Pleasant Surprises on the Journey




Sometimes our journeys allow us to experience a pleasant surprise. Our family likes to travel to the coast to spend some time relaxing as we walk along the beach looking out into the ocean. If we look long enough, and stay extremely patient, we might get to experience a pleasant surprise. Maybe a group of dolphins will show themselves as they jump from the water. Maybe a curious shark will cause us to walk a little further away from the water than we were first planning. Though dangerous, they are beautiful creatures. More fascinating to me is the beauty of a sunset or sunrise over the water, as the sky turns red and the sun begins to extinguish for the night. Pleasant and wonderful surprises.

As I have told you before, one part of my journey includes the opportunity I have to be a Bereavement Coordinator with hospice. As part of my job I get to experience memorial services for families who have watched their loved one gradually decline in health until they finally make that Holy transition to another life. Most of the time I haven’t had the chance to meet the families until the day of the funeral. I get to hear some pretty incredible stories as I picture the person in my mind.

Sometimes I get the chance to experience a pleasant surprise. Such was the case this past week. I was given the name of a person who had passed away and the daughter who was the bereaved. I made the call to the daughter expressing how sorry I was her mother had passed and how we would be contacting her and supporting her in her grief. As I hung up the phone, something felt really strange. I felt as if I knew the person on the other end of the phone. The name, the voice, even the name of her mother that was written on the paper in front of me. As I stared at the name on the paper, my mind began to try and figure out the puzzle that was developing in front of me. Why is this name so familiar? Where have I heard the name before? I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. Was it the name of a friend from school years past? Was it a friend I knew whom I had forgotten? Nothing. I just could not figure it out and I was really struggling with this. The pause button had been pressed on my daily job as I tried to sort things out.

I have a friend who I felt might know the person so I sent a quick text and waited for the response. After a few minutes, my phone lit up and I read the answer. Immediately I remembered who the person was I was talking to on the phone. About 29 years ago, when I was a student in seminary, a church called me to be their minister of music and youth. I had an opportunity to direct a wonderful group of singers, and a more wonderful group of people. On the front row of the choir sat the woman whom I just spoke with on the phone.  Twenty-nine years younger, but I remembered her face and I remembered her sitting on the front row with a beautiful soprano voice. Twenty-nine years ago she sang with me. Twenty-nine years ago I sang at her wedding. Twenty-nine years later I am praying for her in one of the toughest times in her life. Twenty-nine years later I am sitting in a memorial service, watching as she says good-bye to her mom. I went to the funeral and reconnected. It was great to see her again, even if it was at a time of grieving the loss of her mother. It was indeed a pleasant surprise on my journey in life. Sometimes, if we are patient and observant, God will allow us to experience some wonderful and pleasant surprises that will lift our spirits and help us gently whisper, “thank you”.


Taking Time to Pause On My Own Journey




“Sleep well my sister, we’ll see you again in the morning.” The words woke me from my mind wondering and reflecting. I was at work today doing one of the things I get to do as a bereavement coordinator. I was attending the funeral of a former patient who had died at the young age of 95. She was a spirit-filled church goer, according to those who spoke. She loved music, which the choir provided with lots of energy. She had a strong family which attended in a large number. It was a beautiful sight. Everything seemed to be in order. I guess that’s why I felt free to reflect.

Sitting in the back pew of the church, wearing my name badge and providing support through my presence, I got lost in my thoughts about this past week-end. It started on Thursday morning when I learned a man who attended my church had died. He wasn’t 95. He was 52. It wasn’t expected and there weren’t family members gathered at the bedside. He laid back on his bed and died.

I spent Thursday making sure the family was supported, the funeral plans were taken care of and my funeral message was prepared. Friday I had the chance to go to a family reunion with about 24 family members. We laughed until we cried, we sang songs and played instruments. We also ate more then we should. We had a great time. I traveled back and had the service on Sunday. The service was completed and everything went the way it was supposed to go.

Today, my mind focused on my friend. He. too, was a wonderful person. He didn’t attend church every Sunday. He did enjoy music, especially blue grass music. He enjoyed watching other deer hunters hunt and he enjoyed hearing the dogs bark. He drove different people different places in his truck. He was a friend to many as was shown by the gathering at his funeral on Sunday. It was a pleasure to officiate at his service. It was sad that he left us at such a young age. I wish I had more answers to that question but I don’t.

I guess it was all of this that allowed my mind to begin to wonder today. I was able to reflect. I didn’t have part in today’s service except to provide support through my presence. I used the time to think back to my friend as the pastor talked about his friend who was 95. As he was proclaiming what he appreciated about his friend, I was able to reflect on what I appreciated about my friend. I caught myself smiling. Nothing was funny, but my reflections allowed me to smile.

