We all stand on the shoulders of those who have made the difficult decisions and chosen the narrow way. We have all learned from someone the right way and the wrong way. We all come after those who went before and build on their achievements. Not one of us is self-made. No matter how much we might try to own destiny, the future is not ours to see or ours to shape. We are all followers – what shapes our character and determines our future is who we choose to follow.
So much of who I am has been shaped by the influence of those I have followed. My dad passed away when I was 12 and as now at 50 years old I can see how those first 12 years of my life had a profound influence on who I have become. Thought patterns, mannerisms, attitudes, personality and so much more I find in myself that I learned from my dad. I tend to be pretty stubborn; I usually see things as right or wrong with very little room or appreciation for the gray areas; I think logically and methodically and am always planning something; I love to drive and explore – but like to have a destination; I hate open-ended questions. My mom tempered much of these attitudes in me. She was the foil; the one that rounded off the edges and taught me to appreciate that my way was not always the only way – and often not the right or best way. She showed me how to care.
There have been other influencers in my life. I have a brother who served in Vietnam who had a great big heart and a generousness that I have rarely seen in others. I have another brother and a sister who served in the ARMY as well who were examples to me of how service to your country trumps nearly all other sacrifices a person can make. As the youngest of 9 children, I have had the opportunity to learn from the 8 who came before. All showed me different things through their words and more often through their example: never give up; life goes on; don’t dwell on the past but live for the future; love when it hurts and laugh through your tears; there are no shortcuts in God’s plan for your life; there is no Bank of Time you can draw minutes out of or borrow hours from and pay back later; asking for help is not weakness, it is the beginning of humility.
There are many other life-lessons I have learned from those who came before me. Some I understood and applied right away…others I tested because it wasn’t clear if I was to learn from what they did right or what they did wrong. Some I just ignored till my own experience reminded me of what I had once heard, and I was forced to say “yup…you were right…” Whatever the case, there is very little (if anything) I came up with myself. If I think about it long enough I could probably find a thread tied to everything I know leading back to a conversation or an encounter I had with someone who I should have paid more attention to.
It is Memorial Day weekend which is traditionally spent honoring our military – those who have served or are serving and those who gave all. When I was growing up it was also a time to visit cemeteries and leave flowers behind as a way to honor the memory of those who have gone before. I guess I’m feeling a bit nostalgic this year – probably because all the changes going on in my family this summer. It has gotten me wondering if I did enough or said the right things or lived the right example for others to see and follow. Was I a good leader who stood on the front line or was I a cop-out trying to lead from behind because I did not know where to go or was unwilling to go there first? Have my shoulders been broad enough to provide a solid foundation to launch from and my heart tender enough for someone to fall into a forgiving embrace – whichever is needed…whenever it is needed? Have I been a good husband, dad, friend, brother, son…am I a good man? Have I been a good follower of Christ and could others see him in me even when I have been at my worst? I don’t know if I have the answers to all these questions. I am – as we all are – a work in progress. I know his grace is sufficient when my understanding ends and my questions abound. I believe he has the very best planned for me even though I often cannot see beyond the present need. I trust that he is for me and not against me and even my worst mistakes can result in good when surrendered to his will.
This is why I’m a follower…