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Dena Johnson Christian Blog and Commentary

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~~If I could sum up 2016 with one word it would be loss.

Yes, we have had some wonderful blessings this year, but the blessings have been far outweighed by huge losses. And, as the holidays approach, the losses are weighing even heavier upon our hearts.

I’ve spent the last eight months doing everything I can to keep my faith strong, to trust God. But this week, I am losing the battle. I am collapsing under the weight of this year.

The last few days, I find myself simply falling apart. I can’t hold back the tears another moment. I can’t put a smile on my face and pretend I am doing just fine. I can’t hold in the grief that is filling every inch of my being.

Perhaps you understand. Perhaps you too feel as if this year has been a nightmare, destroying your peace and security. Perhaps you feel as if your very life is crumbling, collapsing. Perhaps you can no longer hold in the tears, no longer pretend everything is just fine.

And, perhaps like me, you aren’t ready to face the holidays. You can’t muster an ounce of holiday spirit, don’t want to hear the Christmas carols streaming overhead. Perhaps you are simply ready for the holidays to be over.

If you are consumed by grief this Christmas, you are not alone. Can we just take a moment to pray?

Lord Jesus, I am so overwhelmed. My heart is heavy, burdened. The losses this year are crushing me, overcoming my peace and joy.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18

I know you tell us you are close to the brokenhearted, but I don’t feel you. I feel lost, hopeless, abandoned. My spirit is crushed, but I don’t feel as if you are rescuing me.

I need you. I need you to draw me close. I need you to lift my spirit, to rescue me. I need you to take my grief and give me a spirit of joy.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 1 Peter 5:10

I know this is a season, a season that has a beginning and an end. But right now it feels like it will never end. I need hope, hope to believe you will truly restore me, strengthen me. I need hope to believe you will one day have me put together and on my feet for good. I need a vision of the future you have for me, a future of hope and blessings from you.

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. Psalm 28:7

As I walk through the trials of this life, I am learning yet again to trust you. I know when I come out on the other side, I will find you completely faithful. I know you will help me. Give me vision to see the many ways you are working right here around me, the many ways you are helping me. Fill my heart with joy so I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

It’s so easy to become distracted, to focus on the many losses I have experienced. Forgive me. Help me to put my thoughts, my attention on you. Help me cling to you, to your word, to your promises. Help me be fixed on you because I know it’s the only way to enjoy your perfect peace.

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. Zephaniah 3:17

Take delight in me. Calm my fears. Rejoice over me. Help me feel your love in tangible ways.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16

I’ve never needed your mercy and grace more than I do right now. I’m standing at your throne, begging you to pour it out upon me! Lavish me with your gifts, your goodness. You are my only hope!

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7

I keep giving you my worries, my cares, but it seems I always pick them back up again. Help me release them to you once and for all. Take them, Lord. I can’t carry them any longer. The worries and cares of this life are crushing me, sucking the life out of me.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. Romans 8: 26

I am weak beyond all explanation. I am collapsing under the weight of the pain and suffering. I have no words to pray, nothing except a broken heart to offer you. Help me in my weakness. Intercede on my behalf. Pour out your prayers, your groanings, over me. There are no more precious prayers than your prayers prayed over me.

But forget all that—it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19

When you take away, I know there’s a reason. I don’t understand your ways, your purpose. I don’t understand why we have suffered these tremendous losses. But I know you will make a way. I know you will take the past and do something new. I know you are always at work around me and in me. Do something new in me. I surrender to you.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

Father, you tell us all things work for good. I don’t see it right now. I don’t know how sickness and death can work for my good. I don’t have your eyes in this situation. But I do trust you. I’ve seen you take the most difficult, painful circumstances and use them for good. I want to believe you will take this year and do the same. Help my unbelief.

Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. Zechariah 9:12

May I be among those who have hope, for You are my only hope. I don’t know how to get through these trials. I don’t know how to keep living in the face of these losses. Help me cling to you. Help me cling to the promise you have great blessings in store for me, blessings that greatly outweigh the troubles.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23

Thank you that your mercies never end, that your faithfulness is perfect. Thank you that each day is filled with your love, your goodness, your grace. Give me fresh eyes to see the beauty of this life you have given me, in spite of the pain and suffering I am facing now.

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5

Lord, thank you that your favor comes. There is an end to this pain, this suffering. I only ask you to sustain me through the night as I wait to see the morning sun.

As I walk through this holiday season, give me a fresh glimpse of who You are. Help me remember the suffering You experienced as You watched your Son on the cross, a gift given just for me. Help me remember with joy and wonder the amazing gifts we have simply because you gave, a precious baby born that Christmas morning. Help me focus my heart and mind on Immanuel, God with me.

You are my hope, my only hope, for Christmas and every day on this earth. May I always carry your hope with me. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

This article is part of our larger Prayers resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Visit our most popular prayers if you are wondering how to pray or what to pray. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.

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Prayer for Healing
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~~Let’s face it: sometimes life just sucks.

