The Johnsons


Jennifer & Zach Johnson had the quintessential love story. The little boy was mean to the girl because he secretly liked her but still believed girls were gross.  They met as nine year olds at Ziegler First Apostolic Church in Ziegler, IL.  The two went to school together, played together, grew up in church together, and became friends who began to “go together” in middle school.  Zach was very athletic and loved playing the drums.  Jennifer remembers watching him play when he was 12, “He was trying to be cool and threw a drum stick up in the air during a set and dropped it.  It was really funny!” That was Zach:  a fun, goofy, kind, athletic, compassionate guy.

Zach’s family ended up moving to pastor a church in Ava, IL and later in Idaho.   It seemed this would be the final chapter between the two, “Zach and I didn’t keep in contact over the years, and it wasn’t until the fall after he graduated high school and moved back to live with his grandparents that we reconnected.”  Upon Zach’s return, he went to find his long lost “girlfriend”.  Jennifer remembers that Zach wasn’t sure if he was at the right house or not because he didn’t recognize her car, but when he noticed the Christian music in the front seat, he knew it had to be.  Zach didn’t have a pen on hand, so he cleverly improvised with the landscaping and spelled out his name with the stones signaling he had been there. That was pretty smooth, Jennifer thought and their relationship was rekindled.

Zach and Jenn’s first son, Cameron, was born six years into their marriage while Cade came about three years after that.  In 2009, their marriage was struggling while Zach focused on his career and sports, and Jennifer stayed at home to raise the boys.  In the midst of a very hard season, boundaries were crossed and they were considering separating.  Jenn explained, “When we both came clean about how we each had contributed to our marriage’s failure, God stepped in and completely redeemed it. The most awful chapter in our lives, God used for the most good.  We became stronger than we ever were before.” In the ensuing months, Jennifer watched God transform Zach’s heart as he poured his life into his family instead of his hobbies. Jenn said, “Zach called himself ‘Zach 2.0’.  He was a new man and became the best dad and husband that we could ask for.”

About this time Zach lost his job and the two were unsure what the future would hold.  As they prayed together seeking God, a door opened to work at Honda/BMW in Paducah.  Zach accepted the offer and it only took six months before Zach was promoted because of his outstanding work ethic and enthusiasm.  Jenn remarked, “Zach was great about taking something and making it better.”  It took Zach and Jenn a few months to feel home in Paducah, “Never in a million years did I think we would end up here, but now it’s home because of the family we’ve made.”

The “figurative” hole in both of their hearts had been filled; however, Zach was born with a literal hole in his, an atrial septal defect.  He had his first surgery to repair the mitral valve at age five and then again in 2006 when he was 29.  Jenn recalls, “He was in and out of the hospital quickly; he would recover fast, he was always so strong.”  After the 2006 surgery, doctors believed it would be 20 years before Zach would need another operation.

After only seven years, Zach’s aorta had become critically enlarged and needed repaired. They were shocked, “Since we had been through it once before, we weren’t that worried.  We weren’t naïve, there’s always a risk in surgery, but Zach was resilient.”  The surgery was scheduled for November 5th, 2013 at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.  That morning, as Jenn and the kids said their goodbyes, Jenn recalled, “Zach looked worried and I was teary, which wasn’t normal for us.”  It was a lengthy surgery and doctors finally told Jennifer they were ready to close him up.  When an additional three hours passed, she knew something was wrong – the repair had blown and doctors were forced to open him back up.  Zach had lost massive amounts of blood and suffered a traumatic brain injury.   Later that night, he began having seizures and by the end of the week, he had no normal brain activity and his organs began shutting down.

Jennifer was in disbelief, “I just kept praying and believing that he would wake up; there were thousands of people praying for him, and I knew he would wake up for God’s glory.”  She couldn’t accept what the doctors said.  Despite the fact that his heart was working well, the lack of brain activity, a MRSA infection in his lungs, and kidney failure caused Zachary Johnson to go be with Jesus, leaving his wife and two boys behind.

“I never understood why we had to go through that hope that maybe he was going to come out of it.  I don’t think I’m ever going to understand that until I get there too.  But what’s given me peace is coming back to the fact that God is sovereign and it wasn’t for lack of asking, or lack of faith, it’s just that sometimes we pray and don’t get what we want, we don’t get a ‘why’, but it doesn’t mean God’s not good.  It just means we don’t see His perspective right now.”  Jennifer took comfort from the scriptures, specifically Job. Job lost everything he had, his family, his finances, and his future in a short period of time.  Job questioned God, God answered Him and said, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?… Who shut in the seas with doors?….Can you bind the chains of the Pleidas?(a star cluster).”  Then Job answered the Lord saying, “Behold I am of small account; what shall I answer you?  I lay my hand on my mouth.” – Job 38/Job 39:3-4.

To a large degree Jennifer is like Job, she takes comfort in knowing that God is in control and she’s not.  Yet, we can’t forget what happened to Job after the tragedies in his life.  Job 42:12 says, “And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.”  Similarly, God is still faithful and He provides for Jenn’s family.  She claims, “God has blessed us in so many ways.  Like Mike Absher (the owner of BMW/Honda) giving us Zach’s salary for a year after Zach’s death.  He didn’t have to be selfless, but he was.  We still have wants, but our needs are always met.”

The future for the Johnson family isn’t certain, but it will be steadied through the love and redemption God graciously and continually pours out.  Jenn has a hope for heaven and longs to see Zach again, but until then she says, “I want to be married again one day, but for the right reasons.”  Incredibly, Jennifer can rejoice knowing that for her family God’s rest is yet to come.  Her story hasn’t been the typical happily ever after it has become so much more than that.  May your stories be more also, in Jesus name – Amen.

Because He Lives, Pastor AB

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