Fear is a Liar

The opposite of love is not hate. It’s fear. 

How many lives have been destroyed because of fear? How many marriages ruined, how many children scarred, how many dreams unfulfilled and how many people chained in the terrifying prison of addiction because of fear? So many of us are experiencing a life half-lived. We cower in the shadows, afraid to confront the wounds we need to expose to God’s light.

This hissing snake tells us no one will understand if we share our feelings. It says people could never love us and God could never forgive us if they knew who we really are. It keeps us trapped in cycles of people-pleasing, perfectionism, anxiety, and hypocrisy. Fear causes us to smile to mask our sadness, laugh to distract from our thoughts, and self-medicate to numb ourselves from our terror.

It steals our peace of mind, rattles our faith like a rag doll and sends our broken emotions on a continually swinging pendulum. It suffocates. It breathes against the window of our hearts like a panting monster. It beats a refrain of “What if?” and taunts us with the perpetual thought that God isn’t there.

Fear is a liar.

Truth usually has very little to do with our feelings. Our emotions were damaged when sin cursed this world. Our emotions dip and dive with alarming speed, but God and His truth doesn’t.

Sometimes I forget that the enemy of our souls is not omniscient. He can’t read my mind. He can only watch and observe to plan his schemes against God’s kids. So do you know what I do? I call him out.

A family member was recently struggling with some serious spiritual issues. My heart was heavy as I drove across town. I started dwelling on all the “what ifs” and worst case scenarios that might write her story. Then I remembered this empowering verse:

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” ~James 4:7

Something fierce rose up in my spirit. Through tears, I spoke aloud to the enemy.

“Satan, by the name of Jesus Christ, the name above all names, I command you to leave my family alone. You have no power here. I have no strength or ability in my own right, but I claim the strength and blood of Jesus. You will not have my loved one. In Jesus’ name, you will leave.”

An hour later, that loved one who had been struggling so much gave her life to Jesus.

Fear is indeed a liar, but the strength and love of Jesus can send it packing.

“But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

Let’s chat. What do you fear the most? I would love to hear!

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Broken but Never Worthless

In my debut novel Engraved on the Heart, the heroine Keziah battles epilepsy at a time in history when epilepsy was widely misunderstood and resulted in many of the sufferers to be placed in asylums. I grew up battling epilepsy as well. I remember the shame, the horror when consciousness slowly trickled back as dozens of wide eyes stared at me in shock. I’ll never forget the frustration of grasping for a gaping black hole of time in my memory that couldn’t be recovered.

What I learned, and what Keziah must learn, is that broken doesn’t mean worthless. Challenges make us stronger. Sometimes God doesn’t remove that difficulty from our life because He wants to mold us into the image of Jesus through our weakness. His strength moves in and fills the gap where our abilities end and our need must be filled.

God’s specialty is using broken people. Here are fifteen people who battled (or are currently battling) epilepsy: 
Susan Boyle
Charles Dickens
Lewis Carroll
Harriett Tubman
Theodore Roosevelt
Edgar Allen Poe
Vincent Van Gogh
Neil Young
Alexander the Great
Napoleon Bonaparte
George Gershwin
Michelangelo
James Madison
Bud Abbott (from Abbott and Costello)
Supreme Court Justice John Roberts

I recently read by Corrie Ten Boom and a visit she made to a dedicated woman of God.

“We arrived at her apartment by night in order to escape detection. We were in Russia (in the region of Lithuania, on the Baltic Sea). Ellen and I had climbed the steep stairs, coming through a small back door into the one-room apartment. It was jammed with furniture, evidence that the old couple had once lived in a much larger and much finer house. The old woman was lying on a small sofa, propped up by pillows. Her body was bent and twisted almost beyond recognition by the dread disease of multiple sclerosis. Her aged husband spent all his time caring for her since she was unable to move off the sofa. 

I walked across the room and kissed her wrinkled cheek. She tried to look up but the muscles in her neck were atrophied so she could only roll her eyes upward and smile. She raised her right hand, slowly, in jerks. It was the only part of her body she could control and with her gnarled and deformed knuckles she caressed my face. I reached over and kissed the index finger of that hand, for it was with this one finger that she had so long glorified God. 

