My dad is a pastor, so I’ve heard a lot of sermons. I’ve heard sermons that motivate, sermons that convict, sermons that I’ve sworn were written and preached straight to me. And then there have been those sermons that have lulled me to sleep. It seems I’ve heard it all.

And yet, here I found myself sitting in a group with only 10 others, absolutely transfixed; as if hearing a sermon for the very first time.

The speaker was a man named Marvin. He dressed in shabby clothes and was missing a few teeth. Neither eloquent nor educated, however his words were like a knife to the soul. As I listened, it occurred to me that instead of a speaker’s level of education, perhaps it’s the amount of suffering he has endured which gives him and his words credibility.

Marvin is living with Aids. 

Along with a few dozen other patients he stays at the Hope Care Aids home. Last year, after hearing about the good news of Jesus Christ, Marvin gave his life to the Lord and became a Christian. Almost instantly his best friend at Hope Care, Larry, lost his fight to with Aids and passed away. It was a dark time for Marvin. And again, several weeks ago Marvin lost another friend at Hope Care to the disease.

“After my second friend died, I started to get depressed again and thought, Oh no, am I going to have to deal with this again? But, then God showed me a verse that gave me the strength I desperately needed.”

Marvin read 1 Peter 5:10 to us, which says, “And the God of all grace…after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Marvin will struggle with the hurt and reality of death, but the struggle won’t last forever.

In that moment, I wanted to pen a note with this verse and send it back in time to myself in 2010: Jen, I know you feel like you’re dying right now. But, keep holding on. The suffering won’t last forever. Restoration will come. 

Time seemed to stand still; Marvin and the others froze. I looked over at my husband, and realized how happy I am. How blessed I am. How far I’d come from the dark dungeons of August 2010.

Last week, I spoke with a friend who is struggling with a broken marriage and threats of divorce. She said, “Sometimes it feels as if this will never end; that I cannot make it through.” To her and to others who bind arms with us in struggles, this is the message of hope.

That God has a plan for restoration. 

The ironic part is, I was at Hope Care Aids home to minister to Marvin and the other patients. I was there to “give back” during the Christmas season after being challenged by our Christmas reading plan. But, I was the one who left encourage. I was the one who was ministered to. I left with a full heart.

This Christmas, don’t forget about those in need. Here are some easy ways to give, without even having to leave your computer screen:

1. Hello Somebody: a ministry existing to help educate and feed children and to break the cycle of poverty and hunger. You can make a financial donation or purchase a stylish watch which will help buy Christmas gifts for street children in Rwanda.

2. Operation Christmas child: a ministry of Samaritan’s purse which gives shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts to needy children. Donate $7 to help with shipping boxes or $35 online to fill and ship a box.

3. Operation Warmth: Make a financial contribution to help provide a warm coat to a needy child.

Question: What did you do to give back this Christmas season?


more than thankful

I love it when the mail arrives everyday. Maybe it’s cause we don’t actually own a mail box. Nope, we’ve got this really cool hole slot in the side of the house that empties into the deep, unknown of an old musty-smelling closet. It’s a daily adventure just trying to salvage every envelope and postcard. Or quite possibly it’s because I’ve grown up in a world where email is at the tip of my fingers. There’s just nothing quite like an envelope addressed solely to me, shrouded in mystery until the seal is broken.

It was just such an experience last week when I opened an envelope which revealed a beautiful cream and green wedding invitation. The groom is not a close friend by any means; but, in a way, we shared something more powerful than friendship. We were fellow survivors; survivors of broken dreams and failed marriages. After twelve years of marriage, his wife had told him she wanted a divorce and he was devastated. It’s a story I’ve told many times on this blog.

And yet, despite the pain that threatened to forever haunt him, on December 31st of this year, he will marry a new woman who has captured his heart. His sister (who happens to be one of my very best friends) describes his new bride as an “angel”, and I can relate.

Today, I am thankful for new beginnings. That no matter how bad life gets – there’s always hope. Jeff and I have now completed the process of moving me into our house and organizing all of my old belongings. As I’ve gone through countless boxes, it seems as if there’s always some old letter or belonging, etc. reminding of my old life  – – and it still occasionally hurts. The truth is, it takes a long time to clean up a life; to clean up the  debris from broken dreams.

But, I married a man who didn’t mind wading his way through my mess to find my heart. He didn’t care what people would think about him dating the “freshly divorced girl”. He didn’t mind that I harbored major trust issues.

