05 Nov A Few Good Men, who invested in me…
When the Nazi’s finally pulled out of Dad’s small village in northern Norway, they abandoned it in a state of utter poverty. Even worse, they left the tiny town’s children filled with fear.
From those days forward, deep down inside, my father was worried that scarcity might one day haunt my brother, sister, and me. For approximately the next 50 years, Knut Johansen doggedly pursued enough of a financial nest egg that our family would never experience what it was to lack for life’s necessities.
Although I now understand his being at work so often, for so long, the truth is: for most of my life he was a stranger to me.
On the rare occasions he and I ended up alone, much of our time was “filled” with awkward silence. My loneliness, combined with an unspoken longing to learn how to be a man, produced resentment at my father for allowing the Boeing Company to take him away from me. From mine.
Thank God, then, that “a few good men” decided to invest in my life.
First of all was my friend’s youth pastor, Chris Renzelman—a fella who, like Dad, was soft spoken and analytical.
Chris greeted me with warmth. He taught me with integrity. And he served as a wise sounding board for critical decisions in my life. It was hard to say goodbye to Renz when I went off to WSU.
From being a pseudo “big man on campus” in high school, I arrived in Pullman to find that I was anonymous, lonely, and fraught with worry. But the Lord, who “never leaves us or forsakes us,” led me to a campus pastor.
Steve Ellison seemed ancient to me; after all he was… 27! And that was old!! When he came out to bond by playing tackle sports with us, I worried about him. Even so, as I watched how he LOVED his wife and DOTED on his new son, I wanted to be more like him. Unlike other college graduates, Steve and his wife chose to serve for the basic equivalent of room and board.
Despite his relative youth in those days, his investment in my life, and modeling of values like honoring one’s spouse and children, continues to positively impact my own family.
Just as it was difficult to bid adieu to a mentor like Chris, departing from Steve’s leadership left me with a sense of loss. It would be years before other pastors really took me under their wings. They arrived in the proverbial “nick of time.”
During my mid-thirties, I faced down the most challenging occupational and emotional time of my life. At work I felt alone and poorly matched. At home I endured real terror with the probable loss of a child. In my house I felt hopeless, and on the job I began to develop bitterness. Thankfully, two Gig Harbor men came alongside me: Andy Snodgrass and Dean Neel.
When I felt foolish for weeping about my son’s health, Andy reminded me that it was more than okay to show emotion. And when I struggled with acrimony toward a handful of people, Snodgrass challenged me to serve them more, and to choose to love them.
While Andy showed me grace, and taught me to exchange justice for mercy, strong, barrel-chested Pastor Neel was present with bear hugs and a peripatetic willingness to drive, on a moment’s notice, to Seattle to support us during the darkest days of my little boy’s cancer. Both of ‘em were there, just when I needed them most.
More recently, my days of being mentored seem to be coming to an end. I suppose that’s okay; truth is, it’s time for me to step up and invest in others. In fact, in the past few days, doors of influence have opened to do just that.
Last week I met with several Jr. High boys to talk about having a healthier spiritual dimension in their lives. This week, my wife and I received confirmation that we will soon go speak to several colleges’ student leaders.
There I’ll talk about the importance of finding a mentor, and gently challenge the young men and women to “invest in people” (a phrase I first learned from Chris Renzelman) as they grow, and age. Family is important, but so are older, wiser friends.
Yes, Dad and I are close and loving now… but without the men who blessed my life, I would certainly have not been the fella I am today—far from perfect…
But far from lost.
Lord, please lead us as we shepherd our children. Father? Please also lead them to–and make them into–wonderful disciplers.