Sunday, December 22, 2013

O Christmas Tree

There is a tree with shining lights
Standing proudly in this room.
It gives me joy to see it there,
Dispelling dark and gloom.

The tree holds many memories,
Of Christmases gone by.
Ornaments from years now past
Bring pleasure to the eye.

There is another tree that stood
Long ago upon a hill.
That tree held Someone much more dear,
And wood without a frill.

For Jesus, child of Bethlehem
Was hanging on that tree.
His life and love poured out for us,
From sin to set us free.

So as you gaze upon your tree
Standing proudly in your room.
Let His tree give your heart joy,
And dispel your dark and gloom.

Copyright  2013  Joni Johnson - All Rights Reserved

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Year of Miracles

2013 has been quite the year for our family (both immediate and extended).  As my previous post stated, there have been some stormy seas to navigate.

Lest I make you think our year has been one of gloom and doom, though, I thought I'd share some of the amazing things we have seen in the past months.

1)  Our youngest son received an incredible scholarship to the high school he wanted to attend. 

2)  When that school didn't work out for him in the end, God provided so many resources, in a very short amount of time, so that we could transition him to home schooling.

3)  Our oldest son was accepted into the college of his choice.

4)  Family members have discovered that faith in God is the only way to truly survive in the tough times.  New faith for some; restored faith for others.

5)  One weekend, when (due to a clerical error on my part), we found our bank account a bit short on funds, we received a check in the mail--that we shouldn't have received for several days.  Just in time.

6)  In the midst of some very trying times, God has strengthened some familial relationships in ways we could never have imagined.

6)  About a month ago, our car's transmission went kaput.  Since a new transmission was worth more than the car, we knew it was "that time."  Three days later, we received an envelope in the mail, with no return address.  Inside was another envelope.  When that one was opened, we discovered a little note.  One side said, "God bless you."  The other side said, "To help defray the cost of a new car."  Also in that envelope:  a cashier's check... for $4,000!  (Yes, there are three zeroes in that number!)  Very, very few people knew

7)  Due to this contribution and others, we were able to buy a very nice, used Toyota Camry, which we LOVE.  (I know.  How can one love a machine?  If you've been there, done that, then you know!)
of our need for a new car.  We still have absolutely no idea where the money came from.

And so, in light of these answers to prayer, we are continuing to pray for a miracle for Claire...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Strength in Numbers

Over the past couple of years, both sides of our family (hubby's and mine) have gone through some big storms.  There have been physical, spiritual, and relationship challenges on many levels.  We also have several friends who have experienced some of the most unimaginable tragic events.

You know what has been so amazing, though?  These times have actually drawn our families so much closer together.  It has been awesome to watch.  As we've stuck together, encouraged one another, and, most important of all, prayed for one another, our family relationships have gained a new strength and depth.

Recently, my cousin's daughter was the victim of a school shooting in Colorado.  I have never met Claire, but as soon I knew she had been wounded, the prayers started.  The family bonds that have loosened a bit over time became rock solid once again.  We are family.  We pray together.   We stand together.  None of us will ever need to face tragedy alone. 

The same is true for my relationship with my friends.  People with whom I have not corresponded in many years will reach out in their time of need, and, again, I go to prayer for them, as I know many, many others are as well.  Friendships have been rebuilt as a result.  Strong friendships have been made even stronger.

This is one of the most beautiful things about being part of the body of Christ.  Time and space may separate us, but love knows no distance.  (Thanks to my sister Sherry for that quote.)

So, do yourself a favor the next time you see an urgent request in your e-mail or Facebook News Feed:  take the time to pray.  There may come a time when you are the one with the request.  Either way, you will be glad you prayed, and so will they!

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:17-21

Friday, December 13, 2013

Asking for Prayer

My cousin's daughter, Claire Davis, was one of the victims of the school shooting in Colorado today.  Please, please intercede on her behalf.  She is not expected to survive.  My heart is breaking...

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Golden Glow of Silence

I am an eye-watcher.  Everyone has a way of taking in first-time information about others.  Mine is to
look into their eyes.  Even when in a crowd, I often look around to see how people are responding to the moment.  Their actions may speak one thing; their eyes, another.  I can see so much in their eyes:  pain, hostility, happiness, sadness, disappointment, joy...  Actions may speak louder than words, but the eyes truly tell the story.

The hard part is, I tend to be silent.  While I'm studying the eyes, I don't say much.  My silence has been deemed as being judgmental at times.  So if you've noticed me looking at you without speaking, I'm mostly pondering.  I'm learning about you, by what I see in your eyes.

Sometimes we view God's silence as judgment.  We pray and pray about something, but hear nothing.  We "hear" that silence as God's way of saying, "What is wrong with you?!", when He is probably just looking into our hearts, to see what's really going on inside.

In this season of Advent, we remember the time of silence:  the journey toward Bethlehem in the days before the birth of Christ.  God wasn't judging the world.  He was preparing the world.  Silence before the glory of His Son's birth.  Quiet before the joyful songs of angels.  A time of stillness before the Light of the World entered this world's darkness.

May our hearts know times of peacefulness and calm as we prepare for Christmas.  Let us also remember to allow a holy stillness to fill us as we allow God to ready our hearts for His Son's second coming.  Allow God to truly see into your eyes and heart as you prepare Him room.

Let us bask in the golden glow of the silence.

"For You, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in You."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

He Is Faithful

The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
II Timothy 2:11-13


Over the past several weeks, God has shown me His faithfulness.  Our family was going through some really rough things.  I was so tired of asking God to just "take it all away."  As our pastor, Fr. Joe said recently, "We should not ask God to take something away.  And we should not try to go over, under, or around trials.  We need to ask God to take us through."  Hard to hear, but oh, so true.

