My paternal Grandfather, Jack Lee, was a quiet man, but he was a character. He always did things just a little different than everyone else. Some of the stories he told me are simply legendary.
As a kid growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee he would run down to the local store. In the store there was a metal pole right in the middle of the room. Every time he went in the store, he would climb the pole and touch the ceiling, just to see if he could.
One day he went in the store and one of the old men in the said, “Jack, I’ll give you a quarter if you can climb that pole and touch the ceiling.” In the mid 1930’s a quarter was a lot of money for a kid to have on his own. So my grandfather ran to the pole, jumped up, and immediately crashed to the floor. They had greased the pole.
In the mid 1980s he had an old Ford that he had driven since the 1950s over 30 years. He decided to sell the car to buy a new one and a man who worked on the manufacturing line agreed to buy it from him for $500. So my grandfather brought the car and his co-worker brought five crisp $100 bills.
He counted the bills out into my grandfather’s hand and thanked him for the transaction. My grandfather peeled off one of the bills handed it back and told his co-worker, “I never want to hear about this car ever again.”
But quite possibly my favorite story is how he decided where to work when he got out of college. My grandfather served in the Navy during WWII and when he returned from the service he went to the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and graduated. He caught the bus to downtown Chattanooga the very next Monday morning to find a job.
He got off the bus and looked to the left and there was a company a little way down the street. He looked to his right and there was another company just a little way down the street. He decided he would visit the company on the left because it was closer than the one on the right.
He walked in that door in the late spring of 1951 and 40 years later he retired as the Vice President of the entire company. I asked him once why he decided to retire when he did, especially because he had such an important and impressive job. His answer was another one of his amazing stories.
He said that one day a man came into his office and brought a computer and put it on my Grandfather’s desk and said he would be back to teach him how to use it. My grandfather said, “I never did use that computer. The day they put that computer on my desk I stood up, walked into my boss’ office and decided to retire.”
Read – Philippians 2:1-8
It’s not hard for us to comprehend what Paul was saying in his letter to the Philippians. We all know how hard it can be to put others before yourself. If you have ever been in a relationship with anyone, friend, romantic partner, parent, etc. you know how often your own selfish desires have caused conflict.
Paul gives the ultimate churchy answer on how to combat this: Be like Jesus. Right. How do we even try to do that?
I absolutely love that story about how my Grandfather quit his job. I mentioned that story to my dad as we were cleaning out my Grandfather’s house after his funeral. I was going through a box of old Christmas cards and found one that was from the owner of the company where he had worked for those 40 years.
Only, this letter was dated several years after my Grandfather retired. This wasn’t a small note, it was a full on letter. In the letter this gentleman praised my Grandfather for his years of service. He mentioned several times in many different ways how my Grandfather’s work was instrumental in the success of the company he founded. He expressed how he wished my Grandfather could have stayed on and how glad he was to have known him.
What kind of man was my Grandfather that his boss was writing him long Christmas letters of thankfulness years after his retirement? I mentioned this to my Dad and remarked with a laugh, “Well, he shouldn’t have put a computer on Grandpa’s desk.” I turned to leave when my Dad said, “There’s a little more to the story than that.”
My grandmother was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in the 1950s when she was in her 20s. She lived in pain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until she passed away in 2010. That is over fifty years of constant, nagging pain. My entire life she walked with a great deal of pain.
As a kid, when we would go to a museum she would sit quietly on a bench while my grandfather walked through it with us. She was barely able to stand without help. Stairs were nearly impossible for her to navigate even with a hand rail. The fingers on both of her hands were deformed. By 1991, it became clear that my grandmother was going to need a significant amount of daily assistance.
At the height of his professional career, with the respect and admiration of the owner of his company, my grandfather retired. To be sure the computer was a factor, but the real reason he retired was that my Grandmother needed care. And for the next 19 years my Grandfather became her primary caregiver.
A man who ran a steel company became a full time nurse. He cooked, he cleaned, he ran errands, he sat patiently as she had her hair done, he drove her back and forth to doctor’s appointments. And, when my Great-Grandmother had a stroke and also needed full-time care, he became her nurse as well. He never once complained.
I love the way the Message translates the first verse: “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life…” Paul then goes on to describe ways that they can show that difference including these words: “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
The love of Jesus made a difference in my Grandfather’s life. All those years I thought he retired because of a computer, but in reality he retired because he lived the verses we read today in Philippians. When there was a choice he chose humility, he chose service, he chose love.
I don’t know when, but one day someone is going to put a computer on your desk. I hope when that day comes you will stand up and choose love.
Sing – O Come All Ye Faithful
Almighty God, grant us in equal measure; Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Hope in a Savior, Peace in our world, Joy in our hearts, and Love for our fellow man. In the name of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Advent season, Amen.