here is a man who knows frustration. Here is a man who gave us authentic prayer of the highest order.

Pray it aloud when you are at the end of your proverbial rope:

1-2 Please, God, no more yelling,
    no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
    I’m so starved for affection.

2-3 Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue,
    beat up badly in bones and soul?
God, how long will it take
    for you to let up?

4-5 Break in, God, and break up this fight;
    if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I’m no good to you dead, am I?
    I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!

6-7 I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed
    has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
    My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
    nearly blind, I squint and grope.

8-9 Get out of here, you Devil’s crew:
    at last God has heard my sobs.
My requests have all been granted,
    my prayers are answered.10 Cowards, my enemies disappear.
Disgraced, they turn tail and run.  Pslam 6:1-10 (MSG

Read this aloud when imploring the Lord, perhaps in times you feel forgotten:

 

13-14 Be kind to me, God;
    I’ve been kicked around long enough.
Once you’ve pulled me back
    from the gates of death,
I’ll write the book on Hallelujahs;
    on the corner of Main and First
    I’ll hold a street meeting;
I’ll be the song leader; we’ll fill the air
    with salvation songs.” Psalm 9:1-10 (MSG)

And then this. Pray it out loud. Pray it so that the devil can hear you. Pray it so that the cells wrapped in pain in your body can know it’s true. If we don’t get healing this side of the kingdom, we get it eventually and in full, and forever! In the meantime, pray it LOUD:

And this after-God’s-own-heart, keeping it 100, plea from an authentic David to God:

“Oh, God, my Lord, step in;
    work a miracle for me—you can do it!
Get me out of here—your love is so great!—
    I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins.
I’m fading away to nothing, passing away,
    my youth gone, old before my time.
I’m weak from hunger and can hardly stand up,
    my body a rack of skin and bones.
I’m a joke in poor taste to those who see me;
    they take one look and shake their heads.

26-29 Help me, oh help me, God, my God,
    save me through your wonderful love;
Then they’ll know that your hand is in this,
    that you, God, have been at work.
Let them curse all they want;
    you do the blessing.
Let them be jeered by the crowd when they stand up,
    followed by cheers for me, your servant.
Dress my accusers in clothes dirty with shame,
    discarded and humiliating old ragbag clothes.

30-31 My mouth’s full of great praise for God,
    I’m singing his hallelujahs surrounded by crowds,
For he’s always at hand to take the side of the needy,
    to rescue a life from the unjust judge.(Psalm 109:25-31)

And here, finally, we see the AHA moment in which David sees the light, so to speak. He is at that pivotal place we all need to find ourselves in, in order to keep running that most challenging race set before us:

“Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
    who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
    when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
    put your hope in God and know real blessing!
God made sky and soil,
    sea and all the fish in it.
He always does what he says—
    he defends the wronged,
    he feeds the hungry.
God frees prisoners—
    he gives sight to the blind,
    he lifts up the fallen.
God loves good people, protects strangers,
    takes the side of orphans and widows,
    but makes short work of the wicked.

10 God’s in charge—always.
    Zion’s God is God for good!
    Hallelujah!” Psalm 146:3-10

Lift up us fallen ones, Abba. We are so tired.

But even in our sickness and sadness and end-of-our-rope-ness, we are are a people after your own Heart!

God bless us, every one.

 

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Whatever Comes Further, God is already There

 

bed

By: Jana Greene

“Hey, God…..”

“Yes?”

“What’s going to happen further along down the road?”

“I’m sorry, that’s on a need-to-know basis. Just trust me.”

“But….”

“Trust me, love. Whatever comes further, I’m already there with you.”

I’m always badgering God about what’s next, even though I know that I couldn’t even handle it if I knew. Seriously, I COULD NOT EVEN. But in some convoluted way, I ask God to reveal to me the outcome of certain things, but the gift of prophesy is not my strong suit.

I am considering this today as I’m struggling with my health issues. I have a rare-ish condition that causes chronic fatigue, migraines, intermittent system pain, and recurrent infections. It’s not going to kill me, but some days I feel like it would kill me if it were more merciful.

Here’s the thing, though: If God had revealed to me that I would do battle with this for the rest of my life, I don’t know that I would have stayed sober. I don’t know if I’d handle it well at all, so I’m grateful for the not knowing.

While I was busy NOT knowing, He went further down the road with me when I wasn’t even looking. The manifestations of His mighty hand over this struggle were being constructed long before I was even symptomatic.

If God had revealed that I would carry this thorn, maybe it would have gone down like this:

“Child, enough badgering! Come sit with me, and I will indulge your curiosity….

“As you grow older, you will feel like your mind and body are falling apart, because they will be – sort of – and you will be scared and tired and frustrated. But I’m working on an infrastructure for your life so that you will be able to carry this yoke…..

“I will bring you a spouse who adores you, and believes you when you are telling the truth about your pain. He will never give up on you, even when you are really sick….

“I will drop friends into your life with EXACTLY this same disease that you suffer from, and they will seemingly drop from the clear blue sky. You will marvel that I took such care to place those perfect people in your life at just the right moments. Lean on them and let them lean into you. They are sent directly from me….

“When you are having a bad day and hurting inside and out, I will scootch right up next to you so close that you can feel my love  for you, even through the pain. My Holy Spirit will be IN you, giving you fresh hope, even through the tears…..

“I will give you the gift to write about your experience, so that you can pay this Love forward to others….the ones who are gravely sick but look well, the ones whose labs and tests all come back normal and they feel like they are losing their minds, and that nobody believes them. YOU will comfort and believe them, just as you have been comforted….

