Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Last Words

On June 11, 2006, after battling addictions for more than 13 years, Stephen Paul Johnson died. He is the cherished son of our Pastor's brother, Steve and Lynne Johnson. I have asked permission to share these Last Words, shared by Stephen's parents at the time of his Memorial on June 15th. Included in this tribute will be journal excerpts from Stephen's journal--a testament to his struggle and dependency on Jesus for his restoration. It is my prayer, by sharing this with you, that you will be blessed, as I was, to read these dear parent's tribute to a courageous young man who battled one of life's most incidious struggles. This Christian family prays that even in his death, Stephen will help others; something he longed to do--perhaps was even called to do. I thank God for this family's willingness to share such a personal tribute for the Glory of God. I know this is going to be a long post; please don't race through this one--each and every word points to God's amazing faithfulness, even in the midst of this desperate time. And I thank you for leaving your comments of blessing so I may pass them along to Lynne and Steve and their family.

Memorial Service for our son, Stephen Paul Johnson
June 15, 2006

Lynne and I want to thank each of you for supporting us during an unthinkably difficult season in our lives. Today marks the end of a long struggle for our son Stephen. He was born 27 years ago on October 27, 1978. It was one of the happiest days of our lives. Lynne and I loved him in a way we had never experienced before. We had prayed for him before he was conceived and never missed a day for the rest of his life. God added to our family a second wonderful son David and we felt blessed by God for the wonderful family that He had given us. Even while we’re writing this, floods of great memories come to mind. We will
always treasure those memories.

Some time in Steve’s early teens someone introduced him to drugs. We had absolutely no idea this took place and by the time we learned about his involvement, the rest of the course of his life was determined. We did everything that we could to love and support him and try to guide him to the resources that might give him freedom from this terrible addiction. Unfortunately, Steve was never able to break away.

It didn’t take long for the addictions to completely take over his life. Addiction became his voice and many of us were hurt by the words that he said. That sweet young man was still there; he was just hidden from view.

Steve died on June 11, 2006, but in many ways he died each day of these last 13 years. So did we as his family. Throughout these 13 years we were captive to the choices that he had made. Yet, no matter how much pain we experienced, our love for him grew. In a small way, this taught us a lesson about God’s love for us. If Lynne and I, who are both sinners, could have such a powerful love for a wayward son, just think of the enormity of God’s perfect love. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done or how many times we’ve failed. God has a passionate love for each of us.

When Steve was a little boy, we would ask him if he knew how much Mommy and Daddy love him. He would stretch out his arms as far as they would go and say, "So much!" John 3:16 tells us that God loves us "so much!" Not just love for a wayward son, but each of us.

Lynne and I have experienced God’s love in many ways during these years. Last Saturday I believe God expressed His love to us again in a very powerful and mystical way.

On Saturday evening Lynne was stressed out over Stevie and had a headache. We have a portable massage table that I set up and told her that I wanted to serve her by giving her a massage. She was listening to some quiet music as I tried to work the tension out of her shoulders and back. After about half an hour, she started to sob. Her body shook uncontrollably. I took the speakers away from her ears and asked her what was wrong. She told me that she had just had a vision of our son Steve in a coffin. She said it was so vivid that she could even see the clothes that he had on. I tried to comfort her, telling her that he may have more difficulties in the future, but that he would be all right. Lynne then said to me that she knew God was warning her that Steve would die. We went to sleep that night with fear in our hearts. We would come to discover that God was graciously preparing us for what was to come.

The next day we went to church in the morning. Lynne could hardly make it through the service and shared with some woman the vision that she had experienced the evening before. I can still picture these woman gathered around Lynne praying for her prior to the morning worship service. We sat in the back row near an exit because we weren’t sure that we’d be able to make it through the service. Later in the afternoon, at 2:54 I tried to call Steve on his cell phone. When he didn’t answer, I left a message telling him I loved him, and again I quietly sent up prayers for him.

A couple of hours later we got a call from our son David telling us of his death. The estimated time of his death was 3 PM, just 6 minutes after my phone call.

