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Dena Johnson Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson

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

Shattered Hearts

The Facebook memories popped up today, memories from four years ago.

My daughter just ran through the house chasing her brother. She was carrying a baseball bat, and she yelled, “I’ve got a bat and I’m not afraid to use it!” Perhaps this game has gotten a little out of control!

My mind flashed back to that day as I sat on my bed, my kids running through the house. I smiled as I reflected on the memory, the laughter echoing through my home.

Earlier on that same day was another memory:

1 child doing gymnastics + 1 child carrying a pancake drenched in syrup = 1 big, sticky mess!

Oh, how I remember as Cassie did a cartwheel through the kitchen right into her brother’s plate of pancakes. I don’t think her brother thought it was very funny at the time, but the look on their faces was priceless.

But even as the smile crept across my face remembering those precious moments, sadness overwhelmed me.

You see, it’s been a long while since I had a “Facebook worthy” moment from my kids.

Instead of laughter and joy. Instead of cartwheels and pancakes. Instead of games and pranks.

Our lives have devolved into survival mode. We are steeped in sadness and grief. We are overwhelmed with the heaviness of life. We are struggling to get our bearings, to get our lives back on track.

This truth was hammered home when my son called at lunch time.

“Mom,” he began, “I think I’m depressed.”

We spent an hour on the phone talking about life, about the chaos that has overwhelmed us. We talked about the reality of grief, of how it can show up without warning. We talked about the different emotions, of how grief can be manifested in anger or sadness or guilt. We talked about how all three kids are handling their grief differently, unique to their own personalities.

We talked about how I will do whatever is necessary to help them get through these difficult days. If we need a counselor, I will find one. If we need a friend who has been through loss, I will find one. If we need time away, I will arrange it.

Most of all, I reassured him that I love him more than life itself, that I will be here for him no matter what.

And when we hung up the phone, I wiped the tears from my eyes.

The last year has taken a major toll on our lives. Just when we thought we were moving forward, when life was getting better, when we were getting the hang of this single parent life, the kids’ dad passed away unexpectedly. We were thrust into a new season of grief, a new twist in this strange journey. We were faced with a pain no child should face, a wound deeper than any we’ve ever experienced.

Then, before we could even catch our breath, my daughter was struck by a major life-changing diagnosis. Protective big brother was left reeling from the sight of his sister’s unresponsive body, shaking, convulsing, as her brain was gripped by the onslaught of abnormal electrical impulses.

Our home, which used to be filled with laughter and joy, has become melancholy. My previously active daughter has become withdrawn, secluded. My passionate boy, so full of life, is now full of rage. And my analytical child battles a depression, a crisis of faith.

We have been robbed of joy.

We continue seeking God, struggling to get our feet on solid ground again. But I’ve come to realize that through the chaos, through the pain, through the exhaustion, through the fear, our lives are forever changed.

Our hearts and lives shattered.

Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Psalm 90:14-15

When I first became a single mom, I placed high value on laughter, on fun, on enjoying life together. As my kids have grown, I find it increasingly difficult to find time for fun. We have activities many evenings each week, and we seem to be on a never-ending marathon. We have responsibilities, ranging from work to school activities to ministry to relationships. Our lives are full, but we are often exhausted.

And we lose the time, the energy, just to have fun.

Added to the normal chaos of single parenting is grief…massive grief. Some days survival seems like a lofty goal.

But I don’t want my kids to survive! I want them to thrive! I want them to have a mindset of abundance, abundance of grace and mercy and love that flows from the Father. I want them to look back on their childhoods—even with all of the grief and hurt and pain—and I want them to remember it fondly. I want them to walk away from our home as adults with an assurance that there is good in this world, that there is unconditional love, that there is hope even in our most painful days. I want them to remember that God always brings good out of every circumstance, even those that rob us of our joy. I want them to know that their mourning was turned to laughter, that He brought beauty from the ashes.

I want them to be satisfied with His unfailing love.

I want them to sing for joy to the ends of our lives.

I want them to see gladness in proportion to the misery they have seen.

I want them to see God replace the evil years with good.

