Eleven years ago today, I moved from Dallas to Philadelphia.

I got on a plane with a one-way ticket from beautiful friends who believed God enough to support me on my journey–even so far as to drive my car halfway across the country.

I embarked on an adventure of trusting God to do more than I could do on my own.

I left the familiar comforts of knowing when, where, and how to do things. Simple things, like how to get to the grocery store, how to get my car inspected, how to pay for tolls on the highway. I never expected to be so profoundly disoriented in my own country simply by moving to a new city and state.

On this journey, I’ve questioned God’s goodness and sovereignty. He has been so patient with my wrestling. More than I deserve.

I’ve experienced emotional pinnacles and waded through some of life’s nadirs.

I’ve done things I never knew I’d do: made disciples, led a ministry, been jobless, taught high school, attended graduate school, worked as an administrative assistant, helped people get married, gotten married myself, watched a child being born, birthed my own, recorded an album, taught workshops, lost my last surviving parent, lost friends, made new ones.

I wish I’d trusted God more, and more quickly.

I wish I’d rested in Him more.

I wish I’d been wiser with my tongue, saying the things that should have been said and keeping my mouth shut at the right times.

I wish I hadn’t been timid when a moment called for boldness.

Overall, I’m grateful for the journey and hopeful for the future. I hope I’ve learned from what my mother called the shoulda-woulda-couldas.

I hope my daughter learns from mine, too.


Thinking of Nanny

Yesterday would have been my grandmother’s 112th birthday. Or so we think.

She was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. I was told that the county courthouse burned down, and that her birth records were lost. So they estimated that she was born in 1905.

I think often of the American history that parallels her life. The peak of lynchings in the Jim Crow South was in the late 19th & early 20th century. I wonder what it must’ve been like for her parents–my paternal great grandparents–to bring a child into the world, knowing that their daughter would be seen and treated as less than human in her own country.

I think of my parents, who brought me home from the hospital just six months after Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court. My mother married my father after she’d gotten pregnant with me. I imagine the thought might’ve crossed her mind to get rid of me before she’d even met me face-to-face.

My Civil Rights generation parents lived through segregated restaurants, dressing rooms, water fountains, buses, schools, etc. Their first personal encounter with the Klu Klux Klan was seeing them–fully robed–outside our neighborhood grocery store in the early ’90’s. They were in their fifties. I was away at college.

My grandmother and parents are now deceased. I wonder what they thought their future family’s history in America might be. Were they jaded by what they saw?

And then I think of my own daughter, with whom I went into labor on Mother’s Day. I carried her in my womb through the Boston marathon bombing and manhunt, and through George Zimmerman’s trial for Trayvon Martin’s murder. She had just learned to walk when Tamir Rice was murdered. She learned sight words and phonics during the investigation of the deaths of Sandra Bland and too many others.

I will share with my daughter a hope-filled vision of God’s preferred future from the Scriptures. But I will also show her a truthful picture of history. And by God’s grace, I’ll teach her how to navigate the present and future: Bible hidden in her heart and mind, hands extended to others with mercy and grace, feet prepared to go wherever He leads her to advocate for a more just society.

Giving The Gift of Motherhood

I’ve spent more of my life as a single woman (38 years) than as a married one (almost 5 years). My only child is about to turn 3 in less than a week (*gasp*). And I have spent 20 Mother’s Day celebrations without my own mother. So I have a sensitivity to women who have not had children of their own (whether through singleness or infertility). I’ve felt the sting of being motherless most often around her birthday (early December) and the date of her passing (three days before Christmas). Any memory or milestone can trigger feelings of loss or emptiness, even two decades after my mother’s death.

I say all that to say…I understand the wound. I have felt the wound. I still feel it sometimes.

So if that’s you–if you’re feeling the wound this Mother’s Day–you’re not alone.

The enemy of your soul would love for you to feel like you are.

He’d love for you to isolate yourself, to sulk, to play patty cake at your own pity party.

He’d love to steal your joy and peace by trading in the truth for his lies.

So here’s the truth:

You can still be fully feminine (even if your womb is empty) and fully loved (even if you’ve never been a wife) and can be fully parented by God (even if you are still reeling from the ache of losing your mother).

