God Was Purposeful in Our Pain

Personal Testimony of Natalie Faith Johnson

natalie-pic-1Growing up, I sang many songs that assured me it was “so sweet to trust in Jesus” and “God can make a way when there seems to be no way.” My favorite movie as a kid was Sister Act 2 (don’t judge!) and I would sing along with Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount as they sang “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” I sounded exactly like them!

The lyrics of all these songs are so beautiful and TRUE…but sometimes they are hard to sing. What if you’re not happy and things don’t feel so sweet? What if you don’t feel free but instead are trapped in a life you never saw for yourself? What if you know God is watching but you don’t feel Him actively working?

Deciding to be a Christian is life changing. However, as you the reader knows, it doesn’t spare you from all the junk that can happen. I love the verse:

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Psalm 91:4).

The word rampart means “a protective barrier.” God is faithful and even though life can throw some pretty crazy stuff our way, we are sheltered under His wings and can make it through any storm!

I’m about to tell you a story about becoming a mother that has the best ending. Just you wait! However, I do want to preface the story by saying that for years I thought over and over again that I was in the lowest valley I’d ever walk through…but then it would get lower. I thought circumstances would get better but then they got worse. Has that ever happened to you? I’ve heard ‘bad things come in threes’ but sometimes it seems like bad things come by the dozen!

Martin Luther once said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” His quote was pertaining to temptation and our thought life. There will always be storms that come, dark valleys we walk through, and squawking birds over our heads. We were never promised that this world would be fun or easy. However, we can find shelter within our Refuge (the Lord!), we can walk beside Him through the valley (He promises that!), and we can take every thought captive in Jesus’ name!

When I was younger my parents got divorced. It was painful, messy, and didn’t end well. My dad, who was a pastor and charismatic man lived a double life by having multiple affairs, abusive behavior, and strong mental health issues. My mom wrote a book about her healing process called “Secrets in the Sanctuary*.” Their marriage never recovered, and in fact, my dad went on to have even stronger issues over the years and he sadly passed away when I was 19 years old.

What’s bizarre, is that growing up I knew very little of my dad’s unhealthy behavior. My dad was extremely intentional when he saw my sister and me. He took us on the best vacations, had thought provoking conversations, and challenged us to be strong in our faith. I can look back on my parents’ divorce and grieve over the things that were destroyed and at the same time be thankful for the years I had with my dad and the good seeds he planted in my life. We don’t have to be 100% happy with how things turn out. We can have joy and pain at the same time. Let me repeat that…joy and pain can coexist at the same time. It’s what makes us strong and makes us long for Heaven.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

I really hoped that growing through my dad’s death and the divorce of my parents would be my full testimony. I wish hard times were like lightening striking once, but like we all know, we need God every hour to help us through this life!

natalie in hospitalLike I said earlier, sometimes bad things come by the dozen. My parents’ marriage began to turn toward divorce when I was 4 years old. In the thick of their struggles, I was having some health issues, and through multiple doctors’ visits, led to the unexpected. I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in my pelvis. It was wrapped around my organs and blocked my body from functioning like it should. Thankfully, through two years of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and a great team of doctors, I was healed at 6 years old from cancer!  My mom, sister, and I started a new life with the help of our family, church, and the Lord’s provision.

The doctors warned us that there would be limits of how my body would function as I grew up, but every single limit they gave was surpassed and overcome!

God was faithful over the years and eventually I met and married Adam when I was 20. We started a fun life together and moved to Spring Hill, KS in 2009.

Confident of what the Lord had done in my body, I became pregnant at 24, and I knew this was another victory of His healing touch. Adam and I were so excited to share with everyone about our baby! I was getting ready to graduate dental hygiene school and Adam was established in his job as a Worship and Creative Arts Pastor. We were thrilled to start the next chapter of our lives.

Unfortunately, I miscarried our first baby at 9 weeks and a year later I miscarried another baby at 14 weeks. Both pregnancies started off great but because of the radiation treatment to my pelvis during my childhood cancer, my body would not stretch enough to make room for a growing baby. We would have tried to keep getting pregnant but both miscarriages revealed that my body was unable to clot blood normally and I would be hospitalized for days to stop the bleeding. I was told the next pregnancy would end in a hysterectomy.

I never kept any of our journey to be parents or the grief that I felt a secret. My poor mother, sister, and best friends heard it all! One day, Katie, my closest friend, graciously offered to try surrogacy, since carrying the baby was our main battle. With prayer and research, we decided to go for it!

