Pillars

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This weekend was bittersweet.  A lot of long-time friends and I were in the same place at the same time.  However, the reason was for a memorial service for my friend’s dad, who was a teacher and administrator at the school I went to, and who was an elder and fellow congregant of the church I attended most of my life.  During the service, as due praise was being spoken, his legacy was being remembered, and it was significant because he was a servant.

 

He was a servant of Jesus Christ, and that led him to serve others around him, namely the students he taught in the classroom, the players he coached, and his own family at home.  He dedicated his life to service, and his impact was felt by those in the auditorium.

 

He was a pillar in the community.

 

As I sat there listening to memories and stories being told of this great man, I looked around the room and saw a number of my former teachers and coaches there to pay their respects.  None of them “took me under their wing,” or were full-blown mentors to me. They were just there in some way in my life as a positive influence, even when I may not have been the model student, player, or kid.  I just know and still know that if I run into them when I am in my old stomping grounds, or see them at mutual gatherings, I will receive a hug and a smile, and give them one in return.

 

This is about the pillars in my life, or some of them.  The men and women that said something to me once, that stuck, or spoke to me through years of action.  Whether it was once, whether it was a steady stream, it was significant to me, and I thank you all.

 

Thank you for taking the time.  Thank you for your life of service to role of being a teacher, or coach, or youth pastor.  Thank you for your life of love for a greater purpose. Thank you that I could be a result of your legacy (or I’m sorry because…you never know).

 

In no particular order, I’ll start with Dean Lagasse.  I met Mr. Lagasse when I was, maybe, in fourth grade. He was a summertime day camp counselor at my school, who later was my P.E. teacher, who later was my football coach, who later is just a great man I would call a friend.  I am happy to see him when I am in town and attend my home church. Mr. Lagasse, whether he meant to or not, showed me how to love by being a parent to his step kids, and, later, heaping adoration on his own daughter. He praised my athletic abilities, encouraging me to excel, and showed me that I have to work for my spot.  He did that by cutting me from the baseball team in seventh grade. There was no easy way in. You gotta work for it.

 

Mr. Lagasse, Dean, thank you for your love and service to the King.  Thank you for your sacrifice to teach students like me. Whether you knew it or not, your example made a great impact in my life.

 

Before I was in Tom Nare’s class, all of my teachers were women, which was noteworthy only because I had to wait until fifth grade to be have a male teacher.  I finally was able to be a student in his class, and he was legendary. Right now, I can’t even remember what was so noteworthy about looking forward to being in his class, but I know we all wondered and hoped to be a student in his classroom.

 

I was lucky enough to be in his math class that year.  He just had an aura of cool for a teacher. Relaxed but not a pushover.  Maybe he was cool because randomly every couple of weeks I would have random work in my folder, bring it up to him, and he would take it and give me credit.  I was supposed to turn it in, but didn’t for no particular reason. Or he would tell me to trash it. Maybe I thought he was cool because he let me get away with that.  Let’s not ask him.

 

One time, a few days after the first earthquake most of us kids had ever been in had happened, I was in class, and a fellow student was standing up against the window in the room with his back to the outside walkway.  Mr. Nare was walking the hallways and pounded on the glass as he passed by scaring the living daylights out of my classmate and most of the rest of us in class. I don’t think anyone stood up against the glass again.

 

Whatever it was about Mr. Nare, it was significant to me.  So much so that when I see him when I am in the old neighborhood and see him at church, I have to call him “Mr. Nare.”  I can’t call him “Tom”. To me, he was a pillar of cool.

 

I had mild reservations when this new guy from Minnesota showed up to lead youth ministries at my church (MY church) when I was in high school.  But I gave him a chance since he came from the church some of my friends had come from a year before when their dad was called by God to become the lead pastor of “my” church.  He seemed pretty funny, fun and knew how to connect with the kids. Tim Bolin was cool enough that I stuck around church and his mission to grow God’s kingdom until I was twenty-three.

 

Tim was fun, funny, and he made loving Jesus fun as well.  He didn’t make a joke out of church, but he wanted to rid the stereotype or idea that church was just another day at school, except God was the subject.

 

One thing he wanted to change was to kick the old people out of the front rows of service.  Our church started in the 1930’s, and, no offense, but a proportion of the congregation looked like they were there from the time they broke ground.  So Tim wanted us young kids to take over the front rows. Eventually, we did take over, and I think some of my friends still sit there now some 25 years later.  

 

Sadly, we are becoming the old people the kids will need to kick out soon.

 

I hated going to church, even though I had liked going to “Sunday School” for junior high service, because my friends were there.  In “Big Church” you had to sit, be quiet, listen – all the things junior high kids “love”. There was a short period of time when my friend Steve and I would ditch church to walk down to KFC and sneak back in until we got caught (Dad, the statute of limitations is up.  This was 30+ years ago. Please don’t get mad). When Tim showed up, he changed church into a place to be. I wanted to be there.

 

It’s a little funny now being a dad:  I am so in love with Jesus and want my kids to be too, but they don’t always want to go.  I’ll just keep praying for them and asking God to speak to them.

 

Before Tim was Randy Strickland, and he was a crack up.  I think if I didn’t know him, or know he loved God from head to toe, I would be really worried that he was actually nuts.  I can’t say I have a specific memory that makes a significant impact in my mind, but he was steady and consistent. I knew he loved God.  I knew he wanted me to love God, too, and that was his mission: to share the gospel.