Beside her couch was a vintage typewriter. Each morning her faithful husband would rise, praising the Lord. After caring for his wife’s needs and feeding her a simple breakfast, he would prop her into a sitting position on the couch, placing pillows all around her so she wouldn’t topple over. Then he would move that ancient black typewriter in front of her on a small table. From an old cupboard he would remove a stack of cheap yellow paper. Then, with that blessed finger, she would begin to type. All day and far into the night she would type. She translated Christian books into Russian, Latvian, and the language of her people. Always using just that one finger—peck………peck…….peck—she typed out the pages. Portions of the Bible, the books of Billy Graham, Watchman Nee, and Corrie Ten Boom—all came from her typewriter.

That was why I was there-to thank her. She was hungry to hear news about these men of God she had never met, yet whose books she had so faithfully translated. We talked about Watchman Nee, who was then in a prison in China, and I told her all I knew of his life and ministry. I also told her of the wonderful ministry of Billy Graham and of the many people who were giving their lives to the Lord. “Not only does she translate their books,” her husband said as he hovered close by during our conversation, “but she prays for these men every day while she types. Sometimes it takes a long time for her finger to hit the key, or for her to get the paper in the machine, but all the time she is praying for those whose books she is working on.” I looked at her wasted form on the sofa, her head pulled down and her feet curled back on her body. “Oh, Lord, why don’t you heal her?” I cried inwardly. Her husband, sensing my anguish of soul, gave the answer. ” God has a purpose in her sickness. Every other Christian in the city is watched by the secret police. But because she has been sick for so long, no one ever looks in on her. They leave us alone and she is the only person in all the city who can type quietly, undetected by the police.” ” (from Tramp for the Lord)

Sometimes the things we view as weaknesses, God uses to turn the world upside down.

You are not alone, child of God.

To pre-order Engraved on the Heart, visit https://www.amazon.com/Engraved-Heart-Tara-Johnson/dp/1496428315/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525639523&sr=8-1&keywords=engraved+on+the+heart+by+tara+johnson

The Broken Piano

“Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes.”

The caustic comment from the piano tuner who had curled up his nose at my old spinet piano has bothered me for fourteen years, though I’ve had a hard time figuring out why.

I thought maybe it was the man’s attitude when he entered my home. I had been desperately searching for a tuner willing to take on my pawn shop find but from the moment this guy laid eyes on it, his annoyed smirk told me the piano didn’t meet his criteria. Maybe it was the chipped places around its edges. Or perhaps the slightly yellowed keys. I don’t know. But before he even sat down to play it, he judged it and found it lacking. 

Looking over the brim of his glasses, he shot me a scolding glare. “You are a musician aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You should be asking me to tune a baby grand then. Or least a piano with some kind of merit. But this…,” he shook his head sadly, “this piano is not fit for a musician.”

He then launched into a sales pitch about the wonderful pianos he had for sale in his store and grew agitated when I wouldn’t bite. Needless to say, that was my one and only experience with that particular tuner.

Great musicians should have only the finest instruments in their homes…

I thought perhaps his statement bothered me because it was the lead in to his sales pitch. But no, that particular comment has circled around and around in my brain for fourteen years. It bothers me. It shouldn’t. That particular piano has been long gone and I haven’t seen that tuner since the day of his barbed comment yet it nags me. Why?

I finally figured it out.

Recently a friend sent me an email about a little boy who somehow escaped his mother at a prestigious concert hall and crawled up on stage plunking himself right next to a world renown pianist just before the man was beginning his concert. The little tyke clumsily tapped around on the keys before looking up to the famous pianist with a grin. The poor mother was horrified and jumped out of her seat, preparing to retrieve her wayward son but the pianist only smiled down at the little boy and begin to imitate the toddler’s finger strikes. Then something amazing happened.

As the little boy squealed with delight and pounded the keys harder, the pianist began to improvise melodies over the boy’s tapped notes. The entire audience was spellbound. When the little boy finally tired of the game, he hopped down and the musician stood and applauded him, causing the entire crowd to cheer and smile.

