My Nana died 113 days ago. She was funny, kind, loving, patient, selfless, dedicated, and God-fearing. She was everything I strive to be and her death hit me harder than I anticipated. This past weekend all of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren gathered together to reflect, mourn, and celebrate her life.
We shared stories.
When Stephanie and I were leaving the burial site, I suddenly had a realization to a question that I had been struggling with for years.
In June I began my graduate studies. I enjoy learning and discussing difficult questions so being able to grow in knowledge and understanding academically again is truly a blessing. Being around others who feel the same way about school is the perfect opportunity to dig into lingering, troubling topics. Before class began one day, I asked my class one of those big questions.
Is it was wrong to want to be known for something you’ve done? Is it ok to want to accomplish something?
This question of whether it is spiritually and morally right to want to be remembered for something had been eating at me for a long time and, like so many other times before, the answers I got from my peers and instructors did not fully satisfy my query.
“I don’t think its wrong to want to publish a book”, said the prolific author. “As long as you’re doing it for the kingdom”, said my instructor. “If your attitude is right, then sure”, said my peer.
I dropped the topic and moved on. It’s not like they were wrong but I didn’t feel like the question had been fully answered. Maybe I had phrased it wrong: in my heart I continued to wonder “what are the things in this temporal life that actually matter?” As a Christian, my hope is in eternity – but what do I do until then? Like my other internal debates, this one would go back into my mental safe to be gazed upon at a later time.
That “later time” turned out to be this past weekend. It started as we left the cemetery and continues all the while I reminisced with family about my grandma. Hours were spent sharing stories – there were so many! Every story helped paint a picture of a woman who consistently loved others in ways that could not be forgotten. She loved to (yet again) make Swedish Pancakes when we asked; she was quick (that one time) to reprimand her son’s language with liquid soap; she had amazing skills in woodworking and stained glass; she found immense joy in teaching; she had tenacity in raising 5 kids on her own after her husband passed away; and she had unending faith in God.
One of my aunts shared her collection of her mom and dad’s love letters during the family BBQ. I was never able to meet my grandpa since he died well before I was born but it was so heartwarming to read their correspondence. Over and over they both expressed how much they wanted God to be at the center of their lives. Even after he was gone and she became a single mom, she still pressed on. Nobody who knew her can forget that strength.
Another of her daughters shared about how on one of the Sundays before she passed, when she was barely able to say a word due to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, this amazingly strong and faithful woman suddenly started singing the Doxology during church:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Even as her health deteriorated, she never gave up on the Lord. As we drove away from the memorial service to enjoy a BBQ with each other, I began to realize something that, at least to me, was profound. My Nana didn’t care about being remembered and yet she is. She didn’t care about being praised and yet she was. She dedicated her life to others by being a good teacher, an amazing parent, and a faithful wife. She served God with her whole self and that was enough! She was strong and faithful. She didn’t need anyone’s approval or accolades to follow through on the tasks entrusted to her.
I don’t want to be forgotten and I know I’m not alone in that fear. The recognition that life is fleeting must be part of getting older because I never thought about this stuff when I was 20! This isn’t to say that I want my tombstone to list my accomplishments – that’d be silly. But when my time on this earth is done, I do want people to say something…anything… “Jared was [blank]”. That fear of disappearing into the ether with nothing to show for the toil of life can be surprisingly heavy.
What I have concluded after this past weekend is that perhaps an attainable life goal would be to finish this life with people saying, “Jared was like his grandma – he loved others and he loved God.”
Maybe someday I will finish writing that book. Maybe someday I will be asked to guest speak at a big ministry conference – but these dreams should not be my end goal. I won’t lie, there is and probably always will be a part of me that wants to be known as a result of my actions. But up until this past weekend I was limiting myself in understanding what that could mean. I wasn’t thinking like my grandma, who impacted every single person around her without concern of reward.
If God uses me in big, attention grabbing ways or if he uses me to simply love “the least of these” in my small town, I can emulate my Nana and be faithful to the task. To be funny, kind, loving, patient, selfless, dedicated, and God-fearing like her would be an honor.