Lynne and David and I are experiencing tremendous grief. Our loss is beyond words. Yet, we love God and we trust in His sovereignty. It is our prayer that this memorial service, which remembers the life of our dearly loved son, will exalt our God and also reveal the heart of our son that many could not see through his addictions.

It is also our prayer that those of you who share his longings of true peace and fulfillment, would place your trust in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you for loving us.
Steve, Lynne and David Johnson

Last words…Excerpts from Stephen’s journal entries and letters to his parents

The Lord has taught me a lot since being locked up. How important it is to be clean is one of them, and how Christ will be the only thing that will help me kill my demons. I just can’t wait for my past to be erased and wiped clean. I know it is with Christ and not with man.

I can’t hide from everyone anymore. I need the church and friends that hold me accountable. The past is the past and I can only look forward.
I want you to know, Mom and Dad, that I’m working on making the right choices. I know that I have been a disappointment to the family. I know all this because when I look in the mirror, I’m my worst critic, but I’ve got to push through. No matter how many times I fall, I’ve got to get back up.

I’ve been lucky enough to have great parents who love me, and don’t think I don’t realize that. I hope you realize that the pain you feel, I feel thousands of times more - every second of every day. I know I need to change. I wish I was the man you want me to be, but Jesus has this all in his plan. It is definitely a sidetrack for me, but it’s okay.

It’s embarrassing because I’m not a bad person. I have some issues to take care of. I want you to be proud of me and I want you to say to people, "This is my boy and he’s back."

I’ve failed time and time again. I’m so sick of not getting ahead, but getting halfway. It’s like trying to see the sun on a cloudy day. The sun is always there, but you can only see it when the clouds move. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say. I wish I could take everything back about 10 years and be married, going to Little League games, buying a house, having a good job - but I’ve taken a path that I’ve done none of these things. I really hope God can use my mistakes for something good – so someone else doesn’t have to go through all the garbage that I’ve seen.

I’d do anything for a fresh start. I’m starting to feel like my whole life is dedicated to change. Mom was telling me about how God can turn my weaknesses into strengths. My weakness is being insecure, easily tempted and pride. My strengths are loyalty, looking for something good in a bad situation and my heart. It’s so big. But I need to be more reliable, more honest with myself and force some changes in my life. Like Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."

I realize how much shame I’ve brought you and dad. I’m sorry. All I can do is ask for forgiveness, turn from my foolish ways and never look back. The Lord knows my heart. I do believe that my heart is gold and I wear it on my sleeve. I’m very emotional and I hope others learn through me.

Maybe I’ll be a pastor someday. A crazy, tattooed, motorcycle driving, Jesus freak that can go into the darkness and save kids like me. A street preacher. Mom, I know that you know where my heart is. I love Jesus. It’s the dope holding me back. That’s the devil’s curse on me.

Today is a new beginning. A fresh start. I need help. I need God’s help. I’ve missed so much of my life by being screwed up and I don’t know how else to live. When will I learn to trust? Lord, help me move from the past. Help me become new through you. Help me look forward, not backwards and live a clean life. My life is so uncertain, but Jesus is my Rock and I can’t worry about tomorrow, just today. The Bible is helping me. I sure love this book. I learn more and more everyday. I hope I don’t fail this time. Lord God, be my strength when it comes to the battles of my life. I put all faith in you, and without you I am nothing.

Lord Jesus, I know that things are in your hands, and without you, all things are hopeless. So just knowing you has made my day whole again. I don’t need luck– just faith.

God…give me life…give me strength…Give me freedom…a new freedom.

I have a lot to accomplish. Today I’m going to soak up God’s Word and pray. I have so much to learn and someday so much to give. God has a calling for me. I just need to find out what it is.

It’s 5:25 AM on May 20th. It’s David’s birthday. I wish I could talk with him, but what can I do. I’ll write him after breakfast. I’m going to tell him I love him and I want to spend time with him.

I’ve been praying for a new beginning and forgiveness from Christ and the many people I’ve hurt. Happy Easter. THE LORD IS RISEN. At least there’s some joy that comes from that.

Always grateful, your loving son, Steve


Mary-LUE said...

