My maternal grandfather turned 91 years old yesterday. I’ve only known him for 21 years of his very active life. In his lifetime, he pastored for over 50 years (the church I’ve grown up in), and since “retiring” has visited numerous mission fields. He can boast of ministering in 16 foreign countries, and he is making plans to visit another mission field shortly (he’ll be flying to Australia next month). Grandpa Smith isn’t very educated, has no musical ability whatsoever, and could never be called a great orator. But the heritage he left his family is stunning and priceless.
I will always treasure the heritage he has given us of loving people. He and my grandmother’s dream was to be missionaries in Japan, but God’s plans were different. My grandpa chose to “bloom where he was planted.” He used the same inter-relational skills required to minister cross-culturally to reach into the hearts of some folk on the wrong side of town: the people that weren’t welcomed or wanted in the larger, more affluent churches downtown. Through the years, I have been able to watch him love individuals when they weren’t really lovable. And in return, he has reaped eternal dividends through the many people that have made heaven because of his love, devotion, and unconditional loyalty.
I’ve witnessed him speak little of failure and much of success: his own or anyone else’s. He has left me a heritage of looking positively at a set of circumstances or another’s faults. I’ve been in conversations when he firmly announced (as he left the room), that the conversation “wasn’t profitable.” He refuses to spread or listen to gossip. He chooses to see the good side of others. More times than I can count, I’ve noticed him subtly change a topic when he thought it was getting tense or becoming negative. His attitude is contagious (and it’s worth catching!).
My brother quotes a prayer he remembers hearing my grandpa pray at a prayer meeting one time. The prayer went something like this, “Lord, forgive me for being a part of the soft generation.” I wonder what my generation is if his generation is soft! Grandpa has shown me by example the necessity of a life of prayer. Probably most of his children and grandchildren have called him at some point to ask for specific prayer about a situation (some of us quite often!). But more far-reaching than a simple prayer in times of trouble, my grandfather has lead a life saturated with the presence of God: and this can only be done by regularly spending quality time in God’s presence. As his grandchild, I have seen God work in ways beyond human ingenuity because of a little man who took a need seriously, came to God with it, and prayed until he got an answer. In my mind, prayer and fasting is synonymous with his name. I hope that I will not fail in my responsibility to carry on this heritage of prayer.
Grandpa Smith has left me a heritage of learning perpetually. No matter the circumstance that he is confronted with or the change of pace that life offers him, he chooses to learn anything he can at every juncture. Whether it was diving into foxholes in the South Pacific during World War II, ministering to alcoholics on the west end of Frankfort, or building a church a few blocks at a time, carrying the blocks on a borrowed bicycle, grandpa takes every adventure as a learning possibility and has been rewarded because of it. Just today, he excitedly told my mom and I of the next phase of ministry he is going to involve himself in. He doesn’t preach much anymore, and he’s past the stage of building churches with borrowed bicycles, but that doesn’t stop him. He will take the energy that he still has and the gift he has nurtured of loving people, and visit the homes of those who love him in return. And he will always keep on dreaming and planning for the future… even if he lives to be 100!
I end this inadequate tribute to the heritage that Grandpa Smith has left his family with a simple prayer that he has prayed through the years. “Lord, help me dream your dreams: they’ll come to pass. Help me plan your plans: they’ll work.” Grandpa has handed us a heritage of limitless planning. Just last week, he told me what I should pursue after I graduate from college, offering me enough goals to keep me busy for the next ten years. He will never see those plans realized (and most likely, neither will I), but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to see those he loves carry on his vision of big plans and large dreams.
So with Grandpa Smith, my prayer is, “Lord, help me dream your dreams: they’ll come to pass. Help me plan your plans: they’ll work.” He proved to me that a life lived by this prayer is fulfilled and a heart devoted to holiness is beautiful.
Photo credit: Backyard Studios. Pictured are the feet of Grandpa Smith, his daughter, granddaughter, and two great-grandsons: four generations.