This weekend it’s Father’s Day in the States and, in honor of the day, I thought I would share with you an essay I penned a few years ago--a tribute to my husband’s grandfather. Happy Father’s Day to all of our Storyformed Dads!
By Jaime Showmaker
Southeastern Missouri. That’s where we took our boys, all packed up, bright and early last weekend to bury my husband’s grandfather. He had been the last of our grandparents still living--the first “Harry” of three.
Years ago he made his living as a farmer, tilling the soil that had been in his family for generations. Local school children knew him as the “Indian Man” for his love of sharing the Native American artifacts that he found in the dirt. The dirt he worked by the sweat of his brow. The dirt that my sons’ grandfather had helped to plow and where my husband had played as a boy. The dirt that had made him a living, but also made him a life.
He was a creator of puzzles and (I suspect) the originator of those engineering genes that are so dominant in my husband and my firstborn. I’m not yet sure if my youngest got his genes, but he did get his name--“Harry”--changed slightly and put in the middle, but it was still given to honor him. His joy was contagious; he always had a laughing face and smiling eyes, or (rather) eye. He lost one as a young man in an accident. Personally I could never tell which one was real. Everything about the man seemed alive to me.
As we gathered at the church with family and friends to celebrate his life, we shared memories of Grandpa Harry with faint smiles, hugs, and condolences. The pastor spoke of his long life and the legacy that he left, and we shed tears of loss and longing. We looked through photographs and played with puzzles and had a hard time believing that the man who celebrated the act of counting down the days to his 80th birthday had died three days before he turned 92.
The next day, as the boys dug in the wet, black dirt of the farm, full of decaying corn and sweat and memories, I grieved that they would never remember their great-grandfather, the farmer. We walked the field, passed down for generations from father to son, and I lamented the fact that my husband’s sons–our children–would never know this land. Growing up three generations and half a country away, the family “homeland” could never be their home. I thought of the generations of farmers who had walked the ground beneath me, each season planting in faith and believing in what they could not yet see. I wished that my boys could reap from the land what their fathers had sown so faithfully. But we already knew the farm was to be sold. There would be no more sons to inherit it.
I looked past the shed and the grain elevator, up into the grey sky and wondered what Grandpa Harry thought as he sat beneath that sky, at night under the stars, unencumbered by city lights–vast and glorious and seemingly infinite? With nothing for miles around, how many stars could he see? Maybe as many as another Patriarch saw, thousands of years ago?
“[God] took [Abram] outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars, if indeed you can count them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 15:5
As I kicked an old corn cob on the ground, I remembered the story. Although Abraham and his descendants were given a Land, God’s promise to him was much bigger than that. God intended for Abraham to leave a much greater inheritance than a physical place. He was to be the spiritual father of a number too great to count. His legacy was not land, but faith. And one of the stars that Abraham saw that night--one of his spiritual descendents--was Grandpa Harry.
I smiled at the boys pulling at the tall grass and wildflowers and watched my youngest fist dirt with his chubby hands. I recalled how we had given him his great-grandfather’s name because of the profound influence he had on my husband’s spiritual life. Like Abraham, Grandpa Harry’s legacy was faith. His life was lived, not for the farm, but for the Creator of the farm. More than the “Indian Man” or the “Puzzle Man,” he was known to all who knew and loved him as a follower of Jesus Christ. He overflowed with an infectious joy because he was full of the joy of the Lord, a Lord he lived for and encouraged my husband to follow. I watched as my husband held the hand of our eldest and walked out of the old grey shed, and I caught my breath with a realization:
My husband–-he was a living, breathing inheritance.
I bent down for the last time and ran my fingers through the dirt. What Grandpa Harry had left my children was infinitely more valuable than any acreage could ever be. He lived a life devoted to a Savior and preached a Gospel that changed the life of my husband…and now my husband was pouring that same truth into the hearts of our children…a spiritual legacy.
“And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” Hebrews 11:12
As we drove away, I thanked God for Grandpa Harry and I prayed that, because of his faithfulness–and my husband’s–that my children would be faithful followers of Jesus Christ too…and their grandchildren after that. And I added (daringly), that through the lives of my husband and children, Grandpa Harry’s spiritual descendants would be so numerous that, like Abraham’s, they could not easily be counted.
That, indeed, would be the old farmer’s greatest harvest.