Here’s one way I have learned to experience joy in the face of dreams deferred and tangible loss:

Give what you don’t have.

That sounds super crazy, doesn’t it? How do you give what you don’t have?

You have to have access to a bigger storehouse than yourself.

If I’m doing this well, I’m acknowledging my hope/loss, and looking to God Himself as my chief Comforter. He becomes my storehouse of joy. And I’m able to celebrate others rather than solely soaking in my own tears/regrets/griefs.

I could send a text to all my mom friends celebrating the fact that they’re doing the hard work of mothering.

I could give a hug to an empty nester who’s missing her kids who might be around my age.

I could mentor a younger single woman who’s having trouble finding her way.

I could tutor a child who might be struggling with a subject in which God has given me proficiency.

I could find ways within my circle of influence to affirm motherhood and participate in it: encouraging words, babysitting, disciple making, volunteering, etc.

There are a million and one ways to give the gift of motherhood–the very thing you may feel has been withheld from you. Just look around you! And as you’re giving it away, you’ll marvel to see how God fills you with joy and peace as He becomes your greatest joy.

Reflections on Our 4th Anniversary

This. Man. Here.

I woke up this morning to a phone call from my husband wishing me happy anniversary–from downstairs in the kitchen! I rushed down to find that he had gotten up extra early to cook breakfast for me. BEFORE HE LEFT FOR WORK AT 6AM.

Orange strawberry banana juice, banana waffles, sliced strawberries, veggie omelet, and a ribeye (grilled last night)!

This. Man. Right. Here.

But watch this…

The beautiful thing isn’t just how he surprises me on the special days. It’s his faithfulness on the not-so-special days. The regular ol’ plain vanilla ones.

When he wakes up extra early to worship the Lord and abide in His Word AND clean out the dishwasher.

When I’ve hit the proverbial wall and just can’t do any more housewifing or mothering or breathing and HE HANDLES IT.

Whatever IT is at that moment–often after working a full day/week of manual labor.

He hates when I brag on him. But I can’t help myself.

He reminds me of God’s love for me.

I never have to worry about my husband’s faithfulness. He takes his covenant with me seriously.

When he doesn’t feel like doing something, yet he knows it’s in the best interest of his family, he puts his own desires aside and does whatever needs to be done. He is always thinking of how to provide for, care for, and protect us.

God’s love in Christ is like that. Faithful. Sacrificial. Protective. Nurturing.

Too often I will see a woman with a man who hasn’t demonstrated faithfulness to God, hasn’t developed a sacrificial bone in his body, leaves her vulnerable to the wiles of the enemy, takes advantage of her rather than cultivating her–yet she somehow hopes that he will be faithful to her in marriage. That he will sacrifice his wants for her needs. That he will guard himself and her from physical & emotional danger. That he will cultivate her walk with Christ when he isn’t even cultivating his own.

I grieve. I have been in her shoes.

I’m on the other side of marriage, after the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony, beyond the honeymoon bliss. I’m in diaper-change mode. Constant discipline mode. The We-Hongry-Whatchu-Make-For-Dinner Zone.

Here’s what I know.

It takes a lot more than tight abs, chocolate skin, and a nice wardrobe to get it done on this side. It takes knees chafed from prayer and a big dose of humility for our stiff necks and backbones and dying to self and a singular unwavering commitment to the One who holds all things together by the word of His power and diligence in the dark and character when no one else is around and giving each other unmerited favor and not giving each other what we really deserve. Over and over again. Until we die.

So on our anniversary, I’m thanking God for the husband I have.

I’m grateful for the second chance He gave us at life and love.

I’m overwhelmed by God’s love for me. For us.

I’m forever indebted to God for turning me from my foolish ways of thinking and acting and giving me a new heart and mind to pursue what He wants.

And I’m as committed as ever to helping other women walk in the true beauty that God has for us in Christ.

Hello again

Why, hello there.  ūüôā

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  I’ve had tons of writing sessions and brainstorming sessions in my head and my dreams.  And absolutely none of them have managed to make their way to this blog. If someone could patent the technology to get the thoughts out of my head while I’m taking a nap…!

