To remember my childhood is to remember church and family. Those two facets of life were intertwined – a natural result of two grandfathers who pastored churches and a father who was called into ministry at a young age. I’ve had the rare and wonderful gift of hearing the Word of God from these three men in their pulpits and then witnessing how they’ve lived out that Word in their lives.
So most of my earliest memories are of churches and all that went along with them…pulling on frilly socks to match lace-trimmed dresses, puppets in children’s church, potluck lunches after service (where the dessert table was always my favorite), prayer around the altar, running around with cousins, playing with flannel boards in the Sunday school rooms, falling asleep in the car after late-running evening services. Always, there was music. Many times, it would be an aunt or a cousin on the piano, uncles on guitars and drums, my dad’s voice leading the song. I liked being able to pick out the voices I knew so well during the services…and when we were at my grandfather’s church, either for a family event or when Dad would be the speaker for a revival, my Papaw’s booming bass voice was a vibrant thread through it all.
I was always thrilled when Papaw would take the bass line during a song like ‘Let Us Have a Little Talk with Jesus’ – ever since I can remember, his ability to sing out those deepest notes has amazed me. I was just as impressed when he would preach. His carefully chosen words, his powerful voice, his unfolding of Scripture – it all added up to convince me that my Papaw was absolutely one of the wisest and greatest men on earth.
My opinion didn’t change once church was over. It seemed to me that ‘Brother Bailey’, as everyone called him, was usually talking about things of great importance. When I came into his office at home, it was always with huge admiration of the big desk and the full book-shelves. While my mamaw let me (with wonderful patience) freely look through her book-shelves and read through her collection whenever I wanted, Papaw had a system. It seemed, to me, that checking out Papaw’s books was just as formal as checking out a library book. I carried those volumes (books like Corrie Ten Boom’s “In My Father’s House”) with utmost care. I felt pleased that he would trust me with one of his books. He was working to complete his Master’s degree in counseling for several years, and I could only wonder about how much knowledge he actually had in his head. It seemed like he knew everything.
I was awed by some little things that have stuck with me all these years – like the way he would drink his beverage after he finished his food or the way he would send his coffee back if it wasn’t hot enough. For some reason, that act was bold in my shy little-girl eyes. I found the fact that he hadn’t watched TV until he was seventeen a completely fascinating thing. He told me about pretending to be the Lone Ranger when he was a kid and how he used to get in trouble at school (which was pretty hard for me to imagine!). He told me that he hated collard greens, which – on the other hand – was easy to imagine (because I hated them, too). Time spent at Mamaw and Papaw’s house was usually punctuated by Papaw’s voice calling out – “Julia”- when he wanted Mamaw’s attention, which I loved – because I only heard everyone else call her ‘Sister Bailey’. Every single Christmas eve, he would read out the lovely words from the Gospel of Luke to make sure that we remembered why we were gathered together to celebrate.
And while I did always see him as quite dignified, Papaw was also a cut-up and loved to laugh. I learned, in later years, that Papaw was mischievous. He had many exploits on his resume…and those exploits continued even to shooting unsuspecting great-grandchildren with a rubber band gun. There was a certain twinkle that would come into those light blue eyes whenever he was about to prove a point or get to a punch line…and the grin that followed made a person grin right back at him.
I never did change my opinion of Papaw as one of the wisest and greatest men on earth.
As I grew older, my respect only grew. I could see how he gave so much of his life to building the Kingdom of God. I could see how he listened to others and how he cared about what was going on in their hearts. Asking him questions meant getting real-to-the-core answers.
With Papaw, it always felt like he could hear deeper than our words – beyond what we were saying to what we actually meant, or those things we might want to hide. Sometimes, especially in my teenaged-years, I would get nervous if Papaw looked into my eyes for too long – because if there was anything less than honorable in my heart, I just knew he could somehow see it. He didn’t mince words and he didn’t budge on what he believed to be true.
He made me want to be the best person I could be.
When my Papaw was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, he said his future was in God’s hands.
As a family, we prayed fervently for his healing.
A great friend to my Papaw and to our family, Rev. Matt Gunter, told us this: there are four types of healing in the Scripture. There’s a natural healing, healing through the help of physicians, supernatural healing, and healing through the Lord taking a person into that forever-home of heaven…where they are made completely whole.
On Wednesday, September 16th, Papaw was totally healed when he closed his eyes to this earth and opened them to the glory of Heaven.
There are moments with my family from these last five months that I will never forget.
My mamaw has always taken care of my papaw. Her love has always been plain in how she gives of herself…she is constantly on the go, ready to do something for someone. The way she has loved so faithfully, even (especially) in this hardest of seasons, is beautiful. I watched her, even as I knew her heart was breaking, support Papaw with a strength that left me amazed. Even though I am, technically, already grown up – I still find myself thinking that I want to be like her when I grow up.
And my dad, my aunt, my uncles (and their spouses)…I watched as they cared for Papaw, speaking for him when he couldn’t, becoming advocates and stepping away from their own lives in order to be there when he needed them. In the way they were there for him, I saw the honor and love they felt…and I saw the Godly character of my papaw and mamaw both shining clear through the lives of their children.
