One of the Most Important Grace-Stories I’ve Ever Told

October 9, 2013 | Eyes Toward Home, Farm Life, Tell His Story | 46 comments

Every so often, a story comes along that stirs not only my journalistic insides, but my Christ insides -- right to the core. This story is one of those. Thank you, to the Van Dyke family, for your interviews, your photos, your openness, and your willingness. And mostly? For your example....

Friends, read this:

 

Most people wouldn’t have bothered naming her.

After all, she was not a person, or even a four-legged friend. She was a house – a gigantic, white-sided, black-shuttered hulk of a house with no cells or DNA or alveoli. Yet somehow? She had a heartbeat.

They all knew that for sure.

And, the way they figured, whatever has a heartbeat has a heart -- and whatever has a heart needs a name.

Well, to be really clear about the whole thing, Wayne Van Dyke knew it first. He knew it clear as the June sky that arced over his Iowa farmland. This house that held what he treasured most – his wife and two daughters – it needed the perfect name.

He knew the house needed a name back when they got her for a song in 1997. They couldn’t have afforded the house on their own. They credited God’s unmerited favor -- which most of us call grace.

You might say the house was a bit like heaven – the sort of place you could never sneak into by pulling up your own bootstraps or paying off the guy who watches over the place. No one earns something like that. It's only a gift. It's only grace. 

Pure grace.   

But the name for this house? It just. wasn’t. coming to Wayne.  He needed some time.

Mothers know this, how you have to sometimes hold your newborn in your arms a while, inspecting their pug noses and half-open eyelids and dimpled chins to know whether you’ve just birthed a Herbert or a Hans.

So that’s how it might have been with Wayne. Morning by morning, he sat at his Formica table, a-wonderin’ and a-thinkin’. He asked for God’s help. He spread open those marked-up Bible pages heavenward, praying gospel-hard with a Merit Menthol wedged between his lips, like maybe he could send smoke signals to angels. Wayne sipped from his Folgers coffee -- inky black with a smidgen of sugar.

And Wayne prayed down an answer.

One morning, it came to him, like a voice thundering down through the roof. He’d swear to you that he heard it audibly: “Name her Grace.”

He smushed out his cigarette in the ashtray, and went to the bedroom to tell his wife.

Yes, God had said to “Name her Grace.” But Wayne took one small liberty when he shook his wife awake: “She’s Gracie. We’re calling her Gracie so we never forget where she came from.”

Before Gracie, there was the Stone Pony. The Stone Pony was the cinder-block house where the family lived for years. Bat wings tap-tapped against the cinder blocks. Winter would exhale in frosty breaths of lace, straight up the walls. The girls’ babysitters never took their coats off.

Wayne and Kim and the girls prayed and prayed for a new house. But everything seemed too big or too small or too expensive. They prayed some more.

Then, Gracie came on the market. She was an 80-year-old parsonage, but would need to be moved. It seemed like a long shot, but Wayne and Kim bid on the house. They were the only bidders.

Gracie was theirs. But first, they would need to burn down the beloved Stone Pony to make room for Gracie.

Kim and the girls were sad to see flames licking the side of the Stone Pony, but Wayne? He crossed his arms over his chest and quipped: “Well, that’s the warmest that house has ever been.”

Then they moved Gracie in place, like a queen come home. And she was glorious. She was warm on the cold days and cool on the hot ones.

And she was huge.

Wayne and Kim knew that Gracie ought to be shared. They couldn’t keep a gift like that to themselves.

So they pulled a yellow legal pad from the kitchen drawer and starting writing down names of people. The list included names of the hurting, the healed, the healthy, harried, hurried, and maybe a little bit hopeless. Everyone on the list had something in common: Each soul needed grace.

“Wayne and I dedicated Gracie to the work of hospitality in Jesus’ name,” Kim told me the other day. “We wanted to have guests over -- whoever, whenever and as often as we possibly could.” Mostly, it seemed, on Saturday nights.

Every Saturday morning, over steaming cups of Folgers (but no more cigarettes;  Wayne quit) Kim and Wayne would pull the legal pad from the drawer. Whoever was at the top of the list, got a call. “We would go down the list calling until we would find someone who was free for supper,” Kim said.

The invited guests would come through the door – some of them tentative, hugging themselves -- and they found a seat at the table. They ate simple food off of simple pottery. This wasn’t a Pinterest showcase. This was gospel hospitality.

They’d talk about the rain or the crops or the headlines.

And they’d always, always talk about Jesus. Wayne wouldn’t have it any other way. He was a gospel man, a prophetic voice, and some may bristle at such a forward way of sharing the good news, but Wayne never wanted to miss the opportunity to share the best news he’d ever heard with whomever sat at his table.

