Joy Mingled with Sorrow

Four days ago, shortly before noon, we buried my grandfather; about an hour later a good friend and brother in Christ married a beautiful and godly woman; and a day later we celebrated the birth of Jesus. It truly is a strange Christmas season. Even without the other things going on, Grandpa’s death was simultaneously an occasion for mourning and for celebration.

On the one hand, I lost my grandfather and I will miss him. When I was 5 years old, my family moved to the family farm in northwest Iowa and Dad started the process of taking over the farming business from Grandpa. Grandma and Grandpa moved to town 7 miles away and have been there ever since. For several years, Grandpa still came out to the farm every morning at 7:00 AM, ate lunch with us, and when home at 6:00 PM. Up until a few years ago he still came out a couple of times a week and more frequently when Dad needed the help. This kind or proximity meant that we know my grandparents very well and it’s strange to think of Grandpa not being 7 miles away. I love my grandfather dearly and we will all miss him.

On the other hand, the wait is finally over and Grandpa is home with Jesus now. I don’t lightly give my opinion on the state of a man’s soul, but my grandfather was one of the most Godly men I have ever known and, without a shadow of a doubt, I can say that he is now in glory. This is a wonderful thing by itself but it is also a great relief. We have been watching Grandpa’s mind and body go downhill for the last 3 years or so knowing this day would come. I don’t fully understand the process of mental decay but Grandpa didn’t seem as much out-of-it as he seemed trapped in his inability to think clearly and express himself (I can only imagine how frustrating that could be.) By the end all he could really do was smile and he did that often when family was near. I am also glad to see Grandpa free from his ailments and look forward to the day when he is raised incorruptible.

This week was also a celebration of a life well lived. Grandpa left behind a wife, 4 children, 15 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild all of whom are believers (possibly excepting the great-grandchild who’s only four months old); not many men can boast that legacy. This doesn’t even include the countless lives he touched in his local Church, the community, and the world. Two of his sons are missionaries and, throughout his life, he faithfully and sacrificially gave his time and resources to God’s work around the world. His heart for God’s work is probably best described by the following quote from John Powers, a missionary originally from their community:

Even though it was almost 28 years ago, I still remember going out to the farm, when I decided to start working with CCC. I could still tell you what Web said that night. “John, we have given in faith over the years, our health has been good, we have old equipment, but it has served us fine. 5 years ago, we saw a tornado coming towards this house… and later we saw how the trail of the tornado skirted around our farm and touched the corner of our field. As we have given in faith, God has provided for us and protected us. So yes, we would like to support you, but we are doing it in faith… and we are trusting God will continue to provide.” The headline of the Sunday paper that week read, “Farm Crisis Deepens.” Here was a person deeply committed to his Church and denomination, two of his kids were missionaries, and there was still room in his heart - and his pocketbook! - to do even more.

Grandpa also understood how to love unbelievers better than about anyone else I know. He and Grandma were constantly loving on the neighbor kids and offering to take them to Pioneer Clubs (their Church’s children’s program). This week I heard several stories about Grandpa talking for hours to the seed salesman and even inviting him in for lunch or supper or about how he was always willing to get his boat out and take people to the lake. When one of us grandkids needed it, he was always willing to take time out of his day to fix a bike, help rake leaves, or give us some wise advice (most of which I ignored at the time). Regardless of what he had to do on the farm, Grandpa always took time for other people.

Grandpa also followed Jesus’ example of loving sinners. He loved people regardless of whether they were drug addicts, alcoholics, or had some other problem. The one that sticks in my mind was one time when we went to an Iowa Cubs game together. Grandpa found himself sitting next to a guy drinking a Bud Light who had obviously been pre-gaming. The man offered to buy him a drink and he politely declined. Grandpa continued to talk to him and gently encouraged him to not drive home in his condition to which he replied that he had a hotel room in town; Grandpa said that sounded like a good idea. They continued to talk off and on throughout the game and at the end the man shook Grandpa’s hand and thanked him for the conversation. Grandpa was never one to dilute the Gospel but he always patient and never added offense to the Gospel either.

At the end of his life, as we watched his mind and his body fade away, God gave us another blessing. Unlike some people who just get more frustrated and cranky as they age, Grandpa was patient and full of joy. At our last few family gatherings he couldn’t really join in the conversations or laugh at the jokes. All the same, he was glad to have his family there and to participate the best he could. God granted him the grace to remain gentle and patient all the way to the end. When he died, he died full, peacefully, and with no unfinished business.

When Grandpa died, this world lost a great man. He was never flashy or center-stage but understood what it means to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God. Grandpa’s task in life wasn’t to be a missionary or a pastor or an evangelist but what God gave him to do he did faithfully. Every morning at 5:30 or 6:00 he could be seen sitting at the kitchen table reading his bible and lifting up his family and those in need before the Father.

Four days ago, a wonderful thing also happened in the marriage of Brian and Andrea. While we weren’t able to attend the wedding due to the funeral, we still rejoice in their marriage. Both Brian and Andrea love Jesus and they have pursued marriage in a Godly way. For that we are thankful and full of joy and excitement for what he will do through them. Sometimes at weddings you give a challenge to the bride and groom. To Brian and Andrea, I can give no better challenge than what I have written above and to say, “Be like my grandfather.”