Bitter Sweetness {tales of a hometown missionary}

tales of a hometown missionary

Down that dusty street, pavement worn and painted lines long disappeared, the little cottage sat. Flowers bloomed, the garden overflowed with tomatoes and onions and jalapeno peppers.

I boxed them up, wishing for time to make my favorite salsa recipe, but my days were so busy with work that I knew the tomatoes would sit and rot away. So I found neighbor kids and filled their arms with boxes and bags. The gap-toothed smiles made my heart glad.

It was one quiet evening, as I sat in the garden plot with dirt coating my fingers and smudges on my arms, that he stopped by.

My grandfather was fighting cancer that summer. His once strong arms were weakened and thin. Earlier in the year, before his health bent so low,  he would stop and mow my lawn. I would bite back my dismay. I wanted him to save his strength but he wanted to feel useful. So I let him work and blinked away tears.

It had been months since he’d been by. The chemotherapy kept him quiet and our visits usually took place beside his recliner or the chair by his bed.

“What’ll you make from the tomatoes?” he asked me.

“Nothing this year,” I said, brushing my hair back from my face, “I just don’t have time.”

Gravel crunched and I looked up to see Pam, the neighbor at the end of the apartment building complex, coming toward me. “My grandson says you have tomatoes and stuff to give away,” she said in her gravelly smokers voice.

I nodded, “Right over there on the porch,” I pointed my finger toward the sagging green floorboards. “There are several boxes, take whatever you like.”

Grandpa stood there beside me, his hands a bit shaky. “Want to come inside?” I offered, “Or I can bring you a chair?”

He said no, he only had a minute. I knew it was true in more ways than one. I thought about the piles of paperwork inside, the letter with the pictures of little children way over in the country of Japan*. They needed a teacher, the note said, and they wondered if I would be willing to come.

“How are the plans to go overseas?” he asked as I quietly led him closer to the house. He leaned on the railing to the stairs and I bit my lip hard. The desire to go thousands of miles away from home diminished considerably when I stood in front of this man. He was so much that was good and stable and encouraging in my life. I could not bear the thought of his last days being spent without me.

“I’m not sure,” I answered truthfully.

Then he said the words that quieted my rapidly beating heart. His strong hands, ones that raised 7 children, milked hundreds of cows, plowed fields, folded in prayer, raised in praise, they touched my arm and my gaze met his.

“If I thought this life was all I had, Natasha, I would want you to stay right here beside me for every minute I have left. But it’s not. And I’ll see you again, one day, when we’re standing before God. I’ve told you about the visions of heaven that God has given me, right? Where grace like rain washes over us, where the presence of God heals every hurt? I’m depending on seeing you there, granddaughter of mine.”

He looked around my little cottage, at the crab apple tree, at the boxes of produce still left to be given away. “I’m thankful you follow Jesus,” he told me, quietly, “so thankful.”

I hugged him tight, right there in the driveway.

That day, when the children came to visit, I sang songs about heaven. About hope. About freedom. I told them the story about Lazarus, about the stone being rolled away and Jesus saying, with such authority, “Lazarus, come forth!” about the way the once-dead-man stood and breathed and lived again.

“Is he still alive?” one of the boys asked with wide eyes.

“No,” I said quietly, “he died again, even after he was raised from the dead.”

“Then what was the point?”

What indeed? I thought.  But then I remembered Grandpa’s face, his still-callused hand on my arm. “The point,” I said with conviction, “is that God is the one who controls life and death and it is all for His glory. In living or in dying, we can honor Him.”

They looked confused. I was just beginning to understand.

It did not matter if I was right there in my hometown, or if I traveled five thousand miles away. What mattered was if I was doing it for His glory alone. To live, to die, to travel, to stay- all could be done to honor Him. It was my choice. And honoring Him  was by far, the greatest thing I could do in my life. It was the most important decision I could ever make.

It would happen one day, just as I feared. I would be thousands of miles away and when I called home Mama would say, her voice teary, “It’s almost over, Tashie-girl, he hasn’t spoken in over twenty-four hours. He can hear you though, I’ll hold the phone to his ear.” And I would hear his raspy breathing and I would cry alone on a cement porch near the equator, and he would struggle to speak again, one more time. He would say, “I love you,” in broken syllables and they would be the last words that I would hear from his lips.

And I would get the news in an email the next morning and I would run to my room and rock back and forth and hurt so bad it would feel like I could split in two. And the children would come because they heard my tears and they would wrap little arms around my neck and cry with me.

And for one bitter moment I would hate the decision I made. I would long so desperately to just see him one last time. I would pound my fists against the red floor and wish with everything I had left that I had stayed in my little cottage in my hometown.

Then I would remember his words and the truth that even death is not the end. For I serve the God who raised Lazarus from the dead, the God who has a purpose far beyond what I can ever see.

And if I strove to glorify Him first, over all, then someday perhaps this One whom I love even more than my grandfather, would touch my arm and say, “I’m so thankful you followed Me. So thankful.”

*later I would take a position in Brazil, rather than Japan. 

In Jars of Clay

Part One: {In Jars of Clay}
Part Two: {Wind and Waves}
Part Three: {Miracles and Mustard Seeds}
Part Four: {Labels and Trust}
Part Five: {To Flourish}
Part Six: {Seeing True}
Part Seven: {Songs to Believe In}
Part Eight: {Apple Pie and Eye Shadow}
Part Nine: {Baptism of Grace}


8 thoughts on “Bitter Sweetness {tales of a hometown missionary}

  1. This is so beautiful, Tasha! I ache for your pain but so glad that you know you will see him again!

    Not to take anything away from your story but … I once read a book, can’t find the name of it now, fiction of course, that was loosely based on the scripture that “it is given of a man once to die.” Apparently there are some who believe that Lazarus walks among us still. I don’t agree but it’s an interesting thought! Makes me wonder though why they think it’s just Lazarus … not the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter, etc.


    • Ha ha. Just wait until I tell the story of coming home early from Brazil. *ahem*

      Oh, right. I forgot that I can’t tell embarrassing stories about you on my blog without permission. 😉


  2. Pingback: Broken Stories {tales of a hometown missionary} | Natasha Metzler

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