December’s Songbird: How To Praise When Life Gets Hard

Have you ever heard someone ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or the ever popular “Well, if God is so good, why am I suffering?”  Both good questions, both have stumped theologians the world over, but both have an answer.          why

In the fall of 2009, my little family entered a time of extreme financial distress. We had a rental house that was destroyed by a renter who owed thousands in back payments and found ourselves unable to find a buyer. My husband’s health began to crash due to stress and I had to take on two extra jobs to make ends meet. It seemed like whatever we touched during this time would crash and burn. I began to look for the biblical plague of locust on the horizon. Until I got the news: I was expecting again.

We were overjoyed and thought maybe the tide was beginning to turn. Maybe God was moving us into a better place. Maybe….just maybe.

My kids were thrilled and I spent my days daydreaming about whether the baby was a boy or a girl, picking names, telling our family. That little baby became our symbol of God’s goodness, of hope.

Several weeks before Christmas, I began to hemorrhage. My husband rushed me to the hospital and after a night in the ER and several tests, the doctor came to see me, shaking her head and telling me she was sorry but the baby was gone. It seemed like a dream. I could hear the doctor talking but couldn’t focus on what she was saying. There was a buzzing in my ears. I felt salt in my mouth and realized with a start I was crying. I walked out of that ER feeling abandoned, broken and numb.

I would love to say that I cried myself to sleep that night, but sleep never came. I cried all night, alternating between disbelief and pain as the reality of our loss fell fresh in my heart again. I lay facing our large window, watching as the first streaks of sun painted the night sky. And that’s when I heard it.

A lone, solitary bird singing its heart out.

winter bird

Just speaking for the state of Arkansas, birds don’t chirp in the dead of winter. It’s too cold, too miserable. Yet I heard it just the same.

I rose from my bed and walked slowly to my window, looking out at our pond and meadow, trying to find the source of that sweet music. My breath fogged the cold glass. As I stood there empty and vulnerable, I realized with a start that the little bird I heard was making a choice: despite the cold, despite what the rest of nature was doing, that little bird chose to rise from his bed and sing.

So I faced a choice: I could either rail against my Maker, blame God and let the bitterness consume me, or I could praise Him. Praise Him for the weeks that He gave me rejoicing and nurturing His creation. Praise Him that He sees the big picture and really does know what’s best. Rejoice that because of Jesus, I would see my child again. I raised my face to the sky and whispered the words of Job, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Several months later, I rejoiced to discover I was expecting yet again. I thought we had weathered the storm, came out victorious, and God was getting ready to pour out more blessings. I was wrong—the storm continued. At almost four months along, I miscarried again.

It would be a lie for me to say that I sensed God’s presence with me during the second miscarriage. I didn’t. I felt abandoned, alone and broken. I kept praying Father God, is there some secret sin that I’ve been harboring that I’m not even aware of? Why? Why is this happening again? Then I got mad. Not mad at God, but mad at Adam, at Eve and that awful, lying snake!

God never promised we wouldn’t have heartache. He never promised that we would never face cancer. He never promised we wouldn’t suffer the horror of abuse. But what He did promise was that no matter what life throws our way, He would walk us through it. “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”  He is with us in the ICU. He is with us in our empty houses. He is with us when everything crashes down. He is there.

Around the same time I miscarried for the second time, a friend of mine lost her baby too. She turned to me one day and asked, “Tara, are we cursed?” I thought for a moment and replied, “Yep. It’s called the sin curse!” I have had to remind myself that the sin curse is not God’s fault. It’s ours. Thanks to Adam, Eve and our enemy (who, I confess I fume at continually) we live in a world full of disease and broken people. It is a mess we have created and one that we will have to deal with until Jesus returns.

Daddy, there’s a monster under my bed!

What does a child do when they are in danger, whether real or perceived? They usually run to one of their parents. “Daddy, there’s a monster under my bed!” And what does the parent do? Comforts, consoles, absorbs their child’s emotions until they feel calm once again.

 rejoice over you with singing

If we have been redeemed, God is our Father. “For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15) “Abba” can be translated as “Daddy”. Isn’t that beautiful? God is our Daddy. So when tragedy strikes, it’s normal to run for our Daddy’s arms. To let him reassure us, comfort us, and fight those monsters away. But sometimes it seems like we run and can’t find Him. And our fear increases.

But you know what? Just because we didn’t expect that tragedy to come, doesn’t mean that God has suddenly disappeared. And He never promised we wouldn’t deal with some tough stuff. This world is not how He designed it. Ever since the sin curse, we are broken and messy people. But He did promise that He would hold us as we go through our disaster and give us His strength to survive.

