Forging a Way Forward


When I was in 3rd grade, I was introduced to Oregon Trail. That dumb computer game single-handedly formed my ideas about the frontier and how many bullets it takes to kill a brown bear in the woods. It also showed me that trading all my extra clothes for food was stupidity personified.

It also showed me that trading all my extra clothes for food was stupidity personified. But I’ll expound on that lesson another day.

Outside of learning words like dysentery and blissfully unaware of the Donner party, the Oregon Trail game incited my excitement regarding discovery. It engaged my imagination about what it means to make new paths, find new pockets of forest, and wade over undiscovered streams. Of course, these dreams and imaginations all came without the actual cost of having to do it.

At the tender age of 9, I had no idea of hardships, wildlife wanting to eat you, and getting lost.

Fast forward more than a few years, and I find myself on a new path of discovery. A new way ahead and again, it is littered with loss and surprise.

My grandpa died on Saturday. He was 86. It’s strange to type those words. The grief I feel seems detached in a way. More because I’m not in Illinois grieving with my family and less because of anything else.

His passing into the arms of Jesus was gracious and blissfully short. There are so many tiny details that Jesus took care of, ways He showed up and paved the way, it makes me breathless. Thankful. Awed.

Yet, he’s gone from this spinning sphere of dirt and water, oxygen and sun. I won’t ever hear his voice again. He won’t ever tell me again with a sparkle in his eye, that he loves all his grandkids, but I was the first. The ache in my heart feels bittersweet.

I could tell you all about his life. His work ethic. His 63-year marriage to my Grandma who is now without the man she’s loved since she was a teenager. I could write pages about the stories he would tell again and again or his really terrible pranks.

But as I sit here, on a plane to North Carolina, ages and miles away from my family, those things don’t seem to pass muster. They matter only so far as they could give you a composite sketch of a man who as ornery as he was affectionate and hard working as he was playful.

However, when I think about my Grandpa, two things come to mind. He loved Jesus. He loved people. And when I say that, I’m talking about the active kind of love. Love that sacrifices. It’s a love that makes room in a tiny house on South Tanner Street for people who have no family or friends. It’s the kind of love that does church on Sunday and is still active Monday through Saturday. He loved with a love that didn’t care about background or status. People were people. And everyone was people around the Ritsema dinner table.

He had the kind of love that didn’t mince words. That extended grace. That apologized when wrong… (eventually). It wasn’t a fancy love. It wasn’t flowery. But it was oak steady, weathered storms, and dug roots deep into the earth, sheltering those who sought its strong, shaded branches.

My grandpa was not a perfect man. But he was real. He was present. And he cared.

As my whole family figures out how to make a new way forward without him, and as we rally around my Grandma to love her well, that is the legacy that we carry forward.

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