Greater love hath no man than this


During college, and shortly after, I went through a stretch of spiritual uncertainty.  I'm far from unique in this; many people face similar times in their lives, and find many ways to come to terms with it.  There are two things that eventually brought me back into a good relationship with God.  One is my friend Chad Haught, whose capacity for love is boundless, and who witnessed to me in exactly the way I needed.  The other is the Gospel of John.

A pastor friend of mine once told me that when he speaks with people who are going through their own uncertain times, he always encourages them to read the Gospel of John.  It is, I believe, the most beautiful book of the Bible, maybe even one of the most beautiful pieces of writing ever.  I'm leading a year-long Bible study right now, in fact, that spends eight weeks in John during the spring, and I can't wait.

The passage I'm always reminded of on Veterans Day is John 15:13:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Of course, when Jesus spoke these words, he went on to let his followers know that He is our most true and devoted friend, and they would only fully understand later just how sincerely He meant these words.  I saw these words almost every day in college, as they are engraved in a plaque at Texas A&M's Memorial Student Center, which is dedicated to the memory of Aggies who have fallen in war.  I think they apply in an even broader sense than just to those who died, though.  Anybody who has served has taken an oath to protect our freedoms, even at the cost of their own life, if need be.  Just to take that oath is to lay down your life for your friends.

All of this, I guess, is a long intro for me to tell you a little about my Grandpa Jack.  If the name Jack Holwerda sounds familiar to you, here's why:

My boy, my own, my precious youngest son - Jack.

One of my dearest wishes is that I could have met my grandfather.  Sadly, he passed just a short time before my parents were married.  He was one of eight children, born to parents who emigrated to Michigan from Holland.  He played football at Stanford for Pop Warner (!), and was a member of the famous Vow Boys, the Stanford squad who swore they would never lose to USC, and were true to their word.  While he was a student, he met my grandmother, who was the daughter of a Stanford law professor.  I'll write some more about him sometime, but what I want to talk about today is that when his country was in a time of need he, like so many others of his generation, answered the call.

I wish I'd known him to hear his stories.  I wish I'd known him to ask about our family's past.  I wish I'd known him to hear his voice, to know if it was deep and resonant like mine and my dad's.  I wish I could ask him what the banking and business world was like when he was working in it, now that I'm in the same field.

I don't know exactly what year this photo was taken, only that it was during World War 2.  Grandpa Jack was born in 1910, which means that he was almost exactly the same age in this picture as I am now.  I look at it, and I wonder if I could be brave enough to do what he did.  He spent the rest of his life with trouble hearing out of one ear because a deck gun misfired near his head.  At the time this picture was taken, my dad and uncle hadn't even been born yet - he was a man with a life still before him.

I don't want to try and make Jack out to be a saint, because like all men he had his weaknesses, but he was a strong man and a brave man, and he left behind a proud legacy for our family.  I'm proud of him.  I love him.  A day does not pass that my children don't reap the blessings of freedom that he and so, so many others strove to ensure.

Today, I think of him, and I think of all my friends who have answered the call.  I don't have words strong enough to thank you, so I rely on the words of the Apostle John, and say that you have shown the greatest love there is, and I love you in return.

(Click on the newspaper clipping at left for a bigger version.  It's from a Ford advertisement that ran in August 1947, about a month before my dad's birth.  Grandpa worked in labor relations until the mob moved in on things, and he had to leave Michigan for California when they threatened the life of my newborn dad.)


Jessica Koller said...

Wow, Danny, this is so eloquent and powerful and moving. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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