I’m the oldest grandchild on my mom’s side. I have older step-siblings, but I’m the oldest grand-descendent of Albert and Mary Merry. I’m also a lot like my grandfather. He was analytical, and a skeptic – even if inconsistently so. He cared about people, but sometimes was oblivious or uncaring about their feelings. He sometimes would catch himself saying something and realizing mid-sentence that it was stupid and mutter “shut up, Al.” I do the same thing pretty often, I also will mutter “shut up, Al.”
I have never had any doubt that he loved me – none of the grandchildren really did, but he could be incredibly grumpy, earning the title “Grumpa” from me when I was about 5. To my childhood mind my grandpa’s growls didn’t sound like a lion, the lions sounded like my grandpa.
Grandpa Al died on Tuesday morning at 2:41 am, after a 29-month battle with a cancer that should have killed him in half that time. The last couple days were hard, but not because he was suffering.
The last few days were hard because Grandpa had made is crystal clear over the years that he wanted to have nothing to do with Jesus. He was fine with a good, providing Deist god; he was thankful, and actually said so often. Even after my uncle – his youngest son – died from complications surrounding his lymphoma treatments. Even after my grandmother died of pancreatic cancer. He would always say “amen” heartily when someone said “grace” before a meal. But, if you brought up Jesus or anything specific he would physically bristle and would bring up that lion growl sometimes.
That last 24 hours he seemed different, I’ll copy from a post that I put on our ministry Facebook group that day.
Some good news: I was spending time with him myself, he struggled to put his hands together like he was praying and shook them at me a couple of times. So, I prayed for/with him. I then asked if he would let me read some scripture to him, “I know you can’t really talk, but if you want me to stop, just make a noise and I will.”
I read Romans 8, the “if we confess our sins” portion of 1 John 1:5-10, and the “by grace through faith” part of Ephesians 2:1-10. He did not stop me. I prayed again and afterward said “I love you, grandpa.”
He struggled out, “I love you, too.”
No response outwardly, but up until now he’s been turning down people reading scripture over and over and he clearly had enough strength to make a sound if he wanted me to stop, and he did pretty very clearly ask for me to pray.
No peace necessarily for me, bit at least some more *hope*
I keep reminding myself and my believing family of Jesus’ words to Peter immediately after he asked 3 times if Peter loved Him at the very end of the Gospel of John.
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
Or similarly from the The Horse and His Boy (part of the Chronicles of Narnia),
“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”
The reality is that we cannot know anything about anyone else’s relationship with Christ. It can only possibly be known by that person in this world. We can observe fruit, hear words and watch their life, but we cannot know, we can only hope and trust.
My grandfather’s death leads me exactly there as well, hope that he did yield to the Holy Spirit in his last day, and trust that God is perfectly merciful and perfectly just. Whatever my grandfather’s response, Jesus is the true Lion whose growls lead us to repentance and whose death offers life.