Sunday, October 19, 2014

Back to the Basics

Just a few thoughts on this beautiful fall evening:

When our family became Catholic in 2007, I felt a bit overwhelmed.  With 2,000 years of history, there is a lot to learn.  So many wonderful saints' lives to investigate.  So many writings to read.  So many documents to study.  So many amazing resources to examine.  So many incredible prayers to incorporate into my prayer life. (If you've read any of my articles at Catholic365, you can learn a bit more about this.)

In the midst of all this growing and learning, though, there are a couple of things I have discovered that I think is super, super important:

-Don't forget the basics.

    1.  Though we attend Mass almost every day, corporate prayer and worship should never be a replacement for personal times of prayer and worship.  (This is a both/and, not an either/or...)

    2.  Though I hear Scripture read every time I go to Mass, it should not be a replacement for personal times of reading and praying through Scripture.  (Again, both/and...)

When I was an R.A. in Bible college, I had a bit of advice for the girls on my hall.  I repeated it several times in the two years I served:  Don't allow daily chapel to replace your personal relationship with Christ.  So for all of us, I extend that tidbit of wisdom.  Cultivate your love and relationship with God every day.  Happy Lord's Day, everyone!







Thursday, October 09, 2014

In Defense of Life and Family


In light of the current Synod on the Family,  I took the opportunity to read Humanae Vitae.  If you are unfamiliar with this document,  it was written by Pope Paul VI in 1968.  The full text can be found here.  Humanae Vitae

Keep in mind the year 1968--the time of "Free Love," the sexual revolution,  and  "Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll."  The cry of the day was against "the establishment" and the trend was, "whatever feels good,  do it."

Yet Pope Paul VI stood strong in the midst of the tidal wave of individualism, and reasserted the teaching of the Church, even when some voices within the Church were calling for a more "open" view to contraception,  abortion,  sex, and family life.

I was amazed by the prophetic nature of this writing.   Though written almost 50 years ago, he foretold that, if the course of things continued as they were, the government would one day decide the issue.

"It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife."

And yet, he spoke to government leaders:

"And now We wish to speak to rulers of nations. To you most of all is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good. You can contribute so much to the preservation of morals. We beg of you, never allow the morals of your peoples to be undermined. The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God. For there are other ways by which a government can and should solve the population problem—that is to say by enacting laws which will assist families and by educating the people wisely so that the moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded."

Thinking back, too, on the rapid advances in technology since that time,  we can clearly hear the Holy Spirit speaking through him:

"Everything therefore in the modern means of social communication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization and the safeguarding of the outstanding values of the human spirit. It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture or by pleading the liberty which may be allowed in this field by the public authorities."

Please join me in praying for the attendees of this synod.  For though the tidal wave has grown, God is still bigger.  God bless.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When He Calls

As you have probably detected from previous posts, our oldest son has begun his freshman year in college.  It has been quite an adjustment for our family.  But growth is not always easy, is it?  (Thus, the term "growing pains.")  Being stretched can indeed be painful.

So, with that in mind, let me share something I have learned during this time of change.  I teach private piano lessons.  We have a rule for our sons that I will not answer the cell phone during a lesson.  It's not fair to the students, or to their parents who are paying me to teach their children.  However, since eldest son has left the nest, any time I see his name on the screen, I automatically answer.  He's away from home, and needs his mom!  Thankfully, this has only happened once or twice.  He is very understanding when I say I will call him back in a few minutes, as soon as the lesson is done.  But even if I have to tell him to wait, I want him to know I'm available.

While considering this last night, I realized how often I have accused God of being a bad Father.  Not in so many words, mind you.  But I have definitely implied that feeling by my thoughts and actions.

Do any of these sound familiar?

- I was in a really tough situation, and called out to God.  He never answered.  (Or said, "No.")

- Many people were praying for this person, and they were not healed.

- This person has lived an amazing Christian life, and yet they suffer so much.