I love that story. And in a flash, I finally understood why that tuner’s comment bothered me.

Great musicians are not great because they have the finest instruments in their homes. They aren’t great because their fingers and ears are only trained for the best the world has to offer, or because they have sold X number of CDs or because they fill up concert halls. A real musician can make music out of the hardest situation. It doesn’t matter whether the keys are chipped, whether it’s a Bosendorfer or a dusty spinet, whether the action is smooth like honey or stilted, or even whether a little boy interrupts their Rachmaninoff moment.

The sign of a great musician is not in owning the finest instruments, but the ability to make the most broken instruments sing once more. 

From this perspective, God is the greatest musician of all. He takes our broken strings, chipped edges, places His hands on those battered keys and coaxes out a song. A melody. An unspoken story. And the more broken the instrument, the more amazing His ability to make it sing.

Do you feel broken, chipped or used up? Don’t let the enemy’s lies discourage you. You are valuable and treasured. God doesn’t have a room full of glistening new grand pianos. He prefers the spinets.

Under his touch, they make the sweetest melodies.

The Broken Phone

“You gonna replace your phone?”

I’ve heard the question countless times. I suppose it’s a reasonable remark considering the state of my cracked phone screen. How the multiple shards of glass have managed to keep from falling out or cutting my fingers is a mystery. Still, the question rankles me a bit. Why? Because the phone works just fine despite its cracked appearance. 

We are a people obsessed with perfection. If something is broken, just toss it away and replace it with a new model. A better one.

Sometimes our attitude about objects bleed into the way we treat people too. What a tragedy.

I battled epilepsy as a child. I’ll never forget the shame that accompanied those moments in elementary school when I would find two dozen pairs of eyes staring at me in horror because I had a seizure. I remember how frustrating it was to find a chunk of time yawning like a black hole in my memory. And I remember the helplessness of having no control over my own body.

Fast forward to the present, and life hasn’t changed. We all deal with tough stuff: poor health, children with special needs, the slicing pain of divorce, rejection, depleted bank accounts or angry coworkers. For some, the most devastating blow of all is being forgotten by your children. For others, you might be dealing with the mess from your own poor decisions and you just need a little grace from people unwilling to give it. Whatever the situation, we’re far from perfect. Messy. Broken. We wonder, How can God possibly use me now?

Our culture has glamorized what the world defines as “perfect”. From the airbrushed models gracing the latest covers of Vogue to the highlight reels inundating social media, we are constantly told we must be flawless to be accepted. The flip side of that lie is that anything broken must be rejected.

If we build our identity on something other than Christ—whether it’s our appearance, “goodness”, social reputation, prestige, or approval from others—the greater the pain when that identity crumbles.

Approval and love are not the same thing. Neither are brokenness and worth.

“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” (Vance Havner)

All my life, I’ve heard it said that broken things are special because the cracks allow the light to come in. I don’t believe that’s true. As a child of God, brokenness allows the Light to shine out. 

When we put on a mask of perfection, we’re only allowing people to see a plastic version of who we really are. Brokenness allows the masks to be stripped away. Pretense is gone. All that is left is honesty, humility and fractures of space where self has been stripped away so others can see Jesus shining through.

Best-selling author Bob Goff says it best. “It has always seemed to me that broken things, just like broken people, get used more; it’s probably because God has more pieces to work with.”

I doubt I’ll be replacing my cell phone anytime soon. It’s broken exterior hasn’t effected its functioning ability one iota. I’d hate to lose it. It’s chocked full of pictures and videos, memories and a hundred other treasures. Just because it’s broken doesn’t mean I need to throw it away. If anything, its fragile cracks give it character. No other phone looks exactly like it. Its one-of-a-kind.

It’s brokenness hasn’t effected its worth in my eyes.

What Exactly is “Perfect Love”?

(The new blog is up and running! To keep up with the most frequent blogs, latest news on upcoming book releases, and be included in fun contests, make sure and sign up to follow my new blog at www.TaraJohnsonStories.com . For my latest followers, here’s a sneak peak of what you’ve been missing over at the new site. Stop in and say hi!)

