Jesus Wasn’t Calling: How I Learned to Walk Away from Perfectionism and Self-Inflicted Martyrdom

Jesus wasn’t calling.

Okay, maybe not. Obviously, Jesus is still in the calling business. Hang with me here and I’ll do my feeble best to try to explain my muddled thoughts.

batman-slapI have to admit it was quite a shock to realize all those years I spent doing and running, spinning my wheels and frantically trying to be a good, little Christian girl for Jesus weren’t for Him at all. They were for me.

When the truth hit, it slapped me hard.

I’ll never forget that night. Curled in on myself, sobbing on the mat of our bathroom floor into the wee hours of the night. My physical body had reached its limit and my emotions lay in scattered wreckage.

I was so overwhelmed, so undone and so completely exhausted I thought I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t escape. Every fiber of my being cried out for relief.

drowning

I remember curling the long, soft tufts of the burgundy bathmat in my fists and clenching my teeth as salty tears filled my mouth.

God, You lied to me. You said if I served You, You would give me joy. I have no joy. I have no peace. This is not the victorious life You promised.

I was lied to all right, but it wasn’t by God. The enemy had fooled me into believing the best way to feel loved was by doing whatever it took to make people love me and I fell for it…hook, line and sinker.

It took awhile for me to realize all those ‘good’ things I was doing, all the activities pulling me away from my family and draining the peace and joy from my walk with God weren’t “callings from Jesus”. They were the hungry cries of a broken girl who desperately needed the approval of people to feel loved. I blamed “Christian service” for my inability to say no, servant-hood for my perfectionism and worse yet, developed a martyr mentality to mask the ever-growing resentment welling up inside.

please love me

Jesus has called us to many things, but living a life where we exchange His rich, vibrant, unconditional love for the weak, oscillating approval of man is not one of them. Excellence is good but trying to sacrificing the rest He’s promised in order to cram in more is not. Serving in church programs and ministries is wonderful, but only if you’re doing it from a heart that yearns to love others instead of a need to be seen by others.

That’s what I meant when I said Jesus wasn’t calling. I had confused my Christian service with people pleasing. And like it always does whenever the moving target of people pleasing and perfectionism can’t be hit, resentment fills in the void. Self-inflicted martyrs make poor servants.

My journey with Jesus is vibrant now. Full of joy and adventure, freedom and rest and yes, serving too. The difference is I’ve learned why I do what I do and I’ve learned where my worth lies…in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. Now when He calls, I can hear His voice plainly. john-1027-28 I don’t confuse His gentle whisper with the screaming shouts and harsh demands of the world around me, or even with the old self-condemnation that creeps in from time to time.

I had to learn the hard way though. You don’t have to. Look inside. Check your motives. Make sure that it’s Jesus calling.

You can read more of my story here:      https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487684657&sr=8-1&keywords=hollow+victory+tara+johnson      

White Space

paint

“You should use up all the space on the paper.”

I remember the admonition from my fourth grade art teacher so clearly as she stood in front of the chalk board, holding the large, white piece of paper in her hand, a sharpie in the other.

“You kids are bad about leaving too much white space on the page. I want you to draw the black lines all the way to the edge. I don’t want to see any white space any more. None. Every square inch of this paper needs to be filled in with color.”

drawing

As I sat at my scarred desk, legs swinging against its metal feet, I remember running the markers across the large rectangle of white, the sound emitting a soft hiss. No white, no white, no white…

Just the effort and time it took to fill up that entire canvas of eleven by thirteen was exhausting in my nine-year-old mind.

The teacher had made it clear. If I didn’t use up every square inch of that white space, there was something wrong with me. I had to fill it. Use it. Cram it with color, lines, paint, smudges.

And I’ve been doing it ever since.

Fill the calendar. Cram my days with more. More activity. More opportunity. Good things. Valuable things. Noble things. Run and do and check off that ever-expanding list of accomplishments and schedule juggling. After all, we only have one life to live, so we need to take that bottle of time and jam-pack it to the brim, right? No white space.

Don’t get me wrong. They are good activities, but somewhere along the way, I’ve realized I yearn for white space. I need quiet. I need solitude. More than that, I need Him. Not the church activities or projects or programs. Just Him.

Too many of us are living our lives and filling our schedules like we do our plates on Thanksgiving. We are gorging ourselves to the point of throwing up. No space. We are choking, shoving and cramming every single bite we can manage and then wonder why we’re miserable.

overflowing-food

We’ve forgotten the exquisite beauty and peace of white space.

Consider this from an artist’s perspective.

“Negative space is, quite simply, the space that surrounds an object in a image. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive space and brings balance to a composition. peter-and-the-wolf

More and more these days, the creative world is seeing an emergence of artists creating positive spaces and shapes that, in turn, cleverly carve out shapes in negative space intentionally.” (http://www.creativebloq.com/art/art-negative-space-8133765)

Just look at this stunning artwork by Phoebe Morris.