Wow. That is so profoundly sad and moving. I feel so much for your pastor and his wife and their other son. I know what it is like to love someone who struggles with addiction, someone who is no longer here. I am moved by their graciousness in this time of grief and by Stephen's words. I pray God's continued mercies on them in the days, months and years to come. Thanks for sharing this, Diane.

BooMama said...

That touched my heart more than I can tell you. Thank you so much for sharing - and thank the Johnsons for sharing as well. I am deeply, deeply moved....

Gardenia said...

Well, Steve did get his new beginning...and is being held close to the Lord's bosom now, and being prepared for his life in the Lord's presence.

My heart is absolutely wrung out and tears pouring down my face into my shirt as I read this - my son, too, passed on after a long struggle with drugs at the age of 27. As I read this, I remember feeling everything these parents felt, loving as these parents loved, fearing as these parents feared...

I remember standing by my son's coffin, bent over in agony, crying out to God that I could not even physically or mentally bear such pain without dying myself, and then it was like an opening in heaven appeared and I could see my son standing there in green beautiful meadows, surrounded by children, and the light of Jesus shining on him - he was looking around, smiling, saying "wow" over and over. I wouldn't have wanted him back to suffer in that battle he fought to the end.

Here is a poem my son wrote before he passed to his next life - perhaps he is there introducing himself to your son today:

The Spirit and the Bride
Revelatino 22:17---
Lord Jesus, I love you, and with you I want to be forever.
My very soul aches for the mighty breath of your Spirit,
That I may be carried on the wings of prayer to your vast regions of paradise.

With your crystal clear waters of life, you baptize as if by fire,
Letting the babbling brook of God's essence mirror me in your image.

I feel the vibrant, humming glow of your love sigh engulf my innermost existence,
Stirring forth an air of bliss.

I hear the Creator humming a catchy sky song, as His Son casually sifts through the stars of heaven to weave a gown for His bride.

Pulling back the veil of time, He cleans her face
with His tears to prepare for the voyage across
the ocean of eternity and smiles to find that I'm
the sparkle in her eye.

As I near the end of solid land, I hear an angelical seagull cry, and before me is a ship of gold, as big as a city with sails of aurora borealis.

Out of the vast scene, a voice rang forth like a thousand waterfalls thundering my name.
Well done, my faithful servant. Come to me unashamed, come aboard my ship of unity with all those you love, and we shall be one forever.

T said...

I'm speechless.

Do you mind it I link to this from my blog?

Pam in Colorado said...

I shed tears with you. Thank you for sharing your son, his and your struggles as well as your hearts.

In a bitter-sweet season of life, know that you have touched other lives, my life. I believe it will help me be more of an unconditional port of love, support and guidance to my children.

MugwumpMom said...

Bittersweet. I grieve with you and your pastors, and yet, rejoice with the end, he is free and home in his Father's arms. Thank you for sharing this. It can happen to anyone's son/daughter and that's important to know, lest we bury our heads in the sand of avoidance and denial.

Diane said...

It would be so easy for those parents to be bitter in their situation, but it's to their credit that they still honor God, even after their son's death due to drugs. None of us are beyond Satan's reach, whether it be the temptation of drugs, alcohol, immorality or any other sin. God Bless them as they learn to live without their son, but knowing he is in the hands of a just and loving God.

Thank you for posting this, Diane.

Susanna said...

I have no personal experience that can even begin to help me know how this family feel. But I am moved by a sense of their grief and also a deep sense of humility. I am 27. I have a 17 month old son. Do I pray for him as faithfully as as Stephen's parents prayed? Probably not. Am I guilty of making asumptions about faith and addiction?- The answer is yes. Have I taken for granted the fact that the Lord has chossen to spare me and mine from such trials up until this point? Yes. So thank you for sharing and for challenging this wayward soul. May God grant the grace to each of His children to deal with trials in as calm and fathful a way as the Johnson's have done.

'In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.' John 16 v 33

Thank you gracious God that no matter what Satan schemes and no matter how sin affects our lives that you remain faithful to those who call on you in true repentance and that nothing can change the eternal hope of your saints. Help us all to overcome the world each day by thy gracious help and bless each one, especially those who grieve, as we journey on to glory.
In Jesus most precious name

Ann V. said...

