Although the Thanksgiving holiday was full of great memories with my family, it was also a monumental moment for us as we dealt with the passing of my dear ol' Granddaddy. For those that don't know, my granddad had been in poor health for awhile, some of it due to a brain injury related to a fall 4 years ago, the rest just due to old age and a failing body. On Thursday he enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends and then on Friday, by God's sweet grace, he passed peacefully from this life into the next the way we all hope to go - taking his afternoon nap in his favorite chair.
I have such wonderful memories of my grandparents and I was delighted to be a part of the celebration of his life, held on December 4th in his home church in Jacksonville. Honestly, I didn't prepare myself well for the emotional impact this event would have on me, and I'm not talking about the typical sadness or grief. We are all so glad he is at peace after 87 great years on this earth and a life well-lived.
What struck me so deeply during this time of remembrance and reflection on his life was not that he was gone from us, but how he lived while he was here.
For those that haven't had the pleasure of meeting my grandparents, I'm sorry for you because they are some of the dearest, most caring people I know. At my grandfather's passing, my grandparents had been married over 65 years and together over 70. 70 years. I have no concept of that. Being together since my grandma was 15 and a junior in high school. Being together through college and while my grandfather got drafted in WW2. Being together through buying houses and having children, working jobs, retiring, countless trips to their treasured getaway in the mountains of North Carolina, and stacking up even more friendships along the way. They spent their lives in Jacksonville, the place both of them grew up and rooted their life in the church my great-grandparents were charter members.
Although my grandparents have accomplished much, what strikes me most about their life is how they gave. They truly embraced Christ's call to servanthood and they have loved others so incredibly well it brings me to tears just thinking about it. From being engaged in children's ministry, to student ministry, to adult ministry, to caring for their church rose garden, to delivering food with Meals on Wheels, to a million other involvements and organizations... they have consistently, quietly, and humbly poured their lives out for others over and over. And for DECADES people. Not just at Christmas or when their church was raising money for some good cause... almost every day of every week... even when they would spend their retired summers at Lake J.
At Granddad's reception, I was so moved to hear countless tales of his legendary humor paired with story after story of his lasting impact in the hearts and minds of so many. People he served at his church. His receptionist from 30 years ago. Old neighbors, new neighbors. The teenager with down syndrome. Children of the friends they had shared dinner with every Tuesday night for eons. The stories flooded in like letters to Santa before Christmas and I was just so unbelievably overwhelmed by their love for others, their vulnerability to others, and I marveled at how no one was ever a burden to them. No one made them uncomfortable or was someone they tried to avoid. Everyone was important and worth their time. The signs of his/their legacy of love was almost visible, like a valiant badge of honor worn by each person they had touched along the way.
Strangely, in a moment when I should have been sad and wrestling with grief, I found myself battling... envy. I was envious of the life he lived. Envious of his kindness (isn't that the biggest oxymoron... don't worry, I'm seeing a therapist Tuesday haha JK), envious of how patiently and honorably he loved my grandma, envious of how clearly Jesus had changed his heart which was evident by the truckloads of "good fruit" bore from his life. A war raged within me as I was torn between feeling waves of pride (for being related to this amazing guy) to feeling depths of shame (for feeling like my own life is far inferior and being lived way less purposeful... insert guilt from excessive Netflix marathons).
As I cried my way back to Georgia, peeling back the layers of my memory and tending my bruised ego, a small voice whispered a simple truth, "You can have what he had". This wasn't a consumeristic, narcissistic, keeping up with the Jones type of self-centered self-talk, but an honest revelation that those emotions I was feeling- that envy, was actually good and unlike material wealth, wisdom or whit, I could easily have what he had because there's only one thing you need to make it happen: a willingness to give. Not a certain education or income bracket, but a daily choice to put others first and dedicate yourself to the place you are and the people you are with. That's all it takes.
Ironically, for the last few weeks Psalm 37:3 has been on our minds, God's call to "dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness." Zach and I have been unpacking what it means to do this and really, that is our heart's desire at this point in our life. To be rooted, to be known, to be living like grandma and granddaddy and have our impact on our community look more like a crater and less like a divot.
With 2015 just days away, I can't help but make this my word/phrase and focus for the year. Cultivate faithfulness and give. Lavishly love others through the lens of Christ. Look for places to connect and commit. That's the goal at least.
Thanks Granddaddy for being such an inspiration to me. Grandma (I am sure mom will print this out so you can read a copy), thanks for continuing to model faithfulness and love through all the highs and lows of life. You are a treasure to all who know you and I am so lucky to call you Grandma!
|Final resting place of Bob Dart, the rose garden he tended for so many years at|
Southside United Methodist Church, Jacksonville, FL