As the morning light flooded through my bedroom window, I realized today would have been my grandfather’s ninety-first birthday. Though he passed away four years ago, I can still hear his laughter, his deep baritone voice, and see the image of his open Bible resting on his lap. 

When I was growing up we lived nine hours away from my grandparents’ one-stoplight town in Arkansas. My brother and I looked forward to these visits for weeks. Their home was quaint, with a lovely porch and swing. Bright flowers, in shades of pink, purple, and white lined the sidewalk. As soon as we pulled into their gravel drive, we leaped out of the car and met them with big hugs and squeals of excitement. Almost immediately upon our arrival, we climbed up into the back of Papa’s pickup truck to head to the grocery store for what Papa called our Little Debbie Run. He let my brother and I choose our very own box of any Little Debbie snack we wanted.

As we returned home with our sweet treasures, Nana was waiting for us with her apron on, ready to serve dinner. Before we opened the front door, we could already smell her signature blend of Gloria Vanderbilt or White Diamonds perfume combined with fried chicken and homemade biscuits. Their modest home hosted countless meals, feeding the hungry bellies of old friends and new. Fried chicken was often on the menu since Papa worked for a chicken plant. It helped that Nana made the most delicious fried chicken in the world–in fact, I’m quite sure many chickens have voluntarily surrendered their lives to her skills. Papa would often say, “Don’t be afraid to eat it all up from us!”

We knew many of our friends had wonderful grandparents but even as children we understood that ours stood out, distinct in their impact on others. We relished the time spent on the porch swing where our adoration was echoed by the enthusiastic greeting of their friends and neighbors passing by.

Papa grew up in a home filled with a lot of love and a lot of children. As the son of a pastor, faith in Jesus was paramount to who he was. Christmas and Easter were marked with traditions such as a tinseled tree and tube socks used as stockings. Without fail, Easter morning began with Papa opening his arms wide, bellowing out “Up from the grave He arose!” to the delight of the entire family. This tradition continues, even today, with my own mother and children.

With eleven siblings, having anything of his own was a rare treat. He never took for granted having a birthday cake of his own. He celebrated birthdays with childlike wonder, cherishing every moment with those he loved. None of us were under any illusion that his glee was focused on us–it was all about that cake! When the cake was paraded out amidst festive song, his face glowed brighter than the many candles. Within the noise and chaos of a large family gathered in their cozy home, memories were made that continue to shape how I live and raise my family today.

As I reflected on my grandparents this morning, I realize they embodied the truth taught in Matthew 5:13 where Jesus instructs his disciples to be the salt of the earth. My grandparents knew who they were, not seeking fanfare or recognition of any kind. They simply wanted their lives to point to Christ. Knowing all things belong to the Lord, my grandparents gave joyfully and freely to their family, to their community, and to their church.

This legacy began in my own mother, who has poured out her own life into me and my children. My mother’s unswerving faith and dedication to her family is a testament to how she was raised. I learned how to be a wife by observing how she loved my father. I learned how to be a mother by following her example of humility and hospitality. She instilled in us a strong sense of identity in Christ which has allowed me to weather the many storms in parenting. Watching her with my children I recognize the deep roots, cultivated generations ago, now branching out through her into their lives.

This morning I called Nana and we laughed about Papa and his love for birthday cake, then my girls and I baked a cake in his honor. It was a messy and sprinkle-filled occasion, just the kind of childlike fun that would have made my grandfather shake with laughter.

Happy birthday, Papa.

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