And even more importantly I serve a God who offers me (and you) a new beginning every morning; no matter what happened the night before. My God is a God like this husband, who, after accidentally throwing away his wife’s $10,000 wedding ring, suited up and combed through a 10-foot pile of garbage at the local landfill. He didn’t give up despite digging through trash, feces and carcasses, and sure enough, after enough time, spotted the ring glinting in the sun light. What a picture of God! He doesn’t mind sifting through all of our garbage in order to find our hearts. He’ll clean us up. Because with God, there’s always a new beginning. 

I got re-married two months ago, and I’m starting my new life. I’m decorating for Christmas and I’m hanging up lights. I’m starting new traditions and I’m slowly opening my heart up again to life. God is good and he has seen me through. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

“God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. Great is your faithfulness!”

Lamentations 3:22-23

from someone who’s been there

On our recent road trip, I couldn’t help but get sucked into some celebrity gossip while passing the time. If there’s anything I’ve learned this past year it’s that I’m in no place to judge any other person for their life. But, with that said, it’s shocking to me to read of celebrities who have lavish, public weddings only to change their minds 72 days later and file for divorce.

Our culture has cheapened the covenant of marriage. Instead of a permanent, lifetime bond, marriage has now become a trial – if it fits, wonderful; if not, just take it back off and throw it aside! Divorce used to be likened to a curse word; the simple utterance of it bringing a distaste to the mouth. Now, divorce is a common word – and it breaks my heart.

Is divorce as simple as some celebrities make it out to be? Does it even have lasting implications? Or is it easy? For me, it was real and destructive in these ways…

1. Financially – I only preferred my lawyer to do the bare-minimum for me, but with lawyers, everything costs. During every phone call, every email, and every meeting the clock is ticking and the calculator is adding up. I literally turned over my entire final paycheck to my lawyer. I remember selling  my entire library of beloved books to pay yet another attorney bill. I got another job working at a salon during the holidays to continue paying those bills. Divorce is not cheap. If it’s anything like mine, the cost will be in the thousands.

2. Time – From the first time I met with my lawyer to the date I received the signed divorce decree back from the judge was five long months. Struggling through a divorce was extremely painful for me. I knew the marriage was over and biblically speaking, it was irreparable – so to just sit around and wait was difficult. I longed to have my maiden last name back and to start working towards discovering who I was again. I wanted to be done arguing over real estate, the separation of bills, and our material goods. Time was the enemy. After everything I’d suffered through – I just wanted it to be over. 

3. Family Relations – It hurts to lose people and it hurts to lose in-laws, whether they be mothers, grandmothers or sisters. Divorce is painful during the holidays. It’s difficult letting go of old traditions and forming new ones. (My incredible new husband has helped me so much in trusting people again and not being so skeptical of their love towards me. He is my hero.)

4. Disappointments – mine and others. I remember speaking with a friend who took over the youth ministry with her husband after us. She told me, “The teenagers are really hurting. They keep saying, ‘Marriage means nothing anymore. If ____ and Jen couldn’t make it last, then who can?'” That phone call took the wind out of my sails. I spent five years trying to be an example to the students I was working with and even though I wasn’t in control of my spouse and his decisions, it still hurt that my marriage had let those kids down. But, looking back – I think through my divorce, I taught them more than I ever did while working in the youth ministry. Because, they were able to watch me at my lowest – praising God instead of cursing him.

5. Material goods – We were living in a beautiful house, but during the divorce neither of us could afford it any longer. We had never missed a house payment, and yet, I ended up having to short-sale my house. I must have spend 30 hours on the phone with my mortgage company and real estate agent in negotiations. Here I was, twenty-five years old, losing a house and trying to sell my wedding ring so I could afford my bills. I put my wedding ring on Craigslist and sold it to an asian man working in a nail salon. Together, Jeff and I followed him across the street to Sam’s club so he could have the jeweler verify that it was real. In the parking lot, I exchanged the ring, for his money and we drove off in the cover of a winter blizzard. It was so surreal. We were driving in slow-motion through what felt like a snow globe and I couldn’t get over the fact that I had just sold my wedding ring. I called my mom and said, “No girl should ever have to do that.”

6. Emotionally – This is where divorce made the greatest devastation in my life. There arn’t enough words to describe the pain and the different ways it took hold on me. I wasn’t the perfect wife, but I was invested in my marriage; I meant what I said during the ceremony; divorce never was a probability. It caught me completely off guard.