Free will comes with a high price. And God gave us that very thing: free will. We are free to follow Him, to walk with Him, to let Him love us. Or as a human race, we are also free to follow our own desires. And that’s where we mess up. I would daresay that the majority of sorrows and problems we face in this life are a result of the consequences of other people’s bad choices, not because there is an angry God trying to make us miserable.

I have seen it happen over and over again. I’ve had multiple friends who, after facing a crisis that shattered their world, would shake their fist at the sky, vowing never to trust God again. But God loves them too much to give up. Just like a patient Mom or Dad, He takes his tantrum-throwing child into His arms and rocks them until they calm down. He gently whispers into their ear until their screams of anger turn to gentle sobbing. He holds them tightly until those sobs relax into cleansing breaths. And at that moment, acceptance comes. And sometimes, even an understanding of why it happened in the first place.

And yes, you will have those moments when you’ll have to operate on what you know…not how you feel. That is faith.

The morning that I lost my first baby, when I heard that little bird’s frigid whistle and chose to praise God for the child I lost, I lay back down in my bed and tucked my knees up to my chest. I just listened to the song. So similar to Christ’s song: a song that gave glory to God despite the agony. As I lay there, peace seemed to cover me like a blanket. I felt like the Lord had cuddled right up beside me, much a like a father or mother embraces a hurting child. I sensed His arms around me and felt love unlike any other time in my life. He didn’t abandon me; indeed, He was there.

hands

Every time I hear a bird’s gentle whistle, I’m reminded of December’s songbird…and I smile. I know that praise isn’t just designed for the moments when life is joyous. Praise is a choice.

What about you? What have you learned about praising God in the midst of tragedy? What lessons did you learn?

hollow victoryFor more about this story, check out Tara’s book “Hollow Victory: Identifying & Disarming 5 Landmines That Makes Victorious Christian Living Feel Like a Lie” at amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Victory-Landmines-Victorious-Christian/dp/1484100131/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430148306&sr=8-1&keywords=hollow+victory+tara+johnson

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Selfie People, Selfie World

Selfies. Everywhere I look. Some cute, some hideous. The whole selfie craze has become a cultural phenomenon. There are even thousands of websites and Youtube videos dedicated to teaching the art of taking a good selfie.

We are a culture obsessed. Just this morning I googled selfie products and was astounded to find pages upon pages of links and products. Selfie sticks, selfie brushes, selfie shoes, selfie hats, selfie ink pins…and the list keeps going. All products designed to take pictures of the user at any time of the day in the middle of any activity.

selfie brush

My youngest daughter used to have a Barbie guitar that sang this little tune whenever it was played, “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world…” (FYI- Most annoying song on the planet, in my opinion.) Just the other day, I heard my girls giggling as they tried to take the perfect picture together. Callie began singing, changing the words of the old song to, “I’m a selfie girl, in a selfie world…”

The thought stopped me cold. We have become selfie people. It’s all about us.

I’m not saying selfies are wrong. They’re not. They can be fun, humorous and endearing. It’s the mindset behind the obsession with it that disturbs me. We are being taught to focus constantly on ourselves. It reeks of pride and self-absorption. It’s a form of insecurity that screams, “Look at me!”

We have become so desperate for significance that we’re sick with it.

I recently read a life-changing book called Embracing Obscurity. It’s an in-depth look at the pride that lurks in all of our lives, not just with a nonstop stream of selfie photos, but what we talk about, what our motivations are and how we handle our relationships with people. And get this…do you know who it’s written by? Anonymous. The author left himself or herself anonymous.

 embracing obscurity

Burdened by the pride God revealed in my own heart, I began scrolling through my Facebook feed to see how much of what I’d posted was actually a cry for significance. Oh, I had posted some funny things my kids had said or threw in a few scriptures. But many of my posts were about my upcoming schedule, my pictures, my book. Me, Me, Me. And I was convicted.

I don’t want to be a selfie type of person. I want to be busy uplifting others, celebrating my friends accomplishments and promoting their good work. I want to be a reflection of Christ. I want to spend my time telling stories what God has done for me…not what I’ve done for myself.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” ~Philippians 2:3-8

We really need to put down our cameras and focus on reflecting Christ. We need to stop insisting the conversation comes back to us and get into others. We need to stop worrying how many ‘likes’ our post about our kids got, or how many times we’ve been retweeted and focus on using our social platform to uplift others. In short, we need to let Jesus fill our significance need.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” ~Proverbs 27:2

As children of God, it’s not really about us, is it? It’s all about knowing God, loving Him and pointing others to our Savior. Speaking for myself, I need to do better.

Look through your social media…what do you see?

