Photo by Natalie Johnson
Interview with Kathy Johnston by Randi Peck
Don’t let her title fool you: Kathy Johnston is anything but “part-time” at Heritage, fulfilling her role as head of women’s ministry, office administrator, and unofficial overseer of all loose ends. But whether she’s functioning as the on-call women’s counselor or running to Trader Joe’s for refreshments, what is even more striking than Kathy’s ability to do all she does, is the heart with which she carries out her duties. This is a woman who believes in the good news- a woman who allows Christ to dictate her decisions, her relationships, and her perspective. This is a woman who you would be wise to tune into…
Vintage Wisdom is a series of interviews with women in our church who are graciously willing to share what they have learned throughout their decades worth of walking with God. They met my list of thirty-three, real-life questions with raw, unshielded responses filled with personal successes, failures, and a conviction in their voice that can only come from a life in love with their Savior. My only regret is that you could not all sit in and hear the uncondensed form of these ladies’ wisdom that I was able to extract over a cup of coffee.
Kathy grew up in the Mennonite church and remembers giving her life to Christ in a revival meeting at the age of six. However, she had a very limited understanding of the gospel until her 20’s.
Randi: Why should women study the Bible?
Kathy: Number one, so they can know who they say they believe. And number two, they have to know the truth. If they don’t have a grounding in the Word, it’s going to be easy to be swayed to what other people will be speaking into their lives. There are lots of books, podcasts, people and a culture out there saying, “This is truth”. So if you aren’t studying God’s word, you’re not going to know what the real truth is.
The turning point in my walk with the Lord was that very thing. As I was sitting in an adult Sunday school class one Sunday morning, an older man teaching it asked,“Do you want to know Jesus? Do you really want to know who He is?” And I was at the point where I was like, “Yes I want to know God”. He held up his Bible and said, “This is how you’re going to know who He is.” That was a huge turning point in my life.
What tools have you found to be helpful in finding the truths of the Bible and applying them to your life?
One of the most impactful things was probably about five or six years ago. I think I was looking up tools to study the Bible. I read something that said… do this: as you’re reading the Word, ask yourself, “What does this show me about God’s character?” That’s the number one thing I look for when I’m reading the Word. Instead of asking myself, “How does this apply to me?”, I’m asking, “What does this tell me about God?”
There’s also Blue Letter Bible, which I use a lot. I also use a website called PreceptAustin.org and it has so much information on that page- I mean hundreds of commentaries, hundreds of podcasts.
What do you think the Bible means when it refers to women as “weaker vessels” (1 Pet 3:7)?
I believe that it does refer to women as the weaker vessels in the sense of physical ability… But we also have the tendency to be more emotional than men in how we respond to situations. And because God designed men and women to work together, he gave them the ability not to be so emotional… So I believe we are weaker in that sense also. Somebody who’s a feminist might go “Oh no!” but it’s true! And it’s not because we’re lesser… it’s because God made us different.
Kathy became engaged in high school and was married for 16 years before her first husband, Russ, died of cancer. After being a single mom for two years, she married Jonathan. They have now been married almost 22 years.
How has the way you view your role as a wife changed over the years?
When I got married at 18, I had I think a very unbiblical view of marriage. I was just like, “Get married, submit to your husband”- I didn’t really know what submission meant. In my mind it was like, okay, he makes all the decisions. But I learned very, very, very early that I could pretty much sway him to make any decision I wanted. And so I believe I was very manipulative with him. You know, that grieves me when I look back at it now. So [when] I went into marriage with Jonathan, I had a different view of it, but not yet a complete, mature view of it…
When I was first married at 18, my view of marriage was very shallow. It was all about “Oh, I’m so in love with him”… My marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and the church. Now that’s where I’m at (or getting to!). So no matter what the difficulty is that we’re going through, the ultimate question is what is going to bring the most glory to God?
If you could give marriage advice to your engaged self, years ago, what would you say?
Your marriage is not about you, it’s to be a picture of Christ… it’s about revealing the gospel to the people around you through your marriage. [To read more of Kathy’s marriage advice, read this blog addressed to her soon-to-wed daughter]
What are some practical ways women can strive for a more gospel-centered marriage?
