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Dena Johnson Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

Sometimes parenting is really hard.

This week has been one of those difficult weeks with my kids. My kids are great, and I know I am incredibly blessed. But, with everything we’ve been through, it’s understandable that we have our struggles.

Struggles with faith. Struggles with the past. Struggles with the future. Struggles with growing up. Struggles with staying on track. Struggles with obedience. Struggles with life.

And, struggles mean decisions have to be made, decisions that are my sole responsibility. Decisions that lie squarely on my shoulders. No one to turn to for advice. No one to back me up. No one to balance my weaknesses.

It’s. All. On. Me.

Just to give you a sample of our week:

One child (who shall remain nameless to protect the…guilty) has a bad habit of leaving the bedroom…filthy. Clothes strewn all over the floor. Wet towels left wherever they are dropped. Dirty clothes piled in the closet, not grasping the purpose of a washing machine. Food wrappers in the trash can where dogs can find them. Beds unmade. I think said child may actually grow up to be a hoarder!

Oh, we have had many, many, many conversations about the condition of this bedroom. Threats have been made. Everything has been pulled from the closet and left in the middle of the floor, leaving said child to clean it up. Said child would like to have the bedroom redecorated, and I’ve promised to spend the money AS SOON AS SAID CHILD CAN LEARN HOW TO KEEP THE ROOM CLEAN.

Nothing. Has. Worked.


Apparently said child isn’t as serious about redecorating the room as I am.

So, Saturday morning rolls around, and I make it VERY CLEAR that no one goes anywhere nor does anything until rooms are clean and laundry is done.

An hour or so later, I enter the room of said child who is on the bed watching TV. I again announce that no one goes anywhere nor does anything until rooms are clean and laundry is done.

This announcement is made multiple times throughout the day.

As evening rolls around, said child asks if he/she can spend the night with a friend.

“Is your room clean? Is your laundry done?” I ask.

“No,” said child answers, head dropping low, “but my friend can’t do it tomorrow.”

“I’m so very sorry,” I answer, feigning sadness over said child’s failure to do what was asked.

Yes, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was teenage temper tantrum. There was foot stomping and pouting.

And there was no sleep over.

Do they ever learn?

Can I just say that discipline is NOT my strength? I love my kids, but I’m a push over and they know it. More often than anything, it’s just my forgetfulness in the midst of my crazy, hectic life. They ask, “Can I…?” and I answer yes before I stop to check their rooms.

I know I did the right thing, but why does it hurt so badly to discipline? Why do I feel guilty when I’ve given ample opportunities for them to follow through with obedience? Why is it so difficult to make my kids experience pain for their bad choices?

But the long weekend wasn’t over.

Another one of my children asked to go cycling with friends on Monday since they didn’t have school.

Now, you must understand that my child’s friends are avid bicyclists. We are talking 500 mile bike tours across the country. I expect to see one friend winning the Tour de France in the future! He’s that serious about his cycling!

And I would love for my child to spend his days cycling, enjoying the fresh air, getting the exercise. BUT WE DO NOT LIVE IN AN AREA THAT IS CONDUCIVE TO SAFELY RIDING BIKES.

After quickly answering, “Sure, you can go riding,” I backed up just a little.

“Where are you riding?” I asked.

“To Chickasha,” said child answered.

Now, please understand that Chickasha is a town approximately 30 miles away from our home. Most of the roads around us are narrow, no shoulders, and dangerous enough in a car.

But to be on a bike? With no shoulder? With drivers distracted by their phones? Just three teens on bikes traveling 60 miles round trip?

I stayed awake all night, wrestling with the decision. I mapped out their route, looking at Google maps satellite imaging to check the roads. I prayed…and prayed…and prayed some more.

When morning rolled around, I began to bounce the situation off those close to me, those whose parenting I respect, those my CHILDREN respect. Everyone came back with the same answer: it’s just too dangerous, too big of a risk.

