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Dena Johnson Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson

Crosswalk.com blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

When I was walking through my divorce, I remember that moment of surrender.

“Lord,” I cried out, “I don’t want this journey, but I will take it if this is what you have for me. But don’t you dare mess with my kids!

I’ve dealt with my share of hurt and pain over the last decade. I’ve walked through more trials than I can even recount. God has been with me, so faithful, so much more than I could have ever dreamed.

But there’s one pain I just don’t know if I could handle: the loss of a child.

The last year has been filled with enough struggle, watching my daughter suffer from a new diagnosis of epilepsy. The fears. The unknowns. The frustrations. The loss of abilities. The terrors that always seem to happen at night. The endless doctors’ appointments and medications and tests. It has been a difficult year.

But I still get to hold her, pray with her, hear her voice. I still get to tuck her in bed at night, kiss her forehead as we pray together. I still get to listen to her whine and complain about how life isn’t fair. I still get to watch her laugh, live life to the fullest. So many little things I still have, I still enjoy.

This weekend, a family in our community lost their son. No more opportunities to hear his voice, to laugh at his jokes, to enjoy one of his hugs.

And my heart is shattered into a million tiny pieces as I try to imagine the anguish they are experiencing.

He was the all-American child. Smile that lights up the room. Quarterback of the football team. Kind and popular. Funny and well-liked. Full of life and joy. And, from what I’ve heard, he loved Jesus, was a light to the middle school, pointing the world back to the Savior he loved.  

When we learned of his unexpected death, I sat with my daughter as we talked about her classmate. We looked out her bedroom window, watching the cars come and go at his house. With tears streaming down our faces, we prayed for his family as we imagined the pain and loss and devastation.

Sometimes life makes no sense. It isn’t fair. It hurts. It just flat out sucks. This family is a beautiful example of what Christ can do in and through people, a beautiful example to the world of a tight-knit family that leans on their faith and on each other in the midst of life’s troubles.

Why? Why them? Why a family that loves God? Why a child that had such a bright future? Why?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t understand God’s ways for they are way higher than mine. I don’t know why God allows trials and tribulations into our lives, why He doesn’t protect us, our children, on this side of heaven. I don’t know why God’s most precious children often experience the most pain.  

I simply don’t know.

Here’s what I do know:

God is near the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). There’s no doubt that God is in our midst right now. You see, I stood around the flag pole at school last night, candles lighting the sky, listening to the wails coming from the student body. To see these big, macho football players collapse in their grief. To watch the parents holding their own kids tightly, unwilling to let them go.

Our community is broken hearted as we bury another precious child gone way too soon.

Pain is part of this life (John 16:33). When sin entered this world, so did pain. No one is immune from the difficulties of this life.

The beauty of this passage is that in spite of the pain we must experience, He has overcome! We know He is the victor! We may not see it today or tomorrow or next week or even next year, but we can walk in assurance that He eventually wins!

When we experience pain, we will also experience His healing (Hosea 6:1-7). God never allows us to suffer pain, loss, injury without also offering us His healing touch. How would we know His healing if we never suffered pain? How would we know His restoration if we didn’t experience brokenness?

As difficult as it is, we must surrender to God, to the pain that overtakes our lives. We must ask Him to use the trials to do a mighty work in us so He can do a mighty work through us.

It’s all about letting Him do what He wants in the midst of our pain and devastation.

God grieves with us (John 11:35). When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, his sisters were distraught. They were angry with Jesus, not understanding His delay. They had called for Him, asked Him to come save the day, knowing He alone held the power of life and death. And yet Jesus waited. He didn’t come to their rescue immediately.

When He finally showed up, He saw the heartache and devastation of Lazarus’ family. And what did He do? He wept. He mourned with the broken-hearted, taking their loss upon Himself. He saw their hearts, their devastation, and He understood the depths of the emotions they were experiencing. His heart broke for them just as their hearts broke over their loss.

