One year ago, my hero died. I preached his funeral sermon and quoted the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon who exhorted men who climbed into the pulpit to “Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.” Grandpa wasn’t a preacher, but this is what he did with his life. He wasn’t concerned with the fame of the world, but cared deeply for anyone he encountered. He carved his name and his life onto my heart. For that, I am forever grateful. There are few days that go by where I don’t think about him. He so vividly put his mark on my life, I rarely wonder what he might have said or done in any given situation. As I continue to walk through life and face the events of the day, I know the exact expression that would make its way across his face. I can hear the exact tone of his voice and the joy of his laughter. I can still hear him call my name, feel the firmness of his handshake, and even feel the frailty of his old body in my arms as I gave him a hug. He is gone, but I can still feel his presence. Of course, I do still miss him greatly. I wish my sons would have had more time with a man far greater than their dad. I would love to share another season of Cowboys football with him. I would love to talk about politics and religion and all the other stuff you aren’t supposed to talk about in polite company. But the marks he made on my life are indelible. And because I can so easily see those marks, it makes the days and months without him so much easier to bear.
This is counter-intuitive to how I thought I would feel in the immediate days after Grandpa left us. Perhaps my glass half-full perspective is simply another thing I owe to him. He could always see the good and he wanted to make sure we did too. I was able to lay in my Grandpa’s bed with him as he breathed his last breath here on earth. I prayed over his labored breath and encouraged him to run to Jesus. I told him he had done his job and we would be fine. I said it, but I was lying. (Or at least, I wasn’t being fully honest.) I didn’t truly feel like I’d be all that fine. How could I think I’d really be fine without the one man on earth who I had been able to run to all my life? How could our family be fine without the strength of his rudder, without the tenderness of his love, without the silliness of his humor? I wanted him to know we would be fine, but I didn’t sincerely know if those words were true.
And yet, here I am and I am fine. I am fine because of how my Grandpa lived. When we face the death of a loved one, we so often think about all the things we have lost and the things we will miss. This isn’t wrong, but my Grandpa has taught me a different perspective this year. Just a few months in to this first year without him, I began to see this different perspective and truly understand the impact my Grandpa had made on my life. His impact was so great that it has lasted beyond his life. The indelible mark he left on me is still there. It hasn’t faded. It hasn’t gone away. He truly has left a legacy. That legacy is what allows me to be “fine”. I talked about many of the lessons my Grandpa taught us in his funeral message. Those lessons are still being heard and even learned. Today, I’ve learned his final and perhaps his greatest lesson. He lived a life that mattered and although the world won’t remember his name much longer, the people he loved will always be who we are because of him. He has taught me that the way we live, love, and serve others will make a lasting mark. And when I miss him, I can look at my life, see his influence, and see he is still with me. This makes me smile, something Grandpa could always make me do!
This final lesson has lead me to better understand the mark I want to leave on those I love and the world around me. As Christians, we are called to be light in the darkness of this world (Matt 5:14). We are called to be salt in world that is in constant decay (Matt 5:13). We are called to love more than anyone else, because we have experienced the unbelievable love of our Savior (1 John 4:19). We are called to make a mark that lasts. My Grandpa did this well and as I reflect on his life today, I’m once again thankful that I have a vivid example of what this looks like. Thank you, Grandpa. I will always be the grandson of the great Wayne Gifford and there are few greater gifts this boy could ask for.