Thursday, September 4, 2014

Daddy, we all miss you...

Tony Campolo gave a famous sermon called "Sunday's Coming." It's been over 30 years since I first heard it, but suffice it to say, it's not one I'll ever forget. The point Tony makes is, it may be Friday, the day Jesus was nailed to a cross thus fulfilling prophecy, but Sunday's coming - that day he arose alive and imperishable.

We who believe know this life can never be anything more than Friday - imperfect and temporary. But our eyes are on the prize and we will not see that prize, or those who've crossed over, till Sunday. In the meantime, we deal with the challenges presented by that "mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." 

Tony observed that after we die, after our loved ones have returned our body to the earth... "Folks will go back to the church and eat potato salad." Well, it's all true, Daddy's earthly body has been discarded and we who loved him have gathered for a final meal.

I truly can't believe how fast his 91 years went by, just like that temporary mist. But I am grateful for every single day, even more so since a dear friend pointed out to me how much he wished his children could have known their grandfather later in life when they could have fully appreciated the man that he was.

My Daddy was always handsome and well-dressed, but more than anything he was a gentleman. I have always identified strongly with him knowing his foibles and his victories, but mostly just being tremendously proud.
He epitomized strength, devotion and duty. Never again will anyone have my back like he did, never again can I run something past him, never again will I leave a note in his Bible telling him he is the greatest man I ever knew.
Many things permeate my memories but one moment stands out. It was the time I lost the job I moved to Houston to take. "Daddy, I've lost my job - but I don't want to talk about it." He said okay and that was it. NEVER, EVER did he bring it up again. Then there was the time my parents visited David and I here in Houston. After returning to Dallas he called to discuss the alcohol he'd seen in my refrigerator. "I don't know who your friends are that you think drinking is okay, but you have an 8 year old son to raise." Tears pouring down my face for hearing his words of disappointment in me, I calmly replied,"Daddy, I know one day I will give an accounting for all of my sins, but it will be to God ...and not to you." He simply said, "You're right."

His shoes will be impossible to fill. His life was austere and he never felt sorry for himself. He was completely resistant to what this world had to offer. As my son said of him at the funeral, "He never met a duty he did not show up for."

Father God, you know me intimately. I see myself at the center of everything. I am absorbed with what I want and not what other's need. I've laid up treasures here on earth and I've felt I knew better than you what I deserved. But I want to spend eternity with you, Lord ...with Daddy, Gregg, John, Gammie, Gandy, Granny,Pop and that great cloud of witnesses.

I know the secret to my father's success, it was playing third while working out his salvation with fear and trembling. My God raised a strong and mighty man in my Daddy. Tough times don't last. Tough people do.

The Great Depression spawned a resolute and hard working generation with strength of character and priorities firmly established. Sadly, it is prosperity that has come dangerously close to destroying America. I pray we do not lose our way. I pray we remember and rely on what only God can provide. I pray we are found ready when Sunday gets here. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, but much in the manner of earthly bounty can separate us from the desire for God.

So this concludes my Daddy's testimony, the singular thing Tony Campolo states that remains after we're gone.

But I  will leave you with the words of my son honoring his grandfather. I am quite proud of them both. NC


