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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin

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

Nine years ago when I was going through my divorce, my parents were living two hours away taking care of my then 98-year-old grandfather. They decided to sell their home, move closer to me so they could help me with the kids, and bring my sweet grandpa with them.

My grandmother had died a few years earlier, leaving my grandpa a widower after nearly 72 years of marriage. My parents thought he would be happier in an assisted living center of some type, some place where he would be able to socialize with other people closer to his age.

But my grandpa was stubborn. He had been a strong, independent leader all his life. He was the oldest of seven boys (God bless his mother). He was a teacher and school administrator. He was a deacon in his church. He was a farmer and insurance salesman.

And there was absolutely NO WAY he was going to live in an assisted living center. He was going to buy a house and live independently, just like he always had.

So he bought a house. A brand new house. Paid cash for it. At the age of 98.

My grandpa was diagnosed with a metastatic skin cancer a few short months after he moved in. He stayed in the house for about a year and half before caring for him independently became too much for my dad. He spent the last few months of his life in a nearby nursing home. He passed away surrounded by his entire family a few short days before his 100th birthday.

When Grandpa became ill, I was able to pack up my kids, sell my house, and move into Grandpa’s house. God provided a nice neighborhood with good schools. I was able to have a place to live without the burden of rent or a mortgage. We had the benefit of having my parents next door to help me with the kids.

It was one of those God-things, a moment when Grandpa’s stubbornness was used by God to take care of me and my children.

We have been living in Grandpa’s house for the last seven years. When Roy and I got married, we looked for another house, a place with more room for a family of seven. There are some beautiful homes out here, but it was incredibly expensive to find a place that would accommodate five kids who are all used to having their own space. After months of searching, we decided to build the ultimate man-cave for our brood of teenage boys and stay right where we are, purchasing it from my parents.

The last few months have consisted of updating our home and getting it ready for an appraisal. We have replaced the carpet and painted the walls. We have cleaned up the flower beds and added some color. We have painted the doors and much of the exterior. And, as we finally near the date of the appraisal, we have cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more. Sweeping. Mopping. Polishing woodwork. Scrubbing bathrooms. Organizing. Cleaning out. Throwing away. So. Much. Work.

This week, the appraiser comes to inspect our house, to see how much it is worth. Appraisal day is the day we find out how much our hard work will pay off, how much the cleaning and updating has increased the value of our home.

As I reflected on this process tonight, I began to think about our lives as Christians. We have an appraiser, One who tells us the value of our lives. We have One who looks at all of the hard work we have done trying to live holy lives, lives marked by the love of God. We have One who steps in and evaluates every corner of our heart, searching it to know its value.

I don’t know about you, but I want my Appraiser to give me the ultimate assessment. I want to hear my Appraiser say those words to me one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.” There’s no greater appraisal that can be given to one of His children.

And how do we get the highest appraisal?

Start with a new house. A good appraisal starts with allowing the Creator to make you a new person. He takes the old and wipes it away, replacing it with His perfection, His righteousness. Without His touch, our lives are worthless, meaningless. But with Him making us new, we get to experience the value that can only come from being a child of the King.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Clean the inside. We have painted and changed our flooring in preparation for this appraisal. It’s been a lot of work, but it should make a difference. You wouldn’t even know this house was the same house because of all of the changes made on the inside.

And that’s how God works in us. He doesn’t expect us to change the way we talk and look; instead, He changes the way we think. He softens our hearts and gives us new hearts. He gives us eyes to see the world as He sees. He’s all about changing you from the inside out, giving us His heart for all things and all people.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

Clean up the exterior. After He makes us new, we want to clean up the exterior. We replace our old ways of living with His ways. It sometimes seems like a daunting task, but He is the master painter, the master artist. He won’t leave you stuck in your old ways. Instead, He lovingly guides you into the beauty He has for you.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15

Let the appraiser look at every aspect. The appraiser always has a trained eye. He knows exactly what to look for, where the value is in every building. He evaluates the house from every angle, both inside and out. He looks for the curb appeal. He looks for upgrades from the original. He measures to see how much space there is. It’s never just a quick glance; it’s an intense study of the subject.

It’s much the same with us. Our master Appraiser must be allowed to look long and hard, to see what exists below the surface. We must allow Him to have free and unfettered access to every part of our hearts and lives. We must allow Him to uncover the hidden beauty. That’s when we get to see Him take what’s there and turn it into more than we ever dreamed.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23

Our home appraisal is now complete. We are only waiting for the report to tell us—to tell the mortgage company—the value of our home. It’s been a long process, and it’s taken a lot of work. But we know all of our hard work will be worth it.

