Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When I Grow Up...

I don’t know about all of you, but I am constantly waiting to “grow up”.  Sure, I’m married, I have four kids, I have a job, and I do all the other things most “grown-ups” do, whether I want to or not.  But mentally, I still feel like a kid.  I have a few people in my life that I look up to and think, “I hope I am like them when I grow up.”  I’ve known these people for most, if not all, of my life.  They are spiritual giants to me and although you may not recognize their names, the influence they’ve had on me may be an influence that is familiar to you.

          Clyde Jones is one of the kindest, most forgiving, most generous people I have ever met.  I’ve known Clyde since I was seven years old and all these years, he’s remained one of the most influential people in my life.  He taught me the power of forgiveness and how it can change someone’s life.  Clyde has been known to allow people to borrow one of his cars if they needed it.  Back when I was 15 years old, Clyde let my dad borrow one of his cars for a few days.  For whatever reason, I thought it’d be a good idea to take that car out for a spin.  No, I didn’t have a license and no, I didn’t have anyone’s permission so yes, I basically stole that car.  In my infinite wisdom, I chose a dark, rainy night to take that car out and I ran it right into a telephone pole.  I.Totaled.That.Car.   I wasn’t really hurt, because I did have enough sense to wear a seatbelt, but I was dreading when my parents found out…and when Clyde would find out.  The next morning, my dad drove me to Clyde’s house so I could apologize in person.  I was a nervous wreck the whole way to his house and my knees felt like Jell-O as I stood in front of him and apologized profusely.  I was so embarrassed and afraid and my “ugly cry” was in full force when Clyde put his arms around me and said so sweetly and softly, “I forgive you.  I’m just glad you’re okay.  This car can be replaced, you cannot.”  I felt the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders and for the first time in my life, I knew how it felt to be wholly and sincerely forgiven.  To this day, I can still feel that immediate relief of true forgiveness when I relive that moment. He showed me how to be like Jesus that day and in that moment of pardon, Clyde was the embodiment of Christ.  I was taught one of most important lessons of my life that morning of March 26, 1997.  Forgiveness is a powerful, life-changing thing and I needed to be sure I passed that forgiveness on to others in my life when the time came.  Every time I’ve uttered the words, “I forgive you” since that day, I think about those words and that sweet hug from Clyde and I will be forever grateful for the lesson he taught me and the influence he continues to be in my life to this day.  Those three words changed me and I am so thankful.

          Miss Mary Etta Neiland is a legend, in my mind.  She started Happy Times Preschool at Central church of Christ over 30 years ago (my husband was in her first class!) and she retired this past year.  Three of my four kids have attended or are attending Happy Times and when she announced her retirement, I begged her to stay at least until all of my kids were out of preschool.  She simply smiled at my request and said, “No.”  It’s that honestly and candor that has resonated with me ever since I met Miss Mary Etta.  I grew up attending church at Central and Miss Mary Etta quickly became our adopted grandma…well, ours and everyone else’s!  At that time, she had no grandchildren of her own and I remember thinking how sad it was that this sweet lady wasn’t somebody’s grandma yet and I wanted to see to it that she felt like she was our grandma.  My little brother and I used to spend the night at her house from time to time and it was just like grandma’s house, from the carton of Purity Lemonade she’d pour us, to the trips to Toys R Us.  She would also “get after” us like a grandma would too.  Once when we spent the night, she tucked us in and turned off the light.  My brother and I of course didn’t settle down and Miss Mary Etta came back in the room and said very firmly, “It is time to go sleep.  I will NOT come in this room again.”  We understood and we went to sleep.  What she said went, and we loved and respected her for that.  A few years ago when my third daughter was at Happy Times, she went through a phase where she cried every time I dropped her off.  One morning after a particularly bad departure at the preschool, I called Miss Mary Etta and said, “I am so sorry about this morning.  I am at a loss for what to do.  What should I do?”  Miss Mary Etta let out a little laugh and said, “Well, first of all, I think you need to lighten up!”  I loved it.  She was exactly right. She explained that my child wasn’t the first to behave that way and she wouldn’t be the last and she assured me they could handle it.  “It won’t last forever,” she said.  There have been many instances when I’m unsure how to handle a situation with my kids and I think, “What would Miss Mary Etta do?” She has set the standard in my eyes and I can only hope to raise my kids as well as she raised her children.  To me, she is the epitome of child-rearing and common sense. She keeps it simple and she means what she says.  She’d probably think I was silly for admiring her as much as I do, but her mark in my life has been so significant and indelible it’s impossible to be anything but eternally grateful for the influence she’s had on me.

          My sweet Aunt Julia is the definition of a Proverbs 31 woman.  She has lived her life dedicated to the Lord and His work.  I often think about what God will say to her when she meets Him and there’s no doubt in my mind He’s mighty pleased with her.  She’s so calm and kind and whenever she enters the room, the atmosphere is softer.  She just has that affect on her surroundings.  I saw her last week and she came right over to me, kissed my forehead and said, “Love you,” in her sweet, gentle voice.  How could you not feel loved after that?!  She always has made me feel important and wonderful.  She has such a loving, patient, motherly way about her that I see she has passed on to her own daughters.  What a gift to give your children.  I remember when we were growing up, Aunt Julia used to expect her children to obey “right away, all the way, and happily”.  Such a simple saying, but it says so much about the expectations she had for her children.  My Aunt Julia has shown me, and many others, how to live for the Lord and to always put Him first no matter the circumstances.  What a blessing she has been to me.

          I’m sure everyone has those people in their lives who’ve had a profound impact on them.  Like I said, these names and people may not mean anything to you, but they mean the world to me and the countless others they’ve influenced.  I can only hope to influence those around me in the way that these three have in my life.