Thursday, December 18, 2014
My Grandfather: 100 Years Old Today
I can’t help remembering the things that were most precious to me. - Macduff in Shakespeare's Macbeth
100 years ago today a great man was born. He may not be great in the chronicles of history, but he was great to me.
The same year, Woodrow Wilson was President and declared Mother's Day an official national holiday. Wrigley Field opened in Chicago under the name Weeghman Park. Babe Ruth made his major league debut with the Red Sox. Paramount Pictures formed. The average automobile cost $550. World War I began. And on December 18, 1914, Marion Howard Hendrix was born to Howard and Nellie Hendrix of Columbus, Georgia.
Marion, one of six children, grew into young manhood during the days of the Great Depression. He married Virginia "Jenny" Gullatt, his true love and sweetheart. He worked for a mill in the Columbus area, bought a house next to his parents, and started a family.
After several years, he believed the Lord wanted him to be a pastor. He and my grandmother "sold the farm" and he became a student at Mercer College in Macon and later at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1952, upon graduation, they moved with their four children to Spartanburg, South Carolina. Marion began to pastor a small church called Cedar Spring Baptist Church. He would serve and shepherd that church for more than twenty-five years, until his retirement. During the 1980's, he served as an interim pastor for more than ten churches in Spartanburg and Union counties. Through the years, his children all married, and he and my grandmother enjoyed eight grandchildren. He died in Spartanburg on October 7, 1997.
Today would be his 100th birthday.
We called our grandparents "Mom-ee and Pa-Pa." Because he had been wild and spirited as a little boy, he earned the nickname "Monk," short for monkey. For the rest of his life, his wife and siblings referred to him simply as "Monk."
He enjoyed watching the Atlanta Braves and working in his garden. I remember rocking in silence with him on his back porch. I remember how he used to clear his throat. I can still smell his aftershave and the smell of his closet. I remember watching him cry one day when he heard the news that a friend had died. I recall him shouting and whooping for joy when we learned that my family was not going to have to move away. I remember him telling jokes and smiling. I remember Christmas nights at their home with a crackling fire. And I remember drifting off to sleep on summer nights in his house as he and my grandmother listened to the clock radio.
Last night at our church I taught an overview of the book of Deuteronomy. The fifth book of the Old Testament is a book of remembrance. Moses, preparing to die, does not want the people to forget the things of the Lord. Most of the book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses recounting to them the law of God, the promises of God, and the warnings of God. Moses calls them to remember.
It is a good thing to remember. It helps us to not get puffed up. To evaluate our lives. To not get swept away with popular thought and opinion.
When my grandmother moved out of their house at the early part of the 21st century, I collected several hundred of Pa-Pa's old sermons. Through the years I stored them in the attic or in filing cabinets. Recently, however, I enjoyed mulling through many of his notes. With great attention to detail, he probably kept every sermon he ever preached. At the bottom he wrote the date and place. Some of the sermons which he preached multiple times have dates and places spanning many years.
When I think of Pa-Pa, I remember several things . . .
Pa-Pa was a very good and noble man. He embraced goodness. He embodied goodness. He extended goodness to others. The Bible says that we are to think about things that are good and noble (Philippians 4:8). Today our world has a lot of things that are not intrinsically good. We still need men and women that are good.
Pa-Pa loved his family. He and Mom-ee loved each other very much. They were sweethearts for their entire 59 years of marriage. They acted like two young kids in love until their last days together. Riding with them to Florida one year, I remember that my grandfather kept speeding. Every time my grandmother reprimanded him, he replied, Honey, I get to driving and thinking about you. I keep thinking about you and get excited and it just makes me drive faster and faster!
Many times I heard him sing the song, Let Me Call You Sweetheart. He would then sing it again, changing the words. Don't let me call you sweetheart, I don't love you anymore, since your dear old Daddy kicked me out the door, when he caught us spooning by the outside well. So tell your dear old Daddy, he can go to [dramatic pause] bed!
Mom-ee and Pa-Pa were involved in the lives of their grandchildren. We lived in Greenville, about 45 minutes from them. I recall numerous events that my grandparents attended - swim meets, plays, musicals, and church events. One of my favorite old pictures is one taken at my senior choral concert in high school. I sang the solo Forever and Ever Amen. When the crowd applauded, someone snapped a shot of my parents and grandparents smiling and clapping.
Every year, Pa-Pa preached Mother's Day sermons. In many of them, I read of his love for his own mother. In 1970 he wrote one called "A White Flower," drawing from the tradition on Mother's Day of wearing a red rose if your mother is alive and a white rose if your mother is deceased. In it he shared about losing his own mother.
For 54 Mother's Days I have been privileged to wear red flowers. Today is my fist Mother's Day to wear a white flower. Mama died last July 15, 1969. And I wear it to honor the memory of Mama. I thank God for Mama. Mama believed that Jesus is the only Savior from sin. Mama believed that Christians ought to serve the Lord in His church. Mama believed in Heaven. In her last days her mind began to fail, but she would always remember Papa and wish she could go to Heaven. I want to keep faith with her faith.
