For readers of Leadership Journal during the 80s and 90s, Fred Smith Sr. was a familiar name. As a contributing editor, he became a mentor to thousands of pastors desiring to learn the art of Christian leadership.
On August 17, 2007 at the age of 91, Fred finished a long and well-lived life as he went home to be with his Savior. Fred held many titles in his life such as businessman, board member, consultant, speaker, author and mentor but the title I prefer to call him is simply grandfather. In two weeks, his final book will be released called Breakfast With Fred and I had the privilege of writing the foreword. On this day as my family mourns his loss I wanted to share with you the foreword I wrote for the book celebrating his life.
Foreword from the book Breakfast with Fred:
It was my turn to sit and watch. The clock in the partially dark hospital room read 2:33 a.m. The sound of liquid medicine dripped quietly like a small fountain as the drops flowed into the elderly man sleeping in the bed a few feet from me. His snoring was peaceful and stable. His face was unshaven. He slept with his mouth just a bit open, like elderly men often do. He looked weak and old, but in fact he was quite strong. And when it came to dying, he was probably too strong and too defiant to passively accept the weakening of his body. He was prepared to die, but he had spent too much of his life developing disciplines of perseverance to simply give up. That is who he is. And as I stared at him, I also saw a glimpse of who I am and who I want to be.
Seeing my grandfather near death, I was reminded not of a man who was dying but of a man who is full of hope. Not was but is full of hope, even throughout the pain and suffering.
He didn’t die that night. And I still see a man of hope. I think you will, too.
As his health has deteriorated over the past few years, he has taught me much in my study of his character. It is easy for someone to exude joy and hope amid good health and physical blessing, but to see those same qualities thrive during suffering means a person has been deeply rooted through a lifetime of faith and discipline. For my grandfather, his faith comes from a secure hope in who his Savior is, and his discipline comes from his having been a good steward of the talents his Creator has given.
It is often said it’s not how you start but how you finish that counts. I believe my grandfather is finishing well. He is not a saint nor is he a perfect man, but he is one who lives with a very clear and real grasp of the eternal. He knows this is not his home. And as he has endured the gradual deterioration of his earthly body, he continues to be a compass for many still walking this journey.
In his mid-20s, he decided his life motto would be to “stretch others.” His desire has been to help people fully use their God-given gifts and talents. To see him in his early 90s, often in pain, still stretching others reveals to me that the words he lives by are more than a motto-they are the very core of who he is.
Now in my mid-30s, I am challenged in my own attitudes and choices by seeing my grandfather face the end of his life with grace and a sense of peace. I am not naïve enough to think he is simply a cherubic character in a Norman Rockwell painting-I know his humanity. But I also know that he is a man steeped in God’s grace, desiring to be used until his very last breath. When he had to give up his freedom and mobility, he could have gotten bitter, but he chose to adapt. At this moment his is still choosing to submit to God’s working through him in this new time of life.
Today he is giving me a very unique gift: a living example of finishing well in spite of suffering. He shows me that true strength is coming “through it all.” His life’s work is stretching and blessing. My blessing is his wise example, his love, his encouragement and his friendship. Thank you, Grandfather.
I firmly believe this book will give readers of all ages an opportunity to find in Grandfather and his friends thoughts that mentor and strengthen. These are apt words for us as we face life’s question marks. They give us insight that only lives of integrity can produce. They mark a path for those of us still learning. Their words point out a direction so that we, too, may finish well.
Jeff Horch is the Content Manager for Preaching.com.
Click here for more information on the book Breakfast With Fred.
Foreword was reprinted by permission (Regal lBooks 2007)