The Last Visit: A Loving Remembrance of Kenneth Byrum

You may not know Kenneth Byrum.

Kenneth Byrum was an ordained United Methodist minister and missionary for nearly 60 years. He served in Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas. As a skilled brick mason, he did major renovations and new building projects at almost every appointment where he served. He was survived by his wife, Lois, 4 married daughters and 4 sons-in-law, 8 grandchildren, and 9 great grandchildren.

I am grandchild number three and on January 8th, I had the privilege of preaching at my Grandpa’s memorial service.

In this post, I want to share two remembrances that were shared at that memorial service: The Last Visit (written by my Mom), and This One Thing Remains (written by me).

The Last Visit

In Loving Memory of Kenneth A. Byrum 
(June 21, 1921 – January 4, 2015)

By Sharon Byrum Creitz

When I took Mom to therapy and to see Daddy on Friday, January 2, we didn’t know it would be our last time to see him alive.  While Mom went to therapy I went to spend a few moments with Dad.  In his bedside stand were some CDs that his grandson, Stacy, and several others had given to him.  I popped one into the CD player and off and on Daddy hummed the tunes and sang along.  While the music played softly we shared a few Hershey’s kisses and chatted a bit.

“How are ya, dad?”  “Oh, mean as ever.” . . . “Where’s Lois?” . . . “Is that my bed?” . . . “Will Lois be here soon?”  When I showed him some pictures I brought for his wall there was the familiar singsong exclamation, low note to high note:

“Aaahh-UUUHHMM!”

kenneth byrumI asked if he would like for me to read some scripture to him, and when he heartily said, “Yes!” I turned to the beloved Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

Daddy’s tears began to flow immediately.  “Oooooh,” he wailed, and the sound of it seemed to be a flood of memories welling up and making a lump in his throat—memories of how The Shepherd had proved the truth of His provision time and time again; maybe mingled with some regret for times he had doubted The Shepherd would provide.

As I read the next verses, he punctuated them with exclamation points of affirmation and praise:

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”
Oh, thank you, Lord!”

“He leads me beside still waters.”
Yes, You have!”

“He restores my soul.”
Oh, Father, I don’t know why You’ve been so good to me!”

“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
“Thank You, thank You, thank You!”

By this time, tears in my eyes were making it difficult to read.  I had to pause a moment to swallow the lump in my throat.  Daddy was in the Holy of Holies, speaking to the Great I AM, and I was in the courtyard holding my breath.

It was a sacred and holy moment.

As I read the next words, Daddy got so quiet I glanced up several times to see if the words were distressing him, or if maybe he had fallen asleep.  No . . . just a serene and peaceful expression on his face, and a bit of a faraway look in his eyes.

Longing . . . Worship.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: my cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

When I finished the Psalm, Daddy quietly repeated, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” but this time I understood he was directing his thanks to me for reading the precious words of comfort and hope.

No, Daddy.  Thank YOU.

Thank you for all the prayers I’ve heard you pray and the sermons I’ve heard you preach.  For the shouts of joy and the hymns of praise.  Thank you for loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and for your willingness to follow Him to Jerusalem, or Judea . . . or to the uttermost part of the earth if He called.  Thank you for teaching me to love creation—but to love and worship the Creator more.  Thank you for forgiveness and unconditional love I’ve seen you pour out liberally—on family members . . . church members . . . friends and enemies . . . on neighbors, who didn’t necessarily live right next door.

Thank you for the corny jokes and laughter; bright colors in quilts and homemade dresses.  For silliness . . . and serenity . . . and simplicity.  Thank you for taking my childish hand when I was afraid and reached for you.  And for reaching for my grownup hand when you were in the hospital and maybe you were just a little afraid.  Thank you for showing me that, even as the body grows weak, the spirit can stay strong.  Thank you for fighting the good fight and staying faithful to the end.

Thank you for ALL the holy moments.

There was a knock at the door, and when I opened it there was Mom who had walked all the way to Daddy’s room from therapy—her longest walk since her surgery!  It was her broken hip and partial hip replacement that originally brought them to the rehab facility, and she was working hard to recover so she could take Daddy home and continue to take care of him!

After we got her settled in a wheelchair beside Daddy we told her a little about our visit.  She mentioned that Psalm 27 was Dad’s and her favorite Psalm.  It was a scripture God used dramatically in their lives to confirm that they should marry.  I turned there and we read the chapter which, as it turned out, was the last scripture they ever would be privileged to read together.  It ends with words of comfort and hope I believe Daddy would want to leave for Mom, and for the rest of us as well:

“Wait on The Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on The Lord.”

I believe Daddy would tell us that walking with Christ is not easy, but it’s worth every moment.  He spent most of his 93 1/2 years testing and proving that fact!  The last few years, as advancing age and dementia took their toll, he sometimes lost the sense of what was real—where he was in time and place.  By faith I believe he no longer sees through a glass darkly.  His eyes are open to new dimensions that do not have boundaries of time or place.

In my imagination I see him:

“ . . . stepping on shore and finding it Heaven.
“ . . . touching a hand and finding it God’s.
“ . . . breathing new air and finding it Celestial.
“ . . .waking up in Glory and finding it Home.”

(Chorus of song, Finally Home, written by Don Wyrtzen, played at Daddy’s memorial services as recorded by Ben Markley.)

