Friday, September 16, 2011

"I feel like the luckiest guy in the world."

(And that’s how I began my grandma’s eulogy, a year ago today.)

Because Grandma was ... my grandma.

It doesn’t seem right for me to say “Mary Poulsen,” because she’s always been the most warm, loveable, caring grandma ever. Some of you remember my dad’s parents, but they died when I was very young, so Grandma & Grandpa are the only grandparents I’ve ever known. And I can’t imagine it any other way.

See, I can’t even talk about Grandma without talking about Grandpa. They just always go together.


They’re the quintessential grandparents. And not just to us, as their relatives. To our friends. Our classmates. Our teammates. Our teams. Other kids in the campground. Families at church. To neighbors. To the whole block.

Several years ago, down at school, there was a boy in the third grade class who didn’t have anyone able to come for Grandparents’ Day in his classroom. So Mrs. Anderson knew she could call Grandma and Grandpa ... and, sure enough, there they were as his adoptive grandparents; and thrilled to do it. (Keep in mind, they would have been more like his great-grandparents.) Now, Josh is in college, his mom is today’s organist and he wrote on Facebook this week that even though they were only supposed to be his grandparents for one day, it’s like they have been ever since.

Grandma & Grandpa have known each other since she was 7 and he was 8. As I was visiting with them just last month before their 65th wedding anniversary, Grandma shook her head in disbelief, saying, “I never imagined living for 65 years, let alone being married for 65 years!” And Grandpa’s quick to say that they were best friends.

As I heard him tell someone yesterday, they’ve known each other for 80 years. That means practically everything in their lives has been a shared experience ... together. We have countless pictures of the two of them — through the years; in all kinds of places; it didn’t matter. Whatever they were doing, they most always did it together.

Already, to hear Grandpa tell one of those old familiar stories, without Grandma right there to chime in and finish his sentences, you feel like you’re only getting half of the story.


One of our favorites is of how they got married. Grandpa was home on R&R from France during World War II. (Grandma wrote him letters every week, and up until her final day could still rattle off his individual eight-digit military ID number like she was saying the ABCs.) Unfortunately, in Nebraska there was a waiting period to get a marriage license ... but not in Kansas!

I asked them just last month whether or not they knew they were going to get married during Grandpa’s leave. Grandma said that she hoped so, but wasn’t sure. Grandpa got a gleam in his eye and said that while serving overseas, he couldn’t stop thinking about her every day and that “She bothered me so.” I’ll never forget that: “She bothered me so.”

So they had limited time and were headed south, desperate to get married. But soon learned that all Lutheran ministers in the state were away at a conference in Kansas City. Fortunately, they finally found the only Lutheran minister in the county who had stayed home in case of emergencies. With the pastor’s wife as their witness, Grandma & Grandpa got married at St. Paul Lutheran Church in tiny Fairview, Kan., on Aug. 20, 1945.

Then Grandpa surprised her with a dozen red roses that he had stashed in the trunk ... on that hot, dusty, windy day with no air conditioning in the car. Grandma said they were the sorriest looking excuse for flowers she’d ever seen.

Did you know that Grandma and Grandpa have celebrated their anniversary on the 20th of every month for the past 65 years? They might go out to eat, have a glass of wine, or just share a rootbeer freeze, but every month they always recognized their special day.

In 2001, my wife Leslie and I were blessed to go with Grandma and Grandpa back to Fairview, Kan., and go to church at St. Paul Lutheran Church for their 56th wedding anniversary. It was magical. Grandma & Grandpa signed the guest book, we took lots of pictures, the congregation loved hearing their story and treated them like royalty. The four of us spent the whole day together, celebrating their anniversary and soaking it up.

We made sure that Grandpa had fresh red roses for Grandma that time.


I’m sorry to make this so much about me — I really am — but I blame it on Grandma. It was her inherent nature to genuinely care about every person she knew, to go out of her way to make you feel important and to let you know that you truly matter.

As the youngest of four kids, I always got hand-me-downs. But not at Grandma’s house! Each one of us had our own separate box of crayons ... our own cups that were just ours — every time ... and when we helped her bake, she even gave each one of us our own finger of hers to lick the batter off of. And for frosting, too!

As we were growing up, I looked forward to my birthday present from her each year because I knew exactly what it would be: an elaborately written, official-sounding homemade certificate for a day of “goofin’” with Grandma. Whatever I wanted to do.

One year, I vividly remember going to “downtown Omaha,” riding the slides at Gene Leahy Mall, eating dinner on the top floor of the Woodman Building, and getting to learn the difference between a Roy Rogers and a Shirley Temple ... always with extra cherries.

That all sounds so simple now, but I felt like a king. And what I would give, to do it just one more time with her.


One of the things I asked Grandma when I went to their place last month, I clearly knew the answer to, but just wanted to hear her say it. “Grandma, do you still read your Bible every day?” “You better believe it.” was her reply.

Grandma kept her Bible in the bathroom, because it’s the one place she could shut the door and have some peace and quiet, all to herself. When Grandma was in the bathroom, you knew not to interrupt.

We talked about some favorite parts of the Bible, how she’s collectively read it multiple times over the years, and she showed me the daily devotional guide she’s currently using.

Sure enough, when I took Grandpa home last night, there in the bathroom is her devotional booklet — left open to Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010.

Even on her final day, she continued drawing closer to Christ.


It’s a little surprising to me that as much of a godly woman Grandma’s always been — extremely active in the church, constantly involved in Bible studies and women’s groups — when we tried to think of Grandma’s favorite Bible verses, we kept going back to John 3:16 and the 23rd Psalm.

They seem so basic and simple. And probably, when you think about them, as profound and life-changing as you can get.

It’s like the term “Faith like a child.” It sometimes sounds like a cute little phrase. But, oh, so difficult to achieve.

Grandma loved swimming. For 10 or 15 years when we were younger, she swam a couple of miles every week. Now I picture my own son jumping into my arms off the side of the pool. Everything around him says not to do it: it’s a ways down, the water’s moving and unsure, it feels different, seems scary. But I say, “It’s OK. Daddy’ll catch ya.” Then he leaves everything behind, trusts me with all of his heart and I wrap him up, safe and secure.

That’s exactly how I imagine Grandma entering heaven, and her relationship with the Lord. Going freely. Toward the light. Letting God envelop her in his loving arms.

She’s been gettin’ ready for this her whole life.


Lastly, when Grandpa and I were at their place last night, he brought up something I sent to them within the past two weeks. It’s the story of a 92-year-old pastor that I printed off and snail-mailed to them the old-fashioned way (hand-written note and everything).

Anyway, as this retired pastor was invited to give a guest sermon one Sunday morning, he rose from his high-back chair and walked slowly, with great effort and a sliding gait to the pulpit. Without a note or written paper of any kind, he used both hands to steady himself and then quietly and slowly began to speak.

“When I was asked to come here today and talk to you, your pastor asked me to tell you what was the greatest lesson ever learned in my 50-plus years of preaching. I thought about it for a few days and boiled it down to this. Through all my trials, the one thing that I could always rely on when tears and heartbreak and pain and fear and sorrow paralyzed me ... the only thing that would comfort was this verse...”

And I know without a fraction of a doubt, that Grandma, too, lived these words and knew them in her heart.It goes:
Jesus loves me this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me...
Yes, Jesus loves me...
Yes, Jesus loves me...
The Bible tells me so.


I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

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