I Often Don’t Like Easter Services

I often don’t like Easter services.

I don’t. I like parts of the service—usually. But I often come away less than satisfied.

The Easter story is packed with lessons:

The prophecies of Passover fulfilled
“Not my will but Yours”
Peter denying Christ
Christ bearing the punishment for our sins
By Christ’s stripes we are healed
The crushing of Satan’s head
Light in our deepest darkness
The defeat of death and the grave
Eternal hope
And so on, and so on, and …

It must be rather difficult for preachers to decide what to focus on. Most usually choose a topic that will speak to those who rarely attend church. (I think that’s a great idea.) And for those who want to break the story into meditation-size pieces, many churches offer several services the week preceding Easter Sunday. (Another great idea.)

But if I was the one planning the Resurrection Sunday service …

Continue reading “I Often Don’t Like Easter Services”

Pushed into the Deep End

{Oh, the stories! Stories of heartbreak, confusion, disillusionment, and despondency. Not just my stories, but others have them, too. Stories validate our feelings. Stories give us hope. My story of parenting five children adopted from Russia is shared often in these pages. But what about the stories of other such moms? You’ve simply got to hear them! The struggles we all identify with are present in their stories – along with the hope that not all is lost.

Today, I have the privilege of sharing words of wisdom from Sarah E. Frazer. Sarah understands the struggles of parenting a nonbiological child; but she also believes God’s Word. Sarah shares her stories and her hope beautifully. I’m so grateful she’s allowed me to share them with you today.}


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Appalachian summers are filled with heat and humidity. 70 degrees feels like 90. On the really hot days, our family would pile into the minivan and drive three minutes up the hill behind our house. Mom would park at the bottom of the hill. My brother, sisters, and I would pack-mule it up the concrete path. Chlorine and 90’s music greeted us as we walked through the entrance to the city pool. The teenager behind the counter would smile, and pull out our family’s membership card. We dumped our snacks, towels, and blow-up rings in our usual spot: next to the baby pool, but within view of the deep end.

The water, cool and blue, beckoned us to jump. My ten-year-old brother would run to the deep end and climb the high ladder to dive into the 12-foot section. I was content swimming in the shallows. Even though I was a good swimmer, the dark blue water frightened me. I didn’t like to swim where I couldn’t see the bottom.

Sometimes my brother and his friends would sneak up behind me and push me into the deep end. I never found it humorous. I was always mad about it. I didn’t like the feeling of not touching. Panic creeped into my heart as the water lapped beside my neck, seeping into my mouth.

I wanted to know what I was jumping into. I still do. I’m a planner. Last year, I had a plan. As we began the adoption process, I was pretty sure I was prepared for the unknown, even planned for it. I thought I was ready for whatever God’s plan was for our family. But I wasn’t.

As I sat on a lumpy hotel bed in the middle of Zhengzhou, China, I realized I had just jumped into the deep end. And I was mad. The water of fear rushed around my face. I tried to grasp onto truth, but I felt my fingers slipping. God had called us. We had chosen this. But I felt pushed. Pushed into the deep end. I thought, This is not what I signed up for…..

Even a year later, I remember the feelings of drowning. The rushing water of uncertainty, creeping up and over into my comfortable life. It wrecked all of my hard work. Destroyed my plans.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11 (ESV)

In the middle of my ocean of fear, I couldn’t praise Him. One day I might praise God, but not today, I thought. I held out my hands, empty of praise and found a friend’s hand. Community surrounded our family. We knew the waters were deep, but God had not abandoned us. Until we could touch the bottom, they jumped into the water and held us up.

Living in the deep end, with the waters of fear looming close, brings me more to my knees and to Scripture than ever before. And to my friends. I poured myself into God’s Word and prayed every day for strength. I began living one day a time. It was all could handle as I treaded water. 365 days later, I’ve realized that’s ok. Our God provides just enough. Enough forgiveness. Enough strength. Enough hope. I’ve come to see a change in circumstances will not bring praise, only the truth of God’s Word and trust in His plan.