I pray I never have to experience the loss of a child because I simply don’t know how my heart would handle it. I want to believe my faith would be strong enough, I would be able to cling to Him in spite of the loss of a part of myself. But I can’t—I won’t—sit here and tell you I would walk perfectly with Him. I don’t think any of us knows how we would respond in any given situation until we are walking that journey ourselves.

What I do know is that there is a family, a community, that is mourning. I know my own child is suffering at the loss of her classmate. I know there are many people here, right around me, who are in desperate need of a touch from the Father.

Would you join me in praying?

Lord Jesus, our hearts are broken over the loss of this precious child. We can’t even begin to grasp the pain of his family, of those who knew him best and loved him most.

But we know you understand.

You understand the intense grief. You understand the pain, the loss, the anger. You understand the confusion, the depths of the brokenness and grief.

And we ask you to pour out your love, your tender mercies. Pour it out so powerfully, in such abundance, that there’s no way to deny your presence. Let your mercies be new every morning, your faithfulness abound in our lives. May we all experience you in ways we never have before.

As this precious family walks this journey of grief, may they see your hand guiding them every step, lighting the way to a new future, one they never wanted but one filled with blessings they never could have experienced. Keep their eyes open to the many small miracles happening all around them.

May we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, surround them and uphold them. May we be the hands and feet of Christ to this precious family, meeting their physical needs, their emotional needs. May we keep them constantly before you, their Heavenly Father, as you pour out your mercy and grace to help them in this time of need.

We lay this family, this community at your feet. May your light shine in us and through us. May we walk this journey in such a way that it reflects the hope that Cade himself had in you.

In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

 

 

 

Divorce.

The word alone strikes fear into the heart of people. Maybe you lived through your parents’ divorce. Maybe you watched friends’ marriages suffer the ultimate destruction. Maybe you’ve walked that dreaded path…or you fear your marriage is heading down that road now.

I’m not sure there’s another pain in this life that compares to the incomparable devastation brought about by the end of a marriage. Nothing I’ve been through before and nothing I’ve experienced since has ever evoked the same destruction. The feelings of failure and rejection. The sense of utter worthlessness. The belief that you are unloved and unlovable. The fear that your life is over, that you will live the rest of your life alone.

When divorce happens, you can’t think clearly. You struggle with every step, walking through a fog so thick you can barely breathe. You try to make sense of it all, to make wise decisions. But so often, the pain and unbearable emotions cloud your ability to see what needs to be done, to find the path out of the destruction.

Maybe that’s where you are today. Many of us have walked this path before you…and we stand as living testimonies that there is life beyond divorce…beautiful, abundant life you never dreamed you could have. Because we’ve been there, we’ve learned. We’ve learned what to do and what not to do. We’ve walked the path imperfectly but somehow made it through to the other side. We’ve seen God take our pain and make something beautiful of it all.

Because we’ve been there, we hope you will listen to some words of advice to get you through the darkest days of your life.

Turn to God. I can’t reiterate this one enough. I promise, He’s the only answer. He’s the One who can lavish you with love, heal every broken piece of your heart. He’s the One who can take your broken and create something beautiful, something so beautiful you could never even imagine it. He’s the One, the answer to every problem you face.

Spend time with Him, in the Word and in prayer. Spend time with His children, those who love Him and will love you. Let Him remind you just how precious you are, how deep His love for you.

Become a woman (or man) so deeply rooted with God that the right man (or woman) will have to seek God to find you.

Take time. The biggest mistake I made was to jump back into the dating scene too soon. I thought I was healed. I thought I had dealt with the pain and devastation. And I was so wrong.

Grief is a powerful emotion with no timeframes. It takes years to deal with the mix of emotions that course through your being, sending you over the edge at the most inopportune of times. Allow yourself to feel the emotions, to walk through the stages of grief, before you decide to jump into a relationship. You will carry baggage into any future relationships. Just make sure you are only carrying an overnight bag and not an oversized suitcase.

