*** This was written last week when my grandpa was still with us. This past Saturday morning he passed away peacefully with his two daughters lovingly at his side. Over the last week he made sure to have final conversations with the people he loved and blessed them, yet another reason why I admire him. My grandpa had gone blind over the last two years, so it’s pretty cool to think that the next face he’ll see is Jesus’. ***
This past week I headed up to Wisconsin to visit my ailing grandparents. Once pillars of strength and vitality, now they are at the last moments of their lives. When you witness the circle of life for yourself, you are reminded of your own mortality and how short a window you actually have to make your time on earth matter. My grandfather started and ran a large dairy in southern Wisconsin for decades. There’s a lot to be said for simply working hard, taking care of the people you love, and living a good, honest life. He is the man I most admire in my family; his character, integrity, and dedication are traits that I seek to emulate within my own life.
His 91 years of life have not been without pain. Specifically, over the past 4-5 years two of his sons have died, his wife suffers deeply from dementia, he has gone blind and has finally been placed in hospice care. The loss of his sons has to have been the toughest blow of all. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children, he would often lament. On days when my grandmother is a little more with it, they would wheel up next to each other just so he could “hold her old paw.” He’d tell her how much he loved her and as they would be wheeled off to separate rooms, he would encourage her to “dream of him and he’ll dream of her and we’ll meet in the middle.” I am not exactly sure what that means but it is awfully sweet.
Over these last couple of days I was able to have some meaningful conversations with my grandfather. He spoke at length about all the blessings he has received in life and the long life God has given him. He reflected on how many of his classmates died during World War II and how thankful he was that God gave him 70 extra years. Through it all he kept an eternal perspective, as he would often quote a line from Robert Schuller, “Life is hard, but God is good!”
As I think about his life, it makes me think of what it means for us to finish well. I see that adult life is broken up into two major divisions, the “first half” and the “second half.” In the first half of life, you are devoted to establishing yourself; you focus on making a career and on finding friends and a spouse; you are crafting your identity. Spiritually, people in the first half of life are often drawn to order, to religious routine. We are developing habits and letting ourselves be shaped by the norms and practices of our family and community.
We spend the bulk of our energies focusing on the first half, and for good reason. But, that unfortunately can leave us unprepared to embrace the second half of life and to finish well. The second half life is largely thought to be about getting old, dealing with health issues and letting go of our physical life. This is a lie we have to eradicate from our lives. The scriptures tell us that there is quite a specific work to be done during this time.
Ps. 71:18 — Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your miracles to all who come after me.
Isa. 46:4 — I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age, I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.
What we want people in the second half of life to see is that there is actually a great deal that they can accomplish for the Kingdom of God. They have the *opportunity* to use their God-given experiences and stories to bless others, to use their wisdom to provide guidance for those who come after them. We need to learn what it means to “finish strong” with our whole life used to the glory of God. Or as author Craig Groeschel succinctly states:
“If you aren’t dead, you aren’t done”