Souvenirs for the Soul: A Glass of Ice-Cold Water

It started as a tiny drug store in a prairie town of 326 people. The new owners took possession in 1931, serving the community which had been devastated by the Great Depression and was just entering the dust bowl years. The owners lived in a small space in the back of the store, separated only by a blanket suspended from the ceiling.

After four-and-a-half years of hardly a customer, they considered selling and moving on to better opportunities. But one smoldering summer day, the wife had a Divine inspiration.

“The people in those cars going up and down the highway must surely be thirsty. What if we put up signs offering a free glass of ice water?” Before they’d finished setting up the signs people were already stopping by for water (and ice cream).

2017 June 19 Hot Traveling

Photo courtesy of Pablo Garcia Saldana @ Unsplash

Handing out free, ice-cold water changed the owners’ lives.

Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD now occupies an entire block, and hosts as many as 20,000 visitors a day. Our family stops there every time we travel down Interstate 90. We just can’t resist a place that has experienced God’s blessings by doing things God’s way. Well, truth be told, I guess we can’t resist their ice cream either.

Once he’d earned enough money to begin traveling, Wall Drug founder, Ted Hustead, had another brilliant idea. While on vacation in London, he hung a huge sign on a wall in a subway station. It humorously informed the locals that Wall Drug was only 5,160 miles away. The sign then offered free information about South Dakota to anyone who wrote them. In short order they began receiving 15-20 letters a day.

Signs began appearing all over the world—sometimes only as large as a road sign—with an arrow pointing in the direction of Wall, SD, and listing the distance to the store. They’ve shown up in places like Paris, Kenya, and even Antarctica. My husband saw one for the first time while touring Greece. It was these signs that drew us to make our first stop while on vacation with our children in 2001.

Since we homeschooled we had decided to take a month-long vacation that September. Temps would be cooler and crowds would be much lighter than traveling during the summer months. As their teacher, I wanted to make every day a learning opportunity. So, in researching our route, I discovered Wall Drug was only a few blocks off the interstate.

When we got there we all made a beeline for that promised free glass of water. We simply had to have a taste of history. Of course, the cooler of water was placed right inside the ice cream parlor where we discovered something even more inviting.

When planning for this trip, I decided to adopt an activity my father had conducted during one of our summer vacations. To minimize teenage sibling arguments, he prepared daily devotions. I did the same, by writing devotions that had to do with what we’d be visiting each day. Well, you might guess what Scripture I used for us to meditate on the day we visited Wall Drug. Yes, Matthew 10:42

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. … And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward”

(Matthew 10:40 and 42, NASB).

Souvenir for the Soul

When we do the simplest of things, meeting the most basic of needs, as representatives of Jesus’ compassion for the vulnerable, we are promised great reward.

Ted Hustead, in telling the story of Wall Drug’s history, said,

Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that’s that there’s absolutely no place on God’s earth that’s Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!

Sometimes we think we’ll make the biggest impact by doing big things. Well the story of Wall Drug begs to differ. Jesus begs to differ. It’s such a relief to know our greatest impact is made when doing the small things.

June 19 Cup of Cold Water

So maybe that’s the way we can break through the big walls our “unattached” kids have erected. We don’t have to knock down those walls.

We simply need to stand on our tip toes, extend a hand over, and offer a cup of water.

Something as simple as a smile, a light touch to a shoulder, a few words of encouragement (like “I believe in you.”), a moment to listen (with mouth closed while looking straight into their eyes). These refreshing gestures, will go along way in softening their hearts. You may not notice what happens on the other side of those walls, but in years to come you just might get to hear them tell of the little ways you quenched their thirst.

Sometimes Love is Fierce

Lord, does your word support the idea of kicking our children out? How can I know if it’s the right thing to do?

We battled this decision with each of our children as we came to the point of feeling we were no longer helping them move forward into adulthood—and the cost of them remaining in our home was too high. That “tough love” part of parenting sure was heart-wrenching. Hard, but necessary. Never entered into quickly or thoughtlessly. Followed by hours … days … months of prayer, motivation questioning, and Scripture searching.

I suppose if we’d never second-guessed our boundaries, if we’d never wondered if we were too strict, then we’d probably been too weak—the lines drawn too softly.

