Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Farewell to Uncle Johny

While I was growing up, I had the privilege of having some very special people in my life. I had close relatives on the farm and there was a real community of them, all clustered around a few square mile chunk of some of the most beautiful land in Alberta.

A little West of Pigeon Lake, (my mom went to school at Lakedell school near Westerose Alberta) was where my moms family homesteaded back in the twenties or thirties. The land was pretty raw back then with a lot of trees and rocks and it took  a lot of backbreaking labor to clear the land and make it productive, but they persevered and had kids (a lot of them) and spread out and married and had more kids and bought more land and cleared it and on and on.

My Grandmothers brother (one of them, anyway) was John Satre, the big man that I always knew as Uncle Johny. He was one of those wonderful, laughing, wise, hardworking, great men that it is such a privilege and blessing to know and his farm was one of the regular stops in the valley whenever we would head out in the country to visit the family.

I always liked him a lot and when he passed away at the age of 97 on December 25 I got a call from his son, Roger. He asked me to pass along the news to the rest of my family in the city and he happened to mention that they might need someone to speak at the funeral.

Well always up for a challenge, (well not always, if I'm honest) I told him that, "of course I will speak if it will help out." I was a bit nervous about it because doing a eulogy (and I've done a few) and actually officiating at a funeral are not exactly the same thing.

He assured me that they probably wouldn't need me but of course a person can't just count on that happening and so I set about preparing. My uncle wasn't exactly a church going man and so the situation called for some delicacy, (not my strong suit) and I started to think about what I knew of Uncle Johny and what I would say to his family and friends who knew him so much better.

A funeral is one of those few times in life when people who might otherwise not be willing to listen and hear about Jesus are a bit more open and receptive to the message that Christians call "The Good News." That Jesus wants to have a relationship with them, He loves them no matter who they are and what their past is and that He died for them, so that they could have the chance to choose life.

So I thought about it and I prayed about it and I got a very clear picture of a man in a field running his hands through the heads of grain and stripping them off the stalk and crumpling them in his hand, (as farmers do) and just knowing, knowing, knowing, knowing. Without church and sermons, without the bible even, and I do know how important the word of God is, but without all of the usual and very necessary trappings of Christianity, just knowing......that, THERE IS A GOD!

And I wrote it down and I read it to my wife and when the time came to call Roger, he said "don't worry about it, we have an old friend of dad's to speak." And I said, "Oh, OK."

And that was that.

Well, it would have been, if not for Rose, she of course said, and I'm paraphrasing here. "NO, God gave you a word and you need to call him back and tell him that you have something to say and you need to speak!"
(But of course she said this in a way that was loving and supportive, but firm!)

So I tucked the paper in my pocket and told her I would ask him at the funeral and that's what I did, and when he and his wife read it, they said, "yes, please read it."

And so they tacked me onto the program and when the time came and they called, "Doug Perry, has something to say." I went up, (even though my name isn't Doug Perry!
And this is what I said.
"A lot of no nonsense farmers and ranchers whose life is taken up with their families and the land and their livestock and crops and the weather and the markets and their machinery…. maybe don’t think about it much. But when they're up before dawn, out bringing the cows in and getting ready for milking, when they look out over the foggy fields and dew covered grass and trees and they see how the thousands of spider webs are covered in dew and sparkling in the light of the rising sun, even then, they might not say it aloud, but inside, in their hearts, they just know, there is a God.

They might not have time to acknowledge Him in public or pursue Him in the way that others might, but when they hear the rain drumming on the roof and smell the new-mown hay, and strip the head of grain off the stock and marvel at the miracle of those tiny grains transformed into the slices of freshly baked, golden brown bread that is their lunch, they just know, there is a God.

When they reach for a tool to get the job done that needs to get done, that has to get done, and they strain and they wrestle with that stubborn rusty bolt that just has to come out because the combine is broken down and the crop has got to come off and the harvest is only half done and time is running out... and then, with one more heave, it breaks loose, finally: they whisper, "thank you Lord" And He hears.

Some men never really get into the habit of going to church, but they know there's a God just the same. when they look into the cradle and see the newborn child that is the product of the love that they have for their wife and they see those perfect little hands and those perfect little toes and those long eyelashes and the downy covering of tiny little hairs that covers a new baby, they just know, there is a God, because only God could make such a miracle."

It is always a privilege to speak in public and a funeral is one of those occasions when there is a lot of emotion and all a person can do is be willing and to do their best when called upon. And to trust that God will do the rest.
And I do.

And He will.