Surround yourself. Don’t try to be a lone ranger. Instead, find a group who will love and support you through it all. Maybe it’s your extended family. Maybe it’s people from your church. Maybe it’s simply your best friend.

I tried to go it alone, but it wasn’t until I courageously stepped out of hiding and into the loving arms of my family and friends that I began to experience the healing. Having a shoulder to cry on. Being embraced by a caring friend. Hearing words of encouragement spoken to me. You can’t even start to put a price on the support given by those who love you.

Take the high road. I know it’s hard, but always do what’s right regardless of who is looking. You may be maligned. You may have lies told about you. No matter what they say, no matter what they do, always do the right thing. God always brings the truth to light. You will be rewarded in due time.

No matter what they say and no matter what they do, forgive. Don’t let the anger and bitterness grow up inside you and overtake your life. You may be justified in your anger, but I promise it hurts you more than it hurts the other person. Don’t let a root of bitterness take hold (Hebrews 12:15).

Maintain adequate life insurance on your former spouse when children are involved. You just never know. This one I learned by experience. I never dreamed something would happen to him, that I would be raising my children with no support from him. It’s not about the money; it’s about the kids. Had I maintained life insurance on him, I could send my kids to college. I could pay the mountain of medical bills we have amassed over the last few years. I could maybe even splurge on a vacation for and with my kids. If only…

Don’t settle for surviving. I know there are days when survival may seem like a noble goal. But I encourage you to do more. Determine to THRIVE!

God came to give us life, abundant life (John 10:10). He never wanted us to settle for a mediocre, stale life. Even when it seems your life is over, He promises so much more. He promises to bring beauty from the ashes (Isaiah 61:3). He promises a future of hope and prosperity (Jeremiah 29:11). He promises all things will work for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28). He promises to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Rediscover yourself. You know what’s fun? When the dust settles and you look in the mirror and you don’t have any idea who you are, who this stranger is looking at you in the mirror…and you get to start all over. You get to decide who you are, what you enjoy, how you will live. You get to decide if you are going to be a runner or a couch potato. You get to decide if you are going to be a girly girl or a tomboy. You get to figure out who you are!

Don’t let the past define you. You are free to become all God created you to be. This moment in time, this momentary pain, does not define who you are. You are who God says you are.

Don’t allow others’ opinions to tear you down. Unfortunately, there are very judgmental Christians and churches. Don't let that get you down. God's opinion of you is the only thing that matters, and He loves you. You are His masterpiece, His chosen people, His royal priesthood. You are a child of the One True God. You are His pride and joy, the apple of His eye. He takes great delight in you (Zephaniah 3:17).

Your life is not over. Your ministry is not over. Your opportunity to be used by God is not over. Many would have you believe that a divorce disqualifies you from representing Him. Quite the contrary. It’s often our greatest pains, our greatest failures, that God uses to build the qualities of compassion and grace into us, to prune us of the sins of pride and arrogance that blind us to the pain of others.

Think about Peter. He denied ever knowing Christ. Did God disqualify him from the Kingdom, from ministry? No! Instead, Peter was the rock upon which the church was built, a solid foundation that gave his all for the cause of Christ. Instead of going down as a coward who was afraid to admit his relationship with Christ, God used his greatest failure to create a solid foundation for the future of Christianity.

God never discards us because of a divorce; instead, if we let Him, He will use it to mold us into His image.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

I write this with tears in my eyes as I contemplate the phrase “loving the least of these.”

We are in an exciting new season of life. A season of love and marriage. A season of newness. A season of promises fulfilled. A season of trials and growth. A season of watching God do what only He can do.

But the excitement of this new season has also ushered in a season of learning to love one who can sometimes be unlovable. A season of struggling to accept opposition and defiance. A season of attempting to help one who doesn’t want help.

As I sat in church this week after a difficult weekend, I kept hearing God say, “Love the least of these.” After what I’ve just experienced in the last few hours, I don’t like that command. I want to give up, quit trying. I want to simply put the unlovable away.

