Grandpa 4
The family at my brother’s wedding, with Grandpa in front.

I was sitting at my desk at 7:15 in the morning on a cold winter day in February of 2011 when my cell phone rang. The caller ID said “Mom”. The dreadful phone call I was expecting just became a reality. I knew what it was for. I said “Hello”, not wanting to hear what she had to say, but knowing I had to hear it. Then Mom said, “Hi Craig”, followed by “About an hour ago Grandpa went to heaven.”

A few days before this I was able to talk to my grandpa on the telephone and say my goodbyes. It wasn’t the best conversation, but he was able to muster up enough strength to say a few words and to say that he would see me in heaven someday. I know his passing away would be in the near future, but I just didn’t know when. Even though his body was breaking down daily and he was in and out of the hospital a lot during those last months, he was a fighter, and wasn’t ready to go quite yet. He wanted to live to a ripe old age. But finally, after saying goodbyes to all his grandkids, children, and wife, he told his Father that he was ready to come home. The fight was over and at 6:30am on February 28 he was home for good.

Today marks the five year anniversary of the death of a man that is very dear to my heart – my grandpa. My grandpa was a young 79 when he passed away. He stayed active as long as he could, always on the go, and always willing to lend a hand. He retired three times because he loved to work. Every time he thought he was finished working, he went back for more. He was a helper, a teacher, and a friend to hundreds of people. He was loved by many and he loved many, no matter their age, religion or race. He had friends of all walks of life. God was #1 in his life, and after God, he always put his family before himself.

Grandpa was truly a role model to me….one who I looked up to and even today want to model my life after. The memories I have of him will never be forgotten.

He taught me how to shoot a rifle, field dress a deer, and water ski. He convinced me to continue to play water polo after I wanted to quit my sophomore year. He attended countless numbers of my basketball, baseball, and water polo games, along with my high school and college graduation ceremonies. Christmas with him was special – all the grandkids getting their height measured, pictures in the same place every year in the exact same order, calendars we always received from him that he chose especially for us, and his favorite line “anyone got a knife?”  I’ll never forget the all-you-can-eat shrimp platters at the North Shore restaurant at the Lake. He showed me how to eat oysters, and we all remember the pontoon boat rides on the Lake that put us all to sleep. Attending Cardinal baseball games, hunter safety classes, hunting trips and playing golf were always good times with him. I will always remember the summer I worked construction for him at West County Mall, as well as all the work days he organized at his own house on Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Yes, he was the boss, and we all knew it! He taught me how to hold a cue stick and shoot pool. And he sure did love those scratch off tickets! Free meals at restaurants; need I say more? HA! These are just a few memories I have of him, with hundreds more engraved in my mind forever of this great man.

My grandpa never knew what the word QUIT meant. Even into his 70’s, he would still do the same things as he did when he was 30….or at least gave it his best shot. He even water-skied after he had two knee replacements. He would never stop a task until it was finished to perfection. He set the bar high in our family, and settled for nothing but the best in everything he did. He was a giver, an inspirer, and an encourager. He was an uplifter, a leader, and a witness. He was truly a man that pleased many, especially God.

If my Grandpa saw me in prison today, I know he would be disappointed in me. I would have hurt him tremendously with me being his oldest grandson. But I also know that he would be very forgiving and would never ever stop loving me. He truly was an amazing man – a loving father, husband, and grandpa, and for this I would trade nothing for. There are many days that go by when I miss him and think about him. But I do know he is in good hands, and most definitely free from ALL the pain he was in. And one day, I’ll be again reunited with him in heaven, and this time forever.

I love and miss you, Grandpa!