One day, as my husband was filling the gas tank on a trip home, I thought, "I should check our bank account balance."  I called the 800 number, only to discover there was far less in the account than I had listed in our account register.  When we arrived home, I did some quick research.  Sure enough, I had failed to record a couple of checks.  Thankfully, my husband, though upset, didn't get angry with me.  Later, we sat and prayed together, turning it all over to God.  Within a few minutes, I went to get our
mail.  I pulled out a check that we were expecting to arrive several days later.  Honestly, there was NO WAY that check should have arrived that soon...and on the day when we most needed it!  The humorous thing:  the 2 checks I had forgotten to record were from the same place sending us a check.  God does teach us lessons in funny ways sometimes!

Two weeks ago, we received the news that our "good" car needed a new transmission.  The car wasn't worth as much as the transmission would cost.  We knew we had to get a different mode of transportation, and quickly!  I am so thankful for family who step up in times of crises.  Still, we know paying back a loan is hard to fit into the budget.  But you do what you have to do, right?  We also needed a vehicle for the weekend, as we were traveling to Michigan for my husband's mom and dad's 50th anniversary.  His boss agreed to let us borrow a company vehicle for that trip.  (Answer to prayer!)  On Thursday, the day before we were to leave, I again checked the mail.  In that day's mail, we received an envelope with our names and address, but no return address.  Inside:  a cashier's check for $4,000!!!!!!  Yes, that is the correct number of zeroes.  We still have no idea who our anonymous donor is, but we are SO thankful. 

I guess I share all this because most of my readers know the struggle I have with anxiety.  I have to honestly say, the past few weeks have not been easy on that account.  I have turned to God over and over, and said, "I just don't seem to have the faith to walk through this.  How are we going to do this?"  God didn't answer by removing my fear, or miraculously "healing" our car.  But He did remind me in many ways that my fear accomplishes NOTHING--unless I'm turning it into opportunities to pray, and to learn to trust Him even more.

I'm also not saying that if we trust enough, God will always send a check in the mail.  There have been many struggles over the past 24+ years of our marriage.  Very rarely did God answer in such dramatic ways.  But He always ANSWERED.  

 So often, I wish life could be without trials of any kind.  The world would be at peace.  My kids would
obey without any prodding.  My husband and I would never fight.  The bills would always be paid.  There would never be any car repairs.  The sun would always shine and the birds would always sing...  But, then again, how boring would that be?  And how would we grow?  Even the smallest seed goes through many times of breaking and dying to itself before a beautiful little sprout comes out of the ground.  We cannot be made into the image of Christ without the fire, the chisel, and the touch of the Master's hand.

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.  My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside.  I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth.   But he stands alone and who can dissuade him?  What he desires, that he does. Job 23:10-13 




Monday, November 11, 2013

Crashing Waves

I have posted on the story of Peter before, as he walked on the water toward Jesus.  I am feeling those waves today.

Truly, He is the Son of God...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Another Chapter

Just when you think you have life all figured out...God will laugh at your plans and change them!  Doesn't it seem that way at times?

We began the school year with some exciting events.

- Our oldest son entered his senior year in high school.  He began the college search in earnest.  We had senior pictures taken.  We're working on graduation announcements.  Exciting stuff!

- Our younger son began his freshman year in high school.  There was a particular Catholic high school he wanted to attend.  We couldn't afford it, but he was able to get an amazing scholarship.  His grades, essays, and placement tests paid off.  We bought the required uniform shirts.  He was off to high school.

However, things didn't work out quite the way we thought they would.  Within a few weeks, it became obvious our youngest wasn't keeping up.  Without going into great detail, we had to pull him out.

But this wasn't in the plan, God!

I home schooled both of our boys until about 6 years ago.  That chapter in my life was over.  At least, that's what I thought.

Over the past two weeks, I have been scrambling to get together his curriculum.  And you know what?  God has been amazing me!  His religion book is from an excellent series.  He was given this book a few months ago--free!  His Latin, geometry, English literature and composition, and biology books?  All borrowed from a friend who home schooled her kids through high school--free!  I did order history curriculum and a religion workbook.   When there were big back-to-school sales in July, I purchased a whole tote-load of supplies--plenty extra for home schooling, even though I had no idea I would need them.  About a month ago, a friend GAVE me an electric piano.  I didn't know what I would use it for, but did ask some of my piano students.  None of them needed it.  Well, now son-youngest can use it to practice his piano lessons, with head phones.  Can anyone say:  Wow!?

In the midst of all this, I have had encouragement from so many people.  I have just been overwhelmed with gratitude for all the friends who have rallied around us!  I have heard the words "If you need ANYTHING, just call me!" more times than I can count.  Even more wonderful have been the words, "You can do this.  I'm praying for you!"  I am humbled and amazed.

However, there have been the not-so-good moments as well.  There are those who look at me with great skepticism, and the questions start firing:  Are you sure this is what you want to do?  Will he have the requirements he needs to finish high school?  Will he be socialized?  You do know this is far different than home schooling in elementary school, right?  Will he have enough physical activity?

It's enough to totally demolish my self-confidence in my ability to teach my son.  I try to remind myself:  This is what is best for my son.  I was valedictorian of my senior class.  I have a B.A.  I know the requirements and can teach them. He is very involved in our church and has friends.  I know he's in high school. How much physical activity do these people think he was getting at his high school, between school and homework???  I will push him out the door and force him to exercise!  You think I want to be shut in the house with him 24/7?  :o)

I will do this.  I CAN do this.  God is my strength!

We're writing a new chapter in the Johnson saga.

