Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

fatman and robin — July 15, 2020

fatman and robin

I have a fine feathered friend.  When I break out the lawnmower and plow through the yard, there is a robin that hops around and follows me.  He comes ridiculously close and is not a bit intimidated by the noise or the exhaust fumes. 

When I move from the back to the front yard he follows.  He flits away when I finish, but then he shows up promptly the next week when the rope pulls the engine to life again.  Thus far it’s been six weeks in a row.

He makes me feel special – like Snow White when the birds helped her clean up the dwarf house. 

The question is why?  Does he like the buzz he gets from the exhaust?  Or maybe he has a proclivity to my sweaty obesity or maybe mister redbreast knows that I used to have red hair. 

Well a little bird told me that robins largely prefer to dine on earthworms.  The worms evidently get aggravated when I mow the lawn.  They come out and ask, “Hey what’s all that racket?” 

Plus, I found a scholarly paper called EFFECTS OF GRASS LENGTH AND MOWING ON

FORAGING BEHAVIOR OF THE AMERICAN ROBIN (TURDUS MIGRATORIUS). (This is legit – no joke) The researcher found that robins overwhelmingly prefer shorter rather than longer lawns.  Well who doesn’t? 

So, when I cut the grass, the yard becomes the Golden Corral of the robin hood.

I guess you could say that the robin shows up each week because worms of goodness and mercy follow me whenever I mow the lawn (unless you look at it from the perspective of the worms.)

I do love that phrase in Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”    It suggests to me that the wake we Christians leave, as we pass through this life, should be a blessing and benefit to others – leaving good things behind and merciful deeds as a legacy. 

There is someone with whom I work that seems to understand this.  Even better – she lives it.  Stacy is a nurse who has made it her mission to care for the needs of those in hospice care.

Now hospice is a tough gig.  The purpose is to provide comfort and care to terminally ill people.  There is never a happy ending.  But Stacy is deeply motivated to do this out of compassion and her faith in Jesus. 

Just recently she and I made a simultaneous visit to a sweet frail octogenarian we’ll call Rosa.  It was inspiring to see Stacy in action again.  She brought with her a cheerful outlook.  Her words and the tone of her voice transformed the gloom in the room. 

She listened to Rosa’s heart with a stethoscope, but she was also attuned to her heart break as Rosa spoke of her sadness.  It is not unusual for Stacy to weep with her patients. 

Stacy had a busy day ahead of her, but she was not rushed.  Rosa was treated like a person and not an appointment.  

She often holds the hands of her patients and prays for them, but she deferred to me as the chaplain this time. 

After the blood pressure cuff and thermometer were stowed, Stacy lay down on the floor near Rosa’s wheelchair and gleefully painted her toenails.  (I don’t think Medicare covers that) 

As she left, I heard her say with a sweetness to her voice, “I love you Rosa.”   Rosa said, “I love you too.”  They both meant it.

Stacy’s patients are enveloped in the wake of the goodness and mercy she leaves behind her.

They know it and cherish it.  Often their eyes are lifted to the Savior that energizes this nurse. 

Now did you know that every hospice agency has a coordinator who arranges for volunteers to do things read books, play games, clean house, run errands and more for needful patients.   You could do it too!  If you live in East Texas, I would be delighted to get you connected!   Contact me.  If you live elsewhere, check out an agency nearby.

I probably should say that Stacy is only one of several amazing nurses with whom I work.  There are also wonderful aides, social workers and many others including we chaplains who handle our work with care and compassion. (PS: Except I don’t do toenails). 

the worst hospice chaplain ever — January 3, 2020

the worst hospice chaplain ever

My family wanted to do something special for my hospice clients for Christmas.  So, my wife gathered the grandkids and a dozen different finger snacks, coated them with sugar (the snacks not the grandkids) and then bagged them up (the snacks not the grandkids)  I assured my clients the kids were sanitized first.

My daughter and her husband also donated wild and crazy socks for each patient. (from www.wehelptwo.com).  I delivered the gifts as I made my rounds and my hospice friends loved them.

BUT that evening I got a text from one of our nurses who asked, “Did you really give Mr. So and So a pair of socks?”

OK why would she should ask that?  Oh no!  Maybe because Mr. So and So is a diabetic who has had both of his legs amputated.  I can’t believe I forgot that!  

I think that’s what they call a faux pas which the dictionary defines as, “an embarrassing or tactless act or remark in a social situation.”  The online dictionary people called and asked if they could post my picture with the definition. 