I decided I had to be tough mom. I had to tell said child there would be no 60 mile cycling trip with friends.

Oh, the pain and disappointment! Oh, the sadness in the eyes! Oh, the anger boiling under the surface! Oh, the sulking that lasted an ENTIRE day!

As I drove to work after telling said child no, I cried. I cried because I was exhausted from wrestling with the decision. I cried because the burden of making every decision alone is heavy. I cried because I knew my child was severely disappointed.

The tears stained my face. The prayers wafted to heaven. The sadness overwhelmed me.

“Now you know how I feel,” I heard the gentle whisper of my Father.

Yes, when my Father must discipline me, it hurts His heart. It hurts His heart to cause me pain, to cause us pain. It hurts His heart to see us in anguish. It hurts His heart to see our sadness, our disappointment.

But He knows discipline is necessary to mold us into His image, to grow us and mature us. He knows it’s necessary to help us become all He wants us to be. He knows every good parent disciplines his child…out of love.

And sometimes, good parents have to say no to a fun activity because the child doesn’t understand the inherent risks. Children may only see the positives, but a wise parent looks beyond the joy and sees the hidden dangers lurking behind the shadows. A good parent sometimes simply must say no.

Just as I had to say no to my child’s cycling trip, sometimes God answers our prayers with a solid no because he sees the hidden dangers. It’s not because He’s trying to withhold something good from us. Rather, it’s because He wants to protect us, to give us something even better.

Same with our failure to clean our room (in other words, obey our Father’s instructions). He knows we are sometimes lazy or fail to listen. He knows we sometimes rebel by choice. He knows we aren’t always good at obeying. AND HE MUST DISCIPLINE SO WE LEARN TO BE OBEDIENT TO HIS VOICE. His voice, His commands, are always for our good, even when we don’t understand. He wants to grow us into mature Christians, molded into His image. He can’t do that if we fail to obey. So He disciplines.

Just as I disciplined my child because I know it’s what best, He disciplines us because of His great love for us. It’s not pleasant. It’s not fun. And, He doesn’t enjoy it any more than we do. As a matter of fact, He weeps with us, over us, just as I wept over my children this week. Parenting stubborn children is hard work.

I really am thankful my Father loves me enough to discipline me. I’m thankful He looks down the road and sees the inherent dangers and loves me enough to protect me. I’m thankful He watches over me, even when I am a difficult child. What a joy to have a Father who loves me so!

I pray you, too, can look at the discipline the Father sends to your life and understand it is out of His great love. I hope you can understand that when he tells you no, it’s because He’s looking down the road and seeing the dangers lurking for you. I pray you can grasp the goodness of the Father.

Now, I hope you will excuse me while I go make my children clean their rooms…

A True Friend

~~Life falls apart. Unfortunately, it’s simply part of this…life.

For example, Job lost everything. He lost his wealth, his servants, his children. Wave after wave of loss hit him, without time to even breathe between crises. He was left mourning, devastated, in despair.

When Job’s life first fell apart, however, he was blessed with some amazing friends who came alongside him. Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite joined Job in his mourning.

Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. Job 1:13

Job’s friends stepped in and mourned with him, offering him the ministry of presence. Not a word was spoken as the attempted to absorb the magnitude of the situation. Then Job began to lament his fate, the loss of everyone and everything of importance. His words were filled with pain, anguish.

Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?...I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes.  Job 2:11, 26

And that’s when Job’s friends turned on him.

Oh, they didn’t mean to turn on him. They thought they were being good friends, seeking to turn their dear friend from the error of his ways. They longed to see him repent of whatever sins plagued his life, whatever he had done to bring this calamity upon himself.

But now when trouble strikes, you lose heart. You are terrified when it touches you. Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence? Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope? Stop and think! Do the innocent die? When have the upright been destroyed? Job 4:5-7

Job, I’m sure, was taken aback. He was righteous, a man of integrity! How could his friends turn on him, think he had done something to bring about this calamity? Didn’t they know him better than that?

