Even When it Hurts

It was my first birthday as an empty-nester. My husband took the day off work and planned a fun-filled day. A homemade breakfast with fruit, scones, and clotted cream. A visit to a butterfly garden and a conservatory where we discovered a bonsai tree as old as I was. A picnic lunch and later dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. What a splendid day.

Mostly.

No one else remember my birthday that year. No cards or calls from my parents, sisters, or kids. This was very odd – never happened before or since. But at some point midday one child did text me a pleasant birthday greeting.

As we texted back and forth, this child little-by-little began sharing their grievances. They reported how they were seeking counseling … and the counselor felt they suffered from post traumatic stress disorder … a result of trauma in Russia … and in our home … and … I began to sense the conversation taking a turn in a direction that didn’t seem very celebratory. So, I finally said, “It sounds like you have some things you need to share with Dad and I. Why don’t you put it in an email and we’ll get back to you in a few days.”

I knew I needed to offer an open heart – just not on my birthday.

The letter came and we got slammed pretty hard. This was not the first time one of my children had sent a harsh letter. By this point in my parenting experience I had learned the importance of these letters. They were never easy to read. They hurt. But they also communicated hope.

Like puking – my children were getting toxicity out of their systems. Once it’d been shared – and (gross as it sounds) received – the poison lost its power. Continuing with this analogy, if you’ll bear with me, I didn’t have to ingest what they spewed at me. I could receive it, but I didn’t have to take it in. Sometimes I had to be like an armadillo – with a hard exterior while maintaining a soft interior.

I’d learned that if my children sensed I wouldn’t listen, or feared I would only come back at them with parenting rhetoric, they would have kept silent. They shared their pain because they wanted to know if I really cared.

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In truth, they wanted a relationship with me. If they hadn’t, they would have walked away and I’d have never heard from them again. Their harsh words were an attempt to get painful memories out of the way of a positive relationship.

I learned that it accomplished nothing to try and set the record straight. Their perspective may have been totally wrong, but it was reality to them.

At the same time, I didn’t apologize for something I didn’t do, or for something I did that before God believed was right. But I at least learned to say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting.” Or “I’m sorry for the ways I hurt you (without agreeing to their specific offenses). Will you please forgive me?” Because the truth is, I did plenty to hurt my children outside their list of offenses.

And I also learned to say, “Thank you for sharing your heart with me.” Because as cutting as their words were, they were still a gift. My children were facing pain in their lives – a healthy thing for them to do. They couldn’t begin healing if they kept past hurts stuffed in the back corners of their hearts.

If your children at hurling angry, hurtful words at you, I have a feeling that deep inside they are pleading, “I hurt and I need a mommy to care.

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It may be time to crawl into your armadillo suit and let them spew. Don’t correct – right now, anyway. Just receive. Say thank you, and then give yourself time and space to recover.

You may need to revisit the conversation at some point. I never did. I believed the most important thing for me to do was to really listen.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
James 1:19 (NIV)

Like Mini-Cupcakes

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Oh my word! Making changes is like trudging through three feet of snow: fun, clean, promising, but slow and oh so difficult! Have you any idea what sort of new things a writer has to learn? Mercy me!

But listening to the Lord and following His lead, that’s become a little easier. The other day I read in Rick Renner’s book, Sparkling Gems from the Greek,* an explanation of the word “led” – as in, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God …” (Romans 8:14, NASB). This word “led” means to fall in line behind. That grabbed my attention.

For some reason I always thought being led by the spirit meant to listen and then go do – like a homework assignment to go off and do all by yourself. Oh my goodness, how much of a relief this gem is to me! Sure I need to listen, and I need to make choices to obey, but I’m not alone as I go forth in obedience. I simply get to step in line and follow the Leader.

Doesn’t that sound so much more doable to you?

And it fits so perfectly with my word for the year. I love the way the Lord is bringing this word, listen alive for me already in the first few weeks of the year.

So as I try to follow the Lord through this huge techy snowbank before me, He has already given me a few exciting opportunities to share His love with other audiences this year. The first one came up rather suddenly.

I got to write for a website called Defying Shadows. This site offers biblical encouragement to those cowering in the shadows – people dealing with mental illness, eating disorders, and other debilitating issues that cause one to want to hide. Defying Shadows has taken on the challenge of exploring the Bible verses that contain the words or idea to “fear not.” The Bible references this directive 365 times – once for every day of the year. The way this group is approaching this study is to invite volunteers to take an assigned verse and share what God is saying to them through it.