So, I contritely admitted to her that, “Yes, I gave him those socks.  But he said, “thank you!” 

Oh well at least the nurse didn’t see the bag of sweets that I left my diabetic friend.

I guess that sometimes a good thing may not be so good.

The apostle Paul understood this which is why he penned Ephesians 4:29, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” – New American Standard Updated ®

He warns us to watch our mouths – to make sure that nothing unwholesome emerges.  That word “unwholesome” is translated from the Greek word “scubala” which was used to describe the garbage back in Jesus’ day.  “Honey did you take out the scubala?”

Don’t be a garbage mouth says Paul.  We need to speak edifying words – words that build up and strengthen and encourage others. 

But even that isn’t enough says Paul.  Those edifying words, need to be “according to the need of the moment.”  – appropriate for the time and place and circumstances. 

I might tell my wife that her hair looks nice.  If we were on a date, she might blush in appreciation BUT if we happened to be in the middle of an argument instead, she might be red with rage.  The compliment would feel to her more like a distraction, or that I wasn’t listening, or that I wanted to change the subject or whatever. 

Paul says not only do we need to do and say good things, we need to make sure that they fit the context.  He tells us that when we do, “it gives grace to those who hear.”   People are encouraged and empowered and strengthened when we consider them in this way. 

A TEST: Suppose a friend has just dropped his cell phone in the toilet.  Which response would give grace to him? 

1) Riotous laughter (tempting but no)

2) You could say “It’s a good thing that God loves clumsy people.” (affirming and yet demeaning – no)

3) You might say, “Some people were not meant to have a cell phone.” (pretty much scubala)

4) Or how about this, “You don’t need to play FreeCell in the bathroom” (he needs grace not a lecture.) 

5) OK what if you said, “I’m sorry.  Can I help you fish that out?”

That last option is very much “according to the need of the moment.”   It is full of empathy and withholds judgment.   It puts you beside him and not behind a lectern and the offer to help rescue the phone is priceless.  You might want to add, “uh, where do you keep the rubber gloves?” 

I blew it with my hospice friend.  But we talked and laughed about it and he gave me permission to share it so that you are better able to speak to the “need of the moment.”    

PS: He also told me that he was wearing his socks! 

the weepy wheel watcher — August 14, 2019

the weepy wheel watcher

james ray johnson

This is the story of Wyn the weepy Wheel Watcher.  My friend Wyn is an avid fan of Wheel of Fortune.  He is even registered to win prizes. 

So, one day a studio contestant spun the mighty wheel and it came to rest on the “Mystery Wedge.”   He flipped it over and found that it was worth $5,000.   Then Wyn’s first name and last initial was projected on the TV screen.  He was randomly selected as the lucky Wheel Watcher.  If the studio contestant could solve the puzzle, then both he and Wyn would become $5,000 richer.

Well the boy was good with his ABC’s and he solved the puzzle.  They both won.  Wyn had 24 hours to contact the show and claim his prize.

No problem – except that on that particular day, Wyn was out watering his veggies instead of vegging out on the sofa.  So, he didn’t know that he had become a winner. 

No problem!  The show also follows up with a phone call – except that Wyn will not answer his cell phone unless he recognizes the number.  Vanna White was not in his contact list – yet. 

No problem!  The show also follows up with an email notice.  Now Wyn does look at his email, but not often.  He checked it the next day and finally got the news.   Fantastic!  He could do a lot with $5,000 bucks – except that he didn’t check his email until after the deadline had passed. He was 15 minutes too late and $5,000 the poorer.  Wyn lost! 

Now you may be saying to yourself, “That’s a nice story – a little goofy – but it’s got nothing to do with me.” But – it does.

Scripture pictures a similar scenario. Christ is in the role of the studio contestant, while everyone else passively sits at home and watches.   And – whatever He wins, we win.

Vanna tell them what they’ve won. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in offenses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – and he raised us up together with him…” (Ephesians 2:4-6) -NET Bible®.

Did you catch the word “with?”  We were made alive together with and raised up with Christ.  He won the contest when He defeated sin and death at the cross.  The proof of His victory was in His resurrection. 

Because Christ was raised from the dead, we who have believed in Him are also entitled to the same prize.  This is our ticket to the resurrection and eternal life – a very desirable prize.

I serve as a Hospice Chaplain.  My job is to sit with and listen to and encourage and pray for those who are dying.  Can you guess what they most often want to discuss?  The future, of course!  They want to know if they will live even after they die.