So tonight, when I got home from work, I engaged the boys in a ping-pong tournament. I didn’t have a chance—and I’m quite certain they went easy on me—but they enjoyed the fun, the laughter, the interaction with their (lousy ping-pong playing) mom.

I found the radio, tuned it to the local Christian radio station, and turned it up so I can fill our home with praise, with songs that remind us to reflect on the goodness of our Father.

I reminded the kids how much I love them, how much they mean to me, how they saved me many years ago.

I began to talk about the good times, the memories of days past, the laughter and fun.

Above all, I began telling my kids about the goodness of my Father, of how He has been so incredibly faithful through all the difficult days of our lives. I told them of His provision, His healing, His great love for us. I reminded them that just as He has been there for me, for us, He will take these miseries and use them to draw us closer to Him, to mold us into His image.

And I pray that He takes all the pieces of our shattered lives, our shattered hearts, and fits them all together into a beautiful mosaic, a masterpiece, one created by the Master artist.

Lord Jesus, it’s been a tough year, a long journey. We have grown weary, irritable. We are lost in grief, our hearts shattered. We need you. We need you to satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love. We want to sing for joy to the ends of our lives. We want to see gladness in proportion to the misery we have seen, to see you replace the evil years with good. We know you are able. We know your heart toward us is good, loving, kind. We know you will take all of the pain and make something beautiful of it. Take our hearts and fill them with joy. Show us how to laugh again, to love life, to thrive instead of survive. Take the pieces of our shattered lives and make something beautiful. In Jesus name, amen.

 

 

Relentless Pursuit

Jacob and Esau. The twins who fought, even in the womb. Animosity ran thick as they battled for their parents’ affection. Esau was loved by his father, and Jacob was his mother’s favorite.

It started with the birthright, when Jacob convinced his starving brother to sell it for a bowl of soup. Then, with his mother’s blessing, Jacob tricked his dad into giving him the blessing reserved for the oldest son.

A deceiver. Sinful from birth. Integrity was not high on his list of character traits.

Yet loved by God. Pursued relentlessly by God.

Wherever Jacob ran, God was right there calling him home, calling him to surrender to the One who loved him.

As Jacob was fleeing the fury of his brother and running to his Uncle Laban, he stopped to sleep.

As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. …What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Genesis 28:10-15

Despite his deceit, God was calling him, promising to bless him. Jacob was at the foot of heaven, encountering the Holy God of his ancestors. God was calling him—the deceiver—to a relationship with the God of his fathers.

But Jacob wasn’t ready to surrender. Intrigued? Yes. But he wasn’t there yet, not ready to fully trust the God of his ancestors, the God he had heard about but never personally encountered. He marked the place of his dream, named it Bethel, and made this vow:

“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.” Genesis 28:20-22

And on he went, continuing his trip to his Uncle Laban’s, running from the mess he had created back home with his deceit.

God went right along with him, pursuing him, calling him to surrender.

Jacob might have met his match in his Uncle Laban. The two were very much alike in their deceitful ways. But, Jacob worked faithfully for his uncle, marrying his two daughters and increasing his uncle’s wealth.

Eventually, Jacob grew tired of Laban’s ways and decided to take his wealth and flee. First fleeing his brother and now fleeing his uncle. He packed up his wives and children and flocks and herds and took off, hoping his brother had forgiven.

Right on his heels was Laban, chasing him down. But God warned Laban not to hurt Jacob. God was watching over him, protecting him, even as he ran yet again.

As Jacob started on his way again, angels of God came to meet him. When Jacob saw them, he exclaimed, “This is God’s camp!” So he named the place Mahanaim. Genesis 32:1-2

Again, God was there, pursuing Jacob. Jacob hadn’t chosen God, but God had obviously chosen Jacob. Wherever he went, God was with him.

Finally, the moment arrives. He’s within a short distance of his brother, Esau, the one who had vowed to kill him at their last encounter. I’m certain the fear was mounting, the dread of the encounter. Jacob would meet his brother, take responsibility for his actions.

Maybe, just maybe, this God who was relentlessly pursuing him really would be faithful, would keep that promise he made. Maybe, just maybe, he could trust this God of his ancestors.