And yet the rebukes continue.

You must have refused water for the thirsty and food for the hungry. You probably think the land belongs to the powerful and only the privileged have a right to it! Job 22:7-8

Submit to God, and you will have peace; then things will go well for you. Listen to his instructions, and store them in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored—so clean up your life. Job 22:21-23

But Job continues to cling to his innocence.

I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food. Job 23:12

As we read through the book of Job, most of us are likely angry at Job’s three friends. After all, we know the back story.

Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” Job 1:8

Yes, Job had been specifically chosen by God to be tested, to face the trials of this life. He had been chosen not because of his sin, but because of his righteousness.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever walked through the trials of this life only to have your so-called friends lecture you instead of supporting you? Or maybe you have been the friend that tried to help correct someone who was suffering because surely he/she was responsible for the calamity in his/her life.

I’ve been both.

I’ve been the friend, failing to recognize the pain of my friend and instead accusing her of sin. Instead of being discerning and loving, I was judgmental and critical. Instead of simply ministering to her by my presence, I felt the need to correct her. Oh, how I wish I could go back and correct my words!

Even more so after I was the one devastated.

You see, I suffered a horrible divorce. As I struggled to get out of bed each day, overcome by the loss of my security, my dreams, overwhelmed by depression and confusion, I turned to my friends.

“You just need to pray more,” she said.

But my soul was in so much anguish I couldn’t pray. And, I wasn’t sure I trusted God. I needed others to pray for me.

“If only you had been a more supportive wife,” she said.

But in the deepest recesses of my heart I knew I had done everything I could to love and support my husband. I always put him ahead of myself, always put his wants and needs, his hopes and dreams, ahead of my own. When other husbands complained about a lack of support, my husband would tell of the love in our home.

“It was your nagging,” she said. “Your husband never would have sought comfort in the arms of another if you hadn’t nagged him to death.

But I knew I was kind, considerate, loving. I chose to love unconditionally and trust God with the rest.

“If you had forgiven the affair, your marriage would have been restored,” she said.

But only I knew how I had offered forgiveness, worked at reconciliation. I know how I not only extended forgiveness to him, but also to the woman he was sleeping with.

And as I struggled with the pain, the devastation, as I listened to the well-meaning but misguided words of my friends, no one knew how much my faith was shaken, how I wanted to run from God. No one knew how disappointed I was in a God who called me to marry this man knowing he would one day betray me. No one knew how torn I was about whether I should ever again follow this God who had failed me.

I’ve now come full circle. I’ve heard from my Savior, experienced His goodness and grace. I’ve seen Him heal my devastated heart and put my life back together. I’ve developed a love and compassion for others who are hurting.

And I’ve come to understand something: like Job, my devastation (divorce) was not the result of my sins. I don’t know if God had a conversation with Satan, but I do know God gave permission for my life to be tested. And He has used the trials to mold me into His image, to prepare me for a ministry He laid out for me in advance.

And I promise never to be one of those “friends” again. Ever.

From this day forward, my words will be encouraging, full of hope and comfort. I will remind others that God’s grace is always sufficient, that He works all things for good.

My words will be discerning, knowing the depth of pain and devastation. I will seek the wisdom to speak words always seasoned with grace and truth.

My words will be loving, words of compassion and empathy. They will reflect the same love the Father has lavished on me.

My words will be kind, words of life and gentleness. I will always try to remain fully aware of my own sins so I never become conceited.

I pray I will always be the friend others can trust to help them through the darkest days of their lives. Will you join me in making that commitment?

Life as a Model

~~When Cassie was about two years old, everyone was gathered around the dinner table. As I sat the food on the table, Cassie looked at me and innocently said, “Mom, you did d--n good.”

I’m sure the shock on my face must have been priceless. I looked quizzically at her dad, his face as confused as my own.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” I began, “I’m not sure I understood you.”

“You did d—n good,” she repeated.

My ears still weren’t quite certain I understood her two year old language skills.