Did you notice what the author of the blog said? The shapes are carved out intentionally. Rest. Breathe. Time with God will not be an accidental trip into His arms. You must choose. Let go of some of the old things to embrace Him.

Graphic designers will tell you white space is vital for several reasons. First, it helps your brain process and group relevant information. Second, it establishes mood and gives emphasis to what’s the most important focal point of a design, and third, white space invokes our imagination. The same is true for our spiritual man.

The simple truth is, the heart who is seeking God is a heart at rest. He promises it in His Word over and over again.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” ~Matthew 11:28

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” ~Isaiah 26:3

So if we are juggling and striving and feeling our batteries plunge lower with every passing day, our priorities are off somewhere. Consider the conversation God had with Moses in Exodus 33.

13 “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” presence

This past year I’ve had to ask God to teach me how to rest. Is it sad that I’m thirty eight years old and still don’t know how to relax? But I don’t. He’s been tenderly showing me and loving me into a deeper walk with Him. A life lived on fumes is not the abundant life He promised. We can be so busy doing things for God, but still not be walking with Him. And that is a life of chaos.

 

Breathe. Find the white space. That’s where you’ll find His still, small voice.

5 Tips for Handling Criticism While Raising Your Strong-Willed Child

by Tara Johnson

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked slowly, trying to understand what the older woman who had approached me had said, a task made difficult by my son’s screams of temper and my own strangled nerves. I felt frayed. Exhausted. The excursion into Walmart was not going well. strong-willed-child

I’d had high hopes for the grocery store run. After all, my son’s terrible two fits were getting better. I had been diligent with him at home. He seemed to comprehend life wasn’t just about him. We were making progress. Less screams of temper. A slight bending of that iron-strong will of his. Was he stubborn? Most definitely so, but learning. He was learning and improving.

Until we arrived at Walmart.

My little man always wants to be held, a difficult task since his little two-year old body weighs in at a sturdy thirty-eight pounds. I had carried him far too much at church camp the week before and was still healing from a burst blood vessel in my arm as a result.

Instead, I planned. Nate can’t be trusted in a regular shopping cart. He stands up and nearly falls out when the momentum carries him past the frequent stops. His legs are too long for the front kiddie seat so that left one option: the hoss cart.

You know what I’m talking about? Those big blue carts that are the shopping cart equivalent to a monster truck? This hernia-inducing cart has a row of bench seats,  complete with seat belts and a regular cart attached to the end. My nine year old scooted into the bench next to Nate and my twelve year old walked beside me as I grunted that tank up and down aisles. For the first fifteen minutes things went well…until he discovered that when Mom is perusing products, the down time is a perfect opportunity to escape.

Maybe I can hold him. If we hurry, we can get through in fifteen more minutes, right?

Wrong. Nate began wiggling and squirming in my arms. Another ten minutes and my back was shot. With no other alternative, I plopped him back in his seat. “Sorry, little man, but Mommy’s back is hurting too badly. I need you to sit like a big boy until we’re done.”

In a flash, the demon of fury that resides in my toddler rose up with shocking force. He screamed. He slapped. He wailed. He hit himself. He tried to hit me. Wheeling the hoss cart into the shoe section with surprising speed, I grabbed his flailing body and gave him several swift swats to his rear, followed by a stern admonition to straighten up and fly right.

He was having none of it. I needed his crib, a place for time-out where he could escape until he calmed down. For a fleeting moment, I thought about building a time-out fort from shoe boxes but decided against it. Stores don’t seem to like it when you do that.

Seeing no other options, I seat-belted him into the cart as his screams reached ear shattering levels. I shouted to the girls, “Okay, here’s the game plan: get only the necessities like milk and bread and we’ll hightail it out of here.”

My sweet girls nodded and did their level best to help me do my Indy 500 shopping. Nate never calmed down though. He slapped, he kicked, he wailed, he shrieked. With every spine-jerking scream, my nerves stretched tighter and tighter.screaming

Absently grabbing a loaf of bread, I thought, Am I a terrible mother? Why do all of our trips to town end like this? I spank. I do time-outs. I talk. I reason. I reward. I punish. I’m consistent. I don’t give in. I don’t back down. I cuddle him. I love on him. I do everything I know to do and still, this is what happens. I thought I had this whole mothering thing figured out. The girls are sweet as pie. Where did I go wrong?

Then the nosy, albeit well-intentioned lady approached me as I grabbed for some eggs.

“You need to wear your son out.”

I blinked, trying to formulate a reply. “Yes, ma’am. Actually I did wear him out. This is the aftermath.”

She shook her head, giving me a sweet yet somehow condescending smile. “No, honey, I mean you should take him to the bathroom and spank his bottom and don’t let him out until he’s stopped.”

