Friday, December 30, 2011

Friendship never ends...

The title of this blog is deceiving. Because friendships do end. All too often. People are selfish. People change. People move on. And friendships become mere memories.

But then there are friendships that seem to endure through anything. True friendships. Friendship that can sleep for months and wake up in the same place it was before. Friendships that are strengthened my memories, mistakes, and many moments. Friendships that are clothed in prayer, respect, and laughter. 

I am blessed with some of those friendships.

Senior year - getting ready to go see Phantom of the Opera.

Tonight I am going to my best pal's house for a Christmas party. Seven other godly, beautiful women will be there as well. I didn't meet these friends in college. Or at work. I met these beautiful women when we were nothing but girls...playing on the playground, dreaming about boys, and wondering about the future.

I have so many memories with this group of friends - as a whole. But more than that, I am blessed to have an album of memories with each friend. When their names cross my mind, a million moments play out like a movie in my heart, and I can't help but smile. I wish I could share them all with you. All of the laughter, the late night talks, the classes and the sleepovers, the beach trips, the Homecomings, the tears,  the smiles, the conversations, the boys, the mistakes, the memories...

Freshmen year college - Bethany's birthday

I never thought that my group of friends experienced the high school drama that is stereotypical of most teenage girls. Looking back now, though, I smile at the things we got upset over. The things we let come between us. The things that threatened to pull us apart and may have for a little while. We were so young. So caught up in our world. But that's just it...we were each others world. And, no matter how petty at times, it was a great world to be in.

 Sometimes I miss high school. No, I'm not one of those people. The ones who dwell in the past...and wish they could go back to their high school "glory days". I was not the "glory days" type. But sometimes I miss the routine of gathering around the blue lunch table and sharing our macaroni cheese and goldfish. Sometimes I miss the thrill of homecoming and the sleepovers. And I miss the moments that we took for granted.

2009, Bethany's wedding!
 I am so blessed that my relationship with these girls has only grown. We see a lot less of each other now. Talk a lot less. And our lives aren't daily intertwined any more. But we respect each other more. Care about each other more. Love each other more. And realize the importance of real friendship. I celebrate with these women, mourn with them, laugh with them, pray for them...

2010, Whitney's wedding!

So, tonight I am going to my best pal's house for a Christmas party. I can't describe how amazing it is that we're all grown up - together. Things that we once dreamt about as little girls - we now get to experience together. We've all changed, but we're all the same. And we still fit together as if nothings changed. 

Tonight I will look around the room and remember being sixteen. Remember the sleepovers where we wondered about college and boys...what we would do, who we would be, who we would marry...Tonight I will see in the faces of my friends who they were at fourteen, seventeen, twenty...but I will appreciate so much knowing who they are now. 

Tonight we will laugh about old memories. But we will make new ones.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Curl up with a good book and a great God...

This Christmas I got several devotion books from my moms that I'm excited to delve into!

 I started this one last night - and I'm excited to get to know David. The heart and spirit of this "Man after God's own heart". In the past, as I have studied the life of David, I see many flaws. And I see a passion for God. I want to know that. 


I have gotten to know Paul a little recently - thanks to a book that is featured below. I used to think he was overrated. But now I see his struggle and admire his triumph. This man of God gave up so much for the cause. I can't wait to get to know him better and, hopefully, to become a better Christian, a better witness, a better minister to others because of Paul's life and ministry.

I honestly don't know much about James. And I've never had strong feelings towards him one way or the other. I'm excited to get to know about him from beginning to end. 

Over the past month I have read several books that have touched my heart and helped me grow in my knowledge of Christianity. I would definitely encourage you to curl up with your Bible and one of the books below - and invite God to curl up next to you.

This book goes through Jesus' life as captured by Luke. You start out with standing in awe with Mary and end up praising your risen Savior. The chapters highlight Jesus' friends, Jesus' miracles, Jesus' experiences - and scripture passages walk you through the story.

This book gave me a soft spot for Paul - as it introduced me to his childhood, gave details into his struggle and his conversion, and laid out his ministry. You suffer with Paul, rejoice with Paul, minister with Paul, struggle with Paul, overcome with Paul, and fall in love with God all over again.

After a few devotionals by Beth Moore - I decided to take a break. It took me a little while to get used to the difference in writing styles, but I found this book to be interesting. A complete study of the lives of several "slightly bad girls" in the Bible. You'll take a trip back in time and get to know Sarai/Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel a little better than you did before. You'll discover new things about these women of the Bible. And hopefully discover new things about yourself and the forgiving God who loves you just as much as He loved these women.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mary - Mother of our Savior

Some points in this account aren't factual - simply imagined. I want to go back and see what Mary saw, feel what she felt. Go back with me - use your imagination.