And often, before the guests left, they’d all eat ice cream the “Wayne Way” -- vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, milk and malt on top.

Listen now: Do you hear Gracie’s heart beating?

*

*

*

And so it went that way for years. More people came. More friends heard about grace, while sitting inside of Gracie. Heads bowed. Hearts surrendered. Hearts beat a little bit stronger. Hope made itself a permanent resident. And hospitality laid out the welcome mat.

 

  * * *

 

After supper on June 12, 2009, Wayne Van Dyke, age 52, dished himself a final bowl of ice cream, the “Wayne Way.”

The next morning, it was Saturday – a day to pull out the legal pad one more time. Kim stretched awake first, and blurred her way toward the coffee pot. She made the Folgers. Did her devotions. Prayed. And waited.

Fifteen minutes had passed, and still, Wayne didn’t come to the table. He had always risen to the smell of coffee.

“The moment I touched his shoulder I knew he had gone to heaven,” Kim said.

'tis Grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and Grace will lead me home.

 

Within hours, all those friends who’d eaten the ice cream, drank the coffee, heard the gospel, prayed the prayers, sung the hymns, pulled a chair up to the Formica … they all showed up. With lasagna and paper plates and five kinds of Jello and the longest hugs and rivers of tears and no-words-just-no-words-at all and grace upon grace upon grace. They all showed up.

And on the day they said goodbye to Wayne, they all piled onto Gracie’s lap with their lawn chairs and their memories and their laughter and their spilling-over grief. They had the funeral service on the yard, though Kim says it was really more like a celebration.

 

Kim says the best part of the day was at the cemetery, in that moment when she looked across the casket to see all of the guys whom Wayne loved the most: his Christian community.

“Love held me together at that moment,” she said.

And when they turned to leave, they lowered Wayne’s casket into the ground. And everyone else? Well, here's what happened: love carried them all back to Gracie, where they sang songs and told stories right there, in Wayne’s most favorite place of all.

And up over top of them -- past that arc of blue Iowa sky where birds V’d their mysterious flights and where the June sun eased its rays down on their cheeks and where angels dwell --

grace carried Wayne all the way home.

 

 

amazing grace how sweet the sound

 

46 Comments

  1. Barbie

    Oh tears! This is beautiful. I can’t even put into words how this affected me. Thank you!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      The Van Dykes are a very special family, with huge hearts to match their huge house. And? Gracie is now for sale. Kim will be greatly missed in the community.

      Reply
  2. rickd3352013

    May the family always cherish what God worked in them, and, through them, in others. Great tale, Jennifer!

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Thanks, Rick. Kim first shared her story with me a couple years ago, and I feel so privileged to be able to share it publicly in this space today. When I called her a couple weeks ago to ask, she told me that she had just placed the house on the market. I had no idea … So the timing itself is a cool story.

      Reply
    • dukeslee

      I know. “Oh” is right.

      Reply
  3. marty

    May we all desire to be as hospitable as Wayne. And may Gracie continue to have an open door and a seat at the table for someone who needs it.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      Kim and Wayne’s story — which I first heard a couple years ago — has changed so much of what I think about hospitality and inviting people to the table. Thanks for stopping by, Marty.

      Reply
  4. Eileen

    This is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. RinaPeru

    Completely mesmerized. By grace. By the story-telling. By the beauty of Gracie.

    Reply
  6. Kris Camealy

    oh Jennifer. Head-to-toe goosebumps here. Wow, what a story, what a life.

    Reply
  7. Melanie

    What a deeply beautiful story. About to get kids up for the day….and knowing having read it will impact my day, my parenting, my heart.

    Reply
  8. Anita Hunt (@KnowingJoy)

    Don’t think there are any words to express what I am feeling right now after reading this story, Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Lorretta @Dancing On The Dash

    I’m leaving here changed today. Changed by the gospel and by grace and by the need to give more of what I have received. Thanks for lifting this story up where it belongs.

    Reply
  10. Lyli @ 3-D Lessons for Life

    Praying for Kim and all who loved Wayne today. What a testament to a life well lived! Thanks for sharing his story with us.

    Reply
  11. Chandler Jo Santiago

    Thanks, Jennifer, for documenting so beautifully God’s work in our family and honoring Dad’s legacy. Well done.

    Reply
    • dukeslee

      I took great joy in sharing the story. Thank you, Chandler and family, for opening your life up to others in this way. You’re a beautiful family.