I nearly laughed in disbelief. Keep Nate in the Walmart bathroom until he stopped screaming? I really didn’t have the time to keep him in lock down for seven hours. Trust me, that’s how long it would take before little man gave up. Plus I had two other kids to consider.

As a Christian mom, I never thought I would say this, especially since I’ve always been taught and read the admonition to “spare the rod and spoil the child”, but spankings make my son worse. Significantly so. He gets hysterical, beside himself and completely shuts down.

A strong-willed child would just as soon take the punishment and keep doing what they want to do.  I could spank my son all day long but what he wanted was to be held. I couldn’t cave in, hence the seat belt in the hoss cart until I could get him home.

I tried to explain all this but the stranger would have none of it.

Taking a step closer, she shook her head. “Listen, honey, I used to run a day care so I know. If you let him pitch this fit, he’ll never learn and will walk all over you.”

Let him pitch a fit? It took all of my self-control not to lash out in hurt and all my willpower to keep him in that seat. Every ounce of energy I expelled trying to stay firm with him was exhausting.

Then, she lowered the boom,  rubbing salt into the open wound. Lowering her voice, she looked over her shoulder. “Listen, hon, people are talking about what a bad mom you are. I just heard a lady over in jewelry say ‘What kind of a mom lets a kid who’s upset scream like that?'”

crying

I was speechless, too hurt and wounded to formulate a reply. Oh, I wanted to. I wanted to lash out in anger, to give vent to the volcano of emotions rolling inside of me. To tell this woman that she didn’t know my son at all. That she didn’t know me and that she had disrespected me in front of my own kids.

But my girls were watching. Observing. She was my elder and deserved respect, no matter how deeply she cut my Mommy-heart open.

Instead, I nodded and slowly wheeled my little ducks to the card section where I cried in front of the Hallmarks.

This is a day in the life of a mom raising a strong-willed child. I actually thought about titling this blog post “Apocalypse, Thy Name is Strong-Willed”. Sound a tad melodramatic? I would have thought so too…before I actually had a strong-willed child.

All this happened over a year ago. Since then, we have learned Nater Tater has been diagnosed with several issues that mean how he learns and the way he learns it is not the norm. And yes, that includes in the realm of discipline.

My adorable little boy’s stubborn, fiery will took me by surprise since we’d already had two sweet girls. My husband and I mistakenly thought we had this kid-raising thing somewhat down. But it shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, I’m strong willed and my husband is as well. (Although I prefer the term ‘steadfastly minded’.) And although some days it doesn’t feel like it, it’s a good thing we are the ones raising a bull-headed little boy. He won’t be able to run roughshod over us. I’ve told him many times and will likely say it a million more, “You’re not gonna win this one, kiddo. I’m more stubborn than you. So settle in and bring it on.” stubbornness

The truth is, kids with iron will and independent streaks often turn out to be amazing warriors for God, as long as they are bent in the right direction. They are the movers and shakers, leaders and freedom fighters. And when they know they are doing what God has called them to do, nothing and no one can sway them from following Him with wild abandon and steadfast devotion.

On the days I’m ready to throw in the towel, I remind myself of this truth. When I feel my Mommy toolbox is depleted, I remind myself God has a plan for this little guy. Honestly, rather than the day to day challenges of parenting, I tend to hurt more from the hastily flung barbs of my critics.

So how does an exhausted mom handle those who are happy to dole out unsolicited advice?

  1. Be respectful. As tempting as it might be, don’t respond in anger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20) How you react to criticism teaches your children how to react to criticism. Don’t let your emotions choose for you. Knee-jerk reactions have eternal consequences. Breathe in, breathe out.
  1. Be teachable. prideful-peopleOften times people give advice because they have a trick or technique that worked for them or their child. It’s okay to listen. You aren’t obligated to put it into practice. As any parent of a strong-willed child knows, your stubborn kiddo might be trying to play by a different rule book. Trying something new could be extremely helpful. Or it could backfire big time. Scrap the diva mentality either way. It’s hard to have your pride nicked if it’s not inflated.
  1. Remind yourself that this phase won’t always last. Every time I’m tempted to think that my life will be a never-ending stream of crushed Cheerios, sleepless nights and temper tantrums, I remind myself that this phase of life will pass. Change. Yes, other phases will come and go. Some delightful. Some infuriating. That’s okay. This too shall pass…sometimes like a kidney stone but it will pass.
  1. Don’t try to cram your child into a mold that other people declare to be acceptable. moldTrying to force your child to be something he or she is not is crippling, both for you and them. God has a unique plan for their little lives and His plan does not include having them pretend to be someone else. Think about your goals in raising your little one. Is it to please people, to win their approval as being a great parent, or do you want your child to grow up to be a person who follows God with their whole heart and can live a happy, independent and productive life? The goal determines how you handle the little stuff…and consequently, how deeply you let that irritating know-it-all get under your skin.
  1. Remember God put you and your child together. Every time I’m tempted to wallow in insecurity or think that I’m ill-equipped to manage my little bundle of stubborn energy, I remind myself that God wanted me to be Nate’s mom. He wanted Nate to be my son. For whatever reason, no matter how I feel about my own failures, God chose us to learn from each other, to be bonded together and to love each other for a special purpose, for our good and His glory. And really, if I’m trying to do things in my own strength, I’m going to fall flat on my face anyways. But when I surrender each moment to Him, each decision and each of my unique little ones to Him, His strength will be made perfect in my weakness.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~2 Corinthians 12:9

