A Call to Love

Cd’A tribute will honor victims of Sandy Hook

By SHANE RICHARD BELL

Staff writer

Reannan Keene of Coeur d’Alene couldn’t sleep. Her mind was reeling in fear, replaying an event that seemed utterly inconceivable.

In the middle of this sleepless night, Reannan Keene experienced a transformation. The fear of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings melted away and was replaced by an unstoppable hope.

Moments later she was struck with how she and others could help.

“I was like I have to set it up right now,” Keene said.

And indeed she did. “A Call to Love:” Cd’A’s Humble Tribute to the Victims of Sandy Hook, will be held on Sunday, Dec. 30, at 6pm in the Lake City Community Church’s parking lot.

The event will honor the lives of the Sandy Hook victims with a “multi-faith” prayer, singing, speeches and a reading of the victims’ names during the candlelight vigil.

“Fear is outweighed by the human need of compassion and love and hope,” Keene said.

Keene has already invited more than 600 people on the social networking site Facebook and is making fliers to pass out to friends and strangers alike.

“I want this to be big,” Keene said. “It’s a remembrance. It’s a call to love. It’s a call to hope. It’s a call to be a better person.”

Hope fuels every facet of Keene’s cause.

“When your message is love and hope, people follow,” she said. “You can do something. You can make a change here. You can make a change in your family. You can make someone’s world 100 times better.”

Zach Davis, 21, of Coeur d’Alene, was invited to be one of the event’s main speakers. As a member of Heart of the City Church, Davis plans to give a speech on the power of light in times of tragedy. “Coeur d’Alene is a special place. It’s different than the rest of the world,” said Davis. “I feel there is a hope here, and if we can bring hope to the city and unite people, we can be that city shining on the hill.”

Both Keene and Davis believe the event is meant to happen.

“As shocking as it is, it’s something that merits the greatest amount of notice,” Keene said.

Parking is available across the street from Lake City Community Church at Lake City High School. Attendants are also encouraged to bring their own candles to light during the remembrance ceremony.

Call Reannan Keene at (208)-704-9834 with any questions.

 

 

Advertisements

Miracle Man

JEROME POLLOS/Coeur d'Alene Press A.J. Johnson lost his vision after a boating accident 22 years ago and has regained his vision which he believes is a miracle.

JEROME POLLOS/Coeur d’Alene Press
AJ Johnson lost his vision after a boating accident 22 years ago and has regained his vision which he believes is a miracle.

 

By SHANE RICHARD BELL

Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

 

AJ Johnson lives a life of miracles.

 

To AJ Johnson, miracles are like stepping stones in a pilgrimage to purpose.

 

The Post Falls native grew up like many in North Idaho. Work hard, raise a family, and go to church on Sunday.

 

“My parents raised me right,” said Johnson.

 

By the summer of 1990, Johnson was living well. He graduated from high school, started his own construction company, married the woman of his dreams, and had become a father to his first son.

 

Though busy with his new life, Johnson wanted a hobby. After his wife surprised him with a scuba diving package, he was hooked.

 

He explored the waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille, and the Puget Sound. He visited shipwrecks, and marveled at the floors of forgotten history. He taught lessons and soon volunteered for search and rescue.

 

The Accident

 

While training for the search and rescue team, everything changed.
Johnson remembers every detail of the moment that redefined his life. It was August of 1990.

 

“I was at Kidd Island Bay,” Johnson said. “We were doing cadaver training. Because of the visibility, which was none, you had to cover the area with your hands.”

 

Then he ran out of air.

 

His partner surfaced, giving Johnson his spare air. The boat looped around the bay and missed his partner.

 

But the driver of the boat didn’t see Johnson.

 

“It just so happens as I pop up the prop caught me right in the face. Both eyes were detached. It basically took my face off. I could not see anything. This is where the Lord comes in,” Johnson said.

 

His friends compressed his wounds, and called for help.

 

“That’s the first miracle,” Johnson said. “Normally just the accident alone would kill you from the shock.”

 

Johnson was rushed to Kootenai Medical Center. Everyone around him, Johnson recalls, kept saying he wasn’t going to make it.

 

At one point Johnson was pronounced dead.

 

But Johnson clung to his life, weeping bitterly and thinking: “I don’t want to die, I just got married. I have a brand new son. I don’t want to die.”

 

Within minutes, Johnson was being transported to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane via emergency helicopter.

 

“They put me underneath the helicopter in the black cocoon. You can’t see anything, you’re all zipped up.”

 

While in the cocoon fighting for his life, something came over Johnson.

 

“I felt totally calm and peaceful. I quit crying. And I knew I was not alone,” Johnson said. “The Lord let me see the whole trip, even though I couldn’t see. I remember, the vision, the view, all along the Spokane River and all of my surroundings and it’s just the perfect trip.”

 

Once again, Johnson was pronounced dead at Sacred Heart. Johnson was admitted to the ICU, and treated for severe eye, face, and brain injuries. Later the doctors told him his head was swollen to the size of two basketballs.

 

Johnson was stabilized, only to begin a lifelong battle of physical restoration.

 

His Battle

 

A year later, Johnson was still in the hospital for reconstructive and rehabilitative care.