“I will give you humor in copious quantities, so that you can not just survive, but THRIVE….

“Whatever comes further, I am already there with you.”

I get by with a LOT of help from my friends.

God bless us, every one.

 

 

 

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Politics, the Devil, and the Deep Blue Sea

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“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” – Anne Lamott

By: Jana Greene

This planet is a scary place to be stationed for the duration of our earthly lives, isn’t it? It is full of manifest proof that people are completely whack. Especially in this political season, so rife with corruption and spite and division. I quite fancy the bumper sticker I saw the other day that simply says, “GIANT METEOR 2016” and in small print “Just end it already.”

In my flesh, I’m pretty sure that a giant meteor is the best contender, if for no other reason that it would at least be a quick death, and not a slow-burn of horror that might be a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency.

Surely God is avoiding those two candidates like the plague. Surely, God is a nice libertarian, right?

Right?

Be a light, I keep telling myself. Enough people are bitching about the election. Bitching about the state of the world is kind of a specialty of mine, because I feel so STRONGLY about things that I often work myself into a Chicken Little-style frenzy of running in circles yelling THE SKY IS FALLING! THE SKY IS FALLING!

In my flesh, I’m pretty sure we are politically doomed. Yet even as bits of sky are raining down, my supernatural spirit knows God will work all things to the good.

(God can even use Hillary and Trump somehow. THAT’S how powerful our God is, people.)

God is in this place, in this time. He isn’t in hiding. Contrary to many believers’ cries that God is so fed up with this country, he has left ‘Murica altogether. If that were true, indeed all hope would be lost.

But hope isn’t lost. Not all of it, anyway.

Christians especially love to put demographics of people into little boxes, so that we can give ‘those people’ wide berth.  There are many, many believers who think that God would never be present in unholy places – the back alleys. The venues of ill repute.

The campaign trail (*shudder*)

But that’s just not true. I know this because Jesus entered into darkness when he signed up for this Earth gig. He never said, “Ew, I can’t go THERE with THEM.”

He entered into darkness so that every one of us has the opportunity to walk in the light. Because of that, I don’t have to fear the dark (I don’t HAVE to, but sometimes I still do…its a work in progress!)

One tiny light vanquishes darkness; it doesn’t have to be a torch or an incandescent bulb. It just has to be willing to be lit – accepting Christ and trusting that he is still on the throne no matter who is in the White House.

What to DO when you feel like you are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea? Stand there and be a lighthouse, of course.

Here is what I believe:

God is in me, and he is in you.

He is faithful and steadfast (no meteor required).

He has a plan, even when all evidence points to the contrary.

Plot twists are kind of his specialty.

He is not deterred by people, places and things.

He is only ever good at heart.

Because God is love, anywhere there is love, there God is.

 

God bless America. And may he bless us, every one.

 

 

 

 

 

The Privilege of Focusing Elsewhere

sunset

By Jana Greene

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ and he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” –  Mark 4:35-41

Yesterday as a super weird day. Ever feel ‘off’? Ever feel ‘unhinged?’ That was me yesterday, all day.

I woke up upset about the state of the world – the terrorist attacks in Paris, more specifically.  Then I got more and more upset about how improperly people were responding to it.

People I love dearly, suggesting we all basically sit in a giant circle around the globe and sing Kumbaya until mean people stop being mean. Honestly, that makes no sense to me. You’d think you would catch on to the ineffectiveness of that plan already. It’s not working.

Then I wrote about it on this blog, and poised my finger over the ‘publish’ button on WordPress. It was a stellar piece, really. Full of common sense and righteous indignation, and I really wanted to post it. I wanted to post it and share it so that I could stick some facts and impassioned logic in the faces of people who are just NOT getting it. People who make me wonder where the world would be if we applied tolerance liberally to the Nazi regime. (Spoiler alert: The gentiles among us would all be speaking German and the Jews would all have been murdered years ago….)

I am related to some very dove-ish people, they are hopelessly and unrealistically optimistic. I love them dearly, even in their perceived wrongness.

Finger poised over the ‘publish’ key, I decided to shut down the computer. I was simply too sad to even post it.

Now, although I reserve the right to publish it later (and probably WILL at some point) God had other plans for my spirit yesterday, plans put into motion by My Beloved. That man is a saint in sinner’s clothing, I’m absolutely convinced of it.

“Lets take a ride,” he suggests. Understand that I am alternately glowering and crying, slamming things around. I don’t feel like a ride. I feel like crying, and can you not plainly SEE this? But I know the plans he (my husband) has for me, and they are entirely good, always. So I ride along.

While we are driving down to Southport, a quaint little harbor town nearly an hour away, I am on my phone texting madly with my adult daughters. They are not upset enough at the right people my liking about the whole Paris thing, and I am going to MAKE THEM SEE the light. I am also having an internal conversation with God, who keeps insisting that maybe it’s time to trust Him with my daughters (and, um….everything else.)

But when a woman is high on anxiety and low on estrogen, there is no reasoning with her. In a group text, I reminded my kids about 9/11 and how dangerous it can be to try to reason with terrorists, worse even then reasoning with their hormone-depleted mother. They took offense, naturally, but I could not stop. I was going to make my point, dammit, for their own good.

It went abysmally, the whole exchange. They reminded me that they are adults and have their own opinions. I sometimes forget that.

MEANWHILE, as I’m furiously texting 90 words per minute, I am SOBBING. Absolutely just losing it. My poor husband.