When he stands before his Savior—the Carpenter of Galilee who died on a cross and rose from the grave so that we will never perish but have everlasting life—I can hear Daddy asking:  “Will Lois be here soon?”

And then with wonder in his voice:  “Is that my mansion?”

And when the Carpenter says, “I built it just for you,” in my mind I can hear Daddy, with tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, filling eternity with his shout of awe and gratitude:

“Thank You, thank You, thank You!”

This One Thing Remains

By Nathan Creitz

Earlier this morning my Grandpa’s “remains” were laid to rest. Well, his body was laid to rest but there’s so much more that remains.

Certainly, memories remain with us. But even more, Grandpa’s attitudes and behaviors and convictions continue to shape us.

Each of his daughters look like him and act like him. They are hard workers just like their daddy. They love music and art just like him. They are committed to family just like him. They are committed to their faith just like him.

Then there are the grandkids. Which grandson doesn’t look like Grandpa Kenny? For that matter, which granddaughter doesn’t look like him (but better looking). And again, there are too many commonalities in how we talk, how we think, and how we act to mention.

But by the time you get to the great grandkids you would expect little of Kenneth Byrum to remain.

I don’t know about all of the great grandchildren but I can tell you there is much that remains of Grandpa in my children.

When I was a kid, we prayed at every meal, but when we visited Grandma and Grandpa, Grandpa would lead us in a song for the prayer, not every meal, sometimes he would pray, but whenever the whole family was there or when a family was leaving he would start us off with “Be present at our table Lord” or the doxology.

Singing a blessing for our meal was something we did a few times a year usually when we were at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

My wife and I are teaching our children to sing these songs that my Grandpa taught us and now my children don’t want to do anything else! There’s hardly a meal that goes by that we don’t sing. My daughter will ask if we can sing “Praise God” or “Be Present”. Almost every time we sing, I think of my Grandpa and I’m grateful that he gave us that heritage of gratitude and faith that is now being shared down to the third and fourth generation.

kenneth byrumSo Grandpa remains with us. It’s not cliche to suggest that he is with us right now. I don’t just mean in spirit. No, he’s really with us. He’s with us in our thoughts and beliefs and actions. The way we live has been influenced by who he was. In many ways, we don’t even know how to distinguish between what is original to us and what he instilled in us.

The thing that remains with me the most about my grandpa is that he was always active. I wasn’t around him during his board meetings or Bible studies. I was around him at rest. Grandpa got more done on his day off than some of us get done all week. Even at rest he was doing something with his hands. He was cleaning out gutters, picking blackberries, pruning flowers, building a bird house, or quilting a quilt.

Even though our family might be there on vacation, grandpa still had to preach on Sunday, so while the cousins were outside playing football, Grandpa would be preparing his message.

He used to write out his sermons word-for-word. Sometimes I would hear him down the hall reading through his notes out loud. When grandpa preached, for the most part, he read from his notes, but it was never dry or dull, it was from his heart. Even as a teenager I thought of my grandpa’s sermons as intelligent and important.

Richard Baxter once said, “Preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others…When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it…They will likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears.”

Grandpa studied his sermons but more importantly he lived his sermons. He lived for the glory of God. He lived as an ambassador for Christ.

He lived 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.

Grandpa was a minister of reconciliation with a message of reconciliation.

You might be asking why do we need to be reconciled with God? I’m glad you asked, and I know Grandpa would be glad you asked. Because left to ourselves we would reject God and disobey Him. We foolishly live for ourselves rather than live according to the will and plan of our Creator.

C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Okay, then, have it your way’”

So again, why do we need to be reconciled with God? Because our sin separates us from our Maker. And, the bad news is, there’s nothing you and I can do about it. You can’t write enough checks to charity, you can’t attend enough church services, singing hymns doesn’t gain you favor with God. Ephesians 2 says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins.

But the good news is that God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.

My Grandpa did a lot of good deeds in his life, but his good deeds didn’t save him. He was saved by grace through faith in Jesus. But his good deeds were prepared for him by God according to Ephesians 2:10. As the Blues Brothers said, “We’re on a mission from God” but in my grandpa’s case, he really was.

And his mission was to tell others that you don’t have peace with God because of your sin but God sent His own son to be sin on your behalf and to pay the penalty for your sin by dying in your place so that you can be reconciled to God.

And the good news keeps getting gooder (something my Grandpa might have said in a sermon even though his English was impeccable). Romans 5:1-11 tells us about how God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!

My Grandpa wanted you to know this. With every good deed and every sermon preached and every brick laid, he wanted you to hear and experience this one message: be reconciled to God.

Some of you didn’t even know you had a problem with God because of your sin. But I’m telling you, if you don’t have faith in the Son of God, you don’t have peace with God. So be reconciled to God!

Grandpa’s remains were laid to rest this morning and, I don’t know, maybe a hundred years from now, not much will be remembered of my hero Kenneth Byrum. But there’s one thing that will remain and that is the message of reconciliation that my Grandpa devoted his life to preaching and living.

The Apostle Paul said it first, but this could’ve been a quote from Kenneth Byrum: My goal is to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.”

Mission accomplished, Grandpa!

Nathan is the pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, NY. He and his family are committed to making and multiplying disciples in the most diverse county in the US. Read more about Nathan here. Visit the City Life Church website here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.