What little 8-year-old girl would choose Washington, D.C., over Walt Disney World?
Gracen did. Her mother and dad, Chuck and Andrea Johnson, give their children, Gracen and Andrew, 5, the choice of where to go on their annual vacation.
It was Gracen’s turn to choose the 2013 site and she had chosen Washington. Plans had been in the making for about two years. Next year is her brother’s turn and his sights are already on Disney World.
Her interest in Abraham Lincoln influenced Gracen’s decision. And she wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial as she had written a report on Abe Lincoln in the Presidents Writing Contest, capturing the first-place award. Gracen loves history and loves to read, her parents said, so that was no surprise.
Her mother said she tried to cancel the trip when the recent government shutdown occurred.
“I worked for about five hours trying to cancel everything,” Andrea said, but couldn’t. If she had been able to cancel, she said in retrospect, they would have missed so much happening. “I felt it was the Lord’s timing,” she confided.
So the Johnsons left for Washington the first week in October. She phoned friends to say, “We’re on our way. Pray for us for God’s protection ... use us ... put people in our paths.”
The family arrived in Washington on Oct 5, and of course, “we were disappointed” to see everything barricaded — even the National Monument, although some outdoor exhibits were open. And for this Cleveland family, D.C. presented a culture shock.
At the Vietnam Memorial, the tape was cut so the six busloads of Vietnam veterans would not have a wasted trip, but even that brought some problems for those who had disconnected the barriers.
The Johnsons did see the Changing of the Guard at Arlington and the service for the veterans who were visiting when they happened to just walk by at the right time. Park rangers, they said, were really nice — “there for safety concerns.”
One of the Capitol Security guards told them, “We really can’t stop you from seeing the outdoor exhibits.” But “Gracen is not a rule breaker,” her dad said.
On Sunday, the Johnsons went to the World War II Memorial. Barriers were set up, but people could go around the exhibit. Then they saw U.S. Rep. Steve King from Iowa and got the courage to talk to him. “Gracen wants to talk to you,” Chuck told the congressman. He explained how they were from Cleveland and how much she had wanted to come to Washington, especially to see the Lincoln Memorial.
King got down on his knee in front of Gracen, Andrea said. He told her he had a granddaughter who was the same age as she and “this makes me sad.” He told how he had taken a 10-year-old and some other people to the memorial the day before. The Capitol police had come and it had caused an uproar and he couldn’t do that again.
But, King said if they would email him, he would do something for Gracen.
He made good on his promise. On Thursday, the Iowa congressman took them on a personal tour of the Capitol. He and his press secretary took them took in through an underground entrance. They went into the Rotunda and onto the balcony overlooking the historic National Mall. Chuck said it made such an impact on him as they viewed the people from the other side of the gates — an eye-opener. He said he was reminded that God still loves different nationalities.
They were led into the chapel, where King told them that 24 of the nation’s leaders meet and pray for hours. “That was special to us,” Chuck commented. And there the family prayed with King before they left to finish the tour.
In the “whispering” chamber, King demonstrated the phenomenon by repeating what he had learned about Gracen — “he remembered everything,” Andrea said.
Before they left, the congressman hugged Gracen and said. "The look and determination I saw in your eyes the day I met you is what got you here today. Don't ever lose that." He said he hoped it helped ease the pain of not getting to see the Lincoln memorial a little bit to be able to do this tour of the capital. And he looked forward to her returning to D.C. and them walking the steps of the Lincoln Memorial together!
Chuck said he could see how real our good leaders are, and “they’re fighting for us.”
But the trip wasn’t over. Another coincidence was to happen.
The Johnsons actually bumped into two stars from “Duck Dynasty,” a favorite show of the family. They had walked over to the White House that evening and then decided to go eat. As they started to get back into their car, out walked the two stars, Korie and Willie, who were at the Angels in Adoption Gala benefit at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
Chuck tried to get Andrea’s attention, who just froze. But then Willie stopped to shake hands with Chuck. Andrea’s reaction — “Watch all the time — like family.” Willie took off his signature bandana and gave it to Andrew, then waited a few more seconds to let them take pictures.
“Just three more seconds,” Chuck said, “and we would have missed seeing them.”
Another highlight of the trip for Gracen was the National Cathedral and Lincoln’s statue. The Ford Theatre was closed, but across the street was the Lincoln Educational and Leadership Museum (not government run) was open including the five-story book tower of all Lincoln's books. Gracen loved the history shelf and looking through them, among all the thousands of books, she found a special book (journal) on Lincoln.
Andrea said the trip is a great memory and reminds her of her dad, Ron Shean, who died just before Gracen was born. He told Andrea to stay under the umbrella and trust God. His favorite Scripture was “Trust in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
The Johnsons agreed this trip was a “God thing.” There was no way, they agreed, that so many things could have happened that brought them together — the connections by names, places and events.
Chuck said he felt that God opened the doors for their desires. “There were too many coincidences,” he said, that made them know why this trip could not be cancelled.
The Johnsons have no doubt Gracen made a good choice to go to Washington. Could it be another coincidence that her name means “What God is doing.”