(This post has absolutely nothing to do with Uganda. It’s just something that has been on my heart and mind these past few weeks. I admit, I was hesitant to share it — partially because it is very personal and partially because it showcases me in all of my sinfulness and selfishness. I finally decided to share it in hopes that it might encourage or challenge someone. I hope it gets you to think and to closely examine your own heart. 🙂 )
The week my grandpa died was one of the longest and most difficult weeks of my life.
On Monday, I awoke very early to the news that my dad had what was thought to be a stroke at work. He had been rushed to the hospitable. It was a very scary ordeal, but we were relieved to find out that it was only a seizure. It was severe enough, however, that his driving privileges were temporarily revoked and he was told he wouldn’t be able to work for up to six months. That was rough, but it was still much better than a stroke. We breathed a sigh of relief and thanked God that he was still alive.
On Tuesday evening, my dad’s father, my grandpa, was taken to the hospital. We held our breath and prayed that he would be okay. We were told he had maybe a week to live. Although my grandpa was 83 and had some health issues, we were taken aback. This was unexpected. Family came from all over the country to say their last goodbyes.
I visited him almost every day. It was hard, seeing the man who in my mind had always been so big and strong, lying in that hospital bed so weak and frail. My goofy, handsome grandpa, with the gravelly voice and the ever present twinkle in his eyes. How had he gotten so old? When?
Never before had I been this close to death. It was sobering to think that he was so near to meeting God face to face. I held his hand and told him that I loved him so much and so did God, that I was proud to be his granddaughter, and that I would see him again one day. He knew that I loved him, and I knew that he knew. I also knew that he had put his trust in God. My soul, though hurting something terrible, was at peace with this.
It was hardest seeing my dad lose his father. I think that broke my heart more than anything. My grandpa was ready to go, it was his time. We all knew that — but we weren’t sure we were ready. It was hard for us to let him go, the week that my grandpa was dying.
The day my grandpa died was a beautiful, Spring Saturday. The sun was shining brightly and the birds were cheerfully chirping unaware. We were told, “Today’s probably the day.” I hoped that they would open the curtains in his room so he could feel the sun on his face one last time, before he encountered the light of God’s overwhelming glory. I prayed that there would be no fear, but that it would be peaceful and sweet, and God’s presence would be so evident.
I went to work that day and I went through all the motions — checking out books, and shelving books, and smiling at patrons, but all the while I was praying and waiting for the news. It didn’t come while I was at work. I went home, exhausted and drained in every way. This week seemed like it would never end. In some ways I wanted it to, but in some ways I also didn’t want it to. I went up to my room, kicked off my shoes, and laid on my bed, feeling the cool breeze coming through the window. Closing my eyes, I felt a gentle prompting. “Joy, you should be praying for Grandpa right now. It’s important.”
“No, no. I’ve been praying constantly all day, all week actually. I’ll do it later. I’m so tired. Right now I just want to rest,” I internally argued back. Again the prompting. Again I argued against it. I deliberately ignored the prompting and chose instead to distract my mind from all that was going on. In order to numb the pain, I pulled out my phone and began mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. Minutes passed. I was watching some pointless Facebook video when my mom called up with the news: He was gone.
I’ll never forget the sadness, the regret, and the shame that washed over me. My grandpa was gone. He was gone forever. He had entered heaven’s gates. And I had been given the beautiful opportunity to help usher him there with my prayers. Maybe they would have made a difference to him, maybe they wouldn’t have. But it would have made a difference for me to know that I was praying for him right when he left to meet Jesus. But instead, I chose to numb my mind and to distract myself with trivial amusements. I missed it, and I cried the day that my grandpa died.
On the night that my grandpa died, we went to his house. Loud Spanish music filled the house, along with the familiar, comforting aroma of savory Mexican dishes. Photo albums were strewn across the tables. The chair he always sat in was empty. My grandma sat there looking at the vacant seat with a deep sadness in her eyes, missing her husband already and wondering how she was going to live the rest of her life without him. How do you continue on without your husband of almost 60 years?
We laughed as we looked through the albums with swollen, red eyes, hearing about times long past. We felt pride as we saw photos of my young grandpa and we remembered his life, how he left behind a successful and growing cycling career in Mexico in order to come to America and better life for his family. He worked hard, he sacrificed, and it paid off. We felt sorrow and regret for the times we took him for granted, the moments we never had, and the words we never said. We cried as we realized he was actually gone, the night my grandpa died.
It’s been exactly one year since that day. Today, we will gather together as a family, my grandpa’s wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We will remember his life and legacy, and we will celebrate it. We will miss him and wish that he was still here, sitting in that chair of his. And then, I will go home and I will make sure that each member of my family know just how much I love them, because whether they live to 23 or 53 or 83, time is too short, and life is too precious, and they are too important not to.
Although this story may seem sad, it isn’t really. It’s more bittersweet. You see, it’s never easy to let people go, but it makes it a whole lot easier when you know where that person is going and that you will see them again. It’s easier when you know that they are now whole and complete in the presence of Jesus. And it’s easier when you have the arms of a loving, Heavenly Father to run to for comfort. I rejoice in all of these things.
This experience taught me something, and I want it to teach you something, too. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I did. We are a people made for relationships -first and foremost with God – and then with others. They matter more than most anything else — to-do lists, money, belongings, human esteem, etc. Yet, how often do we take them for granted? We are too quick to gaze into the screen of our phones and too slow to really look into the eyes of those we love. We are too quick to post a shoutout on social media and too slow to say the words that matter in person. We’re too quick to heart something on Instagram and too slow to be vulnerable and share our heart with others.
We are not promised tomorrow and neither are our loved ones. The end doesn’t always happen like it did with my grandpa. We were blessed to have time to prepare and say goodbye. But that’s not always the case. So please, spend a little less time on your phone and a little more time with them. Invest yourself in the relationships that God placed in your life. They are not accidental; He put them there for a reason. Give yourself to them, even when it hurts. Love them, even when it’s hard.
If there is pride, seek humility.
If there is conflict, seek to resolve it.
If there is distance, seek to close it.
If there is bitterness and anger, seek forgiveness.
If there is brokenness, seek healing.
If there are unspoken words, say them.
I can tell you right now God never intended there to be broken, bitter relationships. That’s a result of sin. His heart is for redemption and restoration — in the individual’s life, in marriages, in families, and in any other relationships. It’s possible through Christ, so when it does get hard, don’t give up. Depend on God and push through it. Do not give into the temptation to escape to a virtual reality. Fight to be present in this one. It’s worth it. I promise it is.
You’ll never wish that you spent more time in front of the screen or being busy. You’ll regret the time you could have spent with them but chose not to. You’ll regret the words you should have said but didn’t. Cherish these days and the people in them, friend.
“no reserves, no retreat, and no regrets.”