I know that Thanksgiving was last week, and now we are full-blown into the Christmas hype. But I wanted to say one thing about something I am thankful for - and I don't think that is only limited to one day a year. So there.
I am thankful for H. John and Eva Blann. Who are they? Well, some of the readers of this blog will recognize their names - they are my wife Heather's grandparents. Well, actually, they are grandparents to seventeen people, parents to four people, and great-grandparents to nineteen people. (I hope I got that right) And they are two of the sweetest, most amazing people I have ever met.
I had my grandparents, but three of them passed away before I graduated high school. Two of them I only met a handful of times, since they lived in Vermont. The final one - my mom's mother - passed away a few years back. I knew her very well and spend many hours with her over the years. But after I moved to Orlando from West Palm Beach when I was 18, I only saw her when I came back in town a few times a year. They were all wonderful people, but they had a different outlook on life than me on a lot of things, and I did not get to have long discussions with them very often.
What has been such an amazing thing with the Blanns has been that in seven years, I have been blessed to have many long talks with both of them - especially Grandpa Blann. And I know that they have left a powerful mark on my life from those times. Just a brief mention of their lives. They served as missionaries in Africa. Grandpa ran a Bible school, served as a pastor, and has an incredible thirst for knowledge - and has never stopped learning. We still talk about books and blogs and the internet. Grandma raised four godly children who all are making a huge difference in the world - through their own actions and the lives of their children. She was a teacher - and still is a teacher. She teaches all of us every day - about cooking and about God and about how to be a loving spouse and mother.
I have had more talks with Grandpa - we hit it off right away. Here I was, this young minister who had just gone through a horrible time at my first church. As I left that place, wondering about everything, stuck selling furniture and unable to find another ministry position, Grandpa was always there to tell me how their lives never went how they had planned it. He would tell me about being led into all sorts of places he never imagined, and that he just was faithful while he was there. He encouraged me to stay strong. We would swap books, and then talk about them. Phillip Yancey's "The Bible Jesus Read" was one of the first. As the years went on, he would always encourage me to keep my attitude right, and would love to listen to my reports of what God was showing me. Many times his eyes would well up as I shared about my kids' learning about the Bible in school or about the Sunday School class I taught. And as I moved into this new venture with Defender Ministries, he was so supportive.
They are both well into their 80s now, and are starting to slip as older people do. Things have gotten harder for them even since they moved to Florida about five years ago. That is hard to see for everyone who loves them -- and that would be everyone who knows them. From the entire staff at the local Wendy's (whom they have befriended) to the waitresses at the Golden Corral (whom they have befriended) to the hairdresser to their Sunday School class to the next door neighbors. Everywhere they go, they bring such a wonderful light and such joy. My children adore them, and can't wait to see them when we go up to Jacksonville. And they have never changed who they are. They still pray every single day for every one of their family members. I often ask them to pray for things - because I know they will.
This past Thanksgiving I got to spend time with both of them - and had to come to grips with how things were going for them. After yet another conversation about life, another time around the computer, another cherry pie, I realized just how much these two people meant to me. And I wanted to say that while there was still time. I love them like they were my own. And I am more grateful to them than I can express for their love and encouragement. Grandpa was a wise mentor - an older minister who knew the challenges of being a young man with a family, a calling, and no clue where all of that would take him. He also knew that it will, as it says in Romans 8:28, work out for good to those who please God. Grandma was a loving teacher - always there with a hug and a listening ear and a smile. Their faithfulness has laid the groundwork for a lasting legacy in their family.
Heather had us listen to an Avalon song the other day - "Everything to Me." One of the lines says, "And when I look back on my life at the end / I want to meet you, saying you've been / Everything to Me / More than a story / More than words on a page of history" She said that it reminded her of Grandma and Grandpa Blann - the same exact thing I had thought the first time I heard it. And that is exactly who they are. I hope that when I am their age, people can sing that song about me.