It’s okay, exhausted parent of a stubbornly stubborn kiddo. Breathe in, breathe out. Love your child. Correct them. Stand strong. Don’t cave under pressure. And remember, when this life is over, you won’t stand before a jury of your peers. Just God. Living to please Him is all that matters.

I’d love to hear from you! How do you handle criticism? Are you the parent of a strong-willed child? What is the best or worst advice you’ve ever received? 

Pursuing Dreams

It’s an odd thing to see a long awaited dream fulfilled.

You reach, you pray, you cry, you plan, you anguish and lament, you work and beg, and pray some more. Hoping, wondering. Sometimes, your focus can become muddled. That was the case for me a few years ago. My dream was to become a published author. An admirable goal, especially since I wanted to write stories that pointed people towards Jesus, right?

9idqigrlute-joshua-earle

The problem with dreams, with any dream, is they can become gods if we let them.

In all my dream striving, I lost my joy and instead became plagued with despair. God tenderly revealed to me I was pursuing the dream more than I was pursuing Him.

Pause. Time for a heart check and reevaluation. My prayers changed. Instead of asking God for a publishing contract, I asked Him to help me write stories He could bless. I asked Him to reveal my own wounds and give me the courage to expose them to His healing light…and then have the audacity to write about the scars afterwards.

He did.

I’m happy to announce I recently signed a three book contract with Tyndale House Publishers! me-signing-contract-with-tyndale-houseThe very first book of this Civil War series, Engraved on the Heart, will be released sometime around May of 2018. Books two and three, tentatively titled Where Dandelions Bloom and Cadence’s Song will follow in 2019 and 2020. I have no idea why God has blessed me so, but I’m typing this through tears, still amazed. To be among such talented authors like Francine Rivers, Candace Calvert, Rachelle Dekker, Allison Pittman, Joel C. Rosenberg, Diann Mills, Lisa Wingate, among numerous others, is humbling. And to work with Tyndale’s incredible editors, artists and businessmen leaves me in shock. I’m so thankful to God for their willingness to embrace me with open arms. When God said, “Yes”, He said yes in a big way.

I’m excited to step foot on this new adventure, yet I pray I don’t lose sight of the beautiful lesson He’s taught me during the past few years of waiting.

The world will tell you to reach for your dreams before time runs out. God says to trust Him because His timing is perfect. The world says the only way to be more is to work harder, push, do, strive. God says if you’ve given yourself to Him, you are His child and heir. Your identity is already rock solid. (Rom. 8:15-17) The world says the only way to reach your dreams is to become a better multi-tasker. Cram in more. Do it all and have it all. God says to be still. He will give you rest. The world issues demands and still, many people never see the fulfillment of their dreams. God promises if you delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4) road

Goals are wonderful things, but they are not the destination. True satisfaction and lasting joy can only be found at the feet of Christ. Jesus is not walking with me towards a dream. He is my dream. 

It doesn’t get any better than that.

Check out Tyndale publishers here. www.tyndale.com

When Your Kid is…Different

Sometimes, Moms just know.

They know when all isn’t as it should be. When the other three year olds are able to count to ten but their child can’t articulate “one”, “two” or “three”. Moms know when it’s strange that their three old son can’t ask for a specific food when he’s hungry, but instead opens his mouth and yells, “Eat!”

She knows that something is wrong when her adorable little boy is three and she’s still not heard him say his own name. She knows.

I knew. nate-for-blog

Well meaning people told me not to worry about it. After all, my fun-loving bundle of energy had two big sisters who could speak for him. Why did he need to talk? He just hadn’t found the need to that often. Others told me to chill. He’s a boy. They don’t mature as quickly as girls. Girls are counting early, learning the alphabet, solving world peace and knitting blankets for their future husbands, while boys play in dirt and pick their noses. Nothing to worry about. Right?

I knew, but I didn’t say much. He’s healthy and extremely happy. A handsome boy with mischievous brown eyes, heart-melting dimples and chestnut curls. He makes friends easily and is always smiling. But still, there was something…

The speech delay could no longer be ignored and we had him tested just before Christmas of last year. The results came back for our little guy…severe cognitive delay paired with a severe speech delay. what-if

As I sat at the tiny elementary school table, my legs tucked up under the too-small chair, I listened to the therapists lay out all the options for my little guy. I was calm. I knew God had gone before us and I knew none of this had taken Him by surprise. The therapists told me from what they’d observed, they believed Nate could catch up over time. I listened and nodded and drove away from the school with a heart that was too jumbled for examination. Heavy, sad, overwhelmed, relieved in an odd way that my concern was validated, a thousand ‘what-ifs’ tumbling through my mind, another wash of sadness, and then—

“Hi!”

