My grandfather met Jesus on the morning of September 1, 2010. I was honored to deliver the remarks at his funeral.
This past weekend, as I was given different papers from his house, I found two articles inside an envelope, both written by me. One was a blog post on my previous blog site, and the other was a brief article I had written for the newsletter of our church. Both articles included references to him. Not only did he read them both, but and he kept them close, on a table within arm’s length.
I have debated at length with myself as to whether or not I should publish these thoughts, but am now deciding to post, here, the comments I made during his funeral. I know that these may mean very little to you, but it is the least I can do to honor his memory. His name was Kenneth Hogan.
Memorial for Kenneth Hogan
September 3, 2010
As I begin today, I would like to read a letter, sent by Kenneth’s brother, Ed Hogan, who now lives in Montana, and unable to be with us today. [This letter was read by my brother, but I wanted to include it here.]
Dear Sandra, Gail and loved ones:
I’m sorry I’m not with you at this time but I want to share a few thoughts about our growing up on the farm.
We were always together whether it was work or play. We all had to help as soon as we were old enough – Griff, Ruf, Kenneth, Junior and me; feeding the animals, milking cows and on Monday mornings one of us had to help Mom with the laundry. Martha and Virg had married when my memories began.
“Being boys” their was mischief, too. Kenneth and I both loved horses and there was one choice riding horse – REX. If we were both going someplace our only transportation was a horse. Kenneth always beat me to Rex and I ended up riding an old nag. BUT, it wasn’t because he had the good looking horse that lots of girls had a crush on him.
Our lives drifted apart during the war years. I went in about two years after Kenneth but I was always headed to the same area. He made the Luzon Island invasion January 9, l945 and I went into Luzon 60 days later. When the war ended he went to South Korea for occupational duty. I went there on the same duty but he had already departed home for discharge. We were close but our paths never crossed. I know we would be talking about that this week as this is the week WWII officially ended.
Our family always enjoyed visits to Arkansas and Kenneth’s visits to Montana. We talked often on the phone and I’m going to misses our sharing memories, which goes way back, starting in the 1920’s when we were young boys.
My prayers and thoughts are with all of you today…………..Love Uncle Ed
As we stand here today, we honor the life of Kenneth Hogan. We are unsure, even today, how to honor him, but we know that his life was worthy of this moment, and all the good that we can remember.
And there are several good memories, even for a young boy like myself.
Like the times he rode his wagon and horses into the front yard of our house. I remember thinking that was such a peculiar sight, but, nonetheless being excited that the man who was brave enough to ride a wagon with a team of horses, in broad daylight, was none other than my grandfather.
I enjoyed the rides with him, the slow pace, and the way the horses moved. Nearly every time we visited him in these last few years, he would always remark of a comment I made once, while I watched the horses in their slow trot. And I remember the moment. I couldn’t help but notice that as those horses walked, their heads and their tails moved in such a way that I thought they were saying “yes” with their heads, and “no” with their tails at the same time. What interested me, though, as he told that old story, was that his memory was sharpened by that moment, and the smile that crossed his face took the years back to when he rode in wagon with a young boy at his side.
I write this now, remembering when, just five years earlier, I wrote comments for the funeral of my grandmother, Eloise Hogan, who met Jesus for the first time in February, 2005. I stood here, in this very place, and read words of a moment when my family last saw her, in her house, and remembering her smile as her great-grandchildren played with the same toys once used by her daughters. She and Papa had a good relationship in the final years of her life, speaking often on the telephone. He was unable to attend the day of her funeral, and remarked to my mother, his daughter, that Eloise “knew I cared about her, and that I did the best that I could.”
How those words have haunted me these years, and how those words began to shape the man I am, and the way I see the world. He taught me, with that one statement, spoken to his daughter, that regret is a prison which never really lets you leave.
And though time can offer you the heavy blanket of long years, there are moments, still, when the darkness of night forcefully overtakes us, when the moments of silence burn your heart, you learn, again, that mistakes once made may be forgiven, but can never be forgotten. And my heart hurt for him.
It was in that moment, too, that I realized the loneliness of my grandfather, when, in just a few short months later, I attended the visitation of Griff Hogan, Kenneth’s brother, and realized that Uncle Griff, and Papa, talked often before Griff’s passing.
And then I was introduced to the loneliness that bore hard and fast upon a man whose mobility was becoming very limited – upon a man who was slowly outliving those he loved the most. I knew, then, that if I was to be a grandson that could honor his grandfather, I would need to rebuild my own relationship with him, and help replace, if I could, some of the lost time. So I began to call him. And I called him often.
In these last five years, then, we spoke as frequently as we could. Sometimes I would call him. Sometimes he would call me. One instance I remember in particular.
In these past five years, I would ask him several times if he wanted me to buy him a cell phone, and, knowing the stubborn man he was, he would immediately remark back that he wouldn’t have one of “those things” even if I bought it for him. And we’d laugh together.
Then, last year, he called me his first cell phone.
We laughed quite a bit that day.
I remember a conversation in the spring of 2007, one gentle afternoon, listening to him as he told me of his decision to stop drinking whiskey. He had been one year without a drink, and he told me only after he had celebrated his first year of sobriety. He was proud to tell me that the decision was an easy one – he stopped suddenly, “cold turkey” as they say, and never looked back. In that very same conversation, too, he told me that he had begun to receive communion again, and I marveled that this man, this very, very proud man, was taking the time to offer me his testimony, and I felt honored that he would share these intimate things with me.
