Jesus & joy coexist.

Mornings are my favorite time of day. It’s when I think of light & coffee & new mercies. The idea of a sun rising is comforting to me. The way my bed feels underneath me makes me feel safe. The smell of brewing coffee is probably one of my favorite smells in the world. When I wake up early & it isn’t my alarm clock that wakes me up, I am satisfied. I know those days are the most productive. I love having my clothes picked out & my coffee preset & my planner all laid out. These things help me feel a little more put together when life is just complete & utter chaos (but hey, when is it not?). And in the mornings, I find myself with that “you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be feeling,” and that is my favorite. In the chaos and the rest and the now, He is CONSTANT. Mornings remind me of this. I get these feelings in the chaos. Jesus is constant in the chaos. And that knowledge brings me rest.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” 

// Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

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Being home is weird. I’ll be the first one to admit that. It is straight up weird. I think the closest thing I can compare it to is that life here is like a big puzzle, and I am a piece that just doesn’t fit here anymore. In a good way. It’s like God saying, “No, you’re in Rome now. That’s your puzzle. Your puzzle is Berry and community and friends and Swift and all of the good stuff of college.” And He is so right.

I don’t fit in my high school bedroom anymore. I think that’s the weirdest part. I have memories in this room that just make me uncomfortable, like my skin is a super tight turtleneck that I shouldn’t wear anymore (high school bedroom = skintight turtleneck). There are yearbooks and little notes and a high school diploma and clothes from high school and letters from high school and a Letterman from high school. And I don’t like it. It’s like the scene in Alice in Wonderland where she starts to grow super fast into that room until her arms are out the windows and her legs are out the door. That’s what I feel like.

I didn’t think that being in this environment could change the way I act that much because of how much I’ve changed in these first few months of college, but it really does. It could be that I haven’t had to argue or fight with anyone in over 4 months or it could be that people at school don’t know the things about me that people at home know. I can slowly feel myself slinking back into the old high school skin & I have prayed every single day that that won’t happen. I have grown more patient (even if just a little bit) at school, and I can feel myself jumping back into impatience, so I have prayed for patience.

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There’s been a lot of writing happening at home. Lots of little notes in my phone and the margins of my journal and pages and pages of truth. I have found that sometimes I enjoy writing the “fluff,” the writing that is light and airy and makes you feel happy. But there is a difference between truth and fluff. Sometimes, I forget to write truths and that’s when I start living in this delusional state where everything should be “fluffy” and it’s not and I get really irritated with myself. That is when it slams me like a ton of bricks: WRITE SOME TRUTH, J. Write what hurts. Write memories. Write secrets. Write dark thoughts. Shed light on dark thoughts. Write. Write. Write. And eventually, it all spills out until there is nothing left. All of the secrets I’ve piled up for months just pour onto paper & these are the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever created. It’s magic. And those words, that TRUTH, that’s where I find Jesus.

I have prayed:

Jesus, strip it all away.

Because the more I search, the more I realize that under all of the crap, I am the same person in both places. Underneath all of the “Pinterest-perfect” family nights and home church worship and country music and sweet tea from home or the Swift cups of coffee and an incredible job and the love of a Berry community, I am still the same Jesus-seeking girl. Put me in either place, and I will still search for the one whom my heart longs for.

And I think the devil uses these bad memories or being uncomfortable in your own skin at home to really knock you down. He tries to say, “No no, you can’t find Jesus here, only there.” He says, “Do you remember that vulnerable high school girl? You’re still her.” And that’s not true. It’s not true that you don’t have a choice to succumb to these thoughts of unworthiness or to praise God for giving you the capability of overcoming them with truth and light.

Jesus is here, always. He is in the tears and the car rides and the memories and the Christmas lights and the old high school bedroom. In His presence, there is fullness of joy, which means joy is always an option. Jesus & joy coexist.  And there is strength & grace & mercy & beauty & mystery in that.

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P.S. I need your help, to anyone reading this. I want to hear your 2014 victories & your triumphs & your magic moments & your God-orchestrated stories. I want to celebrate with you & praise God with you (and anonymously use them for an incredible blog idea). Help me make some magic, friends. Email me at jennabjohnson14@gmail.com or text it to me or write it to me. That would be wonderful.

Madly & deeply.

It was very difficult to make this blog post not cliche because we live in a culture that craves “cliche things made to be unique ideas.”

Secondly, I will also say this is somewhat of a difficult post to write because I have never seriously dated someone before.

I think because of the society we’ve grown up in, we all have very skewed ideas of what “love” is supposed to look like. We have constructed ideas of one-night stands and not being able to “define relationships” and being lackadaisical about the dating world and viewing the “success” of love as a perfect family and husband & then that’s just the end. Christian girls grow up thinking that their goal in life is to be married. Once you find the person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with, then that’s it. Boom. Might as well just die now. And if you weren’t specifically told that, then I know you had something like that rooted in the back of your mind.

