Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why My Grandpa's Death Gives Me Hope

My grandfather had a smell. The kind of smell that made me smile hours after a hug from him. The kind of smell that makes me feel safe and loved and about 10 years old still, if I find it upon my nose.

He loved my long hair. I would cut it and then grow it out again and every time it was long enough for him to reach back and flip with his hand, he would smile gently and say "ah, your hair is long enough to flip!"

My grandpa would whisper in my ear as we parted… "be good". or "be a good girl". It was his trademark, one discussed at his funeral in length and remembered by many of those who had the privilege of knowing him. We knew he didn’t mean to tell us to get good grades, or go to a good college. He didn’t mean make lots of money or get a good job, or eat your greens.

He was a man of few words, especially in large groups, but his actions spoke loudly and we knew by the way he lived his life, what he meant by “be good”.

A few years ago we asked he and Grandma to reflect on their lives and tell us stories. We video taped it, and at his funeral we watched a teary Grandpa remind us...

“I have tried to do...what is right. And I didn’t always do that- but I knew the Lord would forgive me..... I am so satisfied with what we got. You can all see the good Lord’s been good to me.”

He says that and I tear up every time. He reminds me that life is worth all the trying. It is worth all of the getting out of bed in the morning, the fighting through the fog to believe.

My dad has been texting our family bible verses every day for the last few years. A couple fridays ago, the verse that showed up on our phone screens was this:

Matthew 12:33
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.

My grandfather leaned over and looked into the eyes of his wife of 61 years and said, “We bore good fruit.”

That night was the night he was taken to the hospital. His sudden decline was jarring and with the possibility that he may not recover, grandpa’s fruit: his family, made their way to his bedside. Four daughters and their spouses. 14 grandchildren and their spouses, and 20 great-grandchildren.

You should have seen the waiting room of the ICU, it was like a continuous church potluck as we gathered and prayed, told stories about Grandpa, and hoped for the best.

The best, it turned out, would come differently than we realized at the time.

Grandpa waited until all 14 grandchildren had their chance to say goodbye. And literally minutes after my last cousin got there, grandpa let go.

The patriarch of the family I have spent every childhood holiday with, the man who drew me birds and smiley faces into peanut butter crackers when I was sick, who has come with my grandma to every one of my concerts within driving distance, the man who has always been a source of stability and consistency in my life, was dying.

That night my brother Michael had brought his guitar, and a few of us grandkids passed it around in Grandpa’s room, singing songs that came to mind and calling upon the God who every single one of us believes in.

The God who held Grandpa as a young man, through word war II and through those years of loss and struggle. The God who pursued him all his life and gave him grace when he faltered. The God who blessed him with a beautiful family and 84 years to enjoy them. This Jesus, whom we worship, is the reason we could sing, with tears in our eyes, In Christ Alone, around Grandpa’s bed.

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease
My Comforter my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone - who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This Gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid:
Here in the death of Christ I live

The nurse came in to check on him...his heart monitor was beeping. She whispered to my mom it was because his heartbeat was so faint it wasn’t picking it up. We kept singing...

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

my grandmother put her hand on his face and we witnessed 61 years of marriage.... coming to an end.

No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till he returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand

The words were still lingering on our lips as we looked up to the monitor to see the straight red line indicating that his heart had stopped.

My grandpa was a dignified man, and he died a dignified death. That moment in the hospital, we experienced the peace that comes from righteousness in Christ. And so...we do not mourn as those who have no hope.

Grandpas death has been a powerful reminder that I will one day be the one in that hospital bed. The way I live my life matters, the choices I make affect generations to come, and I want to go out the way Grandpa did. With peace and faithfulness and complete trust in Jesus, to carry me from this life into the next.

1 of those 20 great-grand babies will be born later this week, and one was born the day after Grandpa died. I don’t know how it all works, but I like to think that he got up to heaven just in time to meet both of them before they came to earth.

What a legacy he has left.

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
-1 Corinthians 15:55-58