In my opinion, divorce isn’t a quick fix, and it’s not a bandaid. I heard once on the radio that divorce doesn’t solve a bad marriage – it’s just like trading in one pain for another, different pain. In my situation, there wasn’t another option, (and God has since blessed me with an incredible new husband) but I want couples to know that far-reaching implications of divorce. For those couples who struggle with continual arguing, please, never throw divorce in each other’s face as a probability! It’s more than a signed decree. It’s more than taking off a ring. It’s real. And it has its costs. 

the record

On a train traveling to Ludwigsburg, Germany sat a young man. Head in his hands, paying no mind to his fellow travelers, he did nothing to try and stop the large, crocodile tears that fell continuously out of his ocean blue eyes. For twelve hours, miles of landscape passed by the windows and the steam engine continued to hum. Alois squeezed his eyes shut and balled up his fists in desperation.

Though he was only 18, life had lost all of its purpose. There was no longer any rhyme and reason. He had successfully escaped from his communist-led homeland of Czechoslovakia.  But what waited on the other side; freedom and happiness? No. All he had known had been pain, hunger, and disappointment.

He was supposed to be alongside his three friends en route to Australia and a better life. But, his visa had been denied and he was sent back to the refugee camp in Ludwigsburg. He would depart the train there completely and utterly alone; no friends, no family. There was no one in Germany to share his pain and sorrow. His escape had been for nothing. He had left his family back in Czechoslovakia and they did not even know he was alive.

Alois contemplated jumping from the train and ending it all. He felt numb; lifeless. To God, he prayed, “If you are really up there, look at me, what is happening to me? My three friends go to their new lives, and I go back to nothing. I do not have one human being in Germany to go to and I am at the end of my strength.”

Alois is my grandfather and he has an incredible story; a story of disappointments and sorrow, but also a story of God’s passionate love. My grandfather (or as I affectionately call him, “Opa”) penned his story. As I read this section, I suddenly felt a bond form between him and I, which I never knew we shared.

You see, I too sat in a seat, while tears fell constantly down my cheeks, believing my life was over and nothing was left. I shoved my face into the crevice of the seat. For 14 hours on a flight to London I battled my own personal demons. From all looks of it, God had abandoned me.

Without any forewarning, my marriage had fallen apart. My greatest fears had become a reality. My dream job was ripped away. Everything was gone. My heart was broken into countless pieces and I was deeply scarred.

Sixty-one years after my grandfather contemplated the value of his life, I followed in his footsteps. But, thankfully, Opa kept his record.  Yes, it was began as a record of his lowest moment on the train to Ludwigsburg. But, it became a record, which later tells of him meeting my Grandmother in Ludwigsburg. A record of passionate love between a daredevil of a man and his sweet bride.

Without the rejected visa and train ride back to Ludwigsburg, my Opa would never have met my Oma. Without that day, my mom would not exist – and neither would I.

I called Opa the day I read of his suicidal thoughts on the train to Ludwigsburg. He said, “Jeni, you know that was probably the lowest moment of my life. But, as I look back on it now, it was the best moment of my life.”

God has a way of doing that, doesn’t he? We blame him for orchestrating the devastation of our own personal tragedies. And, maybe we are fair to do that. Because, more often then not, He is behind our worst moments. But, while we cannot see past the reality of that single moment of pain, the same box does not bind God. He sees  the glory that awaits. In His tender way, He smiles down on us and says, “I know child. I see. But, please, just wait. just wait…”

Opa and Oma showing me the route of the train to Ludwigsburg, Germany

unanswered questions

Last year I really felt like in many ways, I lost my innocence. Like my nieve bubble abruptly popped. As if the whole of my life had just been an audition for the reality I was then facing.

The Christian life never guarantees success. The fact is, sometimes the marriage fails, the pregnancy test reads negative again, and the business bombs despite all efforts. Failure (just typing that word puts a bitter taste in my mouth) happens; and often times to those who don’t deserve it.

And then the questions become:

Was the sacrifice worth it? What of the four years I gave to that marriage? I gave so much, yet reaped so little. 

Sometimes, there are no answers, and no simple bible verses to explain why God actually allows the unexplainable.

Depressing? Yes. But, honest and real.

At 25 years old, I experienced divorce and watched my beloved, childhood church building foreclose, despite all efforts. Pain jumped out from the dictionary and became a living, breathing thing, whose grip clawed at me, threatening to chain me up forever.

Maybe your world is falling apart. Maybe there arn’t answers to your situation. But, I know one thing:

James 5:11 “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.


Like little children in the backseat during a road trip, in the midst of suffering, we ask God, “Are we there yet?“; “Am I done with this suffering?”; and “Are we going the right way, God?“.

The truth is – He WILL get us where we need to go. As Galatians 5:9 promises, “in due time”, or God’s divinely appointed date, the suffering will be over.