But that's okay.  God already knows how the story turns out!

Friday, October 04, 2013

St. Francis of Assisi

I have had so many great ideas for blog posts lately.

And you're wondering:  So where are all these fantastic posts?  Still ideas!  :o)


Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.  Whether you are Catholic or not, most people have heard of him.  Especially now that our newest pope took his name, more has been made known about this amazing man of God.

Having said that, though, Francis lived in a time and place where written history wasn't commonplace.  Much of what we "know" about him is actually legend.  (Like the, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words" quote.)  Much is attributed to him which he probably didn't actually say or do.  However, it is very possible the actions or words were due to his influence on someone else, and so he was given credit.

He was born in 1182, in a time when villages and districts in Italy had many battles for rule.  It was also a time of definite class distinctions, though the weight of power had shifted from land-owning families to the merchant classes by the time he was an adult.  Still, there were many rivalries between ruling families.  Francis was one of those involved in the warring.  He was also a party boy.  He was wealthy and spoiled, and used his wealth to have a good time.

He was captured in a battle between the city of Assisi and neighboring Perugia.  He was a prisoner of war for a year.  During that time, he became very ill and began considering life in light of eternity.  Though his conversion was not immediate, this did begin the process of God drawing Francis to Himself.  He eventually left the military, left his family wealth, and turned to God in a radical way.

Grant me the treasure of sublime poverty: permit the distinctive sign of our order to be that it does not possess anything of its own beneath the sun, for the glory of your name, and that it have no other patrimony than begging.


Grant me the treasure of divine poverty:  permit the distinctive of our order to be that it does not possess anything of its own beneath the sun, for the glory of Your name, and that it have no other patrimony than begging.

His devotion to the literal meaning of "sell all you have, take up your cross, and follow Me" was so foreign to the political and religious leaders of his time.  To them, following Christ was meant to be lucrative, and give one a great position.  Francis did not fall into that trap.  Instead, he embraced the life of poverty completely.  Those who joined him would be asked to do the same:  live without everything, trusting God to supply all that was needed.  If He did not supply it, then Francis felt he did not need it!

There are many amazing stories told of his relationship with animals (speaking to wolves, birds coming to him, etc.).  Again, most of these accounts are likely legend.  He did have a great love for all creation and creatures though, realizing that all things created by God reflect their Creator in some way.  In this, we can see his childlike wonder at God's many means of revealing Himself to mankind.

And though, as I said, the majority of the quotes credited to him are more than likely not things he actually said, the words do mirror his life.  They summarize the way he lived.  His life was one of showing Christ to others by living out the message of the Gospels.  So, in this way, he relied less on his words than on his life.

This seems to be the message Pope Francis is trying to convey to our world in 2013.  Though his words have been skewed many times by media outlets, the truth is this:  he is trying to help us all return to lives of simplicity and lives of service to all.  In a world where "causes" are all the rage, we need to learn to live for only one cause:  showing Christ's love to all we meet.  We cannot do that when we are storming off on every popular tangent.  While it is true that we should support ideologies that reflect biblical principles, it is all the more undeniable that our lives should embody Christ's message of loving the least.  Railing at people is not the way to show His sacrificial love.

As Catholics, we do not view the saints as perfect humans who were only slightly less holy than Jesus.  We know they had faults, and sometimes did some things that were not actually Christlike.  They were human, in every sense of the word.  We do hold them up as examples of what it means to strive toward holiness and allow our lives to exemplify the Gospel.

May we take on the challenge of allowing Christ to form Himself in us, and mold us into the saints He has called us to be.

*For more detailed information on the life of St. Francis, this is a great resource.

Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Angry Birds Christianity (A little humor...)

A few months ago, I splurged a bit and bought myself a tablet (of the electronic variety).  I think Samsung's Galaxy is a great product!  It's very user-friendly, not as expensive as the Apple brand products, and...I have Angry Birds.

I used to scoff at those addicted to such things.  But there is something about a pig laughing at this girl that just doesn't go over well with me.  (I grew up on a farm.  A laughing pig would quickly become bacon!)  Seriously?  I have several versions of the game on my tablet now, and all those swine truly annoy me.  No wonder those birds are so angry.  Who wants a grunting pig making fun of their lousy ability to figure out the perfect angle?

Here are some things I have learned from those birds:

1.  Never give up the battle.  There is always another way to fight the temptations Satan throws at you.

2.  Let God use your abilities.  They are gifts to be used, not kept to yourself.

3.  Let your gifts help others.  Almost the same as #2, but seeing them as your gift to others can help you reach out more easily.

4.  Let others use their gifts to help you.  There is a reason we are called the Body of Christ.  We all have to work together to reach the world and wage the battle against the powers of darkness.

5.  Birds explode when they hit a brick wall.  :o)

God bless, and have a happy Friday!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Point Fest!

A few months ago, I was listening to one of our local Christian radio stations.   The d.j. mentioned something about a prize package--all that was necessary was clicking a link on their website.  So, on a whim, I found the link and filled in my name and address.  Two weeks later, I was surprised when a free Josh Wilson CD showed up.  Hurray!  I won a prize!

Yes, I did.

The next week, an envelope came, with the radio station's return address.  Inside were four free tickets to Point Fest, which is held at Cedar Point.  Tickets to this event were around $50 each, so we were super excited!  Not only that, but they also provided free entry into the park, which has an abundance of roller coasters.  Hurray!  I won another prize!

I won't belabor the prize thing.  Let's just say a Coach purse and 5 more Josh Wilson CD's completed my prize package.  Hurray!  More prizes!

This past Saturday was Point Fest.  The hubs had a prior commitment, so I took our two sons.  And yes, I actually rode a roller coaster!  (For a video of what I experienced, you can click here.)  Hubby joined us later, and took the boys on a few more rides.