I was glad the preacher’s words brought me back to the service in time to hear what he said. I needed to hear the service end with those words. It was a beautiful ending. As the family was led out by the pastor, he reached and shook my hand. I am sure he did this at every funeral, but I felt as though I was shaking hands with a fellow pastor. As I shook his hand, he smiled at me and I smiled at him. He did not know me and I did not know him. There was one thing I did know. After the service was over, when he got back to his home, he was going to take the time to reflect on his friend, just as I had done today. I looked at him and smiled as if to say “thank you.” He smiled back as if to say “you’re welcome.” I thought back one more time to this week-end and I ended my thoughts the way he ended the service. “Sleep well my friend, I’ll see you in the morning.” Amen

Is a Spontaneous Journey Something to Be Valued?



Several years ago our family decided to take a trip while our children were young. We decided to load up the car and drive to Orlando, Florida to see Disney World. We discussed the plans and set the date. We had four weeks to get ready for our journey to see Mickey Mouse. On the night before we were supposed to leave, I got home from work and told my wife to pack the car. I wanted to leave at night instead of waiting until the next day. I guess I was excited and wanted to get on the way. She is not a person of spontaneity, so this took some thought on her part. She had to make sure everything was ready before we just headed out. I understood, so I gave her a few minutes to think. The answer was a unanimous “yes!” Everyone was in agreement to pack up and head out. (I might have thought differently if I would have known it was going to take 15 hours) The trip was great and we have memories that will linger. My wife still is not one for spontaneity.

Spontaneity happens on our journeys and it can be painful when we are caught off-guard. My mother was having some problems with making decisions. We took her to have a cat-scan and we found out she had a type of brain tumor. We were not expecting that. The words we heard were hard to hear and the end of her journey was quick. We experienced the pain of spontaneity. I had a friend whose dad went to the doctor for a bad cough, only to find out he had double lung cancer and had about eight weeks to live. Spontaneity was something they had to experience in a difficult way.

I like to be in control, have things where I know they are and organized. My desk may be messy, but at least I know where everything is. When I need something, or someone asks for something, I can lay my hands on it within a few minutes. Messy but organized. Journeys in life are not always as cooperative. They may be messy, but they are not organized and they may catch us off-guard and shake the very ground we are standing on.

So how do we deal with the painful spontaneity in our lives that lead us down a strange pathway on our journey? Unfortunately you can’t plan for them and that is why it is called spontaneity. I guess the best thing I can tell you is to expect the unexpected. Then if the unexpected never happens (which sometimes it will) then you’re ok. However, expect it. Don’t get caught off-guard. Understand the we don’t know what tomorrow holds. Being spontaneous is something we have to get used to, especially as we journey more in life. When the ground beneath you is shaken, find something, or someone to hold on to and allow them to hold on to you. You’ll get through it. Your ground will become solid again. It will take some time. The spontaneity will leave and life will get back to normal. Spontaneity is not always enjoyable, but it is a part of our journey.

Observing As We Journey




It was quite a journey this week. As with most journeys, the journey isn’t just one journey. Our journey is made up of different smaller journeys. Each day brings about a different journey. This week I want to share another side of my journeying. This week I want to talk about observing while on my journey. This week I had the opportunity to observe some pretty heavy journeying. While I wasn’t taking the heavy journeys, I had the chance to observe others on their journey. Here is just a glimpse of what I observed.

I visited with a lady who was journeying from a wheelchair. She has COPD, which I am all too familiar with on a family level. She didn’t have the breath to get up and walk around, but she did have the energy to smile, laugh, share some of her story and even sing with me. She didn’t want to at first, but when I told her I would sing with her, she agreed. I started and, like a director bringing in the choir, she joined in…loudly and with the energy that I could only imagine she once had all the time. I only knew one verse, but promised I would come back and we would sing again. It was good to see someone in such a confining situation journeying with a smile on her face.

The next day I talked on the phone with a lady whose journey had just about taken its toll on her. As soon as I started speaking with her, the emotion she was experiencing came out like an overflowing cup of water. The loss of her mother and a divorce was just about too much. She was shocked, but pleased, that I had called. She had called the suicide hotline twice, thinking that was the way out of her journey. She wasn’t going to do anything, she was just investigating. Still, I could tell the heaviness was getting to be too much for her. We talked a while, she cried some more. We talked about healthy goals, her mood lightened. By the end of the phone call she was feeling better. I could hear it in her voice. She was starting to be in control instead of letting the journey control her. A call the next day confirmed she was doing better. She could now journey with a little lighter step.