Two weeks ago, Christian Newsome, the pastor of Journey Church International spoke of my testimony of divorce, recovery, and rediscovered love. It was amazing to realize that only a year ago, I didn’t believe I could ever smile again, much less fall in love again.

I wrote a prayer in the margins of my Bible asking God to give me open doors to share my testimony – that while life can fall apart, God can heal and restore. My story is a story of hope, and my hope is that God will allow many opportunities for me to share my story.

Listen to Pastor Christian’s sermon, “Patience While Suffering” here.




the easy road

I was fifteen and I had a dream; to be a part of the famed Blue Valley North Lady Mustang’s basketball team. They had just taken home the state championship the previous year. They were revered. And they were cool. For weeks I practiced my free throws while my brother-in-law rebounded the ball, over and over and over again. Neither of us had access to a gym, so we braved the cold with our hoods up and layers on.

And then the long awaited day came. During lunch I followed the other brave teenage girls who had also tried out. We searched the list posted up on the wall. And there it was – JENILEE JOHNSTON. I swelled with pride. Though it was only the freshman team, I was a Lady Mustang! There were new, pearly white jerseys, basketball shoes that squeaked on the gym floor, taped ankles, and sweat. I couldn’t have been more excited.

I wish I could tell you I set a record for the school, or that season started a four-year high school basketball career for me. But, the truth? The truth is that over time, it just got…old. I got tired of spending the majority of the game on the bench. It wasn’t fun anymore to start practice when darkness still engulfed the morning. So I took the easy road.

I quit. 

It’s always easier to quit. Regardless if it’s basketball, a job, or even a marriage. The grass truly does appear greener on the other side and it’s easier to throw in the towel, than to fight. But, what man ever looks back with pride on the day he quit his marriage? What kid is glad she quit school?

Last year, I went through a rough divorce, and since that time I’ve had three women reach out to me – either because they discovered their husbands had been unfaithful or their husbands simply did not desire to be married anymore. I love that I can tell those women, “I’ve been there“, “No, you’re not crazy“, and “You’re going to make it“. But, why is the growing fad among married couples to simply give up? To quit? Is it just the easy way out?

Jude 1:3 says, “I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith“. Jude wrote to the Christians who felt like giving up on their faith. They were tired of trusting God when all hell was breaking loose. They didn’t feel like going to church when they could use the extra hours of sleep. Jude says, “contend!”. In the Greek it translates, “continue to attack“. I can see Alexander the Great, the man responsible for giving us the ‘common greek’ of the New Testament, shouting at his troops to “continue to attack!” on the battle fields.

Today, don’t take the easy road.

Continue to attack at work. Continue to attack by fighting for your marriage. Don’t give up.

I often wonder about the Lady Mustangs. What if I would have never quit? I don’t think I would’ve set any records. But, I sure would’ve been proud for sticking with it. For fighting through.

my sword

“So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials.  And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and his angels.

Ephesians 6:10-12

I attempted to clean out my car this morning, (scary) and I found something I will probably treasure forever. They may look like water-stained, aged, dirty bent-up note cards to you; but when I look at them I see something almost magical.

I see a double-edged sword. As the cover is slowly inched off, the radiance becomes unbearable and I find myself squinting and turning away in the gleam. Etched with perfect handwriting in the precious silver are words of power; words that can slam the very doors of hell. The sword is short, used not for haphazard swings, but for intense, one-on-one, personal combat. Though it can be hidden away in the thick folds of my clothes, its strength is not diminished by its small proportions.

Its blade is deathly sharp and accurate. Running a finger across it produces a thin fresh, wet line of red. With one quick, lightning-like flash, it can divide soul from spirit; joints from marrow. It is my only offensive weapon, and it is powerful.

On those beat-up cards, are words from Scripture. Words that became a lifeline. Words that gave me hope and strength. Words that pushed me forward. Words that lifted the burden. Words that I continuously preached to myself. Words that eased the pain. On the front I penned the verse – on the back what it meant to me. And in the midst of despair and fear, for a year, pulling them from my purse or the center console in my car, this is how I used my sword:

 Psalm 143:5 “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” God created the world, parted the red sea, provided manna, shut lions’ mouths, turned rivers into blood and conquered death. If He did all this, He can get me through this time. He can heal me. He can restore and multiply what I’ve lost.

Psalm 126:5 “Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.” A prayer for absolute restoration in my life. God can turn my tears to shouts of joy.

Psalm 139:16 “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” My situation doesn’t come as a shock or as a surprise to God. He knew these days and this pain was coming. He saw it long ago. He is in control even now. He sees my future.