There she was. Barely 14 years old...sweeping the kitchen before using her delicate hands to make another loaf of bread. Her mother was at the creek doing the laundry, so the house was quiet. Her mind thought of Joseph. A man she barely knew. He seemed kind and hardworking. He would be a good husband, although the thought of being married made her heart skip a beat. Sometimes she was eager. Sometimes she was scared. Her mind was drifting, her hands busy, when the angel arrived...

...9 months later those same hands stroked the face of her newborn little boy. The past nine months had been hard. She had feared rejection, faced shame and scorning. Her body had changed so much...and so had her heart. She had fallen in love - with God, with Joseph, and with Jesus. And so many times she had laid in bed, wondering "Why me?". She didn't feel ready. She didn't feel good enough. But she felt at peace. Now she stared up at the night sky, one star shining brighter than the rest. The night was quiet - the sounds of the city in the distance.

She looked down into the face of her Son - memorizing all of his features. She thought her heart would break with joy at every coo, every yawn, every time his little fingers grabbed her thumb. She wrapped his blanket tighter around him - hoping to cut the chill in the air. He had been born in a manger...with all of the animals watching. Would he grow up with a soft spot for animals? Would he love nature? What would his interests be, his talents? She leaned down and brushed her lips against his forehead. Such soft skin. Such a little guy. With his entire life ahead of him.

She looked down into the face of God. She could feel her Father surrounding her, watching her. Was He pleased? Could He see ahead to every time she would fail Him? Her little baby - the helpless fellow who had stolen her heart - was the Son of God. What did that mean? Did Jesus understand, laying in her arms, who He was? Could He remember that He was the one who created her? That He was the one who shaped the world? Did her baby Jesus know what His life would hold?

She glanced over at Joseph. There was no way he could be comfortable, leaning against the wall - his robe acting as his only cushioning. He had been so faithful to her - a true man of God. He had every right to have left her. But he had believed her, stood by her. What a huge responsibility - being the step-father to God's Son. Jesus cooed, and Mary turned her attention back to Him. She took it all in - here in this stable, with a cow eating nearby and her husband's snoring offering comfort, she was terrified and excited, not because she held the Son of God, but because she held her newborn baby Jesus.

...Ten years later, Mary wiped the sweat from her brow. Her worn hands took the bread out of the oven, and she leaned against the counter for a moment. The boys were outside with their dad.  They loved helping him build things, and he was so good with them. Today's project was a table for an elderly neighbor. And what a talented carpenter Joseph was! A fine husband too. Just thinking about him brought a slight smile to her lips. She watched out the door. All of her boys were good helpers - but Jesus, her oldest, had a natural gift. 

Her mind played back all of the times that her other children had complained that she was playing favorites. Jesus never got in trouble. Jesus never did anything wrong. Every day she wondered why God chose her of all people. And if she was disappointing Him. Even though he was only ten, just a few years away from being a man, Mary could tell Jesus was growing into His earthly mission as the Son of God. So different than the baby that seemed to be too small to be the Messiah. She knew that the years would fly by - but she had no idea what that would mean. Raising a perfect Son wasn't as easy as one would think...and losing a perfect Son wouldn't be easy either...

Time passed quickly. Mary's wrinkled hands shielded her face, wiping the tears from her eyes. The sound of the whip made her wince in pain. He had done nothing wrong. How could they beat her little boy? She would have taken His place - but she knew He was taking hers. And the place of all of humanity. That's what He was sent for. That's why she had held him in her arms over 30 years ago. He had been born to die. But she couldn't bare to watch Him killed; she turned her face away again - her body shaking as she wept. 

Once again she pondered it all. His birth. His life. His mission. She hadn't been good enough, yet God had chosen her. She looked up at the cross, at her beautiful Son. The Son who had cooed under the stars. The Son who had worked so hard to help his dad. Her Son who had been so patient with His siblings. This was the same Son that had helped her bake fish and knead bread. 
She wouldn't question God, but she wanted too. Why put her through this? Why allow their Son, her Jesus, to die? She knew it had to be, but she didn't understand it. 

Her heart broke over the next three days. Her perfect Son was gone. But, in His last moments, He had thought of her. It was just like Jesus to make sure she was taken care of. And John was a good man. A good friend of Jesus. Someone she loved like a son. And now he would help take care of her.