As parents we should question ourselves at times. We do make mistakes, after all. Another look allows us to examine our child’s behaviors, objectively evaluate appropriate consequences, and review our own responses as well.

When in doubt, I found it helped to hold my discipline choices against God’s word.

Though a great example as a long-suffering father, God’s discipline wasn’t always pretty: pestilence, famine, sickness, and death. And, He did kick His children out, too. Several times. Starting with the Garden of Eden.

But this is what’s amazing to me. Sending His children into exile is part of God’s gospel story.

2017 Mar 20, Exile is part of the Gospel2

God knows we have to come to point of realizing that our sin is so wretched we do not deserve to even dream of His presence.

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
Psalm 24:3-4 (NASB)

There is none righteous, not even one.
Romans 3:10 (NASB)

It’s only when we reach a place of humility and awareness of our need, that we can turn to Him for salvation.

Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lip.
Isaiah 6:5 (NASB)

And only when we truly repent can we begin to experience the breadth and length and depth and height of His love.

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-29 (NASB)

Our children need this too. They need to come to understand that we love them so much we’re willing to do the tough stuff in order for them to grow and have a fulfilling life.

Sometimes drawing a child close and holding them while they hurt is necessary. Sometimes guiding them through a maze of tough decisions is. But sometimes we have to put away the smiles, stand firm, and mete out the discipline.

And, sometimes, our absence needs to be felt.

The nice thing is, when we do withdraw, God remains near.

He may be quiet—a gentleman who refuses to barge in uninvited. But He’s there. Always.

And that’s why we can sometimes take a step out of sight. Sometimes we need to retreat to a place of rest. Sometimes we need to shut our ears to complaints. And as we do, we can be assured God is always with our children. He always has been—even before we came into their lives. He always will be—long after we’re gone.

“Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?” declares the Lord.
“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 23:24 (NASB)

And you know what else? God is very, very patient. He’s not swayed by false pleas for reprieve. He’s not deceived by manipulative fake obedience. He will stand His ground and wait … and wait … and wait … until His child is truly repentant. And then He’s instantly there to scoop His children close, dry their tears, bandage their wounds, and lead them in His paths of righteousness.

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
Acts 3:19 (NIV)

Even though we had to tell each of our children they had to move out, we always kept a door open for repentance. None ever moved back in to our home, but in time they each moved back into a loving relationship with us.

You see, sometimes love must be firm, determined, even fierce. But love endures all things because love always hopes (1 Corinthians 13:7).

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)

Now What?

It was another Help, Lord! moment.

One of my children had just blindsided me with another, never-before-used, boundary-challenging technique. Dumbfounded, frustrated, and weary, I asked my heavenly Father, “Now what do I do with THIS?”

I once considered writing a book titled Now What? because it was a question I asked on a regular basis. Too frequently I felt thrown off kilter. The misbehaviors I faced—almost daily—required the wisdom of an experienced professional. I frequently felt like Tim Conway, in the Carol Burnett Show episode years ago, when he jabbed himself in the forehead with Novocain. But I knew I had to formulate some sort of immediate response to the inconceivable situation, so I typically used anger to fight through the stupor.

In one of those crying-out-to-the-Lord moments, I told Him, even if there are books out there to help me, I don’t have time to read them. And even if I read them all, they still wouldn’t have prepared me for this new issue. I needed divine insight, and I needed it right now.

Have you heard that phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Asking this question actually helped me. Jesus said anyone who had seen him, had seen the Father (John 14:9). I figured no professional insight could begin to compare to the wisdom of Father God. So if I took a good look at the way Jesus handled “out-of-the-blue” behaviors, I might get some clues about my current situation.

• Because He was confident in His identity, no surprise attack ever threatened Him.

• Because He never felt threatened, He could remain in control, think clearly, and respond appropriately.

• He used Scripture to guide His responses.

• Even when lied to, lied about, misunderstood, misrepresented, belittled, betrayed, crushed, and crucified, He remained confident Father God’s purposes would be accomplished.

• He was therefore free to patiently instruct, guide, provide for, heal, forgive, encourage, beckon, comfort, and even die for a fickle, unreliable, self-centered, wayward bunch of children.

