How A Bunny Rabbit Saved My Grandfather’s Life

Earlier this week, Liz and I were driving through the neighborhood on our way to dinner. It was a beautiful Spring day with the flowers in full bloom, the sky a crisp blue. The perfect backdrop was created as the sun sank lower on the horizon.

As we drove, I saw a bunny quietly enjoying some grass a few yards from the roadside. At first, I passed by, my car outpacing my thoughts. A few seconds later I came to a quick stop and threw the car in reverse.

“What are you doing?!” Liz was startled by my abruptness.

“I’ve got to go back.”

Her lack of response convinced me that she was used to my shenanigans.

As we backed up, the bunny was still there. I put the car in park and jumped out, my camera in hand. I began slowly creeping toward the rabbit, trying to get a picture.

As I came back to the car, I looked at Liz and said, “It would have been Paw Paw’s 91st birthday today.”

She knew then the justification for my actions.

The bunny on Paw Paw's birthday

The bunny on Paw Paw’s birthday

My Grandfather, Edwin Allen Sheneman, was affectionately known as Paw Paw. To say he was a character is an understatement. His life portrayed the culmination of experiences of the greatest generation.

Just recently, I was blessed with a gift from my mother. A journal she had asked Paw Paw to keep for my brother and me. The journal was dated December 1993, but for twenty years it sat by my mother’s bedside, as if it were waiting for the right moment to share it with me.

That time was now.

Seeing my Grandfather’s memories in his own hand brought wisdom from a time long gone. Stories and memories from a then, seventy year old man, as he reflected on years passed.

A life rich in experience.

As Paw Paw closed the journal, he used these words:

“Of course there is much that happened that I can’t write of and some I’ve just forgotten.”

Paw Paw would live another sixteen years after he wrote these words. The pages of his journal are so thick with insight that I can’t begin to detail all of them here. I do believe in time – possibly as a posthumous interview – I will share them with you.

Only now, as I continue to pour into my own writing and purpose, do I truly appreciate Paw Paw and his story. In fact, I’m beginning to see how my life, in a way, is a partial reflection of his.

However, it is a story surrounding his death that caused me to stop in my tracks when seeing that bunny rabbit.

Life in the Midst of Death

Paw Paw’s eighty-five year old frame had weathered the Great Depression, the experiences of combat in World War II, the challenges of husband and fatherhood, the struggles of entrepreneurship, a heart attack, numerous blood transfusions, and countless ailments. He had always persisted, until now.

Cancer was taking over his body.

Up until that point, Paw Paw had an inner strength, a resilience in overcoming adversity on his own. This resilience, however, gave him extreme confidence that often outwitted his faith. He spoke of God with an inquisitive nature, wondering how a sea could be parted and how a man could have been raised from the dead. Yet, despite these doubts, he still held a level of piety.

This blend created a gruff exterior. One that, although curious, refused help.

He refused to admit he was in any way broken.

He often sat in his recliner, staring out the window, a lit cigarette burning in his fingers. In those pensive moments, I believe he thought of many things. I believe he thought of God.

Then, during his final month, he met his Creator face to face.

Of all things, He came in the form of a bunny rabbit.

On his walk to get the mail, Paw Paw noticed a beautiful, sweet bunny rabbit that had been violently struck by a car. The rabbit lay dead in the road.

In that moment, his calloused exterior was pierced by the light of life. The perfect moment created when the combination of his own battle met the questions of his past. He flashed back to his childhood.

As a little boy he heard a story at church about Jesus inviting the little children to come and listen. In his mind’s eye, the animals were gathered around Jesus as well and among them, a bunny rabbit.

In this helpless rabbit, I think Paw Paw saw himself.

For the first time in eighty-five years he came to grips with his own brokenness.

That’s when he asked me something I never thought I would hear.

“Matt, surely a gracious God would have mercy on that sweet rabbit. Do you think he would have mercy on me?”

“Paw Paw, God does have mercy on us, but we have to ask him for it. Have you asked Him for mercy?”

“I’ve never thought about it that way. Maybe I’ll ask him.”

“I think you should.”

An exchange between two generations that held the weight of eternity.

Confession. Forgiveness. Healing. Restoration. Life.

