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Dena Johnson Christian Blog and Commentary

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Of Love and Loss

“My [loved one] passed away last week. … Now that I'm older and have traversed this experience I just walk around wondering have the flood gates now opened? Who’s next? What sudden tragedy will happen around the corner?”

Loss and fear seem to go hand-in-hand. We lose someone important and suddenly we fear losing those we love the most.

Many of us have walked through the pain of death or divorce. Although different, both are huge losses, losses that leave us reeling, wondering how to put our lives back together.

For me personally, I didn’t trust anyone (especially men) after my divorce. The thought of trusting my heart to a man left me terrified, fearful he would also betray me. My heart was too tender, too raw to open up to anyone. I shut down with so many people.

Now that I’ve taken time to heal, I’m ready for a relationship (and have been blessed with a great guy by my side)! I don’t fear he will betray me. His character and integrity are sparkling! But, now I find myself wondering if he will die before me, leaving me widowed. It may seem like a strange concern, but when your grandparents lived well into their 90s, you want to find someone whose genetics lend themselves to the same type of longevity! Truth is, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

I’m also seeing fear of loss in my kids since their dad passed away unexpectedly last year. It’s so heart-breaking to see them grapple with loss, with fear, with emotions no teenager should have to experience.

I recently threw out a question about fear and loss on Facebook. Take a look at some of the responses I received:

“Even though I would like to meet someone, the thought of going through the process makes me nauseous. I've gotten to a scary point of being alone being more comfortable than going thru the nauseating hell of dating at this point in life.” (Loss to divorce)

“I didn't think that I was fearful of loving and losing again when I got remarried, after my first husband died, but I fight to control and protect me and my kids. Two people fighting to control and protect themselves from more hurt obviously causes problems. … No matter what, I think it takes serious being connected to Jesus-ness- at least for me.” (Loss of husband to sudden death)

“At first, yes [I feared loss], but as time has gone by (8 years now) the Lord has proven Himself in so many circumstances … that it's really a matter of trusting Him rather than that person. People will always let us down, but God never will.” (Loss to divorce)

“For the first 8 months I feared to love again because the thought of someone leaving me again. I have grown tremendously since then, and I am in the middle of getting to know a lady right now. This time, I know where I am grounded on and the lady I am getting to know is very grounded in her faith. It is a beautiful thing to be getting to know someone and to pray together and for each other.” (Loss to divorce)

“I would have to be pretty sure that the new guy's focus and desire was more on the giving and not as much on the getting. I would want him to consider it his ministry from the Lord to add blessing and value to my life. It's the only way I can see that a relationship can excel and glorify God, and that is what I would want most of all.” (Loss to death after 34 years)

“I was married and divorced to my high school sweetheart. I did have a few trust issues when I started dating again but had to remind myself that who I was dating wasn't the one who divorced me and to keep the blame in the right place, on the ex as opposed to women in general.” (Lost second wife to cancer)

“I'm not in a place to be ready for that yet but even thinking about the possibility of moving forward brings fears and anxiety to me. To make myself love and be vulnerable does not appeal to me at this time but at the same time I don't want to be alone forever and I'm open to what God has for my life.” (Loss to sudden death)

Can’t you hear it? The words drip with fear of loss, fear of being vulnerable again. Hearts have been shattered by some of the most painful losses our human experience can hand us. The hurt and the pain linger long after the loss, permanently altering lives and even the outlook on life. Our lives will never be the same.

And yet, I hear words of hope, words of wisdom. Wisdom that only comes from walking through the trials of this life. Wisdom that comes from walking with the Lord, seeing Him faithfully meet every need. Wisdom that comes from knowing the Savior, from learning to trust Him as He carries them through the most difficult times.

As I read through the comments and messages I received, I saw several key points I want you to consider as you face your fear of loss.

Wait. Over and over, I read stories of those who jumped back into dating soon after their loss. The outcome is rarely good. More pain. More betrayal. Used and abused. A broken heart unable to discern a safe person, simply longing for love and companionship to numb the pain.

I know I was guilty. I just wanted to have someone to hold me, to let me know I was loveable. And I got hurt.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Wait. Wait for healing. Wait until you are healthy. Wait until it’s God’s timing not your own.