Why is everything so SAD? Why don’t my kids GET IT? By the time we got to Southport, I’ve blown through an entire box of Puffs Plus. Little balls of snotty tissue littered the lovely leather interior of the car.

My Beloved pulls the car over at a little ice cream stand and insists I eat some ice cream. I look like a frog from crying hysterically and you think I want ICE CREAM?

Okay, I do want ice cream. So we sit out on the patio and I eat Mint Chocolate chip whilst crying. The kid at the counter looked so confused. I fought the urge to remind him to call his mother and be nice to her.

After the treat, My Beloved drove down to the water, and when we got out of the car, this happened:

sunset 3

It took my breath away, the calmness. I didn’t welcome it at first. I still wanted to hold on to my hysteria because the world is upside down (as if that HELPS turn it right side up?)

But then I just rested my eyes on the whole scene in front of me. You would never know that the world is on fire, if you were sitting at this little spot by the sea. And then came peace.

You have to LOOK for the calmness, it won’t come to you first.

The truth is that while I am very upset about terrorism, I am also upset about everything else changing in my world. From job loss to depression to major surgery to empty nest syndrome to becoming a grandparent….things are weird and different and I’m scared of all the change.

It’s chaos, if I’m looking around me.

Today I told God that I was SO over this planet and everyone on it. And what is the DEAL with humanity being so freaking hateful and disregarding human life and Lord God, do you even SEE what is going on here!?

“Teacher, do you not CARE that we are perishing!?”

And then this happened. In the midst of being so OVER everything, because that’s where He shows up. Smack dab in the middle.

sunset1And this happened too.

Jesus

And then I say, “Okay, God. Now you’re just showing off.” But I’m not crying anymore.

My Heavenly Papa spoke to me.

“Hey you,” He said. “Get over yourself and look at this! Isn’t it incredible? I’m here, never left. Stop flailing about in worried hysteria. I’m still Me. This is to remind you where your eyes belong.”

I just love Him so much.

The world was still crazy when we drove back home. Real messed up. I tried not to watch the news at all. I was still hormonal and unhinged, but a little less weepy. I texted my children to ask them to please forgive my harsh tone and my expectation that they think like me. It’s unrealistic. If you’ve never asked your children to forgive you after a blow-up, it’s very humbling.

And they texted back that they love their mom and forgive her, just as they always do when I mess up. Just like I always do for them when they mess up. We try really hard not to let the sun set on our anger, no matter what. And this day, the sunset was absolutely spectacular (literally and figuratively.)

“Peace!” Jesus says. “Be still!'”

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Here’s a little insight: You cannot control a SINGLE act or reaction that another person exhibits. Not even a little bit. Don’t say I never taught you anything here at The Beggar’s Bakery.

But you can refocus your eyes. Even when it feels like God is sleeping.

Although pretty sunsets and ice cream don’t ‘fix’ what’s wrong, they can be a catalyst to changing your thinking, even for a while.

You have the right to look for calm in the midst of a crazy chaotic world. You have the right to use up a whole box of tissues in one sobbing sitting if you need to, but God gives us the privilege of refocusing on Him.

It’s a privilege.

Teacher, help us to be still.

Amen.

Recovery Option “B” – Have Faith Anyway

bBy: Jana Greene

Very recently, I came across the prayer journal that I  kept before I got sober on January 3, 2001. That is my D.O.S. (date of sobriety) which has become far more meaningful to me than my birthday or any other anniversary.

In this particular journal, the entries began about a month before my D.O.S. (the date in which my sobriety ‘stuck’) and continues only through about six months into recovery. There are about ten entries, total. It would not seem to be a very in-depth journaling exercise if, say, I were being graded on it. But I wasn’t being graded on it, of course. The number one key to keeping a journal, in my humble opinion, is remembering that nobody is going to grade you on it. It is for the benefit of you own tender spirit, and no one else.

I sat down with a cup of coffee to read my old, cringe-worthy journal just the other day.

On an entry dated December 11, 2000 – about three weeks before I came to the end of myself in my addiction – I am hopeful at the top of the page:

Reflections/notes: “I am saving this space to write in tonight when I am tempted to drink.”

And then scrawled in the center of the page many hours later …

Drank anyway.

Even today, nearly 15 years later, I can feel the collapse of my heart as if it just happened. Oh how vividly I remember that sensation of disappointment. I hope I always remember it, it helps keep me sober today.

In between those two writings, a full-on war was going on inside of me. Picking up a drink was, for me, setting down a portion of my faith that God was in control and could handle my problems. Drinking was my way of sitting out the game. Not only did I relinquish my part in saving my own ass, but I was shaking my fist at God for not helping me save it. By continuing to pick up, I was in essence tying the hands of God. He is a gentleman, you see, and will coerce by force. There must be surrender.

I don’t know why it took so long for my sobriety to become ‘sticky,’ I only know that it took what it took. And I know that I had to do the work to put my disease in its place. Meetings. Prayers. Surrender every minute of the day. Strategy. Every war requires expert strategists or it is doomed to fail.

Part of the strategy in very early sobriety was to give myself only two choices. Any more than two were completely overwhelming.

Today will be challenging in the same old ways. It will also be challenging in some brand-new ways. You have a choice. You can …

A) Drink/use anyway.

or

B) Have faith anyway.

The latter is so much more difficult than the former. But choosing the second option saved my life.

“Having faith anyway” looks messy! It means believing that which seems completely impossible. It means accepting THIS, one day at a time, one hour at a time, one SECOND at a time, if need be.

