Dear Barbara Johnson,
I love you. Your books have been encouraging people to persevere through trials for decades. And you managed to accomplish this with a ton of humor. But I must admit, it wasn’t your humor that impressed me. For a long time, I wouldn’t even open one of your books because I couldn’t get past the cheesy cartoonish picture on the cover.
Eventually, one of your books, “Pack Up You Gloomees in a Great Big Box, then sit on them and laugh!” landed in my house. A very wise woman, who knew I was struggling with the blues, sent it to me.
Of course, I ignored it for months. I read all the other books in my house that appealed to me first. When I ran out of books that interested me, I became extremely bored. With my boredom, came depression. That’s when I finally picked up your book.
Since I like to sample a book before I read it, I opened it to the middle and read one page. As I read, I learned that my assumptions about your life, which were solely based on the covers of your books, were way off. I thought an author of such a silly looking book had to be shallow and inexperienced; completely unfamiliar with true hardship. You know that old cliché about not judging a book by its cover? It’s true. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
From reading just one page I learned that you not only lost one son, but two. The first was killed in Vietnam. Five years later his brother’s life was cut short by a drunk driver. Losing one child is enough to throw a person into a tailspin. Losing two is like being pushed out of a plane over a volcano and having your parachute not open. With a single page of your story, it became clear to me that you were extremely well qualified to talk to people who are struggling through a multitude of trials.
I learned one other important thing about you from that page. When you walked out of the mortuary where you identified the body of the second son you lost, you had a vision.
“Then I looked up and there in the sky was an image of Tim’s smiling face! He was surrounded with a bright shining light and I heard him saying, “Don’t cry, Mom, because I’m not there. I’m rejoicing around the throne of God.””
What a wonderful gift! Thank you for sharing your vision. Some of us have had extraordinary experiences similar to yours. We want to talk about them, but people make it difficult. Those who have not had such an experience tend to think the rest of us fell off our rockers and hit our head a little too hard. When we share those experiences, we are met with wide-eyed disbelief and skeptical stares, even by other Christians who should know better.
Sometimes they try to be nice about it and say things like, “That’s just something your mind came up with to try and comfort you through this terrible time.” Right. My brain conjured a crazy hallucinogenic episode to make me feel better. If that’s true, then my brain stinks. From childhood on we make a point of learning the difference between all things real and imagined. Most of us get really good at it. So, when a crazy vision or prophetic dream happens it’s mind-blowing. It doesn’t fall into the category of what our imagination is even capable of and we know without a doubt that the experience is real.
When you share such an extreme experience you take the risk that people may think you’re delusional. I respect you so much for being brave enough to include this story in your book.
I went on to read the rest of your book. Your experiences cover a lot more ground than I thought. And you didn’t just write about yourself, you wrote about many people who sent you letters or came to you for comfort and support. I loved reading their stories. I devoured them. They made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my suffering. So many of us are dealing with multiple trials that seem unfair, unjust, and downright cruel. Reading everyone else’s stories helps us understand that we’re in really good company carrying these burdens. Thank you for sharing your life through your books. I look forward to reading many more of them. They are like warm embers in this shivering world.