It was the first time I’ve ever cussed at my dad.
I was nominated for the B’nai B’rith award, which to this day I still have no idea what that was, except for a big Jewish award and apparently a very big deal. I’m at the awards thing and I don’t know Jesus from nothing, and when it finishes, my dad says, “We need to go see your grandpa. He’s dying.”
“Why are you telling me now? Why are we here?”
I was so mad at him for making me go to this stupid awards banquet (I didn’t end up winning), and I remember driving, and he’s telling me to slow down and I’m cussing at him. I thought we had somehow missed the death of my grandpa.
My grandpa had a third-grade education from Pond Creek, Oklahoma. He couldn’t read or write, but knew how to work with concrete. He started a company with my uncle; my uncle was the brains and my grandpa the labor. They created a lightweight concrete called Stucco. After working like mad in Southern California, they moved out to a cattle ranch just on the way out to Hume Lake. My grandpa was the typical Depression-era man. He had calloused hands, and he could fix everything with baling wire and a crescent wrench. He never said much, and I never saw him cry, except once.
When I got my scholarship, I asked the recruiting coordinator to come to my grandpa’s home. He was sitting in a wheelchair with a Santa hat on because it was Christmas, and he was probably 105 pounds, just eaten by cancer – bald, emaciated, a skeleton of a man. I signed my scholarship and he cried. I was the first one in my family to ever go to college. And Pop cried.
I remember standing at his deathbed – such a frail man. I’m holding his hand and he’s struggling to breathe. And he says, “I’m going home.”
“I’m going home.” And then…gone. He went to be with Jesus.
Who says that?
How could he have such peace, such assurance and such perspective to know with complete confidence how to face death?
I had no idea how to process that as a non-believer.
I wanted to take Denise Riddell to the senior prom. I never asked her. Every time there was an opportunity, I whiffed. And one weekend night, she had gone to a party, had a little too much to drink, and was driving home down Copper when Copper was surrounded by orange orchards. She fell asleep, drifted off the road, and gone. Hit a pole.
You have nothing of substance to fall back to. You don’t know who to blame. You don’t know the purpose or reasoning. It’s just a tragedy, and it comes unannounced and unwelcome. And you’re forced to swallow this bitter pill with nothing to give you any perspective.
As a non-believer you trust in fate. You dabble in a little karma. You might look at your horoscope or think twice about a fortune cookie – anything to give you perspective as to why things happen and/or how to make it through. When you go through tragedy as someone who doesn’t know Jesus, you find solace at the bottom of a bottle. You throw back a couple pills and try to numb the pain. But you really don’t have a coping mechanism. You really don’t have perspective. You’re just left to chance, hoping things might work out, hoping there’s some sort of meaning in all of this.
I did not understand then, but now…I get it.
I understand what it means to walk with Jesus. I understand the idea that God does indeed work all things to the good of those who love Him. He has a plan for our lives. And momentary light afflictions are producing in us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comprehension, while we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are unseen.
The things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal. You begin to see that God has sovereignly ordained everything we go through in this life to make us more like Him. Everything – both triumph and tragedy. And we can delight in both because both are necessary to make us who God wants us to be. Both are required to shape us to be more like Him.