Last Friday our church honored our 40 years here at Heritage with a wonderful party/tribute that was full of laughter and tears. It was one of the most precious nights of my life because many people whom I love so much were there: John’s brother and sister-in-law; my brother and sisters and some of their children, my own kids, my best friends for nearly 50 years, and many from our church family.
At the end John and I both got to speak and share our own feelings. I thought I’d share some of what I said that night. (I’m not including all of it since it was over 10 minutes.)
“Knowing this weekend was coming, I began thinking of a word-picture that would allow me to express my love and appreciation to all of you who mean so much to me. Since I’m such a reader I decided to use the analogy of my life as a book and all of you are the people who have written on the pages of that book, helping me become who I am over these many years.
I was amazed to realize that if my life is viewed as a book and each day as a page on that book, there would be about 22,600 pages! And each of you has written on these pages to some degree or another.
(Then I shared about our our siblings, our best friends, our kids, and our grandkids. And finally:)
**John. What would my book look like if you had never begun writing on it? I was only 19 when we first fell in love, so of those 22, 600 days, about 15,695 pages have been experienced with you.
We’ve raised kids together, served together, pastored a church together, experienced the highest highs and lowest lows in life together, laughed and cried together. And we have loved each other so greatly for these 43 years.
So much of who I am is because of you:
If the pages of my book show a person with any measure of self-confidence, it’s largely because you’ve believed in me and told me that I could do anything.
If the pages of my book show a person who is a leader in any way, it’s largely because you always encouraged me to use my gifts, with never a shred of fear that any success I achieved would minimize or overshadow yours.
If the pages of my book show a glimpse of a woman laughing and enjoying life, you would be much of the reason for that. As I so often say, “You still got it, Ralph!”
In my mind’s eye, when I get to heaven and spend a few years praising Jesus for His loving redemption, my next bit of praise will be for the precious gift of the love of John Bray.
**My church family. Oh, how you have shaped the book of my life!
We’ve grown up together, haven’t we? We are family. And as family, we’ve hurt one another at times, but we have loved more than we’ve hurt. We’ve had stresses and trials at times, but we’ve experienced more joy than sadness and heartaches.
And most importantly, we had made a difference on this earth for eternity.
We’ve seen countless people find salvation in Jesus Christ and we’ve watched them set their feet on the path to eternity with Him.
We’ve seen broken people find hope in their lives when there was no hope.
We’ve seen so many find freedom from addictions that threatened to destroy them.
We’ve seen marriages restored when it looked like divorce was inevitable.
We’ve seen people find a place of belonging when they had never experienced it before.
We’ve seen people find meaning and purpose outside of money and possessions
And on and on I could go.
I guess the best way I could describe it is this: We’ve seen countless lives transformed by the almighty power of the living God when no one would have thought it possible.
Together we’ve made a difference not just for this life, but also for eternity.
And we’ve done it year after year, for 40 years! Not many people ever get to do that. Our roots go down deep in one another’s lives. Our love goes just as deep as those roots.
When I think of our lives together, I paraphrase the apostle Paul’s words to his co-laborers at Corinth because they so describe how I feel about you, “You are my letter, written on my heart, known and read by everybody….the result of our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God…” That’s what you truly are to me, my Heritage family, my brothers and sisters in Christ.
**And finally, to you, Jesus. And now, words truly do fail me. Of those 22,600 days, you’re the only one who has walked every single one with me. I began to realize your love and presence at the age of 6 when I knelt down at that old red vinyl couch and asked you to be my Savior. Since that day I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to love you, serve you, live for you and glorify you. I wish I could have done all of that better, but you have been so patient.
Yes, words fail me when it comes to you, Lord. How could I ever put into words my gratitude for redemption? How could I ever express my love for your Word that has so shaped and guided my life? How could I ever thank you enough for your precious Holy Spirit who indwells the believer and helps us live the life you call us to live? How could I praise you enough for this deep, meaningful relationship that I’ve experienced with the Lord of Lords and King of Kings – who is also my best friend, closer even than these earthly friends whom I am blessed to know and love?
No, there are no adequate words. All I can do is daily give this book back to you and tell you that you can use in any way you choose. I’m yours, all of me, for now and for eternity.
To all of you who have written on the pages of my life’s book. (I wish I could call each of you by name):
I say, “I love you and I’m proud of you and I thank you”, even though that’s a bit like saying to the Grand Canyon, “That’s a big hole.” The words just don’t describe the situation. But I still say them because I can’t come up with anything that does better justice to how I feel about you.
With all my heart, I thank you for all for all these years of loving me, accepting me, praying for me, growing up with me, walking through life with me.
I close with Lou Grant’s words that he said to Mary and Ted and all his buddies at WJM TV,
“I cherish you people”.