When “what thens” fly in our face, it’s time to return to the most basic truths. We are God’s and He’s the One calling the shots.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1, NIV).

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, NASB)

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3, NASB).

The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand,” (Is 14:24, NASB).

Time and time again, God took me back to the basic—yet earth-shifting—truth that He loved me. He delighted in me. My identity was based on who He declared I was an eternity ago, not on what my children did a moment ago. As long as I took regular time to remember this, I would find myself at peace and able to parent the tough stuff from a place of confidence.

mar-6-our-identity-is-based-on-what-god-declared

I’ve talked with many moms the past several years. I’ve heard stories of horrendous misbehaviors. But you know what? I rarely hear anything new. Crazy lying. Stealing. Feces smearing. Destruction of property (even brand-newly decorated rooms). Explosive episodes. Sexual acting out. Drug usage. Alcoholism. Debt-incurring financial choices. The list goes on and on.

No matter how horrible, none of these behaviors can ever change who God is. None change who we are. None threaten God. They don’t need to threaten us either. None steal God’s peace, or joy, or love, or decision to lay down His life. None thwart His eternal plans.

So, what then? Then is when we sit down, breathe belly-deep, and wait. Wait until the dust that clouds our thinking settles. Wait until we remember how deeply we’re loved. Wait until we’re confident in who God is, what He’s able to do. Wait until we have an answer from God.

But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, NKJV).

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. (1 Chronicles 29:11, NASB).

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!”

2017-january-time-midnight

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.

like-time-in-a-bottlegod-funnels-eternit-into-moments

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.

january-2017-new-year-washing

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.

Jesus: The Perpetual Gift

How could it be past Christmas day and I’ve not yet mentioned Jesus—the greatest gift of all? But then, how can I even begin to describe Him?

Yet it’s Jesus alone who carried me through the turmoil of raising SAFE* children.

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When a friend—a married man—got to know my daughter a little too well, I implored the Lion of Judah to devour that man. However when I looked in Scripture at the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, I discovered the Lion is actually the Lamb—the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 5:1-6). He’s who made salvation possible, not just for me, but for this man as well. The Lion who is the Lamb, offers mercy to every human—hideously naughty or sugary nice.

When my only perfect child took a giant step into the abyss, and my world seemed dark, I discovered the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). You know what? That Star not only shows up in the morning after the long dark night, that star is actually the first to appear in the sky at the beginning of night and is visible all night long. Hope, even when it appears small, never abandons us.

When my children seemed to turn against me, I sunk deep into Immanuel, God with me (Matthew 1:23). I sheltered under the shadow of His wing (Psalm 91). He was the no-man’s-land that placed Himself between me and my enemies. But He also reminded me that though I had a very real and angry enemy, it was not my kids (Ephesians 6:12).

When others misjudged me, He reminded me that He Himself was my vindication (Psalm 17:2). And you know what, He handled all the judges just fine. Most who thought they could do better than we did, at some point had one of our children living with them. Each one came back later to say they now understood our decisions. None of them allowed our children to live in their homes longer than a few months.

When I messed up—over and over and over—He reminded me that He was my salvation (Psalm 18:2).

When I fell far short of meeting my children’s deepest needs, He assured me that He is the Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).

  • Lion of the Tribe of Judah
  • Lamb Who was Slain
  • Bright Morning Star
  • Immanuel
  • Shelter
  • Vindication
  • Savior
  • Father to the Fatherless

‘Tis true, Jesus is the most exquisite gift we treasure each Christmas: wrapped in babe-like innocence, cooing the purest peace, shining with inextinguishable love, assuring eternal hope, and reigniting the joy of our salvation. But He’s also the sacrificial Lamb: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He enters our struggles and becomes, in Himself, the fulfillment of our every need.

He’s the never-ending gift for today, tomorrow, and every tomorrow that follows. Even when it feels like crucifixion Friday or deep-in-the-grave Saturday …

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In the year to come, I encourage you to frequently make time to grasp the snow-globe of this good news and give it a little shake. Take just a few moments to gaze at the truths encased in the God-made-flesh scene, and remind yourself that God is always present and mighty to save.

*Step/Adoptive/Foster/Every other nonbiological