Assurances at 4 a.m. (It’s a Psalms Thing)

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Photo credit: Jana Greene (“Lavender Moon-rise”)

By: Jana Greene

It’s been a long night.

I fell asleep easy enough, but a few hours later I woke up to pee (we keep it real here, right?) like I do every other night at least three times, and was assaulted by hip pain when I stood up. Soon after, when I crawled back into bed, I felt the familiar dull headache begin stirring behind my eyes.

Terrific.

I tried to go back to sleep. I really did. But although I was desperately tired, I hurt. Hurting in the middle of the night is a lonely endeavor. Whereas I normally might complain to my long-suffering but incredibly supportive husband, he was fast asleep.

Soon, my mind got in on the action.

Suddenly – at 4 a.m. – I had this primal wave of worry wash over me. As if pain was tag-teaming anxiety. I tossed and turned, and asked God for a little help here, please. We are going through such a weird and wild season right now.

At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances.

I wanted to call my adult child and make sure she was okay. And then I wanted her to make promises to do what I cannot even manage myself – to get my sh*t together. I wanted God to guarantee her safety.  To guarantee all of us safety.

Then, the spiraled from there….

I wanted to log into my email and find five job offers in my in-box. Even though I’m really not healthy enough to work right now.

I wanted to will myself well and get on with life already.

I wanted to lift all of my husband’s worries off of his sleeping chest, so that when he wakes in the morning, his burdens are lifted.

I wanted to know that the world is not imploding, contrary to the evidence all around us.

I wanted to fast-track my therapy to purge my closet of skeletons in one fail swoop.

I wanted to stop feeling so crappy about myself.

I wanted a magic pill to calm my nerves so I could sleep.

I wanted – no, I NEEDED to tangibly feel God’s presence RIGHT NOW. Isn’t that the real craving? Without it, no amount of ‘fixed’ satisfies.

Instead, the more I panicked, the more it felt as though my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling.

A little voice in my spirit tapped me gently on the shoulder as if to say, “Excuse me….I hate to interrupt your anxiety attack and throbbing headache, but – um…..Pslams.”

I took a deep breath.

In another lifetime (fifteen years to be exact) I was a single mother of two pre-teen daughters. I was juggling four jobs after having been a stay at home mom all their lives. I became estranged from unhealthy relationships to safeguard my recovery.  My health problems kicked in, aided by the stress. My car window didn’t roll up – a hefty bag and duct tape was all that kept me dry.  We lived in a bad neighborhood. It felt like loss, loss, loss.

Since the separation from my girls’ father, it had just been one thing after another after another – big life issues – the kind of things that threatened by then-newish (four years) sobriety. That I survived that season in life sober is a walking-on-water caliber miracle.

All on my own and responsible for the lives of two beautiful girls, I’d never felt so alone. I lived on coffee, Diet Coke and cigarettes, and the only other reliable staple I had was my Bible and prayer life.

I made it a habit each morning to rise before my children, grab my Virginia Slim menthols and a cup of coffee, and sit outside on my porch with my Bible, looking for answers. Looking for assurances between drags on cigarettes.

Psalms are assurances. If you read them aloud, they are even promises.

There is no magic pill for me.  I’m an alcoholic. I am wise enough to not trust myself to substances.

But there are Psalms.

So this morning, I’m sharing this little love letter that God led me to just now. The words were written by a man who just couldn’t get his sh*t together either – the biblical David. I love David because he is desperate and wildly in love with God, all at once.

I hope these verses speak to you, too. God pretty much drug me out of bed to come write this post. Maybe somebody out there somewhere can feel a little less alone.

Read the Psalms aloud – they are meant for those whose worlds are imploding. Savor every word.

At 4 a.m., I wanted assurances. Thanks Papa God for showing up. You always do.

(I would also love to know what your favorite Psalms are, too.)

Need a Psalm? Take a Psalm.

Have a Psalm? Leave a Psalm.

And God bless us, every one.

I run to you, God; I run for dear life.
    Don’t let me down!
    Take me seriously this time!
Get down on my level and listen,
    and please—no procrastination!

Your granite cave a hiding place,
    your high cliff aerie a place of safety.

 You’re my cave to hide in,
    my cliff to climb.

Be my safe leader,
    be my true mountain guide.
Free me from hidden traps;
    I want to hide in you.

I’ve put my life in your hands.
    You won’t drop me,
    you’ll never let me down.

 I hate all this silly religion,
    but you, God, I trust.