Now I want my life to be evaluated by our Master Appraiser in the same way. I want to know my value, a value that only comes from a life hidden in Christ. I want Him to change me from the inside out, making me of greater value each day. I want Him to evaluate every aspect and give me that final appraisal one day. I want to hear those precious words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

The journey to “Well done” is often filled with struggles and strife. It takes a lot of work—inside and out—to reach the final appraisal. But it is not a process we do alone. It is His power at work in us, molding us into what He wants us to be.

Ultimately, when we do things God’s way, we find a value—an appraisal—that far exceeds anything we could expect.

“Get your security from me,” God whispered to my heart.

It might have been a whisper, but His voice was louder with each passing day. I was in the midst of some of the most painful days of my life. My husband had been caught in an affair, and despite my attempts to reconcile, I landed in divorce court.

My faith was beyond shaken, and I was tumbling into a place of utter chaos. I found myself running from God, wanting no part of living His way. After all, His way hadn’t worked out so well for me.

As I ran, I was looking for someone, something to love me. Someone to let me know I was lovable. Something to soothe the pain in my heart. Someone to take away my fear. Something to give me the strength to make it one more day.

I was looking for security in all the wrong places.

But my Savior was calling, asking me to turn to Him in this place of fear and uncertainty. He was calling me to trust the One who had saved me from my sins. He was asking me to believe He was good even when life was not. He was chasing after me as I ran away as fast as I could.

I’m thankful I finally surrendered in that season. I’m so grateful for the God who has shown Himself to be good and faithful and righteous and true even in the most painful circumstances this life can throw at us. I owe my very life to God, for His relentless pursuit of my heart and my life.

Those days are etched deeply into my mind, memories that do not fade with time. I still hear that sweet voice calling me, the voice getting louder each day, the moment of surrender. I remember the peace that swept over me when I chose Him, chose to go His way instead of running. I remember the many ways He has proven Himself so faithful over the last decade, over my entire life.

So why do I find myself sitting here fearful? Anxious? Confused? Why does His perfect peace seem so fleeting, so elusive? Why do I find myself worrying about tomorrow when I’ve seen my God come through, provide and love and guide so many times, in so many ways?

A week ago, my husband was driving home from his mom’s house when he thought he had a flat tire. (Side note: flat tires seem to be a recurring theme in our brief eight months of marriage.) He pulled over to change his tire but couldn’t find the adapter he needed. So, he called my son. Eventually, he decided to try to make it the last three miles home, driving slowly with my son following him.

One mile from the house, my son saw his lug nut fly off…followed by his wheel. The car went up and over the wheel and slammed down onto the road, slamming Roy into the top of the cab and back down into his seat. When he was able to get out of the car, he knew the damage was extensive. The front bumper. The back bumper. The gas tank. The driver side. The wheel.

We’ve spent the week simultaneously thanking God for His sovereignty, for protecting Roy and our inexperienced teenage drivers who frequently drive his car. We’ve praised him for taking away the burden of a car payment we wanted paid off. We’ve been overwhelmed with gratitude for keeping Roy safe, that he was only driving 20 mph and that he was not injured more than he was.

And we thanked him that we have the money in our savings account to go pay cash for a small, inexpensive used car to get him through the next few years.

Yes, we recognize God’s goodness, His grace, His provision, His faithfulness. Yet, I find myself struggling with fear, anxiety, uncertainty.

Why?

I’ve spent years fighting the almighty dollar, at times not sure where I would find the money to feed my kids. We have faced mountains of medical bills between surgeries and emergency visits for my daughter. There’s always something that needs to be fixed, something that requires financial resources. I’ve watched my bank account hover near zero.

But now? For the first time in many years, I was enjoying watching the balance go up. With two incomes and good health insurance, we were enjoying relative peace in the financial area. But we took a HUGE chunk to buy Roy a car, and now I find myself worrying about the many things still looming in the near future that will require money.

And, I came to the sober realization that I’ve been getting my security from my bank account instead of my Savior.  

God has this way of stripping things away to get our attention, to remind us who He is and who He wants to be in our lives. And that’s our vantage point today. And while our savings account took a huge hit, I’m finding peace in knowing my Savior.

As I walk through yet another unexpected twist in this crazy journey, I’m running back to my foundation. I am choosing to remember…

Remember the past. As I look back over my life, I know God has always been faithful. He has never let me down, never failed me. He has provided for my every need. He has guided my steps. He has lifted me from the pit. He has taken the most painful circumstances of my life and used them for good in my life.

