This week, my family said goodbye to my grandfather, my mother’s father. William Mitchell was born and died in Covington, Texas, a little bitty town he loved. He left behind a wonderful wife, four children, and a slew of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and he will always be in our hearts.
This picture was taken at my wedding. Our amazing photographer and DJ coordinated to make sure we had our dance to Just the Way You Look Tonight when no one would disturb us. When the song began, our photographer and his assistant surrounded us to capture this sweet, forever moment. Grandy practiced and built his stamina so he could sway with me for a minute or so. I’ll always think of him when I hear that song – how he looked that night, spry enough for a quick dance, mind clear. His still-bright eyes filled with pride and love.
Oh, how I will miss him.
I had the privilege of giving his eulogy. I thought I would share it with you so you could catch a glimpse of this amazing man I got to call my Grandy. I can’t help but brag on him. He is a part of my story. I am a part of his legacy. And the prayers he prayed for me for three decades changed my life in ways I will never know.
Conversations with Grandy often involved him seamlessly spinning together stories, life lessons, truths, praises, and scriptures, so that when you were around him, it was like being encircled by a rich tapestry.
Those stories he told again and again have – as I’m sure he intended – soaked into our bones and become a part of us. So I want to tell you a few of them because they tell of a life well lived and a beautiful legacy.
Grandy’s childhood was idyllic, and then it was tragic. His parents had a home and land on which to grow food, so during the Great Depression they were well off. His beloved mother had cancer. It was terminal, but they didn’t know that because a doctor continued to treat her, trading false hope for everything Grandy’s family had to pay until all their positions and his mother were gone. Grandy’s father had a temper.
He told those stories over and over. The injustice of the doctor. The loss of his mother, who he talked about with love and longing for his entire life. The temper of his father, and that part of his legacy, which he yearned not to continue. With…ummm…varying success.
Grandy walked the streets of Holland after it was liberated from the Nazis. He passed people in cafes who would stand out of respect for the soldiers. The Dutch people, he would say, stood because they had been freed. They stood because they had been rescued.
He came home from the war and met Nanny. He was older and a soldier. She was 15. They rescued each other and started their own family.
Things were tight in those first days of their long life together. After they paid their bills and fed their baby – my mom, Rhonda, there was often not enough money left over for them to eat. They went to Nanny’s cousins’ land where they harvested wild turnip greens and occasionally had enough bullets to shoot a guinea fowl. In the following years, their love and family grew to include Glenda, Brenda and Tim.
Grandy never stopped sacrificing for his family. Every time we buy a rotisserie chicken, My mom remembers that when she went off to college, she thought the most prized and best piece of chicken was the back. The boney back with hardly any meat – it was always the piece that Grandy took for himself, saying it was his favorite. It was years later that she realized he was giving his children and wife the precious meat while, quietly and with no fanfare, saving the scraps for himself.
Grandy’s life was soaked in scripture and prayer. How often did we all call in the evenings to ask Grandy and Nanny to pray for us, knowing that they prayed for each of their children and grandchildren by name every night.
“Yes, sugar. I’d be happy to pray for you. We just finished reading our chapter for the night.”
I see him. Sitting at the kitchen table, warn out Bible in front of him, the windows open, curtains catching a fresh breeze as it wafted in and joined their prayers. He fought battles at that table. He fought battles for us.
He had his quirks, too. For all his faith, Bill Mitchell was a great pessimist, especially about two things in particular: 1 – his health – he’s been dying for approximately 30 years, in case you didn’t know. And 2 – all world events as they pertained to End of Days prophesy, which he kept up with by turning his hearing aids off and the TV volume to max.
My earliest memories of him were of his rough, strong hands and fingernails, which were always caked with grease from working on the railroad. His hands were rough with hard work, but he wasn’t rough. His bear of laugh, bright smile and tender eyes gave that away.
As we’ve shared memories over the past days, my cousins and I all share a similar memory. Every time we were around Grandy, he made it his mission for us to know we were loved, special and valued. It wasn’t small talk or a conversation filler, but something communicated with intention and urgency. He wanted his son, sons-in-law and grandsons to know they are men of character, leaders, capable. He wanted his daughters, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters to know they are beautiful, valued, lovely. He worked those words into us and he prayed we would believe them.
As Parkinson’s slowly stole Grandy away, he clung to his praises of us like a lifeboat. His affirmations of his beloved family were so important to him that those words became his autopilot – sometimes the only thing he could even manage to speak. And through repetition and passion he told his brain – these words will be stolen from me last. Up until the very last times I spoke to him, he’d say the words in a cadence familiar to all of us:
“I am the luckiest man in the world. All my children and grandchildren know Jesus and will join me in heaven. I’ve got the prettiest little granddaughters a man ever did see. My grandsons are godly men.”
Grandy was unapologetic in his faith and evangelism. We’ve all heard his answering machine message: “This is Bill and Billy Mitchell. If you died today, would you go to heaven…BEEP.” He witnessed to everyone. Everywhere. He knew no social graces when it came to making sure everyone he met knew Jesus.
And as I think about those stories he told – the boy losing his mother, the young man witnessing the aftermath of war, the new father yearning to start a new legacy – I see one thing clearly: Grandy was rescued by Jesus. And once he was rescued, he became a rescuer. An unapologetic, zealous man trying to get everyone he could to that same rescuer.
He wasn’t just a zealous evangelist. He was a gifted one, too. How many people did he introduce to Christ? Can you even imagine the reunion heaven threw on February 13?
Grandy’s favorite verse was, I have been young, and now am old; Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor their children begging bread. It’s a verse that speaks of a legacy. We all here – by birth, by marriage, by friendship – are blessed to be a part of his legacy.
Grandy’s legacy, now part our legacies, is one of grit and faith, of overcoming, of ruthless trust and endless praise. It is a legacy that is loud and righteous, spun of prayer and scripture and sweat. We are wrapped in his legacy – the tapestry of stories and truths and experiences Grandy wove for us. It is a legacy that will speak long after he is gone.
I’d like to end with a poem that I wrote for Grandy. Amazingly, it was written 10 years ago this week. I think it sums up Grandy and the legacy he’s left us all.
My Grandy is the best man I’ve ever known.
My Grandy tells me I’m beautiful every time I see him,
And he really means it.
He speaks it loudly, for all to hear.
My Grandy doesn’t hear much anymore.
But that doesn’t stop him from speaking Truth.
My Grandy never conquered a nation,
But he changed the world.
I want to explore and travel.
My Grandy walked the streets of Amsterdam.
People – the repressed, the maligned – stood out of respect for him.
I want to be a prayer warrior, but sometimes I get preoccupied.
But not my Grandy.
My Grandy prays every night.
He wrestled a demon and learned a lesson.
Cry out Help Me Jesus.
Cry it Loudly. Righteously.
I studied at Schools for years to be wise.
But life and a teachable heart have taught wisdom to my Grandy.
He speaks it. Loudly. Righteously.
I want to change the world for someone – it is my heritage.
The blood in my veins.
I learned how to from my Grandy.
He lives for God.
We love you, Grandy. Thank you for loving us so very well.