When they led the congregation in worship at the funeral – through the words of one of Papaw’s favorite songs, “Amazing Grace”, I was immeasurably proud of them.
All along, Papaw held firm to the truth that God is sovereign.
He knew the reality of God’s power to change things. He had seen the sick healed…he had seen the dead given life again.
We can’t fully understand why God’s plan didn’t include healing in the here-and-now and we don’t know why Papaw’s journey on this earth ended in this particular way…because it was such a hard road…
but Papaw trusted his life to God’s purpose and God’s plan, no matter what that meant.
So he continued, even during his illness, to speak truth into the lives of others. He continued to share what he had learned throughout his life…when he attended his church back in July, he said this:
“I look back on my life and I’m thankful. God has been good to me. And along the way, what makes it better is I see people once in a while and they tell me I was a blessing to them. And that makes it all worthwhile. If you’re living for yourself, you’re dead already…in this life, nothing’s worthwhile unless, when you come to where I am, you look back and you can say ‘I helped somebody along the way’…and to know that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. That’s all that matters.”
Papaw lived those words.
As people filed by, shaking our hands at the visitation, I heard countless words about the impact he made on their lives. For over sixty years, Papaw evangelized, counseled, preached, led congregations, and made music for God’s kingdom.
At the funeral service, Rev. Gunter spoke about how Papaw lived as a vessel for God to use – he allowed God to pour into him and then he poured into others. He lived a life of love and service…he lived like the Savior he loved so well, for so long.
And from here, how do we go on?
I am determined to live out my life in the way Papaw would want – by the Word of God, in service to the Master, loving others, helping somebody.
I have learned – in this hardest of ways – that life is shorter than we think it is. In all of this, the piece of my heart most shattered is the piece that is wishing I’d spent more time with him over my grown-up-with-kids years. I think he would say that I should learn from that feeling and make the most of my time from here on out.
As usual, he would be right.
We’ve witnessed just some of the effects of Papaw’s life and ministry. His choices and his willingness to live for the glory of God have made an eternal difference.
This is the legacy he leaves us and it is one we want to honor, one we want to continue.
He still makes me want to be the best person I can be.
On the night Papaw went before us into our Homeland, the sunset was the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen it. I was driving west toward my family and the sunset was all I could see. My kids were marveling at it from the backseat and, when my sister called me, she had just stepped outside. We couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the sky was, all lit up in red, pink, and orange. I heard her calling other family members outside with her to look at the glory of it…and I believe we were all feeling the same thing – this heavenly beauty must, somehow, be for him.
It was the first thing I thought of a few days later, when I read this in Psalm 19:
“In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course, like a strong man to run its race.”
Because, oh – Bernie Roy Bailey ran his course like a champion – he fought the good fight and he kept his faith.
And there is no doubt of the rejoicing that took place when Papaw was greeted as a ‘good and faithful servant’ by the Lord Jesus Christ.
He was absent from his body, but he was present with Christ. (2 Cor. 5:8)
There will come a day when we, all who are the sons and daughters of God, will be together with the Lord…Jesus overcame death and the grave on the cross. He gave us victory and everlasting life through His love.
And this is why, even while our hearts were aching with missing him, Mamaw was able to lead our family into the funeral service with hands raised. This is why we could worship even as we mourned. This is why my dad was able to lead us in a chorus of ‘Have a Little Talk with Jesus’ at the graveside. This is why, even while the pain is present, we have hope.
It is still hard to believe that my Papaw is no longer here with us. This is a separation that not one of us would have imagined even a year ago.
But death will not separate us forever and it did not – even for one millisecond – separate him from the love of Jesus – no, it ushered him into that eternal Home given by the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.
There, in that Beulah Land, he no longer sees through a glass darkly but by the beautiful Light of God. That grin is surely on his face as he walks down the streets of gold…that twinkle is surely sparkling in his brilliant blue eyes as he takes it all in, maybe trades thoughts with those men of old he has read about for so many years.
There, he has fullness of life and joy that we cannot even begin to imagine. There, his faith has been made sight.
All the promises he stood upon during this life have been realized, every hope in Christ Jesus has been fulfilled.
I believe he is with his family, fully known, and worshiping together with them. I believe that bass voice so many loved to hear is now singing ‘holy, holy, holy’ around the throne of God.
This was his purpose all along. He knew that this span of life on earth was not the end of the story, but the beginning. Papaw looked forward ‘to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’…and it is to that destination we, too, set our course.
One of the wisest and greatest men on this earth – my papaw I’ve loved for my whole life — is now one of the wisest and greatest men in God’s great city…and, one of these days, I will meet him there. I told him that I would see him soon…and, in God’s timetable, I will.
In the meantime, may those of us who knew him in this life and those who know of him now, because of these words, remember what he said… life is worthwhile when we know Jesus as Lord and help somebody along our way.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” –Hebrews 12:1-2
(If you would like to know a little more about my Papaw’s life, here’s a glimpse of our memories…)
(Photo credit/graphic to Babbi Moore, Cami Moore Gunn, and BJ Bailey)