When I first became a single mom, I was lucky to bring home $400 every other week. With three kids who needed food and clothing, a mortgage that was more than my month’s income, and child care that was equal to my mortgage, I have no idea how I survived. But God always provided. Whether it was the sweet couple from church or my parents or an unexpected payment from the insurance, it was always there.

Those days of minimum wage work are long gone. God has faithfully increased my income. I’ve watched as he doubled and tripled my income over the years. I’ve watched as he provided for the unexpected. I’ve seen Him take care of us in every way. If He’s done it before, I know He will do it again.

Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Deuteronomy 8:2-4

Remember His character. Our sermon Sunday was on God’s goodness. The church I’ve been attending has been struggling as they watch one of their very own families fight for their faith as their 10-year-old son fights for his life. It’s been a painful season, a journey which often leaves people struggling with where God is, with how a good God can allow such incredible suffering.

But God is good. Somewhere, in the pain, God is working. He’s working for our good and His glory. God is also love, perfect love that casts out fear. God is faithful, never leaving us and never forsaking us. God is truth. In Him there is no lies, no darkness, no evil. God is perfect. He cannot do any wrong, any evil. And although we live in a fallen world where pain and darkness is alive, we can know that He is present, walking with us, guiding us. We can trust Him because of His character.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Psalm 118:29

Remember His promises. God has made promises—good promises—to His believers. He has promised us that He has overcome the world and all it’s problems (John 16:33). He’s promised to always be with us, to never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He’s promised that all things will work for good if we love Him (Romans 8:28). He’s promised to have plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

And He’s promised His perfect peace when we choose to focus on Him, to turn our worry into prayers, to focus our hearts on Him in thanksgiving and praise.

The best part? He has promised that not one of His promises will ever fail.

Not a single one of all the good promises the Lord had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true. Joshua 21:45

Sometimes it’s sobering to see life’s journey, the struggles and trials of this life for what they are. Yes, things happen, sometimes because of our own poor choices, sometimes simply because we live in a fallen world. But what I know is that God uses these trials to get our attention, to show us where we are putting our trust in something other than Him. And then, He carries us through to the other side where we get to see the full picture of who He is and what He is doing, how He is weaving the circumstances of our lives into a beautiful mosaic where we get to see His fingerprints all over the masterpiece.

 

 

I wrote this article a couple years ago. It has come to my mind repeatedly today as I have been debating how the church (particularly the Southern Baptist Church) deals with abuse in marriage. Unfortunately, many want to continue to turn a blind eye to the abuse and destruction that is so prevalent. Many fail to see how their words--designed to encourage people to fight for their marriages--also contribute to keeping Christians captive in dangerous marriages.

I pray today that someone will hear the cry of our hearts, that they will see the truth of what is happening behind closed doors...

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“He is a charismatic leader at church,” the email begins. “Everyone loves him. They believe everything he says. He has managed to turn everyone against me. But they don’t know the man he becomes behind closed doors.”

I receive emails similar to this almost every day. Male and female. Young and old.

Emotional abuse is no respecter of age or race or gender or religion.

And it’s at epidemic proportions.

“I’ll never forget the day he called my four year old daughter a little sh**.”

“Everything is always my fault. He is never at fault for anything.”

“He is controlling. I have to ask for money just to put gas in my car to get to and from work.”

“She is so emotionally unstable. I never know if she will be as sweet as can be or if I need to fear for my life. I feel so unsafe.”

“He’s never actually hit me, but sometimes I am afraid he will.”

“Fits of rage. You never know what will cause it. The wrong word. The wrong meal. An unexpected bill. I become so scared.”

“We are married, but I am emotionally starved. He spends all his time on the computer. He doesn’t want anything to do with me…except sex. Rough sex. I beg him to go have fun, to do something with me. But he refuses.”

“She even has the counselor convinced that I am the problem. Sometimes I actually believe I am the problem.”

“He had an affair, but somehow it was made to be my fault. Even when I offered forgiveness and reconciliation, I was still the evil one.”

“The night he flew into a fit of rage and began punching holes in the walls, I didn’t know what he might do to me. I was so scared I left and slept in my car.”

Eventually, some victims reach their breaking point. For many, it’s adultery. Repeated, on-going affairs with no repentance. The offender wants to keep his family, but refuses to let go of his lover. For others, it is simply the loss of self that pushes them over the edge. And others simply begin to fear it will escalate into physical abuse.