Some of us see love as the perfect family: 2.5 kids, 2 vacations a year, one to Disney World, family dinners with prayer beforehand, a dog or a cat, golden children, perfect marriage, minimal arguments, home-cooked meals, wedding rings, a little bit of Bible reading to hold the family together like glue. Love is not what’s on the outside. Love is not the superficiality of a family.

I did a little survey with a few close friends, and I just asked them what the first word was that came to mind when they heard the word “love.” Communication. Selfless. Sacrifice. Hate. The color red. Family. Service. Cuddly. Warm.

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(And we love impossible love stories. Watch this video about this couple if you’re searching for some happy, sappy, love tears)

Recently, I had a friend get me addicted to Scandal, an ABC show. Downright ADDICTED, I tell you. When we can fit it into a conversation, we do. We love the tension of the president and the mistress when they’re in a room together. We love the way we root for the mistress, not the pregnant wife. We love the way he calls her on a secret line every single night, only to get a few words in. Gosh, Olivia Pope & Fitz. We love all of the scandal & “juiciness” of the show, for lack of a better word. It is dripping in what we would consider “love” because of all the feels surrounding every character. *Cough cough lust* And I know this, but I am still so enthralled with the risk and the tension and the scandal. Love is not all of these things. Love is not having affairs and being the person on the side and lusting after each other.

We crave risk & tension & secrecy. We crave the adrenaline rushes in real life situations like these. But who the hell grows up thinking: I am definitely going to find my soul mate after a one-night hook-up where he’ll magically come chasing back after me or I know he’s in a relationship, but the underdog always wins & I am the underdog? No no no.

Your person will pursue you because you have been adopted & chosen by the God of the universe, and that is what you deserve. That is what you are worthy of. I’m not saying this is what God has specifically promised you because, let’s face it, some of us won’t get married & that is okay.

What He has promised you though:

  1. He is unchanging. (Malachi 3:6)
  2. The intentions of His heart will remain steadfast forever. (Psalm 33:11)
  3. He chose you to be adopted into His family BEFORE creation. (Ephesians 1:4-5)
  4. He has given us a new heart & put His Spirit inside of us. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
  5. He gives His Spirit without measure. (John 3:34)
  6. He is working in your life through the desires of your heart. (Philippians 2:13)
  7. He will provide everything you need to do His will. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
  8. When you are weak, His Spirit will be strong in you. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  9. If you search for Him, you will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13)
  10. He will not let you be tested beyond what you can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Our God is a God of love. There is no deceit in Him. He has no ulterior motives. He is upfront & just & righteous. Secrets are not a thing to Him. He loves you with an everlasting & steadfast love. He is slow to anger & abounding in grace & new mercies. And I know I say this a lot, but it’s just so mind-blowing to me: new mercies every morning. That would be like you and me waking up every morning, even though someone had ticked us off the day before, and saying, “Alright, forgiven. Brand new day. No anger or grudges. Let’s start fresh. Clean slate.” And I know how difficult that is for me to do, but imagine it without ANY leftover anger. It’s hard for us to do that one time, but our God does it EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING.

We don’t love people like that though. I always talk about striving, and here is one of my biggest ones lately: striving to love people well. If that is the only thing in life I am known for when I am lying on my deathbed, I will know that I have lived life well. I will be completely satisfied.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” // 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 ESV

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And this Sunday is the advent Sunday for love (fitting, right?). His love is the light of men. Secrecy & lust, those things are dark. And God called us to be children of the light, and light illuminates darkness. It overpowers darkness. This is love. Love is patient & kind & rejoices with TRUTH & bears all things & believes all things & endures all things & never ends.

And Jesus loves us well. His love is unchanging & all-encompassing & never-ending & steadfast & pure & just & holy & good. God is so good. God is love.

What I have learned in my 18 & a half years on this earth: earthly love is messy & hard & beautiful & chaotic & wonderful. That is what I know to be true. And I’m not saying that earthly love won’t hurt because it will. It will be some of the most painful stuff you ever get yourself into, or so I’ve heard. You will hurt for that person when they hurt. And you will hurt because you can’t want more for them than they want for themselves. And you will hurt because you can’t make decisions for them. But this is how we know what love is. Love from God doesn’t hurt. Love, in the most pure & holy form, is steadfast & graceful & overflowing. Love from God is not painful. Love from God is freeing. And He gave freedom to us for free.

And I’m not one to get all lovey-dovey or mushy-gushy when it comes to this whole love thing. I mean, I’ll give the occasional coo at identical baby twins giggling at each other or get sort of sappy at engagement pictures (because I just love love). Our earthly love & love from our Father may be incredibly different nowadays, but it certainly has its similarities. Of course we fall short, but we look to Him to know how to love. That is what is important. We must try to love like He has loved us.

