How Miss Perfect Stole Christmas

There’s only one way to introduce today’s guest and her post … Y’all, meet my sweet, hilarious, much-too-talented friend Tara Johnson:

And now, read her (real life) tale of how Miss Perfect Stole Christmas.

by Tara Johnson

I’m a beautiful mess this time of year. And I’ve learned that’s okay.

For years I lost precious sleep, valuable hair, and added circles under my eyes to achieve the perfect Christmas. For my kids. For my husband. For my church. For my own ridiculous ideals. Christmas is the mother ship for us perfectionist types. Correction, recovering perfectionists, because that’s what I am.

I wanted to give my family the Norman Rockwell paintings of Christmas memories. You know, something they could look back on and say, “Ah, those were the good old days.” I nearly made myself crazy in the process.

Ironically, the best memories our little family made have been from the things that went horrible wrong … the goof-ups, silly disasters, and laugh-out-loud mistakes. Those are the things my kids will remember. Perfection had no part of ornaments on rough wood backgroundthose special moments.

Living without grace can and will kill you. It’s a miserably hopeless existence. Not much joy. No freedom. It’s impossible to pull off anyway. Forget about the perfectly decorated tree, the swept floors, the homemade everything, the house that smells like cinnamon or the brightly wrapped packages that look like they were designed by Martha Stewart. During the past few years, I’ve slowly learned to the let that extra ‘stuff’ go. You know what I’ve discovered? Christmas is a much more joyful time of year for the loss of it.

God has birthed the simply joy and beauty anew in my heart. And He reminded me once again why He sent His Son.

I didn’t need a friend. I didn’t need a Being to impress with how well I’ve got it together. No, I needed a Savior. I’m a broken mess in need of the beautiful Hope only He can give.

I’m tired of bulldozing through Christmas like a Type A beast. All it ever did was make me a Grinch. It’s time to let go of the perfectionism. I want to remember the beauty that made the King of the universe lay down His crown to come to a broken world of desperate people. No greater act of love has ever been given.

How Miss Perfection Stole Christmas

woman dressed as Mrs. Clause decorating the treeEvery kid down in Coolville liked Christmas a lot, But Miss Perfection, who lived south of Coolville did NOT! 

Christmas drove her crazy. The whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. 

It could be because she wanted everything to go just right. It could be, perhaps, because she was overworked and uptight. But I think the most likely reason of all, was if she messed up, she’d feel unloved by one and all.

She’d fight the crowds with a sour, grinchy frown, and zoom in her minivan all over town. Shopping and baking and parties and planning, wrapping and photos while dreaming of tanning. 

The mess! The stress! Made her long to punch an elf in the midst of his chest! 

“If I could just disappear. But Christmas is coming. It’s practically here!” 

The children were fighting in their sleep-deprived state. She wasn’t faring much better staying up nights so late. “It’s part of the season,” she told herself time and again. But His still, small Voice began to whisper within.  

As the whirlwind of tinsel and glitter increased, her joy faded away. How could this be? 

“I remembered the ribbons. I remembered the tags. I remembered the packages, boxes and bags.” 

She puzzled for hours, till her puzzler was sore and continued to think as she entered the church doors. As the pastor read from Luke chapter two, she remembered how God came down as a Babe…and she knew. 

“I’m not perfect, I’ll never be. That’s why God sent a Savior for me. Jesus died to give me freedom from this kind of living. Instead of “perfection”, I need to be giving!” 

And what happened then? Well, in Coolville they say, Miss Perfection’s joy grew three sizes that day! She put down her ‘to-do’ list and played with her kids, laughed, made memories and closed her weary eyelids. 

The last thing she did that made her heart dance with light? Miss Perfection threw out her copy of Christmas Done Right.

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Seuss for the inspiration.

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Author Tara Johnson's headshotTara Johnson is an author, speaker and singer from Alexander, AR. A passionate lover of stories, she loves to travel to churches, ladies retreats and prisons to share how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled as a people-pleasing preacher’s kid.

