I wrote my Dad a letter to serve as his eulogy and read it at my Dad’s memorial service last Saturday.
I miss you. But I’m so proud of the life you lived.
You were raised on a cotton farm in Ennis, TX during the middle of WWII. Your Dad was a sharecropper and you were one of 7 kids. That’s all pretty cool stuff from a previous generation’s world. I was always proud of your heritage. I loved hearing stories about your childhood. I wasn’t there but I felt like I was.
I sometime imagine you, your 4 brothers and 2 sisters running and playing in the cotton fields occasionally taking breaks to lay in a pasture covered with bluebonnets. I picture a farm house surrounded by a large covered porch shaded by big oak trees. I’m guessing you sometimes embellished when you told the stories because you talked as if it were always a happy Tom Sawyer-like adventure! But I loved those stories because it connected me to more of you.
But it wasn’t always a Tom Sawyer-life adventure was it? Your body gave it’s first indication that it was broken when you were a little boy when a bicycle accident resulted in you developing epilepsy. You’d have seizures or fear seizures the rest of his life.
A few years later when you were only 17, you were diagnosed with tuberculosis. You were sent off to the TB Hospital in Carlsbad for a few difficult months. Eventually, one of your lungs was removed but then God healed you . . . temporarily.
A few years later, you made a life-changing decision that changed the trajectory of your life. It began when a pastor of a local church drove out to the farm to pick you up and take you to church. When you were re-telling me this story a few weeks ago you said, “for some reason I just kept going every Sunday”. You told me the pastor was nice and fun to be around. He and his wife would sometimes have you over to their house after church for lunch. God was using them to draw you to Himself.
You eventually made the decision to surrender everything and follow Christ. Your decision to follow Christ must’ve felt private and personal but it would impact so many other people in your lifetime and beyond including your kids and grandkids. I’m so glad you made that decision to follow Christ Dad.
The pastor in became your mentor and before long you were teaching a Sunday School Class and eventually you made a decision to spend the rest of your life preaching. The sharecropper’s son who’d dropped out of high school was going to be a pastor. At the time, you must’ve felt so overwhelmed. You must have had so many doubts and fears. Your decision must’ve seemed so personal but your decision to preach would impact thousands of other people in your lifetime of ministry. It obviously influenced me. Dad, I’m so glad you made that decision to preach.
Soon afterwards you met and eventually married my Mom. While you were engaged, your body showed its brokenness again as you were diagnosed with Brights disease (the same kidney disease that had taken your Dad’s life at an early age). The doctor said you may not live past the age of 35. I can’t imagine how that diagnoses must’ve shaken you and challenged your faith. However, it seemed that God healed your body . . . again temporarily.
Then in 1967 at the age of 24, you married my Mom. You and Mom would be married for more than 46 years. When describing your marriage to me last week – you said, “I was always happy with her.” You and Mom’s unconditional love for us created a solid foundation from which we kids would feel the freedom to dream big and take risks.
A couple of years into your new marriage, your body began acting up again. A spot was found on your lung and you were diagnosed with cryptococcosis – an often fatal fungal disease. Mom was worried how long your body would last. You must’ve been worried too. However, once again God healed you again . . . temporarily. Soon God gave you your first child Marci and your attention was back on your future. Along came me and then Amy.
Interestingly, this is where God provided our family a special 17-year window of health grace. When Mom was pregnant with Amy you had your last epileptic seizure. Then for 17-years you had no health problems. This was the largest season of health you would ever have. Mom was given a healthy husband and we kids were raised only knowing a healthy Dad. You told us about your epilepsy, tuberculosis, bright’s disease, and cryptococcosis but to us it was all something in the past that didn’t seem relevant to our present. We only knew a “healthy” Dad.
I’m so grateful for these 17 years of healthiness during our childhood. During that time, we watched you enjoy the simple joys in life. I liked it when you would go swimming with us in the lake in a pair of cutoff shorts. I liked it when you’d take us on a long drive in the country and along the way we’d stop for a coke. You enjoyed going out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Even your favorite meal was simple: cornbread, pinto beans, fried potatoes, cabbage followed by a bowl of ice cream. Simple joys.
