Friday, January 30, 2015

What Romantic Really Means

I’m going to tell you a little story about my marriage proposal. Steve and I were in our early 20’s, and he used to come over to my Mother’s house where I lived after I graduated from the University of Alabama. She needed a roommate after her divorce, and I desperately needed an accountability partner for my newly minted salvation. Once we started dating, Steve and I would go out once a week, but during the week we couldn’t stand to be apart, so we would meet at my mom’s house after work at least three nights a week. He brought a change of clothes and usually some fantastic dessert he’d bought or made, and I’d put my hair up in a ponytail and change into comfy clothes. Then we would cook dinner with my mother, the three of us visiting and eating dinner, telling stories about our days and coworkers and jobs.

The three of us would watch our two favorite shows together before he left every night at 10:30 to go to his house. I loved Star Trek: the Next Generation (shut up, you already knew I was She-Queen of the Geeky Librarians). Steve’s favorite was Andy Griffith. So, he sat through mine, and I sat through his until we became fans one of another's programs.

One night, the Star Trek theme faded out and the Andy Griffith whistle began. I had my feet curled up under me, a pillow in my lap, face washed clean of makeup, wearing a sweatshirt four times too big for me. My mother had just said good night and gone upstairs to give us a few moments alone before it was time for him to say goodnight and leave. He leaned over and put his forehead against mine and said, “You know, I want to do this exact thing with you for the rest of our lives.” I put his face in my hands and whispered, “Okay then.” He didn’t get on one knee. There were no flowers. There was no grand gesture. And it counts as probably the single most romantic moment of my life.

He got the ring a week later. He went to my father’s office and faced the Master Bear full on in the mouth of his cave without backing down and asked for my hand in marriage. Six months later, I walked down the aisle.

Just like every other couple alive, we have been hanging on to this roller coaster for dear life. Sometimes squealing with glee, sometimes leaning heavily into each other, sometimes screaming in total terror, sometimes laughing until snorting, but always, always buckled and strapped in side-by-side on the ride.

I think these little prom-posal things are sweet and romantic gestures, but I’m going to tell you what. You need to find a man who looks at you in your ponytail and sweats after cooking and eating dinner as a threesome with your mother and says, “You. I take you. Exactly like this. And I want my whole life to look like this. You and me on a sofa in comfy clothes watching Bad TV.”

Because, Sister, that is what you really want and don’t know it. 

Let me tell you the most romantic things I can think of when it comes to Steve Johnson. 

Factoid: I don’t think I can actually prepare myself a cup of coffee, because I haven’t made one for myself in years. Like better than a decade—I don’t know how I take it since I don’t make it. I also haven’t performed an oil change on a car and have no idea when they are due. The car simply returns to the parking lot where I work with a new sticker. Like magic. I also haven’t warmed up my car one time. Ever. It’s always cranked with coffee in the holder when I get in it. With the seat warmer on or the sunroof open depending on the season and weather. I have never once looked at the TV or on the phone for the weather, because he tells me when I wake up so I’ll dress warmly enough. I don’t clean up dog trash in the yard, take out garbage, or do any other nasty kinds of business at my house, because my husband won’t let me.

My prayer for my daughters is simple: that you find a Godly man who understands the difference in romantic gestures and in being romantic by meeting your partner's needs before your own. And that you are the kind of woman who seeks that kind of man.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The World is Too Much With Us

Sometimes the world is absolutely too much with us, William. The English teacher in me demands that you read it twice slowly. Then you can see if you agree or not.

The World Is Too Much With Us
By William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

7 Things I Learned at Miss Issippi's

The Fam, plus Cousin Emily
By now, everyone knows the story of how when The Little Flower was very young she thought that The Husband's cousin Sandra was actually named Miss Issippi because we'd said so many times that we were going to Mississippi that she misunderstood. So, Sandra and James have ever since been Miss Issippi and Mr. Issippi. We drove the four shorties over to Miss Issippi's house for a visit.

Now, here are the interesting factoids:

Waiting on the circus to begin!