Her first nonfiction book Hollow Victory: How to Identify and Disarm 5 Landmines that Make Victorious Christian Living Feel Like a Lie was released in 2014. Her first historical romance with Tyndale House Publishers will be released in the summer of 2018, and is the first of three stories set during the Civil War. She has won the Bronze Medal in the Frazier awards hosted by My Book Therapy and has articles published in Plain Truth Magazine and Live It Loud Magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth radio and Enduring Word radio. Tara is a member of ACFW and is represented by Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency. She and her husband Todd have been married for nineteen years and the Lord has blessed them with five children: Bethany, Callie, Nate, as well as Taylor Lynn and Morgan Lane who are with Jesus.

Visit Tara online at her Website, follow her on Twitter, connect with her on Facebook, listen to her sing on Reverbnation, and follow her on Instagram.

Make sure to check out her debut novel, Engraved on the Heart, coming soon from Tyndale House Publishers!

cover image for Engraved on the HeartReluctant debutante Keziah Montgomery lives beneath the weighty expectations of her staunch Confederate family, forced to keep her epilepsy secret for fear of a scandal. As the tensions of the Civil War arrive on their doorstep in Savannah, Keziah sees little cause for balls and courting. Despite her discomfort, she cannot imagine an escape from her familial confines―until her old schoolmate Micah shows her a life-changing truth that sets her feet on a new path . . . as a conductor in the Underground Railroad.

Dr. Micah Greyson never hesitates to answer the call of duty, no matter how dangerous, until the enchanting Keziah walks back into his life and turns his well-ordered plans upside down. Torn between the life he has always known in Savannah and the fight for abolition, Micah struggles to discern God’s plan amid such turbulent times.

Battling an angry fiancé, a war-tattered brother, bounty hunters, and their own personal demons, Keziah and Micah must decide if true love is worth the price . . . and if they are strong enough to survive the unyielding pain of war.

Let’s talk about this! Did Tara’s post give you a chuckle? What about a heart prick? Do your most cherished memories resemble hers–the goof-ups and laugh-out-loud oopses? Share some of your favorites in the comments below!

On a more serious note, I invite you to pop over to my blog on Crosswalk to read about how God used a modern day crisis and mother’s heartache to deepen my understanding of His love and what Christmas cost Him. You can do that HERE!
And if you haven’t done so, sign up for my free, quarterly mailing to receive great content (short stories, devotions, image of cover for study based on 1 Timothyrecipes and more) sent directly to your inbox. Plus, as a thank you, I’ll send you (separately) a free, 36-lesson study based truths pulled from 1 Timothy (ebook). You can sign up HERE.

A Life in Review

Time is a funny thing. It zips by when you want to hold on to it most and drags when you’re in a hurry.  Lately, I feel

Me, Steve, and Ash on our way to tour School of the Mines in Colorado

Me, Steve, and Ash on our way to tour School of the Mines in Colorado

as if I’ve been in the zip stage. In fact, the clock started ticking louder the moment our daughter started touring colleges. She has one more year. One more year of family dinners, of guaranteed family vacations, of her coming into my room at night to sit on my bed and dialogue with me about all she’s learned and experienced and all she hopes to become.

When she first entered high school, I heard a lot about “empty nesting” and how difficult it could be. Funny thing, I never understood it. I thought it was about a mother not having ways to occupy her time or, having centered her identity in parenting, now felt empty and without purpose.

But as my daughter grows, I’ve gained a new  understanding. It’s not about losing the what but the who. It’s about releasing a child

MeandAshyou adore with your entire heart, releasing those moments of your day you cherish most, knowing this relationship will soon become one of periodic phone calls and occasional visits.

I know this is a normal part of life–this leaving; maturing; launching into adulthood. In truth, it’s what my husband and I have spent years–her entire lifetime–preparing her for. We’ve prayed, read umpteen parenting books, sought wise counsel from others, at times asked for help. In everything, we’ve done everything we knew to do to help her reach this stage and beyond.

And  yet, that’s not entirely true, that we’ve done everything we knew to do to help her, for there were times, many, that I failed. That I let selfishness creep in, choosing the convenient over the best. There were times when my selfishness infected my attitude and my words. There were times when my mistakes and weaknesses caused her pain.

We’ve all done it, and we’ll do it again, because were imperfect, selfish beings. But that’s where humility comes in: dialoguing with our children openly (and age-appropriately) about all those times when we’ve failed and asking them to forgive us. (I also suggest opening a therapy fund as soon as they’re born. Kidding. Sort of.)

