Last week, our church family gathered to grieve the loss of one of our own. Nick, a member of our family since the mid 1980s along with his wife and children, died suddenly on Memorial Day while in Tennessee spending the holiday weekend with his son, Jon.
I have known Nick and his wife Diana, daughter Shanna and son Jon since my first day serving on staff at First Orange Park over twenty-one years ago. It's funny, but during the interview process prior to my calling here, I was sent a photo directory of the church (dated, as all of them are) and looked through the photos of people I did not yet know, but knew I would soon become my family. For some reason, I stopped at Nick's family photo. I knew, somehow, that this family, and especially their son Jon, who would be in my youth ministry, would become dear friends.
When I met Jon, he was in junior high school. He was a typical junior boy and by his own admission, was a challenge. Yet, there has always been a kinship between him and me. There were times we would play basketball together (he never beat me. . .at least that's how I remember it) and talk deeply about matters of life. There were moments he made me angry and I know there was a season he wasn't too fond of me either. We look back now and see how God used all those moments to deepen a friendship and mentorship that has lasted years.
He's an adult now. I'm a little older, too (a lot grey-er) and hopefully wiser.
When I hear of Nick's passing, I reached out to Jon immediately. I knew he was hurting and while I offered words of comfort and clarity, I knew he just needed to know others cared and that he would get through this. The same is true for his sister Shanna and of course, his mother and Nick's widow, Diana.
Each person grieves differently. Relationships are unique and yet, each is beautiful and vital.
After meeting with the family in planning the memorial service for Nick, Jon shared that he would like the opportunity to address the people in attendance. This is something that occurs often at services like this, but as always, I asked Jon to write it out, for his own sake and to provide a "safety net" in case he found he could not speak. In that case, I could read his words for him.
At the appropriate time, I invited Jon to the stage to share. It is hard to convey the emotion and even the moments of humor in written form, but I provide Jon's tribute to and words about his father here. His vulnerability and honesty are incredible.
We come here today to celebrate the life of Nick Lee Garrett. I want to thank the family, co-workers, friends, and church family for coming today on behalf of my mom and sister. Nick Garrett was a husband, a grandfather, a brother, uncle, colleague, friend, brother-in-Christ, and to my sister and I, he was dad. I want to talk to you a little bit today about my Dad, whom I called "Pop" or "Pops." I want to share some memories with you and talk with you a little bit about who he was for me.
My Dad was born on March 23, 1951 to Elzie & Alice Garrett. He was the second to youngest of five children. I met my Dad almost 36 years ago when I entered the world. Like many little boys, I looked to my dad as a hero figure. I have very few memories of Kentucky, as we moved to Florida when I was five, but I do remember the church we attended. My dad was the sound man and I remember him making me sit in the sound booth with him and during a Sunday night service he let me watch "Empire Strikes Back" on the TV in the sound booth because it kept me quiet. I remember walking around with a smile on my face as people in the church called me "Little Nick" because I was frequently with my dad. A little boy looks up to his father in the role of hero. He is a knight with a shining coat of armor ready to battle the dragons to keep you safe.
We moved to Orange Park when I was five. So much of my childhood is like a blur to me. I have memories of my Dad taking me to work with him on days when I didn’t have school or had a break from school. I remember getting up early in the morning and riding to Lane Avenue and helping my dad load his truck when he delivered uniforms. I don’t know how much help I was, as I usually was found asleep on the rugs that would soon be on the floors of banks, and other businesses around Jacksonville. I remember that these companies would put their old dirty uniforms in a bin and dad and I would go through the pockets of the uniforms before we loaded them up in laundry bags and sometimes he would find money. It’s funny because I can remember sometimes seeing my dad find money and put in back in the pocket and throw it over into my pile. He would yell “Make sure you check those pockets” and then when I would find the money he would make a big stink about it like he should’ve checked it and how he worked hard and I didn’t. I would offer the money to him but he would tell me he didn’t want my money but then he would make me buy lunch.
I could tell you how on one of those work day adventures my dad saved my life. My dad’s truck was very similar to a UPS truck. It only had one seat and no A/C so I used to ride on front on the tire well and hold on to a pole that came down from the ceiling. We rode with the door open to get more air flowing. One day we were driving and a car pulled directly in front of us. My dad slammed on the brakes and I went flying forward. I will never forget it. Everything slowed down. I remember seeing the dashboard coming towards me and I remember seeing my dad's eyes. I hit the dashboard, splitting my head open, and started rolling out of the truck to the asphalt. I remember seeing the road coming towards my face and seeing the front bumper of the car cruising down the right lane and then I felt the strong hand of my Dad pulling me back into the truck. He caught me. If he hadn’t, I imagine I would not be here to tell you this story. He fought the dragon and his armor held strong that day.
He allowed me to play sports like baseball and basketball. He allowed me to know the joys of being a Boy Scout and volunteered to help with my Scout Troop. He raised me in church and made sure that God’s Word was something that I was exposed to from the beginning.