These words, these *lives*, ministered to me. Changed me. I will not forget. This story has become the tapestry of other be used in His story. Steven, as he so desired, is changing lives for Jesus.

"The Lord is near to all who call on Him..." Ps. 145:18

And He is near. I felt Him here.

Thank you, Diane. I grieve for your pain. And praise God that He so powerfully uses you.

Blessings, Ann V.

eph2810 said...

Thank you for sharing...I don't even know if I can come up with anything to say to Steve's parents and brother at this time of loss. The only thing that comes to mind: You will see each other again in heaven and you will have the biggest celebration together...there is no more hurt for Steve now...

Lord of Heaven & Earth. I am humbly asking you to give the Johnson family strength and peace during this time of healing. A peace that surpasses all human understanding. Lord comfort them with Your great love. In the precious name of Jesus I pray. Amen

RANDI said...

No words to say except that I am deeply saddened by this loss. My prayers are with the family.

barbara curtis said...

Thank you for sharing this glimpse into the hearts of a prodigal and parents. Many of us can identify and will continue to reach even as we prepare for anything to happen when things are out of our control. Continuing love is the message here. May he rest in peace - and his parents as well.

barbara curtis said...

Thank you for sharing this glimpse into the hearts of a prodigal and parents. Many of us can identify and will continue to reach even as we prepare for anything to happen when things are out of our control. Continuing love is the message here. May he rest in peace - and his parents as well.

kpjara said...

Dear Johnson Family:

A greater loss I cannot imagine. It gives me hope and I hope it gives you all greater hope to hear David's heart as he struggled through this hell to the point of seeking the redemption of Jesus and David is now at the right hand of God with Jesus.

In a way he fulfilled his desire to be a street pastor, because he's ministering to each of us who come to this place or who have read these words somewhere!

May the God of peace and love surround you with love and grace and mercy as you reconcile your hearts to the son and brother who has gone before you!

My prayers are with you and I rejoice with you now that David is in heaven!

shannon @ rocks in my dryer said...

Please tell your friends I will be praying for them.

aggiejenn said...

Thank you, Diane. I sent this post to a friend who is going on Saturday to see her brother in prison. He's been addicted to drugs for a long time and it has wreaked havoc on his family. His letters home sound a lot like Stephen's. I'm praying they can benefit from the Johnson's story. Thank them for sharing this.

no_average_girl said...

wow, how touching! A man who honestly was seeking to serve the Lord! Please keep the spirit of Steve alive by spreading his testimony and last words of determination, apologies, and love to everyone! May his parents be blessed beyond measure as they try to pick up the pieces and live. How tragic for parents to lose a son!

May the God of all comfort be with Steve's blessed family!

C. H. Green said...

As I have to keep telling myself, God knows the bigger picture. Some day when we all arrive on that beautiful shore we will have all the answers. Until that day, we must trust in our God's unfailing love and mercies for us. All things work together for good...Know that people are praying for you in the days ahead.

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

Please thank your friends for sharing their story.

Dawn said...

Oh, man. I can imagine the pain, because it is only a miracle that our prodigal is here and alive and serving God. He should have died 5 times in the last two years, that we know of. My heart is aching and the tears are flowing as I read Stephen's words. They sound so much like Kev. We have to continue praying, because Satan does not want restored addicts to succeed. Thank you for this! I will seriously think about showing it to him.

Bethany said...

Thank you for sharing these words. It's a side of that culture we don't often see...the struggle. The hurt they are going through. That they realize that what they are doing is wrong.

This touched me...I have tears running down my face even now. I ache for the Johnson's but applaud their willingness to share their son's story in order to help other!

I will be praying for the Johnson family. May they feel God's love like never before!

Beckie said...

God knows the heart of every man. What a blessing to know that you will see your son again!

Stacey said...

Thank you for allowing us to share in your life. It's amazing the good that can come from a hard time such as this. I want you to know that I'm praying for you and your family during this time!! It's obvious to me that God has a plan and He's reveling it to you daily!!

