Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

travel trauma — November 16, 2022

travel trauma

Like you’ve never been late!

My wife and I were sipping coffee on a sleepy Friday morning.  Our plan for the day was to pack for our three-week mission trip.  The next day we were headed to several African nations to visit various missionaries that had been sent out from our church. 

At 8 a.m. I happened to glance at our itinerary.  I was stunned when I realized that we were scheduled to depart at noon on that same day, TODAY!  My blood pressure could have inflated a tire. 

Planes within Africa fly their routes once or twice a week.  If we missed the first leg of the journey, the whole trip would be lost along with a fortune in airfare. 

I said to my wife, “Uh Sharie, um I just found out we are leaving today.”   She ignored me, “just another dumb Jim joke.”  With more assertiveness I said, “Honey we are leaving today.”  She said, “no.”  I said, “yes.”  She said, “no.” I said, “yes.”  “Let me see that,” she said.  She looked at it and then lost it.

We had 4 hours to shower, pack, make the 2-hour drive to Dallas, park the car, check in, wade through security and board the plane.  No way!

But we tried!  We showered faster than a couple of preteens.  She had postponed doing the laundry, which meant most of our clothes were dirty.  But she wadded them up and jammed them in the suitcase anyway.  What would the TSA think?

Toothbrushes, deodorant, hair gel were flying into the luggage.

We made it to the airport, but the south parking lot was full. We drove the full length of DFW to find that the north lot was also full, so we parked the car in short term parking.  It might be cheaper just to leave it there when we got back. 

We slipped into the plane just before they closed the door. Our collective adrenaline was pumping for the first 3 hours of our transatlantic flight. 

And then there were the typical airliner annoyances: cramped seating; crying babies; inconsiderate fellow passengers (my wife being the exception) and a bathroom that always seemed to say, “in use.”    

The journey was brutal – but arriving was breathtaking. 

We were greeted and treated like royalty by our missionaries.  There were tears and hugs and joy abounding.  We ate what they ate, saw what they saw, and joined them in their service to the Lord.  We had a superb time. 

As a bonus – we met exotic animals, saw dazzling displays, encountered curious cultures and experienced the wonder of God like never before. 

If we had to do over again, including the plane pain, we would do it.

Now, as a hospice chaplain, I counsel people who are on a difficult journey.  Some battle cancer, others COPD.  Some are disabled by stroke while others lose their memories to dementia. Some are whittled away by diabetes and others tremble with Parkinsons.

They look to me to help them make sense of it all.  So, I tell them about my traumatic and troublesome trip to Africa. 

But then I tell them about heaven, and I say, “The journey is sometimes brutal – but arriving is breathtaking.” 

Death is the portal to the glories that lie beyond.  But what lies beyond makes the journey worth it all.  The Psalmist put it this way, “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Psalm 16:11 KJV

How does the old song go? “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus. Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ; One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase; So bravely run the race till we see Christ.”

The journey is sometimes brutal – but arriving is breathtaking. 

A PRAYER: Lord please help us be brave until then. 

This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com

May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

re-wed! — December 30, 2020


Such a great story!  The headline said, “Woman remarries husband with dementia after he forgot about first nuptials.” 

So, he forgot his first wedding.  If I did that my wife might hit me on the head with some nuptials.  Ah, but Bill had a valid excuse. 

He and Anne had been married for 13 years.  Along the way, he slipped into dementia.  Anne became his devoted caregiver but as the disease advanced, his married memories faded.  He eventually even forgot her name in the fog.

And yet he grew fond of her.  She was always there and sweetly attentive to his needs.  So, one day he popped the question, “Will you marry me?”   

She was amused and assumed he would soon forget.  But the thought lodged itself in his cerebral cortex.  He pestered her until she relented and said, “That would be lovely Bill.”

In August 2019, Anne walked down the aisle to their original wedding music, they exchanged their vows and then experienced what she called “the wedding effect,” for six weeks after.”


He had forgotten his first love – but he had a valid excuse.   Some of us don’t!

Jesus spoke through the pen of John the apostle to the ancient church at Ephesus.   They were having heart problems.  He said, “You have departed from your first love!”  Revelation 2:4

The church was about 45 years old at that time.  They probably started out as many of us do – with a fervent, personal uninhibited love for Jesus.  It even spilled out and touched the lives of others.  But spiritual dementia set in.   

Over the years, serving Jesus became more important than spending time with Jesus.  They substituted labor for love and passion for doctrinal purity.  They forgot to whom they were pledged.

It brings to mind that scene from Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye questioned the devotion of his dutiful but distant wife Golde, “Do you love me?”

Maybe your first love is lagging.  Is it possible to do what Bill did – to fall in love all over again with the very same person? 

It is, according to Revelation 2:5, “Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first.”   NET Bible ®

It starts with recalling what life was like back when your love for Jesus was fresh. 

