A few days ago, I met several people who had important influences on my life. None had any idea that they had played a valued role in my development. Most of them were men (some were women) who had been nice to me when I was young. Each is now well past retirement age. I knew them before I was a teenager; back then, they must have been in their early twenties.
As might be expected, I had made only enough of an impression on them to give them a vague memory of me. But, to me, they are still unforgettable characters, my heroes.
One was surprised to learn that I had spent the day with him when the Japanese surrendered, ending World War II. He did remember exactly where he had been. On August 14,1945, his cattle truck had burned out a wheel bearing a long way from home. He had spent much of that day working on the truck at the livestock-sale barn where it had happened. News of VJ Day came through on the radio in the truck cab.
While he had no recall of my being there, the day is clear in my memory. It was one of many wonderful days on which he had invited me to enjoy the high adventure of riding with him in his big sixteen-wheeler.
One of my heroes, a career Navy man, would show up at our house from time to time with gifts from distant places for the adults. He thrilled us small boys by giving us rides on his motorcycle.
There are many people I remember fondly: families and homes where sleeping overnight was fun, warm, and comforting; individuals who kidded us in the Dutch language; some who were unique and fascinating because of mannerisms, handicaps, or eccentricities.
It dawned on me after this reunion what a character-shaping effect we can have on other people's children. My childhood environment was thoroughly seasoned with kind, attentive folks from outside my family. Their natures were inclusive. They drew people in. They made sure young ones were noticed, nurtured—and nourished too.
Their Blessing. On this recent occasion. I tried to speak to these childhood heroes and heroines about how much they still mean to me forty-five to fifty years later. It didn't seem to register. Maybe they were being modest in brushing my compliments aside. But it's more likely that each of them has had so much life that the brief, fleeting, contacts with this little kid were insignificant.
None of these laid hands on my head and blessed me. I recall no prophetic words or predictions of success or happiness. Such pronouncements would have been indelibly tattooed on my soul because of their importance to me. But, as it is, they nourished my spirit and positively modeled adulthood by just being kind, interested, attentive, genuine people. They told me the world is safe, caring, and enjoyable and that God is good.
Children are always formed by those a step or two ahead of them. Young ones watch their brothers and sisters and the friends these older ones bring home. They listen, notice, and observe uncles, aunts, and neighbors. They copy, learn, react. They take everything in. Their values, attitudes, and theology are being molded. Their spirits are lifted or deflated.
As a father of four, I have felt immense appreciation for the adults who have enthusiastically enjoyed our children. Sometimes a friend, teacher, or relative has embraced wholeheartedly the one struggling hardest, the one we parents were having the most trouble accepting at the moment. Such gifts were like megadoses of vitamins for 'Kat kid's soul— healing, restoring, renewing.
This is what the Body of Christ is about—caring for each other's children, assisting with their rearing and nurturing. The word of encouragement, of interest shown, advice offered to family members not our own, is a wonderful responsibility, not just a chance bonus for some.
I thank God today for Gemt and Harry. Marty and John. "Aunty Anne" and Dr. Jack. Elsie, Clarence, the Spoelstras. the Huizengas, and the Struikmans— and many more whose faces are clear but whose names have faded. Their care is in my soul forever.