“Let your light so shine before men that they would see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
“What’s the motivation for human behavior? A better marriage? A promotion at work? People who like you? I should live the way I live because it is my prayer that somehow, some way, the words, thoughts, and behavior of this weak man would point to the glory of the Lord.”
I recently read the article, Wisdom in Counseling, by Paul Tripp. This quote and thought on the Glory of Christ was very poignant. In part because it is rarely the motivation I feel or turn to for changing my own behavior, and in part because it is precisely what has happened today if anything happened today that glorified God in my life.
Usually I am motivated toward good behavior by my own glory. I work hard on things that will help me look good to people. I sacrifice in ways that are visible. I polish my sermons and teaching times. Why? So God’s children will have no stumbling block before them save the Gospel of Jesus? So I will communicate more clearly the love of God in Christ to a dying world? So a truth of God’s Word will become more clear today for someone than it was previously? No, so that I will be told once again what a good teacher I am, what a good preacher I am. I will bow my head and say, “Praise the Lord.” but internally know that I feed more desperately on the praise of man than Seymour’s plant fed on human flesh.
The sad reality is that the better I am at bringing the Gospel to light in public settings, the more people will want to praise me and I end up running around the mulberry bush (on those more sanctified days when I don’t want to gorge) without any opportunity to rest, lest pop should go my ego again.
Monday was different. On Monday I turned 41, and for my birthday I took my twelve-year-old daughter on a twelve-hour trip (eight in the car) to visit my Grandfather and say goodbye to him. He is ninety and dying.
Ilona had packed our lunches for us. During the 4 hour drive to western Pennsylvania we had bananas and turkey sandwiches and Cadbury Creme Eggs. We each ate three eggs on the drive up and two more on the drive home that afternoon. We share a love for those Easter delights. I will never be able to eat one of those eggs again without remembering that day – my time with Ilona and our time with my Grandpa.
As we got closer to our destination it was marvelous to watch the weather change before our eyes. Western PA was being hit with an unexpected, late-April snow storm. As we drove through the Shenandoah Valley and into West Virginia, through the panhandle of Maryland and into Pennsylvania we watched as the trees higher in the mountains were colored white while all around us were signs of spring and life. As we drove up into the Laurel Mountains on the National Pike we left Spring behind. Snow was blowing and there were already three inches covering all of the lands that until that morning were in full mid-spring glory. As we descended Summit Mountain we drove through thick fog and a layer of snow and salt on the roads that slowed us to a cautious fifteen miles per hour. It never stopped snowing the whole time we were in PA.
When we arrived at Horizons Home my Aunt Jackie met us outside in the blowing snow and escorted us into the home and to my Grandpa’s room. He was awake, lying in bed, watching television. When he saw us enter he raised his eyebrows and showed immediate signs of recognition. I sat on his bed beside him while Ilona pulled a wheelchair close and sat in front of him. We told him about Ilona’s track team and about future plans for swimming. Aunt Jackie told him about the Penguin’s loss in the playoffs and how she was not looking forward to the next phone conversation with his other daughter-in-law who lives outside of Philadelphia. After about fifteen minutes Aunt Jackie said her goodbyes, and Ilona and I were in the room alone with Grandpa.
I sat for four hours by his bedside holding his hand. In fact he would not let go of my hand the whole time I was with him. If he had an itch on his forehead he would slowly raise his hand, with mine firmly held in his grasp, and scratch his head. If he had to cough, he would follow the same process. When I moved or shifted my grip he would tighten his and look at me. We talked. I read scripture. He would squeeze my hand or grunt in agreement when he was struck with the aptness of a passage.
“The Lord knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man his days are like grass; he flourishes like the flowers of the field. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him” Psalm 103.14-17.
“Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me” Psalm 23.4.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 15.54-57.
We recalled past fishing excursions and other outings. I told him of a fishing trip the Bailey boys were taking next week and how Jakob, his great grandson (my son) would be joining us for the first time. I mentioned my brother, Little Warren, and he smiled and said, “He’s not so little anymore.” This is true. My ‘little brother’ has long been my superior in inches and stones (and he would claim in other areas as well). We recalled Spring breaks when I would stay with Grandma and Grandpa for several days before going fishing in West Virginia. I would join him on his daily routines, which, in April included trips to the library to make copies of the taxes he prepared for several older widows in the community. I’d help him feed the beagles in the evening and then after supper we’d watch hockey or baseball.
I told him he was a good father and a great grandfather. He said, “I tried.”
At one point in a lull in the conversation I had turned to watch the television. I felt Grandpa moving our hands slowly toward his face again. I let him take his time, not knowing if he needed to cough or scratch his face. He brought our hands slowly to his mouth and quietly kissed my hand and looked me in the eyes. I could not stop the tears from falling as I told him I loved him. This began a pattern for the remainder of our time together – whether talking or sitting quietly watching odd daytime talk shows. Our time was literally peppered with hand kisses.
As the snow continued to fall outside his window I knew our time was drawing to an end. I would need to leave soon to make it back up Summit Mountain and Across the Allegheny stretch. I wept openly with him and prayed with him and Ilona and I left the room. We waved at the doorway and he waved back. When we got outside Horizons Ilona and I stood at the doorway crying in each other’s arms. There was a swing on the porch, so we sat in the blowing snow and cried. Then I had four hours of my daughter’s undivided attention while we drove home and I unpacked with her all that she had witnessed. We ate the rest of our Creme Eggs, stopped for some McDonalds french fries. And watched as the world around us fast forwarded from deep winter to mid-spring. Ilona had control of the iPad. She picked a EP by Matthew Smith called Even When My Heart is Breaking. The opening song is Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners. The third verse states:
Jesus, what a help in sorrows
While the billows o’er me roll
Even when my heart is breaking
He, my comfort, helps my soul.
We listened to that album twice. Singing along the second time.
I have had many memorable birthdays. My 7th – with chicken pox that covered the bottoms of my feet making it painful to walk, yet I figured out how to ride my new green machine through the pain. My 18th – a combined surprise birthday party for my girlfriend and me, her birthday was one day before mine. My 40th – another surprise party in which that girlfirend-turned-wife invited our entire church to my favorite restaurant and a quiet double date turned into an exciting celebration with friends. All of these, and several others, will be remembered and enjoyed when I recall them, but I will never forget the way I spent my 41st birthday.
I pray my daughter and my grandfather will glorify God for the gift of today. I do.