HolyMama! said...

what a wonderful man. Steve's heart (of gold, i agree) truly shone through in his written words.

My own heart aches for this precious family. Their loss, and grief are of proportions I really can't imagine. And then will come the time - if it hasn't already - that they realize life in some ways is easier without being captive to dealing with his addiction. And how hard that itself is! I pray for their peace and praise God that He is their Comforter.

HeyJules said...

Thank you for the opportunity to read that. I can't imagine the pain involved in losing a child so I really have no words of truth to speak except to say how sorry I am that his life ended this way.

I do believe, in some small way, that God granted Stephen his last wish - that he now has the freedom from his addictions and that He will be with us all in heaven. May God grant his family the peace and blessings they deserve for being there for their son through such an awful time. May their rewards in heaven for never giving up on one of God's children be great and may they spend eternity with the innocent child they once knew.

blestwithsons said...

I have no words...

Praying for you right now.

Susan (5 Minutes For Mom) said...

Thank you so very much for sharing this. My sincere prayers go out for Steve's family and friends.

I really am speechless. I wish I knew what to say, but I do not.

All I know is that the Lord has already used Steve and will continue to use his memory and the lessons of his life.

In Christ,

Loni said...

I am sitting hear with tears running down my face, almost to a sob, as I read and understand your heartache. Oh my dear sister and brother in Jeus, I hurt so with you. Though we did not have the warning signs or the struggles, our son died at age 16 from the "choking game". We never imagined - never. We never imagined the dreams that would be broken or why God's ways would seem so different than ours. Our son too was thinking of going into missions, being a missionary pilot, and just months before had gone next door to make sure our next door neighbor knew the Lord. I know He knows . . . and thinks of us more than all the sand granules in the world, and know He holds us in the palm of His hole broken hand. I know too your son's life and death will not be in vain, as you share about him, as you console other families, and as others observe you in your faith walk during this journey through deep grief. Hold on close.

My thoughts, prayers and tears are with you.


Morning Glory said...

I, too, am speechless. I trust they will all find God's peace and comfort.

Mom2fur said...

Oh, dear, what can I say except that I sort of know what you are going through? Back in 1971, my brother Michael, just shy of his 22nd birthday and a few days out of the army (he was a Vietnam vet), was found dead of a heroin overdose in his apartment. I can remember my mother knocking on my door (I was 15) to tell me the news. I often wonder what Michael would be like in his 50s, a middle-aged man with a wife and kids. I am glad you are surrounded by loving family and the strength of your faith. God bless your family, and know that your son is resting with the angels now.

Lauren said...

Your friends are an encouragement and very blessed to know that their son Stephen is in the arms of the Lord. Please thank them for speaking out, getting their story heard.

This morning I received a phone call that my nineteen year-old nephew, a young man who has had a drug problem since he was thirteen and has overdosed twice, has had a seizure while in a drug rehab and is now lying in a hospital bed.

I am so fearful of him losing his life before he comes to know Jesus.

Brenda said...

Thank you for sharing this. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult it's been to see your child struggle, but it is a comfort to know that he didn't go through it alone.

You're in my prayers.

Perri said...

I'm so very sorry for the loss of this promising young man. Although his dreams unfullfilled in life, it seems that he is now reaching many people whose lives will be changed. You are all in my prayers. May God comfort you in the horrible days ahead.

Chappyswife said...

My heart is breaking for this family. I pray God will ease their pain.

Suzy said...

What an honor to read of Steve's faith and admitted struggle with drugs. His openness in sharing is truly inspiring.

I will be praying for this family...for God's mercy and grace through this storm in their life. God is so loving and I can see His arms around them as I type this. He's catching all of their tears in the palms of His hands.

Heather Smith said...

This moved me to tears! I have a friend in the same struggle. He'll do good for a while, then he goes back out there. He's almost killed himself once before. But like Steven, I truly believe he has a good heart. It's hard to watch from the outside. God bless you for sharing this. I'm more convicted to pray for my friend now because I've seen some of the things, he's probably struggling with.

JD said...

OH my heart is breaking for him and his parents. What a strong and sad story.

momrn2 said...

