How do you write about someone who has deeply influenced your life in small, quiet ways? How do you describe God’s amazing gift of a family – a heritage of men and women who were gentle, soft spoken, and kind, and yet whose faith was stronger than steel? A faith built on the unchanging Word of God.
With the death of my Uncle Vernon this week, a whole generation is gone.
Uncle Vernon. Memories flood my mind and bring tears to my eyes. I remember his big black and white car driving into Grampa and Gramma’s driveway and running to see him and his family. Hunting Easter eggs, making homemade ice cream, sitting and talking – simple things that remind me of security and happiness.
Vern had two sisters – Ruth and Joan. He took his role very seriously, looking very debonair in the process.
I also remember him telling me stories about when he was overseas during World War II – how he worked on the vehicles to keep them running for the officers.
When I was growing up, my dad always called him Shorty. It was never an insult. It was a fact. To my over-six-foot dad, Uncle Vernon was almost a foot shorter. Dad loved Vernon enough to give him a nickname. They were also partners for several years at Jack & Vern’s Shell Station on the east edge of Washington. Both of these men could fix a car no matter how difficult. They were classic mechanics who used their ears, hands, and brains to fix a car. No computers necessary.
Vernon served for years as the Sunday School Superintendent at my church. Every Sunday he’d quietly pick up the attendance and offering envelopes during the Sunday School hour. He made sure everyone was where they needed to be. He ordered the curriculum that the teachers needed to share the truth of the Bible with all the children. And he always made sure there were boxes of candy for all the children after the Christmas program.
Vernon would come and visit with my mom. I think she shared her burdens with him, leaning on her big brother. I remember him visiting one night when I had just moved back from Colorado. Mom mentioned how Karrie was often sad and quiet. Uncle Vernon’s heart broke at that. No little girl should be sad. In the next few moments, he was playing ‘train’ with my mom and Karrie and her cousin. He led them all around and laughter from girls and the adults could be heard ringing through the house.
I searched for the picture of this memory and was shocked when I found it. Uncle Vernon isn’t really in the picture. In my mind’s picture, I see his face smiling as he led the train, pulled the whistle, and shouted “wooo, wooo”. However, as I thought about it, I realized that the picture illustrates Uncle Vernon’s life. It wasn’t about him being the engine. It was all about bringing a smile to a little girl’s face. His life wasn’t about him. It was all about serving and bringing glory to the God he loved.
He was skilled with his hands and I have wooden train bookends that he made with a special note written to my mom. I treasure these as well as the wooden shoes and a bracelet he brought mom from Europe after the war.
When my aunt became ill with terminal cancer, Uncle Vernon shared his concern for her soul. He went to visit her and asked her if she had trusted in Jesus Christ as her Savior. Her smile and reassurance that she had trusted Christ as a young child when her dad had taken her aside and explained her need for Jesus thrilled him. He, too, had placed his trust in Jesus when his dad had taken him aside and explained his need for Jesus. He loved his family so much that he needed to make sure they would be with him in heaven one day.
And what about the next generations? Do we have the same faith of generations past? Faith that reveals to us the Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Holy, Just, and Good? Faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross, paying the punishment for our sins? Faith anchored in the Bible, believing that it is the inspired, unchangeable, and accurate Word of God? Faith that creates an unquenchable desire to please God with our lives? Faith that makes us broken over our sins? Faith that wakes us up each morning, eager to live for God until He comes? Faith that says “perhaps today”?
Faith of our fathers.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Psalm 116:15