last weekend i spoke at a junior high winter camp at the fabulous SpringHill Camp in evart, michigan. on the last day of the weekend, a particularly bubbly junior high girl approached me to tell me she thought i might know her grandfather, jerry smith.
i told her (while she beamed), “you would not be hearing me speak here this weekend if it weren’t for your grandpa. he had a huge impact on my life, and is one of a few people who saw something in me, and gave me responsibilities, and encouraged me toward the life i’ve lived.”
that got me thinking about that handful of people who played such a key role in influencing me (in addition to my parents, it should be said). and, when it boils down to it, there were four specific moments in time — all of them crystal clear in my memory, even all these years later — that shaped me and changed the trajectory of my life. what really blows me away about these four moments is how insignificant they probably seemed to the four people at the time. they were just doing what they always did, saying the sort of things they always said. but they profoundly shaped me.
jerry smith was my church’s choir director and worship leader. he wasn’t particularly “cool.” but he saw teenagers, and called stuff out of them. we had a very large teen choir in my church, and i was an active part of it from 7th grade through 12th grade, including participating in summer tours each of those years. teen choir was a big part of my identity.
the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, we were on our week-long tour, driving through the south (from our home in the detroit area). everyone rode in a bus (or two). but jerry always drove a car, so we had another vehicle for other purposes. and jerry invited me, during one little driving leg, to ride in the front seat of his car with him. it really doesn’t seem like a big deal. many others got a chance to do this. i think it was during this car ride that he asked me to be the president of the choir that next year. but oddly enough, that isn’t the emotional memory i have of that car ride. the memory is that jerry talked to me like an adult. he asked questions about my life, and didn’t treat me like a kid. and even that tiny act of “inviting” me into his car (which his wife was in also, btw) gave me an enormous sense of being included, being validated.
i was invited into the world of adults. and that had a massive impact on me.
jerry spoke into my life in hundreds of other ways before and after that car ride, especially since i worked with him on so many projects over the next year. but that care ride, where i was invited into the world of adults and treated as an equal, sticks with me all these years later.