And slowly my anger melted into praise. Praise to the Father and Son who has revealed how deep His steadfast love truly is – especially while I learn to swim in the deep end.

Oh the river it rushes to madness
And the water it spreads like sadness
And there’s no high ground
Closer to the danger and the rolling deep
Closer to the run and the losing streak
And what brings us to our knees
Sara Groves

Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:7-8 (ESV)

I understand that the deepest part of your heart just wants this hard place to be over. I ask you to walk through whatever circumstance you are facing one day at a time. You aren’t alone and you are made to be exceptional, right here, right now. I wrote a book about living in a new normal and finding grace for the moment. The Glorious Ordinary is an invitation to study God’s Word in your everyday life. You can find daily strength, joy, and peace when you look in the Bible. Read more about the book here.


20170227-sarah-picAs a momma of littles and wife to a busy husband, Sarah spends her days making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, reheating her coffee ten times a day, and sneaking quiet time with her earbuds to drown out the screaming. Sometimes she worries her sticky tables, cluttered counters, and crumby floors are not enough. Maybe she’s not enough.

In the empty places of her heart, Sarah has found God is enough. Enough to satisfy all of our longings. Enough strength to do the work He has called us to do. Enough hope to lighten the dark path. Enough grace to cover all the mistakes. Enough joy, even for just today. Sarah invites you to join her @sarahefrazer.com as we study God’s Word in our ordinary days!

When God Became a Father

He wanted more. He wanted something else. Though surrounded by a multitudinous army who unceasingly lavished Him with resounding praise, He craved a smaller audience—an audience of one. Someone He could talk to—face-to-face, soul-to-soul. In a intimate place … like … a garden.

And so He dreamed and planned and designed. And out of nothing, using only words, He created a home—an explosion of microscopic grandeur. But this one—soul of His soul, breath of His breath—He formed intricately, purposefully, with His own hands.

And He became a Father.

In a single moment, He knew love.

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Joy of joys! Better than merely “good”! One of His heart!

He called this one Adam. Man. Red from the earth. A name to remind this one that without the breath of God, he would cease to be—he would return to dust.

He provided for this Adam a beautiful garden, supplied with every item the dust part of him required for survival. And He provided His own presence, necessary for the God part of him to thrive.

He assigned Adam a job: tend the garden.

He warned Adam of the one choice that would siphon his breath and doom him back to dust. He protected Adam, as long as he said no to that one choice.

Father wanted man to love Him back—if even a fraction. He wanted this child to experience the same ecstasy He felt. And so He secreted His presence from man—a divine hide-and-seek—hoping Adam would long for Him and seek him out. And, like any good father, He always allowed man to find Him.

He left that one tree to test man’s love. Would Adam trust Him enough to choose obedience? Would Adam look at everything God had provided for him and know deep satisfaction? Would Adam crave the presence of God above all else?

But if, heaven forbid, Adam chose the one thing God forbade, then God was ready. Man would have to leave the garden—banished from His tangible presence. But some day He’d provide a way back. It would be a long journey, but Father knew the way.

He would always be Father. He would always provide—though now that provision would require toil and bitterness. He would always protect—though sometimes His ways would seem cruel. He would always warn and instruct and guide—reducing His love to a set of laws and consequences. He would have to enforce these laws because man would fail—over and over and over.

Eventually, He would surrender His own breath so man could be redeemed. But He would revive and send it forth again as a Spirit. His very Spirit would breathe renewal to the Father-child communion He’d always longed for. And once again, Father would embrace His children. Though marred and scarred, they’d be back. Back in His arms.

And that’s all that mattered.


I don’t know what kind of human father you had. No matter how wonderful, or how horrible, he can’t begin to compare to Father God.

Father God designed you, created you, and named you His own special name. He walks with you, plays hide-and-seek with you, and stirs a longing for Him deep within your soul.

He provides for your every need. He guides you, instructs you, expects obedience of you, and disciplines you. He knows your frailties, and understands you are but dust.

