Maggie H. Johnson

Writer • Speaker

Page 2 of 30

Jesus Wrecked My Life

He turned water into wine, made the blind see, and cast out demons. Jesus is in the business of doing miracles. Every time he comes around, someone gets healed. And in Revelation 21 he lets us know that he makes all things new. New is good, right? So, as much as I tried, I couldn’t figure out why my life didn’t become a beacon of goodness once I became his girl.

Why didn’t Jesus fix my life?

Despite the stories I’d heard from revival preachers and televangelists, I did not instantly stop craving attention from guys and my home life was still a tumultuous war zone. Following Jesus didn’t fix my problems. In some instances, he made them worse.

Jesus Wrecked My Life

Pursuing holiness won’t make you many friends. The word holy even means “to be set apart,” so loneliness quickly became a familiar friend. I have vivid memories of being made fun of by other girls in my Sunday school class, simply because I could recite that week’s memory verse. I skipped class the next week – roaming the church halls while my parents were in Big Church – but my folks found out, and I got grounded. As if that weren’t enough, I actually had a guy tell me that he wasn’t interested in me because I seemed “too innocent.” For a preteen who just decided to buy into the Jesus life, this was all a little jarring.

Fast forward.

I decided to attend a Bible college, and hoped that things would finally go right for me. Wrong. My undergrad days were riddled with toxic relationships, major health issues, and abuse.

I knew Jesus urged us to “count the cost” but no one said it would be this hard.

In one of his poems, William Yeats wrote:

But Love has pitched his mansion in

The place of excrement;

For nothing can be sole or whole

That has not been rent.

The strongest bonds of love are forged in the places of excrement. That’s what I found out. Jesus completely wrecked my life. He dug into every corner of my heart, which was (and still is) indescribably painful. But I have experienced the truth of what Yeats was trying to say: Love is built in the trenches.

It’s not easy, but nothing good ever was.

C.S. Lewis was a master storyteller who wrote about the kingdom of God, sometimes subtly and others times overtly. I’ve often felt that his stories illustrate my own journey with Jesus. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace, an annoying and pretentious boy, gets turned into a dragon – a manifestation of the selfishness that resides in his heart. After much soul-searching, Eustace tries to tear off his dragon skin so he can be a boy again. But no matter how hard he tries, the dragon skin will not come off.

“You will have to let me undress you,” says Aslan the Lion.

Eustace was pretty desperate by this point. Aslan had sharp claws that would undoubtedly cause severe pain, but Eustace agreed to let him peel off the dragon skin anyway. Aslan was his only hope.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times,  only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and he threw me into the water. It smarted like anything only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…

After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me…in new clothes.

I am Eustace. I’m selfish, stingy, and always think of myself first. My heart is hard and it takes the excruciating power of Jesus to break through. But I’m desperate, friends. I’m desperate for healing and clear vision and grace. Jesus took all that I held most dear and smashed it on the altar of my pride. He tore idols – one by one – from my white-knuckled grip. It’s painful, but it’s the work of transformation.

For years I sang the words of Hillsong and begged God to “take it all.” Then he did. It’s true: Jesus wrecked my life. He flipped it upside down and changed my course.

Love built His mansion in the place of my excrement.

Books I’m Reading in 2016

I have a tendency to burn myself out on mildly interesting obligations instead of reserving space for the things that truly light my fire. This will forever be my struggle, I suppose. It’s a constant resetting of priorities and passions. I can hear my mama’s voice whispering, “You can’t pour out of an empty well,” and that’s when I know it’s time to rearrange my life once again.

My spirit is one that needs inordinate amounts of blank space to flourish. It needs quiet mornings, soft music, strong coffee, provocative books, and soul food. It needs crackling fires, vulnerable confessions, and acoustic guitars.

