Randy L. Johnson

We gather this afternoon to mourn the loss but also to remember and celebrate the life of Randy L. Johnson.

In the Bible we read these words from the Apostle Paul:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed….because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us in his presence…Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:8-11)

Then there are these interesting verses in the book of Isaiah,

Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. 2For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die. (Isaiah 57:1-2)

These are just two of many of the great promises in the Word of God that give us a place for strength and hope in this sad time.

Let’s turn to the Lord in prayer.

Gracious Father, we come to You looking to make sense of something we don’t understand.  We mourn, we are numb, and at times maybe even a little angry.  Please, draw us close to you this day.  Hold us tight and whisper into our hearts the comfort that we need.  Help us today to celebrate Randy’s life.  Help us to give thanks for the blessing he has been rather than being consumed in our sense of loss. But even more than this, help us, O Lord, to find strength and even hope in You.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

*****

Mr. Randy L. Johnson, was born October 31, 1950 in LaHarpe, the son of Eugene and Betty George Johnson. He was the second of eight children.

Randy was a lifelong resident of LaHarpe and a graduate of LaHarpe High School. He attended Carl Sandburg College. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War, having served in the US Navy from 1968 – 1972.

Not long after he retuned home in the summer of 1973, Randy met Sandy Wardell at a party in Blandinsville. Five months later, on December 8, 1973 they were married in Macomb, Illinois.

Randy could do lots of things and found what he considered his dream job when we was hired as an electrician at American Ordinance where he loved working for 21 years. Randy was a member of the LaHarpe American Legion Post 301and enjoyed deer hunting and woodworking.

A little better than two years ago Randy was diagnosed with Leukemia. After a transplant from his brother Rick he seemed to be doing good.  However, complications set in and though he fought valiantly, he passed away Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 11:00 P.M. at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa.

Rnady is survived by his wife Sandy, his two daughters, Tina Marie (Jimmy) Parsano of LaHarpe and Katie Lynn Johnson (Ben Tripp) of Carthage, Illinois, Two grandchildren, Colton Smith and Keith Hunter Blythe, his parents, Gene and Betty Johnson of LaHarpe, four brothers, Roger (Mary Ann) Johnson and Rex (Debbie) Johnson all of LaHarpe and Ricky (Debbie) Johnson and Ronnie (Traci) Johnson all of Carthage and three sisters, Rita Bennett and Rhonda (Delbert) Kreps all of LaHarpe and Renee (Dickie) Goff of Biggsville, Illinois, He is also survived by many nieces and nephews.

*****

I have to admit that I didn’t really know Randy Johnson.  But from what I’ve heard, I know I would have liked him. As I have listened It seems to me that four words can best describe Randy: Fun, Work, Outdoors, and most of all, Family.

FUN

Randy was always up for a challenge.  Once he and Roger had a contest to see who could stick the most rocks up their nose.  I think Roger won but Randy was the one who had to go see Dr. Mueller to have a rock removed!

Roger and Randy were close. They tried to cross a high creek in the car one time.  The car died in the creek and they had to push it out in their good clothes.  They were pleased that the car started right up on the other side.  It was the kind of things boys do.  I suspect they did worse.

I heard several stories about Randy and socks. He bragged about how much better his nylon socks were but whenever he took his shoes off you would find those socks bunched down by his toes!  Now, the other sock story is a time when he came home wearing no socks after he had been hunting.  When asked why he didn’t have any socks, the answer was, “I didn’t want to use leaves”.

Randy was one of those guys who loved to kid people and give them a hard time. Rhonda found out that if you poured a glass of water on his head he would get you back with a bucket of ice in your lap. Christy remembers Randy teasing her with the ceramic squirrel. If Randy knew a way to tease you, he would certainly do so.  He loved playing with all the kids that used to be at his home when they were babysitting.