So Jacob paused, took a step toward surrender.

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father, Isaac—O Lord, you told me, ‘Return to your own land and to your relatives.’ And you promised me, ‘I will treat you kindly.’ I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me, your servant. Genesis 32:9-10

He sent everyone ahead of him, carrying gifts to his estranged brothers. He hoped to appease his anger, to soften his heart before they saw one another. But now, he just needed to be alone.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” …  Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. Genesis 32:24-26, 30-32

In the solitude, he found himself wrestling with God. This encounter was the life-changing moment he needed, the one where he fully surrendered. All the moments before. All his sin. All his deceit. Everything came crashing together in one final moment, a night where he wrestled with God, erasing all doubt and solidifying his faith in God. Trusting that the God who had relentlessly pursued him through every twist and turn of life would be faithful to keep his promises. Finally taking the God of his ancestors as his own.

The God who relentlessly pursued Jacob? He’s the same God who relentlessly pursues us. In our pain. In our sin. In our successes. In our failures. When we are faithful. When we are faithless.

He’s there. He’s calling us, wooing us to let go of everything, to trust Him with our very lives. He’s beside us. He’s promising us that every painful circumstance can be used for His purpose, for our good when we leave it in His hands. He’s around us. He’s putting His angels around us, protecting us, guarding us, from those who would wish us harm.

There’s nothing in this world that can keep Him from us. There’s nothing He can’t overcome. There’s nothing that will stop Him in His pursuit of us.

All He wants is for us to surrender, to let go of our burdens and our fears, our shame and our guilt, our sins and our failures. He wants us to turn it all over to Him, to let Him take it and make something beautiful. He wants us to trust Him, fully and completely, to take Him as our very own.

Will you surrender to the still, small voice calling you to Himself? He’s waiting just for you.

 

 

 

 

 

Hearts. Pink and red. Cupid. Mushy cards. Flowers. Candy. Love and romance.

Everything around us screams Valentine’s Day right now.

I’m not sure what feelings this holiday evokes for you. Maybe you are relishing the excitement of a new relationship. Maybe you are in the silent days of waiting for someone special, waiting your turn to celebrate love. Or maybe you are reeling from the pain of a shattered relationship, simply trying to hide from yet another commercialized holiday.

I have endured the last nine Februarys. ENDURED. Buried my head in the sand hoping when I woke up it would be over. Watched couples all around me completely lost in each other’s eyes while I sat in a corner alone. Mustered the strength to take one (or all) of my kids on a date while longing for someone special to take me on a date. Prayed, wondered, doubted when God would decide it was my time.

This year, I actually look forward to February. While it’s difficult to build a relationship when you are busy chasing kids, I am blessed to have my very own valentine this year. A new season. A huge blessing in an incredibly difficult year. A kind, considerate man who loves me AND my kids.

An answered prayer.

Maybe you aren’t yet where I am in this crazy walk, but one day you will be. Wherever you are, whatever season, I have a few thoughts on dating. Don’t short-change yourself. Don’t settle for less than the best. Be willing to listen to a few words of advice from someone who has been in the trenches for a very long time.

Wait. I know what it is to be lonely. I know what it is to feel utterly rejected, to wonder if you will ever be loved. I know what it is to be the only single in the midst of a room full of marrieds. The pain and anguish and loneliness are overwhelming.

I know what it is to dread February 14 every year, to wonder when it will be your turn to receive those beautiful flowers like all of your co-workers. I know what it is to watch all your friends get married while you wait…and wait…and wait.

But that’s exactly what I encourage you to do: wait. Wait until you’ve had time to heal from your broken heart. Wait until you are satisfied with God and God alone. Wait until you’re completely satisfied in your life, whatever it may look like right now.

Wait until you find someone who has also waited, who has taken time to heal. Wait until you find someone who is satisfied in life as a single. Wait until you find someone who is ready to follow God’s purpose, regardless of what it may involve.

Love is patient…and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 4, 7b

Love God. As I alluded to above, make sure you love God. Make sure He is in proper position in your life.

