Pickle Heaven Press-James R. Johnson

something to help you laugh and think about life with Christ

shoes too big — August 28, 2019

shoes too big

james ray johnson

My son was in the marching band.  His uniform included a pair of white shoes – stark white shoes.  You could wear them in the dark to find your way.

I had to provide these shoes.  They were expensive and only good for marching.   We tried to get him to forgo the prom rentals and wear his whities instead, but he refused. 

Every two years we had to upsize to accommodate his growing feet.  We forced his discards on his younger brother. 

This worked well until his junior year.  He was wearing size 16 by then.   They don’t carry size 16 white shoes at Wal-Mart.  But we did locate a pair at abominable-snowman.com. 

His little brother tried them on, and we decided to ship him to Florida to audition for the Ringling Brothers Circus: Atten: Clown Department.  

My son most definitely left behind some big shoes to fill.

But so did my dad!

Dad was my childhood hero without a doubt.  Such a hard worker.  He was once actually criticized by the union steward who said, “Slow down, you’re making the rest of us look bad.”

He had opportunities to move into management, but he turned them down because it would have meant upending his family.

He put his kids through private school and financed it by doing things like cutting his own hair.

He could warm your bottom with a needed swat, and then warm your heart with a hug.

He seldom interfered once I was on my own, but was ready to offer sound advice when I sought it.  

He wasn’t a perfect man, but certainly a good one. 

Dad has gone on to glory.  His enormous shoes are empty and need to be filled.  Could I be that kind of man for my wife and kids, my grandkids and my employer? 

Possibly!  Moses, the legendary leader of Israel, had died, after he had led Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, around the wilderness and to the east bank of the Jordan River. 

A younger man named Joshua was tasked with leading the nation across the river and into the land to finish what Moses had started – to claim the promises that God made to Abraham centuries before. 

Moses’ sandals felt like size 16s.  But God knew that, which is why He told him, “Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.” – Joshua 1:9, -NET Bible®.    

There was lots to fear – hostile forces, a sketchy supply chain and the prospect of failure.  God didn’t diminish the challenges, but He magnified the solution instead.  He promised to go with him wherever he went and in all that he did.

God told him to be brave.  I am not sure that you can just will yourself to feel brave, when you are feeling afraid.  You can however, move forward, despite your fears, trusting God to help you succeed.  That’s the kind of bravery the Lord had in mind for Joshua.

As a kid, I watched some teens play pinball at the bowling alley.  I accidentally bumped the table.  The game began to flash the word “tilt” and it shut down.  There were 3 angry teenage boys ready to tilt me.  I was terrified. 

Just then, my dad appeared.  I ran to him and left my fears back at the pinball machine.  The presence of a father can do that for a kid. 

Joshua assumed the lead.  When his crew stepped in the waters of the Jordan, the river ceased to flow, and Israel walked through it, just as they had once walked through the Red Sea with Moses.

What shoes do you need to fill?  

Are you subbing for a beloved teacher or maybe replacing the supervisor at work who just retired?  Perhaps the memory of your mother is making you feel inadequate as a mom or maybe you are a widower and your wife has left a huge hole in your family life.  If so – remember, “Be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.”

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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