Randy loved to play Pitch and when he played Pitch, he played it with passion.  Dickie talks about how intimidating it was to be his partner because he took it so seriously.  Randy loved to dance and he and Sandy were great together on the dance floor at the old Riverview restaurant.  Occasionally you would hear Randy singing his favorite song, “On the wings of a Snow White Dove, He sends His pure sweet love . . . “

One night at the Tennessee tavern the band wasn’t very good and Randy was honest with them about how much they were stinking up the joint.  So the band invited him to come and sing if he thought he could do better. So, he got up and sang and the crowd gave him a standing ovation!

Randy and Sandy went with Delbert and Rhonda down to Branson and they had a great time together . . . even though they had to run to keep up with Delbert as he raced to beat the old people out of the Dixie Stampede.

Randy enjoyed TV shows such as CSI and “24” and he really didn’t want you interrupting his shows. When he watched TV he was focused just like he was focused in whatever else he did. Randy had fun in his life.

WORK

Randy truly loved to work.  He loved his job and didn’t even want to think about taking a buy-out and early retirement simply because he was having too much fun doing what he was doing.  But he not only enjoyed working at his job, he loved all kinds of different work.  In fact, it is hard to decide whether Randy’s projects should be classified as fun or work because work was fun.

Randy was a man who was able to do all kinds of thing.  He could fix, or make most anything.  He was an excellent woodworker and made ducks, bookshelves, cedar chests and even chairs for some of the nieces.  He loved creating with wood.

Even from youth Randy was interested in mechanical kinds of things.  He liked seeing how things work and he liked to try to create or improve things.  He attached a motor to his bicycle once and had Rex try it out . . . that’s when he discovered he hadn’t thought about brakes.

He built a pony cart to attach to the horse.  He attached it to the horse and had Rex get in and try it out . . . and then realized he probably should have gotten the horse used to the cart first before he gave the cart a rider.

Randy wasn’t afraid to try something because he knew he would learn from doing. Randy reached a point where he could do most anything.  He was willing to tackle any project and was more than willing to come and help anyone (especially family) that had any kind of need. He saw no need to ever hire someone to come fix something….he could do it or figure it out himself. He was good at plumbing, electrical, and just about anything else.

Growing up at the Johnson household meant there were jobs to do.  There were lots of turkeys to take care of for one thing.  He grew up understanding that work was a natural part of life. Roger and Randy had the job of leading all those siblings. The family always was and remains close.

OUTDOORS

Randy also loved the outdoors.  He liked to hunt, fish, go mushrooming, and just enjoy the cabin.  The deer he had mounted in his home unnerved more than a few people. He loved going deer hunting with Ronnie. He even enjoyed liked cooking outside on the grill at home.

When Randy would take a trip somewhere he was always saying,  “I think we can cut through here”.  Sometimes his “shortcut” took more time but he always found the drive much more interesting because he was able to see what was out in the country.  He enjoyed seeing what was out there.

FAMILY

By far the thing most important to Randy was his family.  He was raised to believe that family always came first.  Randy’s family did come first in his heart and in the way he lived his life.  He was close to his parents and his brothers and sisters.  When Randy was in the Navy and Roger was in the army, Randy would hitchhike to come and see Roger and Mary Ann.  Once when Mary Ann was being harassed, Randy was ready to take care of the guy for her.  Truth be told, Randy was always ready to help a family member with anything.

Sandy says the first thing she noticed when she met Randy was his great blue eyes.  Their courtship was short but in another month they would have been married 34 years.  Randy was a loving husband and a great dad.  Sandy returned that love and stayed by his side throughout his illness.

Randy and Sandy have the two girls.  Tina was his little princess.  She was momma’s girl and that was fine.  Katie became kind of like Daddy’s boy.  She tagged along with dad when he went fishing, shooting, and when he’d head to the cabin. She also liked eating spicy food like dad. Sunday was their day to hang together.

Randy enjoyed singing Roger Miller songs to the girls and used to slap his legs to music like they used to do on Hee Haw.  He loved being around his girls.  One time he shaved his mustache and it scared Katie and she said she wanted her daddy back . . . so he grew the mustache back.