We’ve had a lot going on here at Johnsonville (that’s what we call our home) since early March.

…a basement renovation.  This took on a life of its own from spring through summer.  It was like having a houseguest who didn’t want to leave and ate everything in the fridge.  Now that it’s done, it’s like having a live-in BFF.  We’ve increased our living space by 1/3 and our sanity by 6 gazillion bajillion percent.  I’m not even kidding.  There’s still lots of purging and rearranging to be done, but that’s easy peasy compared to dumping the last 9 years of my life in our dining & living room and climbing over it for three or four months. We still have to finish the half bathroom in the basement–but I can’t even say the word “renovation” around my husband without his eyes rolling back in his head and foam escaping his mouth.  As our toddler says, “No more!”  Bless his heart (as we say in Texas).  He did all the electrical work and stayed on top of the project’s completion like a BOSS.  My hero, The Construction Man.

…celebrating our daughter’s birthday, Mother’s Day, my birthday, Father’s Day, and my husband’s birthday.  As you can see, spring and summer is birthday/parent appreciation season for us.  From mid-May through early August, it’s hot and poppin’ at Johnsonville.  And with our daughter turning two, it’s like that EVERY DAY!  Where does that child get all this energy?!  Definitely not from us, these days.  The older my husband and I get, it’s also feeling like geriatric season.  Pass the Dentucreme, honey.

…a trip to Louisville, KY, to serve at #WorshipGod15 just before that last birthday.  Between rehearsals with guest musicians, attending workshops with our team, and connecting with so many new and wonderful people at the conference, my poor husband wasn’t even thinking about celebrating himself by the time we got back home and his day came around!  Still, it was super nice to have some adult conversation time without our daughter.  Every once in a while I like to speak in sentences that don’t include lines from “The Wonder Pets,” the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Hot Dog Dance, or two-syllable repeated words like “eat-eat” or “nap-nap.”  I had plenty of opportunities for that on this trip!

We used as much of August as we could to connect, rest, and recalibrate in preparation for September, which kicks off a busy season of service for us.

On September 6, I celebrated nine years of ministry at Epiphany Fellowship.  I naturally tend towards introspection, but anniversaries and milestones make my thoughts turn inward even more.  My most recent musings? I gave up a lot to move halfway across the country…does it even matter that I’m here?  What difference did it even make?  I know.  My husband had to check me and give The Encourager some encouragement.  And then the Holy Spirit used my husband’s words to draw me to repentance:  How dare I call a work that God has done in and through me a menial thing!  Cue the waterworks and shut my mouth, Lord!  And that, He did.

The following week, our church celebrated our ninth anniversary.  What a great weekend!  Indoor/outdoor picnic (due to a few raindrops), then a great celebration on Sunday with Pastor Blake Wilson from Crossover Bible Fellowship in Houston, TX. And then my mother-in-law kept our daughter until Tuesday morning–and this tired momma rejoiced!  Never have I cleaned my house with such joy.  And I was glad to see my little when I picked her up!

So here we are, end-of-September, hunkered down for all the madness that will ensue as Pope Francis and the rest of the known world descends upon our fair city this weekend.  Somewhere in there, my husband and I will politely put up the church finger as we celebrate our wedding anniversary…without the security checkpoints and dramaration.

So…now that we’re all caught up…

On a future post, we can get back to business and finish our #SundaySong journey through the track listing of Centered!

And after we’ve finished that, maybe somebody can Bluetooth my brain and dump all my blog ideas onto the screen.  ūüôā

#SundaySong 3/8/2015 – Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

It’s #SundaySong time–even though my SundaySong post has¬†crept into the wee hours of Monday morning! ¬†LOL!

In today’s¬†stroll¬†through Centered,¬†let’s take a look at “Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.”

(Shameless plug:¬†Doxa‘s live debut album is available now via all digital outlets, including¬†iTunes,¬†Amazon,¬†and Google Play.)