“Could you say it again, honey?” I asked nonchalantly.

“You did d—n good,” she said innocently.

After asking Cassie to repeat herself a couple more times, her dad decided to ask for clarification.

“Cassie,” he asked, “what did you say to your mom?”

“I said she did d—n good,” Cassie said matter-of-factly.

“Yep,” her dad said, “that’s what she said.”

With all the kindness and grace I could muster to hide the absolute horror growing inside of me, I gently told my precious daughter that we don’t use that word.

“Where did you hear that word?” I asked.

“From Dora,” she answered.

I’m not really sure why she blamed Dora the Explorer for her language that day. I have probably watched every episode of Dora with my kids, and I don’t think I have ever heard her curse.

But I am quite certain my innocent two year old heard that word somewhere. It’s not a word she would have simply come up with on her own. And I am also absolutely certain she didn’t hear it from me.

In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Titus 2:6-7

No matter how you look at it, kids learn an awful lot from what they see modeled. Whether it’s their language (oops) or their attitude or their kindness, kids learn more from what they see than what they are told. As the saying goes, more is caught than taught.

My daughter’s little faux pas is the perfect example of learning by example. By bad example. I hope I am living my life in such a way that my kids learn the right things from me.

As I think about what my kids see, I hope I am modeling a Christ-centered life. I want to model Christ in these areas:

Model love. More than anything else, I want to model love to my kids. I want them to see love pouring from my soul, flowing to them. I want them to see my love for God, a love that impacts my every word, my every action.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39

I pray my kids see in my life a great love for God and a great love for others.

Model grace. Our world is full of judgment and criticism. It’s full of division and intolerance. But I want my kids to see grace oozing from my pores. I want them to know that where there is sin, grace abounds.

It’s tough to balance grace with truth. I know my kids have to learn there are consequences for their actions, but I want them to know grace will always be poured out liberally. I want them to feel safe coming to me, sharing their failures, knowing they will still be loved and accepted. I want to be a vessel of God’s grace…to them and to others.

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”  “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:10-11

Jesus frequently extended grace to the worst of sinners, including the woman caught in adultery. May I model the same grace in the way I live my life.

Model purity. Dating has hit our household. My oldest son is dating a wonderful young lady. My younger son is hanging out with a girl from his class. And I am dating a man the kids call my Royfriend. It’s a really strange dynamic when dating hits the entire house at the same time.

But it also makes me acutely aware of the example I am setting for my kids in the area of purity. How do I conduct myself when I am with my friend? Do I go on overnight trips with my male companion? Am I working to maintain my purity?

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Ephesians 5:3

I must be committed to following God’s plan for my life, to living a life of purity, so my kids have an example to emulate. 

Model devotion. Devotion to God is a key to living this life correctly. I want to make sure my kids see my devotion to God.

Am I excited about what God is doing in our lives? Do I recognize His work? Am I giving God my heart, my time every day? Am I making church a priority in our lives?

A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. Psalm 84:10

I pray my kids never have reason to doubt my devotion to God…and to them.

Model humility. I really am quite certain it was not me who taught my then two year old her first curse word, but if it had been, I hope I would have been humble enough to admit my mistake. Trust me. I’ve messed up plenty. When stress gets the best of me, my children seem to be the recipients of my bad attitude. And then I have to pause and admit my sin and ask their forgiveness.

And that takes humility.

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Ephesians 4:2

Yes, as parents we are called to model the Christian life for our children. As Christians, we are called to model the Christian life for non-believers. How are you doing? What areas do you need to work on so that your kids have the best example in this life? Where do you need to adjust your life to be a better example to others?

Lord Jesus, this life is hard. We stumble and fall every single day. We fail you, our families. And yet, you forgive, extend grace, and set us right once again. May we always be keenly aware of your grace and mercy poured out over us. May we plumb the depths of your love. May we know the unsearchable riches of life with you so we might live from the overflow poured out over us. In Jesus name we pray.