Tag Archives: Trust

Complications

Fear Has Big Eyes--Wikipedia

Recently I received  notification congratulating me for six years with WordPress. It’s difficult to believe it has been that long since I timidly began this little adventure. And while the posts have been a bit sparse lately due to some major life changes, thoughts of this blog are rarely far away.

Several days ago, I was checking my “stats” and noticed the following post had received some attention. I went back to re-read it and realized how much I needed to hear my daughter’s wisdom that day, my life having acquired a few of those “complications.”

It is my hope that you too will find encouragement as you read, and be reminded as I was, that God really does have all things under His control. No matter what the mess, He is well able to see us through.

Don’t Send a Boy To Do A Man’s Work

Below is an essay from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” When she first sent me the rough draft to look over, I was moved by what she wrote. Now, I will be the first to admit that I have never read Wendell Berry; had not even heard of him before my daughter told me that he was the focus of this semester’s Honors College at Belhaven University. I know, this admission shows me to be a severely under-educated individual; there is clearly no limit to the number of things I do not know.

My daughter’s life has, like the rest of ours, had its share of “complications.” It has been part of my job as her mother to help her navigate some of the rough rapids on the river of her life. Occasionally, she has been summarily dumped out of the boat and into the water, leaving her hurt and floundering. Each time though, she has climbed back into the boat and kept on paddling.

It has been a privilege to watch my daughter grow in her faith. She has met the complications in her life by doing what we all should do: turn to the Lord first. She truly believes that life has a “happy ending,” not because she has a false “Pollyanna-like” attitude, but because she has chosen to place her faith in the surety of God and His Word to her. She knows that no matter what this life brings, her Father continues to uphold her; her goal is Heaven. She has learned she doesn’t have to fear the future, she can trust God to use the events in her life which have left her bruised, for His purposes and the maturing of her faith. And, while her life has had no shortage of “bumps in the road,” she has learned, as her father and I have, that there is only one place we can go to find help.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68 (ESV)

It is easy to get bogged down in the trials and tribulations of our lives. We lose our focus; we forget God is Sovereign; we begin to fear we are on a path that has no good end. Just as in the Wendell Berry story referenced below, our Father comes and straightens out the mess we make of our lives and He does so with a deft and gentle Hand. His mercy, His grace, His love always ready to lift us out of the quagmire, setting our feet on solid ground.

It’s Complicated

This was my first honors essay of the semester. The short story referenced is from Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land, a collection of his short stories.

In his short story, “Don’t Send a Boy to Do a Man’s Work,” Wendell Berry describes the consequences of complications. The main character in the story, a twelve-year-old boy named Athey Keith, has been left in charge of overseeing a hog-killing while his father, Carter Keith, is out-of-town. Carter Keith has laid specific plans and enlisted the help of knowledgeable men to make sure the work gets done efficiently and well. However, several complications arise during the hog-killing, which turn the Keiths’ well-laid plans upside down and cause the story to turn in an unexpected direction. The rest of the story hinges on how Athey and the other men deal with the complications.

Complications are hardly an uncommon event in our day-to-day lives. The dictionary built into my computer defines “complicate” as such: “[to] make (something) more difficult or confusing by causing it to be more complex.” Complications, or problems, as we more often call them, seem to arise with impeccable timing whenever we least desire them. Yet it seems that although complications may be sometimes unwelcome and turn our story in unexpected directions, our stories, once finished, become clearer and more illuminating as we reach the end of the book.

The plot’s driving force in Berry’s short story is the three complications and how Athey and the other men handle them. While Athey would certainly have had a much more productive hog-killing and a less harrowing day without any such complications, such a plot (or lack thereof) would not have made much of a story. Stories are driven by conflict.

When I was part of a fiction-writing group in high school, my teacher (a fiction author) had to remind me over and over again that I needed more conflict in my story. What I was writing would have been nice to live, but it was boring to read. There was no impetus to drive the plot forward. I resented her correction, because I wanted to write stories like I wanted to live, sweet, delightful, and all with happy endings. That’s still how I would like to live my life. But I am old enough now to begin to realize that my life is not going to go in a carefully plotted way to reach its happy ending. It’s going to take its twists and turns, and complications (whether small or large) are going to arise.

