My parents have an amazing porch. It stretches across the entire front of the house, and it has three porch swings with plenty of space for two people. I grew up on this porch. I remember sitting on the wooden swing in the summers, lost in a good book. I remember walking up the steps after school day after day after day. I remember standing on the porch to watch a storm roll in. I remember swinging gently in the morning as I spent a few moments with Jesus. And I remember the many times I sat on the porch with the people I loved dearly.
Lately, my mind has returned over and over again to memories with one person in particular—my grandpa. I have been caught off guard and with tears in my eyes, surprised by the beauty and ache that hold hands with the quiet moments with him.
I did nothing to deserve the incredible grandparents I have. They are truly a gift. I am humbled and honored when I think of the legacy they carry and will pass to the next generation. My grandpa Berkey is the epitome of legacy, of passing down a heritage, of leaving something beautiful and wonderful for the next generation. He was not perfect, and what he left is not perfect. But it does feel holy—holy in the way that the Father takes our best efforts and makes something truly amazing.
A hand full of times, I got to experience these kinds of holy moments with my grandpa as we sat together on the porch. We swung back and forth for hours, chatting and laughing and telling stories. We weren’t very good at small talk, few in my family really are, and in a moment’s time, my grandpa would ask a profound or personal question. We would get lost together in the kind of conversation that has depth and meaning. And I remember one question in particular that my grandpa always loved to ask.
“What are you writing?”
My grandpa got it. He understood my passion for writing. He didn’t think I was silly or starry-eyed. He valued my words and my heart. He encouraged everything I wrote. He was one of my biggest fans.
And for awhile, I answered his question with hesitancy, because while he didn’t think I was starry-eyed, sometimes my own dreams and passions scared me. Wouldn’t I be better off, more secure, more stable with the kind of job or dream that was more certain? If my grandpa thought that, he never told me. Instead he encouraged me time and again. He told me about the kinds of stories he loved, the kind with comedy and kind characters, the kind that made him pause, the kind that tugged at his soul.
He understood the value of stories, and he was always quick to remind me of the beauty and worth of them.
My grandpa died on a Wednesday in October of 2016. His body was done. It had survived the Great Depression and the Great War. He served his country bravely in World War II. He married his best friend and raised three kids in northern Indiana. He worked diligently and always provided for his family. He gave extravagantly to neighbors and strangers and friends. He was quick to listen and slow to speak. His story is littered with moments of strength and weakness, moments of success and failure. My family is better for all of his story.
As I get ready to move to Thailand to write and tell the stories of what God is doing along the Thailand/Burma border, I can’t help but remember our afternoons on the porch, the kind way he always asked that one question.
“What are you writing?”
Stories, Grandpa, I’m writing stories. They are real and true and full of joys and tears. They are the kind that move us and inspire us and challenge us. They are the kind that point out the beautiful and wonderful things in our world and also remind us of the pain and brokenness. They are the stories that tell the world about the Father. They are the kind that point us back to something bigger than ourselves. Grandpa, I get to write the kind of stories that used to inspire you, and it seems surreal.
Some days I long to have one more moment with my grandpa on the porch. I long to hear him ask his kind question, and I long to tell him everything. I long to tell him about Mae Sot and Outpour and about the stories that stir my heart.
And I long to thank him. I long to thank him for the years he encouraged me, called out the best in me, saw what I could not see.
My grandpa planted trees in my life under whose shade he never sat, and today, I can’t sit with him. I can’t listen to him and laugh with him. I can’t tell him about Thailand, about grand unfolding of a dream. But I can keep telling his story. I can keep writing. I can search for and seek out the person I need to sit with on the porch. And I can ask them the kind of questions that encourage them, that call out the best in them, that see what they cannot.
I can ask the kind of question my grandpa asked on the porch.