This Father’s Day is my first without my dad. He passed away on May 11, and we had his memorial service a few weeks ago. In his memory and to honor him this Father’s Day, I wanted to share the script of the brief message I shared at his graveside service.
Thank you for being here today. Dad didn’t want a funeral. He told each of us kids that he wanted to be cremated, and he showed Jeff exactly where to bury his ashes, right beside mom. We wanted to honor his request, but we also realize that some kind of service or ceremony gives family and friends an opportunity to show their respect and to gain a sense of closure. Thank you for showing your respect by your presence today, and we hope that this will provide closure for those who need it.
It didn’t take us long to determine who the saddest person would be after dad passed away, or who would notice his absence more than anyone else. Without a doubt, those mourning the deepest over the past couple of weeks have been the stakeholders and executives with Kool Filter King cigarettes. Sales in cartons of those cigarettes has undoubtedly taken a major hit over the past two weeks.
It’s a bizarre feeling to not have a living parent, as many of you know. There’s never been a day in my life that either mamma or daddy weren’t available if needed. Even when I moved away, first to Mississippi, and then to Florida, I knew that mamma and daddy were just a call away. Even after mom died, and dad was no longer able to carry on as he used to, there was comfort knowing he was at 3040 Highway 32.
Mamma and daddy lived for a couple of decades without kids. Until May 11th, we had never spent one day of our lives without a mom or a dad being available somewhere. Now, over the span of 15 months, we have bid farewell to our mom and dad, the two people present during the most formative years of our lives.
As I think back to the times I spent with dad, I can recall a few lessons he taught me that have stuck with me, even to this day. When he taught me those lessons, they were meant to teach me something about a specific responsibility or activity in life. Having put some years and life experience between my teen years and today, I’ve come to realize that these lessons have broader applications.
For example, when dad was teaching me to drive, he drilled into my head the concept of ”driving defensively.” “You can’t just look at the road,” he would say. “You have to look at the other people on the road. You have to be ready to react to what the other driver does.” As I travel now, I find myself constantly looking at the other driver, both in front of me and behind me.
Over the years I’ve found the concept of driving defensively to be helpful in seeking to follow Jesus and make wise choices. Just as I should always be on my guard behind the wheel, so should I be on guard in how I live my life, because, according to Peter, our adversary, Satan, is like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I need to have my defenses up, as I know my spirit may be willing, but my flesh is weak.
Dad’s advice to drive defensively has taught me something deeper about living life in a way that guards my heart, actions, and decisions.
Or I think about the few years that dad coached our Little League team, when us Bodcaw boys and a couple other guys from Nevada School formed the team and played in Prescott. One of the things he constantly told me and our team was something I’m sure a coach told him: ”You’re going to play like you practice.” He was teaching us that practice might be monotonous and it might get boring, and we might be tempted to think it wasn’t that important. But, without fail, we would end up playing like we practiced.
From this I have learned that doing the mundane things in life is necessary if the magnificent things are to follow. What comes out of our lives as we live this “game” will be the result of what we’ve practiced behind the scenes. So don’t despise the practices. Don’t think the mundane is useless. They’re necessary come game time.
I asked dad to preach the message at my ordination service back in 1995. I don’t recall everything he said in that sermon, but I do recall his main point. It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me all these years later. He said, “Never forget who you are or where you come from.”
That was a statement of identity and impact. His encouragement to me that day was to never forget who God created me to be and who God recreated me to be in relationship with him. He was also teaching me that the people God has placed in my life have been used to make an impact on my life.
There are a lot of things about my life and ministry that look different than the day he preached that ordination sermon. However, the things that took place in my life in this town and around many of the people at this service today and many of them that are buried here are things that God has used to make me who I am today. You can take the boy out of Brockman Hill and Corinth Church, but you can’t take the influence of Brockman Hill and Corinth Church out of the boy.
Dad knew what he was talking about when he encouraged me to never forget who I am and where I’m from. That identity and impact is undeniable.
As we move on from here and start a new era in our lives, I’m reminded of three words that came to my mind when I left his house on May 11th, a few hours after he had passed away.
RELATIONSHIP: We have joy and hope today because dad had a relationship with Jesus Christ. He didn’t have a great relationship with his dad, but Pa and Ma Martin (his mother’s parents) made a point to haul dad and his siblings to church in a horse drawn wagon. Pa and Ma Martin would arrange for dad and his siblings to stay with them during the summer, always during the week of their church’s revival. They wanted their grandchildren to learn about Jesus, and dad did. That relationship made a difference in his life on this earth, and it’s made a difference in his eternity.
REST: You might think that dad didn’t have any issues with rest. The man could take a nap anywhere, at any time, regardless of the noise around him. But throughout the past several years, his body has longed for rest, as bones got older, disease became more frequent, and his body began to wear down. For the past 15 months, his emotions have longed for rest. His body, mind, and emotions were tired.
Psalm 127:2, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
Dad is at rest, and in that we find peace.
REUNION: There’s a lot about heaven that I don’t know. I do know that Jesus is going to be the center of everything and the focus of all our attention. Scripture also speaks to the idea that we will enjoy relationships with others in heaven, and surely some of those relationships will be with members of the family God placed us in on this earth.
Dr. Perry Purtle said that someone once asked him, “Dr. Purtle, do you think we’ll know our loved ones in heaven?” Dr. Purtle replied, “I believe if we have enough sense to know ‘em down here, we’ll have enoughsense to know ‘em up there!”
Dad had many people go into eternity before him. His grandparents, who were so instrumental in getting him to church and introducing him to Jesus, have been there for a long time. Mammaw Russell has been there for a couple of decades. Mom mom and Papa, in-laws who loved him as their own, are there. Dad lost a brother, Troyce Dean, decades ago. Uncle Jimmy Don, another of dad’s brothers, who was just as comical as dad, is there. Dad got to meet a grandchild and a l couple of great-grandchildren when he entered heaven. I’m sure it was a glorious reunion.
As wonderful as these reunions were, I can’t help but think of the joy and the smile and the laughter that occurred when he first saw mamma, the love of his life, after 15 LONG months of missing her and longing for just one more day with her.
Dad’s mind simply could not grasp the fact that mom had gone before he had. He would drive to the school looking for her, thinking she was still working there. He called all three of us kids and asked if we knew where she was. When I would come visit after her death, at least one morning started with the question, “Do you know where your mother is?” His mind just couldn’t accept the reality that she was gone.
Today, his mind doesn’t have that struggle, because he knows exactly where she is, and he’s there with her. That gives us a sense of joy. It also gives us hope, because I know that one day I’ll see them both again. Until then, we’ll cherish memories and continue to live our lives in light of the lessons they taught us.
Well done, good and faithful servant!