So I won't bore you with all the details.  I'll skip right to the best part:  the music!   We missed part of  Building 429, but what we heard was great!  When Tenth Avenue North took the stage, we heard more amazing music!  After that, we  hit some more rides.

And then...?  THIRD DAY!!!  Wow.  They had their usual upbeat, rocking songs, with Mac Powell's trademark,  gravelly voice leading the way.  But they also did some worshipful songs, including "God of Wonders" & "Agnus Dei".  Awesome!

The day ended with Toby Mac.  He hit the stage with energy like no person who is older than me ever should!  :o)  His band, Diverse City, has incredible talent, too.  They pretty much rocked the park!  At one point, Toby moved out to a small stage in the audience.   Our boys got to be within about 4 rows from there.  I so appreciated him doing that, as we were pretty far back from the main stage.  The boys loved it!

And so we rode a few more rides, and then journeyed home.  The 2 a.m. arrival tells you what a full day we had.  Sooooo much fun, though.

A very big THANK YOU  to 95.5 The Fish for making this day possible for our family.  We made some great memories!

Sadly, I forgot my camera.  However, you can see some great pics on the Point Fest website.  (See link above. )

Monday, July 29, 2013

Being a Martha Who Wants to Be a Mary!

Today is the feast of St. Martha.  You have probably heard of her, even if you don't know much about Scripture.  Her legacy seems to be that of someone who worked a lot, but needed to do something "better".  After all, her sister Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet, which is the preferred role, rather than serving, right?  We'll get back to that question in a bit.

I have to say, if Martha lived in 2013, she and I would be best friends.  I am SUCH a Martha-type personality.  Especially if there are people visiting.  I want everything "just so" and don't want any glitches:  burned food, lint on the carpet, an empty toilet paper roll...oh, just name it.  I don't want it to go wrong!  I also don't want to be the only one working to make things ready for guests.  I don't want it all to fall on my shoulders.  I may not have said anything to Jesus, but I definitely would have been rolling my eyes enough to get the message across.

I sooo want to be a Mary--seemingly unconcerned with details, and totally focused on what Jesus has to say.  I want to be enamored with His every word, sitting quietly at His feet, and learn the depths of His wisdom.  I don't want to be a distracted busy-body. 

Interestingly enough, it doesn't seem that Jesus was rebuking Martha.  He was, instead, encouraging her.  But not to STOP serving.  That would be ridiculous, wouldn't it?  "Let's all just forget eating.  We'll all talk all night and ignore our grumbling stomachs."  If Jesus truly felt that way, then why feed the 5,000?  They had listened to Him teach all day.  Wasn't that enough?  He obviously didn't think that way, as He made sure everyone had enough, even with leftovers!

A week ago Sunday, the Gospel reading was this exact story.  One of our deacons preached on this, and brought out a very good point.  Jesus wasn't really saying either of these personalities was "best".  He was actually pointing toward a balance of service and feeding on His Word.  Because we really can't do one without the other, and do it properly.  Without the spiritual enrichment, we are only serving out of duty.  But when we are full of Him, we can serve with His love and in His name.  What a difference!

When we see Martha later, after her brother's death, she seems to have grasped what Jesus was saying. 

As Jesus approached Bethany, Martha's grief overwhelmed her.    

"Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.  Now Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.'" 

Notice that Mary stayed back, but Martha went to Jesus.  She knew who He was.  She knew He could have healed Lazarus.  She had questions, and went to the only Source to find her answers.  The rest of their conversation shows her deep understanding: 

 [Martha said] But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

She really got it, didn't she?  I mean she understood.  She had learned a lot.  And, in the end, Lazarus was healed beyond her wildest expectations:  he was raised from death to life!  Still, ever-practical, when Jesus asked for the stone to be rolled away, she had to point out...well...that Lazarus' body would...well...reek.  But, when Jesus said, "Lazarus, come forth!", everything she knew about Jesus was realized in a moment of time.  It all finally came together!  Service and faith combined, and Lazarus was alive! I want to be a Mary?  Maybe more of a Mary than I am now.  But, truthfully, I want to be a Martha/Mary.  I don't want to be "worried about many things," but I do want to serve Him from a heart full of who He truly is:  the Resurrection and the Life.  Otherwise, my service is just dead works.  I want to be so full of Him that I can't help but show it by my works.

Saint Martha, pray for us that we might serve Jesus better. Help us to overcome our distractions and worries to listen to his words and be present to him this day. Amen

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Living on Yesterday's Manna

Today's readings for Daily Mass are from Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15; Psalm 78:18-19, 23-28; and Matthew 13:1-9.  The whole message I hear is this:  stop relying on what God gave you before.  He has something new for you--a new manna!

If we keep longing for what we once had (those leeks and onions by the Nile--ick), we will never fully appreciate and receive what God has for us now (manna!).

Something else I see here is the need to trust God daily.  The Israelites couldn't accumulate extra manna for the next day.  They had to trust that, each morning, it would fall from the sky, and they would have exactly what they needed.

Oh, to have that complete trust in God's love and provision, for physical, spiritual, financial, and emotional needs.  Never leaving us in want.  Never running short.  Always exactly what we need--daily.


                                Trust and thankfulness go hand-in-hand.

Monday, June 17, 2013

24 !

Happy anniversary to my wonderful husband.  God has been so faithful to us, and has blessed our marriage in so many ways.

I am thankful for you, my dear!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father "No's" Best!

A tribute to my very special dad...

First of all, let me preface this post by saying this:  my dad will never read this.  There is no computer/internet access in their home.  I don't think he has ever even touched a computer, unless he was helping move one.