I looked in the rear view mirror and Nate was grinning that big toothy grin at me, his brown eyes sparkling, one chubby hand waving. “Hi, Monny.” He blew a big, wet sloppy kiss my direction and it happened. That tight bubble of gloom burst in my chest and was instantly replaced with laughter. Joy. Love.

Because in the end, that’s really all that matters.

Nothing has changed. Nate is exactly the same awesome bundle of energy and joy he’s always been, both before the diagnosis and after. The only thing that changed that day was my perspective.

Going through this journey with Nate has been incredibly rewarding. He works so hard to master new skills and concepts each week but here’s the thing…he’s not worried about trying to make anybody happy or do things the ‘right’ way. He just loves life, learning and people. nate-and-susan

And Nate has taught me how to celebrate the small things. After his very first speech session, his amazing speech therapist, Susan Jumper (pictured right), or “Miss Su-Su” as he calls her, led him out of the room with a big smile on her face.

“Nate, do you want to show Mommy what we learned today?”

He nodded and smiled.

Susan asked, “What’s your name?”

He moved his fingers down his arm and tapped his wrist as he said, “Nate!” Perfect enunciation. Perfect smile. Perfect joy.

Perfect tears on this Mommy’s part. Those small victories have turned into big victories for our little guy.

I’m incredibly thankful for his incredible therapists and teachers…people like Miss Diana (pictured below), his cognitive therapist, Miss Su-Su, and Miss Roxie, Miss Stephanie and others who pour endless love and patience into these little guys who have so much to give. And I’m so thankful for a Savior Who sees every need…even before we know we have one. He has provided help every step of the journey.

nate-and-diana

Any more, when people ask me how Nate is doing, I smile and say, “Just fine.” He’s thriving. God has seen to it. If you’re reading this and your child has just received an unexpected diagnosis, a test that wasn’t what you’d hoped for, or is struggling in some other way, take heart. Love fills the gaps where our strength crumbles. There will be days when you’ll have ugly cries in the shower so no one can see. Times when you’ll wonder, “Why?” But there will be victories too. Laughter, love, and joy that will be all the sweeter because of the journey you took to arrive at the place of celebration.

Your child is a great big bundle of love and potential. Tests can’t measure their worth. Focus on what matters. Focus on what will last.

“And the greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:13

I would love to hear from you. Are you the parent of a child going through a similar situation? Are you battling some scary emotions? What have you learned along the journey? Would you like me to pray for you and your family? Drop me a few lines!

The Mean Stepsister

 

fairytaleRedemption is a beautiful thing. There is something so poignant, something almost sweeping and, dare I say, romantic about someone with power and position plucking a nobody from the crowd and claiming them as their own. Perhaps that’s why I’ve so frequently heard the Gospel compared to a fairy tale story. A king sweeping the lonely girl away to a land where all her dreams come true.

Not long ago, I heard someone compare what God has done to the story of Cinderella. I understand the gist of this kind of thinking, but it just doesn’t ring true. Not for me. See, Cinderella was pure and sweet and perfect. She deserved to win the heart of the prince. We root for her from the very beginning. We see how blameless she is. We witness the unjust circumstances thrust upon her and pray that all will be right in the end. And it is.

But I’m not Cinderella.

I’m not perfect. I’m the one setting traps for the mice and chasing the too-cheerful birds away with a broom. Too often I’m the selfish, mean stepsister, demanding my own way, wanting what I want now! stepsisterScheming, manipulating, taking whatever scraps of affection are dropped my way because, deep down, I’m so hungry for love, I’m sick with it. The only way I know to get love is to whine, parade, beg, and needle. Be more. Say more. Be seen. Be heard. And I turn myself into a royal pain in the process.

So there I stand in the middle of the crowded ballroom, watching all the beautiful girls around me, feeling ugly and out-of-place. My Jimmy Choos are actually knock-offs I found in a bargain basement and they pinch my toes. My spanx are too tight and I feel fat. Worse yet, I know how cruel I can be to those I love most. I see the bright eyes and dazzling smiles of all the other women and I know…I’ll never measure up. The Prince will never want me.

But then He turns to me and smiles. He extends his hand and asks me to dance. Me? No. I shake my head. Tears burn my eyes. He doesn’t understand. If He only knew. If He could only see the ugliness inside. hand

“No, my Lord,” I cry, tears weaving warm tracks down my face, “I’m not worthy. I’m ugly and mean. Broken. You don’t want me.”

