An Unexpected Thanksgiving Lesson

After only nine months of life as a new family, we buckled our six-, eight-, and almost nine-year-olds into the backseat of our two-door Honda Accord and traveled an entire day from central Minnesota to southern Illinois for our first Thanksgiving together. Settling in with snack buckets, water bottles, tiny toys, and each other, they rode (mostly) happily for hours.

A few days later, in a large room of a cousin’s heating and cooling warehouse, 30-40 of us feasted on all the traditional yumminess: turkey, dressing, and pies—the works—made only the way those Illinois farm moms know how. During our visit, our kids got to run through open spaces, visit ostriches, and be pampered by a host of loving Christian people.

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Yet on our way home, when we asked them what they most enjoyed of our Thanksgiving time, they responded, “Playing with Christopher’s toys.”

What? They didn’t mention the food? (They were often caught secreting a stash under pillows or in pockets, or stuffing their bellies so full they would throw up.) They didn’t recall those six-foot-plus-tall birds that puffed up huge when threatened? Nope. And, they didn’t say a thing about the rural setting, which also surprised us since two of the three had lived their early years in a similar environment. It wasn’t too surprising they didn’t say the people since there were none their age to play with. But Christopher was 17-months-old, and they liked his toys the best of everything they had experienced the past few days.

As they tried to explain their answer I began to realize, playing with bright-colored, noise-making, light-flashing, toddler-sized objects, was a part of childhood they never experienced. That first Thanksgiving for them was not about the food or the people or the historical significance. It was about catching up and filling in some empty places. And you know, this never happened again. It was like that one time, for those few hours, was all they needed.

Now I wouldn’t say that all kids need time in life to play with bright, flashing, annoyingly noisy toys. I do believe, though, they need to learn cause-and-effect and experience other brain-developing milestones that toys can often stimulate. I remember our adoption agent telling us we may need to spend time rocking our kids (which we did) or bottle-feeding them (which we didn’t) in order to make up for the lack of development such activities provide.

So, if your kids seem to take interest in activities more suited for younger children, don’t worry. They probably need to do so and their interest will probably be short-lived.

But what about us moms? What areas of development are we lacking? When do our responses reveal we’re not as mature as we thought? Where do we need to give ourselves grace to go back so we can fill in the empty places?

Are you like me where the two-year-old tantrums re-emerged and you realize you never fully learned to share or to be okay with not getting your way? How about the adolescent pity-party tendencies? Or the foot-stomping when things get stuck and don’t move along as smoothly as you’d like. Yep, that was certainly me. Still is at times.

I think it’s okay—even necessary—to allow ourselves to go back and relearn some lessons we “should have” mastered by now. Aren’t you glad our heavenly Father is patient with us? I think He’d rather we be intentional about growth than have us ignore our weaknesses and deny our need to revisit some lessons. We can’t fake maturity around Him; so we might as well quit trying to kid ourselves.

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What if we got really honest, embraced our lack, opened our spirits to learn, and started pushing bright buttons and enjoying the simple tunes our hearts need to hear?

Like . . .

Rejoice in the Lord always.
Philippians 4:4

Be anxious for nothing.
Philippians 4:6

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

In everything give thanks.
1 Thessalonians 5:18

Why You Need to be a Student of YOU

Some of you aren’t afraid to share the results of that personality test you just took. Others, like me, may be too embarrassed to admit we take time for such silliness. After all, is it that important what color best describes us, what animal most resembles us, what our hipster names, Disney characters, or ’80s songs are?

Truth is, we all love anything that reveals the real us—even if we feel a little guilty for indulging in the exercise—even when we fear these tests are a self-centered waste of time.

But, are they? When was the last time you studied you: what frustrates you, overwhelms you, saddens you, excites you, motivates you, or silences you?

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You know what? God thinks YOU make a wonderful subject to study! He even said so.

Psalm 139:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me …
You understand my thought afar off…
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether (v 1-4).

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb (v 13).

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand … (v 17-18)

oh-lord-you-have-searched-me-and-known-me

In fact, taking a look at the awesomeness God has woven into our beings, should lead us to worship Him.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well (v 14).

Numerous times God instructs us to make ourselves an object of study. He gave Paul insight about the beauty of each individual, challenging us to serve according to the gifts the Holy Spirit has given us.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: …
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. … (1 Corinthians 12).

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: … (Romans 12).

