I'm writing this ahead of time, because Friday morning, when I normally would be sitting down to share some clumsy or humbling aspect of my own humanity on my blog, I will be going into a memorial service and bidding my grandpa farewell.
The indomitable nature of the human spirit is something often written and wondered about. Through the gravest tragedies and hardest persecutions, human beings find it within themselves, somehow, to persevere. I started pondering, a while back, whether I might know first-hand one source of this phenomenon.
One version of Grandpa's story (this is longer than my original link, but the original was no longer available. At 19, Grandpa survived a shelling, being shot point blank in the head, being severely beat, and crawling through the snow in sub-zero temperatures in the Chosen Reservoir. All his fingers and both his feet were amputated.)
This is almost a cliff's notes version of Grandpa's ordeal in Korea. It'll give you an idea, though, of all that he survived. I grew up with this story. I can't remember hearing it for the first time. Watching Grandpa, as young kids, we were fascinated at the way he could hold his spoon in the crease of his palm. The nonchalant way that he strode around on his wooden legs never gave me a moment to ponder whether he would have preferred to have shins, ankles, and feet, like the rest of us. He didn't just survive Korea, he made it all worth it. He raced go-karts. He drove his family in a station wagon to Costa Rica for a year of mission work. He took us shooting. He played Skip-Bo. Not long ago, just like then I was a kid, he took a swim in a hotel pool with my two little girls, showing them a few things about how to get around in the water. They shared their amazement, not because of his missing extremities, but because "people that old don't usually know how to swim." Growing up, knowing Grandpa's story, and seeing how he lived each day, no one in my family could readily complain about their feet being cold.
Grandpa's story may be exceptional, but if you trace your family history, you'll find your own story. Toughness is bred into survivors and we, all of us, spring from survivors. From Noah on the Ark down to the soldiers of WWII and Korea, our culture is steeped in the stories of unlikely survivors who lived on to become our parents and grandparents. Those who gave up, whose luck ran out, or who for whatever reason didn't make it – their story is lost. It is not our story.
Without putting you to sleep with our family history, Grandpa's isn't even completely unique in my own family. There are at least three such stories of against-the-odds survival and perseverance that involved a person whose genes I share. Those stories always give me hope for my own, comparatively minor struggles. Even when things are hard, I know I can overcome it. No matter how uncomfortable it is, I know it won't kill me.
And then there's Jesus, whom Grandpa loved. Jesus bore excruciating torture to redeem us. He showed us how to overcome hatred with love, and that the power and wealth of earthly success would mean nothing in eternity. Through Grandpa's victory over adversity, I learned to live each earthly day with gratitude and hope. Through Christ's victory, I can say good bye to Grandpa with hope that this departure is, indeed, not the end.
Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those Christians who have died so you will not be sad, as others who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again. So, because of him, God will raise with Jesus those who have died. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14