When the victim becomes strong enough to walk away, you can be assured there will still be attempts to maintain control.

“I was dropping my kids off with him one day, and he made a huge scene in the parking lot of McDonald’s. Yelling and screaming. A fit of rage. All because I chose to pray with each child…on what he referred to as his time.”

“She continues to tell everyone how it was my fault, how I am turning the kids against her. She’s told so many lies, I’m not sure she knows the truth.”

“She refuses to let me see my children, even when the court has ordered it.”

“I woke up to find the air had been let out of all my tires on my car so I was late to work.”

“He has started coming over and doing these little things he put off for years. I think he is just trying to gain control again because I finally stood up for myself.”

“It’s amazing how he wants me to shoulder all of the daily responsibilities of caring for the children, but he gets angry when I don’t do it his way.”

Perhaps the worst part is when the children become victims of the emotional abuse. The day you choose not to bend to his wants and whims and he takes it out on the kids. Or she’s just in a bad mood. Or he doesn’t get his way.

“Mom, we wanted to go to our soccer games this weekend, but he got mad when we told him. He had other plans even though he knew we had games. He flew into a rage and began yelling all kinds of curse words until we said it was ok if we missed our games.”

“He’s so emotionally unstable. It scares me. He yelled and screamed at us for two hours. And then, suddenly, he was so calm and peaceful. It was eery. I stayed up all night in fear of what he might do to us.”

“I found porn on his computer, and now I am struggling to stop looking at it myself.”

“I had a bad dream! It was about this scary movie we watched at his house.”

“Mom, I see these stories of dads who murder their kids and then commit suicide. I’m afraid that will happen to us one day.”

Yet, the court has ordered men and women everywhere to send their children to see the other parent, the emotionally abusive parent. It’s so difficult to get anyone to listen to the stories, to recognize it as abuse…until it becomes physical.

And then it may be too late.

And the church?

So often, emotional and verbal abuse is not recognized by the church as abuse. The abuser is charismatic, well liked. He or she may be so good at portraying a godly persona that others are fooled. The abuser has the ability to make the victim look like the crazy one, turning everyone against him. The victim becomes further isolated, nowhere to turn for help.

If/when the victim decides to leave? The church shuns her.

“Divorce is only allowed in a situation of adultery or abandonment. It can’t be that bad. You need to stay and stick it out.”

Unless you’ve lived through it, you cannot fully comprehend what emotional abuse does to a person. Loss of identity. Loss of confidence. Loss of self.

The victim becomes a shell of the person he was created to be in Christ Jesus. She is unable to fulfill the purpose for which she was created. He doubts everything about himself. She contemplates suicide.

And the kids? The children suffer. Become dysfunctional. Learn the controlling, manipulative, angry ways of the abusive parent. Learn what marriage is meant to be from the example they witness.

Some common characteristics? Narcissism. Pornography. Drug or alcohol addiction. Charisma. Insecurity. Inability to admit their own faults, to take responsibility for their actions.

They surround themselves with enablers, the sweet, kind, meek person who will bend to their whims, allowing them to control at all costs. They prey—perhaps even subconsciously—on good, Christian girls who will fight for the marriage at all costs. They misuse scripture to get their way, to convince their husbands they are the ones going against God’s will.

And the church turns a blind eye, saying it is the Christian duty to stay in the marriage at all costs.

Am I saying that we walk away at the first sign of trouble? Absolutely not! We each have the ability to cross that line at some point.

But there comes a time when we must recognize that emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse is truly abuse. That it destroys the heart and soul of the victim. That it creates more abusers as the children witness that example. That it is from the evil one himself, stealing, killing, destroying the life of the victim.

That perhaps, the best thing for the children would be to get out of that environment, to see and experience a normal, healthy way of doing family.

That if we, as the church, remain silent about the subject, we are guilty of allowing it to continue, of perpetuating the cycle.

That we, as the church, need to understand that many walk away from their marriages for very good reasons, reasons that may not be obvious to outside observers.

That we, as the church, need to step up and love divorcees unconditionally because you never know what they have suffered, endured.

That we, as the church, need to recognize that we live in a fallen world where sin abounds, and that sometimes God’s ideal of one man, one woman for life can become a place of incredible bondage that destroys a victim’s heart and soul (which is not God’s ideal).

That we, as the church, will never fully understand what goes on in someone else’s marriage.

That we, as the church, do not know what goes on behind closed doors.

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