And let’s be honest: at the end of the day, we want someone worth walking down the aisle to, we want someone to spend the rest of our lives with, we want someone that will dance around the kitchen with us & drink coffee with us & kiss under Christmas lights & laugh & cry & smile with us. We want intellectual car & dinner conversations. We want someone who doesn’t care how horribly we sing.  We want someone that we find joy in being with. We want someone who shares the same love of the Father with us. We want someone else who wants to help us & teach us to love well. We want someone who will draw us closer to God because that is the most important relationship we will ever have: the one where we fall madly & deeply in love with our Heavenly Father.

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Confessions of a people-pleaser.

I strive to be an achiever. I strive to be dependable. I strive to be a people-pleaser. I strive to be perfect, in every circumstance & no matter the trials. I strive to have the perfect response, the perfect attitude, the perfect outfit. I strive to be looked up to. I strive in my job, my school, my personal life. I strive to be a hostess, come to me, lean on me, use me. I strive to be the perfect daughter. I strive to make people proud of me. I strive to be in control. I strive to know myself. I strive to understand why people act the way they act. I strive to help people. I strive to lead. I strive to uphold other people’s image of me. I strive to never shatter that image. I strive to be enough. I strive to be everything to everyone. I strive to be self-sufficient. I strive & strive & strive, and I end up so dissatisfied.

Did you just get exhausted reading off a grocery list of the different ways I strive and think, “Dear God, how does she function in her everyday life?” You should know that all of these things about myself dictate the way I have always navigated tough decisions. And I have never wanted to admit these things.

There is something to be said for moments of vulnerability. Moments where you admit these things, release a burden, and cease striving.

And that is exactly what the Lord has commanded us to do: cease striving.

It’s hard to detach myself from this striving mindset and make decisions based on who the Lord has called me to be because I’m still learning who exactly that is, so this is the tricky one.

What I do know:

The Lord has adopted me as His daughter. He has redeemed me from any sin I once used to define myself. He has restored me. He has renewed my strength & sanctified me. He has called me & set me apart. He has rescued me & set me free with His blood that was shed for my sins. He has purified me. When the world sees me drenched in sin, He pours His grace over me. He calls me lovable. He favors me. He sees me as blameless, no shame & no guilt. He delights in me. He desires me. He empowers me. He understands me. He has gone before me.

These are all such beautiful things to write & preach to myself, yes. However, having a relationship with the Lord means more than just having your heart recognize pretty words, and that is something I am just starting to learn. I’ve started to let these Truths fill the deepest & darkest corners of my hearts. The parts filled with the lies, “You’re not good enough,” and, “Why would He choose you?” or, “Who would listen to you when you can’t believe it yourself?” These are LIES. He’s maneuvering through the different parts of my heart like pieces to a one-thousand piece puzzle, and carefully. He meticulously chooses how He will work in & through me, and I am learning how to relinquish control. I cling to these TRUTHS.

And the only thing that holds me back from believing these things is thinking that I am not worthy enough to be called by Him. I have convinced myself that I am not worthy enough to do His work for His Kingdom. How messed up is that? How long have I believed these lies?

‘My kingdom,’ said Jesus, ‘doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.’ Then Pilate said, ‘So, are you a king or not?’

Jesus answered, ‘You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.’

// JOHN 18:36-37 MSG

This life is not mine. I am not my own. This earth is not my home. My heart longs for something more, to be with my Creator.

And I think that’s why we so often believe these lies.  We try to fill these longings for different qualities in Jesus with earthly & temporary things. We search for love in all of the wrong places & begin to define our worth by earthly acceptance because it is tangible. It is immediate. We see it & we soak it in & we love every minute of being accepted. These people call us worthy & then they let us down & then we believe we are unworthy. Acceptance is fleeting. It’s a vicious cycle, and until you extract yourself from it, you will continually be empty & drained & dry.

When you begin to recognize His voice though, things change. He can heal those dry bones. He is not temporary. Fix your eyes on the Eternal One. Who better to understand how to give love than Love Himself? Your worth comes from your Savior and your Savior alone. He who has created you calls you His masterpiece. He created you before the foundations of the earth, before He even hung one star in the sky. How worthy do you feel knowing that? He chose you. He set you apart to do great & unspeakable things that you could not even dream of. He knows you. He knows your struggle & your sin because He has gone before you. How much more reassurance do we need?

You are worthy of love from the Most High God, and if there is anything huge in the past few weeks that God has whispered in my direction, it’s this: I am learning how to make decisions based on who the Lord has made me to be and not on who I’m striving to be.

This means: no more earthly acceptance, no more people-pleasing, no more feeling unworthy, no more chains. You are free. His grace is unending. His mercies are new every single morning. His grace is sufficient & all-encompassing. His mercies are innumerable.

And He calls you His.

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(Originally posted to & written for IMPRINTED)