 

As I am writing about Randy, there is one memory I do remember.  It was junior high winter retreat, and he was driving us in a van to a cabin in the local mountains.  There was a street that had a tree as a lane divider. He wasn’t going fast, but the streets had some snow dust so there was some risk, and he was heading right for the tree.  He got closer and closer saying, “Decisions…decisions…” until he eventually got to one side of the road.

 

I never told my parents about that, and I doubt my kids are going to tell me about their adventures when they’re in junior high, but I hope my kids have servants like Tim and Randy in their lives to help guide them through the mystery of Jesus.

 

When you’re in school, there are situations you just dread.  Getting called on to answer a question in class, to write on the board, act in a skit.  The usual kind of thing. Up until recently as an adult with a career, I was a scientist, and in school that was my focus.  So English class was not my jam. Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Crucible.  Kill me now.  

 

Then there are the days you walk into class and your teacher (in my case, Mrs. Fickett) says, “Hi class, it’s creative writing day!  We’re going to write a poem about your feelings.” Not exactly but the poem part was true. I had forty five minutes to write the perfect poem to avoid getting an F for the day.

 

It didn’t happen.  No poem under pressure.  I wrote a paragraph to Mrs. Fickett explaining that writing under pressure like that, to flip the switch and be creative, was not in my wheelhouse.  From what I could gather, she bought it and accepted what I submitted, because I didn’t fail 11th grade English.

 

Then, out of nowhere while I was in college, I started writing.  I started writing poems. None of them rhymed because that is too hard on my brain.  I don’t know if Mrs. Fickett would care, but I have always thought of sharing with her some of my work.  Not in a, “In your face!” kind of way. More of a, “Thanks for understanding” kind of way. Thanks for recognizing, very simply by saying, “Okay,” to what I turned in, that different people work differently in different environments.

 

But if you don’t like my writing, blame her. 🙂

 

Another legend that I had heard of before I was a student of his was Mr. Endacott.  The stories were that he was laid back, fun, and his class was cool. He lived up to the hype.  He even managed to keep his cool when he had a class full of seniors, made up mostly the “cool” kids who did not care about Human Anatomy – until the reproductive system was covered, of course.  And he maintained his cool even when he found out a friend and I were passing notes after, AFTER, we completed our AP Bio exam.

 

Endo was a big reason I became a scientist.  Science was fun, science was easy in Endo’s class.  He had an easy way to explain and help students understand biology.  He did his best to explain mitosis and meiosis, and I still can’t get the steps straight.  Endo had a picture of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics and doppleganger of Sting, up on the wall, one time mumble-sang a song by The Police, and said he listened to the same morning radio show a lot of us did.  That helped with his “cool cred” in my mind, not that he needed more or my acknowledgement. I just was glad to be a student in his class.

 

I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in the church, have a positive experience, and have positive Christian influences around me to help mold my thinking and idea of God.  A family that helped do that when I was in college, and even now to this day were the Swansons. Bob and Marilyn opened up their home to our college group Bible study to meet on Thursday nights for years.  Some weeks they would provide dinner for up to 40 of us, other weeks, it was potluck. Either way, “starving students” would come, eat, talk about God, His relationship with us, and our relationships with each other.  It was a chance to meet with friends, and gave me a midweek God-calibration.

 

Even though I grew up in the church, my relationship with Jesus was still superficial, or just on my terms if I needed Him.  Recently, it has grown, and I love Jesus more than ever, but if I didn’t have that foundation, I don’t think it would be as strong as it is now.  And I have Bob and Marilyn to thank for that, for helping build a pillar in my life.

 

I have been in a Men’s LIfe Group for a year and a half now.  We have met at my house a handful of times. I have to scramble to sweep, pick up the kids’ toys, and make the house mildly presentable for 4-8 middle-aged men (meaning they wouldn’t care).  The Swanson’s did that routine every week for at least 5 years. AND they got food for people without asking for anything in return. I will always remember the sacrifice they made to help plant seeds and grow the kingdom in a group of college-aged kids.

 

But their son is still a jerk, amirite?!  😉 Just kidding, he’s one of my friends I have known the longest and always can call on.

 

There are many more people that have impacted my life.  Gary Correll led my high school Life Group. He spoke on James once about faith and works, and I will never forget his words, “It’s faithworks.  Not faith AND works, or works AND faith. They go together.” Also in high school, Dan Wonser took time to meet with me and a couple of guys for breakfast once a week.  We would talk about high school life, and what’s more important in life. Kenny Murphy lead high school before Tim Bolin did, and he shared, among other things, how God used football and life to speak to him.  He also was an example of sacrifice running the high school ministry while managing and balancing his family and, I believe, a full-time job.

 

Talking about the pillars in my past makes me wonder what kind of pillar am I?  Who am I a pillar to? Do my kids see me as a pillar? A strong, positive pillar?  Or a crumbling one without a solid base?

 

In listening to sermons and podcasts, or watching the way NBC brings out the emotional stories of Olympic athletes, kids just need an influencer.  In hearing horror stories, there are negative influences that can lead to tragedy. But with an open heart and a positive role model, there is a way towards renewal and redemption.

 

I’ll make mistakes, but I hope to be a strong pillar as part of s solid foundation in Christ for my kids.

 

What kind of influence are you on your kids?  On your community? At work? What kind of foundation are you helping build in your kids?

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