That’s where prayer comes in, confessing our shortcomings to God and asking Him to buffer and strengthen our children’s hearts, using every struggle, every parental failure, every weakness for their good.

Because that’s what He’s good out–making beauty from our messes.

Moms, I have a feeling you can relate. None of us our perfect. None of us our patient 100% of the time. There’s no fail-proof book on parenting that promises if we do X, Y will occur, and though we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, much of the time we still feel like we’re playing a guessing game. Except this isn’t a game. In fact, it’s the most important job we’ll ever have. It’s the one area we hope and pray we won’t fail in. Then one day, our children stand at the door, bags packed, and we hope we’ve done enough.

Isn’t it great to serve a God who makes all things beautiful and who showers us and our kiddos with grace?

A God who loves our children even more than we do, who created every fiber and cell of their being, and knows exactly where they’ll be ten years from now and what they’ll need to get there?

A God who, though we want to hold tightly to these precious, growing children, gives us the strength to release them when that time comes.

 

Oh, my do I love that child!

HappyMothersDayHappy Mother’s Day, my friends. If you’ve got kids at home, hold them time. Take the time to enjoy every giggle, every snuggle, every late-night awakening.

 

And moms of any age, I encourage you to read Eileen Rife’s post on Faith-filled Friends about letting go.  You can read it here. Plus, return on Saturday to learn who one our May gift-basket!

If you’re getting tired of my “Time is Short” motherly posts, sorry! I’d say they won’t continue, but I have a feeling they will, growing all the more frequent as her graduation day appears. 😉

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! If you are a parent, what are some of your most  precious memories? What areas have been hardest for you to “let go”? How have you seen God redeem some of your shortcomings and blessings in your child/children’s lives?

Grown children, what are some of your most precious memories of you and your mother? I encourage you to call her or send a card listing telling her of three or four of them and why they meant so much to you. If your mom is not around anymore, I encourage you to share those memories with your children. Time passes quickly, but aren’t you glad we’ve been granted the gift of memories?

For those raising children, find a way to make a memory this week.

You can share your comments here or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Taking Hold of My Marbles!

Do you remember those nights when you bolted awake at every sniffle, whimper, or rustling sound your baby made?

The days when you wished naptimes were just a wee bit longer?naptime

When you wondered if you’d ever be able to spend five minutes alone, eat a meal uninterrupted, or get out of the house without five to ten potty breaks taken between the time you say, “Let’s go!” to the zip of a coat?

I do. And once the chaos calmed, I remeber wishing someone had told me those sleepless nights wouldn’t last forever. That there would be days when our house would be insanely, hauntingly quiet.

That our baby would grow up, grow independent, and the tables would flip.

No longer would she be following me around with arms raised, “Momma, hold me!”

Now I’m the one following her around, “Want to talk? How was your day? Can we…?”

My husband and I have less than two years before our princess launches into adulthood, moves away, and our relationship is relegated to phone calls, random texts, and the occasional family vacation.

In essence, we’re losing our marbles. This morning a dear friend and longtime mentor, SandyT, forwarded me the following: “Savor the Season

The words she sent reiterated a message God continues to pour into my heart, reminding me to make the most of the time I’ve been given, because it won’t last.

A couple of Sundays ago, our church played a video illustrating this truth. You can watch it here:

Playing For Keeps from Orange on Vimeo.

So, what will Steve and I do, to make the most of the marbles we have left?

We’ve decided to engage. To take the time and energy to schedule fun and silliness into our week. Yes, I said schedule, because if we don’t get intentional about how we use our time, it’ll get away from us.

girlscookingThis past Tuesday, I spent a few marbles for a girls night in. My house wasn’t spotless, the recipes weren’t perfect, and I didn’t have all those fancy cooking gadgets.

I had proposals and articles to write, ministry stuff to take care of, and laundry piling on the bed.

But I also had a kitchen, some random ingredients, and some special people to enjoy.

I suppose I could’ve allowed all those “didn’t/wasn’ts” to hinder my plans. But I chose not to.

Because I’ve only got so many marbles, and once they’re gone, well…

So I carved out a few hours and set aside my to-do list (as did my guests).

