Friday, January 20, 2012

My Grandfather

I sat in a chair next to my grandfather. He was lying in a hospital bed in the living room of his house. I had driven down from Vermont the night before. The Pennsylvania sun was just touching the horizon and lit up the window beside us. I looked out over the pastures and rolling hills that spread across my little serendipitous viewpoint, the morning sun shot past me into the living room touching a picture frame that had hung faithfully over his couch for many years. The light moved downward and touched my Grandfathers hands that lay peacefully across his lap. Those hands which had so masterfully operated farm equipment in Iowa during the Great Depression, the controls of B-17 bombers during World War II, inventions he had developed as a mechanical engineer, and finally the famous minivan that he drove and revived for over two decades, were now having trouble operating the controls of his mechanical hospital bed.

The morning light seemed to be filled with an inexorable peace that cascaded into the living room. As I looked out the window again, I noticed tiny raindrops sparkling in the sky as they fell. They would have been missed had it not been for the sun that exposed their presence over the pastures. The pastures had been harvested months before, leaving only remnants of the crops they had once produced. I found it fitting that a snowless, lifeless, December countryside could be at that moment filled with such ineffable beauty.

My Grandmother came into the room. She asked my Grandfather when she should take the oatmeal off the stove. My Grandfather had faithfully cooked the morning oats during the course of their 62 year old marriage. Now that he was bedridden the responsibility was turned over to her. As I sat and watched them discuss how best to cook oatmeal (which took an incredibly long time) I was overwhelmed by how cute my grandparents were. Watching this cute old couple near the end of their life was an honor considering they had shown me in so many ways what it meant to Love.

How could one word describe the relationship they had experienced over six decades? I began to remember a story my grandfather had told me ten years before. We had been discussing hobbies and activities that we enjoyed out on his porch. I was educating him on my most passionate sport, rock climbing, which he actually had tried for the first time in his seventies!

During our conversation he told me during the beginning years of his marriage, he had been extremely fascinated by golf. He apparently was quite good in his former days. As his passion for golf grew, he spent more and more time on the green. At one point he was out almost every weekend. My Grandmother had apparently voiced to him during this time her concern that he was never around, and their children had begun to express that they wanted to spend more time with him. For my Grandmother to express anything is significant, especially considering she is the most soft spoken woman I know.

“Never golfed again” My grandfather said. “Never”!? I was appalled. “Wow”, I thought to myself, I hope my wife likes to rock climb! He turned to me and said “Aragorn to me, my wife and family meant more to me than hitting a white ball into a tiny hole”. He never explained more to me than that, but that statement was marked indelibly in my mind.

I have listened to many stories of my grandparent’s marriage as I grew up. They were stories of decisions my Grandmother made to support my Grandfather during his many career promotions, which moved them to many states across America. It was filled with stories of serving the Lord together in churches, and making a decision to give most of their money away to ministries and people in need. Stories of living a simple lifestyle, even though they had the ability to live lavishly. They shared how every day they would get on their knees and pray for their entire family. When my grandparents said they prayed for us, it wasn’t to console us, it was because they had a passionate desire for Christ to reign in all of our lives.

I once asked them how they accomplished in my mind what was one of the most beautiful examples of marriage I had ever witnessed. They paused and contemplated, a silence hung in the room. I realized more in that silence than the words that followed. “Don’t you see?”

To them there was no other option. The commitment of marriage meant you fought, overcame, had fun, endured difficulty, made sacrifices, encouraged the other’s gifts and dreams, empowered one another, romanced, trusted, were faithful, laughed, gave grace, and loved…. ALWAYS. The decision was made in one moment; it was just learning how to do it that filled the other six decades worth of relationship. I sat in awe. I thought to myself, “when I say the words “I love you” does it have the power of promise to penetrate 60 years of life?!” It reminded me of John 18:6. It’s when Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. The Roman guards ask Jesus if he is the Messiah so they can arrest him. When he responds he only says this, “I AM”. In that phrase there was so much power that the guards drew back and fell to the ground. Our words hold power.

After my Grandparents cute exchange my Grandmother went back into the kitchen. I looked at the clock and realized that I soon had to get on a train back to Vermont. I looked at my Grandfather “can we pray”, I asked? He held my hand smiling, “Of course”. When I prayed for him he closed his eyes. He looked so peaceful that I was afraid that my prayers brought him into the next life, or maybe he fell asleep I laughed. After I was done praying he just sat there with his eyes closed. I was tempted to ask him if he was alive, but was reassured when I noticed his chest gently rising and falling ever so slightly. Reassured I sat in silence, knowing I would never again have a moment as special as this with him again. I just held his hand for several minutes. After some time he then opened he eyes smiled and thanked me. What an honor to pray over this man I thought.

He then began to pray. He was so weak at this point that his prayer would go from clear words, to a soft mumble that was unintelligible, then back to clear words. The words if ever listened to by another may have appeared to be gibberish, but to me penetrated my heart.

Scripture flowed from his mouth like a river drawn from the over seventy years of relationship he experienced with the God we both called “Father”. When he prayed he stated the words he so often did, which was a lack of words to even describe how deep these mysteries of Christ were that he had experienced. How beautiful to lay in awe before the Lord with words indescribable! He spoke of his thankfulness that the Spirit would, as it says in Romans give utterance to what he could not capture in his lexicon. His prayer over me and our family was that we would always recognize the leading of the Lord in our life. This was always his prayer for us. He thanked the Lord for his presence, and thanked him that even now he could experience it. This life, he said to God did not have much to offer him anymore. He spoke in such reality of the presence of God and knowing his hope was in Christ.

There were other words, scriptures, and things he prayed that I could not adequately elucidate in words, but one message I walked away with more than any other was this…

You will never regret.

You will never regret every sacrifice, every difficult choice, every moment you said yes, when it meant consequences. You will never regret forgiving when you’ve been hurt, worshipping when all circumstances say you should not, and choosing in your heart what you know is right, even though it is not the easy road. You will never regret praying when it was hard, loving when you did not feel like it, and trusting when it took faith. You will not regret when you lay near the reality of seeing him who spoke “I love you” with the power of a promise that penetrated thousands of years of human existence in the grand display of his son on a cross.

Thanks Grandpa, for displaying to me what is most precious in this life.