If I believe the promises of Scripture, that God works in all things for the good of those that are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), then I can navigate the bumps in the road with confidence. But questions still remain, and I am sure that I am not the first person to raise questions such as, “Is there any way to avoid complications? If I can, should I? Do all complications arise from sin? Even if they do, can they still turn out all right in the end (and preferably before the end too)?”

Athey could not have avoided the particular problems that came his way, all of which began with other people. He could not foresee them, nor could he escape them. The only thing he could do was be prepared for them, in the sense that he could be ready to deal with any problems that might occur. But when the complications came, he was not ready. The somewhat cocky young boy that he was, his pride and fear caused him to react in a way that allowed the originally small problems to become big ones.

I don’t think there were any complications in the Garden of Eden. Life there must have been like the story I tried to write—boring to read, but wonderful to live. Like in Berry’s story, the first Biblical complication came from another person. The complications Athey had to deal with all began with other people, but his fear caused him to react in a way that exacerbated the problem instead of solving it. Neither did Adam and Eve begin the first complication in this world, but they chose to yield to it instead of standing up and resisting. This first complication resulted in the fall of man from perfection, and now the human story is, well, complicated. At times it’s positively messy.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid complications altogether. If there were, someone surely would have found a way by now! We can’t force others into our perfectly molded stories for ourselves—they’re going to bring complications, and sometimes we aren’t going to like the results. But neither our stories nor Berry’s story ends with failures to handle problems correctly. Fortunately for young Athey, his father came back—to a mess, it’s true, but he was quite up to handling the challenge and soon put things back to rights.

The human story doesn’t end with failure either. Although Adam and Eve didn’t have the power to put to right the wrong that they had done—that took someone with the proper authority—our Father sent His Son to earth to handle the challenge and put things back to rights. Unlike Carter Keith, He never has to go on a business trip, leaving us in charge. If Keith had been present at the hog-killing, the complications that arose would have been handled differently, and the resulting problems avoided. Likewise, because the Lord is present, we have the ability to handle the complications that come our way correctly. Not that we always will (in fact, many times we won’t), but we can, through His power. What is more, we have the guarantee that our stories will have happy endings. There might be cliffhangers after some chapters, and plot twists, and some pages might have tears on them. But in the end, we will close the book with a sigh of relief and meet our Author, the finisher of our faith.

Author: My Soul Found Rest (Used with permission)

Original Content: Copyright © 2016 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

The Long, Dark Hallway

Long Dark Hallway

(The following parable is the result of a time of intense prayer for a deeply troubled friend.)

Margaret walked as if in a dream. She found herself in a long, dark hallway, many doors on either side. With no visible light, she was puzzled how she could see anything at all. There seemed to be no end to the hallway she was in; she could not see where it led. As Margaret slowly made her way down the hallway, each successive door opened, spilling light into the darkened hallway, and then closed of its own accord, leaving darkness where once had been light. Door after door opened and closed as she walked, finally leaving her in total darkness.

Then she heard these words softly spoken:

“Each doorway represents a friendship or relationship that has ended because you would not let them into your heart. The hallways of your heart echo with your loneliness. You pushed away the people you love and those who loved you in return, because you have been afraid. Fear has choked out true joy. You have run from relationships because you did not believe anything in you could be loved. You rejected others before they could reject you. The vulnerability of your heart, when you loved, terrified you. You chose to hide behind sarcasm; wounding others with your careless words, hoping against hope to protect yourself. You have become cold and distant, wanting to be left alone, thinking this was somehow simpler, easier.”

“And yet this has not worked. You have found no peace. Your life is empty. You are haunted by the darkness in your heart and the memories of hurt in the eyes of those you have shut out. This pain is more than you can bear. And yet, you push it deeper and deeper so you won’t have to deal with it.”

