As I sat in church today, two men wove their way through my thoughts in a way they haven’t for years. It happened during a discussion about talents, and using them to further the Lord’s work. It crossed my mind that one talent that has greatly influenced my life was the talent to tolerate young boys.
When I was quite young, I was part of a pack of boys at church. We were what you might label “challenging” to the extent that the church leaders had trouble finding anyone who could put up with us for more than a few Sundays before deciding they weren’t cut out to deal with the likes of us. We went through a number of teachers in just a matter of a few months. Somewhere in the course of this saga, they called a man named Clifford Heber to keep us out of trouble during Sunday school. For the next several years, Brother Heber would diligently show up every Sunday with a lesson prepared, and make patient and often futile attempts to teach us something about the nature of God.
As an example of the kind of issues Brother Heber had to deal with, I remember one Sunday when Ben and Craig were sitting behind Amanda making small balls of wet chewing gum and throwing them in Amanda’s 1980’s big hair without her noticing. The rest of us boys saw what was happening and did nothing to stop it. This kind of stuff happened every Sunday, but it never stopped Brother Heber. Instead, he would put his arm around our shoulders, tell us he loved us, and that he expected us to be gentlemen. He made us open the doors and let the girls in first. He made us treat the girls with respect. We hated it.
While we may not have appreciated it at the time, Brother Heber’s lessons, expectations, and actions made a big impression on me – even if not on the all of rest of the pack. Along with my father and a few other men, he was responsible for making me the man I aspire to be. Unfortunately for me, Brother Heber died of cancer about the time I graduated high school and began to understand the impact he has had on me. I never got a chance to tell him how grateful I was, so I am left to hope that he sees the man I am from the other side of the veil and understand the role he played in that.
Another man who had a profound impact on me was Carbon Lundgren. The way our church organizes youth, there is a marked separation between those under 12 and those between 12 and 18. When my cohorts and I turned 12, Brother Heber got a break from us and we were handed off to Brother Lundgren who served as Scout Master for our congregation.
Brother Lundgren took on the task of leading a bunch of stupid boys out into the wilderness to teach them skills and life lessons. Along the way, he picked up a nickname that stuck… Grouchy Bear. Though I’m not sure that brother Lundgren didn’t just give himself that moniker, Grouchy Bear earned his name. He was quick to correct us… we thought… and didn’t tolerate some of the more egregious things we did. We thought he was overly mean sometimes.
Looking back, though, he was actually highly tolerant, patient, and gave us lots of room to learn and grow. In fact, by modern standards of helicopter parenting, he was grossly negligent (something for which I am eternally grateful). However, he had expectations of us, and wouldn’t accept anything that fell short. When he was grouchy, it was to help get us back on track. Grouchy Bear was a teddy bear, and I owe him a lot. Any time I get to go to church with my parents, I look for Carbon and Cindy Lundgren and say hi. I hope he understands why.