What Exactly is “Perfect Love”?

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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



When You Can’t See God

Magic Springs wore me out last week.

Correction. The heat, combined with my children’s nonstop energy, wore me out.

The amusement park nestled in the outskirts of Hot Springs, Arkansas is a popular place to take families for summer fun where they can zoom down water slides, swim, splash in freeze zones, play games like bumper cars or catch a ride on numerous pulse-stopping roller coasters.

After hours swimming in the hot sun, the older kids wanted to ride a coaster. My friend offered to watch my son play in the kiddie pool while I took one teenager, one preteen, and three giggling seven-year olds to ride the Arkansas Twister. arkansas twisterThere was virtually no line that day so we rode the wooden roller coaster several times. Five, six, seven…they didn’t want to stop.

After the third trip through, I got off and told them I would stay by the entrance and snap their pictures as they zoomed by. No problem. I got some great shots of the laughing troop of estrogen. The longer I stood, the warmer I became. Ninety-five degrees with eighty-nine percent humidity feels like you’re standing in a furnace while a llama licks your face. Soon I was sweating through my clothes and decided to find a bit of shade until the girls had ridden themselves empty.

I found the perfect spot right beside the exit stairs where passengers left the Twister. It put me as close as possible to the girls without actually sitting on the coaster with them. A bit of shade. Blessed relief. steps in shade

Another ten minutes passed when I heard a heartbroken wail. My oldest daughter descended the stairs with her arms around my youngest daughter who was sobbing.

“You see? Mom’s right there. There’s no reason to be upset.”

My heart sank. Poor Callie. My youngest daughter has battled anxiety for years. She carries a heavy burden on her small shoulders and though we’ve made tremendous strides, the old enemy of fear still rises up from time to time.

I patted the bench next to me. “Come here, sweetheart. Why are you crying?”

“Because…I…couldn’t…see you! I…saw you…before…and then…you…were gone.”

I tugged her close and kissed her hair. “That’s true but do you know why I changed spots? The heat was making me feel bad. I needed shade so I moved. But I didn’t just move any old place. I moved somewhere I would be closer to you if you needed me.”

Callie sniffed and looked around. “You are closer to us here, aren’t you?”

I smiled, “Yep. Let me ask you something. When you didn’t see me, what was the first thing you did? Pray or panic?”

She blinked. “I freaked out.”

“Yeah. And why did you freak out?”

She shrugged and scuffed the concrete with the toe of her shoe. “I guess because I assumed if I didn’t see you that you had left me.”

I squeezed her close. “Have I ever left you before?”

She shook her head. “No. Never.”

“And I never will. Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I’ve left. In this case, not being able to see me was a very good thing because I was actually closer to you than I was before.”

With a long pause, I realized God was capturing my attention at the same time I spoke truth and comfort to my child.

How many times have I wondered if God saw me, especially when I couldn’t feel His presence? How many times have I believed the lie that said it was up to me—my effort, my work and my eyes on Him—to keep our relationship close? And while a relationship, any relationship, is a two-way street, deep in my heart I know that anything left up to my own efforts is doomed to fail. That is where Grace moves in.

He draws me to Him. He comes after me when I stray. He sees my need and moves to fill the gaps in my crumbled, broken weakness. When fear rattles the doorknob, He is close…closer than eyes can see. deuteronomy 31 6

Sometimes we have to ignore what our fickle emotions scream at us, silence the lies of what we think we know and stand firm on the promises of God’s Word. He said He will never leave us. He says His love for us is incomprehensible. It is not dependent on anything we do or are unable to do. We need only let His grace move in and hold us.

I don’t have to see Him to know He’s there.

I startled back to the present when Callie offered a shaky smile and wiped the tears from her blotchy face. “I think I’m ready to ride it again. My friends are waiting for me.”

“Okay, sweetie. Only if you’re sure.”

She looked over her shoulder as she climbed the stairs.

“It’s okay, Mom. Now I know. Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean you’re not there.”

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.


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.


Worry Squashing: How a Princess Can Get Rid of the Peas Under Her Mattress for Good

On Wednesday nights, I’m teaching a group of teen girls about being God’s princess. We’ve used classic fairy tales as a springboard into learning what it means to be an heir with Christ. It’s been a fun and exciting study, and now we’re embarking on a new princess. A less famous princess than some: the poor, exhausted girl from The Princess and the Pea. peas

Remember her story?