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord. Psalm 27:14

Trust. Over and over, I hear the same refrain: My God has been so faithful. I have learned to trust Him completely. He has never failed me, and He won’t fail me now.

As you walk this path of loss and you let God heal you, learn to abandon your life to Him. Trust Him to guide you every single day into the future He has for you. Trust Him with your heart.

I love how my one friend put it: It takes serious being connected to Jesus-ness.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6

Be picky. I could have had a number of different men over the last seven years, but I wasn’t willing to settle. I didn’t just want a warm body, someone to take away my loneliness. I wanted a man who loved God, loved me, loved my kids. Nothing less would do.

I have a friend who went through a divorce a little over a year ago. She’s dated several different men. All nice guys, but I always feared she was settling. She recently broke off a relationship telling me she just wants more. She doesn’t want to walk through the pain of another bad marriage, and she was fearful that’s where they would end up. Why? Because he didn’t share the same love for God, and she knows that without Him at the center, they don’t have a fighting chance.

I’ve said for several years, I will never trust a man again. However, I will trust God in a man. As my friend above said, “It’s really a matter of trusting Him rather than that person. People will always let us down, but God never will.”

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33

Ultimately, we must remember that God commands us not to fear, but to be strong and courageous. If we are living in fear, paralyzed by fear, we are living in sin. We must find a way to fight through the pain, to fight through the loss, to find the peace that comes from walking with our Savior.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

There is healing, hope, a beautiful future. There is victory over fear, over loss. If you aren’t there, just keep fighting, moving forward. There is nothing better, nothing richer than seeing God put your life back together.

Lord Jesus, life hurts. Death. Divorce. Losses of all kinds. They leave us hurting and broken. But I am so glad to have a Savior who is a Healer, the One who can put our lives back together. I’m so thankful that you delight in taking  our broken lives and making us whole again. For those of us moving forward after loss, I ask you to take our fears, our doubts, and use them to make us stronger. Give us wisdom to see your perspective, your will, and to walk forward in faith. Give us the victory. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

The Long Walk

~~Have I told you about my son’s pigs?

For the second year, my son has chosen as an extra-curricular activity pigs. Yes, live, eating, drinking, pooping, smelly pigs.

Cole decided to join the National FFA (Future Farmers of America) last year, and he is absolutely excelling! He shows pigs. He judges livestock. And he is surrounded by some amazing people—other students and their families. He is gaining leadership experience, learning responsibility, and growing immensely.

But it comes at a cost.

Did I mention that pigs are smelly? The barn where he keeps his pigs is absolutely horrendous. I might have been caught plugging my nose as I walked into one of his shows…and been the subject of many jokes thereafter. Every time you walk in the barn, you have to shower and wash your clothes. Doesn’t matter if you were in there 30 seconds or 30 minutes. Your clothes and hair simply absorb the smell. No escape. It follows you. In your car. In your room. Ugh!

Today, I went to the final show of the season. It was held at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds, and kids gathered from around the state. They came with their pig feed and water troughs, their whips and their shavings. More kids and pigs (and sheep, goats, and cattle) than you can imagine!

These kids have spent the last five months feeding their pigs. They’ve cleaned the pens. They’ve taught the pigs to walk just right, heads held high to flatten out their backs. They’ve clipped their pigs. They’ve weighed their pigs. They’ve worked to put weight on their pigs and they’ve worked to take the weight off their pigs. They’ve learned what the judges look for in a show pig.

And they’ve loved their pigs. Cole’s pigs were so tiny when he got them in November. So cute! We’ve watched as they’ve grown into powerful animals, yet with a gentle spirit.

So today, Cole walked his pig to the ring, eagerly anticipating the judge’s critique. Would he be sifted (sent away without winning) or would he be penned (place in his class)?

His pig has been fed plenty in the last few weeks. He had to gain 25 pounds to make the 230 pound minimum weight. This morning, he weighed in at exactly 230 pounds! One hurdle crossed.

He entered the first ring where a judge sent him directly to the big ring! No sifting! He entered the second ring, marching his pig expertly in front of the judge. The judge was impressed and sent him to a pen!

