Last Thursday we laid my wife Jennifer’s grandfather to rest. He was the last grandfather Jennifer and I had, and he was the only one who lived long enough to meet and influence all 3 of our kids. He battled various forms of cancer throughout his body for the past year, and the flesh finally gave out 1 week ago. Read the full obituary of Derwin Ray O’Dell here. I just want to share a few personal thoughts and memories of Granddaddy.
FINAL, SPECIAL MOMENTS WITH HIM
Both of my grandfathers died in situations where I did not have the opportunity to see them “one last time” while they were still in fully, right minds, so it was very special that we were able to go visit Granddaddy and say our goodbyes a few weeks ago on Memorial Day. While his body was quickly declining, he was still able to converse and share a few memories and words of wisdom. We all shared his favorite homemade ice cream, and he spent the afternoon outside watching his great-grandkids play in the yard. It was a really nice day for everyone.
We saw Granddaddy one final time a couple weeks later, just 9 days before he died. This time he was heavily medicated and fading, and while it was difficult to see him like this, the final words he shared with me struck me as very typical for him even during his most clearheaded moments. He told me,
“Read James Dobson and father with a firm hand.”
LEAVING A LEGACY OF FAITH
Seven years ago I was in grad school when Jennifer and I got married. Almost 6 years ago I became a father, an action that was twice repeated. As I have grown as a father, God has radically changed my priorities in life, including my passions and priorities as a minister. As I have shifted from student ministry to children’s ministry, I have read, studied and prayed over some pretty eye-opening realities about parenting, home discipleship and multi-generational discipleship. Last year at the D6 Conference, Jennifer and I heard some fantastic teachings about impressing our faith on our children, including an emotional speech from James Dobson, who shared with the crowd how his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all kept a vow to pass their faith down through the generations of their family. As a fourth-generation Christian leader, James Dobson encouraged all of us to leave a legacy of faith for our own children, grandchildren, etc.
A legacy of faith is exactly what Granddaddy left for all of us, always encouraging us in our walks with Christ, all the way down to his 4th generation, my own children. He was a man dedicated to passing his faith down, and he constantly impressed upon all of his relatives, blood or in-lawed, the deep love he had for the word of God. Every year at Christmas he gave us a challenge for the following year, and it always involved memorizing scripture. He wanted God’s word to live in our hearts and reveal itself in our lives. Long before his body was attacked by cancer, Granddaddy knew that after he was gone, the most important thing he could leave his family was a love for the truth of God’s word. This was pretty well explained in the clear instructions that Granddaddy left for his funeral.
THE NON-TRADITIONAL FUNERAL, STARRING ISAIAH 40:8
As a man who was profoundly concerned with multi-generational family discipleship, Granddaddy would have been incredibly proud to see his funeral 100% led by his kids and grandkids. Jennifer’s brother David preached at the funeral, and his wife Casey played piano. Our future sister-in-law Morgan, the daughter of a music minister and the fiance of Jennifer’s brother Jon, sang beautifully while Casey played. The intimate graveside service was led by Jennifer’s dad and aunt, Granddaddy’s only 2 children. While days like this are never easy, and emotions run high for all, I think it went exactly how Granddaddy wanted it.
His unique funeral instructions included wilted flowers and a sermon based on Isaiah 40. When you hear Isaiah 40, you might most often remember verse 31,
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV)
This is a verse that has encouraged me too many times to count, especially over the last year as I have once again become a runner. While this is a great verse, Granddaddy wanted his funeral focused more on the earlier part of the chapter.
SHIFTING THE FOCUS TOWARD GOD
His concern was with Isaiah 40:8,
“The grass withers and the flowers fall,but the word of our God endures forever.” (NIV)
That explains the wilted funeral flowers, which my brother-in-law had to go to great (somewhat embarrassing) lengths to attain. On a day that was set aside for friends and family to remember the life of Derwin O’Dell, he wanted every person in attendance to remember the everlasting power of God’s word. The flowers served as a striking visual aid in a beautiful object lesson that displaced the attention due Derwin with attention on our Lord and His life-altering word. Once again, it all was very fitting for anyone who truly knew Granddaddy.
GRANDDADDY’S LASTING INFLUENCE
I can personally say Granddaddy has influenced my own enthusiasm for learning and memorizing scripture these last few years. At the previously mentioned D6 Conference last October, I immediately thought of Granddaddy when I was introduced to the music of Seeds Family Worship, a talented band whose original music is completely designed to help people hear and memorize God’s word. I have a Seeds playlist that I have listened to on dozens of runs this year, helping me memorize quite a bit of scripture.
Throughout the different parts of Granddaddy’s funeral, quite a bit of scripture was read, and nearly every verse that was shared that day came to life in my head because I remembered them from Seeds songs. Particularly, Isaiah 40:8, the theme verse of the funeral, sounded incredibly familiar to me, however I was baffled to find that Seeds Family Worship did not have any songs based on Isaiah 40:8. I knew these words were in one of their songs, the first song in my Seeds playlist, a song that has often encouraged me when I am running. The song is called “The Word of the Lord“, and it is based, not on Isaiah 40:8, but on 1 Peter 1:24-25. 1 Peter actually does quote Isaiah 40:8, but I had no idea until last week. It says,
“All people are like grass,and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
Once again, Granddaddy, even after his death, has led me to discover new things in scripture. I do not find it a coincidence that these words from Isaiah 40:8 that have been on my heart so many times this year (even if I was looking at them in 1 Peter) were the same words Granddaddy wanted spoken at his funeral.
I feel confident that he had a lasting influence on countless other people he interacted with throughout his life, as Granddaddy’s love for the Bible was contagious. He will always be remembered as a man who loved the word of God, a man who knew that no matter what happens to our bodies and the physical things in this world, the word of the Lord stands forever.