The thing is, when I hear these same protests from non-believers, I always have a ready verse or insight to remind them that God is always there, always listening, and is far wiser than we are.  "His ways are above our ways..."

Why don't I get that when it applies to me?

Let's think through this:

We say, "God is love."  And He is.

We say, "God is all-knowing (omniscient)."  And He is.

We say, "God can do anything."  And He can.

We say, "God is our Provider."  And He is.

We say, "All things work together for good for those who love the Lord."  And it's true.

We say, "Ask, and you shall receive.  Seek, and you shall find.  Knock, and the door will be opened for you."  And that is true, too.

So where is the breakdown?  God is still God.  He never changes.  What's the problem here?

I think it's a problem of perception.  After all, when our son calls and I can't talk for long, I have still heard him.  I just can't answer right away.  I don't love him less.  I don't care for him any less.

The honest truth is, all the easy "platitudes" and Scriptures I can spout off to others?  They are more than platitudes.  They are truth.

Even if I can't see the bigger picture, He still hears.  He still cares.  We are never alone.

Rest in that assurance today, my friends.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Happy Feast of John Chrysostom



Growing up in a Pentecostal church, the preaching was where it was at.  I mean, if the pastor could deliver a strong, make-you-really-think-about-your-relationship-with-God, and get-you-to-the altar sermon, then it was a good Sunday morning!  Please read NO sarcasm in this statement.  It was wonderful.  I have heard some amazing preaching in my lifetime.  It didn't have to touch the emotions, either.  If it was something that resonated inside the spirit, then it was a good sermon.

Don't get me wrong.  I have heard some very emotion-driven sermons.  They made me laugh.  They made me cry.  They moved me, Bob.  But the best sermons were ones that called me to change.  Called me into a more intimate relationship with Christ.  Called me to be more of who God made me to be.

There are very few sermons I actually remember.  But those I do remember have made a lasting impact on my life.  

One was given by an evangelist named Mike Brown.  I remember it so clearly.  I was a camper at a Kansas youth camp.  The message was entitled, "A Double Portion."  It was based on Elijah and Elisha.  When Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven, Elisha asked for a double portion of the spirit that rested on Elijah.  The invitation to us:  pray for God to give you a double portion of His Spirit.  I have never forgotten that.

Another was a sermon by my brother-in-law:  "God Is Bigger."  John preached this sermon during a time in my life when I was questioning everything God was doing.  Our family was undergoing some huge changes, and I wasn't a bit happy with God.  John reminded us all, though, that no matter what we were facing, God was bigger.  I have never forgotten that.

Just one more I want to mention in particular.  A sermon by Tim Dilena.  I don't remember the title.  I do remember the content, though.  He was preaching from Psalm 56.  Verse 8 particularly caught mt attention:  You have kept count of my tossings;   put my tears in your bottle.    Are they not in your record?  He talked about the Jewish teaching/tradition that tears were collected in a bottle, and saved for a time of mourning.  (Perhaps that the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with her tears was actually using a tear bottle.)  I was brought to a place of trust in God in which I realized that He cared about every teardrop that comes from my eyes.  Every moment of sorrow, He has "kept count of."  He cares deeply.

(I must mention here, too, that I have heard so many memorable sermons by my husband, I cannot count them all!)


Saint John Chrysostom was known by this title of "Chrysostom" due to his preaching.  He was known to have a "golden voice."  He lived about 350 A.D.  As New Advent.org states,  he "is generally considered the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit."  Now those must have been some sermons!  He is considered greater than every preacher...ever.

One of his most famous sermons is called his paschal homily.  It is read every Easter in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.  Be prepared!

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!  Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?  Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?  Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour,  let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour,  let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour,  let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour,  let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,  let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,  as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!  First and last alike receive your reward;  rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,  rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,  for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;  for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he said, “You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God.  It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

That is a soul-stirring sermon, is it not?  (Can I get an "amen!"?)