“You have lived your life and made your choices as if you alone determine your course. You have forgotten you belong to Me. I chose before the foundations of the world which steps you should take. I placed people into your life to add richness to it and help you grow. I have not given you every ability you will need to accomplish My Kingdom purposes. You need the strengths and skills of others to help you.”

“You now face a choice. You may continue down this current path, wind up alone and unloved, or you can turn around. None of these doors are locked. All you need do is to open each one and step in. Love still waits for you through those doorways, but you must repent for your fear, repent for your hard heart, repent for your selfishness, and repent for the hurt you have caused others.”

“Margaret, the choice is yours and yours alone. But be careful, because you shall have whichever you choose.”

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live. Deuteronomy 30:19 (NKJV)

For You will light my lamp; the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness. Psalm 18:28 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2015 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Messy Places Require Tidying

The Basement--Photobucket

“Messy places require tidying and permanent cleanness requires God.”

We all have “messy places.” God has been busy lately showing me where all of mine are. One of God’s great desires is to get into the deepest recesses of my heart, dispelling the darkness that resides there. And when He sweeps those nasty, dank places clean with the power of the Holy Spirit, I am clean indeed.

The following is from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” I am so grateful for all that God has been doing in her life and for her willingness to let Him do it.

The Hidden Place

“Hello? Is anyone there?” I brushed away the cobwebs from the doorway and peered into the gloom. A chill breeze brushed past me, and I shivered. The thought of venturing into such a forbidding place was unthinkable. I stood in the doorway, teetering with indecision.

Musty rooms, cobwebs, chill breezes: such are the components of a bad horror story. But this is no horror story; it is a vivid picture of what goes on inside me. That doorway is the door to my heart, the deepest place inside me where I fear to tread. “Here there be monsters,” reads the saying, and that’s exactly what it feels like.

What’s inside? What squashed hopes, unfulfilled dreams, thwarted longings, long-held grudges, impassioned jealousies, and gripping fears might turn into terrible beasts and leap out at me from the shadows? What holds me captive and prevents me from accepting the truth that has penetrated only so far as my mind? Do I even want to know?

The truth is that sometimes I don’t. If I’m totally honest, life seems a lot easier when I can cover over and tidy the entrance to the messy places. With a little paint and dim lighting, it looks almost respectable. But when God digs deep within, and the lamp of the Lord lights up my innermost places, then the façade is shown for what is.

I tremble when I hear the “suggestion” of the Lord: “Daughter, let’s go down here. What’s in here?” The question is for my benefit–it’s not as if He doesn’t know. I don’t want to answer His question or follow His suggestion. But messy places require tidying, and permanent cleanness requires God, not my shabby painting skills. Clinging to Him, I follow the light of His lantern through the doorway.

I am willing, Lord, because Yours is the hand that does the tidying…

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)

“The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the inner depths of his heart.” Proverbs 20:27 (NKJV)

By My Soul Found Rest
Copyright © 2012
Used with permission

Risk Averse

Trust--Photobucket

“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:15-19 (NKJV)

Like many, I grew up singing “Jesus Loves Me.”  I used to sing, “Jesus loves you, this I know,” to Hannah every night as part of her bedtime routine. I have always known that Jesus loved me, but until recently, I did not really KNOW. Let me explain.

Those of us who know Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior have, at least, an intellectual understanding we are loved, that God came to earth robed in flesh, lived a sinless life, paid the ultimate price to redeem us back to Himself–all because of His great love for us. In order to be born again into His Kingdom, we must accept that in faith, repent, turn from our sin, receive His Spirit, and begin to live for Him.

For decades I have known this, but had no real revelation of it. I lived my life, practically speaking, like Jesus Christ died for others and I somehow slid in the back door by grabbing someone else’s “coat tails;” my sins far worse than anyone else’s. Pretty arrogant that.

In the past, I have prayed and even begged God for a revelation of His love, without any success. About a month and a half ago, this all changed. For a few brief seconds, God allowed me to see into the eternal, giving me a glimpse of His great love. It was enough to change me forever.