      Reply
  12. Angie Clark

    This was so beautiful. When we choose to live lives poured out, embracing others and giving of ourselves, it always seems to come back, one way or another. I know some who have lived their lives closed off, selfish and self-centered and then when the hard times come (and they always come), they foolishly wonder “where is my support and the love I need to help me through?” This story here is a testimony of living for love and then finding God bringing it back in abundance when we need it most.

    Reply
  13. ro elliott

    This touches deep into my soul….thanks for sharing …this increases my faith to continue to prayer for a house….one we know will not be brick and mortar but a place for love and grace to abound to the college students where my husband works….

    Reply
  14. Ruth

    Only 2 words………….Thank you!

    Reply
  15. Lyla Willingham Lindquist

    Love this story, Jennifer. Loved my sneak-peek into it over the phone and so glad you were able to share it here. 🙂

    Reply
  16. Karrilee Aggett

    No words… only thanks! Oh – and grace… always grace!

    Reply
  17. Lisa notes

    Getting goosebumps as I read this story. “This wasn’t a Pinterest showcase. This was gospel hospitality.” I’m afraid too many of us have lost that gospel hospitality. I know I don’t do it near as well as my mother did. May this story inspire us to show more grace, in whatever ways work for us. So glad you shared it.

    Reply
  18. kelly

    so so beautiful…

    Reply
  19. amandaconquers

    And then the tears came spilling out… Just beautiful. Wanting to get out my own legal and open my bits of grace up to all.

    Reply
  20. Alecia

    Oh my word, such goodness found here today. What a beautiful story and legacy. He lived the kind of life we can all live, if we gave everything over to God and let Him work. What a convicting story for me.

    Reply
  21. Karmen

    Just. Beautiful. I just prayed today that God show me how to use my house, my location for His Kingdom. I think this post was the answer.

    Reply
  22. Mindy

    Oh…Grace. I am just crying big tears now. Tears for the families loss but also tears for those who gained and received Grace through this wonderful family and their amazing ministry of hospitality. Seeing everyone gathered in their chairs – so touching. Thank you for sharing this family and another beautiful story of Him.

    Reply
  23. lynndmorrisseyL

    Tears brim. Words halt. Grace swells……straight to heaven. I’m overhwhelmed, Jennifer.
    “When Wayne’s been there ten-thousand years,
    bright shining as the sun.
    He’ll have no less days to sing God’s praise,
    than when he’d first begun.”

    Reply
  24. Patricia @ Pollywog Creek

    Oh, my! How good is our God!!! His love and faithfulness endures forever. Thank you so much for sharing this grace story, Jennifer. Thank you, Jesus – for everything.

    Reply
  25. Rebekah

    Beautiful. A beautiful story!

    Reply
  26. Diana Trautwein

    Holy crap, Jen. This is just magnificent story-telling. Thank you so much. What a wonderful story to tell, too. Dying at 52? Seems way too young to me – and I’m sorry Gracie is for sale. I pray someone equally committed to God’s style of hospitality will continue this rich legacy.

    Reply
  27. rkrumpe94

    This made me cry. I feel like I knew him. Like I was there and had one of those Saturday night dinners. Like I sat on that lawn and cried because of his passing. Like I worshiped too, on that lawn and rejoiced in his life. Such a beautiful post.

    Reply
  28. Cynthia Kraft

    Beautiful family. Beautiful story. Beautifully written. Thank you. Perhaps we’ll meet at Allume in a couple of weeks.

    Reply
  29. Leah Adams (@PointMinistries)

    Jennifer, you tell a story so beautifully. This one was a true gem. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you to Wayne’s family for sharing it.

    Reply
  30. joanneviola

    Beautiful story! Moved me to tears this morning. May God use their story to bless many. Thank you for sharing them with us all!

    Reply
  31. SimplyDarlene

    Thanks for including the cigarets, the ashtrays, the sticky syrup, and the Folgers… because those bits make it real.

    And may God bless this family as they sell the wood and walls, but take grace with them wherever they go.

    Reply
  32. cindyfincherfaith

    Love….. this is a beautiful story of a beautiful family who were willing to be used by Him.Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  33. Nancy Ruegg

    What a poignant story of God’s grace, strongly evident in the provision of that lovely home, even more obvious in the family that lived there. You succeeded, Jennifer, in weaving the beauty and sadness of this story into one stunning, unforgettable tapestry!

    Reply
  34. Sara

    That day will always be close to my heart. What a special man, family, place. Wayne is greatly missed.

    Reply
  35. Betty Draper

    Beautiful story of God using a family and their house to bless others.

    Reply
  36. Pat

    If thr Bible we’re not already completed, I think God would have included this story as an illustration of grace and hospitality. A truly moving story!

    Reply
  37. Doug Spurling

    Gospel legacy indeed. Thank you for this.

    Reply

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