I can remember as a teen struggling with the notion that what mattered most in life wasn’t how you played the game but whether you won. The tension was that you could cheat, steal or lie your way to the top and that didn’t matter. Yet, deep down inside I knew that it mattered. I can remember attempting to persuade one of my professors in graduate school to give me an A- instead of a B+. I knew before I even asked for this favor that this particular professor wasn’t going to budge and the reality, which I already knew, was that a B+ from him was more like an A+. (This individual only reserved A grades for God.)
I also would make the admission or confession that after having run or walked a few marathons and half marathons that it’s so easy to cheat a little on your actual time for the race. The bigger picture, which is what I’m talking about, is what matters most in life is finishing and finishing well. One of the well-known writers for Runner’s World, aka ‘The Penguin’, would make the noble admission that as he aged it became obvious that his times and PR weren’t going to improve. So what mattered most was the fact that he could do 26.2 or 13.1. Who cares about the time as long as you can crawl across the finish line?
As the memorial service for my father in-law, Paul Pulliam, approaches, I’m reminded of the Lord’s simple, yet profound statement to his disciples, well done my faithful servants. Jesus would go on and describe what happens to those who give beyond expectation, are faithful with little so they are put in charge with much and exude sacrificial servant leadership. It has been more than two months since a phone call came to my Anne that has changed our lives.
Death shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, yet, our assumption was that Paul would live to be a hundred, outlive Nani and have many godly widows pursuing him. The difficult reality is that our plans the Lord chose not to follow. What stands out as I reflect on the life story of Paul, who initially I was at odds with, imagine a Jesus Freak hippie type attempting to listen to a very traditional pastor type. I wasn’t very respectful to Paul initially and clearly stole his daughter who he assumed would finish college and do missions before getting married and having a family.
What stands out for me as I age and come face to face with my own mortality is that what matters now isn’t what accomplishments or accolades happened in the past but what will I do today. I will always be grateful for Grandad’s intentionality to come and visit all of our kids and see his four grandsons before our Jon moved to the east coast. I know that the logistics to have someone watch Nani, catch a very early flight to Phoenix from San Diego and then return later that Saturday night, was a true labor of love. The pictures and memories will be a significant part of our lives forever.
What I learned from my crazy, funny, witty and uber intelligent Father in-law was that a person’s name matters ‘big time’. Paul was pastor of a large elderly downtown congregation in San Diego. He was always able to remember the grandkid of a member or their deceased dog or cat. His daughter, my wife, will struggle at times to get my name correct. It was his heart to be a true shepherd, that knew his sheep by name, regardless of how they lived that stands out. I know that at times we would differ even to the point of a heated dialogue over both theological and pragmatic church issues on occasion.
His willingness to accept me, an outsider and threat to his daughter’s future, was a true act of kindness and perseverance. I see my mentor and friend having finished his life marathon with the heavenly crowds cheering his entrance into the presence of his Savior Jesus who would say, “Well done, faithful servant, Paul Ray Pullium!”