Last Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 is a date that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is the day that my life changed forever. It is the day my dad left this earth to spend eternity in Heaven. And I will never be the same.
My dad was an incredible man. A hard worker. Always happy. Always smiling. He loved people and they loved him back. At his funeral I heard countless stories about my dad – some I had heard before and many I had not. It didn’t matter if it came from a high school friend, someone he went to college with, someone who was a member of one of his churches years ago or someone who had lunch with him last week – no matter who was talking, all the stories had a similar tone. Your dad was there for me. He was my friend when no one else was. He loved me and my family. He led me to know the Lord. He baptized me. I’m the person, the father, the man I am today because of your father. Your dad’s smile and laugh filled up every room he was ever in. He was a great listener. A great counselor. A great preacher. I heard all of these things over and over and over again. Over a life spanning 69 years and a ministry that spanned over 50, dad was nothing if not consistent.
You always knew where you stood with my dad. He was honest, fair, loving, firm, tender and sweet all rolled into one big, burly man. He gave amazing hugs, the kind where you can’t breathe but yet you never wanted them to end. He loved my wife like she was his own daughter, and loved my children in a way only a grandfather can.
No matter what he was doing, my dad always gave his all, always left it all on the field. A lot of people don’t know this, but my dad was valedictorian of his high school. He was the president of numerous clubs and lettered in every sport his school offered – football, baseball, basketball and track. He did all of this while holding down several part-time jobs. Always working. Always contributing. My dad had an appointment to the Air Force Academy – a HUGE honor – but at the last minute he turned it down because he knew he was called to be a pastor. He played football in college and went on to coach during his years at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. During his tenure as a coach, the school – John Curtis Christian – went from a no win season the first year to an undefeated season the next and over the last 40 plus years has won 26 state championships and in 2012 was named the #1 team in the country.
My dad was loved and respected by everyone that knew him. I can honestly say that in my entire life I never heard my dad say a bad word about anyone – ever. He was always fair, always objective, always able to put himself in the other person’s shoes and see the issue from their side.
He was an incredibly powerful preacher. Nothing fancy. He just ran the ball straight up the middle. He rarely ever needed a microphone. Even in an auditorium seating hundreds you could hear him in every corner of the room. I often imagine that the preachers of the bible, Moses, and Paul, and all the rest, must have sounded something like dad in order to be heard by hundreds and thousands of people when there was no sound system. Good company. Over 50 years of being a pastor I conservatively estimate that he preached over 10,000 sermons.
He loved – LOVED – southern gospel music. And he loved to play it loud and proud, always singing along. And if he preached loud, it was nothing compared to the volume when he sang. You could hear him over an entire congregation, BOOMING his love for Jesus with all he had. Dad had a great ear and good pitch, but absolutely no vibrato. As always, never fancy, just straight down the middle.
As a father he was an incredible example to me. He showed up for every game, every event, talent show, concert, you name it. He always encouraged my brothers and I to follow our passions. I had the fortitude to confidence to follow my dreams because of my dad. I would not be where I am today if not for his belief in me.
My dad’s ultimate legacy will never be fully known or appreciated until we are with him in eternity and Jesus can give us a full account. And there will literally be thousands and thousands of people who will say that they are there with us because of my dad. He preached the gospel not only in North America, but in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. He went on countless mission trips around the globe. He helped to plant new churches including a new hispanic church in North Alabama where he lived. He also loved being a part of the disaster relief team made up of the churches in his association. He was a monster with the chain saw which was his absolute favorite thing to do on the team.
‘Pop’ was an amazing grandfather, driving or flying hours to see his grandkids play athletics, star in plays, sing in concerts and perform on the field. I don’t think anything gave him more pleasure than being with those grandkids, and they knew it. He was so, so proud of them all.
I could go on forever about my dad, sharing story after story of what a great man he was. But some of those things are too precious, and I will keep those just for me and my family.
If you knew him, then you were blessed, and you know it. I know I do. Not even a week removed from this shock, I know I have yet to realize just how this will affect me and how much I will miss him. But I will always take comfort in knowing that I will be with him again one day and we will never be apart again. Ever. Oh how I wish that day were today. But it will be here soon enough. And until then, I will do my best to live a life that would make him proud. I will fail a lot, but that’s ok. Because he never loved me for what I did. He just loved me. Period. And just like everyone else that ever knew him, I loved him right back.