As much as I love the sermons, though, I have to admit that the greatest message ever told is repeated every time there is a Mass in the Catholic Church.  For the story of Christ's life, death, and resurrection are displayed very clearly as we hear the Gospel read, and the priest retells the story of the night before Jesus died.  We listen to the words of institution, "This is My Body.  This is My Blood."  And we remember His death until He comes again.

The greatest sermon of all (and I'm sure St. John would have agreed!) is the Holy Eucharist.

God bless you all, and have a wonderful Lord's Day!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Rhyme and Reason

When I was in high school, I went through what many would call my "teen angst" stage.  If you're unfamiliar with this term, it is generally a "girl" thing.  Back in the day (1980's), this was usually expressed in diary journals and sad, dark poetry.  For me, my poetry was a way to express myself in words which I found hard to speak.  Most of my writing was an outflow of prayers to God.  A lot of "why me" type of stuff.  Very emotional, teen girl stuff.

I have often found that I can express myself more fully in written (or typed) words.  Thus, this blog!  However, poetry is not a genre I have commonly used in my adult life.  For this post, I make an exception.

Last night, as I was unsuccessfully trying to drift off to sleep, the following words were flowing from my heart to God.  My first thought was to jump out of bed and hurriedly write it all out.  Alas, jumping out of anything at my age is not the best idea.  And at 11:30 p.m., an even worse idea!

And so, without further ado, I give you my latest, and probably not even close to the best, edition of a poem from my heart:

This Grief

This is not a grief I have known,
This grey and misty path I now trod.
It is a mystery, and not an anguish
With which I desire to commune.

I have known the grief of death,
Walking through the sorrow of losing those
Who are the aged and the ill
Is not an unfamiliar path.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of sudden loss,
The unexpected passing
Of one too soon lost to this earthly life.
The young, or those who left our world
Swiftly, before it seemed their time.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of parting,
Saying my farewells to friends
To whom I owed a great debt
For sharing their life and love.
People who have impacted me eternally.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of disappointment,
When trust has been broken
And confidence in relationship rendered ineffectual.
The times of longing to once again
To have assurance of another person's honesty.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of anxiety,
Wondering if the fears in my heart
Are somehow going to come to fruition.
Desiring to trust my God to uphold me,
Yet still doubting at times if He will.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of personal sin,
Seeing in myself such lamentable insufficiency,
Knowing I have failed the God I love,
And wondering if His forgiveness
Is still mine for the asking.
I have known this grief.

I have known the grief of childlessness,
The yearning to feel that fluttering
Of new life within my womb.
Craving the gift of motherhood,
Desiring to fulfill a role of my dreams.
I have known this grief.

But this new grief is one I have not known.
For the son of my longing heart became
The gift given in answer to many prayers.
This young, marvelous person,
With whom I have spent my past 18 years.
And yet...

The time has come for him to be
A man in his own right.
An adult being formed by God,
But no longer under the watchful eye
Of his mother and loving father.
This is a grief I have not known.

Lord, please teach me now,
How to keep this grief in its place,
Not causing me to question
Your ways or your methods
Of molding my beloved offspring
In the image of Your own Son.
This is a grief I must let go.

It is time for me to know this grief.
Yet is time for me to release it, too.
It is time for me to allow You
To birth him into adulthood,
And the life You have as his destiny.
This is a joy I must know.

And so, my son, I entrust you
To the care of the One who formed you.
May my brief sorrow at our parting
Blossom into the great joy
Of seeing God fulfill the plan
He has had for you from the beginning.

Copyright © 2014 Joni Johnson. All Rights Reserved.

" 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' 
Jeremiah 29:11

Friday, August 22, 2014

Walking Through the Stages

Yesterday, my role in life took me to a new level.  Well, I shouldn't say it "took" me.  I'm still on the way.  I can't guarantee when I will arrive, either!

After a two hour journey, we delivered our son (and a good portion of his earthly possessions) at the doors of higher education.  A few hours and many drops of sweat (and tears) later, we departed for home.

If anyone tells you they are relieved to have their son or daughter off to college, please question them further.  There will most likely be underlying issues.  At least that is my guess.

