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Today would have been my grandfather's 85th birthday. 

He's been gone now for nine days, and it is still hard to comprehend that he's gone. The last time I saw him before he was admitted to the hospital he was sitting in my mother's tan recliner. My grandmother hadn't been feeling well so they were staying with my parents. I had come over to fetch my children after a long day at work. Mom was cooking roast and asked me to stay but of course I was in a hurry to get the kids to their next event. I wish I had stayed and sat with him a little bit longer.

The thing with death is that it always comes before we are ready to say goodbye. We all long for just one more day, one more hour, one more second with those we love. But death, like so many other things in this world, is not something that we can control. I can't live in regret, and neither can you. What we can live in is the memories that we shared with the ones we love. We can celebrate their lives and believe that we are made for #connectionnotperfection. 

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My grandfather, Jackson Marion Creel, will always be remembered as a man who loved the Lord, loved his family, and loved Auburn football. I had the privilege of writing his obituary where we recognized him as an athlete and track star for Auburn, as an Air Force man, and a leader in his church community.

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Yet, I remember him as a man who had rough but tender hands from years of construction, a man who would use those hands to scratch backs, plant gardens, and push his grandchildren on tire swings in his backyard. He's lived in over a dozen houses over the years but I remember each one with fondness. The house just across the street from Chapelwood was where he taught me how to pick blackberries. The house in Twin Lakes was where he took us rowing in the pond and shooed geese away from the boat. The house that he and my grandmother have been in for over ten years was where he made us chocolate milkshakes in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter. My grandfather left his legacy through homes and each subdivision that he built was named after his family. Now, whenever I drive by Christen Lane off Fortner Street, I can't help but smile and think of him. He loved his family and his was able to show that love through his work. 

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After he passed away, I searched through my pictures of Paw Paw and found so many wonderful memories. Na Na and Paw Paw have been part of my life since birth and have been at every single major (and small) event in my life.

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I have pictures with him just after I got engaged, at Raleigh's 25th birthday party in our Montgomery house, and pictures of him at the hospital after my children were born and then at every birthday party.

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Na Na and Paw Paw were always there, they always showed up, they always celebrated special occasions with us. 

When I was born, my grandparents were praying for my health and safety. My mother says that my grandparents truly believed that Christ covered her during my birth, and that is why my name is spelled "Christ"en. My grandparents have always been my greatest influence in faith.

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They would hold hands and sing hymns together in the car, and Paw Paw would always talk about Jesus as if he were a friend. I can remember going to church with them as a child and was amazed at how they would raise their hands in worship and then clap and sing with such joy. They would come back from mission trips to Israel and China and bring me dolls from those countries. Their faith was unshakable and they always drew their strength from their love of the Lord. Paw Paw was always so sure of Christ's return and he looked forward to it with much anticipation.

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As he was lying in his hospital bed last Wednesday, our family gathered around him to say goodbye. His kidneys had failed and he was breathing through machines. His hands lied by his side, already cold. Sweet Paw Paw had his Auburn hat on his head and each one of us was touching his arms and his legs, trying to warm him but also knowing his time had come. My grandmother, in only God's strength, led us in praying Psalm 23 over him: 

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We then prayed Proverbs 3:5-7, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Friend, I didn't know this was one of my Paw Paw's favorite verses but it has always been my favorite. I read recently in The Circle Maker that sometimes our prayers aren't answered in our time but in the lives of our grandchildren. I can't help but wonder and believe that this verse has been spoken over me through my grandfather and this is why it means so much to me. This was such a gift to me, and I am so thankful for his influence over my life.

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My grandparents have always had a strength that runs deeper than this world.

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They had been married for sixty-four years and Na Na has been the love of his love since he laid eyes on her at sixteen. They were married at twenty and eighteen.

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Every time they were together, they were always holding hands.

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Once we all said our goodbyes, the room began to clear. Na Na had moved from the left side of the bed to the right. Suddenly, my grandfather raised his left arm and reach his hand across the bed to find my grandmother's hand. In tears, she reached her hand to meet his and they held hands, one last time. 

I will never forget that moment for as long as I live. 

Their love is the love you always imagine, always hope for, always dream of having. Only love could have given my grandfather the strength to lift his arm so he could tell his wife goodbye. 

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Today he would have been 85. On his 80th birthday, we made him a cake and had all of his family and friends over to my parent's house to celebrate. He didn't act like he had dementia that evening. His eyes lit up as he spoke with his friends and his smile was wide as he blew out his candles.

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He was alive, both mentally and physically, happy, and humble. Today, as I remember him, I know that his soul is once again alive and he is well. He is celebrating in heaven, raising his hands in worship, and scratching the backs of the granddaughters he was never able to hold. He is watching over Na Na, watching over us. He is rejoicing and is giving us all hope for a future when we can celebrate together again. 

Happy Birthday Paw Paw. 

Celebrating you,

Christen

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