I was visiting an elderly patient in my capacity as a Hospice chaplain.  She was in somewhat of a foul mood, especially frustrated with her ability to recall.  So, I took my phone and did a search for the name of the small town where she was raised. 

I hit the jackpot!  I found lots of wonderful black and whites of the schools, churches, special places, graduating classes and so on.  Every time I brought up another picture, she was joyfully transported back. When I left her, she was smiling and in a much sweeter, better place.  All she had to do was to remember. 

We need to reimagine that sweeter simpler time with Jesus.

The passage also reminds us to repent which is to change our minds about the choices we’ve made.  I’m ready for a change. 

And then we’re encouraged to do the deeds of old, the things we did when our love was fresh. 

– Most of us spend time listening to the one we love.  Is there time in the day that we can drink from His Word and allow His Spirit to use it as God’s voice?

– Most of us really like talking to the one we love.  He truly listens with great interest when we pray.  Maybe we need to get beyond the grocery list of needs and have a heart-to-heart with Him about what really matters?

– Most of us try to please the one we love.    As a teenager, I changed my hairstyle because a certain girl thought it was cool.   I wonder what changes I could make in my attitude and behavior that would bring a smile to Jesus.

– Most of us give to the one we love.  I once bought my girlfriend a crockpot.  OK I am not as dumb as you think!   She eventually became my wife and every time she made me a meal in that crockpot – I felt just a little closer to her.   

One of these days Bill may wake up in heaven and discover that he had been a bigamist – two times in love and married to his singular soulmate.  May we experience the same with Jesus!

A PRAYER: Lord, stir the embers of my heart into an inferno for You!

a song in the haze — March 25, 2020

a song in the haze

Her dementia was pronounced.  Most of the day she wore a blank stare, and seldom broke the silence with a word.  Her body was atrophied as well.

As a Hospice Chaplain, my job was to bring her spiritual encouragement.  (Anna, by the way, is a fictitious name but she was a very real person)

I had been a pastor for 32 years and had learned to care for the sick and dying.  I thought I knew the ropes, but then I met her and wondered, “What could I possibly do to make a difference?”

I made my first visit just as the aide was finishing with Anna.   She got her looking good and smelling sweet as a rose – but Anna didn’t like the primping.  She was hotter than a tamale. 

Nor did she appreciate my intrusion.  She said the first and only word to me I would ever hear her say – a four letter word.  OK, not the best time. I got that. 

On my second visit, she was on her bed, thrashing and groaning, obviously tormented by something in her hazy mental world. I spoke but she ignored me.  I tried again but she would not be interrupted.

I sat with my Bible in hand, perplexed as to what to do.  She wouldn’t or couldn’t listen.  I had my guitar with me.  Maybe I could at least compete with the din she was making.

As I began to croon Jesus Loves Me, her groaning started to ebb.  She even paused at times.  Wow!  I played another song and another and she seemed to take it all in.

After the concert I held her hand and prayed and I told Anna I loved her.  I left the room feeling good – like maybe I got through.

Next visit:  She was alert and peacefully laying under a sheet.  Her pretzel of a leg was propped up on the other with her foot dangling in the air. 

Once again, I grabbed the guitar and sang to her.  There was no response, but I guess it was appreciated because she didn’t groan or cuss me out. 

But during the second song, I noticed that her suspended foot was moving.  I couldn’t believe it!  It was bobbing – up and down – to the tempo of the music – in perfect time.  A metronome could not have been more accurate. 

She was really listening, even participating in the experience. I really was getting through.  Excellent.  It made me glad that I didn’t give up.  

The apostle Paul had a message for people like me.  “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 15:58-(New American Standard Updated Version)

Paul knew of the discouragement that comes with what appears to be a futile effort – preaching to the hard hearted, or teaching the apathetic, or trusting and untrustworthy coworker.

He passed on what he had learned when he said, “be steadfast (stick in there) immovable (like a rock) always (not sometimes) abounding (with complete commitment) in the work of the Lord.” 

He gave us an incentive when he promised that our toil (extremely hard and sometimes disappointing work) would never be in vain (useless or fruitless) in the Lord. 

When we persevere in doing that which God wants us to do, good things eventually come of it. 

So, Mom: When your 2-year-old throws a tantrum, stay the course.  He needs you to be firm.

Student: You may have blown the test, but you haven’t blown the course.  The Lord got you into that school and He will get you through it.  So, work smarter and harder.  It will be worth it.

Husband: The marriage seems to be hopeless, but you can do wonders by consistently loving and serving your wife – no matter what.  It will take time, but it will not be in vain.  

Teacher: Your class seems to be incorrigible.  Give them your best, every day.  It’s what the Lord would have you to do.   Your persevering love and devotion will change them. 

When I get to heaven, I hope that Jesus will remember my attempt to be a steadfast man for Him.  I long to hear Him say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”   If I should hear sweet Anna chime in with an, “Amen.”  Even better!

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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