I have learned, then, that this man was grateful to have the time to let the grace of God change his heart.
I’ll miss those conversations the most. I loved to ask him to recall some of his experiences in World War II, or his experiences in the Civilian Conservation Corps, when he worked in Minnesota as a seventeen-year-old boy, making $30 a month, sending $22.50 home to his family, and keeping $7.50 to buy cigarettes. Just last month he had the opportunity to call the place where he worked, Gooseberry Falls State Park, in Minnesota. The dear lady with whom he spoke was delighted to hear his story, and told him that several people a year call, just like him, who worked on the parks and requesting information. She sent him a packet he displayed with such great pride. Inside were copied newsletters and such, where he found his name, and again, had the chance to remember days that he really never forgotten.
He learned, though, that he could again be mobile, even if it meant riding the streets of Newport in his wheelchair. When he learned of the new Walgreen’s in town, he rode there straightaway on his scooter, only to get there and notice that his battery of his scooter was drained, and he wouldn’t have enough power to ride the scooter back. He needed to charge it.
So, he asked the employees if he could plug into the outdoor receptacle. They agreed, and so he waited there, on the sidewalk of Walgreen’s, recharging his battery so he could ride home.
That scooter was his entrance to the outdoor world. The first day it arrived, some five years ago, the delivery man came to his front door, having driven all the way from Conway, Arkansas, just to deliver this machine to Papa. Papa, however, was a suspicious man, and wasn’t afraid of protecting himself, even with his pistol, if need be. So he told this young man that if he had other intentions, he just needed to remember that Old Man Hogan held the “difference in his hands.”
He was a man with an ability to turn a dollar. Proud of his restaurants, and loving his ability to talk to so many in this community, he would often personally take people their orders when his work day was through. He was also proud of a moment when a local business opened in the late 1970s, and he was paid to cater the event with a total of 1,500 hamburgers. The sheer magnitude of that sort of event still staggers me, but, yet again, I would have never known that had I not been able to spend so much time talking with him in these last few years.
He would often send me articles from newspapers, only to call me to talk about them. This spring he sent me an article of the retirement of a football player, and loved the article as much for the time it gave us to talk, as he did for the athlete’s heartfelt stance of knowing that his gifts and his talents were blessings from God. And it was good to hear Old Man Hogan speak of God in such great regard.
I yearned to know of his time in the United States Army, of his time in World War II. He was one of four brothers drafted into the service, and one of four brothers who served in various places around the world, and one of four sons apart from their mother. He served his country admirably, while one of his brothers served on the Philippine Islands at the same time, though neither ever knew. He would often say that his time worried his mother so much, that soon after all of her sons returned, she died, Papa would always say, because of the years she spent worrying.
I asked him, then, to please record his perceptions, and his time, in the war. He sent me a letter, postmarked April 19, 2005. Six pages of history, of his story, that I would like to read for you now.
My grandfather may have lived a life of regret. But my grandfather also lived a life of redemption. His life is the testimony of a life that eventually took the chance to love God again, to feel the overwhelming sense of grace and mercy, and know that God’s love is available, and free, and full of healing.
I believe he felt, in these last years, the truth … that God wants, desires, all people to be saved.
I believe, this day as I stand before you, that my grandfather was saved. Past mistakes may have chased my grandfather to his death, but God’s mercy chased my grandfather into heaven.
The Lord Has No Equal
12 Who else has held the oceans in his hand?
Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?
Who else knows the weight of the earth
or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?
13 Who is able to advise the spirit of the Lord?
Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?
14 Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?
Does he need instruction about what is good?
Did someone teach him what is right
or show him the path of justice?
15 No, for all the nations of the world
are but a drop in the bucket.
They are nothing more
than dust on the scales.
He picks up the whole earth
as though it were a grain of sand.
16 All the wood in Lebanon’s forests
and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough
to make a burnt offering worthy of our God.
17 The nations of the world are worth nothing to him.
In his eyes they count for less than nothing—
mere emptiness and froth.
18 To whom can you compare God?
What image can you find to resemble him?
19 Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold,
overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains?
20 Or if people are too poor for that,
they might at least choose wood that won’t decay
and a skilled craftsman
to carve an image that won’t fall down!
21 Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand?
Are you deaf to the words of God—
the words he gave before the world began?
22 God sits above the circle of the earth.
The people below seem like grasshoppers to him!
He spreads out the heavens like a curtain
and makes his tent from them.
23 He judges the great people of the world
and brings them all to nothing.
24 They hardly get started, barely taking root,
when he blows on them and they wither.
The wind carries them off like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me?
Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.
26 Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
27 … how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
… how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even the young will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
God, you are The Everlasting. You have seen sorrow, since the beginning of time, and you know full well the extent of our grief. You have heard cries since the creation of humanity, and you have seen tears that have flowed since the creation of the world. You know what we feel.
We come before you with many questions, with many doubts. We are ashamed to admit that this death makes no sense to us, and the guilt of our questions lingers behind the words of our prayers.
Yet we believe. We believe you are everlasting. We believe you hold the oceans in your hands. We believe that you understand our thoughts. We believe you cause kings to rise and fall. We believe you have no equal. We believe the stars are named by you. We believe you hear our prayers. We believe you never tire or grow weak. And we believe you offer us joy while we hope for the better, we believe you give us patience in our affliction. And we pray for the strength to be faithful in our prayers.
You, God, are awesome. And amen.