To help prepare a scrapbook for my grandfather’s 90th birthday, my mother was given a small treasure trove of old letters from around the 1940’s. Most of them were written by my Great Grandpa Ernest and sent to my grandfather, Albert Graham. In addition to opening a fresh window on family history, the letters bequeath a rich legacy of trust in God and devotion to Jesus Christ.
The letters begin in October of 1938, when Great Grandpa was in his golden years and my grandpa was engaged to be married. They are full of spiritual encouragement, with many reminders to trust in the providence of God, many expressions of concern for the lost, and many prayers for God’s blessing on his family. After commenting on the difficulty of finding fresh produce and other rations during the early days of World War II, Great Grandpa makes the following comment: “But I have learned to be content with such things as I have and be very thankful too. What a blessing. I feel really sorry for those who do not know their help cometh from the Lord.”
The correspondence soon takes a serious turn as it becomes apparent that my grandfather will be summoned to war and separated from his young bride. Although his time in the Navy was cause for concern, it was also an opportunity to trust the Lord: “Be sure and stay in the center of God’s will,” Great Grandpa wrote, “and all will be for the best. I know it’s hard for us to see it that way, but He always does things for the best. Our way or desire might not be the best. He knows; we don’t, and if He is for us we need not fear anything.”
The urgencies and anxieties of war prompted Great Grandpa to express his full affection for his son, who had been adopted as a baby. He wrote: “God put a wonderful love in my heart for you, the moment I first looked upon your face and you opened your eyes from a sleep and looked up into my face and smiled; from that very moment you were really & truly my son, and you have never given me one little reason to regret you are still my own son. God Bless you, and keep you always. I’ll be with you in spirit & in thought wherever you go always!!”
Soon the wartime separation came, when my grandfather was sent far away from his loved ones. Great Grandpa commented that “we truly are not our own these days,” meaning that everyone was at the mercy of the war. But how good it was, he said, “to know as a Christian we are not our own. God claims us and we are not our own, but He does care for us. These are the days that test this.”
There were times when Great Grandpa wondered whether he would ever see his son again, at least in this life. “I am leaving you in God’s hand,” he had to say. “He loves you & can take better care of you than I can. God Bless you my Son. I surely am with you in spirit, if not in body. Now Son listen, God knows what is in store for either of us. I am getting on in years. Whether we shall see each other again in this world, God alone knows, but there is another world and no war. God grant we shall meet there anyway.”
In the meantime, my grandfather should live with daily courage for his difficult calling as a sailor. To understand the passage that follows, it is important to know that my great grandfather was an orphan, and that in the days before he came to know Christ through the ministry of the Salvation Army, he was sometimes homeless, living in the streets of London. Here is what he writes:
Be brave for your country & your loved ones & be sure & be brave for your God! His Grace will be sufficient I am sure. Your surroundings may be rough and tough, far more so than you have been brought up in. I can sympathize with you. I have passed through much in my life that was not at all pleasant, & more than once I have been nigh broken-hearted; & felt many times as though I had not a real friend as far as this world was concerned. How many times, son, would I have been, Oh, so glad to have had a father & mother I could have laid bare my heart to, or, in fact any real loved one I could have gone to for advice. Many a time I did not know where I would get my next bite to eat, & many times in the far past I have had to crawl into some hidden spot to lay down and rest (not really sleep) on the hard ground, with nothing to cover over me, & scared most to death & longing for day break! Yet God brought me through. Son, I can feel for you, surely I can!… but remember son: The same God still lives, & He is just as loving, just as able, just as powerful & just as willing & you know Him far better than I did in my early days, & that surely makes my heart glad, son!! How often I thank God you are His.
This was the spiritual legacy that my great grandfather left for his children and grandchildren, down through the generations. What kind of legacy are you leaving for your natural or your spiritual family? Is it a legacy of faith and love? Is it an inheritance that bears clear witness to the providence of God and the saving grace of Jesus Christ?
I close with a few of my great grandfather’s many wise exhortations: “Let your light ever shine for Him—you’ll never regret it!” “Keep Him first in your life at all times.” “God can use you for His glory no matter where you are. So hold fast to your faith in Him.” “All the storms will soon be over, and we will all be united again, and what a day of rejoicing that will be!”
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org