Through a series of misfortunes, she arrives drenched and mud-splattered at an enormous castle. In her disheveled state, the king and queen doubt her claims of royalty and, as a test, the queen places a single pea under the enormous stack of mattresses constituting her bed. Poor Petunia (that’s what my teens girls named her) tossed and turned all night, bothered by the pea wedged under her tower of a bed. The queen then knew Petunia was a real princess because of her sensitivity. bed

Yeah, I know. Weird. But there’s something all of us can take away from Petunia’s story. Something I suspect we’ve all dealt with at some point. The proverbial peas under our mattress: worry.

Worry keeps us up at night, tossing and turning, running a thousand disaster scenarios through our minds. It steals our joy, our peace, our bodies, our emotions, and even the health of our spiritual selves. Worry is allowing the enemy to set up space in our minds and wreak havoc.

Worry is old-fashioned fear.

Fear of loss. Fear of death. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of being rejected. Fear of loss of control. Fear of messing up. Fear of success. Most can be boiled down into two groups: external fears (ex. my knee knocking fear of anything snake related) or internal fears (more emotional and/or spiritual in nature.)

Some of us are more prone to anxiety than others. Most of the time, I’m pretty much worry free. It creeps up on me sometimes but I’m not plagued by it continually.

One of my daughters, on the other hand, struggles with it from the time she wakes up each morning until her exhausted head hits her pillow each night. The poor thing is a nervous wreck if she thinks she’ll arrive late to an event. She worries about bizarre scenarios and refuses to fly on an airplane since she saw an episode of Duck Dynasty where the airline lost Willie’s luggage. Yeah, she’s more worried about losing her luggage than the plane going down.

Poor thing. This kind of anxiety runs in my family.

My Great-Aunt May was a colorful character, even more so as she grew older. I don’t know whether it was from years of living wild or the simple by-product of old age, but Aunt May soon began having frequent visitors to her retirement home apartment. Little green men. Lots of them.

Did I mention dementia also runs in my family? Actually, it doesn’t run. It gallops.

Yes, Aunt May began seeing little green men. The little boogers began visiting her apartment at all hours of the day and night. Shooing them away didn’t work. Yelling at them to leave didn’t work. Chasing them off with a broom didn’t work. There was only one logical thing left to do: drown them.

She turned on her bathtub and drowned them out all right. In the process, she also flooded her apartment and the apartment below her. mark twain worry

I’m telling you all this to say that sometimes what we fear isn’t even real, nor will it ever be. Just like my Aunt May on her noble quest to drown her imaginary green men, we can make ourselves crazy worrying about things that will rob God’s princess from her much needed beauty sleep.

What If?

In the writing world, there’s a much loved technique for brainstorming new ideas. It’s the “What If?” question. “What if a CIA agent fell in love with a terrorist?” “What if an entire society lived on a speck on a fuzzy flower?” “What if monkeys ruled over man?” (Do any of these plots sound familiar?)

Unfortunately, those of us who aren’t brainstorming a new story still ask “What if…?”

            What if this relationship is doomed for divorce?

            What if the diagnosis is cancer?

            What if I lose my job?

            What if my child never gets his life together?

            What if no one ever accepts me?

            What if…what if…what if…

“What If” is great for writers but a terrible way to live your life. “What if”s are nothing more than worry and worry is a subtle way of telling God that you don’t think He can do what He promises He can do. land of what ifs


Too many peas under a mattress will turn the calmest princess into a worry wart.

I recently looked up the word origin of “worry wart” and was surprised to learn more of its root. In our modern day, worry means, “to be anxious” but it’s earliest form meant, “to strangle”. Isn’t that an interesting definition? When we give in to worry, we are strangling the peace that God gives us.

“Wart” is even more interesting. We usually think of it as a bump on the skin but back in the 1800s, a wart was “an annoying, obnoxious or insignificant person”. The term “worry wart” grew popular in the early to mid 1900s when a comic strip called Out Our Way was featured in newspapers. Worry Wart was a character from the strip, a boy who, ironically, was not plagued by worry but caused worry in others.

When we are worry warts, we not only lose our own peace of mind but can drag others down too. Nervous Nellies quickly become Debbie Downers. Something else to worry about!