Fear is the one thing every human being on the planet shares. We’ve all felt it. We all know that dark, encroaching panic that claws at our hearts. peyman-naderi-379104

For years I’ve heard the same pat answer, the same verse over and over until I can quote it verbatim. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.

Okay, so to get rid of fear, I need perfect love. Got it. But then I’m faced with a scary diagnosis, the bills that keep piling up, rebellious loved ones, and the coffee pot that no longer functions. Suddenly I realize…I have no idea what ‘perfect love’ means.

Oh, I know the Greek word for “drives” or “casts” (as in perfect loves “drives” out fear) has to do with a violent displacement. It means love grabs fear by the throat and throws it through the window. Descriptive. But what exactly is ‘perfect love’? For the sake my sanity and my peace of mind, I must know. 

After a teary therapy appointment for my son, God revealed the beauty of this phrase to me in a very tender way.

We had just left my son’s elementary school after a difficult discussion. His therapists knew something was going on with my joyful little firecracker, but were unable to pinpoint the source of his issues.

“It might be time to test for autism.”

I agreed but as we pulled out of the parking lot, I was overcome with an onslaught of “what ifs”. What would happen to my curious little boy? What kind of life would he have? Would he be bullied for being different? On and on the thoughts tumbled until the icy tentacles squeezing my heart grabbed me by the throat.

“Mommy, sing to Jesus!”

I blinked away the tears blurring my eyes. Peering into the rearview mirror, I watched Nate’s sunny smile and heard his sweet voice as he sang.

“Jesus loves me. Jesus is mine. Jesus loves me. Jesus is mine…” 

I sucked in a breath. Here I was, worrying over things I had no control over and the source of my angst was lifting up praises to Jesus. I pushed down the stinging tears and smiled. “Good idea, buddy. Let’s praise Jesus.”

We sang song after song on the car ride home. With each melody, my fear evaporated. Why? Because fear dissolves in the presence of praise.

The source of our praise, the One we worship is Jesus Christ. Fear cannot exist in His presence. It scatters like darkness shattered by light. Revelation twisted my heart with a surge of joy.

What does the Bible tells us about Jesus? It says repeatedly that He is love. Perfect love.

Perfect love casts out fear.

Suddenly, I understood.

Perfect love is Jesus, God wrapped in human flesh. Perfect Love goes to any length to save and any height to reach. Perfect Love calls the prisoner His brother, redeems him and sets him free. Perfect Love is complete, all consuming, with no traces of doubt in the power of the Holy One. Perfect Love sets a glittering crown on the head of the orphan and calls her “Beloved Daughter”.

I get it now.

I’ll keep my eyes fixed and my heart melded to Jesus. Fear has no chance against such a Love.

My debut novel Engraved on the Heart is available for pre-order now! Check it out! https://www.amazon.com/Engraved-Heart-Tara-Johnson/dp/1496428315/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522944239&sr=8-1&keywords=engraved+on+the+heart+by+tara+johnsonengraved on the heart cover photo

 

New Website, New Blog!

I’m happy to announce the release of my brand new website and blog!
ben-white-197668

If you want to keep up with the latest news, most recent stories and weekly musings, as well as info about my upcoming book releases, hop on over to www.TaraJohnsonStories.com. You can sign up to follow the blog there. Same content, same me, just a brand new look.

And if you also sign-up to get my quarterly newsletters, you’ll receive a free copy of the behind-the-scenes look at my upcoming novel Engraved on the Heart.

I pray you enjoy the lovely new website. I want us to stay connected, so don’t delay. Sign up today! www.TaraJohnsonStories.com

Blessings,
Tara

The Bell Ringer

red bucket (2)

We heard the bell ringing across the parking lot before we saw the red bucket and the Santa-capped volunteer sitting in front of Walmart. My son knows the drill. His chubby fingers lifted towards me.

“Money, Momma?”

I smiled and sighed inwardly, reaching into my purse to scrape for loose change. I had already given out most of it to other bell ringers throughout the past week. Still, I was proud of my little guy who loved to drop change into the charity collections. Give to the poor, pat yourself on the back for being a good human…all that jazz.