A Scrapping Momma…More Than Just a Hiding Place

As I walked down our road for some early morning exercise, I was surprised to hear the distinct cry of a hawk overhead. I shrugged the sound away, assuming he was out for a little breakfast.

A minute later, I heard the hawk screech again. Squinting against the sunlight, I shaded my eyes and searched for the source of the hawk’s cry. Sure enough, in the field next to the road, a large hawk was circling. Nothing new there. 

hawk

But before I could turn away, I saw something I’ve never seen before. Apparently the hawk was circling over a nest of baby birds. Upon hearing the hawk’s cry, the mother bird shot up from the nest with dizzying speed and began chasing the hawk, pecking it anywhere she could reach.

cranky bird

The hawk’s flight became erratic as the courageous mother assaulted him. She pecked him from below, from behind…even swooped her little body up and began pecking him on top of his head. His screeches intensified,”Squrraw! Squrraw!” until he finally realized the little babies weren’t worth the trouble and flew away. The indignant mother glided back down to care for her babies.

That mother bird reminds me so much of my Heavenly Father. Jesus Himself equated His care like that of a mother bird. We can hide under His wings, sheltered under His embrace as the hawk circles overhead.

But sometimes I forget that Jesus doesn’t just hover over us and wait it out. He fights for us.

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

“Do not be afraid of them; The LORD your God himself will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22)

Take comfort today knowing that He sees you, He loves you and He is fighting for you.

I’d love to hear from you. When have you known that God was fighting for you? Do you have any stories to share?

But I Have This Treasure

You know the feeling. A cold, clenched stomach. Darkness. A pounding heart. All you want to do is hide. You beg the eyes fixed on you to disappear but they won’t. They gape and you wonder what they must think, how they must see you. You feel worthless. Exposed.

I’m talking about shame.

 DCF 1.0

Is there a more miserable feeling?

Growing up with a seizure disorder left me with plenty of fodder for times to reflect on this feeling. Most of the time I felt normal. Included. And then suddenly, my world would go black. Time would stop. I felt as if I were walking out of a dark hole where time had disappeared and I couldn’t quite place what was wrong. Slowly, sleepily, I would come to the realization that everyone was staring at me.

It was odd and terrifying. Surreal and confusing. Yet there was little I could do.

Of course, there are other moments of shame that stick out in my memory. For instance, playing on the basketball team my junior year of high school. The ball had bounced around on the rim before I managed to brush my fingers across it, pulling down the rebound before using the adrenaline in my body to immediately put the ball right back up. It fell through the net with a satisfying swish.

It would have been a glorious moment if that particular shot hadn’t been for the opposing team.

Ouch.

Anyone who has a pulse has experienced the horrid emotion of shame at some point. Sometimes we can look back on those moments and laugh them off. Other times, the pain cuts too deeply, its scars are too jagged and thick for laughter. Just thinking about that moment causes us to relieve the shame all over again.

 dog

Thankfully, I feel that cold emotion far less these days. Not because I don’t mess up just as much as ever but I’ve learned that shame is a fiery dart flung by the enemy. He wants me to wallow in misery, to turn in on myself like a hermit crab, to push people away. But I refuse to do it anymore.

Several days ago, I was driving in the car with my kids, reflecting on these very thoughts. We had been enjoying a fun day, one of those rare times when everybody was in a good mood and the laughter was infectious. I reached an intersection where a huge log truck was preparing to turn left. I slowed early to allow the driver plenty of room to turn but he had other ideas.

He wanted me to go first, to turn left despite the fact that I couldn’t see who might be approaching from the other direction. When I hesitated, he threw up his hands and began screaming at me from the cab of his truck. Ugly words. Hateful words. It didn’t take a lip reader to understand what the irate man was saying, ahem, cussing at me.

cranky 3

And suddenly my happy balloon burst as feelings of inadequacy and hurt rushed over me. After all, he was cursing me out right in front of my kids, compounding the insult. And they noticed.

My good mood dissipated for a moment before I remembered a verse I’d studied the week before.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7

We have this treasure…Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what that cranky driver thought of me. I have this treasure

It doesn’t matter when I’m accused or when mean people lie about me. I have this treasure

It doesn’t matter what society tells me about how I must look or how to cling to the fading scraps of youth. I have this treasure.

I have Jesus.

This simple reminder is a shame buster. It’s impossible to want to hide and cower in fear when you remember that Jesus is crazy about you. He’s living in you. He took all that shame on Himself and crucified it to the cross. It’s gone and you’re free. You have a Treasure the rest of the world doesn’t understand and many can’t claim.

As I drove away, I patted my chest with my free hand and whispered to myself, “But I have this treasure….” And I left the screaming, miserable truck driver in my rear view mirror.

