I Hope You Get to Have an Ula in Your Life

Our guest post today is from Dan Locke, father to two boys, Samuel and Peter. Dan is the children’s pastor at Broadway Christian Church. He and his wife, Jessica, live in Mesa, AZ.

Samuel and Peter,

When I was a kid, there was a little old lady in church named Ula.

Ula Hoffer

Ula was a special lady. I had the opportunity to have her as a Sunday school teacher, memory verse coach, kickball teammate, camping partner, and any number of other things. She was the oldest person I’ve ever known to even attempt to play kickball, much less actually not be an automatic out. When I was somewhere between 4th and 8th grade, every August the “youth group” of church (about 15 kids all total, from 12-17 years old) would go out to Ula’s farm for a campout. We’d get there in the early afternoon, play games like kickball, croquet, badminton, rhythm (ask your Aunt Emily) and any other outdoor games we could think of. When supper came around we would gather on the front porch and Ula would tell us a story of some sort, usually something from her many years of life experience, as we ate her amazing potato soup and gooey chocolate “hip-hugger” bars. Before we were allowed to have any food we had to recite a memory verse to her. After supper we would clean up, then get the tents set up before it got dark. After the sun went down, we would stay up playing capture the flag, sardines, or home base until well into the wee hours of the morning. We’d finally all crash for a few hours’ sleep, then get up, pack up sleeping bags and tents and wait for moms and dads to come take us home so we could sleep some more. I can’t even imagine how exhausted Ula must have always been when we finally left. But I’ll never forget how an 80 year old lady would take the time and energy to invest in all of us younger teenagers.

At church there was a period of time (that I’m not proud of) where I would greet people by saying something dumb like “Hi, (insert person’s name here) how are you! I’m Dan! What’s your name?” Instead of being annoyed by the dumb jr. high boy that I was, Ula played right along and said, “Well hello! I’m Sam! What’s your name?” I picked the name Fred. We called each other by those names for a very long time after that. Even when I was going to college, she would send me letters addressed to “Fred” and would sign them “Sam.” It continues to amaze me that someone like Ula would love and invest in someone like me. And I wasn’t the only one. She did the same thing with every kid at church. She passed away when you guys were still too young to know her, though Samuel, you did get the chance to meet her once when you were not quite a year old.

After Ula passed, all of us who grew up knowing her talked about the memories we had of her teaching us, playing with us, and loving on us. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember a single specific Bible lesson she taught. But I’ll never ever forget that she loved Jesus with every fiber or her tiny little frame. She had the most scripture memorized of anyone that I’ve ever known. She would always tell us, (and your Uncle Jeff was the one who brought this up) that she memorized so much because “If I ever go blind and deaf, I want to have good things in my mind to think about.”

I tell you all this, not so you’ll be impressed with such an incredible old lady, though that wouldn’t be a bad thing either. But I’m letting you know that I’m praying that you’ll have a Ula in your life. I can guarantee that I would not be who I am today without Ula’s influence in my life. There’s something incredibly important and vital underlying the statement that “it takes a village” to raise a kid. By the time you read this, you’ll likely already have had a number of other people influencing both of you outside of me and your mother. And there will come a time (which I won’t like at all) that you’ll need someone else besides me and your mother to speak truth into your life; an older person that you can look up to as an example of what it means to truly follow Christ. Because despite my best efforts, I won’t be enough for you anymore.

As a human being who has been shaped and formed through an incredibly specific set of circumstances unique to only myself, I have a limited view of what it means to be you. I have a set of expectations for how you ought to behave and how you should think about things. But my hope is that so far I’ve done an ok job teaching you more about how you ought to think than actually what you ought to think. Yet no matter how much I try to be an unbiased life coach for you, the simple matter remains that I am me, and not you. You will have a completely unique set of experiences and influences that will ultimately be bigger and broader than anything I alone can give you.

I guess the bottom line I’d like to tell you is that I might have a hard time letting go of you guys, and letting others speak into your life. Letting others influence you means that you might get burned. Someone might influence you in a way that would hurt you, or others around you, or make you do something dumb like think Superman is better than Batman. But you’ll have to (gently, please) remind me that if I don’t let go, and I keep you all to myself, you will never get to truly be who you are meant to be.

Just so you know, I’ve got my eyes open for Ulas out there who can be a part of our lives, and you should do the same. I love you guys.


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