I heard of the opportunity and thought, Hey, I’d like a challenge like that. I’d like to see what God might say to me through some random verse. So I signed up. Within a few hours I received my assignment:

“O Jacob My servant, do not fear,” declares the Lord,
“For I am with you.
For I will make a full end of all the nations
Where I have driven you,
Yet I will not make a full end of you;
But I will correct you properly
And by no means leave you unpunished.
Jeremiah 46:28 (NASB)

My first thought was, What a weird verse! How am I supposed to write something encouraging from this?! But then I had one of those “ah-ha” moments and realized, I have lived this verse! And it didn’t take long for God’s grace to begin flowing through my thoughts.

We moms sometimes have to hand out some very stiff consequences. We wonder if we’re overreacting or being unreasonable. Well, not necessarily. Take a look at what God showed me through this passage here at #Fearless365.

The second opportunity God gave me was the honor to share lessons I learned when my husband dealt with cancer almost eight years ago. (in)courage, a women’s online community sponsored by DaySpring (the inspirational arm of Hallmark), sends daily devotional thoughts to a readership of well over 80,000 people. A handful of times each month they allow guest writers to contribute. After three attempts, my submission was accepted and published this past Wednesday, January 11. You can read my article here Where is God When Death Threatens Your World?

I encourage you to check out the (in)courage community. They truly have women’s needs at the heart of their mission. Some of their writers include Holley Gerth, Lysa TerKeurst, and other well-known authors who can communicate God’s grace beautifully. If you’d like to sign-up to receive their devotionals directly into your email box, go here.

Today’s post has been a little unusual. I needed to honor those who’ve allowed me to share on their sites and at the same time hope I’ve honored you with little meaningful tidbits – like a tray of mini cupcakes for you to choose from. As I continue to plow through all the tech challenges before me, I’m also growing as I listen intently to the Lord each day. He’s already given me some sweet morsels I look forward to sharing with you in the months to come.

I can’t wait!

 

*Renner, Rick. Sparkling Gems from the Greek: 365 Greek Word Studies for Every Day of the Year To Sharpen Your Understanding of God’s Word, (Tulsa, OK: Rick Renner Ministries: 2003), p. 18-19.

Experiencing Eternity in Moments

Five of us circled around a corner booth. We snuggled cups of warmth while sharing about our Christmases, wedding plans, and future concerns—close friends who never tire of laughing and crying and praying together. We stayed so long, one friend left an extra tip and I ordered dessert just to give a little extra money for the use of the corner. (Besides, I had resisted ordering the gluten-free turtle bar way too long.)

Are there people in your life you could spend hours with and be so content you fail to watch the clock? Like when you first fell in love, or when you get to escape the house to meet with other adult people. Time is simply not noticed. That is, until it starts blaring at you, “Time’s up! Gotta go! You’ve duties to fulfill!”

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Ah, time. It can be our dearest friend, yet strictest taskmaster.

My husband had January second off work so I took the opportunity to sleep late. I did eventually tackle some projects but first I enjoyed as much time with the Lord as I desired. My mood put me in an odd frame of mind, evaluating the way we humans measure time. Or more specifically, why we make such a big deal out of a new year.

Why do we bang pots and pans, toot kazoos, kiss our sweethearts, and cheer as a silly ball drops? (What’s with the dropping anyway?) Why do communities ring church bells and set off fireworks? Some years I think, “It’s just another tick on the clock.” I wonder, what God thinks of all the hoopla each 86,400th second of every 365/6 days?

So, I asked him. He answered me in the strangest of ways. He said,

“Eternity to me is little moments like this, loving my child. It’s right here. Right now.”

To God, time doesn’t matter nearly as much as people do. God’s not slow, yet not in a hurry. He just cares about being with us. Face-to-face. Heart-to-heart. That’s what He celebrates. God with man residing.

Time with God. It can be scheduled. It can put into a neat little box. God doesn’t care. He doesn’t notice how long or how short. He just delights in being with us. And He longs for us to notice Him and to take a moment to slow our steps and look Him in the face. That’s what sets off the fireworks in His heart.

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We often quote that a thousand years are like a day to God. It’s true. It’s written in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. In comparison to the God of eternity, a lifetime can fly past in a blink. But we often miss the middle of 2 Peter 3:8: “One day is like a thousand years.” Just think. God has the ability to turn those moments with us into a millennia of time. He can stretch the sweetness of an embrace into a galaxy of star bursts.