Having said that, I want to honor him. 

I am the youngest of 4 girls.  I'm sure Dad would have loved to have a son.  I'm sure my sisters can attest to the fact, though, that he never showed it.  Each of us has a very special relationship with Dad, and we know he loves us so much.

Being the youngest, I have to admit that I learned the ways of a little girl with her daddy.  Batting the eyes, sticking out the bottom lip, and just a bit of whining...sometimes worked!  I especially remember being on vacation in Colorado one summer.  I had my eyes on a cap gun.  It had the whole Old West sheriff's gun look, and came with a roll of caps.  I have no idea why I wanted it, but knew I just "had" to have it.  I went straight to my daddy...and returned to our camp site with a white-handled cap gun!  I'm sure all the other campers really enjoyed hearing that for the next several days.

Something even more important I learned at a young age:  when Daddy said "No," he meant it!  Back in the late 60's and early 70's, at least in our home, respect for your elders was simply not questioned.  Our dad built that into us from the beginning.  I only remember telling him "no" once as a child.  The one, quick swat across my posterior was all the convincing I needed to change that habit!

Dad has always been a hard-working Kansas farmer.  His love of the land and the God who created it are something I cannot even put into words.  He has agonized over lack of rain/too much rain, snow/lack of snow, weeds, coyotes eating calves, mama cows having a hard time birthing, and the just-right time to plant a crop/harvest a crop pretty much his entire life. Though I haven't lived on the farm for over 23 years, I still have a peaceful feeling in my heart whenever I step outside the city limits and see rolling hills of farmland.  It's just a part of who I am.

Most important of all, my dad has a deep and personal relationship with God.  He was born at the beginning of the Great Depression, served in the Korean War, has gone through cancer treatments, has struggled through the lean years of farming, and still, his faith in God is intact.  He was also my favorite Sunday school teacher.  He took the words from the teacher's guide, and made God's Word come alive for me.  For many years, he shared stories with the children at church--stories with a cute story-line and always a great practical application.

Daddy will celebrate his 83rd birthday this year.  He and my mom just celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary.  What an amazing legacy he has given to all of us.

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Parenting 101

Today's post is more of a rant than any theological- or devotional-type message.  Just so you know!

I have been a parent for about 18 years now (counting the pregnancy, because that is definitely a stage of parenting).  I have learned a lot in the past 18 years--some good, some bad.  I have heard a lot of parenting advice over those years, too--some good, some bad.

You know how it goes:  as soon as anyone finds out you're expecting a child, they have tons of free advice to share on how you should parent.

"Don't spoil them.  Let them cry sometimes."

"Never let them cry.  It's a sign of need.  Pick them up."

"Never let a child sleep in bed with you."

"The best parents allow their kids to share their bed."

"Put them on a strict schedule."

"A baby sets its own schedule."

"Never use a pacifier.  Thumb-sucking is more natural, and an easier habit to break."

"Use a pacifier.  Thumb-sucking is a harder habit to break."

I could go on, but if you're a parent, you totally understand.  If you're not a parent, this is one part of friendly advice you can be glad to have avoided!

As my kids have grown, the advice has changed.  There were the comments about when to start (or not!) solid foods.  Then there was the bountiful information on teething, tantrums, tooth brushing, and discipline (when/if that should begin and how it should be administered).

Now I am getting all the "teen-years-are-terrible-but-you'll-survive-it-somehow" input. 

Don't get me wrong.  The counsel has really been helpful in many, many ways.  However, the best guidance I've ever received has been that which I sought out, not that which was doled out. 

It's easy to judge others' parenting skills, isn't it?  You see an unruly child in a store and automatically think, "What is that parent doing?  That child needs a nap/spanking/good talking to..."  You hear a mom yelling at her toddler in public and surmise, "She wants attention for herself more than she wants her child to obey." 

Yes, I've done this, too.  And I'm pretty sure others have looked at me and wondered at my actions (or lack thereof) in any given situation.

So what is the point of any of this?  Oh, I don't know.  I guess mostly that we should give each other a break, maybe?  Realize that our experience is never exactly like what someone else is going through?  Remember days when we've been at our wit's end with our kids, and know that others have days like that, too? 

From the other side of it, don't take others' opinions quite so seriously.  Remember they are looking at your situation from the outside.  Truly,  no one knows your children like you do.  Of course, there is still really good advice out there.  But don't take it personally.  Weigh it, pray over it, and let the Holy Spirit show you if there are some needed changes in your parenting.  Then, let the rest of it go.

Our children are a gift from God.  The time we have with them passes so quickly.  Let's make the most of that time, and pray for our kids.

Because if you want my best parenting advice, it is this:  Pray.  A lot.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rachel's Little Ones

Thus says the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not.”
Jeremiah 31:13

My heart is sorrowing today.  I am filled with grief over senseless deaths.

If you have followed the Kermit Gosnell trial at all, you have heard some things too horrendous for words.  Thousands of abortions performed in unsanitary conditions.  Women's lives endangered.  Living, breathing babies killed after delivery.  Grisly details given by employees at his "clinic." 

If you live in my area, or just about any area of the United States, you will have heard the stories of young people who have taken their own lives.  Thinking that life is useless and there is no hope, they choose what they consider the only way "out."  I have friends who have lost children, grandchildren, and friends.  My oldest son is at a funeral home tonight.  A former classmate took his own life over the weekend.

What has happened to our world, when those who used to have the most hope and joy--our little ones and young ones--have the most to fear?  I remember "teen angst" from my high school years:  the broken hearts, hormones raging, and trying to grow up in a world in the midst of a Cold War.  But I can honestly say that, if suicide even crossed my mind ever-so-briefly, it was never a serious consideration.  I always had the optimism that there would be a better day.  The tough stuff would eventually pass, and I would be joyful again.

