My Capitol Experience

Stephan N. Tchividjian, National Christian Foundation President

I find it interesting how a date will memorialize a moment in time. Loss has a particular ability to memorialize itself. We have all experienced some form of loss or another in the past year. We have lost loved ones; we have lost jobs, opportunities, experiences and the like. We have also lost some “heroes,” not all necessarily to a global pandemic but to the ever-present sin pandemic.

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A young Stephan Tchividjian is thrown in the air by his grandfather, Billy Graham.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded that my father had passed twelve years ago. Lisa, my wife, and I were also reminded of the loss of her sister 31 years ago on Valentine’s day, and those two memories brought us to a place of reflection. I think losing something often recalibrates us, don’t you? I find that I mourn a loss and then sometimes try desperately to fix the circumstance, only to be reminded that I can’t. I sometimes drift off into reminiscing what life was like before the loss and wishing I could go back. Sometimes I want to blame others for my loss. I am afraid that sometimes loss can numb my heart, which I don’t want or like. I do realize that loss is a part of life, and it does bring things into perspective, namely, what and who is important. Loss also creates more empathy and I want and like that. God understands loss, and as we run this race and desire to finish well, we humbly ask God that our lives would reflect His character. Perhaps loss helps us understand the heart and mind of God better.

 

Laid in Honor

I was also recently reminded that several years ago my grandfather passed too. I wrote about the experience I had while reflecting on that loss. I had the once in a lifetime experience of being invited to attend the historic moment when Billy Graham (my grandfather) was laid in Honor at the US Capitol. Only five US civilians have ever had that honor.  Officer Jacob J. Chestnut Jr. and detective John M. Gibson were given the honor in 1998, Rosa Parks in 2005 and recently Officer Brian D Sicknick. I would argue more men have walked on the moon than have received this distinguishing honor. 

The day was birthed like every other. Washington, DC was busy as you would expect any influential city would be mid-week. Traffic, sirens, people making their way to work, meetings taking place, children being dropped off at school, tourists lining up at the world-renowned museums, tour guides with groups in tow and the occasional souvenir cart being positioned. I remember being dropped off by my Uber driver across from the front entrance of the Russell Senate office building. We stood in a long security line as we entered the building and then made our way to a waiting room, where we were given additional security clearance and instructions. We had the opportunity to meet up with other guests at that time. We were quickly and quietly ushered underground to the actual ground floor of The US Capitol. Once there, we were given additional instructions and then escorted out to the Capitol steps. 

I remember the scene well. Once again, the blue sky, a crisp breeze coupled with a certain somber tone and uncharacteristic stillness in the air made me realize this was not only an honorable moment, but a holy one. The hearse carrying my grandfather’s casket, constructed by inmates from the Louisiana State Penitentiary (aka Angola or the Alcatraz of the South) quietly pulled up. The honor guard, with military precision, quietly approached the hearse as we watched from the elevated position. The casket was gently pulled out and then manually positioned to be slowly taken up the steps, one step at a time, in unison. The only voice to be heard was from a member of the honor guard, giving gentle instructions to his fellow pallbearers. His simple words were, “Step” “Hold” “Step” “Hold”. The whole process from the foot of The Capitol steps to its inner chamber took a good ten minutes, total silence except for “Step” “Hold” “Step” “Hold”. We stood as if time had frozen us all, lost in memories of the past all the while wanting to desperately capture the now. I had a sense that time was standing still, time was no longer a measurement because the memories of old blended with the experience of the now. I recall thinking of these words, “Step” ”Hold” “Step” “Hold” and reflecting on the idea that they appropriately reflected and described the life of a faithful Christian. My life as a follower of Jesus is just that. I step as He steps, and I hold as He holds. The Bible admonishes us to “keep in step with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus tells his disciples to “follow Me,” and hence they are called followers of Jesus and eventually given the name of Christians. 

Daddy Bill

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Stephan Tchividjian clasps the hand of his grandfather, Billy Graham.

I affectionately called my grandfather, Daddy Bill. The photos depict me, as a young child, being thrown in the air by my grandfather, my first steps in life within the arms of his. The other photo depicts the last time I held his hand and saw him alive, his life soon to end as mine continues on. The US Government gave my grandfather this distinct honor, for no other reason but that he faithfully and obediently followed Jesus. That’s it! My grandfather’s legacy is nothing more than a model of what happens when we simply honor God with our lives: He in turn honors us. I don’t ever expect to be memorialized in the US Capitol, and you probably don’t either. However, I will forever be reminded of the words “Step” “Hold” “Step” “Hold” filling the airspace of not only Washington, but for a brief moment, the world. I was humbled to see that God gave us a glimpse that His majesty is so compelling, so riveting, so fruitful, so honoring, that even a divisive, hopeless and often pagan world will stop in awe, when they get a glimpse of God’s faithful presence in a redeemed soul. The ultimate honor is to know that God himself invites you and I to walk with Him, and as we do, we get to truly see and experience that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

 

Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more. For more articles by Stephan N. Tchividjian, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/stephan-tchividjian/

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