I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love;
    you saw my pain,
    you disarmed my tormentors,

You didn’t leave me in their clutches
    but gave me room to breathe.
Be kind to me, God
    I’m in deep, deep trouble again.

I’ve cried my eyes out;
    I feel hollow inside.
My life leaks away, groan by groan;
    my years fade out in sighs.

My troubles have worn me out,
    turned my bones to powder.
To my enemies I’m a monster;
    I’m ridiculed by the neighbors….

Desperate, I throw myself on you:
    you are my God!
Hour by hour I place my days in your hand,
    safe from the hands out to get me.

 

Warm me, your servant, with a smile;
    save me because you love me.
Don’t embarrass me by not showing up;
    I’ve given you plenty of notice…..

What a stack of blessing you have piled up
    for those who worship you,
Ready and waiting for all who run to you
    to escape an unkind world.

You hide them safely away
    from the opposition.
As you slam the door on those oily, mocking faces,
    you silence the poisonous gossip.

Blessed God!
    His love is the wonder of the world.
Trapped by a siege, I panicked.
    “Out of sight, out of mind,” I said.
But you heard me say it,
    you heard and listened.

 

Love God, all you saints;
    God takes care of all who stay close to him,
But he pays back in full
    those arrogant enough to go it alone.

 Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up.
    Expect God to get here soon.” – Psalms 31 (MSG)

High Anxiety – Affliction, not sin

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“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ” – C.S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

Oh, C.S. Lewis. How I would love to go back (or forward) in time and pick you brain. Your thoughts so messy, yet austere. I just want to smoke a pipe (vanilla tobacco, please) beside a lit fireplace at a table for two – the kind of table that’s too small to eat a meal on, but too big to be a nightstand. And I want to say, “THANK YOU!” Thank you, that you did not regard anxiety as SIN (which seems to be, unfortunately, a consideration of the modern church proper.)

Dear readers, if you don’t already know, I suffer from anxiety, depression, ADD and OCD, and it’s been a life long issue.

I think I was born anxious.

When I was a five-year old frozen in fear just walking into the kindergarten class, I wasn’t sinning.

When I display compulsive behaviors, I have no evil intent. (Oh, and being diagnosed OCD was SUCH a shock – not because I knew it was true, but because I thought I hid it from the world so WELL.)

When my heart will simply not beating 125 beats per minute, it’s not a demon makin’ it tick.

When I cannot focus on one thing for 10 seconds, God is not disappointed in me.

When my brain confuses being chased by a T-Rex with emailing a resume, it’s not sin – it’s out of my control – fight or flight.

Anxiety is what led to my alcoholism. It took the edge off, eventually it took me past the edge.

I thought it was a wonderful thing because all of my mom friends drank wine – I just drank mine out of a Big Gulp cup. With a lid. And a straw. I do not suggest this method of anxiety quelling, it’s highly non-sustainable. I didn’t know when to stop, and that’s why I don’t do that anymore. Haven’t for 15 years, hallelujah!

But I still contend with depression/anxiety/ADD/OCD. I just do it sober now. And it can be very difficult. I really don’t care who knows it because it is what it is and I try to write authentically.

What does anxiety feel like to me?

It feels involuntary. SO involuntary.

It feels like asking Jesus to take the wheel, but being sure the steering fluid is low.

It feels like you are the only kid in class who forgot to get her permission slip signed, and now you can’t go to the museum.

My body reacts to a crowded aisle in Walmart as if I were a wolf willing to chew my own leg off to escape the trap. (For some reason, Walmart just does me in.)

It feels like I am too awkward to inhabit a planet with normal people who don’t have panic attacks on the regular. Plus, I forget what to do with my face a lot.

It feels like a stutter in your soul.

It feels like abandonment. Remember a time when someone walked away from you for good? That feeling. The first five minutes after it occurred to you that the person was never coming back. Now replay those 5 minutes in an endless loop.

It feels like I’m sorry for being this way!

It feels overwhelming. Worry, doubt, pray. Or is it pray, doubt, worry? See? I just can’t get it straight.

It feels like DOOM. Not just regular doom, but DOOOOOOOOOOM.

It’s being certain nobody likes you, because you are, well, weird.

I have been prayed over, prayed for, where two or more are gathered or two dozen are gathered. I have felt like a sub-par Christian because my healing didn’t ‘stick’ – and that’s a really crappy feeling, ya’ll. It is pouring gasoline on a fire.

So now, I’m anxiety-ridden AND my faith is too puny to do any good?