Finally, I observed a young man journeying in a courtroom. This was probably the hardest journey to observe. He looked about the age of my son. Neatly groomed with a collegiate appearance. I knew his story, yet I do not know where his journey will take him. I know where he’s been but have no idea where he is heading. I looked at his face. No emotion. I listened to the witnesses and looked again at his face. Still, no emotion. He just sat and stared ahead. There were times when he would write something on a piece of paper. However, like Jesus wrote in the sand, I am not sure what was written. He would lean to the side and talk with the man beside him, but I heard nothing. I thought about his journey and wondered what he was thinking. Unlike the woman in the wheelchair, there was no smile. Different than the woman on the phone, no emotion. His was probably the heaviest of journeys. Yet, there was nothing. Kind of sad. Actually, very sad.

My journeys this week were tiring, mentally. However, I’m glad my journeys took me to these places. I could have sat with the first lady all day. I felt relieved that the second lady was doing better. I still wonder what the young man was thinking. One thing that did happen this week is I had the chance to think about my own journey and realize how blessed I am to be able to journey and observe others on their journey. I encourage you to walk with your head up so you can observe others as they journey along with you. What you see may cause you to think, smile, laugh and maybe cry.  Your observations can share many different stories, whether they are told in full or not.

Accepting Help Along the Journey


My new job, which is a new journey I am traveling, has brought with it a new set of obstacles and struggles to overcome. Learning a new computer system while also learning an old computer system. Learning new names and faces among the 100+ people whom I now call co-workers. Making sure I do things the “right” way, even though there are times when I wonder if it really is the right way. Trying to do all of these things is stressful, especially when I just left a journey in which I was very comfortable.

My last journey had become an easy and fun journey. I knew where everything was, even what I could and could not do.  The best part of the old journey was that I was confident I could do it. I had the best friends in the world. I could do the job with my proverbial hands behind my back. I was so confident in my previous journey… maybe too comfortable in my confidence. Maybe I needed to  be stretched, and stretched I have become.

While my journey is new, and while I may have struggles in my new journey, I am very thankful I am not journeying alone. I have some awesome people who are helping me on this new journey. People who have been working at this job for 4, 10 and more than 15 years. These are good, strong and confident people. They know what I am going through because they were once in my shoes. They too were once on a new journey, feeling alone and lacking the confidence needed to make it to lunch, much less the whole day. As I sat in a chair in my new office, I guess the look on my face said what my heart was feeling. The words in mind were “am I going to be able to do this? Can I actually make it on this new journey?” I tried to laugh and smile with the group, but I guess I couldn’t fool them. My co-worker looked at me and said, “don’t let it overwhelm you. You’ll learn. It gets easier.”

I even had a wonderful friend from my past journey encourage me by saying, “It’s just a learning curve. You’ve got this!!” I loved the cheering from friends and support, but it wasn’t until I took the first step on my own that I felt the confidence within me that helped me say, “I can do this. It is scary and a little intimidating, but I can do this.” I can do this and I will do this, not because I am that good, but because I have some good help along the way. I can call on them when I need help and I know they will be there to help me journey. If I fall, they will help me up and probably not even tell anyone, they will just help. That’s what good support does. That’s what good friends do. They help, they encourage. They don’t say anything negative, they just help. They help us journey through the most difficult trails.

As you read this, you too may be facing a new journey. Your journey, unlike mine, is filled with far scarier and intimidating obstacles. Bills to pay that you have never paid. Checks to write that you have never written. Phone calls to make that you are not ready to make. Tough decisions that you never wanted to make. Visiting a loved who does not even know you are present. You, too, may be sitting in a spot on a new journey and you may be wondering, “can I even do this? Can I walk this journey?” I want to assure you, as a friend assured me, it is just a learning curve. You’ve got this! However, not on your own. None of us need to journey alone. You need help. You need assistance. You need supporters who cheer from the sidelines. You need people who have walked this trail before and know where to take your next step. I can assure you that when the time comes, and you have to take that first step, or write that first check, or pay that first bill, or even go out socially for the first time alone, you can do it. You will see that it is not impossible. It is not comfortable at first, but it is doable.

I encourage you to look for some help if you need it. Don’t try to be a hero. Don’t try to be tougher than you need to be. There will be times when you can walk alone, but not at first. Allow people to walk with you.  Someone may hear the words you have never said with your mouth, but you do with your facial expressions. They may want to know if they can help. If so, simply say yes. Let them pray for you, encourage you, cry with you, hug you, hold your hand, listen to you. Saying yes does not make you weak, but it does help you take one step at a time. You may not be able to see what is beyond the curve ahead, but there are people who have traveled the journey you are traveling and they know what’s ahead and they want to help. Don’t be afraid to say, “a little help please.” Tell people what you need, then let them help.

