|Youth group beach trip, circa 1974. Steve is 2nd from left; I am far right.|
Today the 30/30 Vision Blog Challenge offers the following prompt: Write about one person (NOT a family member) who has had an influence on your life. There are so many people, so many influences, so many possibilities. But after a few minutes of just sitting and thinking, the choice was easy. And it goes back a long, long time...
For about as long as I can remember I knew about this guy named Steve Semmler. We began going to school together in 1st grade, and even though we were never in the same class I knew of him. In the 4th grade I had his mom as a reading teacher and I heard stories about him quite often, but I still didn't really know him. In 6th grade we began having some classes together and we got along well. In 7th grade he ran for student body president and I ran for VP, and we talked about how cool it would be to run the school together. He won; I lost. But a friendship was born. In the 8th grade we had most all of our classes together, and along with Darryl Richards (Pee-Wee) really had our run of Guilford Middle School. Just as a quick example, the principal (Howard Cross) once pulled the 3 of us out of classes for an entire day so we could was the school activity bus. Things like that happened all the time. We began to hang out outside of school and discovered a shared love of "different" music (such as Hurricane Smith, Neil Diamond, Gilbert O'Sullivan and the Beach Boys) and mutual tastes in many things. As time went by his home became my second home and his family my second family. We shared dreams and struggles. I helped him sort through the plethora of females trying to gain his attention. Our families went to the beach together in later years. We were often inseparable. But there were 2 things he did in those earliest days- 2 very important things- that set Steve apart from the other great influences in my life.
Sometime early in our 8th grade year (1972-73) Steve invited me to a roller skating night with his youth group at New Garden Friends Meeting. My family had quit going to church a number of years before and I had no real connection to any group. He told me lots of great things about the leaders and the people, but there was only one selling point needed. You see, there was this girl... She would be there, and so I was going to be as well! That group and that place changed my life forever. They loved and supported me through high school and beyond and are still doing it today. My spiritual foundation was built there. My love of that group led directly to my own career in youth ministry. That invitation was the beginning of a new life for me that might otherwise have never happened. That invitation and that girl. We never dated, by the way...
In the summer after 7th grade Steve had invited me to go to summer camp with him at a place called Quaker Lake. I couldn't go because of baseball commitments, but when he asked again after 8th grade I was in, along with several other members of our youth group. If you have read this blog or know me even a little bit, you know what Quaker Lake means to me. My years a a camper taught me so much about God and about faith; my years as a staff member were the backbone of my student ministry days. It was Steve who got me there; it was Steve who kept me going those first few years. For that I am forever grateful.
Those two acts of simple invitation literally made me who I am today. Over the past few weeks I have visited with two other members of that old New Garden youth group, and we are all in agreement that it there is no way to overvalue what that group meant to our lives. We have all found ourselves praying as the years past that our own children would encounter a group of friends that are anything like the ones we had. Without Steve I would not have been a part of that family- and I would be much the worse for it. Without Quaker Lake I might have never realized God's call to youth ministry in my life and had 28 wonderful years trying to give back to students the love and support I had felt as a teenager. Two simple invitations. Two life changing experiences. God is so often in the small stuff.
Steve Semmler changed my life forever over 40 years go, and he is still doing it today. That is the very definition of "influence." I am so honored to call him my friend. Long live Hurricane Smith!
Because of Jesus,