This is the speech I gave at the memorial service to honor my late grandfather, William F. Bryant (1913-2020), on Saturday, January 25, 2020.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father. These words are straight out of Colossians, and this is my prayer for all of you sitting here today. That the grace of God would meet you in your grief, and His peace would settle on all of us as we remember, honor, and celebrate the life of Bill Bryant, or as I know him, Papa.
The large photo of him at the front here is one that I took of him, without his knowledge, while he was sitting in his chair on the back porch at his home. I’m not sure what year it was, but I’d guess 8-10 years ago. I typically like to ask permission first before I take someone’s picture, but that day, I remember deliberately being a little sneaky so I could capture him the way I might see him any other time I came out the back door of his house. I love the look on his face. He looks content. Peaceful. I want to thank my brother and his wife, Lucas & Tavia Van Horn for printing and framing this for all of us to have a visual way to remember this man that we have dearly loved. Thank you for honoring his memory in this way.
I am here today with my husband and our seven children, to share a few words about a man that has taught me a great deal. I have a few stories I’d like to share, and a few ideas I’d love to pass on—ones I learned from him, and ones that God is using powerfully in my life to restore broken places in my soul. I can’t help but think that maybe God wants to heal broken places in your life as well, and just as Papa did year after year throughout his life—wherever he could find some ready soil—I want to scatter some seeds here.
Most of you know Papa was a man of few words. At least, I didn’t hear him say a whole lot. Maybe it’s because Grams is so chatty (and I love your chattiness, Grandma), or maybe it was because I also seem to have inherited an overabundance of words and maybe I didn’t give him a chance to when I was with him…but even without saying much, the life that he lived spoke volumes.
Papa was humble. He was not the flashy type. Never in a hurry, but not slow either. Deliberate, intentional, hard-working. He is what I would describe as steadfast, which is to say he was fixed in direction, firm in purpose, unwavering and resolute about what mattered to him.
One thing that really mattered to Papa: Compost.
I know, so exciting, right?
Compost is a humble, maybe even a gross thing. Worms and rotting food and…ok I’ll stop. But I think it is an example of how easy it is to miss what is truly beautiful in life. I’m not saying compost itself is this dreamy, beautiful thing. But compost is something that nourishes soil to support seeds that spring up out of the ground and produce fruit…or beautiful flowers. And green beans and cucumbers and squash and corn, all of which were in Papa’s garden.
And if you were ever privileged to see the things that sprang up there, you might have noticed that it wasn’t just a nice garden. It was abundant. Teeming with life. Bees everywhere pollinating the plants, which was a little frightening for me as a child because I didn’t know how awesome bees are. Nearly all the plants were notably oversized. Generous yields of green beans and cornstalks that grew to be 12 feet or more, when they were only supposed to be 6 feet tall. It was a supersized wonderland of lovely, nourishing, beautiful things because of the effort and care he put into preparing soil, planting seeds and tending his garden with care. Hummingbirds frequently visited the flowers on the back porch multiple times a day to partake of the nectar there.
As a child, I remember walking through long rows of green beans and it seemed like they stretched forever. I remember him teaching me how to harvest them without damaging the plant. I remember the huge operation of picking beans, snapping beans, packing beans, and dropping them batch by batch into the canner. Every year of my young childhood, we had dozens of quarts of those beans in our laundry room. My mom served them several times a week with our meals. They were probably the only green thing I really liked to eat as a kid, and I know those beans in particular helped my parents feed us kids when we didn’t have a lot of money.
Papa labored turning his compost, tilling his soil, and tending his plants to fill real and practical needs for others. I know he labored in other ways and other places as well, never complaining, and never leaving things left undone if there was a need to be met. I want to love people like that.
I am not a gardener, although someday I’d love to get into it. I haven’t ever tried my hand at composting (aside from getting my kitchen scraps to the food waste container the city of Seattle whisks away on a truck), but the principle of composting intrigues me. What would happen if we all gathered up the humble things of our lives (not the yard waste and kitchen scraps, but our attention, care, and love), and invested them thoughtfully and generously where we are planted, in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities. I think we could expect to see beautiful things begin to grow.
Papa did this alongside Grandma when they started serving community meals for the hungry during holidays. Every Christmas I remember spending with them was here in this church, making tons of food, preparing tables and chairs, and welcoming people from the community for an extravagant meal. I love that what he and grandma did together—those dinners, but really everything—was multiplied to be a blessing to many others. He was a selfless and steadfast servant.
I think this is Papa’s legacy. Papa honored God with everything he had, and the fruit of his faithfulness is abundant.
John 15:8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
I want to love others this way. I want to bear much fruit in my life—to not just seek after things I want for myself, but to put my effort into turning over my own “compost pile”…..taking hold of the things God has put in my hands and in my care, and tend them like they are valuable seeds, plunged into good soil, worthy of the labor it takes to bring about a full harvest.
As you remember this man, I hope you are inspired to love others with this kind of love.
1 John 4:15 “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in Him. By this is love perfected with us so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us.”
I am speaking of God and His love, but as we remember Bill Bryant, I think we can see evidence of this same kind of love flowing from his life.
The last time I saw him—the middle of August last summer, in the waning hours of sunlight, we joined up with grandma and grandpa at the park in the middle of town. As I’ve added children to my family, it has grown more difficult to visit people at their homes. We come in like a herd of elephants with energy, excitement, and we really don’t fit into a small living room. So we planned our time at the park where the kids could run themselves tired without destroying Papa’s house.
Grandpa sat at the table on the end, quiet as always, but contentedly so. As a little girl, I used to sit on his lap to chat with him, do word find puzzles with the TV on in the background, catching up about life. I obviously didn’t continue sitting on his lap as we both got older, but on this visit I thought about how I might come close to sitting on his lap without actually doing it. I pulled my folding chair as close as I could get it to the bench where he sat and took his hands in mine.
“How are you doing, papa?” I said, leaning in a little.
“Well…,” he started. “I’m slowing down, Em.”
“I bet that’s been hard, Papa; to not be able to do all the things you used to do in your garden and around your house.”
He didn’t say anything in response, just the slightest bit of a nod and a squeeze of my hand.
My heart leapt in my chest and I knew I wanted to tell him all the things I might need to say just in case this was our last conversation, because somehow in my heart I knew.
I told him I had such wonderful memories spending time at his house when I was young. I felt deeply loved by him, and I learned so much from him. Especially how to work hard and not fuss about it…to see the beauty in spending myself on learning how to tend my life and family like a garden. I told him everything I wanted to say. I didn’t hold a thing back, because sometimes you just know it’s not the time to be timid, it’s not the time to respect the invisible lines of someone’s comfort zone. I let the words of my soul pour out. When I looked up, he had tears streaming down his cheeks.
I said, “Well I didn’t mean to make you cry, Papa. But some things need to be said.”
He borrowed his hand back from me to push his glasses up a little.
“These darn glasses keep slidin’ down my nose,” was all he said in reply.
The only thing I didn’t say then that I wish to say now is, “Papa. Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done. My life is much more beautiful because of what you’ve sown into it, and I thank you.”
1571. safe travel and great conversations, 1572. the blessing of being together, 1573. memories in old buildings, 1574. technology doing its job, 1575. simple and beautiful service, 1576. military honors ceremony and presentation of the flag, 1577. grandma’s hand in mine, 1578. norm’s jokes, 1579. seeing my people, 1580. pizza night time together with family