Crisis of faith?




Crisis: a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. A time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

Faith: complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

Remember last week I introduced my blog as journeying. I wrote about how journeys can be painful. Journeys can also cause us to really come to a point in our lives when we have to make a decision about what and who to trust. I engaged in a conversation with a person this week who was struggling in their journey. You will notice I have given the definitions to two words to begin this blog. I give these definitions because I had a discussion this week with someone who told me they had a “crisis of faith.” As I sat and listened to what this person was sharing, I began to question in my mind this phrase, “crisis of faith”. The question that came to my mind is this: “can a single event cause a person to have a crisis of faith?” I have to admit that the event this person shared with me that they journeyed through was horrible. I can’t even imagine going through what they went through. However, I still have to wonder if a single event can cause us to have a crisis of faith.

I guess I ask this question because it was not the event, or the people involved in the event that the person had faith in. It was God. It was the same God who sent His Son to die on the cross for the world. Nothing changed about God. True, something bad happened to a young person in the event. It was something that was horrible as the young person lost their life. It was an accident, but he still lost his life, innocently. So the question came to this person, “why would God allow this to happen?” No answers. It was an accident. So what would cause a crisis of faith?

I feel bad for the family who went through this event. No family should go through what they did. But what caused the crisis of faith? What caused the feelings that church was not important or real? What caused the feelings that a pastor should not say certain things because what they say is not real? I am truly and honestly pondering this question and would love some input.

Please don’t think I am saying that this person’s struggle is not real. It is a real struggle and I believe something a lot of people are going through. What I am asking is how does this happen? The journey is real and the feeling is real. I believe the struggle is real. I also believe that events that take place in life, especially when they are traumatic, should cause us to process what happened. However, it does concern me that a single event can cause people to have a crisis, and sometimes even lose their faith in a loving God.

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Intro to the Journey



December 11, 2010 will always be etched in my mind. I watched as my mother was journeying through a part of her life, a new part, a different part. The chapters of her book on earth were concluding. She lay in the bed at the Hospice House, awake, but asleep with the family gathered around. As I said my “goodbyes” to her, I knew it would not be long until her journey transitioned to the next part, the part on the other side of this life.

My name in Johnny Richards. I see life from different views. I am a husband of 30 years to a wonderful lady, Kathy. I am the father of four wonderful children, Heidi, Nathan, Caitlin and Christopher. I am a pastor and I am a Hospice Bereavement coordinator. I have also been a Hospice Chaplain. While I have had a journey for 54 years, it is the last two years that have given me the vision for this blog. I completed my chaplain residency in 2013 with the help of a friend and mentor, Dr. Randy Hall. He gave me the permission to image my feelings, something I have fallen in love with doing. I enjoy putting pictures to the feelings with which I am dealing. It allows me to really focus on why I am feeling the way I am. Thus the image of a journey.

We all take journeys in life. Most of the time we think about journeys as a vacation to an exciting and expectant place. We make our plans, talk to the family, pack our bags and look forward, with anticipation, to the journey. We enjoy this journey. This journey causes memories to be packed away in our minds. We can look back on these journeys with joy as we begin to look forward and plan for our next journey.

Unfortunately, there are journeys that take place that we are not prepared to take. These journeys take us to places we are not expecting, and not sure where we are going. Journeys that do not bring about joy and laughter, but sometimes pain, anger and bitterness. Nevertheless, they are journeys we take.

This blog will be about journeys. It will be about journeys taken on a different level. The journeys will not always be filled with joy, but sometimes pain. However, the journeys will not be taken alone. The journeys will be taken with others eyes watching and other hands and feet helping. Some journeys need to be taken with others by our side.

This blog will also talk about those who are helpers, caregivers, aids and friends. While some people feel they are helpless as they watch someone journey, quiet and strong helpers are appreciated in the difficult journeys we face. My goal in this blog is not to teach the reader, but to allow the reader to experience the journey. If there is something that is read that helps strengthen someone, that is good. If there is something that is read that gives someone confidence and courage, that is good. If there is something that is read that helps the reader connect, that is better.

The journey is beginning. Today is the first day of this journey. Pack your bags, but understand, I am not sure where this journey is going, which brings about both excitement and anxiety. But thats ok, as long as I know I have people journeying with me.