Last year, in the span of six months, I lost both of my grandfathers. Each left behind families forever enriched by their legacies of love. Their funerals—the tears, the eulogies, the memories we shared—still feel fresh.

For me, their deaths were bittersweet.

Bitter because my grandfathers are gone. After decades of marriage, my grandmothers became widows. My parents lost their fathers. I lost my grandfathers. The year my son was born, he lost his great-grandfathers. Their absence seemed cruel and unfair.

Sweet because their suffering had ended, their painful health issues mercifully over. Sweet because I know my grandfathers, two lifelong Lutherans, found eternal rest.

I often imagine them in heaven together, playing catch (both loved baseball, but Grandpa Joe was especially good at it) or sharing a cup of coffee and conversation (both drank coffee, and Grandpa Rich was especially good at conversation). Right now Grandpa Joe is probably tending to heaven’s vegetable garden while Grandpa Rich fixes a few broken items on God’s repair list.

What I remember most about my grandfathers isn’t their interests or personality traits—it’s their extraordinary witness to the gospel. Hand in hand with my grandmothers, they invested their hearts and lives in their congregations. And while it may not have seemed like their grandkids were paying attention, we were. In all they did and said, my grandfathers taught us about a life of faith.

Grandpa Joe taught me church comes first.

As we shared stories and photos after his funeral, someone handed me Grandpa Joe’s confirmation certificate from his all-Slovak Lutheran church in Virginia. It was in pristine condition and handwritten in Slovakian. This newfound artifact brought back a flood of memories from my childhood.

Every summer when we visited my mom’s parents in Baton Rouge, La., my brother and I could count on one item always being on our agenda: worship at Trinity Lutheran Church. Faith was so important to Grandpa Joe that he drove his family to church every Sunday, without fail.

Although when I was younger I resented all this hustle and bustle to get to church—and sometimes even being in church—as I grew older, I came to appreciate the discipline of keeping the Sabbath holy.

As a child who was perpetually running late, I knew I had to get my act together because at 7:30 a.m. sharp, Grandpa Joe would be dressed in a suit and waiting in his Buick, determined to chauffeur us to church on time. That meant getting there 15 minutes before the service started or suffering the shame of being “late.”

I can almost hear Grandpa Joe speaking boldly in worship while my brother and I sat with him, doodling on our bulletins. I can almost see him serving as an usher, holding a brassy offering plate, walking down the aisle to the altar. Grandpa Joe listened to sermons with rapt attention. He drank from the communion cup gratefully and with reverence. He smiled as he passed the peace and said, “Peace be with you.” For him, worship was centering, life-giving and holy.

Although when I was younger I resented all this hustle and bustle to get to church—and sometimes even being in church—as I grew older, I came to appreciate the discipline of keeping the Sabbath holy.

Grandpa Joe prioritized church. In his late 80s, as he dealt with crippling pain, he still made it a point to attend worship with my grandma when he was able. He went to feed his soul.

Grandpa Rich taught me listening to others is a way to share God’s love.

Anyone who knew my dad’s father could tell you that conversation was one of his spiritual gifts. Grandpa Rich had a knack for encouraging even the shiest person to open up and talk. He’d nod his head and listen intently, often saying, “Tell me more about that.” I always felt so comfortable and loved when I was around him.

His interest in others was genuine—he remembered facts and details of others’ lives and brought them up whenever they spoke. He did this because he wanted everyone he met to feel loved, seen and known—the way God loves us.

Through his Sunday practice of striking up conversation with an outsider, Grandpa Rich welcomed many into the life and ministry of Christ the King, and into relationship with Jesus.

My grandma said Grandpa Rich always sought out visitors and others who looked like they were lonely at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Memphis. On occasion he’d even surprise grandma and invite a new friend out for a meal with them.

For grandpa’s funeral, the whole family came back to Christ the King, where we were warmly embraced by members. Listening to the pastors and members recount stories of his hospitality brought tears to my eyes.

The most powerful testament of grandpa’s welcoming nature is a story my grandma recently told me. She said two new members, a doctor and his wife, had connected with her through Bible study. The got to talking about why they joined Christ the King. Their answer made my grandma’s heart swell: “We joined the church because of Richard.” And they weren’t the only ones. Other members had shared similar stories with her in the past.

Through his Sunday practice of striking up conversation with an outsider, Grandpa Rich welcomed many into the life and ministry of Christ the King, and into relationship with Jesus.

My grandpa kept his eyes fixed on Jesus. My grandma said he spent the last half hour of his life listening to her read from the Psalms. Grandpa Rich went to heaven hearing the word of God.

While I miss my grandfathers every day, I know their faith is everlasting. Their faith inspires me daily.

Erin Strybis
Strybis is a content editor for Living Lutheran and member of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago.

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