Like many others, I have lived my life “risk averse.” I learned early on to distrust people, initially the result of bullying and humiliation at the hands of my peers (and, sadly, a couple of teachers). Mixed into that a few failed relationships, betrayal by some close friends, and internalizing the stoicism from my Scandinavian and Germanic up-bringing, keeping part my heart locked up, has been a way of life for me. Much safer that way–less risk, less potential pain.

In addition, we live in a “risk averse” culture which quietly seeps into our thinking and teaches that if we place our trust in those with authority, they will, through government intervention (or a myriad of other ways), “help us” achieve a risk-free life of peace, safety, and security. Of course, this won’t ever work, no matter what they legislate or how many police they provide. Only placing our trust in Jesus Christ can ever give us that kind of peace and security.

Having been given a revelation of God’s love, I find I am beginning to love others more freely and extravagantly; less afraid of being hurt, more willing to take the risk and trust.

The cartoon below came to my attention from my daughter and son-in-law. The quote of C.S. Lewis’ is one of my favorites. Like many of us, Hannah and Matt went through deep heartache. Having made the decision to risk their hearts again, God has given them great joy.  Four weeks ago today, God knit their lives together in marriage.

So while dealing with my “trust issues” is clearly a work in progress, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek, this new-found revelation of God’s love is helping me to “boldly go where no man has gone before.”

And that gives me hope and a future.

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A Proverbs 31 Woman

Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.” Proverbs 30: 10-12

It could be said that Proverbs 31 is considered God’s “gold standard” for virtuous womanhood. Most women I know feel this is an impossible goal to reach. I do not believe that Proverbs 31 is so much about what a woman must “do” as it is about what a woman can “be.”  The woman depicted here is not a “shrinking violet” or a “doormat.” This is a woman who walks confidently and boldly in the gifts that God has given her and, as for her husband, she “does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:12). This is a woman who exhibits excellence in what she does, thereby blessing her husband and children in great measure. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.‘ “(Proverbs 31:26-29). This is a woman who has the confidence of her husband and has his blessing as she develops all of her God-given talents and abilities.

You might guess that I am a proponent of strong, competent, and capable women.  These women are resilient; they face life’s many challenges with faith, courage, and strength of character. The women who, with their pioneering husbands, settled our country and expanded its borders, are a perfect example of what I mean. They worked tirelessly along side of their husbands, building a place for their families, and helped to birth our nation. These women were no “hot-house flowers.”

My daughter, Hannah, comes from a long line of competent, capable, and intelligent women: a paternal great-grandmother with a Masters in Education (she wasn’t allowed to get a Masters in Mathematics, her first choice, because it wasn’t considered to be a “woman’s field” at that time); twin paternal great-aunts with Ph.D.’s in English and Literature; a maternal great-grandmother who went to the mission field as a young single woman, not marrying until her mid-thirties; and a maternal grandmother who finished her college education over a ten-year period with three small children, graduating as valedictorian of her class. With the exception of the twin great-aunts who remained single until they died at 104 years of age, the others had strong marriages of long duration and the full support of their husbands. Each one of these women loved the LORD and served Him with their whole heart. This is an incredible spiritual heritage and a testament to what a godly marriage can and should be and speaks highly of their husband’s character as well.

The Beatitudes tell us in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” For me, until recently, meekness has always been equal to “weakness.”  It seems that much of the American church also equates meekness with pacifism. The best example of meekness I have ever heard is that of a horse who is completely “rein trained.”  This horse is so well-trained, and in tune with his rider, that he is waiting for the slightest pressure of the reins on his neck to tell him which direction he is to go. This is true meekness: strength under complete control. This is how God desires to lead us by the Holy Spirit.

By this definition, a “Proverbs 31 woman” should be a “meek” woman. She walks obediently in the ways of her God, fulfilling His call on her life. She does not fear the future because she knows that God is her Protector and her Guide.  She is confident that her contribution is necessary, and is ready and willing to meet the needs of others.  Her heart is generous, and when she speaks, wisdom is evident. She fears the LORD and ministers life to those she meets. She passes down to the next generation a spiritual heritage; her legacy will be evident in the lives of all those that she has touched.

