We all have that someone in our lives that we can deem our biggest fan. You know who they are. They are the ones who always bout for your attention, supply you with never-ending affection and are always there for you no matter how aggravating you are or how little you deserve it. The smiles they threw your way, and the occasional scolding will forever be etched into your mind long after they are gone. The only regret you have is never telling them how much they meant to you, or the amount of influence they had on your life.
As they lowered him into the ground, he took pieces of his life that he cherished most. His Bible and my picture were placed in his coat pocket next to his heart. Like how it always was, his Bible was clenched between his strong worn hands. He called me Stinker; I called him Grandpa Cecil. He was a very simple man who never had a formal education. He found joy in small things like carving wood and taking afternoon walks when the weather was nice. He did not get very far in high school; instead, he went off to Alaska to work on the pipeline to pay for his family to go to college. He sacrificed everything for his family.
I never really deserved a fan like him. Although, I lived my whole life only 100 yards from his front door, I don’t think he ever knew how much I loved him. Most of the time, being the snotty kid I was, I would try to get what ever I wanted using any means necessary. Whether it was a trip to the old rundown white house in town that served as a candy store, or the occasional treat of McDonalds thirty miles down the road. He always seemed to find time for me between the shifts of working in his garden; one he was so proud of that he passed out fresh vegetables all over the neighborhood. Every summer he was known for his garden and every one looked for him to knock at their doors.
We would always play the game, “Who do you love the most?” Grandpa would walk into his house (where my Grandma would be as well) and playfully ask me that question. My answer would depend on who I needed the most from that day. If it was a trip to the candy store, it was Grandpa. If I was craving some of Grandma’s butter cake then she was the lucky one.
No matter what I did, I never questioned how much he loved me. Even when I was eleven and drove his car into a ditch, he never yelled or got mad. Nor did he take away the privilege he had of teaching me to drive. I used to think he really liked teaching me how to drive. But now that I look back, I think his eyesight was getting the best of him and an eleven year old behind the wheel was in fact safer.
My mom and dad really never “practiced” Christianity. They believed in Jesus, but their life styles weren’t exactly the church model. But Grandpa was a different story. We’ve heard about the infamous tent revivals back in the early to mid 1900’s. Grandpa was a product of those early teachings. Before then, he was a violent alcoholic that was known for beating his wife. But when the tent was rolling through his hometown, he went and left changed. In fact, that decision alone has shaped almost every decision I have made fifty years later.
I never knew Grandpa when he wasn’t following Jesus. Others did. There weren’t too many family get-togethers when I wasn’t reminded of his past. It hurts, but it’s hard to forget the past and practice forgiveness. As Christians, we struggle daily with this. We hold on to the past and refuse to go forward even though the Bible encourages us to. When I saw Grandpa, I never saw a man who used to hurt people in every way possible. All I saw was a man who at any moment would lay his life down for me and protect me from anyone trying to hurt me.
When you’re young you take for granted relationships and people like my Grandpa. I remember the morning we got the call. It was early Sunday morning; I was only 13. Grandpa was 87 and had been battling old age for some time now. But, in the last few weeks, his health was improving. The second I heard that phone ring, I knew what it was about and my heart sank. Being that young, I didn’t know I was capable of feeling that kind of hurt.
Some people say when someone is about to die they say strange things. One of the nurses shared with our family about a particular night when Grandpa said he was going home. The nurses thought he was talking about his physical home. But we knew what he was talking about. He never missed a Sunday at church, but this Sunday he would see the Lord face to face. The next few days were a blur. I had never had anyone die in my family. In the viewing room at the funeral home, I wouldn’t go in. I didn’t want to see Grandpa like that. As he lay there, he wasn’t able to throw me a smile or even ask who I loved the most. What I would have given to be able to point to him. Instead, all I had was a legacy that has continued to follow me almost ten years later.
I didn’t give my heart to the Lord until almost three years after Grandpa died. Actually, his death was so hard for me to handle that I went the opposite way and rebelled in every way possible. Depression had become my substitute for Grandpa. When you lose something you must replace it and I didn’t choose my replacements very carefully. The night I gave my heart to the Lord, I knew that all of my Grandpa’s prayers and time spent on his knees in were coming to fruition. My only regret is that he never saw it for himself. But, I trust that he was along side angels when they were rejoicing.
Here I am, 22 and in full-time ministry, devoted to making God known to those around me, specifically college students on the college campuses. Every time I have led someone to Christ, I think of the influence one simple man had on my life. His unconditional love, dedication, patience and caring spirit helped take me to where I am now. One man was able to change the destiny of an entire family. I only hope that as I grow in the Lord, I will have the faith of Grandpa.
I can’t wait to see him again. When I hear Jesus say well done, I hope to see Grandpa so I can tell him thank you for being my biggest fan.[I am a 22 year old from Louisiana with a bachelor degree in journalism. Currently I work with Chi Alpha campus ministries at the national headquarters in Springfield, Mo.]