My grandfather—we called him Bebaw—was an exceptional man of whom I have many beloved memories. I could tell you countless stories about his sacrificial love in my childhood and of his eager and kind spirit—such as the many Christmas mornings where he crawled into the floor with me and said to me with playful sincerity, “Bebaw didn’t get any toys this morning.” After pausing for a moment, he’d ask, “Can I play with yours?” Of course, the answer was yes because toys were great, but Bebaw was better and he was always on my side. This man who held grudges against sports players for decades (Peyton Manning for his thrashing of Kentucky football, to name one), was the first to buy a Duke sweatshirt when I was accepted into the Divinity School at the University he had despised since 1992 when Christian Laettner broke all our hearts.
Bebaw passed in 2011, his wife (Memmi) passing several months later, and we all still miss them dearly. Every family dinner seems to be a little less full, nobody knows who is supposed to dish out the ice cream, and we all take turns trying to tell his stories like he did, but it’s not the same. Well into my adult life, Bebaw continued to be a generous and loving grandfather. When my wife and I were first married, it was the generosity of Bebaw and other family members that made it possible for us to make the trip back from Durham, North Carolina, to Ashland, Kentucky, for Christmas since we had just had to have new tires put on the car and didn’t have the money for the trip. Even after we had achieved some measure of financial stability, Bebaw was forever slipping money into my hands when we made the trip home with the almost ritual words: “For gas. Don’t tell Memmi.” Any time I’d try to tell him he didn’t need to do that he’d laugh and say, not entirely truthfully, “Bebaw has enough money to burn a wet dog.” In those last days of his life, he told me how proud he was of me and my heart melted at the thought of his love for me. His last words to me were the refrain I’d heard so many times before as a child, teenager, and adult: “Bebaw loves.”
In Ephesians 1:7-8a, the author writes, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” In my life, I’ve had a world-class education in grace being lavished upon me, and yet I still cannot (and will never) comprehend the fullness of God’s grace in my life. To think that God not only gives us those things that we do not deserve and of which we could only dream to receive—for that is simply what grace is—but that God heaps this grace upon us to the point of overflowing is an astonishing realization. My grandfather lavished his grace upon me not because I deserved, for I surely didn’t, and not because I loved him, which I surely do, but because of his deep and abiding love for me. To Bebaw, it seemed the only reasonable response to the deep, deep love he held for his family.
The same is true exponentially for our God who is love incarnate. God doesn’t redeem us by blood and forgive us our trespasses because we deserve it, because we surely don’t, and not because we love him, for sometimes we do but sometimes we don’t and sometimes our actions belie our words, but because of God’s deep and abiding love for us who are made in God’s image and filled with God’s breath.
To paraphrase my beloved Bebaw, God has enough grace to burn a wet dog. To borrow his words, which he assuredly borrowed first from God, “God loves.”