Dr. Jerry Johnston and I reflect on November 9th

Dr. Cristie Jo JohnstonTODAY is November 9.  What a special day for me and it’s been that  for thirty-eight years now.  Almost twenty-four hours have passed since America elected Donald Trump as President Elect. Social media has been inundated with people sounding off either “for” or “against.”  News media outlets now reporting demonstrations where fires are being set along with overturned cars in major cites throughout our land. College protesters are burning United States flags, angry over Trump’s victory.  I just put my sweetheart, Jerry Johnston, on an airplane for the kajillionth time since we said, “I do” years ago.   Just prior, Jerry and I grabbed a quick salad at a local, quiet place and I reminded him of TODAY.  “It’s November 9,” I gleefully explained.  In response and at the memory of it, Jerry flashed that darling smile, at me, from across the table.  It was so reminiscent of the one that made my heart flutter for the first time on Sunday night, October 22, 1978.  Daddy invited Jerry Johnston to come over to our home that night for some good food and fellowship.   Jerry was nineteen and wearing a blue suit.  I stood at the kitchen island preparing some snacks.   I glanced over at Jerry sitting at our family’s dinning table.  Our eyes met and Jerry flashed that coy smile at me.  He had me at “Hello!”  I had no clue Jerry and I would be in the same room, sitting at that exact table, only days from when the first smiles were exchanged and my life would forever change.

After the airport run, I arrive home to the cool of the evening in anticipation of a quiet and reflective night decked out in my favorite flannels.  I have digested enough of this “today” in 2016.  It is time to redirect my thoughts toward my “today.”  Jerry has a long flight.  I need to open my laptop and quickly check Flight Aware to track my darling during his overseas flight.  As always, I pray for Jerry’s safety and protection. I turn the television on for updates, but gladly mute it.  The quiet is eerie and I hear the refrigerator running. I glance over at the other matching swivel rocker chair and the manly presence that filled it, earlier today, is gone.   Like my grandchildren always ask me, “O” (short for the German form of Oma), how many sleeps until Papa is home?” It’s only five sleeps until that matching chair rocks again in tandem with mine.   Come home my love.  Jerry’s flight is delayed almost an hour.   Before I close my laptop, I see a Religion News Service commentary titled On Nov.9, we are all Zacchaeus by Randy Hollerith.