This was eloquently stated in 1852 by Edward Mansfield in “Woman:”

“There is a beautiful parallelism between the condition of woman in her domestic life, and the character of a nation. She is the mother of men, and the former of their minds, at that early age when every word distils upon the heart, like the dew-drop upon the tender grass. There is to that young mind no truth or falsehood in the world but that whose words flow from the mother’s lips. There is no beauty in character, nor glory in action, which has not been concentrated by her praise. There is to that climbing child no path where the mother’s feet has not trod. Her mind is to his the supernatural pillar of fire which illumines his mid-night ignorance, and the silvery cloud which at mid-day precedes him in every highway to the world.

And, even when science has conducted her pupil through the highest walls of knowledge; or when art has polished him into the accomplished citizen; or when power has dignified him with the memorials of office, she still lives in his soul, which she has imbued from her heart’s ‘pictured urn, With thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.”

Many women tend to think their professional contribution is more important than their contributions at home. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is easy for us to focus on ever-increasing piles of laundry and dishes or the never-ending housework. It would be easy to overlook those “teachable moments” when our children’s hearts are wide open and ready to receive godly wisdom. The seeds of wisdom we plant in each of those moments bears eternal fruit. And, they will continue to bear fruit for succeeding generations as our children pass down to their children that which we have so carefully taught them.

In a perfect world (alas, I don’t live in one!) I would do all of these things well every day. Of course this doesn’t happen, but each day I can do my best as God enables me. The rest I must leave in God’s hands.  And when I fail, which I regularly do, His grace, mercy, and forgiveness allow me to start the next day with a clean slate.

My husband will tell you that a strong man generally desires a strong woman for his wife. He recognizes that, like two horses in harness, both must be strong or the team will fail to run the race that is set before them. In our culture, we tend to define strong women as bossy, boisterous, and pushy, but God sees a strong woman as one who has been tempered as steel and refined like silver. It is His manifested presence in a woman that makes her strong. It is not a personality trait but a heart issue.

It is the heart of a “Proverbs 31” woman that makes her home a safe haven for her family; a place of peace where they can find rest from the struggles of their lives. It is the quiet strength of her heart that soothes her husband and children when their hearts are filled with pain. It is the godly wisdom in her heart they turn to when confusion fills their minds and they don’t know what to do. It is her heart, completely captivated by the love of her Saviour, that is the conduit of His love for them. It is her heart, where the King of Kings reigns, which gives her the strength to become a “Proverbs 31 woman.”

“Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.  The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever.  My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”  Isaiah 32: 16-18 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2012 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

The Now And The Not Yet

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”  Isaiah 30:12 (NKJV)

Answer From The Lord

Sometimes I ask the question, “My Lord, is this your will?”
It’s then I hear You answer me, “My precious child… be still.”

Sometimes I feel frustrated, because I think I know what’s best.
It is then I hear You say to me, “My busy child… just rest.”

Sometimes I feel so lonely and think I’d like a mate.
Your still small voice gets oh so clear, “My child, please wait.”

“I know the plans I have for you, the wondrous things you’ll see.
If you can just be patient child, and put your trust in Me.”

“I’ve plans to draw you closer, I’ve plans to help you grow.
There’s much I do you cannot see, and much you do not know.”

“But know this, CHILD…I LOVE YOU. You are precious unto Me.
Before I formed you in the womb, I planned your destiny.”

“I’ve something very special that I hope for you to learn.
The gifts I wish to give to you, are gifts you cannot earn.”

“They come without a price tag, but not without a cost.
At Calvary I gave my Son, so you would not be lost.”

“Rest child, and do not weary of doing what is good.
I promise I’ll come back for you, just like I said I would.”

“Your name is written on My palm, I never could forget.
Therefore, do not be discouraged when my answer is: ‘NOT YET’.”

“Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God; how pleasant and fitting to praise Him.”   Psalm 147:1 (NIV)

Author Unknown

Edited by Susan E. Johnson

Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved