Ins and Outs of Raising a Herd

Our family has six kids. S*I*X kids. That’s a lot of bodies and a lot of logistics of coordinating a lot of life. I thought a blog post would be a great way to share some of our practical, daily tips and tricks – it may help you, or it may just satisfy a nosy itch you have wondering how on earth families the size of mine are able to keep life rolling smoothly [or at all]. So, let’s begin…..

FOOD

Feeding eight humans every single day, three times a day is a full time job it feels like! Now, to be fair, Hayden doesn’t eat food by mouth, so we’ll exclude him from this particular topic. [He uses a G tube and is on a continuous 24/7 drip of formula from a feeding pump. But, don’t feel sorry for him – he hates food and thinks it’s gross to eat, so he’s fine, yall!]

I start each week with a full meal plan. I sit down usually on Saturday or super early on Sunday morning before church and plan out the week’s meals. This includes dinners, lunches, breakfasts and snacks. It’s summer right now, so we’re all home all day long and we eat every single meal together. (During the school year, my kids bring their lunch to school except for one day per week when they’re allowed to purchase a school lunch.) Our family has some set traditions when it comes to food which include Taco Tuesday (religiously!) and Pizza Friday. Knowing these two meals are set each week, really helps get the ball rolling when it comes time to meal plan dinners for the week. Already having two days filled in is encouraging. We also like to save Thursday nights for “Leftover Night” usually, although, we’re finding less and less leftovers available from each night’s meal (#growingBOYS!) so we are in the process of learning to make more servings at the other weeknight dinners, or just adding in another quick, easy meal on Thursday nights. Historically, my Bible study group (D Group) meets on Thursday nights so it’s nice to know it’s just leftovers for everyone and I don’t have to stress while I’m getting out the door to Bible study.

For breakfasts, I try and plan at least one breakfast casserole for the week and then have other meal prepped high protein options ready for a quick grab during the busy weekday mornings. I like chicken sausage links and turkey bacon as good meat options and have a few hard boiled eggs meal prepped and ready for breakfast or snacks. During the summer, I try to stay as healthy as possible for lunch time meals. Luckily, my kids like salmon and other types of fish, so I try to cook some early in the week that we eat on for a few days throughout the week. In an effort to be overall a bit healthier, I try to get ingredients to make snack options from a “30 Healthy Snack Idea” list we got from a nutritionist at one of the clinics we go to. I keep the snack list posted on the refrigerator so that the ideas are always visible to the kids so when snack time hits (at 10am and 2pm) they have options and don’t have to rely on me to get creative for them.

Once I’ve established that week’s menu, I start an Instacart order on the app on my phone or via computer (depending on how crazy the environment is that I’m in at the time). I add all the ingredients I need for our nightly meals, lunches, breakfasts, snacks and random stuff we may need and put it into multiple Instacart orders if need be. I shop mainly from Aldi because you can’t beat the savings!!! Seriously! (I used to shop there in real life, but then I had four kids and I was no longer in a place to PHYSICALLY ENTER a store ha!) I also do an order from Costco usually bi-weekly for things like peanut butter, Skinny Pop, Topo Chicos, paper plates, etc. I’ll also have a monthly or so order from Sprouts for various supplements and probiotics that we take. Then, I set my order/s to be delivered that weekend – either that Saturday or on Sunday after church. [If you don’t know what Instacart is or haven’t ever tried it, you are for sure missing out!! A shopper will shop for you at a wide variety of stores in your area and with a minimum $35 order at a store, they will shop and bring your stuff to you typically within two hours or less. There is a fee for this [incredibly worth it] service and I opt to pay $100 for the year – much like Amazon Prime. To give it a try, use this link and get $10 off: https://inst.cr/t/MDJSN0wwQkli]

We cook all of our meals 95% of the time and if we do purchase food from a restaurant, it’s just take out and we eat at home. We don’t tend to take the herd to a restaurant as that’s not conducive to eating in this current stage of life we’re in with two one year olds and a teenager in a wheel chair who doesn’t even eat food. Which, honestly, I don’t mind eating at home because it’s healthier and cheaper than anything a restaurant could offer us.

Our weekly menu board, shopping list, and our Summer Bucket List 2021 – in our Family “Hub”/Laundry Room/Pantry.

I mentioned earlier that once I’ve created my weekly meal plan, I write it on a white board in our pantry/laundry room/”home base” station. I write it for my own knowledge, but I also do it so the kids can see what we’re eating on what days and they are aware of what to expect. It also cuts out unnecessary questions and nagging about “What’s for dinner?” and “I don’t like ________.” You don’t have to like everything; but you do know what the options will be for the evening meal. I would say overall, the kids really don’t complain and I try to make meals everyone enjoys, although every night might not be their Most Favorite Meal of All Time – and that’s ok. One thing we have done as well, was to create meals together and I let the kids name the creation. For example, one time I had some chicken breasts I cut in to strips and just baked with some salt and pepper and some Rancher seasoning from Wildtree. It tasted pretty good but wasn’t necessarily in the “Most Favorite Meal of All Time Hall of Fame” or anything. But that night, I asked the kids what we should call our creation and collectively they came up with, “Naked Chicken Deluxe, Yo!” And it stuck! It was a fun name and moved the lame baked chicken up a few notches on the recipe rotation totem pole. By including them in the process, they had a little skin in the game and now they love to help meal plan and request “Naked Chicken Deluxe, Yo!”

ORGANIZATION

Keeping everyone’s schedules organized can sometimes feel like my second full time job! Each week’s success, for us, hinges on something we’ve done for years – a family meeting! We typically do these on Sunday afternoons and all the kids gather around with us and we look at every family member’s commitments for the week. Big commitments for us each week are things like Hayden’s doctor appointments, visits from CPS/CASA/Buckner for the foster kiddos, in office work meetings for Ryan, and sports practices (when in season) for the other kids. Getting everyone on the same page for the week helps EVERYONE, not just Ryan and me. Some of our kids are a little more high anxiety, so it helps them to know where everyone will be and what to expect in the upcoming week.

Any meetings or appointments for kids are written on our family’s calendar in our Family Hub Station. This way, it’s posted for everyone to see. (This even includes Hayden’s nurses who use that same laundry/pantry area to prepare Hayden’s meds and wash his medical equipment. I also keep posted in the “nurse’s station” of the laundry/pantry a hard copy of the nursing schedule which helps alleviate everyone relying on me to know and report the weekly schedule for nursing staff. If it’s posted, it’s a resource for everyone and it takes pressure off of me.) I try to keep the big, dry erase family calendar color coded as much as possible, but the most important thing is just getting the information down. This helps us all tremendously to not feel surprised by our day and to feel a little more sense of calm as we begin each morning.

A practical organization tip I learned years ago from another mom of multiple kids, was implementing something called a “Water Basket.” Rather than having a million cups all over the house, we each have one refillable water cup (I mean, we own more, but we each only use one at a time.) So whether that is a Tervis cup, a Gatorade squeeze bottle, a personalized sports cup, a sippy cup, etc., we each just use one at a time and keep them in our “Water Basket.” We have a Berkey water filter that is located on our dryer and we LOVE it! It filters out all kinds of nasty stuff from our water, and we each just refill our cup as needed, take our drink and ideally, place it back in the Water Basket to grab for the next drink. This helps out tons when the kids are asking, “Where’s my water??” I simply say, “Did you check the Water Basket?” This cute, brown wicker basket is our family’s landing zone for hydration.

Another way we keep order in what could be chaos is by having color coded bath towels for the kids. Each child has a set of three towels, but all three towels are the same color. Each child has THEIR colored towel and it’s their responsibility to use it and hang it up after their shower each night. (We don’t wash towels after each use – sorry if you think that’s gross, but we don’t. You can get a good couple of uses out of one towel if you hang it up to dry, which is what we ask of the kids.) Do they do this right every time? No… not always. BUT, when I go into the bathroom and see a yellow towel on the ground, I know exactly which kid is responsible for it.

Speaking of showering and getting eight people ready daily, we also have mason jars for each kid that has their toothbrush and preferred toothpaste in it as well as floss or floss sticks. This keeps their things organized and no one gets confused over whose is whose. (Hayden does have his own wheel chair accessible bathroom so his operation runs a bit differently….and since our remodel is now complete, we have a bathroom dedicated to the other five kids and guests, as well as mine and Ryan’s bathroom that no child is allowed in – we shared long enough! ha!!)

Mud Room Wall

As part of our renovation, we wanted to find a way to incorporate a “mud room” of sorts. We have a one story, 2,200 square foot home that we were able to creatively turn in to a five bedroom, three bath home with loads of storage and a sink in the laundry room. We got really good at using every square inch of space we could find and that’s how we created our “mud room” wall in our entry way. This wall, has six cabinets, one for each child’s backpack and sports bag/equipment if they’re playing a sport that season. (More on sports in a minute.) The wall also has a bench and cubbies for shoes as well as hooks for jackets in winter and purses for myself and guests. I love this so much and its functionality has been a HUGE lifesaver for me. With the backpacks inside the cabinets, I don’t have to see clutter everywhere, but rather it is contained behind a cabinet door. Again, when the kids go looking for their shoes or jackets, I simply direct them to the shoe cubby or their cabinet and they are able to solve their own problem and locate their belongings.

Time Management

A few years ago, Ryan and I made a decision on where we wanted to put our focus when it came to family. For us, building a strong family unit who knows, loves and serves the Lord together is THE most important thing. Defining what we wanted for our family helped us to determine what we did not want for our family. Family dinners together and quality time for talking and teaching are our priority. Knowing our end game goal, helped us to inform what our day to day life would look like. One of the parameters for our family, is that each child is welcome to play one sport per year. We spent many years playing all the sports and dragging babies and the disabled across all kinds of fields and to practices and games and we were 100% miserable. We don’t want our kids to miss out completely on sports just because we have a large, unique family dynamic, so we put healthy boundaries around recreational sports. And here I would offer a wise quote I love that says, “It’s ok to live a life others do not understand.” And it is ok. You do not have to look like every other family in your neighborhood or in your extended family or like your coworker’s family. In fact, I hope you don’t. I just want my family to look like Jesus and so for us, that means limiting the time we spend on practice fields and fighting on Saturday mornings to get to the ball field to sweat together in misery. But my family is not your family – so I honor and respect whatever it is you choose to spend your time on. (**Note on this: we do let our kids do music lessons and we are more open to activities that don’t require weekend commitments – think Taekwondo and dance lessons. We’re not total sticklers for no fun; it’s just we can’t afford to commit every weekend to a ball field, especially when weekend nurses for Hayden are hard to come by.)

In practical terms, to get all these humans showered and in bed on time, we have stick to a pretty scheduled and regimented bed time routine. **Disclaimer: I know Ryan and I are more type A than the average bear… and we’re fine with that. It works for us. Feel free to judge us. We do not care. We know who we are. ;)** We generally starts baths for the babies around 7:00pm and then it just progresses from there to the older kids. One thing we do to prevent arguments between two of the kids who consistently were arguing about who would shower first, is that we created a schedule for who showers first and posted it in the bathroom for all the world to see. (I did this also for these two as they’re roommates and would fight nightly about who should shut the door and turn off the light. are. you. kidding. me. right. now. So to put a stop to one more senseless fight, I posted a light/door schedule and taped it on the wall. THE END.) Now that the shower schedule is posted, everyone knows who should be where and when. While one person showers, the other person goes and takes their nightly vitamins and then they switch tasks.

If I haven’t lost you yet, I’m about to. This is the part where you’ll want to have me committed. Brace yourself. In an effort to be a good steward of each minute of the 24 hour day I’ve been given, and in order start my day off focused and ready to tackle whatever the day may bring, I work out at 5:30am! I wake up at 5am, throw on the workout clothes I laid out the night before and head to either Yoga or Pure Barre. (I’m in a weird overlapping time when I go to both and am trying to determine which activity I love the most.) This has been SO helpful to my mental health and overall attitude about the day. It gives me a chance to get up before the world, to pray out loud on the drive to the studio and give my day to the Lord, and then to accomplish something fully without being interrupted and to get to move my body before [all of] my family is even awake! I never used to be a morning person, but now that I am, I really enjoy it! My body and mental health are worth the investment. And, having to get up so early means I get to bed early as well. Which is better for me anyway! Confession: I used to watch Netflix and eat Skinny Pop and drink a glass of wine and go to bed way too late. But now, I only have wine on Friday nights or the weekend, and I get to bed at a decent hour every night (in fact, I put my phone to bed at 8:30pm and it goes into Do Not Disturb mode so that I set the tone for winding down.)

Family Traditions

As part of our mission of creating a close, tight knit family, Ryan and I decided to start “family traditions.” These seem like minor things, but their OUR FAMILY’S things so they’re big things to us. Some of the simple things we do are traditions like Taco Tuesday and Pizza and Game Night Fridays. These are stable, routine things that we hope make our kids feel secure and connected to our family unit. We eat dinner every night anyway, why not pick one night and just make it a “tradition.” We try to have “movie night” on Saturday nights although we’re not very consistent in that one. Whatever tradition you create doesn’t have to be perfect – it’s ok if it’s not perfect or done with 100% consistency. Just being together and creating memories as a family is the goal here.

Another tradition we do that the kids LOVE is “Fancy Dinner.” We had all this wedding china sitting in drawers and in cabinets and for what? We rarely used it and it just sat collecting dust. So one day we decided to dust it off and let the kids use it as we had Fancy Dinner. They flipping LOVE IT! They feel fancy and honored that they get to use our china. We do this once a month and even if the meal is lame, it still feels fancy because of the plate – I mean talk about upsell!

Since so many social interactions in life are centered around food, we include Hayden in our family dinners each night even though he doesn’t eat food by mouth. We use the time each night, to check in with each other and each family member shares a “Sunshine” and “Cloud” from the day which is their high and low of the day. We also keep a devotional book on the Lazy Susan on the table and we are slowly reading through it together. We added, recently, a book called “What If” and it offers hypothetical situations and each person gets to answer with how they would respond. Obviously we don’t have to use these guided materials, but it’s nice to have some structure as we range from one year olds (clearly non verbal right now HA!) to a teenager and everywhere in between so having something to put us all on the same page is a nice tool to utilize. The main point of all of this is to just sit down with your family and BE TOGETHER. I grew up in a home where this was not a priority and not a routine and I remember each meal I had at a friend’s house where we did sit down together and talk and leisurely enjoy dinner and discussion and I treasured those times and conversations greatly. That is part of our hope in doing our nightly dinners – that our kids will be inspired to converse together, to think and discuss ideas and various topics and to just enjoy being together and that when they’re outside of our home or when they have their own families they will continue in these family traditions.

Now that I’ve given all of our family secrets away 😉 our final one is this. We ultimately just want our kids to know we love them and although we are structured in the way we run things for the sake of the family unit, we are so thankful to have this family we have been given to lead and grow. To us, there is freedom in structure. Which feels like how our heavenly Father leads and grows us as well. We are free in Him and the structure of His word. But this family, and God’s family, isn’t just about rules and religion; it’s about relationship. Our prayer is that in listening to our kids now and in opening the conversations up for topics that might difficult, they will always feel welcome to come to us for advice in the future when the topics are much heavier than who should shower first or whose turn it is to turn off the lights. 😉

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Blunt Force Truth

My D Group (Discipleship Group aka Bible Study) is studying Revelation right now. It’s intense. This is by far the hardest study I’ve participated in and I’ve done many studies on Revelation and end time events before. This one is stretching me (and our whole group) in ways I wasn’t really prepared for. And thankfully, end time events is an “open handed” issue – meaning salvation doesn’t depend on nailing the order of these events or knowing if they’re literal or imagery. But it’s still hard. And sometimes I want to just quit because it’s hard. And honestly, I’m a lazy American who sometimes just wants to quit when things are difficult. But I’m not going to.

I’m about 8 weeks in to this study and I’ve delved deep in all kinds of wrath and judgment (all justified and totally due), but do you know what the saddest part has been to me? There’s one line in the passage we covered last week that states, “They did not repent of their deeds.” Rev. 16:11 God is pouring out His wrath which most people will say is so mean and terrible; but it’s actually God’s MERCY. He’s pouring out wrath in Revelation in order to BRING PEOPLE TO HIM. [Depending on interpretation,] this is the part of the world’s story where people left on earth (after the church is raptured out) who have not accepted Christ as their savior are being giving their last chances to recognize who the God of the universe is and to repent and turn to Him. But. They. Won’t. It’s unbelievable to me. They still choose to deny Him. They still choose their own pride and self.

It seems here in America, for sure, we’re so prideful and bratty and spoiled, that we no longer honor God who sits on a throne. HE sits on the throne. We worship HIM. We are not on a throne. We are not equal to God. This place (this planet, this universe, the heavenly realms, all of it) is HIS. We are HIS. Not the other way around. If Jesus is Lord of your life, He’s in the driver’s seat of your life. He’s not in the trunk. He’s not in the backseat. He’s not in the passenger seat. He’s either in the driver’s seat, or He’s not in the car at all. But it feels like oftentimes, we want to drive our car around with a mannequin up front behind the wheel while we are actually operating the car from the passenger seat “mailman style.” We want everyone around us (when it’s convenient, of course) to assume that’s Jesus leading us and driving our lives, meanwhile we won’t let go of the dang steering wheel!

Scripture commands us to DENY ourselves. We’re to take up our cross and follow HIM. He doesn’t follow us and our lead; we’re to follow HIM. When we assume we have the authority to assign gender pronouns; when we assume we have the authority to decide which lives are worth keeping alive and which aren’t; when we assume we have the authority to define marriage as anything we want, we are acting as gods and that is idolatry. The entire point of the Christian walk is that WE would decrease so HE would increase. That is dying to self. It’s denying what YOU want and only living for what HE wants. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 This idea absolutely goes against every thing that America and the current culture is feeding us. But it’s the only thing true. It’s the only thing that will last.

Pride is an incredible thing. I wonder if we understand that we are sinners. We are not good. There is no one good but the FATHER (God). Jesus even said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18. It seems in this current day and age, everyone wants to assume they’re good, though. That they’re not *that* bad – I mean look at So And So, now they’re bad! But that’s not true – even Jesus declares that He’s not good, only God is good. Being “good” gets you nowhere fast.

Good won’t get you to heaven. And neither will religion. Only CHRIST alone, through FAITH alone gets you to heaven. And you don’t just get heaven – YOU GET CHRIST! Coming to faith in Jesus will not give you health and wealth; that is a LIE. Jesus tells a person interested in following Him in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Any earthly possessions we have are His anyway and to be used for His glory, not our own.

Some people will hate what I’m saying. Maybe they’ll hate me too for saying it. But that’s ok; Jesus gave me a heads up for when that happens. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me [Jesus} first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:18-19 The only reason I say any of this is out of love for my fellow man and to follow Jesus’ last command to His followers before He left this earth. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19 I usually try to beat around the bush and be as P. C. as possible when presenting the gospel, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life is short and you truly never know what’s around the corner.

I know that sometimes “Christianese” (this using Christian language that someone outside the church may not recognize) can be a bit of an issue sometimes. What even is the “gospel” and what do you mean when you say that, Johnna? Gospel means GOOD NEWS. Here’s the good news, guys! Jesus! He’s the good news! Here’s the low down:

—-Humans are sinners. We all sin. We live in a fallen world full of sin and heartache and brokenness, and because of that we are separated from God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 This is where the pride thing can become a hang up. We don’t want to admit that we’re a sinner… we’re “good people” remember? We’ve never murdered anyone or cheated on our spouse. We’re “good, duh!” But that’s not true – Scripture tells us we’ve all sinned. Can you admit that and accept that as truth about yourself?

—-Jesus is the Son of God sent to this earth to die on a cross to make recompense for mankind’s sin. Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrificial lamb (fulfilling Old Testament Law, by the way) whose blood was shed to cover the sin of all mankind who would accept Him. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 Not by WORKS. Just Jesus. This is why I say religion won’t save you. Church won’t save you. Your pastor won’t save you. Jesus saves you. Christ alone.

—-So then what? If you can admit you’re a sinner and that you need a savior, and you believe that savior is Jesus alone and you are willing to accept His free gift, then you commit your life to Christ and ask Him to become Lord of your life. This would be the first step of a lifetime of growing and learning and being sanctified and walking with Jesus. But the first step is always the most important one. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” So this might look like a prayer that asks God for help and welcomes Jesus to become Lord of your life.

Depending on how familiar you are with scripture this may [theologically] be clear as mud – but it’s a lifelong process of studying Scripture and falling more and more in love with Jesus who loves you SO much. So, so much. When everything else fades away – your savings account, your friends, your health – Jesus will still be there and He will still be for you and with you.

If there is a question you have that I could answer or if I could pray for you or encourage you in any way, please reach out! That’s not just something I’m saying so I have a cute conclusion here, it’s a genuine offer. I am available to you whether you know me or not, and there’s nothing more important to me than helping you work toward eternity with Jesus and having a life here on earth worth living because of the hope that awaits us in heaven.

Throw the Dang Seed!

I have to be honest. I’ve thought about this blog post for nearly two years. I started this draft on July 17, 2017. I wrote the title and then clicked “save” and couldn’t come back to finish the job. I’m not completely sure why I was hesitant. But the idea that I have thought about this post for 20 months, should speak to the fact that this topic is still relevant and deep in my heart.

You know the movie, “The Blind Side?” You know, when Sandra Bullock plays a feisty southern mama who is fired up when her high school son’s football coach isn’t running the ball the way he should during a game? Sandra Bullock calls the coach on his cell phone down on the field and directs him to, “RUN THE DANG BALL!” She was fed up with his trick plays and his conservative ways of coaching and she was ready to scream at him to take action and change the method of which he’d been trying to win the game.

There’s a story I’ve heard before about a farmer scattering some seeds. Usually when I hear this story spoken about, the person presenting the material goes through the different types of soil these seeds land on and the implications of the types of soil. There’s the hard soil – they hear the message but then lose it quickly, the rocky soil – they hear the message but have no roots and once a problem arises they just wilt away, the thorny soil – they hear the message and then worldly junk and desires interfere and no crop is actually produced, and finally the good soil – they hear the message and accept it and actually produce a huge harvest.

In July 2017, when once again I had heard this story from Mark 4 talked about, it was like a siren was going off in my head; but not about which kind of soil I should be. Obviously, we should all be aiming to be the good soil. We need to hear the message, accept it and then PRODUCE a huge harvest. And that got me thinking….

At some point, we have to stop being the consumer (the soil) and start being the producer (the FARMER). We live in a day and time and in a country where we want to be told which kind of soil we should be. To be reminded that we need to have perseverance and we need to not wither away when problems come and we need to not be focused on worldly “stuff” and aspirations. But, y’all, at some point, it’s time for us to THROW THE DANG SEED! We need to step up and be the farmer. We cannot make disciples if we keep playing the character of the soil in the story. We have to move out of the role of “consuming Christianity” and be the one who is throwing some seed onto the soil.

“The farmer I talked about is the one who brings God’s message to others.” – Jesus, Mark 4:14

Is that not what we’re all called to do as believers? Bring God’s message to others? To go and make disciples? Yet it seems that often we show up to church or we play a podcast or we read a self help book to learn more about OURSELVES and not OTHERS. We are trying to make sure we’re “good soil,” yet the thing that makes the soil good is that it’s producing a harvest.

I’m no professional, nor an expert on evangelizing the Gospel, but man alive, I believe you and me, we can be some extraordinary farmers! I think it takes us being sick and tired of just being the soil in the story. Let’s step into our role as the farmer. Stop “consuming” Christianity. Stop being served and start serving. Let’s believe that we can meet people where they are, get to know them and their struggles and then share all that Jesus has done for them and how much He loves them. Let’s bring the message of God to others.

And if you needed to hear it, the message is that God loves you (in fact, literally could not love you any more than He already does) and that when you were separated from Him because of your sin, He made a way through His son, Jesus (He literally could not give you any greater of a gift than He already has). And the solution to your separation from Him could not be any simpler than it is – it’s simply believing in Him and trusting in Jesus alone as your only way to heaven. I realize that’s a quick, two sentence explanation of Jesus, but I’m so excited to THROW THE DANG SEED that all I need is two sentences and a couple of parenthesis to get it out of my hand and onto some soil.

I love you so much, I want to throw seeds at you and smack you in the face with them. 😉 What a compliment! As always, I am available and willing to answer other questions or go deeper than this platform allows, so please reach out if you want to know more about Christ and how He sustains me daily in circumstances that could destroy me.

johnna@johnnahensley.com

‘Tis the Season

It May. Mayhem, if you ask me. So many school events, class parties, teacher appreciation events, baseball games, graduations. You name it; it’s happening. And all within a five day span it feels like. Next week, my youngest son graduates from Pre-K. Tonight, my middle son completed his second year of Royal Ambassadors (a Wednesday night missions program at our church). In a couple of weeks, Hayden’s former 5th grade public school classmates will be celebrating their final walk through their elementary school halls. Obviously, as a homeschooler now, Hayden won’t be participating in those activities with his 5th grade class. He didn’t participate tonight in the RA banquet at church. He doesn’t fit any certain mold. When Hayden entered the world, in fact, the mold was crushed and obliterated. He is his own person. And we are grateful. But also, we are sad.

It’s hard to sit and watch Hayden’s peers move on in life. We always knew, theoretically, that this would become our reality. And ever so slowly, it has unfolded. This season of the year is just a time when it is on the forefront, rapidly playing out before us. Even if Hayden had remained in public school, he would not find joy in the celebration taking place for his peers. If Hayden had continued in RAs at church this year, he couldn’t have endured the banquet and all of the clapping – in fact, he stayed in the lobby with his attendant and cried because he could hear the applause through the wall and it was upsetting to him.

Oftentimes, I feel like I’m a mom with two families. I have a family of a husband and two healthy [albeit, wild] boys. We go to baseball games and cheer on our boys, we drop off our boys to their Sunday school class and leave them, free as a bird, we even sometimes go on vacations just the four of us and have a carefree, restful time. I also have a family of a husband and a special needs son. We go to doctor appointments and Operating Rooms and we cheer on our boy, we drop our boy off to his attendant at Sunday school and then keep our phones close by just in case the oxygen tank needs to be exchanged or his trach comes out, we sometimes go on trips to hotels with our boy so that he can work behind the front desk and make hotel key cards to add to his obsessive collection. Yet everyday, simultaneously, I am both moms.