How do we restore that same hope to young women facing unexpected pregnancies?  How do we help our young people see that what they face is momentary?  How do we convince them all that to choose life is the first step toward the "light at the end of the tunnel" they are walking through?

Share the hope you have.  Speak "life" to them.  Let them know there is a Sunday morning after the "Friday nights" of their life.  There is a Resurrection.  Jesus truly lives and loves and gives Himself over and over for them to know true life.  Let them know the empty tomb is a reason for anticipation of something much better...even in this lifetime.

May God help us...and spare His little ones.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Scriptures Speaking to Me

Life is never smooth, is it?  There always seems to be some trial--big or small--that puts stumbling blocks in our path, and tempts us to take our eyes off Jesus.  These verses are ringing in my heart today.  I wanted to share them with you, to encourage you.  No matter how hot the fire seems to be today, trust Him.  He's refining you.  Fire does not consume gold.  It purifies it.

* * * * * * * * * * 

When He works on the left hand,  I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.
But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
My foot has held fast to His steps;
I have kept His way and not turned aside.
     ~Job 23:9-11

* * * * * * * * * *

* * * * * * * * * *

Monday, April 01, 2013

But Wait! There's More!

Do you remember the old Ginsu Knives commercials?  "Cut a tin can, and still cut through a tomato!  These knives can withstand being pounded by a hammer, and still look great!"  The guy on the commercials put those knives through many things, and still, they were sharp.  Then there was always the clincher line:

"But wait!  There's more!"

Which was, of course, their way of trying to sell you something in addition to the AMAZING knives.

Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of Easter:  the Resurrection of Jesus.  Churches were packed.  Flowers were placed.  Candy was devoured.  New clothes were purchased.  Many hams were baked.  Eggs were colored.  Songs of praise were sung to God for His gift of redemption. 

But today it is Monday.  Back to life as usual.  We did the annual celebration.  Now back to the "same old, same old" of life.

But wait!  There's more!

In the Catholic Church (and some other liturgical churches), we don't stop with Easter Sunday.  That's only the beginning.  We celebrate 50 days of Easter.  On the 50th day, we celebrate Pentecost Sunday:  the giving of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), which Jesus had promised (Acts 1:8).  It's not just a 1-day celebration.  It's a whole season of celebration!

As wonderful as that is, I wonder how God views it, though?  If He gave us His Son, and allowed Him to suffer so horrendously, and raised Him from the dead, don't you think He wants us to remember that a bit more often?  Like, maybe, 365 days?

This doesn't mean it's Easter every day, in the sense we feast and buy new clothes, etc.  But it means we should have Easter in our hearts every day of the year!

If someone says to you, "Did you have a happy Easter?"  Maybe the response should be, "Yes, and I still am!"

Our pastor preached an amazing homily on Saturday night about not searching for the living among the dead.  We can make every day Easter by seeking out One who brings us life.

Because there's MORE!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Word of God

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."

Isaiah 55:10, 11 

Tonight, as I heard this passage read at our Easter Vigil, it became so clear to me:  the Word Isaiah prophesied about?  That's Jesus!

Every time the Scripture's authors wrote of the Law and Prophets, they spoke of it as the Law and Prophets, or as Scripture.  But every time the Word is mentioned, they are speaking of Jesus.

And Jesus has accomplished that for which He was sent:  our redemption and life!

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
 “Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

I Peter 2: 21-25 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March Madness? Not me!

Well, that's not completely true.  I LOVE watching NCAA basketball.  I enjoy the competition, the crazy fans, cheering for my favorite team(s), etc.  Love, love, love it.

What I do NOT love about it?  The brackets.  I have never, ever filled out a bracket with my predictions of the winners.  Never.  It drives me crazy!  Picking the teams to win every game over two weeks' time, and then crashing when your favorite team doesn't even make it out of the first round?  I can't take the pressure!

So, every year, I print a bracket.  Then, as the games are played, I fill in the winner, so I can track which teams will be playing the next round of games.  Nice, safe, and low-stress.

The real reason is that I don't like the uncertainty of the "gamble".  I am not a risk-taker.  I want to know what's going on, have time to adjust to that matter, and then go on with life.  Very safe. 

The problem with this is that it severely limits my trust in God.  I cannot count the number of times God has told me, "Trust me."  No matter what the situation we were in or facing, those were the words He whispered to my heart.  "Trust me." 

But God, what if my team doesn't win?  (What if my plans are not Your plans?)

What if it's a close game? (What if I can't see the outcome until it actually happens?)

What if one of my favorite players get hurt?  (What if the road isn't easy, and people I love have to suffer?)

What if the coach gives the wrong play, and the other team capitalizes?  (What if Your directions seem unreasonable, and Satan attacks me with doubts and worries?)

What if I have the ball with only seconds to go, my team is behind, and I blow the play?  (What if I mess up and fail You and those I love?)

What if I play great defense, only to get called for a foul?  (What if, no matter how hard I try to serve You...I stumble and fall?)

Recently, He spoke once again to me..."I love You this much [the cross].  Trust Me."

I don't even trust myself, God.  How can I trust You, whom I cannot see, touch, or hear audibly?  How?

The wonderful thing about those NCAA brackets?  Every year there is a new one.  Some teams make it to the tournament every year.  Often, though, there are is at least one unexpected team.  Some small school that has an awesome, up-and-coming group of guys who play with passion.  New teams getting a chance to show their skills on the court.  There are always those great come-back games, or the last-minute buzzer beater that decides the outcome.