1) The Ississippi's are The Husband's relatives, but I am as close to them as he is, proving that birth is only part of the family equation. Time and purpose make up the other parts. The friendship between Sandra and me is every bit as strong as the bond of blood between Sandra and Steve.

Thou shalt not covet

Truth:  You don't have to be related to people for them to be your family. You just have to love them and be loved by them in return. Be quick to love and invite people into your personal space. They might just need family too. 

Holding all of her food so no one steals is.
Carter and Mr. Issippi (or Uncle James)
2) The Mississippi State Fair might have the best food in the whole world. When we were drawing "anticipation" art, the Little Flower drew the food first and the rides second. Chicken on a stick from Penn's (which is actually fried chicken/fried pickles/fried onion slices on a stick), rib-eye sandwiches from the Cattleman's Association, roasted corn on the cob, taffy from Malone's, Bop's snow cones, fried Snicker's, chocolate dipped strawberries, funnel cake, fresh lemonade, kettle corn, frozen, chocolate-dipped banana, and the list goes on.

We buy one item and share among the six of us, and then buy another when we are ready. Or not. Or we try something new around the corner. This way the kids all get to try something different and new and rate it, discuss it, make pronouncements "this is the best EVER" or "that sign totally lied--this stinks," share it "here, you can have the last piece," and just have a common experience.   
Truth: Sharing things (music, food, media, stories) bonds us to one another--common experiences are powerful and knit us together in one more layer.  It's the difference in knowing about someone and knowing someone. I don't want my children to just know about me. I want them to know me.

3.) Building traditions. That photo on the right there ---------->>>>>>
Well, the one on top was four years ago. The one on bottom was this year. Same girls, same pose. They have developed friendships in Mississippi with their cousin and her friends. How cool is that?

Truth: The Love of Christ allows us to have fellowship in so many places if we will open ourselves up to it! Look for things you have in common before the things that separate you and your friendship base will expand right before your eyes.

4) When we go to Miss Issippi's house, I get Uninterrupted Talking Time. Sandra and I sit in the living room and visit. We go to her brother's house and visit. We see her parents and visit. We wander through the fair grounds and watch the kids ride and talk about our churches, husbands, homes, work, friends. We move one level deeper at every sit down as we drift through the park, following (pretending not to follow) a respectable distance behind our teenagers.

Truth: They can pretend they don't want us following, but they sure do check in a lot for kids trying to avoid us. Your kids want to know that you care--if you don't check up on them, they believe you don't give a rip. Better to over care than to under care. They also want to sit on me the entire time I am visiting. Literally one gets off my lap, and the next one gets on. It's really quite amazing. They want attention in the down time too.

5) The best part about birthing your kids one right after another in quick succession is that they are all around the same age. The worst part: they are all around the same age.

A single child event--photos with a monkey
So, we sent the older ones off on their own with friends in the fair, and we spent lots of quality time alone with The Little Flower who got to ride things on her own, pet a monkey, actually play the huckster games (there isn't enough money for all of them to do so), and eat special treats by herself that she didn't have to share.

Sometimes it's hard in Johnsonville being the last. You have to sit through endless games of older siblings, go places where you don't have anything to do, and be patient more than you should have to be.

So, it was good that she got her own cotton candy, and we watched the fair circus together, and she got to ride whatever she wanted several times in a row if she liked.

Truth: There is something to be said for being a member in a large family versus being the only child. I have a feeling that The Little Flower can't wait for the Only Child Left in the Nest thing to come her way. But for now, riding and eating alone are rare treats. Remember to enjoy each of your children individually not just as a whole unit.

6) The Husband has developed some motion sickness as he has aged. That makes him Father of the Year for riding all the spinning rides with Lilly. :-)  Seriously, be sure you marry a man who puts the kids first in all things, because he will meet your needs as a result.  

what to do next?
Truth: Sometimes you have to be willing to vomit if you're going to raise kids in an active, involved way. And roll yards. And drive the get-away-car. And host sleepovers featuring 25 kids. And take the church bus to pick everyone up from school. And go to rock concerts. And wait in the rain for video game releases. And see movies that you think are stupid.  And drive 120 miles each way for ball games. And bring snacks. And bug spray. And an umbrella for the sitting-in-the-rain games. It's inconvenient and difficult, but do it anyway.
And this ride didn't cost anything.

