Last week our family lost one of the finest men I’ve ever known. He was my wife’s father and my father-in-law, Ray Kegley. Our kids called him “Grandpa Kegley.” When our first grandson was little, he just called him “Kegwey.”
When I started dating Rae Anne in high school, one of my classmates told me he had once seen her father grab a wooden extension ladder by the first and third rungs and set it up against a house. Ray worked from the time he was a small boy as a contractor, first with his father and older brother Jack, and then on his own. Not long after I started dating his daughter I saw Ray without his shirt on. He was built like a bodybuilder, only he used concrete blocks and 4x4s instead of barbells and dumbbells.
Every time I drive past an old drive-in theater, I think about the time Ray roofed the top of the Greenwood Drive-In. He’d told his wife Ann that he would be careful. But she drove past that afternoon and saw Ray walking calmly along the narrow top of that screen, high in the air.
I called once to talk to Rae Anne. Assuming she would be the one to pick up the phone, I sang the opening line from the old Todd Rundgren song, “Hello, it’s me!” And then I heard Ray’s gravelly voice say, “Hello, me! I expect you want to talk to my daughter.” I was mortified.
Asking Ray if I could marry Rae Anne was one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done. To my great surprise he seemed at a loss for words. He said, “Well, come on in my office, and let’s talk about it.” He was very subdued, even gentle. He wanted to make sure that we had thought about how we were going to live, and if we’d have enough money to make it. He and Ann must have been reluctantly convinced, because that next December, during my college Christmas break, Rae Anne and I were married.
During those early years, as I faced some of the frustrations of ministry, I often found myself envious of Ray. I would read Ecclesiastes 5:19-20, and think of him. In the New International Version (1984), the passage says this: Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart. This to me described Ray Kegley. He worked hard, and he loved his work. He built houses all over Johnson County. He was prosperous, and he enjoyed his family and his friends, a shared meal, and a good laugh. I never saw Ray much occupied with introspection or melancholy. I think God kept him occupied mostly with gladness of heart. I often prayed that God would give me those same gifts.
Everywhere Rae Anne and I have ever lived Ray and Ann would come down, and Ray would put up a few shelves or fix some loose boards. So when Rae Anne and I bought our house in Linton, I wasn’t surprised that Ray and Ann came down. What did surprise me was that they moved into our house—we were still in a rented apartment—and lived there for a month while Ray gutted the house and totally remodeled the inside. They slept on an air mattress and only worked half-days: twelve hours! I was astonished. They told me they did this because they had built a house for Rae Anne’s sister Teresa. We knew about that, but never expected any “evening up.” We were flabbergasted at what they did, at how much work and money they put into the house. By the time they left a month later, we were exhausted! But the house was transformed. To this day, I often look at the carpet, or the walls, or something else around the house, and think of all the work he and Ann did. I’ve often wished I could see a time-lapse video of Ray working on our house, sped up so you could see it all in just a few minutes. It would have shown Ray literally all over our house, from the roof to the basement. What he could do was amazing. And how he worked has ruined us with most other contractors.
From time to time over the years it has been my privilege to preach at Rae Anne’s family’s church. As much as he razzed me about being a Baptist preacher, Ray always seemed pleased when Rae Anne and I could be there. Once when I was filling in, Ray was the “Deacon of the Day.” He coached me through what to do next in the service. At one point we walked part way down the center aisle to take prayer requests. Ray spoke for a moment about how much it meant to him to have all his family there that day, and how thankful he was for that. And he began to cry. He had a gruff exterior, but he was “gooey” in the middle. And you could always tell Ray loved you when he turned the butter over in your hand at a family meal.
After I surrendered to go into the ministry, Rae Anne’s family didn’t quite know what to think of that at first. But after they figured out I didn’t handle snakes—and after the events of the death of Rae Anne’s grandfather Bill Magill, and the ministry and friendship of Dr. John Iliff and his wife Jessie—we all relaxed quite a bit and realized we had quite a bit in common.
One evening Rae Anne and I had come up to visit. We were sitting in Ray and Ann’s living room, and they were telling us about a Bible study group they were involved in, studying grace. I think they might have been using some of Charles Swindoll’s material. We were sitting there, talking about the grace of God and the truths of the Gospel. At one point Ray mentioned someone in their group who was prone to making off-the-wall comments, and he said: “I don’t know what’s the matter with him. I don’t think he understands grace at all. Sometimes he talks like his mouth is full of spit!” Only he didn’t say “spit”; he said another word that rhymes with “spit.” And I sat there and laughed, and looked at him and thought: “Well, hello, Simon Peter!”
Often at a graveside service I will read the words of John 11:25-26. Jesus spoke these words to a woman named Martha whose brother Lazarus had died. Martha had kind of accused Jesus, saying “Lord…if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21)
Death is never convenient. It always comes at the wrong time, and there is always something that causes you to say, “Lord, if You’d been here, it wouldn’t have happened like this.” That last night, when Ray’s second wife Jan, and his daughters Rae Anne and Teresa, sat up with him as he fought his last battle with COPD, it was a long, heartbreaking vigil. But my wife and her sister honored their father, just as God commanded us to do in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12). And our family owes such a debt of gratitude to Jan. We are so grateful for how she has loved Ray and taken care of him these past few years.
Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and He said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) I often read those words at a graveside service and let them hang there as a rhetorical question. But almost seven years ago our family stood in that same little cemetery for Ann Kegley’s burial service, and when I read Jesus’ question, “Do you believe this?”, Ray answered out loud in a fervent, choked voice: “Yes!” Ray is the only one who has ever answered that question out loud.
I’m so glad he did.
Soli Deo Gloria!