This is a traditional English¬†hymn that my husband¬†Aaron Johnson reimagined for our context at Epiphany Fellowship. ¬†The lyrics were written by Samuel Trevor Francis, a bivocational minister who once contemplated suicide on a bridge over the Thames River–but God met him there in his deepest despair. ¬†That short historical note gives this song so much meaning. ¬†Just¬†imagine–what if the author¬†thought back to¬†that moment when he wrote this song? ¬†Rather than focusing on his deep despair in that moment of contemplation, what if God gave him deep waters as a word picture to describe His vast love for him at the¬†point of his deepest need? ¬†Mercy!!

Introducing an English hymn to a varied urban context like ours means making artistic choices that include considering who’s attending our gatherings, as well as who we would like to attend. ¬†While our context is not comprised solely¬†of African-Americans, a large number¬†of our attendees and residents of¬†the surrounding neighborhood¬†are.

I think the minor feel of this song¬†speaks to¬†the history of African-Americans. ¬†Much (not all, but much) of Black history is steeped¬†in¬†injustice, tragedy, suffering, loss, grief, etc.,¬†and those stories¬†simply can’t be fully communicated and experienced with major scales. ¬†By the same token, African-Americans¬†have experienced joy in the midst of pain, and we have tasted hope and victory in the midst of adversity.

We need both the black keys and¬†the white keys as¬†a robust¬†musical palette to paint¬†the spectrum of our human experience. ¬†And in¬†a song with hopeful, heavenward lyrics like this one, isn’t it good to experience¬†the promise¬†of the major chords¬†in the midst of the minor ones?

I think Aaron’s¬†arrangement captures a¬†great¬†perplexity and breadth of the human experience. ¬†He¬†kept the original melody and gives it a rich bed of harmonies to relax in. ¬†The accompaniment¬†includes piano (with jazz flavor by Brett Kinard) and¬†organ (common in African-American church contexts, like the ones in which my husband learned to play), as well as guitar (with a rock edge by Harry Wilson). ¬†And the horns? ¬†Even more¬†ear candy.

In our gatherings
As are most hymns, “Oh the Deep” has a simple, easy-to-learn melody that makes it a great fit¬†for corporate worship at Epiphany Fellowship. ¬†We might place this song¬†in the middle¬†of our opening set–it is mid-tempo, but has enough movement to keep the momentum from the first song going (always a mid-to-up-tempo selection). ¬†And the mood set with the lyrics and arrangement are a great setup (both theologically and artistically) for wherever we land with the final song in the set list.

I am¬†always thinking of ways to communicate the love of God through Jesus¬†Christ to believers and unbelievers. ¬†Depending on the flow of songs on a given day, I might introduce this song by pointing to our depravity to show the depth of our¬†need for God’s love. ¬†And I might end¬†the song by exhorting us¬†to consider the expression of love in Jesus’ death¬†in our place on the cross, to bask in and celebrate God’s great love for us (in light of our¬†depravity), and to share that love with others using both our lives and our words.

How it speaks to me
I am called to a life of love, yet all my attempts at¬†loving are marred by my brokenness. ¬†I need the love of God to dictate and direct my affections so that a Godward focus allows me to love people as He loves them–as He would if He were in my body.

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live; and the life I now live, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal. 2:20, loosely quoted).

The essence of my loving well is completely wrapped up in my identifying with Jesus’ death for me, allowing the Holy Spirit to apply Jesus’ death and life to me, and sharing that love with everyone I encounter.

How it can speak to you

Let’s worship the Lord as we consider a few ideas¬†from “Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” and apply them to our lives:

  1. Do you think of Jesus’ love as big, broad, deep, vast? ¬†Do you see His love as being for you? ¬†for you? ¬†Or do you feel like you aren’t a candidate for that love, maybe because something you’ve done (or are doing) that isn’t pleasing to God? ¬†Confess. Repent. Embrace the love of God!
  2. How can you “spread his praise from shore to shore” in practical ways? ¬†Is there someone in your sphere of influence with whom you can share the good news about Jesus? ¬†How is God raising you up to be a goer and/or a sender in local, national, and international missions? ¬†Pray for an open door ¬†(Colossians 4:2-6) to share the gospel¬†with someone this week. ¬†And pray that God would clarify the role He’s calling you to participate in ¬†for the spread of Christ’s fame in¬†missions.
  3. Are there other loves in your life that is attempting to compete with Jesus for your nearest and dearest affection?  What are they, and what are you willing and able to do to put these lesser loves in their rightful place?