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:28 (MSG)

It’s interesting to read the journal entries that followed. They were desperate. Here is the entry from five days sober:

“I cannot drink today, not today. Maybe not ever again. Nobody knows the extent of my disease. My hands are trembling, holding this pen. I feel toxic, inside and out. The alcohol is bad for my body but worse for my soul. It’s like acid and sweet nectar of oblivion, all in one. I cannot serve two gods anymore. I can feel the hand of Jesus reaching to me, I know He is with me, even now. I used to boast that Jesus was my crutch. I used to be embittered by all that happens in life, and talked to him every day. Over the years, the wine instead became my crutch….just a ‘little something’ to relax me, and then a few more, and then I don’t even remember, until an empty bottle or box. And so here I am on this cool January morning, trembling and calling out the demon. I want God back at the helm, and it’s not because I ‘deserve’ it, but because of this amazing, impossible-to-comprehend gift of Grace. I don’t want to feel the constant shame, the uneasy and bewildering guilt anymore. I’m ready to change, with His help.”

Lots of other notes in the journal follow.

“Okay, God….what is the DEAL with my LIFE?”

and …

“Help me, God, I cannot do this!”

But I COULD choose option B…Have faith that if I surrender to the will of God, I will survive it – and thrive, even.

And so I chose Recovery Option B, no matter what.

Is everything falling apart and you can see no possible resolution? Choose faith anyway. He’s Got this, if you only surrender your will to His.

Are you hurting – mind, body, and soul?

Choose faith anyway. NOTHING has ever been healed by drinking / using the toxins.

Angry, bitter, fed-up?

Don’t pick up and HAVE FAITH ANYWAY. Have faith that your D.O.S. – that glorious, meaningful GIFT of a date – is yours to keep, but you’ve got to work to keep it.

And surround yourself in a healthy recovery community. Journal, if it helps, and remember nobody is grading you! Don’t sit out the game of your own life. Don’t tie the hands of God. He has SUCH good plans for you. He knows you far better than you know yourself. And He is madly in love with YOU. When you get tired, ask for His Spirit to help you along. It’s a messy thing, recovery. But oh how your tender spirit will rejoice on the journey, one single day at a time.

It can save your life.

It saved mine.

 

 

Step Five – The Exact Nature of our Wrongs

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STEP FIVE
We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16 

“There are some secrets I will take to my grave.”

Have you ever said the statement above? I have. It is a sentiment that keeps sickness active and recovery stunted. Step Four helped us form an inventory and delve into the wrongs done to us and done by us to others. What to do with the indiscretions laid bare by the hardscrabble work of the fourth step?

Step Five is clear about taking action.

Words have power. What you speak from your mouth can change the trajectory of your healthy recovery, even change the world around you. Speak light and life over people, and their lives change. Speak darkness and it attracts darkness. Let’s not confuse admitting the exact nature of our wrongs to another human being as speaking darkness. To the contrary, as our searching and fearless moral inventories, they can be cleanly dealt with. It’s hard to see in the dark. But whatever the light touches is seen. And can be grasped to be fully put behind you.

Some items on our inventories might be harder to admit than others. Some may seem impossible to own before God, much less a sponsor or accountability partner. But our wrongs – our sins – stay powerful unless confessed to those we trust. Confessing them deflates them so that we can step over them and move forward.

The exact nature of our wrongs, taking responsibility for those things so shameful we vowed never to admit them on this side of the dirt. You really are only as sick as your secrets.

The problem with taking secrets to your grave is that it requires you to lead a grave-tender’s life to some degree. It forces you to spend your lifetime keeping something destructive underground, making sure it stays covered up. Part of you is always tending to that, protecting it. Digging it back up to make sure it is still there so that you can flog yourself with it’s shame, reburying it twice as deep. It’s a lot of work to keep secrets.

You don’t know what I’ve done,” you might be saying.

And you’re right, I don’t. But I do know that – in order to live victoriously in recovery – you must not keep it to yourself. All the things you’ve done in active disease and otherwise are covered under the blood of Christ Jesus if you accept Him and His love.

You see,  God already knows what you’ve done, and is crazy in love with you anyway. If you are in a 12 Step program, you already know people who are equipped to help you admit the exact nature of your wrongs.

“I’ve done bad things” doesn’t cut it when working Step Five. Share your heart with someone who is trustworthy and then burn or bury your past indiscretions in the place of the secrets that have required you to tend to your grave as you are in the living.

So that you can say “Grave? What grave?”

So that you can get on with this big, juicy life you’ve been given and ask “What’s next, Papa?”

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!” – Romans 8:15-17 (MSG)

The Flippin’ Sweet Whole Love of God

napoleanBy: Jana Greene

Last night, I was tossing and turning. Thinking about all the things that are oh-so wrong in this world. I exhausted my energies with worry, and then I implored my Heavenly Father to please comfort me. As I often do when asking God for favors, I quoted scripture to Him, when really – plain talk would have sufficed. He already knows my heart – a heart thirsty to be filled up with His love.

“I’m tired, Abba. Worn down. I need your strength,” my spirit said. ” I just need a touch, Lord. Just see me through today.” I reminded him of the woman at the well, who touched the hem of the garment of Jesus and was made whole.

Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can just put a finger on his robe, I’ll get well.” Jesus turned—caught her at it. Then he reassured her: “Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.” The woman was well from then on.” Matthew 9:20-22 (MSG)

And God, in His infinite wisdom and Holy magnificence, brought a very specific thought to my addled mind…. a scene from one of my very favorite movies, Napoleon Dynamite. Because – if there is anything I’ve learned about the Creator of the Universe – it’s that He has a sense of humor. He wants to relate to us.

SWEET (Yes, even this guy….)

The quirky film’s protagonist, Napoleon, is just trying to make it through high school. In one of the best scenes, he works up the courage in the lunchroom to talk to the girl he is crushing on, who is sitting at another table. In the most awkward pursuit ever, he commences to woo his girl – who is drinking a carton of milk – with this smooth line:

“I see you’re drinking 1%,” he bluntly states. “Is that because you think you’re fat? Because you’re not. You could be drinking whole if you wanted to.”

Why would the God of the universe bring that scene from the movie (CLICK HERE to see it)  so vividly to the forefront of my mind in the middle of the night? Because I’ve been drinking in about 1% of His word lately, and asking for the bare minimum of his power to just get by.

I see you are reaching for a touch of the hem of his garment. Is that because you think you’re not enough? Because in Him, you are enough. You could be filled with Holy Spirit if you wanted to.

I hear you asking for a touch. Are you drinking in God’s love in tiny sips because you think you’re not sure it’s real? Because it is. You could be having the real deal if you wanted to.

Are you asking for less than is already yours because you think only a portion of Me is available to you? Because it’s all here for you. You could be having more comfort than you can handle, if you wanted to.

The “hem of his garment” – the part of Him which is furthest from His heart and still tangible – is flippin’ sweet, as Napoleon might say.

But the heart of Him?

It’s ours, and He wants to fill us with it. And we cannot even begin to imagine the supernatural-ness available to us.

It made me smile, in the midst of my insomnia, that God would remind me of his Whole Power in such a way – a way I could readily understand and even laugh at.

Are you asking for just enough to make it through because you think you’re unworthy? Because you’re not. You could be having the Whole Love of God if you wanted to.

God’s pursuit of us is not awkward, but our acceptance of His love often is. I am learning that Holy Spirit is already in us in full, but our ability to tap into it, to have the Whole Milk Experience, is fettered by our own busy minds and insecurities. Courage, daughter.

Just follow your heart, as Napoleon says.

That’s what I do.

 

 

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Mustard Seeds and Mountains – Faith for the ordinary person

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“For if you had faith even as small as a tiny mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would go far away. Nothing would be impossible.” – Jesus (Matthew 17:20, Living translation)

For a short while in my career, it was my responsibility to edit incoming obituaries for a local newspaper. A good obituary gives you a mini biography of a person’s life – of who that person was while living out the “dash” in between the enter and exit dates on his or her tombstone.

I noticed a recurrent theme in submitted obituaries – the propensity to describe a departed loved one’s faith as such:
“A woman of great faith, Eula Mae Jones lived a righteous life. In all of her suffering, She never for a moment doubted her God.”

The same sentiment I read over and over  – a person’s absolute stead-fastness in faith described. I know it shouldn’t get under my flesh to hear faith described as such strong a thing! What a blessing! But  my flesh often allows things to get under it, even though it “knows” better….hings like Eula Mae’s never-wavering, rock-solid  faith.

Because I wish I were more Eula Mae and less like doubting Thomas. I don’t want to be Thomas, asking Jesus to prove his identity by the holes in his hands, but sometimes I ask him anyway.

The Eula Maes of the world are not prodigal-istic, but I am. Maybe you are, too. Maybe you – like me – have tried to take her heavenly inheritance and hit the road.

Although it happens less and less as I grow closer and closer to Christ, I’ve struggled with regular, run-of-the-mill doubt.  I love God with every fiber in my being, but I’m  just a regular human being with regular thoughts. I’m coming to believe it isn’t about knowing at all.

Yes, I know that I know that I know, but it’s not in the “knowing” that I grow. It’s in the trusting anyway that mountains get moved.  Trying to wrap my mind around what only my spirit was designed to understand leads to more doubt.

Here’s the thing about doubt – it does not diminish the God’s incredible, powerful love for us one single bit. I know that the Power of Love in the universe is not reduced by my doubting, nor anything else in my power. I know that His power can be magnified in my trusting him in doubtful times.

Here’s what account will be in my obituary, if it is an honest accounting of my faith:

Jana lived a life righteous in the eyes of God, despite her best efforts to screw her life up. Her righteousness had nothing whatsoever to do with her, and everything to do with the God she trusted anyway.

She  wondered if God were real on several occasions, but he was not angered by her questioning. Instead, He proved himself in a million ways if she took the time to seek Him –  in every gesture of love, in microcosm and macrocosm, in heaven, nature, and laughter.  He proved Himself with every sunrise and tide, and through the actions of others who love and trust Him too.

She didn’t understand why bad things happen to good people, or why bad things didn’t often happen to bad people. She didn’t understand many things, as  she saw through a glass darkly. But she  trusted God anyway. She believed like a child, open and in wonder.

She shook her fist at God on more than one occasion, but in the end, she  opened those fists to raise her hands high in worship.

She wanted badly to dis-believe a few times – periods when it would have been less painful to deny his existence than to believe he would allow her to experience such pain. But in those dark valleys, He always courted her gently back up the steep mountain. And she know that He was with her always, even to the ends of the earth.

She had faith the size of a mustard seed – no bigger – but she planted it anyway, small as it was. And God moved mountains by the deep roots that grew into a  sturdy, fruitful tree – from such a tiny thing. It only takes a little faith to move mountains.

