Quiet, steady, hardworking, sincere. I’ve always admired him. The love he showed his family, his never-wavering commitment to provision and protection. His smile.
Music fills my mind. Dah-dee-dah-dee-dee-dah…dah-dee-dee-dah-dee-dah… An old Model AA pickup appears. The smiling faces of children—of a grandpa. A grandma. A mother. Then his face. John Walton.
That’s who he reminded me of. He even looked a little like Ralph Waite.
I wrote in THIS blog post about two women who were unlikely and unexpected mentors—women whose influence continues to teach me, despite only having met one of them once.
This man was different—and very much the same. I spent hours at his house in the mid-eighties. Every week. Every Sunday, Wednesday, and more. His son was my best friend. We’d spend hours riding all over the desert on a motorcycle, go back to their house, and talk. Laugh. Watch a movie. Play a game.
He didn’t play with us, Mr. H. Not that I can recall, anyway.
But he taught me so much.
Look, I don’t know if my perception of him was accurate. I never knew. Actually, back then, I didn’t question it. In the arrogance of youth, I just assumed that if it’s what I saw or thought, it must have been what was. Oh, the folly and overconfidence of youth!
But in him, I saw a man who loved the Lord, loved his family, loved his country.
From him, I learned that my self-righteous attitude toward my parents wasn’t just wrong, it was unjust. Ugly. Oh, so very ugly.
And he never said a word to me about it. He probably didn’t know. But I saw in him a commitment to the Lord that frankly, I don’t even know if he actually had. I just saw it. Because you see, he didn’t go to church with his family. I never knew or asked why.
What I did notice was that not once, not ever, did I see him even show the slightest displeasure with the fact that his wife went and took their children—to every service. In fact, I saw the opposite. I saw him encourage his daughter to get ready on a Sunday or Wednesday night—so they wouldn’t be late.
You know, my parents never went to church, either—not that I recall. Maybe before say age three, but not after. But starting in the sixth grade, I went. Every time the door was open—every time. Mom or dad—usually mom—would drive me, drop me off, and when we lived far from it, park in the parking lot and read, knit, or crochet. She did it because that’s who she was. Because it was important to go. She believed that. And, for reasons I didn’t know even existed, much less knew what they were, she didn’t go.
And on the very rare occasion I even hinted at maybe staying home, she encouraged me to go.
I didn’t see that as a young thunder-puppy. I only saw how my parents were “forsaking the assembling of themselves.” It’s a habit that Hebrews forbade. Therefore they were wrong. Period. I was so black and white about it that I couldn’t see just how much I learned from those “heathen” parents of mine.
But he taught me—Mr. H. He showed me that valuing that connection with the body of Christ isn’t just about showing up and planting your bum in a pew. It’s deeper and begins in your heart.
And again, it may not be what he thought or believed, even. But it’s what he taught me by being who he was.
I think he must have known his Bible, though. Because when my friend and I were debating something once, he piped in with a comment that shut us both down. We were both wrong. Don’t ask what it was. I don’t recall.
What made the biggest impression on me that night was that this man who didn’t attend church, this man whom I’d never seen read the Bible—he knew it well enough to answer “in season.” And that spoke a lot more than people who carried tomes of Jesus’ words around and never read or applied them.
From Mr. H, I learned kindness—genuine, sincere, unaffected, and unconscious kindness.
He was kind because it was who he was rather than something to do.”
My parents would arrive with our big truck loaded with 55-gallon barrels to fill up. With that family’s well water.
He’d stand out there, in the cold or the heat, and talk to my dad. I have no idea what they talked about, but I do know that my father liked him. Dad didn’t like many people, so that said a lot to me. He tried to refuse my father’s money on more than one occasion, but he took it. Every time.
It was a kindness—an achingly beautiful kindness. Because in accepting that money, he gave my father dignity that Dad needed.
Jokes, smiles, hours spent working on something—Mr. H embodied it all. See, he was real. People are all about authenticity these days. Well, no one was more authentic and genuine in my teen years than Mr. H.
And like I said, he was kind.
Did he get sick of that self-righteous, arrogant little twit of a girl being at his house day in and day out? Probably. I can’t imagine how he wouldn’t have. But not once, not one single time did I ever feel it.
Yes, from him I learned to see people for who they were, not who I thought they should be or for who they pretended to be. I can’t imagine he ever meant to teach me those things. I can’t imagine he ever thought, “I’d better be kind about this. There’s someone watching, and I wouldn’t want to look bad.”
Actually, just writing that out makes me want to laugh. Mr. H—I can’t imagine that he’d care. He was just himself. And that’s a lesson my parents had been teaching me all my life.
Be yourself. Don’t worry about what other people think. The only opinions that should matter are those in authority over you and the Lord. The rest don’t matter.
Something about Mr. H embodied that—showed me it in ways that my parents’ lives and lessons hadn’t been able to do. But, through him, I saw just how valuable my parents were.
And again, he’d never know how I got that from him. I’m sure of that.
You know, I can’t explain it myself. I really can’t. But this man’s life lived without a thought of what some fifteen-year-old girl thought of it made such an enormous impact on me—one I didn’t really grasp until random moments over the next thirty years prompted me to examine it.
And that’s what I mean by these unlikely mentors.
Some would say they’re not really mentors because they didn’t set out to teach—to disciple. But the lessons I learned from them did teach me. They did disciple me. In fact, I became the person I am because people like those women in that other post and Mr. H lived lives that I believe honored the Lord.
Mr. H went home to be with the Lord this week. Well, I’ve always believed that he loved Jesus and had been covered by the Lord’s blood. Maybe I am wrong about that. Maybe I only assume that the faith was there, but something separated Mr. H from the Lord’s body—not from the Lord himself. Maybe that idea is all just in my head.
And I’ll continue to assume that. I have no reason not to.
My heart grieves the hundreds of times I’ve driven down Highway 14 to Lancaster. Through Mojave, over the overpass, zipping past Silver Queen Road and Backus Road and past Rosamond where I met his family. How often have I thought, “I should stop by. Say hi. Thank them for being such a beautiful influence in my life.”
I never did it.
Avoidable regrets are ugly, ugly things.
But you know, I did stop there this week—on Backus Road in the wee hours of Monday morning.
I was coming back from dropping my son off at Cal State Long Beach and got tired. So, smiling at the sign for the road that led to the house I’d spent so many happy hours at, I pulled off the freeway and parked to the side of the offramp—literally less than a minute from where he lived. And there, at about 3:00 in the morning, I closed my eyes, ready to sleep for twenty minutes or so before driving the hour and a half home.
But I couldn’t sleep. In less than five minutes, I was up and awake and on my way to Mojave again. Made it home around five o’clock.
Yesterday, I saw that he died on Monday. And this is why my heart grieves.
This man had an enormous impact on my life. The way he existed on this earth, the way he interacted with me and with his family shaped who I am as a person (just as so many wonderful people did).
A real-life John Walton. A solid man. Kind, sincere, real. I was, and still am, blessed to have known him. It’s too bad he probably never knew it.
Please… think about those unlikely, unexpected mentors in your life—those people whose lessons stick with you even when they don’t know they taught them. Take the time to send them a note. Pick up the phone and call. Take half an hour out of your trip and stop in. Say hi.
Tell them how they impacted you.
Because, you see, the day is coming when you won’t be able to. You kept those words to yourself when they weren’t yours to keep. Ask me how I know.
Sigh. Ask me how I know.
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