But what you really loved was being a pastor. It was what you were created to be! You were an encourager. You loved going to church and preaching God’s word. In a typical week you would preach/teach 4 times-a-week, clean the church, mow the lawn, make hospital visits, do funerals and weddings, counsel people, and whatever else needed to be done. You were born to be a pastor. I liked it when you’d let me tag-along for a hospital visit or a men’s prayer breakfast.
I remember watching you. I was so proud of you. You were my dad & my pastor. You were so positive and encouraging to people. I loved that about you. I wanted to be like you. At the age of 12, I surrendered to preach and I prayed that God would let me encourage people like you did.
I remember you letting me preach for the first time at the age of 12. I’ll never forget unzipping my Bible as I stood behind the pulpit. I was so scared. I was unzipping slowly hoping Jesus would come back before I had to speak. I didn’t want to say anything. I remember thinking if I could somehow just whisper to you, “Daddy I’m scared. I don’t want to do this.” So I looked over at you hoping to tell you I was too scared to do this. But when we made eye contact you smiled and gave me a nod of encouragement. I was still scared but your subtle encouragement gave me the confidence to at least try. So I preached my entire sermon . . . in 5 minutes. I could tell you were proud. That made me feel good.
It’s funny how all of us kids loved to get that nod of encouragement from you. I can’t think of any major decision I’ve ever made when I didn’t seek it.
It turns out that my childhood felt like my very own Tom-Sawyer like adventure. I’m still thankful for those 17 years of good health. But like your illnesses . . . your good health was temporary. Eventually, your kidneys began to fail. Your health declined. You retired. You and Mom moved to San Angelo so you could do dialysis full-time.
Interestingly the timing coincided with me just beginning my ministry in San Angelo. Suddenly you were in the congregation as I led worship and as I preached. I was often scarred to death. I would look out in the audience and see your smile and see your nod of encouragement. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me! I could tell you were proud. Eventually, through a kidney transplant, God healed you . . . again temporarily.
As your health bounced back, you became pastor of Berean Baptist Church. On your first Sunday, there were literally 3 people (you, the worship leader, and the treasurer). I asked you, “Why would you go there Dad?” You said, “It’s an opportunity to serve the Lord, preach, and share the Gospel!” That’s what you were created to do. The church is now flourishing numerically and financially and most people say you that you saved that church. It’s so appropriate that we’re having your memorial service here today.
But then your body began to decline again. This time there would be no recovery or healing. Your body surrendered to cancer, diabetes, cardiac failure, and many other ailments. Due to your dogged determination, discipline with your diet/medication/routine, you somehow milked 70 years out of a very broken body. I’m so glad you did because all of us kids got to introduce our kids to you.
But it was time. Last Monday morning, your broken body finally quit. And this time God didn’t heal you temporarily. He healed you permanently. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord where there is no more epilepsy, tuberculosis, kidney disease, cryptococcosis, or heart disease. You are fully and permanently healthy! You are reunited with the God you spent your life serving.
You wouldn’t agree with this Dad but you actually left a legacy. One that I’m so proud of.
Two of your grandkids now bear your name but it’s our faith that reveals your legacy. Because you chose to make God the ultimate priority in your life, you made a deep impact in us all. A legacy isn’t about doing something magnificent it’s about being ordinary and dependable for a long period of time while loving those closest to you.
So I’ll miss your smile, laugh, the twinkle in your eye, our weekly phone calls w/your encouraging voice, and I’ll miss your nod of encouragement. But, I am so grateful for the certainty of Heaven. I already anticipate being with you again Dad.
In the meantime, I’ll always be proud of the life you led for God. I’ll always be proud of the risks you took for God. I’ll always be proud of your faithfulness to God especially during the difficult days. I’ll always be proud to carry on your legacy.
I love you Daddy.
Your proud son,