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Reflections | Dr. Leighton Ford (Mentoring)

Conversations with Sandy Leighton Ford

February 6, 2015

Excerpted from Sandy: A Heart for God

When [our son] Sandy was alive, he sometimes made his friends a little uncomfortable by being slightly apart, separate, present to the moment but not totally committed to this world, as if his eyes and mind were set on things above. Now that he is gone, his absence reminds us frequently of heaven, helping us to recover the old notion that our lives are brief, and lived continually under the eye of eternity and in the grace of God.

During the months following Sandy’s death, to cope with my grief and sense of loss, I kept a journal. Through a series of “conversations” with Sandy, I continued to express my grief and bring our relationship to a close.

In one of those chats, I said, “Sandy, you’ve been dead two months earthtime.”

“I feel as if I have been alive forever, Dad. It’s a lot like one big long today.”

“It’s not a matter of time, Sandy, except that time heals. It’s more a matter of nearness. I guess I’m concerned that as our time goes on, we will lose any sense of nearness.”

“But why, Dad? You’re moving closer to eternity every day. You’re no longer moving from, but to me! And besides, the ‘Wall’ between is so thin—you would laugh if you could see it.”

“I think more of you than when you were at Chapel Hill.”

“Sure! I know you do. I hear those thoughts.”

“Night, son! Enjoy the stars!”

“It’s morning here, Dad. Enjoy the light!”

Pheidippides ran exhausted into Athens with news of the Greek victory at Marathon, shouting, “Rejoice! We conquer!” Sandy ran through the lives of those who knew him shouting, “Rejoice! He conquers!” Then, like the runner-warrior Pheidippides, he died….


Time, they say, heals. Time also sets ambushes…

Nobody could have told me three years ago how much we would miss him or for how long. There is nothing quite like the death of a child…

I want so much to see him again… But the pain of death is its finality. Things are never the same again.

And yet they have gotten better…

When we get down to it, I guess Jeanie put it right that last night, “Either there is a God and he is good, or there is no God.”…

…Many would say, “What a tragedy…” But that gives me pause. Is tragic a word that belongs in a Christian’s vocabulary? Pain and suffering, yes, and loss and anguish and questioning. But tragedy is a word from the ancient Greeks not from the language of the Bible…

…”How tragic, that Sandy would only live until he was twenty-one.”…

How important then to decide what is Sandy’s true end! If twenty-one years was the end, then it does seem tragic. (…If there is nothing more, then there really is nothing—nothing ultimately important.)

But if eternity is his end, then I can look from his infancy to his manhood and see each part fitting into an eternal whole which is yet beyond my ken, but not my hope…

Was twenty-one years enough? Or would twenty-two have been enough? Or twenty-three? Or would I have taken seventy-three? Then why not seventy-four?

Isn’t it what fills those years that matters? Is time just clock-time or opportunity-time—or God-time? …

The year after Sandy died, Kevin and I were raking leaves and talking about how we missed him. Kevin said, “But, Dad, maybe Sandy’s influence has been far greater than if he had lived. His life was like a very bright light—a spotlight—focused intensely. But his death has been a floodlight. It has covered a much wider area.”

Again, I have become convinced that John 12 is not just a metaphor but a literal truth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone, but if it dies it brings forth many seeds.”

Life blossoming from death. That is God’s way. It is the way of the cross…

…”Is this what you get for following Christ—for pursuing God—to die young?” …

“But what are the options?” I want to ask. “To be bad and die young? To be bad and die old? Or to be neutral and count for nothing?” …

We have no regrets. No unsaid words we wished we had said. No desire that Sandy had been a different kind of person. …As someone said, Jeanie and I have “clean sorrow.” Still, I want him. I want to see…

Sometimes in my mind, I whisper, “What is it like, son?”

And I hear him say, “I can think so deeply and every thought is clear. I can speak and express exactly what I mean. I can run and never get tired. I am so surefooted in the paths of glory.”

So a son leaves a legacy for a father. I have determined to run my race for Christ to the end. And when that time comes maybe our Savior will let him come running to meet me. Then with all sons and daughters of the resurrection, our hearts will beat and run for God forever.


Dr. Leighton Ford is President of Leighton Ford Ministries, which focuses on raising up younger leaders to spread the message of Christ worldwide. He served from 1955 until 1985 as Associate Evangelist and later Vice President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Dr. Ford is also author and co-author of numerous books. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife, Jean. Their children include a daughter, Deborah, a son, Kevin, and their older son, Sandy, who died after heart surgery in November 1981.

Sandy: A Heart for God, is available POD from InterVarsityPress USA and also through Barnes and Noble, and Amazon

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