She was a prodigal daughter, who took off with what God had given her,  determined that she could handle life all on her own. And when she returned home broken, Abba welcomed her with a ring for every finger, an embrace for every stubborn doubt.

In all of her suffering, she lived “the dash” honestly and authentically, and God was not diminished by her occasional doubts, but lifted high in her trusting.

And by her date of exit (and entrance into the arms of the God who courted her), she didn’t need to wrap her mind around what only my spirit was designed to understand. The mountain had been moved.

In the end, she believed nothing is impossible!

She was a woman of great faith, after all.

Agape for Amateurs: a love letter from God

Only love to lose

Oh Dear Created One,

Do you know who you are to me?
I am Love….only ever good.

And you are my handiwork.
By avoiding me, you have only love to lose. And love is everything.

I am not angry with you. In Jesus, I gave myself to you, for you – redemption in one fail swoop. When you have a misstep, I am saddened because you are hurting. But I will never leave you. I am with you to the ends of the earth and in the deepest crevices of your spirit.

Your hurting places don’t scare me away.
When you deny me, curse me, hide from me – I do not shy away, nor do I condemn you. The finished work of my Son ensures you that I keep no records of your wrongs, but are  courting you all along.
Where there is love, I am.

This fallen world – where hope seems in deficit – does not merit your trust. But I do.

I am trustworthy.

All the things you’ve been foolish for have torn you down, yet you are so afraid to be a “fool” for me?
Enough of the fallen. Enough of the foolish self-dependency. Walk with me – I long to raise you up!

That small, still voice? It’s me nudging you. Can you feel it? Let yourself consider that I am never more than a nudge away. That roaring storm of emotion that pulls at you? Called by 1,000 different names, the emotion is my urging , too. You were created to feel.

Without relationship with me, you have only love to lose. But love is everything.
I delight in you – created to love, created for love.

Your quirks and your passions make you one of a kind, in a world of billions. I see you.
I see you!

And you matter to me.

“This life is hard,” you say – and I know that it’s true. You see, I am human, too. The friend I left to you – the Holy Spirit – is available to you, in you.

The Spirit rejoices with you in times of celebration, and in times of sorrow, she brings great and all-encompassing comfort.

Cut through what others have told you about me. Throw away the ritualistic, legalistic, egotistic religion. Cut through the culture of shame. Have your own relationship with me – I dare you to seek me for who I truly am…

Not a figment of imagination in stories from dusty texts, but a force of creation, life, and love to be reckoned with.

Nothing is happenstance. Believe in me, and you have all the love to gain!
In your hurting places.
In your hiding places.

There is no deficit of hope, Dear One. Only the great gulf between us that you’ve erected in the name of self-preservation. I would love to close that gap and draw you so near that you feel my breath in your ear as we embrace. I do so long to embrace you!

When you seek me, I am there waiting – with wild, reckless love.
I delight in you.
Seek my face, and I shall never hide from you. There is no other like you – You are my BELOVED!

With love,

Your Papa God

“Hallelujah! Sing to God a brand-new song, praise him in the company of all who love him. Let all Israel celebrate their Sovereign Creator, Zion’s children exult in their King. Let them praise his name in dance; strike up the band and make great music! And why? Because God delights in his people, festoons plain folk with salvation garlands!” – Psalm149:1-4 (The Message)

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Mother’s Day/Father’s Day – when feelings won’t be held at bay

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My daughter Jana,

I’ve been watching you , keeping up with your feelings. I know you imagine I watch  you from my throne in Heaven, so far way. But in reality, I’m as close as you as your own heart, the one that’s been broken; the one that has been skipping beats lately. I am as close as the breath you have a hard time catching when you try to cry quietly. I am right there with you.

You’ve been a bit down lately, really kind of “attitude-y Judy” if you will, and I know it’s because of Father’s Day. Well, really, your blues  started to settle in around Mother’s Day, just  last month. You have been out of whack ever since.

You are estranged from the mother that you dearly love, because you heart has decided that healthy boundaries must be in place, but your brain has decided those boundaries were not  being respected.  At your heart-brain summit – trying to figure out what to do –  there was only chaos. I feel like maybe it’s time to let it go.

Father’s day is an even more loaded occasion. Aside from celebrating it for Your Beloved husband, you have no dog in this fight. The man who was most like father  to you (besides Me, of course) was your grandfather, Papa. How much he loved you, and you loved him! It is a beautiful thing so witness so much devotion this side of the Kingdom. Does my own heart good to see.

But when, my daughter, are you going to let go of the others who “fathered” you? The one whose DNA I chose to combine with your mother’s to weave you into being, and knit you in her womb? I am sorry he did not stick around. Is wasn’t about you, you know. Ahhh, perhaps that is the biggest problem – his indifference made it about you.

And others in the “father” position, like the others who volunteered to step into that role. You simply have to understand that it is a tragic thing that he took advantage of his position and that you were hurt. Oh, my child, you were only very small.

In love, I want to suggest to you – instead of focusing on the loss and estrangement, the hurt and the trauma of your earlier life …you could try to consider things from another side? I will not force you to let it go, child. I am quite a gentleman, in that I insist you must make the choice. But when you do, I am here to help you move on.

You, my daughter, are a survivor! Strong in heart and in mind. And what you’ve lost in this life, you can see I have given back to you ten-fold, if  you stop only looking back. Your cup is overflowing with blessings … Look around you, my child! Look forward.

