Reflections On A Life Well Lived - My Grandpa's Legacy

Today, March 22nd is my Grandpa's birthday. Here are some thoughts I wrote down after he went home to be with Christ in 2014.

Reflections on a life well lived

On April 24th, 2014, my Grandpa, Gerald “Gerry” Kilcup, went home to be with his Savior, at the age of 82, after a 20-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. The following are some reflections on his life in the form of 7 keys to successful living that he exemplified. He was a faithful husband for 59 years, a loving father, a much-loved grandfather (and great-grandfather), a respected friend of many, and a man whose life was marked by a Christ-like love and humility. He didn’t complain or become bitter against God when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but instead showed us how to suffer and endure trials with joy in the Lord. How was he able to achieve these things and remain firm in his faith to the very end? I know he was a sinner just like the rest of us, and that there are many things that I don’t know about his life and the inner struggles that he must have faced, but I do know that the fruit of his life as a whole demonstrates a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus that makes me want to follow his example. So here are some of the keys to a life well lived:

1. He anchored his life to the infallible Word of God

Back in the early ‘50s, during the Korean War, my Grandpa was stationed in Europe. At his memorial service his younger sister Kit shared that during that time he would write home to the family, usually at least twice a week, and that he would always end each of his letters with the words of Jude verses 24 and 25, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” It seems that even as a young man the Scriptures had a profound impact on his life and provided him with genuine hope and security. Another memory that confirms this point in my mind is from just a few years ago when I had written a pamphlet in Spanish and sent it to my Grandma (who speaks Spanish) to get her thoughts. She translated it for my Grandpa to read and he responded with one suggestion. The theme of my pamphlet was “Why study the Bible” and one of the reasons I listed was “to discover the words of God” or something of that nature. My Grandpa’s counsel was to change the phrase “words of God” to “the Word of God”. This might seem like a small thing to some, but for my Grandpa the Bible was not simply a book that contained the words of God but it was itself the very Word of God, God’s perfect and flawless revelation of Himself, and was thus a solid rock on which to build his life.

2. He understood the grace of God

The last time I heard my Grandpa pray was at a board meeting for a Christian ministry, which he served as vice-president. He started out his prayer with these words “Lord, thank you for putting up with us.” I believe this simple expression of gratitude and humility gives us a hint into what my Grandpa believed about God and how it affected his life. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s right around the same time he retired, he could have said “Lord, I’ve served You my whole life, I’ve been a faithful husband, I’ve taught my children about You, I’ve devotedly gathered with Your people every Sunday… how could You let this happen to me?” However, that was not his response, instead, for the next 20 years, he continued trusting in his Lord and Savior; giving Him thanks for all things. How was he able to maintain that faith and not grow bitter, or become resentful, or wallow in self-pity? Those words of his prayer give us a powerful answer, “Thank you, Lord, for putting up with us.” I believe this demonstrates what he believed about God. He did not presume that God owed him anything. He understood grace. He knew that he (like all of us) deserved wrath and judgment and that anything beyond that was an underserved gift from the Lord. His thinking was not “the Lord is lucky to have me” but “I am blessed to have the Lord.” So he was grateful to have God even if that meant losing everything else. He did not succumb to the common human thinking of “if I serve God, and give my time to him, then he will owe me something in return.” His love and service to God were not an attempt to earn God’s favor but rather a grateful response to the knowledge that God had already given it to him in Christ. Near the end, my Grandpa was unable to speak, but one day during a visit from the speech therapist he remarkably sang several songs. The last song he sang (and some of the last words he ever spoke in this life) was “Praise the Savior”. The words to the first verse, in particular, echo his understanding of the amazing undeserved gift of God’s grace:
“Praise the Savior, ye who know Him!
Who can tell how much we owe Him?
Gladly let us render to Him all we have and are.”

