Last week I met my parents and brother in the Atlanta airport and we all boarded a plane together. We don’t normally make it a habit to take a “family” trip, especially not since both my brother and I have been grown and out of the house for nearly fifteen years now. But this trip was special. We were flying back ‘home’.
Home for us is the place where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the sky is not cloudy all day. Home, home on the range…the southwest Kansas range, that is.
Our travels were not for pleasure though, although we did enjoy a great time while we were out there. But this trip was one to remember my Granddaddy – Fred Bontrager. He was a great man. A man of few words, but when he did talk he had something worth hearing. He was a private man.
For most of us, we feel like our life isn’t complete if we don’t have just one friend we can go to – to vent on, to dump on, to share with, to cry with, to laugh with, to commiserate with, to gossip with, to pray with, to sing with………but my Granddaddy didn’t have such a person. Well, not any person here that we could point to.
You see, my Granddaddy was a farmer. He was born to a farmer, who was also the son of a farmer – an Amish farmer at that. He grew up working the land – living in the middle of nowhere – spending hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks alone. He also knew great pain and suffering – both physical and emotional.
His mother died from a severe and untreatable infection when he was a toddler. His father remarried, and his step-mother was loving, but she was also strict. He always said jokingly and with a little chuckle of Great-Grandmother, “She wasn’t one to spare the rod and spoil the child – she used it when she needed to – and I needed it…a lot!”
When he was four he contracted an infection that settled in his hip. The infection got so bad the doctor had to surgically fuse his hip and leg bones together. For two years after that his brother and sisters had to carry him around on pillows because he was in such excruciating pain and could not walk on his own. From that time on, he could not run, or climb a tree, or sit for long periods of time. He walked with a severe limp and found himself limited in ways a little boy should not be. But through it all Jesus was with him.
When Granddaddy was a young man – newly married with a small baby in toe, he had a horrible knife accident and cut his eye badly. It was winter time and if you’ve never experienced a southwest Kansas winter you can’t understand how treacherous the weather can be. The wind turns the prairie into a frozen tundra of ice and snow drifts and wide open spaces. Back then, they drove an old car that was old even for then. It had a block heater on it to keep the engine from freezing up. But the wind was blowing so hard the engine froze up and stalled out every few miles. Grandmother had to get out and cover the engine with a heavy wool blanket so it would thaw out and they could drive on a few miles more. The hospital was a four hour trip – on a perfect day. There wasn’t anyone around. There wasn’t any one to call 911 on their cell phone and have him LifeFlighted to the nearest hospital. There were no “good Samaritan” passing motorists on the back roads to stop and offer assistance. The traveling was slow going and he was losing a lot of blood. As he lay helpless in the back seat of the car, worrying over his eye and his family and how they’d survive if he lost his vision, the Lord spoke to him……”What are you worrying about Fred? Am I not bigger than all this? Have I not taken care of you so far?”
When they finally arrived to the hospital the doctors couldn’t do much for him. They weren’t sure if he’d lose his vision, or if they’d even have to take the whole eye out. They stitched his eyelid closed and told him to hope for the best. They made the long return journey back to the farm, and after a few weeks the stitches came out and his eye had healed enough so the doctors didn’t have to remove it; but he’d never be able to see out of it again. Granddaddy was at peace with it though, for he knew the Prince of Peace was in total control.
In 1991 Granddaddy underwent a new kind of limitation – a stroke – one that left him partially paralyzed and with a withered hand. There was an extreme amount of therapy to be done – for his bad leg, his bad hand and a new hip replacement. The pain was once again nearly intolerable. The doctors said he’d never be able to walk again, let alone take care of himself. He laid in the hospital bed for months, praying for the Lord to just take him home. But through it all, the Lord was faithful and sent him a renewed strength. As the physical therapy progressed he began to take a few shaky steps with the assistance of his therapist. Before long he was using a walker. He left the hospital – walking on his own and praising the Lord for the miracles that had happened in his life.
In April of 2008 I received a phone call from my Dad saying Granddaddy had taken a bad fall and had broken his collarbone and his arm. He was in the hospital and might need surgery. I waited for a few weeks and then flew to Florida for a visit – we weren’t sure if he was going to make it through since his arm wasn’t healing up right. But once again, God was faithful to us. He was moved from hospital to rehab center and then home again. Even though he would never be able to walk, he was home with a smile on his face and song in his heart. The Lord once again proved to be the Great Overcomer.
In the past eighteen months I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Florida on a number of occasions and sit with Granddaddy. We’d talk about farming, about the Bible, about his life and his testimony, about the grandchildren (my cousins) and the great-grandchildren. He’d always ask about my life and my spiritual walk and where God was leading us. No matter how much pain he was in or how limited his ability to move around was, he always had time for us. He was genuinely interested in our lives. You didn’t hear him complain about what hurt or how bad his life had become. He didn’t throw a “why me God?” pity-party. He possessed the heart of a true servant.
During one of my visits I asked him if he had any regrets in his life. And as we all do he did have one. I thought to myself, “Wow, if there’s just one regret it must be a really good one, ’cause I’ve got at least fifty of them and I’m only in my 30’s still.”
With a far-away look in his eye, I heard him say in his soft spoken voice………..
“I wish I’d told more people about Jesus.”
That’s it? That’s all? That’s the one thing? I was in complete shock and disbelief.
His only regret was not spreading the Good New of Jesus’ saving grace to those he met, knew, and loved. I was speachless. All my life my Granddaddy had been a faithful Christian. He served as an active member of the Gideon’s International (an organization that distributes Bibles all across the world – the hotel Bible people), he’d gone on mission trips, had spoken at revival meetings, had sung praises to Jesus in nearly every small church in southwest Kansas. He never met a stranger, and he never failed to tell that person about Jesus’ love and the free gift of salvation that was offered to us all. Every nurse and caregiver received a copy of the New Testament and heard Granddaddy’s testimony – he even had the privilege of leading some of them to the Lord. He was always reminding us ‘kids’ about the plan of salvation, and he prayed for each of us daily and specifically by name. If there was ever a person who was keen to share the message of Jesus, it was my Granddaddy.
As I sit and ponder that one regret, I can’t help but compare it to my life – even to this blog. What am I doing here? Why am I writing this out? Why are you reading it all? For me, it really puts things in perspective. My bad attitudes, my own selfish ambitions and desires, my petty resentments, my unattainable expectations, my lack of courage, my big mouth, my humanity in general……………..all of it. When I come to the end of my days, will I be able to say that my one and only regret is, “I wished I’d told more people about Jesus.”
What about you?