The sting of watching my life as a mom not look the way I had always pictured it, doesn’t ever go away. Some days are easier than others and the grief is so faint and so small in my heart that I nearly forget it’s there. And other days, it’s so big and painful I’m not sure how I will get through it. And that is ok. Grief is a part of this journey. I’m in good company with my grief. In fact, Jesus Himself was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  (Isaiah 53:3)

I’ve been working with my counselor over the last couple of years and I know myself better, I know how to handle stress and grief better. But mostly, I know my God better. This past decade of living life as “Hayden’s mom” has opened my eyes to so many incredible, priceless lessons. I’ve seen God’s hand work in unbelievable ways. I’ve been gifted this opportunity to walk alongside and just watch His amazing plan play out. However, most recently, over the last two years, my heart has been attuned to not just God’s plans, but God Himself. To really understand the love He has for me, to believe just how loved I am, and to accept how He sees me has been the highlight of my life’s journey. I heard a quote from Bob Goff once that said, “Jesus is nuts about you! Your picture is in His wallet.” What a great illustration! The creator of the entire universe is really, really crazy about you.

See, when Jesus came to this earth to walk as a man, He experienced the same things we do. Grief, betrayal, sadness, exhaustion, hunger, thirst. And He overcame it all through His death and resurrection. And now, I have complete hope in Jesus. I know exactly what my future will look like. I know what restoration will come. And I know what true love feels like. And when you’re loved like crazy by your Creator, you are free indeed; free from the bondage of grief.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Shoe Fall, Don’t Bother Me

The weight of always waiting for the other shoe to fall is exhausting. Waiting for the “what if” to happen and always being on edge knowing it IS coming…. an ER trip, an ambulance ride, a hospitalization that could possibly be the final curtain call on your child’s life. These are things “normal people” don’t have to contend with. For my family, we are always in fight or flight mode, whether we want to be or not. I literally carry an ambubag around with me waiting for the moment I have to use it in an attempt to save my son’s life [again]. For families like mine, this is just a typical, run of the mill day of the week. Nothing to see here…

I mourn the loss of enjoying my kids’ childhood. I miss it dearly. I see parents around me who are actually just enjoying their children. They’re taking them to ball games or amusement parks, staying up late watching movies, going to a skate park or a concert. Just enjoying life alongside their children.

My child is work. I’m working nursing shifts. My son’s existence requires 24/7 care. An actual nurse works here in my house and makes a full living and receives insurance benefits because my son exists. I don’t say that to complain; I say that to emphasize that keeping this particular human being alive is work. It’s a J-O-B. Well, more of a volunteer gig for me, but still.

The unfortunate thing of it all is, my other two kids feel the consequence. I can’t fully enjoy their childhoods either. I’m so preoccupied with wondering if I’ve given all of Hayden’s meds, if it’s time to cath him or time for a feed, time for his breathing treatments, time to administer the bowel program, remembering which phone calls I need to make for the day for refills, appointments, dealings with insurance companies.

Everyone has their own problems. I completely understand that. And though mine are so much more intense, I do recognize that no one’s life is perfect and no family is perfect and pleasant and fun all the time. But I would venture to say, for the typical family, the opportunity to have fun easily is more feasible. Our family does have fun, but it is work to master it all. Yet we do it. Because we want to enjoy life, no matter what it looks like. Life is a gift and we try and treasure each day we’ve been gifted and use it to the most of our ability.

“Many are they who say of me, ‘There is no help for him in God.’ But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.” Psalm 3:2-4

Would You Like the Leather Package?

When buying a brand new car, you are offered so many customized choices and selections. Leather package, sun roof package, navigation package. You name it, you can have it. Just how you would like it to be. It’s the [first] world we live in now. You want something, just order it up.

Four months in to my son’s seven month NICU stay, we had been living at the Ronald McDonald House in Houston, Texas and had decided it was time to relocate, officially, to Houston to be near the top notch Texas Children’s Hospital. We listed for sale our home in College Station, with a beautiful and perfectly prepared nursery, mind you, and rented a one bedroom apartment in Houston, of which we used ice chests for a table, lawn chairs for seating, and a lovely air mattress to complete our master suite. At night, we would fall asleep to the hum of a deep freezer in our bedroom that was full to the brim with breast milk, or “liquid gold” that was being stored for Hayden. During Hayden’s seven months in NICU, we had spent four months in Ronald McDonald House and three months in the apartment; a total of seven months of life in disarray. We soon came to realize, when life throws you curve balls, you begin to reevaluate your priorities. The make shift arrangements in our apartment were a welcomed change from the community living set up we had experienced for so many months at Ronald McDonald House. Because of our circumstances, we were able to appreciate all the more, our own space and our own air mattress and our own kitchen “ice chest table.” Our priorities had shifted. The experience of Hayden’s birth and subsequent NICU stay was the beginning of our refinement as a couple, as a family, and followers of Jesus. We were in a position to really allow our hearts to be molded to what Christ has called us to. To leave everything behind and to seek after Him. “When Jesus heard that, he said, ‘Then there’s only one thing left to do: Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor. You will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” Luke 18:22

In early 2008, just a few weeks before Hayden’s long awaited discharge from his lengthy NICU stay, we realized we would need to get a larger vehicle able to accommodate Hayden’s custom specialty stroller, oxygen tanks, ventilator, feeding pump, pulse ox monitor and other life sustaining equipment. We had just sold our home in College Station and we took the money we had made on it and gave it to a friend to take the money to a car auction. We gave a couple of recommendations on the space we needed and what our preference would be for a make and model of vehicle, but ultimately we said we would just take what we could get with the cash we had and be happy. And so, that is how we obtained our SUV that became our main vehicle to drive Hayden and his equipment to and from doctor visits. I remember the day we were sitting in our apartment and the car arrived. My father in law had flown to Austin to pick up the car from the gentleman who had purchased it on our behalf at the auction and drive it back to Houston. We walked out to the parking lot to see what we had just purchased. What kind of people just buy a car and don’t even care what it looks like? That would be us. I didn’t pick the package that I wanted. I didn’t pick the color I wanted. I didn’t pick the fanciest upgrades. Heck, I didn’t even see it until it was already ours. And you know what – it didn’t matter. It was just a car. It was a tool. It served a purpose; but it did not define me. If our identity is in Christ, the things we own, the clothes we wear, the jobs we have, the vacations we take – none of this defines us.

I’ve come to realize you have to be so deeply in love with Jesus that if all of these things in your life disappear and if all the people in your life fall away, that He will be your rock and your steady fortress. Like the old hymn says, “Though none go with me, I still will follow.” This life is not solely about your pleasure. In fact, it’s the opposite. If you’re following after Jesus, then HE will be your joy. But.you.will.have.troubles! “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 It is not a surprise. It’s not a trick move. Jesus is very upfront about it. But oh my gosh, people, He is so worth the “hassle.” *sarcasm added* I promise you!! The Bible never once says “follow your heart.” Nothing about a Christian life is about your ultimate happiness and just doing what feels good and pursuing your own selfish desires. The Bible is about following Jesus and doing His will, no matter the circumstances.