It’s a rich privilege to tell them they can.   John 3:16 is a reminder, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  -NET Bible®. The person who has trusted Christ as Savior in this life, will enjoy His company in the next.   It’s already been won.  We need only claim it. 

But there is a limited time?  The deadline falls the moment we take our last breath in this life.  15 minutes after is just too, too late!  

Wheel of Fortune is the most watched program on TV, with an average of about 2 million people tuning in each day.  I bet one of Wyn’s countless friends was watching the day his name was chosen. 

It would have been nice if one of them would have called.  Wyn might have answered his phone for a friend.  That friend could have asked, “Hey Wyn, did you know that Pat Sajak has a check for $5,000 with your name on it? ” But alas, no one cared enough to call.

So how much do you care?  Isn’t there someone in your circle of family or friends, who needs to know that Jesus has won for them the gift of eternal life?  

I can think of an easy, non-offensive and fun way to do that.  Send them the link to this blog!

now i-cy! — July 24, 2019

now i-cy!

james ray johnson

“Thank you for being with me!”  Those words raised chill bumps – more than the pot of ice water in which my hand was submersed.   Let me explain.

My youngest son and I were baking as we sat on an asphalt driveway in the middle of a sweltering Texas summer.   I don’t know if I lost my mind before the decision, or sometime during, but there we were. 

Our mission was to chisel out the crumbling portions and patch it.  Maybe I should have hired it out, but I am kinda tight.  How tight you ask?  When I grab a dollar bill, George Washington screams.

Anyway, there we were, chipping away when there arose such a clatter I sprang from my squat to see what was the matter.  He crushed his thumb with the hammer. 

He was in prodigious pain.  He was still a little guy, so he wasn’t much for hiding his hurts. He jumped up and down, cradling his thumb while the tears gushed.  I sensed that it was time for some fatherly comfort, so I firmly said, “Go in the house and put some ice on it.”

He stumbled in, but his anguish still echoed from the kitchen.  He has always dreaded the pain of the cold ice more than the pain of his injury.  He might need some help. 

I found him sitting on the tile floor, still sobbing so I made an icepack and tried to force it on him.  I’ve had greater success bathing a cat.

Plan B.  I got a cooking pot, filled it with water and topped it off with ice.  I then took his hand in mine and submerged them both in the water.

He squirmed and fought me at first but then began to relax.  His pain was easing.   We sat without a word with icy hands for 10 minutes.  That’s when he finally broke the silence to say, “Thank you for being with me!”

My turn to cry!  I choked up when I understood that what he wanted and needed from me – was not a lesson or an icepack – just a little empathy.  He needed me to be with him in his pain.

I was a decent dad, but I wasn’t very good at that.  And yet it was something that I also longed for as a kid.  I remember my dad handing me a paint scraper with a mandate to remove the chipped paint on the house so that he could repaint it on the weekend. 

It was a two-story frame house. There was more area to scrape than the Great Wall of China. I was overwhelmed.  Day after day I chipped away, while desperately wishing that someone would join me.  But a real man didn’t need such things – or so I thought – or so I was told. 

Jesus thought differently.  Joseph of Nazareth encountered an angel in a dream who said to him, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”  (Matthew 1:23) -NET Bible®

God with us!  Jesus was named “God with us” – not God for us, or behind us, or beyond, or before us – but “God with us.”  In our brokenness, we must have needs that only His presence with us can begin to address. 

John wrote of Jesus, “Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.”  (John 1:14). -NET Bible®    Eternal God added flesh to His being.  Why flesh?  In part, so that He might take up His residence among us.  He really wanted to be God with us.

Solitary confinement was pioneered in 1829 at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.  Charles Dickens visited the facility during his travels.  He described the “slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body” 

If the worst thing we can do to a person is to isolate them, then perhaps the best and most basic thing we can do is to be with them. 

My son’s words were more bracing to me than the icy water that numbed my hand.  He helped me see that my presence is a priceless gift that I can give to him and others.

Ironically, these days I serve as a Hospice Chaplain.  I visit those who have been given no medical hope of recovery.  Their days are few.  A nurse keeps them comfortable, an aide keeps them clean, but I offer them my company. 

We talk, read the Scripture, I’ll sing them a hymn or two, maybe make them laugh and of course I pray – and if it’s ever needed – I’ll grab another pot of ice water and we’ll soak together.

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