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.

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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!
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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.

 

The 30 Day Attitude Challenge

Words are powerful. They can build up a life through language doused in love, or they can cut a life down like a scythe slicing through brittle grass.

When I recently asked my oldest daughter what she loved most about her two best friends at school, she replied, “I’ve never heard either of them said a bad word about anyone. Ever. They are always kind. Not just to people’s faces, but all the time. It’s hard not to love being around girls like that.”

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Her reflection caused me to evaluate my own life. Jesus told us what comes from our mouth is an overflow from our heart. (Luke 6:45) If I say ugly words about someone, it’s because I have an ugly heart. And this doesn’t just have to be ‘mean’ words. It can be any form of backbiting: the times we gossip about someone (whether the information is true or not), every time we aren’t honest with a person to her face but tell everyone else how much her behavior annoys us, talking to our closest friends about the ‘problem person’ in our life, or however we may try to justify it. We can say we’re ‘venting’, but backbiting is the result either way. Worse yet are the moments we actually share a juicy tidbit about someone and thinly wrap it in the disguise of a prayer request.

Our words should bring life, and only life.

“Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].” ~Ephesians 4:29

I’ve been keeping a mental note of how often I complain about people who irritate me, whether it be the bad driver in traffic or people I tend to think of as daily “thorns in the flesh”. I didn’t like what I saw, so I spent a day purposefully focusing on using my words only to encourage and uplift. I refused to be drawn into any negative talk about others, gossip or the like. The change in my attitude was amazing.

proverbs 18 21As I’ve continued to discard complaining in my life, I see God softening the hard edges of hearts around me when I respond with gentleness, instead of feeding the monster of negativity. (Instead of being the person folks would come to so they could ‘vent’, I became the person who flipped the conversation and said, “So how can I pray for you in this situation?” Remember, gossips can’t do much damage unless they have a listening ear.)

We’re going into November, the month of gratitude. Social media is usually flooded with 30 day gratitude challenges and posts but I’d like to offer up a different kind of challenge. A 30 day Attitude challenge. No complaining or speaking poorly of others, no matter how badly your nerves are frayed. No yelling at drivers in rush hour traffic. No griping about people during Black Friday shopping. No gossip, venting or negativity. Only love.

You might be as surprised as I was by the amount of negativity creeping into your day. Speak life. Speak love. Are you willing to take the 30 day Attitude Challenge?

A Word for People Pleasers

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Sometimes I don’t have much to say. Not enough words to fill up a haiku, much less a blog. Life gets busy, my body runs on fumes and caffeine, kids scream for attention…you know the drill.

Yet despite the normal grind of living, the fear never completely goes away. The enemy is always lurking, ever hissing and flinging his accusations, preying upon my darkest secrets and coldest fears.

There are some battles that must be fought over and over again. That’s okay.

If you’re a recovering people-pleaser like me, remind yourself of this truth today:

“Some people will like me, some won’t. Others will love me no matter how many things I do wrong, and some will despise me no matter how many things I do right. None of it changes my worth in the Father’s eyes. I am loved. I am treasured. I am His. Living to please Him is all that matters.”

Rest in Him, my friend. He has already declared you to be more than enough.

 

An Open Letter to My Girls: Here’s What to Look For When You Date

kids

It seems like yesterday I was welcoming you into the world. I thought you would always be in diapers, watching Sesame Street and learning your alphabet. I blinked and suddenly we’ve traded Cheerios and sippy cups for makeup and iphones. And now, much to your father’s dismay, your heads have begun to turn when a handsome boy gives you a wink and a smile.

Boyfriends will come and go. You’ll face heartbreak and joy, tears and laughter. As someone who is, ahem, a bit older than you, here is what I want you to know, so you’ll have the happiest and best life possible.

  1. Look for a guy who respects his parents.

vinicius-amano-145607If a boy doesn’t respect his parents, he won’t respect any authority figure. That includes God. (Newsflash: Neither will he respect you.)

  1. There is a big difference between a Christian “boy” and a Christian “man”.

I’m using “boy” and “man” in the spiritual sense here. A Christian boy is one who goes to church, who can stomp everybody in Bible trivia and may do all the right Christiany type of things. A Christian man is different. He doesn’t just know the Word. He puts it into action. He treats his family, his neighbors and his enemies with agape love. He’s not concerned with keeping a Christian checklist of “do” and “do nots”. His sole purpose in life is to grow closer to Jesus. There is a world of difference between the two.

  1. Tread carefully around the guy who “wants to make his mark in the world”.

This may sound like a good and noble thing, and it can be. It can also be a huge pitfall. As someone who spent ten years in the Christian music industry, I’ve seen horribly sad stories of souls who gave their lives away for the pursuit of fame, even though they slapped a Christian label on it and declared their desire would be so they could help others. Yet, when their ship never came in, they wallowed in bitterness, anger and despondency.

Dreams are wonderful things. The problem is they can become idols if we let them. If a guy is primarily focused on going pro with his athletic skills, being known for his musical talent or any other sort of fame, be careful. He’s probably got some growing to do.

  1. Look for someone who exemplifies 1 Corinthians 13.

anne-edgar-119383If a young man is seeking God, truly following after Him with all he is, these traits will be present: patience and kindness. He won’t be jealous, a braggart or prideful. He won’t try to make himself look good but will be focused on lifting up those around him. He’ll be sweet-tempered, not angry, nor will he keep a record of the times you were crabby. He’ll stay as far as he can from evil. He’ll protect you, always trust in God, always hope and always persevere.

I know what you’re thinking. “Uh, problem. No one can possibly measure up to this.” You’re right, and that’s kind of the point. No human can fulfill your needs. No one except Jesus.

Don’t look to boys to fill the longings in your heart. The only One who can fill it is the One who made it. Romantic love is a beautiful thing, a God-ordained thing, but I promise, there is no rush. Spend your time getting to know God. He is crazy about you. And then, as you seek His heart, He’ll bring along a guy who is doing the same. One day, you’ll realize this friend of yours is more than just a friend and BAM! It’s kismet.road

Whenever that niggling urge digs at you that says, “You need a boyfriend. You’re missing out. All your friends have one,” pray for your future husband. Keep a journal to give him one day. Tell him how much you’ve prayed for him. Write down verses. Tell him your dreams. More importantly, talk to God about him. Ask Him to reveal His perfect plan in your life.

Enjoy each moment and cover it all in prayer. You have plenty of time.