In Memory of My Papa

The afternoon summer was just beginning to surrender its unbearably muggy heat to twilight’s cooler breezes as I sat on my grandparent’s porch watching the hummingbirds dart here and there with my Papa Joe. The cooler temperatures had brought the tiny flyers out in droves to fight over the sappy sugary mixture that Papa had put in their feeders. There were hundreds of them whizzing by, one after another; I had never seen so many in my life!


Papa smiled, enjoying every zoom and whiz of the little creatures. He always had a love for birds – especially hummingbirds & blue birds. In fact, when he & my grandmother had moved out to this neck of the woods years before, he had affectionately named his dirt driveway, ‘Bluebird Lane,’ and posted a sign saying just that to welcome all his guests who made the trek out to his home. And all along his front porch in the summer, he hung feeders filled with bright red sugar-water to welcome his tiniest guests of all – the hummingbirds who returned each year.


And returned they had! As you peered out in the woods that filled my grandparent’s yard, you could see countless numbers of the itty-bitty birds perching in the trees and flying through the air. It was quite a sight. But another ‘quite a sight’ was soon to follow. For as we sat there enjoying the birds zip by, my grandpa said, “Watch this.” Then, with the greatest of skill and the greatest of ease, my grandpa swiftly moved his hand and caught a hummingbird in mid-flight! My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t believe my eyes! He had actually caught a hummingbird! “Oooo!” he said with a grin, “You can feel his little heartbeat a-goin’!” and with that, he released the tiny bird, unharmed, and it flew away. I shook my head in wonder. Joe White was no small man. Although well in his 70’s, He had caught that bird like it was nothin’ – a task most younger, swifter men could still never accomplish. And yet here was my grandpa - he had caught that bird with his bare hands.


Even now as I recall sitting on the porch that summer day, I am amazed by my papa’s hands: the man whose hands were skilled enough to throw a football as a quarterback in college and beat anyone at washers each and every time you challenged him, whose hands were thick enough to work a field or fix a broken down VW-Rabbit, whose hands were strong enough to pick up his grandkids and toss us in the air as if we were light as a feather, were the same hands that were gentle enough to catch a hummingbird in mid-flight and release it without a scratch. These were the hands of Joe White – the man I was privileged to call Papa.


Every time I took his hand, even up to his final days, my hands seemed so small in comparison, for Joe White was no small man. These hands of 89 years were thick with rich family history, were strong by a lifetime of faithful service, and were warm by decades of unwavering love. I will always treasure placing my hand in his. The strength and the size of his hands always made me feel safe. For although these hands were large and strong, I never knew them to be hands of anger. I cannot recall a single time he ever used them to punish me. However, I can recall them gently holding me, even when I didn’t deserve it. For all the trouble I got into as a kid, he never raised his voice or raised his hand. Usually my trouble was corrected with a simple, “Good gracious,” and left at that. Like that time my grandparents were watching me while my parents were out of state, and I broke my arm while pretending to be Mary Lou Retton in the front yard, leaving my Papa with the hospital bill, he could have been angry, but he never showed it one bit. He took me to the hospital and afterwards carried me back home, cradling my broken, cast-laden arm in his strong ones.


But I think more than anything, these hands made me feel safe because, what I saw them do more than anything else, is serve the Lord. Whether folded in prayer, raised in worship, or gently holding his well-worn bible, my Papa’s hands were daily found in service of His King. This man of 89 years never lost his stature or his strength. Oh, sure – maybe in the natural he was smaller than he was years ago, but where stature and strength really matter, he never lost an ounce and never lost an inch.


In stature, he had grown to be a man who had measured his success, not by the world’s standards, but by the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). If there is anything I know about Joe White, it’s that the goal that was set before him was to simply be like his Lord whom he always affectionately spoke and always unwaveringly loved. His height in the spirit is one that I am sure the Father has enjoyed watching progress from his born-again experience to his recent home going in heaven. In fact, if heaven had a door-frame that was used to mark a child’s progress of growth, I believe the height to which Joe White had grown through the years, would be notched into eternity as an example for others to follow. From the day he said, “Yes” to following Jesus, to the day that he found himself eternally in His arms, my Papa never stopped growing in the knowledge of God. He fed himself on sermons and teachings about Christ. Whether it was Pawson or Sparks, he listened to their teachings, pondering the truth of what they shared. But more than any one man’s teachings, he fed himself on the bible, God’s word. He craved the word. He loved the word. He lived the word. It had enlarged his heart through these many years (Ps. 119:32). Joe White was no small man.


In strength, my Papa had shown through his life, a trait that is rare and precious, tried and true – faithfulness. It’s where his strength really lied. Joe White was a man who was marked as faithful: he was faithful to his family, living and loving his bride of 69 years with unwavering devotion. He was faithful to his church, serving in Sunday School, teaching, and preaching and attending whenever the doors were open as long as he was able. He was faithful to his work, giving his best in business and service as a good steward who showed himself approved. But most of all, he was faithful to the Lord. This faithfulness is where all other areas of faithfulness flowed. It was his love for Jesus that served as an anchor for his daily life, yes, his daily breath. There is not a soul on this planet who could deny that my Papa, Joe White, was faithful to his Lord and Savior. Even while lying in the hospital in his final moments on earth, he was sharing the good news about Jesus with nurses and doctors who can to his bedside. Yes, the hands that were now attached to IVs and beeping medical machines, were still reaching out in love to the lost. Joe White was no small man, for he was faithful to the end.


I don’t know if my Papa knew that October 21st, 2019 would be his final day on earth. Most likely he didn’t. But that’s what marks a faithful life – one that lives each day as if it is their last; always ready for the return of the Lord or our home going to Him. This was my Papa Joe. He was always ready to go, always walking down that road that welcomed him home. I don’t know if there is a Bluebird Lane in Glory, but this much I do know: my Papa has been welcomed there. A place has been prepared for him and the Father is saying, “Well done.” So until the afternoon sun over my life’s journey surrenders to twilight’s cooler skies, I’ll miss you, Papa Joe. Save me a seat on the porch next to you because I’ll be coming home, too. You left your family a godly legacy to follow: one of faithful love for Jesus. Joe White, you were no small man. Thank you for showing all of us the way home.

© 2018 by Desiree Dunleavey.

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