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When I was a kid, Mom’s folks owned and operated a resort in Wisconsin’s Northwoods… fourteen seasons managing seven cottages nestled in a heavily wooded shoreline. They lived in the eighth one. It had a tiny office where guests picked up their key on Saturdays. It was a tight space, but enough for perusing some used paperbacks—I liked the Zane Grey novels. There was an assortment of cold drinks and ice cream bars. Remember cream sodas?
Some of my clearest recollections are connected to food… pancakes bathed in warm bacon grease and Log Cabin syrup… vanilla ice cream topped with honey… not all at the same time, of course.
Food always came with story telling and banter on an array of topics. I can still hear Grandpa’s and Grandma’s voices. He was gruff, deliberate, dominating… she was low-volume, diminutive, but sharp-witted, opinionated… often sarcastic. He reminisced about his labor union organizing days. She read the classics… I still have some of her books. She painted and had refined tastes in music.
Long before I was born, their story was about putting their lives on the line for a cause much bigger than themselves… a cause they passionately believed in. They unknowingly laid the groundwork for the kind of decisions I would be making not too many years later.
I grew up on the kind of after-meal table-talk (sobremesa time) I try to write about now. It was more of an influence on me than even I could have appreciated at the time. I’ve never been as good at it as they were… they were naturals.
It’s important to me. I have lived for making disciples. There could be nothing more meaningful than introducing someone to Jesus. It took me a while to understand I wouldn’t get better at making disciples unless I got better at making friends.
A good way to make friends—and make lasting memories with them—is through food and drink. Nearly everyone I know likes to eat… and for me, talking comes easier in an intimate setting around a table.
When I have these opportunities, I try to remember my childhood: Other people’s stories should fascinate me. I should be a humble listener, whether I happen to agree or not with the opinions expressed. These days, I don’t like to win an argument as much as I like to see Jesus win somebody’s heart.
The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it. — William James
Legacy… feeling useful… influencing… When you are in your 70’s, you think more about stuff like this. Grandpa and Grandma never took me to Disneyland… they never bought me anything remarkable. But their legacy to me…? I wouldn’t trade it for anything. What I learned from sharing the same table or parlor with them is as much a part of who I am today as it was then.
How can I best leave my fingerprints on the memories of those I leave behind? A cottage in the Northwoods, warm bacon grease and vanilla ice cream might help, but it wouldn’t be enough. People can choose to listen or not to older folks like me. But I feel compelled to share… to be open about how I got to where I am today… victories, foibles and all. Especially, I hope the gleam in my eye when I talk about Jesus never fades.
Even if itinerating and networking were things I enjoyed, I think I would still lean more now toward the food-and-coffee times, walk-and-talk opportunities, meaningful FaceTime sessions… and rocking-chair evenings.
It’s not about giving in to the maladies of old age… it’s about sowing deeply where it counts the most… in ways I wasn’t as capable of until now.
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children. (Proverbs 13:22, ESV)