Just happy to be in the race…

Pawpaw, as he was known to all his grandchildren, was not born into a pedigreed stock, nor was he given a silver spoon by which to feast on life’s abundance, but was rather forced to scrape out an existence on meager subsistence and an uncanny ability of overcoming tragedies. At the tender age of 9 his father died, which thrust his young mother into being a widow and incurring the task and responsibility of caring for my grandfather and his older sister. It was a journey littered with the instability of moving from house to house, and from job to job just to make ends meet. However, this was their lot—and they accepted it from God—and it was in that small dusty Oklahoma town that a young boy witnessed the only way to make it in this thing called life—namely, the Christian faith. 

My grandfather’s mother was a quiet and collected woman who knew her Lord not through a seminary degree or any formal education, but rather by her unflinching devotion to prayer and the Bible. She didn’t plan for the tragedies she endured, but she was nevertheless prepared for them. Previously, her family had migrated in a caravan from Arkansas by covered wagon to the Indian territories of Oklahoma to serve as missionaries to the Indians located within that particular region. On the way their company faced death, and she was an unfortunate recipient of the dreaded Scarlet fever. As God would have it, she survived the disease, and this was just one of the many obstacles she faced in her life that would shape how she would fashion my grandfather.

This was Pawpaw’s foundation. A foundation on which his life was built. He had a mother who was an oak tree rooted in an abiding trust in God no matter the situation–who did not let her circumstances dictate her faith, but rested in her faith to dictate the way she viewed her circumstances. As difficulties mounted, so did her prayers. And so, he learned to trust God along with his mother–and it was on this rugged path that God forged—in this furnace of affliction—my grandfather’s devotion, focus, and courage.

As Pawpaw grew into a young man he married the local town Mayor’s daughter who threw in her lot with him knowing full well they would not have an easy start. However, she saw what many came to see, she saw a man who embraced life with an energy that uplifted any spirit. Yes, her husband was a man who didn’t know how to whisper. No, he spoke loudly, he laughed loudly, and he could carry any conversation for as long as needed. He is still one of the best conversationalists I know.

Pawpaw was not a formally educated man—in fact he never completed a college degree—but instead was a man who built a career from the bottom up on the same abiding principles that he carried all the way to the end: hard work, loyalty, and determination. In the end, this led to a career that would rival most today.

With all of his accomplishments, he never sought glory or boasted about anything he achieved. He didn’t seek the limelight, but lifted up others around him. At the same time, he wasn’t a false encourager. No, he was not afraid to share his mind, but when he did you always knew it was spoken in love. His words were weighed, and he didn’t mince his intentions as he was delivering them. He just wanted to see others succeed, and at the same time to be thankful and to count their blessings.

In conclusion, one of Pawpaw’s greatest gifts was his ability to tell good stories. In fact, he was one of the best storytellers I know, and he told one that I’ll never forget. The story was about a mule who was privileged with the opportunity of running in a bonafide horse race. There was this old mule standing in his own stall next to thoroughbred stallions. The mule wasn’t supposed to be there, in fact, it presented a pretty laughable situation. And when the gun finally went off, the thoroughbreds shot out like electricity. The mule ran out too, but quickly trailed far behind. That didn’t matter to the mule, though. No, no, he didn’t care. That old mule was just happy to be in the race.

As my grandfather finished the story, he said, “That mule is me. I am just happy that I was able to be in the race…next to so many amazing people.”

Pawpaw is one of my heroes, and I’ll always remember the many life-lessons he taught me, but three stand out:

Devotion. He stayed married to his wife, Mawmaw, until her death approximately 6 years ago.

Focus. He never lost the big picture, and succeeded in keeping “my eye on the squirrel” through myriad seasons of my life.

Courage. He didn’t fear any man, and was the most comfortable person in his own skin that I know. He didn’t put on for anyone.

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:12-14

— September 29, 2017