“If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

The first surrogacy attempt failed, and we had depleted all our money. With encouragement from our friends and family, surrogacy fundraisers were held, giving us another opportunity to try again. By this time everyone in our circle and Katie’s knew about our journey. It failed again.

I started going to counseling. The idea of carrying a child myself was gone, and now the idea of having a biological child was also gone. My heart was not ready for any other option. Grief was a daily friend.

But God can make a way when there seems to be no way. Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful. A family at our church that we didn’t really know heard our story and invited us to a birthday party they were having for one-year-old twins, a brother and sister. The twins had come into their lives through foster care. Our new friends hoped we could be the twins’ future parents.

In one fell swoop, these babies wiped out every stigma I had toward fostering. It was easy to connect with them. God was changing my heart on how I could be a mom.

We decided to get our foster care license and after taking classes the twins became a part of our lives. But then several months later a family member stepped in to be their guardian and they left our home.

I couldn’t take anymore loss. The idea of never mothering, of never feeling this way again was sounding like the best idea…but God had a different idea in mind.

Aren’t you thankful that God is always working behind the scenes and knows the desires of our hearts?

  • In 2013, when I miscarried my first baby, Jaedyn Faith Johnson was born.
  • In 2014, when I miscarried my second baby, Neila Kate Johnson was born.
  • Because of our surrogacy fundraising event, a couple who had attended mentioned our names when a relative of theirs was looking for adoptive parents for Jaedyn and Neila.
  • Katie, our dear friend, and surrogate was the connecting person to that couple and called to ask if we’d be willing to meet the girls.
  • We met our daughters on Adam’s 31st birthday. God was about to show us the most incredible gifts he had ever made.
  • Years before we met the girls, we got our foster care license. We needed this license to be candidates to adopt them.
  • There were 12 couples who wanted to adopt the girls. We were the only ones out of state and yet we were picked as one of the final two couples.
  • When the board (Best Interest Staffing) met and interviewed us and the other couple, the majority of the board was going to vote for the older couple with a child. One woman on the board, however, swayed the whole vote toward us when she said that when we spoke, she could feel God’s presence and assurance that we were supposed to be the girls’ parents.

judge And in December of 2018, we became the overjoyed, emotional, grateful parents of two of the coolest girls we have ever known. Every detail of who they are, from their personalities, their interests, and even their eye color meshes with our family as a beautiful reminder that God was working. God was purposeful in our pain and nothing was wasted. He redeems and restores what we think is beyond his control. God is faithful!

Johnson family
The Johnson Family. Neila, Natalie, Adam, Jaedyn

“He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 113:9).

Natalie and Mom*Book written by Natalie’s mom, Julie E. Davenport, “Secrets in the Sanctuary” – https://julieedavenport.com/

“Come on! You can do this!” 2017 World Series Game #2

I love watching baseball, especially when it comes to the World Series.

Ozzy 2
Ozzy Smith, St. Louis Cardinals, 1982-1996

As a young girl, my grandparents took me to watch the Decatur Commodores, a professional minor league baseball team that played in my home town, Decatur, Illinois. These were great memories, eating all the popcorn and snow cones I wanted, cheering for the hometown team, keeping an occasional foul ball; and an endearing memory of watching my grandpa pencil in all the plays on his scorecard. And on occasion, we drove about 2 hours to watch the St. Louis Cardinals. Another fond memory is recalling my grandfather listening to all the Cardinal games on his little transistor radio.

Fast forward just a “few” years. I found myself feeling the same adrenaline-fueled emotions watching game 2 of the world series last night.

Verlander pic
Justin Verlander

Being down 3 to 1 in the 6th inning, the Astros tied the Dodgers in the ninth. The Astro’s comeback had just begun. Scoring 2 runs in the top of the 10th, I’m sure the Astros thought perhaps the game was theirs to keep. But no, the Dodgers scored 2 runs in the bottom of the 10th to tie it up. At this point in the game I really thought the Dodgers would take it to the bank, as I think many of the Astros had the same gut feeling. That is, until their starting pitcher, Justin Verlander rallied his team onto victory. “Let’s go, let’s go, we can keep scoring runs. We can do this!” Sure enough, the Astros scored 2 runs in the top of the 11th and won 7-6.

Waking up this morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Astro’s comeback and how possibly the stirring words of Verlander inspired his team on to victory.