Nobody judges the diabetic whose insulin will not bow at the feet of the cross, but people will drown you in holy water trying to get depression to go. (By the way, I do believe depression can be a spirit, but I also believe early childhood trauma, genetics, or just plain chemistry can rile up a good baseline anxiety.)

I really fail to see how mental illness is any different.

I would rather not battle mental illness, but if I must, I will try to consider it from your point of view, Mr. Lewis (‘May I call you C.S.?”)

My Abba circuited my brain just as He pleased, and did so for a reason. There were environmental events that tightened the screws. He allowed things to shape me, just as He is shaping YOU. I believe that all of it – the janky humanity in us – I believe Jesus walks with us and in us, and that’s what His heart really longs for. It isn’t the ‘alphabet soup’ disorder that defines me, it’s that I’m His.

So sometimes I freak out, and its scary because I don’t even totally understand it, but always, always I feel God’s presence, even when I can’t calm down. My anxiety doesn’t scare Him away.

He is less concerned in having a vast army of perfect people – a master race of Christians who pray away anxiety, and never say a potty word. Followers who have gotten it ‘all together.’

I believe He loves all His misfits right where they are.

How much more passionate might we be with the mentally ill if we considered their affliction as sharing in the Passion of the Christ?

Kind of flips things up, no?

Our share of the passion.

Thanks, C.S., for the reminder.

God bless us, every one.

Save

Your Future-Tripping Sunday Self

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Jacob’s Well in the Texas Hill Country. I was blessed to visit the locale last year. It is stunning!

By: Jana Greene

Hello, readers.

As some of you know, I was privileged to attend a forum called “The Open Table Conference” in Atlanta over the weekend. There were four speakers there – which is not unusual for a conference – but the unique thing about it as that the attendees were invited to approach the speakers open table-style. No subject too dangerous. No shame in asking what your heart is longing to know. And while I cannot say I ‘agree’ 100% with everything covered (As we say in AA, “Take what you need and leave the rest,) my spirit was incredibly blessed by these men of faith and their transparency, humor and faith. (See below for bios of each of the speakers I quote.)

For this series of seven posts (I’ll try to post one per day…emphasis on the TRY!) I will be weaving my personal experience from the event with what I learned and explored. That’s a pretty important distinction, as I am NO Theologian and can only present what I gleaned over the course of the conference as a messy, curious, and head-over-heels in-love-with-Jesus believer.

*Note that the scripture included in the series will be referenced from the “Mirror Bible,” which often breaks verses down to consider the original Greek or Aramaic meanings and nuances. They are the scriptures that corresponded with what I explored during the absolutely SEISMIC weekend, as they relate to my studying.

As Steve McVey said, “Revolutions are not started by mild-mannered people.

I just love that.

“This kind of hope does not disappoint; the gift of the Holy Spirit completes our every expectation and ignites the love of God within us like an artesian well.” – Romans 5:5

Paul Young (author of “The Shack”) was one of the presenters at the conference. I feel kind of terrible that I have not read the book yet, so lets start this off with a confession. I have not read The Shack. I may be the only person on the planet who has not. But I HAVE watched a ton of Wm. Paul Young’s videos on YouTube, and I AM currently reading The Shack right now. Young is the kind of Christian who reminds me of fellow-believers Anne Lamott and Brennan Manning, meaning – the kind of Christian who really used to piss me off earlier in my faith walk because they were so HONEST and sold out for Christ and that was threatening to me. Radicals! SHEESH.

It’s not threatening to me any more.

So, I haven’t read The Shack in its entirety yet, but I love the premise (which also would have pissed me off in my younger years….God as a middle-aged black woman!? Holy Spirit as an Asian woman!? HERETICAL! Jesus as an Israeli!? Well, okay, I guess that’s alright…) Thankfully a lifetime of grace has smoothed out my sharp edges, and I know God is SOOO much bigger than the box I liked to keep Him in (as if…)

Young’s narratives really did a number on my heart all weekend. They all did, but his especially.

One of the simplest takeaways I soaked in was this: God is not just interested in our Sunday Selves. The Self that we plop in a pew on Sunday mornings and cast off by the time we hit the K & W Cafeteria after the service. He’s just not. He is interested in each one of us in an intimate way – knowing how pointy our sharp edges and embracing us anyway. He is invested in us in the most precious way imaginable.

God gave His Son for us, yes. But here’s what we forget –  Jesus volunteered for the job, so great was his longing to draw us close, pointy edges and all.