As I moved into my teenage years, rebellion built in me. I began to see that my dad's armor had holes in it. Flaws. His weight became an embarrassment to me. As a teenager you know more than your parent, it seems. I focused on the flaws in my dad's armor and that focus remained for years. Even throughout that time, which looking back had to be painful for him, my dad tried to be there for me. I can remember him sneaking in the back of the youth building to watch me play basketball on Wednesday nights after our service. I remember him making sure I was able to go to summer camps (when I wasn’t in Summer School.) He worked a lot, sometimes working two jobs. In my teenage years it became very apparent that my family didn’t have the money that other kids had. Their name brand gear and cars pointed that out, and I resented that and grew envious of others.
I will never forget the day that I came back to Florida to collect my things as I was moving to Tennessee. My dad decided he would go with me to help me move. We were going to split driving but I slept practically the whole way. We get to Tennessee and arrive at my newly acquired townhouse. I remember my dad helping me move things in and we ordered Papa John's Pizza. I was trying to get my new TV to work and it seemed to be broken. I pressed the power button on the remote…nothing. I made sure it was plugged in. I pressed the power button on the TV…nothing. I was so frustrated. My dad starts laughing and says, “Flip the light switch, genius.” Yeah, it was a powered outlet. He thought that was so funny. Then, because all of my dishes came from a thrift store, he loaded up my dishwasher, and proceeded to flood the bottom floor of my townhouse. I said "Have you ever used a dishwasher, genius?" We had a great laugh together.
Throughout my adult years I only got to see my dad about two or three times a year. He saw me become a father and he was an awesome grandpa. He and my mom gave my daughter her first bedroom suit. He was so excited to surprise her with it. He was an awesome grandpa to her and my nephew James. Always loving and giving. It was during this time for me, as a husband and father that I discovered that my armor was flawed as well. It began a process of discovery that continued until Memorial Day of this year.
See, my Dad tried so hard, especially in the last couple of years, to be there for me. As I went through a very difficult time in my life my dad let me know he loved me, was praying for me, that God loved me, and that he was there if I needed him. He signed up for Facebook just to be able to follow the lives of his children and would often message me. I will never forget the day he called and talked with me at work in April of this year and listened to me vent about a situation I was experiencing. He told me he was proud of me for the way I handled it and he really listened to me. After we get off the phone I messaged him to tell him thank you and he messaged back 3 words that I will always have. “I love you.” That was huge for my dad, but had become more frequent in the last couple of years.
Our last weekend together was great. He was so excited to spend time with me and my daughter. He rented a house in the mountains, my favorite place, that had a movie theater in the basement. He did that just for me and was so excited. His original plan was to keep it secret but my dad was never really good at keeping things a secret when he was excited. It was a great weekend. We watched several movies together down there. He made me breakfast every morning. He was always thinking about how to serve us and give to us. He liked to see us happy. And hugging him, telling him thank you and I appreciate what you did, and I love you was the last time I would talk with him….in this life.
See I have another memory of my dad. A memory as a teenager when my dad and I went for a walk around the block. It was the memory of a question that I asked my dad. “Dad, are you a Christian.” His answer, “Yes. I am.” I remember asking him how he knew and he shared his affirmation that with me.
I spoke about my dad’s armor. I shared with you the path of seeing him as a perfect hero, and then noticing his armor had flaws. It’s in those flaws where we often lose vision. But as I grew older and saw the flaws in my own armor, and as I drove back to the mountains knowing that my Dad had left this earth, God gave me a few things.
- My armor has flaws. And if you are a dad, your armor has flaws. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
- My dad never gave up the fight. He knew what commitment and covenant was. He was married to my mom for 44 years. He showed me loyalty, commitment, hard work, generosity. He was the type of guy who gave to children and worked on holidays so people with kids wouldn’t have to work. He did the best he could with what he knew and he fought the fight.
- I know my dad was proud of me. I know my dad loved me. I know my dad knew I loved him. I am blessed to not have to live with regrets.
- When my dad left this earth, he stepped into glory, and he heard “Well done my good and faithful servant” and he finally received his perfect suit of armor.
God bless you.
The father blesses the son. It's his role. This father blessed his son and as is evidenced in this tribute, a legacy of faith, clarity and love has been left.
Jon's words evoked emotion in me and in many others during this service. You see, many in the audience have known Jon for decades. He is greatly loved as part of our family here at First. Yet, as he revealed so honestly in his words, he stepped into rebellion as a young man. Now, still on his journey of faith, it is clear that God has redeemed him and that God used his father, Nick, as a model for him. Jon is blessed and is a blessing. Nick did enter the presence of the Father and I too believe he heard, "Well done."
I'm so proud of Jon, not just for the tribute he shared, but for the man he has become. I know his father, Nick was as well. I believe his Heavenly Father is too.
And this is why Solomon said that it's good to go to funerals every now and then. . .
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2 (ESV)