The wonderful thing about God, and the life He gives us?  Every time I do it wrong, there's  a new chance.  Or an unexpected twist I had not...expected: 

- Just when I think things couldn't be worse, a friend will come along to give me that "buzzer beater" moment.  A smile.  A hug.  A note on Facebook that God woke them in the night to pray for me. 

- A prayer that I had been praying for a very long time will be answered in a way that totally amazes me.  God doing things in a mind-blowing manner.  That "come from behind" and win the day moment.

- Strength coming to my spirit, even when I feel like I can't possibly take another step or dribble that ball one more inch.  That "I made it through to the final seconds" moment.

The amazing thing about trust?  The more I do it, the more I want to do it.  The more I see His faithfulness, the more I have faith in Him.  The more I learn to trust that my team will finally win, because it's His team.

So, maybe one year, I'll fill out the entire bracket before the first game is even played.

Or maybe not...!  After all, NCAA teams are not nearly as trustworthy as God!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why Rome? (Or, What in the world has happened to Keith and Joni???)

Over the past couple of years, I have received several private messages via Facebook.  The common theme has been:  "I just saw on your personal info that your religion is listed as 'Catholic.'  How is that possible?"

Well, for anyone who has followed our lives over the past 11 years or so, this isn't a big shock.  For those who have recently reconnected with us via Facebook, it's a heart-stopper.  If this is your first time hearing it, I apologize, and recommend you go directly to your nearest ER--do not pass "Go," do not collect $200.  :o)

When I first began my blog, I shared our journey through several posts.  (And more here!) As the questions have multiplied, though, I thought I should give an updated post on the subject, as well as bringing everyone up-to-date on our lives.  So, here goes!

Keith and I were married in June, 1989, just one month after graduating from Central Bible College, an Assemblies of God college.  We lived in the Detroit area for the first two years we were married.  We were involved in ministry in Detroit, as well as being part of a team that worked to start a church in Highland Park (pastored by Tim Dilena and Roosevelt Hunter).  From there, we moved to the Kansas City, MO, area to youth pastor.  After that, we were in Swartz Creek, MI, as youth/young adult pastors in a home missions church.

We moved back to the Detroit area, and our first son was born during that time.  Keith worked at Detroit Teen Challenge as their evangelism coordinator.  We lived in Detroit for about 1 1/2 years (Grand River/Burt Rd., just a few blocks from 6 Mile Rd.).  Following our time there, we moved to Sault Ste. Marie, MI, where Keith pastored New Life Chapel A/G.  Our youngest son was born in "the Soo".

Earlier in our marriage, Keith had read a book called, "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?"  The premise of the book is that the early Church had a true Christian lifestyle and would have a better understanding of the faith, since they lived closer in time to the apostles of Jesus.  Keith thought it was a good book, but life and ministry took over, and on we went.  He revisited this book while we lived in Sault Ste. Marie.  This began a journey into reading the actual writings of the Church Fathers.

At the same time, he was planning to teach our church about the errors of the Catholic Church.  He purchased a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  He wanted to read their doctrine from their point of view--not the point of view of a Protestant.  He had many disagreements with what he was reading.  However, he also saw the beauty of the presentation of their beliefs.

As this all progressed, he was also very involved with the local Ministerial Alliance.  The men in this group became close, and worked together to spread the Gospel in our community.  One big project they undertook was the distribution of the "Jesus" movie.  It was sent to every household in our area, with the opportunity for people to return "interest" cards and be contacted by local pastors.  Keith headed this up, as well as being involved in the hospital chaplaincy, the local jail chaplaincy, and working as the "go to" pastor when a local funeral home needed someone to perform a funeral.  He was also the chaplain for our county hospice program.

He became friends with the pastors.  They were such a great support for each other.  However, it also triggered something inside Keith:  They were all Christian pastors, saying they were preaching the truth of the Gospel, and yet, there were also some major doctrinal differences.  How did he know that what he was teaching our people was "the Truth"?  Where was his authority to teach these things?  Every one of those men would say their authority was based on Scripture alone.  Yet they had those incredibly large differences.  Who was right?  And who had the authority to say who was right?

The more he read the Church Fathers, the more he realized that some of the things he was teaching were not in line with what they taught and believed.  And after all, who had the better view of things:  Keith Johnson in the 20th century, or those who were taught by the apostles and their disciples?

He spoke to our sectional and district leadership.  He spent a week at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.  He was on a quest for the truth.  What he found was disturbing to him.  There were large gaps in the history we had been taught.  Gaps which had been filled in by the Church Fathers and the other early Church writers and apologists.  Something just didn't fit with him.

Without belaboring the point, he eventually told me what was happening.  Frankly, I was very upset.  He was calling into question many of the foundational things I had been taught all my life.  He was forcing me to know why I believed all I believed.  That was one of the hardest years of our marriage.  We had always been "one" in our journey.  Now, we were very divided.

At the end of that year, he received the paperwork to renew his ordination with the A/G.  In order to do this, he needed to sign a paper that said he believed and taught everything the Assemblies of God believed and taught.  He really wanted to be able to just sign it, and go on with life.  In his deepest heart of hearts, though, he knew that would be dishonest.  Finally, he said, "Joni, I can't sign that.  It would be a lie.  This is my decision to make.  My integrity is on the line.  We will make the decision of where to go from here together.  But this decision is mine.  I just can't sign it."  I knew he was right.  I had seen his study, struggle, prayer...I knew this was one of the hardest decisions of his life.  But I knew he was right.

He resigned the church.  We said our tearful goodbyes, and headed back to the Detroit area.