 

“I had to relearn all of my presidents, who I was, how to walk, talk, everything,” he said.

 

While Johnson was hospitalized, his wife left him.

 

“My wife couldn’t handle it. It completely devastated me,” Johnson said. “I was completely in love with her.”

 

His family was a constant source of support, though, visiting him several times per week. Friends, and community suddenly became his everything.

 

“The community just surrounded me,” Johnson said.

 

Friends and family organized fundraisers to pay for his living and medical expenses.

 

“They blessed me with money because I had nothing coming in,” Johnson said.

 

Three and a half years later, Johnson was able to work construction with his brother on light duty, despite a blind left eye and poor vision in his right.

 

The Miracle

 

Johnson hasn’t looked back since.

 

In fact, 22 years later, Johnson remembers the miracles more than anything else.

 

Recently Johnson decided to go back to college to study computer science as a second career.

 

The American Association of the Deaf-Blind offered to help fund his education, but urged him to first schedule an eye examination for his blind left eye at the North Idaho Eye Institute.

 

Johnson made the appointment, and saw Dr. Stephen Moss this last September.

 

During the exam, Johnson read the letters. He could see how many fingers Moss held up.

 

“I could not explain it,” Moss said. “Periodically there are patients such as Mr. Johnson who make inexplicable improvement.”

 

Johnson wept with joy. For the first time in 22 years, he could take the patch off his left eye and see.

 

“That’s a living, walking, breathing miracle right there,” Johnson said. “All of it was a miracle. And it is all documented.”

 

Then it hit Johnson.

 

The week before the exam, Josh Warnick, 22, of Coeur d’Alene, prayed for Johnson at a church service at New Life Community Church.

 

Before the service, Josh felt inspired to pray for Johnson, a complete stranger.

 

“God told me to pray for him and I was like, ‘I don’t want to, I don’t even know him,” Warnick said.

 

They prayed together, feeling a sense of peace, but Johnson still couldn’t see.

 

A week later, shortly after Johnson’s appointment with the eye doctor, Warnick got a call that AJ had been healed of blindness in his left eye.

 

“I almost didn’t believe it,” Warnick said. “It just makes you feel really small. God did speak to me to pray for him. Even though I didn’t see it at first, God’s always working. He can do supernatural things that are impossible through medicine.”

 

“I couldn’t stop telling people,” Johnson said.

 

Seeing others

 

He volunteers at the Altar Church, as an usher and a leader of the soup kitchen, which serves dinner to 100 to 200 people every Monday night.

 

He also runs transitional housing for men who’ve graduated from the Altar’s Good Samaritan program, a Christian-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

“I am just entirely blessed,” Johnson said. “When we go and speak about what’s happened in our lives, it brings others to him. It’s all just a beautiful thing.”

 

Through Johnson’s eyes, his story is a parallel of when Jesus heals the blind on the Sabbath. The Pharisees wanted to persecute Jesus for healing the blind on the Sabbath. “But Jesus says,” Johnson quotes, “’I am doing my father’s work; I heal the blind and now they can see.’”

 

“And that’s what he’s doing with me,” Johnson said. “He opened my eyes to the love he has for me from Day 1 to now. I walked in blind faith when I was blinded. Now I totally see.”

Willing to Believe

The Musondas and friend, Anastasia Hipple

The Musondas and friend, Anastasia Hipple

By SHANE RICHARD BELL

Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press

Some of my richest memories in life are from my childhood holidays.

My home, situated on the edge of a forest, which we called the North Forty, was like a bright globe plopped in the snow. In its windows were love and joy, safety and comfort.

Its light and warmth reached past suburbia and on to the farmers’ fields and country roads beyond.

In my mind I was in the middle of a land of dreams where I could run and run without stopping, trudge up mountains built by snowplows, and climb the trees I marveled at while I lay in the snow dreaming of my next adventure.

I was in heaven.

Eventually I would get cold and come home, my clothes strewn in soppy piles near the large oak door that shut with the certainty of always being there.

One time, after one of these winter adventures, I recall an especially vivid memory. We all sat down at our table, together. Holding hands, my dad prayed, offering thanks. Amen. My mom placed generous bowls of homemade chili and cornbread before us.

Then it was time to get ready. I knew what I was going to wear- I’ve always liked dressing up. I stepped into my suit pants, and pulled on my blue-sued sports coat. I laced my shiny, black shoes.

I was ready.

My dad grabbed the camera. Snap, a picture.

Then I ran to my room to look out the window, my fingers prying at the windowsill in oily fingerprints, until I saw the limousine roll into our driveway to pick us up for a private tour of the best Christmas lights in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane.

These are my memories of the holidays.  They’re the memories of the people I love the most, of our most sacred time together as a family. They’re a big part of why I believe in the holidays.

And “Believe,” as a publication, has set forth to tell stories like it. These are stories of cherished traditions, unexpected blessings, and authentic miracles.

Inside you will find the story of an attorney touched by someone’s profound kindness, the meaning of Hanukkah by a regional rabbi, holiday blessings by a female pastor, a woman’s miracle baby on Christmas Eve during the ice storm of 1996, and a family from Zambia spending their first Christmas together in North Idaho.

Read thoroughly and enjoy every word of these incredible stories, as you discover what the holidays truly mean to you.