In the end, Cole placed 7th in his class. Not bad when you consider the number of pigs he was competing against.
And then, it was over.

You see, at the end of the season, you sell your pig that you have cared for so carefully. The pig that you have poured your heart and soul into. The pig that you have loved.

After you show your pig the final time, you walk your pig through the pens, down the long, lonely aisle where a truck waits. The pig that you’ve poured so much time and energy into is loaded onto a truck and driven away…to his death.

For many of us, the walk is hard. The entire concept of raising a pig to send him to his death is more than I personally can handle. But walking him for the final time? Knowing you are sending him away forever? Knowing the ultimate outcome?

Some of the pigs almost seem to sense what’s happening. They don’t want to walk down that long, lonely aisle, through that final door. They get upset, cry out, try to run the opposite direction. They don’t want to give their all.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:36-38

As I reflected on the morning, my mind flashed to the crucifixion. Maybe in some small way, I felt what God Himself felt as He sent His very own son on that long walk. You see, He poured His everything into His son. He loved Him and cared for Him.

And yet, He knew from the very beginning the final outcome. He knew from the beginning that Jesus would walk that long, lonely, final walk. He knew that Jesus’ final destination was death, death on a cross.

And Jesus? Just as those pigs seemed to sense what was happening, Jesus was very well aware what was on the other side of the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew the final outcome would involve excruciating pain and incredible suffering. He knew death was his final destination.

His soul was crushed with grief to the point of death.

He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.  “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Luke 23:35-36

Just as those pigs fought against walking through the final door, Jesus cried out to escape the suffering. If at all possible. Just hold me close. Keep me from walking these final steps. Take this cup from me.

Yet, He chose to go through the door. He chose to be obedient to His Father, even to death on a cross. He chose to take that long, final walk.

It was a choice He made for me. It was a choice He made for you. It was a choice He made because His love for us, His desire to walk in complete obedience to the Father, was greater—oh, so much greater—than His desire to avoid the pain and the suffering.

And so He walked through that final door, straight into the arms of death.

As we know, death didn’t get the final word when Christ went to the cross. Instead, He claimed the victory when He walked out of that tomb, forever winning the war over death and giving us the hope of eternal life. Oh, what a Savior!

Father, thank you for showing me in some very small way what you went through when you sent your Son, your beloved Son, to earth to die for me, for my sins. I am forever humbled and grateful for the gift, for the incredible sacrifice given for me on that cross. May I never take for granted what you went through. Thank you for claiming victory over death, for promising eternal life, forgiveness of sins. Thank you for giving your all. May I always live in such a way that reflects my gratitude for the incredible sacrifice given all those years ago.

God's Super Hero

Have you ever wondered how God defines a super hero?

As I was reading through Judges recently, I found a passage in which God refers to Gideon as a hero.

The angel of the Lord appeared to [Gideon] and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” Judges 6:12

The story of Gideon has always been one of my favorite Biblical stories. Here’s this guy, going about his business, when God finds him and sends him to fight a mighty army with only 300 people. Gideon wasn’t thrilled about the assignment, but he goes anyway.

As I read the story this time, I realized God has a very different idea of what a super hero looks like. We think a super hero is brave, ready to rush into danger, never fearful. We think super heroes are full of confidence, never doubting their ability to win. But that’s certainly not what we find in Gideon.

Let’s take a closer look at Super Hero Gideon…

First, let’s see where Gideon was when God called him.

Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. Judges 6:11

Gideon, God’s super hero, was in the bottom of a winepress hiding from the Midianites. This mighty man of God was terrified, not even willing to go about his daily business in broad daylight! Instead, he jumped down inside a deep winepress to thresh his grain.

God’s super hero was hiding from his enemies. And yet, God saw something more. Behind the cowardly façade, God saw the heart of warrior, a man personally chosen to deliver his people from their enemies.

Can’t you see Gideon’s reaction when God called him? There he is, hiding, when God calls him a mighty warrior. I imagine him looking around, trying to see who God’s angel is talking to. Maybe he sheepishly pauses, points at himself with a puzzled look on his face, mouths the words, “Me?” I’m certain he wonders if God has the right person.

