It was more than 20 years ago when I insisted my grandfather let me take him out to his favorite restaurant. After much persuasion, he agreed to have me stop by and pick him up — and I lived five hours away at the time. I wasn’t sure why he had resisted so much, but soon I would learn.
My grandmother had already passed away and I knew it encouraged him each time I was able to call or visit. He had always been a very active man, even in his old age. Most of my memories are of him hunting, fishing and working outside in his huge garden.
He had lived through the Great Depression and served in World War II. He had seen many changes in his lifetime. Although I knew it bothered him to see so many people take things for granted, so many who thought they knew hard work, but really didn’t. The increase in laziness, decrease in morality, and the abundance of arrogance from people of ignorance surely got to him, as well. Still, he never complained about anything.
As one of my best mentors ever, he exemplified being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19).” The church had asked him to consider serving as a leader, but the most he was willing to do was serve communion or do physical labor. He wanted no title, feeling he was unworthy of such an honor. Even though he had so much wisdom and commendable dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ, he felt he had too much more to learn to be a teacher. Still, everyone respected him.
We arrived at his favorite restaurant that day for lunch, and ordered one of his favorite meals. After a prayer of thanksgiving, I watched him struggle to eat his food. It wasn’t because it tasted bad or was hard to chew or anything like that. No, it was a different physical issue, I hadn’t realized his problem had become so pronounced.
I recall on his 69th birthday (10 years earlier) people were reminiscing about his uncanny strength even as an older man. Someone said something about the one-handed chin-ups he was known to be able to do. The only kind I had seen like this was done by the other hand, gripping the wrist of the other, and assisting with the other arm. No, they said he could do them with only one hand and arm used, with the other behind his back.
After a bunch of us argued whether it could be done at all, someone braved asking him out to the old swing set in his backyard. He complied, but tried to walk away when they said we wanted to see if he could still do one of those one-handed chin-ups. A few of us tried the “assisted” kind, and finally he complied to our pressure to see if he could still do the “unassisted” kind most of us thought impossible. He said he didn’t’ think he could still do it as he grabbed the bar with his right hand and cranked out a few, then switched and did a matching set with his left “just to stay even.”
The man was 69 when he demonstrated several one-handed chin-ups to a group of family members who couldn’t do even one. None of us could do it and some of us were die-hard fitness people.
Yet, 10 years later and widowed, this mountain-of-a-man struggled to hold the fork to eat his food. I had to put the fork in his hand because he couldn’t grip it with his fingers. Rheumatoid arthritis had set in so intensely, he couldn’t do much at all with his hands. As tears ran down his face in humiliation and embarrassment, he explained how he had to start every day by running hot water on his hands for about five minutes just so he could get past the initial discomfort and pain which constantly tormented him.
It was then I realized I had little time left with my grandfather on this earth. Sure enough, less than a year later, he left this life for eternity. Sure, that last meal I shared with him was an awkward one, but I cherish that memory. I value the moment when I knew I needed to make the most of all my remaining interactions with my grandfather.
Now, as I forge through my 50s, I think about my mother and stepfather, who died in their early- and mid-70s. It’s reasonable to think I might have 20 or so years left of life on earth, with no guarantees. I think about how I really need to value my time with my family, knowing our time is limited.
Sitting on my laptop or smartphone when family and friends are with me is not the best use of my time. I chose to share with you my personal thoughts on these matters in the hopes you might, also, reflect on such things. How are you making the most use of your time, knowing you are not guaranteed tomorrow?
“Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times.” – Ephesians 5:16 (MSG)
Pastor Jeff Adams is a longtime community leader, victim advocate, counselor and chaplain. He ministers internationally, nationally and locally. His column appears online weekly and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.