The Prince smiles and tucks my hand into his. “Ah, but don’t you know? I mend the broken.”

The Gospel is not a message of God reaching down to elevate those who already have it together. The Good News is that He laid down His life and rose again to save broken and messy people who cannot save themselves. The Gospel is power, dynamite, revolutionary…an inside-out and upside-down message of hope for the unlovable.

It turns murderers into preachers.

It changes thieves into saints.

It transforms mean stepsisters into Cinderellas.

And isn’t that good news?

 

Drowning out Silence

Noise can be a drug.

It’s a numbing anesthesia, insulating us from pain and reality, a distraction that keeps us from looking too deeply at what haunts us most. We do the same with food, with shopping and debit cards, with possessions and degrees, with sex and alcohol, power, possessions, money, relationships, children…yet the more I consider the bombastic nature of our society, the more I believe noise has become the preferred drug of choice.

too-much-noise

By noise I don’t mean only auditory transmission, but sensory overload. Cell phones are nearly sewn on to fingertips. Television shows and music can viewed and heard from nearly any technological device man has dreamed up. Itunes, radio, Youtube, podcasts, streaming…we are a culture saturated with more. Add to that long work days, running children to and from the vast array of extra curriculars they must be a part of in order to succeed as a human being (yes, that is a note of sarcasm you hear in my voice), runs to the drive-through, caring for aging parents, chasing sticky toddlers, sweeping up crushed Cheerios, swallowing down caffeine to keep up with it all, and then throw in church and several ministry projects, because, after all, Jesus comes first, right?

You would think we would crave silence. Yearn for it. Want it with every fiber of our being. Some do.


Yet, truth be told, for many of us, when we are given the option to sit in quiet and wait for God to speak, we reach for our cell phone instead. Rather than walking through a silent house, we turn on the television for some background noise. Instead of talking with our Father on the drive to work, we blast the radio as loud as we can because “music speaks to us”. Does it speak louder to us than God does? Why?

Please understand, there is no condemnation here, for I do it too. All the time. I’ve always loved it when my kids aren’t fighting and the day is calm, but I can’t say that I’ve always loved perfect quiet. There is a big difference between the two.

girl-in-fieldAm I saying noise is wrong? Absolutely not. And God speaks to us beautifully through sound—the rush of a waterfall, the cadence of nature, the laugh of a baby, melodies and rhythms—all of these are tremendous gifts. What I do wonder, however, is how often we use busyness and noise as a way to avoid having to deal with our wounds.

When the electricity goes out, the heat clicks into dead cold, when there’s no hum of currents running through the house, it’s an odd feeling. Quiet. Sudden. It feels as if something has been ripped away. Our natural inclination when something has been taken is to fill that space with something else. So when there is silence, we automatically want to replace it with something. Anything.

boy-hidingSilence, at times, can be terrifying. There’s no hiding. All those thoughts and fears we so successfully shove down during the busyness rise to the surface. There’s no escaping them. The screams of silence soon turn to condemnation and we find ourselves in a place of pain that we knew existed but never wanted to confront.

My friend, the pain you hide in private will eventually become what you wear in public. The noise, the distractions, are only patches that will work for a little while. Jesus is waiting in the silence. He wants to hold you and heal those cracked places in your heart. To be seen, truly seen, is scary, but He is safe. His grace is greater. He will not turn you away.

In the past few years I’ve learned I’ll never accidentally fall into a closer walk with God. It’s a deliberate choice to lay aside the distractions and noise and seek His presence. I try to take five minutes each day to sit in silence with Jesus. No hiding. Just being still. I’m treasuring this new time. Instead of the condemnation I used to pour on myself, I now hear Him whisper His love to my soul. be-still

He’s with me in the quiet and He’s present in the noise.

Do you like silence? Why or why not? What are ways you unplug from the busyness? Where do you hear God or feel His presence most clearly? 

Lessons Learned in His Presence

Last week I told you my word for the year was presence. I’ve become desperate to release the juggling, the striving, running and cistern-filling that never actually fills. I yearn for Jesus’ presence…to sit at His feet. To learn and love and live. I don’t want to care about what each day brings as long as I can journey through each day with Him.

learn-to-rest

I thought my biggest obstacle to sitting in His presence would be learning to rest. For the past few years, I thought tending to chores around the house was resting. Compared to standing on stage while speaking and singing, or pounding out another book project or some other creative endeavor, mindless activities like folding laundry or scrubbing counters feel like rest. But they’re not. Here’s the tricky thing about living in the cycle of go-go-go for so long…after a while, the nonstop activity is like a drug. When it’s gone, there’s a terrifying hole of quiet that suddenly needs to be filled. Some people automatically understand how to rest. I don’t. For me, it’s a learned behavior, one I have to be taught but I’m getting there.

I thought learning to rest would be the most difficult part of this whole-seeking-God’s-presence-journey. But I was wrong. There are two others that hit me hard.