He died for you, forgave you, rose again for you, and redeemed you. He set things right for you and now dwells moment-by-moment with you.

He comforts you, holds you, sings over you, and assures you.

You are His joy of joys, apple of His eye, breath of His breath, love of His love.

You are His child.

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We all watch ourselves parent just like we were parented. Don’t we? Unfortunately, our parents fell short—some more than others—leaving us less than adequate models to follow. But God in Himself has provided a better—a perfect—example. To become the best moms possible, we need to study how God parents.

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at God’s role as Father in the Bible. I have a feeling we’ll find that God didn’t necessarily employ a set of skills or follow a list of “how to’s”. I think we’ll find He parented out of the deep recesses of His heart.

I don’t know about you, but I love delving deep into God’s heart and learning what makes it tick. So, pull out your shovels, and let’s dig in. We’ll start next week, going back to just after the very beautiful-but-sad beginning. We’ll look at the ways God parented the children He’d just kicked out of their garden home. Though they may not always have known it, He did not send them out alone.

I look forward to discovering with you what He was up to.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

Genesis 1:27-31 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.

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.

Does This Gift Come with a Return Receipt?

In April of 2010, Tory Hansen put her seven-year-old adopted son on an airplane and returned him to Russia. Her reason was that her son frequently exhibit violent behaviors and she had run out of ideas for how to safely manage him. While the world reeled with scorn at Tory, my reaction was, “Good for her. Finally, someone is letting the world know what we moms are going through.” We, who are attempting to parent children with early-childhood trauma, attachment issues, fetal alcohol, and other effects due to the disruption of their original families, totally understood why Tory did what she felt she had to do. Few of us would do the same, but we understood.

In the first year or so of our new family, I asked a friend if she ever wanted to send her biological child back to where he came from. She quickly affirmed my suspicion. Children are just plain hard at times. We all long for days without the headaches no matter what level of difficulties we wrestle with.

Sometimes terminating a parent/child relationship is necessary. The same day the Tory Hanson story hit the news, another similar story appeared in our local papers. My close friend’s adopted son had taken a gun to his middle school.

This child had also exhibited dangerous and destructive behaviors. The parents had emptied their bank accounts for countless therapies, rehabilitation homes, and every measure possible to help their son. Yet the country insisted this child return to live at home. My friend and her husband refused. They longed to continue a relationship with their child, just not at home where he was a danger to his siblings and family pets. Eventually, as efforts with the country deteriorated, my friend had to terminate the adoption. I sat in two court sessions with her as she grieved—and rejoiced—her way through the termination process.

Exactly a year after she had written a letter warning the country of her son’s dangerous tendencies and her concern that he was now living in a home with young children, her son broke into his new family’s gun cabinet and took a loaded gun to his school. Gratefully, he had loaded the wrong bullets and no one was injured. How we’d wished the county had understood the true needs of this child and those of the foster/adoptive family. Had the help needed been available, maybe this boy would never have taken a gun to school and, consequently, spent several years in juvenile detention and prison.

In my own experience as a mom, I too dug in my mind’s drawer many times, looking for that return receipt. We had numerous icky and scary situations, including a few times when police had to be called. It wasn’t until our children matured, lived a few years on their own, became parents themselves—and after we had remained steadfast with our boundaries and consistent with our love—our kids eventually settle into a strong relationship with us.

So if you’re in a place where you wished you could return your child, first I want you to know you’re not alone. You are understood. And it’s okay to feel this way. After all, God Himself regretted creating mankind—more than once (Genesis 6:6).

Second, remain consistent with your boundaries. Children need these and need them communicated even if they continuously violate them and have to suffer consequences over and over. It doesn’t matter if the consequences achieve their desired effect. The fact that boundaries are communicated and consequences carried out, still provides a desperately needed sense of stability (for both child and parent).

Third, remember there is no child beyond God’s reach.

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Some things we just have to learn to leave to God. It’s at times like these we can rest in the truth that only God is the Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).