Our enemy Satan wants us fearful. Fear makes us take our eyes off God and gives our attention to the mess around us. We start thinking about our circumstances and our rock solid faith begins to wobble and shake. Anytime our eyes aren’t trained on our Savior, we leave ourselves open to the enemy’s schemes. Fear makes us ineffective, double minded and unstable.

Squashing the Peas

The good news is we don’t have to toss and turn all night like poor Petunia but it doesn’t come naturally. Unless we make an effort to get rid of the peas under our mattresses, we will  naturally fall back into worry mode. You don’t have to be a victim. There are several things you can do to squash those annoying worry peas.

  1. Measure the size of that pea. Measuring-peas

It’s critically important that, whether we’re worry warts or only experience rare moments of anxiety, we measure those ‘worry peas’ against size of our God. When we get a glimpse of how incredibly big God is, if we remember what He’s done in the past and what He’s promised to do in the future, those pesky worries shrink. If we can trust Him with our eternity, trusting with the details of the here and now should be easier than we make it.

  1. Perfect love

In talking about slaying fear, the verse I’ve heard all my life is 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

Perfect love casts out fear. It sounds good but this concept always seemed a bit foggy to me. What is perfect love? What does that really mean? As of late, God has impressed this thought on my heart, though I’m not certain that it’s the full completeness what He meant in the scripture: perfect love is grasping hold of the knowledge that God’s love for me is so complete, so perfect that I have no reason to fear. He won’t allow anything to happen that doesn’t ultimately lead to my good and His glory, no matter how confused I may be at the time. His love kicks fear out the door.

  1. Kill the over active imagination.

Too much imagination, too many pretend disaster scenarios can mess with your peace of mind. Don’t over think everything. Remember my Aunt May. Much of what we worry about will never exist. Think of your overactive imagination as a dragon that must be slain, only this time your knight in shining armor can’t do it for you. You and God slay the dragon together.

God doesn’t live in the land of “What If”s. He’s I AM. He is. When God promises that He will be with us to the end of the world, He means it. What He has declared, no one can stop. And what He stops, no one can move. Don’t dwell in a land of impending disasters. Focus on what you know, not how you feel or the what ifs.

  1. No worries. Pray. praying 2

Every time you’re tempted to worry, turn that moment into prayer. My pastor often says that it’s impossible to worry and pray at the same time. If your concern is worth worrying about, it’s vitally important to pray about it. And if Jesus needed to take time to pray, how much more important is it for us?

For those peas that just won’t budge…

If you’ve done all you can and you’re still struggling, you may need to see a doctor or a Christian counselor. Talk to your parents or a Christian adult you trust. Anxiety can sometimes be a symptom of a deeper issue. One thing is for sure: God never intended for His princess to be wracked with fear.
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

One thing I have to mention is that sometimes our worries stem from something other than living in the land of What Ifs or from focusing on our circumstances and not our Savior. No, sometimes there’s a whole other issue that’s messing with our heads: a faulty view of faith.

I’m not saying that if you worry your faith isn’t strong. Please don’t misunderstand me. What I’m saying is that sometimes our definition of faith is different than the one God gave us in His Word.

A lady once told me, “I used to have great faith in God until one of my children died. Now I feel like I’m in no-man’s land. I have nothing to rest on. No foundation.”

Understandable. But what this lady failed to realize is that her definition of faith is different that God’s. Her faith definition was, “I will trust in God unless He allows something bad to happen in my life.” It’s another way of saying, “I believe God as long as He does what I ask.” Her faith rested on how often and how well God said, “Yes” to her prayers.

Forgive me for being so blunt, but that mindset isn’t faith at all. That kind of faith depends on our wants and exists only by what we see.

corrie ten boom train

But what did the writer of Hebrews say in chapter eleven? ” Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Things not seen…

True faith is not dependent on God accomplishing our will but lies in Who He is.

Corrie Ten Boom is one of my heroes and a lady I can’t wait to meet in Heaven. She put faith this way: “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

A perfect illustration. Faith is knowing that God ‘can’ do it. Whether or not He does is up to Him. Do we base our faith on what God does or who He is?

This kind of faith, knowing how big our God is and resting our security in His power, will squash those peas for good.