I’m planning several things this year in an attempt to nurture this quiet place in my spirit. Writing retreats, more reading, and intentional time spent cooking to name a few. For accountability reasons, I’m sharing with you, my reader-friends, the books I’ll be devouring this year.

all the books 2016

  1. Overrated by Eugene Cho: Eugene Cho is a pastor and visionary. I’ve been following him on Twitter for quite some time, and when his new book came out, I knew I wanted to read it. The subtitle of this book is “Are we more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?” The subtitle alone makes me antsy to crack open the cover of Cho’s first book. My day job is working in development at a non-profit, and social justice is what fills my days. Sometimes it’s hard to get people to care about your cause in a way that elicits action, and that can be incredibly discouraging. I’m anticipating thought-provoking, soul-stirring passages from this book that will speak straight to my heart.
  2. Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle: I’ve already started reading this captivating memoir. L’Engle removes a veil and lets us peek into the joys and heartaches of her life. She particularly focuses on her marriage to Hugh Franklin. Several friends have recommended this book to me, and I can already see why. With just a few chapters under my belt, I find L’Engle’s transparency calming and her humor unassuming. I’ve heard that the story gets harder to read due to tragedy, but I don’t want to avoid the hard parts. How can I face the tragedy of my own life if I cannot hear the grief of another?
  3. Saving Casper by Jim Henderson &  Matt Casper: This is a follow-up book of sorts. A few years ago, I read a book by these same guys called “Jim and Casper Go to Church.” In the first book, a pastor named Jim Henderson hires an atheist named Matt Casper to attend and critique churches all over America. In a nutshell, I loved the book. But Henderson caught a lot of flack from Christians because not once did he attempt to convert Casper. He simply listened and had honest dialogue about faith, churches, and well-meaning Christians. So, I’m assuming that’s how “Saving Casper” came to be. The subtitle reads, “A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Why We Need to Change the Conversion Conversation.” This one feels so personal, reader-friends. I wholeheartedly believe that the Church needs to do better here.
  4. Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist: Okay. So I’ve already read this book, and it’s convinced me that Shauna and I would be the best of friends if we actually knew each other. She’s passionate about in-your-face community, loving people by feeding them, and hearty recipes. I LOVE ALL OF THOSE THINGS TOO, YOU GUYS. Instead of reading this one again, I’ll be meeting up with some fellow Shauna fans to cook through the recipes scattered throughout her book. Cannot. Wait.
  5. Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin: I heard Jen Wilkin speak at a conference I attended last year, and she is the real deal. In her book, Wilkin teaches women how to study the Bible and how to engage both their hearts and their minds. I’m expecting a lot from this one, I won’t lie. From my experience there are very few women’s material that does an adequate job engaging one’s mind. But after hearing Wilkin preach a few months back, I don’t think she will disappoint.
  6. I Suffer Not a Woman by Richard and Catherine Kroeger: Now onto the nitty gritty books. These are my favorite kinds – the ones that make me wrestle and reconsider. This husband-and-wife team came together to write book researching and revisiting the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, which is one of the most hotly debated passages when it comes to gender roles and a woman’s place in church. This book was suggested to me by a friend about a year ago, and I’m just not getting around to it. I have no doubt it will be one of substance and depth.
  7. Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals by William J. Webb: Mr. Webb is a professor of biblical studies at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, and this is the book in which he has chosen to address the hermeneutics of passages surrounding slaves, women, and homosexuals. From reviews I’ve read, Webb dives into the cultural analysis of these portions of Scripture and discusses them in light of proper hermeneutic. With high tension around all three of these groups – from human trafficking to gender inequality worldwide to gay marriage – what you think matters.
  8. Homemade Decadence by Joy Wilson: One of my cousins gave me this cookbook for Christmas! If you don’t already follow Joy the Baker, you’re missing out on all the good things in life. This is her second cookbook, and from what I’ve skimmed through, it looks incredible. Who needs a New Year’s resolution to lose weight when you’ve got the best dessert recipes this side of the Atlantic?!

That’s all I’ve got on my list so far! Do you have any recommendations? What books are on your list? Let’s make 2016 the year we flourish. Let’s do things that fill us up. I’ll start by cracking a book.