All  the issues with parents (who are, after all, just human beings like you) cannot dilute the love you receive in your life every single day. Let go of the relationships that make you feel lost, orphaned, alone…and look around at this life I’ve given you!

What you lack in relationship with your parents, I have given you 1,000 times more, through circles of friends whom you love – and love you – like family. People I have purposely brought into your life (again, not by orchestrating from a different galaxy, but from within and with-out and all around you) cradle you in more care than you ever imagined you would experience in this life.

When have you gone through a time of sorrow or joy that you were not surrounded with friends that rush toward you, to climb in the trenches and sit with you in your sorrow, or rejoice with great exuberance when celebration was in order?

In your husband alone, I’ve given you a best friend and confidant, a lover, a helper; and a wonderful father for your children, as well. In all the world, I chose him for you, so that you would never feel lost, orphaned, alone again.

My daughter, if you would just realize this … maybe you would be lifted up. Maybe you could be a bit of a “gratitudey– Judy” – ya think? (I knew you’d get a kick out of that one!)

Let things go that do not matter, look around you and realize what you really do have.

And if you do… if you really see it, your epiphany might help me to have the best Father’s Day ever.
I love you.

Abba

 

Head-Over-Heels – love from a God undeterred

I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.
I cannot talk God out of loving me. And neither can you.

By: Jana Greene

“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”
―     Brennan Manning,     The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out    

From the very first minute I met my beloved husband, it was obvious that he was interested in me. He made is so clear! If ever there were a love at first sight, we totally nailed  it.

But seemed to be such a good man, that I had this primal urge to warn him.

“You should probably know,” I said, while waited  for a lunch table on our first date. “I’m an alcoholic in recovery.”

“And  have two daughters, 10 and 13, who I raise by myself.  And they are really handfuls.“  He only smiled at me, undeterred.

As that first date progressed, it was clear that this man was special, different. He was warm, attentive, interesting. I had butterflies, but in the most comfortable, natural way. As it turned out, that he had a 13-year-old daughter, too.  In our first, long conversation, I kept having the oddest feeling that this was The One.

We saw each other every day after that. We simply couldn’t be apart.

In times of anxiety, I wanted to tell him, “RUN! I am not worth it!” and when he didn’t run, that dark place in my spirit that was born of so much rejection in the past, whispered, “He will one day abandon you, you know. He will figure it out.”

Even after such a brief courtship, it occurred to me that If he wanted to run, I would rather it be right away, before I fell any deeper in love with him. I felt like such a mess, with nothing to  bring into this new relationship.

Nothing but me.

“I have medical issues,” I would say at otherwise intimate times. Or, “I struggle to pay my bills.”

I was sure that this sexy, compassionate, amazing man would not stick around, if only he knew the true me. But a strange thing happened … the more he came to know the true “me,” the more he just kept falling in love.  The alcoholism recovery (which is a lifetime endeavor,) the single-parenting of teenaged girls, the health issues….none of these – or any of the other in the plethora of anxieties and insecurities – kept him from loving me.

Oh how many times I experience the same dynamic in my walk with God!  From the very first moment I accepted Christ as my savior, it was obvious that he was head-over-heels with me.

From time to time I remind him: “I am small, insignificant. I battle anxiety, and fear abandonment, and have nothing to bring to the table. Only me.”

He is such a good God, it’s almost as if I feel I should warn Him.

Often, when I feel those butterflies that come from knowing the Living God has fallen in love with me, I still wonder “why?”  I am in awe that the God of the universe is undeterred by my character defects, challenges, and  not concerned about what I can “bring to the table.”

I’ve told God that – if he wants to run, I understand. I’m kind of a mess. Sometimes, when I am most anxious and depressed, when the old feelings of being a “mess” crash over me, I think about the early days when I tried to talk my Beloved husband out of loving me, and he just smiled. I was enough, he wanted me, just me – forever.

What kind of God would be crazy about me?  The kind that cannot be talked out of it.

The kind who just wants  to be with me, because when he created me, it was love at first sight.

And when he runs, it is only toward me.

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.

Normalcy is for Suckers

What a long, strange trip its been.
What a long, strange trip it IS.

Sometimes the light is shining on me, other times, I can barely see” – The Grateful Dead

Can I just be honest?

I hate change.

The past several months have been one change after another for me, and I resent it. I’m ready for some normalcy, but I no longer believe it exists. I’ve decided that believing in “normal”  is for suckers.

What do I hate about change? I hate that good things go away, and bad things come around – before the good things come back.

I hate that change seems to happen at the precise moment that I seem to find my groove. Change often feels like having the rug yanked out from under me. You know that rug….the one  that can feel like a genuine magic flying carpet, before it gets yanked.

I like riding on the high of good times. I cling on to the good times as if they are The New Normal.  I like the exuberance of feeling ‘normal.’ Normal seems, for all  the world, to have a rhythm, a steadiness. But changes keep rolling in.

Peace sometimes gets disrupted, and chaos ensues – it is lost, before it can be found again.

Jobs, weight, weather – all forever rising and falling – and getting on my ever-loving nerves.

Fresh things get stale.

Income comes in, and becomes “out-go” in the blink of an eye.  Bills go up, the market goes down.

Kids outgrow their childhoods, but don’t leave when you are ready for them to fly. Then they grow up, and leave before you’re ready.

Relationships grow and change, morphing in uneven spurts.

Feelings in a footrace with facts, boundaries built and crumbled.

The world is a mess – just look at the news! Nothing stays stable – nothing on this earth.

