Earlier this month our entire family gathered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to watch our daughter Annie receive her college diploma. We all celebrated Annie’s stellar college career and cheered her on as she moved into the next chapter of her life. In addition to all our children and grandchildren being together, we were blessed to have Alyssa’s fiancé Grant, Aunt Terri and Uncle Mike (our sister and brother-in-law), Grandma Jan (Terese’s mom), and Aunt Lorri (Terese’s sister) with us.

I had determined ahead of time to savor every moment of this golden time and thanked God as I looked down the aisle and saw all the beloved people we are blessed to call family. The joy of the moment was tinged with nostalgia, and a more than a few times emotion caused me to take a deep breath to overcome the hint of tears in my eyes. The little girl whom we had the privilege of bringing into this world, nurturing, teaching, encouraging, and supporting had become a beautiful, accomplished woman. Our family was together in one place to celebrate for the first time in a long time. Grandchildren took turns sitting on our laps during the graduation ceremony. My heart was full as I watched Annie cross the stage: “It doesn’t get any better than this,” I told myself.

Or so I thought.

After the graduation ceremony, we all met Annie and congratulated her with hugs, kisses, and flowers. Then Annie invited us all to meet one of her college advisors, Alan Anderson. A history buff, Alan took a keen interest in World War II.  A few months ago Annie told him about Terese’s Grandpa Wendell who had served in WWII and was part of the Battle of The Bulge. Wendell passed away last December at age 98 while we were visiting in Minnesota.

In a private conversation several years ago I asked Wendell about his time in the war. He told me that one of his duties was to call for German soldiers to come out and surrender, as he knew German from his childhood days in St. Joseph, Minnesota. One day, as he was standing between two other US soldiers during that conflict, shots, rang out and both men—on either side of Wendell— were killed. Wendell alone survived that ordeal, only inches away from the same fate as his fellow soldiers. Like many who went through that war, he rarely talked about any of his experiences— Wendell only wanted to go home and never think about the war again.

As we gathered around Annie’s advisor on the college grounds, Alan stepped over to Terese’s mother, Grandma Jan. “On behalf of a grateful nation…” he began, and then gently handed her several medals that were awarded to Wendell posthumously. As we realized the profound honor and solemnity of this moment, tears began to flow.  It was a holy moment.

In this life, Wendell never knew the medals that were due him.  But there they were, placed into the hands of his family, given by a grateful nation to one who had served faithfully.  That was a day I will never forget—from our daughter’s graduation, the precious time with family, and the presentation of Wendell’s medals. I’ve included one picture of that moment that includes our daughter Annie, Grandma Jan, and Annie’s advisor, Alan Anderson.

The Bible tells us that a crown of life awaits all people who love God and are faithful to Jesus Christ through life (see Revelation 2:10). The crown of life is a heavenly treasure, like a heavenly medal that will never corrode or fade. It is one purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ and given to all who come to Him in faith and live faithfully to the end.  Like Wendell, there are many people whose life service to God has gone mostly unrecognized. But rest assured: God knows the little and big acts of service done in and for Christ. Some of the things we have done for God’s kingdom on earth will bear fruit only after we’ve gone ahead to His forever kingdom in Heaven. But God will never forget and has a perfect, bright future in store for all who have given themselves and their lives to Christ.

I remember seeing an interview with Billy Graham by Diane Sawyer many years ago. One question she asked was what he hoped to hear from God when he entered heaven. Mr. Graham answered that he hoped to hear the following words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I am confident that Billy Graham, like Grandpa Wendell, heard those words as he entered eternity.  They are words—like medals of Honor— that God longs to give to all who live faithfully until the day the Lord returns or calls home. They are words that I pray all who worship God in the person of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, will aim to hear.

They are God’s eternal medals of Honor—for His honor.

God bless you.

Chris Atkins