Marlys Johanson — in Appreciation and Celebration of her Life

Meditation, Memorial Service, July 18, Crosby, Minnesota

by Phil Johnson

From the prophet Isaiah as printed on the cover of the Program.

“Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from Heaven and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.”

The God of Love and Beauty speaking through his prophet, Isaiah (55:10, 11).

Surely God’s word includes the creation of the lives of us human people. Marlys Johanson was one of God’s best words ever and we can see the fulfillment in the life and legacy of Marlys. In her, God’s creation did not return without giving all that is meant by watering the earth and making it yield seed for the sower and bread for eating. Marlys has returned to the love out of which she, and all of us have come. She returns after delivering about all one could expect of actual human life and human love. It is this, her victorious life, that we have the opportunity to praise and bless this day as we celebrate Marlys Johanson.

Marlys died at 7:30 in the morning, July 3rd, at the Care Center in Crosby. The family was present and, even in their grief, blessed by being together at Mom’s deathbed. Later that morning, about 9, Dean and Todd came along Shirt Lake Road to our house. Dean gave his usual greeting of “how’s it going?” and I said “How is it with you guys? Not so good, I’m sure.” Dean, Todd, and I stood huddled on the road embracing one another as they gave the report of Marlys’ death through their tears. I saw the tear drops descending Todd’s nose. For both these men, oh the absence of Marlys. The daughters and the grandchildren and the entire family have this same painful experience of the overwhelming absense of Marlys, Mom, and Grandma.

Dean and the kids say that Marlys didn’t like her name. She didn’t like her middle name either, I have heard. Well, she made the name Marlys look good. Marlys was not one to complain. And, where did she get her clear-headedness? One could even say her tough-mindedness? Did she get it out there in the fields on the tractor as a girl? Somewhere and sometime along the way, she learned to think straight and well. She was the youngest in her family and I think the youngest often strives to overcome the fact that for the first years of your life, everyone else in the family knows more than you know and can do anything better. Maybe being in this position provides an incentive, maybe even an urge, to catch up. In any event, don’t you agree that Marlys’ life was a life of practiced competence?

Competence with love and kindness abounding. Especially for her charges, her husband and the children. On many evenings upon coming home from some activity, Heidi, Shanna, and Todd each recall going into the bedroom to lie down and talk with Mom who would listen to whatever they had to say.

As I understand the story, Marlys was ever alert to the possibility of reports of kids being in her bed being misunderstood — why wasn’t Dean there? Well, he was working, he was at the fire station. Don’t for a minute think he is sleeping in another bed or, impossible to imagine, with another woman.

She tried to keep Dean from joking about this which, it seems to me, is as hard as damming up the Mississippi River with your hand.

For Heidi, Shanna, and Todd — there she was most every night ready to lie there with and listen. God bless her for that. Indeed God, did in fact bless her all her life for that. We can see the blessing in the lives of Marlys and Dean’s grown children the fruit of her labor of love, the fruit of her sowing, the fruit of the love of the partnership of Marlys and Dean. God bless them all and give them comfort.

Marlys took a guiding hand in the education of her children. Her position in the Richfield Public School system, a job in which she distinguished herself, meant that she knew all the teachers. And there was no way that Todd or Shana or Heidi could get away with anything. Marlys sized up the teachers with her children in mind and took advantage of that knowledge to the extent she could.

As we have heard, every two years, using the money Marlys saved from Dean’s part time jobs, the family took a two-week vacation. Marlys organized everything for five people and knew exactly how to pack it. Dean said that if you got anything out of order it wouldn’t work. There was not enough room but Marlys got everything in and under control. She did all these things while enjoying, treasuring, and loving every moment with her family, Dean and the children. May God give them comfort.

As far as I know, Marlys had no interest in any God other than Love. And she was not wrong on that — right on, in fact, God is Love.

Many of you know the wonderful story of the Johanson’s and Shirt Lake. Shirt Lake came into their lives because of the care Dean and Marlys took of a colleague of Dean’s.

When Sandy and I came to Shirt Lake, Dean and Marlys lived in the apartment above Dean’s workshop. That workshop seemed to me and to Sandy to be more like a factory. Dean is a productive guy. We thought the apartment very nice and wished that our cabin could be so nice.

Marlys and Dean were midway in the construction of their great creation, their work of art born of their own labors and involvement in every detail of it. Relatively few people are capable of doing what they have done and hardly anyone actually does build a home like Dean and Marlys have. Isn’t it good that Marlys saw and experienced the fulfillment of their vision and sad that she will not be able to enjoy it longer?

So, the family lives in the aching absence of Marlys — Grandma Marlys — Mom who was excellent and loving in her many, many ways. What Lord Love sowed in Marlys has returned to God in triumph and Marlys leaves tender love and peace through her family who in turn bless their families and communities. And, whenever you want to see Marlys, just look around at the people she has left behind. Look at yourselves, her offspring. She is there.

Peace to all and let us now join in singing the Lord’s Prayer.

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

See all articles by Phil Johnson