And yet I must ask myself how many times have I been the unlovable? How many times have I been the least of these? How many times have I been undeserving of my Father’s love?

But He never stopped loving me.

And I pray God will give me the strength to love the least of these in my own life, those who need mt love more than anyone else.

As I contemplate the least of these, I wonder just exactly who God is referring to. Maybe it’s different for each of us. Maybe for you, it’s a difficult person at work. Maybe for others, it’s the addict in your family. Maybe it’s the wayward child who constantly hurts you. Maybe it’s the difficult ex-spouse who continually heaps pain upon you.

For me, I think of three categories of people that have impacted my life in drastic ways. Three categories that are often neglected, shunned even at church. Three categories you may know.

The divorced. As a divorced Christian, I know how isolating it can be to wear the scarlet letter D around my neck for all the world to see. The divorced lose so much: half our friends, half our finances, half of the time with our children. We lose reputations and careers and the sheer will to keep living. We experience a rejection and betrayal of the deepest, most intimate type. We lose our past and our future.

And many times we lose our church. The church turns against us, alienating us even further because of our public “sin.” We are told we didn’t pray hard enough, love well enough, persevere long enough. We are publicly humiliated for our sins, even when our “sins” were loving someone who chose to walk away.

Yet God’s words are clear: love the least of these. Reach out and extend a hand of love and grace. Be a listening ear for the divorced as they process one of the most painful hurts this life can hand them. Lavish them with gifts of caring and concern: home-cooked meals and financial assistance and baby-sitting. Offer them words of encouragement to help soothe their battered souls.

Simply love them, show them the grace of God so freely bestowed upon all of us, so undeserved by all of us.

People struggling with mental illness. I have a dear, dear friend whose life has been filled with the struggle of loving a child with a mental illness. So many times her heart has shattered as her son has struggled with the demons that have haunted him since childhood. She’s wondered if he would survive the night, the latest suicide attempt.

I’ve sat with her as tears streamed down her face, watching as her son was ostracized—by family, by friends, by the church. I’ve listened as she poured out her heart, the overwhelming pain of wondering when, how God will answer her prayers. And I’ve watched as she continually rises above the ashes, asking God to use her pain to help others who are walking the same path.

How do we love the least of these? We include them instead of ostracizing them. We choose to embrace rather than keep at arms’ length. We surround them, their families, with love and prayer. We seek to understand the demons, the pain that drive them to the edge. We speak words of compassion rather than words of disgust and disappointment. We stand close, embracing them, loving them to the end.

Special needs children and their families. This one has become near and dear to my heart, even though it seems to be the most challenging one for me right now. Do you know the struggle of raising a special needs child? Do you know the physical and emotional weight of caring for a disabled child? Do you know what it is to never be able to get away from the demands? Do you know the impact on other children in the home?

I am just now learning the magnitude of living with a special needs child all the time. It is draining. From bathing and dressing and taking her to the bathroom and feeding her and meeting every need she has, every moment of every day. And then add the struggle of her adjustment to a new situation, a new home, a new school. I know she is overwhelmed.

How do we love the least of these? Create a special needs program at your church so the family can attend service without caring for the child. Have a special evening of activities to celebrate the special needs children while the families take a much needed evening off. Start a support group (complete with child care) to allow the families to connect with other families in the same situation. There are so many ways to be the hands and feet of Christ to the families of special needs children.

I know there are many other categories of the least of these. Maybe the ones I’ve mentioned don’t resonate with you because it’s not your heart, your passion, your experience. That’s fine. Find the category that impacts you, an area where you are passionate. Maybe it’s foster kids or addicts or veterans. Maybe it’s kids who have lost parents or siblings or parents who have lost children. Maybe it’s inmates and their families. Maybe it’s people of another race that you feel called to minister to. It doesn’t matter. Just love them.

Reach out and share the love of Christ with some of the least of these.