The world lost one of the most admirable men I have ever known today, and heaven welcomed a saint. His name was John Izenbaard. There is no irony in the fact that he died planting flowers, with a shovel in his hand. If ever there was a man who touched more lives and planted more seeds of the Kingdom of Heaven, it was Grandpa. He left the lives of people he touched more beautiful than before they encountered him.
He worked at the same hardware store, nestled in the heart of the city of Kalamazoo for 75 years and 2 weeks. He started on his 16th birthday. Yes, he worked there for that long. He was at work this morning. He sought no recognition for his (I’m sure world-record breaking) loyalty and dedication. He faithfully served, giving of his expertise, fixing anything and everything that was brought his way.
I have known him for the past 14 years and his loss feels like losing my own grandpa. I loved him dearly and admired him greatly. One of the greatest things I admired about him was that he genuinely loved Jesus and unabashedly spoke of God’s faithfulness. I remember talking with him one time when he was in the hospital about a year ago. He was fighting pneumonia and was in good spirits as he was recovering. He said that the doctors had asked him about what lengths he would like them to go if he needed to be revived. He said something to the effect of “Don’t bother. I know where I am going and I am not afraid.” I had all I could do to hold it together that day in the hospital as he said this. I believed him 100% and wondered if I had the same unwavering hope as he. I saw his strength and his solid faith and I was inspired, but the thought of this world being without him was heart-breaking to put it lightly.
Death, and its finality and unknown territory, is difficult for anyone to face. We all have to face it at some point and no one is ever ready. Sometime after telling my daughter, Alliyah, that Great-Grandpa had gone to be with Jesus, she commented through tears, “This is the first person I have known, in my family, that has died.”
This is the first person that I have lost whom I dearly loved since becoming a follower of Jesus. The finality of death carries a different sting now that I have placed my hope in the Jesus who says that this world is temporary, but he and the souls of men will live forever. Death stings for all, but for some, it also offers hope. The loss leaves a hole here on earth, but for the follower of Jesus, the loss fills a space prepared in heaven.
I wish I could sit in front of Grandpa right now, him leaning forward as he always did when his passion for Jesus spilled over. He would have a smile on his face, as he always did, telling me all about the glory around him. Though his earthly body gave way, he is no longer limited by the confines of a frail body. We can not know what heaven is truly like, but God has promised us that it is a place with no more suffering and no more tears. Though I can not seem to stop the tears from flowing right now, I know, deep in my heart, that Grandpa has met Jesus face to face and he heard the words we all long to hear some day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”