Like it was yesterday, I vividly recall listening to my grandfather's mealtime prayers. Anytime I spent the night with them, I heard him pray at the end of his prayer around the dining room table, And God bless Dag and Marian and Rhett, bless Jane and Leland, Mark, Cary, and Ryan, bless Bob and Anne and Rob and Meredith, and God bless David and Cindy, Laurie and Tyler. Amen. They prayed for us by name daily without exception.
Pa-Pa loved his country. He proudly hung an American flag at his house. Many of his sermons refer to his pride of our country, his belief that America was founded on Christian principles by Christians, and his belief in America's goodness and greatness.
Pa-Pa believed in the Bible and the lordship of Jesus Christ. He believed in, preached, and sang about the old, old story. He believed there was no other name by which people can be saved from their sins except the name of Jesus Christ. He believed there was only one way to heaven. He believed that the Bible was God's Word, and that we should seek to understand and obey its teachings.
My grandparents read the Bible every day. They believed its message. They sought to put it into practice in their lives.
In his sermon "Overcoming Inconviences," which he first preached on July 10, 1955, he wrote the following:
The desire for convenience had had its effects in the religious life of the multitudes. To many people today, religion is a matter of convenience, not conviction. We see on every hand persons looking for the church that pleases them, with little or no consideration for the question of whether the church is remaining true to the Word of God. We are beset with legions who want to hear a gospel that salves the conscience in preference to the gospel that convicts of sin and saves the soul.
We can be assured that this kind of religion never had had the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has never called anyone to follow him down the path of convenience. Jesus adds his blessings when we exercise faith and follow him in praise, worship, and service.
Pa-Pa had a simple faith and trusted God. Many times through the years I heard one of my grandparents, usually Mom-ee, share about how they had to learn to walk by faith and trust God for the needs in their lives. I remember my uncle David once saying that Pa-Pa reminded him somewhat of Abraham receiving a call from God and leaving everything. With three children, they sold their house and began their walk of faith. As a couple in ministry who never made lots of money, they learned through the years to trust God for their needs.
Once my grandmother had a relative die and some of her family met to discuss the inheritance. The family began squabbling over the money. My grandfather looked at his wife and said, We are leaving. We are not arguing over money. We will trust God to take care of us.
After serving Cedar Spring Church for five years, the church bought Pa-Pa a brand new 1957 Ford. The following picture shows him proud as a peacock with that car.
During most of the twenty-seven years he pastored Cedar Spring, he and Mom-ee never owned a house. They lived in the church's parsonage. When they celebrated their 25th anniversary at the church, as a surprise, the church presented my grandparents with the deed to the house. When the house was later moved to Longbow Drive in Spartanburg, a picture hung in their home of a church leader presenting the deed to Mom-ee and Pa-Pa.
One of my vivid memories with my grandfather is sitting next to him at an Easter Passion Play. I remember the tears he shed at the scene of Christ on the cross. To my young mind, I knew that Jesus Christ was real to him.
Pa-Pa believed in heaven. He sang hymns about heaven. I remember sitting on the balcony of a condo at Daytona Beach with him one Sunday afternoon. He told me that the pastor preached about heaven that morning. "It made me want to go," he said. The day he died, Jenny told him, "Monk, you have talked about heaven so many times. Now you go, and I am coming soon."
The Baptist Courier, the state paper for South Carolina Baptists, wrote an editorial about him. In it John Roberts shared, "Marion H. Hendrix has been one of the outstanding Baptist pastors of South Carolina in the 20th century. He has done this without calling special attention to himself and with a minimum of fanfare and honor. Like Andrew, he could be called the stable apostle of the rank and file."
The day his mother died in 1969, while waiting in the lobby of the hospital, my grandfather wrote the following poem . . .
God's love so rich has come my way,
Bright as the sunshine of this day;
Tho' sorrow o'er my heart has drawn
A veil of grief not lightly borne.
For Mama waits in room of white
For that first gleam of glory bright
That shines when gates of pearl swing wide
Inviting saints to come inside . . .
To live with Him who gave His life
That we amidst this earthly strife
Might have a hope and strength secure
With grace sufficient to endure.
When sorrow brings its heaviness,
Just so our Lord with joy does bless
Our hearts with peace, our minds with rest,
In knowing that His will is best.
So Come, Lord Jesus, take her home,
And may we hear the Heavenly song
When Papa greets his Nellie dear,
"I've waited long to meet you here!"
My grandfather wrote, "I want to keep faith with her faith. I believe it will honor her."
Well, Pa-Pa. We want to keep faith with your faith. I believe it will honor you.
We love you. We still remember. And we will see you and Mom-ee again one day.