We are His handiwork, created for good works (Ephesians 2:10). How can we discover what that good work is, if we don’t take the time to study the handiwork?

Remember the second greatest commandment: love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39)? One way or another, our attitude toward ourselves will be reflected in our treatment of others. In order to love others as commanded, we must take the necessary time to fall in love with the person inside our own skin.

That may be hard to do when we know we are far from perfect. But God has made a way to deal with the icky stuff, too. Listening as God searches and reveals our hearts is key to walking in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23-24).

So why should we take time to study ourselves?

• Because God delights in studying us
• Because seeing ourselves as God sees us causes us to worship Him
• So we can serve others with the most ease and greatest joy
• To discover the work God created us to do
• So we can truly love others
• To keep our hearts clean

And most importantly: so we can show off our Treasure

2 Corinthians 4:7 says we are each a treasure box, and our treasure is JESUS. How can we show off this Treasure if our box is a plastic imitation of someone else, unkempt from neglect, or lusterless from being shoved into the attic? It’s time to pull ourselves out of hiding, clean off the grit, polish up the shine, and add some embellishments.

treasure-box

So tell me, what items decorate your treasure box?

Mine is papered with Scripture verses, music scores, and pages from journals. Attached are photos of grandchildren—and their parents, and their grandfather—along with other shots of friends and family members … and moms. Words of encouragement for people I love. Yep, that’s what’s on my treasure box. All that along with a few strands of pearls.

©Cheri Johnson September 2016

Dear Teacher, Have You Any Idea What You Really Taught Me?

Dear Mrs. Neal,

You welcomed me in as a naïve child from small town Missouri. The kids in our class in St. Louis intimidated me and at the same time broke my heart. Their toughness, anger, and potty mouths knocked me off my equilibrium. You listened as I shared my heart for them to know Jesus. You never belittled my nine-year-old simplicity or my “I want to fix them” zeal. You took the time to join me in the hallway and listened to my heart. Thank you.


Dear Miss Howard,

You provided an approach to learning that differed from any other teacher I ever had. Though I struggled in school, you believed in me. You let me join the “smart kids” group as you taught us how to take notes from a lecture. I still remember how to measure the height of a tree – I can still see your drawing on the chalkboard. In sixth grade, you were the first teacher that motivated me to learn and taught me I could believe in myself. Thank you.


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Dear Mr. Troxel,

Known to be a tough teacher, I took you as often as I could. Whether it was grammar, lit, or advanced composition, I could count on you to stretch me and prepare me for college better than any other teacher. Thanks to you, college was a breeze.


Dear Mrs. Sanders,

I will never forget my second grade year. At church you kindly let me sit beside you and kept me occupied during the sermon doing math problems – which I definitely needed to practice. It was a sad year. I can’t imagine how difficult that year was as your husband died from cancer. I missed you at school terribly during those weeks you were gone. I did not like the strict, grumpy sub who had the tough job of trying to fill your shoes. In spite of your grief, you were a great teacher – always kind and encouraging. Thank you.


Dear Mrs. Parsons,

I know you had to have been a good teacher because you had to constantly pull my attention back into the classroom. That highway out the window looked far more appealing than what you had on the chalkboard. I always wondered where that road led. Still today, my curiosity of what’s outside my window beckons me to explore. You’ll be glad to know I can focus on the task at hand far better than I could in third grade. Thank you for making school interesting.


Dear Mrs. Snider (I think that’s your name),

My mom really liked you. She said you really believed in me even when she was concerned I wasn’t doing well in school. You told her to be patient – that at some point I’d figure things out and blossom into my full potential. Though I think it took me another four years, around about ninth grade, you were right. Thank you for believing in me and for giving me room to grow at my own pace.

learning-student


Dear Dr. Holmes,

You were a true professor of Christian disciplines. You challenged me, even when I didn’t like it. But it was because of your deep love for Jesus that I took every class I could with you. I rejoice that now you walk in our dear Savior’s presence. I’m sure many crowns awaited you for the innumerable lives you touched. Thank you, Jesus, for great men like him.


Dear Teachers,

As you stood day after day in front of a room mostly full of uninterested, easily distracted, struggling students, had you any idea what you were really teaching? Yes the subject matter mattered, but you didn’t just fill minds with necessary knowledge and tools for learning. You touched hearts. Your set perspectives. You instilled lifelong lessons.