As I write this, my son is 20 days post op from a major surgery and has currently been readmitted to the PICU due to complications. He went through an eight hour surgery only 20 days ago. After his initial discharge from the hospital, when all the noise stopped, the visitors slowed down and I found myself living in another Ronald McDonald House, this time in Ohio, taking care of Hayden on my own, I began to feel isolated. It was easy to lose sight of where my foundation was. Those first few days after discharge when life was crazy busy doing my nursing duties for Hayden and being so focused on flushing his tubes, giving his feeds, doing his treatments, and everything else on the list 24/7, I was leaving a door wide open for the enemy to mess with me. To draw my focus to my circumstances, my temporary situation rather than my eyes staying fixed on God and finding my rest in Jesus. It is a constant, day to day journey to be on with the Lord. It’s not a “say a prayer, obtain salvation and then do what you want.” Salvation isn’t a safety net. It’s an action – to WALK with the Lord.

Are you walking with Him? Do you hear the Spirit inside you guiding you and directing you? Are you seeking Him? Or are you distracted? Do you think your happiness is all that matters? There’s a quote I heard once about marriage, but I think could apply to most areas of life. “Marriage isn’t about making you happy, it’s about making you holy.” I completely agree with that statement from a marital standpoint, but also feel we could apply it to so many areas. For example in my own life, “Parenthood isn’t about making you happy, it’s about making you holy.” As cute and adorable as Hayden is, our situation is hard and I’m not always happy about all the intense work I have to do. But if I change my perspective and consider that my circumstance is one that is making me holy, then I welcome it. Even though it is hard. Would you trust Him enough to know that He loves you and He wants to make you HOLY and more like Him. He loves you so much. God created you, and then He sent His own son to rectify our faults so that through Him we could be reconciled, and then He even gave us the Holy Spirit to literally exist inside of us and be our own personal counselor. If you know Him, draw closer to Him every moment of every day. If you don’t know Him, please come to trust Him. I promise you, He is worth it.

No Refunds or Exchanges

You know how some stores have strict and sometimes even nonexistent refund policies? “All Sales Final” posted in the window means, if you plan to shop, you better love what you get and be prepared to stick with it, because there are no take backs.

That’s parenthood, isn’t it? You have a kid and all of a sudden you’re in a situation where, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” My special needs son is now ten. And he is my first born. So up until Hayden entered my life a decade ago, I didn’t know anything about even being a parent, let alone a parent to a special needs child.

Now this post isn’t a pity party. (I do have pity parties on rare occasions and the guest list is quite small, reserved seating only for those closest to the madness. In fact, my first pity party was held in the Postpartum unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston in 2007. My mother in law and I were the only attendees and we held the pity party in the hallway while walking the unit, post surgery, trying to prevent blood clots and building up my strength. We took a moment right near the “healthy babies” in the nursery window to bawl our eyes out, right along with the babies, as we thought of how much we wished Hayden was with us instead of in an ICU in the hospital next door.)

I write a lot about how I had no comparison to what “normal” should be when Hayden was born. I count that a blessing. I didn’t know any differently and I just did what needed to be done. However, due to my own blissful ignorance, I have had moments of enlightenment mixed with grief. I remember back when Hayden was about two and half or three, I was by myself visiting a friend who had a child just a few months older than Hayden. This friend and I were seated on her couch and she asked her three year old, “Bring Mommy the phone.” And he did it. Like, he heard her. He processed the request. He used his legs and went over and retrieved the item she needed. And he brought it to her. Just like that! In that moment, I just froze and stared in amazed bewilderment. Is this what kids can do?? Is this what Hayden would do if he could? She didn’t even have to lay out the steps one by one. She didn’t have to give him two choices of which item she needed. She didn’t have to put him on a scooter board, prone, and make sure he was secured so he could pull himself to the item. This was the most amazing thing I had ever seen a kid do!

There was another time, I was out of town for a conference and I stayed the night with some friends of ours who had two kids, probably around the ages of 5 and 1. They had cooked a lovely dinner and the five of us sat down to eat. We each sat in our spot, the kids fed themselves and no one’s oxygen monitor indicated a desaturation, no one needed suctioning; we just sat there and ate. And afterward the kids took a bath and went to sleep. Then there was free time. I do not exaggerate when I say I literally, felt like I was in a resort. No one needed an hour’s worth of treatments before bed, no one needed to have their meds drawn up, there was no troubleshooting of ventilators and concentrators, and after the kids were asleep no one had to prepare tomorrow’s blenderized foods and draw up food bags. It was incredible. And I do not say that to discount parenting typical children who are 5 and 1! That is hard work, too! I have other kids who are typical and I know there are challenges with every child. It’s just that my observations of this family revealed what “normal” would look like.

Even now, as my son is ten and his peers are staying home alone for small amounts of time, my mind is just BLOWN. How is this happening?! Every day that passes, more shots of grief strike at random times when I least expect them. A scroll through my Facebook feed recently revealed nearly the whole 5th grade class went to a sleep away camp together for three days. As all the proud mommas posted pictures of their child’s send off to camp, inside I ached as a knife twisted my heart. I know my son won’t be able to do everything like everyone else his age. (Heck, at this point he homeschools anyway so this particular trip wasn’t even an option for him as he’s not enrolled in that school anymore – but it’s just the principle of the whole matter.) And then my inner voice starts to get frustrated that other moms get to post their pictures while I sit and ponder, “Do they even know how I feel? How hard this is for me? How lucky they are?” It’s like this selfish indignation that occasionally rears its ugly head.

You know, as many “cons” that I could list and dwell on, if I allowed myself to do so, there are more “pros” than I could probably ever count. Yes, I have had to deal with changing diapers and cleaning up poop for a solid decade and counting. I’ve watched my son miss out on events and experiences. I’ve had to neglect my other two typical sons and watch them struggle as they yearn for my attention. I mourn often of what our “normal” family would have looked like and how different things would have been. However, the people we have met on this journey – other special needs moms, Special Ed teachers, precious doctors and nurses, celebrities like Pat Sajak and Vanna White and John Cena, – the experiences we have had as a family like participating in a Make a Wish trip, watching Hayden develop and grow in his own skin and becoming a self proclaimed “VIP”, and developing friendships with people we never would have met like Aaron Watson, Cal Johnson, Kathleen Barkley, our town’s mayor and so many more, are all things I would never want to have missed out on. Mostly, the biggest “pro” to top the list is that we have a true perspective of LIFE. We have a fresh opportunity every single day to live out sacrificial love. I will never look at situations, circumstances, or “stuff” the same way. And that is because I was given Hayden, to be mine.

