Good afternoon. Thank you guys for showing up, it means so much.
I would like to open with the first seven verses from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. It’s from the Message version as I feel it exemplifies my dad’s tone and attitude toward life a little better than maybe another, more common version.
“I, Paul am on special assignment for Christ, carrying out God’s plan for life as laid out in the Message of Life by Jesus. I write this to you, Timothy, the son I love so much. All the best from our God and Christ be yours! Every time I say your name in prayer—which is practically all the time—I thank God for you, the God I worship with my whole life in the tradition of my ancestors. I miss you a lot, especially when I remember that tearful good-bye, and I look forward to a joy-packed reunion.That precious memory triggers another: your honest faith—and what a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you! And the special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed—keep that ablaze! God doesn’t want us to be shy with His gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.”
I never knew my paternal great-grandmother. She was from Columbus, Ohio. My dad would often remark—as God was, by several orders of magnitude, the thing, the Person, he talked about most in this world—that she must have been praying for him throughout her life. Because when he was attending the University of Virginia during the late sixties, the last thing he was interested in was getting religion. But when two men from a local chapter of a national ministry showed up at his dorm asking if he’d like to hear about Jesus, he was maybe just a little inclined to listen. He’d also mention in one of his subsequent stories how the two guys from The Navigators pledged only to talk to students whose dorm doors were open. And when you throw in the fact that he had an overdue biology assignment he didn’t feel like doing, he was all ears.
Growing up, the son of a doctor and nurse, he was expected to continue the predecided future laid out before him and enter the healthcare profession. Apparently his SAT scores weren’t all that great but as he really buckled down in High School in order to get those grades, grades that arguably one of the most prestigious universities in America would have like to have seen, I suppose the scales tipped in his favor. So he finds himself in the storied halls of Jefferson’s school—alone. He’d essentially grown up alone. He credits the half-hour in between the time his father would come home from his practice and then take the first shot of watered-down scotch as the time when his dad’s kindness and personhood shone through. But the rest of the night and indeed every one until he grew up and left home for school at eighteen was filled with the misery and horror of a childhood with alcoholic parents. He would spend evenings in the cemetery of the University of Virginia crying. But then he meets these two ambassadors for Christ and even though he may not necessarily have felt like making a change then and there, his southern hospitality—something his mother instilled in him—won out and so he took the info they gave home with him for Christmas break. The next night, home from school, he decided to go across the back lot of his house and share with his neighbor—a retired pastor—how two guys came by his dorm wanting to talk about Jesus. And while Charlie thought it amusing, the pastor didn’t laugh and so dad left with a heavy conscience—a decision needed to be reached. Walking back to his house, recalling some of the things he’d seen his brother do gave him a measure of peace but he found this short-lived as he reached the second floor landing. So what do we do? All this misery, all this horror is about to reach a head. He remembers something *snaps fingers* how Jesus would forgive his sin and—what did the tract say?—forget it. So he looks it over and prays the prayer of salvation. Thinking, however erroneously, that he had to memorize it and recite it just so in order to have God hear and answer. After the third attempt, he heard the Lord speak to him for the first time. So he gets up off his knees, and asks his—now new—heavenly Father if He had anything in this book that would help him get going. He walked around to the foot of his bed where his childhood bible—the one he never read, the one he brought to college out of some sort of outmoded compulsion, the one that the two men in his dorm used to show him the truths of salvation as explained in scriptures he himself couldn’t locate if he tried—lay, opened the book and put his finger on Proverbs 3:5-6. And if there’s one passage in all of God’s Word—under the baseline passages regarding salvation and all that—that he clung to as if it were his life’s breath, it was this one:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
So he’s off and running. He tells me that he left his room as his dad was making his way up the stairs. He proceeded to inform him that he just now accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. And in another of his father’s moments of pure personhood, he tells his son, “Yes, He’ll help you.” Winter break winds up and he’s now got a new family. Thank God, because as his mom dropped him off back at UVa, she predicted this newfound Christianity thing would simply be another passing fad. He told her that the next time she saw him that he’d love Jesus all the more. And for about three months, it was pure Honeymoon. It was around that time that his father had picked up the bottle again and in an effort to reach out for someone to help shoulder the burden of a family that was falling apart, his mom called him to tell him this news. He couldn’t take this so he dropped out of school and joined the Marines. And moving forward, it was this structure of discipline, coupled with the expansive freedom found in Christ, that really formed the backbone of my father’s personal worldview.
My brother and I came along in respectively the nineties and eighties. I remember walking around downtown Montrose, hand in his. There was such a deep freedom that he carried with him during those days. The enormity of my childhood mixed with the enormity of his own, new branch off the family tree of God, conspired to give me a backdrop that I draw on to this day. The Lord used him to model the heart of the Father for me. I even remember wondering at one point if indeed my dad might have been Jesus. And he explained the Holy Spirit in a tangible way—all abstracts notwithstanding. He took great interest in my studies and taught me time and again the slow, deliberate forming of my alphabet. The quick, brown fox got pretty damn tired of jumping over the lazy dog, I tell you that much. He taught me how to pet bumblebees and how to tell the difference between begonias and petunias. He shepherded a burgeoning gift of dreams and interpretations with the simple maxim: “But how did it make you feel?” He also encouraged me to use a lesser word, a better synonym: to know my audience. He showed me how to take a non-Christian, secular song and maybe change the pronouns around and sing it to the Lord. And he taught me how to talk to God, how to tell him the simple thing, ask the simple question, to not overthink something in spite of being gifted with an analytical mind like his, and like his father’s before him. Things that, to this day I’m still learning how to do. He put my brother and I first, it’s why Ian and I are so close.
In John Eldredge’s book Fathered by God, he lines out the six stages of a man’s life. The sixth and final stage is “Sage”. I know of no other man right now than Charles Ingram who so exemplifies this idea, of a decreased mobility but increased presence and influence. Where all the years walking with God to the best of one’s ability distills down and becomes something purer and more powerful in spite of being expressed with the same words. Like how gratitude is a gift from God. That was one of the last things he told me. Much can be said about the relationship between my mother and father and I’m not here to do that. I will say, however, that he never fully recovered from the divorce and it’s his kidneys in particular that took the brunt of the stress. He didn’t want one of mine. But he believed God would heal him and manifest that healing in time for him to reenter this world and find a new wife and start a new life. His dreams and confidence and faith were boundless and still unfettered by the ways of this world. And if I had to put my finger on one thing God required of him throughout the last season of his life it would be “belief”. Jesus says in Mark’s Gospel (5:36), only believe. There is such power and simplicity in those words that it’s nigh indescribable. But that’s what he did, forsaking all others, so to speak. And I’m not here to argue “why does God heal some people and not others?” If you ask me, he got the prize.
My dad introduced me to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul talks to Timothy about the “gift of God which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.”, to quote the King James Version. That was what started in him directly—though the Lord certainly used his grandmother to pray and the two men to introduce Christ. But it was One-on-one with him. I didn’t get that distinction—but it’s okay. Thing is, we all have this. Whether it was our parents or a friend or mentor, the lineage of God is being handed down throughout all generations and we are “one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Romans 12:5) It’s about the only real thing I think he’d want after it was all said and done. For us to realize this substrate fact. To “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) He loved the Lord and he loved Christ’s body—he loved you guys. And he was always encouraging believers and non in the ways of God, the simple wonder of every little thing.
In closing, as my dad was—or is—a Marine, the lasts verse from the Marine Corps hymn is as follows:
“Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.”
I can imagine he’d be willing to take a post after he got to wander around a little bit.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)