Earlier this week, Tuesday, August 2nd, was my father-in-law’s 100th birthday. Unfortunately, he wasn’t still here on earth to celebrate it – he passed away eight years ago this summer – in 2013. It seems like yesterday that we were speaking on the phone – we were saying our good-byes to one another as John told me that he would see me again one day in heaven. It was an emotional time that I will never forget. After all, I have spent almost all of my life knowing him.
I met Mr. Boyd, my future father-in-law, in 1959 at the Open Hearth Class at Trinity Methodist church in Beverly Hills on the south side of Chicago. I was six at the time. Eventually, the Boyds and my parents became best friends. Mr. Boyd took a real interest in me and I eventually ended up cutting his lawn as one of my first customers when I was old enough to work. Dad would drop me off with our mower to cut the grass. I received $1.00 per week, that is until Mr. Boyd raised me to $1.25.
While our family had three boys, the Boyds had three girls and we all knew each other although the kids didn’t hang out together. Our common bond was the friendship that our parents valued and shared. My youngest brother, Ken, was born one month after their youngest daughter, Nancy, in the summer of 1960.
When I worked after school at a local young men’s clothing store, John Boyd would come over to our home to see what the latest fashion stuff was. He and Dad would spend time together and I even remember going downtown to his office and helping set up a fish tank in the lobby of his company. It was a carefree time.
When Janet and I started dating (I was the oldest son and she was the middle daughter), John was brutally honest with me about his concerns. He thought I was arrogant and questioned whether I would amount to very much. On hindsight, I really valued his honesty and knew where I stood with him, although it did feel a little raw at the time. It gave me a chance to convince him that I was worthy of marrying his daughter. And throughout my life with John, I don’t think he ever minced words about speaking into my life. It was a wonderful gift and after my own father died, John filled that father role for me. I was very fortunate.
As with most relationships, we had our ups and downs – but mostly ups… He advised me on my career, gave advice willingly and without judgment – and became my biggest supporter. He watched with pride as I advanced in the corporate world. While we didn’t live close to one another, we spoke several times a week. To be sure, John questioned how I would support Janet and our three children when I was in seminary. But it all worked out. He soon came to understand my passion to enter into a deeper relationship with the “One who created me.” In fact, I think it fueled his own spiritual journey.
He became interested in theology and while there is no question that John was a believer in Jesus, he sought to learn more about Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. He had a particular interest in talking about the Trinity with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit.
As I re-entered the corporate world with a strong passion for Christian ministry, John was always interested in what I was doing. In addition to the role of being like a father to me, he was a mentor and encouraged me. To be sure, we didn’t always agree – in some ways, we were wired differently – but we deeply respected one another throughout our decades together. It occurs to me that he was 38 years old when we first met. And he passed away at the age of 92 – that’s quite a ride together.
As he approached the end of his life, we had some especially deep conversations. He asked me to look our for his daughters; to be there for the family. And in what became the ultimate demonstration of love and respect, he asked me to do his eulogy. I couldn’t have been more honored. That’s the way that it ultimately happened – I was proud to be selected by him.
I can’t adequately relate how much I loved and respected my in-laws. They were terrific people and John was undoubtedly the patriarch of the family. As I age and continue to lead our leg of the family, I hope that I will be able to face the end of my physical life with the same dignity and assurance that John exhibited. I witnessed a master class in how to end well. I miss him…
I know people my age, or older, who still have one or both of their parents. I can hardly imagine still having the benefit of that kind of wisdom at this point in my life. I would cherish it beyond words. But John set me up for success and I knew, without question, his expectations for me as a husband, father and grandfather. I hope, and believe, that I have made him proud.
Our verse for tonight is from the book of Exodus, written by Moses. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was very helpful in steering Moses in the right direction. He was the one who suggested Moses appoint judges to help administrate disputes. We are told, in Exodus 18:24, “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.”
I felt short of that lofty goal, but if I had it to do over again, I would listen even more intently than I did. My encouragement this evening is that God puts elders in our lives to teach us, love us, guide us and draw us closer to Him. My prayer is that each of us should be so fortunate as to have wonderful parental figures and mentors, as I did. Thank you, John. And to the rest of you, have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…