A Spiritual Legacy—Part 3

Crônicas do Cotidiano > A Spiritual Legacy—Part 3

Legacy of a Grandfather

Continuing along the line of thought of the previous posts, about “spiritual legacy,” I am going to share another item that I met up with while examining the papers and objects stored as special memories of our past—something my father passed on to his offspring, in this case one of his grandsons.

It is an envelope with a letter that was mailed to me almost six years ago—sent by my middle son when my dad died at the end of December 2002.  E-mail already existed then, but it seems that he felt that something written by hand would be more significant than virtual correspondence (and also ended up lasting longer). I think I need to explain some of the context by adding a few (somewhat disconnected) bits of information, so that you can understand the details in this letter.

Two sets of Cousins—Tacoma, Washington, Christmas of 2002

The writer of the letter is the tall fellow on the right.

For those who do not know me, allow me to explain that I am a Canadian (of Dutch descent) and have been living in Brazil with my husband from Pernambuco state for 34 years—the last 16 of which have been spent in the city of São Paulo. After my mom died in 1988, my dad continued residing in Canada but frequently visited my sister who lives in the US, in the state of Washington, for periods that sometimes lasted several months.

The son that wrote the letter spent two periods in the United States. The first lasted for five months and he stayed in the home of his aunt and uncle (Nellie and Chris), while he was in high school. It was during this first stay that he got to know his grandfather (Gilbert Zekveld) better, since he had also come to make one of his extended visits in the same home. (My sister and I had our own private student exchange program. We enjoyed the privilege of having three of their daughters separately for one school semester. And they lodged our four children, also alternately, for similar lengths of time.

The second time that this son went to the States, he studied for one year in the Bible Institute of The Master’s College in Los Angeles, about three hours from his aunt’s home by air. His sister was in the same college, studying Biblical Counseling. It was the turn of his youngest brother to be living with Aunt Nellie and Uncle Chris while the oldest brother was also on the West coast of the North American continent, but in Canada, about four hours distant by car. They were thus all far from Brazil. It was a time during which we became prematurely “childless”, with an empty home.

My dad lived far away—near Toronto, in the province of Ontario, about four hours distant by air. On the 29th of December of 2002, one of my three brothers went to visit him and found him lying by the bed, already lifeless, after a sudden heart attack. He would have turned 75 in fifteen more days.

When my father died, my husband and I had gone to spend Christmas in Recife with my parents-in-law and other relatives. And our four children had all reunited in the home of Aunt Nellie and Uncle Chris to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. For lack of funds and seats (it was one of the most difficult and most expensive days of the year to reserve flights), the two families chose representatives to fly to Toronto. My sister, my brother-in-law, my daughter and my niece. The others stayed behind, including our three sons.

I was unable to go to the funeral. I was sick, unable to fly, fighting against an infection. Plus I had left my passport in São Paulo. My brothers and sister suggested that I write the eulogy to be read at the funeral (see here). And that was what kept me busy on the first day of 2003, with my mother-in-law faithfully comforting and caring for me as I recovered, and as my husband and my father-in-law represented our family in the annual get-together of the various Portela generations present in the city of Recife.

My daughter spent three days participating in the wake and the funeral, getting to know a lot of relatives that she had never met before (or didn’t remember much of). She also went with her uncles, aunts and older cousins to my father’s apartment, in order to begin dividing his few belongings (mostly theology books) while those that lived far away were still around. There, while the ladies went through the kitchen and the bedroom, and the men examined the books and other items, Grace and her cousins went to work dividing the contents of the photo albums, so as to give each child and grandchild the photos that their father/grandfather had kept of them.

It is to these photos that my son refers in the letter that follows. He was 18 years old when he wrote it, and describes the legacy that he perceives was left him by his grandfather Gilbert (whom he called Opa, a Dutch name for Grampa). Although there was no monetary legacy, he left behind a precious example of what it meant to be God’s servant. This son already has a university degree and is married. By the grace of God, he and his brothers and sister continue following the trail blazed by grandfathers (Gilbert and Jairo) and father (Solano)—that he cites as examples (as may be seen in Danny’s blog in conjunction with his older brother, David (in Portuguese).

