Aside from my father, the man who shaped me most was my Grandpa Christie. Tonight, my mom held a phone up to my Grandpa’s ear so I could say a final goodbye in his waning moments. A few moments later Mom messaged to say he’d passed.
I wanted to share a few reflections on his life and lessons I gleaned from his example. When we would visit, you’d have to get up quite early to say goodbye to Grandpa before he got on his motor-bike (or into yellow delivery van) and headed off to his daily toil. I saw a hardworking man, and he set the example of diligent labor to provide.
Grandpa always had a poignant question to stump you with, or make you think. He’d point at a cloud and ask, “Do you know how far away that cloud is from us?” When I’d answer with the blank stare of a teenage musician, he’d say, “Well how can we figure it out?” And then we’d talk about angles, geometry, and come away with at least our critical thinking skills sharpened. But Grandpa always had a question for you. This taught me an important lesson: God gave you a brain and expected you to use it.
Grandpa always had a soft spot for good, ol’ fashioned Scottish humor. In other words, a loud belch would make him laugh with William Wallace-like thunder; and he would beam with pride over his grandchild’s effervescent display of burping skills, giving a coveted two thumbs up.
He would hand out Christmas gifts faster than we could unwrap them. Then he’d paingstainkinly assemble them for us to play with. He would gladly play whatever game we kids would propose, including racing us in a 100m dash, kickball in the park, or aluminum foil baseball in Grandma’s kitchen.
Grandpa Christie faithfully passed on the biblical virtues of hard-work, seeking wisdom, self-sacrifice, and cheerfulness. But when I think back on his life and legacy, I am exceedingly grateful for one thing in particular.
He taught me to be joyful.
He insisted on cheerfulness. He fostered it in his love of laughter, and his playful competitiveness. There wasn’t a thanksgiving meal where he didn’t find a way to be ridiculous; leaving his kids and grandkids and great-grand-kids laughing raucously, while leaving his beloved Mildred shaking her head with, “Oh, Will!”
Joy triumphs through difficulty. Joy has foundations deep in the holiness of God. Joy is found only in the presence of God Almighty. Grandpa knew this, and sought to give joy to his family, his friends, his customers, and the strangers he always seemed able to strike up a conversation with. His legacy is saturated with joy.
But this joy had roots deeper than the maple tree in his backyard, the one that formed the obstacle course to thousands of croquet games. This joy went beyond financial stability, difficult patches in his marriage or child-rearing, or through the difficult decision to finally retire in his late 80s. His joy was found in Jesus.
I know this because he told me.
One year around Christmas-time, he took me with him to pick up an inordinate amount of KFC which Grandma had ordered for whichever family gathering it was. As we drove back he asked, “If Jesus were to walk in the front door, what would you do?” I don’t quite recall my answer, but I clearly recall his. He said, “I think I would likely just go up and say, ‘Hello, how are you doing, come in and sit down.'” And then he continued, “But I think the best thing to do would be what that one carol says: ‘Fall on your knees.'”
Here was a man who knew that Christ was worthy of worship. From that eternal well of saving grace, Grandpa Christie dispensed the joy he found to everyone who crossed his path, every time they crossed it. That life of holy joy is now done. But now Grandpa’s joy is deeper than it has ever been. Grandpa’s laugh is now louder than it ever was. His wisdom reaches further than ever before; because now he is in the presence of the Resurrected Christ, who will one day raise the dead.
Grandpa’s jolly wisdom was always a true delight to be around. But the joy we found in Willis Christie is but a shadow glory. It is but a morsel of the joy which God intends for those who trust Christ. Grandpa’s joy wasn’t found in himself, it overflowed from the glory of Christ crucified, risen, and ascended. Grandpa is now enjoying that full glory. As the old hymn puts it:
Soon shall close thy earthly mission
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days
Hope shall change to glad fruition
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.