I would like to tell you a story today about a man I had not always appreciated as I do now. A quiet, humble servant of Jesus. His name is Paul Gardner, and he was my great uncle. Paul was the oldest son in a family of two boys and three girls. His brother was my grandfather.
Paul's family lived on a farm in northern Michigan. When Paul was still a young man, his father abandoned the family, and Paul became the head of the household, responsible for the farm, his mother, and his younger siblings. He also for a time served as pastor of the little Sunday School his family attended, which met in the local one-room school.
When World War One called the young men away, Paul’s younger brother George was the one who represented the family, as Paul was needed to run the farm while George was in Europe.
At the end of the war, George returned home safely and married Laura Berg in October of 1919. Their first child, Ruth, was born the following August, and the next August my father George was born. Grandpa George taught school, and helped Paul on the farm.
The family lived near one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Torch Lake. Its clear turquoise waters provided fish and recreation year-round. In winter, the family loved to skate over ice that was often so clear that you could see the bottom. The lake was long and deep. One frosty evening, George and Laura decided to go skating before supper, and Paul went with them. They left the little ones with Grandma, and supper baking in the oven. As they skated over the clear ice, Paul said he was going to go over to look at a fishing shanty, and George and Laura continued across the lake. They were a long distance from Paul when he heard them shout in distress. Paul speeded over the ice and arrived near where they were to find that the couple had both gone through the ice. Laura was already submerged and George was trying to scramble onto the broken edge. Paul tried to extend a branch out toward his brother, but George was already nearing unconsciousness and Paul watched in horror as his brother also slipped below the ice.
Paul returned home in sorrow, and when Grandma asked, “Where are George and Laura?” he was so overcome all he could do was (point down). The whole town went down to the lake to search, but there was nothing they could do. Little Ruth was 17 months old and baby George was 5 months.
That night, the Lord said to Paul, “Those children are yours.” His older married sister immediately set out from Oklahoma for Michigan, hoping to adopt the children, but theirs was not a godly home. God was with Paul and by the time his sister arrived, he had already been granted the adoption, one of the first single men in the state of Michigan to be allowed to adopt children. The presence of his mother in the household was helpful in that decision, but it was definitely God at work.
Paul loved the Lord with all his heart, and was a faithful father to his niece and nephew, giving spiritual leadership to the home and doing his best to provide for them. He even became superintendent of schools so that he could make sure their little one room school was the best it could be for his children. When they were finished with school he gave up the job.
Dad once asked Uncle Paul if it had been hard raising them, and Paul only said, “It was a joy and privilege.”
After the children were grown and gone, Paul sold the farm, and he and his mother moved to Bay City, living in a little house together for many years. Paul served with the Salvation Army, and we liked it when he visited us wearing his uniform.
There are many types of fathers, but the godly father is one who leads others to Jesus, and nurtures them in their faith. Paul was a bachelor who raised two families, but never had a family of his own. He was humbly and joyfully obedient to God’s calling on his life. What a contrast to his own father. I am sure that when Paul died at the age of 93, he was welcomed by our Lord with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Four generations of Gardners have followed Paul, and they are still serving the God he loved and served so faithfully. Whether our place is large or small, prominent or in the background, may each of us be faithful to our own calling in the family of God.