Psalm 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” One day memories from this time won’t be accompanied by such gut-wrenching pain. The Lord will cause the wounds to scab over and heal. He is the greatest doctor and has the ability to fix me.  

Psalm 32:7 “You are a hiding place for me, you preserve me in trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.”  God is somewhere to escape to in the heat of suffering. I can find rest in Him. He will get me through this misery. There will be a time of deliverance.

Psalm 31:7 “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul.” God sees my broken heart. God knows my sufferings and my feelings. If no one else sees or understands, He does.  

Psalm 125:2 “As mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people, from this time forth and forevermore.” God is surrounding me. He is protecting me in the midst of this raging storm. He won’t leave me. To get to me, Satan will have to pass through Him. 

Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” Even after all this, my life is not over. With or without ___, God has a purpose for me, and I will fulfill it. 

A year later – God has answered all of my prayers. There was never any reason to doubt Him.

Have you sharpened your sword lately?

chapter one

“For us this is the end of all stories…But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world…had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever and in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

-CS Lewis

Today at work, like every day before it, I will slam my dated stamp into the crisp, clean, white paper. Then that wet, shiny black ink will twinkle in the glare from the light bulb. As the ink drys, its date will stare up at me – “AUG 11 2011”, and will continue to haunt my memory.

Today is an anniversary of sorts. But not an anniversary celebrated with party hats and popped bottles of champagne. A year ago today we arrived home from summer youth camp. A year ago today opened the door to three weeks of a living hell. This blog is not a “tell all” and I don’t write on it to rub faces in the dirt. Whatever short lived justification I would feel from “setting the record straight”, describing every graphic horror I encountered, and how wronged I was would not be worth it. Because, it’s under the blood now. Because, I can be “bigger” than all that.

But, I do write on this blog to let you know that I have been there. I know what it feels like to hit rock bottom. I know what it feels like to have your worst nightmare materialize before your very naked eyes. I know what it means to be depressed. I know all too well what losing “control” feels like. I remember what a struggle it was to even eat, each bite like a rock lodged in my esophagus. I know what it’s like to walk through the church hallways feeling so embarrassed and ashamed. (Is this what single mothers and alcoholics feel? Judged or ashamed? Now, I wish I could hold a large neon sign, saying, “You BELONG here. It doesn’t matter what you went through or are going through. WELCOME!”)

As I come up on the one-year anniversary of a month I’d really love to forget – I am processing. Because I’m normal. Because I’m not a robot. And because God fashioned me with a very sensitive, soft heart.

Sometimes I wish Will Smith would show up in his black suit and use the memory erasing device to take all the memories from last August. (I can’t be the only one that wishes that little gadget was real, right?) Because, right now those feelings are still so fresh. And maybe they’ll always be fresh – categorized away so as not to interfere with the blessings I possess now. But accessible – so that I can help those who are hurting so.

Today, I could harbor a frown and think, “look at all the horrible pain I went through.” But instead, today I host a HUGE smile – because look at all that God took me through! A year ago, I looked into the mirror in the guest room of my brother’s house on my 25th birthday. I was just a shell of the person I am today. I knew I was a mess. But, I remember staring back at my reflection, and with child-like faith said,
“God will you make me all better by my next birthday?”

I know I’ve said this before – but what I thought was the end of my story, was only the title and cover page. This year marks Chapter One. And one day, when I step into eternity – the greatest story will begin.

my friend

Last night we had dinner with a great family friend, Hank Hanegraaff.

Throughout this past year, I’ve been inundated with encouraging phone calls, emails and Facebook messages.

One such call came from Hank. I left the dinner table and went outside to sit on the concrete curb. He told me that I would make it through the betrayal and the divorce. That eventually, though the pain would still be there, it wouldn’t hurt as bad. He encouraged me not to make any brash or impulsive decisions. And he prayed with me.

Now, nearly a year later, I was able to thank him for that phone call. And introduce to him to my new fiance. He told me how proud he was of me. He asked me what my dreams and aspirations were. And then he told me he believed in me.

I can’t tell you what that meant to me. I want to be that persons in others’ lives. I want to tell young women that they can make it after divorce and learn to trust again. Because if I can make it through what I went through, others can too.

I’m praying for big things right now. I’m praying for God to prepare me to be a wonderful, godly, encouraging, loving wife for my future husband. I’m praying for my mortgage company to accept the offer that has been made on my house. I’m praying for God to open a door for me to do ministry again in His timing and His way. And, I’m praying for God to send me some people who believe in me more than I believe in myself; people who will help me accomplish all that God has planned for me.

I’m blessed to consider Hank one of those people…and my friend.

“So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope…” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Who encourages you?