I’m not one to use any type of profanity, but I’m not sure there’s any other way to describe 2016. It’s been an unbelievably difficult year, filled with life-changing realities that have permanently altered our lives. And here we are, with the holidays upon us, trying to figure out how to be grateful, to cultivate the Christmas spirit, when our entire lives have been toppled and tossed.

November started with my daughter suffering yet another grand mal seizure. Her world has been rocked by the sudden onset of a disease previously unknown to any of us. Her future is uncertain.

Then came Veterans’ Day. As the military bugler played the melancholy Taps, my children found themselves taken back to that April morning when they stood by their father’s graveside, watching as his body was lowered into the ground.

With my own surgery and multiple emergency room trips for my daughter, the financial stress of this year is enough to make anyone ill. I find myself buried beneath a sea of debt that I didn’t have at the beginning of the year, wondering how God will come through, mounting pressure for the holidays.

Then there’s the false accusations, absolutely horrible things said about me. I still find myself angry, incredulous that anyone could be so low, so vindictive, so blind to the truth. Sadly, it seems the root of these attitudes lies in greed.

I’m sure I could go on with the events of this year, with reasons I am more than ready to kiss 2016 goodbye. I want to believe that 2017 has to be better, but there’s a part of me terrified to verbalize that hope.

As we enter the holiday season, I’m not seeing a lot of gratitude in my house, and there’s no magic to this holiday season.

Instead, there’s a host of other attitudes and emotions: fear, anger, bitterness, depression. There’s a sense of betrayal and rejection. There’s more hurt and pain than we can process.

Maybe you understand. Maybe your circumstances, although different from mine, ring of the same emotions. Maybe your marriage has breathed its last breath. Maybe your world has been rocked by adultery. Maybe your loved one has spiraled helplessly into his addiction. Maybe your child is suffering medical issues. Maybe your parent is locked in a world of Alzheimer’s. I don’t know your circumstances, but I know what it’s like to feel like life is just a cruel joke.

The truth is, this life is sometimes cruel. Jesus told us in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). It’s a certainty of this broken world. But at the same time, we are told He has overcome the world (John 16:33), to consider it joy when we face trials of many kinds (James 1:2).

So I’m left wondering how we can cultivate an attitude of gratitude and capture the magic of the holiday season when life is so hard.

Focus. It seems like I return to Isaiah 26:3 over and over.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! >Isaiah 26:3

When we are focused on God, our problems, our circumstances get smaller. When placed next to the Savior of the Universe who is able to do all things, our problems pale in comparison to His power. When we are focused on Him, we enjoy His peace permeating every part of our lives.

Just like Peter who was able to walk on water, we are able to navigate even the most tumultuous of circumstances as long as our eyes are Him. But as soon as we begin to look at the waves crashing around us, we begin to sink.
To cultivate gratitude, we must keep our eyes on Him and know He is bigger than all of our problems.

There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. Psalm 43:4

Worship. When I finished my Bible reading plan recently, I began to look for a new plan. I quickly decided I needed to be in the Psalms.

The Psalms were written as songs of worship to the Father. Many were written in the midst of life’s most difficult circumstances. Whether fleeing from his enemies or being brought face-to-face with his own sins, David had a way of turning his attention to God, of praising Him in dire situations.

And when I turn to the Psalms, my heart is also turned to God. I am reminded of His faithfulness throughout the ages, of His steadfast love for me. My burdens lift and I am able to rest in Him.

Worship helps us turn our hearts to God and away from our problems. Whether it’s a reading of the Psalms or listening to praise music, worship is essential to cultivating gratitude.

Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Psalm 103:1

Count our blessings. There has been so much turmoil this year, it’s sometimes easy to forget the many blessings we have experienced. We are blessed with family who loves us, with having all of our needs met. We are blessed with a good job and we’ve never once gone hungry. We are blessed with each other, with love that runs deep.

And we’ve had our share of blessings this year. God has brought some amazing new relationships to us, people who are helping us become all God intends for us to be. We’ve seen these relationships blossom and grow. And God has given us a new vision of the plans He has for us, a vision that far exceeds anything we could ever ask or imagine.

Sometimes I just need to sit and awe over the grace of God, of the many answered prayers and the many ways He has loved us.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. Psalm 103:2-5

Remember His past faithfulness. I have walked through many trials in the last decade. Adultery. Divorce. Financial devastation. Loss of friends. Loss of family.

And in all these things, I’ve seen God take the pain and use it for good in my life (Romans 8:28).

God has been in every detail of my life, working to create a beautiful mosaic. He has been faithful to care for my every need. Through the trials, He has molded me and shaped me into His image, given me a heart of compassion. He has shown me His great love and forgiveness. He has faithfully guided me every step.

And as I reflect on His past faithfulness, I am reminded He won’t leave me now. He will carry us through, give us joy once again. He will redeem every hurt, every pain. He will resurrect us from this season.

Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles. Zechariah 9:12

Focus on the future. It seems every single day I remind my daughter that God is using these trials to mold her into His image, to prepare her for the great work He has planned out for her. I pray over her daily that God will do a mighty work in her so He can do a mighty work through her.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

I was recently talking to Cassie, asking her how she was holding up under the stress and strain of all she has going on. She amazed me with her maturity.

