A few weeks ago I wrote about being in Florida with my grandfather. We had gone there to say goodbye. At 97 he was ready to leave his earthly body which had failed him and he longed for Heaven. It was a long process that would cause him to be confined to a Hospice facility inching his way toward heaven day by day for six weeks. Finally on a Sunday afternoon, he would leave this life forever.
But what did he leave behind? Nothing he needed but much that we needed. He left a legacy to his family that cannot be measured. He left a mark on four generations of descendants who loved him and tried to live like he inspired us to. He was a quiet, simple man who spent his life trying to make other’s lives better.
If you went to his house and commented that you liked something you saw there, he would try to find a way to send it home with you. It was a good thing, when we made the trip by air instead of car so we didn’t have room to take so many things home with us. He was just as free with intangible things as well. He was quick to share a story from his past in order to demonstrate a life lesson to any of us who would listen. We spent a lot of time listening and learning how to live and love those around us.
This earthly life passes so quickly. If you’ve had children you know how fast they grow. They are adults and leading their own lives before we know it. My grandfather’s life went quickly too, even though it spanned almost a century. He filled it with meaning every day because he constantly looked for ways to serve others. Each of those lives, and there must be thousands, was changed because he was intentional about how he lived his.
At the end of his life, as he lay helpless in a hospital bed, he was still touching lives. One nurse told me that she’d never met anyone like him and knowing him had changed her. She had only known him for six weeks. How many people does she care for in a year? And yet this one man made a difference.
There’s a story in John, chapter 13, which is very familiar. It’s the story of Jesus at the last supper. He dined with his disciples and then did something none of them expected. He filled a basin with water, took a towel and washed the feet of those he loved. He could have been distracted by what he had to face the next day but he focused on those he was with. He served them in his most difficult hour. He set the example for all of us.
The last time I talked to my grandfather was to wish him happy birthday two weeks before he died. Our last conversation was difficult. He struggled to find words, he stuttered trying to keep his thoughts together but I treasured every syllable. Finally when he was tired and ready to hang up he said, “Are you doing okay? Is there any way that I can help you somehow?” I was speechless for a moment trying to understand how he could be facing the end of his life at any moment but was still concerned for my welfare. I told him that I was fine and he didn’t need to worry about us. He’d taught us well and we would continue teaching the generations to come how to live like he did.
After I hung up the phone I realized why that last conversation was so special. I had experienced the same thing the disciples had on that night at the table with Jesus. What I saw in my grandfather’s last words to me was the same thing the disciples saw in Jesus that night. I saw a glimpse of the heart of Jesus in my grandfather’s words, and in his life.
Grandpa didn’t have to do grand things. He just lived his life for others. He made a difference. He left a mark. He inspired me to do the same.