When I was born, my paternal grandparents had already been named by my older cousin Jana. His name was Dan, so we called him DanDaddy. And my Mom wanted me to call her mother, Mudder. So, somewhere between “DanDaddy” and “Mudder”, Lewis and Clara Beth Knight were christened by me as DonDondy and DumBudder.
Later shortened to Budder and Dondy--my grandparents.
I got the call at around 3 o’clock in the morning the other night. Which is entirely appropriate.
I was up. I like to stay up late, and I like to sleep late. I always have. Through tears, my mom said the words I knew had been coming for months. “He’s gone."
When I was 6 years old, my mother and I lived in Houston. She was single and had a job. So when summertime came around, I needed somewhere to be. She had me put my big-boy pants on and a little heart-shaped Southwest Airlines bracelet, and I flew by myself from Houston to Dallas where Budder and Dondy would pick me up.
Spending the summers in their house was the most delightfully boring part of my childhood. My grandfather’s house was the most routine, safest place in the world for me. I didn’t fully realize it at the time. When you’re 6, or you’re 7, you don’t have the ability to process how hostile the world can feel when chaos is around you; when you’re a latchkey kid; when your father is anywhere in the world but where you are.
But as an adult, I can look back on those uneventful, humdrum summers and appreciate how safe I was in my grandfather’s house.
He was not personality plus. He was a worker much more than he was a charmer, and I never really learned to appreciate his finer qualities until I was much older.
But if you’ve never been abandoned, it is difficult for me to make real for you the value of someone who never leaves you, who never disappoints you, who never once fails to report for duty. 
In those summers, at Budder & Dondy’s, I loved to sleep. I loved to sleep late.
And Dondy loved to wake me up.
Looking back, I think the best part of his day everyday must’ve been when he’d walk into my bedroom and begin the game he and I would play. The Wake David Up game.
He would start by telling me to get up. I would pretend to be asleep. He would then yank the covers off of me. I would continue playing possum.
Finally—inevitably---he would go to his big move, his finishing move.
He would get a cup of water, and using his fingers he would flick water on my face until I finally gave up. He loved doing that. He derived a special, devilish delight in waking up his too comfortable grandson in that manner.
And he would always win. Once the water hit the face, I could no longer continue the pretense of sleeping. I had to get up. I believe he looked forward to that every morning.
It was during those summers at Dondy’s house that the world took on a romantic, magical quality.
I would play all day, watch Batman on TV after Budder had finished her soap operas, and I’d eat the hot dogs, Pringles and Dr. Pepper she’d prepare for me.
Dondy liked to tease me about how close I sat to the television.
I remember, at dusk in the Dallas summer, their street was usually filled with what I called “light bugs”. On occasion, Dondy would come home from work, and we’d toss the baseball around in his front yard until the sunset.
I would return each summer. And often, my grandparents would tell me that it was time to go to Fort Worth.
I hated hearing that. Going to Fort Worth was not fun, not remotely. Not to an 8-year-old.
Fort Worth is where my Uncle Gregg was. As you may be aware, either from knowing my grandparents or from Dondy’s obituary, Gregg was born severely damaged.
As my Mom wrote, he lived for 23 years in a baby’s crib. He needed constant care and attention for every facet of his life. Feeding, bathing, everything. He could do nothing for himself.
In the eyes of an 8-year-old, Gregg was frightening. I dreaded our arrival. I hated going to Fort Worth.
But through the eyes of a 40-year-old, those visits could hardly look more different.
What I see now is how my grandfather’s serious, no-nonsense, frequently grouchy exterior melted away when he walked through the doors of that facility.
When he arrived to see Gregg, he became the living picture of God’s paternal love and nurturing and servanthood.
I will not forget the way he would hold Gregg and stroke his head. I will not forget the way he would treat the facility workers with kindness and charm, all in the hopes that they would take that much better care of Gregg. 
He wanted them to know how loved Gregg was, that he had value to someone.
Those trips were the antithesis of fun to an 8-year-old, but to a 40-year-old now all I see was my grandfather’s character. How softhearted and gentle he was. How consistently present he was. I wouldn’t trade those trips for anything.
Will Rogers never met a man he didn’t like. My grandfather never met a duty he didn’t report for.
When the world asked him if he could starve in the Depression and work jobs as practically a child to help pay the family’s way, he responded yes, he could do that.
When life asked him if he could leave his brothers and parents and go fight in a war half a world away, he responded yes, he could do that.
When his wife asked him if he could live under one roof with his mother-in-law for a couple of decades, he responded yes, he could do that.
When life asked if he could meet the challenges of loving and caring for a deeply dependent, wounded son, he responded yes, he could do that. 
I have a good friend who served as a battalion commander in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he said something once that reminds me of my grandfather. He said it’s always surprising in combat situations who steps up and who falls apart.
Often, he said, the loudest-chirping, cockiest, most brash soldiers fall apart when trouble comes to them. And it’s often, the quiet, unassuming wallflowers of the unit who accomplish the task, who get the job done. 
Many years later, when I was no longer a child, it was my trouble that came my grandfather’s way.
I did something I should not have done. I made very bad choices. And I found myself in a place where they give you one phone call. One call. One person. One shot for someone to pick up. Or not.
Do you know who you would call if you needed the person on the other end of the line to absolutely pick up, to positively, certainly be there for you in your moment of need? The one phone number committed in your memory?
I called the one man in my life who answered every call and reported for every duty, no matter how undeserved or unfair that duty might be. 
He got the call at around 3 o’clock in the morning. And he was 80 years old. But he did not miss a beat.
And I will never, from now until eternity, forget what he said to me from the other end of that phone.
He said, “Hold on, son, we’re coming.”
Hold on, son, we’re coming.
That’s who my grandfather was. He was a man who showed up. A man who answered the call.
I will miss from now until eternity his $20 handshakes.
I will miss his melodic, three-descending-notes yawn.
I will miss his shotgun-driving, white-knuckle, knee-grab freak-outs when he was riding with anyone else in a car.
I will dearly miss rubbing his shoulders, which he loved.
I wish so much, Dondy, that I could sprinkle water on your face and make you wake up from your sleep, that we could throw the baseball one more time out in your yard with all the light bugs floating around.
But I recall the wisdom you preached to me on too many occasions: “Spit in one hand, wish in the other, see which one fills up first.”
Life is not always about dreams and wishes. Life is more often about answering the call.
And I would not want to bring him back to life as he’s known it these last few years. The last months were very hard for Dondy, but how could it have ended any other way for him? It was frankly always pretty hard.
But no more. Now, my grandfather has boarded his own solo flight.
He is flying by himself to go see his mother and father, and his brothers; and his son Gregg who is no longer damaged, who can hold Dondy and stroke his hair; and his grandson John, who he never got to know in this world.
While here life is asking me if I can march on without this lovely, humble soldier of Christ, whose character and name will stand before me on the horizon to strive toward from now until I too sleep?
As he would have me do, I will respond to life: Yes I can do that.
But I say now to him, though it’ll take longer than I want it to:
“Hold on, Dondy, we’re coming."