What's in a name? Sometimes nothing. Sometimes everything. He's 16 months and the youngest grandchild. We were at the oldest grandchild's celebrating her birthday. In walks the little toddler, comes over to where I am seated, points, and says "Pap-Pap". First time he's said that. And he hasn't stopped. Yes, I am loving it!
"Pap-Pap" is his effort to say "Papaw". And he's getting there. Today he actually got to "papaw" a time or two!
Almost every grandparent in the extended family got to choose their name. I did not. Our two oldest children remember my dad, and this little fellow's mother was less than 3 months old when Dad died at age 66 from lung cancer. He was "Papaw", and when they had children, I became "Papaw". What an honor!
Let me tell you a little about my Dad. It's been a long time and I see more clearly. Dad had an 8th grade education. He was the 7th in a large, dirt poor, family. His father was a coal miner. Dad was literally beaten and pulled out of bed one morning and taken to the coal mines to work. His father thought he had enough education and told him, "Boy, we've got mouths to feed." This was depression Appalachia.
Dad was a very good baseball player. That was confirmed when I showed up for my first practice in Babe Ruth League and the coach was reading our names. He came to mine and said, "Are you Ted Elmore's boy?" I said, "Yessir". He said, "Get out there in the outfield. If you are Ted Elmore's boy, you can play baseball." I started every game. Dad once had a scout from the Pittsburg Pirates tell him if he could get to Florida for spring training, he would likely make the team. But he was told by his father, "No boy of mine is going to go off playing ball when we've got hungry mouths to feed."
I went to my first Texas Ranger game in the old park with my dad. We were both adults. Almost every opportunity Dad had or sought to have was taken from him and given to another. I watched things in my youth I did not then understand. Now I understand them all too well.
Although many of his dreams did not materialize, he encouraged me in his own way. He struggled with being critical. I do too. Dad had an incredible gift of discernment and sometimes the flesh got in the way.
The stories are old and some are very sad. I do not intend to disparage my grandfather. He was a poor man in a very different and difficult time trying to do right and survive. My father missed opportunity, most likely because his father could not see beyond today's need. My father took it to a new level. In spite of all else, he and Mom made certain that my sister and myself did not grow up as they had.
At this season in my life, I have three temporary "jobs" that enable me to have one full-time salary without benefits. We pay for those. And I am grateful. But I know every day that my life can be radically changed by somebody else's decision and I have no recourse.
There are things I learned from my father that help me navigate this season of my life. I want to share some of those lessons taught by the original "Papaw" and I hope to communicate them to our grandchildren.
1. I learned to trust God. I watched my father in all his ways lean not to his own understanding, but in every way leaned upon God. Provision and joy come from the hand of God.
2. I learned the Bible was God's inerrant Word. I was taught that prior to the Conservative Resurgence in Southern Baptist life. I remember memorizing Psalm 23 and reciting it in church at either 5 or 6.
3. I learned the value of prayer. I have numerous stories I could tell.
4. I learned to do my own thinking. This is tough in today's religious environment. The pressure is huge to dress like, look like, use the same translation of Scripture, same buzz words, same heroes, etc., etc., etc., ad nausea. But God doesn't use clones.
5. And one of the most important - I learned that ministry that lasts is always personal. It is never about honor, prestige, structure, organizations, etc. They only serve if they are infrastructures for intensely personal ministry. Otherwise, they are wood, hay, and stubble.
Jesus said a little child would lead. And this weekend he has. So, whether "Pap-Pap" or "Papaw", the title is filled with meaning for me.