Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Just over three weeks ago, my grandpa Ivan Kounter passed away (on April Fool's Day, no less--we KNOW he planned that!). I contemplated giving a tribute at the memorial service, but eventually I decided I'd be blubbering so much that no one would be able to understand me anyway. Instead, I'll post it here, where no one can see my ugly crying face.

All my life, I've been told I have an amazing heritage. I have an incredible family, with four godly, inspirational grandparents, the best parents and brothers, and loads of aunts and uncles and cousins, so accepting that I have this amazing heritage has never been challenging for me. However, I've been proud of my heritage the way I think many of us say we're proud to be American: we mean it, we know it to be true, but we don't put a lot of thought into why that is or what it means as often as we should (which, by the way, my grandpa would have considered sacrilege). Lately I've been thinking a lot about this idea of heritage and what exactly it people mean when they say my grandpa left it for me and my family.

My grandma, Lorraine, and my grandpa
Many of you knew my grandpa as a pastor. He pastored all over the nation--in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Banning, Spring Valley and here at Olive Knolls in Bakersfield. But you may not know that it wasn't his plan to become a pastor. (Disclaimer: I'm about to tell a story my grandpa used to relate to me, which means two things. One, you've probably all heard it many times, and two, it may not be very factual.) When my grandpa was in college at Bethany--now Southern Naz--he attended a service where they talked about surrendering your life to God. My grandpa leaned to the friend sitting next to him and whispered, "I really think I'm being called into the ministry." He had been struggling with this call for a while, and his friend was aware that my grandpa did not want to enter the ministry. So his friend said, "You know, sometimes God just wants to know we're willing to obey." To which my grandpa thought, "Oh, well, if that's all this is, sure, I can be 'willing'." And he went down to the altar, and his life--and all our lives--were changed, because as it turned out, God did not just want willingness from him. God had big plans for Ivan Kounter.

Me & grandpa, post Christmas caroling in 2013
Now, I think it's important to note that my grandpa was not perfect. He had his fair share of flaws. For instance, you could not yawn around him. I could ask any number of you to recite the joke he told each and every time he caught someone yawning. "You're making me homesick! ....I used to live in a cave!"

He was also a man of great convictions, which sometimes translated to mean he was a man of great stubbornness. I remember one day we had been out doing errands and I was driving us home, and the whole way he insisted I was going the wrong way. When we pulled up to his house, he said, "It's okay, kid, you got us here eventually."

My grandpa was also super competitive--though to be fair, I think that's less of a fault and more of a Kounter gene. (My mom can attest to that.) One summer we played Chinese checkers nearly every day, and without fail, I lost. Aaaand he laughed in my face. Until eventually, I got good enough to beat him fairly consistently, at which point he got "bored" with Chinese checkers.

But, as insurmountable as these flaws may seem, my grandpa was more than his cheesy jokes, his stubbornness and his competitive nature. He was a man who started each day with prayer. He greeted, every Sunday, like the church's future depended on how big his smile could be and how many hands he could shake. He would have given his arms away if you told him you had need of them. He was radiant with the love of the Holy Spirit that lived in him and worked through him.

My cousins & brothers: Adam, Jake, Brad, Nathan, Jake & Kyle
Presenting the flag to my aunt Marilyn
I'm learning that these things are my heritage. The fact that Olive Knolls could barely hold the amount of people that showed up to his memorial service is a testimony to his heritage. The food offers we received in the days following his death, the texts and calls and hundreds of Facebook comments from people I've never met, all saying "Ivan Kounter blessed my life"--that's the heritage he left. I can only hope to leave that kind of legacy.

We love you, grandpa.

The Kounter family, each wearing a tie from my grandpa's massive collection