7) Sometimes it is the little things that are the most fun. Like a tree swing. And visiting relatives. And being still for a few days without any real responsibility.

Truth: Everyone needs down time--time to just be without being perfect. Time to laugh and play and be completely free to just be. Especially your kids. Consider being unscheduled and off the grid for a few days to recharge. 

Spinning until sick
Other bonuses:

Sleeping with your spouse on a double bed again is an adventure and mandates snuggling.

Not having to cook or plan meals. (Praise Jesus, Hallelujah!)

Being able to eat what we want, not what's in the fridge. (Can I get an 'Amen'?)

Sad faces going home.
Having friends from church who love us enough to send extra money 'just because'. (We would have skipped the monkey photo without that extra funding for sure.)

Being healthy enough to roll ten hours at the fair. (Well, with some Ibuprofen.)

Having kids who said, "yes, ma'am" when it was finally time to go. (Okay, so they sighed deeply before saying it, but still.)

Tree swing. (Does that really need an explanation?)

It's an Artie Party. (Sorry, it's a Johnson Thing.)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Forgiveness Stinks. Do it Anyway.

Forgiveness is probably the hardest lesson in life and definitely in the walk of a Christian. It goes against every fiber in our being. We want justice for everyone else and mercy for ourselves. We want people to pay for their crimes, until it is our hand or head or heart on the chopping block for payment.

God wants me to contradict my human nature and aspire to a higher order of selflessness that is foreign and frightening.

I am commanded to love the unlovable.
I am commanded to pray for my enemies.
I am commanded to feed and clothe people who take advantage of me.
I am commanded to show mercy to those who come against me.

It's absolutely impossible....
..................................apart from the love of God.

But with God, all things are possible.

And love, which I am commanded to show to everyone, covers a multitude of sins.

But what if you are greviously wronged by a brother or sister in Christ who makes absolutely no attempt at an apology that you are completely justified in wanting? Deserving, even?

God didn't say that you are to forgive those who beg forgiveness.

He also didn't say that you are to pray for those who are like you.

He didn't say that we are to forgive after justice is meted out. 

He said that as far as it is in your power, to be at peace with all men. 

He said that we should let God take up our banner and leave justice to Him and Him alone.

He said not to let a root of bitterness take hold in my heart.

He said to be still and know that I am God.

And that's really it, isn't it?

To know that I am to love the unlovely, because in the past,

I WAS the Unlovable.
I AM the Unlovable.
I WILL BE the Unlovable.

And the Bible is clear that I will only be forgiven as I forgive others. Jesus Christ taught it in the model prayer, so it must be important. And truth.

But to truly forgive you have to let the Holy Spirit in to Do His Thing in your heart, willingly let Him weed your spiritual garden, which is painful and time consuming and the dirtiest sort of work. That makes letting Him in to work on you the biggest battle of all.

Or maybe that's just me...

Saturday, September 20, 2014


No. 1 Son, Naynuh, The Little Flower, Sister, and Big E
We have a Bonus Child in Johnsonville. (Henceforth, she shall be known as Sister.)

Some of you know what this means intuitively. You just get it. But for others, I'll explain. This is a kid who isn't yours by birth, but you find yourself raising him/her as the parent. Those who know us, know we've done this several times.

Now, our Bonus Child started as an Occasional Bonus Child, but in March of 2013 she became a Permanent Bonus Child via the court system. This means that we now call her Sister.

She's still her own person, but she's also our new person. (Not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing for her, but it's definitely a New Thing.)