I thus now share something personal with you, by copying over the letter that I received. It is very special to me, speaking to my heart even now.

January 4th, 2003

Dear Mom:
It’s about 1:00 AM here in Tacoma. I have just finished looking at the stuff Grace brought back from Opa’s funeral. I loved him, Mom. I really did. And I know that he really loved me too. I knew, and now I am even more certain after seeing all the pictures he had of me. It makes me wonder… I bet he looked over those pictures a lot, and I know that he prayed so much for me.

Here I am sitting on my bed crying for the first time since receiving news of his death. This has been very different for me. I have never had someone so close to us pass away. I was so little when Oma died, and so the loss I feel now cannot be compared. Emotions have been stirred up in me that had never before been awakened. I have never felt such great loss. I guess it’s normal for one to feel like he should have gotten to know someone better, or done something for the person, before they passed away. Even so, that is a feeling which I had never experienced.

My memories of Opa are constrained to those weeks I spent with him when he came to visit Aunt Nellie and Uncle Chris in Tacoma during my stay here two and a half years ago. I remember his laugh, how it was loud and yet so joyful, and honest. I remember teaching him to give people high-fives (he probably thought it was absurd). And one thing I will always remember is his whistling. It was so beautiful and it would always be a hymn. You could hear him from the other side of the house. I used to love to listen to him whistle. I think that it was his way to demonstrate his joy in the Lord.

Another memory I have of Opa is of him sitting in Uncle Chris and Aunt Nellie’s living room showing us pictures of Oma, and telling me their story. I wish I remembered more of it… He missed her, though. I could tell. I am glad that they are both together again.

I know this is tough for you, Mom, but God is working through it. The best way I can attempt to console you is by telling you how God is using this in my life. There is so much for me to learn yet, Mom. If it is the Lord’s plan, I have a few more years to go, but in these next years I know I will be knocked off my feet many times. And it will be at those times, when my faith is shaken, that I will have the opportunity to look at the examples which have surrounded me. And there will be Opa, standing tall and proud, a warrior of God, who fought the good fight, and won! Unshakable in his faith, solid in his theology, with both feet planted firmly in Christ. I am blessed to have such great men surround me during my lifetime: dad, Vovô Jairo and Opa. Men who stand up for what they believe.

And so, even now, when Christ has just taken me by the hand and begun to lead me down the narrow path, there is no more burden for me to carry, but instead I uphold the legacy left to me by these great men of God. Opa’s death has been painful to bear, even more so for you. But take comfort in this: his life stands out as an example to many, and very much to me. A beacon shining, built on the rock, proclaiming the power of Jesus.

I loved Opa, and await eagerly my next meeting with him. He was a great man, and by the little I knew him I know that he wanted God glorified in everything, even in his death. Therefore, Glory to God.

Your loving son,
Daniel Portela

I know that it is quite possible that not all of my readers have this legacy in which a number of past generations have walked in the paths of the Lord. But you may start, even if it is today, by surrendering your life to God, asking forgiving for your sins and seeking to follow the principles contained in the Bible. As parents, grandparents, or uncles or aunts…. Therefore, even if you don’t have Christian ancestors, you may enjoy the privilege of being the first representative of successive generations in tune with the will and the blessings of God. Isn’t that special?!

Sincerely, Betty

2 Comentários a “A Spiritual Legacy—Part 3”

  1. Darius disse:

    That truly is special. 🙂 I praise the Lord for giving me so many great examples of a life worthy to be lived. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I love you!

  2. Once again, I was greatly blessed by reading several of your blogs. I was especially touched by Daniel’s beautiful letter about his Grandpa. How wonderful that our Reformed faith clearly expresses the significance of the biblical teaching regarding the Covenant of Grace – its obligations but also its blessings from generation to generation!
    Keep up the good work. I want to see many of these in book form someday! Synesio

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Crônicas do Cotidiano > A Spiritual Legacy—Part 3