During our lives, there are times when we feel like we’re losing the game and are down to our last out. Possibly an illness has zapped our energy, or someone we love deeply has thrown us a curve by walking out. In one form or fashion, we’ve all been there, right? And what often makes the difference in whether we’re ready to throw in the towel or not, is having someone who is willing to step in and “yell” at us, “Come on! You can do this!” Well, maybe not yell…although at times, this is exactly what we need. An in your face reminder, that God is in control, He loves you, and you can be victorious with His love, grace, and power in your life.

I’ve recently been praying for several children who are battling some form of cancer. It breaks my heart to think of the agony and pain they are going through as they fight this horrible disease, and likewise, their loving parents and family. While these life-threatening battles have seemed insurmountable, I have observed how the power of God infuses hope into the lives of these children and their families, through the outpouring of love and support from friends and family, and their communities.

The scripture that comes to my mind is from Hebrews 10:23-25: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Closing thought:

Charlie pic
Charlie Cox

Think about how you can be an encourager to someone in your life. Maybe it’s a neighbor who is going through a difficult time, or it could be a family member who simply needs a hug around the neck. (One of our greatest encouragers who gave the tightest and most sincere hugs went home to receive his reward from our Heavenly Father three years ago. His name is Charlie Cox.) Possibly someone will remember you after you have breathed your last, as someone who cared enough to “yell” into your life, “Come on! You can do this!”

In the Face of Death, God has a Plan

Personal Testimony Written by Katie Finn

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” James 1:2-8.

Did you know that God always answers prayer? His timing is always perfect and He has a beautiful plan for each person He has ever created.

I was born blue in the face. One doctor tried to give me oxygen but it wasn’t helping me, and another doctor suggested that they check my blood sugar. My blood sugar was extremely low, in the single digits. They found out that the illness I had was rare and only a few children in history had been born with it. The child who survived the longest lived to age 14 and was unable to sit up, walk, talk, or feed them self. The doctors told my parents, in this condition, I would only live to age 21. Throughout my childhood I spent a lot of time in the hospital. My parents and churches from all over the world were praying for me and for the doctors to have wisdom. They prayed that the Lord would work through them.

Mike & Katie Celebrating their Anniversary
Mike & Katie Celebrating their Anniversary

At age 2 the doctors decided to remove half of my pancreas which had been producing too much insulin. I was healthy for about two and a half years and then I started to get very sick again. The doctors discovered that my pancreas had grown back and was producing more insulin than it had before, so at age 5 my pancreas was completely removed. I have been a diabetic ever since. Today I am nearly 30. God answered the prayers of so many people. I have had the experience of graduating high school, college, and am now married! These are three wonderful experiences that my parents didn’t know I would ever have.

God is so good! I thank Him for each day that He blesses me with. Each day is a beautiful gift from God. As I wake up each morning and begin to tear away the paper, I can’t wait to see what He will unfold before me as I open the box. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11.

I’ve had some very hard days which have strengthened my faith in God. I’ve come to realize I don’t have to go through these times alone because I have Jesus! I know that there will never come a day in my life that will present challenges that He can’t handle through me. My goal each day is to stay as close to God as I possibly can.

Through every surgery, hospital stay, and seizure, I’ve never had to face it alone. God is there. I believe that He always has a plan. All I must do is obey if He asks me to do something, and trust Him for the results. I’m so glad my life is in His hands. I know I would not be here today without Him!

No matter what challenges you may be facing, know that you don’t have to go through them alone. God loves you and if you will trust Him and believe that He has a plan, He will be with you through any challenge, any sickness, or any struggle you may ever have to face.

About Katie Finn:

Katie Finn
Katie Finn

I met Katie a year ago, when my husband and I accepted a call to pastor a church where Katie and Mike are members and serve God faithfully. After only a few conversations with Katie, I learned of her life-threatening illness and unshakeable faith in Christ. Her desire to please God in all areas of life is demonstrated by her humble and gentle spirit.

Unable to drive because of her illness and having other limitations with her vision, Katie doesn’t let this deter her from living a life of purpose and joy.

God has gifted Katie with many talents, including the ministry of music. She skillfully plays the piano and the flute, and sings beautifully unto the Lord. Katie also enjoys sewing, making many of her own clothes, and preparing healthy recipes.

Katie serves alongside of her husband, Mike, as Outreach Pastors at our church (St. Paul’s Church of the Nazarene, KC, MO). They both have a tremendous heart for reaching people with the Gospel of Christ. Mike is completing his bachelor’s in biblical studies degree at MidAmerica Nazarene University, as he and Katie prepare for full-time ministry.