As a reminder of this exchange, my family found a ceramic statue of a bunny and brought it to him in his final days. It touched him deeply.

His hospice room overlooked a small garden and it was in that garden we placed the statue of the bunny, a reminder of Jesus’ presence in our lives, in Paw Paw’s life.

Paw Paw's bunny

Paw Paw’s bunny

The day before he died, a family friend went to visit him in his room and heard some of his last words. Softly, but confidently Paw Paw said, “Set the bunny free.”

The day after Paw Paw’s death, Mom went to his house and found, in his yard, a cross. A small metallic charm, nearly buried in the grass, bearing the inscription Jesus Loves Me. Paw Paw was free indeed.

As tears fill my eyes recalling the beauty in this story, I chuckle and wipe them away.

Of all things, my hard, war-torn Grandfather was humbled by a bunny rabbit.

In Christ, things are not what they seem. The beauty of a child in a manger. A king riding on a donkey. The savior losing his life in place of our own. The Gospel echoes the words of the Apostle Paul:

“God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27

When I saw the rabbit by the roadside on what would have been Paw Paw’s 91st birthday, I was reminded:

My God is rich in mercy.

“Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

He met Paw Paw at his questions and in turn invited him into a relationship, penetrating the calloused exterior.

Because of His great love, He makes us alive even in death.

MH

Question: What broken pieces of your past might be keeping you from embracing God’s mercy? 

If you enjoyed this post, check out my book, Redefine Rich, on Amazon

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  • Al Sheneman

    Matt, after all the years of trying to tell daddy how much God loved him and wanted to have a relationship with him and being rebuffed every time by him, there was a time in October the year before he died, that he finally talked “religion” with me. He told me a story that as a small child he remembered there was a time where he had accepted Christ as his savior. He was very vague, obviously not understanding what the Word says about salvation and how one obtains it. When I look back at his life, I see many ways in which God blessed him. He worked hard. He provided for his family. He instilled in us a love of the outdoors, weather, and the sea. He was the smartest man I have ever known. I know he loved us and only wanted the best for us in life. He loved his grandchildren…all of them. He was a man’s man….only in his latter years did he express his love and pride in me and what I had accomplished. He was raised in a different way and during a different time and I think it definitely designed his personality. Another unique part of the rabbit story was just a short time before he passed, he received a get well card from his favorite cashier at Food Lion. The graphics on the card included a bunny rabbit. He talked about that card many times because of the significance he placed on the rabbit and what it represented to him. Thank you so much for honoring him as you have. He definitely loved his grandson, Matt Ham.

    • Al I was so moved when writing this, as if I felt Paw Paw’s emotion in the significance of the bunny rabbit. Almost saw him walking through the Pearly Gates and bunnies hopping everywhere and him laughing.

  • Loved that story. God uses the weak things of this world. Blessings buddy.

  • Beautiful story man! The Lord works in mysterious ways… Thank you for sharing!

    • thanks brother! The foundation looks great.

  • David Mike

    That was great. Thanks for sharing your personal story. He sounds like he had some serious impact on your life. As a military kid, I did not develop deep relationships with family as we moved around my whole life. I have learned the importance of family connectedness through being married to my wife. I have to say in relation to your question, my broken past is causing me to embrace God’s grace and mercy. More now than ever before because I have been sharing it. I think I did not realize how selfish a person I was until I look at the decisions I made and how they affected my family. Thankfully I am forgiven! By God, and my family. Thanks Matt!

    • David – I love your story and your heart behind sharing it. Even more, I love how God is at work in your life through it.

      will you share a link to your site here?

  • That is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

    I lost my grandpa two years ago now. His faith was lifelong, which has been an inexpressible blessing to all of us. It’s curious: we think of men of that generation as being distant, and many were, but my grandpa’s reserve didn’t stop him from showing love, of being there for us whenever he could, and giving freely.

    I marvel how God may reach us early or late, how to him it’s the right time, and his grace is enough regardless. He is wondrously *exact*.

    • He sounds like a wonderful man and a blessing to many, Andrea. And God’s exactness is something we will never fully appreciate until we are face-to-face. Oh how marvelous!

  • Matt,

    Just beautiful. I love how you weave together truth with your stories. Really nice.

    • Thanks Anne! I appreciate it!

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