Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Thank God for the Life Lessons I Learned From My 96 Year Old Friend

On November 23, 2013 I did a funeral service for a beloved Christian friend, Frank Oleson.  In the year 2000, I started a church service at a newly built assisted living center.   Frank Oleson started attending that service and continued to do so for the next thirteen years.   Frank grew up on a farm in Nebraska and was a farmer until his early forties.   At the age of 44 he felt called into full-time Christian ministry.   He enrolled at Grace Bible College in Omaha, Nebraska while he pastored a church in Jefferson, Iowa.   He went on to plant three churches before he retired in 1982 at the age of 66.  

I enjoyed talking to Frank about his ministry experiences and about life in general.  He was married to Theodosia for seventy-five years.   I took this picture of them on the 71st wedding anniversary.

His wife’s name, Theodosia, means “gift of God”, and she was God’s gift to him.   They were a team in whatever they did.   She was a tremendous prayer warrior and was involved in other ministries of church life.   But the biggest aspect that I learned from Frank and Dodie (Theodosia) was there love and affection for one another.  My wife heard me say often, “I want us to be like Frank and Dodie and grow old together graciously.”  They were the cutest couple.  Their love and happiness as a couple was beautiful. I would often think—who wouldn’t want to be in love like that when they are in their 90’s!  Daily, Frank pushed his wife down the hallway to the dinner room for lunch and supper.  Their granddaughter, Carrie Ann Oleson, produced a video that gives you a glimpse into their life in their golden years.   

As I reflect on Frank’s life I have often admired him as a godly man that I would like to immolate as I age.   I have often asked myself, “How can I have a joyful disposition and peace like he had into his mid 90’s?” There are plenty of websites, books, and articles that talk about pastoral burnout etc.…


Don't Make Your Pastor a Statistic?                                                                          

He wasn’t bitter at God, ministry or life.  He lost his mother when he was only two years old.   He had the same hardships and struggles in ministry that go along with ministry—but he remained deeply in love with his wife, God and church life. 

The first thing that I think was central to Frank’s solid disposition was that he remained deeply grateful for such a wonderful salvation.  Every single prayer that I heard Frank pray, he would include without fail, “thank you for a such a wonderful salvation.”  Frank never got over God’s amazing, saving grace.   The centrality of the cross of Christ caused Frank to overflow with gratitude (Col. 2:6-8).   The day before he died, I had celebrated communion at the church service at the assisted living place where Frank lived.   He was not able to be there, so I went to their living quarters and celebrated communion with him and his wife.   Frank cried and said thanked me for serving the Lord’s Supper to them.   Maybe Frank knew that he was nearing the end of his earthly journey and was moved at the reminder of the work of Christ that was so precious to him.   This much I do know, Frank boasted only in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   From that foundation, Frank lived to glorify God in every area of his life.

The second thing that I think made Frank the man he was is that he wanted to be faithful in what God had entrusted to him.   He desired to be a good husband, father, grandfather, pastor and friend as he saw them all in relation to God’s goodness.  Frank would say things like, “God gave us two boys” or “God gave a great gift to me when I married Dodie, you know I wouldn’t have been the pastor I was without her.”  Frank saw his life as being a good steward of what God had entrusted to him.   Even after he retired and his boys had families of their own, he sought out ways to help them.   For fifteen years, after he retired and moved to be closer to his sons, he would change the oil in their vehicles and the vehicles of their children.  He would tell them they were due for an oil change and he would have the car ramps out and the oil and filter ready when they pulled in his drive way.   He and his wife mowed their children’s lawns for them as well.  Why?  Why would he change the oil and mow their lawns, shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Frank wanted to help relieve stress in his children’s lives and serve them as he could.

The third quality that I admired about Frank was that he lived out Ecclesiastes three.  He saw that God had appointed different seasons in our life and that we can look back at the past with gratitude to God. However, he didn’t live in the past.  He could laugh and tell stories about the past, but he embraced the present as well.  I would ask him how he was doing and he would say, “I’m doing well for the shape I’m in” and say it with a giggle.    He made friends with the staff and residents where he lived for thirteen years.  He was a very appreciative person to everyone around him—he embraced the present.  But, he also looked forward to his future.  Frank knew his ultimate home was heaven.  Whenever I spoke of heaven he would always remind me that his mother died when he was two. He knew, that since she was a Christian too, he would one day see her face to face.  

I thank God for Frank Oleson’s life and the impact that he made on everyone who knew him.  

To God be the glory for the great things he accomplished through a person yielded and sold out for serving God until he was called to that eternal home.
It is not a good-bye to a dear friend—but a see you later.