by Robyn Spradlin
I met Zygmunt Julius Leonard Kawinski at my birth, in his 61st year. He stood 5’8″ not tall or short, but medium. He was medium build, medium weight, medium colored. He had an oval face with wide-set, dark, brown eyes and a warm smile parted thin lips. Thinning chocolate hair was graying at the temples when we met in 1964. The weight of time had altered his robust, T-rail straight frame. His rounded shoulders stooped from countless hours bending over a butcher’s block, cutting meat. Handling meat every day, the tallow and lard absorbed into his skin causing soft, supple hands. The quick, clipping gate had slowed, but that was okay; he was a grandpa, my grandpa, and I his “Polskie dziecko,” translated “polish child.”
During my early years, memories were limited to what he and Grandma told me about his childhood. They explained how he and his parents immigrated to America from Poland in the 1900s. Grandpa held an unprecedented sense of honor and respect. He loved life, his neighbor, the beauty of creation, and America. But most of all, he loved the Lord Jesus.
“Do you know my Jesus?” was a standard in conversation. He understood a Christian’s responsibility to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I lacked. In the grocery checkout, I slinked away from the register as he would ask the cashier if she knew Jesus. Embarrassment crashed over me like ocean waves, as the young woman stammered and shook her head no. Tears filled her eyes, Grandpa started praying for her while I wished the floor would open and swallow me. “Why does he do this? We are in public!” I thought.
Still, his reactions to bad circumstances never ceased to amaze me. A businessman took advantage of Grandpa. Grandpa had wrestled several sides of beef all day, cutting, trimming, wrapping, preparing the meat for the freezer. The man had the audacity to pay Grandpa with the bones and cowhide! He deserved more than that! A boiling cauldron replaced my heart. I was ready to fight. “Grandpa, he done you wrong! You are not going to do anything about it, are you?”
“Honey, the Bible says, do unto others—”
I muttered the rest of the verse with sarcasm “As you would have them do unto you. I know it says that, but it’s not fair! He cheated you!” I pounded the truck dashboard with my fist for emphasis.
“Yes, that may be true, but that does not change Scripture.” His right hand tapping his chest, Grandpa said, “Jesus said we should do good to those who despitefully use us.”
I knew the Bible said that, but what irked me the most was that the man Grandpa had worked for claimed Christianity, too. I glared toward the sprawling ranch-type brick house, through the back window of the white 1974 Ford pick-up, while we chugged down the winding drive.
“If he is a Christian, why doesn’t he obey Scripture and pay you what this job is worth? The same Bible says a workman is worthy of his hire!” My searing words escaped through clenched teeth.
“Yes, but that is between him and God, like yours are between you and God. Jesus said, ‘show mercy and you will reap mercy’.”
Whenever he was cheated or swindled, his reply came from Scripture with a smile: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” He explained that God had promised to take care of those who trusted Him. Grandpa elaborated on Jesus’ instructions when someone takes your cloak, “give them your coat, Robyn and don’t ask for it back.” To me, his idea seemed crazy! How could you get ahead doing that? But it never failed him; Grandpa always came out on top.
Gazing at my grandfather’s profile, his kind, gentle spirit was vastly different from mine. I was ready for battle, and he did not have a care. He was at peace. Inside, I raged. My heart questioned, “How can you be so forgiving and kind? Where do you get it from?”
His soothing voice continued. “You may question how I let it go, but I purposed in my heart long ago I would live my life like Jesus. Scripture teaches us that our forgiving others precedes our receiving forgiveness. Jesus is our example. He was treated unfairly, and he forgave.” He hesitated briefly, “You do want to be like Jesus don’t you?”
Every time my heart strayed from Scripture, from the Lord, Grandpa intuitively repositioned it. How was my attitude measuring up with Jesus, he asked? Who was more wrong, the man or me? Where was my focus, on my dream or God’s plan? My heart yelled back at him, “How can I forgive the wrongs committed? They are hot coals burning a hole in my soul!” Yet, Grandpa struck the root of un-forgiveness I harbored. The injustice he endured was not the trouble; instead, offenses waged against me loomed ahead like giants. Roots of bitterness festered in my heart, growing into trees. Hurtful words from fellow Christians catapulted me into distancing and secluding myself, vowing not to care. I did not want to forgive or love them. If they were Christians, they should be required to obey the Bible, same as me.
Hot tears stung my eyes. They dripped down my cheeks as the truck bounced along the shell rock road nearing home before Grandpa spoke again: “The Lord is good. He will take the hurts and pain and exchange them for joy and peace, but only when you release them. We are not that different, Polskie-dziecko. Many years ago, He did the same for me.”
Parking the truck in front of the gate leading to his house, Grandpa stopped the motor.
“If you have a minute, I would like to share a story with you, Robyn.”
Nodding my head, I spoke, “Yes sir, I do.”
“It was the year your mother turned eight or nine. An evangelist was holding a revival at the courthouse. Your Grandma had given her life to the Lord some months before. She was praying for me, attending the revival meetings, and inviting me to go with her. I do not recall what the man preached, all I know is that during the meeting I knew I needed more. I needed Jesus…”
Grandpa continued rehearsing his salvation story. I had heard it before, just as I had heard scripture over and over again, but this time was different. Even as his words fell over me like white noise, the cross pierced my heart
He was nearing the end when I reconnected. “…The woman questioned me, do you know why she’s crying? She pointed to your grandma kneeling at the altar weeping. I answered the gruff old woman, ‘No.’ The woman barked at me, ‘She’s praying for you, for you to be saved! Get down there and pray!’ It was then I realized that was the missing ingredient. I needed salvation, a personal experience with the Lord Jesus. I knelt and asked Jesus to come into my heart. At that moment all I was became new. Jesus changed everything. Every hurt, sin, sorrow, bitterness, the heartache, He took them all, washing them away with forgiveness, mercy, and love. That is why I know He will do the same for you if you ask.”
Grandpa reached across the truck cab, placing his soft, warm hand over mine and began to pray; “Heavenly Father, we come to you right now in humble reverence. We know we are sinners, lost and undone without you. We ask that you forgive us of sin and wrong. Cleanse us with your blood. Renew our spirit, create your likeness in us. Take the bitterness and harbored hurts. Deliver us, Lord. We give ourselves wholly to you. We thank you for rescuing us. Amen.”
Tears dripped off my chin. My heart felt light. This contrast with Grandpa was one on a different level: a contrast of distance in the journey. He had journeyed for years. I was just beginning.