Insomnia, Marbles & the Backyard Olympics  

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

“Regrets…i have a few.
But then again, too few to mention”

My WayIMG_5153

Paul Anka wrote it, Sinatra and Elvis sang it, and i wish i could say the same.

I’ve told you before that i suffer from insomnia. Three or four nights a week, i’ll wake up at 1 or 2 in the morning, and when i’m up like that, i’m rarely able to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. 

Almost always, i’ll start processing some dream i was having—analyzing the choices i made that led me to being trapped in the wooden coffin like Uma Thurman, or in the submerged airspace that’s rapidly filling up with water, and thinking about what i could have done differently to avoid having it happen in the next dream.

Then, after checking the time on my phone, and getting a drink of water that’s not gonna drown me, either God or the devil will place some thoughts in my head about the kids when they were little. I’ll lie there trying to do one of those ‘military relaxation techniques’ that i read about, trying to relax, breathe, think about a blank wall…none of it works for me. 

I have a lot of great memories of their childhoods, i just wish i had more.

Like a lot of dads, i was the primary breadwinner in the family. I worked a lot of hours when we first got married, and were raising our oldest child–trying to pay for a house to live in.

Angie was able to quit her job when our second daughter was young, and we made the conscious decision that we could do without some things in order to have her stay home and raise our kids. It meant we never had two newish cars, never went to Disney World, and she had to learn to cook, ‘cause paying to go out to eat was obliterating our bank account. I don’t regret any of those decisions, especially the last one. But i did end up having to work…a lot, and had a second job most of those years, playing music at church. (Yeah, like that’s a job.) 

We did things as a family—all the kids played Upward basketball and soccer, and i never missed a practice, and only missed games the year Spencer played outdoor soccer in the Springtime and my allergies couldn’t take it. Angie would record the games on her phone and i’d watch them that afternoon on the iMac. It wasn’t the same as being there and yelling at him cheering for him, but it was as close as i could get.

Once my job situation improved, we put a big, expensive hole pool in our backyard, and we spent every weekend afternoon in it. I’d throw the squishy football and the kids would take turns jumping off the hot tub into the air, while i’d lob the wet ball to them. We’d do Olympic diving events, where they’d represent obscure countries, and i’d have them perform the random dive of my choice. ‘Now, representing Trinidad and Tobago, Sheridan Johnston performing…the pencil.’ ‘Now representing Ukraine, Spencer Johnston performing…the belly flop.’

I’d kept a lot of my toys from childhood, and sometimes we’d set up the Hot Wheels track, and get out the cars (my old heavy ones would always beat Spencer’s new lighter weight ones) or my old tabletop basketball game where you flip the little levers to toss the ping pong ball into the basket.

When we got our first PlayStation, as part of the bundle, we got this game called ATV Off Road Fury and sometimes the kids would stick a controller in my hands and get me to try to drive the four wheeler around. I’d always run up a tree. Without fail. I could be in the middle of the flippin’ desert, and find the one tree and drive straight up it. We’d all laugh, i’d find reverse, and somehow run up the tree again. We’d box or play golf on the Wii sometimes, too.

We’d go on vacation most every summer to a beach—Galveston, Port Aransas, or South Padre and spend a week hanging out, having fun, eating seafood, or in Shelby’s case, macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, and i think all of us look back on those times fondly. We helped plant a church and all four kids had a hand in it—even the two youngest, at 11 and 9 were some of the original Stonepoint Kids workers. (Well, they had a bubble wand and the toddlers ran around and chased the bubbles. Our curriculum has come a long way since the old days.)

So what do i regret at 2:06 in the morning?

I dunno—i guess maybe it still wasn’t enough. Like Don Corleone, sitting in his garden with his youngest son, looking back on life, i guess i just thought there’d be more time. They are all almost grown now—the youngest is 17, and our lives have changed drastically as we downsize and move into a smaller house. I still get to play music with a couple of them, and i’m trying to relish these times, ‘cause i know they’re not going to last forever either.

So here you go, dads—here’s the lesson from someone who’s been there. Try harder. Be more intentional. You don’t ever get the time you missed back. Whatever your hobby is, figure out some way to get your son or daughter involved in it, or find something else. I promise you, nobody sits around in their old age saying ‘i wish i’d spent more time working’ or ‘if i’d only spent more time drinking beer with my buddies, life woulda been so much better.’

You’ve probably seen the illustration with the jar of marbles. You start with 6,570 marbles in a big glass jar, and remove one every day until your child is 18. I only have one kid with any marbles left, and those are as thin as the hair on the top of my head is getting. As much as i guess i did, looking back, it wasn’t as much as i could have done.

Life is too short not to be intentional. Our kid’s lives are too precious not to be poured into every chance we get. Yeah, you’re gonna mess up sometimes, you’re gonna be selfish every once in a while, but please, please, please keep in mind at how short the time really is, and don’t waste opportunities to spend with them, even if it’s just playing cars in the floor or running a virtual ATV up a tree.

Don’t miss opportunities to share what God is teaching you, and if He’s not teaching you anything, get in His Word and start learning something to share today.

I promise you, they will be some of your favorite memories some day. And some night. 

Here’s a great reading plan on the Bible App on Becoming a Connected Father–https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/15130

Photo by Spencer Johnston

Hollywood and Vine

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

“We’re going to Costa Rica!” 

At least that’s what we thought.

In June of 2015, our family was set to go on an overseas mission trip to Costa Rica. We had gotten passports, packed clothes we could get dirty, or even leave behind if we wanted to, and settled into a hotel on the fringe of DFW, where we could pay to spend one night, and leave our van for the week without springing for a parking garage at the airport. (My wife knows how to save us some money!)Megaphone Guy

Tropical Storm Bill was active in the Gulf of Mexico, and we were scheduled to fly to some city in Florida, and then catch another plane to Central America. The morning of the flight, we woke up, had breakfast, then got a call saying our plane was delayed because of the storm.