He had been corresponding with Fr. Ken Bieber, who pastored a small Charismatic Episcopal Church (CEC) in the suburbs of Detroit.  Keith and Fr. Ken had exchanged enough e-mails to fill three floppy disks!  Keith asked him all kinds of questions about early Church teachings, etc.  After we moved, we attended Fr. Ken's church for a couple of months.  The Holy Spirit spoke to both of us:  this is where you need to be.

Keith was eventually ordained a priest, and our bishop's council asked us to move to Ohio.  Fr. Ken had moved down the year before, and was pastoring two churches.  Keith was to assist at one of those churches.  He was made the pastor a few months later.  Long story short:  the church was a mess, and ended up closing.  We moved to Wadsworth, with the plan to possibly start over and begin a mission church here.

The CEC as a whole was also going through some major issues, and a huge split occurred.  We had neither the heart nor the desire to keep waging the battles.  Our bishop urged us to take some time away from ministry, and pray for the Spirit's guidance.  Since the closest CEC church was 45 minutes away, he also counseled us to attend other churches for a time.  We visited several.  We knew our time in the CEC was done.  God had released us.  We needed to find a new home.

We finally decided we would check out the Roman Catholic church nearby.  At first visit, we were impressed.  We both felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in such an incredible we hadn't felt His presence in a very long time.  After 2-3 months of talking to the pastor of the church, Fr. Joe, and attending a Mass here and there, we decided to check it out in a deeper way.  The Catholic Church has a program called R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults).  Fr. Joe suggested we attend some of the classes, and continue to pray.  The next 8 months were educational, difficult, and a time for a lot of prayer by our entire family.

On April 7, 2007, we were received into the Catholic Church--all four of us.

Now, this may still seem like a mystery to you.  How did we get from Point A to Point B?  The process I have (tried) to briefly describe took place over about a 18-year time span, but especially the last 11 years.  There were no hasty decisions.  There were no moves made without hours and hours of prayer.  We did not just "pick up and move" at any time.  These were years of anguish, study, prayer, and lots and lots of listening.

I have published many posts on the beauty of the Catholic Church.  I don't claim to know everything.  I do know that my faith has deepened in unimaginable ways in the past 6 years.  I do know that Keith and I are very united in being in the Catholic Church.  I do know that he has found the place for his authority:  the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

I do not despise my heritage.  I cherish it.  I cannot say enough about the great love I (was taught) for the Bible and having a very personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am so blessed to have been taught to share my faith, and to rely on the Holy Spirit.  I revel in the joy of knowing that Jesus Christ died, rose again, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for me.  The A/G and CEC both focused on allowing the Holy Spirit to use each of us in the gifts He has for us. 

And now, our family brings that into the Catholic Church.  May God use us as He deems best for His glory and His honor.

More to come...

Friday, March 08, 2013

Friday Reflection

I love you this much.

Trust me.

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit."
I Peter 3:18

Thursday, March 07, 2013

A Moment in Time

"Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.  Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’  For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?  And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?  Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children."
Deuteronomy 4:5-9 

Tomorrow will be the anniversary of the death of my grandpa Davis.  Grandpa was born in the early 1900's.  His childhood was filled with twists and turns.  They were poor, and for a portion of his life he lived in a sod house.  After marrying my grandmother, when my dad was very young, he spent some time at Southwestern Assemblies of God College, which was then in Oklahoma. 

He did pastor a small, rural church in their community for a time.  In my remembrance, he was a farmer and a Sunday school teacher.  He and my grandmother raised their children during tough times.  My father, who is the oldest, was born after the stock market crashed and the Great Depression had begun.  Kansans suffered through the Dust Bowl and did their best to keep their families fed.  

My grandpa was enigma to me.  He had a strong personality.  Yet, his laughter came easily at times.  One of my favorite memories were his weekly words to me.  He stood at the back of our church every Sunday.  When I would come by (often too quickly, considering I was in church!), he would reach out and touch my shoulder, and say, "There's my girlfriend!"  Another sweet memory is eating cold watermelon in their home on a hot summer day.

Grandpa had this huge board for checkers.  I don't remember ever playing a game with him, but I know my older cousins did.  And anyone who lived in the community knew whose red pickup that was coming down the road!

When I was in high school, Grandpa suffered his first stroke.  My grandmother practically lived at the hospital during his stay there.  The family tried putting him into a nursing home, but felt the care there was not best for him.  After he returned home, my grandmother, mom, and aunts all worked diligently to tend to him.  One bright memory from that time was during my senior year of high school.  I was assigned to interview three people who had grown up in our small town, regarding the history of our community.  Grandma, Grandpa, and I had some great laughs that day, especially when he told the story of the horse being spooked by the train!

In the years afterward, he had other strokes.  Eventually, he ended up in a "swing bed" situation at our hospital.  He lived out the rest of his time there.

In those years, I learned to know him in a whole new way.  His demeanor was somehow softer, and the years of suffering opened my eyes to the truth strength within him.  It was not easy to see this man lying in a bed, relying on others to feed him, and his short term memory so sketchy.  He did remember things from years gone by, though.  I remember sitting at his bedside, and seeing his hand curled up and useless.  I remember rubbing it, and wishing I could make the tension in it relax, so he could stretch out his hand again.  He could still make his silly little growling noise at me, though, and wiggle his ears!  

Grandpa passed away in 1990, less than a year after I got married.  One of the many things I regret is that my children never met him (or any of my other grandparents).  He would have loved watching them and laughing at their antics.  He would have shared his love for the Bible and the land.  (And probably his views on politics--he was a staunch conservative!)

I miss you, Grandpa.  My life is richer for the heritage you passed on to my dad and myself.  I look forward to seeing my "boyfriend" again some day!