You demonstrate a great teacher …

⇒ listens with a caring heart
⇒ makes her students believe they are smart
⇒ stretches and challenges his students
⇒ is kind even when she wants to curl up into a ball and cry
⇒ captures the attention of those easily distracted
⇒ believes in his students, even when they don’t
⇒ emanates a love for Jesus that is catching


So, dear moms – and grand-moms,

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Teachers aren’t the only ones who need to function like this. Anyone who holds the hearts of children in their hands does. If we want to make a lasting impression on the children under our care, we need to remember:

♥it’s not how well we teach; it’s how well we listen
♥it’s not where they are; it’s where they’re going
♥it’s not about being easy; it’s about growing
♥it’s not about filling minds; it’s molding hearts
♥it’s not about their grades; it’s about what lights their fires
♥it’s not what we know; it’s how we love

♥And above all, it’s about Jesus. After all, isn’t this the first and greatest “teaching”?

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
(Mark 12:30, NKJV)

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
(Matthew 6:33, NKJV)


Dear Current Teachers,

Most of my school teachers are no longer living. I never once thought to thank them. But that doesn’t make their impact on my life any less. I know you are fresh into a new year, but I also know it won’t be long until you’ll be questioning your sanity. At that point remember, you are impacting lives in ways you can’t imagine. Keep on doing the good work.


Dear friends,

We’ve all been students influenced in great ways by those who’ve taught us. If you have the chance, say thank you. If you’re like me and that chance is gone, here’s a good place to share. In the comments below there’s space for you to honor those who taught you lessons beyond the curriculum.

©Cheri Johnson September 2016

The Importance of Being an Earnest Learner

Do you ever have dreams (maybe nightmares) that you are back in school? It is my most common dream. In these dreams I’m always out of place because I know I’m way too old for school, and I can’t quite figure out the new setting. I’m sort of like, “Why am I here? I already finished school!” Gratefully, the other students never even notice me.

I’m always a bit curious about dreams, wondering what past issue my brain is trying to work through. I don’t know what it is about school for me. Maybe deep inside I know there’s always things to learn – and sometimes the learning is hard. I just want to have graduated already with everything all figured out.

Recently, however, my school dreams feel a little bit better. I know it’s going to be hard work, but I’m somewhat happy to be there. That’s where I am in life right now. I’m not going to an actual school but I am in some online writers’ groups, learning how to build a writing career. Oh my goodness, is there a ton to learn or what? I am seriously overwhelmed and can’t keep up with all my “assignments.” I most certainly feel way too old for this.

A photo by Alejandro Escamilla. unsplash.com/photos/xII7efH1G6o

But you know what? Learning is essential for our wellbeing.

My dear mother-in-law turns 83 this month. She battles cerebella ataxia – the hardening of the arteries in her cerebellum. It is starting to effect her memory. She gets very discouraged by this. When we asked our functional wellness doctor things she can do to help, he said, “Learn new things.” He suggested taking community classes, reading books on new topics, learn how to use new technology, or learn to work new types of puzzles.

Our brain is a muscle. You have to use it or lose it – grow it or throw it. One of the greatest privileges of life is the opportunity to learn new things and grow in new ways. Let’s not waste it.

A photo by JOHN TOWNER. unsplash.com/photos/sSkElz_pb3Q

Even though my kids are all well into adulthood, I’m still learn about parenting. There are tools and techniques to aid us SAFE parents, even when our children are grown. Lessons from the past can also be used with our grandchildren. I am convinced I can still become a better mom.

I think my favorite thing about the Christian faith is the opportunity to always be growing. None of us have arrived yet. How boring. There’s always new things to learn.

What are you learning right now? “Let the wise listen and add to their learning” (Proverbs 1:5, NIV).

I’m relearning about dangling participles – since my husband has to point them out rather frequently as he edits my work. I’m learning to get an earlier start to my day – which begins with getting to bed earlier at night. I’m learning to listen to others – and keep my two cents tucked inside my mind’s pocket. I’m learning all sorts of great truths as I write these pearls of insight from God’s words.

So here’s my challenge for you: be a student of something. Learn. Grow. And share.

What is something you’ve recently learned by accident?
Share it here.

What is something you’ve recently relearned?
Maybe the rest of us need the reminder, too.

What is something you’d like to learn?
Intentionally pursue it. Start something – anything – new.

We all should be somewhere in a learning journey. How exciting it would be to read about where you are in your own journey.

If you can’t think of anything, this might be a place to start:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10, NIV).

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV).

©Cheri Johnson September 2016