Two weeks ago, sometime in the night, my Great Uncle Clifford died.
He went from this world into the next peacefully, in his sleep, as I think many people would wish to go. He finished his life how he lived — quietly, without much fanfare or to do.
He had pancreatic cancer and it moved much quicker than doctors had anticipated. Just a few days after I'd sat on my baby sister's bed with tears in my eyes while my mom told me he had cancer and was given 6-8 months to live, I got a call that he was in hospice. Three days after that, we were on our way up to Michigan to say what we knew would almost definitely be goodbye. A week and a half later, he slipped from this world to the next.
It all happened so fast and in so many ways I don't know that I've fully grasped yet what it means that he's gone.
I've been in the process of simplifying my home, getting rid of all the clutter that drives me crazy and stresses me out. As a sentimental person, I have a box filled to the brim with every single card and letter I've received over the last 15+ years.
One of those letters was from my Uncle Clifford.
In a lot of ways, Uncle Clifford was like a second grandfather to me and my siblings.
My actual grandfather has 28 grandchildren, most of whom live much closer to him than me and my siblings ever did. As a lifelong bachelor, Uncle Clifford was able to move about more freely and, as a result, I remember seeing him frequently during our growing up years.
He'd stop by to visit for a few days and every time, my siblings and I would curl up on the couch as he'd read stories to us.
My favorite he always read was the story of Punchinello, an outcast Wemmick who lived in a town and never felt good enough or like he measured up. And one day he comes face to face with his creator and learns the ever important lesson that it's not what you have but Whose you are. That you are a child of the living God. He created you and loves you just as you are, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
The last time I had seen my Uncle Clifford was three years ago. September 15, 2012, to be exact. On my older sister's wedding day.
I stood at the front of the church and watched my dear great uncle's face light up with joy as he led my sister and her beloved in their pledge to marry one another. His words were slow and careful. It was obvious that though he had never experienced it personally, he knew marriage was a precious gift to be treasured.
When he announced them to the world as a married couple for the first time, his smile was contagious. You knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was indescribably happy for my sister and her new husband.
The next time I saw him was three and a half weeks ago. He was laying in a hospice bed and the first thing I thought when I saw him was that he looked so small. Physically, he barely resembled the man I'd known and loved and had so many precious memories of.
But when he spoke, he was still there. It was still him.
He knew what was happening with my dad and my mom and my sister, asking specific questions about the various situations happening in their lives. He asked about me, cracked a joke at my response and smiled.
I tried so hard to keep the tears in, but I just couldn't. I've never been particularly good at controlling them and though I wanted desperately to be strong for him, the tears refused to stay locked away.
After a few minutes of conversation, we began to say our goodbyes. I took his hand and kissed his cheek and told him that I loved him. The next time I see him will be when I join him in glory and I don't know yet if I've fully grasped the reality of that loss.
After our initial goodbyes, my parents and sister stayed and just sat with him. I was, to put it lightly, a hot mess, so I went into the lobby and sat with my grandparents.
Later, on the car ride back to my aunt and uncle's, my parents began talking about what he'd said.
I always knew my Uncle Clifford was an incredible man. That fact has always been evident to me. But what he told my parents in their last shared moments remains with me to this day.
He had no idea how much time he had left. None of us knew it would be so short. But his greatest desire was to share the Gospel with everyone he interacted with before he died. Though that moment came only a week and a half later, I have no doubt that in those 10 days, every single person he saw or spoke with heard the truth of the Gospel and God's love for them.
That's just the kind of man Uncle Clifford was. The joy of the Lord oozed out of him. He was quiet and unassuming and always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world and I believe that's because, to him, every person was the most important person in the world in the moments he spent with them.
The weekend after I said my final goodbye, I sorted through the box of letters and found the one from Uncle Clifford.
It was written in late 2010, just a few months before I graduated college.
On the first page was a hand-written note where he explained this was a letter he had written to all his nieces and nephews — it's not easy to write individual letters to all, seeing as there's so very many of us — but he hoped I would see it as a personal letter, for that is what he intended it to be.
In it, he wrote,
"Often, when we sit down for a visit we talk about minor things that hardly matter at all... It is only on special occasions, with special people, that we feel free to talk about our hopes and our dreams, about what makes us happy, and what makes us sad. Only with those special people do we talk about what makes us feel confident and certain, and what generates anxiety and fear. Only on those rare occasions do we talk about how we feel about ourselves, our expectations — what we think we can or cannot do...
God knows you more intimately and completely than you know yourself. But if He depended on us to know those we love, He would surely know you because I mention you to Him by name almost every day in prayer.
No matter what you do, where you go, or who you are at the moment, my heart's earnest cry will be for you to be the best that you can be, both now and forevermore. Most importantly, as long as I have breath, I am committed to pray that you will be secure in this life and the life to come — that you will come to know Jesus, the Christ, intimately as the Lord of your life and Savior of your soul."
I've never considered myself much of a prayer warrior, particularly when it comes to praying for other people. And if I'm honest, evangelism terrifies me. I have told relative strangers I believe they are going to hell and yet sit silently by, knowing some of those I love dearest would be eternally separated from Christ if they died tomorrow because I'm terrified of how they'll react if I speak up.
I'm still afraid of speaking up. I'm still not very good about prayer. But the way my Uncle Clifford lived his life makes me want to be better at both. He knew what was most important in life and he knew it was more important that he share the truth with those he loved than anything else.
He left an incredible legacy, one that my family and I will remember for the rest of our lives and I believe so much of that is because of his unwavering faith in his Savior and his solemn conviction to share that incredible news with everyone possible. Especially those he loved.
That's the kind of legacy I want to leave.
It won't be an overnight change. That much I do know. But I also know that it's a change I can't make on my own and Uncle Clifford knew that, too. And I hope that as he's sitting up in heaven with his Savior, he's smiling, and sees the incredible impact he's made.
When he entered glory, I know he heard the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Come into your Master's rest."
I pray one day I will do the same.
image via minimography