A Memorial: Norman Johnson

My favorite uncle died this week and I am in Fort Myers, Florida to attend a memorial service. I was asked to read a scripture passage and say a few words about my uncle.

A reading from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians:

“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence. Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God. Therefore we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven” (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1,6-10).

Norman Johnson was the son of Gustav Johnson and Emily Raposa. His father’s parents were from Sweden and his mothers parents were Portuguese. As a young child, he and my mother learned Portuguese from their maternal grandmother before they learned English. There is a story that my grandmother used to tell that my mother and Norman were left with their grandmother for a long period of time when she could not be with them. And Norman’s mother, my grandmother, was surprised one day when she sat them down to say their prayers at night that Norman and my mother began praying in Portuguese rather than English.

Norman lived in Tiverton, Rhode Island; Falmouth, Massachusetts and later the Boston area. He later moved to Fort Myers, Florida to be closer to his two daughters and several grandchildren. I am my Uncle Norman’s only nephew, he had four nieces, and four children, Lisa, Debra, Keith and Lynne. I grew up in Massachusetts and was very close to Norman’s family often spending weeks at a time with my cousins in Rhode Island and Cape Cod where they lived. We were all close since we were very young children. I have always believed that those early bonds cause you to love people even if you miss seeing them for years at a time as adults.

The scripture passage I read has to do with the resurrection. It’s a biblical passage that is commonly read at funerals. However, I chose this passage because I wanted people to know that Norman believed in the resurrection because he experienced it. Many people of the Christian faith have a testimony about their salvation. But it is unusual for people, especially men, to talk about a conversion that happened toward the end of their life. But people who knew Norman as their hair stylist or friend would often hear him speaking openly about this experience. I was surprised one day to hear Norman talking about what he called his “addiction to gambling.” Many people who join these 12 step self-help programs are encouraged to look to a higher power, but Norman decided that his “higher power” wasn’t a vague force or an idea about God, it was literally “Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ saved me from my addiction to gambling,” he told me. I was surprised at that because my cousin Keith and I had been members of an evangelical church for several years and I had never heard Norman speak about his faith so plainly before.

So this is the reason that I chose this passage to read. It speaks of the final victory of faith over death. Norman believed that God could save him from addictions and problems he faced. Even when he was diagnosed a with terminal illness, he believed he could overcome it. I am sure that at some point Norman told almost everyone he knew about what God had done in his life. He was not a perfect man by any stretch of the imagination or some kind of a super-saint — none of us are — but I know that he spoke to many people he met about his faith and the victory that Jesus Christ gave him over his sin. He didn’t do it in a preachy way, but only because he wanted to people to share the joy he felt in being free.

The resurrection is thought of by most people as a future event. Most people believe in some type of life after death. For Norman, the resurrection life was something that he knew was real because he experienced it during his life. And for that reason, the scriptures tell us, we are not discouraged, but we can have great courage to face any problem or illness, even death.

For me that is the most important thing about the life of this man that I can celebrate.

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