One of my favorite quotes from Katie’s testimony: Each day is a beautiful gift from God. As I wake up each morning and begin to tear away the paper, I can’t wait to see what He will unfold before me as I open the box.

Holding His Hand:

Mike and Katie Celebrating Christmas with Katie's family
Mike and Katie Celebrating Christmas with Katie’s Family

When all seems dark and hopeless, Jesus is there. While talking with Katie’s dad, tears filled my eyes as he retold the frightening hours/years following Katie’s birth. He said the doctors gave little to no hope of survival for their precious little girl. Katie’s parents spent endless hours lifting their hearts to God. And while confessing their anguish and fearfulness, they came to an altar of total relinquishment and trust, by praying for God’s will to be accomplished through Katie’s fragile life. The physicians’ non-encouraging consultations continued throughout Katie’s young childhood, and yet, hope and peace came through an ever-present awareness of Christ’s nearness and faithfulness.

Recommended Reading: 1 Kings 17:7-24 – Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath

 

Common Scarlet Thread

After completing three years of journaling about my greatest passion in life: to intentionally pass down my faith in Christ to my family, under the blog title Covenant Heirs, the Lord has now directed me to begin a new blog. The title: Holding His Hand.

(I will periodicallyScarlet Thread write in my Covenant Heirs blog https://covenantheirs.org/, for parents and grandparents.)

The common thread that binds Christians together is the precious blood of Jesus.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Through Holding His Hand blog, I will share personal reflections of how God deeply and compassionately cares for His children in the midst of life’s inevitable storms. In addition to my personal faith journeys, I will include true stories I’ve compiled of men and women who have also experienced God’s unfailing love and grace during their personal pain and suffering.

My first blog entry following this introduction is titled: Don’t Fret! My personal testimony of how God held my hand after the loss of my mother when I was seven. To receive this testimony (July 7, 2016), and to follow my blog, please click-on the Follow tab on the sidebar or complete your contact information underneath the Contact tab above.

In Psalm 37, David reminds us of God’s faithfulness to His people. In the midst of evil and personal suffering, he encourages believers to remain faithful and to trust God’s promises even when it all appears futile.

Psalm 37 (NIV)

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. 11 But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; 13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. 15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.

16 Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; 17 for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. 19 In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

20 But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.

21 The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; 22 those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed.

23 The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; 24 though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

25 I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. 26 They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.[b]

27 Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. 28 For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.

Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed[c]; the offspring of the wicked will perish. 29 The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.

30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. 31 The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip.

32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, intent on putting them to death; 33 but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked  or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

34 Hope in the Lord  and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, 36 but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace.[d] 38 But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future[e] for the wicked.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. 40 The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

For further study of Psalm 37: (Excerpt from: Be Worshipful (Psalms 1-89), Repackaged — By: Warren W. Wiersbe)

David had written about the wicked in Psalm 36 (see vv. 1, 11), and he will pick up the theme again in Psalm 39. He wrote Psalm 37 in his mature years (v. 25), and in it he discussed the age-old problem of why the righteous suffer while the wicked seem to prosper. Perhaps this psalm was part of David’s preparation of Solomon for the throne (1 Kings 2:3; see Prov. 23:17-18; 24:19-20). Honest atheists and agnostics don’t have to wrestle with this problem because their philosophy of relativism forbids them to use words like good, bad, righteous, and wicked. However, those who believe in God sometimes wonder why He allows the wicked to succeed while the righteous suffer. The word wicked is found fourteen times in the psalm. The theological foundation for the psalm is the covenant God made with Israel, recorded in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27–30. God owned the land, and if the nation obeyed Him, they could live in the land and enjoy its blessings. But if Israel disobeyed the Lord, He would first chasten them in the land (invasion, drought, famine), but if they continued to rebel, He would then take them out of the land (captivity). But it seemed that the wicked were prospering and that God wasn’t doing anything about it (see Jer. 12). The righteous could fret over the problem (vv. 1, 7-8), leave the land (v. 3), or go on being faithful, trusting the Lord to keep His Word (vv. 3, 5, 7, 34, 39). Like any mature believer who had been through his own share of suffering, David took the long view of the situation and evaluated the immediate and the transient in terms of the ultimate and the eternal. He encouraged Solomon and the people to believe God’s promises and wait on Him. In the psalm, he gave four encouraging assurances to believers who question how God is running His world. (See also Ps. 49 and 73.)