“I don’t have much, buddy.”

His lips puckered into a frown. “Money.”

I dropped a splattering of pennies, dimes and a nickel into his outstretched palm, pausing a moment to remove the Lego snatched in my quick sweep of purse plucking. “We have to hurry though, bud. We’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it in.”

“Okay. Bucket?”

“Yes. You can take the money to the red bucket.”

He happily skipped forward as my mind scanned the list of items on my shopping list. Wrapping paper, gift sacks, milk, eggs, sugar, caffeine in all forms—

“Aren’t you just the cutest thing?”

I glanced up to see my son wasn’t interested in the bucket at all, but in the matronly bell ringer sitting beside the bucket drop. Her ebony face was wreathed in a wide, warm smile. Nate was grinning at her.

“Money!” nate 2015

He opened his fist and showed her his treasure.

“Yep. You got a whole handful, big boy. Put it right in that bucket.” She cackled with delighted as he struggled to get the coins to fall into the narrow slot. Looking back at me, she winked. “He’s got a bit a silver on his teeth, don’t he?”

She must have seen the two silver caps on the bottom of his front teeth. I smiled. “Yes, ma’am. He’s so cool, he’s four and already has a grill.”

Throwing back her head, she laughed loud and long before sobering. “Reminds of my own boy when he was that age.”

“Oh? How old is he now?”

Her eyes misted into wistfulness. “He’s grown but,” she swallowed hard, “he’s bad sick. He’s got a disease that’s slowly killing him. He’s had surgery after surgery.” She looked up at me. A glossy sheen covered her large eyes. “Doctors aren’t sure if he’s gonna make it or not.”

Suddenly, my urgent to-do list and oh-so-important schedule didn’t mean much. I reached for her hand and squeezed. “How can I pray for you today?”

holding hands_unsplashWe sat outside chatting for long moments, covering her son and family in prayer. Before we left, Nate gave her a hug around the neck. She laughed with delight and offered him a candy cane in return.

Once again, my son reminded me of a beautiful truth. We departed, and although her bucket wasn’t full, my heart was.

Jesus didn’t come to redeem our to-do lists. He doesn’t care about how much money we drop into buckets for our own feeble “atta boys”. He died for people. The best way we can honor Him this season, and every day, is to let that same Love, His love, spill from our hearts and splash onto the needy and broken lives around us. Sometimes those lives might not be full of sweet grace like our little bell ringer. Sometimes they might be a cranky Ebenezer Scrooge. That’s okay. Scrooges need Jesus and love too. to do list_unsplash

“How can I pray for you?” is a little question that yields tremendous results. Probably far greater results than checking off our to-do lists ever will. Let’s focus on loving people and not the need to-do. God’s agenda is always far greater than our own.

Fleas and…Thanksgiving?

I recently heard this funny little story at an event where I was singing:

There was a little old lady who woke up one morning to realize she only had three hairs left on her head. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because I can braid my hair today.” So she did.

baby mirror

The next day she woke up and only two hairs remained. She looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you because today I can part my hair.’” And she did.

The third morning she awoke and looked in the mirror to see only one hair remaining. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I can put my hair in a ponytail today.” And she did.

The fourth morning, she woke up, looked in the mirror and, yes you guessed it, had no hair left. She smiled and said, “Lord, I thank you that I don’t have to fix my hair anymore!” 

Praise is a choice. It’s all about perspective. So many times we get focused on what we can’t have, on our limitations, we fail to see the tremendous opportunities God has placed in front of us. Sometimes He redirects us in a new way, setting our feet on an unforged path that will ultimately bring more honor and glory to Him. Some of the greatest adventures and rewards come when we are willing to embrace that step, or leap, outside of our comfort zone.

Consider Corrie Ten Boom. corrie ten boom 2She and her sister Betsy were prisoners in a German death camp during World War II. They entered their new barracks and were horrified to discover the bunkhouse was overrun with fleas. Fleas everywhere! Corrie began to cry but Betsy responded, “We are going to stop right now and thank God for these fleas!” Corrie, of course, thought she was crazy. But at her sister’s urging, they both bowed their heads and thanked Him for…fleas.