There’s a Southern Gospel song that I absolutely love whose lyrics speak truth to me. “I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey Now” says,

“I’ve had a lot of heartache and I met a lot of grief and woe
But when I would stumble then I would humble down
And there I’d say, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now”

This journey isn’t something I would have picked for myself, but it is undoubtedly one I would never trade. The lessons and experiences from this life are priceless, but ultimately, the reason I would never trade it, is because I have grown closer to Jesus BECAUSE of my circumstances. And for that I am so, so grateful to be in this place that is difficult, exhausting, and unfair. It’s in this place that I am humbled to look UP to Him and praise His name for His sovereign plan and for the gift of salvation that He offers to us all. Because of what He has done for us, by dying on the cross, we can all have hope of eternity with Him.

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last FOREVER! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

It’s impossible for me to read those words and not tear up. God is so gracious to have given us Jesus to make a way for us to have hope. And so during my circumstances, that I wasn’t wise enough to even know I needed, I look to Him and am eager for an eternity with Him. I trust Him completely and I know that none of this world is about me – it is about HIM and spreading God’s glory throughout all of the world. I am incredibly honored and blessed that we get to do just that in the even tiniest way, by using our situation to continue to give glory to God.

If you don’t have that relationship with Jesus, or if you have questions about how to develop such a relationship and feel secure in your eternity, as always, please reach out to me or a local church. My contact information can be found under the “About” tab on this blog.

I’ll sum up with this line from a friend of Hayden’s, Aaron Watson. “No it won’t all go the way that it should, but I know the heart of life is good.”

What Are You Even Saying?

In this world and in this life I live, I find my hope in Christ alone. People who are close to me have heard me talk about being #RaptureReady. In my circle of Christian friends I’ve heard people use the phrase “Come quickly, Jesus,” after insane world events or other disasters. I long for the day Jesus will come quickly and put an end to all of this madness and evil and sin. However, I started to wonder if there are people out there who don’t know why Christians make statements like this.

I can’t speak on behalf of all Christians everywhere or about all the different theologies and beliefs out there; I can only speak to my own walk with the Lord. I know this world is not my home. My home is in heaven because I am a follower of Christ and have a personal relationship with Him, one He initiated with me and that I accepted from Him through faith. And through that same faith, I trust completely that this world is not all there is for me. One day, this lifetime here will be a far off distant, foggy dream. “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later.” Romans 8:18

The Bible tells us that this earth will end one day; this earth will be destroyed and a new heaven and a new earth will be created – (“Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and everything in them will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be exposed to judgment.” 2 Peter 3:10, “Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will remain forever.” Luke 21:33, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.” Revelation 21:1, and many other verses…)

To get down to the basics of it, one day the earth will end. But before this earth ends, we will have signs to look for to know that time is winding down. And as we see the time winding down, from the signs described to us in the Bible, the church looks for Christ’s return to take His believers home. “You should look forward to that day and hurry it along – the day when God will set the heavens on fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”  2 Peter 3:12-13

The reason we can look forward to that, is because as believers we know we will spend eternity in heaven with the Lord. And for that reason alone, I am able to get up every morning and do the work that has been assigned to me during my time here. “Since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives you should be living!” 2 Peter 3:11

It is not easy and there is suffering. Jesus said that and was very upfront about it – that following Him meant there would be suffering and pain, but that we should rejoice in the suffering because it is for the Kingdom’s cause. We should embrace suffering. That’s not a very popular concept in this day and age. We want comfort and ease and success and “stuff”. But it’s all going to burn one day. The only thing you can take with you is the work you did for the Lord. “And even we Christians although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a  foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us.” Romans 8:23

See, there’s not going to just be a new heaven and a new earth. There will a new body. Which is why I know without a shadow of a doubt that my son will one day never need his wheel chair again. It’s a temporary accessory that will one day burn up with this earth. But my son’s spirit and soul and brand new body will live for eternity with Christ because of the tremendous gift Christ offered to us. To all of us. For free – you just have to accept it. This earth has an expiration date, and if you can’t tell that time here is getting shorter and shorter, I’m not sure what else will wake you up. I know we’re supposed to be politically correct and let everyone do their own thing, but I love you too much to not tell you about Christ and how much He flipping loves you and wants you to be with Him in eternity! “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.” 2 Peter 3:9

If you’re not a believer, hop onto BibleGateway.com and read some of the Word or send me an email with your address and I will send you a Bible. If you want to repent of your sins and walk with the Lord (please note, I did not say be perfect – but walk with Him and have Him guide you), then pray to Him and just call out to Him. If you want a person to talk to or ask questions to, I now make myself available to you. This post is different from my usual post, but it’s just down to the heart of it. I could beat around the bush, but at the end of the day, and of the world, I just want you to know that God loves you, sent His son Jesus to take the punishment for your sins and He can redeem you if you just ask Him.

 

 

They’re Just Forks

Imagine you and a handful of friends are co-hosting a party; maybe a baby shower or a bachelor party. You and the other hosts are at the venue prior to the event starting and you’re setting up. You’ve got the food out on the tables and the cake table is just perfectly so, things are shaping up nicely. You just need to put out the forks and you should be good to go for the event to begin! Except, as you start to place the forks on the table, one of the other hosts has a different idea about how to display them. You want them stacked in a nice, orderly fashion – piles of five forks each, fanned out just right. The other host wants them tossed into a Mason jar with some cute ribbon tied around the jar. Another host thinks the forks should be wrapped inside napkins with raffia tied around them.

For whatever reason, this fork talk has gotten you all hot and bothered. You just can’t imagine why these other hosts won’t agree with your way to display the forks. And an argument ensues. Here you are, three grown adults, going to town with a “heated fellowship” over how to put some forks out on a table. Meanwhile, your voices are getting louder and louder. And the guests for the party are beginning to arrive…. they are literally outside the front door about to ring the doorbell when one of the guests says to the other in disbelief, “Do you hear that? Are people arguing and bickering?? I’m not sure I want to go inside if this is what there is to look forward to in there.”

Yet, you keep arguing. Except now, it’s not even about the forks. In the heat of the moment, you’ve moved on to how the decorations aren’t what you would have picked. Or there was a better cake flavor choice than the one being served. Things continue to escalate.  And more and more guests are standing outside not slightly interested in coming into this circus.

And before you know it, the guest of honor shows up expecting to be welcomed by family and friends. But instead, what the guest of honor finds upon arrival is a whole bunch of people standing outside the venue dreading even going inside. No one has spoken to these guests or invited them in, because there were “bigger things” going on – bigger arguments to settle among the hosts. There wasn’t time to address those on the outside of the door. Heck, you didn’t even look up to notice they were watching you. You were so wrapped up in being right or having your voice heard among the other hosts, that you never did your job. The job assignment was to welcome guests into the venue and to be kind and loving to them, serving them.

