My wife Christy and I have three boys. We live in the Dallas area, and only make a handful of trips down here each year, so the boys aren't as acquainted with extended members of our family. And sometimes names overlap, so it can be difficult to keep everyone straight. For example, I have two Kellys in my family, although they spell their names differently. Of course Christy also has aunts and uncles and cousins on her side of the family; in fact we both have Uncle Ronnies! All this is to say when we're sharing stories of relatives with the boys, it can be confusing. So a common response from them is, "Is that the one who..." When we told them my Uncle Donald died, one kid said, "Is that the one who had a part of his ear bitten off by a Marine?" Yup- that's my Uncle Donald, or as we called him, and he called us, "Chuck." Don't know where that came from.
Years from now you might remember snippets from today's service and think, "Was he the one with the memorial service at a Little League Ballpark?" Yup- that's my Uncle Donald. He loved baseball- especially kids' baseball. I'll admit when Kelli mentioned this idea to me I was taken back a bit.. but I quickly warmed up to it. I love baseball too. One of the most unique things about the game Uncle Donald and I loved is how the field is formed. You have the outfield- the grassy area out there- and the infield- this dirt in the middle. Around the infield are bases: 1st, 2nd, 3rd. I decided to speak to Uncle Donald's life in terms of phases, as a runner makes her way around the bases during a game.
1st Base: Early years
Uncle Donald grew up here in Wharton. He was the oldest of four kids in the house, preceded in death by his sister Leoda and brother Ted. He was ten years older than my father, Frank. He grew up in a very difficult home setting, and when he was old enough he left home to join the Navy. This is where the unfortunate interchange between his ear and a Marine happened.
2nd Base: Early adulthood
When his naval service ended, Uncle Donald returned home and married Aunt Geneva. He died just days before what would have been their 55th wedding anniversary. They had three children, Kelli, Michelle, and Donnie. Geneva would often say to him, "You're a rascal, but by grace you're my rascal." Uncle Donald had a long career as an electrician. During this phase of his life, barely short of 30 years ago, Uncle Donald quit drinking. Geneva and Kelli remembered Uncle Donald almost in terms of Jekyll and Hyde: when he was sober he was warm and affable. When he drank he could be mean. When Uncle Donald quit drinking, the ugliness went away, forgiveness became possible within the family, and several lives were changed because of his strength to change. The cycle of dysfunction was broken, making the 3rd Base of his life much, much different.
3rd Base: Twilight years
These are the years I mostly fondly remember my uncle. I remember Thanksgiving dinners at the Wharton house, watching football games one after the other, making constant trips to the refrigerator for his unlimited stash of Dr Pepper. I remember his politically incorrect sense of humor, jokes I thought hilarious when I was a kid, but which made me more and more uncomfortable as I grew older. Chuck: in his recliner, in the corner of the room, wearing a Texas Longhorns or Houston Oilers hat, sipping a never ending stream of Dr Peppers, telling off color jokes. That's the Uncle Donald I will always remember.
He was particularly proud of his grandkids: Megan, Morgan, Trey, and Dylan. They called him "Pap," and there are some wonderful tributes written by them on Facebook. Uncle Donald was a grandfatherly figure to other kids as well: like the kids he coached in Little League, some of whom did not have proper equipment or uniforms so he took them to Denn Bros and paid for their stuff. Or the neighborhood kids who lived across the streets in the apartments who would come to the door and ask, "Can he come out?" He would then spend time "fixing their bikes," which really meant spending time with them.
We've visited 1st Base, 2nd Base, 3rd Base. But there is no 4th base on the baseball diamond. It's called home plate. And it's even shaped like a house. When a runner scores in baseball, we say he's come home. Friends, Uncle Donald, Pap, whatever you called him, has come home. Jesus said, "In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also."
Uncle Donald had a great faith. He believed the words I just read to you. He had witnessed in his own life and the lives of others the transformation possible in a person by God's grace. Geneva and Donald regularly participated in their church home, Grace Community Fellowship, even after he began to experience health concerns. His faith never wavered throughout his declining health, and the second half of his life was a witness to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He is now in the presence of the Resurrected Lord, at peace, worshipping in glory as one of the saints of light. Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." I texted Dad the other day after hearing of Uncle Donald's death: "The legend!" I said. Dad replied, "Yeah, he was one of a kind." For all that he was to us: husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, coach, mentor, friend, we give thanks to God. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen. Join me again in prayer.