I’m a little curious so I linger.   I like the article, and, one line, in particular stands out because it’s my today.  Hollerith writes, “The results of Election Day are not an end; they are the beginning of a new path.”  How apropos because thirty-eight years ago today is when my new path began.   Like Zacchaeus, I needed a “better view of Jesus,” but who would show me the way?  At nineteen, my life had encountered some horrific challenges, and I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.   I finished Cosmetology school in record speed and graduated top of my class.  State boards were completed and only 3 days until my official license would arrive via post.   The landline phone rang.  I ran up the split-level stairs and answered. It was Mrs. Schut extending an invitation for the entire Huf family of 8, along with spouses and significant others, to attend a special church meeting.  “His name is Jerry Johnston and he is a nineteen year old preacher whom I know your parents will enjoy hearing.”  I agreed to pass the message along, but had my mind on other things.   I hear the mail truck delivering the day’s mail.  I dash down the long gravel driveway to see if that one distinct envelope has arrived.  The return address is from the Michigan State Board of Cosmetology, but the size looks different from what the official licenses do.  I rip into the envelope while heading down the long driveway back to the house.    I pause midway and reread the letter thrice.  The tears flow, but not from joy.  My heart is broken.  They claim I failed.  I run into the house and hastily call the president of my school to let him know.  He is shocked.  “My star pupil and how could this happen?”  He calms me down and encourages me to “hold steady” for a few days until he investigates.  I hang up the phone: the same one from where I first heard the name Jerry Johnston, moments earlier.  The waiting is excruciating.  My heart is spiritually tender. Somehow, I feel like accepting Mrs. Schut’s invite to hear this guy, Jerry.  On the next Sunday, my family fills the entire second row and I am within spiting distance away from the preacher, Jerry.  He mounts the pulpit and my body language almost dares him to compel me.  I expect nothing, but then Jerry opens his mouth and the Scripture begins to tenderly flow.  He is not reading from the Bible. It’s all from memory.  I’m riveted and nearly catatonic.  Jerry thunders out one scripture after another and it captures me.  I sit in the middle, my boyfriend to my left and my future sister-in-law to my right.  They want to pass notes so I act as their courier as I sit mesmerized by the Word.  I can’t take my eyes off the preacher.  I’m hooked!  I find things to keep me busy for the next few days, but always find a way to end up back at that church to hear Jerry each night.  Days have passed and I finally get word that an error was made by the State Board and my license would be dated October 17.  It would be arriving within days and I could be ready for work.  Somehow, my heart was shifting and I sensed  “the beginning of a new path.”  Could it be, amidst the teenage chaos encircling my life, I missed that view of Jesus?  That Saturday was a special youth event and I felt I needed to go.  Jerry spoke again that evening and I felt struck.  “God, are You dealing with me?”  I am feeling things I’ve never encountered before.  There is such sensitivity toward the spiritual.  Jerry concludes his message and comes to sit with my sister and me.  We exchange a few words and from that night begin a friendship that quickly matriculates into a relationship.   It’s now Halloween day and, at Jerry’s invitation, I am flying to see him in Kansas City.  The Michigan air is damp and chilly.  I chose my favorite fitted chocolate brown corduroy pantsuit for the trip.  Jerry picks me up at the airport in his blue, Dodge Charger.  The forty-minute drive passes in the blink of an eye.  Just before we pass 95th street, on 69 South, Jerry leans over to gently kiss me.   We arrive at Jerry’s family home.  Jerry’s father is in bed, ill with the flu.  We peek in to say, “Hello.”  Jerry’s mom has prepared a generous and delicious seafood meal and we indulge.  It’s beginning to get dark and the trick-or-treaters ring the doorbell.   Jerry and I walk to Monkey’s Island to be alone and get more acquainted.  That week was filled with treasured memories.  We talked and laughed and ate and prayed and wept and it was time to leave.  Jerry accompanied me back home to Michigan and decided to stay a few days.  I was thrilled.  We stuck together like glue.  It was difficult to separate us.  This love grew fast and deep.  Jerry Johnston and Cristie Jo Huff Johnston Dating November 1978Today is November 9, 1978.   It’s chilly enough for a flannel shirt. Jerry wears a sweater.  He asks me if I want to study some passages from the Bible.  I am all in!  We dig in deep and hours must have passed when I realize Jerry was leading me to the view of Jesus that I needed.  I acknowledge my transgressions and need for a Savior.  Jerry graciously prays with me.  After, I feel like a ton of burdens have been lifted.  Perhaps it is because I realize for the first time, I don’t have to carry them alone.  God, and His Son, Jesus are with me.   As the clock struck midnight, I told Jerry that I feared for my sister, Debra, who lived directly down the street.  I knew, like me, her life was not at all right with God.  But, I knew she was at a place in her life where she was willing to hear.  We rang the doorbell and woke her from a dead sleep.  I shared my journey with her and she tenderly said, “I need Jesus to do the same for me.”

Jerry is great with youth.  As a struggling fourteen year old, he contemplated suicide and ended up at a summer youth camp as a last ditch resort.  It was called Windermere in Roach, Missouri.  Sounds exciting?  Not!  What teenager wanted to spend the week in Roach, Missouri?  It saved his life.  He had a spiritual encounter with God and went home a changed person.  Little did I know that after we wed, God would allow us to speak to thousands of young people in summer youth camps all over the country? Over the years, Jerry was invited to be the camp evangelist at several camps including Southern Baptist Camps.  And, fast forward, God allowed our children to experience several with us.  Our daughter sang at Falls Creek during one of her high school summers.  Jerry was also honored to speak for his good friend, Rick Gage at Go Tell camps.  

I guess I feel like God allowed me to experience my own personal youth camp on November 9, 1978.  So, as the clock strikes midnight tonight and I come to a close with this blogging post, this day holds a very different set of emotions for me.  Jesus is the leader of my world and has been for thirty-eight years.  I will now do what I have done every year since that fateful night.  I will contact my sister, Debra and wish her a “Happy Thirty-Eighth spiritual birthday,” because it is now November 10.    Thank you, Jerry and I love you like crazy!