Grandpa 1
Bud Ward,             1932-2011

Knocked off Your Feet by Jesus

ski fallI’m at the top of the mountain in Breckenridge, Colorado. It’s been a year since my last spring break trip out west. I push myself off the ski lift and ski to the start of the run. It’s an intermediate blue run – not too easy or level, but not too hard or steep either. It’s a good warm-up run to kick off the weeklong trip. As I started my descent, a smile comes across my face. The joy and excitement I feel when snow skiing is unreal. It’s the beginning of the day so there are not a whole lot of skiers on the slopes at this time. I pretty much have the run to myself. There is a snowboarder a good ways down the run, making his cuts every thirty or so feet, slicing into the fresh powder. He’s not going too fast but is consistent, and I catch up to him in no time. The run is long and straight, not too wide, so I give myself plenty of room when planning to pass him. I anticipate his consistent cuts and am just about even with him when he breaks his consistency and does a quick right cut, then left, encroaching on the side of the run I’m on. The next thing I know he is right in front of me. I try to turn but am going too fast. It’s too late! BOOM! We both go sprawling and sliding down the mountain, with our gear flying all over the place.

It’s summertime. School is out. And Mom just kicked my siblings and me out of the house for the afternoon. It’s a typical summer day in St. Louis – hot and humid. Video games were not all that popular when I was younger, so we and the neighborhood kids had plenty to do outside. That day we all were involved in an intense game of kick-the-can.

In case you don’t know what kick-the can is it’s pretty much like hide n seek, only with a twist. There is a jail area one has to go to if they are spotted in their hiding place. In order to get out from this area, someone who is hiding and not been caught has to free those being captive before the spotter sees them. He does this by kicking the can….then all are free to go hide again.

On this particular game, I was one of the hiders. I had a few good hiding spots that were golden and hard to find. Midway through the game, the spotter had found about half the hiders and was filling up the “jail” area at a fast pace. I knew it was time to make my move to free the captives. While the spotter was heading the opposite direction from where I was hiding, I slowly came out of my hiding place and started sneaking my way to the can. All of a sudden the spotter saw me. I froze and realized I had to beat him to the can or I, too, would be caught. I took off. He took off. The race was on. I was just a little guy at the time, while the spotter was much older and bigger, twice my size. As I got nearer to the can, I knew it was going to be close. We were just feet from the can, both coming from opposite directions. I reached for the can with my foot. He reached for the can with his foot. BOOM! We collide. Because he was twice my size, I bounce off him like two sumo wrestlers. The impact is so hard I leave my feet and fall flat on my back, smacking my head on the asphalt.

Drawing a charge in a basketball game. BOOM!

Getting tackled in a football game. BOOM!

Involved in a car crash. BOOM!

Unexpected divorce. BOOM!

Lost job. BOOM!

Cancer. BOOM!

I’m sure many of you have some stories of epic crashes or collisions. I know I have plenty more of them. Both these stories I shared were true and very memorable for me. I absolutely love skiing and kick-the-can was a great childhood game my friends and siblings would play for hours during the summertime. Good times. And yes, I was OK in both circumstances.

My question to you is, “Have you ever got hit by Jesus?” Has He ever smacked you so hard that you got your bell run? That you were knocked off your feet? I’m talking about something happening in your life, like a test, trial, or injury, where it has opened up your eyes and put a new perspective on life or even a learning experience. Something Jesus allowed in your life to get your attention?

When I was standing before the federal judge on my sentencing day and he said, “I now sentence you to 74 months in a federal prison, “I felt like I had never been hit so hard before in my life. Like I said before, I put myself in this situation, but I truly believe God had a hand in the amount of time I got and the location I was sent to.  Hebrews 12:6 says, “God disciplines those He loves.” When I was charged, sentenced, and sent off to prison, God definitely got my attention. He hit me hard, and I mean hard. I felt like an unprotected quarterback getting blindsided by a lineman. He hit me so hard He changed my way of thinking….and for the better. He told me to stop living the lifestyle I was living and live for Him and follow Him. The good thing about being hit by Jesus is that He’s always there to pick you back up. He doesn’t just look down on you and let you be. Yes, God picked me back up. And in doing so, He had to discipline me.

He knocked me off my feet, He picked me up, He set me straight, and now I am standing on solid ground again. Thank you, Jesus! He can do the same for you if you let Him!