Anyone with sisters can testify
that it's a complicated relationship
Being a Bonus Child is bizarre in our house. We love her; she loves us. We've known her since she was five years old, but living in a world full of Johnsons is a multifaceted situation when you have to deal with it on a full-time basis, because when she became ours she also instantly became the following:

The Oldest 
This is good and bad cause you have more freedom, but it's now all your fault, especially since you went from being the Baby of the family you were born into to being the Oldest in your "adoptive" family. (I don't know what the Family Dynamic people have to say about this, but I bet it's a doozy. You try going from being the most adored and pampered and babied to trying to be the most responsible and being the example--It's got to be confusing.)

And the Wonder Twins challenge her Oldest Child Status like alpha dogs going for pack leader in a werewolf novel, cause ranking isn't only determined by birth order around here--it's also determined by tooth and nail.

Living in Johnsonville means you participate even when it's weird. 
I'm raising Johnsons, taking the whole kill or be killed thing to a new level of scary. (You show up late for dinner and your pork chop is likely being devoured by someone faster than you, Pumpkin.) The Johnson women are powerful beings to be feared. We've raised them that way purposefully. Strong women don't happen by accident, Friends and Neighbors. They are developed.

From Being the Only Girl to One of Four Girls 
Who All Want to Share Your Stuff--Sharing a room, a flat iron, your personal space, one bathroom, collective make up, one television--it's quite a change from being The Only to E pluribus unum. (Google it). This also means less shared resources (aka Money). It's difficult.

Father's Day 2013
I Vant To Be A-Lone
Sharing everything is a learned skill. We never, ever had only one kid, having started with twins, so our kids have always HAD to share EVERYTHING. Now, to be fair, The Bonus Kid was already good at this, but still, sometimes you want to go off and be alone. That ain't happening in 1900 square feet with eight people in residence. There is no Alone. You don't have your own drink. You don't sit in a chair by yourself. You can't make a phone call in private.You don't watch television alone or surf the web alone. You can't put left overs in the fridge and expect them to be there an hour later. You can't even shower without someone banging on the door asking when you're going to finish.  Or if you didn't lock the door, just barging right in there to pee while you shower.  There is no alone.

first day of school

Family Meetings
With eight people, eight personalities, eight mouths, we host lots of family meetings. Sometimes we host these to work out conflict. Sometimes to discuss vacation plans or what's happening this week or work on the calender (seven activities, eight sports, two instruments, three clubs, church--I can manage anyone's schedule).

This Airing of Grievances isn't for the faint of heart. See, while discussing the calendar, we can easily fall down the rabbit hole into,
    "Why can't XYZ flush the dadgum toilet!"
    "What? You never put the cap back on the toothpaste, you pig, and I was trying to be polite by not flushing in the middle of the night and waking the whole blasted house!"
    "Well, if So-in-So would leave my toothpaste ALONE you wouldn't have to worry about the cap being on or off!"

Ahem. The Family Meeting is really a Big Family Thing, so it's an adjustment for sure.

A Preacher's Kid
Mission Trip
Naynuh, Big E, Sister, and the Number One Son in Peter Pan
Which is probably the most complicated part of the equation. See, before, no one noticed you. Now EVERYONE notices you and is in your business. Sister wasn't born in this exciting fishbowl, so it's a new experience to look up and realize that everyone is looking up to you. The other four shorties get it and go with the flow, but this one is shy and private and conflicted sometimes. It's got to be overwhelming.

You can't expect the Bonus Kid to act like the Four Shorties. She can't possibly since she Lives with the Johnsons; she wasn't Born a Johnson. She also has to get used to a huge set of new and exciting rules like "is this skirt long enough?" and "are these shorts appropriate?" and "can I listen to this kind of song or watch this kind of movie?". Cut her some slack; it's interesting being a PK, especially if you just fell backwards into it.

All-in-all, she's doing a pretty good job of it. I'm proud of her efforts to fit in and work it out. So, now it's the Four Shorties Plus One. We're hoping she makes it through the experience stronger and better. We hope all of our children are learning about doing the right thing even when it costs you something. Meanwhile, I'll have to get some new luggage tags printed...

