my grandpa Roger died when I was in my late teens- and it hit me hard.
he was a rancher in the little town of Gustine, California, and he and his wife Bernice, were two of the most devout Christians that I have ever met. they adopted three children for overseas- my aunt, uncle and mom. He was a central figure in his little church, and often led the hymn-singing time on Sunday mornings. it was a little, one-room-church, with stained glass windows and wooden pews, and that wooden display on the stage that said how many were there last week. during the singing time, he would stand on the stage with a hymnal in one hand and just belt out those hymns with a booming voice, without a microphone, and accompanied, only by a piano. I can’t help but think of him when I hear those old hymns like, “how great thou art” and “because He lives,” and “amazing grace” and “in the garden.”
I later learned that he was also in youth ministry and had a Sunday school class of boys. one of the boys in this photo would later join my ministry team in Modesto as a parent and volunteer. I have learned in recent years that my grandpa could be one of those stodgy-old-church leaders- but I never saw that side of him. I just thought he was cool. he used to greet me with a loud, "HELLO ROBBY!"
this photo shows my first meeting with him: he is covered in dirt, fresh off of the ranch, and I’ve got that same old expression on my face- and I love the expression on his face-
he was the spiritual leader of my family, without question. every holiday we would go to his church, and then go to his house after church for supper. he would always lead the prayer before we ate. and he prayed good, long prayers.
I became a Christian when I was in high school, and that was pretty exciting for him- and for the first time, we got to have a few talks about spiritual things.
like I said, when he died, it bothered me quite a bit. he died just before Easter, if I remember correctly. I was working at my church in Modesto, and it was the first year that I ever spent worshipping at a different church than his church in Gustine. I vividly remember that Easter Sunday- my church was rocking. The choir were in their robes, and the crowd was celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. I was having a blast until they started playing “because He lives.” the crowd was standing with their arms high celebrating the resurrection, and I was the only one sitting. I had my face in my hands, sobbing- and missing my grandpa.
the same thing happened at promise keepers later that year. the crowd started singing “how great thou art,” and the tears came pouring again. I clearly remember God telling me that I needed to step into my grandpa’s shoes and become a spiritual leader for my family. from then on, at every holiday, it was my turn to lead the prayer before the meal.
just last week, I was at one of my favorite churches in the area, elm street mission. it’s a little, one room church, with stained glass windows, wooden pews, a big wooden pulpit, hymnals, and a piano. I was in a worship service surrounded by middle schoolers and homeless people. someone shouted out a request for a song, and the worship leader began to sing out in a loud, booming voice, “Oh Lord my God…when I, in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made…” even though I was in Santa Cruz, I was transported back in time and space to Gustine and that little church. I could practically hear my grandpa’s voice. this time I wasn’t a teenager who was searching for God, I was in my late 30’s, and a pastor. and I could almost hear God clearly say, “you know- your grandpa Roger would have been really proud to see you now- he would have been really proud of who you have become.” and there I was again, my face in my hands, sobbing in a little church in Santa Cruz, surrounded by middle schoolers and homeless people.
in the midst of a busy trip, it was so healing to stop and think about where I began, where I am, where I’m going, and consider that my life would have made my grandpa proud.
Thanks Roger. I miss you.
God is love.-rev-rob