She needs to understand what marriage is… It’s about understanding that. There’s great books written on marriage, I think Tim and Kathy Keller have one that’s good [The Meaning of Marriage ]… Francis Chan [You and Me Forever ]… and there was another book that was really impacting for me called Sacred Marriage [by Gary Thomas].
It is important to be transparent with other women about our marriages, to receive godly counsel and support- and yet, often, we cross that line of “TMI” and disrespect our spouses. How do we know what to share/what not to share?
It’s all about what’s in your heart… Why is it that I want to run to other people and talk to them rather than run to God and talk to Him? Really check your motive.
I think there are certain people we can safely go to that will point us to Jesus.
Do you have any advice for a woman married to an unbeliever?
Live out the gospel, do what the Word says… It’s not like you’re being pushy all the time, you’re just living out the gospel. It’s forgiving. It’s being loving, even when he’s not being loving towards you. And don’t give up.
Kathy has four grown children and seven grandchildren.
Our time and walk with the Lord obviously looks different when babies and small children are in the house. What are some ways you found to still put God first?
I got up early, before any of my kids were going to get up, and sometimes I stayed up late, after the kids went to bed. And honestly, there were a lot of days I just didn’t. I went through different seasons as a young mom. But when I became passionate about God, that was it, I was like I’m finding time if I have to get up an hour before the kids and it’s still dark outside. It was worth it.
We all know we’re suppose to put our marriage #1, kids #2… the problem is, practically, how do we do this when the physical needs of our children tend to drown out the seemingly non-urgent needs of our marriage?
I think it’s something you need to talk to your husband about… Say, “How can we make time to be together?” And let him know that you want to be [making time].
It’s generally accepted that being a mom= being a worrier! What are some ways God has helped you overcome fear and anxiety?
Obviously just getting to know who God is and who He says He is and reminding myself through the Word… You’re not guaranteed that everything’s going to go great. Ultimately, you have to trust that God loves [your family] more than you do and that He has a plan and a purpose for your life.
It really always comes down to, “Do I trust them to be Yours?” You do that as a baby, as toddlers when they’re sick, you do that when they’re teenagers and they’re rebelling, and you do that when they’re adults and you don’t necessarily like the decisions that they’re making.
Any words of wisdom for mothers raising daughters?
Have a pure understanding of sexual relationship and how it’s a gift from the Lord. I had a perverted, twisted view… So I went into marriage not having an understanding that sexual intimacy in marriage is a beautiful gift from the Lord, and it actually brings honor and glory to Him.
What about sons?
I have seen this so often- moms need to let their boys grow up… At the age of 11, 12, 13- you need to start encouraging them to be a man… My boys got to be that age, and Jonathan helped me with this. It’s a good thing, I mean God knew what He was doing when He brought him into my boys’ life at that point. My tendency was more like, “Oh, I feel sorry for them.” You have to let them suffer the consequences in the decisions they’re making.
I see it all the time: moms, in a sense, feminizing their boys almost, to think like they do. They’re not going to think like you! They’re becoming men. You need to [be] less hands on and let them make some mistakes, then you can talk about it afterwards. They will learn better from that.
What would you identify as the women at Heritage’s strengths?
I think the women at Heritage, in general, are very family-oriented, and they love their families, and they want to do the best they can for their children.
Which areas do you see weakness and room for us to grow?
That could almost be the same… Family can’t be number one for fulfilling the purpose that God has for your life. That’s part of it, but also you are a part of the body of Christ… It takes effort and it takes time to be united as a body. It seems like people don’t want to commit to things like Huddle groups. They don’t want to commit to small women’s prayer groups or young moms groups. They say they want to do it, but they don’t follow through. So I don’t know what the problem is there, but I see it as a weakness, the ability to actually get involved in each other’s lives.
Each woman only has the capacity to let so many relationships into her life. How DO we know which relationships to pursue or allow into our lives?
You want someone who won’t just always agree with you, but you also want someone that you feel at home with and you feel safe with.
I think many younger women desire to be discipled and mentored by women who are older and wiser. How should they go about this?
I think they need to ask… All of us have broken places in our lives, none of us has it all together. And I think the problem is that older women don’t think they’re capable. There’s a lot of women at our church- and I made a list of about eight of them just this morning- that I thought would be awesome for that. I know that some of them will say, “Oh, I couldn’t do that.” Because they don’t think that they’re capable. Well, no, they’re not capable. But God is.