I awoke to my phone ringing early Sunday morning. “He’s on life support, and they’re about to pull the plug,” my brother said.
Although he had been healthy and strong for a man in his 90’s, my grandfather Lewis G. Hale declined significantly in the last few months as his body slowly began shutting down.
The tears came quicker than the words as I struggled to respond. I realize 92 is longer than most live, but still it came as a shock and great loss that this pillar of our family was gone from this life. I penned this letter to him one week ago.
There are some things I wish I said before you died today. Just yesterday, I was thinking about the books I want to write, and how I hoped to find the nerve to send you a copy of my first published title. It would take some mustering because you and I see a number of things differently regarding women in the church and other points of theology.
I’m sorry I didn’t visit you often. We never lived nearer than a 9-hour drive (now more than 30), but I wish my kids had the opportunity to know you better.
As young children, you taught us how to bowl, play shuffleboard, throw horseshoes, and fish. We loved playing Skip-Bo, Rummikub, Rook, Canasta, and any other game we might have a chance of beating you at (I think we got our competitiveness from you ?). We helped put together Bible study materials, snap green beans, and shell pecans. We attended summer camps that you directed, listened to countless sermons, witnessed you hosting numerous people in your home and visiting as many or more in hospitals and homes. We watched you put others first, never punching a clock or calling it quits for the day but always willing to answer the phone or door when someone was in need. You always resisted storing up for yourselves treasures on earth, instead rejecting pay increases and giving freely to family, friends, colleges, and others. As soon as you came to faith, you were all in for the rest of your life, serving as a minister for 70 years. You passed on this faith to your father as well as your children and grandchildren, each of whom had to make it their own.
Thank you for the remarkable stability and constancy you provided. My dreams often have your house as the setting, and I tend to think it’s because as we moved around, yours is the only home I’ve visited throughout my entire life. Other than re-covering couches and replacing carpet, everything has stayed the same. It confounds me that more than 40 years ago, grandma laid out how she wanted the house to be built and where the furniture would go, and it’s been that way ever since. Although it’s modest in size and furnishings, it’s perfectly suited to all of the hosting you do. It still amazes me how it doesn’t feel crowded even with 30+ people! It’s a respite from the consumerism and noise and hurriedness that surround us. From you and grandma, I learned the values of hospitality, hosting, simplicity, repurposing, and reducing waste. Although we never lived near you, visiting a handful of times a year as children and slowly decreasing in frequency as we grew up, you and grandma have had a huge impact on me.
I’m more like you than you know. Did you know I’m a preacher? I know it was confusing for you when I went to seminary, and I’m sure you and grandma were concerned about the eternal destination of my soul. But did you notice how I followed in your footsteps? I’ve always looked up to you. You dedicated your entire life in service to God and God’s church. I was in my late 20’s before I realized I could serve like you did, although my opportunities have been more limited. Embracing my calling was particularly difficult because I knew most of our family would not accept it. I wish you could have understood, believed, and affirmed my calling. I’m grieved by that loss and have often thought if only I was a man (though I have never wished to be), you would be proud of me. These are the things I didn’t have the courage to say, but wish that I had.
Since I can’t turn back the clock to say these things to you, perhaps by speaking them into the universe, these words will reach you. I’m sorry. Thank you. I love you. I hope to be known by you in the life to come.