#3 He held fast to the sovereign goodness of God

How could he endure suffering with such joy, without ever losing that light in his eyes? Apart from His understanding of God’s grace, I have to believe that he was also entrusting himself to the sovereign goodness of God. The truth that there is an all-powerful, all-wise God of holy love was deeply embedded in his heart. Every Sunday he would gather with fellow-believers and spend an hour simply focusing on the Lord’s death on the cross and His conquering of sin (this weekly time of communion, or breaking of bread, was especially meaningful to my Grandpa). If God could have sovereign control over the most horrific event in human history (the death of His innocent Son) and use it to bring about everlasting joy for His people, then He certainly can take the greatest trials in our lives and work them out for our ultimate good. My Grandpa knew and rested in the promises of Romans 8:28 and 32. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” And “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Notice how this connects with another verse of “Praise the Savior”:
“Trust in Him, ye saints, forever,
He is faithful, changing never;
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him.”

#4 He committed himself to the people of God

My Grandpa faithfully met for fellowship with other believers every Lord’s day (as he called it) and usually for prayer during the week as well. How did this commitment make him the man of faith that he was? First, by putting him in an environment where he was continually reminded week after week, year after year, of the truths of the Word of God. Secondly, it gave him a context in which he was able to serve God’s people and partner with others to see the advancement of the Gospel. Thirdly, it put him in constant contact with other believers where he could benefit from the gifts of the body, be encouraged, and corrected when needed, as well as grow in patience and love through the imperfections and problems in the lives of other believers. The local church that he was a part of was in no way perfect (as no local church is), over the years he witnessed bouts of hypocrisy and division, but rather than using those things as an excuse to abandon ship he remained committed and grew as a result. It seems that he did not attend Sunday meetings out of a sense of legalistic duty but out of His love for the Lord and a desire to honor His Word.

#5 He enjoyed God’s creation in the everyday things of life

He made it a priority to spend time with his family, enjoying God’s creation and the gifts that He gives. Whether it was taking time to throw a football with some of us grandkids, or watching a sunset at Rocky Bay, it seems that he knew how to glorify God in the small things of life. His sense of humor was remarkable yet it was never tainted by anything that would bring dishonor to his precious Savior. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 it says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” He did this in a lot of ways, acknowledging God in the simple things. It seems that he even knew how to appreciate the beauty of women to the glory of God! Indeed the pervasive and rampant perversion of our culture and the advent of Internet pornography have made the line between appreciating beauty and lust a bit blurrier than it was in his day, so a word of caution is certainly in order here, but if anyone could admire beautiful women to the glory of God it seems it was him. He could enjoy, as well as compliment the beauty of his daughters-in-law, and granddaughters-in-law without ever seeming like a dirty old man. Of course, there’s a fine line here and I don’t doubt that this habit never got him in trouble, but overall it’s an example of how he enjoyed life and glorified the Creator of all good things.

#6 He prayed to the living God

During his time in the Army in Europe, my Grandpa would kneel beside his cot every night and thank the Lord for His loving care. He was committed to this daily habit in spite of the jibes from the other soldiers. His children can remember walking by his bedroom at night and seeing him faithfully on his knees before the Lord. I loved hearing him pray and will never forget certain phrases that he frequently used, always with warm and heartfelt reverence. “Our gracious God and loving Father” he would begin, and then after some words of thanksgiving and intercession he would often close with “in Thy worthy and precious Name, amen.”

#7 He lived for the fame of Christ’s name and not his own

Grandpa’s brother-in-law (my Great Uncle Lyle), told a story about a day when he and my Grandpa and other friends and family members were playing football at a park. A young man asked if he could join their game and they gladly complied. But before long, this young man’s use of foul language become apparent, and in particular his taking of the Lord’s name in vain. My Grandpa was grieved by this and as kindly as he could, told him the following “we’re glad to have you play with us, but we would ask you to not take the name of our Savior in vain, His name is precious to us.” Christ’s name was precious to him, and he lived to make His Savior’s name known and not his own. At the end of his life, most (if not all) spoke well of him and respected him, but it was not because he lived to try to achieve that. It seems that what people thought of him mattered little to him; he was more concerned about what they thought of the One who was precious to him. He knew that to seek to promote one’s own name only leads to arrogance and pride but to live for the glory of Christ’s name leads to humility and true joy.

I thank the Lord for my Grandpa and hope that by God's grace I can follow his example of living for the glory of Christ and for the joy of others.

Nathan Cedarland
 is a servant-leader of Kaleo Grays Harbor, a church plant in Aberdeen, WA. He is passionate about God, his family (his wife Julissa and their five kids), his church family, equipping the Spanish-speaking church throughout the Americas, and film-making.


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