Over time, Corrie wondered why the rules were so lax inside their bunkhouse. No guards came to check on them inside and because of that, they were able to conduct a Bible study every night. Many women were saved as a result. Later, Corrie was shocked to discover the reason no guards ever came into their bunk house…they were terrified of the fleas!

Sometimes it’s the bad stuff that refines us, grows us stronger, forces us to learn lessons we never would otherwise, allows Him to work things out for the greater good. And it reminds us of our dependence on God. thankful 2

I praise You, Lord, when I’m hungry or thirsty, for it reminds me to hunger and thirst after You.

I praise You, Lord, even when I’m in pain because it reminds that I have a Savior who knows exactly how I feel and has purchased victory over sickness and death.

I praise You, Lord, when I’m exhausted because it forces me to stop and rest in You.

I praise You, Lord, for the disappointments that pepper my walk. They remind me that pursuing goals and personal satisfaction is not my main goal in life. But seeking You is.

Try it. Praising Him for the hard stuff will open your heart and spirit up to His touch in ways you’ve never experienced before.

So what are you thankful for today?

Cover reveal…

Drumroll…

Some of you have seen it since it has hit Tyndale’s website, along with Goodreads, Amazon, and several other sites, but for those who haven’t, here is the cover of my upcoming release “Engraved on the Heart”, available June 1, 2018.

engraved on the heart cover photo

I love freedom fighters and those in the Civil War were among the very finest. Please pray for God’s divine favor as Keziah and Micah’s story is released. I pray God will use it to touch the hearts of people who are struggling with the lie “I am worthless”. May the truth of the cross set them free.

The Power of Pronouns

Last year I took a fascinating class at the national American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was taught by Carrie Stuart Parks, an author and forensic artist and was titled “Don’t Lie to Me”. The premise of the class was how language can be an identifier to recognize deception. When I realized I was sitting next to a bonafide FBI agent who was absorbing the information to teach to new recruits, I admit I felt a little thrill. lies

I’m learning the same stuff FBI agents know.

Coolness.

One thing Mrs. Parks brought out was the importance of pronouns. Honest people take ownership for their actions and feelings. “I came home at 6:30. I threw in a load of laundry and then took a shower.” People who have something to hide (or don’t want to admit to something), either change “I” for “you” or omit pronouns altogether. If asked about his evening, a deceptive person might say, “I guess I came home around six or so. You know you’re tired if you come right in, take a shower and go to bed.” Notice the difference? Not quite as direct. A little less ownership is involved.

These subtle signs are called language bumps.

pronouns“Consider this statement by a husband who claimed his wife was killed accidentally: ‘I picked up the gun to clean it. Moved it to the left hand to get the cleaning rod. Something bumped the trigger. The gun went off, hitting my wife.’ ” (http://www.fraud-magazine.com/article.aspx?id=4294971184) Notice how he dropped the use of “I” when it came down to accountability. He doesn’t want to hold the blame. Whether it was because he couldn’t deal emotionally with his guilt, or whether something more nefarious was at play, this guy inadvertently distances himself from admitting he is the one who squeezed the trigger.

What am I getting at here?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of words, of speech, of our tongues to heal or destroy. Just as lack of pronouns can signal deception, I think they can also inadvertently cheapen affection. Speaking for myself, I’ve noticed I have a bad habit of typing, “Praying for you” to friends and family. Nothing wrong with that. But how much better would it be if I were to add the simple pronoun “I”?

“I’m praying for you” is far sweeter than “Praying”.
“I’m lifting you up to our Father” is so much stronger than “Hugs”.

“I love you” is infinitely deeper than “love ya”.

See what I mean?

love of Jesus crossI want to be authentic. I want to take ownership of my emotions, my motives and treatment of people. I want to love them the way Jesus does. He never shies away from loving with complete abandon. He displays His affection with lavish, scandalous splashes of delight.

Speak life. Own your emotions. Love like Jesus. You’ll find your words will be a healing balm to more people than you could ever imagine.