I’ve been fighting a virus all week. The worst I’ve experienced in a long time. And the virus made its way into my lungs with the start of pneumonia. The pneumonia triggered asthma, which I have not dealt with since I was a child. Needless to say, I’ve been down for the count. So sitting at home trying to breathe, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across the news. My great uncle Roger passed away. He had fought a respiratory disease for several years. After just a few days with respiratory issues, I realize the struggle this must have been. On Thursday, Roger breathed his last and Jesus called him home.
I have many memories, from my childhood to the present, of Roger and Ellen Fredlund at every important family event. Ellen is my grandpa McDougall’s sister. Before my time, my mother told me, Ellen used to organize family reunions and gather the extended family together. But each branch of the family tree grew, sprouted new branches, and eventually those branches sprouted new, and the tree was simply too big to gather in one location anymore. So the gatherings were limited to mostly weddings, funerals, and graduation parties in my lifetime. But I always had the feeling when I saw Roger and Ellen that they were so happy to see me. They were interested in my life. And in every single memory I have of uncle Roger, he was smiling. Every. Single. One.
Even at funerals, he had this gentle, caring smile. Not a happy smile. Tragedy does not allow such things, and our family has seen some tragedy in recent years. But uncle Roger brought to those moments an inner joy and a peace. That “peace that passes understanding” that we hear so much about. It is a joy and peace that can only come from staying close to the Lord.
When I look at Roger and Ellen’s branch of our family tree, I am impressed with the strength and closeness that I see. They have five children and 14 grandchildren. And every year they have this super fun reunion called “Fredfest” (from the last name Fredlund). To be honest, I am just a little jealous. I mean, we are talking themes, and parade floats, and costumes, and games, and food. I hear it is quite wild! I love that so much.
And Roger and Ellen have been very involved with their hoard of grandkids. I have been told that they have taken each grandchild on a cruise with them, not all at the same time, of course! Fourteen is a big number, but Ellen and Roger’s big hearts have room.
Yes, their family branch is a strong one. I believe that this is in large part due to the deep faith that Roger and Ellen have. They have shared that faith with their children and grandchildren. It reminds me of another plant analogy.
In John 15 Jesus tells his disciples,
I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant … This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. (John 15:5, 8-11 MSG)
There’s that joy again. That uncle Roger kind of joy – wholly mature. Another translation says, “that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” I know Roger’s joy is complete now that he is in the presence of his Savior. And Jesus offers us his complete joy while we are here and now, even in the midst of sadness and loss. The way to that joy is through staying connected to the vine – Jesus. He tells us we can “remain intimately at home” in his love. That sounds like a good place to be. Time with Him, time in God’s Word, time in prayer, time with people who encourage us, time with family. We join our branch to the vine and find we are infused with strength and hope and unexplainable joy.
Thank you, Roger, for bringing your joy into my life. Thank you auntie Ellen, for being so encouraging to me. I am grateful for the place you have in my life. I admire the beautiful marriage you have shared and your vibrant family. There is a big hole now, where Roger stood just a few days ago. There will be many prayers said for you and much love sent your way. Grief may overshadow joy, because the loss is so great. But Jesus says that his joy can be your joy. When sorrows overwhelm you, unexplainable joy will be waiting to catch you on the other side.
You will be missed, uncle Roger, but I look forward to sharing complete joy with you in eternity.