“It’s hard,” she began, “but when I get scared, I just remember that God is doing something in me. I try to remember He’s preparing me for my future.”

but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13b-14

Yes, it’s been a tough year. But God is still good. And I know when I let Him have my full heart, we will find joy in the midst of our grief.

For all of you who are reeling from the trials of life, for all of you who are grieving as we are, for all of you facing uncertain futures from illness or loss… please know you are not alone. My children and I stand with you. We are broken and hurting in this holiday season.

But we do not grieve without hope. Our hope is in the One who came, the One whose very life we celebrate in the next month. Will you put your hope in Him as well?

Terror at Night

~~The sound of the phone startled me awake.

“Hello,” I managed, struggling to wake from a deep sleep.

“Something’s wrong with Cassie,” came the frightened voice on the other end of the phone.

I bolted from my bed and rushed to her room. There sat Cassie’s friend who was spending the night, terrified. And there in the middle of the floor lay my baby girl, her body convulsing from the seizure wracking her brain.

I ran back to the kitchen and grabbed her rescue meds. I began to fumble with the package, shaking from the surprise of being awakened suddenly and the shock of my baby having yet another seizure. As I attempted to gather the supplies so I could draw up the medicine and administer it, Cassie began to come around.

She was beginning to respond to my voice, to answer my questions. Her speech was heavy, slurred. Her pupils dilated. Her body weak, uncontrolled. But she was there. The seizure was losing its grip on my baby, and she was pulling out.

I made sure her friend was ok, wasn’t too overwhelmed. She had handled it like a champ! She had attempted to come to my room, but the dog had growled at her and scared her away. She had kept her cool, managed to unlock Cassie’s phone (with her ridiculously long passcode), and call me. And somehow, she was even able to lie down and go back to sleep.

Our world has been rocked. Despite being a neuro nurse, there’s something different about watching your own child in a full-blown grand mal seizure. No matter how much training you have, you can never be fully prepared.

So far, all of her seizures have been at night or the early morning hours. Just when we get comfortable and think we are clear, it happens again. The doctor continues to adjust her medications, trying to suppress the seizures, but so far it hasn’t happened.

And the terror strikes at the most unexpected moments.

Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Psalm 91:6

As I read these words over the weekend, the tears stung my eyes. My God was giving me—us—a special word, one just for us. He was reassuring us that we have nothing to fear, that we are safely tucked away in the shelter of His wings.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. Psalm 91:1-2

I’m learning—yet again—to run to my Savior, to run to my refuge. I am learning—yet again—He alone is my safe place. I am learning—yet again—to trust Him. I am learning—yet again—to rest in Him.

It’s so easy to get distracted, to allow the trials of this life to get our eyes off the answer to all of life’s problems. It’s easy to become consumed with fear about the terrors stalking us, the diseases that strike our children at night. It’s so easy to forget we have nothing to fear when we have the God of the Universe on our side.

For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Psalm 91:3-4

Cassie and I were talking this morning about all the trials she is facing. The holidays are upon us, and she’s struggling with the loss of her father. She is fearful about her future with these seizures.

And God gave me words.

“Sweetheart,” I began, “when you are overcome with fear and negative thoughts, remember His faithful promises. Quote His words to you, the promises that His love conquers all fears. Remember He tells us not to fear the disease that strikes at night. Remember He has you in the palm of His hand and He is working to make you in His image. Remember He is your refuge.”

As we talked about God’s faithful promises, she began to relax and rest. I could see a change in her physical appearance. His faithful promises protect us from this world.

As Christians, we all want to see our children take our faith as their own. They can draw from our faith…until a point.

Unfortunately, the way to mature faith is right through the waters of trials (James 1). Our faith cannot be tried and purified without the struggles of this life.

And Cassie’s faith is being tried in extreme ways.

Cassie and I recently attended a Lauren Daigle concert. As we watched Lauren Daigle perform, I had a vision of my daughter on that stage. It was almost as if God was telling me her life would touch many, that she would be used in mighty ways in the kingdom of God.

I leaned over to my girl and just whispered, “I think I’m seeing your future, your God-given dream.”
Cassie’s dream is definitely to lead the world in worship to her Heavenly Father, to lead others into the presence of the Almighty. But I know the only way to be used mightily is to be taken to the depths, to be tested and tried.

And that’s where my baby is today.

No parent likes to see their baby hurt, struggling with illness, with an uncertain future. But at the same time, I find myself excited to see what God will do through this time of pain. I wonder how He will show Himself faithful in Cassie’s wilderness. I wonder what amazing work He will do in her, how He will draw her closer to Him. And mostly I wonder what mighty purpose He has for this beautiful young lady He has entrusted to my care.

We are living in difficult and uncertain times in our home, but we are choosing to trust in our Savior’s faithful promises. We are choosing to believe there’s no reason to fear the disease that strikes at night. We are choosing to rest in the safety of our Savior.