Words for my grandpa, his juice boxes, and his faith.

I had a dream about my grandpa the other night. I don’t remember the details, but I remember that I was in a living room somewhere when he showed up. I think I knew he wasn’t supposed to be there—like, ‘Heeeey, you died…’—but I also didn’t force him out. We talked, drank Juicy Juice together (not kidding), and then I got to give him a really long hug.

That hug woke me up. I knew that wasn’t real (even though I also know that drinking juice together couldn’t have been real; the grandkids never were allowed to drink the juice boxes   reserved for Grandpa, who was diabetic). Yet, the hug, the final goodbye I never got to have in person, was the best part of the best dream I’ve been able to remember in a long time.

The dream reminded me that I have yet to share the words I wrote about my grandpa for his memorial service. I traveled home in mid-February for his service, which was held at the retirement community where he lived in Oregon. Although my mom was convinced that the room we had reserved would be too big, people filled the space—so much so that about 15 of us, family members all, stood along the edges of the room to allow more people in. All of those people were there to remember Gene Shipley as a pastor, a father, a friend, a man of faith.

This is what I wrote.

I remember very peculiar things about grandpa, like the way I know the first time I had cinnamon-sugar on buttered toast was with him. And juice boxes—so many juice boxes.

But I also remember and admire Grandpa’s great faith, which I’m told was true of him all throughout his life. Although I only knew him for the last 22 years (obviously), I saw his faith in action in the way he loved. I saw and heard it whenever he sang.

Of course, I saw his flaws, too—especially in the hospital on various occasions throughout the past few years. Because he was ill, he often was grumpy, belligerent, or just too tired to be joyful. Because of these things—not in spite of them—I admire my grandfather. I see myself in him. At least, I see the self I want to be, because I, too, grow angry and tired with God.

And I pray that my response is as unfailingly faith-filled as Grandpa’s was.

Psalm 73 says

“Yet I am always with you; 
   you hold me by my right hand. 
24 You guide me with your counsel, 
   and afterward you will take me into glory. 
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? 
   And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, 
   but God is the strength of my heart 
   and my portion forever.

I know very few people for whom these words really ring true, but I believe my grandpa lived them. As I reflect on his final years, I realize how he embodied these words in particular: Earth has nothing I desire besides you.

Grandpa was ready to go to heaven. Perhaps many Christians would say they’d like to go to Heaven now and that they’d like to be with Jesus. But I think that, even if we believe that one day in God’s presence is better than thousands here on earth, many of us would pause if we truly were given that chance. I know I’d hesitate. My grandpa wouldn’t have hesitated.

Yet, God gave Grandpa the strength of heart (literally and spiritually, I guess) to live many years after he was ready to die. I find that both sad and comforting. Perhaps it is the true picture of what sustaining faith looks like, that we persist in desiring God, as Grandpa did, when our flesh and heart fail, when earth literally holds nothing for us.

It often feels like that when we grieve the loss of someone we love very much. But in grief, we experience not only the full range of human emotion but a wider range of God’s promises as well. He promises to be with us as we mourn, to hold us by our right hands, and to guide us by his counsel.

And afterward—after all of these things have passed—He will take us into glory, too.


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