Centered was released on 1/30/2015, by God’s grace.¬† Thanks so much to everyone who has already supported the project and spread the word to others!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album¬†or about¬†today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.

#SundaySong 3/1/2015 – Hosanna

It’s #SundaySong time!!

In today’s leg¬†of¬†our¬†walk through Centered, I’d like us to consider “Hosanna,” the single from the album.

(Quick plug:¬†Doxa‘s live debut album is available now via all digital outlets, including¬†iTunes,¬†Amazon,¬†and Google Play.)

The original version of this song had only a verse and chorus, but additional lyrics were written¬†to expound on the character of God. ¬†The original verse speaks of God’s holiness, power, and might. ¬†The second, of His eternality, immutability, Triune nature, wisdom, and truth. ¬†Verse three hits hard with the sovereignty, righteousness, jealousy (for His own glory), and justice of God, as well as His wrath. ¬†The final verse articulates that God is gracious, patient, faithful, kind, and loving. ¬†These attributes aren’t exhaustive by any means, but they begin to paint a beautiful picture of how God has revealed Himself in Scripture.

The title of the song comes from the chorus:

Hosanna!  Hosanna in the highest!

But what does the word hosanna mean? ¬†It’s not a term¬†that made it into everyday English discourse, is it? ¬†This Desiring God article gives a great summary of the way the word morphed¬†in meaning over the years, as well as how we can embrace it in our own life of worship!

I¬†absolutely LOVE the flute intro by Drew Zaremba–what a light and airy feel it brings to the song! ¬†It makes me feel like I’m on a summer cruise to a tropical island! ¬†(Lord, hear my cry in these single-digit temperatures and negative double-digit windchills!) ¬†The horn arrangements by my husband Aaron Johnson and fellow servant-leader Brian Kilpatrick are a full, bright complement to the low-end of the rhythm section. ¬†And the musical breaks at the end? #dead and #done!

In our gatherings
We go *in* for this song at Epiphany Fellowship gatherings. ¬†We might place this one at the end of our opening set as well, just to give us some room to marinate as needed. ¬†I love how the Holy¬†Spirit will move us during corporate worship to respond to God’s¬†character and works. ¬†He will bring conviction of sin, freedom from sin’s bondage and the enemy’s condemnation, and¬†celebration of the redeeming work of Christ in all of creation–particularly in our own hearts.

How it speaks to me
I need to consider God’s attributes, both the ones He shares with His creation and the ones that belong to Him alone. ¬†I need to remember that I am not God, and that He is. ¬†I need to submit my will to His. ¬†I need Him!

His eternality > my temporality

His power is perfected in my weakness

His holiness & righteousness > my feeble, tainted self-righteousness

His justice > my self-vindication

His perfect love casts out fear

…and so on, and so forth.

When I get lost in the sauce of Me, Myself, and I,¬†I need to be reminded of who He is…not simply as a counterpoint to my waywardness, but simply because GOD IS.

How it can speak to you
Here are a few points of reflection as “Hosanna” points you to¬†worship the Lord today:

  1. Are there any aspects of God’s character in the song that you are unfamiliar or less familiar with? ¬†Take some study tools–concordance, Bible dictionary, English dictionary, etc.–and look up one of them. ¬†Ask a friend to let you borrow a¬†study resource if you don’t have your own, or check one out from the library. ¬†Share your findings with your mentor, discipler, or ministry leader/pastor.
  2. Read the article on Desiring God’s website about the word “hosanna.” ¬†At what times in your life have you used each meaning? ¬†How can you personally embrace it now? ¬†Who in your circle of influence needs to know the Lord in that way? ¬†Pray for an open door ¬†(Colossians 4:2-6) to share the good news with him/her.

Centered was released on 1/30/2015, by God’s grace.¬† Thanks so much to everyone who has already supported the project and spread the word to others!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album¬†or about¬†today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.