Maybe you are like Gideon, hiding and terrified. Maybe you are hiding from your enemies, hiding from that thing God has called you to? Remember, God doesn’t look at your outward appearance, your outward action. He looks deep inside you and sees the person He created you to be.

Next, Gideon whines about his circumstances and argues with God.

“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

“But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” >Judges 6:13-16

Isn’t that becoming of a hero?

“If you are so good, why are our enemies defeating us? Why have you abandoned us?” Gideon whines.

Never did Gideon look to the Israelites, to their sins and the way they abandoned God to grasp an understanding of why the Midianites were oppressing them. Instead, he simply moaned and groaned about their lot in life. (Ouch. I’ve been there.)

Then, Gideon points out that he is simply not hero material. He is from the weakest clan in one of the smallest tribes. He wasn’t created to be a warrior. He belongs in the winepress.

But God disagrees. He tells Gideon, “Go with the strength you have. I am with you! I will be your strength where you are weak, and you will overcome the entire Midianite people as if there’s only one person!”

Despite his fears, his doubts, God reassures Gideon. He promises to be with him and provide the strength he needs, just as He promises us.

What journey is God calling you to today? Where has He called you to step out of your comfort zone, to step up and be brave in the face of incredible difficulties? Is He calling you to be brave in the face of single parenting? Is He calling you to start a ministry, to help others? Is He calling you to leave a job where you’ve succeeded to start over on a new path?

If He is calling you, He will give you the strength for the journey.

Finally, Gideon asks God to reassure him again.

Then Gideon said to God, “If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, prove it to me in this way. I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight. If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised.” And that is just what happened. When Gideon got up early the next morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung out a whole bowlful of water.

Then Gideon said to God, “Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request. Let me use the fleece for one more test. This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.” So that night God did as Gideon asked. The fleece was dry in the morning, but the ground was covered with dew. Judges 6:36-40

Gideon wasn’t satisfied with speaking face-to-face with God. He wasn’t satisfied with God promising to be with him. He wasn’t satisfied with knowing his strength would be enough. He wasn’t satisfied with the promise of victory.

Gideon still needed reassurance. He still needed God to prove again that He knew what He was doing in calling Gideon, the least among his family.

And God was faithful. He showed up, honored Gideon’s request. He understands our humanity, our need to be constantly certain. He is good and will faithfully reassure us in our doubts. And, if you have heard God’s calling and yet are still uncertain, God will faithfully reassure you. Ask Him. Seek His face, His reassurance. He will honor your request.

From a human standpoint, God’s chosen super hero was quite a failure. He certainly didn’t look like a brave, confident, rush into the heat of battle, super hero.But there’s one thing I see throughout Gideon’s life that he did well:

He obeyed every detail of God’s directions.

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded Judges 6:27

Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’” So 22,000 of them went home Judges 7:3

But the Lord told Gideon, “There are still too many! Bring them down to the spring, and I will test them to determine who will go with you and who will not.” When Gideon… Judges 7:4-5

The Lord told Gideon, “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites. Send all the others home.” So Gideon… Judges 7:7-8

That night the Lord said, “Get up! Go down into the Midianite camp, for I have given you victory over them! So Gideon… Judges 7:9, 11

Over and over, God gives Gideon instructions. Over and over, Gideon follows those instructions. He watched as God whittled his army down to only 300 men, certainly not comforting to a man who is already fearful and uncertain. He obeyed as God told him to go down and listen to the Midianites, to hear the fear God had placed in their hearts. And Gideon went down with his rag-tag army to fight the Midianites, just as God commanded.

And God was faithful. He was with Gideon. God gave Gideon an easy victory.

And that’s what we need to remember. God calls unlikely people to be super heroes, but He is with us when He calls us. He is the strength in our weakness. He is the confidence in our fear. He is the reassurance in our doubts. He is the victory in our super hero alter-ego.

God looks at what’s inside us, what He created us to be. When we do the things God calls us to do, things way outside our abilities, God gets the credit. Our super hero actions point the world back to Him rather than to our own strengths. We see God do something we know we could never do on our own. We get to experience the joy of seeing the Almighty use us.

We become God’s very own super heroes.