Randy worked to teach his kids to be independent. He wanted them to learn how to take care of themselves.  Randy adored his grandsons.  He finally had his little boys. One of his greatest regrets would be not being able to watch them grow up.

Randy loved being at home with his family.  He loved his overweight dogs (Rosie and Max) and much of the time Rosie was sitting on his lap.  Dogs know when they are loved.

Whenever there was an exchange of “I love you” in the family, Randy always added, “I love you more.”

When Randy was diagnosed with Leukemia, the entire family was eager to be a transplant donor.  They knew Randy would be the first in line to help them. He was a man blessed by his family and he was a blessing TO his family.

Randy Johnson was a good man.  His life was short at 57 years, but he jammed a lot of living into those years.

[SONG]

*****************

Rick made the comment as we gathered together to visit that “this was not a fair fight”.  Cancer is a disease that assaults a body from a number of different fronts.  It is easy to be bitter about the circumstances that took Randy’s life. It is not uncommon for people to be angry at God at times such as this. Why didn’t God do something?

As I’ve thought about this situation I can’t help but wonder if maybe we are taking the wrong perspective on Randy’s death.  We see it as a terrible defeat.  Is it possible that it is not?

Paul wrote the book of Philippians from a jail cell. In many respects Paul faced the same kind of situation Randy faced with his illness.  Randy did nothing to cause this illness and Paul was in jail even though he didn’t do anything wrong.  There may have been people who concluded that if Paul had been a better person he wouldn’t have ended up in jail.  It would have been unfair to say such a thing.

Every day Paul wondered what was going to happen.  Would he be set free or would the footsteps coming down the hall be the footsteps of the executioner?  In a similar way Randy wondered: will this treatment be the one that restores my life or will it be the one that kills me? Like Randy, Paul had lots of time to think.  And as Paul reflected on the options of life and death that stood before him this is what he wrote,

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life of by death.  For to , to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20-21)

Paul looked at this circumstance that was beyond his control and his prayer was this: Help me to be faithful in this circumstance no matter how this turns out.

Paul also said, “I don’t know which option I desire.  On the one hand I want to stay with my friends and continue the work that God has given me to do . . . to live.  On the other hand, dying means being delivered from this world and being able to be with Christ in Heaven..”

Paul did not see his circumstance as a win/lose situation.  He saw it as win/win.  Either way, he was going to be OK.

I wonder if we should try to look at Randy’s death this way.  We have experienced loss.  Our lives are changed.  But has this really been a loss for Randy, or has it been a graduation; a promotion?  Sure, Randy didn’t want to die.  He loved his life and family here.  But . . . now that he has seen what is on the other side of death, would he feel the same way?  We wonder why God didn’t do something . . . but is it possible that God was doing something inside of Randy that prepared him for eternity?

The Bible tells us that only those who truly and fully put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Redeemer and King will live even though they die.  I am aware that Randy wasn’t a church-goer.  (I wish he had been). However, I am reminded that what God requires for us to receive forgiveness and eternal life is not a church membership card, but a true faith and trust in Christ. Sandy told me about Randy’s faith. I’m sure it was tested and strengthened during these last months.

Here’s my point: If Randy truly trusted Christ, then this is not the end, it is just a promotion to a life that is free of sin, sickness, and limitations.  If his faith was true, then He is with the Lord.  He has been reunited with Kyle and with other friends and family members who have gone to be with the Lord.  From Randy’s perspective this may not be a bad thing . . . it may be a very good thing.  It may be the best thing of all. I’m suggesting that we should work to see Randy not as someone who is gone . . . but someone who has gone on before us.

