Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 21 September 2010 17:45
Character building, for better or worse, is all about making choices. These choices ultimately lead us down a path in life that reveals who we really are.
Experiences with other people also affect our perception of reality. We may make choices based on these experiences, perhaps without serious thought about the outcome. In time, we may regret those irrational choices and hopefully make changes for the better.
The good news is, it is better to have recognized the error of a choice made and make a change for the better than to remain as we are.
In this life, God gives us the grace to begin again, to make things right if only we will make the effort to believe in God’s unfailing love and mercy and ask for his help and wisdom in making the right choice.
I enjoy reading stories that reflect a person’s character formation. My father rarely talked about his life as a young man. Shy person that he was back then, he preferred any other activity to talking, including silence if need be.
After much coaxing, I learned that Dad had worked on a large irrigation farm in California and later in Oregon. He also was a welder in an airplane factory in Illinois, making airframes for P-51 fighter planes. Imagine that.
While working there, he toured the Chicago World’s Fair. He had a picture taken of himself playing a banjo—staged, of course, with props. Later, he proved his musical talent as a musician playing a Hawaiian guitar in real life. This, and a love for all things historical, was his true passion.
These stories revealed parts of Dad’s life, but they did not provide enough clues to what influenced the critical choices he made later in life.
Those stories came later, thanks to a box of letters Mother saved when Dad died. After mom’s death, our family split various keepsakes and memorabilia between siblings. Among other items, I received Dad's personal correspondence and sermon notes.
The letters were from his days as a teenager while living with his parents in the western Oklahoma Panhandle. I even discovered one letter Dad never mailed. It was sealed, addressed and stamped.
This was my father’s response to a female friend’s inquiry of a suggestive nature. In short, the reply was “No! I don’t do that kind of thing. Why would you ask?!?!”
Not knowing why the letter was not mailed, I can only make a guess. Perhaps this friend arrived unexpectedly and he answered her inquiry in person. Perhaps upon their meeting, being close cousins whose families met often, she expressed regret at making the explicit suggestion in the first place.
I’ll never know. I do know what his answer was, in part, however, due to the unopened letter. Judging from other stories about Dad, it is consistent with his character.
In his teens during the “Roaring Twenties,” with Model T Roadsters and the “Jitterbug” all the rage, even with raging hormones and other influences vying for his affections, my teenage, single and very unattached dad was determined to make the right choice.
From other writings and notes in the box, my father was active in his church. He also took classes in Bible at the local high school. His passion for biblical and historical study ultimately led him to attend Tabor College and work as a pastor and educator for much of his adult life.
While working with other people, his shyness seemed to melt away, governed more by his desire to do God’s will than by his imperfection.
After my father passed away, Mother and I met occasionally to reminisce and tell stories of the past. One such story bears repeating.
Falsely accused of a serious infraction in college and dismissed from school, a friend turned to Dad for help and consolation. My father was the only person who believed he was innocent. As the story continues, the young man arrives at their house late at night, embittered against God and most men.
While sitting around the table reminiscing, Mother said, “Your father walked the fields with him all night, crying with him, talking and praying with him. He pleaded with him not to do anything he might regret later on.”
As the sun rose in the distance, the two men walked to the house, exhausted, yet very much alive.
Years later, Dad’s friend died, but not before making peace with God. My father was the only connection between this friend and sanity, between this troubled man and life.
Paul Penner originally wrote this column in 2008.