He met me at the front door of the restaurant with the familiar, lopsided smile. He took his hands out of his Wranglers to wrap me in a hug before walking to the booth he'd picked out. I sat down and slid across the bench and he cut me off mid-sentence (because I'd been talking since I spotted him), "Oh, wait... don't say anything yet." Confused, I watched as he pulled out an old Sony recorder and placed it in the center of the table. He motioned for me to wait as he pushed the record button and watched for the red light to appear. "Okay, now you can talk. But, don't lean in ... just talk normal and it'll pick you up."
A smile leaped across my face as I realized, "Oh! This is for Grandma!"
"Not so loud, it'll record just at a normal volume. Now, let's check and make sure." His bronzed, carpenter-ruddy hands fumbled with the buttons as he looked down through bifocals with lips turned down in concentration. He rewinded, played and, sure enough, my voice came over the little speaker.
My sister and brother joined us shortly after and our lunch conversation filled with laughter thrown over shoulders (the Nichols children are famously loud laughers) and silent gestures to quiet the noise from utensils. The taste of joy was almost as delicious as the homegrown, Iowan food (have you ever had beef brisket on top of a bed of fresh lettuce, topped with bacon and cheddar?). Every so very often, I would watch my grandpa's eyes wander back to that little light to make sure it was recording. (Later, my grandma made sure we knew that she would have much preferred our company to the can of soup and a day of church meetings).
My grandparents have always been the same age in my mind. When my grandma recently offered to clarify, I said I'd rather not know exactly. Sometimes, if I focus hard on their wrinkles, I can see they've deepened and grown in number. But most times, I am too focused on their eyes to notice how they wear their age in wrinkles. Most times, we're usually too caught up my grandpa's "school bus stories" or my grandma's detailed description of delivered baked goods and church meetings. I have never looked forward to "retirement" because my grandparents opted instead for a busy work/volunteer schedule that makes "not working" seem so boring.
Grandpa drives a school bus and his days are packed full of stories. He studies those kids in the mirror above the steering wheel and watches the little ones as they scamper up to the front doors of houses in rural Iowa. Every once in a while, he has to stop the bus to face a bully or, like the other day, to tell the little 4th grade girl, "No, we can't turn around to rescue the little worm you found by the bus stop. You'll find another one, I promise."
One story I'll never tire of telling is the love my grandparents have for each other. Simple, solid love that refuses to be complicated. Over coffee with my grandpa this past week, he told me about Grandma's shortness of breath and trouble sleeping. I noticed the worry wrinkles as he talked about fluid in her lungs, the tenderness as he cleared his throat and fidgeted with the coffee cup. The next day my grandma was in the hospital and the diagnosis is official: congestive heart disease.
It means a lot of things - no salt, limited water, and heavy monitoring, but it doesn't mean less joy. I can't deny the days as they pass; can't refuse that my grandparents have bodies that age. I can know that every physical breath is dependent on the Lord's sovereign, steady hold.
We mustn't fear the body's weakness because we know the Maker's strength. We mustn't fear what we see because the know the power in what we don't. We mustn't fear age because we know what is timeless. We mustn't fear today because we know the Lord governs tomorrow.
let LOVE fly like cRaZy