Let’s go back to the words in Isaiah,

Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.2For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die. (Isaiah 57:1-2)

I know to some this sounds like wishful thinking.  It may sound like a delusion that is designed to help us through the pain of grief.  Paul didn’t think it was wishful thinking and neither do I.  He challenged us to examine the evidence. This understanding of life beyond the grave doesn’t come from the imagination of some fiction writer; this belief is anchored to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus said He had come as God become man. He told us the truth about our rebellion against God. He taught us about our need to trust Him.  He died on the cross and told us that it was to pay for our sin.  But to this point in the story Jesus really isn’t much different from any other great teacher.  However, when He rose from the dead literally and physically three days later. . . that made Him unique!  That gave His words a new authority and credibility.  That made him a man that was worth listening to. The Resurrection of Jesus, and the abundant evidence to verify it, changes everything.

Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the life, He who lives and believes in me will live even though He dies.”   He who lives and believes in me . . . will live . . . even though…he dies.

I wonder, if we could ask Randy right now, would he say he had “lost the battle with cancer” or would he say he had “gained life beyond the grave”?  It’s all a matter of perspective.  And how you handle Randy’s death is a matter of your perspective on the situation.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with sadness and grief.  It is right and normal.  You are going to miss Your husband, dad, son, brother, or friend.  Tears are appropriate.  Things you hoped to share together will not happen.  The companionship is gone.  Grief is real and normal.  The issue is whether you will grieve with hope or without it.  I encourage you to put your hope in the promise of Jesus.

I make a few suggestions today.

  1. Allow yourselves to grieve.  Weep for your loss. Don’t be ashamed of hurting.  You hurt because you loved.
  2. Remember Randy’s life.  For many months the focus has been Randy’s disease and the threat of death.  In your focus on his death it is easy to forget that he lived and that that his life was a blessing to cherish.  Continue to share your stories.  As you face the holidays, instead of ignoring talk about Randy, remember him.  Make his life a part of your celebration.
  3. Strengthen your own faith in Christ.  Use this loss as a “wake-up” call for your own walk with God.  Make sure you are right with Him. Develop your relationship with the Lord and stop putting it off to some future day. Make time for God now.
  4. Look to the Lord for strength.  Read God’s promises.  Read a book or two about Heaven.  Draw strength from the fact that death is not the end.

As we grieve and as we reflect I hope you will do both with a measure of hope and anticipation.  Give thanks for the life that Randy lived,

  • Thank God for his love for hunting as you go hunting yourself.  Share you hunting stories and in this way take Randy with you.
  • Thank God for him when your knife is dull and Randy isn’t there to sharpen it just right.
  • Thank God for his life when you gather at family gatherings and there is a face missing at the table.
  • Thank God for him when you remember the phrase “roses for your hair” (whatever that means)
  • Thank God for him when you hear a Roger Miller song or hear someone singing “On the wings of a snow white dove.”
  • Thank God for him when you see someone playing with their dog
  • Thank God for him when you see the various things he made around the house.
  • Thank God for the way he changed your life for the better.

Grieve his loss but also remember his life. Ask your honest questions to God about his disease but consider the fact that there may be more to this situation than what we can see.  Make room for hope.  Learn from Randy’s example and let it change the way you live.  And one more thing: I know Randy would want me to tell you to “Be Careful!”

Let’s conclude in prayer.

Gracious Father, we have been blessed and touched by the life of Randy Johnson.  Thank you for that blessing.  We ask now that you, in your mercy and grace, welcome Randy into your Kingdom.  Grant him the life that you promised to all who believe.

Father, I pray for this family.  Help Sandy as she deals with that profound sense of emptiness in her life. Help Tina and Katie as they seek to keep fresh the memories in their hearts and minds.  Help Gene and Betty as they cope with the horror of losing a child.  Bring comfort to these siblings and continue to nurture the close relationship they have had all these years.  Help them to find strength in each other.

Father, I ask that you draw all of these people close to You.  Help them to sense your love.  Help them to trust You.  Grant, O Lord, that they might discover your great sufficiency and love even in this time of loss.

We ask all these things in Jesus’ name.