We made truffles and mini-cheesecakes, following recipes some, improvising girlssmooshingmore.

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There were lots of giggles and story-sharing.

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And a small chocolate battle. (Which I won!)Ashchoco

It took some planning, some preparing, and carving out a few hours of our evenings. But the pay-off was well worth it!

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Don’t lose your marbles, my friend! You’ve only got so many! And each one is a gift from God. How will you use the marbles you’ve been given? What are two things you plan to do this holiday season to make a memory? (Please note, if you do not have family nearby, you can still create a fun memory! Invite someone over for a baking or hot cocoa sipping day, or pop by a friend’s house with a Tim Hawkins’ video. 😉 )

Join the conversation here, in the comments below, or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Love For a Felon

When I was a kid, while walking to and from school, I’d see signs showing which homes were “safe houses.” Should trouble ever arise, I knew where I could go. The welcome mat on these doorsteps meant exactly what it said.

Although safe houses still exist, it seems many have been replaced by no trespassing signs as we isolate ourselves further and further from one another. But as followers of Christ, I believe our homes should extend a loud and hearty welcome. You never know when God will use you to be a beacon of love and hope to one of His broken children.

Today’s post comes from Kenneth W. Bangs, a man who extended a welcome instead of a barrier, and in doing so, spoke love and acceptance into two people’s lives.

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Herschel lived down the road. First time I saw him he was sitting on his porch. I realized we had a new neighbor so I stopped to say hey. He stood as I walked up…tall and thin with a demeanor that told me he had done time. I shook his hand, chatted a minute…could tell he was really uncomfortable so I drove on.

Some months later I was on a tractor and saw him pull up. He shuffled over, head down and said, “Boss would it be ok if I brought my grandson over to fish in your ponds?” I told him sure and he said, “You know I done some time.”

“I know,” I said.

“It was over dope and it was hard time because I acted the fool in the joint.” He looked up at me and said, “You’re police aren’t you?”

“Used to be.”

He nodded and started talking…told me his whole life story. I’d heard it so many times before…so hard, so violent. I prayed with him and told him to enjoy the fishing. He brought his grandson by several times and then stopped. I got a call from a local pastor. He told me Herschel had cancer, no insurance and asked if we could help. Of course we did. I talked with him from time to time, watched as the disease consumed him. Then he was gone. I saw that little grandson as I drove past the other day sitting on the porch steps with his face in his hands. He loved his grandfather and his grandfather loved him…love – so important to give and receive…it lives on long after we’re gone…

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Stop for a moment and consider the chain events that occurred because Kenneth extended a hearty welcome and created a bridge instead of a barrier. For a moment, consider the impact Kenneth’s choice had on the grandson. Consider the memories, the precious moments, Kenneth’s pond allowed the boy and his grandfather to share.

Now, consider the impact this had on the shame-filled man–the message of love, grace, and forgiveness Kenneth’s actions revealed.

Powerful messages.

But the blessing wasn’t done. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God brought this man to Kenneth’s pond prior to the man’s bout with cancer. God’s timing is perfect. By acting in love and obedience, Kenneth built a bridge that allowed him to speak love, hope, and truth into this man’s life when he needed it most.

Consider also the long-term impact each pond visit had on this precious child. I’ve often shared stories of the countless Christians God placed in my path when I was a child. (Read more here.) As an adult, when I looked back over each encounter, I realized it was God loving me through them. I realized, because of the love poured out through His children, that God had never left my side.

Powerful messages provided by such a simple act of love.

Who can you love on today? And how authentic is your welcome mat?

I’d love to hear from you. Have you, like the precious child in our story, experienced God’s love and grace through the actions of another? Or like Kenneth, have you extended a welcome and seen it blossom into something more–something of eternal value?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free book, and submit your “reach out” story for a chance to win a gift basket.

April’s donors include Mary Ellis with An Amish Family Reunion, Deborah Raney with Almost Forever, Cara Putman with A  Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, Vannetta Chapman with Falling to Pieces, Rebecca Lyles with Winds of Wyoming, and Gina Holmes with Dry as Rain. (Read more about all these great books here, and show your appreciating by clicking on their names to visit their websites.)