Now it’s too late, though. The guest of honor is here. And you weren’t ready. And neither were those on the outside of the door. Oh, you had the place decorated and you had all that you needed to get the thing done. But you couldn’t see past the forks. And instead, you ignored the people outside. You disregarded how the guest of honor would feel about your behavior. You got caught off guard but you knew all along this event was going to happen.

But that’s us isn’t it? Us in the church body – us Christians. We’ve been given a job assignment, but we’re so wrapped up in arguing among each other that we are embarrassing ourselves and no one wants to come in to the church body of believers. They’re watching from the outside seeing our ridiculous behavior and we literally have no clue. Because we just want to win an argument with other evangelicals. Meanwhile, there are people on the outside who need Jesus and do not know Him and it’s our JOB to “go and make disciples of all the nations” for Him (Matthew 28:19). HE is the Guest of Honor and He IS going to show up. The end of this age is coming. No one knows precisely when that will be, but Jesus said He will be coming back. The invitation has been sent out. The event will take place. Are you going to be caught off guard – in the middle of an argument with a fellow Christian over the most recent topic the world’s media suggested you argue about? Or are you going to be caught in the act of being kind and welcoming, showing God’s love to those on the other side of the door?

And when He does show up, are you going to recognize Him? Do you know Him, know Him? Are you spending time with Him daily? Talking to Him? Reading His Letters to you? Loving Him more than anything or anyone else? Waiting anxiously for the day He will see you face to face and call you by name? Because inside the venue or just outside the door, the time will come when you will have a conversation with the Guest of Honor. And how that scene plays out, is for you to decide. Will it be one of loving embrace and immeasurable happiness? Or one of sorrow and regret?

“See, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me, to repay all according to their deeds.” Revelation 22:12

 

I encourage you, please reach out to myself or a local church if you have questions about what it means to know Jesus personally. The thing Jesus wants most is you. He created you for a relationship with Him. 

Remarkably Loved

I have a name that is hard to pronounce. And hard to spell. For the majority of my life, I have answered to anything: “Johanna”, “Jonah”, “Joanna”. I have been the person who most people forget, yet, ironically, I remember most people. Quietly, contemplatively, I am always people watching and remembering idle tidbits of information about someone. I am an introvert whose thoughts in my head exhaust me and I rarely share a mild portion of them in conversation with others around me.

In 2007, something changed. I became a mom. Of a special needs son. I was taught by medical staff how to be empowered. How to stand up for my child and be his voice. How to advocate for him and follow my gut instinct. All of a which I eagerly embraced. When it comes to my children, I know what my job is and I know have a valuable voice.

As a parent of a special needs child, though, I spend so much time and energy fighting for my son, that it is very easy to lose my own personal identity. I have to remind myself that I am more than just “Hayden’s Mom.” I am more than a walking computer data base of lab values, vent setting and med checklists. But then, who am I without this identity of being my son’s “Case Manager”?

Last week, I took my three boys on a walk around our neighborhood with the help of Hayden’s nurse. Hayden and his nurse were a few yards behind myself and the two younger boys. As I walked past a neighbor out in their front yard, he and I did the casual neighbor-wave-exchange move and I continued walking on. A few moments behind me, Hayden and his nurse walked by the same neighbor. Only this time, Hayden received the royal treatment, which is a wonderful thing. “How are you Hayden?! Good to see you! You’re looking great!” Then, as an afterthought, my neighbor gave a glance ahead of Hayden to where “Hayden’s Mom” was standing and then the light bulb clicked. My identifying mark is Hayden’s presence beside me. The neighbor and I then exchanged pleasantries and we all went on with our day. This scenario I described, happened twice during this one outing. It has happened countless times in numerous settings. It is a humbling experience. To know that your impression left on someone was not always strong enough to leave a mark. That you are the Robin to someone else who is Batman.

The enemy knows how to mess with me. He knows how to mess with you. You might not believe that, but it is true. The Bible tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12. It is spiritual warfare. I began to allow the enemy to convince me that without Hayden I was completely unremarkable. I almost believed I had no value without this person that I invest my heart and soul into. Countless voices in my head telling me – “No one even knows how to say your name, let alone spell it.” “Your neighbors don’t even remember who you are unless Hayden is with you.” “There’s nothing you’re great at on your own. It’s only because of Hayden that you’re worth anything.”

Feeling worthy of love and yearning to be empty of shame has been a life long struggle of mine for a variety of a reasons. Because of this natural bend toward not feeling worthy of receiving love, it has always been hard for me to process the following information:

There is a Person who is straight up, head over heels in love with me. He adores me. He values everything I have to say. He is my biggest cheerleader. He knows how to pronounce my name. When He wrote my name in His book, He did not misspell it. He wants me to live with him for eternity. 

I have to remember daily whose I am. I am not Hayden’s. Hayden exists separate from me. I exist separate from Hayden. I exist separate from my husband and my kids and my laundry piles and my trips to the ball field. I have to first exist in my relationship with the Lord. This needs to be my daily reminder. It is a constant battle between my flesh and my heart. The enemy is so great at convincing us that our children are our number one priority. That we need to do everything for them so they will grow up to be amazing adults and make us proud. Or maybe we are convinced our spouse needs to be our entire focus; their happiness and serving them and honoring them. Or perhaps we are just certain that our career is where our value is found. Those are all wonderful things, children, spouses, careers. But our first priority is a real, interactive relationship with God. It is why we were created.

And that is why we are miserable running from here to there and back again while we check Pinterest at red lights to make sure we are hitting the mark with our children’s birthday party decor and making certain our Fitbit has synced so we can show the world we dominated the Workweek Hustle. Those things are just not where it is at, y’all. It never will be. Maybe those are all lovely things, but that is not what it is going to be about when all is said and done.

I am preaching to myself in this post; I have got to remember that He is jealous for me. He is jealous for all of this time I wake up and only invest in others and leave Him as an afterthought. In the bestseller, “Imagine Heaven,” John Burke, makes a great connection when he says, “As God reveals to the Old Testament prophets, when we forsake our Creator to go our own way against his will, and when we love other things more than God, it breaks his heart (an idol is anything we put first before God). All the warnings of punishment and judgment for sin and rebellion in the Old Testament remind us that our actions have cause-and-effect consequences. When we turn from our Creator, we hurt God, and we hurt each other – always – even if we don’t see it yet.”

So for whoever out there, like me, can easily feel unworthy and unnoticed, there is good news.

There is a Person who is straight up, head over heels in love with you. He adores you. He values everything you have to say. He is your biggest cheerleader. He knows your name. He wants to see your name in His book. He wants you to live with Him for eternity.