This is one of the hardest roles I have lived to date:  Mom of a college freshman.  My little boy is now in the world of adults and life decisions and all that makes for growing up.  Am I sad?  Absolutely.  I miss him so much already!  Am I proud?  Without a doubt.

Was I ready for this?  Not nearly as much as I thought I would be.  But God is faithful.  And so, the God to whom I have entrusted my son since birth, I once again entrust him, as he steps out on the next portion of his own journey.

I'm still just a Facebook message or phone call away!  :o)


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Journeying With the Eyes of Faith

Photo by Neil Weaver Photography

Several years ago when I began this blog, it was all about our family's journey.  We were searching our way through to the Catholic Church, through homeschooling, and into a new phase of our lives.  Almost eight years later, I am truly amazed at the things God has done, and the multitude of lessons we have learned.

Another part of my blog has been to share some of my personal struggles and the ups and downs of dealing with panic attacks and anxiety.  Whew!  Now, that should have been a blog of its own!  Again, I stand amazed at the people God has brought into my life and the ways He has walked me through this winding, bumpy roller coaster called life!

Let me take you down a new path today.  This is a place God is leading me, and I'd like to invite you to join me.

Last Sunday, the Gospel reading for the day was from Matthew 14:22-33:

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side,
while he dismissed the crowds. 
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. 
When it was evening he was there alone. 
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. 
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them walking on the sea. 
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. 
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. 
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” 
Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 
He said, “Come.” 
Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. 
But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 
Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter,
and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 
After they got into the boat, the wind died down. 
Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying,
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”

I had just finished reading Ted Dekker's first book in "The Outlaw" series, which is titled, "Water Walker."  Without giving away too much of the story line, one of the greatest moments of the book is when a young woman realizes the only way she can walk on water is to let go of all that inhibits her.  In her case, it is bitterness and a stubborn refusal to forgive.

Tonight, I finished the last pages of a wonderful series by Richard Paul Evans:  "The Walk."  The title of the last book is???  "Walking on Water."  Do you think God is trying to say something to me?  :o)

During Sunday morning's homily, our pastor, Father Joe, began by talking about our need to see God as our Father.  We so often treat God as if He is an abusive Father, instead of the loving, caring, awesome Father He is.  When it comes to the invitation to walk out on the water with Him, we focus more on the waves than we focus on the Hand outstretched to us, thinking it must be a trick.  He must want us to sink, right?  

As I was pondering these thoughts, the question came to my mind:  What is hindering me from stepping out of the boat?  And when I do step out, what is it that I focus on, instead of Christ?

"Don't be afraid to let go of your fear."

Now that seems to be a bit of an oxymoron, doesn't it?  But it's so true!  Even fear--as much as cripples a person--can be a sort of "comfort zone" in life.  It is a place we know, so it is easier than walking out onto those unknown waters in the storm of life.  In other words:  stick with what you know, so you don't have to try the new thing that might overwhelm you.  It is, in some ways, the same as a person who has become homeless.  Many times, even though this individual is given opportunities to leave the streets, move up in life, and separate themselves from their seeming circumstances of uncertainty, they choose the streets.  Why?  Because it's what they know.  Better to stick with what they know, than to face something new and unknown.

Really, though, what is there to fear?  If the One who created us is out on the water already, then it is a place of safety.  No matter what the circumstances my seem, it is the most secure place to be!  Life is an adventure, with many twists and turns.  Why walk that path alone?

Let's go walk on some water, friends.

"In the end, it is not by knowledge that we make our journeys but by hope and faith:  hope that our walk will be worthy of our steps and faith that we are going somewhere.  And only when we come to the end of our journeys do we truly understand that every step of the way we were walking on water."
                                                               ~ Richard Paul Evans, Walking on Water

Monday, July 28, 2014

Walk It Out

I have entered that time of life when the "middle ages" have a different meaning.  I have come to think that it refers less to an era of time or a time of life than it does to the middle of the body.  All the weight that was spread throughout my body all my life, has now decided to settle on the equator.  I used to be able to exercise for a couple of weeks, eat a bit healthier, and see that weight redistribute itself to its appropriate latitude and longitude!