Another mind-blower was this: Future Tripping – a term Young uses for one of my more badass companions – Worry. Worry is like a bad boyfriend you just can’t seem to break up with, even though he is bad for you all the way around, and full of drama. He’s also a stalker, that one. Like any good father, God sits on the porch with an arsenal to blast his head off, but a really dysfunctional part of me is like, “No, Papa! I LOVE him!” Ugh.

My Sunday Self wouldn’t tell you that. She’s been around awhile and knows how to plaster the Sunday Face on, all nice and shiny. She can worry about a million things at once, even though only approximately 2-3% of her worries will ever even remotely come to pass. She has adapted because she is world-weary.

I think that’s one reason we are told to become like children. Children are not world-weary. They are authentic.

Or as Young says: “We need to learn to become children again – to let go of ‘future-tripping,’ where out of fear we imagine what’s going to happen and waste today’s grace on things that don’t exist.”

Wasting today’s grace. Yeah, I want no part in that. We can also waste grace by being do-driven. Anxiety is also an Unsavory Character. There is a place for good works, but it is not the foundation of our faith.

The venerable Steve McVey also spoke at the event, and he was also amazing:

“God wants to bring us to the understanding that we weren’t saved to do something for God. We were saved so that we might know Him in intimate daily fellowship.” –  Steve McVey  (“Grace Walk: What You’ve Always Wanted in the Christian Life”)

I hope this series will embrace you, sharp edges and all. And invite you to explore the radical love of a very real Father who doesn’t want just your Sunday Self, but your messy, future-tripping, sinful, hurting Selves.

Other pieces will incorporate subjects like You Matter; Sin – Nothing can Separate You;  Hiding Behind the Legs of Jesus; Know that You Know that you Know; Inclusion; and Perichoresis for Dummies – The Triune God.

May you share in the hope that does not disappoint; and revel in the Holy Spirit that completes our every expectation and ignites the love of God within us like an artesian well.

By the way, an artesian well is simply a well that doesn’t require a pump to bring water to the surface; this occurs when there is enough pressure in the aquifer. The pressure forces the water to the surface without any sort of assistance.

You cannot fall short because it isn’t your effort that brings Holy Spirit to the surface.

I’ll leave you with this gem, also by Steve McVey: “When we focus exclusively on the love of God, when we see love as the totality of His being, are we leaving out something? To say yes is to insult Divine Agape. Love is His fundamental makeup. Everything that can be known of Him must be seen through the lens of agape, or we end up presenting a god with multiple personality. Jesus proved that God is pure love by coming into the world.” – (“Beyond an Angry God”)

God bless us, EVERY one!

 

*Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack, Eve, Cross Roads, and The Shack Reflections, was born a Canadian and raised among a stone-age tribe by his missionary parents in the highlands of what was Netherlands New Guinea (now West Papua). He suffered great loss as a child and young adult, and now enjoys the “wastefulness of grace” with his family in the Pacific Northwest.

*Dr. C. Baxter Kruger is the Director of Perichoresis, an international ministry sharing the truth of our adoption in Christ with the world. Baxter has a degree in Political Science from the University of Mississippi, and earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree under Professor James B. Torrance at Kings College in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dr. Kruger is the author of eight books including The Great Dance, Across All Worlds, and the international bestseller, The Shack Revisited.

*Dr. Steve McVey is the founder of Grace Walk Ministries, with offices in Atlanta, GA and six other countries. He is the author of 19 books that have been translated into over 15 languages. They include the best selling, Grace Walk and his most recent book, Beyond an Angry God.

 

 

Giving Gratitude the First Word

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Not today, worries. You don’t to rent space in my head in this season of gratitude.

 

Dear Standard Issue Worries,
Yeah, I heard you when I woke up this morning. I normally hear you before I even open my eyes to start the day. You’re pretty obnoxious and hard to ignore.
But you know what?
NOT TODAY.
Today is not your day, and tomorrow might not be either.
Do you know why?
Today I let Gratitude have the first word, and it drowned out your useless clamor.
Awash in the fount of every blessing, I realized that Worry is a victim’s game.
But Gratitude? It is interactive! It encourages me to look around at the overwhelming blessings Abba has given me, name them, and realize each one is a result of God’s strong hand.
As a matter of fact, when a sneaky worry creeps into my mind today, I am going to THANK GOD for the solution that He is already orchestrating.

I cannot operate on a platform of thankfulness and anxiety at the same.

Shalom kicked your ass this morning, Worries.

Sincerely,

Intentionally Grateful

So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is on you; he’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.” – 1 Peter 5:7 (MSG)

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

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.