I don’t know exactly where to go with this response the Lord gave me—other than to revel in the idea that nothing matters to God nearly as much as being with His children. The only way to keep our world, and calendar, and to-do list in order is to be deliberate about ordering it all around time with Him—even if that time is for a few brief moments. Long enough to look in His face. See His love. Hear His whisper. Receive His hug.

This is the God who lives outside of time. When we meet with Him, He funnels eternity into moments. And those moments explode in our souls and change our perspectives, so we are not longer confined to the circumstances of “now” but free to live beyond now. Free to choose to not be defined by our current situations, but by eternity.

A New Year Means New Offerings

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m so glad you’re here today.

I’ve always liked the start of a new year. Where I grew up, I often found myself snuggled warmly inside my home, while the sun shone brightly through windows presenting vistas of a snow-washed world. January first always seemed to promise a cleansing of past mistakes and a chance to start anew … a reminder of God’s fresh mercies and promises for the future.

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I’m curious. Are you one to make new year’s resolutions? I rarely have. I don’t like to make promises I’m not sure I can keep. The only one I remember making and following-through with was reading the Bible through in a single year. To be honest, I didn’t like it. I prefer to chew Scripture slowly and you can’t do that very well when you’ve a lot to cover each day. And sometimes I’d read an assigned passage that made my day worse not better. (Lesson here: God doesn’t have a formula for everyone to follow as they pursue a relationship with Him.)

Some friends of mine have stopped making resolutions and, instead, ask God to show them a word or phrase to focus on each year. Now, I like change. I love calendars because I get new artwork to grace my walls every month. So last year I chose a word for each month. Those words guided my thoughts for my blog and Facebook posts. But this year I feel led of the Lord to choose only one word for the year – or at least for right now.

That word is listen. This year I want to be more deliberate to listen daily to the Lord and let Him speak deeply to my heart. I want to be able to share with you messages from the Lord Himself and not just my own ideas. This year I also want to be able to listen more to you. (More about that later.) And, this year, I want us all to listen to insights from other SAFE moms.

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So here’s how some of this is going to work out.

  • I’ve listened to the pros who suggest having a website that is self-hosted and is titled with the author’s name. I’ve hesitated to use my name because there are thousands of Cheri Johnsons out there—with names spelled a zillion different ways. How in the world will people find me? Well, I guess they’ll have to learn to spell my name. But there are also many who spell their name like I do. So, since I write to moms, I’ve added to my name the number of children I have—5, followed by the number of grandchildren—which at this stage is an unknown factor—x. (The 11th is due in May but chances are pretty likely that there will be more to come.) So my new website is (at the moment) still called Mother of Pearls, but found at  http://cherijohnson5x.com/. It is attached to an email by the same name: cherijohnson5x@gmail.com.

I have launched my new website but I’m not using it yet. It’s waiting for a few tweeks that I hope to finish this coming month. One of those tweeks is to invite you to sign up to receive blogs (just like you do now but from my new site) directly into your own email box. However, a couple other goodies will be offered in doing so.

  • First, when you sign up you’ll be offered a gift from me: A SAFE Mom’s Manifesto. This will be an attractive printable page that you can hang on your mirror, refrigerator, or wherever you want to remind you that you are not a failure, your children are not the devil, and God is faithful.
  • Second, when you sign up, I’ll then be able to communicate with you individually. This is where the “listening to you” part comes in. By communicating with you privately, you’ll be able to safely share your heart without fear of how other readers might respond. You can also respond personally to short surveys I’ll send you, asking your opinion about blog content, topics you’d like me to address, or ideas for practical solutions. You’ll also be the first to know when I’m up to something new, and someday—maybe this year—you’ll be the first to learn when my book is ready to launch. I’m really excited about this feature. It will allow me to experience a more face-to-face interaction with each of you.
  • As I stated earlier, I will be hosting guest bloggers—women who are currently in the trenches of parenting children of other mothers. I’ve been an empty-nester now for seven-and-a-half years. I’ve been writing to you from lessons I learned and recorded in journals years ago. I’ve been sharing from memories but only rarely from current-day challenges. Though I know it’s helpful to hear from someone on the other side of parenting, and though I believe God’s truths transcend time and experiences, I want you to be able to hear from precious moms who are learning to apply truth right now in the midst of their present battles. You can look to hear from them the last Monday of every month, starting this month: January 30th.

My desire this year is to serve you better. I look forward to the treasures I will receive and pass on to you as I listen. And I look forward to hearing from you as you bravely walk your own parenting journey in 2017.