Three weeks ago, Reid had the privilege of speaking at his grandfather’s funeral. This has been a season of much reflection for our family on the meaning and purpose of our lives. We believe, deeply and unwaveringly, that life…ALL life…is precious, whether that life is lived only in the womb, like our sweet baby Charlie, or for the “full” eighty-nine years like Reid’s grandfather James. We know life is precious because God says so…the God who creates, sustains, and eventually takes away…the breath of each and every life. We could never have foreseen that our baby boy would meet Jesus just a few short weeks before his great-grandfather would join him in that place, but it brings a deepened sweetness and poignancy to the words Reid shared at his grandfather’s goodbye.
Here’s a part of what Reid shared on April 23rd, in honor of the man who made the man who made the man…who made our sweet Charlie James.
“Once I got to college…I started to really appreciate the time period in which Grandpa lived his life, and the choices that he made to fight for and defend our country. And so, whenever I was around Grandpa Jim, I would ask him to share stories of his adventures as a pilot in WWII.
And he would always say, “Oh… I don’t know…” And then he’d proceed to tell grand tales of his adventures during that time.
One of my favorite stories was the one he would share about the time when he was flying on a particular mission, and a bomb actually hit his plane. Instead of exploding, the bomb opened up and smeared some kind of jelly all over his windshield, blocking his entire field of vision, to the point where he couldn’t see anything.
I’ve thought about that moment often… A bomb hit my grandpa’s plane, and in a breath, the story of the Zeller family could have looked incredibly different than it does today.
And so, Grandpa does nothing short of being heroic, rolls down his side window, and flies back to base looking only out the side. Incredible. That was my Grandfather.
He lived great stories, and based on the twinkle in his eyes when he told them, Grandpa loved telling great stories too.
I have one more thought I wanted to share about Grandpa, but before I do, I wanted to share something about my wrestling with the idea of story in our lives.
Twelve weeks ago, the story of my life got flipped upside down when my son Charlie went to be with Jesus. And I was, and still am, a confused man – wrestling with why God would choose for this to be my story.
Not long after Charlie died, the Lord took me to the story of Abram in Genesis 15, a man who was also very confused, and very much struggling with God’s plan for his life. Because God had promised to make a great family through the line of Abram, and the fact that Abram and his wife were well beyond the chid bearing years, he was amiss. He did not understand. Sitting in his tent that night, he asks God, “Is it through my servant that you ‘intend to make a great heritage through my family?’”
God replies, “Abram, come for a walk with me outside.”
Now you know the story, God tells Abram to look up and count the stars, and tells him that will be how big his family will be!
Now, I probably blame this on my flannel graph Sunday school education for lack of imagination, but every time I’ve heard or read that story, I imagine that this was a great counting exercise that God did with Abram. “Look up and count. Oh, too many? Well, that’s how many.” And I think I missed the point.
But, this time around, when I read this story after my son died, God gave me a vision. It’s almost as if he transported me right under that middle-eastern desert sky, and gave me a picture of what it was like to look up and see what Abram saw. And it was not the same city sky that I look up at where I’m from. It was a beautiful, desert sky – where the stars were so bright, and the galaxies so wonderful. This was no mere counting exercise.
This was God showing off. This was God saying, “Oh Abram, you’re confused about your story because you don’t have a son yet. That’s what you’re putting your hope in – a story that includes you having a son? That’s it? Look up! This isn’t actually about your story! It’s about my story, and my glory! And guess what, I’m going to write your family.”
And that’s what God spoke to me. This isn’t about my story. It’s about His story, and His glory – and He’s writing His story through my family.
And that leads me to my last reflection about Grandpa…
He believed that God has a great story…and that He’s writing it through our family.
Over the past few years, any time our family would gather en mass, mostly at weddings, Grandpa would talk about this family. And inevitably, that would move him to tears. He felt so incredibly blessed to have this family flow from him and Grandma.
And he believed that this family would leave an incredible impact on the world. But he didn’t believe that because we’re all great people. He believed that because we have been called by a great God to bear witness to His love and grace and glory, and that God had chosen our family to write His story. That’s what Grandpa believed. That was the joy of his life.
You know, being a father is a great gift. And one of the most amazing privileges in the world is naming a person. I have loved naming my kids. And honestly, I have given careful attention when naming my boys. I wanted to tell them things, to instill beliefs and hopes I had for them through their names.
One theme that I wanted both of them to know is that my boys will be warriors – that they will be strong and courageous, loyal to their king. And so I chose middle names for them as such, naming them after great warriors, two of my heroes.
My oldest son Fred, was given the middle name Uriah – named after one of King David’s mighty men, who in the midst of tragedy, betrayal, and the cost of his very life, remained faithful to his king till the very end.
And my second son Charlie, was also named after a great warrior, who fought in a great battle and was loyal to His King until the day he died. My son Charlie James was named after a great man, a great warrior – my Grandfather.
And today, my son is standing with the great man he was named after…standing before their King, and waiting patiently as He writes the final chapters of His glorious story and we are joined together with them forever.