Then it got delayed again. And again. So we grabbed some lunch in Grapevine, piddled around some more north of the airport and then got the dreaded call saying the flight was cancelled. Dick Patterson, who organized the trip, tried to get us on a flight on another airline, since Spirit Airlines, who had already been bad to deal with, was less than zero help at this point*, until we all finally realized we weren’t going to Costa Rica.

Our kids, who were 15 and 13 at the time, were so disheartened. Having losers like us for parents, they’d actually never been outside the state of Texas before, so they were looking forward to setting foot on some foreign soil…and doing some ‘mission stuff’ too.

Angie and i decided that since i had 10 days off work, and everything covered on the worship team, we might as well go somewhere, so we drove to Love Field that evening, and picked Phoenix off the board. $99 each and we’d figure out something to do once we got there.

After surviving the ‘10PM and still feels like a pizza oven’ surprise when the automatic doors opened at PHX; the next morning, dressed like Costa Rican missionaries, we went to the front desk of the hotel and asked what sights there were to see. They rattled off a few things— Sedona, the Grand Canyon…all the Arizona spots, when the front desk girl said ‘you know it’s only 6 hours to Los Angeles, right?’

Twenty minutes later, the four of us were in a Sonata pulling out of a rental car parking lot, headin’ to the coast.

We made some fun stops along the way—recreated a U2 pic from The Joshua Tree sleeveThe Joshua Tree
for our family Christmas card using an iPhone and a tennis shoe for a tripod on the roof of the car in 117 degree heat at Joshua Tree  National Park. We ate some really bad pizza at a place we have agreed to never talk about, and ended up in Hollywood, on the walk of fame, outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, or whatever it’s called these days.

On the corner of Hollywood and Vine, there was a man with a megaphone, who apparently felt called by God to yell at the top of his lungs to anyone who was unable to tune him out. He informed each of us that we were bound for hellfire and damnation…apparently just for being tourists on Hollywood Blvd.

Doing the Lord’s work.

Having the complete opposite effect that God intended, if He had indeed called the man to be his mouthpiece there.

It’s no wonder that the Scientology Center across the street is such a big deal in California. Nobody yells at you at the Scientology Center. At least not at the first meeting.

Anyway, that guy has always bothered me. I really wanted to ask him why he was yelling, but i couldn’t get close enough to talk to him, because of the volume of his megaphone. But i’m betting he’s turned more people off the the gospel of Christ than he has won ‘converts.’ 

‘Cause the day we were there, he was running behind about 10,000 to zero.

I used to know a young man who wore those radical ‘Christian’ T-shirts. The ones that say ‘Turn or Burn’—that sort of thing. He was a guitar player, and i always tried to get him to buy a shirt that said ‘Gibson’ or ‘Fender,’ the big electric guitar brands. Every time i wore my own Fender shirt out in public, some dude would come up and say ‘hey, you play guitar?’ and i’d get the opportunity to say something like, ‘yeah, i’m on the worship team at my church’ and get to ask questions about his faith. Sometimes, they’d run…but sometimes they wouldn’t, and i had some good conversations with people just because of our common interest.

Nobody ever approaches you if your shirt says ‘YOU’RE GOING TO HELL’ in big, capital letters.

I don’t know—i feel sorry for the guy with the megaphone. His message is important—eternal truth that the world needs to hear, especially a lot of the people on the streets of Los Angeles. But the message was falling on deaf (and ringing) ears because of his delivery.

Fire and brimstone led to my wife getting ‘saved’ at the age of 12 at her little church in West Virginia. But a relationship with Jesus didn’t come until much, much later, because nobody walked beside her and explained what it looked like. Somebody to say ‘i’m sorry your family is poor, and that your dad left, but God is a father that will never leave you or forsake you.’ Someone to point the way to a little girl with trust issues, to a loving father that she could trust with her eternity. Someone to say ‘i may not always be here, but God always will.’

But hellfire and brimstone megaphone guys don’t have time for that. They’re too busy yelling.

I’m reminded of a song by Randy Stonehill that said “I was standing on the corner by the marketplace/ When a fellow with some leaflets shoved one right in my face/ Well he poked me with his Bible like it was a loaded gun/ And I said ‘whatever it is your selling, man, I don’t want none’” (Randy Stonehill—Through the Glass Darkly)

So how ‘bout this—let’s put aside the tracts and amplification and invite our friends to coffee and talk to them. Maybe they’re not even unbelievers, but folks you know could be in a deeper fellowship with Jesus than they are right now, and simply have a conversation. Find out where they’re at. Find out their hurts. Find out what’s keeping them from the kind of relationship they need with Him, and share what He’s doing in your life. 

If the answer to that is ‘nothing, right now’ then let’s fix that problem before you go to them. Stonepoint has several Bible reading plans available at http://stonepointchurch.com/resources/bible-reading-plan. This life doesn’t last forever. Ask anyone over 50 and they’ll tell you how short it really starts looking.

I pray for the guy on Hollywood Blvd. I pray that he will put down the megaphone, turn down the volume, and simply walk up to a person and say ‘hey—let me tell you what Christ has done for me.’ Softly. Rising above the din of noise, and traffic and the numbing roar of life on the street.

And that someone will finally listen.

Megaphone Image via Shutterstock. Joshua Tree pic by Angelia Johnston.

*-The opinions expressed about Spirit Airlines solely represent those of the individual author, and do not reflect the feelings of Stonepoint Church, or the Lord, who loves all air carriers equally. Even the horrible ones.