An Open Letter to a Friend in Heaven

Dear Rollin,

We missed you Friday morning at the prayer meeting. Some big men cried. And a little boy. Do you realize how dear you were to my sons? The youngest sank in tears at the breakfast table when we told him you had gone to be with Jesus.

I got the news about 9:00 Tuesday morning, June 25, an hour and a half after your departure. Your good friend Carl Fredricks called. When I got to North Memorial Hospital Delores had gone home and there was no one there to talk to. So I said to the nurse in Emergency, “I realize that Rollin Erickson passed away this morning, but I am his pastor; may I go in and see him, please?”

She took me back through two doors into the dimly lit room with its curtained off cubicles of care. The place was totally empty except for your body at the back of the room behind a white curtain. She left me alone. I walked around and stood on your right side, put my face down on your shoulder and wept and prayed. And I am weeping now. And I suppose I will go on doing this for some weeks to come as I miss you again and again.

I knew it couldn’t last forever. The years since your major surgery have been grace upon grace for us. O how glad I am that you enjoyed the first Sunday in the new sanctuary! So much of it was owing to your encouragement. So many times in these years, when our hopes sagged, you would stand to speak with a heart brimming with confidence in the goodness of God. And we would get our bearings again.

You were so good to me. You said so many encouraging things. You gave and gave and gave. Your rebukes were covered with velvet love. Your very presence gave strength and stability to all of us. There is a trembling sense of loss.

The older members that you visited so faithfully are going to really miss you. So many of them would love to have gone before you to heaven. I am praying earnestly already that God will raise up a person to oversee this crucial ministry: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit…widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).

I have in front of me some pictures of you from the praise procession two days before you died. You have on a red baseball hat over your magnificent white hair, a white and blue shirt with an open collar, white slacks, white jogging shoes and sun glasses. You are smiling and handing a young man a yellow folder that says, “We found a reason to be really happy!” As always you look like you mean it. And you did!

And now you know it like none of us yet knows it. I hope it won’t sound morbid if I say I envy you. I know God has a work for me to do here. For your sake I have rededicated myself to the task you believed in so deeply—the preaching of the Word! But I still envy you. O, to be rid of all sin and frustration! O to see Jesus face to face!

Rollin, I want to be like you. I want to love the way you loved, and whistle the way you whistled, and smile the way you smiled, and hope the way you hoped, witness the way you witness. If you have more than one mantle, let one fall on your son Donn as the head of the Erickson clan, and one on me as an elder at Bethlehem.

I love you,

John

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