Not an Accident

Parenting is like a big bowl of guesswork. Seriously. None of us really have any idea what we are doing. If we're being honest, in all parenting you just made an educated guess based on a series of factors involving your child's individual personality, how hard it was going to be for you personally, and what it was going to cost you to implement.

Holding the injured foot on stage
I made the kids take this theater camp at the local library. They did it several years running.  One year I made the Number One Son this (amazing) storm cloud costume. (It was one of my finer moments as a mom.) My son was awesome as a rapping/singing/angry storm cloud. He was the villain of the play. He also painted himself green for a production of A Mid-Summer Night's Dream. Twenty minutes before curtain the kid stepped on a hot flat iron that had accidentally been left on the floor backstage. It was an awful, cringe-inducing kind of burn. He went on stage anyway. I was so very proud of him both times, because once he stepped totally out of his comfort zone and went for it. The second time he went on in pain because the show must go on. This past week was homecoming, and he got up without a single hesitation and danced the cha-cha slide in front of the whole school. He volunteers to pray out loud first without being coerced. Carter is so cool. And that didn't happen on accident.

Naynuh has always been an encourager. She's also got the kind of
Nay-nay is in the blue blocking that shot
stick-with-it I wish I had. She used to be so very clumsy and awkward. On field day she was always last in every event (every field day she was last in every event). There was this one time though, she was in the lead on this relay race--seriously, we couldn't believe it--and about 3/4th the way around her section of race the kid in the lane next to her tripped and fell. Naynuh stopped, went back and picked that kid up. Dried his tears. Gave him a pat on the back. Then hobble-walked him across the finish line. She was a half step behind him, so she finished last yet again. When we were taking photos at the end of field day she held up all matching, last place ribbons and beamed, "Look! They all match! I'm so awesome!" Last year she started on the Varsity basketball team as an eighth grader in the post position. She started every game, one of them with a raging case of the flu. She took her meds, put on her uniform and got in the car, because she was NOT missing that game or letting the team down. Elaina is the picture of dedication and charity and what can happen if you apply yourself and keep running, picking up people and taking them with you as you go forth. And that didn't happen on accident.

SGA President and Homecoming Princess
Big E has always been the child most like me. She's bossy and melodramatic and this wonderful kind of demanding of herself and of others. She wants to be the best. When the kids would play games, she gave them roles and explained how they were going to be and nothing less than perfection has ever been tolerated. So, when she campaigned for Student Leadership Council and then made the Homecoming Court no one was the least bit surprised. She makes the people around her better simply because she demands it of them. She was helping her little sister with math and when The Little Flower said she "couldn't do it", E snatched that paper out of her hand, slammed it on the table and said, "Oh, no you don't! We are Johnsons and we are unconquerable! We do not bow down to math problems! We do not hang our heads in shame at failure, because we do not fail! Now, pick up that pencil and get back after it!" The idea of quitting was a personal affront to her. She's voted most likely to achieve world domination in Johnsonville. And that didn't happen on accident.

Totally awesome.
The Little Flower is another thing entirely. (Everyone knows that if the Last had been First they'd have been the Only.)  She's the creative mind in this domicile, but she's also the most stubborn person ever to walk the planet. She like this constant contradiction--she can recite and draw the digestive tract and process but refuses to complete a simple math sheet. It's puzzling. Example: we tell her that she's going to have to go to the games as punishment if she's uncooperative in the classroom, but we'll send her home with Nana if she has a good day in class. See? Contradictions. She's probably going to invent a video game and make a zillion dollars and then spend it on a fortress that she never has to leave. She's like Emily Dickinson waiting for a place to happen. The kids were talking about their dream cars. Lillian announced that she wanted a motor home for her first car, "because then I'd never have to leave the house ever again." (Alrighty then.) She knows her art is good and worth of framing. She gives her drawings away every time she's asked. And that didn't happen on accident.

Fitting in on the bizarre photo poses in Johnsonville.
Sister is one of those mysteries in our house, because she is of us but not one of us. It's a tightrope she has to negotiate daily, because Johnsons are powerful and scary and overachieving and just a loud crowd of half-(and sometimes whole) crazy. She's shy and quiet and other. But she's resilient. And determined. And that means she's probably going to be okay. And that isn't happening on accident.

