Living Like Sugar

Our house was hopping this weekend.

Teenage girls and giggling preteens were everywhere. Nate zoomed through the chaos in his normal Hulk-ish style. Movies, candy, tasting challenges, raucous laughter, Youtube videos, card games…there was noise coming from every direction.

Most in the house had a blast…with the exception of our dog Sugar.

Poor thing. She’s ten years old. Far too elderly for whooping and hollering, high-pitched squeals and pounding feet. She’s suffered enough living with Nate.

In the middle of the bedlam, I moved to the kitchen sink to wash the dishes. Another shriek. A crash. A burst of giggles. And then I felt it. A warm, wriggly body pressed itself between my Nikes, shivering and shaking. sugar-at-my-feet

I looked down to see Sugar seeking refuge at her Momma’s feet.

It’s not the first time she’s done it of late. It’s getting to be the norm. Odd though that she never sought protection or solace from me when she was a puppy, or even in the first half of her life. No, she was too busy defending the world from evil. Too busy yapping and charging forward to solve things her own way.

But as she’s gotten older, she runs straight to me when trouble, or even perceived trouble, heads her way.

Maybe she’s finally figured out doing things her own way doesn’t work. Or maybe she finally realized Momma is bigger and stronger than she is so why should she do the fighting? Momma can do it for her.

Or maybe it’s simply the fact that Momma makes her feel safe. Sheltered. Loved when the screams of chaos erupt.

boy-hiding

Whatever the reason, she no longer fights her own battles. She lets me fight them for her. And when I reach down and gently rub her ears, she leans into my fingers with a sigh and her trembling ceases.

I want my relationship with God to be like that. No striving. No need to put on a brave face or make feeble attempts to fight battles in my own limited strength I can never win. I just want to run to my Savior and rest in the shadow of His love.

I’ll never forget what my mentor Marie once told me. This courageous, faith-filled woman, who handled every storm with such beauty and grace said, “Tara, trusting Jesus gets easier the older you get. As He weathers storm after storm with you, you don’t need Him to prove Himself to you anymore. You just…know. You trust. You don’t even question Him after awhile. You face each moment and reach for His hand, knowing He’s there.” hand

That thought was never more real to me than this week when my Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Instead of fear or anxiety or a dozen other knee-rattling emotions, Jesus swept a peace through me unlike anything I’ve ever known. It’s gentle and whole. Kind and deep. He whispered to my spirit, “I’ve got her. I’m with her. I’m with you. All is well. No need to fear.

Oh, there have been some tears, a hundred questions, but more than anything, there is peace. God’s peace buoying my spirit into a place of sacred rest. He loves her. He is for her and His perfect plan is being stitched into the beautiful tapestry of her life for His glory. All will be well.

trina-christian-19571Most of us know the verse reminding us to “Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6-7), but sometimes, despite our best intentions, fear grabs us by the throat and refuses to let go. Even with a string of good, peaceful days, there may be moments of panic and with them the self-condemnation, “I shouldn’t feel this way.” Yet the cold dread curls through our stomachs anyway.

Everyone is afraid sometimes. What matters is Who we run to.   

We can join the chaos, try to fight the battles in our own strength or take shelter in the shadow of the One Who has already promised the victory.

Living like Sugar is the way to go.

john-16_33

Advertisements

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