December 2021- February 2022
We Need Each Other
A Good Name Personified
By Ken Riggs
As an ordained minister, I have been asked to conduct numerous funerals. My typical answer is “I would be honored to do so, but I hope it is not anytime soon.”
Such was the case when my Uncle Lehman wrote and asked me to preach his funeral. The letter is dated April 2, 2018, and he was 98 years old at the time. Uncle Lehman and my father Raymond were two of four boys and seven girls born to Reverend and Mrs. C.E. Riggs.
I told Uncle Lehman I wasn’t going to wait for his funeral but would go ahead and tell him what I had to say.
I reminded him my father used to say, “If you want to give me flowers, do it while I can smell them.” I told Uncle Lehman I wanted to “give him some flowers so he could smell them now.” Those flowers used each letter of his name to share a characteristic I observed in him. I told him I planned to use Proverbs 22:1 as my text because, in my opinion, he personified what Solomon said about a good name.
Uncle Lehman responded in a letter August 23, 2018. As I suspected, he thought my words were too kind, but he thanked me for them. And, now, please allow me to share with you those “letters” that characterized his life:
LOVE and LILA
Love for his country, love for his family, and love for His God. Lila was his first wife. As a boy, I never saw one without the other. We called them Uncle Lehman and Aunt Lila, and they were married 60 years. They had no children of their own, so they decided all the children of his ten brothers and sisters would become theirs. Lila was a unique person, a mixture of Tammy Faye Baker and Dolly Parton rolled into one. I often wondered if they saw her somewhere and modeled their “look” after her.
When my stepmother died several years later, Lehman made the trip with me to attend her funeral. We were the only Riggs to make the trip. It was ten hours from Nashville (and Uncle Lehman also drove 90 minutes from Cookeville to Nashville). We made the trip to Monet, Missouri, spent the night in a hotel, attended the funeral the next day, and then drove nine hours back to Nashville.
Uncle Lehman spent the night before returning to Cookeville the next morning. I asked him to call me when he arrived home, so I would know he made it safely. I didn’t hear from him for quite some time and finally called to check on him. I soon learned he had stopped to visit with a sister in a nursing home in Nashville. I’m not sure of Uncle Lehman’s age at the time, but he sure covered a lot of ground in a four-day period for a man his age.
HUMBLE, HONEST, HOLY…HERO
Humble about what I was planning to say at his funeral; humble when his army buddy was killed in action, and he wondered why God had spared his own life; honest in his Christian faith, and holy in his character and demeanor. During his funeral, one of his nephews described him as a hero, which I added when it the time came for me to speak.
MODEST, MANNERLY, MALIGNED without retaliation
Modest in appearance and language; mannerly in behavior; maligned without seeking revenge when other Christians disagreed with him.
ARMY…and a little ARGUMENTIVE
Uncle Lehman served courageously as a soldier in World War II. He served with distinction and honor and was awarded for valor on a variety of occasions. After his first wife died, he moved to Cookeville, Tennessee, joined the Cookeville Honor Guard. He attended 1,046 funerals for fellow veterans. The words “a little argumentative” aren’t intended in a mean way. When Uncle Lehman was 98, plans were made for a special birthday party when he reached 100.
I mentioned the plans to him, and he asked, “What if I don’t live that long?”
I responded that at least we would feel better knowing we tried to do it.
Uncle Lehman promptly said, “Well, let me help pay for it.”
I told him, “Uncle Lehman, you don’t give someone a birthday party and ask him to help pay for it.”
I’m thankful he did make it to age 100, and we did give him a party. During the party, I learned something about him I didn’t know. He was a fan of Dolly Parton. I called the local fan club, and they assisted me in getting a very nice black and white picture of Dolly with Lehman’s name on it. I wondered if the picture reminded him of Lila, but I didn’t dare ask him.
The Letter N: When I wrote Uncle Lehman about what I wanted to say at his funeral, I told him I didn’t know what to say about the letter “N.” When the time came, I assured him, I would know what to say.
I also told Uncle Lehman I wanted to share his love for gospel music. I did that by having the audience sing just a few lines from each of the following songs:
“I will meet you in the morning by the bright river side, when all sorrows have drifted away.”
“What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see, and I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace.”
“There will be a happy meeting in Heaven I know, when we see the many loved ones we’ve known here below,” because “When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be, when we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.”
“Until then, my heart will go on singing. Until then, with joy I’ll carry on, until the day my eyes behold that city, until the day God calls me home.”
At his funeral, I read parts of the letters dated April 2, 2018, and April 23, 2018. I told listeners I was glad Uncle Lehman took me at my word and did not have me speak “anytime soon.” He lived three years after he asked me to preach the funeral. When Uncle Lehman died, I still hadn’t come up with anything to say about the letter “N.” It was there, staring at me the whole time I was preparing, and it finally hit me. The letter “N” stood for his NAME. That’s what Solomon said in Proverbs 22:1. Your name identifies you. When people hear your name, they get an image in their mind about you. Your name is either good or bad to them. Your name represents everything you are. Your name proved those who maligned you were wrong.
I told the audience if I could say anything else to Uncle Lehman, I would give my regards to all the members of the Riggs clan in Heaven with him. I would thank him for just being who he was. I also found three other words that, to me, describe him best. Those words are soldier, student, and servant. He was a soldier for the U.S. Army and the cause of Christ; he was a student of the Word of God. He was not a preacher, but he knew his Bible well and loved to teach it. He was a servant, evident by the many funerals he attended with the Honor Guard.
I ended my message by saying, “Uncle Lehman, you asked me to speak at your funeral, but in reality you preached your own funeral through your life of goodness, grace, and godliness. You did the preaching. I merely read the manuscript.”
About the Author: Dr. Ken Riggs received his B.A. degree from Welch College, his M.S. from Old Dominion University, his M.Ed. from Middle Tennessee State University and his Ph.D. from George Peabody College. Contact Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org.