These days, it seems that the more I walk and eat nutritious food, the more stubborn the battle is for middle ground--if you know what I mean?  Continental drift has a new definition as well!  :o)

I have noticed the same is true for things of the spiritual life.  In the past, it seemed that if I felt I was "settling" in my relationship with God, a few days of intensified reading of Scripture and a few added minutes of prayer would set things back into proper order.  The fire would rekindle, and all was well.


Lately, I have noticed the need for my effort.  Not that I am trying to "work" to please God.  I'm just noticing that additional reading and prayer are good, but not quite enough.  There is a deeper longing in my heart to return to the intimate relationship I know God wants, and a healthier lifestyle of letting Him be God in my life as He desires.

There is a spirituality called the "Ignatian Spirituality," which is worked out in "Spiritual Exercises."  As I wrote in my last post, there can be a Christian life of "coasting along in the rowboat," but progress is made by taking up the oars.  Whether I walk the way of the Ignatians or forge along another path, the important thing is to never get settled in the middle ground.

Physical fitness requires a discipline of mind, body, and eating habits.  So too, spiritual fitness requires a discipline of mind, body, spirit, and eating habits.

Let's get moving!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

When He Speaks

The big day--June 17, 1989
Newly weds!  circa 1991

25 years and still in love



Got to meet Paula in person!  Yay!

For those who aren't aware, I was away on vacation during late June/early July.  My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary on June 17th.  Back in 1989, our honeymoon was spent in Westcliffe, CO.  My sister and her husband graciously agreed to host us at their vacation home in Westcliffe.  It was an amazing experience, as our two sons had never seen the mountains before this summer.

Seeing the mountains again (it had been 23 years for me!) was more than awe-inspiring.  It was more like renewing an old acquaintance, as while I was growing up, I had spent most of my summer vacations there.  There are too many memories to share here, for sure!  The smell of the sweet grasses, pine trees, and cool mountain air are indescribable!  My memories are of a young, red-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids and a sense of adventure.  This older version couldn't keep pace with that young girl, but I still loved every moment!

One of the best things about our vacation (which also included a family visit to Kansas, a stop to see relatives in Indiana, and family time in Michigan!), other than seeing family, was the time away from daily life.  It was a time to strengthen family bonds and be rejuvenated.  Though physically tiring in many ways, it was refreshing in so many other ways.

Sangre de Cristo mountains
I have found that these experiences help me tune in more clearly to God's voice, too.  Over the past month, God has been speaking some definite things to my heart.  They may not translate well onto the electronic page here, but bear with me.  They are certain to be more fleshed out in future posts.

- God is faithful in every way.  Time spent worrying is time spent not seeing His faithfulness.

- Provision from God often comes by the means we least expect, and almost NEVER comes when we think it should.  But always on time!

- God wants us to live in an active, vital relationship with Him.  It is not enough to coast along, trusting in Him to save us from hell.  Anyone can sit in a boat, and the tide will eventually take them somewhere.  But the one who takes up the oars will see the destination more quickly and enjoy the ride immensely more than the stationary passenger.

Focus on the Family!
- God wants to be pursued.  He wants us to take on the challenge.  Paul encouraged his readers to "run" the race, "press on" to the higher calling, "rejoice" always, "stand fast" (active immobility?!), "make our requests known", "meditate" on the good things of God (active mind!), and "share".  All action verbs!

- God wants us to live out our faith in the world.  This is not a secret religion.  This is good news!  Our lives and lips should be proclaiming Him everywhere and to every person!

If you're reading these things, and thinking, "Yep!  Those are great things.  Basic, but true," I agree.  Very basic.  Very true.  Very great.  As I said, there is more to the depth of what God is saying, but this is the gist.



But the bigger challenge is now this:  to pray it into place.  (Something else God has been speaking to my heart.)  Get it past my head, into my heart, and into my life.

More next time...