What Hope?

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I don’t like waiting to make changes to my life, so the alterations usually come well before January 1st.

But I do like words.

Each year I choose one word to guide me. If our words are the outpouring of what resides in our hearts, I want to make sure the well of my soul is inclined toward things good and right. We dispense out of our mouths the very same things that we put into our minds, so I want my meditation to be intentional. For 12 whole months, I want to dig deep roots. This year my word is Hope.

Wisconsin Winter

We lost our growing babe in November – the day before Thanksgiving, to be exact. It was a whirlwind experience. One minute we waited to hear a heartbeat and the next we were scheduling surgery. And then we weren’t going home for Thanksgiving, we weren’t making my office into a nursery, and we weren’t picking our names. To cope I ate my weight in sushi while wearing the same ugly Christmas sweater for a week straight.

The end of 2015 was a doozy for us. We got angry, let it out at the wrong times, ignored phone calls, vented, and cried. And let’s just be honest – it hasn’t even been two months, so we’re still doing some of that. We don’t bounce back quickly. I don’t think we were made to either. We weren’t made to “be strong” or “keep our heads up.” We were made to lean into our weaknesses. We are lacking, which is precisely why we need hope. Hope acknowledges that something is missing.

The writer of Hebrews says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” That’s exactly what I need: firm and secure. I need something to steady my heart when grief overwhelms. But what is this hope? If you read back a little in Hebrews 6, you’ll see that this hope is God’s promise to keep us. Verse 17 says that “God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear.” That’s why Jesus came into the picture. Jesus – the unchanging, all-sufficient One. Jesus is our hope.

Now there’s something that can anchor me.

Paul wrote in Romans 5:5, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts.” This is the real deal, reader-friends. And if it doesn’t affect things like miscarriage and loss then it’s not worth believing. But it has affected me. This hope has been a balm to my injured heart. Is there still pain? Yes, absolutely. Am I still having a hard time wrestling through all of this with God? You know it.

But I feel anchored.

We are better cared for than we realize and more deeply loved than we know. I will choose to believe it even on the dark night of the soul. Hope is my 2016 word, reader-friends. How about you? What words will you be soaking on this year?

7 Ways to Invest in Self-Care

Confession: I’m terrible when it comes to self-care. That’s how I know it’s so important. My mama used to tell me, “You can’t pour out of an empty well,” and I wish I would’ve listened to her. I chose to learn the hard way instead. I’m a typical firstborn: chronic over-achiever, perfectionist, and a tad controlling. (Okay, maybe more than a tad.) I tend to over-work myself until I’m on the brink of burnout. It gets ugly, folks.

Self-care has become a necessity for me. For the sake of my emotional health, I need to slow down and make sure my tank is full. We do a disservice to our families when we run ourselves ragged. I want to be able to give my best self to the ones I love, and I can’t do that unless I prioritize self-care as a value.

217H

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you need help identifying ways to intentionally invest in self-care. From one workaholic to another, here are some things that have helped me:

  1. Meditate: Find a poem, a prayer, or a passage of Scripture. Spend time meditating and soaking on the words. Make them personal for your everyday life. If you need help getting started, try the Franciscan Blessing or John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14. One of my favorite things to soak on in times of depletion is Isaiah 61.
  2. Read: Books and letters and articles! Read like your life depends on it. Some books that have filled my tank recently are “The Best Yes” by Lysa Terkeurst, “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker, and “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp.
  3. Write: Sometimes the best way to process life is to get it out on paper. My most honest struggles have been wrestled to the ground with a pen and a journal. I will never get over the healing that comes from a quiet writing session.
  4. Go for a walk: Endorphins make us happier people. It’s science! Clear your mind and boost those pleasant feelings by taking a nice stroll around the neighborhood.
  5. Make yourself a fancy dinner: I make fancy dinners when it’s date night or when we have friends coming over, but it’s a whole other ball game to spruce it up when it’s JUST YOU. Go ahead and look up your nicest Pinterest recipe. You won’t regret it.
  6. Stretch: Loosening up your muscles can help loosen up your mind. It takes 5 minutes to get in a good stretch. Add this to part of your morning routine and it’ll make a huge difference for your day.
  7. Go to counseling: I’m a firm believer that everyone needs counseling. We are all screwed up, so none of us are exempt. Counseling isn’t only reserved for the times when you’re in crisis mode. In fact, you’ll be able to deal with crisis situations more easily if you see a therapist before it’s “needed.” Invest in your emotional and mental health. Keep your assumptions in check. Find a counselor – a neutral person in your life who can help you sort out all the crap.