...The noise confused her. Jesus' friends - the ones she had cooked for so many times - sounded happy. Her mind flashed back to three days before, and she tried to grasp what they could possibly be happy about. Wait. Three days. Didn't the scriptures say...? No, it couldn't be. 

She looked up from her basket of laundry and saw Him. Tall. Strong. Her beautiful little boy. The Son of God. Her Savior and Redeemer.  

"Jesus, is that you?" She rushed into the arms of her Son. She rushed into the arms of her Savior.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Date Day and Coming Home...

Marriage Monday on a Tuesday. And it almost didn't happen - but my amazing husband thought I should share our Marriage Monday with you.

In January, Derrick and I decided to have a date day every month. By September, and wedding time, that had fallen to the side. After we got married, I was crazy busy at work. And once work slowed down for me, Derrick began his job - which takes all of his weekends. This doesn't mean we don't get to spend time together. We love just relaxing at the house, being silly and watching television and cooking and talking. But we hadn't been out on a date since we were married.

Derrick had yesterday off of work. And I had an extra vacation day to take. So I decided to choose yesterday, so that we could actually spend some time together during our first Christmas. Derrick will have to work until Christmas Eve evening, and then we'll be busy with family festivities, so I wanted just us to have a little time to celebrate and memory-make.

What a blessing it was! We slept in and then spent the morning in our pajamas - just being silly and talking and laughing.

Derrick and I are gift card fans. To the utmost degree. I laid out the remainder of our wedding and Christmas and birthday gift cards, and we planned our day. Bojangles for lunch with our $10 gift card - and we actually went in to eat! And then we headed shoe shopping (for Derrick) and to the mall for a little window shopping. It's fun just being together, discovering the world together.

After our window shopping, we went to see the Chipmunks (I love them, and would adopt them if I could...Theodore at least). We bypassed popcorn and coke at the movie - we always do - so that we could save the $15 on our gift card and go see another movie in a few months. I knew that my husband was making a sacrifice for me when, instead of the normal hollywood trivia, Play Disney controlled the previews. It was a cute movie, though...maybe not quite as good as the 2nd one.

Then we went to Noodles and Company for supper (yummm...). After that, we went used car browsing. This is always an experience, because my husband understands cars. I only know if I like the color. It was fun nonetheless. And I enjoy our car browsing time. 

Then it was to the Johnson household for Survivor finale night. Anyone who knows me - knows that Survivor night is a big deal. So finale night is the best of all nights. Full of on-the-edge-of-your-seat breath-holding, cheering and booing. Even if the final three were quite the motley crew of liers, decievers, and losers - it was still a great time.

It was a wonderful day. Simple. Inexpensive. Blessed. If you haven't been on a date with your spouse recently - make time to do so...even if it's nothing too extravagant.

*On a separate note, earlier I was talking to Derrick on his way into work - and he was asking me what we talked about this morning. I wake up and get ready before him, and he's always half asleep when I say goodbye. I told him that I gave him a goodbye kiss, and he gave me a compliment (I'm the best wife, I'm beautiful, etc.) - because he always compliments me before I leave. He smiled through the phone and said, "Well, of course, I want to make sure you come back to me each night." I thought that was brilliantly sweet. Husbands and wives, take time to appreciate your spouses - it will keep them coming home :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hannah - A Broken Spirit

The other day, while I was researching and thinking about our next Woman of the Bible, I realized that one day I get to meet these women. Walk with them in heaven. Hear about their lives. See their love for the Lord. Will there be a long line to talk to them? Will they be surrounded by friends? Why would they want to talk with me?...a simple, sinful lady who could have never stood in their ranks...

Our next Old Testament woman has always pulled at my heartstrings. Her desperation. Her dedication. Her desire to be good enough.

Her name was Hannah. 

Hannah was married to a man named Elkanah. I think I like him; although I think he was a little in over his head. See, Elkanah had another wife - Peninnah. Her I don't like so much. 

Peninnah could have children. Which was a big deal in their day. Wives were supposed to have children, offspring, and take care of the homes. Hannah could not have children - which was a source of great shame. To some, this was a curse on Hannah because of something she had done against God. But from Hannah's perspective this made her not good enough. Let's dig deeper.

"And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children." (1 Samuel 1:2)

Elkanah didn't care that Hannah couldn't have children (he had Peninnah for that). Elkanah loved Hannah. Those words are so beautiful in the Old Testament. They show such care from a husband to his wife. He loved her. He took care of her, even though she bore him no sons. He adored her. Isn't that beautiful?

