I've been staring at a blank page for quite some time now. Tons of thoughts are running through my head but seem impossible to put on paper.
Just a few days ago, we were forced to say good-bye to my grandfather, the true patriarch of our family. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only a couple months ago, and already we are suffering the loss of this great man.
I was privileged to grow up with his presence in my life, whether it was flying down the lake in his fishing boat, or trying to encourage me because I was wearing a very unflattering baby doll dress, or shining up his Cadillac to chauffeur my new husband and I to our hotel after our wedding, Grandad has consistently had a presence in my life.
My Grandad always exuded strength and confidence; he appeared to be a man whose core couldn't be shaken. His hugs were strong, and his pats on the back felt like gentle spankings. He was a former Marine. He worked his way to the top of a corporation. He was not only well-liked, but he commanded respect without having to ask for it. I knew that when he spoke, he meant business. As a young girl, I was convinced that my grandfather didn't have a soft spot anywhere in (or on) his body.
Growing up, it was common knowledge that Grandad and Grandma went to church every Sunday. My family would join them on Easter Sunday, and occasionally I would tag along if I happened to be staying with them during summer. My parents did not attend church regularly, so the most I knew about church was that I wasn't allowed to talk, nor was I allowed to have some of the crackers and juice that was being passed around.
And then I became an adult. And then I became a Christian. And then, my grandfather opened his soft heart to me.
A few years back, my children and I went to visit my grandparents. With two small children in tow, it was difficult to find a quiet moment to spend with my grandparents, but somehow, my grandfather and I stumbled upon an afternoon that allowed the two of us to talk privately. What began as small talk about the church I was attending, slowly grew into a profound discussion about God, faith, and our job to deliver the truth.
There were two things I saw in my grandfather during that conversation: his conviction, and vulnerability.
He was deeply convicted about the truth of God's word, as well as the urgency to share truth with those whom he loved the most. But in his boldness was also his vulnerability. He handed me one of several printed packets that were sitting on his desk. He shared with me that he spent hours poring over his words as he prepared to send these packets to those whom he loved. My grandfather asked me to proofread his work for him. He shared with me his fear of pushing loved ones away because he was daring to be so bold. He asked me to read it carefully, not just for another set of eyes to seek correction, but to make sure he didn't sound unloving or harsh. In his voice I could hear his fear, but behind the quiver in his tone, was the strength of his faith.
As I began to read the pages of his packet, I could see the heart he placed in every word. Scripture was quoted, Jesus's words were in red, and every truth, every promise, was laid bare for the recipients to read.
After reading the work of my grandfather's heart, I returned the packet to him as he looked at me with eager eyes. I could tell he was anxious to know what I thought about his work, but more importantly, what I thought about his need to send these packets out into the world.
As I left to return home, I could feel a difference in my grandfather's hug. I'm not sure if the hug was tighter because we connected deeper than we ever had before, or because we had this little secret that had not been exposed yet, but whatever the reason, I knew that his hug was the pivoting moment of our relationship.
I'm not sure whatever happened with those packets. I know he mailed them out, but to this day, I do not know how they were received. One thing I do know is that for the next few years following that conversation, my grandfather did not stop speaking the truth. He got back up and kept going.
The day after he received his diagnosis, I spent a half hour on the phone with him. I sat in the parking lot of a supermarket as I listened to him cry...but he wasn't crying about his fate. What brought him to tears was not the fear of death, but the fear of not seeing his loved ones in heaven one day. He cried to me that he had spoken truthfully to family members about their destiny and he feared that he hurt them in the process. Many words were shared between us in those thirty minutes, but as he pulled himself together, he said to me, "if we don't tell them, who will?" And again, he got back up and kept going.
Tonight has been a night filled with reflection about those two profound conversations I shared with my grandfather. And as I looked back, admiring his boldness, I was reminded of a story about Paul in the book of Acts. In Acts, chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas are preaching in Jewish synagogues...talk about a rough audience.
"At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greek believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So, Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord. ... There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news. ... Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city." Acts 14:1-20 [emphasis added by me]
A few things that strike me when I read this:
1) "as usual..." - I love this. It was so common for Paul to place himself in Jewish synagogues that even scripture records it as being his usual behavior. That's how frequently Paul was putting himself in, what I imagine could've been, uncomfortable situations to spread God's truth. Have you ever done that? My grandfather certainly did when he mailed out those packets....and I'm sure what could be heard was, "as usual, here he is talking about church and God again."
2) "So, ...spent considerable time, speaking boldly for the Lord..." - Paul and Barnabas were being challenged! I know we've all encountered that before. What do we do when we are challenged? Do we give up? Or do we spend considerable time speaking boldly to our challengers?
3) "...continued to preach the good news...." - ok, Paul and Barnabas are being threatened, so they decide to let the area cool down a bit, but they don't stop preaching. Have you ever encountered someone like that? The discussion about God becomes heated, so you have to walk away for a bit and let it cool down. But does that discourage you from continuing to share? Do you stop preaching? Or do you let that heart cool down while you travel along and continue to share God's word?
4) "...won the crowds over...stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead..." - That heated heart found some friends and is now traveling in packs to take you down. I've encountered that before; one person says one thing, who tells another, who tells another, and before you know it, people are accusing you of being judgmental, self-righteous and arrogant. You are verbally "stoned," with sharp comments being thrown at you to hurt you and make you give up.
5) "...got up and went back into the city..." - Paul had every reason to walk away after being stoned and left for dead. I don't think anybody would've thought negatively about Paul if scripture read that he got up and left the city. But he did the exact opposite. He got up - and went back in. Do you do that when you've been emotionally "stoned?" Do you get up and walk away, or do you get up, brush off the hurt, and walk back in?
I am so proud of my grandfather because, like Paul, he got up, brushed off the hurt and walked back into the city. I know that as he poured his heart out into those packets he waited with an anxious heart. That was many years ago, and I know that as days, months and years passed, he kept waiting. He could've allowed the lack of response to discourage him from continuing to share, but he didn't. He continued to preach. On the day he was given the news of his diagnosis, he could've thrown in the towel and said, "oh well, I tried." But instead, he spoke words of truth. He brushed off the hurt and went back into the city. Paul had an urgency to share God's truth with the citizens in that city, he didn't let the emotional or physical hurt stop him from talking about God.
My grandfather had an urgency to share God's truth with those whom he loved the most, and he didn't let the emotional, or physical, hurt stop him from talking about God. He got up and went back in.
I am so proud to be his granddaughter.
I pray that for all the days of my life I find the courage to be bold enough that scripture could record my sharing as being "usual" of my character.
Thank you, Grandad, for not letting fear trump truth. Thank you for getting up and going back in to finish what God desired of you. Thank you for loving all of us enough to speak with a bold heart for our Lord. And thank you for showing me what it means to "get up and go back in."
I'll see you again, Grandad...save me a seat. :)