Pets grow old and sick., and pass away (we lost two beloved animals in a two month span.)

We – and our circumstances – change unevenly.

Don’t even get me started on hormones… Oy vey!

Lately it occurs to me….what a long, strange, interesting trip it’s been

And the hardest changes? Spirits get bound and released, and broken and mended. (Why can’t they just stay mended?)

I suppose because….It just wouldn’t be “normal.”

Jesus said, “In this life, you will have trouble,” and He wasn’t whistling Dixie. I think he was saying, in a way:  “In this life you will have change.”

In this life, you will lack for normal….if you’re “normal.”

So, is it normal to hate change?

I decided to look up synonyms for “normal” in the thesaurus – to see if Webster could define what I cannot.  Interestingly, “normal” is synonymous with  ordinary. Its meaning is the same as “ uniformity, average, common, and routine.”

I cannot relate to any of those words. They are not words I would claim over my life. I do not ask God for average, common. Where is the interestingness?  Where is the exuberance?

The antonyms –exact  opposites  of “normal” are magic-carpet words:  buoyant, eager, exciting, vigorous, vital, and zesty. (Zesty!)

I am  learning to “go with the flow,” really. I’m trying. Since change seems to be the order of the day, I really need to enjoy the ride. My hatred of so many changes doesn’t seem to be preventing any of it, anyway.

Circumstances will never stop evolving, but eventually …

New, fresh things come to pass with change. Buoyant, vital things. Change means the change in seasons just when you are sick and tired of the current one. It means new babies. Sunrises. Music you’ve never heard before. Laughing about something that you have the frame of reference to appreciate now – because of all the changes.

Relationships deepen and broaden, and become more enlightened  – if not ‘normal.’

Kids do grow up, and have their own kids to contend with (ahhhh, a sweet consideration!)

And God still loves this messy, messy world – made up of so many lives that will have trouble. So many lives who will have change.

Normalcy is for suckers, honestly. I’m sure of it.

What We Cannot Do for Ourselves – recovery meetings and the bravery of surrender

 

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By: Jana Greene

A man walks into a bar.

No, wait. That’s the wrong story.

A man walks out of a bar. The establishment has been his “safe place” for years. He knows the owners and they keep a seat waiting for him on the end, where the bartender can lean in to listen when he talks without knocking over the high-ball glasses. They know his story and keep pouring, and those two things have always made him feel understood. Loved. He went to the bar every day because he wanted to be cared about and he wanted to just be left alone. Drinking is a funny thing – it makes both seem possible simultaneously.
He was incredibly brave, he thought, to work so hard and provide for his family, to deal with all the drama and dealings of life. Wasn’t he due this time? Didn’t he have it coming to him?

Until very recently, when it became obvious that his safe place was a dangerous place, he thought he would keep drinking. As his wife was leaving for the last time, and he had not been willing to follow her. He had not been willing to ask for help. The path to help was a rocky, treacherous road. The way to the bar was paved with familiarity.

As he slowly became more  lost, lost, lost, it became increasingly clear that pouring did not equal understanding; that having someone lean into you and listen did not always equal love. Over the years, he chose this seat over relationships, over passions. Everybody knew his name here, but not a single soul knew his heart.

He is sick, in mind, body and in spirit.
He doesn’t know how to stop. How do you stop? Someone somewhere has to know how.

There must be magic pill to stop the drinking, and there was. There were lots of pills, all supposed to make him better,  but they only made him worse in time. Perhaps he needed another diversion? A few days without drinking made possible by strange women and dirty, secret deeds. And then drinking again. What about sheer willpower? Alone, in his room, shaking and sorry, he had no one but himself for company. Nothing is working. He asks God for help, if God is real….if he exists at all.

 “Love me and leave me alone,” he wanted to tell God. But instead, he searched for a support meeting nearby. Because, at the end of himself, he had no other choice.

Before the first meeting, he sat in his car, debating with himself about going in at all. Because the rooms are full of “those people” and once you walk in, you are one of them…no turning back.  But he knew that he already was.

He thought of the bar, but he made another choice. And stepped into a new place.

Inside the building, worship music filled the space. He filed past others – men, women of all ages, all races. The stereotype represented was very specific: The Human Race. As he took his seat and the speaker began to share her experience with substance abuse and recovery, he leaned in.
I am lost, lost, lost, he said in his spirit.

In that most-alone place, God made his presence known.

There were relationships among hurting people in those rooms. There was a passion for living. He took small glances around the room as the meeting wrapped up. Over cups of coffee, there were tears, but laughter, too. There was palpable joy, something he’d forgotten existed.
And nobody knew his name. Nobody knew it until the men gathered alone for small group.. There, in a small circle, he shared his name.  He told a little of his story, when it was his turn.

At the end of the meeting, all of the others knew why he was there, and why he didn’t want to be there anymore. And no-one turned away from him. His eyes met with love.

 There was a pouring-out of himself and all of his drama and dealings, and he filled up that space with hope for a future, because here, “those people” have one – a future.

The God he had doubted helped him to stop drinking when he couldn’t do it himself, and gave him people who loved his heart when he was at the end of himself. He had been incredibly brave to walk through the door. He was due this time, he had it coming – this life raft. This safe place.

Keep coming back, they said. Your seat will be waiting for you.

A man walks out of a bar……and into a meeting. He keeps coming to meetings because he feels cared about there, and he knows he cannot be left alone to his own devices. The road he is on – to recovering his life – is well-worn by others.

It is paved by hope.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.- Alcoholics Anonymous

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.

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.

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