But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.(1 Samuel 1:5)

Now, don't start feeling all warm and fuzzy for Hannah. I wish that she would have basked in Elkanah's love. Would have appreciated it. But then we wouldn't have the story that we know. And we wouldn't have God's gift of love. This next part breaks my heart and draws me to Hannah. 

Peninnah was downright mean to Hannah. She "poked her sore", taking every opportunity to remind Hannah that she was barren. To show off her children to Hannah. To brag and boast and break Hannah down. Despite the fact that Elkanah loved Hannah, Hannah still didn't feel good enough. Her heart was broken - for she desired a baby more than anything, and she was often reminded that she couldn't have one. She couldn't give her husband the one thing she wanted to more than anything. And her was the other wife...the other woman...constantly breaking Hannah's heart over and over again.

And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb. (1 Samuel 1:6)

I am going to take a moment to feel sorry for Peninnah though. I know we don't want too - but I can't help it. We almost have a Rachel/Leah situation (we'll visit them later, but hopefully you know the reference). Sure, Peninnah could bare children. Lots of them. But Elkanah loved Hannah. There's a chance that Peninnah wondered what was wrong with her. When would her husband ever love her like he did Hannah? How many children would be enough? Would she ever win his heart? 

So here we have it. One woman society would have called blessed. One woman praying to be blessed. A man stuck in the middle. And a God with big plans. Let's look at the next scene: 

And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?
 So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD.And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore. (1 Samuel 1: 7-10)

I feel badly for Elkanah. And I - personally, selfishly - just want Hannah to realize how awesome it is that he loves her so! But I must put it all in context. This wasn't a society like ours - that places great value on romantic love stories. No - there's was a society that placed great value on women providing a family and taking care of that family. That was the woman's role in the relationship. In life. Hannah didn't feel fulfilled in that role.

More than that, though, God had given Hannah a desire for a child. Not just a selfish desire but a spiritual desire. And, when she had the opportunity, Hannah wept to God. Shared her desires with Him. And, I imagine, begged for a miracle. Now, I have to speed the story up - focus more on the big picture, less on my own daydreams about this whole situation. 

And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head. And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth.

...therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him. (1 Samuel 1:11-17)

Here Hannah is pouring her heart out to God - crouched on her knees, back rising and falling with her sobs. She refers to herself as God's "handmaid" (similar to Mary's reference in Luke) - which humbles herself as a servant of the Lord. And then she promises that if God would bless her with a son, then she would give her son back to the Lord.

While this is happening, the priest notices it. And he thinks Hannah is drunk! There have been a few times in my life where I have cried out to God and sobbed so hard that I probably seemed completely out of it. A broken spirit before my Comforter. But I can't imagine being so vulnerable in church!

Here Hannah was being completely transparent in her pleas with God - and the priest questions her. But Hannah explains herself, her sorrowful spirit. And finally understanding, and probably having been there himself, Eli blessed her - telling her to go in peace, and God will answer her prayers.

And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the LORD, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the LORD remembered her.(1 Samuel 1:18-19)

As I look at the first sentence - "...her countenance was no more sad." I stand in awe at her faith. Wait faith in God! What faith in Eli! To believe, just because Eli said it, that her prayer would be answered. And it was! 

Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the LORD.
And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever.(1 Samuel 1:20-22)

Hannah's son was born. The one she had loved for years. She had prayed for. Her blessing. Her answered prayer. This next part of the story is hard for me...After Samuel was weaned, Hannah gave him to the church. She gave him over to someone else so that he could, even growing up, serve the Lord full time. Why pray so hard for something and desire it so much - and then just give it up? I'm admitting my sinful, selfish humanity when I say that it makes no sense to me. It must have been so hard for her - with tears in her eyes - to take her little boy to Eli and leave him. Did she smile for Samuel and promise him it would be okay? Was her body shaking in sorrow? Did she walk with confidence? Did she look back at the little boy?

Here was a woman who desired something and trusted God to give it to her. 
Made herself vulnerable and poured her spirit out to her Lord. And the Lord blessed her. Then she, as His servant, gave her gift back to Him - 
so that Samuel could grow up and do many great things. 


She had poured herself out to God, and then she had allowed her blessing to be used for Him. She had endured many years of hardship, but still considered herself a servant of God. His handmaid to be used. What a woman!