Dena Johnson MartinDena Johnson is a former single mom to three amazing kids: Blake, Cole, and Cassie and wife to her high school friend, Roy. She strives to follow Christ each day and to lead her children to do the same. She delights in taking the every day experiences of life and turning them into biblical lessons for her children. Dena's daily prayer is simple: Lord, my life is yours. Live through me. Love through me. Parent through me. Let me decrease that you might increase. Dena is the founder of Dena Johnson Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find beauty through the brokenness of this life. Her heart's desire is to use her own pain to point others to the power of God who redeems every hurt, every pain. You can contact Dena at Dena@denajohnson.com. You can also find her blog at Dena Johnson Ministries.
- 2017 Feb 23
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.