Eulogy for My Sister Lori VanderKlay Johnson

lori at school


The Bible is the original divine comedy composed of a thousand tragic stories.

There are almost no happy families in the Bible. The first son kills his brother. Judah, son of Israel decides the only thing wrong with murder is that there’s no money in it.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus seem to be the exception to the rule. We know nothing of their parents. What we do know is that all three of them loved each other deeply and Jesus loved them.

Jesus may be God’s own Son but even he got to pick his friends, and he picked them.

Mary, Martha and Lazarus were full of love for each other and others. When Jesus was in the neighborhood he stayed with them. Martha was the perfect hostess who always had room for Jesus and his dozen or so guests. Mary listened to his every word.

I’m avoiding now. I’m supposed to talk about Lori. It’s easier for me to talk about Martha, Mary and Lazarus than it is for me to talk about Ruth, Paul and Lori because my heart is broken and I am angry.

Ruth, Paul and Lori are not Martha, Mary and Lazarus. You know Lori’s hospitality, her generosity, her passionate nature, her with R. Paul’s immense ability to practice the Biblical virtue of hospitality.

Lori was part Martha and Mary both.

As her older brother by only 16 months I’ve known Lori all her life. She was exactly then who you knew her to be now, just less-so. As we age we become ourselves only more-so which means that young Lori was Lori, only less-so.

Lori was an interesting combination of goodness, stability and passion, but again in her childhood “only less so”. Mom noted she was the perfect child, unlike her two older siblings. I was more mischievous, and Ruth was more expressive and defiant, but Lori was good and dutiful.

She’s always been competitive so as the youngest sibling she was a cheat because, in the words of Annika, it helped her win.

She talked in her sleep tempting us to prompt her to create silly dream-filled conversations.

She was both bold and frank, by declining the invitation of one young suitor by saying she needed to go home and eat grapefruit. Food was a real love for her.

I imagine that almost everyone who knew her loved her. There was little to not love about her, even in her less-so years.

I’m still avoiding though, because I’m still heartbroken and angry.

As some of you already know this exceptionally happy family in the Bible had their happiness pierced by death. Lazarus took ill and the sisters sent word to Jesus to hurry back to heal his friend. The Gospel of John is quite clear that Jesus intentionally tarried so that he would NOT get there to heal to prevent the death and grief of his friend. He said this was for the sake of all his friends.

Just like Lori spurned the desires of that young suitor, Jesus keeps his own counsel and to be his friend is to live with that reality and trust him anyway.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

“deeply moved in spirit and troubled” in English is a too tame translation of the Greek. “deeply moved” is almost a euphemism for the severe anger of someone ready rebuke another. “troubled” covers the word meaning thrashing back and forth. Since Lori has died I too have been deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

Jesus was angry. He wasn’t angry at his Father. The Father didn’t give us death. We were offered the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the only one we were told NOT to eat from and you know which one we choose.

The Son of God who made the world then asked, “Where have you laid him?” just like earlier his father asked the first man and woman “where are you hiding?”

“Come and see, Lord,” his friends and mourners replied.

Then Jesus wept.

Again, I take issue with too timid translators. This is the angry grief-filled bawling used to describe his emotional response in the gospel of Luke Jerusalem’s recapitulation of that first tree-born rebellion and the death and destruction it will bring. This isn’t “could you please pass the tissues” weeping. This is sorrowful and angry, whole-body mourning.

Then the mourners said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” I know this question lingers for some of you.

Jesus of course commands Lazarus from the tomb, and Lazarus obediently arises. This miracle will ironically bring on Jesus’ own murder.

I am not anticipating a re-occurrence of this miracle today although I desperate want it.

As I said I am filled with anger and a broken heart. Lori should not be dead, and I am angry. I am angry that her husband, children, family and friends are robbed of her by death. I am angry that her students and colleagues are robbed of her by death. This is not the way it is supposed to be. There is nothing in this passage or in the Bible that says that anger isn’t what we should be feeling. Death is a thief that robs this world of even the precious happy exceptions to our tragic lives that we may briefly enjoy. It is well within our rights as image bearers of God to rebuke and denounce death as the thief that it is.

I did begin by saying, however, that the Bible is comedy full of tragedy. It is the original comedy in that it does have a happy ending. Even though I cannot see it now, I am promised that my dear sister who does not belong in the grave did not labor in vain. If I didn’t know that before I sure learned that at the visitation last night. She created community and touched so many lives.

She didn’t labor in vain as the Auntie who brought the candy box camping, or the friend who hosted the meal, or the teacher who passionately inspired her students to excellence, or the wife and mother who fervently loved her family. She labored all too briefly NOT in vain.

Today is her birthday and so we will have a strange birthday celebration. We can be angry that this thief death robbed us of something so happy, so precious, so beautiful. Something that brought so much joy. We can also be hopeful though, because Jesus is strong, and won’t leave his friends in the grave.

To the best of my knowledge she will not be called forth from her grave TODAY, but that day is coming! I believe in the resurrection her happinesses will follow her. I believe in the resurrection I will see her again, and that that day is coming soon.


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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5 Responses to Eulogy for My Sister Lori VanderKlay Johnson

  1. Todd Zuidema says:

    Thanks for this, Paul. Grace. Peace.

  2. Ken DeWyn says:

    Paul – I so appreciate your candor and transparency. For those of us who could not be there, thank you for sharing. Blessings.

  3. Melody Martinez says:

    Paul even tho u don’t know me . But a follower from Northside Chapel.. Just want to tell u loved your devotion to the Lord and your Sister Lorie and want to thank u for sharing her Eulogy with us. I so loved your parents as Leaders thru my younger years and wish i could have grew to know all of u. Many prayers and blessings to u and yours. A Sister in Christ Melody Martinez (Akers)

  4. Joan Harrington says:

    This is a beautiful word, Paul. How I remember you three when you were teens at Northside. I am praying for you and your Mom and Sister, Ruthie. I am glad you are able to somewhat express in words your sadness and anger and yet your final triumph even over death. Shalom to you and your family.

  5. Lisa says:

    My condolences go out to you Paul and my Northside Chapel family, may you all continue to find comfort in each other. And please tell your mother I said hi the youngest of Amy mixes daughter Lisa.

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