The first I learned while putting my three-year-old to sleep several nights ago. After two runs to the bathroom, a drink, a ten minute long prayer, and another drink, Nate grabbed my hand and kissed my palm, looking up into my face with a hopeful grin.

“Stay til I sleep, Monny?”

I inwardly sighed. His bedtime routine was growing longer each night and a long list of chores still awaited me. But I kissed his forehead as God’s Spirit spoke to my heart.

Stay. nate-asleep

I settled next to my little man and rubbed his face. Maybe it was the realization that time was fleeting. My children are growing up too fast. Maybe it was pure obedience that kept me rooted in place. Whatever the reason, I stayed and stroked his forehead, toyed with his chestnut curls, ran my fingertips over his eyebrows and temples until those heavy lashes could stand it no longer.

As I watched him succumb to sleep, Jesus pressed this thought into my spirit.

You’ve been seeking My presence. My Spirit is within You and if you long to sit at My feet, it is here, in these humble moments, caring for those entrusted to you that you’ll find Yourself closer to Me. Ministering to the needy. Feeding the hungry. Encouraging the broken. Visiting the prisoner. When you do this, you sit at My feet. I AM with you. I am here.

The next night I was plagued with a nasty bout of insomnia. I tossed and turned but couldn’t get comfortable. One thought kept bugging me over and over.

Rise and write.

I ignored it. I mean, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do when insomnia’s restless fingers flutter over our minds? Lie still. Ignore the TV and phone. Keep the lights off.

Nothing worked and that night was one of the most miserable I’ve endured in ages. The next morning, I sat up in my grump-induced haze and wondered if perhaps the urge to write wasn’t the crazy whim of a hyperactive right-brained blonde, but instead God’s sweet plea pulling me from sleep to offer a divine invitation. interrupted-by-god

As I stared out window, watching the sun streak the morning pink, I prayed, “Lord, was that You?”

Following Me often means interruption. Sitting in My presence may pull you away from other things, but it is always an invitation to know Me. To create with Me. To walk with Me.

Maybe I’ll get the hang of this eventually. I’m glad God is patient. Even when I get it wrong, He is so tender. So patient. And even in my mistakes, He is teaching me.

That’s the amazing thing about being with Jesus. You cannot walk away unchanged. The well of love and knowledge in His presence is unfathomable.

light-of-your-presence

The word for 2017 is…

I’m not a big believer in life verses. It’s too easy to manipulate a verse from the Bible and make it what you want it to be while ignoring context and purpose.  But I do enjoy choosing a word for the year.

sinai-3Each year I pray over a word God may have for me. Last year’s word was Sinai. I know what you’re thinking. Sinai? Really? How about Mephibosheth? Or Maher-shalal-hash-baz? Trust me, I thought the same thing, but after seeing the way God breathed His plan and sang over the pivotal moments of this past year, looking back I finally understand why He impressed the word Sinai into my spirit. It was fitting and profound. I saw His glory come down in a very tangible way.

One of my favorite reads of the past year was Allen Arnold’s The Story of With. In it, Allen said something that hit me hard. “Live completely unbalanced for the things that matter most.”

Live completely unbalanced…

live-unbalancedThat phrase echoed through my heart for weeks and wouldn’t let me go.

After years spent spinning my wheels, and a battle with depression, God tenderly showed me how deep is the pit of people pleasing. It’s taken years to crawl out of the abyss…years as He’s held my hand, walking me from darkness into Light. Time when I’ve learned what it means to be a God-pleaser instead of a people pleaser. Time spent learning how much I’m loved by Him…how different approval is from love and a host of other things. Years when I wrote a book about recognizing the destructive patterns to find healing. Years of agony, living out of balance until I finally found freedom. https://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1483218376&sr=8-2&keywords=tara+johnson+hollow+victory

I suppose it’s natural to yearn for balance after living in such an upside down way for so long.

Yet Allen’s quote continued to haunt me. “Live completely unbalanced for the things that matter most.

It finally hit me.

In my strive to step away from people pleasing and approval addiction, I had redefined my boundaries which was needful, but had allowed myself to become cocooned in a sterile bubble. I tried to ‘balance it all’ but still failed. I said no to the boundary abusers but failed to nurture what mattered most…deep connection with God. I bought into the myth of multi-tasking but only succeeded in doing many things poorly and wondered why I still couldn’t get it right.

lucy-and-ethel

This past year has marked a profound shift in my walk with God. It’s a time of putting down the ‘to-do’ list and more time trying ‘to-be’.

Before my battle with depression, I was living out of balance for the things that mattered least. But what if Allen is right? What if I learn to live out-of-balance for Jesus? What if I stop trying to get everything perfectly situated? To keep a perfectly tidy house? Juggle the perfect schedule? Perfect meals? What if I become comfortable with being messy me and spend my time at Jesus feet?” What if I just focus on living like Mary of Bethany, who didn’t care about all the other ‘stuff’ because she knew, in the long run, it didn’t really matter? “She has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

My word for 2017 is presence. I want my sole focus for this year, and my life, to seek the presence of my Savior. To know Him. To crave Him. To love Him. Nothing more.