So, while parenting is guesswork, you need to be intentionally building people you can be proud of and that the community will thank you for one day. Confident, personable, powerful people who can lead the world. And that doesn't happen on accident.

Because making evil step-sister faces is more fun, and we're cool like that.

We go NOWHERE without pen and paper, cause you never know when you'll need it.

Evil Step-Sister Pose yet again, because we know we're beautiful.  We don't need you to confirm it.

Because real men wear pink. And dance. And bring flowers. (And photobomb like Dad in the back and Son in the front.)

The Johnsons (plus Donovin the Best Friend, because there is always room for one more.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Not One but Two Cans

There is a common myth among people of faith and people outside of the church. It is this: that once you are saved, you are suddenly, perfectly transformed into a sinless creature who is supposed to always be in control, polite, obedient, and full of grace and mercy. It's the reason when a Christian becomes angry the community pouts and prisses and says, "Oh, I THOUGHT you were SUPPOSED to be a CHRISTIAN."

We propagate this myth ourselves by being characterized by what we are against more than by what we are for. How we dress, how we speak, and the things we do don't point people back to Christ, but point them to how holy we APPEAR to be.

See here is the truth...

When I was little, I was bossy, difficult, demanding, precocious, complicated, Type A, and totally in charge. My mother has this photo of me at three years old wearing a full-length purple dress, holding a piece of paper, directing the movers in my bedroom. We were moving, and I'd prepared by waking early, dressing for the occasion so that I looked like I was in charge, and making a check list of what they were and were not going to do in my bedroom. She said it was the moment that my personality came into fruition. She could literally see the woman I was going to become in that one day.

When I was five, my father stared calling me Sweet Charlotte. He added the tag line "who carries a can of whoop A in both back pockets on Sunday". It's because I refused to back down. I was confrontational and not afraid to be in a dispute or debate. I would argue until there was punishment and then still come back for another round when the dust settled only to kick it up again later. I refused to be cowed or afraid or back down. I refused to be weak.

I wasn't saved until I was 21. I committed every egregious sin that one can commit in those 21 years.  I was ungrateful. I was rude and uncaring and didn't love people. I wanted my way and to be right more than I wanted peace. I physically intimidated people and fought. I was the enemy. When the Holy Spirit descended upon me, I was one of those people who had a radical change--A Paul on the Damascus Road kind of change. A total turn around. But for this one thing....

See, the person you ARE is who you STILL ARE after your transformation. My sin nature simply became restrained by the Holy Spirit. Nothing in my intrinsic make up changed. I am still all of those things for the good and for the bad. The idea is that now I am under the power of God, not under the power of Charlotte. He has literally made all things new, but my personality--the thing that makes me ME--is still there the way He created me from the beginning.

But my basic instinct when something is out of whack in my universe is to reach behind me for one of those handy, dandy cans in my back pocket (cause I got this, God), which is the exact opposite of what the Lord wants from me.

He wants me to wait upon Him for deliverance, so that I am not sullied in the fight. He wants me to rest in His arms, because I battle against unseen enemies that I don't understand. He wants me to stop relying on me and look only to Him, which is overwhelming for someone who wants to problem solve and list make and get it done. He wants to actually be LORD in my life and not simply receive lip service. Because to say He is Lord and to actually let Him BE Lord are two totally different things.

He is a God of justice. He is a God of vengeance, just as much as He is a God of Love and Forgiveness. So, when things go wrong in your world, remember--you focus on still being you under the constraint and love of the Holy Spirit, and let God be God and handle the conflict. Psalm 46:1 "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Hebrews 13:6 "So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me."

Of course, should you cross me, you'd better pray for not only mercy and grace, but also for healing and protection, cause you might need it.  Sister Sunshine Charlotte still has two full cans of whoop-your-you-know-what in her back pocket just in case God needs a helping hand.

Just saying.