Are you seeking Him and His kingdom? Have you allowed Him to take your past, your mistakes, your pain, and use it all to transform you into His image? Have you allowed God to take all the broken, shattered pieces of your life and fit them back together into something beautiful? Have you tested Him and found Him completely faithful throughout your wilderness?

If so, you may be ready to move forward. Just make sure whoever you decide to date has done the same thing, has spent time getting to know the Savior and being transformed by Him. Make sure he is also seeking God above all else.

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

Friendship. It may seem strange, but before you decide to date, make sure you have a solid friendship. There will be times when the butterflies are absent, when the newness wears off. That’s when you must have a solid friendship upon which you can fall.

Take time to get to know him, all his quirks, his outlook on life. Is he there for you when you are down? Is she available to listen when your life is uncertain? Is he kind at all times? Is she considerate of your needs and wants?

Relationships are difficult, but when you are with your best friend it makes life so much easier. Friendship is the foundation of any love story.

Can I tell you a secret? Last spring, I was driving to work one morning, thinking about my friend. I felt certain God was on the verge of bringing someone into my life, a certainty like I had never had before. I became sad thinking that if there was a man in my life I wouldn’t be able to have Roy in my life in the same way. And that’s the very moment God hit me between the eyeballs with His truth.

My friend of 30 years? The one who has walked this ENTIRE nightmare with me? The one who endured many of the same things as I have? The one who has pursued me for NINE years while I was oblivious to him? The one who has fought for my affections even when I rejected him time after time?

He was right before me from the very beginning.

Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable? Proverbs 20:6

Love and Respect. Two powerful words, words that make the difference between “till death do we part” and divorce court.

Does he love you as Christ loved the church? Is he willing to lay down his life for you? Would he be willing to sacrifice everything, to surrender his very life to protect you? Is his love for you pure and complete? Is he willing to put aside his own desires to put you ahead of himself? Is his love for you constant and unconditional?

Does she respect you? Does she give you honor at every turn? Does she see your goodness, your purity? Does she always speak highly of you, in private and in public? Are her words those that bring life? Does she seek to build you up, never tearing you down?

Can you freely and openly talk to each other about everything? Can you lovingly confront and ask for change, ask for your needs to be met? Are you comfortable discussing every topic? Can you bring up difficult topics without fear of repercussions?

If love and respect flow freely, hold tight.

So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:33

What about kids? Many of you, like me, are entering into this dating thing with kids in tow. It adds an entirely new dimension to building and maintaining a relationship.

Over the years, I have met more than one man who professed his love for me, but really didn’t want my kids. It wasn’t necessarily my kids; it was just that they really didn’t want to raise more kids.

My kids and I are a package deal. Period. No questions. If you love me, you will love my kids as your own. It’s nothing more than I would expect of myself.

Roy has two teenage kids of his own to throw into the crazy, chaotic mix I already have. But he always treats my kids as his own. They have so enjoyed having a man around, a man who always speaks kindly, supports them in their activities, loves them as his own. I enjoy seeing them interact with a man, a strong man who is tender enough to show his love for them. I enjoy watching them build a relationship with a father-figure and do father-son activities (shop for some unmentionables?!?! So glad I got out of THAT one!).

My kids love him, and he loves them. What a blessing!

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27

Don’t rush. It may sound like waiting, and it’s similar. But, this nugget of advice is on the other end.

You’ve found someone. He has waited until God healed his heart. She has made sure God is at the center of her life. You’ve built a friendship. Love and respect flow easily between you. The kids are loved by you both.

Don’t rush. The temptation is to jump right in, to put a wedding date on the calendar and bring it full circle. But I encourage you to take your time, to do things right. Maybe there’s never a perfect time, but make sure you are listening to God, following His lead.

Have you taken time to make sure the walls are down, to make sure you know each other well? Are you completely convinced God has created you specifically for each other at this specific time? Are you fully ready to commit whole-heartedly without reservation?

Take your time. There’s no rush, no hurry. If he truly loves you, truly wants to spend the rest of his life with you, he will not only respect your desires but encourage you to take your time.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

I don’t know what Valentine’s looks like for you this year, but I promise God is still in control. Let Him heal your heart, and one day you will rejoice as February rolls around.

He is good…always and forever!

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