There you have it, friends. What are some ways you invest in your own self-care? Do you have any ideas to add to this list?

Reclaiming Modesty

Modesty is a hot topic among evangelicals – one that often turns into a culture war argument. If you’re like me, you may have grown tired of the conversation. It feels a little lop-sided, and I can’t help but think we’re missing a big piece of the puzzle. Modesty is a value that should permeate our whole lives, so why do we only talk about it in reference to a woman’s body?

In 1 Samuel 16, God sends Samuel to find a new king for Israel. Samuel meets many men looking for the perfect fit. Tall? Check. Dark? Check. Handsome? Check. But God has someone different in mind. He turns Samuel’s eyes away from those who look the part and says, “People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” You might accuse me of taking this verse out of context, but I think it has the power to transform the way we think and talk about modesty. After all, Luke 6:45 says, “For out of the overflow of the heart, a man speaks.” If God cares about what’s in our hearts, and what we say is a reflection of what’s in our hearts, then we should spend a lot more time worrying about our words.

Let’s reclaim modesty for our mouths.

Let’s keep private the things that need to be private. Let’s relearn the difference between vulnerability and unhealthy self-disclosure. There’s something sacred about keeping parts of your life private. Let’s practice being kind – and I mean really kind – when we’re criticized, when our views are challenged, or when someone looks differently than we do. Let’s stop the gossip. Gossip is one of the quickest ways to bring disunity and bitterness, and there’s no room for that in the Kingdom. Let’s be intentional. Let’s do the work to speak the language of those we love. Communication styles vary, and most people can hear your heart better if you speak in a way they understand. It might feel clunky and uncomfortable, but it’s important work. Let’s weigh our words.

15234996483_f47c500c42_o

The power of our words is a lesson littered all throughout Scripture. We know it’s important. James reminds us of the great power we wield with our tongues. In Matthew 12:36, Jesus himself tells us that one day we will give an account for every careless word we have spoken. How sobering is that?!

Our words matter. With our words, we speak life and death into people’s ordinary, everyday lives. We cannot be careless, dear friends. We can no longer afford to dismiss another’s pain because we didn’t mean it that way. We cannot spout off our opinions without regard for our brothers and sisters. Let’s recapture holistic modesty – a value that shapes all of we who are.

How can you integrate modesty into the things you say? What can you do to make sure your speech is bringing life to those around you? Here are some things I’m doing:

  • Pray for God to help me understand the needs of those around me. This influences how I speak to friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers.
  • Affirm the strengths and gifts of others.
  • Don’t ask intrusive questions. Stay in your lane. Build trust.
  • Before sharing your opinion, ask yourself why you want to add your two cents. Is it to be right? Is it because you think your perspective is superior? If so, shut your mouth.
  • If you don’t know the communication style of those around you, start paying attention. Watch how they react to different stimuli. Remember their buttons and resolve not to push them.
  • Listen to the Holy Spirit. Here’s the truth: I talk too much because I don’t trust the Holy Spirit. I correct people because I don’t think the Spirit can’t convict without my help.

Tell me, friends, what are some other things we can do to wrangle our tongues? This is so so important for our Kingdom work. Let’s get it right.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2017 Maggie H. Johnson

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