No matter how you’re treated, remind yourself that if you’ve been redeemed, you have this treasure. No one can take it away. It’s yours to keep.

And it’s the perfect way to stop shame in its slithering tracks.

Please Welcome Guest Blogger…Nancy McAllister and the Amazing Greta Oto Butterfly!

A special thanks to my sweet friend Nancy McAllister for her beautiful thoughts and reflections found straight from God’s creation. Trust me…you don’t want to miss this!

Butterflies
by Nancy Mcallister

There are moments when we see our reflection in the mirror of God’s word. Moments when what is being reflected back isn’t what we thought we were actually portraying to the world around us. The ugliness that dwells within shines out brightly, portraying us as who we really are: arrogant, deceitful, lustful, and idolatrous. How did we miss that? Do others see us how we want them to see us, or do they see us for who we really are. Is the love of Christ showing through us? When we see ourselves the way God sees us, we can close the Book, pretend we saw nothing, and carry on our business as usual; or, we can choose to change. Keep in mind, God doesn’t wink at sin. He will hold us accountable for every action, for every word, for every thought.

Change takes commitment. Change is seldom easy and is often painful, and when we make a practice of wrongful actions and they become habitual, it is even harder to change. Change can stretch us beyond our self-imposed boundaries. When we allow ourselves to be renewed by the power of the Word, we should become so transparent that the world around us can see only Christ and His purity.

God has provided for us in nature a wonderful example of this process. We have all heard the analogy of being like a butterfly, but have you heard of the rare Greta oto? The Greta oto is a Glasswinged Butterfly. Like all caterpillars, as they undergo their metamorphosis into their final state of butterfly, they suffer a great deal of trauma and pain, but when they emerge from their chrysalis, their new form shows off a rare and beautiful phenomenon.greta oto butterfly

The beauty of the Greta oto is not in the bright bold colors of their wings, but rather in the transparency of their wings. You can look directly through the wings and see the colorful flowers and foliage on the other side. In effect, their beauty is the beauty behind and under them. Be better than just a butterfly, be a Greta oto butterfly, allowing Christ to shine through you.

Romans 12:2
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

The Legacy of…Today: Dead Man Walking

The life surrendered to God has impact far beyond the grave.

And sometimes through the grave.

Are you scratching your head? Hang on. I just stumbled upon a fascinating passage while studying God’s Word this morning.

I was reading 2 Kings 13:21 and this simple verse leaped out. “Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.”

Say whaaaaa?

minion

Can you imagine being so full of the Spirit that even your decaying bones could bring someone back to life? Seems outlandish. Crazy. But it’s really not.

Some of the greatest impacts on my life have come from people long gone before my time. Corrie, Caspar and Betsy Ten Boom, to name a few. A dear pastor named Bro. Kelso impacted my life for eternity before I was ever born. How, you ask? He was a pastor willing to pick up a rebellious, wild-spirited fourteen year old girl and drag her to church Sunday after Sunday, week after week, year after year. This girl was saved and taught her children to give their lives to God as well.

That girl was my mother and I’m eternally indebted to Bro. Kelso for his stubborn persistence.

My mother recently read a poem written by my grandmother at a worship service in their church, a poem Grandma Fern had painstakingly crafted years ago. That poem spoke life into a hurting soul who sitting in church that day, feeling overwhelmed and broken. They left encouraged.

Hint: Grandma Fern passed away several years ago.

Many people say they want to ‘leave behind a legacy’ and understandably so. I think the idea can be quite noble but sometimes our perspectives get a little twisted. We get focused on a legacy (which is really a cry for significance, a puffing up of our pride) and push away the thought that true, lasting power is found when we fall to our knees each morning and surrender our problems and victories to God. And when we are faithful in those small things that make up our daily grind, God has a masterful way of blessing them, growing them into the big things. The legacies. The world-changing things.

Put another way…what we leave behind is a direct consequence of how we live our life today.

To the tired mom who is cleaning up crushed Cheerios and wiping grimy faces for the umpteenth time, you are caring for precious lives. Lives that could grow up to be mighty warriors for Christ. To the man driving the church bus every dark Sunday morning, caffeine in hand, you are bringing the hurting right to the foot of the cross. For the pastor who is overwhelmed with criticism and a schedule too tightly packed to juggle, what you do changes lives. Don’t believe otherwise.

The key to a powerful, Spirit-filled, adventure-packed life is seeking God now. Not our own agendas or our pride but seeking Him. Knowing Him. Loving Him. Walking hand in hand with Him.

When we surrender every fiber of our lives to God, the impact is eternal. He blesses what we’re willing to surrender.

It’s powerful stuff. It’ll make the dead sit right up.