Praying even now they will find God's continued strength, mercy, and peace amidst a most difficult time of this earthly life.

Saija said...

leo's sister just died unexpectly on 9th july ... she went to sleep and just didn't wake up ... it was a surprise to us all ...

a friend of mine lost her son in Afghanistan last week ... her only child, much loved ... he was 21 ...

there is that shared loss on this earth ... and in heaven - there will be a shared homecoming and rejoicing ... all tears will be wiped away ...

Vicki said...

My heart is greatly moved. I'll pray for Steve's family in the days ahead.

Danielle said...

This is a moving tribute to a very much loved young man. Addiction has touched many of our lives and the outcomes are often quite painful.

Thank you, Diane, for sharing and for paying tribute to this young man's life and spirit. I am deeply moved.


Janice (5 Minutes for Mom) said...

What a blessing to you that letter must be. To hear Stephen's heart like that - all of us as parents hope to hear our child's love for Christ like that.

I am so incredible sorry for your agony that you are going through. It is unimaginable, but how wonderful that you have the joy of knowing that he is with Christ. As parents our children's eternity is truly the most important thing we can pray and hope for.

I hope you don't mind - I don't think you will - but I am going to print out this entry so i have it to read to youth that I minister to as well as to my son one day when he is old enough. It is an incredible testimony of both the bondage of drug use and of God's love, mercy and faithfulness.

God bless you.

my bathroom is my sanctuary said...

I am totally blessed by that!! I was in that world for about 8 years and I'm free today...Praise be to God!! My heart aches for his parents. I can't imagine how much it hurts to lose a child. Thanks for sharing. Brenda.

meLanie said...

my heart and prayers go out to the johnson family.
the Lord gave me a vision for my brother who too has a heart of gold but is held in bondage by addiction. i pray that everyone that reads steve's words are touched as greatly as i. thank you for sharing.

David said...

very sad, and deep.

Delia said...

This is heartbreaking!

My prayers go out for this family who have lost their beloved son, that they may find a bit of comfort in the knowledge that he is surely with Jesus now and his struggles are over. And also that sharing his story is having such a profound effect on so many.

Thank you so much for sharing!

Morning Glory said...

I thought of you today and said a little prayer. You've been gone from blogworld for a while and I'm hoping things are ok with you. God bless.

Bill said...

Oh, sweet God! My heart pours out to these folks and everyone who loves them. Although they seem to have things under control emotionally, anger and resentment, depression and lethargy will creep up on them. When I lost my son, it took 10 years on that roller-coaster before I was able to get off it. I pray that God will give them the grace to reaize that while God doesn't do these things, God will work through them to change your life. One of these days, they will be looking at the moon. It will become the face of God and tears will be streaming down it. Then they will know the grief that God also feels over the loss of a child and they will be able to forgive Him. I hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Dawn said...

Hoping to hear from you soon, before you head out this way. I have been concerned that we haven't heard your wisdom for the last few days. I miss you.

tam said...


Oh. I pray that no one ever has to feel that pain both as the sufferer and the observer...

I will be praying for this family.

Magnolia said...

Oh, how moving. I am so very sorry for this family's precious loss. I don't understand the hows and whys of the way God works but I do know that in the midst of the storm riddled valleys His presence is there.

Anonymous said...

Lynne, Pastor Steve and David, We heard that "Stevie" had passed from a drug overdose. My heart has been aching for you. I am so blessed by this site to see for myself that He was, no that he IS, a man who loves Jesus. Thank you Lord for Stevie's love for You and Your love for him. Lynne and Pastor Steve, You brought me through a most devestating time in my life in which I will never forget the wisdom and love you poured out on me and my children. Pastor Steve may God bless you in ways of which you have not even dared to imagine. David may you be a man after God's own heart as King David of old (and I prayed along with your parents "that God would heal your hair). Lynne I love you so much.Even though many years have passed since we have seen eachother please know that I hold ALL my wonderful memories of you close to my heart. Please know that you are in my thoughts and my prayers and that you are my beloved sister in Christ. I am here for you and will be praying for God's love to shine through when those clouds fill the sky.
All my (our) love to our
friends, Dave & Joni Kolb