June 28, 1943: I was born at home, the 6th child of Lawrence and Lillian Mae Henderson Johnson. My mother worked extremely hard. We had a large garden from which she canned hundredsof quarts of vegetable each year! My Dad always had milk cows and in fact only sold them after I graduated from High School. So each morning, before school, it was my job to milk them. We always had more than enough to eat and in today's standard, it would have been considered organic! We never appreciated the "homemade" bread and soups-wishing we could have "store bought"! My Dad raised all of us kids on 120 acre farm, and paid for it too! At times, he was able to rent other land that also supplemented our family income. Dad was a very honest & conservative man and that faired well for us during tough times. Dad never lost his farm. We didn't have running water until I was 12 years old and was almost 16 years old, when we bought our first television. But I never felt lonely or deprived. We were a close family and knew our parents loved us. Each Sunday, they got us all ready and took us to Sunday School and church. I am sure we were not the most behaved children either - so it must have been considerable effort!
As a child, I still remember Pastor Nettleton stopping by to pick us kids up for Vacation Bible School. My mother never learned to drive, so it was his kindness that allowed us to go. Our spiritual lives were being formed. One of my Sunday School teachers gave me a picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. She told us that there wasn't a handle on the door because it could only be opened from the inside. We had to let Jesus in. For several years, I carried that picture with me almost everywhere I went. I believe that God was touching my heart, even then.
My brother Don and I were especially close. One day, we were playing and for some unexplained reason I threw an iron ball at him. It caught him right in the mouth and he lost some permanent teeth. He never told the folks what really happened to spare me a big whipping. I still cringe when I think about how senseless that act was and how much trouble it caused my brother.
I enjoyed school in my early elementary days, but then came 6th grade. We had a very cruel teacher. Almost every day, she would hit or beat me. I just sat frozen most of the time, wondering when it was going to happen. I did my best to miss as much school as possible, sometimes hiding in the ditch till the school bus passed. This teacher also seemed to hate one of my girl classmates. She literally lifted her by her hair and threw her out into the hall as the girl screeched in pain. 10 years after graduation, we had a class reunion and the big topic was Mrs. G! One of the girls (now a grown lady) admitted she started wetting the bed at night, others said they had nightmares fearing the trauma of another school day. But God was at work.
Through this tough year, God was with me, teaching me. One day, Mrs. G had kept me in from recess. I was sitting in my desk when she called me to come to the front. She opened her desk drawer a few inches and said, "Larry, just reach in there and get a lifesaver" (which she was smacking on at the time). I immediately heard a voice (which I would later recognize as God's voice), say, "Don't do it"! I simply said, "No thank-you" and went back to my desk. No one else was in the room. I believe she would have slammed the drawer on my fingers and say I was trying to steal from her desk drawer.. If she really wanted to give me a candy, she would have taken it out and offered it to me. God was teaching me to hear His voice. During this time, God was also placing compassion in my heart. Though some people ignored me during this ordeal, others remained friends. I realized that some people who are mistreated may not have deserved it; that we should not accept all things at face value. God was giving me a heart for those whom life has not given a "fair shake".
During Junior High and High School, I played basketball and enjoyed it! Jean was one of the cheerleaders and cheered me on; which incidentally, she still does! Also, during High School, I began working partime for her dad. There was an upcoming formal dance at school, but I was too shy to ask her to go with me. However, I got a surprise!
Jean sent her little brother Brian out with explicit instructions to have me ask her to the dance; but not to tell me that it was her idea! However, Brian plainly said, "Jean wants you to ask her to the dance!" Thank goodness for that encouragement. We dated for the next 3 years.
During this time, I had a life changing experience. A friend of mine took me to Fort Dodge on the pretence that we would have some fun! In a way, I guess we did. He took me to a older lady's home who shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with me. That night I confessed my sins and invited Jesus into my heart. I'll never forget it...I cried uncontrollably for more than a hour. I knew I had done many wrong things and needed forgiveness. Over the next week, I tried sharing my experience with several people, but they thought I had lost my mind. After that, I was too afraid to share what had happened, even with Jean. Little did I know that she had had her own experience and was too timid to share with me! But God has a perfect timing.
I graduated from HS and began farming. Jean finally was in her senior year. I'm thinking she will graduate soon and we can get married! I bought a diamond ring, placed it in a blue jewelry box and presented it to her after a date, in the driveway of her dad's home. To my surprise and disappointment, she did not say yes. She said she really had to think about it. I didn't really think about the fact that she was only 17 years old and that part of her dream was to go to school for nursing. So I waited. A few months later, she told me she had walked around the section (4 miles square) and prayed to God whether she was to marry me or not. She felt like God gave her a "green light". So on November 30, 1963, 6 months after her graduation, we were married.
Eleven months later, our first baby was born! It was a little boy. We were so happy and excited that we named him after both of us! Larry Eugene! 2 1/2 years later Angela Joan was born. We named her Angela because she was born on December 21and looked like an angel. She was always such a good girl - well named. Three days after her birth, she attended her first Christmas Eve service, It was December 24, 1966.
Farming would teach us many lessons that would greatly benefit us in the years to come. But at the time, I thought being a rich farmer was the "only life"!