We have this moment. If you’ve lost a child, faced a heart-ripping betrayal, an unexpected diagnosis, or well, hit puberty, you know the harsh truth: life is change. Sometimes we can’t imagine a moment more perfect than the one we are in and then we are dashed upon the rocks, slammed with such force we can scarcely take a breath from the pain of it. Sometimes we aren’t even sure if taking a breath is worth it.

If your heart is still beating in your chest, God’s work with your life is not yet done.

I don’t want this year to be marked with the drive to be efficient, worship my to-do list, balance it all or live in the hamster wheel that powers the dimly lit bulbs of my family’s house. I’ve lived that way long enough and have found it to be a broken cistern than takes more than it gives, drawing blood and life from those willing to be lured into its trap.

I’m starting out the new year buried in his Word, and reading a new book by Shauna Niequist, Present over Perfect. present-over-perfectBut even in this I must be careful. I don’t want to be busy learning how to be in his presence and neglect time when I can put down the books, the phone, the ‘stuff’ away and just be with Him. Learning about someone is never as rewarding as talking to the person one on one, am I right?

I crave Jesus. I crave His presence. I want to live unbalanced for the One Who matters most.

Do you have a word for the year? What is it? What do you find most difficult about nurturing your relationship with God?

The Innkeeper

“No room.” no-vacancy

Most of us have heard the story. The fabled innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph in their hour of need. The calloused man has become a staple in the Christmas story, though he’s never mentioned in the Bible.

No, really. The only Gospel that makes mention of there being ‘no room’ is Luke chapter two. Check it out:

and she gave birth to her Son, her firstborn; and she wrapped Him in [swaddling] cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no [private] room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7 AMP)

No innkeeper, only a stated fact. There was no room for them.

With Caesar Augustus wielding his power and demanding a census of the entire Roman world, anyone with family roots in Bethlehem would have been forced to go back to the tiny city. If there was more than one inn there, Mary and Joseph may have heard more than one resounding “no” that night. Slammed doors in their faces. Careless attitudes amid the press of scurrying people and shouting peddlers clogging the roads.

Get this…some scholars even disagree on what is meant by the word inn. We tend to think of it like a hotel. But what if the writer meant something different? I recently stumbled upon this information written by Todd Bolen that made me pause:

“The word translated as ‘inn’ is the word kataluma, which is used elsewhere by Luke and translated as ‘guest chamber’ or ‘upper room’ (Luke 22:11; cf. Mark 14:14)…The result of this mistranslation leads to a different understanding of the story. It’s not that Joseph and Mary were late to town, but it’s that they were rejected by their family. Clearly they had family members in town, as that was the reason they returned to Bethlehem for the census. That there was no room in the guest chamber for a pregnant woman indicates that they chose not to make room for this unwedded mother. The birth of Jesus in a room where animals lived suggest shame and rejection.” (http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2006/12/in-typical-christmas-pageant-one-of.html)

mary-and-joseph-stable

This puts a whole new spin on the birth of Jesus, doesn’t it? Rejected by His own, even before birth. The thought of what Mary and Joseph endured as a young couple pierces my heart. In times of desperation, we see the most despicable callousness of humanity, yet also stand in wonder at the sweetness of God’s grace and the gentle touch from the kindness of strangers.

Whether “No room” was the result of a stressed out innkeeper or judgmental family members, the result was the same…those who pushed Mary, Joseph and Jesus away missed out on the greatest blessing to ever sweep planet earth. If they only knew Who was coming…if they only knew there were shepherds trembling on a hillside, watching the heavens flood with angels proclaiming the Good News…if they only heard the sound of God filling the quiet room with a lusty cry. The Author of Life crying peace into the darkness. What beauty, what mind-bending astonishment.

Those who pushed Him away missed it all. This Christmas, you and I are in danger of doing the same.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in hanging the lights and rushing around to get all the shopping done, but ignore the homeless shelters. It’s far too convenient to plan our Christmas menu and fight the crowds at the grocery store than to give our time visiting someone who is lonely. It’s easier to check off our do-list than forgive the family member who hurt us so deeply.

“No room.” “No time.” “I’m tired.” “That person asking for help is different than me.” If we’re so busy doing things for Jesus that we can’t stop and lend a hand to the least of these, then we’ve missed Him.

merry-christmas

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father [you favored of God, appointed to eternal salvation], inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me [with help and ministering care]; I was in prison, and you came to Me [ignoring personal danger].’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it for Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40 AMP)

Don’t be an Innkeeper, keeping the love and light of Christ inside. True joy comes in giving yourself away. No slammed doors allowed.